Friday, September 11, 2009

Whipping Up A Frenzy

I’m sure it must seem strange to many people that under the recently introduced rules it is OK for a jockey to whip a horse a certain number of times in a certain number of strides in the space of the last 200 metres of a race, but a different number of times in the earlier part of the race. It certainly seems strange to me, although I will happily confess to being no expert on horseracing. Equally, it seems strange that while a padded whip must be used in a race, a more severe variation is permitted in training work. But it seems to me that even the horseracing experts are confused.

Jockeys, trainers, and many owners all seem to think that the new rules are nonsensical. The Australian Racing Board, along with animal welfare experts, believe that the rules are both workable and reasonable, and will ensure that horses are not mistreated. The dispute has led to jockeys taking industrial action, walking off the job yesterday, and considering doing the same again next week. They claim that not only are the rules nonsensical, they are unsafe. The jockeys believe that concentrating on counting the exact number of strokes of the whip is a distraction which could be dangerous in a hotly contested race. I would also imagine that in the heat of the moment it would be a simple matter to lose count.

What the jockeys have asked for is a small change to the rules to allow the jockey to use his own judgment over the last 200 metres and use the whip as often as they feel necessary. While some might feel that this would give a jockey licence to be cruel, surely it makes sense to think that a jockey isn’t going to win a race by inflicting harm to the animal. The truth is that most jockeys love horses, otherwise they wouldn’t be working with them in the first place. The truth is that jockeys are the ones putting their bodies on the line at about 80 kilomtres per hour amidst a pack of thundering hooves. You would think that they know what they are talking about and that their opinion should count for something.

I may be uninformed, but it seems to me that either whipping is OK, or it is not OK. How can it be OK some of the time, in some circumstances and not at other times in other circumstances? To restrict the number of times a horse may be struck on the grounds of prevention of cruelty would seem to imply that striking a horse any number of times at all should be considered cruel, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who do. But to introduce a regulation that says “this much and no more” is surely no different from saying that it is OK to smack somebody in the face three times but not four times.

If whipping horses is cruel, then it should be stopped altogether. Otherwise, common sense should allow the jockeys at least some discretion to exercise their own judgement, to protect both their own safety, and the wellbeing of their horses.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Keeping The Dream Afloat

Questions are being asked about the mishap which cut short Jessica Watson’s journey from Queensland to Sydney, which was a prelude to her planned attempt to become the youngest person to ever sail single handedly around the world. Naturally there are questions about just what exactly went wrong and led to the collision between her yacht and the bulk carrier “Silver Yang” on its way to China. There are questions about whether or not the yacht is appropriately equipped. There are questions about whether the Silver Yang was in some way at fault. But by far the biggest question seems to be about Jessica herself and whether or not at 16 she is up to the task before her, or if she is simply too young to be allowed to attempt such a dangerous adventure.

While it is right and proper to place importance on the matter of safety, there is always the risk of protecting ourselves and our children from potential harm so vigorously that we and they never actually do anything. We seem to live in a world where the fear of injury, and perhaps more accurately the fear of litigation, has resulted in playgrounds without monkey bars, warning labels on everything we touch, and a generation of kids who are not allowed to play outside and so grow up in front of an xbox. The truth is that if we try to avoid all risk, we actually hinder the development of our children, and reduce our capacity to function as a society.

Of course, setting out for a solo round the world voyage in a 10 metre yacht is a little different from playing on the jungle gym at the park. But let’s look at this logically. We let our kids loose in cars from when they turn 17. Despite the obvious dangers involved, and despite the disproportionate rate of death and injury in the age group, we haven’t outlawed P – plate drivers yet, and we are not likely to. If you can afford to pay for the training you can pick up your private pilot’s licence when you are 16, and that involves flying solo in a machine which can become very dangerous if you make a mistake and it falls out of the sky. And another Australian, Jesse Martin, was 17 when he became the youngest person to sail solo around the world, and he has been much admired as a result. Why should it be different for Jessica?

Is it because we have to draw a line somewhere, and while 17 is apparently acceptable, somehow being one year younger is not? Is it because Jessica is a girl and Jesse was a boy? Or is there some other reason? Of course, in most matters, we are not considered to be fully responsible for our own actions until we reach the age of 18, but that is not a rule which we have kept hard and fast. Far from it, in a society where 15 year olds can take it upon themselves to move out of home against their parents’ wishes, and make their own decisions about where they live, who they hang out with, and what they do with their time, why should we suddenly assume responsibility for a 16 year old who is trying to achieve something outstanding?

Instead of going out and binge drinking, dealing drugs or stealing from hard working citizens, Jessica is attempting to accomplish a significant achievement. It is to be hoped that her parents have done everything that they can to ensure that she is both competent and well equipped to undertake the task. It is to be hoped that if her ambitions exceed her abilities then there is someone in her life who can tell her that. It is to be hoped that the sponsors who have supported her bid have satisfied themselves as to her qualifications. But, in the end, it is for Jessica and her family to decide if she is up to the task, and whether the risks are worth the reward.

Women In Uniform

In a debate that never really seems to go away, the role of women in the armed forces is once again in the spotlight. While women are already a vital and integral part of the defence force, there are still a handful of restrictions in place preventing women form performing in certain capacities. Most notably, women are precluded from combat infantry, artillery, and special forces
such as the S. A. S. While it is easily argued that in this world of gender equality there should be no obstacle to suitably qualified women performing any role, the reality is a little more complex.

In most respects, the gender argument was resolved long ago, and women are well accepted within the defence force. The remaining restrictions which do apply are based on practical realities such as the ability of individuals to carry the heavy gear, and operate the heavy equipment associated with some military roles. Indeed, despite the general perception that men are stronger than women, there are plenty of men who would be incapable of filling the requirements.

However, on average men are stronger than women, and the impact of expecting women to carry the same weight, operate the same equipment, and fight in hand to hand combat against opponents twice their size could actually place them at a disadvantage. As a result, it is likely that under such circumstances, the death and injury rate among women could turn out to be disproportionately higher than for their male colleagues. Somehow I don’t think that is the intended effect of affirmative action.

While it can be argued that any person who wishes to serve should be entitled to do so regardless of gender, the rights of the individual are not the only consideration. It is also important to consider the wellbeing of those who serve alongside women, and if there is any question of their capability compromising that wellbeing then that must be taken into account. But the heart of the matter is to be found in that word “capability”, and the real question is whether there might be some women who are capable of passing even the most rigorous physical test.

The review which has been ordered by Defence Personnel Minister Greg Combet, and which has triggered this debate, is intended to remove gender discrimination, and replace any such criteria with evidence based scientific analysis of physical requirements for the various job categories in the military. While such measures might well preclude women simply on the basis that it may be impossible for most of them to pass the test, there could well be some who can and do. When that happens, I doubt if there is there any sound reason why they should not be allowed to utililise their skills and abilities to serve their country.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

If Pleasure Is Your Treasure, Remember To Stash The Trash

Researchers from the University of Texas in the United States claim to have uncovered the reasons why women have sex. While most men might hope it’s because they love and adore us, find us irresistible and attractive, and they just can’t keep their hands off us, unfortunately the reality is that most often they want something, and it isn’t necessarily just a good time. It turns out that a whopping 84% of women agree to have sex in the hope of “a quiet life”. Yep, they will do it just so that you stop pestering them and let them get back to doing whatever it is that they would rather be doing. But that’s not quite the whole picture.

The research, undertaken by Cindy Meston and David Buss, involved interviewing 1000 women to discover what motivates a woman to sleep with a man. According to the results, physical attraction hardly rates a mention. Apparently, while most men will find most women at least reasonably attractive, it doesn’t work the other way around. Most women do not find most men to be attractive. Although most of us like to think that we could give Brad Pitt a run for his money, sadly the women just don’t see us that way. Instead they have a wide range of other reasons for sleeping with us, but most of them involve some sort of trade off.

As well as looking for “a quiet life”, it seems that women will have sex with men in an effort to get them to take the garbage out, or to do some other household chores. In fact, it seems that sex is a transaction more often than many people are prepared to recognize, with a survey of female university students showing that 10% admitted to having sex in return for gifts. Other women indicated that they reward men who pay for dinner, and generally show their affection by spending plenty of money. Bad news for blokes without a lot of cash to throw around, but all hope is not lost with a small number of women prepared to have sex with men because they feel sorry for them. Perhaps there really is somebody for everybody.

But before you become completely disillusioned, it seems that for many women it is just about having some fun. Six out of ten of those university students reported that they had slept with a male friend who was not their boyfriend, simply because “life is too damn short.” Maybe Cyndi Lauper was trying to tell us all something all those years ago when she sang that “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” So that’s the secret. Take her out and pay for a nice dinner, spend money on gifts, and make sure she is having fun.

All the same, it probably wouldn’t hurt your chances if you make an extra effort to take the garbage out too.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Another Coffin Nail For The NSW Government

The execution murder of Michael McGurk last week was horrific in a number of ways. It is horrifying enough that such things as what appears to be a contract killing take place at all, but it is infinitely more horrifying that it was done in front of his young son. Regardless of what any individual may or may not have been involved in, surely his children or other family members should be spared such a thing. And yet, just like something you might see on the television, a man was shot dead in his own driveway in front of a ten year old boy.

In the wake of that event, allegations have surfaced that Mr. McGurk was in possession of a tape recording which supposedly links senior New South Wales Government members with claims of bribery and corruption. It is claimed that police are now in possession of the tape, and while the opposition is planning to set up a parliamentary inquiry, the Premier is referring the matter to the Independent Commission Against Corruption. It is one thing to identify Mr. McGurk as an individual who may have had some controversial dealings, but it is another step altogether to link his activities to allegations of government corruption.

While the police investigation will take its course, there is clearly a public interest in the question of whether or not there is any substance to the corruption allegations. A hand full of people claim to have direct knowledge of the contents of the tape recording. One of them is Graham Richardson, the former Federal Labor Minister who is famous for admitting in his autobiography that politicians, including himself, tell lies when it is expedient. That alone is something which makes him more honest than some, but still leaves doubts about his claims that the tape contains nothing of consequence as much of it is inaudible.

Of course, if there is any dirt there, Mr. McGurk is likely to have been in a position to have collected it. Described variously as a property developer, a lender of last resort, and a “bagman”, he was a frequenter of Labor Party fundraisers and a conduit for donations to the Party. If there is anything on the tape which can be verified and tied to serving members of the government the potential for political damage is enormous. The claim that the allegations could be enough to bring down the government may be no exaggeration.

At a time when many people have been desperately seeking a means to remove the government and precipitate an early election, this is a startling development. While there is generally no means to dismiss the government, short of the government dismissing itself, the one exception is in the case that the government is found to be conducting illegal activity. Even if there is ultimately not enough evidence to find government ministers guilty of wrongdoing, the mere fact that the accusation has been made, and the murky circumstances in which it has been made, is enough to provide yet another nail in the coffin of the government of New South Wales.