Thursday, March 10, 2022

"Race" is out

It has been a dangerous word to use for some time. Any mention of it is likely to generate an accusation that the person using it is a "racist". These days, I mostly talk about "groups" instead. I can say what I wanted to say that way without setting off an hysterical reaction.

We are used to words being banned – but now it seems the word police are coming for the word ‘race’ itself. Students and staff are being discouraged from using the word ‘race’ in the Cultural Diversity and Inclusive Practice Toolkit issued by the University of New South Wales.

Discussing the word ‘race’ the Toolkit says: ‘Despite the presence of the term “race” in everyday language, and its use in various policies and statements referred to throughout this toolkit, the Macquarie Dictionary, under “usage” of the term, states: “Because the 19th century classification of humans into distinct races has been challenged scientifically, and has been misused, many now prefer to avoid this term when referring to a group of humans, and to replace it with another term such as ‘peoples’ or ‘community.’”

Now, is it my misreading, or is this university Toolkit suggesting that we stop using the word ‘race’ and instead say ‘people’ or ‘community’? Does this mean that Critical Race Theory will have to become Critical People. Theory or Critical Community Theory? Are they suggesting we stop using ‘racist’ and instead label offenders as being ‘people-ist’ or ‘community-ist’? The more they play with the language the more ridiculous they become. ?


Universities criticise minister’s research veto powers

Vetoing apparenty silly and trivial research grants has always been politically available to avoid public criticisms about a waste of taxpayers' money

University leaders have warned of a chilling effect on research caused by the federal education minister’s ability to veto funding grants, saying their institutions were at risk of losing world-class academics to overseas competitors.

In a decision that has been widely criticised by academics, acting Education Minister Stuart Robert vetoed Australian Research Council (ARC) funding to six humanities projects for 2022 on Christmas Eve – the third time in four years the power has been used by the Coalition.

Appearing at a Senate inquiry on Wednesday, university chiefs and academic leaders were in lockstep in raising concerns about the lack of transparency over the ministerial intervention and the singling out of individual grants for rejection without detailed explanation. But they were divided over a Greens proposal to abolish the veto, with the Senate’s education committee examining the merits of a bill by senator Mehreen Faruqi that would amend ARC legislation to achieve this.

Supporting the bill, ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt said the minister’s veto power was a “serious problem” that was compromising universities’ ability to attract and retain world-class academics, saying the issue had been raised with him by top researchers from overseas competitor institutions.

“People around the globe who I talk to, trying to recruit [them] to come to Australia, have noticed what’s going on. [They] have expressed their concerns to the point of saying ‘I am not going to come to Australia until you sort this out’,” Professor Schmidt told the inquiry. “It is literally affecting my ability to attract talent to Australia”.

Professor James McCluskey, University of Melbourne deputy vice-chancellor research, said the veto power was a “significant departure from world’s best practice”, noting that research councils in the US and UK were autonomous and not subject to ministerial intervention.

Western Sydney University had two grants vetoed in the 2022 funding round, with deputy vice-chancellor Deborah Sweeney telling the inquiry the intervention had had “a chilling, devastating and demoralising effect” on those researchers.

The ANU, University of Melbourne, Western Sydney University and the University of Tasmania support removing the veto power – a position that has been also been endorsed by Universities Australia and Group of Eight lobby groups.

But some universities – including the Australian Catholic University and Queensland University of Technology – have departed from this view arguing that the ministerial veto should be rarely used, but not be scrapped entirely. Instead, they support legislative changes that would improve transparency over the decision-making process, such as requiring the minister to provide an explanation to the Parliament detailing why projects were rejected.

Dr John Byron, from QUT, said completely removing the veto power was not “politically realistic or necessarily democratically desirable”, telling the inquiry that the principles of responsible government meant the minister must retain oversight of funding decisions.

Monash University deputy vice-chancellor Rebekah Brown said the lack of transparency in the veto process was diminishing credibility in the ARC’s peer-review process, and gave evidence about how a project vetoed in 2018 had significantly affected the university’s broader program of humanities research.

“The project was eventually funded two years later, but missed a significant opportunity in those intervening two years to make a global impact [and] to collect really important data during that two-year period,” she said.

Under the ARC process, an independent college of experts reviews the grant applications, worth between $30,000 and $500,000 a year, and makes recommendations for approval.

The six rejected projects included one about student climate protests and democracy, and one about religion in science fiction and fantasy novels. Two were about modern China, and two were about English literature.

Mr Robert has claimed that the six projects, which were all recommended for approval by the ARC, did not demonstrate value for taxpayers’ money or contribute to the national interest. He approved 98.8 per cent of projects recommended.


Abandoning ‘net zero’ could be the highroad to electoral victory for Scott Morrison

The path to electoral victory is crystal clear. Scott Morrison must abandon net zero to win the next election.

Much has changed since those halcyon Glasgow days back in October, when reaching net zero carbon emissions was all the rage. This week, the great climate warrior himself, Boris Johnson, recognised the inevitable and declared Britain and the rest of the West must ‘give a climate pass’ to natural gas and ramp up gas production. Net zero in the UK, following a Tory backbench revolt, a freezing winter of power cuts, spiralling energy costs and now the Ukrainian war, is almost certainly dead. Leaders in the capitals of the West, faced with Russian military aggression driven by and financed by Europe’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels, are rapidly waking up to the fact that, to put it in a simplistic but irrefutable equation: fossil fuels equal peace, ‘net zero’ equals war.

That this grim equation has for many years been both predicted and feared by many conservative-leaning thinkers, from Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan to, of course, Donald Trump, comes as no solace.

Unfortunately for the likes of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, even the most fanciful extremist climate change ‘rising sea levels’ and ‘Biblical floods’ doomsday scenarios pale into insignificance compared to the very real ‘Armageddon for mankind’ that nuclear conflict would deliver.

As has long been recognised by conservatives, peace lies in the preparation for war. Credible military deterrence is the ultimate guarantor of freedom. Since the end of the second world war, the West has kept the rapacious communists at bay through superior military weaponry and leaders who proclaimed they were prepared to use them. Up until the hapless Joe Biden stumbled into the White House, the events unravelling in Ukraine were unimaginable.

But the last decade has seen a headlong rush by a plethora of weak Western leaders and institutions to focus primarily on juvenile, trite and idiotic concepts such as ‘diversity and inclusion’, ‘gender fluidity’, critical race theory and climate change and in doing so advertise our impotence.

Perhaps our church-going Prime Minister might like to recall the lines from Corinthians 13.11: ‘When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.’ Climate change is a child’s obsession – both metaphorically and literally – but in an age of potential nuclear war and totalitarian ambitions we need adult, indeed manly, leadership.

Scott Morrison has talked tough on both Russia and China. So he should. And as he and his focus group handlers –sorry, typo, his political advisers – are obviously aware, the way to beat Labor at the forthcoming election is to play the national security card for all it’s worth. In times of strife, the average Aussie family man and woman will always feel more comfortable with a right-leaning politician running the show than a starry-eyed eco-luvvy or some class-obsessed union hack. Again, so they should.

The Prime Minister points out that Labor can never be trusted to protect our borders and to guarantee our national security. And he is right. But unless he backs up his own tough talk with genuine action, the sad truth is that neither can he be trusted. You cannot protect a nation while agreeing to ‘de-growth’ and ‘net zero emissions’. And you cannot protect Australia if your future source of energy is a fantasy like Twiggy’s green hydrogen.

It’s time to grow up, abandon net zero, and deliver a Coalition victory


Mutant Omicron strain is killing 280 people a DAY in Hong Kong - and it's already in Australia

A new Omicron mutation has made Hong Kong the deadliest place on earth for Covid - and the rogue strain has already been detected in Australia.

Hong Kong has been ravaged by the virus since mid-February when deaths soared from just 224 to 2287 within weeks.

Omicron killed 280 people in Hong Kong on Monday, and there's been 450,000 cases since February 15. Before Omicron, the city had only 50,000 since the start of the pandemic.

All recent cases have been of a slightly mutated strain of the BA2 form of the disease which tweaks the amino acid profile in one of the Covid virus cell spike proteins.

The mutation, dubbed BA2.2, is almost unique to Hong Kong at this stage, but has also been seen in small numbers in the UK, Singapore and Australia, according to Arkansas State University Professor Raj Rajnarayanan.

Debate is now raging among scientists about whether the new mutation is key to Hong Kong's shocking death rate - or if it is coincidental.

Covid mortality in the city is 29.18 deaths per million, dwarfing Australia's worst-ever mortality rate in January of 3.4 per million.

Its seven-day average of 193 deaths per day in a city of 7.5 million even surpasses India, with a population of 1.4 billion, currently averaging 180 daily deaths.

And it's even higher than the UK's worst-ever pre-vaccination death rates.

Some epidemiologists believe the tweaked mutation has arisen from virus genetic in-breeding caused by the original limited source of the Omicron outbreak in Hong Kong, in a process called founder effect, rather an evolutionary step forward to adapt and improve.

It's unclear how the mutation affects vaccine resistance, if at all, but the majority of those dying in Hong Kong are either unvaccinated or not fully-vaccinated.

Some experts have also questioned the effectiveness of China's home-produced Sinovac against Omicron, with studies casting doubt on even a double jab of it producing enough antibodies to fight the Covid variant.

Hong Kong launched a vaccination blitz in February in a bid to combat the Omicron wave, with a high take-up among younger residents.

But vaccination rates in Hong Kong are especially low among the elderly because of cultural distrust of western medicine, keeping overall numbers low.

Imperial College of London virologist Tom Peacock questioned the impact of the new mutant BA2.2 strain on being behind Hong Kong's death rate.

'Don't think we need a new mutant to explain the tragic situation in Hong Kong?' he tweeted. 'Would be surprised if this is anything but a founder effect due to low initial seeding of this specific thing.'

Georgia Tech scientist Tony Burnetti added: 'There's nothing virologically interesting at all. It's all about the local population. 'They were relying on containment and have abysmal vaccination rates. It finally got out, into a population where two-thirds of the vulnerable elderly are unprotected.'

Just 32 per cent of those over 80 are double-jabbed, and only 61 per cent of those over 70. The vast majority of the city's deaths have been among those over 70.

The city worked hard to minimise the threat of Covid throughout the pandemic with strict restrictions and travel bans, but those proved insufficient to contain Omicron.

The younger population have a much higher vaccination percentage, but that is causing its own problems as they are catching the disease asymptomatically and may be spreading it without realising.

'It means the disease can be spreading silently,' Deakin University epidemiologist Professor Catherine Bennett said.

'Part of the reason that they worked so hard to keep the virus out was because it is a difficult city to manage the virus in. It is high density living.

'You have families and extended families not just living in apartments and divided apartments but towers. You have a high reliance on public transport.

'There's a range of things that are part of that dynamic life in Hong Kong that actually make it really difficult when you have something that spreads as readily as any of the variants of Omicron will do.'

She said Australia and the rest of the world must now wait to see more data come out of Hong Kong to judge the threat of the new mutant Omicron strain.

Comparisons of infection rates with the new variant rate in hospital cases versus the wider population will give a better indication of its potential impact, matched also against vaccination details.'But without that information, we simply don't know,' Prof Bennett added.

The inherent danger of a widespread outbreak in a densely populated city like Hong Kong is the creation of further mutant strains as a result of the rapid and easy spread of the disease.

But Prof Bennett added that Australia is now in a better position to deal with any new variants and limit their impact as a result of both its successful vaccination program and also the Omicron outbreak which swept the nation.

'A lot of young people were infected who are most likely to spread the disease, but prior infection combined with vaccines gives much broader immunity,' she said.

'We can be a little less fearful of new variants. It's much tougher for Covid to mutate effectively now.

'A new variant has to look different to Omicron and the ancestral strains to defeat our vaccines and it has to be both viable and an effective pathogen.

'Our vaccines should still give that extra bit of protection against any other new variant that might turn up.'




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