Apr
29
2012
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Deep down, are we all pyrophiles?

lewes-bonfire-nightFire is the one common element of every culture. The use of fire distinguishes humans from other animals, and has enabled humans to become what they are today. In advanced societies, the domestic and industrial use of fire has been largely replaced by electricity and other sources of energy, but we still seek out the [more...]

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Apr
05
2012
2

What is the etiquette of public transit?

public-transportRiding on buses or trains involves interaction with other riders. The experience can be positive or negative. To help tilt the balance towards the positive, there are certain unwritten (until now) rules of etiquette for public transport. If there are vacant rows of seats, sit in one of those vacant rows. If there are plenty [more...]

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Dec
27
2011
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Why is it so much more expensive to live in a cold climate?

winter-railway-stationMany factors increase the cost of living in a cold climate. They make a big difference to the standard of living that is not always apparent from official statistics: Houses and workplaces must be heated during winter. It’s common for 10% of family income to be spent on fuel for heating. Buildings are more expensive [more...]

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Jul
07
2010
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What were Australians discussing from 1968 to 1971?

sydney-opera-house-construction-1968Towards the end of the 1960s Australia found itself embroiled in the unwinnable war in Vietnam, in support of the US Government’s campaign there. A 1968 debate strongly supported withdrawal from the war (by 35 to 5), but the withdrawal didn’t happen until after a change of government in 1972. Of the debates held by [more...]

Jun
23
2010
1

Why do diaspora communities tend to be more conservative than their homeland?

african-diasporaDiaspora is used not only with reference to the scattering of the Jews by the Romans in 70 AD (or by the Assyrians in 722 BC, or other events that dispersed them from Judea). It can also be used to describe other communities separated from their homeland, be they immigrant settlements, religious exclaves, colonial and [more...]

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Jun
15
2010
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What were Australians debating in the late 1930s?

speed-limit-30Just as the world was lifting itself out of the Great Depression, major tensions were developing in Europe and Japan that would lead to the outbreak of another world war by the end of the 1930s. Not surprisingly, topics relating to world affairs featured heavily in the debates held by the Mosman Debating Society from [more...]

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Jun
11
2010
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What were Australians debating during the 1920s?

1920s-retro-hatThe Mosman Debating Society held regular Thursday evening debates in Sydney. I have access to only a few of the topics debated, but they open an interesting window into what was occupying people’s minds at the time. Here are some of the subjects of the debates of the 1920s. That the system of proportional representation [more...]

Sep
04
2009
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How do South Africans cope with the high crime rate?

Electric fenceBy some statistical measures (but not others), South Africa has the highest crime rate in the world. Robbery, murder and rape are astonishingly high. How can people live in a place like that? First, it should be said that the statistics, horrendous though they are, are somewhat misleading. South Africa is unusual in that it [more...]

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Apr
21
2009
1

What is the nanny state?

Gwinnett County sign (photo by Patrick Fitzgerald - CC-BY)A nanny is someone who is paid to look after someone’s children. A nanny state is a government which unduly restricts its citizens, treating them as if they were children unable to make decisions for themselves. It’s not restricted to the government, as nannying can be carried out by anyone in a position of authority. [more...]

Feb
01
2009
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Why do people fall for Ponzi scams?

Beware thieves! (photo by Anosmia - CC-BY)A Ponzi scheme involves taking money from new investors, and paying that money as supposed “profits” to existing investors. Sooner or later, inevitably, the scheme runs out of capital from new investors and collapses. Although collapses are more likely to come to light in a bad economic climate, the seeds for the eventual collapse are [more...]

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