Great Barrier Reef, Asylum Seekers, Sharks, USA, Assange, Attenborough, Carbon Pricing, Oceans, Noel Pearson etc
September 2, 2012
OCEANS: A recent book Ocean of Life: How Our Seas are Changing by Callum Roberts (Allen Lane) has received good reviews. The oceans are so unexplored and unknown in many respects, but their resources are not inexhaustible and are integral to our lives and survival. The author paints a frightening and comprehensive picture of what has already been lost - coral, ocean megafauna, fish stocks etc., and the future challenges. But Roberts also discusses positive ways to counteract some of the losses – with protected marine areas, bans on many forms of fishing, and global regulatory mechanisms. But despite marine ecosystems being capable of rapid recovery, the world is “living on borrowed time”.
Let’s hope Australia’s newly declared and extensive marine areas are to be adequately protected.
The new CEO for Greenpeace Australia Pacific David Ritter has expressed astonishment – as have many of us – that the Australian Government could be giving the go-ahead for the aptly named Alpha coal mine (co-owned by Gina Rinehart) to build a rail link and one of the world’s largest coal ports ON Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef. The many environmental concerns are to be managed by “strict operating conditions”. Sure. After living in Europe, Ritter wonders how Australia could commit to such an old fashioned development involving fossil fuels which is so likely to endanger the Great Barrier Reef?
You can visit the Greenpeace site to protest should you want to.
SHARKS: Apparently there is a new shark app providing ocean observatories through a wave glider robot of mapping technology for Great White Sharks where numbers can be assessed, and one can “interact” with “Chomp, Mr. Burns, Little John” etc! I’m terrified of sharks and will NOT be watching.
FISH: Protest against the super trawler Margiris (renamed the Abel Tasman!) fishing in Australian waters on a huge scale for small pelagic fish which are critical in our marine ecosystem. There is now widespread opposition to this 142 metre vessel which will probably vacuum up “by-catch” of other sea creatures indiscriminately. The trawler is licensed to catch 18,000 tonnes of fish which is 5% of total stocks from a huge area that stretches from southern Queensland, around Tasmania, and across to Western Australia. Sign the Greenpeace petition here to stop the super trawler.
ASYLUM SEEKERS: Many boats with asylum seekers have been making the dangerous journey to Australia. At least 100 drowned last week and there wasn’t even a national outcry, with drownings now seemingly commonplace. Both major political parties have been in a “race to the bottom” over this issue to demonise these people. New laws have stripped away their human rights and these inaccurately described “illegal immigrants” are now likely to be locked away out of sight and processed off-shore on a barren Pacific island (Nauru), or a malaria-infested island (Manus Island in PNG) for unspecified periods. Both these previously used centres are in shocking condition and one wonders why the money could not be invested more wisely in the welfare of these desperate people. This is similar to ex PM John Howard’s Pacific Solution where most people were eventually resettled in Australia, but many with long lasting mental problems. 70-90% of them were found to be genuine refugees. Australians, I am ashamed to say, have not been compassionate or welcoming.
There has been a fascinating television program called Go Back To Where You Come From on SBS where people with diverse views were actually sent to Kabul in Afghanistan, and Mogadishu in Somali to witness for themselves the conditions that have made refugees flee. The Australians were terrified for their safety. They met an Hazara in Afghanistan who belongs to a small minority of people who have been hounded there for decades. Over 300 of them who reached Australia were returned to Afghanistan by the Australian Government, and some have subsequently been killed. Unfortunately no easy solutions exist, but hopefully after this documentary series more of the Australian population are now a little better informed and more sympathetic.
The UNHCR estimates there are 42 million refugees worldwide and Australia’s yearly intake is 180,000.
The polls have slightly improved for our embattled Prime Minister – by playing to our prejudices by being tough on asylum seekers, cleverly wedging the Opposition leader on carbon pricing, and talking about important if unfunded policies – a National Disabilities insurance scheme, education reform and dental care.
While the Australian economy has been one of the best performing in the world, there is now talk that our commodities boom is coming to an end, with a fall in prices for iron ore, and a slow down of the Chinese economy. The deposed PM Kevin Rudd has worryingly reappeared lately with a few strategic appearances.
DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: David was recently in Australia and his live performances sold out in minutes. In an interview he said that about 10 years ago it was apparent from scientific data that global warming/climate change was real, and today I think it must be very hard for any reasonably intelligent person to argue that this is untrue and not want to do something about it. At 86 he has 70 documentaries to his credit, and still looks handsome, although he hobbled a little which he blamed on injuries sustained while climbing Mount Gower on our Lord Howe Island several years ago.
The arctic ice cap has shrunk to the lowest level yet recorded.
WATER: It seems the world will not have the water to feed the expected 9 billion people by 2050. A vegetarian diet may be the solution as animal protein rich food consumes 5-10 times more water. At present 1/3rd of the world’s arable land is used to grow crops to feed animals!
ELECTRICITY PRICES: For those wanting to blame our high Australian electricity bills on the recent carbon tax, I am again pointing out that there has been an 80% increase between 2007 and 2012 (and a cold winter!)
CARBON PRICING SCHEMES: From 2013, carbon pricing schemes are expected to be operating in at least 33 countries and 18 states and provinces. These schemes will cover about 850 million people, about 30% of the global economy and about 20% of global emissions. This includes US states and Chinese provinces. Very recently, the Australian Government has scrapped the floor price for carbon and will join our emissions scheme to the European Union by 2015. I presume this is a good move and it does blunt the Opposition’s criticism that we are “going it alone” and are economically disadvantaged.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Despite their protestations, the Australia Government has not supported Julian Assange and seemingly lies about what it does or doesn’t know about US intentions. On a television program (Four Corners on the ABC) a few weeks ago it was very apparent the “charges” against Assange in Sweden were non-existent – mere accusations centred around not using a condom. Julian offered to discuss this matter while in Sweden and was allowed to leave the country. He should be very concerned about extradition to the US where Bradley Manning has spent 800+ days in jail without trial.
Julian should not be surprised by the fierce American opposition to himself and WikiLeaks after his exposures which I support, although I hope no identified “informants” were subsequently murdered. However I do not support his relationship with both Russia and Ecuador which are two countries with appalling track records regarding freedom of the press.
PUSSY RIOT: I want to acknowledge these three brave and articulate girls that have been jailed for 2 years for protesting about increasing restrictions in Putin’s Russia and his intolerance to any dissent. While their performance in a church was provocative, it was appropriate given the Orthodox Church’s political support for Putin.
BURMA: congratulations on the lifting of press censorship…..
US: Paul Ryan is an interesting choice for Romney’s running mate although he actually gives Obama more of a target – as Maureen Dowd commented “He’s the cutest package that cruelty ever came in”. The poor or disadvantaged have to become “more self-reliant”, while the rich get richer and have 80% of the wealth. Apparently over time this has produced a two-tier society where children of the rich go to the best colleges, and subsequently get the best jobs, leaving most others permanently disadvantaged. While polls are close between Romney and Obama, apparently Australians would choose Obama by a 14 to 1 margin – even 64% of conservative voters.
This is partly a hang-over from the Bush/Howard years and the still lingering negativity towards both of them over the Iraq war which cost $US3 trillion, resulted in many deaths and has ended up with Iraq allied with Iran. South Africa’s Desmond Tutu recently said that Bush and Blair should face the International Criminal Court. Don’t forget John Howard!
I was not impressed with the cloyingly sentimental testimonials at the Republican convention or Clint Eastwood’s bizarre performance. Not surprisingly there was no acknowledgement of the economic and foreign affairs mess Obama inherited from Bush, while Paul Ryan has been accused of making “false or distorted” statements. I hope Michelle Obama and the Democrats play it a little cooler…
Growth in the US is only 2% but share prices have risen 20% which is one of various indicators encouraging for Obama’s re-election, although 8.2% unemployment is not. It is anticipated that the US will be energy self-sufficient in a few years from shale gas and oil. No doubt, like in Australia, the short and long term effects of all this mining – on communities, food agricultural land, and water tables, has not been scientifically tested.
RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT: Australia is being left behind in R & D and for the first time the Asian region surpassed the Americas in its investment – $518 billion to $512 billion. China spends 6 times more than Australia does – and our scientists are collaborating on carbon capture technology for power plants, climate change modelling, stem cell medical research, solar voltaic materials and disease transmission from animals to humans.
MIDDLE EAST: In EGYPT the new President seems have asserted himself and one wonders how and when the Generals will fight back….while SYRIA seems to be “exploding” rather than just “imploding” while the world watches impotently. 100,000 Syrians fled last month. The new UN “Peace” envoy to Syria thinks his job is “nearly impossible”. There were a few more Australian soldier deaths in Afghanistan, and with such a brazenly corrupt government, local warlords and the Taliban lurking, the sooner we stop the charade and leave the country the better.
When I woke up the other day, the news was that the Syrian government forces were shooting their own people from helicopters as they queued for bread, more asylum seekers drowned on their way to Australia, and some beheadings in Afghanistan. What sort of world do we live in?
ISRAEL: The historian Tom Segev warns that the Arab and ultra orthodox populations in Israel are growing, and that this is “ the main reason I think we should leave the occupied territories. Those Israelis who built Israel as a Jewish and democratic country are becoming a minority”. He was quoted in an article by John Lyons in The Australian which went on to say that “Children were taught that when Israel was established in 1948 it had been empty – it was a land without people for a people without land. Historians (like Segev) have demolished the myth with documents showing almost half the Arabs who left were forced out, many violently”. This is similar to the myth of ‘terra nullius” in relation to the Aboriginal people in Australia, and the subsequent British colonisation.
We have to remember that many Israelis are also concerned about the military occupation of the Palestinians and realise that the settlements are designed to make peace with the Palestinians impossible. An organisation of veteran Israeli soldiers called Breaking the Silence have compiled a report from soldiers’ testimonies relating to the wounding and killing of Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza. This follows two other reports that detail multiple violations of international law by Israel in its treatment of children.
I did read a worrying article in Vanity Fair about Netanyahu, which despite his comfortable majority in the Knesset is described as “moving forward by standing still” and is now “unrelentingly cautious”. His wife Sara apparently “runs the show”, and the media has been neutralised with the assistance of two American billionaires.
So is Israel preparing to go to war with Iran over their nuclear program -or merely threatening for the benefit of the US where the Presidential elections are another complicating factor? Apparently Israel, unlike the US, do not have the weapons it needs to penetrate Iran’s underground nuclear facilities.
The US sold a record $US66.3 billion of arms sales overseas last year.
NOEL PEARSON: In Australia it is hard to work out Noel Pearson, a very intelligent and articulate Aboriginal. He is the architect of the Government’s flawed and controversial Intervention in Aboriginal communities – a one size paradigm NOT fitting all by any means, and imposed originally with no community consultation. The Intervention has rare bi-partisan support which suits both political parties as most policies and vast amounts of money have seen little improvement for Aboriginal people over many years. Recently there has been a glut of information about Pearson in both major papers, and I can’t work out why. Unfortunately he seems to have become autocratic, untouchable, and foul mouthed. His central idea is that the welfare dependency of many Aboriginal people is counter productive, and it is undoubtedly ultimately demoralising. Unfortunately the Intervention has led to the discontinuation of many worthwhile programs Aboriginals themselves initiated in their own communities. Pearson’s chosen communities and projects in Queensland, however, ironically seem particularly awash with government funding. Scrutiny or criticism is treated with contempt, and it is hard to measure any actual achievements as yet. While one must applaud genuine attempts to counter Aboriginal disadvantage, some of his ideas do seem paternalistic and a hangover from the Mission days. I do support various ideas and projects however, including encouragement for people to have their own gardens and grow their own vegetables. Make up your own mind.
MISC STATS: Facebook 955 million users but the share price halved; Apple worth $622 billion; 100 million deaths in the world from smoking each year and Australia has $200 million invested in Big Tobacco in our Future Fund; 80% fewer koalas on the east coast of Australia because of urban development; 1/3rd more tigers killed in India this year.
READERS: As readers, my generation, (and a little older and a little younger), have been “spectators” in a sense and are fast becoming an eccentric minority. Now consumers are more “participants” through Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc. More people are now into this constant flow of information and other stimulation. Are they afraid of silence? When is the “quiet” time, or the time for reflection? Planning? Thinking?
SMH: Over 70 journalists and writers have taken redundancy packages and left my favourite newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald. This can only have a detrimental effect on the standard of the newspaper, although several of you have complained in the past about the sources for news and commentary that I rely on!
JOHN RALSTON SAUL: In an essay Saul asks “When did saving a bank become more important than saving a country?” I particularly liked some of his ideas as I grapple to understand the effects of the “solutions” to the GFC and the future for countries such as Greece, Spain etc. in the European Union. Saul is amazed as “those who have produced the failure press on”. He sees a failure of imagination, and an illiterate leadership. He challenges the policies of austerity and growth, and asks when did austerity ever historically lead to prosperity? He discusses the destructive attitudes to public debt and wonders about the primary obligation to the well being of citizens. He is not surprised by the return of popularism, xenophobia and fear. He says there is a production surplus and the problem is that it is distributed unfairly. We must “move on to ideas of social and economic well being not dependent on growing consumption”. Read the full article from the SMH here.
FELINE FILM FESTIVAL: Apparently over 10,000 people attended this recent outdoor event in Minneapolis to view 79 selected entries. Apparently 10 million cat videos are on the internet! The winner of the Golden Kitty award was Will Braden’s existential Henri 2: Paw de Deux and it is just marvellous! He certainly understands cats.
Carbon Price, GFC, Assange, Rio, The World, Middle East, Asylum Seekers, Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Census etc
July 1, 2012
CARBON PRICE: Congratulations to Australia for the July Ist implementation of the Carbon and Mineral taxes. Both issues have cost the careers and credibility of several political leaders in Australia already, and (unfairly) damaged the reputation of the PM. The Opposition, temporarily silenced by our extraordinary annual growth rate of 4.3%, has been campaigning against it and frightening people for years now. It is actually a carbon price, not a tax, and will transition to an Emissions Trading Scheme in 3 years. It only applies to our top 300 emitters, and has inbuilt and quite generous compensations. The Opposition have promised to rescind both taxes if elected to office next year (which unfortunately seems likely), but hopefully this will be very difficult. They have an alternative “Direct Action” policy on carbon which no-one seems to take seriously. It is admittedly a very complex subject to fully understand and is an example of an issue that requires real leadership and education. It should have bi-partisan support as in the UK and New Zealand. Even if one does not believe in climate change, who can deny that our water and air are unacceptably polluted and that we have to look for alternatives to our 95% dependence on fossil fuels.
Apparently 85% of the businesses likely to be most effected by the new carbon tax have already acted to decrease their emissions, so it is already having an effect, and they accept that the carbon tax is here to stay. Unfortunately the Opposition’s threat to unwind the tax is creating investment uncertainty. The carbon price is $23 per tonne – which is in the middle compared to a lower price in Europe, and higher in Sweden, Norway and Switzerland. A reasonably high price is needed to encourage the transition from coal to renewables.
The Opposition (and miners) have said that these taxes will force businesses to invest elsewhere. The Shell company however, still thinks Australia is a “good place to invest” and will spend $30 billion dollars here over the next five years. The company advocates a price for carbon based on market mechanism, and have costed in a price of $40 per tonne.
Electricity prices have risen 55% in my State over the last 3 years, apparently because of the cost of building “lines and poles” that I understand the government reimburses the energy companies for. The network seems very expensively structured just to be able to handle the few and obvious peak consumer demands. While the new tax and the government will be blamed for our already high electricity prices which are anticipated to rise 9%, the most vulnerable people in the community will be compensated. Already households are becoming much more energy conscious, and the demand is already lower.
Energy accounts for 70% of greenhouse gases and a great deal more money needs to be spent on research into alternatives and renewable energies – while “carbon capture” at this stage remains a remote dream. Australia is exporting $44 billion dollars worth of coal this year!
JAMES LOVELOCK: Interestingly, James Lovelock, the 92 year old scientist, futurist, and inventor of the Gaia hypothesis (that the Earth is a self-regulating, single organism), has surprised environmentalists by his long support for the use of nuclear energy and hatred of wind power. He has now come out in favour of fracking for extracting natural gas as it produces much less CO2 than burning coal. He thinks most renewable energy schemes are hopelessly “inefficient and unpleasant”, and that sustainable development is “meaningless drivel”. He envisages a future where we live in megacities. He gives Singapore (one of my least favourite cities) as an example of a very successful city which was built in a humid and inhospitable climate on a swamp. “It’s so much cheaper to air-condition the cities and let Gaia take care of the world”.
It is hard to support nuclear energy in the shadow of Fukushima. Apparently the supports for the pool containing the spent fuel rods in Nuclear Reactor 4 are very badly damaged, and is a catastrophe just waiting to happen. Radiation levels in fish have been picked up as far away as the US coast, destroying marine life – and livelihoods, for decades to come. TEPCO have deceived the Japanese public from the start and are to be sued for many billions of dollars in compensation. I feel hypocritical however as Australia supplies 16% of the world’s uranium.
RIO+20: One wonders if summits or events like this and the failure rate, only build public cynicism. Only 4 of 70 “targets” from the last Rio Summit 20 years ago were met. Meetings on the sidelines were probably more useful and people are recommending abandoning attempts to get governments to agree, and to take different approaches such as persuading financial institutions to change how they invest money, like the UN- backed Principles for Responsible Investment.
MARINE PARKS: Australia has proposed a giant network of marine parks –the world’s largest marine protection area, which still leaves 2/3rds of our oceans for fishing, recreation etc. Oceans are the life-support system of the planet. Naturally this proposal is contentious and illuminates a philosophical difference between the political Left and Right (a divide that seems to be widening rapidly). The conservatives seem to see the environment as a resource for them to utilise, consume and yes, enjoy, while the Left lean more towards treading lightly on the earth, and derive pleasure in long-term conservation and protection.
SHOOTERS: The newish conservative NSW State government has done a shady deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party to allow shooting in 79 National Parks and reserves. This is supposedly an important “conservation” initiative against feral animals, although experts say this is ridiculous, indeed counterproductive. One of the MPs from this party Robert Borsak goes hunting in Zimbabwe to proudly shoot elephants, also as part of a “conservation” program. His fellow MP Robert Brown, in a debate over this issue in Parliament, said to a Green MP it was a pity he couldn’t take him outside and “beat him to death”.
THE WORLD: The ongoing Global Financial Crisis seems to deepen and some commentators are saying it is the end- game of an economic and financial model, and the end of an era that began with the free market forces espoused by Thatcher and Reagan. It seems to be now finally recognised that “growth”, not just “austerity” has to be a crucial element in any recovery. In the absence so far of any new or innovative approaches to this grave crisis potentially engulfing us all, I did read of a proposal for a Global Rescue “Marshall” Plan (American assistance to Europe after WW2) that everyone would contribute to. There also now seems to be acceptance that the banks have to evolve as soon as possible towards a single European banking supervision system.
While the US is carrying huge debt, good news is that there is some positive movement in the housing sector, and that the economy is “gaining some momentum”. Congratulations to Mr. Obama for the health-care win in the Supreme Court, and that this result will spread coverage to 30 million Americans presently without insurance.
MIDDLE EAST: It is now called a civil war in SYRIA, and defections from the Syrian army seem to be increasing. Violence is escalating and 16,000 Syrians have died in the last 15 months. Given the Russian and Chinese intransigence there is now talk of Assad leaving the country under immunity, or “political transition”. Others are questioning the present“veto” option of the 5 Permanent Members of the UN Security Council and think a “majority vote” would be preferable. We should not forget how the UN was just ignored (and weakened) by the US and UK in their enthusiasm to invade Iraq so disastrously. In LIBYA, while the oil is flowing, groups of heavily-armed militias have a sense of entitlement and are taking control from authorities, and there is very little existing social or political infrastructure to build on post-Gaddafi. Congratulations to EGYPT for their first democratically elected President, although no-one seems to know just what powers the Generals will allow him – and no outcry from the Americans over this or the dissolving of the elected parliament. The Israelis are nervous about the threat to revisit the Camp David Accord between Israel and Egypt, and the Americans will no doubt use their continued annual funding of $1.5 billion to secretly bargain in their own interests.
ASYLUM SEEKERS: Yet another boat has sunk en route to Australia with at least 92 drowned, with other boats still arriving. Both the major parties have played politics on this – one determined to cling to office, the other determined to throw them out, and unfortunately both are pandering to Australian racial prejudices and lack of compassion. Some appalled back-benchers of both parties initiated meetings with each other, but Parliament has concluded for the winter recess without a solution. The Greens are opposed to off-shore processing, and this does raise an interesting and very difficult question. Should one stick to one’s principles or be prepared to compromise in the short term – in this instance to save lives? Again it should be an issue for good leadership and bi-partisanship. Australia actually receives a very small percentage of asylum seekers. We take 3%, while the US take 17%, France 12%, Germany 10%, and Canada 6%. The number one country of origin at the moment is Afghanistan and these people are demonised when they try to reach Australia, although we are fighting the same “enemy” in Afghanistan.
THE INTERVENTION: While we were all diverted by the asylum seeker crisis, or watching Wimbledon, the Senate in the dead of night shamefully passed a 10 year extension to the highly-criticised Intervention in Aboriginal communities. Of course THIS issue has bi-partisan support, and the government did not even allow a Parliamentary Committee to subject the laws to a human rights test. The Labor Party do test my patience and support to the absolute limit, but the alternatives, in my opinion, are much worse!
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: As you have probably gathered the SMH is my favourite paper and I am often quoting from it. It is under threat. They have lost their fabled “rivers of gold” classified advertisements which have mostly moved online and earn much less. One has to suspect that Rupert Murdoch’s splitting of News Corp into Print and Entertainment companies may be a protection against the repercussions of the UK phone hacking scandal. In Australia he owns 70% of the print media, so many of us rely on the mostly good and objective reporting of the Sydney Morning Herald, or The Age in Melbourne. However, Gina Rinehart now nearly the richest person in the world has bought 18.7% of the Fairfax company that owns the SMH and has no compunction in throwing her considerable weight around. The company has not been well run, but Gina has far Right political views and a determination to defeat the elected government, a view that seems to be shared by Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers. The issue has raised very interesting questions about editorial influence, media controls, and the life expectancy of printed papers versus online readership where already 75% of SMH readers have moved. My 90 year old mother is furious and not sure she can make the transition to Apps and iPads – not that I have!
50% of people now get their news through social media and I fear news will be reduced to tweets!
CENSUS: Australia’s 2011 census figures have been released. There are now 21.5 million Australians with 548,370 identifying as Aboriginal. Our average age expectancy is for men 76 (Aboriginal men 67.2), and women 84 (Aboriginal women 72.9). Mandarin has now replacing Italian as the second most used language at home. While Hinduism is the fastest growing religion, “No religion” replaces Protestantism as the second “religion”, behind Catholicism, although their numbers are dropping. This is hardly surprising with the appalling scandals emanating from the Vatican with accusations of drug money laundering, death threats and their failure to address child abuse by clergy.
JULIAN ASSANGE: I’m not sure how he envisaged getting from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and to the airport without arrest for breaking his parole conditions, even if Ecuador offer him asylum. He is ignoring the recent “Surrender Notice”. I would agree that the US Grand Jury most probably has a sealed indictment against him. Apparently poor Bradley Manning has been trying not to implicate Julian over the information he provided to WikiLeaks, and he has virtually sacrificed his life, possibly naively, in the interests of freedom of information. Bradley has been psychologically tortured in solitary confinement, and the US are most likely hoping to make a deal with him to then move on Julian. Apparently the US cannot attempt to extradite him from the UK because the Swedish case takes precedent, as may a “bid for asylum” over “extradition”. See Julian Assange’s interview with President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa here.
The Australian Government seems to be just going through the motions of pretending to care for Assange. He says he has not seen any Australian consular staff since December 2010 – and just gets the occasional text message: “can we do anything for Mr. Assange?” A friend, a little miffed on behalf of the people that have lost their bail surety asks “what exactly is Julian expecting the Australian consular staff to do?”
MISC STATS: There is now LESS social mobility in the UK, and LESS economic mobility in the US where 2 million people are in jail; the Indian economy is slowing; 5 million children smoke in Indonesia; in Australia, 58% think Australia should remain a constitutional monarchy (the Queen looked as if she nearly enjoyed her Jubilee – I’ve got nothing against her personally); 3% of our top ASX 200 companies have female executives and there is only a 14% female representation on boards; there is an obesity epidemic (Nauru 1st, USA 9th, Australia 21st), and we are fast catching up. All our well known billionaires are huge – Rhinehart, Packer, Palmer, Forrest, and Tinkler – is this indicative of their rapacious appetites and attitude to life and our environment?
While 1 billion people live in poverty, the world produces twice as much food as we need.
MAIL: Thanks to Elaine for these photographs (above) and to the photographers concerned, and Jade my Ecuadorian correspondent. Thanks to Deb for the amazing images she sends me too. Several people commented on Ricky Gervais saying in the lead into the BBC interview about Christian (May blog), that animals were not there for our amusement. He was in the studio to promote his latest program Life’s Too Short - and I don’t think dwarves are there for our amusement either. For the record, I have never found him funny.
BIENNALE: The 18th of Biennale of Sydney has opened (above) and is spread around the city in various venues with artists from all over the world – until September 16th.
Tracey Moffatt, Nick Brandt, Aboriginal Intervention, Middle East, Politics, Bob Brown, George Soros, Energy, Africa, Animal Works, Reading, Watching, Listening etc
April 23, 2012
I can’t wait to see another exhibition of the superb photographs of East African animals and landscapes by Nick Brandt. The exhibition will also include new releases of his iconic images and will be on exhibition in Brisbane 18-29 April 2012 at 19 James Street, Fortitude Valley and 19-27 May, Shapiro Galleries 62 Queen Street, Woollahra in Sydney. While the photographs are so beautiful, there is an inherent sadness and poignancy – much of what we see is vanishing.
After a rainy summer we are having a lovely “Indian summer”, although the nights are beginning to get colder. I saw a black snake this week on my afternoon walk however and I am very much looking forward to them hibernating. I envy all of you in the Northern hemisphere now going into spring, especially after what seems to have been a very cold winter.
I am writing this awkwardly with one of my cats on the desk half lying on the key board – a favourite position of his I wouldn’t dream of interfering with. His sister prefers to watch television. I have been answering emails (tardily – post a virus and subsequent new laptop) from many of you through both the blog and the website and I am just amazed at the interest in Christian and the emotion he still generates. Please keep sending me stories about your own animals, or YouTube links of cats (or dogs!), or what Christian means to you. I’m sure we are building an invaluable archive.
Madeline recently emailed me and said Christian’s story had been “life changing” for her, and I’d love her to describe exactly how. It has been for me – twice – once when we met him, and now again with the YouTube phenomenon of the last few years.
For more works included in The Animal Show see here.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Jeffrey Masson and his young family when they were in Sydney. We visited the recently renovated Museum of Contemporary of Art Australia – as have 4600 people a day. Walking through the museum I talked far too much about artists I know and love – including Tracey Moffatt, Gordon Bennett, Daniel Boyd, Ildako Kovacs, Jon Lewis and Tim Johnson. We watched some of Christian Marclay’s The Clock – 24 hours literally through references to the time in films. Jeffrey’s young sons couldn’t see the point of it – where was the story? It was more a labour of love/research exercise/editing triumph – although of course one is amused by some of the clips. Jack Nicholson singing?
TRACEY MOFFATT: I do think Tracey Moffatt has done much more interesting, amusing and moving works with her Found Film montages. They “go somewhere, and say something”. In New York there is about to be a Tracey Moffatt Film Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art with a Public Talk by Tracey at 7pm on May 7th. Her quite rare and clever public appearances are usually “performances” not to be missed! It has been fascinating watching her career unfold, and she entirely deserves this extraordinary honour, and Australia should be very proud of her.
Over coffee and tea in the new roof-top cafe with stunning harbour views, Jeffrey Masson asked me to recount Christian’s story to his sons. I would have preferred to hear more from him – he gave me tantalising snippets of new research in the field of animal behaviour, and we will just have to keep reading his blogs and wait for his next publication.
Images of ancient Aboriginal rock art can now be seen online with other great galleries of the world through Google’s Art Project and Griffith University.
ABORIGINAL INTERVENTION: Before animal welfare and rights issues again become more prominent in my life, my prime concern had been the inequality of life and social injustice suffered by most Aborigines in Australia. I worked in the field of Aboriginal art as a curator as it began to fascinate the world in the 1980s and 1990s. I met many artists, made many friends, and regularly visited remote Aboriginal communities. While these years have been the most interesting and probably the most important of my career, and Aboriginal art has rightly been recognised as one of the most extraordinary and important art movements in the world in the twentieth century, it is depressing to say, apart from some major achievements, conditions for most Aboriginal people have not improved, indeed may have deteriorated.
While I may complain about the behaviour of other countries (for example Israel and their systematic encroachment house by house of Palestinian land), my own country Australia has been criticised just as severely in UN reports for human rights abuses on our original inhabitants.
Without going into a detailed account of our tragic settler/Aboriginal history, my bete noire then PM John Howard suddenly over one weekend it seemed, invented THE INTERVENTION into Aboriginal communities, ostensibly over child abuse. This was the same PM who in 2000 cleverly derailed a fleeting window of opportunity for meaningful reconciliation between black and white Australians when 300,000 people walked over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. He also derailed a movement towards Australia becoming a Republic.
This Intervention was a misguided and ultimately unsuccessful vote catcher for red-necks for an upcoming election which I was thrilled he lost – even ignominiously losing his own seat. Because of the difficult nature of Aboriginal issues, it is one of the few subjects that have bi-partisan support (like our alliance with the US where we obediently follow them into any dumb war going). The incoming government continued this paternalistic intervention and intends to extend it.
According to an Aboriginal friend in the Northern Territory, the situation in her community has just got worse and many of their own initiatives and efforts of self determination have been shelved. Consequently I attended the showing of a film “Living the Intervention” followed by a panel discussion with Aboriginal community representatives and John Pilger among others. The Intervention was imposed without ANY consultation with the communities at all. This immediately alienated many of them, and of course they had no opportunity to express what needs and assistance they knew their communities urgently required – from a police presence, to adequate housing, education etc.
The Intervention is a “one size fits all” which is not tailored to the very different circumstances in various communities. One has to admit that some aspects have the support of some people and some communities – which may include alcohol restrictions or income quarantining. But various aspects contravene UN Human Rights, and the Intervention has also been described as yet another land grab with ‘leases’ of 40 or 90 years on land, and I don’t understand how these leases co-exist with the Land Rights Act of 1976.
“We don’t just want solidarity (from white people) – we want action” – Galiwinku elder
John Pilger urged a march on Canberra to bang on doors (which sounded curiously old fashioned) while others spoke about disunity among Aboriginal leaders or that several of them were regarded as apologists. I’m old enough to have witnessed the effective leadership and charisma of the late Charles Perkins for example, and I’m wondering when some new voices will emerge.
The government is not interested in maintaining the out-station movement where in the 1970s smaller Aboriginal family/clan groups returned to live on their ancestral land and people were much happier and healthier. The government has specified “growth centres” where Aborigines will be forced to move to. There is no easy answer and conditions were bad before the Intervention. It is expensive to deliver all the services that as Australian citizens (only since 1967!) Aborigines are entitled to – but there is no economic base and limited employment prospects for many of these communities.
For a good news story and a dramatic turnaround in a troubled remote Aboriginal community called Wadeye, see Nicolas Rothwell’s A township reborn under a spreading tree in The Australian April 7-8 (page 19 Inquirer). I think it can still be viewed if you have a subscription to the The Australian online. Many factors have contributed: imaginative Aboriginal leadership mindful of traditions; a new style of governance; local employment; intensive public funding; and strict discipline, especially for anyone hoping to play with the Wadeye Magic, now a leading Australian Rules football team. Many other remote communities aren’t so lucky and at the moment there is an appalling epidemic of copy cat youth suicides.
Muckaty Station, another remote Aboriginal community, risks being the site for Australia’s nuclear waste dump despite opposition from most of the traditional owners in the community. Again with rare bi-partisan support the Federal Parliament recently passed the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010. The decision is being challenged in the Federal Court. Jagath Dheerasekara’s photographic series Manuwangku: Under the Nuclear Cloud has been part of FotoFreo in West Australia and will be seen in Sydney as part of the Head On Photo Festival from 1 May.
VALE: Jimmy Little the first Aboriginal to receive mainstream success with his music died recently. The recipient of many awards, Jimmy was a tireless worker for the rights and lives of Aboriginal people. He believed in the “soft sell” rather than taking to the streets in protest – “don’t mistake kindness and gentleness for weakness”.
MIDDLE EAST: The charade of the UN truce in Syria is just buying Assad time unfortunately with no cease fire or withdrawal of troops. I don’t think the approximate 27,000 refugees that have fled to Turkey will be returning home soon. 300,000 people have been displaced, and a million people urgently need humanitarian aid. Suburbs of Homs look obliterated. As discussed before, I’ll never understand all the complexities and proxies in relation to Syria – like the relationship between Turkey and Iran, but the Syrian regime seems to be protected by its strategic significance. Apparently the best chance is for a revolt from within the military.
The Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt went to Washington in suits and with Powerpoint Presentations to try and secure ongoing funding, and to reassure the US of their democratic rather than Islamic intentions. One wonders – does the military, with their own agendas, actually act as a useful buffer against extreme Islamification in situations like this? What happened in Turkey? I realise how little I know about the region historically. How did those religious minorities gain iron control over majority populations – for example, Iraq, Yemen and Syria to name just a few. Was this part of a colonial carve up or a divide and rule strategy?
POLITICS: A comment was recently left on the blog saying the Republican Presidential candidates were concerned about environmental issues which I doubt very much and have seen no reports about. Even our conservative politician Malcolm Turnbull described them as influenced by “climate change denialists”. Who is interested in debating issues like abortion or contraception that one thought were dealt with in the 1960s? The only other US Republican issues reported in our press were God and guns, and “moderate” used as a derogatory word.
A recent national poll in Australia reported that we crave ” a leader with a clear vision”.
BOB BROWN: An extraordinary politician Bob Brown resigned unexpectedly this week. He is 67 and has been in the Senate for 16 years. He is a fascinating man: an environmental and anti-war activist also concerned with our treatment of asylum seekers; a doctor who lives with his gay partner; and he has been the rarest of politicians – honest! On many issues he has been the sole conscience of Australia. He has been both naive and wily as a politician. He has taken the Greens Party to a position of unprecedented power in the present hung parliament and with a balance of power in the Senate. However he blocked the original Emissions Trading Scheme in 2010 – missing a unique opportunity when the public were fleetingly in favour of it, and this led to the downfall and replacement of several political leaders.
His “carbon tax” deal with Julia Gillard to form government may ultimately cost her government as it is perceived as her broken election promise. Get over it I say – circumstances change. Two sex scandals and a disgruntled Independent are currently also threatening her slim majority.
Bob’s replacement is an articulate woman called Christine Milne who has been described as hard as “poured concrete” which I’m sure is not a compliment. She seems to have a grasp of economics – and she talks about the sustainable “new” economy. On the unexpected sudden withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan next year (announced on the day after The Taliban attacked Kabul), she said that we should bring our troops home immediately, and the war “had been a failure on all levels”.
GEORGE SOROS: As the SMH said “The eurozone has just ploughed on with the same old set of failed policies” with attention switching from Greece to Spain. Commenting on the European Central Bank George Soros said “the fundamental problems have not been resolved, the gap between creditor and debtor countries continues to widen. The crisis has entered what may be a less volatile but more lethal stage”.
GOLDMAN SACHS: boss Lloyd Blankfein has taken a 35% pay cut – to $US12 million.
ENERGY: The near coast to coast conservative State governments including NSW, Queensland and Victoria are all rushing to embrace mining and coal and gas exploration and “streamline” environmental protections. It’s like a gold rush – and I believe sand will be the next valuable commodity! With big business, these States are challenging and cancelling many schemes supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency. This must discourage investment at a time when other countries are investing heavily.
Interestingly, traditionally conservative land holders are mobilising against the loss of valuable agricultural land, and the untested effects on water tables and resulting contamination from coal seam gas mining.
Conversely, a country like Denmark is aiming at a 100% renewable energy target and I’m trying to understand the differences between “flexible” and “inflexible” power sources, technological advances in thermal power storage for solar and wind, and Smart Grids.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has announced proposed limits on emissions from new coal power plants, encouraging the shift to gas. There is a new boom in energy production in the US and Canada (“the new Middle East”) after recent successful oil and gas exploration, but this also makes it difficult for the development and investment in alternatives such as solar and wind power.
It is forecast that by 2020 the US will not need to import any more foreign oil!
AFRICA: Huge coal deposits and two massive gas fields in Mozambique are indicative of changing scenarios and fortunes in Africa where there are 6 of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies in the past decade. The World Bank predicts economic growth of 5.3%. Africa still has many of the the world’s poorest countries but there are huge infrastructure projects, an expanding middle class and foreign equity scrambling for opportunities in telecom’s, financial services and products. As previously mentioned in an earlier blog, the Chinese have a strong presence (and an unfortunate hunger for ivory). Can we hope for an equitable distribution of wealth or will the “resource curse” (and tribal and “big man” politics) again leave most people worse off than ever.
ANIMAL WORKS: I recently spoke (with other authors) at a fund raiser to support the work of Animal Works primarily in this instance to fight the poaching of rhinos in Zimbabwe. It has been tough for the human population there for an extended period – imagine how the animals have fared. I applaud the efforts of Animal Works –see their website and blog. The dinner was fun and everyone loved Africa so much and shared a concern for it’s wildlife. Botswana was a favourite country to visit. The highlight for me was when I was signing a copy of our book and I asked a girl what name should I write in it – and she said “My name is Katania. My Dad just loved Christian’s story and named me Katania”
So, unexpectedly, I told the story of how the little lioness Katania really was the go between Boy and Christian and contributed to their ultimate friendship. Katania was small enough to go from one compound to another when both bigger lions were at first in separate compounds. When Boy and Christian were finally to meet for the first time, Katania broke the ice after an extended and very tense wait, by going over to Christian and provoking their terrifying introductory fight. Luckily, despite the ferocious roars and paws flaying, this was more show than a deadly contest. Both Christian and Boy adored Katania and George Adamson thought they were both devastated by her disappearance, when she was possibly taken by a crocodile. I also talked about George Adamson and how lucky we were to meet him and observe him, and to experience briefly that extraordinary space he created where the world’s two top predators coexisted harmoniously and communicated deeply with one another.
Can you believe the King of Spain went elephant hunting in Africa?
MAIL: Several of you have asked where the DVD of the 2009 documentary A Lion Called Christian is available for purchase. Disappointingly I’ve never seen it for sale or rent anywhere in the world, but it is available through amazon.co.uk. People also ask me about the photogrphs of Christian. Images can be purchased directly from photographer Derek Cattani (see his gallery on alioncalledchristian.com.au), and the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust holds most of the African photographs. The Born Free Foundation owns the original documentary footage in England and Africa.
READING: I just finished a magnificent book on the founding of Sydney – The Colony, by Grace Karskens. Karskens has retrieved alot of information about the daily lives in early Sydney of convicts, women and Aborigines – and the “middle ground” they all inhabited to a considerable degree with each other. It is comprehensive and fascinating. I also love the ground-breaking work on Aborigines by Keith Vincent Smith, and Inga Clendinnen’s marvellous Dancing with Strangers.
WATCHING: I loved seeing John Waters interviewed recently. He is so funny and insightful. To his surprise he is now regarded as an “insider”, and growing up middle class with “good taste” he knew what was “bad taste”. Andy Warhol’s soup can image killed abstract expressionism, and the Beatles killed Motown. It was Tennessee Williams that showed him that there was a place for people like him – and I too remember being very excited by Night of the Iguana when I was at school – there was a different life out there beyond the stereotypical life on offer. Not that I’ve lived it!
I was rather depressed watching “The Thriller in Manilla” and it has been described as a “hatchet job” on Muhammed Ali. Joe Frazier supported Ali when he had taken a stand against the Vietnam War and couldn’t fight or earn money, but Ali subsequently used effective psychological warfare against him with very ugly racial overtones. Joe still resents this, and he takes pleasure in attributing Ali’s subsequent physical deterioration to this their third fight when either of them could have died. It is an ugly sport.
LISTENING: I just love Adele’s Rolling in the Deep – no wonder she got that extended ovation weeks ago at the Grammys, and I am enjoying other extraordinary voices auditioning for The Voice on television.
Norfolk Island, Reports from CSIRO & OECD, Art, Middle East, Australia, Germaine Greer, Rin Tin Tin, Earth Hour etc
March 29, 2012
NORFOLK ISLAND: The island is breathtakingly beautiful. Driving around much of the island one gasps at the dramatic coastline – which has always made any landing by sea very difficult. It also has rich soil and rural pockets with fat, contented looking cows, and banana trees and palms which give it a Pacific and tropical look. The population is around 1800 but diminishing. A headline in a newspaper recently declared the island had “gone bust”, with the banks foreclosing on various businesses and residences. I think all our holiday destinations are doing it tougher post GFC and with the high Australian dollar. The Foundation Day re-enactment of the landing in March 1788 was both kitsch and moving. History is very much alive there with ongoing resentments between these First Fleeters who arrived with my ancestor Philip Gidley King in March 1788, and Pitcairners, Mutiny on the Bounty survivors, who were relocated to the island in 1856. My ancestor unfortunately was involved – or initiated, the kidnapping of two Maoris to instruct about flax which grew on the island. They lived with Philip Gidley King who promised to return them to the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, which he did months later. This little known episode had very far- reaching consequences, possibly laying the groundwork for the Treaty of Waitangi. I am continuing to research and write about this as I am especially interested in my colonial family interactions with indigenous people.
CSIRO: It seems none of the Republican presidential candidates believe in climate change or renewable energy, not unlike our own conservative politicians. Perhaps they should read the recent report State of the Climate 2012, a review by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology. Australia’s current climate “cannot be explained by natural variability alone” and “multiple lines of evidence show that global warming continues and that human activities are mainly responsible”. Click here for the full and detailed report. The CSIRO is a government body (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) not like the US Heartland Institute which appears to fund climate scepticism through “academics” for hire.
Janet Laurence’s After Eden exhibition/installation at Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Sydney (until 19th May) examines extremely evocatively, through various media, our experiential and cultural relationship with the natural world. Laurence thoughtfully addresses issues such as the destruction of the environment, particularly animals, and notions of healing and caring.
OECD: Another important recent report is from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Environmental Outlook to 2050. As Ross Gittins asks “Do you ever wonder how the environment – the global ecosystem – will cope with the continuing growth in the world population plus the rapid economic development of China, India and various other “emerging economies”? I do. And it’s not a comforting thought”.
To cherry pick some of the points or questions in the report which Gittins writes about: there will be irreversible “tipping points” in climate change, species loss, groundwater depletion and land degradation; since 1970 the world economy has tripled but with significant cost to the environment and natural resources; by 2050 and with a projected extra 2 billion people, with 70% living in cities this “will magnify challenges such as air pollution, transport congestion, and the management of waste and water in slums, with serious consequences for human health; the ability of the resource base to support increasing demands for energy, food, water and other natural resources; 80% more energy will be required with the mix similar to today – 85% fossil fuels, 10% renewable, and 5% nuclear; increased competition for land; global emissions increasing by half and average temperatures increasing by 3 to 6 degrees by the end of the century; loss of biodiversity and 13% less native forests; urban air pollution becoming the top environmental cause of premature death.
Gittins concludes that “the purpose of reports like this is to motivate rather than depress…there are policies we could pursue that made population growth and rising material living standards compatible with environmental sustainability”.
MIDDLE EAST ETC
SYRIA: 15th March marked one year of the “Syrian uprising” and 9100 deaths later, even Russia is finally growing impatient with Assad and talking about desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Governments have a “responsibility to protect” its citizens, but there are allegations of the use of torture on both sides. The opposition, which I think was originally peaceful, is now running out of ammunition, which coupled with their disunity, will unfortunately give Assad heart to continue his violent repression. Assad has promised to abide by Kofi Annan’s recent peace proposal, also supported (finally) by Russia and China, although it is difficult to believe him and not to be pessimistic.
AFGHANISTAN: Everybody’s patience – both within and without the country – seems to have run out over Afghanistan. I remember in the early 2000s the Taliban were very much in retreat, and our dumb governments left to invade Iraq – one Australian remained there!
I actually saw the ex PM John Howard in the street the other day and felt like accosting him for the many reasons I felt he failed Australia. However he looked so small, old (if chipper), and ordinary – and was just ignored or unrecognised on the street – so I let an encounter I had dreamed about pass…
Not surprisingly, up to 31% of US combat veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder – many of them after repeated deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Quite a percentage even end up homeless.
As a timely reminder of the sophistication and cultural legacy of the region, a unique exhibition has travelled to Australia for the first time, from the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. Love and devotion; from Persia and Beyond consists of nearly 70 rare 13th to 18th century Persian, Mughal Indian and Ottoman Turkish illustrated manuscripts and miniatures. Guest co-curator Susan Scollay gave an extremely interesting lecture on the exhibition at the AGNSW, with another on the 17th April for those of us unable to make it to the State Library of Victoria (until 1st July).
IRAN: A classified war simulation exercise forecasts that a strike on Iran by Israel would be “perilous” for the US and lead to a wider regional war. I applaud the Israeli and Iranian online campaign to exchange messages of friendship and love. “I wish we both get rid of our idiot politicians”.
ISRAEL: A UN Human Rights Council is to launch an investigation into the impact of Israel’s settlement construction on the human rights of Palestinians. Israel was quick to say it would not allow access to the country. Issues include (in some instances and areas): prohibition of Palestinians to build new homes or renovate, and demolition of houses; no access to roads or electricity; hundreds of checkpoints; Israeli settler violence (incidences tripled in three years); and last year almost 10,000 mainly olive trees were damaged, severely affecting the livelihood of hundreds of Palestinian families.
There is a marvellous exhibition Lewin:Wild Art at the State Library of NSW. John Lewin was one of the first professional artists in the colony of Sydney at a time in the early 1800s when collectors in Europe were hungry for images and examples of flora and fauna from our part of the world. I see this giant flower growing in southern Sydney and it is about to flower.
PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Our conservative Coalition in Australia behave as if the nation is on the brink of bankruptcy, but our Reserve Bank Governor recently said at an investment conference in Hong Kong (and reported in the SMH), that unlike nearly all other countries, our economy “suffered only a relatively mild downturn in 2008-09, made up the loss within months, and had continued to expand ever since”. However our high dollar had fed a “sense of concern in some parts of the community, and the tendency to focus on the difficulties rather than the opportunities”.
On the same day the SMH Business Day also had an article by Ian Verrender; “Despite all the hullabaloo, and all the hand-wringing and the wailing from various sections of the mining industry, the passage of the Mineral Resources Rent Tax (in Parliament) confirms Australia as one of the world’s most benign destinations for miners”. Again, the conservative party has been saying that this tax would scare off all potential investment. However see here for a detailed examination of how the taxation of natural resources in Australia compares –very favourably – to other countries.
Yet another negative scare campaign from the opposition is the threat posed by refugees and asylum seekers. According to the UNHCR Australia defied a global trend and recorded a 9% drop in claims last year, and that the numbers that come to Australia are “modest” and “manageable”.
When I was on Norfolk Island, although I was very happy, I somehow felt out of my comfort zone and was reminded that the views I hold are held by a minority of people – from climate change, to the need for a Mining Tax, to same-sex marriage (which I regard as a human rights issue). My feeling of being out of step has been reinforced by the recent crushing defeat of the Labor Party in Queensland, where a most intelligent female Premier has now resigned from Parliament. Now most States have conservative governments, and the Federal Government remain very unpopular.
Recently Margaret Whitlam died. She was the wife of Gough Whitlam, one of our most important, if controversial Prime Ministers. Margaret Whitlam was refreshingly her own person. As she came from a rather privileged background she was asked why she supported the Labor Party. “I belong to the party that cares about people”, and this is why I am a supporter as well.
GERMAINE GREER: Another of our tall and larger than life women, Germaine spends part of her year in Australia and she is very refreshing. Ignore or laugh at her at your peril. She is good “product” on television: attractive, funny, honest, provocative, very informed and very articulate. She now describes herself as an eco-feminist, and said Stephen Hawkings warns that the earth will be uninhabitable in 100 years. She thinks that Australia IS a racist country, especially about each new wave of immigrants, and that this goes back to our unresolved relationship with the original Aboriginal inhabitants. Of course the media here have trivialised her by only highlighting “feminist” Greer’s remark that our PM had “a big arse” and should stop wearing a particular style of jacket. Perhaps as Oscar Wilde said “all criticism is autobiographical”, as she did rather fill the TV screen herself I meanly thought.
A visiting editor-in-chief of the interesting Monocle magazine was surprised that Australia did not take more of a lead – given our location and English language – as a much needed voice in our Asia -Pacific region, rather like Al-Jazeera in the Middle East.
SHAME: The duck shooting season has begun in Australia, although most States have banned it; a visiting Brazilian student was tasered to death on a Sydney street; and there is finally, controversy over the use of whips – padded or otherwise, in Australian horse racing.
FOOD: a report from the Harvard School of Public Health Research states that excessive consumption of red meat is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality. Dietary guidelines in Australia recommend 3-4 servings of red meat per week and to limit or avoid processed meat. The rate of diabetes is predicted to double in a decade.
BOB CARR: In a surprise move the PM replaced Kevin Rudd as Foreign Minister with an ex State Premier. Bob Carr is very articulate and intelligent, but as Premier, ran down the State’s infrastructure, and introduced spin over substance into Australian politics. In his maiden speech in the Senate, however, he did speak about an “overlap” rather than a “clash” of civilisations between the Western and Muslim worlds, is a believer in climate change, and is very concerned about the world’s oceans. Unfortunately, after years of attention deprivation, he is a garrulous know-all and has made several diplomatic blunders already.
JULIAN ASSANGE: A tweet from WikiLeaks said Julian Assange intends to stand for an Australian Senate seat – and that this is possible despite his present predicament in England. (27% of Indian politicians have faced criminal charges and I think some have even served from jail, while a Sydney Bangladeshi taxi driver told me 80% of parliamentarians in Bangladesh have had criminal convictions and wear it as a badge of honour!)
Meanwhile a UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has accused the US of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” of Bradley Manning.
RIN TIN TIN: I have enjoyed the reviews of this recent book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend of the World’s Most Famous Dog by Susan Orlean. Reviewer Delia Falconer in The Australian notes that in the 1920s Rin Tin Tin was earning eight times more than the studios human actors and received 2000 fan letters a week. He was also named as co-respondent in the divorce of his owner. “One gift of his longevity is he allows us to see, through him, an evolving entertainment culture. And, more curiously, how we project the strangeness of our own humanity on to animals – all beasts of burden, as Henry David Thoreau wrote, “made to carry some portion of our thoughts””.
Fellow reviewer and dog lover Diana Simmonds in the SMH adds “Among much else, the reader will learn more than any sane person could ever want to know about dogs in movies, dogs in war, dog training, dog trainers and the genesis of the German shepherd (about 1899)”.
MISC STATS: 70% of internet traffic is devoted to porn; ebook sales rose by 623% between January and June 2011 in the UK; Forbes listed 1226 billionaires in the world with a combined wealth of US 4.6 trillion; 8 illegal unmanned drone attacks by the US this year so far – and it seems Australia will be hosting US surveillance drones from the Cocos Islands!
MAIL: Thanks to Kate for drawing my attention to two worthy organisations she supports - David Shepherd Wildlife and Wild tiger. Suddenly there seems to be great support for the endangered orangutangs – check out the Australian Orangutang Project. Apparently there were approximately 5000 orangutang deaths last year, and with 80% of their habitat lost, they could be extinct in 5-10 years. I received a nasty computer virus from a very worthy orangutang site, making my blog later than usual, so I won’t list that site for the moment!
EXHIBITIONS: We are currently spoiled for art exhibitions in Sydney. I’ve already mentioned colonial artist John Lewin’s Wild Art at the State Library, and Janet Laurence at the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation. William Kentridge is at Annandale Galleries. Ruark Lewis is in two beautiful exhibitions – GADAWULKWULK at Cross Art Projects with Barayuwa Munugurr, and in Shadowplay with Jumaadi and Jason Wing at dna projects, Chippendale. The Museum of Contemporary Art opens a new wing, and Michael Brand (ex Getty) has been appointed the new Director of the Art Gallery of NSW.
I was lucky enough to attend the opening of Opera Australia’s La Traviata staged on Sydney Harbour under a giant chandelier.
EARTH HOUR: It is important to participate in this global initiative which began in Australia 5 years ago and is an imaginative expression of a commitment to sustainability and environmental action. People in at least 135 countries and independent states will be turning off their lights (Saturday 31st March 8.30pm Sydney time) – and remember to turn off electrical appliances at the wall as they are extremely wasteful of energy. Click here to find out more. La Traviata’s giant chandelier will be very conspicuous!
Christian the Lion, Middle East, Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Greece, Australia, Get Up!, Factory Farming, Australian Wildlife, Orangutangs, Energy, Factory Farming, Whitney Houston, Mail, Norfolk Island etc
March 4, 2012
I’ve just been in Melbourne where I gave a talk about Christian to a most receptive audience at the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria. I am constantly surprised at the “magic” of Christian’s story. It has had such an effect on so many people – and seems to bring out the best in everyone. I hope we can harness all this goodwill into making a difference for wildlife and our environment. It does mystify me on an existential level – what is Christian’s message for us, if there is one? I was once asked in an interview about this and as I hadn’t really solved it myself I blurted out “I think it is a cry for Africa”. Many people would probably say it is about loving one another.
In a recent report on TV it was stated that there may be less than 30,000 lions left in the wild, and that lions, like elephants (and much else), may be in an extinction vortex. We have been saying now for several years that there are 70% fewer lions in Africa since Christian’s time forty years ago. Lions are being shot, poisoned and speared at an alarming rate primarily because they are in competition with local villagers for diminishing resources and habitats. Apart from us loving them, apart from them being an essential link – like everything in our ecosystem, they are Africa’s number 1 tourist attraction.
MIDDLE EAST: Libya is not unexpectedly floundering – with competing regions, personalities and militias, and an understandably inexperienced leadership of the National Transitional Council that is paralysed by the rivalries. There are reports of militia violence, looting and torture. It has been described as “it is everyone against everyone else”. Syria seems to be descending into civil war, while the world stands by. It is a humanitarian catastrophe.There have been reports of widespread systematic torture, and the threat of being tried for crimes against humanity does not seem to have inhibited the government. The opposition to the regime is unfortunately divided, and as commented on before, there are so many agendas driving the conflict, both within and outside the country.
Despite the uncertain outcomes of the Arab Spring, and so many lives sacrificed, it is inspiring to see a critical mass of courageous people speaking up.
It makes me wonder – how would I respond in their situation?
JULIAN ASSANGE: It is ironic that the latest release of confidential emails by WikiLeaks from the private intelligence firm Stratfor indicates that the US Department of Justice has issued a secret sealed indictment against Julian Assange. The case against him in Sweden has recently been described as very slight, and mostly grandstanding by Swedish prosecutors. Some of the threats made to him have been appalling – and very frightening. With the example of Bradley Manning who has been held without trial in the US for over 600 days (and his trial finally scheduled for August), Julian has many reasons to fear extradition to the US. I’d also be worried about those drones that the US seem to be increasingly using to murder people, with the push of a button from the safety of an office, presumably in Washington. The publication of classified material of foreign powers is apparently not a crime under Australian law, but the Australian Government has not, and probably will not, assist our Australian citizen.
It has been pointed out that “award-winning journalist” Assange’s new TV show The World Tomorrow will air on a state-owned network in Russia, a country where 40 journalists have been murdered in the past decade. Raffi Khatchadourian commented on Julian’s contradictory nature in The New Yorker (repeated in the SMH): “He is a charismatic figure precisely because of the way his contradictions – manifest in WikiLeaks from the start – magically seem to hold together: his self absorption tempered by his more abstract but genuinely felt, pursuit of justice…his utopianism hemmed in by a do-what-it-takes view of combat; his search for hidden truths shrouded by his own secrecy and willingness to equivocate, if not lie.”
GREECE: Greece was faced with one of two unattractive options – a European fiscal strait jacket that will please bankers and Germany especially, or leaving the EU, whatever the scary ramifications of that would be. Sadly, neither option seems to address the challenge of growing the Greek economy, and the majority of people face years of real hardship.
AUSTRALIA: We have had the most extraordinarily bitter leadership battle that would have been fascinating if it didn’t threaten to damage the government so badly. The deposed but still ambitious ex PM Kevin Rudd is more popular in the polls than the PM Julia Gillard which would not be hard. It seems Rudd has constantly been undermining her, and subsequently the government, in the process. He seems totally addicted to media cycles, polling, his own importance and people in shopping centres. David Marr in the SMH wrote that another former Labor leader Mark Latham “once told Rudd to his face that his rise… was due solely to his popularity with people who have never actually met him”. I think the psychological analysis by Michael Duffy in the SMH Feb 27 best sums up how I also feel about Kevin Rudd. He reduced government to a reality TV program, and one wonders what he actually believes in. Moir captured in his cartoon (above) the nightmare Rudd has become for his own political party. After being convincingly beaten in a leadership ballot, Rudd promised his “unconditional support”. Sure. In fairness I must say that he is extremely intelligent, was a very energetic Foreign Minister, and cleverly outmanoeuvred John Howard in the 2007 election. I also believe he reacted quickly and effectively to the GFC.
GETUP!: GetUp! asked their members in a survey what are the 10 major issues we would like them to campaign for on our behalf in 2012. The top four concerns were: investment in renewable energy, followed by protecting Australia’s native forests, stopping harmful coal seam gas mining practices, and the fair treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.
FACTORY FARMING: There is an obvious momentum of public opposition to factory farmed animals and chickens. The organisation Voiceless has done much to bring this issue to public attention in Australia. The live cattle export debate has also brought more support for animal welfare and rights issues – and recently more examples of inhumane treatment of cattle in Indonesian abattoirs have emerged which has reignited the debate. There are calls to ban live cattle exports, or for mandatory pre-slaughter stunning on all animals exported. Interestingly, or depressingly, in the first edition of A Lion Called Christian in 1970 we talked about the inhumane treatment of Australian sheep being sent to the Middle East! There is a petition for banning live cattle exports on change.org, and in the US the ALDF has a petition to US legislators who are being pressured by the corporate agriculture lobby to make documenting and distributing damaging footage of factory farm practices illegal.
DONKEYS: I have two friends Jonathan and David who are very concerned about donkeys and other working animals and think I don’t pay them enough attention! The Brooke is a highly respected international welfare organisation dedicated to improving the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules. A recent campaign has been teaching basic animal welfare and care for Ethiopia’s grain market donkeys. William from Florida informs me the organisation was started in 1930 in Cairo by the wife of a British Army officer in response to the condition of many horses left behind in Egypt after the First World War. (I imagine many of you would have seen Stephen Spielberg’s film War Horse). The organisations Pegasus and WSPA have been working for better conditions and more effective laws to protect working horses and donkeys in Israel that are also often cruelly overworked, overladen and neglected.
AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE: Recently our attention has been drawn to the increasingly precarious situation of some of our unique wildlife. Our koalas are under threat, and it is estimated that as few as 100,000 may remain in the wild, their coastal habitats destroyed by the vast number of Australians that now live along the beautiful eastern coast. Our Tasmanian Devils have very contagious facial tumours and there is a battle to save the few healthy ones remaining in the wild, and ironically they are safer in zoos at this stage. The Australian Marine Conservation Society works hard to protect our ocean wildlife, and a recent campaign has highlighted how up to 100,000 sharks around the Great Barrier Reef can be legally killed annually for shark fin soup, or fish and chips.
ORANGUTANGS: I have friends who have recently visited or drawn my attention to various centres in our region that do great work protecting orangutangs. These include the Sepilok Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre in Sandakan Borneo and the Camp Leakey Orphan Orangutang Care Centre in Kalimantan. Apparently the President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yuddhoyono was recently seen in a Jakarta IMAX watching a documentary on the orangutangs of Kalimantan. Let’s hope he was sufficiently moved to do more to protect the habitats of many animals that are being destroyed, especially by palm oil plantations.
ENERGY: Despite all the cries of “we’ll be ruined by the impending carbon tax” by our conservative opposition party, and some millionaires and billionaires, there has been surging investment in coal exploration. Apparently there has been a break-through (after many years) in carbon capture and storage. Let’s hope so, but I remain sceptical. The newish (conservative) leader of my state of NSW, has lifted a ban on uranium mining. Waste disposal is of course a still very unresolved and contentious issue, with a remote Aboriginal community, Muckaty in northern Australia, being targeted as a nuclear waste dump. Despite the catastrophe of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, in the US the government has approved the building of two nuclear reactors. There are also more worrying reports about mining for gas: double the anticipated green house gases leaking in the US, and in Australia, the release of contaminated water into the environment. On the subject of water, each day each person in an industrialised nation personally consumes about 1,000 gallons (3,785 litres) embedded in the food we eat. Pumping, conveying and treating water is extremely energy intensive, and the energy industry is the largest single water user.
WHITNEY HOUSTON: It was when her song I Will Always Love You was added to the YouTube footage of our reunion with Christian that it went viral, so we are very grateful to her – and to Dolly Parton who wrote it. Many of you have said how much you love the song too, and are saddened by her death. The footage is unique, but the song beautifully heightens the emotional impact. Mind you, I was reprimanded in a conference for liking it by someone who thought the music interfered with the pure response to an extraordinary animal/human experience. With Whitney, while every life is sacred, one wonders how someone so precious and talented can be allowed to slip through our fingers. I immediately went to listen to her on Christian’s ALCC website but the clip had been blocked, presumably for copyright reasons. After much searching however I was very pleased to find one “reunion” video with her song on The View, even if I was called Ace Berg!
MAIL: I’m very much appreciating the images and information I am being sent and can share. Thanks to Dee for the sweet photograph (above), and click here to see more Some Photos Just Don’t Need a Caption. Thanks also to Heulwen for the beautiful photograph of the three cheetahs in South Africa.
Thankyou to Deva Delanoe who sent me some important links. Click here to see a report on the number of tigers in private hands in the US – possibly more than twice the number left in the wild. Issues of great concern include inappropriate breeding and declawing. People like the Hollywood star Tippi Hedren are campaigning against private ownership, and I very much hope to visit her at The Shambala Preserve, her big cat sanctuary north of Los Angeles. Some experts have complained that the tigers are losing their “tigerness”. Christian was a 7th generation “European” lion, and in his case George Adamson was fascinated to see that ultimately Christian’s natural instincts were not impaired. Another link highlights the work for animal welfare in Afghanistan by NOWZAD. It is tough for most people there, so these endeavours on behalf of animals are to be applauded and supported. Deva also sent a link to the Soi Dog Foundation who are trying to prevent the very cruel illegal dog export meat trade in Thailand. Warning: the photographs on this site are particularly upsetting.
I haven’t personally researched or checked the credentials and records of many of the animal welfare organisations I have blogged about, so we should all take normal precautions before we donate or assist their work. I am sure however that the overwhelming majority are legitimate, and many are run by quite extraordinary selfless people, deserving of our support and gratitude.
NORFOLK ISLAND: I’m about to leave for Norfolk Island off the east coast of Australia for the celebration of Foundation Day on March 6th. My ancestor Philip Gidley King sailed from the new colony of Sydney in early February 1788 to establish a settlement on Norfolk Island, and I am researching some family history. I’m also hoping to avoid the incessant rains that have caused flooding throughout much of NSW, but have filled most of our dams after many years.