The line attributed by Mark Twain to British PM Benjamin Disraeli that there are ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’ might be held to be true when assessing the value of indicators. Indicators, after all, only indicate, so there is scope for debate about the meaning of the UNDP’s Human Development Index, identified by Robert Johnson in Crikey.com yesterday and by me last Friday.
But as well as damned lies and statistics there are also category errors – analysing metaphorical tangerines when one is supposed to be looking at oranges. They are similar, but not quite the same and confusing one for the other can lead to inaccuracies.
What to eat and what not to
The most frequently asked question to me while talking with my friends here in Australia about the whaling dispute is “have you eaten whale meat?’ “What it’s like?” they ask. They all look very curious about the ‘mysterious’ and ‘exotic’ meat.
I once heard a rumour that restaurants in Japan which serve whale meat had recently been flocked by Australian tourists. Don’t worry. It is just a rumour. And, no. I have not made a thorough investigation into this rumour as yet. But Australians are adventurous, brave and open to unknown cultures. Then, why not?
For every Australian tired of bad news – disasters, political disputes and public people behaving badly – here is some good news. While nobody was noticing, late last year Australia pipped Norway to achieve the highest standard of living in the world.
Would I be able to stand in the middle?
It was around midnight on 18 February 2010. I was squeezed into a CityRail train from Homebush heading for Sydney Central Station. Luckily, I secured a seat. Then, I heard a voice saying “were you at the concert?” It was from a guy who got a seat next to me. “Where could I be in the middle of the night at the Sydney Olympic Park and not being at THE concert?” was my first thought, but I replied politely, “yes, sure”. Then the answer was followed by a couple of more questions; “did you enjoy?” and “when did you get to know the band?” When did I get to know them? What a question! “I know them almost from the very beginning.”
There is increasing discussion and hand-wringing about the pros and cons of direct intervention in the carnage that is now Libya. What seems certain is that without a circuit- breaker, forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi will continue to wreak havoc on the Libyan people.
What is at stake here is the much debated ‘Responsibility To Protect’ (R2P), in which the international community agreed in 2005 that it needs to act to stop such bloodbaths before, rather than respond after, they happen.
However, as many analysts correctly point out that, a military intervention in Libya could well cohere the Libyan people not against Gaddafi but against the external forces. The invasion of Iraq was not based on the R2P principle, but it did show the folly of foreign occupation of a country that the people did not want occupied. Afghanistan is doing likewise.
Whaling has been a touchy issue between Australians and Japanese for a while. Since being appointed to my current position as an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow in May 2010, I have been asked a number of times by my Australian colleagues and friends “what’s your research topic?” And every time, I seem to need to pause and grin a bit and say “whaling”. My Aussie friends will normally then hold their breath for a second, slightly stare at me and say “agh … that’s interesting.” What is this nervousness that exists when referring to whaling in this country?
The tumultuous changes affecting the Middle-East have been widely described as representing ‘people power’ and claimed by many Western political leaders, including Australia’s, as representing aspirations for democracy. The uprisings from Morocco across to the Arabian Peninsula are, to be sure, a reflection of a popular desire for political change, but their chances of democratic outcomes is much less certain.