Occupy Wall Street, Martin Place Sydney 22 October 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

Occupy Wall Street, Martin Place Sydney 22 October 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

OCCUPY WALL STREET: The Occupy Wall Street movement began on 17 September in New York when 1,000 protesters marched on Wall Street, protesting about the failure of the government to crack down on the practices that led to the financial collapse, the government’s bail out of financial institutions and a financial system that has allowed 1% of Americans to hold more than a quarter of the nation’s wealth.

The movement has spread to many cities around the world and has become a metaphor for many things that decent ordinary people, the 99%, are feeling.  I went to the rally in Martin Place, Sydney last weekend.  The protesters who were camping there were bundled out at 5am the next morning and this had happened the day before in Melbourne, where the protest was broken up, with ensuing violence, by over 400 police.  The Lord Mayor of Melbourne spoke very disparagingly about the protesters, and some commentators are confusing what they interpret as a “sense of entitlement” with a legitimate “sense of outrage”.  It was a small crowd at the Sydney rally, and in Australia at the moment there is not the middle class following (and celebrity endorsement) that the movement has in the US – but the current economic and employment situation in the US is much more dire.  Another rally is scheduled for 5 November – presumably in Martin Place.

I asked some of the mostly young protesters how one could support them.  They don’t seem to be into internet activism, they aren’t targeting businesses or politicians – I think they are creating a space for people to think about and debate “corporate greed”, and they presume politicians will be paying attention.  Before being disbanded, people were invited at 6pm each evening to talk about related issues and everyone voted on any suggestions or recommendations.  They weren’t even especially interested in my donation.

At the rally I ran into an old friend John Shipton – Julian Assange’s father.  It must be quite worrying to have a son described as “the most dangerous man in the world”, and Julian has certainly changed the world and made us aware of just how much information is withheld from us by our governments.  WikiLeaks is facing a financial blockade from US based financial companies and the publishing operation will be suspended until the financial crisis is solved.

Last time I saw John he was very interested (and amused) by the Christian the Lion internet phenomenon that we were caught up in – but our experience seems pretty tame and Walt Disney in comparison with Julian.

John was at the rally to listen to Steve Keen, an Associate Professor at the University of Western Sydney and author of Debunking Economics.  Keen is described in Wikipedia as a “post-Keynesian criticising both modern neoclassical economics and (some of) Marxian economics as inconsistent, unscientific and empirically unsupported.”

Occupy Wall Street, Martin Place Sydney 22 October 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

Occupy Wall Street, Martin Place Sydney 22 October 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

The “trickle-down theory” that everyone would benefit if the rich got richer, has been disproved.  There are now apparently 1,210 billionaires in the world with a total worth of $US4.5 trillion.  With this year’s annual reporting season beginning, for the first time Australian shareholders will be able to exercise their right to protest over the obscene level of pay some executives are receiving.  From this year on, if 25% of shareholders vote against the salary packages of executives and directors two years running, the entire board will be spilled.

Our airline Qantas seem to be locked in a fight to the death with 3 different unions.  Is CEO Allan Joyce’s attempt at a major restructure of Qantas and expansion into Asia worth his $5 million salary compared to the CEOs of Cathay Pacific ($1.4 million), Singapore Airlines ($982,000) and China Southern ($153,000)?

In Australia median pay for the CEO’s of our top 100 companies has rocketed by 131% in 10 years, with bonuses up by 190%.  But the stock market value of those companies has increased by just 31%.

Summer whale migration. Source: SMH, photo by Liina Flynn

MANNERS:  I think my primary school motto was “Manners Maketh Man”.  The very successful writer Alexander McCall Smith has been in Australia to talk at a Festival of Dangerous Ideas.  Various factors have contributed to social dysfunction in “The Broken Society” and the recent riots in England, including absent or hard working parents, Blair’s education policies, Cameron stripping back services, police powers to stop and search people etc.  McCall’s “dangerous idea” was the absence of manners in society these days!  He argued that manners act as a social lubricant and without them society and the community have suffered.  Children especially are having less meaningful conversations and communication and have very little civic respect.

Alan Moir, SMH

Tony Abbott Opposition Leader by Alan Moir, SMH

CARBON TAX:  Although it is not to be implemented until July 2012, our carbon tax legislation has been voted in, with a price of $23 per tonne.  However we have a very successful and totally negative Opposition Leader (see cartoon above) who has threatened to rescind the carbon tax and this is robbing business of the certainty they require – from investment in aging power stations to alternative energy sources.  India and China are referred to as the new polluting economic giants – and they are in some respects, but India has a carbon tax and China plans to have an emissions trading scheme in six regions by 2013 and nationwide by 2015 and is positioning itself to benefit from new green economic opportunities.

Unfortunately there have been solar panel scams in Australia and the US.  However, Chinese investment in solar has seen their market share increase from 5% to 54% in six years – compared to the US which has gone the other way – from 42% in 1997 to just 6% today.

Experts have been taken by surprise as to the extent of glaciers melting because of climate change from the Andes to across the Himalayas where lakes are forming which could cause catastrophic flooding.  In Australia there is also noticeably less snow on our ski slopes.

DEMOCRACY:  While people are taking to the streets and actually dying for “democracy” in some parts of the world, it may be inappropriate to question the effectiveness of democracy.  However, the 24 hour media cycle, constant polling and focus groups, marginal seats, and the power of the shock jocks are all contributing factors to a dumbing down of the political discourse.  Interestingly at a recent debate in Sydney on the State of Democracy the majority of people did not believe democracy is failing the world and that its disappointments should not be confused with its shortcomings.  Arguments included: “democracy has defeated science” in relation to climate change for example; “democracy had reached a point of paralysis and inefficiency”; other models could include “a citizens senate or Confucian democracy”; and others argued democracy keeps “government accountable” and “fostered peace and innovation”.

BUSH HERITAGE:  In my last blog I mentioned the work of The National Conservancy (TNC).  The organisation Bush Heritage also successfully buys and rehabilitates land – like clearing it of sheep grazing and protecting threatened animals and plants.  It began in 1990 with a grant from Greens leader Bob Brown to buy a property.  Bush Heritage now owns almost a million hectares and over 33 reserves, and is aiming to protect 1% of Australia by 2025.

2011 Nyapanyapa Circles at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery Sydney

Nyapanyapa, Circles 2011 at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney


2011 Nigel Milson Untitled Judo House (Golden Mud) at Yuill-Crowley Sydney

2011 Nigel Milson Untitled Judo House (Golden Mud) at Yuill-Crowley Sydney

Petrina Hicks Excalibur at Stills Gallery Sydney

Petrina Hicks Excalibur at Stills Gallery Sydney

GALLERY IMAGES:  I had a run around some Sydney galleries last week and loved some exhibitions and works in their stock rooms.  My favourite was the bark paintings by Aboriginal artist Nyapyanapa at Roslyn Oxley9 and I bought one.  I have long admired Robyn Stacey, and her luxurious photographs in the exhibition House at the Museum of Sydney make us look at 19th century domestic life in a new way.  There is an accompanying book, and I recently bought the book Museum, which contains Stacey’s equally stunning photographs based on the Macleay collection of entomological specimens.

Nigel Milsom’s scary paintings of dogs at Yuill/Crowley were inspired by reading Hess’ Steppenwolf and living near a greyhound racing track.  You can see more images here on smh.com.au.

At Stills Gallery I saw an image of a dog by Petrina Hicks which has always rather haunted me.

ARAB FALL:  An unpleasant, if not totally unexpected end for Gaddafi, and illustrative of the difficulties ahead for a transition to a better future.  Difficulties include the interests of the various tribes that make up the Libyan people, and so many weapons in the country.  Luckily oil will provide an economic base.  The Tunisians, who have a very different history, have successfully held their “free and fair” elections, won by a moderate Islamic Party.  It is a relief to have Gilad Shalit finally back home in Israel, exchanged for the 1,027 Palestinians released, or to be released, from prison.  I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand the Israel/Hamas/Fatah/Syria/Iran/Hezbollah/Sunni/Shiite histories, strategies, agendas and alliances – but I hope for some progress, any progress, towards a more peaceful and secure life for them all.  Protesters are still dying in Yemen and Syria, but footage that has been smuggled out is going to make convincing evidence against authorities for their crimes against humanity.

I see that Condoleeza Rice is trying to rewrite history and claim that the invasion of Iraq has contributed to the Arab Spring popular uprisings.  This war has cost $US800 billion and 5,000US lives, and many many more civilian deaths. I think we will see just how “democratic” the government of PM Nouri al-Maliki is once the US withdraw all troops by the end of the year.

Interestingly, Noam Chomsky believes that the role of technology in the Arab uprisings has been exaggerated.  “The core of the Arab Spring was really labour organisation.  Take a look at Egypt; that was attributed to tech-savvy young people with Twitter.  That’s not false, but there is a close correlation between long-term labour activism and the effectiveness of democracy movements.”

SHAME:  Amnesty International recently visited the ironically named Utopia, a remote Aboriginal community in Central Australia, and was appalled by the living standards.  The community feel they are being deliberately starved off their traditional land and being forced to relocate to other centres.

We should also be ashamed that in Australia we are detaining our relatively few asylum seekers (including children) for so long – some for over 2 years, that there are scandalous levels of mental illnesses and self harm.

2011 Jupiter kissing Ana Julia Torres Luis Robayo, AFP Getty Images

2011 Jupiter kissing Ana Julia Torres. Photo by Luis Robayo, AFP Getty Images

LIVE CATTLE EXPORTS:  The Government has accepted the recommendations of the review into Australia’s $1 billion live export industry.  Exporters will have the responsibility for the welfare of animals (to World Organisation for Animal Health standards) from departure to the point of slaughter.  Animal lobby groups object that stunning before slaughter is still not mandatory, and that the review did not address the conflict of interest of vets on board export vessels.

2011 Tigers from Animals in the News - Reuters, photo by Ilya Naymushin

2011 Tigers from Animals in the News - Reuters, photo by Ilya Naymushin

OHIO:  The slaughter of dozens of lions, tigers, bears and wolves set free from a private farm in Ohio has sparked calls for restrictions on the largely unregulated ownership of exotic pets in several US states.  Eighteen Bengal tigers were shot – and there are only 1,500 left in the wild in India.  There are approximately 2,884 pet tigers in the US but there is a certain amount of genetic manipulation with interbreeding between different sub species.  I have been emailed recently about caged tigers and panthers used recently at extremely noisy sporting events in the US, with cheerleaders even performing on the roof of the cage, and of course Tony the Tiger’s predicament weighs on most of our minds.  Read the SMH article here – http://www.smh.com.au/environment/conservation/ohio-exotic-animal-slaughter-sparks-outrage-20111020-1m9wq.html.

Three Sumatran tiger cubs have made their first appearance at Taronga Zoo as part of the captive breeding program.  Only 400 survive in the wild, their habitats and lives threatened by the palm oil industry and hunting.

DONKEYS:  I’ve got several friends very concerned about the welfare of hard working donkeys.  The Brooke has been working for over 75 years to help working donkeys, mules and horses in countries like Egypt, Pakistan, India, Ethiopia and Kenya. For more information see www.thebrooke.org/littledonkey.

2011 Kevin Richardscon copyright Barcroft Media

2011 Kevin Richardscon copyright Barcroft Media

MAILBAG:  Thanks to David for sending the beautiful, interesting and sometimes appalling images from Animals in the News from TheAtlantic.com, George for the email about the improper use of animals at sporting events, and Christine for the superb photographs of Kevin Richardson with his animals – especially the lions.

Thanks for sending these stories in. We post most of them on the www.alioncalledchristian.com.au website and we are building a great archive which people are enjoying.

Vanity Fair listed ways to support the protection of elephants and other endangered species.

CHRISTIAN THE LION: Thanks to Matthew for this YouTube link with a new version of Christian’s story reedited from the original footage.

MY PHOTOS:  Some people sweetly commented on my photographs last blog.  Bundeena is so beautiful and on my afternoon walks armed with my small trusty Lumix it is hard to go wrong – even without my glasses!

Reflections, Bundeena 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

Reflections, Bundeena 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

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Bundeena, NSW photo by Ace Bourke

LEADERSHIP: We are being failed by our leaders – or perhaps we get the leaders we deserve? We are entitled to criticise them as they have pushed themselves forward. Obama has put his own re-election prospects above the Palestinian people and he has lost me. Blair tries to be all things to all men – from invading Iraq, to being on JP Morgan’s payroll, to friendship with Gaddafi, to being the Middle East Envoy. One could argue that this makes him ideally suited to play his role – or should disqualify him. I think he has lost all credibility.

In Australia our entire political discourse seems aimed at shock jock audiences in marginal seats. Our government is examining every possible angle to send our relatively few asylum seekers (including children) back to anywhere rather than fulfilling our international obligations. I am losing a little faith in democracy – or compulsory voting at least – and for global problems like global warming, I wish for a more powerful and corruption-free UN type organisation.

GFC (II): We seem to be on the brink of a world recession or have never really recovered from the GFC of 2008. Again there is an outrageous failure of leadership politically, economically and financially. Everyone is caught by surprise again, and there seems to be no coherent response. It was not reassuring for trader Alession Rastani to say bankers at Goldman Sachs “rule the world”, and that he dreams of another recession as “our job is to make money from it.” The necessary structural reform for a new global era just hasn’t happened. Short term jolts to the economies are not sufficient (although the stimulus measures in Australia were successful), nor are slashing government spending and taxes. Austerity measures and consumer pessimism are inhibiting the spending necessary to prevent going deeper into recession. Not that I understand these matters – but alarmingly neither do the so-called experts!

OCCUPY WALL STREET:  I’ve been blogging about 1% of the population owning so much wealth, and it seems that finally enough is enough. The Left has finally emerged revitalised and galvanised into action. The growing disparity between the rich and poor is the greatest challenge of our time. The Occupy Wall Street and The Other 99% movement is spreading quickly as the cause is so just – a concern for ordinary people. Count me in.

Bundeena, NSW September 2011 photo by Ace Bourke

Bundeena, NSW September 2011 photo by Ace Bourke

ISRAEL & PALESTINE: This must be one of the major unresolved international relations issues of our time and after 20 years looks no closer to resolution. With the Israelis insisting on the Palestinians formally acknowledging Israel as a Jewish state and Palestinians insisting on a freeze in settlement growth, the situation has been described as “utter hopelessness” after the performances by their respective leaders at the UN.  It does seem provocative at the moment for Netanyahu to be determined to push ahead with the construction of one thousand new houses to be built in a large settlement in East Jerusalem. With the “Arab Spring” and the loss of Turkey and Egypt as allies, Israel is facing a new and shifting scenario, and you’d think a new and more conciliatory approach is urgently required. This is the dilemma that Obama is trying to juggle – very unsuccessfully.

Let’s hope for a new paradigm, a new generation of courageous and imaginative leaders, and more economic cooperation and partnerships. I did read that young secular Israelis are more concerned with the high cost of living than “security” and are wondering how Israel will support itself with the attitude among some Orthodox Jews that not paying taxes is acceptable. Apparently they have on average 8 children and will be the majority in thirty years.

DAVID SUZUKI: I recently read The Legacy which is a summation of Suzuki’s experience and knowledge and vision for the future. My immediate thoughts were why aren’t wise Elders like him utilised by our governments to solve some of our urgent problems?

He succinctly summarises our natural and human origins and what we and the biosphere consist of in a way that a layman like myself can understand.

In 1992 1,700 senior scientists signed the World’s Scientists’ Warning to Humanity. “Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources… No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished.” So in 2011 one wonders if the tipping point in relation to the atmosphere, water resources, oceans, soil, forests, species and population may have been reached.

Issues and subjects he discusses which particularly interested me include: we face a doubling of population, and uncontrolled growth is suicidal; economic growth versus the environment and how a price can actually be put on nature’s services; how consumerism was actively encouraged and why it should now be discouraged; 99% of our genes are identical to the genes of the great apes; we have an innate need to be with other species and that all of life is our “kin.”

Despite the damage and depletion of resources he has observed throughout his life, he is however quite optimistic and discusses various ways forward. He discusses all the unforeseen technological benefits that actually flowed from the USSR and US “space race” and what could be achieved by the concerted action of “joining together in a common goal and a commitment to confront our enormous ecological challenges.” But change “begins with each of us.”

Suzuki discusses how indigenous people understand how we are the environment and that their very survival has depended on their ecological awareness and adjustment.

I have worked for many years as a curator with Aboriginal artists, but over the last few years because of the Christian the Lion phenomenon I was suddenly given the chance to talk about animal welfare, conservation and environmental issues. But my two major concerns are linked because it is of course indigenous people that can show us how to care for and tread lightly on the environment we entirely rely on.

Bundeena photo by Ace Bourke

Bundeena photo by Ace Bourke

WADE DAVIS: While Suzuki is concerned with the biosphere, fellow Canadian and ethno botanist Wade Davis is concerned with the “ethnosphere” – which is described as “the sum total of all thoughts and dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations and intuitions brought into being by the human imagination.” He is National Geographic’s Explorer in Residence.

Friends had told me about him over the last year or two, and I read some of his articles. Recently I finally had the chance to attend a talk by him on Human Migration at the Australian Museum. He was very knowledgeable, sophisticated and articulate – nearly too good to be true! He reminded me of Australia’s own brilliant ubiquitous know-all Tim Flannery. Wade seems to have lived with or visited many obscure indigenous people in the world, tried many mind-altering drugs, and written many books about his experiences, all of course illustrated with his own excellent photographs.

What really sticks in my mind? Previously he had written extremely well about our own Australian Aboriginals and in this Oration he did say they were the first wave out of Africa. A sample of an Aborigine’s hair collected a century ago demonstrates that they left Africa 62,000 – 75,000 years ago and were the first of multiple waves of migration that travelled through Asia and interbred with recently identified archaic humans called Denisovans.

Davis is primarily concerned with all the knowledge that we are losing as languages disappear. He commented on the extraordinary Polynesian navigational skills as an example of ingenuity that could sometime be at risk. He also talked about what is catastrophically lost with deforestation. His studies include the so-called zombie drugs in Haiti, and his extensive travels include Tibet, Peru and the Amazon. I haven’t really done him justice as he talked very quickly and bombarded us with interesting information which I struggled to digest while also watching a quick succession of marvellous photographs.

Importantly, he too is optimistic about the future. He remarked on our capacity to change our attitudes. One example he gave was the attitude to gay people over the last 20 years, and the present debate about gay marriage which previously would have been unimaginable.

Wade Davis was giving the Thomas Foundation Conservation Oration, in association with The Nature Conservancy (TNC). TNC has been working in Australia since 1999 and is already helping to protect more than 6 million hectares and supporting conservation across more than 30 million hectares of largely Indigenous lands. TNC takes a collaborative non-confrontational approach to conservation that is based on sound science and their efforts are very much worth supporting www.nature.org/australia. There are conservancies all over the world, and I have previously referred to several in Africa. I think they are an excellent concept: preserving large continuous tracts of land and natural and traditional animal migration corridors, rather than piecemeal areas.

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: Leonardo is in Sydney filming The Great Gatsby. He has demonstrated a deep commitment to environmental concerns. He has financed films such as The 11th Hour about the convergence of environmental crises and the need for leadership which he produced and narrated. He has donated $1 million to the WWF to help save the tiger from extinction. When he recently tweeted about the campaign concerning tigers in captivity in America, my agent immediately sent him a copy of A Lion Called Christian, and we hope to draw his attention to the plight of Tony the Tiger which he is most probably already aware of.

TONY THE TIGER:  I emailed the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) for an update and they replied. “The court has scheduled two new hearings in the Tony the Tiger case. On October 17th, the court will hear the States’ exceptions, which challenge the plaintiffs’ standing to bring the case. On November 2nd, the court will hear ALDF’s motion for a permanent injunction to revoke the permit that lets Michael Sandlin confine Tony at the Tiger Truck Stop.”

Bundeena, NSW September 2011 photo by Ace Bourke

MISC STATS: 2,600 Syrians killed so far in their protests; 60,000 anti nuclear protesters take to the streets in Japan; Rupert Murdoch owns 70% of the metropolitan newspapers in Australia and the family own 40% of the voting stock in News Corp; 71% of the earth is covered by ocean; according to author and birdwatcher Jonathan Franzen 9 million birds are killed by cats in the US each year.

AASG: The Australian Animal Studies Group (AASG) has emailed their latest bulletin. It contains a lot of information, especially reviews of very interesting books. There is also news of upcoming events and conferences, and new courses such as Humans, Animals and Society at Flinders University South Australia. There is a report on the recent Global Animal Conference which was about the implications of globalisation for animals, and I was on a panel in one session.

MINDING ANIMALS INTERNATIONAL: I have also just received their Bulletin No.7 There are fascinating conferences all over the world including: Barcelona 24-25 October, Oslo, Prague, New York, Uppsala in Sweden, Rennes in France, Geneva, Vancouver, Berlin and Buddhism and the New World Order: Compassion, Animal Welfare and Conservation in New Delhi in November 2011.

Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

FOOD: I attended a talk entitled What We Are and What We Eat by Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals. He discussed how it is often difficult even having conversations about vegetarianism. In the US 99% of meat and chicken is factory farmed. Factory farming is the single worst thing for the environment, and for animals. He framed the discussion and his arguments amusingly and well. Rather than recommending people become vegetarian (although he wants us to), he suggests we all eat more vegetarian meals. I think he wants us to become vegetarians by stealth.

With television programs such as MasterChef and various food festivals, people must be getting better educated about food and better diets, and alternatives to meat. A gathering of chefs, scientists and the now obligatory wild food foragers, met recently in Copenhagen to find solutions to the planet’s food problems (Mad ideas to save the world, SMH Good Living Tuesday 27 September). With the population rising from nearly 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, food production needs to increase by 70%. “Vegetables will come from rooftop gardens and community plots; fish will feed off plankton in our kitchen tanks; ants, worms and grasshoppers will flavor breads; urban beehives will supply our honey; soil will be an ingredient(!); and meat will be a rare treat.”

I also recently watched a program on genetically modified food. It was a reminder of how our food has been tampered with over many years.  I’m not sure however, I want to eat food which contains antibiotics and insecticides, especially as there seem to be no long-term tests yet of the effects of their toxicity.

Bundeena, NSW July 2011 photo by Ace Bourke

Bundeena, NSW July 2011 photo by Ace Bourke

PETS: 63% of Australian households have pets and it is one of the few sectors of our economy which is actually growing. I hate pet accessories let alone costumes, but love it that we are lavishing attention on our pets and hopefully feeding them nutritious foods.

PROJECT NIM: This sounds a terrifying if fascinating documentary about Nim, a chimpanzee brought up as a human to see if primates can be taught to construct sentences with sign language. He was born in 1973 the year Christian was last seen. I think we learned more from Christian than vice versa, and he certainly wasn’t an ‘experiment’. While he may not have lived as long, Christian’s life was much happier. We only had a short time with Christian and it was primarily a success because he was young. Lions are family/pride animals and Christian was so good natured, and as a cub was open to a degree of domestication and socialisation – up to a point!

JOHNNY DARLING: One of Australia’s leading documentary makers (the classic Lempad of Bali and extremely lyrical Below the Wind etc) is seriously ill, and many of us love him dearly and have treasured his intelligence, wisdom, humour, encouragement, creativity and friendship over the years.