Monday, December 11, 2006

Australian soldiers in Iraq silenced by military bureaucrats

The Australian Defence Force has banned soldiers from writing online journals and has deleted blogs from troops serving in Iraq. Critics say the soldiers are being denied the very freedoms they are fighting for.

The blogs were destroyed in September, hours after pictures of Australian soldiers playing with guns surfaced on the internet in the days before the inquiry into Private Jake Kovco's death in Baghdad.

Australia's leading defence think-tank, a civil libertarian and an internet expert have blasted the move as heavy-handed, saying it denied freedom of speech and destroyed Australian history. "This shows how far behind the times the ADF is," Australian Council for Civil Liberties president Terry O'Gorman said. "If the American army allows blogs, why doesn't the Australian army? If it does not pose a security threat, why are these soldiers being denied the rights of democracy that they are fighting for?"

Milblogs -- the online term for military weblogs -- emerged as warfare's latest phenomenon. Across Iraq, soldiers sit at computers typing out their fears, concerns and first-hand accounts of life, sometimes moments after returning from battle. The Pentagon harnessed the power of milblogs for positive publicity and recruitment. There are more than 1600 milblogs from 28 countries, according to but Australia has none.

A 26-year-old Sunshine Coast soldier serving in Iraq was placed under review and his milblog "Iraqi Letters" was deleted during the ADF's move to silence servicemen online. The soldier's writing was positive of the army and at times poetic, detailing the taste of cold water on a dust-parched throat and the friendly ribbing soldiers received after the Socceroos lost to Kuwait.

Minutes after "Iraqi Letters" was destroyed, Brisbane IT consultant and blogging expert Mike Fitzsimons salvaged it for safe-keeping. "I think it is a valuable piece of Australian history," he said. "Look at how today's historians revere letters from Gallipoli. "Deleting the blogs was a total over-reaction from the top. "It was a heavy-handed political reaction without any further thought."

Neil James, the executive director of independent lobby group Australia Defence Association, said milblogs should be allowed provided they were risk-assessed and any potential security violations censored. "(Blogging) is not going to go away and the Defence Force is going to have to face up to this," he said. "It is not something that can be ignored." Federal Opposition defence personnel spokesman Mark Bishop said: "Any mechanism that advances freedom of speech, the exchange of ideas or commentary on relevant matters should be encouraged, provided it does not breach laws, security matters or is offensive."


The incorrectness of photography --again

Note previous posts on Oct 22nd (4th post down) and July 26th about other Australian instances of this mania. There have also of course been a lot of similar instances in Britain and the USA

The 1937 photograph of a bronzed sunbather by Max Dupain is the most famous image of Australia's beach culture - but so suspicious have authorities become of cameras on beaches that his photographer son, Rex Dupain, was threatened with arrest while working on a new book about Bondi. After pulling out his $8000 Hasselblad to snap a couple of backpackers sleeping on the sand, Dupain - one of Australia's most celebrated photographers - found himself surrounded by four police officers who confiscated his camera. Although it is legal to photograph anyone in a public place, Dupain found himself questioned for 25 minutes by the police.

"Lifeguards and the police are taking the law into their own hands and they regard anyone with a camera as a potential pervert," Dupain said yesterday. "We sit at home and watch the close-up of people's lives on disturbing television reality shows but someone taking pictures at the beach is seen as a threat. Our days as a free society are completely over."

Dupain started taking shots at Bondi three years ago for his new book, The Colour of Bondi, and wanted to capture the authentic look of the beach by photographing people who were relaxed and unaware they were being snapped. He was questioned by lifeguards and the police on at least half a dozen occasions while working on the project, but said the final confrontation was the most disturbing. "They thought the Hasselblad was some sort of trick camera because they couldn't find a display screen," he said. "They wouldn't believe it wasn't a digital camera."

The photographer said catching people unaware was "how we learn about ourselves". Dupain approached the local Waverley council for a permit of the type issued to people filming television commercials so he would not be harassed. "They said, 'Sure, it will only cost you $160 an hour'."


Give working mothers a break

If we want more babies, we need to make it easier for mothers

It's about time that well-paid, hard-working parents got a tax break on childcare. They ought to be able to claim all their childcare costs, including the wages paid to nannies. How are parents supposed to go to work, if they don't have childcare? It's obviously a work-related expense.

The government provides funds to mums who want to stay home, in the form of Family Tax Benefit, A and B. It also provides funds to mums who put their children in long day care centres. But the women who have stormed the workforce since the 1970s work as police officers, firefighters, surgeons, anaesthetists, pilots, lawyers, judges and flight attendants. They don't have 9-5 rosters. They work on weekends. They can't use childcare centres.

Some mums have one child at school, another still a toddler. They need nannies, too. There's an idea-a stupid one-that only rich people have nannies. Actually, it's the highly-educated, taxed-like-crazy, hard-working class that have nannies. At the moment, the nanny industry is all black market, unregulated and unsatisfactory.

Professional women contribute a massive amount to the economy, both in personal taxes and in spending power. Their taxes are doled out to mums who don't work, and that's fine; or to mums who use childcare centres, and that's fine, too. But it's time to give them something, as well. A tax break is a good start.


Dumbed-down science "education"

Nobel prize-winning scientist Peter Doherty has attacked the way science is taught in Australian schools, with some students studying the lyrics of classic pop songs as part of the subject. In Queensland, Cat Stevens' song Where Do The Children Play? and Midnight Oil's hit River Runs Red about environmental degradation are studied in Year 8 and 9 science classes as part of an examination of science and society. Teaching resources prepared by the Queensland Studies Authority, responsible for the curriculum, include an analysis of song lyrics from the 1970s, '80s and '90s to explore "historical and cultural factors (that) influence the nature and direction of science which, in turn, affects the development of society". Science and society is one of five strands in the Queensland junior science syllabus, compulsory to the end of Year 10, which asserts that "science is a 'way of knowing"'.

But Professor Doherty, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1996, rejected the idea that science was "just another body of knowledge". "Before science, you have to go back to before 1500; so people who think science is just one way of knowing the world should go back and live then before we had a cure for things like plague," he said. "Science is evidence-based. It isn't perfect but it's based on experiment and observation and repeating findings," Professor Doherty added. "It's a specialised way of looking at the world. It isn't just a matter of discussion; it's a matter of looking for evidence, which is the difference between science and philosophy."

Other prominent scientists and educators said the Queensland syllabus was indicative of the way science was taught in schools around the nation, with curriculums reflecting a relativist philosophy that undermined the evidence-based approach central to the subject's study. Australian Council of Deans of Science president John Rice joined Professor Doherty in lamenting the creep of relativism into science curriculums. "Relativism is misplaced and it doesn't do justice to the real philosophical thinking; it's a shallow understanding of that philosophy," Professor Rice.

Professor Rice, dean of science at the University of Technology, Sydney, said the trend in school science syllabuses around the nation was a move away from specifying the knowledge students should understand. Instead, curriculums focused on the processes students should use, forgetting that in maths and science "these things are learned simultaneously". "They focus terribly on pedagogy, and the way knowledge and content is described is flawed," Professor Rice said. "Content turns out to be a list of topics instead of an understanding of what you want students to learn." A modern science syllabus might include a topic on the physics of amusement parks rather than specifying an understanding of motion and how you predict what's going to happen to moving things.

Peter Ridd, senior lecturer in physics at James Cook University, was a member of the subject advisory committee for science that oversaw the development of the new Queensland syllabus, to be introduced from 2008 for junior and senior students. Dr Ridd, with a group of university physicists, prepared a list for the senior physics course of fundamental concepts central to an understanding of physics in mechanics, waves and optics, electricity, magnetism, heat and matter. But he said the syllabus lacked content, had insufficient detail to instruct students on physics and failed to include maths as part of the course. The use by Galileo and Newton of maths in scientific thinking revolutionised the discipline but Dr Ridd said school syllabuses today excluded maths in the study of science.

A Queensland Studies Authority spokesman said the new science syllabuses to be introduced from 2008 would specify core content and reflect national standards agreed to by federal and state education ministers.


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