Ethics of human rights

It’s Tuesday, which means a new topic in my online ethics classes. This week we started on human rights. I spent this morning writing the lesson. I’m using a summarised version of Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas as the introductory story to set up the discussion. (You kind of need to know the story to understand the following, so if you don’t know it, either go spoil yourself at the linked Wikipedia article, or ignore the next paragraph.)

After summarising the story, I asked: Is the city of Omelas fair to everyone? Most of the kids this evening gave the predictable, expected answer (“No”), after which I ask them to explain why they think so. But one kid said: “Well, it depends how they pick the kid. If someone just walks down the street and picks a kid they see, then that’s not fair. But if it’s done by spinning a wheel or something, then that’s fair.” I pursued this further by asking if it was fair in the sense that everyone is treated the same? The kid said, “Well… you could make it fair if the kid was released after a month or so, and they used a different kid. So everyone would have a turn being the one who has to suffer.”

The weather here has taken a very wintry turn. Yesterday evening we had a storm front come through with 110 km/h winds, causing some minor damage across the city. Today has been very windy and bone-chillingly cold. Tomorrow is expected to be even colder and with stronger winds. Across parts of south-east Australia we’ve had snow down to altitudes as low as 600 metres, which is unusual. The good news is that there hasn’t been much rain.

In other news, our electric kettle seems to have broken. That’ll be annoying until we can get a new one. We’ll have to boil water to make tea on the stove, like savages…

New content today:

Too much stuff to do

It’s late and I still haven’t really done as much as I wanted today.

I had an appointment at the optometrist to check my eyesight. My reading prescription hasn’t changed, which is good, and my distance vision is still excellent. And the retinal images and glaucoma test were both good. So that’s all good news.

New content today:

Not specifying a time zone

I have a meeting invitation in my email. It’s for an ISO photography standard technical meeting. The “When” field says:

Friday, 10 June 2022 3:00 am – 4:00 am

It doesn’t specify a time zone. So I’m not sure when the meeting actually is. It was sent by a guy in Helsinki. There are two somewhat plausible options:

1. It’s 3-4am Helsinki time (10-11am here). This would be my preference, obviously. It requires the odd choice of the organiser to schedule at 3am in his own time zone – but this is not beyond reason, as most of the people involved in the meeting are in Japan or the USA, and that time makes it a reasonable time of day for everyone else.

2. It’s 3-4am in my time zone (8-9pm Helsinki time). I find this less plausible, because I don’t know how the invitation could know what time zone I’m in. The organiser would naturally have selected his own time zone, and then got Microsoft Teams to send out the meeting invitations. But the invitation is going to my email address – and I don’t see how Teams could possibly know what time zone I’m in, so it shouldn’t be able to automagically convert the meeting into my time zone. And I’m not using a Microsoft mail client, so my mail client shouldn’t be trying to do anything “clever” and converting times in an MS Teams invitation into my own time zone.

I tried searching to find out, and I found two different contradicting answers on! One said that Teams meeting invitations are in the time zone of the meeting convener, and another said that it automatically adjusts to the time zone of each invitee!

Either way…. the meeting invitation really should tell me what time zone the meeting time is in. Why does it not do that??

The gist of all this is that I had to send an email to the convener to ask what time the meeting is on, even though that information really should just be in the invitation.

New content today:

85% complete

The secret project is now 85% complete, after a hard day of working on it. Not long to go now!

At lunch I went on a long walk with my wife and Scully to the Italian bakery about 3 km away. They had a special today, which was a banoffee croissant. Imagine a pain au chocolat, with the addition of some sweetened mashed banana in the middle, drizzled with toffee on top, sprinkled with some of those tiny chocolate malt balls, and topped with dried banana chips. It was as delicious as it sounds! Alas I neglected to take a photo. I just hope that they have it again some time when I go back there.

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Another day of secret projecting

Not much to say about today, since I mostly worked on my current secret project. I picked up the grocery shopping in the morning, had a couple of ethics classes, and went for a run in the early evening.

Tonight is online board games night with my friends. We’re in the middle of a game of El Grande, and I seem to be in a good position to come second.

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Secret project and cheesecake

I had one online class this morning.

Then I spent most of the day working on my secret project. It’s approaching completion – I actually have numbers. It’s over 80% complete as of this evening. This isn’t a vapourware project – it’s something that will see the light of day and you will all be able to see it when it’s done. I expect that to be within the next month or so – it’s a bit of a toss-up if it’ll be before or after I travel to Germany on 17 June. But I’ll say definitely by some time in July.

I took a lunch break walk with Scully, doing the longish walk to what’s become our favourite bakery. I’m amazed all over again every time we go back and their selection of cakes and sweet treats is different yet again. This time they had individual cheesecakes – plain, raspberry, and blueberry. I had a blueberry one, following the sausage roll for a savoury lunch.

Not much else to say about today, really, except perhaps that it was a nice day – sunny and not too cold.

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It’s good teaching kids

This morning I started a new topic with my face-to-face ethics class at the local school. We’re doing a few weeks on the topic of human rights, although much of the material actually concerns the question of whether animals such as chimpanzees should have at least some of the same rights as humans. We started today talking about past use of chimps in medical and other experiments.

I continue to be impressed by how good this class of kids is. I haven’t had any behaviour problems with them more serious than them fiddling wth pens or rulers or something while listening. Today’s discussion got fairly lively, but not out of control, as the kids were eager to share their views, and built on what others were saying. It was overall a really good session with them.

And tonight I had three more online classes with the language topic, which is really fun too. One of the fun questions is asking them about emojis: Is it okay to use emojis when texting a friend? Would it be okay if an author used emojis in a novel? Almost all of the kids say the first is fine, and even has advantages because you can express emotions that are difficult to show otherwise in text. But on the other hand, almost all of them said that putting emojis in a novel would be terrible and shouldn’t be done. Their reasons were mostly that a novel is meant to be “serious” and emojis aren’t appropriate.

Although interestingly there were one or two kids who were at either extreme as well. One said that emojis shouldn’t be used ever—not even in text messages—because there’s potential for misunderstanding. And a couple said that emojis in novels would be fine, but they did balk when I pressed further and asked if emojis should appear in newspapers, or government reports, or scientific research papers.

New content today:

Thinking critically about language

Today I wrote my lesson for this week’s ethics classes. It’s more of a critical thinking class, rather than ethics, about language. A sample:

In our world there are many different languages, around 6000-7000, depending on how you count them. Some languages like Spanish and Italian are closely related, and speakers of one are able to understand a bit of the other language. Some like English and Japanese are totally different, and can’t be understood at all by a speaker of the other unless a person learns them.

• What sort of problems are caused by different languages?
• What advantages are there to having many different languages?
• Is it good that there are many languages, or would the world be better if there was just one language?

Words change meaning over time. Not too long ago, the word “literally” meant something that actually happened. But now it’s common to hear people say things like, “I literally died laughing”. They don’t mean they really died – in fact they mean the opposite, that they didn’t really die. Some people get upset that people are using the word to mean a completely different thing.

• Is it okay that people start to use words to mean new things that they didn’t mean before?
• Is there a “right” way and a “wrong” way to use language, or does it not matter as long as people can understand you?

I ran the first three classes tonight and it’s a really fun topic, with a lot of really interesting and varied comments from the kids.

At lunch today I took Scully out for a walk. We stopped at a Vietnamese place where I got a pancake stuffed with bean spouts, pork, and prawns, served with mounds of fresh salad. It was really good, and possibly even healthy.

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Too busy to make comics, again

I had hoped to have time to make new Irregular Webcomic! strips for this week, but I’ve been so busy I just couldn’t squeeze it in. So I’ve declared this a hiatus week and will hopefully get back to making some more for next week.

I had a full raft of ethics classes today, three in the morning plus an individual extension class in the afternoon. That ends the Buying and Selling topic. Tomorrow I need to write the new topic on Language, in time for three classes in a row in the evening. (So tomorrow is going to pretty busy too.) Also today I did outlines for the next three weeks of classes after that. I’m supposed to have outlines ready 4 weeks in advance, but I’ve neglected to keep up to date for three weeks!

In interesting news following Saturday’s election, today Anthony Albanese was sworn in as the new Prime Minister of Australia. This was despite the election results not being finalised and—technically—it not being certain yet that he will actually win. It seems highly likely that he will be able to form government and become Prime Minister, but it is not guaranteed at this point. With vote counting still underway, it’s possible that the Labor Party will not win enough seats to command a majority in Parliament. If so, they will need to negotiate with the minor parties and independent MPs in order to secure enough supportive votes to form government. It’s possible (although as I said unlikely) that they will withhold their votes and that Albanese will not have been elected Prime Minister.

So why was he sworn in today?? I’m glad you asked!

Normally, the new Prime Minister would indeed not be sworn in until the election results are final and, in the case of a minority government, they had succeeded in negotiating support from the minor parties/independents. The previous government goes into “caretaker” mode at the calling of the election, and the previous Prime Minister remains in office as “caretaker PM” until the newly elected one is sworn in—after the election results have been finalised. The caretaker government retains full powers, but by convention doesn’t actually do anything except in cases of emergency*.

However, in this election there was a special case. The Quad Summit is an international leaders’ meeting held between Australia, the USA, Japan, and India, and this year’s meeting was scheduled to begin on 24 May – tomorrow. With election counting still underway and the result not yet finalised, but a defeat of the previous Prime Minister Scott Morrison looking almost inevitable, it would have been very bad for Morrison to actually go to the meeting as a caretaker Prime Minister with potentially only hours left in office. By convention, he would have been unable to commit Australia to any decisions there.

So, on Sunday (yesterday, the day after the election), Morrison officially resigned as Prime Minister. This forced the Governor-General to—according to the Australian Constitution—either appoint a new government or call a new election. Calling a new election while the results of the one held on Saturday are still being counted is obviously ludicrous, so the Governor-General chose to appoint the likely winner, Anthony Albanese, as an interim Prime Minister, until the election result is finalised and it is known if he will actually be able to form government and claim the role of Prime Minister. And so Anthony Albanese is now Prime Minister and flew to Tokyo today to join the Quad Summit tomorrow and negotiate with Joe Biden, Fumio Kishida, and Narendra Modi.

* Such as in 1914, when Britain declared war on Germany in the middle of an Australian election campaign, thus forcing the caretaker government to immediately begin making war plans.

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Election results and more rain

Yesterday’s election has resulted in a change of government here in Australia. The conservative Liberal Party government has been replaced by a progressive Labor Party government. It’s not fully clear yet if they’ll have a majority of seats in Parliament or will need to rely on support from the crossbench, but it’s pretty much settled that Labor will form either a majority or minority government and Anthony Albanese will be the incoming Prime Minister.

The result in my own electorate of North Sydney is very interesting, and reflects a sea change of voter opinion across many inner city electorates across the country. North Sydney has been a very safe Liberal seat, but the sitting member was ousted by an independent candidate. This is a pattern repeated in several other electorates in Sydney and other cities – female independents running on a platform of addressing climate change, unseating sitting members of a government that has been lagging badly behind the rest of the world on climate change policies. We will have a record number of independents in the new Parliament, with at least five newly elected ones joining the six who were previously there. Labor plans to address climate change, but if they need the support of these new independents to pass legislation, then they will be able to hold out for stronger action.

This is a significant change in the direction Australia has been heading. We’ve been a global laggard for the past decade due to the entrenched conservative government. Hopefully this turns a corner and we’ll start to see more responsible climate policies in the near future.

Speaking of climate, today was again miserably wet. The rainfall is forecast to last all week, in yet another bout of depressing wet weather. You can see the effects of this prolonged rainy weather in various minor news stories that keep popping up. There are so many stories about people battling mould in their homes, simply unable to to get the humidity low enough to prevent it. And today on the evening news there was a story about sports clubs facing pressure to change their membership fee rules, because of so many repeated cancellations of sporting events due to bad weather. Normally you pay a fee and there’s no refund if an event is cancelled due to weather. But many players and parents are getting increasingly annoyed at having paid fees while getting no sport at all for weeks and weeks on end.

The Bureau of Meteorology issued another mid-range forecast today, stating that we can expect higher than average rainfall to continue throughout winter (i.e. the next three months). Everyone you talk to here is is just sick of the rain and will tell you repeatedly how awful it is. There are ridiculous numbers of slugs crawling all over everything – you need to pay careful attention whenever you go out for a walk, to avoid stepping on the slugs that litter all of the footpaths.

Today I spent time doing another academic paper proofreading job. I wanted to try and finish it today, because I have lots of other work to go on with this week. Fortunately it was a conference paper and not a journal paper, so it was shorter than the previous ones I’ve done, and I managed to complete it today. I had time to take Scully for a walk, and to cook a miso-glazed baked cauliflower for dinner – one of our favourite recipes, though it takes a bit of effort.

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