Monday, November 15, 2010

Gay marriage - why the hell not?

In an attempt to break a bit of writer's block I am experiencing, I thought I would share my opinion on a very contentious topic in Australia right now. (And when I say contentious, I mean unnecessarily.) That's right, I am going to speak to you about (CUE: horror movie music)


Now, I could go into a diatribe about the absurdity of how, in a society that values equal rights for all, not to mention exists under a legal system which is very much designed with the intent of all being equal under it, that one group are denied equal rights to another group based solely upon private lifestyle choice. But I won't. And I could remind readers that more and more western nations (or territories within) are accepting Equal marriage (I prefer that term) as a reality, and Australia is increasingly becoming left behind on this issue. But I won't. I could even point out that many opponents of EM would be horrified if other similar examples of inequality were allowed eg. a ban on interracial marriage. But I won't.

What I will do is appeal to the libertarian in you, and simply ask "Who is it hurting?"

It certainly won't hurt me. I don't perceive, other than maybe wedding planners being a little more booked (an issue which is not that major for me, I assure) any way my life will be made worse. There are ways my life will be made better. For starters, the aforementioned wedding planners (as well as other wedding staff, including celebrants) will have increased business and employment. Chipping away at unemployment and bringing in tax revenue for other important things.

Also, our gay relatives and gay friends (we all have them, even homophobic people - according to a line every one has said at least once) can be happy that they are able to seal their love officially. Surely the happiness of those whom we care about, is important. Especially when it is not hurting anybody at all?

I accept this is an awkard topic for many people, no thanks to a media that loves to treat such topics like a giggling 14 year old and I appreciate there is some genuine concerns from non-bigoted people. Some concerns include "If we allow gay people to get married, next thing you know, people will be able to marry children/animals" which, as scary as that sounds, is nothing more than a slippery slope argument. Nobody is going to use EM as a precedent to start allowing systemic abuse of the defenceless.

There is also a religious argument. Many religious organisations do not support same sex marriage, or any form of same sex relationships. And many believe marriage to be a spiritual practice (despite the fact that atheists and skeptics get married too.) I respect the separation of church and state and agree that the government should not force religions to practice and believe a certain way but, at the same time, they can't expect us to make laws to enforce those beliefs on everyone. Which is what a ban does. The answer is simple. Don't hold or bless the ceremony if you don't agree with it. However, there are people who believe it's the word "marriage" that has religious implications and same sex couples should just get "Unions." I am fine with that, as long as the same rule exists for heterosexual couples. The government should never stick up for any religious biases.

Really, there is no logical reason to oppose marriage equality. Our politicians need to step up and finally destroy this barrier. It's not about endorsing homosexuality or any other strawmen, it's about ending an institutional form of bigotry that's gone on far too long!

(Apologies for the long windedness)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A spot of tea before we go vote?

Well today is the big day, as many Americans are voting for their US Senators, US Representatives, Governors, State Legislators and various local offices, as well as a handful of referendums. Yes, it is the midterm elections. However, this one is important because of the "revolutionary" movement leading to it: The Tea Party - a movement representing the white middle class and its sense of entitlement, and those in America looking for someone to blame a broken economy on.

Will the GOP storm into offices, based on this wave of anger? Who knows? But, I sincerely hope that reason, not just sloganeering is what sits in Americans' minds as they vote. The Democrats will take a hit. There is no doubt. However, that is normal for the midterm of a first term President. I will keep this post short, and will do a more in-depth analysis later today, or tomorrow, when the results are in.

Good luck, America. Vote early and vote often. Most importantly, vote wisely.

My Congressional predictions:

US House of Representatives: 230 R - 205 D
US Senate: 50 D - 48 R - 2 I

EDIT: Follow me on Twitter (@tospeakofpebble) for live commentary on the results.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Let Halloween be Halloween for the Halloweeners

As we approach the end of October, Halloween has become a popular topic of discussion. While in the UK, Ireland, USA and Canada, there is nothing abnormal about that, in Australia we are increasingly hearing about this holiday. Every year, the stores peddle more and more Halloween stuff (ie. masks and sweets) and there is an increasing amount of children participating in it. This has become an annoyance to many Australians, who feel that it's an "Americanisation" of Australian culture, despite being practiced on the other side of the Atlantic as well. So what is my view on this growing tradition?

Let it happen. It's not hurting anyone.

Firstly, I do understand concern about the health implications of a day dedicated to collecting and feasting on confectionery, but it's just one day. In fact, teaching children that one day a year is for pigging out on sweets, while the rest of the year is for showing restraint will be healthier for them.
I also understand the concern about children's interactions with strangers and the potential trouble there. However these potential threats exist in the British isles and North America as much as they do here. That's why adults (or older children) accompany young children on "trick or treat" rounds, to avoid such danger. In fact, because people know their children are out and about visiting people's homes, it makes it too risky for someone to try anything. Nevertheless, I will expect the lazy media to run a scare story about some creep who is out and about.

Fact is, Halloween is a popular social tradition that is very much enjoyed by other cultures. It's not just for children either. Adults can take pleasure in being theatrical in their reception of trick or treaters. Not to mention the fact that Halloween parties are known to be one of the best types of party. If you don't want to participate in it, that's fine. You don't have to. However, don't get hung up because somebody else embraces the day. They're just having fun. After all, that's why many children and adults here are starting to participate in Halloween: because it is fun.

We live in a country that dedicates holidays for horse races, I'm sure it couldn't hurt to embrace this harmless tradition.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The North will rise again?

Distressingly, I have been reading comments on the internet lately claiming that the result of the 2010 Federal election was somehow unfair, as it has undemocratically hoisted a government elected by a minority of people from urban enclaves in the south (in particular, Melbourne.) While it shouldn't really be indulged, I will still attempt to address this myth the best I can. 
I will preempt this by stating that all adults in every state and territory have the right to vote. Polling boths are open all over the place for 10 hours on election day, you can vote at any one you want. There are also options for those unable to vote in their electorate on the day, including prepolling, postal voting and provisional voting. The elections themselves are administered by the AEC - an independent government organisation that oversees elections and vote counting and is not run by any elected official or direct appointment thereof. Party's may send representatives to oversee any of the process and their actions are all open and open to appeal. There is no solid argument for voter disenfranchisement in Australia and certainly not a regional one.
I will start with referring to the 2 party preferred totals of each of the states and territories. For this I will list the states in order from best for the Coalition to best for the ALP. The poll numbers are ALP-Coalition.
National total – 50.12-49.88 (observe: the ALP got more)
WA 43.59-56.41
QLD 44.85-55.15
NSW 48.84-51.16
NT 50.78-49.22
SA 53.18-46.82
VIC 55.31-44.69
TAS 60.62-39.38
ACT 61.67-38.33
The bold represent those states/territories in which Labor won the 2PP, which are also all above the National total. NT is the closest in value to the national total.
Observe that a higher proportion (as well as higher amount) of people preferred the ALP in Victoria than preferred the LNP in QLD. In no way is Queensland an oppressed majority in this situation.
Let’s look at total seat representation (the proportional % of seats to 2 decimal places are presented in parentheses):
National total: 72 ALP, 72 COA, 1 GRN, 1 WAN, 4 IND (48% ALP – 48% COA)
WA 11 LIB, 3 ALP, 1 WAN (20% ALP – 73.33% COA)
QLD 21 LNP, 8 ALP, 1 IND (26.67% ALP – 70% COA)

NT 1 ALP, 1 CLP (50% ALP – 50% COA)
NSW 26 ALP, 16 LIB, 4 NAT (20 COA), 2 IND (54.17% ALP, 41.67% COA)
SA 6 ALP, 5 LIB (54.55% ALP – 45.45% COA)
VIC 22 ALP, 12 LIB, 2 NAT (14 COA), 1 GRN (59.46% ALP, 37.84% COA)
TAS 4 ALP, 1 IND (80% ALP, 20% IND)
ACT 2 ALP (100% ALP)
The bold ones represent the states/territories wherein Labor have the majority of seats, the italics represent those wherein the Coalition have the majority. Once again, while Queensland and WA bark the loudest, they are by no means in the majority in this situation either. Now the astute observer might point out that NSW has an ALP seat majority, although the Coalition got a 2PP majority and thus it is unfair. Fair enough. So here is a list of the states combined with how much both sides are over/underrepresented in terms of 2PP vote v seat proportion.
National -2.12% ALP, -1.88% COA
WA -23.59% ALP, +16.92% COA
QLD -18.18% ALP, +14.85% COA
NT -0.78% ALP, +0.78% COA
SA +1.37% ALP, -1.37% COA
VIC +4.15% ALP, -6.85% COA
NSW +5.33% ALP, -5.71% COA
TAS +19.38% ALP, -39.38% COA
ACT +38.33 ALP, -38.33% COA
Bold represents those that are better for Labor
Mean = +3.25% ALP, -7.39% COA. Which does sound unfair to the Coalition, but if you subtract the Territories (who each only have two and thus your proportion of seats is either 0%, 50% or 100%)
You get a mean of -1.92% ALP, -3.59 COA. Which in the end is an underrepresentation of both (which makes sense considering the number of independents and third parties elected) either way, it is statistically insignificant. All these numbers suggest is that the Coalition did very well in WA and QLD and not so well elsewhere. It certainly isn’t a big loss, but Queenslanders or Western Australians should think again before the spout rhetoric about the unfairness of the system or the majority in QLD and WA being silenced by the nasty “latte sippers in Melbourne” – which, on a personal note is extremely arrogant and elitist, not to mention stupid. Our system is about representing the whole of Australia, not just those who consider themselves true Australians.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

And that's a bad miss!

When listening to or reading current media commentary, I can't help but draw a parrallel between the so called "expert" analyses and a catchphrase from a recurring Mitchell and Webb sketch, wherein they play a pair of Snooker commentators, who are drunken former players from years ago. A montage is viewable here:

(Warning: slightly blue in language; possibly NSFW)

For those that didn't watch it: Mitchell's character, busy with alcoholic beverages and what not, never really pays attention to the game. When he realises he hasn't made any commentary, he quickly chimes in with the comment "Ooh, and that's a bad miss!"

They're funny sketches and a good example of the hilarious work of this comedy duo, however the catchphrase also makes a good analogy for the media's analysis of the government.

How many times has the PM or a minister made an announcement or an appearance somewhere, and regardless of the substance or quality of it, the media decide to just play the cynical card and confidently claim it is a bad move, or hollow rhetoric? Often, all it takes is an opposition spokesperson to start the ball rolling and the media are all over the meme of a erroneous government. Of course, it's the media's job to question those in power. The party that's in government should always receive most of the fire - that's fair in a democracy. However, when the media decide to just take the negative approach all the time and immediately use terms like "failure" and "damage control", especially if an opposition spokesperson starts them off, is that holding a government to account or the media just adding to the environment of anti-government cynicism?

I don't know whether it's a case of laziness(like the M&W character I alluded to), ignorance or something a little more intentionally nefarious. Probably a little from each column. Either way, the political atmosphere in this country is now so negative that one side doesn't trust the other and the middle don't trust either. Whether confidence in the system can return, I don't know. I certainly hope so. However, ridiculously simplistic cynical commentary by media outlets is not helping the healing process. If anything, it's exacerbating it. To those in the media who think they are strengthening our democracy by being so wretchedly cynical, let me just offer this last bit of commentary:

"Ooh!...And that's a bad miss!"

Monday, September 13, 2010

OK, now the fanfare is over and done with...

It's time to get on with it. I say the following completely objectively:

Gillard needs to now proactively govern. Holding endless reviews and deferring to focus groups are definitely an important part of politics but they can't be seen as the whole thing, as it currently is with Labor.

Gillard needs to be on the front foot, much like we saw her doing in the mid-late part of her reelection campaign (before slowing down toward the end.) The Senate will likely be obstructive but Labor most certainly should not let that be an excuse to just sit back and "weather the storm" until July 2011. Despite it seeming like the only option, it'll still make them appear easy targets to "inaction" charges by Abbott.

It will be better for Gillard and her ministers to share their ideas and proposals with the Australian people and get them passed in the HoR and be obstructed by Fielding and the Liberals (if they do) and say "we tried but the lame duck Senate keeps obstructing us. After July, we'll have a better Senate" than to just shrug and say "There's nothing we can do until July."

Gillard cannot afford to look like an inactive Prime Minister or one whose actions are dictated purely by the Opposition. If she stays assertive, even if nothing gets passed, she'll look strong. Then once the Senate changes and stuff gets passed, she'll look stronger. If so, she'll have no problems at the next election.

Don't fall for the Rudd mistake.

Lift off, or how I decided to add to the blogospheric white noise.

So, here it is. Launch point of my new blog. You will have to forgive me if, at first, this blog seems a bit on the primitive side - in both design and post structure - as I am still getting the hang of it.

In effect, this is a "test" post. But rather than just posting "test" and leaving it at that, I thought I would write a quick introduction to this blog and what its purpose is.

The name
The name "To Speak of Pebbles & Arrange the stars" comes from the literal translations of the words
Psephology (the study of polls and elections) - To speak of Pebbles, and
Astronomy (the study of non-terrestrial objects in the universe eg. stars, planets) To arrange the stars.
Both of which represent my prime interests and what this blog is about.

The blog
As previously implied, this blogs main focus will be elections and politics (Australian elections mainly but also any foreign election that grabs my interest) and scientific things (especially that which is related to astronomy) that I would like to share (be it a newly discovered curiousity, a rebuttal to a misconception or just something "cool".)

I also dedicate this blog to debunking myths related to the aforementioned fields and general topics I feel like talking about (eg. something amusing I saw.)

There won't be personal "how I am feeling" "feel sorry for me!" posts and I will refrain from crappy internet memes, unless they are related to a topic.

My beliefs
Because much of my analysis in this blog will be qualitative, it is essential that I declare my biases up front. So here goes. I am the following:

- male
- under 30
- Australian born with a white European background
- heterosexual
- unmarried, childless
- a proud resident of Adelaide, South Australia
- an atheist
- a skeptic (but not a denialist)

Politically, I am:

- A supporter of the Australian Labor Party
- centre-left economically, socially liberal and my opinion on foreign actions (war, sanctions etc.) is on a case by case basis.
- An "in spirit" supporter of the US Democratic Party and the British Labour Party (although I like the Liberal Democrats too.)

While I am not going to go out of my way to hide these opinions. In fact, in some posts, I will outright just share my personal opinion on a topic, with no attempt at neutrality. For those who don't want to read the annoying ranting of some idiot on the internet, I will tag the posts with the word "Soapbox" so you may skip it, if you choose. Otherwise, I will try my best to remain objective in other analyses. Bear in mind, this applies only to political (or other social science) posts, I will hold no reservation in shooting down a scientific fallacy, without the need of a soapbox tag.

I am also human and will make errors. I go out of my way to make sure errors are not made. If I notice I have made an error after I have made a post, I will edit it. However, if the error is pointed out by someone else, I will edit the post to acknowledge the error, the user who spotted it, and clearly highlight the correction in the post. (unless it is something trivial like a minor typo, in which case, I won't bother.)

Anyway, apologies for the long intro post. In the short future, I will focus on sprucing this place up, increasing readership and making this into a good blog. I appreciate your patience while I find my footing here.

Thank you.