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!

George Adamson and Christian at Kora, Kenya

George Adamson and Christian at Kora, Kenya

CAMPAIGN AGAINST CANNED HUNTING: The CACH campaign seems to be growing – and not surprisingly, as so few reasonable people would support the farming of lions to be hunted. I now ring travel agents when I see advertisements for tours to Africa and check they are sending their clients to reputable wildlife sanctuaries. Canned Hunting was also mentioned in a recent 60 Minutes story on Kevin Richardson and his lovely shampooed looking lions in South Africa.  Richardson is on the “reputable” list – but I do think he takes risks with the lions, even though they adore him. I did finally watch the story that was on Dateline SBS in January How Much Would You Pay to Kill a Lion?  I could hardly watch as lions were shot and the hunters gloated over their successful kills.

Lion, bear and tiger – once the pets of a drug dealer, and now still cohabiting.

Lion, bear and tiger – once the pets of a drug dealer, and now still cohabiting.

In Australia, a Liberal Party MP Jason Wood gave a speech in the House of Representatives about canned hunting and against importing lion and animal parts into Australia.  I very much appreciate his efforts. You can sign his petition here. This is what needs to happen in the USA and Europe. I received a formal (unsigned) response from The White House and Barack Obama to my email about the importation of lion and animals parts into the USA.  He “shared my concern for animal welfare”.  At least someone received it!

 

AVAAZ: They are running a campaign in South Africa against the trade in lion parts. They intend for this campaign to hurt South Africa as a tourist destination so sign their petition here. There is also a petition about the illegal sale of exotic animal parts – and ivory – on eBay – sign the petition here.  Whenever I say “sign here” rather bossily, I know you all make up your own minds, but I know most of you care deeply about many of these issues.

 

TONY THE TIGER:  Shamefully, the Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has “quietly” signed a bill allowing the owner of Tony the Tiger to keep him as a roadside attraction.  The ALDF are filing a lawsuit for violating the State Constitution.  This is SO depressing – I do urge any Americans to ring the Governor and express your displeasure. This is completely unacceptable. Read more on the update here.

Angel the dolphine. Image sources Austalia for DolphinsAngel the dolphine. Image sources Austalia for Dolphins

Angel the dolphin. Image sourced: Australia for Dolphins

ACTION FOR ANGEL: Yet another story of an imprisoned animal for our “entertainment”. Angel, the albino dolphin calf is in a tiny indoor tank at the Taiji Whale Museum. Sign the petition here organised by Australia for Dolphins – and they ask for us to circulate it. The Japanese seem determined to continue hunting whales…and their annual slaughter of dolphins at Taiji. This Sunday 29th June there is a Whale of a Debate at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney (at 2.30pm) discussing historical and contemporary anti-whaling.  Speakers will include members of the Sea Shepherd and conservationist and photographer Jonny Lewis.

Alice Walker with Caroline Baum at The Sydney Writers' Festival. Image source: The Guardian. Photograph by Prudence Upton

Alice Walker with Caroline Baum at The Sydney Writers’ Festival. Image source: The Guardian. Photograph by Prudence Upton

ALICE WALKER: The Sydney Writers Festival was on recently and while I did not attend, I heard and saw various interviews on radio and television. It did make me think – we have so many intelligent, perceptive, compassionate and ingenious people in the world – why is our country (and the world) run by so many moronic people that just don’t get it? I know I can be slow onto some things, but I am now mad on Alice Walker – she get’s it!  I hung on her every word and will now start reading her intensively. I feel as if I know The Color Purple although I’m not sure if I read the book in the 1980s or saw the movie.

When asked for her advice for Obama Alice said “RUN”!  She hates the use of drones and that he is part of the “war machine”.  “Aren’t we smarter than buying weapons?”  “We have to change the system” – all presidents are hostage to it. The capitalist system is now part of the problem. She supports the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and thinks women would make more empathetic leaders.

While nature is for her a “balm” that we “abuse”, writing is a “medicine”. She listens to, and “only”works for her ancestors. Fiction has a “freedom”, while poetry is autonomous. It “descends”, you “can’t chase after it”, and the “muse comes at will”.  She named Tolstoy and Dostoevsky first when asked which writers she admires. She saw her mother and grandmother enslaved by their many children so didn’t particularly want to be a mother.  I thought she was amusing about her daughter who has been quite critical of her in the past, although I’m sure this was hurtful. She wants us to” turn to each other” and “talk things through”. Life’s purpose and why she isn’t sitting on her cushion meditating “or scuba diving” is “we exist to help each other”. “The deep joy is to show up for others”.   For her, this included being part of the flotilla that sailed to Gaza in 2010.

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer  Will Burrard-Lucas

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas

USA: Last month saw yet another senseless mass shooting in the USA. One of the victim’s father Richard Martinez was so articulate asking: “Why did Chris die?  Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians, and the NRA…. What has changed?  Have we learned nothing?  Where the hell is the leadership?…  Life doesn’t have to be like this”. When members of the US Congress rang him offering him condolences he said “I don’t care about your sympathy. I don’t give a shit that you feel sorry for me.  Get to work and DO something”.

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer  Will Burrard-Lucas

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas

In Glenn Greenwald’s recent book No Place to Hide he describes his encounter with Edward Snowden. He had to put his mobile phone in the hotel mini bar – as now anything can be transformed into a listening device!  He says the Snowden cache reveals a regime seeking “the complete elimination of electronic privacy worldwide”!

Hillary Clinton was very articulate in an interview on our ABC promoting her book Hard Choices. Phillip Adams and his guests were not flattering about her on his radio program. They found the book  mostly tedious and boring.  Adams choked over the $14 million advance!  They acknowledged that she is very hard working and clever, but thought she was a better administrator than a politician. It appears as if she is already campaigning for the Presidency and certainly has a chance, especially as she has such good “name recognition”.  Adams prefers Elizabeth Warren.  Hillary and I are about the same age (and both Scorpios) and I have fantasised, as you do, wondering if I could physically and mentally do a big job like that now.  I don’t think I ever could have!  Americans are less ageist than we are in Australia, and I do think Hillary appeared quite good as Secretary of State, especially compared to John Kerry.

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer  Will Burrard-Lucas

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas

CLIMATE CHANGE: Well done Obama for acting on climate change with the US cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30% below 2005 levels by 2020. Our PM Abbott was recently in Canada and wanted to form a conservative climate change deniers club with PM Harper, but the UK and NZ did not want to join. Next day (after dinner with Rupert Murdoch) Abbott was star struck meeting Obama and said he and Obama’s climate change policies were very close, which is just a complete lie. Next day he was praising King Coal in Houston and saying the world would be dependent on coal “for decades”. What does this man actually believe?

Abbott has succeeded – so far – in ensuring climate change is not on the agenda at the November G20 meeting  of world leaders in Australia!

 

GOOD ARTICLES: Paul Krugman has written an excellent article on climate change in the New York Times. Krugman argues that the economic impact of carbon reductions is actually quite modest – despite the scare mongering, and the debate is a “toxic mix of ideology and anti-intellectualism” which is very true of our conservative politicians and businessmen in Australia.

Bill McKibben, co-founder of the climate change movement 350.org writes in an article that Abbott and Harper have put nations “on the road to disaster”.  He points out how Harper was a former oil executive and how he has been described as a bully, “intolerant of criticism and dissent”.  The development of the Canadian tar sands and Australia’s coal in the Galilee basin alone could ensure it would be impossible to ever bring the world’s temperatures under control. He notes, however, that their extremism is spawning “widespread resistance”.

There was an excellent summary about action on climate change in the editorial in the SMH June 24th see here.

Ian Dunlop, a former oil, gas and coal industry executive, recently wrote in the SMH that our federal government “is taking anti-science to new heights. Its scorched earth approach discards virtually everything not in line with narrow, free market ideology centred on sustaining Australia’s 20th century dig-it-up-and-ship-it-out economic growth model”.  Dunlop goes on to say that the government’s Direct Action white paper has no scientific and economic grounding…and is “the climate policy you have when you don’t want a policy”.

Uncertainty is affecting – as was intended – investment and confidence in the renewable energy sector.

Encouragingly, the tide may be turning, and just when this government is about to remove our effective carbon tax, 63% of Australians are now increasingly concerned about climate change (again) and now believe we should be taking a “a leadership role in reducing emissions”.

In the most surprising move, our billionaire mining maverick politician Clive Palmer, who through several senators holds the balance of power in the Senate, turned up at a press conference with Al Gore by his side!  No-one is sure yet what this means for action on climate change, and if this was just a stunt and Gore has been played as a sucker. Palmer mines coal and nickel so will love not having to pay a hefty carbon tax.  We could be left without an emissions trading scheme and a plan to do nothing, but Palmer, apparently at Gore’s urging,  seems to now want to retain the Renewable Energy Target and oppose the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corp and the Climate Change Authority.

forests

CELEBRITIES FOR THE ENVIRONMENT: About to air in the USA is a television series, Years of Living Dangerously  which urges action on climate change and has the involvement of industry heavyweights and celebrities like James Cameron, Matt Damon and Harrison Ford.

Leonardo DiCaprio recently spoke out about the damage to the Great Barrier Reef, which is at risk of being listed as “in danger”.  Leonardo has witnessed the changes for the worse since he first swam there 20 years ago.  This year he has donated $US10 million to ocean conservation, and $4 million to tiger and elephant projects.

Geoffrey Rush spoke up about our government’s attempt to delist 74,000 hectares of Tasmania’s forests which has just been rejected by the World Heritage Committee. Our government’s arguments for delisting were described as a “feeble justification”, while many people were shocked that the delisting had been attempted in the first place.

 

boy with fish

IPA:  I am only just beginning to comprehend the undue and insidious influence of the conservative “think tank” the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) in Australia. This ideologically conservative group is our Tea Party, but smarter and therefore more dangerous. Abbott addressed them in April last year  and the audience included the unholy alliance of Rupert Murdoch, Gina Rinehart and Cardinal Pell!!!

Until I read this article I had no idea of the influence of the IPA on the country, and on Abbott who is implementing many of their policies.  I have already discussed the appointment of several of these climate change denying, older businessmen to key positions and reviews:  Tony Shepherd conducting the heartless Commission of Audit; Dick Warburton reviewing the Renewable Energy Target; and Maurice Newman, Chairman of the PM’s Business Advisory Council.

The IPA are skilled propagandists and work through fronts such as the Australian Conservation Foundation which is actually anti-conservation!  They “muddied the waters” recently over the attempt to delist part of the Tasmanian forest.  In what has been described as a “global conspiracy” the IPA have led an active campaign (courtesy Murdoch press) against the plain packaging of cigarettes, trying to make a case it has led to more smoking – which apparently it has not.  The IPA are funded by companies such as Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Esso and Caltex.

Our PM was recently abroad – his school boy French in France was excruciating – worse than mine, and he has a certain gaucheness which could be endearing if he was not our PM.  I liked the letter to The Australian newspaper which stated “I am confused – there appears to be two Tony Abbotts travelling around North America, one as described by the Fairfax and ABC media outlets and another Tony Abbott as reported by The Australian”. (from Michael Burd, Toorak, Victoria).

Australia does seem to be currently divided along these lines.  Murdoch controls over 70% of the print media and unashamedly and uncritically supports the government,  backed up by a few popular and shrill radio shock jocks. Their targets consistently include the Fairfax media and especially the ABC.

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks as Jedda

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks as Jedda

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks starred in the film Jedda which was a very dramatic and tragic Australian film made by Charles Chauvel in 1955.  Jedda was about race and forbidden love, and was way ahead of its time.  After retreating to a convent, Rosalie emerged to become a respected Aboriginal elder and leader.

Recently on a television program (Q & A on the ABC) a fellow guest who I think was Peter Coleman, suggested that the “Aboriginal problem” could be “fixed” by assimilation into white society.  Rosalie responded with the most brilliant and emphatic declaration of her Aboriginality and who she was.  She was reported (inaccurately) in the press as saying:

“My language is (Arrernte) in spite of the whiteness trying to penetrate into my brain by assimilationists – I am alive, I am here and now – and I speak my language. I practise my cultural essence of me. Don’t try and suppress me and don’t call me a problem. I am not the problem”. See the footage of her full response here.

 

UTOPIA: John Pilger’s documentary Utopia examines the present situation for Aboriginal people.  Rosalie actually comes from Utopia. The documentary is too long but devastating nevertheless.  Pilger has filed several stories over the decades on this subject, and very little seems to have changed.  One wonders if things have actuallyeven got worse in many respects for Aboriginal people: their housing; health; employment opportunities; incarceration rates; suicide epidemics etc. These days the Labor Government and the “left” are criticised with some justification for failing Aboriginal people. Many people like myself have supported Aboriginal “self-determination” and we have also been criticised for caring about digging up and trashing the environment. Apparently we have  held Aboriginal people back from economic development.  I would caution Aborigines from expecting too much from conservative governments and the mining industry…

Alice Walker: “The coloniser does not have the capacity to feel remorse – I don’t see it – even today”.

Ace in Michael Riley’s exhibition Strength and Beauty, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Ace in Michael Riley’s exhibition, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

MICHAEL RILEY: Michael Riley was a leading Aboriginal photographer who died in 2004. The National Portrait Gallery recently purchased a selection of his portraits taken between 1984 and 1989 and these photographs are currently on exhibition.  Michael’s subjects at this time were his extraordinary generation of attractive and talented Aboriginals that had emerged and broken the stereotypes in many ways – not least how they were represented.  They included artist Tracey Moffatt, politician Linda Burney and curators Djon Mundine, Brenda Croft and Hetti Perkins.  I was asked to speak at the NPG as I was a friend and had exhibited Michael Riley.  I am also on the Michael Riley Foundation.  More of Michael’s work can be seen at www.thecommercialgallery.com or www.michaelriley.com.au.

Darrell by Micahel Riley

Darrell by Michael Riley

Maria by Michael Riley

Maria by Michael Riley

Animals Category winner in the iPhone Awards, Michael O’Neal of San Francisco said that he came across this friendly fox in the Wyoming wilds. “I sat in the road for 10 minutes with him…no cars, not a soul around, just me and this red fox” he said. Foxes and cats are primarily blamed and demonised  for Australia’s extinction rate of native animals which is “the worst in the world”.  We are losing one mammal every decade and have lost 28 or 29 since colonisation in 1788, with 60 presently endangered.

Fox by Michael O'Neal in the 7th iPhone Photography Awards

Fox by Michael O’Neal in the 7th iPhone Photography Awards

AG-GAG LAWS: It is going to become an offence to film inhumane conditions for animals in Australia.  In the USA it is already an offence for any “audio or video recording” at a farm facility. Why is it not an offence to have animals cruelly confined in appalling conditions?

 

ISRAEL: The Australian government created yet another unnecessary problem for themselves by arguing that East Jerusalem was “disputed” and not “occupied”.  Israel is the only country in the world to articulate similar views. Our government argued that this was not a change of policy, but they have been changing their position over Israel by stealth, illustrated by several votes, or abstentions, at the UN.  Trade sanctions over our cattle, sheep and wheat exports were subsequently threatened against Australia by Arab and Islamic countries,  and 22 international diplomatic representatives demanded to meet our Foreign Minister in Canberra.

Israel is building 3000 more settlement homes in the Occupied Territories as a punishment for the reconciliation between the PLO in the West Bank and Hamas, who control Gaza.  Many Palestinians are also being punished at the moment  because of  3 missing Israeli teenagers.  While  their disappearance is extremely concerning – what about the 7 Palestinians that have been killed in the search for them?  Israeli forces seem to have rampaged through many Palestinian houses, and harassed and detained hundreds of people.

Alice Walker on Israel: “The land they are taking is not theirs and they have to give it back”.  She actually made her remark that “the coloniser does not have the capacity to feel remorse” about Israel, but said it applied everywhere – Australia, USA etc.  She also said that with $3 billion a year coming from the US to Israel, “we can’t afford you”.  Her participation in the flotilla to Gaza in 2010 demonstrated her courage and commitment.

 

horse leap

 

MIDDLE EAST: Iraq is disintegrating and in the absence of any solutions it is tempting to just think Iraq and Syria should be left to unravel.   Their borders are an unnatural colonial construct and they should regroup along more natural tribal and sectarian lines. It is the humanitarian catastrophe for so many innocent civilians that is most concerning. Tony Blair is still in denial, blaming the Iraqi PM and inaction over Syria. I loved Boris Johnston saying  “Tony Blair has gone mad”. George Bush Jr and our John Howard have been VERY quiet.  Cheney is as cocky and without remorse as ever, and seems to blame Obama.

Many millions of us marched around the world against the invasion of Iraq, and we were right!  I did mention the threat and ambitions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) several blogs back – how has everyone been taken by surprise?  It is a complete intelligence failure. The thug in the suit, Nouri al-Maliki was an appalling choice as PM by the West and he has made no attempt to include the Sunnis or Kurds.  Even now he is refusing to consider a unity government. One of many disastrous decisions by the USA was to de Baathify Iraq as it left no-one with any experience for administration or the army, and just created many disaffected and resentful enemies. The Sunni-Shiite split goes back to the succession to the prophet Muhammad after his death in 632!  Shiities say Ali, the prophet’s cousin was the rightful successor and was cheated by the Sunnis “Rightfully Guided Caliphs” Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman and Ali!!!!!

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal

READING, LISTENING & WATCHING: Wimbledon is on and I was thrilled of course that Rafa won recently in Paris. This was his 9th French Open.  It was a great victory and he is now equal second with Pete Sampras on 14 Majors. Elizabeth Wilson has recently written a book LOVE GAME A History of Tennis.   Her book sounds very informative historically and unlike most sports, women participated from the start.  Like many people today, she prefers Federer’s graceful style to Rafa grinding his opponents down in a “python strangle”.

NSW has finally won the State of Origin rugby league after Queensland won for 8 years straight. I am sort of watching the World Cup but prefer the news reports of the few spectacular goals. This sport is building in Australia, especially as there are serious injuries – especially concussion, in the rugby union and league codes. Soccer officials will have to do something about the blatant corruption, like awarding the World Cup to Qatar.

OK, I confess I have been watching The Voice.  I don’t care too much about the contestants but I love the judges: Ricky Martin is, well, Ricky, Kylie Minogue has been surprisingly engaging, Joel Madden goes down very well in Australia and will.i.am is brilliant!

I haven’t read anything by the serial novelist (4 books a year) Alexander McCall Smith. I heard a repeat of his interview at the Sydney Writers Festival in 2013 and he was hilarious and laughed along with the audience at his own jokes and the madness of life. I’ve just bought his book on his favourite poet What W.H. Auden Can Do For You.

pups

JEFFREY MASSON:  I’ve just read Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s latest book  BEASTS – What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil.  I think Jeffrey combines all of his experience, knowledge and intelligence in this book, examining the huge question of violence in humans and animals and the “search for the origins of human violence”.  It is a complex debate, and I found the book very thought provoking as he argues, for example, how agriculture, property ownership and the domestication of animals changed human behaviour.  The book contains fascinating information about many different animals and species, and the effects of human intervention in the natural life of animals.

Christian the lion is mentioned as an illustration of a wild animal expressing friendship and love for another species – especially a predator, and how Christian’s wild lioness friends “indulged” us which we also found astounding.  This made me think about Christian and the other lions in George Adamson’s man-made pride, as they were an “intervention” into the territory of wild lions already established at Kora.  These lions mostly tried to kill most of George’s introduced males and cubs, but mated with the lionesses.  Christian, however, seemed to come to what has been described as an unusual “truce” with them, but he ultimately had to look for his own territory elsewhere.  BEASTS  also made me think very deeply about the behaviour of cats!

 

WORLD: China is being quite confrontational/active/defensive in the South and East China Sea offending Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and the USA. Russia is getting more actively involved in Asia and cooperating much more with China (suppyling natural gas etc). 6 months after Super Typhoon Haiyan, thousands of survivors are still without homes in the Philippines. Military leaders seem to be on the move and are usually bad for the economy – and for press freedoms and democracy.  In Egypt an Australian journalist Peter Greste working for al-Jazeera has just received a 7 year jail sentence.  He and two other journalists have been caught in the machinations of the Saudi Arabia vs Qatar enmity.  al-Jazeera is based in Qatar and is regarded as the “mouthpiece” of the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood.  Many of the Brotherhood are still facing imprisonment and even the death penalty in Egypt.  Saudi Arabia is now giving Egypt $12 billion, compared to $650 million in aid from the USA. The military are installed in Thailand and  Frank Bainimarama  is bound to win in Fiji. Ex general Pabowa Subianto, who has a terrible human rights record is gaining momentum for the next presidency in Indonesia, while the running mate of his opponent Joko Widodo also sounds pretty frightening.  Papua New Guinea’s PM Peter O’Neill is fighting corruption charges, and while we are not entirely innocent in Australia, corruption does seem endemic in our nearest neighbours PNG and Indonesia.

 

MAIL: Thanks to Scott, MoonieBlues, Bob, Tim, Aidan, Jeffrey, Sylvia and others for sending me interesting articles and images.  My thoughts are with William who lost his beloved cat O’Malley,  and Ines who takes in cats from shelters and recently lost another one called Bonnie.

To keep up to date with interesting articles and animal related activities all over the world see the latest Minding Animal Bulletin No22 here, especially about a Documentary Festival in New Delhi 13 -20 January 2015, and interesting articles and reviews in Vol 3 Number 1 of the Animal Studies Journal  here.

Possession Island by Gordon Bennett. Courtesy Museum of Sydney.

Possession Island by Gordon Bennett. Courtesy Museum of Sydney.

VALE: One of Australia’s leading artists Gordon Bennett has died unexpectedly. Many of his works concerned his identity as an Aboriginal person, but his subject matter and styles were wide ranging.  He could out post-modernist the post-modernists!  I was lucky to have known him and curated his work into several of my exhibitions.  He summed up what I wanted said so eloquently about colonisation – the way Daniel Boyd has more recently. He was highly intelligent, attractive and quite shy and private.  His work is currently in the Berlin Biennale.  See Richard Bell’s article on Gordon Bennett in The Guardian here. My condolences to his mother, his wife Leanne and daughter Caitlin.

Cole Classic. Photograph by Anthony Johnson

30th annual Cole Classic.
Photograph by Anthony Johnson

I love the photographs each year of this Harbour event for intrepid swimmers of all ages.

BLOG: I realise my mix of interests isn’t necessarily yours, and I try not to let my politics and layman attempts to understand world events alienate those of you who are more interested in animals and wildlife issues. That’s why I have my paragraph headings – so you can skip.  However, I don’t think a love and concern for animals, wildlife, and the environment can actually be separated out from the political, social and economic issues that are facing the world.  Is the present rate of economic growth sustainable?  Can there be a balance rather than competition between humans and animals for diminishing resources and habitats?  What sort of society are we becoming and do we care for the less fortunate and for other related social justice issues?  Trying to understand these questions inevitably leads to asking which leaders, or political parties, in one’s own opinion, are best equipped to grapple with these very difficult questions. So to me, all these issues I am concerned about are related, and any solutions have to be holistic.

Tony the Tiger - Courtesy of S. Zaunbrecher

Tony the Tiger. Courtesy of S. Zaunbrecher

TONY THE TIGER: Thanks to Dee de Santis for this very comprehensive update on Tony. Many comments left by people were touching. It was quite a thrill to see new photographs of him, and then heart breaking to think how much more time will he waste in that cage?  Let’s hope for some action after the 19th February court case. There is a petition to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries which I urge you to sign and publicise – this is an easy way we can help. I’ve also renewed my membership of the ALDF.

TIGERS: Several of my friends have loved the book  Life of Pi, contrary to my earlier assertion that many did not finish the book.  The film is beautifully made and deserves the Awards it has won.  I am unsettled by both the film and the book but find it hard to describe why – I got a little waterlogged in both.  I’m concerned about the portrayal and role in the human/animal relationship of aggression, domination and training, fear and self –preservation notwithstanding. However, perhaps that is the power of this story/fable to raise questions which I am still thinking about.

'Life of Pi' The Movie

‘Life of Pi’ The Movie

I loved the tiger not being particularly grateful.  What cat ever says thank you!  I’m always rather annoyed by my cats’ behaviour at dinner time. They love me and rub themselves against my legs in anticipation of dinner, but once fed, they never say thank-you, and groom themselves with their backs to me and make me feel I am completely irrelevant, which for the time being, I am.

TIGER STATS: 3,062 to 3,948 in the wild; 40,000 in captivity; 1,571 to 1,875 in India; 923 killed by poachers in India between 1994 and 2010.

BOURKE: I was appalled recently to see the headline in the SMH: Bourke tops list: more dangerous than any country in the world. This country town in the remote north west of NSW has the highest assault rate in the state, along with break ins and car theft. Most crime is opportunistic and committed by disadvantaged youth. The population of 3000 consists of a large indigenous population made up of 22 different language groups who seem to have  been failed by both Federal and State Governments for many generations. Unfortunately, many country towns face similar problems and challenges.
My ancestor Richard Bourke has given our name to the town and I feel personally ashamed that people in Australia have to try and live under these conditions. When surveyor and explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell visited the area in 1835, after “tensions” with the local aboriginals, a stockade was built for protection, and as Bourke was Governor of NSW at this time (1831-1837), Fort Bourke was named after him. A fort or stockade was not an auspicious start.

Photo by John William Lindt c.1870s

Photo by John William Lindt c.1870s

John Lindt took these photographs in the Grafton area in the 1870s. Carefully staged studio photographs like this were popular in Europe, and helped to make Lindt’s reputation. The local community has been trying with some difficulty to identify the subjects and unfortunately this shows how successfully Aboriginal people were dispossessed from their land, and their family histories and ties broken.

Photo by John William Lindt c.1870s

Photo by John William Lindt c.1870s

Aboriginals make up a disproportionate percentage of our prison populations. Although they are only 2.3% of the population, 45% of male prisoners, 33% of women prisoners and 50% of juvenile detainees are indigenous. Unfortunately for some it is a rite of passage, or a respite from tough home lives. There are very few community based diversionary programs focused on drug or alcohol prevention or rehabilitation.

ASYLUM SEEKERS: While our treatment of Aborigines is an historical, and ongoing national disgrace, our treatment of asylum seekers is a present one. Both parties are competing to be as mean as each other. There have been recent scathing reports and accounts of conditions at the off-shore detention centres on Manus Island (PNG) and Nauru. As of November 2012, 10,000 asylum seekers were held in detention centres or in the community. 591 have been in detention for more than 2 years, and 923 detained for more than 12 months. Many children are included in these statistics, and unsurprisingly, people are developing serious mental problems and self-harming.

ENVIRONMENT: Both major political parties in Australia seem to be intent on “cutting it down, digging it up and shipping it out”. The Federal Government has just given the go ahead for several highly contentious projects. Five thousand hectares of old growth forests in the Leard Forest will be cut down for the Maules Creek mine, threatening koala habitats and much else, and forcing farmers off their land by soil and water damage. The Boggabri mine will be expanded and permission has been given for a massive Coal Seam Gas development for Gloucester. These projects will produce 47 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – more than some countries produce.

Christine Milne, leader of the Greens, recently said the decisions was further proof that the Labor Party was in the pockets of the big miners. “They have not only sold out the Great Barrier Reef to the mining industry, James Price Point to the gas industry, some of Australia’s best farmland to coal seam gas, but now they have also given over the Tarkine”. The Tarkine is a pristine wilderness area in Tasmania and the Government has just ruled out giving it a natural heritage listing which would offer some protection against exploitation.

Without any fuss and arousing little concern, the “agreement” between the Greens and the ALP has been dissolved.

The NSW Government has been forced by community outcry to create a 2 kilometer buffer between residential zones and mining.  Tensions also seem to be escalating as the date for hunting in some National Parks and reserves draws close.

The highly contentious Mining Tax which the miners spent $22 million opposing, and contributed towards Rudd losing his Prime Ministership, has only raised a paltry $126 million as opposed to the projected $2 billion – but I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of that.  Unfortunately it contributes to making the government look incompetent and combined with bad polls for Julia Gillard, feeds the incessant leadership speculation.  The amount of “look at me” media attention Kevin Rudd generates each day is just appalling and counter productive.  Interestingly, both parties have ex leaders who are much more popular with the public.

George Adamson and Christian c.1972/3.  Courtesy GAWPT

George Adamson and Christian c.1972/3.
Courtesy GAWPT

Joy and George Adamson were among the first to warn of the fragility of the environment and could see from experience how animal numbers were dwindling and the many challenges that lay ahead.  There are 70% fewer lions in Africa since Christian’s time.  I think this is one of the last photographs of Christian and shows what a huge lion he was growing into.

I think the conservation movement in Australia is getting stronger and stronger and with a new constituency – conservative land owning people who have never protested in their life but do not want to live with the effects of mining and the contamination of their land – by dust, or destruction of the water aquifers etc.  They also want to farm sustainably and care for their animals humanely. They are finding common ground with the Greens and environmentalists, and overall many people are just no longer prepared to vote for parties that have so little disregard for our long term sustainability or viability.

AUSTRALIAN POLITICS: Nate Silver correctly forecast the results in 50 states in the last American election. He has been in Australia playing poker and based on opinion polls he thinks the Coalition Opposition should win our next election on 14 September 2013.  He did say however, he needs to see polls closer to the election.  I think Julia Gillard has been amazingly resilient and hard working – but she has no vision beyond the cliche “working families”.  The ALP can’t construct a positive narrative for themselves from their successful economic management in troubled times, they make unnecessary mistakes, and are dogged by several unsavoury scandals.  The Opposition leader Tony Abbott has few policies and none seem costed, but somehow he promises to return to a budget surplus. It is becoming very obvious he is avoiding any serious interviews or scrutiny – he specialises in macho sports shots or in a hard hat at various places most days, although lately he has been trying to look “presidential”.  Removing the carbon tax as he has promised already looks problematic and complex, apart from being reactionary.  Although Tony Abbott was a Rhodes Scholar, we just can’t have a PM that says “somethink”!

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo looks in my window

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo looks in my window

If I can find one, I’m going to vote for a party or a politician that has values beyond their own short term interests  (usually getting into parliament, and then hanging on), and obviously with views I agree with. I want to see a genuine concern for the environment and it’s sustainability ( I can live with less if that is what is required); fair access to education for all; reconciliation and compensation to Aboriginals; Australia becoming a republic; leadership on social justice and human rights issues, and genuine care of the less fortunate.

GITTINS: Ross Gittins is always interesting as an economist who appreciates all the other factors which contribute to our lives and well being. He wrote a perceptive article about how people’s perceptions about the government’s management of the economy comes down to their own political alignment and acceptance of the “party line”, even if it doesn’t really reflect their own experience or independent observation. The Opposition have successfully frightened Australians into believing we are on the verge of bankruptcy, while most countries in the world would kill for our triple AAA credit rating. We the general public also have trouble distinguishing between cyclical and structural factors in the economy. Another factor is the media who of course love bad news stories. In another article Gittins says he had a big reaction to his discussion of Jeffrey Sach’s book The Price of Civilization on the take-over of political power by the “corporatocracy” that I mentioned last blog. Gittins discusses a new report in Australia which argues that “big business exerts influence through campaign contributions, influence over university funding, sponsorship of think tanks and in other ways”.  The four most disproportionally influential industries in Australia, are apparently superannuation, banking, mining and gambling.

STIGLITZ: Joseph Stiglitz’s book The Price of Inequality examines the complex issues of income and wealth inequality. His thesis, which influenced the Occupy Wall Street movement is

“The simple story of America is this: the rich are getting richer, the richest of the rich are getting still richer, the poor are becoming poorer and more numerous, and the middle class is being hollowed out”. Read a review in Murdoch’s The Australian by Frank Carrigan here.

SPORT: We are having our own Lance Armstrong moment with reports of widespread use of performance enhancing drugs amongst our sportmen, a huge growth in betting on all stages of games as they are played, reports of match fixing, and links with organised crime.

Lightning strikes the Vatican

Lightning strikes the Vatican

POPE: It is most unusual for a Pope to retire – none have in the last 600 years and I wonder what the real reason is. It isn’t meant to be a job you can just retire from! Like our Cardinal Pell here in Australia, Benedict XVI certainly put the interests of the Catholic Church ahead of any real action on behalf of those victims sexually abused by their own clergy.  If I was a Catholic I would be very embarrassed by issues that seem to be in the secret dossier on the Vatican – sex and financial scandals, in-fighting and an atmosphere very unconducive I would think to God’s work. My main objection is their opposition to contraception which may have cost many millions of lives from AIDS.

I did like two things about the Pope; unlike our Cardinal Pell, he has the intelligence to acknowledge that climate change is real and that it needs addressing, and he loves cats!

God protect Italy from that buffoon Silvio Berlusconi.

CHINA: Happy Chinese New Year. I am trying to work out what the Year of the Snake may bring – from “steady progress and attention to detail” to “shedding a skin” to “I shall arise the same though changed”.

China’s decade long boom in coal driven industry is apparently about to end and energy conservation is being prioritised by the government. China installed more than a third of the world’s new wind turbines last year.  China is estimated to have burnt 3.9 billion tonnes last year which is nearly as much as the rest of the world combined. This government directive is good news for global warming – and the pollution in Chinese cities. This has economic implications in Australia as the world’s biggest exporter of coal and iron ore, and the Australian coal industry doubts that China will be able to cap its coal use given their commitment to economic growth.

China is now the world’s largest trading nation. Last year total trade was $US 3.87 trillion, compared to the USA’s $US 3.82 trillion.

I don’t think anyone is surprised that Unit 61398 in Shanghai seems to be the base of comprehensive and covert cyber-hacking networks into the computers of governments and commercial organisations that China feels are a “threat to their prosperity”.

China’s labour market of former farm workers will face a deficit or 140 million by 2030. The working age population will  go into a “precipitous decline” within 7 years. With people living much longer most countries are not addressing this issue – Australia’s spoiled and demanding baby boomer generation are retiring, and Japan’s new government is grappling with how to afford their aging and long living population.

Serengeti Lion by Peter Beard. Gelatin silver print with blood and ink

Serengeti Lion 1976/2006 by Peter Beard.
Gelatin silver print with blood and ink

ISRAEL: Louis Theroux visited Israel in one of his TV programs called The Ultra Zionists. It was terrifying and fascinating to actually see the settlements and the shocking conditions and tension some people live under. The hatred between the Palestinians and Israelis in some disputed areas was appalling. It is impossible to imagine what it is like to live like that day by day.  For example, some Jewish settlers have moved into Arab areas in Jerusalem as a means of gradually taking them over, but have to live with security guards. Louis – in a bullet proof vest, understandably jumped at every stone thrown at their vehicle by Palestinian youths.

The goal of Greater Israel for these Ultra Zionists ensures they will allow nothing to stand in their way – from Palestinians who have lived there for many generations, their own government, moderate Jews or world opinion. Their zeal was both quite beautiful – pure really, in their belief in what they think is God’s plan – and completely scary.

I am always particularly upset when the settlers cut down Palestinian olive trees. It seems so symbolic of a destruction of lives and livelihoods.

A UN human rights investigation is examining the construction of Israeli settlements and their “creeping annexation” which is in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Complaints may be taken to the International Criminal Court in The Hague which may lead to Israel’s accountability – or prosecution, for “gross violations of human rights law and serious violations of International humanitarian law”.

The Israelis recently bombed Syria when they moved surface to air missiles and now that weapons can reach all parts of Israel, they will have to be extremely vigilant 24/7 – or build radically different relationships with their neighbours.

A recent program in Australia exposed the mysterious detention and suicide of a dual Australian-Israeli citizen Ben Zygier in Israel called Prisoner X. There had been a total censorship of the case in Israel, then suddenly this week a sanitised statement by the Israeli Government, while the Australian Government has so far “revised” their version of event and what they knews three times.  Zygier’s multiple identities and passports probably indicate he had been involved in travelling on his Australian passport to countries where it would be dangerous for Israeli citizens, and Australian passports have been used in previous espionage exercises and assassinations.

This goanna appeared on a very hot day

This goanna appeared on a very hot day

JULIAN ASSANGE: The Australian Government seems to have cared as much about Prisoner X as they do about Julian Assange, who has announced he definitely intends standing for the Australian Senate at the next election.

OBAMA: Many of us in Australia are surprised by the hostility towards Obama in the US – some people just don’t seem to accept a majority of Americans voted for him in the election.  In Australia he is popular even with more conservative voters. I am however horrified by the drones and the 1500 targeted assassinations no doubt with civilian collateral damage. I am also horrified by the huge numbers of Americans still facing homelessness and poverty. In his State of the Union address Obama seemed to make a concern for them a priority, and he did again talk about action on climate change and gun control.  The relationship between the Republicans and Democrats is so toxic at a time when some level of responsible cooperation is necessary to address and try and solve the urgent fiscal and economic problems facing Americans today.

I watched a program on mining for gas in the USA called Gasland. The country seemed pock marked by these ubiquitous mines – with many people  and their stock suffering mysterious illnesses. Their tap water was actually flammable!  Dear old Dick Cheney apparently ensured previously protected areas were opened up to mining, and ensured environmental protections were removed.  Not surprisingly, “fracking” for coal seam gas was actually invented by his old company Halliburton.  The situation is similar in Australia where the Coal Seam Gas industry seemed to arrive by stealth a few years ago and was operational on a large scale before many people were even aware of it.  There has as yet been no definitive examination in Australia of the various side effects of this mining, and possible long term damage, especially to the water aquifers.  Environmental safeguards have been loosened rather than strengthened, and it is only determined community opposition (and the Greens) putting pressure on the government.  Community protests work!

Lot 57 Emily Kam Kngawarray Untitled 1989

Lot 57 Emily Kam Kngawarray Untitled 1989

LAVERTY COLLECTION: Colin and Liz Laverty assembled one of the finest and most comprehensive private collections of contemporary Australian and Aboriginal art. Unfortunately Colin died recently.  A selection of works from their collection is being offered for auction, through Bonham’s on the 24th March at the MCA, Sydney. Above is a painting by Aboriginal artist Emily Kngawarray (c.1916-1996), an exceptional and famous artist who only began painting in old age, and below, a painting by Ildiko Kovacs one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists.

Lot 44 Ildiko Kovacs Travelling Pink Line, 1995

Lot 44 Ildiko Kovacs Travelling Pink Line, 1995

 

Rubber Duck by Florentijn Hofman

Rubber Duck by Florentijn Hofman

ART: I was going to try and not do “cute” this blog, although this is often hard in relation to animals.  I was very offended by Rubber Duck (which is 15 metres tall) when it sailed into Darling Harbour as part of the Sydney Festival.  A suitable metaphor for Sydney I thought to myself.  Big and obvious.  Many of us are familiar with the marvellous monumental  installations of the artist Christo (his first major environmental project was wrapping part of our Sydney coastline in 1968/69),  and I thought Rubber Duck made even Jeff Koons and his huge Puppy seem subtle and interesting in comparison. However, the blog is not all about me and when I saw this great photograph in the newspaper, hypocrite that I am, I couldn’t resist using it. The public have loved it – and perhaps it does raise the question – what is art? – or does it matter?

Installation view, Anish Kapoor, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2012/2013 Image courtesy and copyright the artist. Photograph: Alex Davies

Installation view, Anish Kapoor, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2012/2013 Image courtesy and copyright the artist. Photograph: Alex Davies

Also making often monumental sculptural works, Anish Kapoor is at the Museum of Contemporary Art (until April) for his first comprehensive survey exhibition in Australia.  He is super cool – almost too much.  His works have a clinical  perfection, and are made from the most luxurious and expensive materials.  They are emotionally cold and Kapoor will not discuss their meaning – he just leaves it to us to interpret.  I remain an admirer but I was distracted by a surprisingly awkward installation and children running excitedly around the distorting surfaces of his polished mirrors, or staring into the illusionary concave voids.

Study for portrait of Eddy Batache 1979 by Francis Bacon

Study for portrait of Eddy Batache 1979 by Francis Bacon

Study for portrait of Reinhard Hassert 1979 by Francis Bacon

Study for portrait of Reinhard Hassert 1979 by Francis Bacon

In contrast, Francis Bacon’s work at the AGNSW (until February 24) is very emotionally affecting and engaging.  It is exciting to see the work of a great painter – especially spanning Five Decades. Descriptions of his work range from “depressing”, “joyless” and “haunting” to “beautiful” and “magnetic”!  While I tired of so many paintings given the same “staged” formulaic treatment, his smaller portraits are among the best and most powerful I have seen for a long time, and are poignant and illuminating.  I suppose some people may find the sexual nature of some of the work confronting, but I found the exhibition full of emotional intensity and like life, a mixture of love, anguish and pain.

SUMMER: While many of you in the northern hemisphere are having snowstorms, our summer here in Australia has not been all fun!  Lately, 70% of the country has had temperatures between 40 and 45 degrees. There have been severe bush fires in Tasmania, and many others in other states.  I think there has only been one fatality, although many homes have been lost and there have been thousands of animals killed, especially stock.  Now we have torrential storms and floods in Queensland and northern NSW.

I live surrounded by the Royal National Park and on a particularly hot and scary day recently we had a record 45.8 degrees in Sydney, and because I had to attend to family business out of town, I evacuated my most unwilling cats to my vet.  Although safe and well-looked after, they spent several days in a smallish cage beside yapping dogs, and sulked for quite a while afterwards. I’m only mentioning this as I find care for my cats when I want to go away is a difficult problem that many of us face.  Unfortunately I don’t have cat-loving neighbours.  I  have not liked any of the facilities for looking after animals that I have checked out, but I am grateful that they exist.  No doubt like many of you, I find moving cats at any time quite traumatic for them and me.  When I have moved house in the past I have locked the cats inside for 2 days before introducing them to their new outside world.  A couple in the US lost their cat on a holiday/excursion 320 kilometres away, and miraculously, the cat recently found it’s way home!

'Commander Skyring' Gang Gang Cockatoo 2012. Photograph by Leila Jeffreys. Courtesy Tim Olsen Gallery.

Commander Skyring Gang Gang Cockatoo 2012. Photograph by Leila Jeffreys. Courtesy Tim Olsen Gallery.

USA: It was exciting to see the Obama inauguration. I think we have become blasé about just how historically significant it was that he became President, and then won a second term.  They are such an attractive family, and Obama is capable of stirring oratory – when did we last hear any from our leaders?  It was a real surprise to hear the words “gay rights” or “gender equality” or “climate change” coming from an American President!!!  This was described as “goofy leftism” by a reactionary Republican, and rather than addressing the problem of their shrinking support base, which was apparent in  the election, Republicans will no doubt be as intransigent as ever over many of the very important issues facing the nation.  Let’s hope Obama can deliver.  He inherited a difficult legacy – the GFC, unnecessary wars etc., but he is not beyond criticism.  I am especially horrified by the obviously illegal killing of people by unmanned drones.

GUNS:  It is fascinating, if depressing to witness the power of  the National Rifle Association, with actually very few members. They cleverly monitor, target and threaten politicians to ensure their support against gun controls. Contact your politicians and express your views and encourage them to make a stand!  Statistics indicate clearly that lives are lost – not saved – by having so many guns in the community, or in homes.  I think it is pretty safe to say that the right to bear arms is not God-given!  In Australia we had an Amnesty over guns after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, but apparently there are now just as many illegal guns in circulation. Lately, there have been shootings everyday in Sydney, and whereas before quite minor differences or disputes could result in a punch up – now they shoot each other dead!

'Seissa' Palm Cockatoo 2012. Photograph by Leila Jeffreys. Courtesy Tim Olsen Gallery.

Seissa Palm Cockatoo 2012. Photograph by Leila Jeffreys. Courtesy Tim Olsen Gallery.

NSW: As I have mentioned before, to secure a vote for some particular legislation, the NSW Government is allowing hunting in some National Parks, which will be overseen by the Game Council.  This is the proverbial fox in charge of the henhouse.  It seems some members of the Game Council are now to be charged with cruelty to animals, hunting without a licence and trespassing.  There is growing opposition to the decision to permit hunting, and to the way the government makes decisions and does business in general, and many people now feel it will be too dangerous from March 1 to go into National Parks.

The 2012 State of the Environment report for NSW shows that Sydneysiders are breathing cleaner air, saving electricity, using more public transport and recycling.  While this is encouraging, overall in NSW there has been a steady deterioration of many native forests and wetlands, and biodiversity is declining with more species threatened than ever before.

Cuban Macaw by Ralph Steadman

Cuban Macaw by Ralph Steadman

Ralph Steadman, made famous by his illustrations for Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was asked in 2011 to contribute a drawing of an extinct bird – and 110 works later, has produced a book Extinct Boids.  Most are real birds that did exist, but some he made up like the “needless smut”, “the lesser-blotted bitwing”, and the “blackened thront”.  Steadman was very alarmed to discover just how many species have been lost, and blames sailors, rats and cats for their extinction.

ENVIRONMENT: Our Environment Minister Tony Burke has some tricky problems to manage in the next few weeks. He will have to decide if he will overrule the NSW Government’s permission to expand Idemitsu’s Boggabri coalmine, and Whitehaven’s Maules Creek Mine.  There is quite a backstory here I won’t go into, but there is determined opposition from  the local community concerned about coal dust, contamination of the aquifers, the loss of thousands of hectares of critically endangered forest, and the threat to excellent agricultural land and animals.

The Minister will also be presented with a petition from GetUp! about government inaction over damage to the Great Barrier Reef from the construction of coal seam gas processing facilities, and proposals for massive new coal ports along the coast.

The government usually manage to wriggle out of actually confronting Japan over whaling in the southern ocean – hiding behind ” taking Japan to the International Court of Justice later in the year”.  Our Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who trades off his supposed environmental credentials, did not even raise the issue with a Japanese government minister who visited recently.

After boasting last week in an interview about Australia’s action on climate change and emissions, Bob Carr was forced to acknowledge that the forecast expansion of Australian coal mining and exports, will make us, after China, the second largest contributor in the world to new carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.

Shark fins on a roof in Hong Kong

Shark fins on a roof in Hong Kong

While I have a well-known fear of sharks since seeing Jaws now many years ago, I know they have their role to play and must be protected. This photograph of drying shark fins was absolutely shocking – the scale, the inherent cruelty, and the threat to the species – for soup?

ENERGY: I’m glad I don’t live in western Sydney where up to 66 coal seam gas wells may even be mined under houses!  I have not seen any evidence so far that this is a safe practice, or that the chemicals used will not be polluting the environment, and that water aquifers will not be adversely affected.  It was good to see that Yoko Ono was protesting against fracking in the US.  As previously discussed, bodies and organisations in NSW that do offer the community some advice and assistance against rampant unchecked development (like the Environmental Defenders Office) have had their funding cut after lobbying by the  mining industry.  This is part of a scheme to eliminate any legal challenges to new mining ventures, although it has been described by the government as “greater access to justice for the disadvantaged”! It would be funny if it wasn’t so appalling.

FACT CHECKING  FILE:  We have an election due by the end of the year so I am dreading how wound up I will get.  As we have compulsory voting, our politicians will be pitching to the lowest common denominator in marginal seats in the outer suburbs.

One of the best suggestions of the last few weeks was from Malcolm Turnbull (Coalition/Opposition) who suggested a fact checking website where information could be definitively presented and verified, and people held accountable for inaccurate or misleading statements.  An example could be: is human induced global warming happening?  (Turnbull knows this to be true, yet this was a factor in him losing his position as Leader of the Opposition).  So rather than arguing about is climate change real, we could all see the analysis and conclusions drawn from the scientific data, and actually move on to addressing it – ideally with bi-partisan support.

Another debate in Australia is the ALP Government’s response to the Global Financial Crisis.  From my reading (comments from the IMF, World Bank, a variety of experts and economists etc.)  the government’s quick reaction, and actions, were appropriate.  In the necessary haste, errors were made (and a few inexcusable deaths in the installation of insulation into houses).  Subsequently we have been one of the best performing economies in the world – indeed the “envy” of the world, although the Opposition have effectively scared many of the population into believing we are about to be bankrupt!  True or false?  While aspects of these questions are open to debate, surely at some point there is an objective analysis that can be made?

Another debate is over the carbon tax, although complaints against it have apparently dwindled, which may stop this issue being such a factor in the election. The Opposition have vowed to rescind this tax, with no details of course on what this would cost, or the disruption to the economy, and it has created uncertainty in the business community.  Carbon trading  is “sliding down the corporate agenda”  both here and overseas which apparently should be a “lure” for Australian companies liable to pay for carbon dioxide emissions.  Blackrock, one of the world’s biggest fund managers has recently said that the carbon and mining taxes have had “at most” a “marginal” impact on perceptions of country risk, and our public debt position is very strong.

I was fascinated to see the previous Howard government described by the IMF as one of the most profligate in our history. The profits from the mining boom were not used wisely,  middle class “welfare” was used to buy votes, and infrastructure was allowed to run down.  The much boasted about $20 billion surplus was more likely to have been achieved by selling Telstra (our telco) and Sydney Airport.  I do think the Whitlam Government was very lucky not to be mentioned.  Unfortunately the ALP seems to be unable to construct or sell a narrative of their legitimate economic achievements, and are also dogged by some unattractive scandals.

GETUP!: I was interested to see the make-up of the membership of our effective internet activist organisation.  4 in 10 members are over 56, and fewer than 7% are younger than 25.  GetUp! currently has a survey about what we think they should be doing which you can access here.  I’m going to suggest a Fact Checking File and GetUp! should have sufficient profile for people to have to respond and back up their claims with peer reviewed facts and data. 

LEFT & RIGHT: We are having a debate of sorts here about bias – especially in the Australian Broadcasting Service. I don’t agree that there is bias myself – I see reasonable, well-educated and informed people that give all politicians equally tough questioning, and address the issues of the day. The ABC is tax payer funded so it is legitimate to raise the question of bias, but there are plenty of other opportunities in Murdoch newspapers or on various radio stations for  Right leaning people like Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt, Miranda Divine etc, who are as objective as Sara Palin or Fox News in the US.

In 2009 we appeared on the same American television program as the precocious Jonathan Krohn.  The year before (aged 13) he had written a book entitled Defining Conservatism. He was astoundingly articulate and of course I couldn’t resist arguing with him (and his father) in the waiting room.  I was thrilled to recently read that in 2011 he openly declared he no longer held conservative views, although, of course, the conservatives turned on him.  He is much brighter than most of us and can no doubt defend himself and will probably have a fascinating career.

 

Harley the dog. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

Harley the dog. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

MONICA & HARLEY:  Harley is a most amazing dog and  I love following his exploits.  He even became friends and swam with a swan called James and was heart broken when he was found dead last year. Fortunately Monika Laryett-Olson takes great photographs.  She makes me feel like my love for my cats is…well, normal, as opposed to obsessive!  See a Harley story here, Harley – my Dog, my Hero.  I also loved the photographs of her visit to the Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Naples, Florida. See her album of favourite photographs for 2012  here.

OPRAH: Oprah, too, loves her dogs, and I did watch some of her interview with Lance Armstrong.  I thought Oprah looked great and her make-up was just fabulous. Before we went on her show in 2009  her make-up girls sprayed us with  something that I jokingly called spray botox as my face was sort of flatteringly bronzed and frozen into a smile.  Her program has been described as “confessional”, but we were there to talk about Christian of course, not confess!  Mark Zuckerberg was also on the same program as us, and Oprah asked him rather wistfully is she should be on Facebook and meet some people!

Lance Armstrong carefully stage-managed the interview, (like everything it else it seems), to hopefully clear the way for him to return to competition some time.  The interview seems to have raised even more questions however, and no real remorse was shown.

Our own great champion swimmer Ian Thorpe is also hoping for another comeback after his failure to even gain selection for the London Olympics. Please!  Both he and the openly gay Matthew Mitcham (a gold medal for diving in China) have recently written books apparently discussing the highs and lows of their careers and their depression.  I’d say Thorpe’s second comeback attempt is a recipe for more disappointment.  He actively supports very good causes – just get on with it!

TENNIS: There are tennis tournaments throughout January in Australia in the lead up to the Australian Open. The heat has been nearly unbearable and unacceptable for the players, and some  have even ended up on a drip.  There have been some amazing games and surprises – our young Bernard Tomic beat Novak Djokovic in a warm up tournament. Others, like Sam Stosur, have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.  Finally we seem to have some promising younger Australian players coming through.  I played tennis with former Wimbledon champion John Newcombe at school and have watched the dominance of Australia and America be replaced by waves of Swedes, Spaniards, Russians, Serbians and Croatians, and probably now the Chinese as Li Na makes tennis popular in China.  Our 31 year old Lleyton Hewitt is a good commentator with a surprising sense of humour, and Jim Courier is very insightful. My favourite players over the years have been Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, and now Rafael Nadal.  I usually got bored if anyone dominated for too long.  We have been incredibly lucky to witness the truly exceptional tennis over the last few years between Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray.  For a variety of reasons I’ve also loved Yvonne Cawley (Goolagong), Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Goran Ivanisevic, and I the fabulous Williams sisters.  Serena’s career earnings are now over $41,797,909 while Maria Sharapova is the top female earner followed by Li Na.

Harley and James the swan. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

Harley and James the swan. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

ROSS GITTINS: I felt naive after reading this article by Gittins in the SMH about the 4 “complexes” that run the world.  The article mostly quotes Jeffrey Sach’s  book The Price of Civilization.  It helps to explain why: wars are fought; how the GFC occurred and vital reforms are not implemented, and the “corporatocracy”, unlike many of us, bounced back quickly;  why Obamacare is described and demonised as “socialism”; how climate change is kept off the agenda and why we are seeing a fall in value of the world’s renewable energy companies.  These complexes are obvious but it is good to be reminded of them and see how they all feed into each other, with corporate power translating into political power.  They are: the military- industrial complex; the Wall Street- Washington complex; the Big Oil – transport – military complex; and the huge healthcare industry.

WEALTH: The 1% have got even richer and the top 100 are now worth a combined $US1.9 trillion.  Our poor Gina Rinehart dropped $US1.6 billion (because of softer iron prices, and poor investments in media she hopes to influence) and now has only $US 18.6 billion.  Gina actively campaigned against a mining tax, and last year was insensitive enough to say that African workers are “happy” earning $2 a day.

Think what could be achieved globally with this wealth if many of them followed the generous examples of Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett?

See this George Monbiot article where he explains that contrary to what we are told, the idea that “the less government tax the rich, defend workers and redistribute wealth, the more prosperous everyone will be” has been a total failure.    Monbiot says this “trickle-down effect” as I think it is called, has only led to increased inequality, more unemployment, with consequently less demand, and more debt.  In general, he does not believe that perpetual economic growth is either sustainable or desirable.

ISRAEL: As I said last blog I was waiting to see Obama’s pay-back to Netanyahu for his blatant and miscalculated support of Romney in the US election. It did not take long – Obama’s appointment of former Republican Chuck Hagel as Defence Secretary, who, it seems, dares to treat Israel in an even-handed way, and has said “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here”.

Although cost of living concerns are understandable as a key election issue in Israel, it was very depressing that in their recent election peace (“shalom”) was not even mentioned, and some extreme Right politicians even said they wanted to expand the settlements to ensure there could not be a Palestinian state.

But congratulations to the Israelis for not voting for the Far Right as expected, which resulted in Netanyahu’s “plummet to victory” with fewer seats.  The emergence of Yair Lapid the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) Party, with the next highest number of seats, is encouraging, and he wants to work with Netanyahu in a coalition rather than oppose him.  He wants to reopen peace negotiations with the Palestinians and said “we are facing a world that is liable to ostracise us because of the deadlock in the peace process”.  This changed landscape in Israel and America, and hopefully a more constrained Netanyahu, gives me some slight optimism.

Meanwhile in the region, people continue to die in Syria, and huge numbers of refugees are swamping neighbouring countries.  Assad’s own mother has left Syria, as have quite a few Russians and their families.  The down-side of the Arab Spring is emerging with the instability in north Africa and the well-armed Islamist terrorist organisations.

Shy Wolf Sanctuary. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

Shy Wolf Sanctuary. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

CHINA: While the Chinese Government struggle to control their propaganda and censor the internet, another juggling act is with social media where the Chinese people can now complain effectively, as they did recently with the totally unacceptable pollution in the air in Beijing.  There have also been several mass “airport rage” incidences over cancelled flights. The improved Chinese economic growth of 7.9%  in the last quarter will help to keep many people happy for now, and this has also helped our economic outlook in Australia.

Advising Australia not to be drawn into China’s simmering territorial regional disputes, a Colonel Liu Mingfu recently described Japan as a “wolf”,  America as a “tiger” and he said that Australia should be a “kind-hearted lamb” that should not behave like a “jackal”.

Tourism from China to Australia is growing and up from the 542,000 Chinese that visited in 2011.

R.I.P Pluto

R.I.P Pluto

MAIL: I was upset to be informed by Christian in Italy that his beloved dog Pluto had died at 15.  He was a great companion as we can imagine, and my sympathy is with Christian, and with anyone else experiencing a similar loss.

Thanks to those that emailed me with concern about the fires.  Thanks to Joyce for her comment last blog about where she finds news that is fair, in-depth and free – including Livestation Al Jazeera, France 24, SkyNews, South African, RTI (Russian News) and the BBC.

I am behind in my emails again – both on the blog and the website, and I apologise.  Unfortunately I lost a few emails that  came through mistakenly as Spam and then disappeared into the ether. I am very appreciative of anyone that does email and I intend to respond soon.  I’ve just had a quick look at the emails I haven’t answered yet, and many are from people that have just discovered Christian the lion’s story.  Frankly, I am overwhelmed – by the number, the lovely sentiments expressed, and that  Christian still means so much to so many people.

It is the Australia Day Weekend, celebrating when the First Fleet arrived in Australia in 1788.  Understandably Aboriginals call it Invasion Day, and while a holiday is always nice, I’ll feel much more comfortable when there has been some genuine reconciliation, and compensation for their dispossession.  I’d also like Australia to grow up and finally become a republic.

Xmas CARD - v9a+

Thanks to Derek Cattani again for Christian’s Christmas card – I look forward to them each year.  Seasons Greetings to all.  We seem to have survived the Mayan end of the world prediction and may instead be “transitioning” into a new era.  According to Bolivia’s Government, it is the end of “hatred” and “lies” and the beginning of “love” and “truth” – with community and collectivity prevailing over capitalism and individuality.

Next hurdle is the US “fiscal cliff”!

I hope most of you have time off to relax with friends and family, and our pets of course.  I also hope the general public are more thoughtful about pets as appropriate presents, and ensure they are not later discarded and abandoned when the novelty wears off.

I have a friend who is very frustrated by his adorable labrador puppy which is chewing everything, and I’d love to offer to look after him.  However, already I can’t travel as much as I would like to as I am reluctant to leave my two cats in any other hands, so I don’t think it is the right time to add a dog to the mix.

DOHA: Given the alarming headlines about the warming of the planet, it was a disappointing compromise at Doha, rather than the urgent action required.  Several reports forecast possible temperature rises of 4-6 degrees by the end of the century. China is responsible for 80% of new emissions, and like the US, did not sign up to the extended Kyoto Protocol.  Some Pacific island states were not impressed – if the sea rises one more metre, their islands will be uninhabitable. Of scientific published peer review articles on global warming, 24 articles argue against, while 13,926  agree with the analysis of scientific data that global warming is real and humans are a factor contributing to it.

The leaked next Intergovernmental Panel report on Climate Change states, according to the SMH,  “Evidence in support of climate change has grown stronger and it is now “virtually certain” that human greenhouse gas emissions trap energy that warms the planet”.

In our Opposition party we have a few boofhead climate change sceptics who wear their ignorance with pride, and the party has a commitment to rescind the carbon tax/price. I’m sure this process would  be very complex, and the reversal  bad for business confidence and  investment certainty, as well as our international reputation.  Unfortunately, despite Julia Gillard’s resilience, polls keep indicating that the Opposition will win the next election.  Most intelligent people have experienced an almost seamless introduction of the carbon tax, accepted some modest price rises like 10% on an electricity bill, and now understand the need for it.

The Government has just abandoned the impossible promise to get the budget back into surplus.  Many economists and business people seem to think that this is the correct decision. The Government no doubt hopes for the distraction of Christmas and the summer holidays to drown out the predictable shrill reaction from the Opposition over this  “back flip”.

Tony the Tiger

Tony the Tiger

TONY THE TIGER: An update on Tony the Tiger is available here. It is rather depressing. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is waiting for the Louisiana Court of Appeal to hear their case, and waiting for a trial date to decide if Mr. Sandlin’s lawsuit will move forward. Can 2013 finally be Tony’s year? Perhaps we should put our money where our mouth is and donate to the ALDF Matching Gift Challenge.

'Life of Pi' The Movie

‘Life of Pi’ The Movie

I’m looking forward to seeing the movie Life of Pi, although like many people I have spoken to lately, I didn’t actually finish the book.  I hope the film doesn’t create a craze for people wanting tigers.  In the US there are far too many tigers already in private hands – more than in the wild, as we have discussed previously.

I’ve been loving Louis Theroux’s shows, and he is as ubiquitous as Stephen Fry on Australian television.  Recently, in America’s Most Dangerous Pets, Louis visited exotic animals in private “zoos”.  He was understandably quite nervous with many of the animals. The number of animals confined for life for human entertainment was staggering, and inappropriate cross breeding has negated any conservation objectives.  In African Hunting Holiday Louis accompanied Americans trophy hunting farmed exotic animals in Africa.  He found hunting quite distasteful and couldn’t do it himself.  He was mystified how people that profess to admire animals can shoot them?  One of the owners of the African farms said every lion would kill anybody given the chance, a statement I can contradict from my own experience!  The lions did look aggressive I must admit, but they were probably anticipating food.  Their behaviour was probably a response to how they had been treated.

Louis is the son of travel writer Paul Theroux.

Sadly, Koko the dog who starred in Red Dog has died aged 7.

MEDIA:  I know some of you think I rely too much on the mainstream press and you often draw my attention to many other sites on the internet.  I love reading the Sydney Morning Herald, and also listen and watch news and current affairs programs.  I jot down any new facts or insights on the subjects that interest me – and then often forget if I have quoted verbatim or tried to paraphrase them!  Most of us accept we can’t lead the debates, but we can all stand up for and support the causes we believe in, and together we can have a collective voice and influence.

I admire sites like Crikey, with their research, reporting and analysis of the news, but they have a huge staff!  Despite some of the information divulged by WikiLeaks, I’m sceptical about quite a few of the conspiracy theories on the internet, and don’t seem to have the time to visit – or revisit, many fascinating and informative sites.

Julian Assange still languishes in London in the Ecuadorian Embassy with no access to a  garden or courtyard for fresh air or sunlight for over six months.  I love his balcony speeches – what a ham.  Assange has said he wants to stand for the Senate in the next Australian elections!  WikiLeaks has often confirmed our worst fears about our governments, and piece by piece information or new theories do emerge from various sources.

ISRAEL:  For example, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson recently said that Israel bombed Hamas in Gaza to clear out their missiles because it wants to bomb Iran in early 2013.  This would not have occurred to me, and I’d have no idea if it is true.  The Hamas leader Khaled Meshal finally visited Gaza and still wants to “wipe Israel off the map”.  Equally chilling, Daniella Weiss, a leader of the settler movement, stated the now obvious; settlements and out posts were planned strategically to prevent a Palestinian state.  Announced by Nethanyahu as punishment the day after the overwhelming UN vote (138 to 8) against Israel, the E1 settlement has been described as the final piece in the jigsaw – the West Bank will be cut in half.

If the “two-state” solution is now impossible, a “one-state” would contain a (Palestinian) population without a vote, and a higher birth rate. Israel will have to decide what they want to be: a Jewish state or a democratic one?

View of Sikkim from the roof of DAS, Darjeeling. Photograph C. Townend

View of Sikkim from the roof of DAS, Darjeeling. Photograph C. Townend

CHRISTINE TOWNEND:  I was delighted to hear from Christine, founder of Animal Liberation in Australia in 1976, after her recent trip to India.

” Dear Ace, I was thinking of your visit with us to the Indian animal shelters when we were recently at both the Kalimpong and Darjeeling shelters which Jeremy and I founded in 1995 and 2007.  You’d be happy to know that both are running well with plenty of rescues, treatment of privately owned animals especially brought to the shelters, and also a continual ABC (animal birth control) programme.  As you know from your visit, the purpose of the ABC programme, according to WHO Guidelines, is to create a friendly, rabies-free street dog population.  The vaccinate-neuter programme has now created groups of old dogs hanging around with nothing to do, and fighting over food.  I may send you a report I’m writing  about this new problem or post it in due course on www.workingforanimals.org.au

Kalimpong Animal Shelter Photograph C. Townend

Kalimpong Animal Shelter. Photograph C. Townend

As you know Ace, I was managing trustee of Help in Suffering Animal Shelter in Jaipur from 1990 to 2007.  Jeremy and I had not returned there for over two years.  From the moment we arrived, that traditional Indian hospitality was extended to us.  All the staff , the CEO and managing trustee were waiting at the front gate, greeting us by placing garlands of roses round our necks. Jimmie, the dog who had been dumped outside the shelter when a tiny puppy, and whom I had reared so many years ago, wiggled and cried with joy. I, like her, felt quite emotional to be returning, especially when we entered the little cottage in the grounds of the shelter, where we had lived for so many years.  It had been cleaned and still looked just the same, with all the objects and books we had collected over the years still arranged neatly (in future the cottage will be used for guest accommodation).

Beau who was rescued from the street and will be rehomed. Photograph C. Townend.

Beau who was rescued from the street and will be rehomed. Photograph C. Townend.

Timmie Kumar, the current managing trustee, was very appreciative of the money we raised through Working for Animals Inc, the Australian charity which raises funds for the animal shelters in India. It was great that you were able to speak at this successful fund-raiser. As you know, Jeannette’s photographs of India just walked out the door, and I’m pleased that my paintings also sold.  We visited the new HIS Camel shelter on the outskirts of Jaipur. It must be the first of its kind in India. Dr Pradeep Singhal, who conducts the HIS Camel Project, also treated heaps of camels at the Pushkar Fair.”

TTwo rescued cats now permanently living at DAS, Darjeeling. Photograph C. Townend

Two rescued cats now permanently living at DAS, Darjeeling. Photograph C. Townend

MAIL:  Thanks for the kind words and comments from some of you last blog, and your Christmas greetings.  Sometimes I interpret them as a remark to me personally, rather than a comment to post on the blog.

INTERVIEW: You may like to watch my skype interview with Tiempo Real here.  Once I had adjusted to the jerkiness and the unflattering harshness of skype, I thought WilsonVega produced and edited an excellent story.

AASG: The Australian Animal Studies Group’s  News Bulletin for December can be accessed here.

WHALING: Correction: the Japanese are going to hunt whales again this season but in a scaled down exercise.  Their departure for the Southern Ocean has been inexplicably delayed, and  Paul Watson is again vowing to disrupt their unnecessary slaughter of whales with the Sea Shepherd and possibly a newly acquired vessel.

ENERGY:  More than 100 coal fired power stations in the US have been closed following environment and community group litigation campaigns to enforce mercury and air toxin standards.  A further 170 planned coal stations have not been built.

With the conservative government back in power in Japan, it is expected reservations and opposition to nuclear reactors will be pushed aside.

After coal fired power stations, the production, transportation and marketing of our food creates the most emissions. We need to buy locally and grow much more of our own!

Another "every cat should have it's own dog" photograph

Another “every cat should have it’s own dog” photograph

GEORGE MONBIOT: Again George has another interesting article and the premise is pointless Christmas presents where the “fatuity of the products is matched by the profundity of the impacts”.  Our “pathological”consumerism, has been “rendered so normal by advertising and by the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us”.  He quotes Annie Leonard who discovered when researching for her film The Story of Stuff  “that of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale”.

This is at a time when so many in the US are doing it very hard and the inequality is growing.  In the US in 2010 “a remarkable 93% of the growth in incomes accrued to the top 1% of the population”.

PETER HARTCHER: It was heartening to read SMH journalist Peter Hartcher’s article Things aren’t as bad as they might seem.  Global goals for cutting infant and maternal mortality rates are being exceeded. The global “deep poverty” rate has halved, assisted by more donor aid than anticipated, remittances from family members working abroad, and some developing economies recovering from the GFC more quickly than others.

Worldwide deaths by armed conflicts has been declining steeply for 20 years. Hartcher concludes, on “poverty, war and human misery… progress is possible, progress is happening and progress is real. Of course there are always new threats. Climate change is the great, new, unmet challenge facing humanity”.

GUNS: Let’s hope Americans finally face the facts and act – 300 million guns in the community, 100,000 injuries per year, 30,000 of them fatal, and six mass shootings this year.  For now, there is support for Obama’s attempts at gun law reform and eliminating weapons of war from private ownership.  The powerful National Rifle Association’s comments have so far been so insensitive that some former supporters are wavering, but this debate will unfortunately be very ugly.  Handguns are apparently sacrosanct however, “part of American culture”  – pity about the 12,664 Americans  killed by handguns last year, compared to 323 by rifles and semi-automatics.  Naturally gun sales have soared.

Meanwhile, as discussed, in my own State of NSW,  the Government sometimes needs the support of the Shooters Party to pass legislation in the the Upper House, and this lobby group is exerting undue influence and has been able to stack committees.  Our gun laws are in danger of being weakened, and hunting is to be allowed in some National Parks even though a secret report from the Government’s own Environment and Heritage Department warned about the high risks to the public!  Over the summer holidays bush walkers and campers will have to start exercising extreme caution, but despite this, enjoy!

Merry Christmas and a happy and peaceful New Year to everyone.

cat and dog2