31 October 2014

The case for an Iraq War inquiry in Australia

In May this year I had an article with the above title published in the journal Global Peace, Change and Security (formerly Pacifica), Volume 26, Issue 3, 2014. It was posted by Taylor and Francis Online on 27 May 2014 (see here). For a while it was available for free download but accessing it now requires the payment of $US 39.

This is the abstract:

This article examines the background to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq with a view to identifying when and by what process Australia committed itself to the invasion. It provides evidence and assessments from a variety of sources that the Australian Government was effectively committed long before it announced a decision on 18 March 2003, the eve of the invasion. Many questions about the decision making process remain; in the absence of a properly constituted inquiry there is little solid evidence that the Government considered the matter of entering into armed hostilities with the diligence that the Australian public might expect. It is the thesis of this paper that one of the key lessons from the Iraq War is that the current system of decision making in relation to the deployment of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) into international armed conflict contains insufficient checks and balances, and needs to be changed.

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25 October 2014

What on earth was he thinking?

In the wake of the murder of a soldier on guard at the War memorial in Ottawa, on Friday Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Melbourne radio station 3AW that the piper playing the Last Post at the War Memorial in Canberra could be a terrorist target. According to a 24 October report by national political reporter Latika Bourke, in the online edition of The Age (see here):

Mr Abbott said while the attack abroad had not "furthered the risk" for Australia's Parliament he warned "there's a copycat tendency amongst these people".

He said authorities has not considered Canberra's War Memorial a target "prior to yesterday" but now would because it serves as a "symbol of our nation".

"I suppose to extremist fanatics it could therefore be a target. There's the Last Post at our War Memorial every day and I guess if someone wanted to do something gruesome that's the kind of thing that could be looked at…”

Why anyone would want to plant that seed in the mind of a potential terrorist or a disturbed loner is an unfathomable mystery to me. The thought is father to the deed, as the saying goes. What on earth was he thinking?

24 October 2014

Treasures of modern physics

Last Saturday morning I dropped into Boobooks, Armidale's wonderful second-hand bookshop, and came away with two classics of modern physics: Louis de Broglie's Wave Mechanics (1930 - translated from the French original) and Paul Dirac's The Principles of Quantum Mechanics (3rd edition 1947, first published 1930). These two authors made fundamental contributions to their respective branches of physics, de Broglie winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1929, and Dirac sharing the prize with Erwin Schrödinger in 1933.

The flyleaf of de Broglie’s Wave Mechanics showed it to have been the property of “R.H. Healey B.Sc., Physics IV 1932”.

Imagine my delight on subsequently discovering on another flyleaf that it once belonged to my physics professor, J.M. (Jack) Somerville, who was also my first year tutor (those were the days!). Jack Somerville was one of the four original staff members of the New England University College, teaching the full University of Sydney Physics and Mathematics curriculum, and became the first Professor of Physics at UNE. Sadly, he died suddenly in 1964, while I was working as a research assistant in the Department, a great shock to the University community as a whole.

I already have a copy of a more modern text on quantum mechanics (David Beard’s Quantum Mechanics), sent to him by a publisher, which he gave to me in 1963, inviting me as he did so me to give him my opinion of it (which was highly favourable). I am very happy to have fortuitously acquired this additional link with such an admirable man.

On looking to see who R.H. Healey might be, I find that he was a student at Sydney University who shared with physicist, radio astronomer and school teacher Ruby Payne-Scott (1912-1981) the Deas Thomson and Walter Burfitt scholarships for physics.

As for Dirac’s Quantum Mechanics, that belonged to one N.W. Taylor. That will be Nathaniel Wesley Taylor, an outstanding mathematician who was one of the first two recipients of a University of New England Ph.D., at the Graduation Ceremony in 1958, and who was in the Mathematics Department when I was a student.

I think I will go back to Boobooks and see what other treasures I can find amongst the mathematics and physics texts.