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Back from the Hill

"I'm writing this on the plane back from Canberra," I was going to write, "where I've spent the last couple of days hobnobbing with the high and mighty." That was two weeks ago, but of course on the plane back I promptly fell asleep, not so much from hobnobbing but simply from a packed two-day programme which had started with a 5.15 a.m. flight out of Brisbane on Tuesday 28 March. So, here's a belated follow-up on my trip to the "Expanding Horizons" event which the Council for the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences had organised...

Entering the Political Arena

I've been invited to take part in a two-day event in Canberra this coming week, organised by the Council for Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (CHASS) - they're inviting early-career researchers (a definition which I'm slowly starting to slide out of) to talk to politicians about their research in order to better inform members of the legislative about current research agendas and the need for policies which address these aims and build on the findings.

As part of the 'Expanding Horizons' programme, we'll have breakfast with Julie Bishop, the Federal Minister for Education, Science and Training, morning tea with the Lindsay Tanner, Shadow Minister for Finance, and will then pair off to meet selected parliamentarians for more private meetings - I've been selected to talk to Senator George Campbell, the Oppositiom Whip. Along the way, we'll also hear from a variety of other high-profile politicians, researchers, and other officeholders in the nexus between education, research, and politics. Should be an interesting (and exhausting) programme!

Back to the West Wing

The West Wing is back on Australian TV screens - back being the operating word here, with episodes restarting with the "Twenty Hours in America" two-parter from the Bartlet re-election campaign which originally screened in the U.S. on September 2002. Australians will know that this is due to the show's move from the commercial Nine Network, which buried the show in the 23:30 timeslot, to the publicly funded ABC; there, at least it's on at 21:30 for the time being, and without commercial breaks (now if only we could continue to get double episodes every week to catch up with the action!).

Winging It to Buffalo

(Buffalo) Well, after 24 hours on progressively smaller planes I'm finally here in Buffalo, arriving late last night. An eventless flight on Qantas and American Airlines - a nice sunrise over the Californian coastline flying into LAX, and luckily none of the landing gear problems that occurred so dramatically and telegenically on a JetBlue flight at the same airport just a few days ago. Flying across the U.S. by daylight for the first time I was struck by the vast and barren expanses of land still left more or less untouched especially in the West (this would have been Arizona in particular, I guess) - perhaps its just me, but you don't think about America in such terms these days... Of course I also couldn't help but think 'Google Earth' at the same time - will have to revisit some of the sites along the way later (was that the Las Vegas or Phoenix speedway I saw from the air?).

Germany Votes: Democracy 1:0 Pundits

A number of elections took place over the weekend - in Afghanistan, New Zealand, and Germany - but it's the German one which stands to produce the most lasting effect (and entertainment, if the first days after the election are any guide). German voters have delivered a result which has puzzled many and has been described by some as unworkable - even though upon closer inspection it has opened up rather than closed down political options for those who are willing and able to realise them.

To begin with, however, the result (which has the conservative CDU/CSU and the progressive Social Democrats neck and neck at around 35%, and the three minor parties Free Democrats, Greens, and Left/PDS at 8-9%) is a clear demonstration of how significantly more representative and democratic the German electoral system is, especially when compared with British, Australian, or U.S. models. A look at the map of directly elected German representatives shows that a Westminster-style election would likely have produced a highly polarised parliament dominated by the major parties, however much their share of the votes has been slashed in the election - potentially with a small number of independents and minor-party candidates holding a tenuous balance of power. Instead, however, the German system adds list candidates to these directly elected representatives until the balance of parties in parliament represents the distribution of votes - and so the 35/34/9/8/8 split in percentages is reflected very accurately in the 225/222/61/54/51 distribution of seats.


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