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Thousands of people will throng Sydney’s streets for Vivid 2015, which opens this weekend.

Vivid Sydney: contemporary art – or just a bright night out?

Vivid Sydney draws larger crowds each year and when it opens this weekend, the streets will be packed. Are events like Vivid Sydney and Paris' Nuit Blanche artistically valuable – or just a lot of fun?
One of four koalas on loan to Singapore Zoo, where they were unveiled to the public on Wednesday May 20. Qantas Airways

Koalas, platypuses and pandas and the power of soft diplomacy

Four female koalas have just made their debut in front of an adoring public at Singapore Zoo – the latest in a long line of animals used for diplomatic purposes, going back to Winston the platypus.
What exactly are our current global character designs communicating? Juliana Cuervo

21st-century character designs reflect our concerns, as always

Characters are designed to respond to specific concerns relative to time and context. But as we move deeper into the 21st century, what are those concerns, and how do they differ from those in the 20th century?
Zannoni’s 1771 Map of the British Isles shows the heart of the “civilised” world – at least according to Adam Smith when he was writing The Wealth of Nations. Wikimedia Commons/Geographicus Rare Antique Maps

Savage peoples: the racism of Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations

To burnish the virtues of "civilised" Europe, Adam Smith relies on a barrage of racial insults. Where did his information about the so-called "savage peoples" come from in the first place?
Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott are firm advocates of human rights when Australians are executed but not when asylum seekers are involved. AAP/Lukas Coch

Hard line on refugees undermines principled opposition to execution

In condemning Indonesia's execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, Australia has relied on the same human rights obligations that it rejects when applied to asylum seekers.
‘Let me try and put sacked SBS sports journalist Scott McIntyre’s tweets in historical perspective.’ EPA/Sedat Suna

Anzacs behaving badly: Scott McIntyre and contested history

It is naïve to expect men to kill and die for their country, to live through the horrors of a particularly barbaric war, and to come out the other end unscathed – despite our popular myths.
Livestock wagon with Armenians in the Summer or Autumn 1915. Historisches Institut der Deutschen Bank, Frankfurt.

Join the dots between Gallipoli and the Armenian genocide

In 1915 and 1916, the Ottoman Armenians were destroyed as an organised community and more than one million of their number were killed – just as the Allies' failed invasion of Gallipoli took place.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the spiritual and political head of IS, is a clever theologian and Qur’anic artisan. EPA/Islamic State Video

Believe it or not, we could actually learn something from Islamic State

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the spiritual and political head of IS, is a clever theologian and Qur’anic artisan. We would do well to better our own interfaith theological understanding.
A fantasy about free markets in primitive society lies at the heart of Adam Smith’s wealth of nations – but did they ever exist? Steve Rhodes/Flickr

The myth that holds Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations together

The myth that our primitive forebears were capitalists at heart is fundamental to Adam Smith's arguments in The Wealth of Nations.
Three of the seven seats in the High Court of Australia will soon be filled by women judges. Lukas Coch/AAP

Two-for-one: a good new High Court judge, and a woman to boot

Now that women will make up 40% of High Court judges come June 2015, is gender now irrelevant? Hardly. Women have made up slightly less than 10% of all High Court judges in the court’s history.
Coal seam gas has proved a hot topic ahead of the NSW election, not only on the campaign trail but also on social media, where a ‘social mood reader’ can reveal the depth of community feeling. NewZulu/Tony Markham/AAP

Finding new ways to track voters' moods, beyond polls and punters

Beyond polls and betting markets, how else can we gauge how people feel ahead of future elections? Social media is a goldmine, and one of the newer ways to tap into it is with a "social mood reader".
Archival photographs such as the above, from Gallipoli, are one resource documentary makers draw upon to communicate understandings of historical events. Australian War Memorial/Flickr

Who tells our stories? The first world war on the small screen

War history used to be brought to TV audiences by donnish lecturers but historical reconstructions now hold sway. Two recent docos about Gallipoli are hybrid examples of the form that help us better understand the past.
Rio Tinto’s Mount Thorley-Warkworth mine in the Hunter Valley, which looks set to expand further. The NSW planning department says it would “not be reasonable” to require Rio Tinto “to completely or even partially backfill the final void”. Lock The Gate Alliance/Flickr

Disused mines blight New South Wales, yet the approvals continue

There are hundreds of derelict mine sites across New South Wales – and the state planning department has admitted it is "not aware of the total size" of large mining voids currently being left behind.
China’s government says it plans to tackle smog, but has also moved to shut down criticism on the issue in the wake of a popular online documentary. EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL

China’s ‘Silent Spring’ has many more political hurdles to jump

Under the Dome, a hugely popular online documentary about China's smog crisis, could be as influential as 1962's US pesticide exposé Silent Spring - but only if Chinese officials allow debate to flourish.

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