Ace Bourke photographed by Stephen Oxenbury for Ace Bourke: A Collector's Journey

Ace Bourke photographed by Stephen Oxenbury for Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

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.

Grey Nurse Sharks. Photograph by Justin Gilligan.

Grey Nurse Sharks by Justin Gilligan, courtesy The South Australian Museum ANZANG nature photography competition

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.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

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.

Tracey Moffatt and Peter Mack

Tracey Moffatt and Peter Mack at Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

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…..

Rare hairy nose wombat born at Taronga Park. Image courtesy of Taronga Zoo.

Rare hairy nose wombat born at Taronga Park. Image courtesy of Taronga Zoo.

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.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

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.

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

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.

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey