Category: Australia

International Holocaust Remembrance Day January 27

There are many Holocaust remembrance days. Poland, for example, commemorates the anniversary of the   Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19. Jewish communities and Isreal mark Yom HaShoah on the 27th of Nisan (which falls in April or May) as a day to remember both those who were murdered by the Nazis but also the Jewish resistance to the Nazis.

Many nations (and since 2006, the UN) remember the Holocaust on January 27 – the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army in 1945. The Auschwitz, Birkenau, Monowitz was the largest complex of its kind, combining labour camps (e.g. for IG Farben) and death camps in which people were slaughtered en-masse. One in six of the Jewish people killed in Nazi camps died in the Auschwitz camps.

An estimated 1.3 million people were sent to the camp, of whom at least 1.1 million died. Around 90 percent of those killed were Jewish; approximately 1 in 6 Jews killed in the Holocaust died at the camp.[1][2] Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Romani and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses, and tens of thousands of others of diverse nationalities, including an unknown number of homosexuals.[3] Many of those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auschwitz_concentration_camp

The great Italian writer (and occasional science fiction writer) Primo Levi was one of those who was liberated on that day. In If This Is a Man, (also titled “Survival at Auschwitz”) Levi tells of his arrest in Italy as a member of the anti-fascist resistance and his imprisonment in Auschwitz. In it he says:

A country is considered the more civilised the more the wisdom and efficiency of its laws hinder a weak man from becoming too weak and a powerful one too powerful.

In The Periodic Table, Levi managed to combine his literary powers with his fascination in chemistry (his other profession) and to find poetry and meaning in humble states of matter:

[Nitrogen:] The trade of chemist (fortified, in my case, by the experience of Auschwitz), teaches you to overcome, indeed to ignore, certain revulsions that are neither necessary or congenital: matter is matter, neither noble nor vile, infinitely transformable, and its proximate origin is of no importance whatsoever. Nitrogen is nitrogen, it passes miraculously from the air into plants, from these into animals, and from animals into us; when its function in our body is exhausted, we eliminate it, but it still remains nitrogen, aseptic, innocent.

This contrast between the extraordinary capacity for fascism to both degrade people and find disgust in humanity, versus his own need to see things as they are runs through his work. Periodic Table again:

[Zinc:] In order for the wheel to turn, for life to be lived, impurities are needed, and the impurities of impurities in the soil, too, as is known, if it is to be fertile. Dissension, diversity, the grain of salt and mustard are needed: Fascism does not want them, forbids them, and that’s why you’re not a Fascist; it wants everybody to be the same, and you are not. But immaculate virtue does not exist either, or if it exists it is detestable.

I’ll finish with Levi’s poem from the start of If This Is a Man which is a demand to remember, to meditate that this came about, and finishes with a curse on those who forget.

You who live safe
In your warm houses
You who fin returning in the evening
Hot food and friendly faces
Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud
Who does not know peace
Who fights for a scrap of bread
Who dies because of a yes or a no
Consider if this is a woman
Without hair and without name
With no more strength to remember
Her eyes empty and her womb cold
Like a frog in winter
Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to you
Carve them in your hearts
At home, in the street
Going to bed, rising
Repeat them to your children
Or may your house fall apart
May illness impede you
May your children turn their faces from you

 

Australian Gun Laws – Did they Work? (spolier: yes they did)

University of Sydney academic Professor Simon Chapman is the lead author of a study that has examined the impact of the late 1990’s tightening of Australian gun laws. The Liberal government of the time (for ‘liberal’ read ‘conservative’) enacted tougher gun laws in response to the Port Arthur mass shooting in Tasmania. Australia’s gun laws did not become as strict as the UK’s and the emphasis was on  guns that could be used in mass shootings and a general reduction in gun availability.

So what happened? The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association here: http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2530362 [abstract is directly avaialble but I think it is possible to get the full article by a free sign-up]

There is also an editorial in the same edition of the journal here: http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2530361

What is most clear from the current study is that Australia’s NFA coincided with an elimination of mass killings with firearms. It is difficult to pinpoint precisely which aspect of the policy contributed to this success, but the substantial reduction in the population’s exposure to semiautomatic long guns capable of accepting large-capacity magazines (LCMs) for ammunition is likely to have been key. Examinations of fatal mass shootings in the United States have found that when assault weapons or pistols with LCMs are used in these shootings, the number of victims shot is about 2.5 times higher than in mass shootings with other firearms.7,8

The study is particularly interesting because it aims to disentangle the effect of the gun law changes from other brother shifts – for example  the trend in many developing nations of declines in homicide that occurred anyway. It also shows that the laws had an impact on suicide and importantly, shows that banning some kinds of weapons does not just lead to shift to still-legal weapons with no resulting decline in mass-killings or suicides. Instead a selective ban and gun buy-back schemes does seem to have resulted in a net reduction in deaths.

From a Guardian news article on the study:

The lead author of the study, Professor Simon Chapman, said a similar study had been conducted 10 years ago, and that the researchers had repeated it to see if gun-related deaths were continuing to decline, finding that they had.

“I’ve calculated that for every person in Australia shot in a massacre, 139 [people] are shot through firearm-related suicide or homicides, so they are much more common,” Chapman said.

“We found that homicide and suicide firearms deaths had been falling before the reforms, but the rate of the fall accelerated for both of them after the reforms. We’ve shown that a major policy intervention designed to stop mass shootings has had an effect on other gun-related deaths as well.”

He said the researchers had chosen to publish the results in an American medical journal not just because the title was a prestigious one, but also because the findings would have a greater impact.

However, he does not believe the findings will have an impact on gun ownership laws in the US.

“The US is a good example of where evidence is going to take longer to prevail over fear and ideology,” he said.

“When people like [Republican candidate] Donald Trump talk about gun violence, he’s essentially not talking about the facts or the evidence, he’s talking about ideology and saying people want the right to protect themselves and their homes.

“The irony is the person you have to protect yourself most from in a home is the person who owns the gun.”

Chapman said more than half of those who had conducted mass shootings in Australia and New Zealand had been licensed gun holders.

More antipodean chocolate

New Zealanders may have been less than impressed  with the wall of tim-tams. I have sourced this delight  to placate them.

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I have tried L&P as a fizzy drink. I’m not sure what effect it has on chocolate.

I’m also informed of this chimeric fantasy  monster that is apparently endemic to Australia.

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Hugo Best Related work 2016? Clearly a work of speculative fiction.