Friday, March 10, 2006

Remember Cheryl Kernot?

Cheryl Kernot and Gareth Evans with Kernot portrait I don't know if you'd care to cast your mind back to July 2002 when the revelations about Cheryl Kernot's affair with Gareth Evans surfaced.

For you people too young/apolitical/naïve to have remembered or cared (as was the case for me), Kernot was the leader of Australian Democrats, defected to the ALP in 1997, and quit politics after losing her seat (Dickson, Queensland) in 2001.

And Evans was the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Keating era. He helped orchestrate Kernot's defection, but quit politics in September 1999. In 2002 I had an opportunity to talk with someone in DCITA who knew someone who used to work for him when was in charge of the Foreign Ministry (yes, a convoluted relationship as it must be for non-Canberrians like me). All I recall of the conversation is that Gareth would sometimes get nasty and throw staplers – yes staplers – at his underlings when he became frustrated.

Cheryl Kernot and Gareth Evans Anyway, if you remember the July 2002 fiasco, people became angrily divided on whether it was appropriate for the media to have revealed the affair and thus given it attention. In particular the question was over whether Laurie Oakes' role in bringing about the exposé was acceptable, ethical, professional, etcetera.

Was it?

"No" says Greg Barns, former Howard staffer, now a member of the democrats* – also the guy who stupidly defended Andrew Bartlett's manhandling of Jeannie Ferris at some pollie Christmas Party in 2003 (but that is another story).
The feeding frenzy on Kernot and Evans simply shows one thing: the media cannot resist a yarn about sex and power. Just as they couldn't in Britain in 1963, or or in America in 1998.
And, for various reasons, others agree. In a letter to the SMH, Libby Werthein, wrote:
What about Bob Hawke and the journalist and the many other woman [sic] he had affairs with? What about all the other male politicians who have had affairs? ... Bob Hawke would have been constantly in the media for his affairs ... This is another form of sexism and I am sorry you are buying into it ... The issue of the affair should never have been raised in parliment [sic] and good on Gareth for denying it.
Shouldn't have denied it? Even though it was true, and it was with another member of parliament? And then there are others who said "do we really care?" Well, they are fooling themselves. Of course we care! Just because the scandal involves sex, suddenly we are meant to treat it with kid gloves?!

Frankly, I think the media should have asked Kernot and Evans to tell the truth as soon as he denied it in parliament. That would have been the preferred modus operandi. I'm surprised we had to wait until Kernot published her book omitting mention of the affair for Oakes to get up and insist that a vital fact had been kept secret!

Although I kind of feel sorry for Kernot, and I had some respect for both her and Gareth as politicians, if you are a public person – like a politician – and sleep with another public person in the same public sphere – like a politician, then the public deserves to know. Certainly if you write an autobiography and haven't yet been exposed then this is your opportunity to tell the story sensitively in your own words – not to mention dramatically increase publicity for your book! Cheryl made a critical mistake. Maybe she was actually crazy enough to think she'd get away with it!

Given the benefit of a few years of hindsight what do you blog readers out there think now? First, did Laurie Oakes make a mistake? Second, did Kernot?

The lesson I take from this anyway is that if you are in the public eye – or even if you're not – and have an affair, be prepared that you may one day have to reveal it to the world before someone else does it for you!

Update: Greg Barns is no longer a member of the Democrats, according to Andrew Bartlett, who pointed this out in a comment on this post.
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Friday, March 03, 2006

Shark droids?

Is it ethical to stick electrodes into animals brains to make them carry out our whims? Sharks Apparently anything is ethical if it could potentially lead to the discovery of new treatments for diseases and other negative heath conditions. We know DARPA for being the agency that created ARPANET, the first node of the Internet, but recently they've been experimenting with creating a kind of marine zombie. They implant electrodes into the brains of a spiny dogfish and use a radio transmitter to stimulate either the right or left side of the brain responsible for the sense of smell. The dogfish responds by turning in that direction, hoping for some food. Just like a remote control boat, but better!
The Pentagon is funding research into neural implants with the ultimate hope of turning sharks into "stealth spies" capable of gliding undetected through the ocean.

British weekly New Scientist has published the research, which builds on experimental work to control animals by implanting tiny electrodes in their brain that are then stimulated to induce a behavioural response.

"The Pentagon hopes to exploit sharks' natural ability to glide quietly through the water, sense delicate electrical gradients and follow chemical trails," says the report.

"By remotely guiding the sharks' movements they hope to transform the animals into stealth spies, perhaps capable of following vessels without being spotted." (ABC).
Why build expensive underwater robots to do dangerous things like recovering landmines from the ocean floor when we can just use a remote control to get an octopus or something to do it for us? What's more, if the world's sharks and other marine nasties are busy chasing enemy vessels and performing other chores for the USA armed forces then at least they won't be biting legs off of swimmers at Bondi or attacking surfers on the West Coast.

Image courtesy of Mark Rosenstein
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