Showing all posts tagged: current affairs
28 September 2023
The recent long running strike by members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) in the United States, has ended. But the settlement secured by the WGA not only means fairer pay and conditions for screenwriters, it is also seen as a victory over Generative AI technologies, which were being used as a form of leverage against the striking writers.
At a moment when the prospect of executives and managers using software automation to undermine work in professions everywhere loomed large, the strike became something of a proxy battle of humans vs. AI. It was a battle that most of the public was eager to see the writers win.
22 September 2023
Poison ivy is poised to be one of the big winners in this global, human-caused phenomenon. Scientists expect the dreaded three-leafed vine will take full advantage of warmer temperatures and rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to grow faster and bigger — and become even more toxic.
20 September 2023
American journalist and cartoonist Malaka Gharib used to visit her father in Cairo, Egypt, during the summer school holidays, in the mid-nineties. It was hot, as anyone who’s been to Egypt in June or July (yours truly) could tell you.
Like many Egyptians though, her father’s home did not then have air conditioning. It was certainly warm, but somehow everyone managed. Thirty years later, Gharib wonders how Cairo residents get by when climate change is slowly pushing up temperatures, in a comic strip she drew.
While the use of air conditioning has become more widespread in Cairo, experts warn it alone is not a long term solution to the ever warmer summers parts of Egypt are presently experiencing. In some cases their operation can exasperate the problem, by placing stress on the power grid, and upping local temperatures through the heat the units themselves expend.
6 September 2023
The French capital, Paris, has become the first European city to ban the use of electric share scooters. The move follows a referendum earlier this year, where Parisians were asked to decide whether the e-scooters should remain or be removed.
Paris will this week become one of the only cities in Europe with an outright ban on rented e-scooters — as operators plan to ramp up their e-bike fleets to replace them ahead of the 2024 Olympics. Despite previously expressing hopes for a last-minute reprieve, the three firms with e-scooter operating licenses in the French capital, Lime, Dott and Tier, all confirmed to CNBC that they will have removed their scooters, or trottinettes, by the Sept. 1 deadline.
At first glance, e-scooters seem like a low-cost, convenient, and even environmentally friendly, way to travel short distances. But the sometimes dangerous conduct of some e-scooter users, resulting in injuries, and tragically, a fatality, drew wide condemnation in Paris.
E-scooter users are also causing similar problems in parts of Australia. A number of pedestrians have been hurt in collisions, and often have little legal recourse, or access to compensation.
While the e-scooters hire companies offer insurance to users, the policies are often voided if the e-scooter driver was not wearing a helmet, or breaking the law in some other way, leaving accident victims, who were doing nothing wrong, high and dry.
It seems like a no-brainer that the use of sustainable methods of travel, such as e-scooters, should be encouraged, but laws need to be in place to ensure pedestrians, and others in public spaces, are protected in the event something goes wrong.
23 August 2023
Image courtesy of Squirrel photos.
Just seven percent of Australians are “high cash” users according to Australia’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia. Tap-to-pay contactless payment methods, which are simple and convenient to use, have dispensed with the need to carry wads of money in our bags and pockets.
In addition, the amount of cash in circulation is at an all-time low, down by a billion dollars in the last financial year, as people use other payment methods. That has some pundits already predicting Australia will become a cashless society sooner rather than later. That’s welcome news for those who don’t feel safe carrying cash, and means less cash handling hassle for people like shop-owners.
But a completely cashless Australia does not suit all. Not everyone has a smartphone, rendering tap-to-pay useless to them. Some people — including newly arrived immigrants — don’t even have a bank account. One or two people are still paid cash for their work, and would be put out if retailers refused to accept cash. Or, for that matter, should banks stop handling cash, as is the case in some places in Sweden, which is seen as one of the world’s most cashless societies.
These factors aside though, some don’t like the idea of government agencies, the tax office in particular, knowing exactly how much they earn. Other people meanwhile crave privacy. They don’t want all their spending recorded on a bank statement, that unwanted eyes might peruse. Mortgage applicants, for instance, may not want prospective lenders knowing how much they spend on, say, coffee, something that’s certainly open to scrutiny when using tap-to-pay.
Despite the gloomy outlook for cash, Australia certainly won’t become cashless overnight, and if there are plans to do away with cash, there would be plenty of warning. The future of cheques makes for a good road map here. According to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, cheques, which will be phased out in 2030, account for 0.2% of financial transactions.
That’s far less than cash, and there’s a generous seven year warning ahead of their demise. Implementing infrastructure allowing everyone to transact without cash is a process that could take decades. While I can’t see cash being around forever, it’s not going anywhere soon.
14 August 2023
Last week, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reduced the number of active pages it has on Twitter/X to just four. The Triple J page, which I follow, was among accounts to be archived. David Anderson, managing director of the ABC, says the move follows a trial in February this year, when three accounts were shuttered:
“In February we closed three program accounts, for Insiders, News Breakfast and ABC Politics, and the results of that have been positive,” he said. Mr Anderson said the reduced activity will allow staff to focus “on the accounts that overwhelmingly provide the most value.”
The ABC has been the subject of a number of rounds of staff cuts in recent years, and doubtless archiving some of the Twitter/X pages will reduce staff workloads. Twitter/X owner Elon Musk, however hit back at the decision, labelling it censorship:
Well of course they prefer censorship-friendly social media. The Australian public does not.
What does he mean censorship, and since when has Musk had it down with the Australian public? The ABC is operating on plenty of other channels, including their website, television and radio, along with other social media services such as Facebook.
The ABC also have a number of active Threads accounts, and are looking into boosting their presence there further. Here’s hoping the page of the aforementioned Triple J is among them.
31 July 2023
Partners and participants of this year’s abruptly cancelled Asian American Literature Festival (AALF) are staging a smaller version of the event from Friday 4 August 2023, through to Sunday 6 August. Like the original event, which was meant to take place in August, Ghosted World will be held in Washington D.C., the United States capital.
AALF partners and participants, some of whom have banded together as the Asian American LitFest Collective (AALC), remain upset by the sudden decision of the Smithsonian, producers and hosts of the biennial AALF festival, to cancel the 2023 event. Although the institution later apologised, AALC members say the apology failed to answer questions they had about the decision, while still suggesting it was their alleged lack of planning that resulted in the festival’s cancellation.
Ghosted World is clearly a scaled back form of the original AALF, but hopefully will be of some consolation to those who had been looking forward to attending the event. A program for Ghosted World can be seen here.
31 July 2023
Heatwaves, which have been experienced in a number of regions in the northern hemisphere in recent weeks, are being aggravated by increased levels of humidity, which is being precipitated by climate change. While it might be thought higher temperatures would cause moisture to evaporate, warmer air is capable of holding more water vapour than cooler air.
Sea surface temperatures have been steadily climbing globally, as the oceans absorb something like 90 percent of the excess heat that humans are adding to the atmosphere. But since March, global sea surface temperatures have been skyrocketing above the norm. The North Atlantic, in particular, remains super hot, loading Europe’s air with extra humidity.
Parts of the east coast of Australia saw higher levels of humidity last week, which had the effect of “taking the bite” out of otherwise relatively cooler temperatures. That’s about the only instance when high humidity has an upside. Those sorts of humidity levels will be far from welcome come summer.
28 July 2023
Organisers of the annual Emmy Awards have postponed the 2023 ceremony, originally scheduled for Monday 18 September, until January 2024, citing the on-going WGA and SAG-AFTRA screenwriters’ strikes, according to a Variety report:
Vendors for the 75th Primetime Emmys have been told that the ceremony will not air on September 18 — the first time that there has been official word that the date has been pushed, Variety has learned exclusively.
28 July 2023
The world has sweated through its hottest three weeks on record, as heatwaves continue to ravage parts of the northern hemisphere. Possibly the last time temperatures were this warm was one hundred thousand years ago.
Typically these records, which track the average air temperature across the entire world, are broken by hundredths of a degree. But the temperature for the first 23 days of July averaged 16.95 degrees Celsius (62.51 Fahrenheit), well above the previous record of 16.63 degrees Celsius (61.93 Fahrenheit) set in July 2019, according to the report.
I’m dreading the upcoming Australian summer. As I type, the forecast high today is 23° Celsius, in this part of the world the July (middle of winter) average is meant to be closer to about 16° Celsius.