Hot air or fresh air?

I’m pretty cynical when it comes to politicians. There was a time when I followed a party line (although I’ve never been a member of a political party) but these days I’m a swinging voter. On election day I vote for the candidate I think has the best interests of all of us at heart. Usually it’s a case of “which one will do the least damage?” since those who genuinely put the welfare of the nation first are few, and far between.

Hence, I’m not particularly hopeful that anything positive will follow the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development which took place last week. The odd name came about because this conference came twenty years after the first Earth Summit, also held in Rio de Janeiro. At that one world leaders vowed to roll back climate change, desertification and species loss. So, what has changed since then? Very little that I can see.

I’m a bit nonplussed about Rio+20. UN chief Ban Ki-moon opened the summit, which saw 191 UN members (including 86 presidents and heads of government) get together. SBS reported that, beginning on Wednesday, “Some 191 speakers are expected to take the floor until Friday when the summit leaders are to give their seal of approval to a 53-page draft document agreed by negotiators on Tuesday.” If “negotiators” produced an agreement on Tuesday – before the conference even began – what was the point of the three days of speeches? Our worthy leaders trying to impress each other, or perhaps even more likely, to impress the voters back home. Bah, humbug to all of ’em!

There was one bright star there, though. Brittany Trilford, a 17-year-old student from New Zealand, challenged leaders to lay the foundation for a more sustainable world. “I stand here with fire in my heart. I’m confused and angry at the state of the world. We are here to solve the problems that we have caused as a collective, to ensure that we have a future,” she said. “I am here to fight for my future…I would like to end by asking you to consider why you are here and what you can do here. I would like you to ask yourselves: Are you here to save face? Or are you here to save us?”

Good question, Brittany.

21,507, 717

That’s how many Aussies there are… at least that was the figure on 9 August 2011 when our latest census was taken.

At the first one, in 1911, there were about 4.5 million of us (generally speaking, I mean, I’m not that old), and interestingly about 1,900 of those counted in 1911 were still alive at the 2011 census!

Twenty six per cent of Australia’s population was born overseas and a further 20 per cent had at least one overseas-born parent, while 53 per cent are third-generation Australians (those who have grandparents born overseas). Despite the several waves of immigration from different regions since the second world war, the UK is still the most common country of birth for those born overseas (21%), with New Zealanders at 9.1% and Chinese-born people at 6%. People born in India made up 5.6% of those born overseas and Italians 3.5%.

More than three quarters (76.8%) of us only speak English at home, while the most commonly spoken languages other than English are Mandarin (1.6%), Italian (1.4%), Arabic (1.3%), Cantonese (1.2%) and Greek (1.2%).

One in ten of us live alone and the average household had 2.6 people. Our median age is 37.3 years and about 14% of the population is over 65 years.

Non-Christian faiths are increasing in parallel with the pattern of migration. Other faiths reported were Buddhism (2.5%), Islam (2.2%) and Hinduism (1.3%). Just over 22% of people claimed no religion, a figure that has been increasing each census. Three out of four people claim to have a faith, though, and 61.1% of the population identify with a Christian denomination.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is 548,370. Somewhat surprising is that 32.9% of ATSI people live in capital cities. The median age for indigenous Australians is 21 years – a whopping 16 less than the national figure – and only 3.8% are aged 65 years and over.

State by state:

State/Territory Growth since last census Total population Indigenous population
New South Wales 5.6% 6,917,656 172,624
Victoria 8.5% 5,354,040 37,991
Queensland 11% 4,332,737 155,825
Western Australia 14.3% 2,239,171 69,665
South Australia 5.4% 1,596,570 30,431
Tasmania 4% 495,351 19,625
Australian Capital Territory 10.2% 357,220 5,184
Northern Territory 9.9% 211,943 56,779

Of Victoria’s total population of 5.3 million, almost four million live in Melbourne. In other words, four out of five Victorians live in our capital.

More information at the Australian Bureau of Statistics census site.

Twisted logic

Another story from the USA. I’m sure that nation is schizophrenic! Collectively, US citizens have contributed so much to the world… but they also seem to be full of contradictions.

SBS reports that “A Republican congressional candidate once known as ‘Joe the plumber’ is in hot water after implying in a campaign video that German gun controls contributed to deaths during the Holocaust.”

Samuel Wurzelbacher, who became known as Joe the Plumber during the 2008 Presidential campaign when he questioned Barack Obama at an event, is running as a Republican in Ohio for the House of Representatives. In the video he loads a shotgun and fires at pieces of fruit placed on wooden posts:

In his commentary he lists several instances of genocide, in each case stating that the victims, “unable to defend themselves, were exterminated.” He finishes by saying: “I love America.”

Not surprisingly there were protests. Joe later claimed on Twitter that he didn’t say that gun control caused genocide.

Well, he didn’t actually say that… but what else is the viewer to conclude? Loading and shooting a shotgun while giving a running commentary about historical genocides in which people were “unable to defend themselves”, together with the throwaway “I love America” as he holds his gun at the end, doesn’t leave much room for any other interpretation.

As with most other arguments from the gun lobby, this bizarre video is based on twisted logic. Americans just love to talk about their right to bear arms, and even Christian friends (who I might have expected to have a more balanced view) have defended to me their possession of weapons. Don’t they understand that they have a higher rate of murder using firearms than most other places in the world, and that the number of weapons in the community might just have something to do with that? A friend once told me that his father keeps a gun in case he needs to defend his home and family. When I commented that I’ve never felt the need to defend my home or family – simply because there’s never been a threat, which I’m sure is the case for the vast majority of families in Australia – his response was, “That must be nice.” I just don’t understand that argument. If they didn’t have so many guns there wouldn’t be so many shootings. Simple.

To get back to Joe the Plumber… how exactly does he think the people who were killed during the genocides he mentions were going to defend themselves? Pistols, or even shotguns, would have provided practically no defence against the Nazis, for example. Poland, The Netherlands, Belgium and France all buckled under the might of the Blitzkrieg, and it took more than five years and concerted efforts from east and west to claw back that ground and subdue Hitler. If whole nations – who were able to defend themselves – couldn’t stand against that force, how were individual pockets of Juden (and even smaller other groups, such as homosexuals and disabled people) to do so? Yes, six million Jewish people were killed, but that figure represents people gathered from all over Europe; it’s not as if the whole six million were in one place where they could have taken a stand. In fact, those who did resist were brutally punished.

I love Australia, imperfect as it is, but I don’t need to resort to cheap shots (if you’ll pardon the pun) to try to make a point. In my opinion Joe is defending the indefensible, and causing offence.

A tale of two cities… er, approaches

Richard O’Dwyer is a student from Sheffield in England. At the moment he is fighting an extradition order to the United States. As we all know, the US likes to style itself “the land of the free.” It seems, however, that some people are more free than others… and that the “others” part of the equation don’t even have to be US citizens, let alone live in the US.

Richard’s crime is that he set up a small website linking to sites where people could watch US TV and movies online. The studios would be grateful that Richard was drawing attention to their products, wouldn’t they? Um, no. They decided he was infringing copyright. Now, the first thing to note is that the site was merely “a ‘human-powered search engine’ for people looking for places to watch films, TV and documentaries online. Users could post links to video content – on YouTube, the now-defunct Google Video, MegaVideo or elsewhere – that contained full TV programmes or films. O’Dwyer’s site would check the link worked and add it to its search engine. The site quickly became a specialised search engine for TV and film content, plus a forum for people to discuss and review the films.” [1] Second, Richard complied with legal notices from publishers asking him to remove links, on the few occasions he received them.

According to The Age, “the US authorities became concerned about a site linking to content often still within copyright. To sell a counterfeit CD or DVD of a copyrighted work is an offence, as is deliberately uploading such a work to the internet. American customs officials, after campaigning from industry bodies [emphasis mine], contended that linking to such items on other sites (as search engines and others automatically do) would also be covered by such laws. This is a contentious interpretation of the law, even in the US, where linking has in some court cases been regarded as protected speech under the first amendment.” [2]

If linking in this way is an extraditable offence, why aren’t these “authorities” pursuing Google, Bing and all the other search engines? Maybe it’s something to do with Richard’s status as an individual – a uni student without the multi-million dollar legal teams retained by companies like Google and Bing’s owner Microsoft. Pardon my cynicism.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has defended Richard O’Dwyer, and started an online petition to ask the UK home affairs minister to stop his extradition.

Once again, the studios demonstrate their head-in-the-sand approach to copyright matters. Shame on them.

On the other hand…

Elgato, a company that makes PVR software and TV tuners for computers became aware that gamers were pirating Elgato’s EyeTV video recording software to record the video coming out of their game consoles. Using the movie/TV moguls’ approach, Elgato would trot out its lawyers and demand that people stop infringing its copyright… right?

Actually, they didn’t. They first looked at how people were using their software. Gamers were making recordings using EyeTV and video capture cards, then uploading the results to sites like Youtube. Elgato decided it could offer a better solution. “We ended up finding [pirated] registration keys on YouTube where people were describing how to use our TV software and capturing devices but connected to gaming consoles. We could have continued to blacklist all the pirated keys and try to fight back. Instead we looked at the combination of capturing devices, software and workflows people were using, and at the results they were getting,” said Lars Felber, the company’s product marketing manager. “We decided that we could do better, with dedicated hardware and software which was really tailored to gamers’ needs and would help them get better results.” [3]

Elgato now produces the Game Capture HD, an elegant (and fairly cheap) way for people to record video from game consoles. Mr Felber remarked, “The response from gamers has been great. Looking at their requirements and giving them what they wanted has certainly been a good move for us.”

Are you listening, entertainment industry?

[1], [2] The unlikely poster boy for a culture war: how a knock on the door changed film fan Richard’s life forever

[3] Elgato’s Game Capture HD – fighting back against piracy