Tony the Tiger, Birds of America, Arab Winter, Australian Stuff, USA, Sport, Gina Rinehart, Assange etc
February 11, 2012
TONY THE TIGER: Thanks for the immediate responses to the petition for Tony the Tiger. See the recent update on Tony from the Animal Legal Defense Fund (http://www.aldf.org/tony). Unfortunately Tony remains in his cage while complicated legal battles over him delay attempts to relocate him to an appropriate sanctuary. Is this case receiving media attention in the US?
I would like the blog to be primarily a notice board for animal welfare and rights issues and I rely on your contributions. I think we have put the spotlight on some of the more quiet achievers doing great work for animals or the environment, and the blog is now a Directory of many organisations and people.
Like many of you I support many of the campaigns of the ALDF (http://www.aldf.org/), GetUp! (http://www.getup.org.au/), AVAAZ (http://www.avaaz.org/en/), and http://www.change.org/. Internet activism is huge and will grow in influence and become more targeted. I remind myself clicking “sign” on a petition and pressing “send” is pretty easy. I think trying to be informed is a good start, and donations are always a practical contribution. I’m sure we all wonder how our efforts could be more effective, and I admire people who volunteer and give their time to organisations like BushCare, and visiting imprisoned asylum seekers.
AUDUBON: Two copies (out of only 200) of the first edition of Birds of America by John James Audubon (1785-1851) sold last month at Sotheby’s for $11.5 million, and $7.5 million at Christie’s. With beautiful life size colour plates, this classic work contains over 700 North American species.
SUMMER HOLIDAYS: It has been a relaxing time spent mostly with family and friends. There has been time to read, and to reflect on 2011, and what 2012 may bring. While many of you are in freezing temperatures, our weather has been erratic and courtesy of La Niña, quite a lot of rainfall and flooding again in the north east, for some the third flood in three years. I remember how dry, hot and endless summer holidays used to be, and people now seem to go back to work much earlier. My vegetable garden is a disgrace and was even overgrown before I saw a black snake.
The Year of the Dragon apparently promises to be unpredictable and exciting. With the EU and the Middle East, anything could happen. On a positive note, I think the momentum is swinging back to a majority of people (again) accepting that climate change is real and something has to be done about it. China, the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter (8.88 billion tonnes) is to set a price on carbon but a low $1.55 a tonne, to increase gradually. It must now be hard to argue that the weather is not changing. In the Maldives, 14 out of the 200 habitable islands are now uninhabitable. 2012 does carry some pretty dire predictions for the Euro Zone by the World Bank, IMF, and George Soros amongst many others, especially with such seemingly inept leadership. Many are questioning the calls for austerity measures (made by Germany especially), when it seems people should be encouraged to spend and generate growth and jobs.
ARAB WINTER: In Egypt, what accommodation will the military come to with the winners of their election, the Muslim Brotherhood? What is known about this very influential and well-funded organisation? Now in parliament the party will not be able to remain as secretive as it has had to be in the past. See Stepping out of the shadows by Ruth Pollard (SMH News Review Jan 28-29), an article that illustrates just how little is known about them or what the future may hold. After the recent soccer riots and deaths, questions are being asked about the failure, deliberate or otherwise, of national security.
SYRIA: A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald helped me understand the situation in Syria much more clearly, and all the regional repercussions. I realised it is in some ways a proxy war. In Every Middle East player has a stake in Syria’s sectarian showdown (SMH Feb 6), Jackson Diehl writes that this is “the most complex, volatile and momentous power struggles in the history of the Middle East”. The invasion of Iraq upset the delicate regional balance between the Sunnis and Shiites, and Syria “has precipitated a crucial test of strength between Sunnis and Shiites and between Turkey and Iran. It has also triggered existential crises for Palestinians, Kurds and the Shiite government of Iraq”. Syrians are being killed daily while the UN and the Arab League appear impotent, and the Russians and Chinese are recalcitrant and entirely self-interested. While Syrians are crying out for our help and being murdered, we watch helplessly.
Thanks to David for sending this beautiful selection of photographs of Iran from The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2012/01/a-view-inside-iran/100219/. It is important to see the human face and everyday lives of Iranians many of whom are held hostage by their government.
The sanctions and rhetoric against Iran – with talk of an Israeli attack against Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facilities as early as April must only stiffen Iran’s resolve to defend themselves with nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia was reported to be “shopping in Pakistan for a nuke”.
Sydney Morning Herald correspondent Hamish McDonald wrote very interestingly about returning to Israel after 13 years Life in Israel an ultra-orthodox paradox (SMH 21 Jan News Review) http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/life-in-israel-an-ultraorthodox-paradox-20120120-1qa2k.html. He questioned if a two-state solution was still possible “Or is all this negotiation and capacity-building simply a prelude to living together, somehow – two nations in one land – on better terms than the status quo, miserable humiliation for the occupied, corrosive for the occupier?” The best of luck to Fatah and Hamas with their recent reconciliation.
PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Some times last year I felt I lived in a parallel universe: Israeli government spokesmen saying new settlements were not an impediment to peace; Osama bin Laden located and assassinated after living for years in a suburb in Pakistan; the bizarre and so unlikely propaganda for the new North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un – described as a “joke” by his brother; the race in Australia to hand over high food producing land to Coal Seam Gas mining or sales to foreign investors; Australia handled the GFC better than any other country, yet the Opposition here say it is the worst government (or PM?) on record.
SPORT: Australian cricket has been in crisis, but suddenly there is the emergence of good young fast bowlers, although two have already succumbed to injury. The visiting Indian team were easily beaten in the Test matches. Tendulkar failed to get his elusive 100th Test century. Several older Australian cricketers (like Ricky Ponting) have had to perform, and have. Records have been broken. The Australian public has finally warmed to the newish captain Michael Clarke who was Man of the Series and scored 329 not out.
Both tennis and cricket have fast food sponsors. Their advertisements for their food on TV looked so totally unappetising and unhealthy; hamburgers, and chicken in batter and bacon sizzling in fat. You are encouraged to relax at home watching sport on TV, eating fattening fast food, drinking Coke (or beer) and we are now urged with frequent interruptions to bet online on every aspect of the unfolding games.
In Australia in January we have several tennis tournaments building up to the Australian Open in Melbourne. There were many highlights – like actually being there to see the best players in the world play the semi finals. It was especially thrilling to see Rafa play Federer, and I was surprised at the fanatical support for Federer. I do have to admit his record is extraordinary, and he is the most graceful player who always makes the game look effortless. Overall the standard of tennis in the tournament was very high, although too many points were lost by an error, rather than won. However, as the legend Rod Laver pointed out, returning is so good these days, that shots that would previously have been “winners” are now being returned, in very long rallys.
Any number of girls could have won, and at least six of them have been number one. Many are attractive and healthy looking and are dressing much better. Serena Williams made a surprising comment that she “never liked sport or exercising” (knocked out 4th round). Men dress in a much cooler way these days although the Federer team uniform was a rather naff quasi-military jacket and cap he ( he lost). Verdasco wore a shocking red and yellow outfit (he lost) and Dolgopolov wore red shorty pyjamas (he lost).
Both lost to Bernard Tomic, Australia’s long awaited new tennis star who has developed into quite an extraordinary player at 19 and has the tennis world fascinated. One of quite a few players with parent coaches! Murray’s new coach Ivan Lendl seems to have banned Murray’s mother – I couldn’t spot her in the crowd.
Players have a punishing schedule, and many seem to be suffering or recovering from injury. It is very hot at this time of the year here and most games are played outdoors, and the final was over 5 gruelling hours. Tennis should not be such an endurance test. There were several matches where players “found a way to win”. The mental attitudes and psychological games were fascinating, and players confronting their particular nemesis – Federer failing again against Nadal, and Nadal against Djokovic.
Back home for the final on TV I was very moved to see a parade of the past Australian winners of the Australian Open –including Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson, Frank Sedgeman, Rod Laver, and John Newcombe. We seemed to dominate world tennis back then. Azerenka thrashed Sharapova, and Djokovic beat Nada in the longest, and possibly the best final ever. Both winners won $2.3 million.
AUSTRALIA: It was quiet over Christmas with the politicians on holidays – there always seems to be less news! But things hotted up quickly. The PM was dragged to her car by security from a protest by Aboriginals who were nearby marking the anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy erected on the lawns of Government House 40 years ago. I think Aborigines are remarkably sanguine under the circumstances about their dispossession and the poverty that so many of them still live with. There is a rare bipartisan approach to Aboriginal affairs so nothing is done. A report on recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the constitution has just been presented to the government.
Media driven leadership speculation is running hot. The deposed PM, Foreign Minister Rudd continues to stalk the PM, pretending he isn’t, and helping to destabilise an already unpopular government. Too many careless and strategic errors cloud what have been major achievements for the government in a hung parliament, and in many ways a good economic record.
CSG: The rampant mining of coal seam gas is a great issue facing Australia. Environmental activists who are protesting over Coal Seam Gas are being spied on by the government! Too many disturbing stories are surfacing from around the world about the effects of the mining techniques on the water aquifers, and other issues including the leaking of contaminated water. Ultimately it is not suitable as a low emission “bridging fuel” between coal-fired electricity generators and large scale renewable energy. According to a recent American report the amount of greenhouse gases released by unconventional gas drilling exceeds that of oil and coal.
Some of our best agricultural and food producing areas are at risk, and many other properties are being sold to foreign investors at an alarming rate, with all food produced likely to go off shore.
Other recent reports seem to conclude that wind farms do not cause illness. What does have to be considered with wind turbines as a clean source of energy however, is all the emissions from coal-fired power plants from producing the steel to build the gigantic turbines, and all the cement for the foundations.
GINA RINEHART: Australia’s richest person ($20 billion), and possibly soon to be the richest in the world, Gina Rinehart seems to be increasingly throwing her weight around. In the past it has been reported that Gina has proposed using cheap Asian labour in her mines, that the state of Western Australia secede, and that nuclear bombs be used for mining purposes and creating harbour facilities. Not surprisingly, she funds climate-change deniers.
In a bizarre spectacle in 2010 she and sundry other mining billionaires protested on the streets against a proposed Super Profits Tax. On the back of a flatbed ute, Gina shouted “axe the tax”. Up against a campaign that cost the miners $23 million, the government watered down the Mineral tax, losing billions of dollars.
Now Gina has begun buying into Australian media – 10% of a television channel, and just recently nearly 14% of Fairfax Media which owns my newspaper of choice, the Sydney Morning Herald.
View this “the video you were never supposed to see” and see how Gina’s move is most likely part of a strategy to control and influence aspects of the media.
I’ve complained at length about some examples of bias in Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian, which in many other regards is a very good newspaper. Luckily the Fairfax Board in my opinion is known more for its lacklustre performance,and not editorial interference.
BILL GATES: Leading by great example, Bill and Melinda Gates have donated $US750 million to make up for the shortfall in The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
WHALING: The anti-whaling vessel the Sea Shepherd and supporters had the first skirmish of the season when 3 men boarded a Japanese vessel in the Southern Ocean. In a costly exercise they were returned to an Australian vessel, and they did put the whaling issue on the front pages briefly. All has been quiet since… or for the moment.
ELEPHANTS: Recently there was a suggestion that elephants, highly endangered in Africa as we know, be brought to Australia to eat and control the highly flammable introduced gamba grass. Oddly George Adamson advocated this when we spent time with him in Kenya. I would imagine there would be problems of immunity to diseases, damage to vegetation and soil, and be scary for an unprepared public, especially if the elephants went feral like the herds of camels and buffaloes. Other destructive introduced species in Australia include the cane toad, rabbits, foxes, cattle and sheep – and cats.
INDO-ASIA-PACIFIC: It seems Australia may finally be well positioned in the world with the global focus now on the Asian region. Obama’s decision to pull out from the Middle East and concentrate on the South East Asian region, is recasting international strategic thinking, although everything these days seem to be all about China! There will be a small US base in northern Australia. The Indian Ocean is the oil route to the Asian economies, and the navies in the region including the US, China, India, and not forgetting Iran and the Strait of Hormuz, will be keeping an eye on each other and these vital sea routes.
AMERICA: A while ago I received an irate email after I had made some complimentary remarks about President Obama. She “wanted her country back”. What did she want back I wondered, remembering the Bush years – a failure of intelligence over 9/11 and an inability to find Bin Laden, 2 expensive, deadly and unnecessary wars, and the GFC on their watch. That’s a lot of mess to inherit and to clear up.
John Howard, our fellow conservative PM of the time, rushed to join Bush in Iraq, without even advising Parliament, and subsequently and unnecessarily made Australia a terrorist target. An Australian passport can now be a liability although now we are to host a small American military base. A recent letter to the SMH editor said “I returned to Australia at the end of the (John) Howard years. I found Australia a colder, harder and more selfish society”.
My irate emailer also spoke very disparagingly about the participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement. It is a very old-fashioned protest movement, and perhaps some are a little scruffy, but the movement keeps gaining momentum and has certainly entered international consciousness very quickly. In Ireland, protesters are occupying some of the many empty buildings for community purposes. In Sydney some protesters got arrested on a rainy night recently allegedly “contravening council notices” in what seems ongoing police harassment.
Income disparity is predicted by some to be the key issue for 2012.
Former venture trader Mitt Romney (worth $250 million) personifies the 1% and that this is an issue in the US election is more evidence of the effectiveness of the Occupy Wall Street movement. He pays a 14% tax rate and Obama is taxed at 26%. The concerns of the 99% have been put on the agenda, triggering a sudden feigned concern by politicians for the middle classes. Romney is wooden, insincere and subject to faux pas but the most presentable of a pretty bad lot – and he seems to have been an effective Governor. I don’t know what he believes in and I suppose it is a relief he is a “moderate”, which seems to be a dirty word in some Republican circles. Hopefully he will see off Gingrich with his “ethical violations” and a call to an America of the past, not the future, and the “Jesus” candidate Rick Santorum who has just been resurrected. In Australia most of us seem to accept – reluctantly, that a certain level of taxation is in the national interest, and while the Christian Right is also influential, it is not as powerful as it is in the US.
The tide may be turning for Obama. There are some encouraging if small signs – like employment figures of the 3 year low of 8.3%. A trump card could be Hillary Clinton running as Vice-President to Obama, while Joe Biden becomes Secretary of State, as has been suggested.
ASSANGE: Judges have adjourned to consider their judgement about Julian Assange’s extradition to Sweden. He is soon to be a television host on Russia’s RT network, interviewing “10 key political players, thinkers and revolutionaries… who will be shaping the political agendas of tomorrow”.
MISC STATS: There are now more urban Chinese than rural; 5 million dogs are put down a year in the US; $US56.8 billion worldwide sales for McDonald’s from 33,510 restaurants; US national debt is $15 trillion; Mexico’s drug trade is worth $38 billion; a 21% increase in drive-by shootings in Sydney’s suburbs.
MAIL: Susan cheekily asked how my vegetarianism is going. It was Christmas and the holidays and I’ve eaten everything offered to me! I haven’t bought any meat except for my cats. As it has been summer it is lovely eating lots of fruit and salads. Overall I’ve tried to “graze” rather than eat big meals. I eat too much bread, drink too much tea, and I don’t have cakes, biscuits or chocolates in the house.
A Lion Called Christian has just shown on Danish television and thanks for the many emails from Denmark – I’m so glad you have enjoyed it. Friends saw the video in their hotel in India last year and emailed “we didn’t know you spoke such good Hindi”!
TJUKURRTJANU Origins of Western Desert Art is a superb exhibition, which I saw just before it finished at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. These were the first paintings produced in the desert in the early 1970s by Aborigines who brilliantly and effortlessly transferred their traditional designs and creation stories to a new medium of canvas board and acrylic. Look out for the exhibition in Paris later in the year at the Musee du quai Branly (http://www.quaibranly.fr/en/), running 9 October until 27 January 2013. Continuing at the NGV until 24th May is Living Water: Contemporary Art of the Far Western Desert, a colourful and comprehensive exhibition which illustrates how many of the desert Aboriginal artists like Ronnie Tjampitjinpa (below) have developed over the decades, in what has been described as one of the great art movements of the last century.