Facebook’s MARGE AI summarizes and translates documents without fine-tuning


In a paper published on the preprint server Arxiv.org, Facebook researchers describe Multilingual Autoencoder that Retrieves and Generates (MARGE). It’s a language model that generates words, sentences, and paragraphs by retrieving related words, sentences, and paragraphs in different languages and identifying patterns within them.

The researchers claim MARGE learns to paraphrase, translate, and summarize text without any fine-tuning, a potential step toward systems that can perform any text task from pretraining alone.

In machine learning, pretraining involves training an AI model on a vast amount of data before it’s fine-tuned on a narrow data set tailored to particular tasks, like summarization. Masked models — which pretrain by removing and then reconstructing parts of an input text — are widely used in the language domain. But by design, they have to memorize a vast amount of encyclopedic knowledge to achieve strong performance.

Above: A demonstration of MARGE’s translation skills.

MARGE, by contrast, emphasizes paraphrasing while reducing the required amount of knowledge. During pretraining, it ingests batches of “evidence” documents and target documents, and it learns to accurately summarize and translate specific snippets of text (conditioned on the evidence documents) as it susses out the relevance of evidence to each target.

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MARGE first computes a relevance score between every pair of documents, which encourages it to attend more to relevant evidence documents. It then computes the likelihood of reconstructing each target using a modified seq2seq model, a general-purpose encoder-decoder model for language processing. Lastly, MARGE constructs batches so that evidence documents are relevant to the targets, using the relevance model for retrieval.

During experiments, the researchers created a Transformer model with 960 million parameters dubbed MARGE-NEWS, which comprised 2,048 “workers” that processed sub-batches of 4 documents (2 evidence and 2 targets) each for 550,000 steps. They further pretrained it for 100,000 steps on Wikipedia data and rebuilt the index every 10,000 steps, so that MARGE-NEWS took on average 4 monolingual and 4 cross-lingual links per target document. (The documents spanned 26 different languages in total.)

The researchers report that on the task of cross-lingual sentence retrieval, MARGE outperformed all other unsupervised models (i.e., models that look for patterns in unlabeled data sets) according to one benchmark (BUCC), and performed comparably to Facebook’s leading XLM-R model against another benchmark (Tatoeba). And on BLEU, a metric that measures language translation quality, MARGE achieved 3.58 for German to English — among the highest scores for a system without fine-tuning.

MARGE also edged out state-of-the-art models when tasked with determining whether two sentences are paraphrases and answering questions about documents in Chinese. It struggled in some cases to generate non-English languages, particularly those with non-Latin alphabets, but the researchers report that English-to-French worked well.

“MARGE exhibits strong performance on a range of discriminative and generative tasks in many languages, both with and without fine-tuning … We show that fine-tuning gives strong performance on a range of discriminative and generative tasks in many languages, making MARGE the most generally applicable pre-training method to date,” the coauthors wrote. “Future work should scale MARGE to more domains and languages, and study how to more closely align pre-training objectives with different end tasks.”

It should be noted that the researchers don’t appear to have tested MARGE on data sets designed to uncover gender, racial, ethnic, and other biases, like StereoSet. This is somewhat concerning considering Facebook’s poor ethical track record as of late. A spokesperson recently told VentureBeat the company doesn’t tally diversity statistics by teams like Facebook AI Research, the group that produced this work. And in a recent Twitter exchange, Facebook chief AI scientist Yann LeCun suggested data alone leads to prejudicial AI systems, a position with which scholars like Google ethical AI co-lead Timnit Gebru took issue.



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Paris Jackson opens up about her sexuality and dad Michael Jackson’s reaction


Model and musician Paris Jackson has shed some light on her sexuality in a revealing new interview.

The 22-year-old daughter of pop star Michael Jackson has spoken about her past relationships on a new Facebook Watch series entitled Unfiltered: Paris Jackson and Gabriel Glenn.

Paris appears alongside her boyfriend Gabriel, who is also her bandmate in The Soundflowers.

In an interview in an episode of the new series, Paris opened up about their relationship and what it says about her sexuality.

She revealed: “Never thought I’d end up with a dude.

“Thought I’d end up marrying a chick or … I’ve dated more women than men. Been with more chicks.”

Paris Jackson has discussed her sexuality in a revealing new interview on Unfiltered: Paris Jackson and Gabriel Glenn

The singer continued: “The public only knows about 3 long term relationships I’ve been with and they’ve been with men.

“The public doesn’t know about like most of the relationships I’ve been in.”

Paris went on to discuss how she defines her sexuality and what it meant to her growing up.

“I say I’m gay because I guess I am, but I wouldn’t consider myself bisexual because I’ve dated more than just men and women, I’ve dated a man that had a vagina,” she continued.

“It has nothing to do what’s in your pants, it’s literally like, what are you like as a person?”

Paris Jackson discussed her new relationship and how her father reacted to her sexuality

The star also continued explaining how her iconic and controversial father responded to her sexuality growing up.

She revealed: “I think he felt the energy and he would tease me the same way he’d tease my brothers, like, ‘You got yourself a girlfriend!’ if I were staring at a magazine of a woman too hard.

“I’m very lucky to have that, especially so young, 8 or 9. Not many children have that experience.”

Paris compared Gabriel to her father for how they have made her feel completely secure.

Michael Jackson with daughter Paris

“The only home I ever had before was my dad. Now I have Gabe, I’m very lucky,” she noted.

Paris is her father’s only daughter and his second child.

Her siblings are Michael Jackson Jr. and Prince Michael ‘Blanket’ Jackson II.

Their father died in 2009 at the age of 50.

Unfiltered: Paris Jackson and Gabriel Glenn releases new episodes on Tuesdays on Facebook Watch.

Do you have a story to sell? Get in touch with us at webcelebs@trinitymirror.com or call us direct 0207 29 33033.





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Big Brother doesn’t take the ratings hint, renews for another season


Large Brother wasn’t the demographic dominator 7 required it to be, but it is taking a leap of faith on a different period all the very same.

Big Brother 2020 (Image: 7)

Ten’s MasterChef managed 1.25 million national viewers, The Voice on 9 averaged 1.12 million, Seven’s Big Brother not even a million — 990,000 and not wherever around the top 10 national list. It was crushed by 7.30 (1.01 million). MasterChef and Have You Been Spending Interest (1.09 million) once again dominated all the key demos. Equally are demo-dominators, which is what Seven was type of hoping for with Major Brother

7 has renewed Significant Brother for 2021, so it will proceed its existence in a 3rd ten years (immediately after several lengthy naps). The Voice is having to the end of the series and searching weak in past night’s figures but Nine nonetheless gained the night easily, from 7 scratchily and 10 positively, with the ABC valiantly fourth.

In brekkie it was Today 3rd yet again (291,000 nationwide and 195,000 metro) behind Sunrise first (475,000/268,000) and ABC Information Breakfast next (306,000/202,000)





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What are Israel’s annexation plans for the West Bank and what could the consequences be?


Worldwide condemnation is mounting as the deadline looms on an Israeli prepare to commence annexing areas of the West Lender. 

As early as 1 July, Israel could start annexing vital areas of the West Financial institution and Jordan Valley as section of a US-proposed Center East peace strategy.

The move has been commonly criticised – just previous week 1,000 European politicians representing 25 nations around the world signed a letter warning it would be “lethal to the prospective clients of Israeli-Palestinian peace”.

Doubts about whether Israel will go ahead have also been lifted following Israeli Defence Minister and alternate premier Benny Gantz reported on Monday that they ought to hold out right until the coronavirus disaster has been contained. 

So, what would annexation contain and what would it imply for lengthy expression efforts to attain peace in the region? 

Israeli Primary Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the driving power guiding the annexation programs.

EPA

The land at stake

The West Financial institution is a landlocked territory running together the west lender of the River Jordan.

The territory is bordered by Israel on its northern, western and southern boundaries, and has Jordan to its east.

Chunks of the West Bank are self-administered by the Palestinian people today, but about 60 for every cent of the West Financial institution is managed by the Israelis.

Equally the Israelis and the Palestinian persons claim historical rights around the land in the West Lender, which Israel seized from Jordan subsequent the 6 Day War in 1967.

As quite a few as three million Palestinians reside in the West Bank. Somewhere around 430,000 Israeli Jews live in the West Financial institution in hundreds of settlements and lesser outposts.

The previous peace talks among Israel and the Palestinian individuals collapsed in 2014.

Why now?

The United States reversed many years of coverage late past calendar year when it said it would no for a longer time regard Jewish settlements in the West Financial institution as a breach of intercontinental law.

The West Lender is regarded by the UN, the Palestinian territories, and many other nations around the world to be “occupied” land, even though Israel considers it to be “disputed” territory and wishes its standing to be settled in the peace negotiations.

Then, earlier this year, US President Donald Trump unveiled his Middle East peace proposal.

Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House, June 17, 2020.

The intervention of US President Donald Trump has boosted Israel’s strategies.

ABACA

That proposal envisaged that the US would recognise the Jewish West Bank settlements – developed on land that the Palestinians request for a point out – as portion of Israel.

The Trump proposal would produce a Palestinian point out as portion of a broader peace approach, but impose stringent disorders on it. Palestinian leaders have dismissed the US initiative solely.

The adjust in plan by the US has opened the door for Israeli Key Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to press ahead with annexation designs.

Annexation is a idea in global regulation in which a region declares sovereignty in excess of a territory outdoors of its borders.

Having said that, Mr Netanyahu says it is “not annexation”, although Israel is organizing to claim sovereignty in excess of the chunks of the West Bank made up of Jewish settlements.

It can be approximated that could finally deal with as a lot as 30 for every cent of the West Lender territory. 

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon said Jewish people had a right to that land.

“Must Israel make your mind up to increase its sovereignty, it will be accomplishing so with respect to areas over which it has often managed a authentic historical and legal claim,” he claimed. 

What are the implications?

In Might, the United Kingdom mentioned it would not aid an Israeli annexation of pieces of the West Lender as it would make a two-state alternative with the Palestinians extra tough to realize.

Norway, which chairs a team of global donors to the Palestinians, urged Israel earlier this thirty day period not to annex components of the West Bank.

“Any unilateral move would be detrimental to the (peace) course of action, and annexation would be in direct violation and contravention of global legislation,” Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide instructed Reuters.

Hundreds of Israelis demonstrated against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to annex the Jordan Valley and illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Hundreds of Israelis demonstrated in opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s program to annex pieces of the West Lender.

Sipa Usa Yousef Masoud / SOPA Visuals/Si

Past 7 days – just just one week in advance of Mr Netanyahu is anticipated to commence the annexation method – a UN Security Council session furnished a closing possibility for the global local community to urge him to change training course.

“I connect with on the Israeli governing administration to abandon its annexation options,” UN Secretary Normal Antonio Guterres informed the virtual convention.

The UN coordinator for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, claimed annexation “could irrevocably alter the mother nature of Israeli-Palestinian relations”. 

“It challenges upending more than a quarter of a century of international endeavours in aid of a potential feasible Palestinian state residing in peace, security and mutual recognition with the State of Israel,” he reported.

At the UN, Palestinian consultant Riyad al-Malki stated annexation would be a “criminal offense”.

“Israel seems established to disregard that huge pink cease indicator the international community erected to save life,” he mentioned.

He warned that the Palestinians could strategy the Global Courtroom of Justice and urged nations to impose sanctions on Israel if it goes forward.

Australia’s Overseas Minister Marise Payne has not commented publicly on the annexation designs, but did comment recently on the US Center East peace approach. 

“Australia calls on all functions to training highest restraint and to refrain from violence or other provocative steps or statements that undermine the prospective clients for peace,” Ms Payne has stated earlier. 

Further reporting by AFP





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Judge temporarily blocks tell-all book by Trump’s niece


A tell-all book by President Donald Trump’s niece cannot be published until a judge decides the merits of claims by the President’s brother that its publication would violate a pact among family members, a judge has said.

New York state Supreme Court Judge Hal B. Greenwald in Poughkeepsie, New York, issued an order requiring the niece, Mary Trump, and her publisher to explain why they should not be blocked from publishing the book Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. A hearing was set for July 10.

A tell-all book by President Donald Trump’s niece cannot be published immediately, a judge ruled.Credit:AP

The book, scheduled to be published in July, was written by Mary Trump, the daughter of Fred Trump Jr, the President’s elder brother, who died in 1981. An online description of it says it reveals “a nightmare of traumas, destructive relationships, and a tragic combination of neglect and abuse”.

The judge on Tuesday said no portion of the book could be distributed before he decides the validity of Robert Trump’s claims. Robert Trump argues Mary Trump must comply with a written agreement among family members that such a book cannot be published without permission from other family members.



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Super Rugby AU rule changes hoped to bring crowds back and change future of the game


It’s fair to say there will be many more eyes on Australia’s new domestic rugby competition when it kicks off this weekend than just those of the diehard fans.

Super Rugby AU is Australia’s equivalent of New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa, and was quickly formed to fill the breach left by the 15-team, five-nations Super Rugby tournament which went into COVID-19-enforced hibernation in mid-March.

The future of that competition remains in limbo, with both South Africa and Argentina isolated and their new case curve still trending upwards. Japan’s Sunwolves were to be mothballed at the end of the 2020 season anyway, and though there were attempts to have them play in the new Australian competition, they’ve now played their last game.

Australia’s four Super Rugby sides — the Queensland Reds, NSW Waratahs, Melbourne Rebels, and the Brumbies — will be joined by the Perth-based Western Force in a full home-and-away competition played over 10 weeks plus two weeks of finals.

For the Force, it marks their return to top-flight Australian rugby for the first time since their axing from Super Rugby at the end of the 2017 season.

Western Force players wait for a try decision during the World Series Rugby match against Fiji in 2018.
The Western Force will be welcomed back to the fold.(AAP: Richard Wainwright)

But it’s the law variations in place that will draw the extra attention, and from the moment the Reds and Waratahs run out onto Brisbane’s Lang Park on Friday night. Behind every one of the changes is an intention to make a more enjoyable spectacle of the game for spectators, fans and players alike.

A couple are already in place over the ditch, with Super Rugby Aotearoa implementing 10 minutes of “golden point” extra time in the event of a scoreboard deadlock after 80 minutes.

The other is the allowance to replace a player sent from the field with a red card after 20 minutes. The sent-off player can’t play any further part in the game, but the contest can be restored to 15 players on 15, 20 minutes later.

Neither has been seen in New Zealand yet in three rounds, but Australia’s leading referee Angus Gardner is a fan.

“You definitely want the players to decide the game and as a ref you prefer to not make a decision that decides it,” he said last week, of the extra time allowance.

Gardner has been busy over the past fortnight, running live familiarity sessions around the new variations with the Waratahs and Rebels. The focus on the breakdown contest in Super Rugby Aotearoa — and the sharp upsurge in penalties — were a cause for concern initially, and were undoubtedly a reason Gardner and his colleagues were utilised during these intra-squad sessions around the country.

Ryan Louwrens holds a rugby ball in both hands and prepares to pass it away from a ruck
New rules around the breakdown have sped up play, but has also seen an initial uptick in penalties.(AAP: Scott Barbour)

“They’re really rewarding speed to the breakdown, I think for us that’s going to highlight our breakdown presence,” Rebels backrower Michael Wells said, his side spending this week of preparation in Canberra to escape the recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Melbourne.

“Attacking wise, you can’t be slow; you have to be really fast. Defensively, if you have a good on-ball presence you’re really going to get pay out of it. I think that was the biggest thing about having Gus [Gardner] here, just to be exposed to those new rules, because it’s different watching it in the New Zealand comp,” Wells said.

But the breakdown focus is having a positive impact already over the Tasman. In half a dozen games over the first three rounds in New Zealand, the rugby on display has been wonderful to watch, no doubt spurred on by huge crowds now allowed with no restrictions in place.

Fans applaud as players line up in the foreground
Super Rugby Aotearoa has returned to huge crowds.(Photosport via AP: Joe Allison)

The crowds will be much smaller when Super Rugby AU kicks off on Friday night, but it’s certainly hoped the rugby is no less exciting. Rugby Australia is also hoping the decision to go a bit further with law variations will have an impact, too.

Several of them roll over from last season’s National Rugby Championship, in which a rampant Western Force ran away with the title. The line drop-out allowance, which rewards the defending team if they’re able to hold the attacking team up in-goal, works as a faster way of restarting play instead of a five-metre scrum that risks multiple resets.

And 50-22 and 22-50 kicks carry over too, borrowing from rugby league’s 40-20, which will force teams to defend differently at the back, as well as open up attacking opportunity.

“Does that open up more space in the front line to play ball in hand?” Rebels attack coach Shaun Berne wondered.

“And if they don’t defend that back field, are we then able to kick and find those 50-22s?”

The players themselves can already see opportunities.

“It’s going to break some teams when we find that space and take those opportunities, it’s going to hurt a lot of teams,” Brumbies centre Irae Simone offered from Canberra.

Waratahs coach Rob Penney loves the removal of calling for a mark in the defensive 22 from kicks originating in the same portion of the field. But he’s equally wary of the architect of the idea.

“I am a bit worried about Matt Toomua and the impact that he is going to have. He is such a talented 10 and he has the ball on a string really,” Penney said of the Rebels and Wallabies flyhalf.

“I thought it was a real breath of fresh air to hear Matt talking about what could be really good for the game.”

A male rugby union player kicks the ball from a penalty goal attempt with his right foot.
Matt Toomua could have a huge impact with his boot under the new rules.(Reuters: Issei Kato)

As Rugby Australia works to negotiate its way to new TV deal for 2021 and beyond, the hope is that these variations and the exciting rugby it anticipates will result will be really good for the game over a longer term. Arguably, the future of the professional game is counting on it.

But the condensed campaign means there won’t be time for the five sides to work their way into contention. Most agree the Brumbies start overwhelming as the favourites, given they were running second overall when Super Rugby was suspended.

Brumbies prop James Slipper says that just means the side is already determined to pick up where they left off back in March.

“It’s always important to start well,” he said.

“We actually addressed that this year in Super Rugby and we did start well.

“What you find is when you have a good start is you try and build on that momentum and that winning habit.”

Super Rugby AU Round 1 fixtures

Friday: Queensland Reds vs NSW Waratahs, Brisbane 7:15pm AEST

Saturday: ACT Brumbies vs Melbourne Rebels, Canberra 7:15pm AEST

Western Force have the bye.



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mistletoe magic – Alice Springs News


Mistletoe bird © Mike Gillam

 

By MIKE GILLAM

 

 

A friend rang one day with devastating news. “You know that area you were waxing lyrical about, west of Ellery? I’m looking at the satellite imagery right now and a wildfire is about to engulf it.”

 

I felt physically sick, recalling a walk on the steep south side of the west MacDonnell Range through scaffolding Sarcostemma reaching the crowns of small trees and trailing vines heavy with bush banana. Stands of mallee, Eucalyptus socialis, thickened and grew taller in the well watered soils between the dolomite outliers and the base of the high range country.

 

Looking back into the sunrise the mallees were dazzling, adorned with pendulous mistletoe in fiery tresses of red and yellow. Tantalisingly close but just out of photographic range spinifex birds crossed my path ahead, their flight low, tails strangely drooping.

 

Reaching places where the elusive spinifex birds were most active, the mallees and huge circular hummocks of spinifex (no recent fire history here) met minor drainages of moisture-dependent shrubs and grasses in a tongue and groove inter-zone.

 

Spear-bush hung heavy with zebra finches and gorgeous clumps of trumpet shaped flowers. The place was alive with the secretive rustle of birds gulping down the purplish ripe fruits of Myoporum and a constant stream of visiting honeyeaters sipping from the best mistletoe flowers. The early morning birdsong was sublime.

 

More than once I found what looked to be possum poo, more elongated and narrow than rock wallaby. I try not to think of the carnage and I’ve not been back. That was back in January 2019 and I can’t begin to imagine the acute trauma of those living within the catastrophic fire zones of NSW and Victoria later in that year through to early 2020.

 

As far back as I can remember the mistletoe birds have nested in the shadow of Teppa Hill every year. They must have been excited when we planted a fence line of mulga generously donated by the Land for Wildlife program.

 

First we removed the compacted gravel and cracker dust of an old stand off area used by trucks and machinery for many years. Only then did we realise the meaning of hard work. The layer of WW2 bitumen and compacted soils resisted the crowbar and shovel so we hired various post hole diggers and jack hammers to break it up.

 

Finally, there was a sink hole that suddenly appeared after a big rain event, revealing buried construction rubbish. Patiently we removed it all and acquired replacement top soil before planting the mulga grove.

 

The area was completely devoid of shade so we placed stakes around each tree, crowning them off with leafy tepees we’d fashioned from someone’s discarded prunings. We installed an irrigation system and with their ‘natural companion shade’ to attenuate the lash of summer, the mulgas grew rapidly.

 

Within a few years we were fending off the early attempts of colonisation by mistletoe, courtesy of the mistletoe birds.

 

After feeding on the sticky berries the mistletoe birds defecate and it would seem with a high strike rate manage to attach the seed onto a narrow mulga branch. The parasitic mistletoe embeds its roots into the sap (water and nutrient) flow of the mulga host usually creating a bulbous enlargement that supports a dense pendulous plant with beautiful red and yellow flowers.

 

There are many Acacias in our vicinity and at least three common species of mistletoes, one with large dark red fruit and another with perfectly round fruit that resemble pearls.

 

As the mulgas grew into mature trees we had to use a chain pole saw every couple of years to thin out the mistletoe much to the disgust of our tiny red and black feathered gardeners. The mistletoe tresses make great mulch and we always leave plenty on the tree to keep the mistletoe birds fed, the caterpillars in fodder, the honeyeaters and various other birds in precious nectar.

 

Cutting out the mistletoe is problematic because the dense shady clumps are favoured by nesting birds, especially petite honeyeaters. We use an extension ladder to inspect them first and make sure there are no nests or others close-by that are active.

 

In wet years the mistletoes seem luxuriant, well almost rampant and the mulgas seem to tolerate them well. In dry years we’re more watchful lest the strain of the mistletoes causes the demise of our mulga.

 

Mistletoe caterpillar © Mike Gillam

 

There is at least one serious omission from our mistletoe community that would greatly reduce our need to wield the pole chainsaw.

 

Even if we could bring back the brushtail possums – and now I hear the howls of protest from possum-hating trolls – the slaughter would be immediate. There are just too many dogs and cats running loose around town, their owners apparently ignorant of the immense damage their pets are causing. 

 

We mostly see them Friday night – “let the working dogs out to self-exercise because I’m trying to relax with a beer”. Then there’s the drug dealer’s dogs with heads the size of mountain lions and wide leather collars with silver metal studs – just looking for fun. Finally, the underfed dog pack looking for a feed.

 

We do our best to trap them all, to track down the owners in various housing estates and frequently, mop up the blood. Town Council rangers provide dog traps and do their best to help but a trap-shy dog can take weeks to apprehend. The owners pay the fine and sometimes the whole routine is repeated again and again. Then there’s the cats, but that’s another story.

 

So I don’t know how possums become a pest in various cities but they’d have no chance here. In Alice Springs there must be as many dogs as humans, due in part to widespread public concern about crime and an investment in dogs as a deterrent, a kind of cheap security guard.

 

I confess we never see the dogs belonging to more sensitive folk who tie colourful scarves and bandannas around the collar to distract from their real purpose. Everybody, please set aside the artifice: I know security cameras are a bit of a negative social signal but they would be cheaper and far less destructive for the mental health of so many neglected dogs and the wildlife they torment, terrorise or kill!

 

It’s tough enough for the urban macropods, recognised as climate change losers, coping with ever present dingoes and the bright Leds of mountain bikers who have incorporated the macropods’ ancient pads into a recreational network.

 

Imagine if locals could take a vow of no more cute puppies that turn into under-exercised psychos or cats that roam widely and kill everything that moves. They’d discover some brilliant lizards taking up residence, even macropods for those living on the rural edges. I’m dreaming of course, of a time far in the future when the residents of Alice Springs learn to befriend their urban wildlife, equally beautiful, eminently more fascinating and critically in need of our help.

 

As I said: dreaming! Trends are changing far too slowly. Even in the untrammelled bush the great gaping holes in ecosystems are enlarging and reverberating. Much of suburbia is close to ground zero.

 

The ferals are taking over, placed on a corrupt pedestal by animal lovers who turn a blind eye to our treacherous indifference as the wild ones fade away. I do understand why these questions are painful, why a great many people reserve empathy and kindness for a dog or cat and simply don’t want to bear witness to the terrible truth that is lying dead and mangled on their door mat.

 

I count myself lucky to have seen one wild brushtail possum in Centralia. That was 40 years ago during a spotlighting survey of a river red gum watercourse. I vividly remember the large red eyes and furry face peering from a hollow in the upper canopy and the euphoria after several nights of searching.

 

I took a photograph with an inferior telephoto lens, manually focussed by torchlight and with a large Metz flash that struggled to penetrate the distance and the darkness. It’s an old and pretty ordinary transparency but maybe I’ll pay to have it scanned one day.

 

I’d like to think there are still some possums in remote Centralian refugia eating the mistletoe and giving the host trees some reprieve but the facts give little cause for optimism. The descendants of the possum I photographed would have to contend with more than cats and foxes as wildfires fuelled by buffel grass wreak havoc on the old growth gums.

 

Brushtail possums declined sharply after European settlement and this trajectory has continued for a suite of reasons (see Kerle et al, reference below).

 

The arid lands of Australia hold the appalling world record for most mammal extinctions over the past 200 years. Nationwide we’ve lost 34 species, 17 in the NT. Compare this with the USA, the alleged temple of capitalism: just one mammal species lost over a larger land mass and much longer period of colonisation (see Woinarski et al, reference below).

 

Here in Alice Springs the town council frowns on roaming dogs and cats and loans out traps so I’d urge residents to make a small effort and start trapping. The resulting fine imposed on the dog or cat owner will remind your neighbour of their responsibilities.

 

At a Federal or Territory level I don’t recall a Minister for the Environment who behaved like a real champion for their portfolio. Wouldn’t it be great if there were consequences for negligence or indifference, even ministerial KPIs coupled with the loss of all those nice perks if a species becomes extinct, nationally or regionally, during your term in office.

 

Perhaps local and shire governments could stretch beyond their comfort zone of rates, roads and rubbish and include a ‘No local extinctions on our watch’ policy.

 

 

Notes:

 

 

Kerle, J.A., Foulkes, J.N., Kimber, R.G., and Papenfus, D. (1992). The decline of the brushtail possum, Trichosurus vulpecula (Kerr 1798), in arid Australia. Rangelands Journal 14, 107-127.

 

Woinarski, J. C. Z., Murphy, B. P., Legge, S. M., Garnett, S. T., Lawes, M. J., Comer, S., Dickman, C. R., Doherty, T. S., Edwards, G., Nankivell, A., Paton, D., Palmer, R., & Woolley, L. A. (2017). How many birds are killed by cats in Australia? Biological Conservation214, 76-87. 

 

 

Recently in this series:

 

A touch of light: Dead finish and friends

 

A touch of light: Willy wagtail, the gardeners’ friend

 

 

 

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Labor calls for senior Liberal MP Terry Stephens to stand aside amid push for police probe


Labor is demanding the president of South Australia’s Legislative Council Terry Stephens stand aside, while it calls for a police investigation into the use of accommodation expenses by country MPs.

Mr Stephens has referred himself to the state’s tax commissioner, after an ABC investigation revealed he has not paid land tax on an Adelaide property that he insists is not his primary residence.

In South Australia, only primary residences and land which meets a limited range of other criteria are exempt from the tax.

The ABC investigation has also raised questions as to whether Mr Stephens has used an apartment he owned in Victor Harbor to claim tens of thousands of dollars in Country Members Accommodation Allowance.

Online videos, reviews and advertisements suggest the apartment was offered as a holiday rental as early as 2017, and was sold in April last year with a tenant.

Yesterday, Mr Stephens insisted he had moved from the Victor Harbor apartment to another in the same building in 2017.

But the ABC has confirmed he remained on the electoral roll at the first apartment until its sale in 2019.

Mr Stephens revealed in Parliament on Tuesday he has asked the state’s auditor-general to examine all MPs’ use of the Country Members Accommodation Allowance.

He told the Upper House his “principal place of residence is Victor Harbor” and insisted he had “complied with the rules”.

“The auditor-general has oversight of payments of the Country Members Allowance,” Mr Stephens said.

“Today, I’ve written to the auditor-general requesting an audit of all country members’ allowances and to expedite a review of my own as a priority.”

Terry Stephens’ land tax certificate.(Supplied)

Mr Stephens maintains he has done nothing wrong, and insists he has followed the rules in claiming the allowance.

Shadow Attorney-General, Kyam Maher, today questioned why Mr Stephens’s phone book address was in Norwood.

“Why does the White Pages list your sole contact address at Norwood?” he asked in Parliament.

Mr Stephens replied that the listing was in relation to internet access.

“If you ring the number listed in the White Pages, you are never going to get a response because I don’t use it,” he said.

The front of a house in suburban Adelaide.
The Norwood property of SA Liberal MP Terry Stephens.(ABC News: Patrick Martin)

Mr Maher said Labor has referred the matter to the anti-corruption branch of the South Australian police force.

“Terry Stephens cannot remain as Upper House President while there are unanswered questions about this matter.

“He must stand aside pending a full investigation.”

Parliament yesterday released an annual breakdown of Country Members Accommodation Allowance payments for 2018-19 and 2019-20.

But Mr Maher said Labor would move a resolution in Parliament, requiring the release of all paperwork detailing individual claims dating back to 2010.

“The public must have confidence in the Parliament and its parliamentarians,” he said.

Premier dismisses Labor calls

Premier Steven Marshall said he was standing by Mr Stephens and dismissed Labor’s calls for him to order the senior MP to release expense details over the past decade.

“I think this is really an issue that Terry Stephens is going to have to work out,” Mr Marshall said.

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Liberal MP Terry Stephens has been questioned by the ABC over his property arrangements.

Mr Marshall said it was also for Mr Stephens to explain why land tax had not been levied on his Adelaide property.

“Terry Stephens maintains that he has done nothing wrong,” the Premier said.

“He’s referring his own documents to the Commissioner for Taxation in South Australia and I certainly haven’t been provided with any information that suggests he’s done the wrong thing.

“But can I just say this — we have very, very strict rules regarding allowances in the South Australian Parliament and I expect all members to be doing the right thing, whether they’re a Liberal or not.”



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Democrats drop support for bill lowering drug prices


Ranking Member Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., speaks as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer appears at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on U.S. trade on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, June 17, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 7:31 AM PT — Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Democrats have reversed their support of a bipartisan measure to lower drug prices. On Monday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced he will not co-sponsor the bill he previously negotiated with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

Wyden claimed Republicans never truly supported the measure and accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of having no intentions of bringing it to a vote.

Grassley, however, retorted Democrats are playing partisan games and are withdrawing support in order to use drug prices as a “political hammer” during the November election. The Iowa Republican said he will reintroduce the bill regardless of whether it receives Democrat support.

Meanwhile, nearly a dozen Democrats broke with House leaders on an amendment that would ensure the House can’t impede the development of a coronavirus vaccine.

On Monday, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) offered to recommit the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act. His offer would attach an amendment to the bill to ensure no part of the legislation would hinder research into potential treatments or a vaccine for COVID-19.

Although the motion was ultimately struck down by the Democrat-controlled House, nine Democrats voted in favor of it. If the bill was recommitted, it would have been sent back to the Energy and Commerce Committee for further review.

RELATED: Congress looks toward police reform, health care, defense fund





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MDEC gets cracking on MSME E-Commerce Campaign under PENJANA Recovery Plan


  • Co-funded by Malaysian government, campaign is set to benefit over 145,000 MSMEs
  • MDEC to join forces with ten e-commerce partners to encourage e-commerce adoption

The Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) yesterday announced the roll out of the Micro and SMEs (MSMEs) E-Commerce Campaign, an initiative that is under the Malaysian government’s PENJANA Recovery Plan (specifically the 2nd trust, which is “Propel Businesses”).

The campaign, which kicked-off on 30 June and will run until the end of September 2020, will see  MDEC joining forces with ten e-commerce partners to encourage e-commerce adoption among MSMEs.

The initial ten e-commerce partners participating in the MSME E-commerce Campaign are Boost, FashionValet, FAVE, Foodpanda, Grab, Lazada, Maybank, Shopee, Touch ‘n Go eWallet and Zalora.

MDEC is working closely with the government to finalise additional e-commerce partners to take part in this campaign. Further announcement on the added participating e-commerce partners will be made in due course.

Co-funded by the Government and e-commerce partners, over 145,000 MSMEs are expected to benefit from e-commerce onboarding training, seller subsidy and sales support.

As part of efforts to revitalise the Malaysian economy following the Covid-19 outbreak and the subsequent movement control order (MCO), the government allocated US$16.4 million (RM70 million) under PENJANA to implement the MSME E-commerce Campaign.

The initiative is to facilitate local businesses to sustain operations and gradually enhance productivity to spur short economic recovery.

The MSME E-commerce Campaign aims to encourage adoption of e-commerce by local businesses focusing on MSMEs to help widen their market reach. MDEC has been tasked to implement this initiative under PENJANA.

MDEC’s chief executive officer Surina Shukri highlights that the digital shift to e-commerce will help future-proof the economy in the “New Normal” that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about, where an increasing number of consumers opt for online shopping instead of visiting physical stores.

With the uptake in online retail sales, the Southeast Asian e-commerce market is looking to be worth about US$153 billion by 2025, providing the opportunity to future-proof the Malaysian economy in these challenging times.

“Shifting to e-commerce will help MSMEs reduce operation costs, improve agility and be more responsive to new opportunities, allowing them to reach new customers within existing markets and expand to new markets. MDEC together with e-commerce partners are facilitating MSMEs’ shift to e-commerce and helping them to navigate in this new business environment,” she says.

“By transitioning to the online marketplace and embracing e-commerce, MSMEs are better positioned to strengthen their agility and build resilience against future aftershocks. While the intended key beneficiaries of this campaign are the local businesses and individuals with and without businesses registrations, the spill over effect will also benefit other local e-commerce players in the ecosystem such as digital marketing, delivery and e-payment services. Through the campaign the  MSMEs’ transition to e-commerce will support a growing and sustainable MSME ecosystem, in line  with our national digital transformation agenda,” she adds.

Aside from the MSME E-commerce campaign, the Malaysian government has also allocated another RM70 million to implement the Shop Malaysia Online initiative, the second e-commerce initiative under PENJANA that will run for two months from August this year.

The Shop Malaysia Online initiative is designed to spur economic recovery by stimulating online consumption through digital vouchers for the consumers.

MSMEs and local businesses who are interested to participate in the MSME E-commerce Campaign may register at www.go-ecommerce.my/PENJANA. Small businesses and individuals with and without business registrations are also eligible to participate in this campaign.



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