Mount Kanchenjunga the third highest mountain in the world, as seen from Darjeeling (photograph Ace Bourke, 2010).

Mount Kanchenjunga the third highest mountain in the world, as seen from Darjeeling (photograph Ace Bourke, 2010).

The world is mourning the shooting down of the Malaysian Airline MH17 with the loss of so many lives. Our thoughts are with those innocent passengers, and their families and friends – so many people are touched by this event.  In Australia we have lost 37 people.  Unfortunately, conflict in the Middle East is also claiming many innocent civilians and it is hard not to feel extremely depressed at the moment about the human condition.

Migaloo the whale

Migaloo the whale

WHALES: Meanwhile, life for most of us goes on, and the whales, including albino Migaloo, continue their migration north along our eastern coast. One whale beached itself and after the efforts of many people over several days, finally swam off. The “debate” on whaling at the Australian National Maritime Museum was most interesting with a first-hand account by Jon Lewis of protests and lobbying which closed the last whaling station at Albany, West Australia in 1978. We also heard from brave participants on the Sea Shepherd fleet up against the Japanese whalers. I don’t think many Japanese actually eat whale meat and I know much is frozen and stored in warehouses. Apart from whaling, another threat to whales is the increasing acidification of the oceans, and the amount of plastic refuse that forms huge islands in the oceans. On exhibition at the Australian National Maritime Museum (until 1 February 2015) are the marvellous life-size photographs of whales by Bryant Austin.

Beautiful Whale. Photograph by Bryant Austin. Courtesy ANMM.

Beautiful Whale. Photograph by Bryant Austin. Courtesy ANMM.

Ultra nationalist Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has been in Australia.  Our PM Abbott referred to the Japanese who invaded Sydney Harbour in submarines in the war in 1942.  He said “we admire the skill and sense of honour that they brought to their task, although we disagreed with what they did”. Needless to say these remarks were not well received by Australian soldiers (or their descendants) who fought in the war or by countries like China that were invaded by Japan. A Chinese Daily newspaper described our Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop “a complete fool” after some of her recent remarks, and predicted that her government won’t last long. Given that the Abbott government has 37 communications and social media specialists (at a cost of $4.3 million and compared to 7 people in the previous government), can’t someone vet these loose cannons? Abbott also recently offended our indigenous population by describing Australia as “unsettled or, um, scarcely settled” prior to colonisation. But trade apparently trumps all other considerations, and PM Abe was not even questioned over his intention to continue to hunt whales in the Southern Ocean.

Lion at Werribee Open Zoo, Victoria Australia

Lion at Werribee Open Zoo, Victoria Australia

I could not resist this photograph of visitors and a lion at the Werribee Open Zoo, Victoria. They are actually shielded (from each other) by a glass wall. I am ambiguous about zoos even though they have had to make themselves much more relevant in the areas or research and conservation. I try not to be too cute or kitsch in my choice of photographs…sometimes a very fine line I know..

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

ASYLUM SEEKERS: Despite Amnesty International, the UN and other international human rights agencies documenting in Sri Lanka instances of torture, disappearances, muzzling of journalists, civilian deaths and threats to human rights advocates, our government has blithely returned a boatload of 41 people to Sri Lanka.  Sri Lanka is “peaceful” according to Abbott. The UN has expressed “profound concern” at the actions of the Australian Government. Another 153 Sri Lankan asylum seekers that set out in a boat from India are presently in an undisclosed location somewhere at sea in one of our Customs boats. Thirty children are among these people that have been held for four weeks in windowless cabins, while a High Court challenge to this incident is yet to be resolved. Our Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison hides behind 95 spin doctors to ensure we are told nothing! Meanwhile some children are manifesting mental problems in our detention centres and some mothers are self harming.

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

I think well known photographer Rosemary Laing captures so powerfully the isolation and forbidding nature of some of our detention centres.  I am ashamed to say most Australians are in favour of our tough and inhumane policy – which has bi-partisan support.  What is wrong with us? Is this the same in your countries? I think of the thousands fleeing into Europe from North Africa (1500 recently in one day), and the 52,000 unaccompanied child migrants detained in recent months for attempting to cross into the USA from Central America. 51 million people are displaced globally.

Asa the Leopard. Photograph by Jack Kinross/Mountaintiger Photography.

Asa the Leopard. Photograph by Jack Kinross/Mountaintiger Photography.

LEOPARD: Asa the leopard is the subject of an important “rewilding” exercise in Nepal. Her story is such a typical example of human/wildlife conflict over shrinking natural habitats and the competition for resources. Thanks to Kate who emailed me (below) about Asa and she will be able to give us a firsthand account after her visit to Nepal in November: The leopard is one of the most persecuted and misunderstood of the big cats. In Nepal, a young leopard cub called Asa (which means hope) is the focus of the Leopard Rewilding Program, a collaboration between Wild Tiger Conservation Research and Development, the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation and the Annapurna Conservation Area Project.  Born wild, Asa was orphaned at a very young age and came into the care of Jack Kinross from Wild Tiger in February this year. Asa soon became the motivation to set up a rewilding program for leopards who have been removed from their natural habitat often due to human/wildlife conflict situations. Asa underwent  months of training in a secure area in the Raniban Forest near Pokhara, including daily jungle sessions, and with minimal contact with humans.  It was decided that Asa would be rehabilitated in an area with a good prey base, and away from human habitation, within the Annapurna Conservation Area. After meetings with local communities, Stage 2 of the rewilding process is being launched this month. The rewilding location ensures that Asa, and future leopards in the LRP, will have minimal human contact and the chance to return to their natural habitat. The aim of the LRP is to address the ongoing and complex issues of increasing human/wildlife conflict in Nepal. Follow Asa’s story and the LRP at wildleopard.net and wildtiger.org.

CHEETAHS: Andrew has sent me these two articles on cheetahs (in Africa and Iran) who, like most other wild animals are also competing for habitats and struggling to survive. There may be 12,000 cheetahs left in Africa where they also face the problems arising from the spread of human populations.  There are programs to re-introduce, rehabilitate and “train” cheetahs to be wild. There may be only 40 to 70 Asiatic cheetahs left and they are the world’s second rarest cats. They are smaller and slighter and favour mountainous regions.  There is a concerted effort to protect them in Iran, with 125 game rangers to guard them.  Read here  and here.

Whistlejacket by George Stubbs. 1762. Courtesy The National Gallery.

Whistlejacket by George Stubbs. 1762. Courtesy The National Gallery.

AUSTRALIA: We have had chaos in the Australian Senate with the motley collection of new senators (some are there on preferences with less than 1% of votes) creating havoc for an inept government. People are beginning to realise what a good negotiator ex PM Julia Gilliard was, with all the legislation she steered (undefeated) through a hung parliament. The maverick billionaire MP Clive Palmer is turning out to be everyone’s worst nightmare and it is still not really clear what any of his policies are beyond attracting attention for himself and creating chaos. Even The Australian seemed to have run out of patience with the Government’s incompetence with an Editorial (July 12-13) which was finally critical of the Abbott government’s performance and lack of judgement, as was Peter Van Onselen the previous week (July 5-6) in his article July 5-6 “Abbott trapped in downward spiral all of his making”. The mostly rabid letters to the editor of The Australian call for a double dissolution but with the polls SO low for the government this is most unlikely. 61% of the electorate find the budget “unfair” while Abbott’s approval is between minus 25 and minus 35.

Snoozing koala joey trio, Sydney, Milli and Tucker. Photograph courtesy Taronga Zoo

Snoozing koala joey trio, Sydney, Milli and Tucker. Photograph courtesy Taronga Zoo.

In The Rise and Fall of Australia, Nick Bryant describes how he was surprised on arrival in Australia several years ago about the inaccuracies of the stereotypes about Australians. According to writer/reviewer Louis Nowra, Bryant found a “confident country that was able to absorb many of the better aspects of British and American culture”. However Bryant is “aghast” at the low level of political debate (which, in the case of Abbott in opposition, did not transcend a few slogans), and poll driven policies and responses. He repeats Donald Horne’s quote that Australia is a lucky country run by second rate people. Bryant (and Nowra) wonder why when we have many talented and clever people and are reasonably sophisticated, we present ourselves in such a corny way to the world – kangaroos, Paul Hogan, meat pies etc.  For example, Barack Obama was given a football by Julia Gilliard and a surfboard by Tony Abbott.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Joseph Stiglitz has been in Australia and fortunately quite ubiquitous. See this article he wrote in the SMH titled Inequality: Good reasons to shun the US model about how inequality is now widely recognised as being bad for both the economy and society more widely. One in four families in America live “in poverty”. He thinks Australia would be mad to follow the USA education and health care models. Deregulating university would be a “crime”, while co payments for medical services would be “absurd”. He doesn’t think any of the “for-profit” universities in the USA are particularly good and that they just exploit poor people and are only good at lobbying. See the charmless Judith Sloan in The Australian for her predictable response to Stiglitz’s ideas titled Emulating the U.S? Don’t our politicians (and the Institute of Public Affairs) read or research anything? Stiglitz urges us to tax BAD things – like carbon emissions and pollution, and INVEST in people. He also countered the myth that we have a “debt crisis” and this is backed up by 25 of Australia’s leading economists who have rejected the government’s inaccurate claim that we have a “budget emergency”. They agree that it is only a medium-term “problem” rather than a “crisis”. Read this article by Gareth Hutchens titled Economists rubbish talk of debt crisis.

California Red-Sided Garter Snake.

California Red-Sided Garter Snake

CARBON TAX REPEAL: While the world moves forward on action on climate change, we move backwards!  I am ashamed to say the government has repealed the carbon tax, leaving us with no policy. It is the power and influence of the fossil–fuel industry that is preventing us moving to renewable energy in what has been described as a third industrial revolution. A recent ABC Four Corners program on energy called Power to the People was depressing in that it showed how dumb Australia’s leadership is compared to so many countries – the US, South Korea, China, Germany etc. But I actually found it heartening in that renewable energy will win! Australia may be left behind and miss the economic opportunities but renewables are unstoppable. While investment in renewable energy is now at a “standstill” in Australia, China poured $US19.3 billion into renewables in the June quarter.  See the article in the SMH by Ross Gittins Australia risking future as fuel fossil. The US electric car Tesla with no emissions presently costs $100,000 but with mass production will soon come down to $30,000. Apple is to be 100% off the grid and powered by its own solar farm. There now exists a large scale solar farm that could provide 90% of Canberra’s power needs. Storage of wind and solar energy etc for peak times (or night) is now practical and with increasing capacity.

Giraffees

Giraffes

The ever helpful Rupert Murdoch has just said Australia should not be building windmills and “all that rubbish”. Interestingly, Margaret Thatcher trained as a chemist and was one of the first to warn about global warming. Lord Deben, who was in her cabinet and now heads the independent UK Committee on Climate Change called Abbott’s repeal of the carbon tax “appalling” and that the Australian government was “more concerned with advancing its own short term political interests”.  He said that, in contrast, “66 countries that account for 88% of global emissions have passed laws to address global warming”. After the repeal of the carbon tax, the Executive Director of the Institute of Public Affairs sent a congratulatory email to supporters saying “we did it”.

Swan with cygnets

Swan with cygnets

MIDDLE EAST:  The extremist fighters of the Islamic State now control a third of both Iraq and Syria, and Israel has invaded Gaza. I’m not going to list the growing and disproportionate number of civilian deaths. According to an article by Ari Shavit who wrote My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, Israelis have been living in a safe and prosperous “iron -dome delusion” over the last few years, and are now vulnerable to “irregular forces of irregular entities” on their borders that will “disrupt Israel’s order”.  He is very sad that in the relative quiet of 2009 – 2013 “New thinking was never introduced and fresh ideas were not implemented”. This “undeclared cease fire” offered the opportunity for the major players to create a “unique dynamic for a two state solution”. In an article in the SMH Randa Abdel-Fattah examined the “unwavering” support for Israel by Australia (like America, Europe etc).  She thinks the “peace process” is a “farce” and that with the aggressive expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank, a two state solution is “dead”. While acknowledging rockets have been fired from Gaza, she says “One has to credit a military juggernaut and a covertly nuclear state for its success in framing itself as victim even as it bombs a largely defenceless population”…living in what has been described as “the world’s largest open-air prison”.

Monarch of the Glen by Edward Landseer. 1851. Courtesy National Museums Scotland.

Monarch of the Glen by Edward Landseer. 1851. Courtesy National Museums Scotland.

According to the Pew Research Centre, over the last 12 months, fear about Muslim extremism have been rising in nations with large Muslim populations. The exception is Indonesia where only 4 in 10 voiced concern about extremism. What is good, is that the majority are losing patience with Muslim extremism, and realise it is counter- productive for their futures.

Boy and marmot

Boy and marmot

We have just had an excellent SBS 4 part television series Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl which traces the history of the Lebanese community in Australia over the last 30 years. Given the difficulties of migrating to another country, racism, the language barrier and a lack of educational and vocational opportunities, inevitably a small percentage has been into drugs, crime and car rebirthing etc. Unfortunately the whole Lebanese community has been tarnished by this small minority and demonised by every “Muslim” incident around the world. It was alarming to be reminded of the racist Cronulla riots in 2005, which happened just across the water from where I live. Hundreds of white Anglo kids went on a drunken rampage baying for blood – whipped up by the appalling shock jock Alan Jones. Ugly revenge attacks followed. The Shire, as our area is called, does not appreciate difference or diversity. Perhaps one can understand how our great swimming champion Ian Thorpe, who has lived in the Shire, felt so inhibited – or frightened, of coming out as gay, when initially asked as a 16 year old.

IRAQ: In a recent article for The Saturday Paper titled The Iraq War’s coalition of the shilling esteemed academic Robert Manne revisits our participation in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq and the fraudulent reasons for it. He concludes: “The leaders of the Australian war party – John Howard, Rupert Murdoch, Alexander Downer – and their most influential cheerleaders – Chris Mitchell, Andrew Bolt, Greg Sheridan – bear some responsibility for the deaths of half a million Iraqis…deaths still to come…the unimaginable suffering endured…And yet so far as I am aware – their supreme self-confidence apparently unaffected by the catastrophe they had helped unleash in Iraq – not one of these warriors of the right has expressed even one word of contrition or remorse”. ISIL has now declared an “Islamic State” and are the world’s richest militant group with assets of least $2 billion.

Raju the elephant

Raju the elephant

ELEPHANTS: Raju the elephant has been freed from possibly 50 years of begging for coins. Alerted by the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department in India, the North London charity Wildlife SOS travelled to India to free him, which was resisted by Raju’s current owner. Save the Elephant estimates that 33,000 African elephants have been killed annually between 2010-2012. This is driven by the price of ivory having tripled in the last four years. China is the world’s biggest market and the Japanese also have an appetite for it.  Sales of ivory in Bangkok have also nearly trebled in the past year.

INDIA: I have been asked to speak at the conference of the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) conference in September in Jaipur. I’m looking forward to meeting many of the delegates who are doing great work on behalf of animals in India. I have visited India many times and appreciate the magnitude of their challenges. I’m now on the committee of Working for Animals, who runs two animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong. I blogged about my visit there in 2010. As you can see,the shelters are in the most beautiful locations and the animals are cared for so sympathetically. I accompanied the staff and vets to an outlying area where people brought in there cats and dogs for examinations and treatments etc.  Strategies such as these have eliminated rabies from the surrounding areas. WFA also contribute to the Human Elephant Learning Projects which offer instruction on more appropriate care of elephants, and the Help in Suffering Animal Shelter.

CONGRATULATIONS: Joko Widodo appears to have won  the presidential election in Indonesia. I fear Prabowa Subianto will be a very bad loser. The more I read about him the worse he sounds. Megawati and her daughter seemed a millstone around Joko’s neck during the election and are rather clueless members of an elite I hope Indonesia has now broken free of… Our new “teenage sensation” Nick Kyrgios beat Rafa at Wimbledon in the quarter finals (mixed feelings), but Djokovic beat Federer in a marvellous 5 set match. Congratulations to Germany for winning the World Cup.

Head of a Stag by Diego Velázquez. Courtesy of Museo Nacional Del Prado.

Head of a Stag by Diego Velázquez. Courtesy of Museo Nacional Del Prado.

MISC STATS: one person dies every 6 seconds from smoking; according to the UN 2014 World Drug Report Australia has the highest rate of ecstasy use, is 2nd for opioids, 3rd for methamphetamine’s, 4th for cocaine and 7th for cannabis; Tracey Emin’s famous unmade bed My Bed sold for $4.6 million at auction; 60% of Americans own pets and their pet industry is worth $55 billion annually; the Pope estimates 2% of the Roman Catholic clergy are pedophiles, but others say it is closer to 4%; Rebekah Brooks was paid 11 million pounds by Rupert Murdoch –see the ABC Four Corners report on the News of the World phone hacking scandal  Rupert, Rebekah and Andy – it is chilling.

MAIL: Thanks to Kate, Francois, Deb, Elaine, Andrew, Bob, William, Madeleine, MoonieBlues etc for contributions and drawing my attention to articles and images.

VALE:  I met Judy Cuppaidge sailing to New York on the SS France many years ago and we remained great friends. She was a well known landscape architect, horticulturalist, artist, writer cat lover and much else, and will be sadly missed.

WATCHING: On the ABC there is the second series of Art + Soul by curator Hetti Perkins. This series does gives the opportunity to look in some depth at Aboriginal art – the first episode was two artists I especially admire – Daniel Boyd and Jonathan Jones.

Akhal-Teke from Turkmenistan was announced the most beautiful horse in the world

Akhal-Teke from Turkmenistan was announced the most beautiful horse in the world

There was also a poignant story on the ABC about the Big Ears Sanctuary where Jacqui Steele and her partner look after many unwanted animals or pets on 25 acres in Tasmania. For many of us it would be a dream come true with 400 rabbits, cats, donkeys, pigs etc. Unfortunately Jacqui is gravely ill but so far is undeterred although the future is so uncertain.  I think they could use our financial support to continue their excellent work – running costs are $90,000 per year. On 60 Minutes there was a story of the 800 mountain gorillas in the Virunga National Park, Congo. The gorillas have survived nearby civil wars, giant displacements of people, poaching etc and their population has stabilised, even increasing, due to the vigilance of the rangers. However, 150 rangers have been killed in the last 20 years. We should all pay tribute to the many devoted rangers in Africa and around the world who literally put their lives on the line for animals. There is a foundation to support them and their families – The Thin Green Line Foundation. Of course the new threat to the gorillas is oil and the UK company SOCO. It is alleged that they have corruptly been given exploration rights over 85% of the park, which would herald the end – for the Park, and for the gorillas.

GORE VIDAL: I attended a screening of Gore Vidal – The United States of Amnesia with the director Nicholas Wrathall available for questions. It has opened in cinemas in the USA and will be screened shortly on our ABC.  You can view the trailer here. I found it a marvellous documentary and Gore was so intelligent and perceptive.  He was well positioned as the ultimate insider/outsider, with an aristocratic family close to political power, and surrounded by celebrities and famous people.  He was so ahead of his time. He was among the first to warn about many of the issues we are still grappling with: economic inequality (which he spoke of in the 1960s); the almost inescapable power of big corporations; the power of the neo cons; electronic surveillance; American imperialism and how this has inevitably made America a target; and he was scathing about virtually all modern presidents… He was a brilliant writer, was urbane, witty and bitchy – and devastatingly sarcastic about people like Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and William F Buckley. Everything rings so true and is so relevant TODAY!

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