31 March 2011

Gideon Levy on Shin Bet and its new chief

In an opinion piece in today’s edition of Ha’aretz, columnist Gideon Levy writes, under the headline Shin Bet heads spearhead the occupation, about the announcement of a new head, Yeram Cohen, for the Israeli security organisation Shin Bet:

It's hard to think of any other democracy where they would break into a prime-time news program to announce the nomination of a security agency head...

It's also hard to think of another audience that would applaud the announcement...

The announcement of the appointment justifies a news flash in Israel because the Shin Bet, unlike its counterparts in the West, is involved in almost every aspect of our lives: from the granting of a security classifications of a large number of people to carrying out assassinations, from the bloated and ridiculous security detail it gives to our leaders to its operations tracking and pursuing left-wing and settlement activists.

It decides who will be allowed to enter the country and who will be allowed to invest here. The Shin Bet state, which philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz prophesied, has already been with us for some time.

Of Shin Bet heads in general, Levy writes that they spearhead the occupation and endanger Israel’s democratic character:

Their world is narrow and afflicted with paranoia and hatred of the targets of their manhunts and assassinations. They also have no idea what damage their deeds do to Israel's international standing and image. It's always possible to recount their successes, but who will count the acts of terror that were actually sown by their actions?

Read Levy’s article in full here.

Gideon Levy on dissidents and spies

In an opinion piece published in Ha’aretz on 24 March columnist Gideon Levy writes that the little sympathy that Israel still receives from the rest of the world it owes to dissident groups like B'Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Anarchists Against the Fence, Gush Shalom, and a small band of radical dissidents and journalists.

The campaign of delegitimization against it, the real one and the one we invent, we owe to Avigdor Lieberman and Israel Beiteinu, to Benjamin Netanyahu and the flood of anti-democratic laws of his people and of Kadima, to the unbridled Israel Defense Forces and to the settlers who know no boundaries. One day of Operation Cast Lead did Israel more damage than all the critical articles taken together; the fatal attack on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara dragged down Israel's image more than all the anti-Israeli lectures taken together; the "Nakba Law" stank more than all the petitions.

The ever-growing initiative to boycott, excoriate and ostracize Israel was born out of the pictures of Gaza and the scenes from the Marmara. The fact that there are Israelis who have joined the criticism can only be chalked up to Israel's dwindling credit in universities in the United States, in the academic world of Europe and in newspapers in both places. Just imagine how Israel would look without them: North Korea.

He goes on to write about his recent invited visit to the Jewish Book Week in London, and to Dublin, following the publication in English of his book The Punishment of Gaza.

I spoke, as I always do, against the occupation, the injustices and the damage it does to Israel and to the Palestinians, against the attacks on Israeli democracy as I have written in the hundreds of articles that have been published in Haaretz in Hebrew and in English, and as I did at the London School of Economics and Trinity University in Dublin.

As on previous occasions, a "spy" from the Israeli Embassy was sent to Trinity - this one, an Israeli student who was asked to write down what I said and convey it to the embassy. The embassy quickly dispatched a report to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, and the Foreign Ministry quickly leaked it to a well-known newspaper, which published only my harshest statements, without context - and there you have it: the indictment of a dissident.

... one cannot ignore the message conveyed by such conduct - that of a witch hunt against a journalist whose opinions diverge from the party line.

Read Levy’s article in full here.

29 March 2011

Anniversary of first Australian military deployment

According to the NSW State Records Office (see here), on this day in 1885 a NSW contingent arrived in Sudan, the first time Australian troops fought in an imperial war.  The NSW contingent consisted of an infantry battalion and an artillery battery, totalling 758 men.  They left Sydney on 3 March 1885 and returned on 19 June.  While the contingent did not fight in any major battles, there were three wounded soldiers and seven deaths from fever or dysentery.  See a Photocopy of the Soudan [sic] Contingent Roll 1885, COD474 in the Records Office reading rooms.

28 March 2011

Armidale Express on Emma Buzo

For my friends with Armidale connections, and perhaps even more importantly for all of her friends in the Sydney theatrical world who will not be reading country newspapers, the 9 March edition of The Armidale Express had a nice piece, Play for tolerance,  about Emma Buzo’s return to the town in which both her parents grew up, to manage the Michael Hoskins Creative Arts Centre, and to teach drama.

It discusses the enduring significance of her father Alex’s play Norm and Ahmed, and makes the connection between subject of the play and the experiences of Emma’s Albanian-born grandfather Zihni, who came to Armidale to work as a civil engineer in 1954.

For earlier posts on Emma and Alex see The Alex Buzo Company and SMH on Emma Buzo.

For a little of the atmosphere of Alex’s schooling and Emma’s new environment, see The Class of 1960, fifty years on.

Juan Cole’s open letter to the left on Libya

Professor Juan Cole, R.P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan, has posted on his blog Informed Comment (27 March 20100) an Open Letter to the Left on Libya.

He gives an informative account of how the rising developed, and addresses in turn the principal leftist arguments against the intervention: pacifism (the use of force is always wrong), anti-imperialism (all interventions in world affairs by outsiders are wrong) and the belief that no social problems can ever be resolved by military force.

Of the latter he says:

The proposition that social problems can never be resolved by military force alone may be true. But there are some problems that can’t be solved unless there is a military intervention first, since its absence would allow the destruction of the progressive forces. Those arguing that “Libyans” should settle the issue themselves are wilfully ignoring the overwhelming repressive advantage given Qaddafi by his jets, helicopter gunships, and tanks; the ‘Libyans’ were being crushed inexorably. Such crushing can be effective for decades thereafter.

He also addresses the objection based on inconsistency, in terms aligned with my own observations in Thoughts on the intervention in Libya:

Many are crying hypocrisy, citing other places an intervention could be staged or worrying that Libya sets a precedent. I don’t find those arguments persuasive. Military intervention is always selective, depending on a constellation of political will, military ability, international legitimacy and practical constraints. The humanitarian situation in Libya was fairly unique. You had a set of tank brigades willing to attack dissidents, and responsible for thousands of casualties and with the prospect of more thousands to come, where aerial intervention by the world community could make a quick and effective difference.

This situation did not obtain in the Sudan’s Darfur, where the terrain and the conflict were such that aerial intervention alone would have been useless and only boots on the ground could have had a hope of being effective. But a whole US occupation of Iraq could not prevent Sunni-Shiite urban faction-fighting that killed tens of thousands, so even boots on the ground in Darfur’s vast expanse might have failed.

He then gives reasons why the other Arab Spring demonstrations are not comparable to the Libyan situation, and deals with the reason why we should not be worried about setting precedents.

In his final paragraph Professor Cole makes this appeal:

I would like to urge the Left to learn to chew gum and walk at the same time. It is possible to reason our way through, on a case-by-case basis, to an ethical progressive position that supports the ordinary folk in their travails in places like Libya...

This is a thoughtful essay, worth reading in full. The original post may be accessed here.

27 March 2011

Thoughts on the intervention in Libya

After about a month of protests which escalated into serious fighting, during which Libya’s anti-Gaddafi rebels made some significant gains but were then driven back by Gaddafi’s much better equipped, trained and organised armed forces, on 17 March the United Nations Security Council surprised everyone by passing Security Council Resolution No. 1973 which, as summarised by Wikipedia here:

-  demands the immediate establishment of a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians
-  imposes a no-fly zone over Libya
-  authorises all necessary means to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas, except for a "foreign occupation force"
-  strengthens the earlier arms embargo and particularly action against mercenaries, by allowing for forcible inspections of ships and planes
-  imposes a ban on all Libyan-designated flights
-  imposes an asset freeze on assets owned by the Libyan authorities, and reaffirms that such assets should be used for the benefit of the Libyan people
-  extends the travel ban and assets freeze of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970 to a number of additional individuals and Libyan entities
-  establishes a panel of experts to monitor and promote sanctions implementation.

The Resolution was passed under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the Chapter which authorises the United Nations to make binding resolutions.

It is a messy resolution, as one would have to expect of a resolution which is designed to authorise a major intervention without galvanising the veto powers of China and Russia. It is surprisingly strong, in that it not only authorises the establishment of a no-fly zone, as expected, but it authorises “all necessary means to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas”, short of a foreign occupation force. How events in Libya evolve will be very much a function of how that mandate is interpreted, and the political will that the nations participating in the intervention have to exploit it.

In view of the advances made by pro-Gaddafi forces in the days leading up to the passage of the resolution, and the imminent collapse of resistance before Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, there was palpable relief that the cavalry was coming to the rescue, a period of anxiety as it took time to deploy the necessary armed force, and then further relief as the intervening forces went inot action.

That understandable relief was accompanied by some thoughtful reflections about where this was all taking us.

The diplomatic editor of the Melbourne daily The Age, Daniel Flitton, was one of the first out of the blocks, with a piece in the 19 March edition, West will get to show that might is right.  He writes that the mandate is remarkably vague and that there will be disputes in coming weeks about what precisely it intends.  He goes on:

Let's be plain: a ''no-fly zone'' equals shooting down Muammar Gaddafi's planes and destroying his air defences. Dropping bombs is never surgical and a civil war cannot be won from the air. For the rebels to prevail, they will need support with arms and training. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said weapons may be sent to the rebels, and already there are reports of guns being trucked in from Egypt. This could be a dirty fight, even with a UN mandate.

Should these rebels carry out atrocities as revenge against Gaddafi's forces, their Western backers could be seen as complicit. And this will be seen very much as a Western war, despite the support of Arab countries.

He notes that the aftermath of the conflict will belong to the West, and with it the costs of rebuilding. He also notes the danger of building false expectations amongst the populace of other countries manifesting mass expressions of dissent. Read Flitton’s article in full here.

Writing in Salon on Saturday 19 March, before US forces had been deployed, blogger Glenn Greenwald focuses on the domestic politics of it in the US: how the war is sold, the contrasts with Iraq, and between the Bush and Obama Administrations, the potential for a heightened terrorist threat. After a round-up of commentary in The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and elsewhere, he addresses the question of Congressional approval for any US deployment:

There's one other difference between Iraq and Libya worth noting:  at least with the former, there was a sustained, intense P.R. campaign to persuade the public to support it, followed by a cursory Congressional vote (agreed to by the Bush White House only once approval was guaranteed in advance).  By contrast, the intervention in Libya was presidentially decreed with virtually no public debate or discussion; it's just amazing how little public opinion or the consent of the citizenry matters when it comes to involving the country in a new war.  That objection can and should be obviated if Obama seeks Congressional approval before deploying the U.S. military.  On some level, it would be just a formality -- it's hard to imagine the Congress ever impeding a war the President wants to fight -- but at least some pretense of democratic and Constitutional adherence should be maintained.  

Read Greenwald’s post in full here.

Writing in 18 March edition of The Guardian, Abdel al-Bari Atwan raises and discusses a number of questions:

- The motives behind the intervention

... as I write, al-Jazeera is broadcasting scenes of carnage from Sanaa, Yemen, where at least 40 protesters have been shot dead. But there will be no UN no-fly zone to protect Pakistani civilians from US attacks, or to protect Yemenis. One cannot help but question the selective involvement of the west in the so-called "Arab spring" series of uprisings.

-  The main players in the intervention are Britain and France, with US involvement likely:

If Libya's neighbours, Egypt and Tunisia, were playing the leading role that would be something to celebrate.  Democratic countries helping their neighbours would have been in the spirit of the Arab uprisings, and would have strengthened the sense that Arabs can take control of their future.

-  Gaddafi is a master strategist and the intervention plays into his hands:

At the moment he has little, if any, public support; his influence is limited to his family and tribe. But he may use this intervention to present himself as the victim of post-colonialist interference in pursuit of oil. He is likely to pose the question that is echoing around the Arab world – why wasn't there a no-fly zone over Gaza when the Israelis were bombarding it in 2008/9?

-  The long-term impact of the intervention:

Libya may end up divided into the rebel-held east and a regime stronghold in the rest of the country which would include the oil fields and the oil terminal town al-Brega. There is a strong risk, too, that it will become the region's fourth failed state, joining Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

-  There is no guarantee that military intervention will result in Gaddafi's demise.

-  The worry that the Arab spring will be derailed by events in Libya.

Read  Abdel al-Bari Atwan’s article in full here.

Professor Juan Cole, R.P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan and author of Engaging the Muslim World (New York, Palgrave Macmillan 2009) wrote in his blog Informed Comment on 21 March that the no-fly zone over Libya is risky but can succeed under certain conditions:

-  It should not be open-ended, but rather should have an expiration date.

-  It should be a no-fly zone, not a war on the Qaddafi regime.

-  Once the no-fly zone is in place ... brokers should intervene to negotiate a diplomatic solution.

-  Officers who committed war crimes ... must be prosecuted, but not everyone in the Libyan military should be tarred with that brush.

-  Amnesty might be offered to pro-Qaddafi officers and politicians provided they break with the dictator and send him into exile.

-  Countries opposed to or lukewarm toward the no-fly zone, but which are themselves democracies, such as India, Algeria and Russia, could be enlisted to meet with the officer corps in Tripoli and impress on them the need for a transition to parliamentary elections.

Noting that Kosovo as a state originated in an externally enforced no fly zone, Cole concludes:

NATO military forces flying in response to the UNSC resolution must seek to replicate the successes in Kosovo and not the failures in Iraq.

Read Juan Coles full post here.

In a post entitled The Libyan Revolution is Dead: Notes for an Autopsy, on his blog Zero Anthropology, Maximilian Forte, Associate Professor in Anthropology at Concordia University in Canada, begins:

The “Arab Spring” was a short one; what follows, another NATO Summer, will last much longer.

He continues:

If you do not think about it, there is a lot to cheer about the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1973, against what this time has been a mountain of advice, questions, and critiques from all imaginable political quarters ... This is no longer a Libyan story – that chapter is now closed. My autopsy is divided into several broad categories of actors: the humanitarians, the rebels, the international organizations, the mass media, and the Americans. Finally, what we should be watching in the coming days, weeks, months, and years.

He then goes on to provide a critique of each of these categories of “the criminals responsible for killing the Libyan revolution”.  The humanitarians ignore slaughter elsewhere and have validated the military industrial complex; elements of the rebel leadership have stained their own name, and stained their revolution; the five countries that merely “abstained” from voting (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and Germany opted for diplomatic wiggle room and plausible deniability, and the Arab League is a club of dictators; Al Jazeera’s coverage has been heavily slanted, in terms of amount of coverage, to the story of Libya, rather than other cases where tyrants were beating and killing peaceful and unarmed protesters at the very same time; and the Americans, having found “another crazy murderous Arab, easy to mock and hold up as the target of mass orchestrated contempt” will be fighting “the perfect war”, with no troops on the ground .

Forte concludes with a list of fourteen things to watch for, many of which are fair questions (“How will the U.S. manage yet another war added to its roster?”), but the last one of which is perhaps indicative of the general tone:

14. If this ends up being a fiasco, or with the need for foreign troops on the ground, will it be the final act that breaks the back of empire?

So, with the possible exception of Professor Forte himself, everyone has got the Libya situation wrong, even if they are “well-intentioned”, that hardy all-purpose put-down.  One is left, however, to infer that the intervention, which he sees as an exercise in “humanitarian imperialism”, should not have taken place, because while he is caustic about the approach of all the above-mentioned groups, nowhere does he actually make a forthright statement that the Libyans (all of them) should be left to their fate, whatever that fate might be.

Professor Forte’s post may be accessed here.

For what it is worth, my views on the Libyan intervention, on the basis of what I know now (I am not an expert on the country, although I did visit it in 1980), are as follows:

(1)    My starting point regarding any military intervention anywhere any time is to regard the idea with profound suspicion.  It is almost never a good idea.  Many innocent people will be killed, there is too much potential for unintended consequences, and once the fog of war closes in the situation almost inevitably develops a life of its own, following a trajectory which no-one intended and no-one wanted.

(2)    I have a certain amount of sympathy for those like Professor Forte who point to the inconsistencies in the West’s approaches to humanitarian intervention, but the fact that we failed to intervene in other places on other occasions, or in other places warranting attention at the present time, does not shed much light on how we should have responded to the situation which has confronted us in Libya over the last few weeks. Saying you failed to help A is not in itself an argument for failing to help B.  The matters to be decided in relation to Libya were, simply, whether or not to intervene, and what form any possible intervention might most usefully take.

(3)    There is an old saying that the opportunity of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity and at the time the decision was made the window seemed to be closing very rapidly – indeed I spent the next 24 hour wondering whether it was not too late.  Gaddafi’s forces were on the threshold of entering the principal centre of resistance, Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, a city of about 700,000 people, possibly swollen by refugees from other towns.  The treatment that Gaddafi’s forces have been meting out to the besieged population of Misratah in the west of the country is a guide to what the population of the main centre of resistance could expect. There is no reason to believe that Gaddafi would not have large-scale indiscriminate killing in Benghazi had his forces been able to enter the town, and once they had entered the urban environment, any military intervention from the air would have been all but impossible without a large number of civilian casualties.

(4)    This means that the international community was faced with a choice between intervening and standing back and watching a massacre.  Apart from the morality of a choice to do nothing, I think that the sympathetic attention that the plight of the anti-Gaddafi forces was receiving in the world’s mainstream media would have made the “do nothing” option difficult in a number of Western countries.

(5)    It is easy to be critical of the West for deciding to intervene in Libya when it had failed to do so in other places equally deserving of humanitarian intervention.  In any consideration of intervention, however, there are questions of logistic feasibility to be considered.  Libya is a much more straightforward candidate for intervention than, say, Darfur or the eastern region of the Congo. While it is a country larger than Queensland, it has a vast desert or semi-desert inland and the vast bulk of the population is strung out in cities and towns along or within easy reach of the Mediterranean coast.  They are connected by a single main road passing through an arid landscape in which there is very little cover from the air. Accordingly, once a no-fly zone has been established, air interdiction of ground forces is relatively straightforward.

(6)    There is a strategic reason for intervening as well, in my view, one which is of central importance to the entire “Arab spring”.  The upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt occurred with relatively little loss of life, and ended in a peaceful transition with the leader leaving the country or standing aside.  If Gaddafi had been able to demonstrate that all that is necessary to retain power is to be ruthless enough in suppressing the dissenters, this may well have had an impact on the decision-making of other leaders facing political turmoil.

(7)    The tricky part is that the intervention has been cobbled together in such haste that it is by no means clear what end-state is intended to be achieved. There may be as many different versions of the desired end-state as there are participants.  As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated, it is always worth considering carefully what happens next once the relatively straightforward initial military campaign has been carried out.

(8)    One particularly tricky aspect of the intervention will prove in practice to be the fact that the mandate is to employ all necessary means to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas, not to help one side or the other to win a civil war.  Taken at face value this means that if the anti-Gaddafi forces manage to recover their equilibrium sufficiently and acquire the materiel to go on the offensive, the intervening forces will have a responsibility to protect the cities and towns of the Gaddafi-controlled areas from them.

(9)    That all sounds like a recipe for an enforced stalemate, unless Gaddafi can be induced quite soon to leave the country, and some sort of national reconciliation process can be set up before positions become too entrenched and there is too much further killing.

These are my preliminary thoughts, and no doubt there will be much more to say as the situation evolves.  The whole exercise will probably end in tears, but it seems that it was bound to do that anyway.  About the only thing we can be sure of is that there will be many surprises along the road and things will not turn out as most of us expect.

24 March 2011

Hartcher on Gillard and Abbott

In a piece published in The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday 19 March political editor Peter Hartcher made a strong call on the future of the Australian Labor Party and en passant had a swipe at Tony Abbott.

His article begins

When the Labor Party's national secretary announced his resignation on Wednesday, Julia Gillard put out a glowing tribute to the man. It unwittingly encapsulated the central problem facing Labor.

The Prime Minister thanked Karl Bitar for his efforts that "helped us be re-elected in 2010 allowing us to deliver our plans to make Australia a stronger and fairer society". In just 20 words, Gillard said so much, and so much wrong.

Hartcher then goes on to unpick those twenty words: Labor was not “re-elected”, and the biggest item on the agenda, the carbon tax, is not part of “our plans”, it is the plan of the Greens and the independents. Gillard’s tribute to Bitar is, as Hartcher says, a window into Labor’s extraordinary state of denial.

Then Hartcher makes his big call:

As things stand, Labor cannot hope to govern in its own right any more.

As a party able to offer itself as a viable government, Labor is not just under existential threat. It is finished. Unless, of course, it can engineer an extraordinary resurgence. Labor's looming death as a stand-alone political entity is the biggest story in contemporary Australian politics.

Hartcher then provides a thoughtful analysis of the situation in which Labor finds itself, and why the time-honoured tactic of “when in doubt, move to the right” will no longer work.

Of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott Hartcher says:

If Gillard is carrying on in a blithe state of denial, as if she were not under a political death sentence, then Abbott is becoming the cartoon villain of Australian politics.

Abbott is a bit like Yosemite Sam. Noisy, angry, quick to reach for his six-shooter, full of bluster and threats, he is terrific with the threatening theatrics. But he never actually manages to get his hands on his prey.

Remember the flood levy, the end of modern Australia as we know it? Remember Abbott's angry fulminations? The levy was "the opposite of mateship''. It would impose an unconscionable burden on the hard-scrabble families of Australia.

The moment the flood levy passed through the House of Representatives, Abbott fell silent on it. Now he's busy ranting and fuming about the next great danger. The theatrical bluster conceals that hard fact that 72 bills have been voted through the House of Representatives since the election. How many has Abbott successfully opposed? Zero.

If Yosemite Tony can't stop the carbon tax, his one-trick oppositionism will be terminally exposed as a failure.

Hartcher’s article is worth reading in full. It may be accessed here.

My own view of Julia Gillard and the Labor Party are not too far removed from Peter Hartcher’s. I have not as yet predicted its demise, but in Looking ahead at 2011 I did put my money on the table and predict that Julia Gillard would not last the year as Prime Minister, and I addressed her standing in more detail in the earlier post Can Gillard last?.

My views of Tony Abbott are adequately summed up in The real Tony Abbott . They haven’t changed, and this week Tony Abbott has certainly continued on his trajectory towards becoming “the cartoon villain of Australian politics”.

Do not attempt this at home (greenhouse policy explained)

In their inimitable style, John Clark and Brian Dawe make the current state of Australian climate change politics crystal clear, right here.

23 March 2011

Radiation Dose Chart

The news from Fukushima and the continuing drama about whether the six reactors can successfully be brought to a safe and stable condition has, quite understandably, got people all over the world worrying about the hazards of nuclear radiation. 

The hazards from an uncontrolled event are very real. There is no safe dose, and no-one should fall for the silly and irresponsible material that has been circulating on the web and in the twittersphere to the effect that small amounts of radiation are good for you. They are not.

On the other hand, we are exposed to ionising radiation every moment of our lives, and the modest risks associated with low doses or with infrequent higher doses under controlled conditions are something we all need to live with. In a wide range of medical circumstances the risks of exposure to ionising radiation are the better part of the risks of failing to make a timely diagnosis.

Most people are aware that medical radiation can be harmful, but very few are aware of the small doses we receive every day of our lives, or the relativities of the different sources of radiation.

The Radiation Dose Chart at http://xkcd.com/radiation/ sets it out very nicely. There are many things to be discovered here; I will point out just a few. By way of background, the standard unit for absorbed dose is the sievert (Sv), hopefully measured in millionths of a sievert (microsieverts μSv) or thousands of a sievert (millisieverts mSv).

Now for some comparisons. According to the data painstakingly compiled on the chart:

-  Living for a year within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant for a year (0.09 μSv) involves just under twice the exposure you get from sleeping next to someone (0.05 μSv), and slightly less than you get from eating a banana (0.1 μSv)

-  If you live within 50 miles of a coal fired power station for a year you will absorb 0.3 μSv, more than three times the exposure  of someone who lives within 50 miles of a nuclear power station for a year (0.09 μSv)

-  That in turn is less than a third of what you would receive from an arm X-ray or using a CRT monitor for a year (1 μSv)

-  These in turn are only a tenth of the dose from background radiation received by an average person on a normal day (10 μSv)

-  Which is only a quarter of what you would receive taking a single flight from New York to Los Angeles (40 μSv)

- Living in a stone, brick or concrete building for a year involves higher exposure again (70 μSv)

-  All of which pale into insignificance alongside a single mammogram (3 mSv, i.e., 3000 μSv), which is roughly comparable to the normal yearly background dose (about 3.65 mSv)

The fact is that just about everything is radioactive to some degree.

21 March 2011

Vale Lewis Harold Border

It is with great sadness that I reproduce below a death notice which appeared in The Canberra Times, 19 March 2011:

 BORDER Lewis Harold AO, MVO.
Former Australian Ambassador
16.4.1920 - 11.3.2011
At home. A long life, well lived in devotion to his family and service to his country.
Beloved and loving husband, father and grandfather. Privately cremated, at his request.

Lewis Border, with whom I had some dealings when he was Deputy Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs in the early 1970s, was at The Armidale School (TAS) with my father and shared a room with him and another TAS old boy, Ken James, when the New England University College opened for classes in 1938.

Lewis Border appears at top left of the photograph of the New England University Rugby Team 1939.

05 March 2011

Residential arrangements, NEUC, 1947

The following is an extract from The New England University College Calendar 1947-8, issued November 1947.


“Residence at university age is absolutely essential to an all-round education.” – (Truscott).

Students at The New England University College are required to be in residence at the College unless they are married or unless they live in Armidale with their parents or legal guardians. The New England University College is unique among universities in Australia in being almost completely residential, and its students gain more from this corporate life than is possible at other universities in this country. It is interesting to note that Melbourne University in 1947 embarked on a similar scheme, establishing a residential branch at Mildura for first year students only in the Faculties of Architecture, Dental Science, Engineering and Medicine.

There are at present twelve university residences. Within the university grounds students live in the old mansion, “Boolominbah”, and in two small cottages, the Lodge and the sub-Lodge. The remainder of the students live in Armidale in nine large houses, eight of which are leased by the University and the ninth, “Comeytrowe,” was bequeathed to the University by the late Mrs. J.J. Bliss. All meals, other than supper, which is provided in each residence, are served in the dining hall at “Booloominbah”, and students living in the town houses are transported to and from the university each day in university subsidised ’buses. A regular service is also maintained by the Armidale ’bus proprietor between the city and the University.

 Special classes are conducted during term for first year students in residence. Non-resident students may attend these classes on payment of £1 per term for one subject, £1/10/- per term for two subjects, and £2 per term for three or more subjects.

The residence fee for the academic year (normally 28 weeks) is £60, payable for convenience in instalments of £20 within the first week of lectures of each of three terms. An additional Residential Entrance fee of £2 is charged when the student first comes into residence, and at present each student is required to contribute 11/- yearly to a medical fund, which entitles him, under certain conditions, to free medical treatment.  Except for the Christmas period, students may be permitted to remain in residence during vacations at a charge of 35/- per week.  All students should allow for a probable extra four weeks at this reduced charge to cover the period of the annual examinations. These residence fees cover all furniture, linen and equipment, but do not include personal laundry. Laundries and laundry equipment are available to students in all residences.

University residences are normally supervised by a member of the teaching staff or a senior student acting as “sub-warden”, and by a housekeeper. Students are required to enter into residence at the beginning of the academic year and to remain in residence during the remainder of the year in which they enrol, vacation periods excepted. No student may go out of residence before the last day of lectures each term, or be out of College overnight, without the permission of the Registrar.