Instagram’s privacy updates for kids are positive. But plans for an under-13s app means profits still take precedence

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Tama Leaver, Professor of Internet Studies, Curtin University

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Facebook recently announced significant changes to Instagram for users aged under 16. New accounts will be private by default, and advertisers will be limited in how they can reach young people.

The new changes are long overdue and welcome. But Facebook’s commitment to childrens’ safety is still in question as it continues to develop a separate version of Instagram for kids aged under 13.

The company received significant backlash after the initial announcement in May. In fact, more than 40 US Attorneys General who usually support big tech banded together to ask Facebook to stop building the under-13s version of Instagram, citing privacy and health concerns.




Read more:
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Privacy and advertising

Online default settings matter. They set expectations for how we should behave online, and many of us will never shift away from this by changing our default settings.

Adult accounts on Instagram are public by default. Facebook’s shift to making under-16 accounts private by default means these users will need to actively change their settings if they want a public profile. Existing under-16 users with public accounts will also get a prompt asking if they want to make their account private.

These changes normalise privacy and will encourage young users to focus their interactions more on their circles of friends and followers they approve. Such a change could go a long way in helping young people navigate online privacy.

Facebook has also limited the ways in which advertisers can target Instagram users under age 18 (or older in some countries). Instead of targeting specific users based on their interests gleaned via data collection, advertisers can now only broadly reach young people by focusing ads in terms of age, gender and location.




Read more:
How companies learn what children secretly want


This change follows recently publicised research that showed Facebook was allowing advertisers to target young users with risky interests — such as smoking, vaping, alcohol, gambling and extreme weight loss — with age-inappropriate ads.

This is particularly worrying, given Facebook’s admission there is “no foolproof way to stop people from misrepresenting their age” when joining Instagram or Facebook. The apps ask for date of birth during sign-up, but have no way of verifying responses. Any child who knows basic arithmetic can work out how to bypass this gateway.

Of course, Facebook’s new changes do not stop Facebook itself from collecting young users’ data. And when an Instagram user becomes a legal adult, all of their data collected up to that point will then likely inform an incredibly detailed profile which will be available to facilitate Facebook’s main business model: extremely targeted advertising.

Deploying Instagram’s top dad

Facebook has been highly strategic in how it released news of its recent changes for young Instagram users. In contrast with Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, Instagram’s head Adam Mosseri has turned his status as a parent into a significant element of his public persona.

Since Mosseri took over after Instagram’s creators left Facebook in 2018, his profile has consistently emphasised he has three young sons, his curated Instagram stories include #dadlife and Lego, and he often signs off Q&A sessions on Instagram by mentioning he needs to spend time with his kids.

Adam Mosseri's Instagram Profile
Adam Mosseri’s Instagram Profile on July 30 2021.
Instagram

When Mosseri posted about the changes for under-16 Instagram users, he carefully framed the news as coming from a parent first, and the head of one of the world’s largest social platforms second. Similar to many influencers, Mosseri knows how to position himself as relatable and authentic.

Age verification and ‘potentially suspicious’ adults

In a paired announcement on July 27, Facebook’s vice-president of youth products Pavni Diwanji announced Facebook and Instagram would be doing more to ensure under-13s could not access the services.

Diwanji said Facebook was using artificial intelligence algorithms to stop “adults that have shown potentially suspicious behavior” from being able to view posts from young people’s accounts, or the accounts themselves. But Facebook has not offered an explanation as to how a user might be found to be “suspicious”.

Diwanji notes the company is “building similar technology to find and remove accounts belonging to people under the age of 13”. But this technology isn’t being used yet.

It’s reasonable to infer Facebook probably won’t actively remove under-13s from either Instagram or Facebook until the new Instagram For Kids app is launched — ensuring those young customers aren’t lost to Facebook altogether.

Despite public backlash, Diwanji’s post confirmed Facebook is indeed still building “a new Instagram experience for tweens”. As I’ve argued in the past, an Instagram for Kids — much like Facebook’s Messenger for Kids before it — would be less about providing a gated playground for children and more about getting children familiar and comfortable with Facebook’s family of apps, in the hope they’ll stay on them for life.

A Facebook spokesperson told The Conversation that a feature introduced in March prevents users registered as adults from sending direct messages to users registered as teens who are not following them.

“This feature relies on our work to predict peoples’ ages using machine learning technology, and the age people give us when they sign up,” the spokesperson said.

They said “suspicious accounts will no longer see young people in ‘Accounts Suggested for You’, and if they do find their profiles by searching for them directly, they won’t be able to follow them”.

Resources for parents and teens

For parents and teen Instagram users, the recent changes to the platform are a useful prompt to begin or to revisit conversations about privacy and safety on social media.

Instagram does provide some useful resources for parents to help guide these conversations, including a bespoke Australian version of their Parent’s Guide to Instagram created in partnership with ReachOut. There are many other online resources, too, such as CommonSense Media’s Parents’ Ultimate Guide to Instagram.

Regarding Instagram for Kids, a Facebook spokesperson told The Conversation the company hoped to “create something that’s really fun and educational, with family friendly safety features”.

But the fact that this app is still planned means Facebook can’t accept the most straightforward way of keeping young children safe: keeping them off Facebook and Instagram altogether.




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The Conversation

Tama Leaver receives funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC) as a chief investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child.

ref. Instagram’s privacy updates for kids are positive. But plans for an under-13s app means profits still take precedence – https://theconversation.com/instagrams-privacy-updates-for-kids-are-positive-but-plans-for-an-under-13s-app-means-profits-still-take-precedence-165323

Secret history: the release of the Mountbatten archives and the fight to access royal diaries

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Jenny Hocking, Emeritus Professor, Monash University

Lord Mountbatten, Ghandi and Lady Mountbatten in New Delhi in 1947. AP/AAP

An immense trove of the most important royal historical material for decades has quietly been released in the United Kingdom. These are the diaries of Lord Louis Mountbatten and his wife Lady Edwina, from the 1920s until 1968.

As the last great-grandchild and godchild of Queen Victoria, uncle of Prince Philip and adored great-uncle of Prince Charles, Mountbatten exercised a “Rasputin-like influence” in the court of Queen Elizabeth.




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He had a long, typically aristocratic, naval officer career from head of combined operations during the second world war to admiral of the fleet. He was also the last viceroy of India, presiding over transition and partition. All this gave Mountbatten an unmatched insight into the royal family and its intersections with the highest levels of wartime and post-imperial governance.

But the release of this material doesn’t just shed light on the royal family. It again highlights the significant barriers to accessing our history; specifically, the claimed “convention of royal secrecy” that imposes strict secrecy over royal communications across the Commonwealth nations.

A four-year battle

The release of the Mountbatten diaries is entirely due to the work of historian and Mountbatten biographer Andrew Lownie, who fought for four years to get public access to the previously secret diaries.

They are held in the Broadlands Archives, purchased by Southampton University from the Mountbatten family in 2010 for £2.8 million ($A5.3 million) using public funds. At the time, the university said it would “preserve the collection in its entirety for future generations to use and enjoy” and “ensure public access”.

The university’s catalogue gives their legal status as “public records”, and states they were “open on transfer”. Yet the papers were closed after an officious university historian warned the government the papers contained “many references to the royal family”.

Lownie’s initial request for access under the UK’s freedom of information regime was rejected by the university, citing a cabinet directive preventing the release of the diaries and letters. A successful appeal followed, which the university ignored until threatened with a contempt action.

Prince Charles
Prince Charles was especially close to his uncle Lord Mountbatten.
Mark Marlow/EPA/AAP

Finally, late last month, 22 MPs signed a motion tabled in the House of Commons calling for “their publication without further obfuscation and delay”. The university finally released many — though not all — of the diaries.

Lownie, meanwhile, has spent £250,000 (A$472,000) of his own money in pursuit of public access to the Mountbatten archives, which were always purportedly a public resource.

A fascinating window

Former US ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith has previously described Mountbatten’s unabashed use of royal privilege for personal advancement:

no one was ever better served by the accident of birth or put royal connection to greater use.

So the Mountbatten archive will provide a fascinating window into a rare familial link to the final years of a fading, disintegrating, European royalty and its intersection with key episodes in British political history.

Many of Mountbatten’s (at times conflicting) roles attracted significant controversy, on which the diaries and letters in particular will shed great light. This includes the fiasco of the raid on the French coast at Dieppe in 1942. As Galbraith also noted, this was

widely believed the single most ill-advised, costly and generally disastrous operation of the war.

There is also the contentious, brutal, partition of India. And his unconventional “open marriage”, including Edwina’s close relationship with the first post-independence Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. All of these will be re-evaluated in light of this remarkable shared archive.

Yet, several files Lownie is particularly interested in are missing from the public release.

These include the 1947 and 1948 diaries covering the Mountbattens’ involvement in pre-Independence India, transition and partition, among “scores of files” not yet released. These crucial historical documents covering a contentious time in British imperial history remain locked away and the fight for public access to them continues.

‘Eeerily similar’ to the palace letters

Lownie’s case has been described as “eerily similar” to the long-running palace letters case I took against the National Archives of Australia, in its denial of access to archival documents relating to the royal family, “the effect being that public knowledge of key constitutional and political events is limited”.




Read more:
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The denial of access to royal documents shields royal activities from the consideration of history, simply because of their absence from the public record, profoundly distorting the history itself.

Our own history gives us a clear example of this. The queen did not want the palace letters — her correspondence with governor-general Sir John Kerr about the dismissal of the Whitlam government — to be made public. And the National Archives of Australia and federal government unsuccessfully fought against public access to the letters all the way to the High Court. With their release, the history of the dismissal of the Whitlam government has changed dramatically.

As Australian National University historian Frank Bongiorno recently concluded:

the claim the palace had no involvement in the dismissal is now unsustainable. The palace was indeed a player.

Backlog at the archives

Unfortunately, the routine removal of royal material from the public archival record under the claimed “convention of royal secrecy” is just one means of denying access to key historical records.

The failure to deal with everyday requests for access to documents is, for the individual researcher and for history, more prevalent and no less severe.

The National Archives of Australia recently revealed the extent of this denial of access through institutional inaction, in answers to independent senator Rex Patrick in Senate estimates. Although the archives is statutorily required to deal with requests for access within 90 days, it has a backlog of over 20,000 requests that are at least one year overdue. More than half of those were submitted five to ten years ago.

Gough Whitlam and demonstrators  at the dissolution of parliament in 1975.
The palace letter have been released but there is still a huge backlog of requests to access documents at the National Archives of Australia.
Supplied/AAP

Even more shocking is that 256 of these unfulfilled access requests are more than a decade old. Several applications for access which I submitted nine to ten years ago are still drifting somewhere in this archival black hole. I’ve written three books since then, and I’m still waiting for the archival documents intended for them.

My experience is, regrettably, by no means unique. As Patrick notes:

These chronic delays have had a severe impact on historical research and the understanding of our nation’s past […] Numerous research projects have been abandoned because of the failure of the archives to provide timely access.

These figures are an extraordinary indictment of Australia’s national archives’ failure to meet its core statutory function “to make Commonwealth records available for public access”. Little wonder it has ceased publishing figures on the access clearance backlog in its annual report.

Still waiting

Lownie has done us all a great public service in his efforts to bring the Mountbatten archives to public view. However, it should not be up to individual historians to take arduous legal action to ensure public archives — whether in universities or government-funded national archives — adhere to their requirements to make official records publicly available.




Read more:
How a British royal’s monumental errors made India’s partition more painful


This includes royal communications between governors-general and the monarch, as our High Court ruled in the palace letters case in 2020.

The National Archives of Australia has said that, as a result of the High Court’s decision, it would also release the royal correspondence of all governors-general from Richard Casey to Bill Hayden (1965 to 1996), thirty years of exceptionally significant archival records.

More than a year later, we are still waiting for their release.

The Conversation

Jenny Hocking has received funding from The Australian Research Council. She is a member of the National Executive and the National Committee of The Australian Republic Movement.

ref. Secret history: the release of the Mountbatten archives and the fight to access royal diaries – https://theconversation.com/secret-history-the-release-of-the-mountbatten-archives-and-the-fight-to-access-royal-diaries-165380

Dodgy tree loppers are scamming elderly homeowners and hacking up healthy trees. Here’s what you need to know

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Gregory Moore, Doctor of Botany, The University of Melbourne

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Have you had a knock on the door or perhaps a card in your letterbox telling you the trees in your garden are dangerous and need urgent work? Maybe you’ve been a bit worried about the trees, which seem to be getting bigger each year, and think: “Well, it can’t do any harm […] can it?”.

Unfortunately, deciding to take action might cause harm to the trees or significant financial loss to you.

There are some serious scams in several states involving knock-on-the-door tree loppers who pressure elderly home owners for work. This has led to petitions from victims and some local governments seeking to have tree loppers licensed. Some of these cases involve thousands of dollars and very poor quality work with potentially dangerous outcomes.

As a tree scientist who works with urban trees, I can assure you some large, old trees are well worth leaving alone, even you find them annoying sometimes. So if you are going to prune trees in your garden, especially healthy old trees, make sure you do it well.

Hiring a good arborist

Trees are large and sophisticated organisms, and people who work on them need to be qualified so they know how trees will respond to their actions. Otherwise, there’s a risk that work done on trees could actually make its structure unsound and unsafe.

There are many well-trained arborists in most Australian states who can work on your trees.

But how do you judge the good from the bad? Here are a few tips on what to look for in employing a good arborist.

First, a good arborist will have TAFE or university qualifications in arboriculture (at least a certificate Level 4), and substantial public liability insurance cover (at least A$10 million and most will have a A$20 million policy). Be sure to check your home insurance policy as tree work may not be covered, and if something goes seriously wrong it can be very costly.




Read more:
An act of God, or just bad management? Why trees fall and how to prevent it


Second, trained arborists won’t work on large trees or off the ground on their own. There will always be a crew of at least two, regardless of whether they’re using travel towers or ropes and harnesses to access a tree. They’ll also explain exactly what they propose doing to your tree and why.

And finally, most good arborists won’t describe themselves as tree loppers and will prune rather than lop your trees. Pruning is a targeted approach to tree management, while lopping is a wholesale removal of branches and foliage that can lead to problems in the months and years ahead.

Two geared-up arborists look at a tree
Good arborists will never work alone.
Shutterstock

So where can things go wrong? It’s not uncommon for elderly people to become worried about big, old trees that are perfectly safe, then have them removed and then find their property value has significantly declined at a time when they need assets most.

The unnecessary removal of a large old tree destroys an asset that has taken years of care. Its removal may seriously reduce your property value by up to 5% or $10,000 if the tree is a significant component of your garden.

When you feel ‘treegret’

Indiscriminately lopping a tree’s canopy — which can leave little or no foliage and greatly reduces branching — may seem like a good way to eliminate the risk of shedding leaves, fruits and dropping limbs.

New green shoots on bare branches
Epicornic shoots are often seen as trees recover from bushfires, but they also appear after indiscriminate tree lopping.
Shutterstock

But if it’s done to a healthy tree with a sound structure, you can create the very problem you were seeking to avoid: greater shedding and the development of a dangerous canopy.

This is because after severe lopping, many trees respond by producing lots of new shoots, called epicormic shoots. You may have seen these growing after fires. Epicormic shoots can be weakly attached to the trunk or larger branches of the tree in their early years and, if they’re not managed properly, the heavier shoots can shed substantially.

In any case, is the tree really so bad?

Many people are very aware of the things that annoy them about their trees — dropping leaves, flowers and fruits, blocked gutters and even cracked fences and paths.

They often forget or are unaware of the benefits these same trees provide. This includes shade in summer, moderating strong winds, which protects their roofs during storms or the value of tree roots systems in stabilising soil on steep house blocks.

You may only become aware of the value of these services after the tree has been removed – you acted in haste, but may regret the loss over the many years it takes to grow a replacement tree. This is treegret!

It’ll take years — sometimes decades — to replace a tree you chopped down in haste.
Shutterstock

Ask the right questions

You can be doing the right thing when you decide to get work done that improves the appearance, structure or heath of a valuable old tree in you garden.

A branch may be growing too close to your home, a low branch may block access for vehicles or pedestrians, or you may have dead or diseased limbs posing a risk to the tree and a hazard to people.




Read more:
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But next time there’s a knock at your door and you have the chance to greet a tree lopper, don’t forget to ask them if they’re qualified. Ask how large their public liability insurance policy and what size crew will be working on your job.

And then ask them exactly what they propose to do to your tree.

I have asked all of these questions and been told of qualifications I know don’t exist, come from institutions that don’t train arborists, and of plans to lop or top my trees that I know will leave them less safe.

The Conversation

Greg Moore is a current Board member and former Chair of TREENET

ref. Dodgy tree loppers are scamming elderly homeowners and hacking up healthy trees. Here’s what you need to know – https://theconversation.com/dodgy-tree-loppers-are-scamming-elderly-homeowners-and-hacking-up-healthy-trees-heres-what-you-need-to-know-164629

Equality and fairness: vaccines against this pandemic of mistrust

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Tony Ward, Fellow in Historical Studies, The University of Melbourne

The COVID crisis has laid bare a crisis of trust.

In many Western nations there’s a small but significant minority refusing to follow distancing guidelines, wear masks or get a vaccination. Protests in recent weeks have demonstrated just how much they mistrust politicians, scientists, bureaucrats, the “mainstream media” and many of their fellow citizens.

And that’s a problem — because higher trust levels have been shown to be associated with markedly better outcomes in handling the virus. As the World Happiness Report 2021 published in March concluded, generally the higher the level of social trust, the lower the nation’s COVID-19 death rate.

So what can be done to combat this pandemic of mistrust?

Using data on national trust levels published over the past few years, my analysis suggests more than 80% of differences in trust levels between nations can be explained by just two factors: economic inequality and, to a lesser extent, perceptions of corruption.

This calculation underlines the importance of tackling the conditions in which misinformation thrives. Censorship and other blunt instruments have their place, but only treat the symptoms. To treat the cause requires promoting equality and fairness.

What ‘lost wallets’ reveal about trust

The World Happiness Report’s conclusions about the correlation between effective COVID responses and level of social trust drew on past research, including evidence from the 2019 World Risk Poll (sponsored by Lloyd’s Register Foundation).

That poll surveyed more than 150,000 people in 142 nations. One crucial question asked them to imagine losing a small bag of financial value and then say how likely it was that a stranger would return that bag. This question is a staple of social trust research, known as the “lost wallet test”.

For my analysis of the relationship between trust, inequality and corruption, I’ve mainly used another “lost wallet” study published in 2019, by University of Michigan behavioural economist Alain Cohn and colleagues in Switzerland. Their study went one better than asking people about their expectations; it actually tested levels of trustworthiness by “losing” 17,000 wallets in 355 cities across 40 nations and measuring how many came back to their “owners”.

This study broadly found actual returns to be slightly higher than expectations in the World Risk Poll. But both found consistent differences in social trust (and trustworthiness) between nations, in line with other survey results.

Protesters wear stickers on their jackets against face masks in London, Saturday, July 24 2021.
Alberto Pezza/AP

The results from the Cohn study are therefore a good measure of both trust and trustworthiness in different countries.

Measuring the impact of inequality

According to my calculations, inequality explains two-thirds (68%) of the differences between countries in social trust levels.

This is shown in the graph below. It uses only the 23 countries in the Cohn study that are members of OECD, because these have the most robust data measuring inequality.

The left Y axis shows the percentages of wallets returned. The bottom X axis shows the Gini coefficient: the standard measure of economic inequality, with the nations closer to 0 being more equal.



The Conversation/Cohn et al, CC BY-ND

There’s a strong correlation between equality and levels of social trust, though clearly other factors are involved as well.

For example, consider the return rate for New Zealand (one of the highest in world), and then Australia, to the lower rates in Spain and Italy (less than 50%), despite all four countries having similar levels of economic inequality.

I calculate close to half of this difference can be attributed to perceptions of corruption. I did this using data from anti-corruption organisation Transparency International, which publishes annual survey of perceptions of corruption across the world and scores countries on a 100-point scale (the closer to 100 being better).




Read more:
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In 2020, New Zealand equal topped the list with a score of 88, compared with Australia on 77, Spain on 62, and Italy 53. (Australia has seen the biggest recent drop of any of these OECD countries, slipping from a score of 85 in 2012).

All up, equality and corruption perceptions appear to explain 82% of the differences in trust and trustworthiness between nations.

A protest against coronavirus restrictions in Trafalgar Square, London, September 26 2020.
A protest against coronavirus restrictions in Trafalgar Square, London, September 26 2020.
Frank Augstein/AP

Promoting equality and fairness

Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean one factor causes the other. But in this case, there is strong supporting evidence to suggest inequality and perceptions of unfairness fuel mistrust.

As this year’s World Happiness Report noted, higher social and institutional trust levels are associated both with greater community resilience to natural disasters and individual resilience to ill health, unemployment and discrimination. More trusting societies and individuals are also happier.

If this wasn’t strong enough incentive for policies that promote fairness and equality, the epidemic of misinformation and mistrust exposed by COVID-19 should be. As psychologist John Ehrenreich has written in Slate:

Conspiracy theories arise in the context of fear, anxiety, mistrust, uncertainty and feelings of powerlessness.




Read more:
The less equal we become, the less we trust science, and that’s a problem


At the American Economics Association’s annual conference in January, a number of speakers focused their attention on the importance of trust. The Economist magazine summarised their conclusions:

higher levels of trust and social responsibility were associated with less scepticism of media reporting on COVID-19 and greater willingness to accept stringent lockdown measures.

Mistrust has been a major barrier in combating the coronavirus — and will present more challenges in the aftermath. Policies to enhance equality and fairness, and to reduce corruption, are potent vaccines in these tasks.

The Conversation

Tony Ward does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Equality and fairness: vaccines against this pandemic of mistrust – https://theconversation.com/equality-and-fairness-vaccines-against-this-pandemic-of-mistrust-160100

If I could go anywhere: India’s Varanasi — a sacred site on a river of rituals and altered states

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Cherine Fahd, Associate Professor, School of Design, University of Technology Sydney

In this series we pay tribute to the art we wish could visit — and hope to see once travel restrictions are lifted.

Varanasi, or Banaras as the locals call it, is one of India’s most sacred cities. Located in the province of Uttar Pradesh in northern India, it is an important place of pilgrimage for Hindus.

Buddhists and spiritual seekers from around the globe are also drawn to its waters. For yogis there is a transformative promise of gurus and ashrams. For Buddhists there is Sarnath, the town where Buddha is believed to have given his first teaching after receiving enlightenment.

There is also bhang lassi, a yogurt drink laced with cannabis for psychedelic effect.

Author Geoff Dyer hilariously rendered Varanasi in his semi-autobiographical novel — Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi — as the place to go to lose and find yourself.

To be lost in Varanasi is dangerously exciting.

Everyday death and renewal

In 2018 I was awarded a two-month artist residency by Asialink to Varanasi’s Kriti Gallery. I had never been to India, and what I did know of Varanasi I had learned from television trips featuring actors Miriam Margolyes and Judith Lucy as guides. I remembered Margolyes’ visit to a hostel where people from all over India could reserve a room to wait out their death.

Varanasi is where Hindus want to die to escape the cycles of birth, death and rebirth.

The Ghats of Varanasi, along the banks of Ganges River, from Sunrise until the night time ceremony.

Dying in Varanasi is everyday. That’s not to say dying is ordinary. On the contrary, it is a sacred art form, a spiritual passage that is part of the daily practice of living.

Art is everywhere, especially in the rituals and ceremonies performed in celebration of the Hindu gods.

A father blesses his child in the waters of the Ganga.
Cherine Fahd

I want to return to hear the chanting performed by the hustle of pallbearers as they commemorate the dead on their way to the rising flames. I wish to follow them to Manikarnika, one of the cremation ghats (broad steps to the riverbank).

To see a body in the street — veiled and wrapped in the most beautiful coloured silks, ribbons, pigments and flowers, and carried upon a bamboo stretcher for all to see — changed my view of death.

To be close to the everydayness of death reminds me I am alive. This is why Varanasi is addictive. Its effect is to make me hyper-aware of my living status, especially when I’m pinned by the horns of a bull to the wall of an alleyway as he tries to pass me.




Read more:
Friday essay: images of mourning and the power of acknowledging grief


Life without seatbelts

I long to be lost in the commotion of Varanasi street life, among the street dogs, buffaloes, cows, horses, and monkeys. A family on a motorbike, bodies piled onto and into every sort of automobile. No seatbelts, just flowing fabrics of the most beautiful patterns, colours and textures.

An ordinary day in Varanasi just hanging out at one of the ghats.
Cherine Fahd

I want to cross the treacherous roads, to walk in front of cars, buses, trucks and tuk-tuks that are continuously beeping their horns in a cacophony of blasts and blares, knowing they won’t run me over.

Not even the smell of rotting rubbish mixed with the sweet aroma of cow dung, chai and warm milk deters this dream.

Varanasi is beautiful and filthy, vibrant and muddy, and home to stunning silks with intricate gold and silver thread work. You take the good with the bad in Varanasi: the abject poverty, friendly people, dust bowl cricket, endless paradoxes and the Harmony Bookshop.

When I return I will be customarily dressed in my all-black uniform from home. I will gaze upon the beautiful women in their brightly coloured sarees, the bits of flesh poking out teasingly at the waist. And I’ll wonder, “Why don’t I wear colour?”

Women wear brightly coloured fabrics.
Cherine Fahd

In India, art is wearable. Art is on the streets and in the temples. And the front door of every house.




Read more:
Friday essay: the uncanny melancholy of empty photographs in the time of coronavirus


Bathing and prayer

Varanasi has 88 ghats. In two months, I only visited a quarter of them, including my favourite, Lassi Ghat.

The ghats are used chiefly for bathing rituals, for puja, and somersaulting.

It is oppressively hot, 38℃ at 8am. The locals bathe and pray and touch. Touch is everywhere. Bodies feeling, pushing, pressing, caressing, splashing each other. The texture of bodies. Hair and wrinkles.

No one is flexing, or spray-tanned or botoxed. Life is dirty and sacred and real. There is no airbrushing and no denying death. The water is magical but muddy. Highly polluted. No one seems to notice.

A group of bathers are playful in the morning.
Cherine Fahd

The performance of private rituals in public has long been my thing. In Paris, during the heatwave of 2003, I photographed bathers along the Seine.




Read more:
Yearning for touch — a photo essay


Women with cameras

Unlike Bondi Beach, I don’t need a permit to take photographs at the Ganga. The locals and pilgrims are unperturbed by a woman with a camera.

The ghats are always crowded in the mornings.
Cherine Fahd

I learn that I am following in the footsteps of other female photographers. The late Australian photographer Robyn Beeche had been a regular visitor, as was the late great US photographer Mary Ellen Mark.

Studying their works reminds me that art is chiefly an expression of our humanity. An expression that is everywhere in Varanasi.

For now, from lockdown, I’ll travel through my photographs and as I do, I will perform a prayer for India, a country devastated by the pandemic.

The Conversation

Cherine Fahd does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. If I could go anywhere: India’s Varanasi — a sacred site on a river of rituals and altered states – https://theconversation.com/if-i-could-go-anywhere-indias-varanasi-a-sacred-site-on-a-river-of-rituals-and-altered-states-164554

Albanese calls for $300 vaccination incentive, as rollout extended to vulnerable children

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

The opposition has urged the government to provide a $300 incentive payment to everyone who is fully vaccinated by December 1, to accelerate the rollout.

This payment should include those already vaccinated, the opposition says. It estimates this would stimulate the economy by up to $6 billion, and help struggling businesses.

With raising the vaccination level fast the only path to opening the country, Anthony Albanese said the government “needs to use every measure at its disposal to protect Australians and our economy.”

National cabinet on Friday endorsed in principle targets of 70% and 80% of people 16 and over being fully vaccinated for stages of reopening. But it put no dates on the targets, which would need to be reached both nationally and in individual states and territories.

Scott Morrison has said he thinks the 70% target could be reached by the end of the year.

The government says it will release the Doherty Institute modelling which advised on the targets.

The government has announced that from next Monday, the rollout will extend to vaccinating vulnerable children aged 12 to 15.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government accepted advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) that these children be prioritised for Pfizer.

About 220,000 children are identified as at higher risk of severe illness if they get COVID. They are

  • those with medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, obesity, cardiac and circulatory congenital anomalies, neuro-developmental disorders, epilepsy, trisomy 21, and those who are immuno-compromised

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

  • all children aged 12-15 in remote communities.

The government is awaiting ATAGI recommendations about the use of Pfizer for the rest of the 12-15 age group. The advice is expected in some weeks.

Health Minister Greg Hunt urged parents “who have a child with a medical condition or who are immuno-compromised to bring them forward for vaccination”.

Meanwhile conflicting messages continued about AstraZeneca, with Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young standing by her earlier position. “I said I didn’t want 18-year-olds getting AstraZeneca, and I still don’t”.

Pressed at a news conference on what age people should get AZ, Young replied: “60.”

If people under 60 felt particularly concerned about their situation, “go and talk to your GP about whether or not you should be having a dose of AstraZeneca,” Young said. That was the advice of ATAGI, she said.

But Commonwealth acting Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said: “ATAGI has reaffirmed their previous advice that in a large outbreak, the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca are greater than the risk of the rare side effects occurring for all age groups.”

Asked whether Queensland was a large outbreak that allowed extra use of AstraZeneca currently, Kidd said “What we have is the eleven local government areas in south east Queensland are a Commonwealth hotspot and therefore this meets the definition of a significant outbreak”.

Hunt on Monday lashed out at the ABC, accusing it of having been “a vehicle for AstraZeneca critics”.

In written answers to questions from Four Corners, issued ahead of Monday’s program on the rollout, Hunt said “the ABC has given widespread and largely unchallenged prominence to critics of AstraZeneca”.

Defence minister Peter Dutton, who is leader of the House of Representatives, has been prevented by the Queensland outbreak from attending this week’s parliamentary sitting.

The latest number of new community cases in south-east Queensland was 13, with several schools involved in the outbreak and a number of very young children.

Dutton said in a Monday statement: “My sons attend a school subject to the current Queensland Health directive and as a household member I am subject to the 14 day direction. I will quarantine at home with my family.

“I will therefore be unable to attend Parliament, although will take part in Leadership, NSC, ERC and Cabinet meetings remotely. I will still perform my duties as Minister for Defence, however the Hon Christian Porter MP will perform Leader of the House duties whilst I am unable to attend.”

Porter lost his position as leader of the house in the wake of the allegation (that he denies) of historical rape.

Dutton had COVID in the very early stages of the pandemic. He is also fully vaccinated, and he tested negative on Monday morning.

Also on Monday, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Barnaby Joyce, announced an extension of assistance for the domestic aviation industry.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Albanese calls for $300 vaccination incentive, as rollout extended to vulnerable children – https://theconversation.com/albanese-calls-for-300-vaccination-incentive-as-rollout-extended-to-vulnerable-children-165383

Tail whips and flairs: the jaw-dropping, high-flying tricks that won BMX freestyler Logan Martin the gold

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Eva Ellmer, The University of Queensland

KYDPL KYODO/AP

BMX freestyle has had its debut in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and Logan Martin just made history by winning the first gold medal for Australia in the sport.

The fresh, youthful, and at times risky sport involves the execution of acrobatic tricks on a BMX bike while jumping over obstacles such as walls, box jumps and spines.

A box jump is a ramp with a flat, solid surface on top – similar to a table top. A spine is like having two quarter-pipes placed back to back. The spine is designed to gain height rather than distance.

Riders are scored on multiple aspects, such as the difficulty, originality, height and creativity of their tricks during a 60-second run.

Martin’s tricks explained

So, what exactly did Martin do to win gold? Here’s a quick explanation of the tricks in his repertoire:

1. Reverse triple tail whip into an orthodox triple tail whip

In a tail whip, the rider lets go of the pedals while using the feet to spin the back of the bike around the handlebars. Logan did it three times in a row.

He completed the first tail whip in his gold-medal performance in the counter-clockwise direction, or in the direction of his non-preferred hand. He then followed this trick with another triple tail whip in the direction of his preferred hand (clockwise). This is a trick only Logan has mastered.

2. 540 flair into an opposite flair to finish

In a flair, both the rider and bike do a backflip combined with a 180-degree turn.

Logan completed this trick by twisting one and a half times mid-air on one side of the quarter pipe, and finished his run with another flair in the opposite, non-dominant direction on the opposing quarter pipe.

3. “Nothing” front bike flip

In this move, Logan takes off on a jump and flips the bike between his legs mid-air while he remains motionless. He then catches the handles — still mid-air — and pulls the bike back to his body and safely lands on it.

The most important attributes for BMX riders

BMX freestyle is still considered a relatively new and emerging sport. Given the amount of time it has been around, however, the progression of the sport has been tremendous compared to more traditional sports.

Almost every conceivable trick with a bike has seemingly now been invented, meaning the progression of the sport lies depends on the creativity of the athlete to combine a number of tricks together.




Read more:
Alt goes mainstream: how surfing, skateboarding, BMX and sport climbing became Olympic events


For example, instead of just doing a backflip, riders now combine a backflip with a bar spin. Similarly, many riders now learn to perform tricks the opposite way – as showcased by Martin is his Olympic run. He completed a back-to-back triple tail whip, once with the bike spinning counter-clockwise and then clockwise.

The bigger the combination, the bigger the reward. This showcases that a rider has a large skillset and has taken time to learn and perform a broad range of tricks.

Logan Martin is a two-time world champion in men’s BMX freestyle.
Ben Curtis/AP

Elite riders like Martin can combine up to five tricks in one. However, doing big tricks with multiple combinations is only valuable if riders can maintain control of their bikes and bodies, and land smoothly.

Execution is one of the most important components of BMX freestyle. Martin is known for his smooth runs and has even himself described the sport as being “gymnastics on a bike”.

In my research on elite BMX riders, I found that by practising the biggest tricks on a daily basis, riders learn to develop an intuitive understanding of what feel “good” and what feels “bad”.

This allows the athletes not only to establish perceptual but also problem-solving skills, meaning they know when to quickly adjust their bodies (or bikes) to avoid a crash or serious injury.

For Martin, it means his best tricks becoming second nature to him, allowing him to fine-tune his movements and gain a competitive advantage to other riders.




Read more:
Most expensive, greatest gender parity, most sports: Tokyo Olympics by the numbers


How do they train?

What should be highlighted more in discussing the achievements of action sports athletes like Martin, is that many have learned and developed their skills in the absence of formally accredited coaches.

Unlike most traditional athletes who have had access to training programs and coaches, Martin taught himself most of his tricks or learned with and from his peers.

He also built a skatepark in his own backyard to help prepare for the Olympics. Here, he regularly rides with his best mates, Brendan Loupos (the 2019 world champion) and Jaie Toohey, who taught him the “nothing” front bike flip.

In a risky sport like BMX freestyle, having your mates around while learning dangerous tricks is important as they can help create a psychologically safe environment.

Action sport athletes tend to build strong trust relationships with their peers as they encourage and support one another in performing new and dangerous tasks. This helps a BMXer change their perception of negative emotions such as fear, enabling them to learn new tricks and develop their skills further.

As COVID restrictions forced the closure of two of Queensland’s indoor skateparks, Cycling Australia committed to building a new BMX freestyle indoor training facility to allow these athletes to continue with their training.

This also provided the opportunity for these athletes to train in a more formal coaching system for the first time.

Under the supervision of Wade Boots, Cycling Australia’s high-performance coach and technical director, and sports scientist Eric Haakonssen, the BMX freestyle athletes got in Olympic competition shape through cross training, periodisation (progressive cycles of training and recovery periods), and more emphasis on proper nutrition and breathing while riding.

In addition, strategic decisions were discussed in relation to the sequencing of tricks. For example, rather than pulling out his best tricks early on in Tokyo, risking a fault or crash, Martin completed a run he was comfortable with.

Little did he know it would be enough to win him the gold.

The Conversation

Eva Ellmer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Tail whips and flairs: the jaw-dropping, high-flying tricks that won BMX freestyler Logan Martin the gold – https://theconversation.com/tail-whips-and-flairs-the-jaw-dropping-high-flying-tricks-that-won-bmx-freestyler-logan-martin-the-gold-165460

Should we vaccinate children against COVID-19? We asked 5 experts

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Phoebe Roth, Deputy Editor, Health+Medicine

Shutterstock

Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) recently announced provisional approval for the Pfizer vaccine to be used in 12-15-year-olds.

We learned on Monday that the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has advised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 12-15, those who live in remote communities, and those with underlying medical conditions should be prioritised to receive the jab.

With COVID vaccination for kids being such a hot topic, we asked five experts whether we should vaccinate children in Australia against COVID-19.

Four out of five experts said yes

Here are their detailed responses:


If you have a “yes or no” health question you’d like posed to Five Experts, email your suggestion to: phoebe.roth@theconversation.edu.au.


Disclosures:

Asha Bowen is co-chair of the Australian and New Zealand Paediatric Infectious Diseases (ANZPID) group of the Australasian Society of Infectious Diseases. She receives research funding from NHMRC.

Catherine Bennett has received NHMRC and MRFF funding, and is an independent expert on the AstraZeneca advisory board.

Julian Savulescu receives funding from the Wellcome Trust. This work was supported by the UKRI/AHRC funded UK Ethics Accelerator project, grant number AH/V013947/1.

Margie Danchin is a member of ATAGI’s working group on vaccine safety, evaluation, monitoring and confidence.

Nicholas Wood holds an NHMRC Career Development Fellowship and Churchill Fellowship.

The Conversation

ref. Should we vaccinate children against COVID-19? We asked 5 experts – https://theconversation.com/should-we-vaccinate-children-against-covid-19-we-asked-5-experts-165316

If I’ve already had COVID, do I need a vaccine? And how does the immune system respond? An expert explains

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Sunit K. Singh, Professor of Molecular Immunology and Virology, Institute of Medical Sciences, Banaras Hindu University

Andre Coelho/EPA/AAP

Over a year into the pandemic, questions around immune responses after COVID continue to confound.

One question many people are asking is whether the immunity you get from contracting COVID and recovering is enough to protect you in the future.

The answer is no, it’s not.

Here’s why.

Remind me, how does our immune response work?

Immune responses are innate or acquired. Innate, or short-term immunity, occurs when immune cells that are the body’s first line of defence are activated against a pathogen like a virus or bacteria.

If the pathogen is able to cross the first line of defence, T-cells and B-cells are triggered into action. B-cells fight through secreted proteins called antibodies, specific to each pathogen. T-cells can be categorised into helper T-cells and killer T-cells. Helper T-cells “help” B-cells in making antibodies. Killer T-cells directly kill infected cells.

Once the battle is over, B-cells and T-cells develop “memory” and can recognise the invading pathogen next time. This is known as acquired or adaptive immunity, which triggers long-term protection.

What happens when you get reinfected? Memory B-cells don’t just produce identical antibodies, they also produce antibody variants. These diverse set of antibodies form an elaborate security ring to fight SARS-CoV-2 variants.

Natural immunity is not enough

Getting COVID and recovering (known as “natural infection”) doesn’t appear to generate protection as robust as that generated after vaccination.

And the immune response generated post-infection and vaccination, known as hybrid immunity, is more potent than either natural infection or vaccination alone.

People who have had COVID and recovered and then been vaccinated against COVID have more diverse and high-quality memory B-cell responses than people who’ve just been vaccinated.

Studies indicate mRNA vaccines generate a more potent immune response with previous infection, at least against some variants including Alpha and Beta.

And studies have shown that antibody levels were higher among those who’d recovered from COVID and were subsequently vaccinated than those who’d only had the infection.

Memory B-cells against the coronavirus have been reported to be five to ten times higher in people vaccinated post-infection than natural infection or vaccination alone.

Is one dose enough after COVID?

Some reports have suggested people who’ve had COVID need only one dose of the vaccine. Clinical trials of approved vaccines didn’t generate relevant data because people who’d already had COVID were excluded from phase 3 trials.

One study from June showed people with previous exposure to SARS-CoV-2 tended to mount powerful immune responses to a single mRNA shot. They didn’t gain much benefit from a second jab.

A single dose of an mRNA vaccine after infection achieves similar levels of antibodies against the spike protein’s receptor binding domain (which allows the virus to attach to our cells) compared to double doses of vaccination in people never exposed to SARS-CoV-2.

We need more studies to fully understand how long memory B-cell and T-cell responses will last in both groups.

Also, a single dose strategy has only been studied for mRNA-based vaccines. More data is required to understand whether one jab post-infection would be effective for all the vaccines.

At this stage, it’s still good to have both doses of a COVID vaccine after recovering from COVID.

Does Delta change things?

The development of new vaccines must keep pace with the evolution of the coronavirus.

At least one variant seems to have evolved enough to overtake others, Delta, which is about 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant. Delta is moderately resistant to vaccines, meaning it can reduce how well the vaccines work, particularly in people who’ve only had one dose.

There’s no data available yet about how effective a single jab is for people who were previously infected with Delta and recovered.




Read more:
Why is Delta such a worry? It’s more infectious, probably causes more severe disease, and challenges our vaccines


The most important thing you can do to protect yourself from Delta is to get fully vaccinated.

According to a Public Health England report, one dose of Pfizer offered only about 33% protection against symptomatic disease with Delta, but two doses was 88% effective. Two doses was also 96% effective against hospitalisation from Delta. The AstraZeneca vaccine was 92% effective against hospitalisation from Delta after two doses.

A few vaccine manufacturers, including Pfizer, are now planning to use a potential third dose as a booster to combat the Delta variant.

The Conversation

Sunit K. Singh does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. If I’ve already had COVID, do I need a vaccine? And how does the immune system respond? An expert explains – https://theconversation.com/if-ive-already-had-covid-do-i-need-a-vaccine-and-how-does-the-immune-system-respond-an-expert-explains-164236

Muscles are important, but stiff tendons are the secret ingredient for high-speed performance

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Anthony Blazevich, Professor of Biomechanics, Edith Cowan University

The fastest sprinter is the world right now is Lamont Marcell Jacobs, who won Olympic gold in the men’s 100-metre sprint with a time of 9.80 seconds. You might be surprised to learn that most of the explosive power displayed by Jacobs and other elite athletes doesn’t come from their muscles, or even from their minds – it comes from somewhere else.

Muscles are important, but the real secret is using training and technique to store and reuse elastic energy in the best way possible – and that means making the most of your tendons. By understanding how this power is produced, we can help people walk, run and jump into older age and how to walk again after injury or illness.

Muscles are remarkably powerful. The average human calf muscle weighs less than 1 kilogram, but can lift a load of 500kg. In some cases, our calf muscles have even been shown to handle loads approaching a tonne (1,000kg)!

But muscles have a major performance issue: they can’t produce much force when they’re shortening at high speed. In fact, when we move at our fastest, muscles can’t theoretically shorten fast enough to help us at all – so how is it that we can move so quickly?

Muscles are strong, but slow

Muscles produce most of their force through the interactions of two proteins: actin and myosin. The rotating, globular “head” region of the long myosin filament attaches to the rod-like actin to pull it along in a sweeping motion, like an oar producing force to pull a boat along the water. So actin and myosin filaments form powerful mini motors.

Trillions of these mini motors together the large forces we need every day to walk upstairs, carry our shopping bags, or take the lid off a jar.

Trillions of actin and myosin proteins work together to make your muscles contract and your body move.

The head region of myosin is only 20 nanometres long. It’s so small that there’s no point comparing its size to a human hair, because it would barely even cross a handful of DNA molecules laid side by side.

Because it’s so short and only pulls actin a small distance in each stroke, a large number of strokes are needed to shorten a muscle by any distance. It’s like using first gear to get up a hill in a car or on a bike – good for force, but not for speed.

At the molecular level, your muscles are a bit like first gear on a bike: great for force, not so good for speed.
Ljupco Smokovski / Shutterstock

And the faster the muscle shortens, the less time each myosin is attached to actin, which reduces force even further. At a certain shortening speed, muscles can’t produce any force at all.

We can measure the power athletes produce during running and jumping, and we can estimate the power a muscle should produce by its size and the type of fibres it contains. When we compare these two values, we find that muscles can’t even produce half the power generated in sprinting or vertical jumping. And in overarm throwing, muscles can produce only 15% of the total power.




Read more:
Health Check: why do my muscles ache the day after exercise?


Energy return systems

So if the muscles aren’t producing the power to move a body at high speed, where is it coming from? Humans, like most other animals on Earth, make use of an “energy return system”: something that can store energy and release it rapidly when needed.

Our energy return systems are made of a relatively long, stretchy tendon attached to a strong muscle. When the muscle produces force it stretches the tendon, storing elastic energy. The subsequent recoil of the tendon then generates a power far superior to our muscles. Our tendons are power amplifiers.

Tendons store energy when they stretch and quickly release it when they contract again.

There are several techniques we can use to increase energy storage. The most important is to first move in the opposite direction to the desired movement (a “countermovement”) so the muscle force is already high when the proper movement begins. Most of us learn this strategy when we’re young, when we first dip down before we jump upwards, or we draw our bat or racquet backwards before swinging it forwards.

The technique we use is key to maximising our elastic potential, and Olympic athletes spend years trying to optimise it.

Tendons that are stiffer or stretched further will store more energy and then recoil with greater power. During running, the greatest power is produced at the ankle joint, so it makes sense that sprint runners and the best endurance runners have stiffer Achilles’ tendons than us mere mortals.

They also have the muscle strength to stretch them. We haven’t yet accurately measured the stiffness of shoulder tendons in athletes, but we might assume they are built similarly.

Can we improve our energy return system?

The capacity to store and release elastic energy is partly determined by genetics, but it’s also something we can improve through training. Not only can training improve your technique, heavy strength training and other methods can also make your tendons stiffer.

As we develop from childhood to adulthood, we learn to make better use of elastic energy to produce more power and use it more efficiently. As we age further, our tendon stiffness and power output decrease, and it costs us more energy to move.

People with less stiffness in their Achilles’ tendon (and the accompanying lower strength in the calf muscles) have slower walking speeds. As walking speed is strongly associated with mortality and morbidity in the elderly, maintaining tendon stiffness may be important to our health and longevity.




Read more:
Health Check: in terms of exercise, is walking enough?


The greatest power during walking, running and jumping is produced at the ankle joint. This is an important target for athletes, but also for anyone who wants to maintain their walking capacity as they age.

Good ways to keep your ankle muscles conditioned include calf raises on a step, squat to calf raise exercises, and walking up and down hills whenever you get the chance.

If you feel game, you might even join a gym and enjoy the numerous ways to strengthen your calf and Achilles’ tendon, and lots of other muscles too.

The Conversation

Anthony Blazevich does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Muscles are important, but stiff tendons are the secret ingredient for high-speed performance – https://theconversation.com/muscles-are-important-but-stiff-tendons-are-the-secret-ingredient-for-high-speed-performance-165458

Thinking of taking a language in year 11 and 12? Here’s what you need to know

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Mairin Hennebry-Leung, Lecturer in Languages and TESOL, University of Tasmania

Shutterstock

This article is part of a series providing school students with evidence-based advice for choosing subjects in their senior years.

Some students elect to study languages in their senior years because of personal interest, or because they have previously been successful in language learning. Others may choose to do so because of future career plans, or because they wish to further their studies at university.

Other important influences on students’ decisions are perceived cognitive benefits. Studying languages can lead to more effective thinking skills and enhanced intercultural understanding.

Research shows high achieving students in capital cities are most likely to study a language in years 11 and 12. This is particularly the case for students whose parents were born overseas in non-English speaking countries.

Girls are more likely to do languages than boys — research suggests they are just more motivated to do so.

If you’re thinking of studying a language in years 11 and 12, here’s what you should know.

Few students choose to study a language

In Australia, 10% of year 12 students studied a language in 2019. This compared with enrolments of 77% and 71% for the most popular learning areas, English and maths. The visual and performing arts were the second-least popular at 25%. In other parts of the world, however, language learning is on the up. So if you’re looking to broaden your horizons, learning a language is a good way to go.



We don’t know the exact reasons for the low enrolments. One reason could be that the language a student wants to learn isn’t always available. For example, the majority of students who study Indonesian at the primary level don’t continue when they enter secondary school, often because it’s no longer available.

Among students who do decide to study a language in years 11 and 12, the most popular choices are Chinese (22%), Japanese (20%) and French (18%).

Chinese is the second most widely-spoken language in Australian homes after English, which may be one reason for its popularity. But there are many factors that influence the popularity of a language, such as students of French being interested in French culture.

What can you do with languages?

If you’re planning on going to university, learning a language will give you a leg up in the applications. Some Australian universities actually offer bonus ATAR points to students studying a language. For instance, ANU will bump your score up by five points if you take a language.

There are many career pathways available to language graduates. Teaching, interpretation, translation and diplomacy are some of them.




Read more:
Learning languages early is key to making Australia more multilingual


A quick search on Seek throws up more than 4,000 jobs requiring language expertise including for lawyers, technical support engineers, sales representatives and market data analysts. Other options include finance, media, public relations, tourism, consulting, marketing, charity work, international business, foreign affairs or government work. Kevin Rudd’s knowledge of Mandarin gave him an edge as foreign affairs minister.

Many industries will welcome language graduates because they bring intercultural skills, which are crucial in our globally connected world. Plus, a second language can allow you to travel the world while developing your career.

What will you learn in the senior years?

What you will learn depends on which school you go to, what state you live in and which language you choose.

In most senior courses, you’ll not only learn the language but also its associated culture. For instance, in Victoria the senior language curriculum is organised into three broad themes:

  • the individual, which looks at cultural topics such as relationships, educational aspirations, and leisure and sports

  • the (language)-speaking communities, where you explore aspects of the history and the culture, arts and entertainment, lifestyles and ways of life

  • the changing world, where you engage with social issues, youth issues, environmental concerns and work.

Across these themes you will gain historical insight into the language and its speakers. You will likely explore the art, literature and music that have grown out of these language communities, consider social issues, such as the role of women, and engage with issues such as the culture’s value systems on relationships.

Lantern hanging at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan
Through learning your chosen language, you will also learn about the history and culture of its communities.
Shutterstock

Most of this learning happens through the actual language, so you’re growing your knowledge and understanding of culture, society and history, while developing your language skills.

How fluent you become by the end of year 12 depends on many factors, including how many years you’ve been studying the language and how much effort you put in.




Read more:
Is your kid studying a second language at school? How much they learn will depend on where you live


If you’ve been learning a language all the way through high school, by the end of year 12, you could aim for level B1 in an international certificate known as the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). This means you can deal with most situations you encounter while travelling, you can talk about your experiences and ambitions and explain your opinions, and you can understand the main points on things you regularly come across at work, school or elsewhere.

Is it better to take a language you’ve already been learning?

If you take the same language in the senior years as you have all through school, you will obviously benefit from already knowing a lot of the language as well as its grammatical structure.

But you could also take the opportunity to learn a different language, which will be easier to grasp now that you’ve already studied one.

Language learning involves developing knowledge about how language works. For instance, if you learn French throughout high school, you will develop a detailed and technical knowledge of the grammar of both English and French.

You could transfer your knowledge of how the French grammatical system works to another language.

View of Eiffel Tower from the bottom, looking up
Knowing the grammatical structure of one language will make it easier for you to grasp the basics of another language.
Shutterstock

What do the exams look like?

The structure of senior language exams differs slightly depending on the state you are in. But generally the exam will require students to read and respond to both written and oral texts.

The written exam may include reading a passage in the language and answering questions to demonstrate comprehension of the text’s ideas or arguments. There will also be questions that involve composing texts in the language, such as an email, a description of an event such as a holiday or a letter to a friend.




Read more:
What languages should children be learning to get ahead?


The oral texts are often pre-recorded and played to students several times. After listening to the oral texts, students are often asked to answer questions (in English or the target language). The oral exam may also include a conversation with the examiners and/or a discussion with the examiners on a prepared topic.

Read the other articles in our series on choosing senior subjects, here.

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Thinking of taking a language in year 11 and 12? Here’s what you need to know – https://theconversation.com/thinking-of-taking-a-language-in-year-11-and-12-heres-what-you-need-to-know-164080

Tuila’epa supporters demonstrate over ‘disintegration’ of Samoa constitution

By Soli Wilson in Apia

Heavy rain early today failed to deter more than 1000 Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) supporters who gathered in front of the Government building in Apia — some travelling hours to get there — to protest against what they claim to be the “disintegration” of Samoa’s constitution.

Despite the sporadic heavy showers, people marched in unison singing traditional songs to rally against the judiciary’s ruling to install the new Fiame Naomi Mata’afa government.

People held up posters with messages proclaiming “Uphold the Constitution” and “Constitutional Government not Judicial Government” as they waved Samoan flags.

The Former Minister of Health, Faimalo Kika Stowers, led the march with other HRPP figures and former MPs mixed among the crowd.

While announcements said the march would start at 10 am, the movement of more than 200 people left the Fiame Mata’afa Faumuina Mulinuu II (FMFMII) Building before that time.

Many of the attendees told the Samoa Observer that they were marching in support of former prime minister Tuila’epa Dr Sailele Malielegaoi’s government.

“HRPP have done amazing things for Samoa and we will continue to stand for [it],” an elderly man in his 80s from Moataa said.

Buses full of civilians
Buses full of civilians of all ages, from as far as Samatau, offloaded in front of the Government building from 8 am.

Meanwhile, at the Malae o Tiafau, large tents and hundreds of chairs had been set up to shelter the demonstrators.

The Samoa Observer understands that the Supreme Court had cancelled all matters initally scheduled for Monday as a safety precaution for judges.

A heavy police presence was seen at the ground floor of the building.

The Samoa Observer understands this was to ensure that no disturbances took place for the new government that is now housed in the FMFMII building.

Today’s rally comes after the party’s supporters participated on Friday in a vehicle convoy protest against the judiciary.

Soli Wilson is a writer for the Samoa Observer. This article is republished with permission.

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

Michael Field: On saying sorry – who next? The Banabans?

COMMENT: By Michael Field of The Pacific Newsroom

Apologies are, more or less by custom, the end of things.

Say sorry, and don’t mention it again.

As warm and moving as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s apology was over the immigration Dawn Raids of the 1970s, it will mostly fade away. At the function, standing under an Auckland Town Hall plaque honouring one of New Zealand’s worst administrators of Samoa (and Tokelau), no one I spoke to, knew who he was.

Auckland Town Hall plaque
The Auckland Town Hall plaque honouring Major-General Sir George Spafford Richardson … “one of New Zealand’s worst administrators of Samoa (and Tokelau)”. Image: Michael Field

And yet nine years ago Prime Minister Helen Clark formally apologised for his actions and others.

Apologies are a bit of a sugar rush; something else is needed.

Which brings me to Australian-based academic Katerina Teaiwa who, during the dawn raid apology, tweeted it was great to hear, and added: “We’ll have to work on some specific recognition and support for Banabans from Kiribati & Fiji whose island was sacrificed for NZ, Aus & UK development/agriculture/farming/food security.”

Understanding what happened to Banaba is vital for Pacific futures; not just for correcting historical wrongs that can be dealt with a glitzy Town Hall confession of guilt.

Tragic story of Banaba
That said, the tragic story of Banaba and New Zealand’s role in it – and in Nauru – justify a formal state apology but Teaiwa is right to suggest a rather more ongoing process.

Banaba is vitally important for a number of reasons.

First there is the brutal business of not only robbing a people of their land, but also of enforced exile to another part of the world. Sea level rise, alone, may well make this more the norm, than unusual. Banabans, how they were treated and their response, offer much to an endangered low lying Pacific.

And as Pacific states move toward the business of seafloor mining, Banaba offers lessons in issues as diverse as “beware strangers offering lavish gifts” to “and where do we live after the strangers have taken all the riches….?”

What is also alarming about the Banaba story (and Nauru’s) is that their corrupt, illegal and deceptive plunder was done to make, in particular, Aotearoa and Australia rich. The soils of Banaba and Nauru contain motherlodes of phosphate which is needed to grow grass for agriculture.

Here is the rub: almost no New Zealanders know the story of Banaba or Nauru. And when pressed, some will say, reflecting colonial propaganda, that “we paid a fair price for the phosphate”.

No ‘fair price’
A simple reply: no we did not. Never did.

An apology to Banaba is necessary but only after Aotearoa and others come to terms with what they did to around a thousand people who, for centuries, have lived peacefully on a beautiful island.

Its stark ruins today should remind us that just saying sorry is mostly not enough.

Michael Field is a co-publisher of The Pacific Newsroom. This article is republished with permission.

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Samoa confirms China-backed Vaiusu Bay port project shelved

RNZ Pacific

Samoa’s new prime minister has opted not to proceed with a China-backed port development project championed by her predecessor.

Fiame Naomi Mata’afa said the US$100 million (NZ$139m) project would have significantly added to the country’s exposure to China which already accounts for 40 percent of its external debt.

The proposed construction in Vaiusu Bay has been a divisive issue in Samoa, playing a part in April’s national election where long-serving leader Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi lost his parliamentary majority.

After a protracted impasse following the election, in which Tuila’epa’s HRPP administration refused to concede defeat until legal avenues were exhausted, the new government of Fiame’s Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party was confirmed late last month.

The Vaiusu Bay port project was one of the early items on the FAST government’s agenda.

According to Fiame, the project would increase debt exposure to China by 70 percent.

She said government officials confirmed last week the project had not gone beyond feasability testing and that it exceeded Samoa’s requirement.

‘Not a priority’
“We’ve indicated to Foreign Affairs that this would not be a priority with our government, and since we haven’t made any firm commitments, that we should leave it at that.”

She said the cancellation of a key China-funded maritime port project would not hinder the strong relationship with Beijing.

Fiame said the investment was a sizeable one for any government, including China, and she had serious reservations about that level of commitment.

“It could have been any other donor. So just on the pure numbers and also in terms of the priorities of our government, it is not a priority to us. And thank goodness the negotiation had not arrived at the point where our government has signed on any dotted line.”

Fiame said the door remained open to Beijing and all aid partners for future projects of clear benefit to Samoa.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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Fiji police, fire agency jointly probe two separate urban fires

By Talebula Kate in Suva

The Fiji Police Force and the National Fire Authority are currently investigating two separate fires that broke out last night — at the Central Arcade in Ba and at Tappoos warehouse in Raiwai.

Police say the first report of fire was received at the Ba Police Station before 8pm and the second fire outbreak was reported at the Raiwaqa Police Station after 11pm.

“A security officer rang and notified police of a fire at the Ba Central Arcade whereby eight shops were destroyed,” a police spokesman said.

“The fire is believed to have started on the second floor; however this is subject to investigations.”

Ba is a town near Lautoka, in western Viti Levu.

“NFA and police officers attended to the scene at the Tappoos warehouse, Carpenters St, Raiwai,” the police spokesman said.

Raiwai is a surburb of the capital Suva. The cause of fire is yet to be determined.

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Gamers know the power of ‘flow’ — what if learners could harness it too?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Simon McCallum, Senior Lecturer in Software Engineering, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

www.shutterstock.com

One of the constant challenges in education is keeping the learner engaged, motivated and connected in a world increasingly filled with distractions. Social media, streaming TV and video games all compete for students’ increasingly fragmented attention.

COVID-19 lockdowns only increased the opportunity for those distractions to interfere with learning. But, as we look hopefully towards a post-COVID world, perhaps we can take inspiration from the things many students are clearly drawn to — in particular, video games.

Of course, borrowing from video games and their design to inform educational practice isn’t new. Some have talked this up as “gameducation”, whereby courses are like games with trophies for participation and engagement.

It’s clear learning this way can be fun, but there is another important element of that experience that deserves closer examination — “flow”.

Gamers (athletes, too) experience this flow state when totally engaged in the game. Living in the moment and the experience, the activity is effortless and there is no sense of time passing.

Students can also experience flow, and this is when learning is at its most productive. So, the challenge in education is to plan for and achieve that level of engagement. Flow is and always will be the gold standard.

students on a computer screen videoconference
Online learning in the age of COVID-19: paying attention to each other or paying attention to the screen?
www.shutterstock.com

Learning as social activity

Learning has always been a deeply social activity, with the student connected to the institution, as Nietzsche put it, “by the ear, as a hearer”.

Schools relied on classrooms full of children learning the same material together, their shared attention helping to reduce distractions during focused moments of teaching.

Over time, various strategies for combating distraction have been developed, including offering students a smorgasbord of learning experiences, or cutting the length of lectures to account for the tyranny of concentration spans.




Read more:
How student-designed video games made me rethink how I teach history


But COVID-mandated videoconferencing deprives both students and lecturers, and drains the richness from these social interactions. Furthermore, learning mediated by screens simply amplifies the myriad distractions available online.

Even with cameras on, we’re not necessarily paying attention to each other, we’re paying attention to the screen.

But maybe this is where the qualities that define video games come into their own. After all, gaming is also a deeply social activity that allows for complex interactions and learning without the physical presence of anything more than a screen.

Among US game on mobile phone
Popular online game Among Us: the tasks are actually the distractions.
www.shutterstock.com

Harnessing distraction

Online games have already partly substituted for the things COVID-19 has affected — sports events, concerts and music festivals, parties and weddings.

Take the game Among Us, for example, which in September 2020 alone had 200,000 people going online to watch “impostors” try to eliminate “crewmates” from teams before they can complete a set of tasks or identify which players are the impostors.

Within the context of the game, the tasks are actually the distractions that prevent players from focusing on who is really an impostor. It is about observation, memory and insight — a game full of learning opportunities that teaches participants how to control distractions.




Read more:
How teachers can use video games to motivate students


The social cohesion created in the teams of Among Us players offers a template for teachers looking for ways to create engaging digital learning environments. Creating teams, allocating individual tasks that help the team and regularly changing team members all help to engage and stimulate students.

With online teaching making it harder for institutions to control the learning environment, it becomes imperative to making learning activities themselves more engaging in a screen-mediated environment.

Learning with distraction

As Marshall McLuhan famously said, “the medium is the message”. Understanding how games grab and hold attention can help with the design and implementation of new online learning tools.

Even some politicians are learning from games and using them to engage with the public. Gamification is also enhancing academic research and teaching.




Read more:
How playful design is transforming university education


The key lies in our definition of distraction. Screen learning must involve distracting students towards the things that really matter. In education, as in gaming, we can “court risk” without the fear of failing.

Rather than admonishing learners for not focusing when sitting at desks in school or in front of screens, we should work within our distracted world. We need to play with distraction, work with distraction and learn with distraction.

Paradoxically, distraction may not be the enemy, it could be the gateway to more attentive learning.

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Gamers know the power of ‘flow’ — what if learners could harness it too? – https://theconversation.com/gamers-know-the-power-of-flow-what-if-learners-could-harness-it-too-164943

Has the High Court shown the way for successful Māori claims to marine title?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Martin Fisher, Lecturer, University of Canterbury

www.shutterstock.com

Nearly two decades on from the bitter political battle over ownership of the seabed and foreshore, a recent precedent-setting High Court decision passed almost without comment in the mainstream media.

Perhaps that is a sign the country as a whole has moved on. Various appeals now await a hearing, but if the judgment survives in its current form it may offer a way forward for many successful applications for customary marine title (CMT) and protected customary rights (PCRs) by Māori.

The case in question mainly involved whānau and hapū from Whakatōhea, but also their neighbours Ngāti Awa and Ngāi Tai, and their claim to the takutai moana (common marine and coastal area) in and around Whakatāne in the eastern Bay of Plenty.

The claims were made under the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act. Seen by many as only a marginal improvement on the now defunct Foreshore and Seabed Act, its thresholds for successful applications were felt to be still too high.

So, while there may have been limited expectations of Justice Churchman’s ruling, it’s safe to say he delivered something very much worth talking about.

Whakatane township with harbour
The claims involved foreshore and seabed in and around Whakatāne in the eastern Bay of Plenty.
www.shutterstock.com

Winning customary marine title

To understand why the judge’s decision was so noteworthy, it’s important to grasp what are considered three key factors in determining an application for customary marine title:

  • the retention of land adjacent to the claimed foreshore

  • the issuing of resource consents by local authorities

  • third-party (public) use of the foreshore and seabed.

On all these, Justice Churchman ruled in favour of the claimants. He found the retention of adjacent land was not important, and loss of land may even have led to increased use of the takutai moana.

The judge recognised the importance local authorities have placed on resource consent consultation with tangata whenua as evidence of continued authority. And he found third-party use was protected under the legislation, and so could not be evidence of interruptions to use by the applicants.

As a result of these findings, the issuing of CMT may not be as difficult as was previously thought — and that is perhaps the most surprising aspect of the decision.

An overwhelmingly positive decision

It’s true the court seemed to follow the Crown’s preference for what it has termed “large natural groupings” (LNGs) for treaty settlement redress, rather than smaller hapū or whānau groups.

The consequent reliance on whanaungatanga (kinship) that seemed to work in this case may be strained in the long run, as some LNGs have been after treaty settlements.

Here, the court relied on Canadian jurisprudence when providing for non-exclusive orders covering Whakatōhea and Ngāti Awa in the west of the application area, and Whakatōhea and Ngāi Tai in the east.

Some fear this mix of different interests, without specific geographical and legal boundaries, could possibly open the door to fresh grievances.

But this is quite picky in the context of an overwhelmingly positive decision for many claimants.




Read more:
From Parihaka to He Puapua: it’s time Pākehā New Zealanders faced their personal connections to the past


Customary rights more challenging

In contrast to the supposedly more difficult “macro” claims for CMT, the applications for PCRs – the “micro” activity-based rights – weren’t as readily approved.

The specific customary rights in the Whakatōhea application were extremely varied. Unlike CMT, multiple orders for PCRs could be provided to different groups like whānau and hapū, rather than just iwi-sized groups.

The key was evidence customary activity was continually practised on the takutai moana. The applications included harvesting kaimoana (seafood) and fishing, exercising kaitiakitanga (guardianship), mana motuhake (independence) and rangatiratanga (self-determination), using resources for medicinal and healing purposes, and resource extraction.

Most of these activities, especially those related to all fishing except for whitebait, were specifically excluded by the Takutai Moana Act, meaning many (though not all) applications for PCRs were unsuccessful.




Read more:
The Crown is Māori too – citizenship, sovereignty and the Treaty of Waitangi


Small but tangible gains

Where might this all lead? There is no immediate financial windfall, such as in a treaty settlement. Exclusion of third parties was never going to be possible, and fisheries (other than whitebait) are completely excluded from the process.

Non-Māori will be almost entirely unaffected. The holders of CMT will obtain certain proprietary rights, such as for minerals other than gold, silver, petrol and uranium, and ownership of newly found taonga tūturu (Māori archaeological objects).

They will also have some measure of co-management of conservation permission rights, protection of wāhi tapu (sacred sites) and a stronger influence on the coastal policy statement planning process.

These won’t be of great use to all applicants, but they will be valuable to many.

Entrance to NZ Supreme Court
Time will tell how robust Justice Churchman’s decision is, including possible appeals all the way to the Supreme Court.
www.shutterstock.com

Just the beginning?

As Treaty settlement negotiations slowly wind down, these applications for CMT and PCRs in the High Court are only just beginning. While many applicants have preferred the other option of direct negotiations with the Crown, the Crown has yet to begin a single negotiation.

If and when it does, the Crown’s reaction to Justice Churchman’s decision will be interesting. The Crown Law Office did not appeal his decision, leaving that to the Landowners’ Coalition (an incorporated society claiming to be a “voice for private property rights”), which is an interested party to nearly every application.

A number of whānau and hapū, some of which were awarded PCRs but not CMT, also appealed the decision.




Read more:
Separatist or radically inclusive? What NZ’s He Puapua report really says about the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


Only time will tell if the Whakatōhea decision can withstand possible appeals that may run all the way to the Supreme Court. But if it does survive in its current form, it will be a template for future successful applications.

It might also provide some legitimacy for a process that many had dismissed as largely worthless, precisely because of the perceived difficulty of obtaining successful orders for CMT and PCRs.

For that alone, Justice Churchman’s reasoned and measured boldness should be applauded.

The Conversation

Martin Fisher does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Has the High Court shown the way for successful Māori claims to marine title? – https://theconversation.com/has-the-high-court-shown-the-way-for-successful-maori-claims-to-marine-title-165381

NZ government makes apology over Dawn Raids targeting Pasifika

RNZ Pacific

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today delivered the government’s apology for the Dawn Raids against Pasifika overstayers.

She apologised for the raids in the 1970s which happened under both Labour and National governments.

“The government expresses its sorrow, remorse and regret that the Dawn Raids and random police checks occurred and that these actions were ever considered appropriate,” she said in the cultural ceremony at the Auckland Town Hall.

“Our government conveys to the future generations of Aotearoa that the past actions of the Crown were wrong, and that the treatment of your ancestors was wrong. We convey to you our deepest and sincerest apology.”

The Dawn Raids resulted in the deportation and prosecution of many Pacific Islanders, even those who remotely looked Pasifika, despite many overstayers at the time being British or American.

Both major political parties have accepted that the raids were racist.

RNZ Pacific sat down with the Minister for Pacific Peoples ‘Aupito William Sio earlier today, in his only radio interview before standing alongside Ardern, as she said sorry for the racist immigration policy that tore Pasifika families apart.

Understandably with the long work programme this apology has required of him (there has only ever been two formal government apologies meeting human injustice criteria), a number of portfolios and a pandemic continuing to ravage the Pacific, ‘Aupito said he was nervous for today’s proceedings.

“I feel the weight of responsibility from the government but also the weight of responsibility from our communities,” he said. “So, all of that, I feel.”

A formal request for an apology had been made to the prime minister’s office from the Polynesian Panthers early last year, Aupito said.

Watch the RNZ live coverage of the ceremony:

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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What Olympic athletes can teach us about regulating our emotions and staying dedicated

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Thomas Hannan, Postdoctoral research fellow, Griffith University

Alessandra Tarantino/AP

Olympians are often seen as the epitome of human performance, with incredible physical and mental strength. And with the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games well underway, it’s hard to not be impressed by the sheer talent and determination of athletes competing from all over the world.

For many of us non-Olympians, the thought of possessing such capabilities is but a dream. But research in sport psychology suggests there are indeed some skills we can learn from the experts, as long as we’re willing to put in the work ourselves.

What makes an Olympic athlete?

Being an Olympian not only requires immense physical talent but also an incredible amount of psychological control. Sport psychologists have spent decades trying to identify the key psychological ingredients that make the world’s greatest athletes great.

For one, elite athletes display high levels of passion and commitment towards their sport. They also tend to believe in their own abilities more than the average person – which can protect them against the negative effects of stress.

Resilience and determination help them bounce back from defeat. A case in point: after competing in three prior Olympic games, British diver Tom Daley recently won his first ever Olympic gold medal in Tokyo.

While competing, athletes must effectively regulate their emotions and attention to ensure best performance. Not keeping their emotions in check may compromise their performance under pressure — a phenomenon often referred to as “choking”.

The withdrawal of gymnast Simone Biles from the US women’s team and all-round finals to focus on her mental health has highlighted to the whole world how important it is for athletes to be aware of their emotional and psychological functioning.

But how is discipline developed?

While genetics do play a role in shaping an elite athlete, life experiences and environmental factors are also very important. Characteristics such as self-efficacy (your belief in your ability to perform a task) develop through experience and continued support from others.




Read more:
Tokyo Olympics: what are the limits of human performance? Podcast


Studies show enabling a supportive environment which promotes free will, emotional expression and non-controlling feedback is important for enhancing athletes’ psychological well-being.

This type of environment fosters what we call “autonomous motivation”, which is the motivation to perform an action based on one’s own interest or enjoyment. Research has shown behaviours that are autonomously motivated are more likely to be maintained long-term.

Olympic champions often deal with multiple stressors relating to their sports performance, occupation and personal lives. But their work requires them to develop resilience and approach stressors as challenges to be overcome.

An athlete’s performance can also be impacted by a variety of environmental cues including their peers, opponents, training facilities, training activities and their coach. Coaches therefore have a particularly important role in shaping an athlete’s environment and promoting high performance.

Adopting an elite mindset

Whether or not you’re training for the 2024 Paris Olympics, adopting some of the psychological skills used by Olympians can help you maintain focus and motivation in your own life.

Whether you want to exercise more, reduce your alcohol intake, or maybe be more productive at home or work — the following techniques can help you adopt an elite mindset.

1. Goal-setting

Elite athletes often set short-term and long-term goals. Setting “SMART” goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound) can help you achieve those small wins to keep you motivated as you progress towards a greater goal.

When setting goals for yourself, try to make them meaningful by linking them to values you care about. For instance, you might wish to prioritise your health, or academic achievement. Doing so can help boost your motivation to achieve your goals.

2. Planning

Obtaining a goal can often take considerable time and effort, as we see with athletes preparing for the Olympics. Planning is an important psychological skill that can help you regulate your behaviour as you move toward your goals.

Consider creating detailed action plans which outline when, where and how you will progress toward your goal. Your action plan may look like this:

Every afternoon at 3:00pm (when) I will drive to the local swimming pool (where) and swim for 45 minutes (how).

In addition, creating detailed coping plans will help prepare you for potential challenges that may impede goal attainment. For instance:

If the pool is too busy, I will go for a 45-minute run through the park instead.

3. Positive self-talk

Many athletes engage in reflective practices such as self-talk to help them focus or concentrate on the task at hand.

Identifying positive key words or phrases such as “I can do it” and “I’m almost there” can help redirect your attention and increase motivation to persevere through difficult or challenging situations. Positive self-talk can also help enhance your self-efficacy, which is a strong predictor of various positive outcomes.

4. Mental imagery

Before running towards the vault or executing a serve in volleyball, athletes often use mental imagery to visualise their performance. Visualising the steps needed to perform an action or reach your goal can boost motivation and anticipated pleasure from completing the planned activity.




Read more:
The power of no: Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka and Black women’s resistance


So the next time you sit back to watch the world’s best compete for glory, think about how you too can adopt the mindset of an Olympian, and feel motivated to excel in your own way.

The Conversation

Thomas Hannan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. What Olympic athletes can teach us about regulating our emotions and staying dedicated – https://theconversation.com/what-olympic-athletes-can-teach-us-about-regulating-our-emotions-and-staying-dedicated-165170

Who were Australia’s best prime ministers? We asked the experts

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Paul Strangio, Professor of Politics, Monash University

Public Domain except Hawke, Keating and Howard (Commonwealth of Australia CC-BY-SA)

Who have been Australia’s most accomplished prime ministers? Curiously, it’s a question that is seldom asked. We enthusiastically compile lists of the greatest films or sporting champions, but rarely do we apply the same energy to thinking about prime-ministerial virtuosity.

More common is the rush to condemn incumbents. For example, a recent venomous piece of commentary on Scott Morrison demanded to know: “Have we ever been led by a worse prime minister than this smirking vacuum?”

The problem with these hyperbolic attacks is that they lack context. How does Morrison’s leadership compare to his 29 predecessors? And, in any case, is it too early to properly judge his performance given his prime-ministerial project is incomplete?




Read more:
Lacking a script, individuals drove the evolution of prime ministerial power


What makes a great prime minister?

Evaluating leadership performance is replete with difficulties. This is despite the fact that, in democratic systems like ours, the mark of leadership achievement can appear deceptively simple.

On first consideration, longevity of office appeals as the sine qua non of successful political leadership. After all, winning government is the chief prize for a political leader, and retaining power, which is indicative of holding onto public support, affords the primary means by which to exercise influence.

Yet further reflection suggests survival alone is not a sufficient criterion of leadership success: it must also take account of what is accomplished with power. Indeed, should the legacy of a leader’s time in office be the paramount test of performance?

But then a new problem: how are we to construct meaningful and agreed upon measurements of the scale and quality of that legacy? Surely, for instance, the benchmark has to be more than the legislative productivity of a leader’s government. Yet once we endeavour to devise qualitative measurements that factor in the impact of the changes a leader has wrought, we inevitably run into disagreements about whether those changes were for good or bad.

One way of sidestepping the difficulties of evaluating political leadership is expert rankings. That is, ranking evaluations gained from people with professional knowledge, rather than surveys based on population sampling.

These have a storied history in the United States. Presidential rankings are not only conducted regularly but their results painstakingly analysed and hotly debated.

In parliamentary democracies such as Australia, leadership rankings have taken longer to catch on. But they have gained a foothold in recent decades. Most of them have been ad hoc surveys of a small number of public intellectuals and commentators initiated by broadsheet newspapers.

In 2010 and again in 2020, however, large-scale expert rankings surveys have been run out of Monash University. Sixty-six political scientists and political historians participated in last year’s survey. They were asked to rate the performance of all prime ministers, barring the incumbent (Morrison was not included as Julia Gillard was not included in the 2010 survey), and the three caretakers, Earle Page, Frank Forde and John McEwen, who briefly warmed the prime-ministerial seat following the death of an incumbent.



John Curtin, war-time PM, rated our greatest leader

The results of the 2010 and 2020 Monash surveys suggest there is a reasonable consensus about who have been our best prime ministers.

The top-rated national leader is Australia’s second world war prime minister and co-architect of its post-war reconstruction regime, John Curtin. Next comes Bob Hawke, whose governments modernised and internationalised Australia’s economy in the 1980s through market-based reforms cushioned by an overlay of social democratic values.

Third-ranked is Alfred Deakin, the Liberal Protectionist prime minister and the chief architect of the nation-building edifice laid down in the first Commonwealth decade. It included, among other things, tariff protection, an industrial arbitration system and the beginnings of a welfare state through provision of old age pensions.

John Curtin (second from left), who led Australia through the second world war and co-designed its post-war reconstruction, has been ranked our best prime minister.
AAP/AP

Ben Chifley, Curtin’s collaborator in the design of the post-war reconstruction Keynesian welfare state, is also in the top echelon. He is followed by Robert Menzies, the father of the modern Liberal Party and Australia’s longest-serving prime minister.

Others who make the top tier or are close to it are: Gough Whitlam, the reforming titan whose government dramatically modernised Australia in the early 1970s; Andrew Fisher, Australia’s first majority prime minister whose legacies included the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank and maternity allowances; and, in a delicious irony, the two great rivals, Paul Keating and John Howard. Keating is the big improver from the 2010 Monash ratings.

Longevity in office isn’t everything

The 2020 rankings also asked participants to rate prime ministers in nine performance areas. These were: effectively managing cabinet, maintaining support of party/coalition, demonstrating personal integrity, leaving a significant policy legacy, relationship with the electorate, communication effectiveness, nurturing national unity, defending and promoting Australia’s interests abroad, and being able to manage turbulent times.



Looking for correlations between performance in these areas and overall ratings it was evident that there was a close nexus between a high ranking and being scored strongly for policy legacy. The upper echelon prime ministers – Curtin, Hawke, Deakin, Chifley, Menzies, Keating, Whitlam, Fisher and Howard – were all in the top grouping for policy legacy.

Julia Gillard rounded out the policy legacy top ten, which seemed to go a long way to explaining her healthy rating in the upper middle tier of the former prime ministers.

Julia Gillard was ranked highly for policy significance during her time as prime minister.
Lukas Coch/AAP

It appears that in the minds of the participants the relationship with the electorate, while also important, ranks behind policy achievement in significance. Whitlam, Fisher and Keating were all outside the top ten for winning favour with the electorate, but are still highly ranked.

This is further reflected in the fact that, while Australia’s three most durable prime ministers – Menzies, Howard and Hawke – all make or are near the top tier, the next four longest-serving prime ministers and multiple election winners, Malcolm Fraser, Billy Hughes, Joseph Lyons and Stanley Bruce, do not.

In short, though longevity is important, what a prime minister does with office counts more to the experts. Strikingly, all of the top-ranked leaders were either the initiators or consolidators of major policy settlements.

A high score for nurturing national unity also strongly correlates with a favourable overall rating. Howard’s below-average result on that measure seems to disqualify him from pushing further up among the top-ranked prime ministers.

Conversely, the connection was weakest between a high ranking and the integrity performance benchmark. This does not mean the experts paid no heed to integrity. Rather, they had a generally favourable view of the collective integrity of our prime ministers, regarding them as a fundamentally upright bunch.

And who were the duds?

What about the prime ministerial dunces? There is not only a consensus about who have been our best prime ministers but also our worst.

William ‘Billy’ McMahon was ranked our worst prime minister, but Tony Abbott is hot on his heels.
Museum of Australian Democracy

William McMahon, who was the nation’s leader in the dying days of the Liberal Party’s post-WWII ascendancy and was defeated by Whitlam at the December 1972 election, wins that dubious honour.

Yet the 2020 rankings suggest he now has a rival for that ignominious status: Tony Abbott. Indeed, despite squeaking ahead of McMahon on the overall performance question, Abbott exceeded him for the number of failure ratings: 44 to 41. Against the nine benchmarks, Abbott is ranked last for policy legacy and nurturing national unity. McMahon is bottom for six of the nine areas, among them integrity (part of his entrenched reputation is that of an inveterate schemer and leaker).




Read more:
Is the COVID vaccine rollout the greatest public policy failure in recent Australian history?


Notably, three of the four most recent prime ministers – Kevin Rudd, Malcolm Turnbull and Abbott – are situated towards or in the rear of the ratings pack. Together, they occupy the three bottom rungs for management of party/coalition. This suggests respondents hold them, rather than their colleagues, chiefly responsible for their depositions by party-room revolts.

The clear exception among the post-Howard prime ministers is Gillard. Though still only middle-ranked overall, she is by far the highest-rated leader among this ill-starred group.

Where will Morrison end up in the rankings? The short answer is that it is too early to tell since his is an unfinished story. The COVID-19 pandemic has ensured his incumbency will be a significant one, either for good or bad.

Yet the lack of much in the way of tangible policy achievements to this point does not bode well for his rating.

The Conversation

Paul Strangio does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Who were Australia’s best prime ministers? We asked the experts – https://theconversation.com/who-were-australias-best-prime-ministers-we-asked-the-experts-165302

Aboriginal people near the Ranger uranium mine suffered more stillbirths and cancer. We don’t know why

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Rosalie Schultz, Adjunct Senior Lecturer, College of Medicine and Public Health Centre for Remote Health, Flinders University

This article mentions stillbirth deaths in Aboriginal communities.


The Ranger uranium mine, surrounded by Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, operated for 40 years until it closed in 2021. During this time, Aboriginal people in the region experienced stillbirth rates double those of Aboriginal people elsewhere in the Top End, and cancer rates almost 50% higher.

But a NT government investigation couldn’t explain why. And as I write today in the Medical Journal of Australia, we’re still no wiser.

We owe it to Aboriginal people living near mines to understand and overcome what’s making them sick. We need to do this in partnership with Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations. This may require research that goes beyond a biomedical focus to consider the web of socio-cultural and political factors contributing to Aboriginal well-being and sickness.




Read more:
Uranium mines harm Indigenous people – so why have we approved a new one?


Investigating the health impacts

Uranium was mined at Ranger from 1981 until 2012. Processing of stockpiled ore continued until 2021. This is despite community opposition when the mine was proposed and during its operation.

Over the life of the mine, there have been more than 200 documented incidents. Diesel and acid spills have contaminated creeks and drinking water.

The Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation represents the Mirarr people of the region. For decades it has expressed grave concerns about continuing incidents and the lack of an effective government response.




Read more:
The uranium mine in the heart of Kakadu needs a better clean up plan


When Ranger’s operators proposed expanding the mine in 2014, opponents pointed to suggestions of higher rates of stillbirth and cancer among Aboriginal people living nearby.

The NT health department then set up an investigation. Investigators began by identifying all Aboriginal people who had spent more than half their lives near the mine between 1991 and 2014. These people were compared with all other Aboriginal people in the Top End.

The investigators considered the worst-case scenario would be if Aboriginal people were exposed to radiation from the mine contaminating bush food, water or air, and this exposure increased stillbirth and cancer rates.

Investigators also looked at smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol and poor diet as possible contributing causes.




Read more:
How Australians Die: cause #2 – cancers


Here’s what they found

Investigators found the rate of stillbirth was 2.17 times higher among Aboriginal women near the mine. Radiation can lead to stillbirth by causing congenital malformations, and some other risk factors for stillbirth appeared more common amongst women near the mine. However the investigation found neither radiation nor other risk factors explained the higher rate of stillbirth.

The rate of cancer overall was 1.48 times higher among Aboriginal people near the mine than elsewhere in the Top End. No rates of single cancers were significantly higher.

Cancers of the lip, mouth and throat together were the most common cancers. These cancers covered 42% of the excess cancers among people near the mine. The investigators were confident these cancers were not related to radiation from the mine, based on international evidence. The Ranger mine investigation concluded radiation did not contribute to the higher cancer rates.

However, cancers of the lip, mouth and throat are associated with smoking and drinking alcohol. Health records showed smoking, drinking alcohol and a poor diet were more common among Aboriginal people near the mine. Yet the rates of cancer among people near the mine who smoked, drank alcohol or reported poor diet were no higher than the rates of cancer among other Aboriginal people in the Top End who smoked, drank alcohol or reported a poor diet.

So the investigation concluded neither radiation, smoking, alcohol nor poor diet explained why Aboriginal people near the mine had higher rates of stillbirths and cancer.

The NT government concluded its investigation by recommending initiatives to reduce smoking and drinking alcohol by Aboriginal people near the mine.




Read more:
Explainer: what are cancer clusters?


Investigating disease clusters can be hard

When a cluster of people with a particular disease is identified, affected communities seek an explanation. However studies of disease clusters rarely explain exactly why the cluster has occurred. Some diseases, such as cancer, have complex origins that may have been experienced decades before the cancer is diagnosed.

Worldwide, communities exposed to ionising radiation from mining are often also exposed to dust, diesel, noise and trauma. They also have higher rates of smoking and drinking alcohol.

So, it is understandable the investigation into stillbirths and cancers among Aboriginal people near Ranger uranium mine was inconclusive.

Where to next?

While the NT government recommendations appear to show concern for Aboriginal health, they ignore the importance of Aboriginal people’s rights, empowerment and self-determination as contributors to health and well-being.

The development of the Ranger mine brought Aboriginal communities royalty money and alcohol. It also contributed to loss of traditional livelihoods, dependency and despair.

Inequality has also increased among Aboriginal people near the mine, as some can access royalty money and work opportunities, and others cannot. And inequality can contribute to both stillbirths and cancer.

So these excess stillbirths and cancers may be associated with a web of interrelationships between individuals, communities and wider ecological, sociological and political environments. The NT government’s biomedically focused investigation was not designed to explore these and further research is needed to unravel this web.

Governments also need to consider all the risks Aboriginal communities potentially face from any proposed mining operations before they commit to these developments on Aboriginal land. This includes gas drilling proposed in the NT’s Beetaloo Basin.


I’d like to acknowledge Justin O’Brien CEO of Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Mirrar people, who own the land at Ranger, and Michael Fonda, representing the Public Health Association of Australia. Both helped ensure the NT government investigation mentioned in this article was conducted, completed and published.

The Conversation

Rosalie Schultz is affiliated with Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) and Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA).

ref. Aboriginal people near the Ranger uranium mine suffered more stillbirths and cancer. We don’t know why – https://theconversation.com/aboriginal-people-near-the-ranger-uranium-mine-suffered-more-stillbirths-and-cancer-we-dont-know-why-164862

Australia’s international education market share is shrinking fast. Recovery depends on unis offering students a better deal

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Ian Anderson. Palawa, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Student and University Experience, Australian National University

Shutterstock

Governments and universities are planning for the recovery of our international student market once Australia can start easing border closures that have had huge impacts on universities and the economy. The situation is becoming increasingly urgent: a new ANU-commissioned analysis shows an alarming fall in international student demand for our universities. It’s less than two-thirds of what it was before the pandemic.




Read more:
As hopes of international students’ return fade, closed borders could cost $20bn a year in 2022 – half the sector’s value


The following chart from the IDP Connect report for ANU shows Australia’s share of this market (the yellow line) has fallen to 11.74% from over 18% two years ago. Our key competitors — the UK, USA and Canada — have increased their share or remained stable.

As Australia moves out of winter and vaccination rates rise, it is hoped current regional outbreaks of COVID-19 will settle. But no-one should assume international student numbers will immediately rebound to pre-pandemic levels once borders open.

Other recent global surveys show students’ perceptions of how countries have handled the pandemic are affecting their decisions on study destinations.

And research released this week shows student sentiment about Australia as a destination continues to decline. The IDP Connect Crossroads research also finds 36% of surveyed students are likely to switch destinations if it means they can gain face-to-face teaching earlier.

Over the rest of this year and early 2022, we all need to focus on our post-COVID recovery. South Australia has been given the all clear to begin a quarantine program for international students. A NSW-based program has been approved by the state government and the Commonwealth government has signalled support for the plan. Other proposals are in the pipeline.




Read more:
The government keeps shelving plans to bring international students back to Australia. It owes them an explanation


Helping students feel they belong is vital

The research released this week shows worrying trends in student perceptions of Australia in terms of student welfare and being a welcoming destination. We see continuing declines across all metrics: response to coronavirus, student and citizen safety, and international student policies including post-study work visas.

To recover their international student markets Australian universities will need to develop and communicate a much stronger focus on providing a world-class student experience. They must take action inside and outside the classroom.

One key focus must be on building social cohesion for international students across many university settings. They do not want to feel isolated and excluded from the university community, which undermines their student experience.

Stronger social cohesion would address problems that international students have long identified: racism, loneliness and high levels of stress. It would also provide a way to tackle the recently documented political harassment of some international students.

Not all these issues are new concerns. They are not unique to international students. Domestic students confront these issues, too. Both groups will benefit it we get this right.

Having said that, at ANU our Student Satisfaction Survey data show a gap between the student experience for domestic and international students. This is consistent with other universities. Everyone needs to work harder inside and outside the classroom to close that gap.

Research shows stronger social relationships are key to preventing psychological distress for university students. Building social cohesion involves fostering shared values and connected communities. This, in turn, creates a sense of belonging and shared purpose and reduces loneliness.

Universities can help international students to make connections with local students and the communities in which they live. Educators and on-campus services need a range of strategies to strengthen the social fabric in which international students live and learn. These prevention strategies and well-being services must be accessible and culturally attuned to their needs.

group of students at table chatting as they look at laptops
When choosing a destination, international students value face-to-face teaching and being made to feel part of the university community.
Shutterstock



Read more:
5 ways Australia can get ahead in attracting and retaining Chinese international students


Protect students from harassment and racism

Stronger social cohesion can help counter racism. Universities can also communicate better about international students’ valuable contributions to our communities.

Local governments, businesses and communities all have important roles to play here. Universities can work with these groups to ensure international students have better access to accommodation and jobs. Being made to feel welcome both on and off campus sends a powerful signal to students that they are safe and included.

Australian Human Rights Watch recently highlighted on-campus harassment of international students who have different political views to the government of their home country. It reported students were self-censoring to avoid threats, harassment and surveillance.




Read more:
Academic freedom is paramount for universities. They can do more to protect it from China’s interference


International students should feel safe from political harassment on campus. They need to be able to express political views in class and know it won’t affect their assessment. Universities should provide appropriate support to students who have suffered political harassment.

Academic freedom is an important principle that underpins university education in Australia. We can help international students understand its value through improving social cohesion. University leaders can also reinforce this message by strengthening the regulation of academic freedom in student codes of conduct.

The National Strategy for International Education only tackles student experience at a high level. However, this strategy is being refreshed. This is a time for policymakers and universities to sharpen their focus on the student experience and social cohesion for international students as we prepare for post-COVID recovery.

As borders re-open, it will be more important than ever for Australian universities to show they are committed to providing international students with a world-class student experience. It’s critical for their post-pandemic recovery.

The Conversation

Ian Anderson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Australia’s international education market share is shrinking fast. Recovery depends on unis offering students a better deal – https://theconversation.com/australias-international-education-market-share-is-shrinking-fast-recovery-depends-on-unis-offering-students-a-better-deal-162856

Orangutans, gibbons and Mr Sooty: what the origins of words in Southeast Asia tell us about our long relationships with animals

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Wayan Jarrah Sastrawan, Research associate, University of Sydney

Shutterstock

Forest creatures include some of humanity’s closest biological relatives. Due to human threats, they are also some of the most endangered animals on our planet.

Southeast Asia hosts many unique forest species, and many of our English words for forest creatures have their origins in Southeast Asian languages. What sound to English speakers like exotic loanwords are meaningful in their original languages.

By exploring the Southeast Asian etymologies of these names, we can understand how humans have maintained relationships of respect and affinity with forest creatures over the centuries. And, as these ecosystems are under grave threat, it is important to recognise a different way of relating to our most endangered relatives is possible.

Here, then, are the names of four of my favourite Southeast Asian forest species, and what we know about the origins of their names.

Orangutan

Orangutans belong to the great ape family, our closest biological relatives. This familial link is reflected in the word orangutan itself, which Malay speakers today can still recognise as deriving from the phrase orang hutan, which means “forest person”.

My recent research shows this term goes back over a thousand years, contrary to the conventional belief it was coined by European visitors to Indonesia in the 17th century.

Two orangutans, on a walk.
Orangutans are one of our closest relatives, as reflected in the Malay word orang hutan, or ‘forest person’.
Jeremy Zero/Unsplash

Surprisingly, the oldest surviving texts to use the word orangutan do not come from Sumatra or Borneo, where orangutans live today, but from the neighbouring island of Java. One of the oldest texts to mention orangutans is the 9th-century poem Rāmāyaṇa. Written in the Old Javanese language, the poem describes “the orangutans, all bearded, climbing up”.

The word orangutan came into Old Javanese from another archaic language related to modern Malay. These early appearances show the word was circulating among the archipelago’s languages well over a thousand years ago.

This origin as the phrase “forest person” shows for many centuries Southeast Asians have viewed orangutans as human-like creatures residing in the forest.




Read more:
Orangutans have been adapting to humans for 70,000 years


Gibbon

Gibbons are a type of ape ideally suited to swinging through the trees of Southeast Asia’s forests. The word gibbon entered European languages through French in the 18th century.

The French adopted it from the Malay word, kebon. But recent research shows this Malay word originally came from a group of languages called Northern Aslian, spoken by indigenous communities in peninsular Malaysia. In Northern Aslian, it was probably pronounced kebong.

Two gibbons, just chilling.
Called gibbons in English, many Southeast Asian languages call this creature a wak-wak.
Dušan veverkolog/unsplash

Gibbon is a relatively rare term in Southeast Asia itself. It even fell out of use in Malay after the 18th century. More common in the region’s languages is the word wak-wak. Like orangutan, this word appears in the Old Javanese language as early as the 9th century and seems to derive from the crow-like sound gibbons make.

Through my research, I suggest the word wak-wak may have inspired the Middle Eastern legend of the Wakwak Tree: a fantastical tree from a far eastern land whose fruits produced human heads and bodies which cried out “wak wak”. Folk memories of the gibbon’s piercing cry may have been transmitted across the Indian Ocean many centuries before the animal was identified by European science.




Read more:
Gibbon song may be music to the ears of human language students


Binturong

Binturongs, also known in English as bearcats, are long and heavy tree-dwellers with large tails which they use to communicate. The word binturong first appeared in English in the 19th century as a borrowing from Malay.

Binturong also appears in a wide variety of languages from Sumatra and Borneo. This shows the word was coined early in the history of the region: probably several millennia ago, before these languages began to diverge.

A binturong having a nap, for a little treat.
The binturong does not leap from tree to tree, instead it makes its way along the ground.
Shutterstock

The earliest form of this word we know about was maturun, which probably meant “the one who descends”. It was inherited by many languages of Borneo and Sumatra, undergoing a series of regular sound changes. This is how the Malay form benturong evolved, which was later adopted by English.

Unlike many other tree creatures, binturongs do not nimbly leap among the branches. Rather, they tend to descend one tree and walk along the ground to another tree. The aptness of the name maturun shows us these early Southeast Asian communities were close observers of animal behaviour.

Siamang

The endangered siamangs are the largest type of gibbon. They have distinctive black coats and communicate with a complex system of booming calls.

This siamang is giving a very big yell.
Siamangs communicate with complex booming calls.
Shutterstock

The ultimate origin of the word is probably the word ʔamang (where the ʔ represents a glottal stop), found in several indigenous languages of the Central Aslian group.

When speakers of Malay borrowed the word ʔamang, they added the personal article si. Similar to an honorific like “mister”, si generally applies only to humans, or to animals, spirits or objects that are personified. Malay speakers later interpreted the word amang as “black”, giving rise to a folk etymology of si amang as meaning something like “Mr Sooty”.

The Malay expression was eventually treated as the single word siamang. For the Malays, the charisma exuded by siamangs entitled them to the status of personhood — another recognition of the affinity between humans and our forest ape relatives.

The Conversation

Wayan Jarrah Sastrawan receives funding from the European Research Council Project #809994 DHARMA.

ref. Orangutans, gibbons and Mr Sooty: what the origins of words in Southeast Asia tell us about our long relationships with animals – https://theconversation.com/orangutans-gibbons-and-mr-sooty-what-the-origins-of-words-in-southeast-asia-tell-us-about-our-long-relationships-with-animals-165175

Top economists say cutting immigration is no way to boost wages

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Australia’s top economists have overwhelmingly rejected cuts to either permanent or temporary migration as a means of restoring lost wage growth.

The 56 leading economists polled by the Economic Society and The Conversation include a former head of the Fair Pay Commission and a former expert member of the Fair Work Commission’s minimum wage panel.

Among the experts, selected by their peers, are specialists in economic modelling and the economics of labour markets from both the private and public sectors.

All but five rejected cuts in temporary migration as a means of boosting wage growth. All but three rejected cuts in permanent migration.

The results put the economists at odds with Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe, who last month drew a link between temporary migration and weak wage growth saying employers had been using overseas hires to fill gaps that would have been filled by locals, diluting “upward pressure on wages in these hotspots”. He said this might have spilled over to rest of the labour market.

Cutting temporary and cutting permanent migration were the first two of ten options for boosting wage growth presented to the panel of economists. The panel rated them third last and second last. Only “holding back growth in female and older worker participation” was marked down more.

Each economist was asked to pick three of the ten options. The most popular, picked by 78.2%, was measures to boost productivity growth. The next most popular, picked by 50.9%, was measures to boost business investment.


Made with Flourish

Michael Keane of The University of NSW said the idea that population growth and increased labour supply were constraining wage growth was “so naive as to not really be worthy of comment”.

Consultant Rana Roy said only a “cultivated amnesia” could ignore the near-uninterrupted growth in real wages in US, industrialised Europe and Australia amid record inbound immigration in the decades after the second world war.

Gabriela D’Souza of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia said the idea owed much to a “one dimensional view of the world” that saw only the direct impact of immigrants on particular wages and not the impact of their demand for goods and services on a broader range of wages.

Dozens of studies had identified the overall impact as “near zero”.

Productivity ‘almost everything’

Robert Breunig of the Australian National University said immigrants appeared to add to productivity rather than detract from it, meaning slowing down immigration could slow down rather than add to productivity and growth.

Three quarters of the panel nominated productivity growth as the most important precondition for higher wages growth, endorsing the conclusion of Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman that “productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything.”

Krugman famously added that a country’s ability to improve its standard of living
over time depended “almost entirely on its ability to raise its output
per worker”.


Wages growth is way below the Reserve Bank’s +3% target

Total hourly rates of pay excluding bonuses, seasonally adjusted. Change from corresponding quarter of previous year.
ABS Wage Price Index

Ian Harper, a former head of the Howard government’s Fair Pay Commission and a current member of the Reserve Bank board, said that without productivity growth, any boost in wages growth that was delivered was likely to be nominal — matched by inflation — rather than real, delivering higher living standards.

One of the best tools for lifting production per worker was business investment.

One of the five economists who thought immigration hurt wages growth, Macquarie University’s Geoffrey Kingston, said it seemed to do it by thinning investment per worker. In the 1980s, under Prime Minister Bob Hawke, increased immigration helped push down real wages for five years in a row.

Several of those surveyed said wage growth needed investment in more than machines. Griffith University’s Fabrizio Carmignani said what also mattered was investment in “human capital” via education and research and development.




Read more:
Exclusive. Top economists back unemployment rate beginning with ‘4’


Adrian Blundell-Wignall, a former division chief at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, said reforming the education system and getting rid of elitism had to be part of the plan.

“That the best predictor of how well you do at school is how rich your parents are and where they went to school is a national tragedy,” he said. “The entitlement and club economy that comes with this permeates politics, business, and who gets the best jobs after completing school.”

Former Rudd and Gillard government minister Craig Emerson said while measures to boost productivity growth were essential, even if implemented soon, they would take years to flow through into higher wages.

It’s how you divide the pie

Saul Eslake said whether or not higher productivity growth actually delivered higher real wages would depend on the division of the fruits of that growth between wages and profits.

John Quiggin said nearly every reform of Australia’s industrial relations system since 1975 had acted to reduce the bargaining power of unions. All ought to be reviewed with a “presumption in favour of repeal”.

Mala Raghavan of the University of Tasmania said wage growth had become uneven. Wages for a small number of managers had soared while wages for others — especially casual workers — had barely moved.




Read more:
Top economists want JobSeeker boosted $100+ per week, tied to wages


The Australian National University’s Emily Lancsar saw a triple benefit from reforming the industrial relations system to boost union bargaining power: it would increase wages directly, it would put money that would have been paid out as profits in the hands of people likely to spend it, and the increases would flow through to workers not on awards and not represented by unions.

Labour market specialist Jeff Borland added that there was a case for strengthening the ability of unions to obtain gender pay equity in female-dominated occupations.

None of those surveyed were optimistic about the prospect of quickly lifting wages growth. The Reserve Bank said in July it wasn’t planning to lift interest rates until aggregate wages growth exceeded 3%.


Detailed responses:

The Conversation

Peter Martin does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Top economists say cutting immigration is no way to boost wages – https://theconversation.com/top-economists-say-cutting-immigration-is-no-way-to-boost-wages-165394

National Cabinet’s plan out of COVID aims too low on vaccinations and leaves crucial questions unanswered

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Danielle Wood, Chief executive officer, Grattan Institute

At Friday’s National Cabinet meeting, our nation’s leaders put some meat on the bones of their 4-stage plan to reopen Australia.

The plan includes target vaccination thresholds and some details on restrictions that might be lifted at each stage. So far so good.




Read more:
Vaccination rate needs to hit 70% to trigger easing of restrictions


But the plan raises two major concerns.

First, the reopening threshold is low. We won’t know until we see the modelling, but it looks like the National Cabinet is taking a gamble that the outcomes of re-opening will be at the more rosy end of plausible scenarios.

Second, many important details are still missing, including the timing of each stage and, crucially, the steps the government is taking to get more jabs in arms.

The vaccine coverage thresholds for re-opening look low

The key stage of the plan is stage C. In stage C, the government commits to no more mass lockdowns, and vaccinated Australians can leave the country and return without quarantine.


ScreenShot from Scott Morrison’s LinkedIn page

The government says we need 80% of Australians over 16 vaccinated before we get to stage C.

The over-16 qualifier matters a lot. The virus doesn’t care who is eligible. Children can still transmit the virus and so transmissibility depends on vaccine rates across the population.

Getting to 80% of Australians over 16 I equates to just under 65% of all Australians – far lower than the 80% threshold Grattan Institute recommends for starting to re-open international borders.




Read more:
Is it more infectious? Is it spreading in schools? This is what we know about the Delta variant and kids


The Doherty Institute modelling that informed the plan has not been released. The institute likely presented a range of scenarios. The Australian public have a right to understand the health outcomes in each and the way in which National Cabinet weighed the uncertainty in the modelling.

Committing to a vaccine coverage threshold that is too low risks a rapid surge in COVID cases that could overwhelm our hospitals and impose a high death toll. State governments would almost certainly impose lockdowns to contain this type of spread, pushing “real” reopening further back.

Coverage too low to loosen restrictions for the vaccinated

The steps discussed in stage B also contribute to a greater risk of a disorderly re-opening. Stage B envisages loosening some quarantine requirements and public health restrictions for vaccinated residents.

The main concern is that stage B kicks in at 70% of the eligible population (56% of the total population).

Under almost any scenario, the reproduction number for the Delta strain of the virus is still well above 1 at this point. That means each infected person on average infects more than one other person.

Relaxing international arrival and quarantine restrictions for vaccinated adults – who can still transmit the virus (albeit less so than the unvaccinated) – means more Delta will get in. And allowing exemptions from public health measures for vaccinated residents means the measures to contain the spread of the virus will be less effective.




Read more:
Yes, you can still get COVID after being vaccinated, but you’re unlikely to get as sick


With only 56% of the population vaccinated, any uncontrolled spread will translate into high rates of serious illness and hospitalisation.

Our governments will be walking a very fine line indeed.

No details on ramping up the vaccine program

The other major concern is the lack of detail about how the National Cabinet plans to ramp up the vaccine program, and timeframes for doing so.

The most concerning line of the prime minister’s Friday evening press conference was “it is all up to us” – suggesting success is largely out of the government’s hands.

Getting enough jabs into arms as quickly as humanly possible is a job for government. We need a step change in the planning and professionalism of the rollout if we are going to have any hope of making these targets in a reasonable timeframe.

Grattan’s Race to 80 report, released last week, set out the necessary steps.

On logistics, it means delivering vaccines not just through GPs but via state-run mass vaccination hubs, pharmacists, schools, workplaces, and through pop-up clinics at community halls, public transport stations, and sporting events.

On messaging, it means high-quality national campaigns but also more targeted messaging for hesitant and harder-to-reach groups, including women, young people, and those from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.




Read more:
Diverse spokespeople and humour: how the government’s next ad campaign could boost COVID vaccine uptake


It looks like National Cabinet has not yet considered the crucial question of whether we need vaccine passports in high-risk settings such as restaurants and major events, to encourage people to get the vaccine and to reduce the risks of superspreading events.

And there is no plan to vaccinate children, even though Australia’s regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), has already approved Pfizer for 12-to-16 year olds.

More to do

Australia can’t afford much more delay. The key planks of the logistics, messaging, and incentive campaigns need to be in place very soon if we are going to substantially increase the pace of the rollout as more Pfizer doses arrive in coming months.

At the same time, governments should release the Doherty modelling to help Australians understand the expected health outcomes under each of the four stages.

Vaccinations are the route back to normal life. This means all Australians have a stake in making sure our governments get this plan right.




Read more:
Vaccine Rollout 2.0: Australia needs to do 3 things differently


The Conversation

Grattan Institute began with contributions to its endowment from each of the Federal and Victorian Governments, BHP Billiton, and NAB. In order to safeguard its independence, Grattan Institute’s board controls this endowment. Grattan Institute also receives funding from corporates, foundations, and individuals to support its general activities as disclosed on its website.

Stephen Duckett and Tom Crowley do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. National Cabinet’s plan out of COVID aims too low on vaccinations and leaves crucial questions unanswered – https://theconversation.com/national-cabinets-plan-out-of-covid-aims-too-low-on-vaccinations-and-leaves-crucial-questions-unanswered-165447

PNG byelection officers protest over unpaid work – told ‘wait, no funds’

By Clifford Faiparik in Port Moresby

Angry policemen, election officials and others involved in Papua New Guinea’s Moresby North-West byelection last month stormed into the Electoral Commission (PNGEC) headquarters this week demanding to be paid what they are owed.

They have been waiting since June 24 to be paid wages, allowances and fees for services provided.

They included policemen engaged in security operations, officers involved in the polling and counting, presiding officers and those who provided hire vehicles and catering services.

They forced their way into the headquarters compound at Hohola on Thursday demanding to be paid.

But they were told there was no money to pay them. Returning Officer for the byelection Desmond Timiyaso told them that the K3 million (NZ$1.3 million) allocated by the government for the exercise had all been used up.

“There are no funds to pay you. So you have to wait till we get more funds then we will pay you your dues,” Timiyaso said.

Welder Nene John who sealed the five containers containing the ballot boxes for the five wards said he was owed K3000.

‘I have five children’
“I sealed the containers that contained the ballot boxes to keep them safe. I was paid only K600 after I submitted my invoice for K1000,” he said.

“Then I was told to (open) the locks and seal so that the ballot boxes can be taken out for the counting. I submitted my invoice of K3000 and am still waiting to get paid.

“It is almost two months now. I have five children two of whom are in primary school.”

A policeman who asked not to be identified said he was supposed to be paid K4200 for his hours during the security operation.

“There were 15 of us engaged by the PNGEC and owed a total of K63,000 (for providing) a 24-hour security for the (election) officers,” he said.

“We have been checking since the election ended and they keep telling us that there are no funds to pay us. How can that be? This election was funded and our engagement for security operation was funded.”

Presiding Officer Archie Baing said some of them had been paid part of what they were owed. Others had not been paid anything.

“This cannot continue as it is a chronic problem with the PNGEC. Every election, they don’t have funds to pay service providers and (casual election) workers,” he said.

“We want an independent auditor to audit funds used in the byelection. ”

The National articles are republished with permission.

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ULMWP calls for suspension of Indonesia from UN rights council over assault on deaf Papuan

Asia Pacific Report newsdesk

The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) has called on the international community to immediately suspend Indonesia from the UN Human Rights Council over a shocking assault on a young deaf indigenous Papuan that has been likened to the George Floyd tragedy in the United States.

The treatment of Steven Yadohamang, 18, who was crushed under the boot of two Indonesian military policemen in Merauke on Tuesday was the latest incident “in a long history of systematic racism and discrimination against my people”, said ULMWP interim president Benny Wenda.

“The reality of everyday life for my people in West Papua is violence and racism at the hands of Indonesian soldiers, police and intelligence officers,” he said in a statement as the assault caught on video sparked angry condemnation by community leaders.

Screenshot of Indonesian assault on deaf Papuan
How Asia Pacific Report covered the assault on deaf Papuan Steven Yadohamang on Thursday. Image: Screenshot APR

In the middle of a pandemic, Indonesia had continued to launch military operations, displacing more than 50,000 people, Wenda said.

“We have suffered trauma, we have suffered the impunity of the Indonesian colonial regime since the illegal invasion of 1963,” he said.

“There is no difference between what happens to African Americans in the US and what happens to West Papuans at the hands of the illegal Indonesian occupation.”

He said the images of Yadohamang being crushed under the foot of an Indonesian police had been compared to the images of George Floyd before he died at the hands of US police in May 2020.

‘Papuan Lives Matter’
“My people rose up against racist treatment in 2019 [the Papuan Uprising], and followed the global BLM [Black Lives Matter] movement with our own cry: Papuan Lives Matter. What we are suffering is the same as the Rohingya, the same as South Africa under apartheid,” Wenda said.

He said Indonesia’s systematic, institutional racism against West Papuans violated international law.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which Indonesia has ratified, ban racial discrimination.

“Indonesia’s military operations, racial abuse, ethnic cleansing, and systematic destruction of our health and educational opportunities represent clear violations of these conventions,” Wenda said.

“The international community must respond by suspending Indonesia from the UN Human Rights Council immediately. If our international human rights protections mean anything, there must be a global response to what is happening to my people.”

Reuters reports that the Indonesian government had apologised for the actions of the two Air Force military officers it said used “excessive force” to pin down Yadohamang’s head after a video of the incident was widely shared online.

In a statement on Wednesday, presidential chief of staff Moeldoko said his office condemned what it characterised as “a form of excessive force and unlawful conduct”.

The statement also said the Papuan man was unarmed, did not resist and had been identified as a person with a disability.

Indonesian Air Force spokesman Indan Gilang Buldansyah said the two officers would be tried in a military court.

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Coral Bell: the ‘accidental academic’ who wanted to stop armageddon

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Melissa Conley Tyler, Research Associate, Asia Institute, The University of Melbourne

ANU Bell School

This piece is part of a new series in collaboration with the ABC’s Saturday Extra program. Each week, the show will have a “who am I” quiz for listeners about influential figures who helped shape the 20th century, and we will publish profiles for each one. You can read the other pieces in the series here.

When Australian international relations scholar Coral Bell died in 2012, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said “no other commentator” had been as perceptive on United States policies.

Three years later, the Australian National University named its school of Asia-Pacific affairs after Bell, with former foreign minister Julie Bishop describing her as

one of the great international relations scholars of Australia and the world […] highly respected by policy makers nationally and internationally.

Clearly she was a superstar in her field. But why, outside specialists, should Bell be remembered and celebrated?

An academic who thought about the real world

Bell has been called an “accidental academic”.

She began her career as as a diplomat in 1945, and was in the room when the ANZUS Treaty was signed. But her time in the Department of External Affairs ended after she refused to join a Soviet spy ring — as ANU colleague Desmond Ball sensationally revealed after her death.

However, this early experience of government and diplomacy set her up well for a life of scholarship. Former head of the ANU Bell School Michael Wesley thinks her diplomatic role had a lasting impact on her work, which

always showed the practitioner’s sensitivity to the often galling realities of policy-making.

She believed the behaviour of leaders and diplomats mattered in foreign affairs, leading her to be variously described as a “classical realist”, “optimistic realist” and “realist optimist”.

She focused on the big issues and the big picture

Bell’s work focused on power politics, the Cold War, diplomacy, defence and foreign policy. The titles of her extensive publications give a sense of the questions she wanted to answer: “politics of power”, “diplomacy of detente”, “conventions of crisis” and “living with giants”.

Checkpoint Charlie in 1961
Bell worked at the height of the Cold War, and wanted to prevent further conflict.
Museum Checkpoint Charlie/ AP/AAP

She acknowledged it was difficult to show direct causal connection between academic analyses and the choices of decision makers — but saw herself as influencing the climate of opinion within which policy-makers operate, and in turn helping shape countries’ behaviour.

Because of her historical knowledge and focus on big trends — demographic, economic, technological and political – she had an uncanny knack of previewing debates and controversies. Her 2007 forecast that Western domination of global politics was drawing to a close has held up well.

She left an intellectual legacy

Bell also had an important influence on the growing discipline of international relations.

Concepts she created in the 1960s are still being used in the context of US-China rivalry. This includes the “shadow condiminium” — or temporary power-sharing arrangements between two dominant powers. Her work Dependent Ally also remains relevant to Australia-US relations, including its discussion of independence within an alliance.




Read more:
Diplomacy and defence remain a boys’ club, but women are making inroads


More broadly, she influenced later scholars with her focus on careful factual research, beginning with the evidence, rather than abstract theories. Griffith University’s Ian Hall describes this as an interpretive approach, which forefronts the beliefs of policy-actors and the thoughts shaping those beliefs.

Based on history, law and political philosophy rather than quantitative methods, this has arguably become a distinctive feature of Australian international affairs scholarship.

She was a woman in a profession dominated by men

Born in 1923, Bell’s gender was always going to be a factor. When she entered the foreign service she was paid less for the same work and faced the marriage bar. As she recalled:

In my day you were told that if you married you were deemed to have resigned from the diplomatic service. So I gave up the idea.

Bell chose the life of the mind and excelled at it, showing gender was not a bar to being a leading authority.

As security studies academic Sheryn Lee explains, Bell’s success made it easier for other women to forge careers in the field of international relations.

she was a woman who was a leading authority […] and who forged a path for others through her practice and scholarship.

An Australian in a field dominated by overseas scholars

Australian scholars with Bell’s international impact have been rare in international relations. Her intellectual contributions enhanced Australia’s standing in policy and academic communities in the US and United Kingdom.

As Minh Bui Jones memorably observedof Bell:

For the rest of the world, she brought an antipodean temperament and perspective to the great questions of our time; she was our George Kennan in thick glasses, blue floral dress, white sneakers and a string of pearls.

A significant portion of her career was spent advancing the study of Australian foreign and defence policy and she spoke up for bringing an Australian approach to questions of international security.

She focused on issues of human survival

Bell described herself as having a “preoccupation with armageddon”, especially how to avoid it. She saw her vocation as the “preservation of human life and human society”.

Coming to adulthood during the second world war, she knew what was at stake when great powers went to war. All her life, she remembered the pattern of the rug she was standing on when she heard an atomic bomb had destroyed Hiroshima.

In our time, the nuclear threat continues, along with existential threats of climate change, uncontrolled artificial intelligence and pandemics. In the face of such challenges, how countries interact becomes a question of survival of the species. That’s something worth dedicating a career to.

Bell lives on in her ideas and in the minds of those she has influenced. If you’d like to hear her voice, you can listen to her in 2008, speaking to Geraldine Doogue.

The Conversation

Melissa Conley Tyler was privileged to know Coral Bell in her later years when she was honoured by the Australian Institute of International Affairs.

ref. Coral Bell: the ‘accidental academic’ who wanted to stop armageddon – https://theconversation.com/coral-bell-the-accidental-academic-who-wanted-to-stop-armageddon-156302

Vaccine resistance in West Papua as covid-19 pandemic rages

By Johnny Blades, RNZ Pacific journalist

As with much of Indonesia, the country’s easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua are struggling to contain the spread of covid-19, with the delta variant on the loose.

In their latest update, health authorities in Papua province reported 33,826 confirmed cases of the virus to date, as well as 794 known deaths. In West Papua province, there were 18,027 confirmed cases and 278 deaths.

Earlier this week, the Papua provincial health spokesman Silvanus Sumule spoke to media outside a hospital in downtown Jayapura, explaining that hospital capacity had passed 100 percent, while they were short of oxygen tanks for covid patients.

Patients were being treated in corridors or outside the building, the sort of desperate scenes being experienced across Indonesia, which has become the latest epicentre of the pandemic in Asia, with more than 3.2 million cases and 90,000 deaths from covid.

Papua provincial health spokesman Silvanus Sumule July 2021
Papua provincial health spokesman Silvanus Sumule outside a hospital in downtown Jayapura this week as he explains the strain on the health system from covid-19. Image: RNZ

But the health system in Papua is weaker than most other parts of the republic, adding to fears that the virus is on track to cause devastation in indigenous Papuan communities.

A human rights adviser to the Papuan People’s Assembly, Wensi Fatubun, said that with the Delta variant rampaging through communities, Papua’s provincial government had sought a full lockdown for the month of August.

“So the local government announced for the lockdown. But the national government doesn’t want Papua province locked down, and to use different restrictions on community activities.”

With Jakarta having overruled Papua’s local government on the matter, the onus goes on how people respond to the restrictions on gatherings as well as safety measures. But adherence to these basic measures has been mixed in Papua during the pandemic.

“We are really worried with covid-19. If it goes to the remote areas, we don’t know, maybe many, many indigenous Papuans will die, because there’s not enough doctors, nurses, and also health facilities,” Fatubun said.

Across Jayapura, there has been a spate of burials in recent days — another sign of the surge in covid-19 cases, which could be significantly higher than official statistics show.

‘Many Papuans are dying’
To avert the death rate growing more out of control, the national government of President Joko Widodo is focussing on efforts to vaccinate as many people as possible in the coming weeks and months.

Abepura cemetery, Jayapura, Papua, 25 July, 2021
Abepura cemetery … a spate of burials in Jayapura in recent days – a sign of the surge in local deaths from covid-19. Image: RNZ

So far around 22 percent of the eligible population of 208 million have had at least a first dose of the vaccine, and around 10 percent have had two doses.

The moderator of the Papuan Council of Churches, Reverend Benny Giay said many West Papuans were resisting the vaccine rollout, chiefly because of the role of Indonesian security forces who he said indigenous Papuans deeply mistrusted.

“In the past few months, in several districts, it’s the military and police who accompanied medical teams who go promoting the vaccines. But people turn them away. It’s very difficult to convince the people,” he said.

Given the ongoing violent conflict between Indonesian security forces and West Papuan independence fighters, as well as decades of human rights abuses and racism against Papuans, Reverend Giay said the resistance was understandable.

“The reality here is that they’ve gone through this crisis and violence, and the government is involving military and police to be part of this and we don’t like that.”

Warning against misinformation
Reverend Giay wants his people to get vaccinated, and is urging Papuans to not be dissuaded by misinformation propagated on social media. He suggested outside help was required.

“Many Papuans are dying. We’ve been calling international community for help — maybe the International Red Cross, maybe a humanitarian intervention to convince our people (to get vaccinated).”

This proposal is highly unlikely to be accepted by the Indonesian government which has long restricted outside access to Papua.

Jakarta continues with a business-as-usual approach in the remote eastern region, and is sticking to its plans for Papua to host the Indonesia National Games in October which will bring in many people form other parts of the country.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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NZ covid-19 mass vaccination event starts in Auckland – long delays

RNZ News

New Zealand’s first mass vaccination event is getting under way in Manukau where 16,000 people are due to receive a covid-19 vaccine in the next three days.

The Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau has been set up with 242 booths, and people will file in at their allotted time to take a seat and wait for a vaccinator to come to them.

Just 12 vaccinators will inject roughly one person each a minute.

They can work quickly because other people are doing the logistics and health checks.

After a rocky start, with a slow uptake of bookings initially, the event is now fully booked and organisers say they will not be able to take any walk-ins.

Earlier in the week, Manukau City Councillor Fa’anana Efeso Collins’ had criticised communication by health authorities with the target people after less than a quarter of those initially sent invitations for the event booked a slot.

He called the communications plan to reach Māori, Pacific and vulnerable communities an “absolute failure”.

Surge of late bookings
RNZ had reported that initially about 12,500 people were sent invitations, with people urged to get their whānau to book too.

However, only 3000 of those booked a place. A surge of bookings late in the week turned this situation around.

Auckland District Health Board (DHB) says the event is on an international model, designed to get large groups of people vaccinated efficiently and safely in a short period of time at a single venue.

“People coming for the vaccine will come into the arena, queue up and then be directed to a seat in a booth.

“Once seated, all of the services will be delivered there. This minimises movement and disruption and allows for a higher throughput of people. We will have 12 vaccinators operating each day of the event.

“A vaccinator will come with a trolley and administer the vaccine then people will be required to wait in the booth for observation for 20 minutes.”

There will be a team of medically trained observers assigned to a row who will monitor people and provide assistance if needed.

Once the 20-minute observation period is up people will be taken by shuttle back to the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) campus.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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Opinion by Chris Leitch – Return to orthodoxy the last thing we need

Cashflow repeat. Image courtesy of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. See: https://www.rbnz.govt.nz/monetary-policy/monetary-policy-tools

Opinion by Chris Leitch, Leader of Social Credit party.

Cashflow repeat. Image courtesy of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. See: https://www.rbnz.govt.nz/monetary-policy/monetary-policy-tools

As the Reserve Bank winds down its money creation programme (Quantitative Easing) some economists and commentators are calling for a return to orthodoxy – as if the economic regime that was being followed in the run up to 2020 was somehow delivering better results for the majority of people.

They either have short memories or simply don’t have anything better to offer.

It wasn’t.

A quick glance at annual reports from the Salvation Army, Monte Cecelia Housing Trust, Child Poverty Action Group and many others painted a dismal picture of growing inequality, increasing poverty, and rising homelessness.

None of that has improved since. It’s got worse, but it was going to under ‘orthodoxy’ anyway, the Covid 19 effects have simply amplified it.

Matthew Hooton is one of those commentators. I recall a candidates meeting last election where, as one of the guests, he smugly tried to trip me up with what he thought was a curly economic question. He lost.

He calls for a return to orthodoxy arguing that the “extraordinary success of the Reserve Bank Act 1989 in killing inflation means an entire generation have never experienced how evil it is”, going on to suggest that then governor Don Brash beat inflation in the early 1990s.

Since the whole world achieved that status, Brash can hardly be credited with being the slayer of the inflation dragon and nor can the Reserve Bank Act 1989.

The government owned Reserve Bank currently owns around 60% of the debt the government has incurred through borrowing. It has done that through a process known as Quantitative Easing. In layman’s language, digital money printing to buy that government debt off the commercial banks.

Because of the crazy money-go-round it’s used, it has cost taxpayers billions in premiums over and above the price of the actual debt. At least the interest payments taxpayers are funding on that 60% of government debt is now going to the Reserve Bank.

That interest will be funnelled back to the government, which owns the Reserve Bank, as profit for it to spend – instead of into the pockets of the overseas shareholders of the commercial banks (Bank of America and Chase Manhattan for example) that it would normally go to.

Why would anyone want to return to orthodoxy with its worsening inequality and with taxpayers subsidising the profits of those commercial banks – unless of course one had shares in the commercial banks or was an economist working for one.

Don’t forget the government has $40 billion that it’s already borrowed (which taxpayers are paying interest on) sitting in an account at the Reserve Bank – so it really doesn’t need to borrow more.

Perhaps it should send that back to the commercial banks that created it out of thin air in the first place, as they do with all money they lend, including for mortgages, overdrafts and businesses.

How much better for the country would it have been to follow the advice of the jointly prepared Treasury and Reserve Bank aide memoire the government received in May last year.

That report pointed out that it would have been much more efficient for the government to avail itself of ‘direct monetary financing’ – the Reserve Bank creating money (exactly what commercial banks do remember, when lending to borrowers) and putting it straight into an account for the government to spend.

That would have avoided the drain on taxpayer money being used to pay interest to commercial banks, and even the need to repay the sum borrowed.

After all, if the government is borrowing from its own bank, neither would be absolutely necessary.

Of course it could borrow from its own bank and to give the illusion of orthodoxy, pay interest and the original sum borrowed – effectively, as economist Ganesh Nana said, back to itself.

Either way the government would have billions to spend on hospitals, infrastructure like water and waste water, houses for those currently residing in motel rooms, and really alleviating poverty instead of giving lip service to doing so.

The Minister of Finance preferred to ignore that advice, largely because he wants to out-national National and establish himself as the new holder of the ‘rock star economy” title rather than doing those things which would benefit thousands of New Zealanders.

Falling into the trap of returning to orthodoxy won’t fix any of those issues. Orthodoxy hasn’t in the past and there is nothing to indicate it can or will in the future.

Returning to it would be like going back to the horse and cart, rather than revelling in the freedom that the new unorthodox internal combustion engine conferred on our forbearers of the early 20th century and eventually a transport fleet of EV’s or hydrogen powered vehicles on those living in the 21st.

I don’t know what those commentators drive, but I’ll bet they wouldn’t swap it for a horse and cart.

Chris Leitch.

FAST now says it needs to delay Samoa’s Parliament convening

RNZ Pacific

After previous calls for the Samoan Parliament to convene so a national budget can be passed, the ruling FAST Party now says there is no real need to rush to convene Parliament.

Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa said last Saturday that Parliament would meet “in the first opportunity” this week to pass a budget.

The Samoa Observer reports Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa as saying cabinet needs more time to screen and review the financial arrangements used by the former government of Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and his Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP).

The Ministry of Finance was instructed to prepare a budget using an article that allows 25 percent of the previous budget to operate until a full budget is prepared for Parliament to pass.

The Tuilaepa government had been using this provision since the 2020/2021 budget ended on 30 June which amounts to about 220 million tālā.

According to Fiame, wiith 25 percent, there is a figure, but there is a lack of supporting details even though the processes seemed to be followed for payments under the Emergency Budget.

She explained that the Ministry of Finance wanted cabinet to use the budget they have prepared and announced by the caretaker prime minister last month.

“We still want our own Budget to deliver what the FAST Party has in place in its manifesto,” said Fiamē.

Fiame said Parliament would likely meet in September.

Meanwhile, a FAST spokesperson says the legitimacy of the HRPP candidates who were not sworn-in within the required 45 days is still being determined as it has never happened before.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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Solomons PM warns journalists against ‘yellow journalism’ rumours

Pacific Media Watch newsdesk

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has warned the news media that the country’s emergency powers enable the government to target “yellow journalism” and the spreading of misinformation, reports the Solomon Islands Herald.

Speaking in Parliament on a motion to extend the covid pandemic State of Public Emergency by a further four months, Sogavare said the rationale for having this provision was to ensure individuals or the news media did not spread rumours or misinformation that cause disturbances may divert much needed resources.

“I respect our freedom to express ourselves but I must say that I am extremely disappointed in how some individuals and mainstream media have continued to disseminate rumours and misinformation to our people,” he said.

The Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (No.2) Regulations 2021 have provisions relating to yellow journalism.

Sogavare cited recent media reports that had been published in the past few days as “pathetic and disappointing”, especially since the publications were “mere rumours, misinformation and just outright lies”.

“The government has been very tolerant of these malicious lies and rumours published in the media. We have demonstrated restraint but I must say our patience and restraint is surely tested with this yellow journalism,” Prime Minister Sogavare said.

The press, though not formally recognised as an established part of the formal political system, played the role of the watchdog over the formally established three estates of the state — judiciary, legislature and executive.

Role of watchdog
Prime Minister Sogavare said the role of the watchdog must be based on the press providing verified and reliable information to the public.

He said the press was accorded the title of “Fourth Estate” because of the confidence and trust that the public had in the press as the watchdog.

Quoting Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Prime Minister said: “Freedom of the press is essential to the preservation of a democracy; but there is a difference between freedom and licence.

“Editorialists who tell downright lies in order to advance their own agendas do more to discredit the press than all the censors in the world.”

Prime Minister Sogavare also quoted Arthur Hays Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times from 1935 to 1961, saying: “Perhaps we ought to ask ourselves just what freedom of the press really is. Whose freedom is it?

“Does it merely guarantee the right of the publisher to do and say whatever he wishes, limited only by the laws of libel, public order and decency?

“Is it only a special licence to those who manage the units of the press? The answer, of course, is no.

‘Freedom of the press’
“Freedom of the press — or, to be more precise, the benefit of freedom of the press belongs to everyone — to the citizen as well as the publisher,” he said.

“The publisher is not granted the privilege of independence simply to provide him with a more favoured position in the community than is accorded to other citizens. He enjoys an explicitly defined independence because it is the only condition under which he can fulfil his role, which is to inform fully, fairly and comprehensively.

“The crux is not the publisher’s ‘freedom to print’; it is rather the citizens’ ‘right to know’, Sogavare added.

  • “Yellow journalism” is an American expression referring to newspapers that present poorly researched and unverified news while using eye-catching headlines for increased sales. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, sensationalism, rumours or false information. In the Pacific context, the phrase often means any journalism critical of governments.
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Vaccination rate needs to hit 70% to trigger easing of restrictions

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Seven in ten people aged 16 and over will need to be fully vaccinated for COVID restrictions to begin to be eased, under targets agreed in principle by national cabinet on Friday.

Further relaxation and opening beyond that, including a near end to lockdowns, will require 80% of those eligible to have had two doses.

At present the proportion of people 16 and over fully vaccinated is 18.24%, while nearly 40% have had a single dose.

Each targets is dual – it must be met at both the national level and in the particular state or territory. Scott Morrison described it as a “two key process”.

Announcing the targets on Friday night, Morrison said no timeline has been attached to them.

But he believed the 70% target could be reached by the end of the year.

“There will certainly be the supply and the distribution and the opportunity to do that. But whether that is achieved is up to all of us.”

The long-awaited numbers have been attached to the four-phase re-opening plan previously endorsed in principle by the national cabinet.

In the current phase, the objective is to suppress COVID, including by tough lockdowns.

The second “transition” phase, triggered by the 70% vaccination levels, seeks to minimise severe illness, hospitalisation and deaths with low level restrictions.

In this phase, lockdowns would still be possible but less likely.

Restrictions would be eased on vaccinated residents. Morrison said this was “because if you’re vaccinated, you present less of a public health risk.

“You are less likely to get the virus. You are less likely to transmit it.” But the detail of how this would operate is still to be worked out.

The third “consolidation” phase – triggered by the 80% threshold – would have only highly targeted lockdowns, such as for vulnerable communities, and would exempt vaccinated residents from all domestic restrictions.

In the final phase, COVID would be treated like other infectious diseases.

The targets follow modelling from the Doherty Institute and work by Treasury.

They come as the latest tally of cases in Sydney, where the lockdown has been extended by one month, was 170 new community cases.

Amid calls for the NSW government to impose an even tougher lockdown, Morrison said it had been agreed “under this plan, no state or territory is required to increase the restrictions beyond where they are right now.”

Morrison said in the suppression phase, “going
hard early” with lockdowns “ultimately results in less cost on the economy”.

But in phase B “then the calculus does change and lockdowns do cost a lot”.

After the announcement crossbench MP Craig Kelly, who was formerly in the Liberal party, lashed out on Twitter, claiming constitutional freedoms were being violated and declaring “WE MUST FIGHT THIS”.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Vaccination rate needs to hit 70% to trigger easing of restrictions – https://theconversation.com/vaccination-rate-needs-to-hit-70-to-trigger-easing-of-restrictions-165407

India’s vaccine rollout is ignoring the many inequities in its society

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Rajib Dasgupta, Chairperson, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Some 6 months after India began what is said to be the largest COVID-19 vaccination drive in the world, equitable distribution has been a challenge.

A recent instance from a remote area in one of India’s hill states is illustrative. According to news reports, over 90% of vaccination slots meant for locals were booked by people from other areas.

Residents lost out because the area had no internet connectivity. To address the digital divide, local authorities had to appeal to the outsiders to cancel their bookings.

This access issue is just one of many ways India’s prioritisation strategy for COVID-19 vaccination has fallen short.




Read more:
Charging Indians for COVID vaccines is bad, letting vaccine producers charge what they like is unconscionable


Who gets the shot first: what did experts agree on?

The World Health Organization (WHO) had foreseen vaccine shortages and consequently, inequitable distribution. In 2020, it advocated a nuanced approach to ensure those who most needed the vaccine got it.

The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) designed a document called the “Values Framework”. This document listed over 20 vulnerable groups such as homeless peoples, those living in informal settlements, and those in urban slums.

They underscored that countries ensure access to priority populations and take action to ensure equal access to everyone who qualifies under a priority group, particularly socially disadvantaged populations.

How did India prioritise vaccines?

The first phase of India’s rollout began in January, covering an estimated 30 million healthcare and front-line workers.

On March 1, the second phase began which incorporated people over 45 with chronic illnesses, and the over-60s. On April 1, this was expanded to everyone over 45.




Read more:
India’s staggering COVID crisis could have been avoided. But the government dropped its guard too soon


From May 1, it was decided all adults over 18 would be included.

Now, despite all adults being eligible, only 10% are fully protected with two doses. Despite the overall pace of vaccination increasing, the target of 135 million doses administered in July may be missed, and things look unlikely to improve in August.

With the threat of a third wave fuelled by variants, relaxing of lockdown restrictions, and the constant uptick in cases in two of the larger Indian states (Kerala and Maharashtra) as well as most of the North Eastern states, there’s an urgent need to increase vaccine coverage.

How should India prioritise vaccines?

India’s prioritisation strategy was limited to age, and to front-line workers specifically linked to COVID management — police and armed forces personnel, disaster management volunteers and municipal workers. It did not address the real-world diverse spectrum of vulnerabilities.




Read more:
Why couldn’t India’s health system cope during the second wave? Years of bad health policies


The Values Framework points to a range of vulnerabilities and priorities and includes people unable to physically distance such as those in geographically remote and clustered populations (detention facilities, dormitories, refugee camps and dense urban neighbourhoods).

Levels of COVID-19 among prison populations and high levels of antibodies (suggesting prior infection) among slum residents shows this is a legitimate concern.

Then there are those who are at high risk of transmitting infection such as youth who are mobile but largely asymptomatic, and school-going children. Vaccinating them early would minimise disruption of their education and socio-emotional development. The union health minister has announced vaccination of children is likely to begin in August.

Workers in non-essential but economically critical sectors, particularly in occupations that do not permit remote work such as construction and food services, should also be vaccinated early.




Read more:
How can the world help India — and where does that help need to go?


While only health workers were included in the category of essential workers, teachers, childcare providers, agriculture and food workers, and transport workers should have been added to this category.

Finally, to ensure equity, the needs of those who, at no fault of their own, are at risk of experiencing greater burdens from the COVID-19 pandemic, must be addressed.

This would include those living in extreme poverty, low-income migrant workers, nomadic populations, refugees or internally displaced persons, populations in conflict settings, those affected by humanitarian emergencies, and hard-to-reach groups.

At least one Indian state — Chhattisgarh — tried to reach out to its poorest, by proposing those under the state’s food scheme be vaccinated first in the 18–44 years category. However, after the intervention of the courts, the state had to reverse the order and allow vaccination for all adults.

What’s the fallout?

Rural-urban and gender inequities in the vaccine rollout have emerged as significant concerns.

By late May, 114 of India’s least developed districts had administered just 23 million doses to its 176 million residents. India’s nine major cities received the same number of doses, despite having half as many people.

During the same period, 17% more men were immunised than women.

Equity groups need to be given priority access to vaccinations to ensure those already more vulnerable to death, disease and destitution, and least likely to be able to seek treatment due to poverty, distance, or other social disadvantages, are protected.

The Conversation

I am currently Co-Investigators of two projects funded by the UKRI-GCRF, United Kingdom and one funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation, Denmark.

ref. India’s vaccine rollout is ignoring the many inequities in its society – https://theconversation.com/indias-vaccine-rollout-is-ignoring-the-many-inequities-in-its-society-165080

We must include more women in physics — it would help the whole of humanity

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Cathy Foley, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Office of the Chief Scientist

Prajval Shastri, Author provided

All around the world, there is an extreme gender imbalance in physics, in both academia and industry.

Examples are all too easy to find. In Burkina Faso’s largest university, the University of Ouagadougou, 99% of physics students are men. In Germany, women comprise only 24% of physics PhD graduates — creeping up from 21% in 2017. No women graduated in physical sciences at the University of El Salvador between 2017 and 2020.

Australia fares little better. Australian National University Professor Lisa Kewley forecasts that on current settings, it will take 60 years for women to comprise just a third of professional astronomers.




Read more:
Looking at the stars, or falling by the wayside? How astronomy is failing female scientists


And the hits keep coming. A survey by the UK Royal Astronomical Society, published last week, found women and non-binary people in the field are 50% more likely than men to be bullied and harassed, and that 50% of LGBQ astronomers have suffered bullying in the past 12 months.

There are occasional glimmers in the gloom. In India, for instance, women now comprise 43% of those with a degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). But that figure is much lower in physics and in the higher echelons of academia.

Clearly, this gender imbalance urgently needs to be fixed. This is not simply a matter of principle: around the world, many of our best and brightest minds are excluded, to everyone’s detriment.

This month, the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics held its seventh conference focused on the roles and prospects of women in the discipline. Held online, but hubbed in Melbourne, the five-day event was attended by more than 300 scientists from more than 50 countries.

We met many women who showed strength, leadership and commitment to progress physics in their countries, sometimes under very difficult circumstances. As the conference progressed, some distinct targets for action emerged.

Dissolving barriers

One priority is the need to overcome the barriers that prompt many women to leave physics before reaching its most senior levels. This happens for many reasons, including uncertainty in gaining long-term employment and the associated doubts about ever achieving senior positions, but research shows the effect is felt disproportionately by women.

Kewley’s analysis found that in Australian astronomy, 62% of women, compared with 17% of men, leave between postdoc and assistant professor level. A further 48% of women (and 28% of men) leave before the associate professor level.

Similar results are found in the UK, where the Royal Astronomical Society reported that women make up 29% of astronomy lecturers but only 12% of astronomy professors.




Read more:
How to keep more women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)


Collaborating with industry

Mentoring women to become entrepreneurs and commercial leaders is a key strategy for underpinning independence, well-being and social standing for women physicists.

“Entrepreneurship isn’t common in many developing countries, particularly not among women physicists, where social and economic conditions impede innovation and collaboration with industry,” Associate Professor Rayda Gammag, from Mapúa University in the Philippines, told the conference.

Another participant, Professor Mmantsae Moche Diale, a senior physicist at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, reflected that many people don’t know how to translate their research ideas into business.

“It is important that you get guidance on how to navigate challenging situations to translate your research into a product you can sell,” she said.

Helping women physicists in developing countries

In some countries, social, cultural, economic and religious norms mean there is little support for women physicists. This can be deep-rooted, with discrimination at the earliest levels of education. University-educated women often find themselves blocked from research funding or leadership positions.

IUPAP has an important role to play here, through connecting women physicists in developing countries with their global colleagues, developing codes of conduct to combat discrimination and aggression, and reaching out through our regional chapters.

“Some countries have so few women that they’d benefit from joining a network with others in a similar situation,” Adjunct Professor Igle Gledhill from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa told the conference.

Showing the way

Despite the deeply ingrained challenges, there are some signs of progress. Two standout nations are Iran and India.

In Iran, women make up 55% of physics PhD candidates and high-school science teachers, Azam Iraji zad of the Physics Society of Iran told the conference. It was also revealed that the proportion of women in STEM education in India is larger than in the UK, the United States or France.

Nevertheless, the conference heard stark evidence that action to remove gender barriers in physics around the world will often be met not just with resistance but sometimes violence.

Prajval Shastri sitting at her desk
Prajval Shastri at work.
Author provided

One of us (Prajval Shastri) led a workshop that delivered powerful and practical recommendations on how to ensure no one is left behind. Physicists have multiple identities beyond gender, such as race, class, caste and abled-ness, creating a complex pattern of disadvantage and privilege.

Ultimately, the physics enterprise should learn from the gender gap but go beyond it and aim to centre itself on the interests of its most vulnerable members. That way, it will emerge as a better and more inclusive profession for everybody.

This needs to happen everywhere from the classroom to the lab, to conferences, industry networking and public science communication. Boys and girls alike deserve to see more role models from all marginalised groups doing physics.




Read more:
Isaac Newton invented calculus in self-isolation during the Great Plague. He didn’t have kids to look after


The conference generated a series of recommendations, which we will now share with the wider physics community. We welcome the debate that will follow.

Excluding, silencing and discouraging so many brilliant minds carries a very heavy cost, not just to the women directly impacted, but to all of humanity.

The Conversation

Prajval Shastri is founder and past chair of the Gender in Physics Working Group of the Indian Physics Association, and in her capacity as chair, she was the PI on a grant from the Department of Science & Technology, Government of India, that funded a national conference on gender equity in physics called Pressing for Progress 2019 (https://progress2019.tifrh.res.in).

Prajval Shastri is a member of the Working Group 5 for Women in Physics of the International Union for Pure and Applied Physics, and perforce on the international Organising Committee of the 7th IUPAP ICWIP conference.

Cathy Foley and Sarah Maddison do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. We must include more women in physics — it would help the whole of humanity – https://theconversation.com/we-must-include-more-women-in-physics-it-would-help-the-whole-of-humanity-165096

No wonder people are confused. Most official COVID vaccine advice is way too complex

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Danielle Marie Muscat, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Sydney

from www.shutterstock.com

As Sydney’s COVID-19 outbreak continues to grow, the message has shifted to urgently “get the jab”. And people’s motivation to get vaccinated is increasing.

But with ever-changing advice, many people are confused about which vaccine they’re eligible for and where to get an appointment.

Our recent review, which has been accepted for publication in the Medical Journal of Australia, shows information for the public about COVID vaccines is too complex to read, understand and act upon. It’s even more complex than other COVID public health advice, such as for physical distancing or masks.

Then there’s the results of our recent survey, which has yet to be peer reviewed, of where people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities get their COVID information from. This finds a huge diversity of sources, beyond official government websites. So we need to tailor communications to these communities via channels people actually use.

Taken together, our research shows we are still missing clear and consistent communication about COVID vaccines all Australians can understand and act on.

No wonder people are confused

We looked at publically available COVID-19 information from government websites from Australia (federal and three states), the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and three international public health agencies (including the World Health Organization).

Most public information was above the recommended reading level for the general population (8th grade).

In Australia, information was commonly written at postgraduate level. This means it is too difficult for people with average reading ability to understand. It’s likely even harder for the 9 million Australians who have lower health literacy.

Vaccination information from the federal government website was the only Australian material to adequately outline the action or steps readers needed to take to get vaccinated. Websites from all three states (New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria) we reviewed did not.

This means there has been little progress nationally or internationally in terms of improving the readability of written COVID-19 information since April 2020.




Read more:
Yes, adult literacy should be improved. But governments can make their messages easier to read right now


Culturally and linguistically diverse Australians

Our review does not begin to capture the additional limitations of COVID-19 communications for CALD communities.

People from CALD backgrounds form a significant and growing share of Australia’s population. For instance, 43% of the population of southwest Sydney (one of the focuses of the current COVID-19 outbreak) was born overseas; up to 71% in certain local government areas speak a language other than English at home.

Yet, translated information and communications about COVID-19 have been sparse, intermittent and not all has been appropriate. The original source materials in English are too complex, official translators are not used, and/or translations are not reviewed to make sure the information makes sense.

There has been some progress

We’ve had some progress this week. Press briefings, crucially important for keeping up-to-date about new rules and regulations, have only in the past few days been made available in any other language than English.

Similarly, the online vaccination eligibility checker has only just been translated into 15 other languages. However, the online vaccine clinic finder, which you reach at end of the vaccine eligibility checker, remains only in English.

More positively, a COVID-19 vaccination glossary (with clear descriptions of complex vaccine terms) is now available in 29 languages.

But more work is needed

However, more work is needed to ensure COVID information is “distributed widely” to CALD communities via the most appropriate channels, as recommended in the Australian government’s own plan.

Our recent survey of over 700 CALD community members in Greater Western Sydney showed just over half (about 54%) of participants used official government sources to find out about COVID-19. However, this varied greatly between language groups, reaching as low as 29% for some.

Social media (52%), family and friends (33%), and community sources (26%) were also common pathways for seeking out information about COVID. Many sought in-language communication from overseas. For some of these groups, official sources appear less accessible or useful.

So work is clearly needed to distribute tailored communications via channels people actually use.




Read more:
Multilingual Australia is missing out on vital COVID-19 information. No wonder local councils and businesses are stepping in


What actually works?

We know how to communicate public health messages clearly for diverse communities. We can:

We know it is possible to successfully implement these strategies. Our review identified 12 “easy-to-read” materials written at a lower reading grade that were easier to understand.

However, these were rare, difficult to find on official websites and often poorly signposted. For instance, some were on pages labelled for “people with disability”.

We need concerted action to ensure materials such as these become the “rule” rather than the exception. Plain language and in-language information simply cannot be an afterthought or “optional extra” if we are to achieve the 80% or higher vaccination rates needed to end lockdowns and return to some semblance of normal.




Read more:
Australia shouldn’t ‘open up’ before we vaccinate at least 80% of the population. Here’s why


The Conversation

Dr Danielle Marie Muscat receives funding from Western Sydney Local Health District through a Westmead Fellowship (Early Career Researcher).

Julie Ayre, Kirsten McCaffery, and Olivia Mac do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. No wonder people are confused. Most official COVID vaccine advice is way too complex – https://theconversation.com/no-wonder-people-are-confused-most-official-covid-vaccine-advice-is-way-too-complex-165307

Curious Kids: do penguins fly underwater?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Belinda Cannell, Research fellow, Research Associate, The University of Western Australia

Shutterstock

Do penguins fly underwater? – Rhys, age 7, Perth.

Indeed they do. They can’t fly through the air but they can fly underwater.

In other words, a penguin uses the muscles in its chest to bring its special wings, called flippers, downwards. But then it uses the muscles between its shoulders to bring its flippers upwards.

Hummingbirds, which fly in the air, are the only other type of bird that use both the muscles in their chest and between their shoulders to move their wings.

Most birds only use the muscles in their chest. (For the adults in the audience, this is what scientists call a “powered downstroke”. Penguins, and hummingbirds, have a powered upstroke also, whereas other birds have a passive upstroke.)




Read more:
Curious Kids: if trees are cut down in the city, where will possums live?


A penguin has to work harder than other birds to fly. Even though they work hard, penguins move very fast underwater, especially when they are chasing food such as fish.

They keep streamlined, like a torpedo, with their feet close to their body and under their tail. But a penguin uses its feet, head and sometimes its tail when it wants to change direction.

So if a penguin wants to turn right, its right foot drops down and the penguin turns it head slightly to the right. If the penguin wants to turn left, its left foot comes down and it turns its head slightly to the left. The penguin may move its tail up when it wants to turn in either direction. If a penguin wants to stop, both its feet come down, its tail comes up and the penguin stops flapping its flippers.




Read more:
Curious Kids: when a snake sheds its skin, why isn’t it colourful?


A penguin’s flippers can’t bend.
Shutterstock

Penguins’ bodies are different to birds that fly in the air in other ways. Birds that fly in air have to be light, so some of their bones have special holes in them, a bit like a piece of Swiss cheese. But penguins don’t have to be light to fly underwater, so their bones are all solid.

Also, the wings of birds that fly in the air can bend. But a penguins’ flippers can’t bend, and this means they can fly strongly through the water without breaking their flippers.

Penguins have adapted to feed in the ocean but to also live on land, where they build nests, lay eggs and raise chicks.

They are truly amazing animals.

Penguins can change direction very fast when they are underwater.
Shutterstock

If you’re a Curious Kid with a question you’d like an expert to answer, ask an adult to send it to curiouskids@theconversation.edu.au

The Conversation

Belinda Cannell does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Curious Kids: do penguins fly underwater? – https://theconversation.com/curious-kids-do-penguins-fly-underwater-162994

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