I returned home yesterday from rehab after a left hip replacement, perhaps one of the few medical conditions that cannot be identified in Shakespeare’s plays.
What a treat to tune into today’s seminar. Associate Professor Louis Roller’s encyclopedia knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays was matched by his love of the Bard’s language. It was a fascinating and memorable presentation that I will revisit via the recording on the U3APP website.
Helen Vorrath was the perfect facilitator, a Shakespeare enthusiast who was clearly engaged.
If you missed the seminar you can see the VIDEO.
Use these SLIDES while listening to the presentation.
The speaker, Associate Professor Louis Roller AM, PhC, BPharm, BSc, MSc, PhD, DipEd, FPS, FACPP has been an academic at the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences Monash University for over 55 years. He was on the Pharmacy Board of Victoria for 22 years, has significantly contributed to many editions of various pharmaceutical compendia including the Therapeutic Guidelines, particularly the Antibiotic Guidelines. He is the author of hundreds of scientific and professional articles and has a passion for evidence-based knowledge.
What is it about recent advances in AI that generates so much excitement as well as fear?
How concerned should we be?
Can AI develop human qualities such as empathy and sentience?
AI is constantly in the news. The speaker for the August seminar, Dr Maurita Harney Honorary Senior Fellow in Philosophy, University of Melbourne and U3APP tutor discussed the development and advances in AI from a philosophical and ethical perspective.
Dr Harney drew on her considerable research to tackle the seminar questions. While identifying some of the most recent advances in AI (including ChatGTP, and BARD) Dr Harney posed questions: What does it mean to be human? What marks us off from machines? She outlined some of the advances of AI in ecology, medicine, facial recognition, and routine endeavours. She also raised unresolved issues: what do advances in AI mean for our understanding of truth, morality, empathy, creativity?
Overall, AI is changing our society so an overarching question arising from the seminar is “What kind of society do we want to live in”? Can an AI machine turn itself on? It is not exactly clear whether we can still pull out the plug…….we think we can.
Kevin English ably facilitated the seminar.
If you missed the seminar, or would like to see it again, click on thisVIDEOof the session.
This month the guest in the Saturday Seminar was Bruce Wolpe, an academic from the United States Study Centre at the University of Sydney. He is the author of a recent book; Trump’s Australia. Rather than the usual paper or talk delivered, then questions, the session was run as a sort of Q&A session, with Jim Walters talking to Bruce about the issues in his book.
Perhaps if there is a shorthand outline of his thoughts on Trump and Australia it is that there is good news and bad news for Australia, should Trump get re-elected as President.
Firstly, he noted that Trump was not elected by a majority of citizens, but such are the processes and structures that he was able to get the requisite majority of the electoral college to win the day, a process foreign to Australia and Australians. But in answer to the issue of why he could be attractive to so many voters, he suggests that he taps into populist themes of; America first – everything must be in America’s favour, American isolationism – a feeling that Americans should not have to pay for other countries’ problems, and American “native-ism” which is a rejection of immigration.
He also responded to the issue of “Why Trump?”. In brief, he suggests he attracts those who feel left-out and alienated by the changes in the world economic system as it affects the USA; the decline of low-skilled production jobs V high tech, and thus consequent economic insecurity.
The good news is that Bruce feels that the political institutions in Australia are much more robust than the USA. He particularly notes our structure of compulsory voting which reduces the chance of stacked or skewed outcomes. He notes that the Australian PM derives from his/her role (generally) longevity in the party, and thus has experience of dealing with the political structures, although he did not note recent aberration of this in the case of Morrison’s five “ministry” roles. He also notes the great value in our un-politicised Electoral Commission (AEC) where electoral boundaries, etc are changed on a rational, not political advantage basis. Then there is the non-political process of selecting people such as Judges, especially High Court Judges, in contrast to the USA where Trump has been able to select (and have Congress accept) replacement judges which will affect the court decisions for the next two decades. He particularly noted the issue of guns and abortion in relation to this.
He feels that there are some underlying institutional dysfunctions in the American political system. The Presidential system is not working (The President can be a “lame duck”), the Senate is out-of-date because smaller states can have an undue influence on decisions (Vs Australia’s equal representatives) and the issue of the politicisation of courts and selection of judges.
Despite Australia’s robust structures, Bruce still sees some insidious encroachments or reciprocations. He notes things like Trump’s declaration that Nazis are gaining a foothold (something reflected in recent Victorian political fracas), or the “gallows” used in a Victorian anti-Andrews political demonstration which are all probably influenced by events in USA, such as the January 6th “insurrection”. Then there are more subtle “culture” influences such as some anti-Voice pressures, and claims of people afraid to venture onto the streets at night, etc., and the banning of books in libraries. Most disturbing is the possibility that if Trump succeeds and begins to flout the existing US laws, protocols (which he shows signs of doing), it could be the demise of democracy in the USA, with subtle influences on Australia, despite our more robust institutions. An autocratic (or Dictator) Trump could negatively affect Australia’s international relations. For this reason, he suggests, should that happen, Australians should consider “de-coupling” with the USA.
So, for all these reasons, he feels Australians need to keep up an awareness of Trump’s political trajectory and be prepared to understand these existential questions, and deal with them effectively.
But for a better understanding of Bruce’s arguments, read a copy of his book, Trump’s Australia”. And for those begging for more, it may be that Bruce delivers another session next year and keeps us up to date in preparation for November, 2024, the next presidential election date.
A video of the seminar is available for viewing HERE.
The Saturday Seminar held on 17 June addressed the topic of World Heritage listing, one of the most widely recognised UNESCO programs.
Dr Bill Logan AM has a background in cultural heritage and has been retained as an expert consultant by UNESCO in assessing the claims of several sites in Asia proposed for the list. He described how each nomination must meet criteria such as authenticity and testimony to tradition, as well as having a sustainable management plan. We were amazed to learn that since 1978 some 1,157 sites have been inscribed –most being of cultural/historical importance, others as places of outstanding natural significance.
Dr Joe Hajdu, a cultural geographer, spoke of one listed site – the remarkable complex of public buildings sited on Museum Island in Berlin. The whole has evolved over 200 years and encompasses five separate museum/galleries housing great archaeological monuments, fine art, classical statuary and other historical artefacts. It is regarded as a kind of ‘city crown’ and appreciated as a rare integrated public forum demonstrating the value of preservation, interpretation and display.
We also learnt of UNESCO’s ongoing role in monitoring the integrity of inscribed sites and, on rare occasions, in de-listing them when standards are endangered. A great responsibility indeed!
How many of Australia’s 20 listed sites can you name? Click HEREfor the answer to this question.
Melburnians are rightly proud of their Royal Botanic Gardens, so it was not surprising that Saturday’s seminar, A Life in Botanic Gardens drew a big audience. It was a treat for us in today’s seminar to have a presentation by the Director and CEO of the RBGV, Professor Tim Entwisle.
Botanic gardens are places of healing, solace, and enjoyment; and a cure for the world’s ills according to Professor Entwisle.
Having discovered his passion for plant botany at university his stellar career as a scientist and botanist made him an internationally recognised plant scientist, part of an international science community and took him to very different but fabulous botanic gardens around the world from Padua in Italy to Kew Gardens, to Sydney botanic gardens and finally Melbourne. He indicated that he had been a regular visitor to China where a significant number of botanic gardens are being developed. He mentioned Mexico and more. He was able to bring this inspiration to his work as director of botanic gardens in Sydney, London, and Melbourne.
As well as being a prolific author he brings his message to a wider audience through regular radio broadcasts.
We learnt about his passion for orchids, including (the Flying Duck Orchid (WA) the Star of Bethlehem orchid. “Every plant has a story to tell” and of his interest in marine algae (seaweed) particularly of course Entwisleia red algae.
Myanmar is now a “failed state with an economy in shambles”, said our Saturday seminar speaker Christopher Lamb. According to him Myanmar (Burma) was once the wealthiest country in southeast Asia. People travelled from Bangkok to Rangoon to shop. Christopher pointed out that Myanmar is probably a more accurate name for the country than Burma which was used at the time of independence from Britain but related only to the central part of the country.
Christopher Lamb as the Australian diplomat to Myanmar had firsthand experience of developments in the country. He has maintained knowledge of Myanmar and is currently president of the Australia Myanmar Institute. He drew on this experience and expertise to give a detailed and fascinating account of the country’s recent history. Burma was a British colony, administered in part by the British East India Company. Following independence from Britain in 1948, the ruling military Government adopted the Westminster system of government which according to Christopher Lamb was unworkable in a country with 135 nationalities.
He traced the successive and mostly disastrous military coups that dominated the history of Burma (Myanmar from 1988) post-independence culminating in the most brutal military coup of 2020. He described the various political and military leaders and the history of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (daughter of the hero of the independence movement who was assassinated in 1947) and her emergence in 1988 as the popular leader of the democratic movement. Despite her electoral success the military ultimately took power in a brutal fashion. Christopher acknowledged the dire state of Myanmar currently, but he is hopeful that the military will ultimately lose power. He is still working on the basis that democracy can be achieved in a complicated country.
IS IT THROUGH POLITICS THAT WE DEFINE THE SOUL OF A NATION?
PROFESSOR FRANK BONGIORNO
18 MARCH 2023
Frank Bongiorno is an acute observer of the Australian political “soul”. He spoke to his most recent publication, Dreamers and Schemers; a political history of Australia.
For most of us we tend to see the beginnings of Australian “political” life at Federation, or perhaps earlier when the colony of New South Wales was sectioned into colonies or states after 1850. But Frank takes the story back much further to the political organisation of the first Nations. What seemed to some Europeans as “disorder” and a lot of babble and talking over each other, was in fact a different form of order.
He then talked of the early European settlement period when authoritarian structures were the game of the day, fearful as many were of the French Revolution and Napoleon, and the American revolt lest they infect locals, especially ex-convicts.
But the second half of the 19th century, he suggests, was one of emerging radicalism, often helped by people such as the Symes of The Age newspaper. But what Australians grappled with in developing their political structures was to meld Westminster structures with Australian geophysical conditions, which also involved including some aspects of American political structures. He felt the Federal “Federation” structure is evidence of this. In this way some political Australian political “protocols” were developed which, for example, came into play when it was discovered that Scott Morrison has transgressed these demarcations in secretly usurping several ministries.
He also saw in the radical 19th century politics of European Australia, the emergence of political possibilities for women, though this is perhaps better understood by a review rather than at the time. Indeed there were hints, as well as actual voting rights well before the official introduction around the first decade of the 20th century.
But for a better understanding of the misogynistic drivel around this topic, you will need to refer to the chapter The New Australia in Frank’s book. Indeed, one of the delights of Frank’s somewhat hefty tome is the fascinating detail of significant political episodes, and political actors (and their words), all written in an entertaining and often amusing style.
The political hot potato of Free Traders versus Protectionists was also both a symptom of and outcome of these “radical” movements, though it was economic protection, not people protection, which held the floor, as seen in the evolution of the White Australia policy.
While the 1930s evidenced more of the radicalism in, for example, Ben Chifley and the pugilistic Jack Lang, post-World War 2 saw a shift to conservatism as demonstrated in the Prime Ministership of Menzies.
Frank’s book tells the story in much more detail – almost mind-blowing detail. It is full of facts and anecdotes of “little-known facts about well-known people” which give colour and dimension to the way in which the political heart and soul of Australia developed.
Dr Joseph Hajdu in a highly informative Saturday seminar spoke about Germany post Angela Merkel.
Dr Hajdu described how Angela Merkel served as German Chancellor for 16 years before making the decision to resign. After her departure, Germany the economic powerhouse of Europe had a new “traffic light” Coalition Government comprising the Social Democrats (Red), Liberal Democrats (Yellow), and Greens (Green) led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
The charismatic and charming Merkel had been replaced, as Dr Hajdu noted, by a dour but experienced politician from Northern Germany. It was Olaf Scholz ‘s time. It was his task to ensure that the personalities, aspirations, and policies of the Coalition partners melded to achieve effective government.
As Dr Hajdu indicated the transition since Angela Merkel affectionately known as “Mutti” (German for “Mom”) was not easy. The new Government was confronted by two major crises, the advent of COVID and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The era of Merkel had ended. Where Merkel sought to lock Russia into peace via trade the “sleepy giant Germany” reacted to changed circumstances. Scholz maintained that Putin had destroyed European values. The Government now supported a military build-up (an about face after the legacy of World War II). Commercially it sought to protect its industry by seeking alternative sources of gas moving away from Russia but paying three times as much. Overall Dr Hajdu outlined how in response to these crises the German Coalition Government had achieved a common purpose and risen to the occasion.
The Money Revolution: Cryptocurrency, Central Bank Digital Currencies, and the future of finance.
The final U3APP seminar for 2022, Bitcoin, Blockchain and Cryptocurrency was a brain teaser.
We were in safe hands in this introduction to our potential future. Our presenter, Joel Emery is an expert in the field, a lawyer and Oxford graduate who has worked in companies using cryptocurrency and adopting blockchain technology on a range of crypto/blockchain legal matters.
Joel explored the history, development purpose of crypto currency. He explained that Cryptocurrency is digital money processed through a digital database (blockchain) It is a peer-to-peer electronic approach using smart technology
He pointed out that Bitcoin was the first of many cryptocurrencies and associated. blockchain technology; that it emerged as a distributed rather than a centralised approach in 2009 because of disillusionment with the traditional banks following the Global Financial Crisis.
Joel also outlined the pros and cons of both cryptocurrency and blockchain technology and discussed why FTX collapsed? Is cryptocurrency just a home to speculators? Because the market is currently immature, is it in need of more comprehensive regulation?
Our thanks to Max Nankervis for his very insightful, searching, illuminating and at times provocative questions in Q&A and for organising Joel to make the presentation.
Now you are ready for that dinner party conversation or indeed perhaps to begin trading or consider buying your new Tesla with cryptocurrency.….
What a privilege it was to welcome Senator Patrick Dodson, the Special Envoy for Reconciliation and Implementation of the Uluru Statement, to our screens for U3A Port Phillip’s very special Seniors’ Festival Saturday Seminar. As one of the three senior politicians making up Parliament’s Working Group on the Voice to Parliament Referendum, and a highly respected community member, Senator Dodson is uniquely placed to speak with knowledge, wisdom and authority on this hugely important issue. He did not disappoint.
Introduced by facilitator Rosemary Rule, the Co-Chair of Port Phillip Citizens for Reconciliation, as the Father of Reconciliation and a “national living treasure”, Senator Dodson set the context for the need for an Indigenous Voice. He gave us an informative and moving account of the history and experiences of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples since colonisation in 1788.
He touched on topics such as the infamous doctrine of Terra Nullius and the successful Mabo judgement. He also talked about the 1967 referendum which voted to change the Constitution so that, like all other Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would be counted as part of the population, and the Commonwealth would be able to make laws for them.
Now that the current government is actively committed to holding a referendum, Senator Dodson described this as a moment in our history that we can’t afford to pass up. “Wouldn’t it be a great thing in our country to exercise our vote for a Voice for First Nations peoples so that they can speak on behalf of themselves on policy?” he said, inviting all Australians to walk with the Aboriginal people to create their voice in the Constitution.
One interesting aspect of his talk, and the subject of a couple of questions from the audience, was the issue of the well-publicised opposition to a referendum by some of the other First Nations politicians. The Senator pointed out that all politicians of whatever background have to speak for, and represent, their constituents and their party, regardless of their personal views. He also described the need to update the Machinery Act, which governs the rules relating to referenda, as well as the overriding need to get agreement on the words in the referendum.
This was a highly informative, measured and thought-provoking seminar, spoken from the heart with clarity and impact, and is well worth tuning into if you were unable to hear it live.
For those of you interested in further discussions on this important topic, there will be a public forum on the Referendum for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament presented by Port Phillip Citizens for Reconciliation in the St Kilda Town Hall at 6.30pm on Thursday 3 November 2022. Details are on their website: www.ppcfr.org
on behalf of Pam Caven, Seminar organiser
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