Christian The Lion painting

Christian The Lion painting by Karen Neal

New Zealand artist Karen Neal has captured a very good likeness of Christian many of us can recognise. She very generously donated the proceeds of the sale of the painting to the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust. There are limited edition prints of this image and you can contact the artist direct on her website.

It is the first day of summer and the weather here has been wonderful, and after some rain, the drive through the Royal National Park to Bundeena is beautiful, with many flowering native trees.  The jacarandas, oleanders and bougainvillea have also been particularly beautiful throughout the suburbs. In the Blue Mountains last weekend I saw waratahs and rhododendrons in the prettiest colours. I have resurrected my vegetable garden and have eaten some salad greens already. While I was mulching some of the plants on my hands and knees, one of the cats jumped on my back like a jockey. Always so helpful.

Bougainvillea, Bundeena

Bougainvillea, Bundeena

AUSTRALIA: Our political debate recently has mostly been name calling rather than examining important legislation the government somehow keeps generating.  The Opposition just says “no” to everything and produces few alternative policies.  To counter accusations that he is a “misogynist”, the Opposition leader has suddenly surrounded himself in public by his wife, his statuesque daughters and he even trotted out his mother and sisters.  He has been letting his female Deputy lead parliamentary attacks. Neither leader is popular but Julia Gillard is clawing Labor’s way back in the polls and this is enough to keep deposed, but ever circling PM Kevin Rudd at bay.

However, the PM is being dogged by a 20 year old darkening shadow from her past when as a lawyer she did some work for a boyfriend who it seems turned out to be pretty dodgy.  This story has been prosecuted primarily by Murdoch’s The Australian over many months, and an increasingly shrill Opposition keeping it alive.  So far there are insinuations and alleged discrepancies, but not precise accusations or proof of any wrongdoing.

Another shadow is the ridiculous promise to return the budget to surplus, which is looking very unlikely, especially with the drop in commodity prices, a 45% decline in Chinese investment in Australia, and no income from the contentious mining tax.

STATES: The new conservative governments in Queensland and New South Wales have between them opened the way for development unfettered by some previous environmental safeguards, or access to legal advice by communities from bodies such as EDO . Uranium exploration and nuclear energy are back on the agenda.  National Parks are suddenly vulnerable to shooters, horses and cattle grazing etc.  Public service jobs have been cut and while the respected Gonski Report recommended that $6 billion needs to be spent nationally to remove the inequalities in the education system, the NSW Government  responded by slashing  the education budget.  Some Arts courses have been eliminated or made prohibitively expensive and even a major literary prize has been scrapped.

Meanwhile the previous Labor government is being exposed and humiliated at ICAC for actions involving a powerful family and their mates, inside information from a disgraced ex Mineral Resources Minister, and the potential for them to make many millions of dollars through alleged corruption in relation to coal exploration leases and tenders.

On Sunday I attended a protest in Bundeena against shooting in National Parks.  Bundeena is surrounded by the Royal National Park (and the sea) and thankfully we are exempt from shooters.  The NSW Government needs the votes of the Shooters Party to get legislation through the Upper House and are blatantly prepared to accomodate their cruel, anachronistic ideas and practices.  Apart from the danger to bush walkers and others, the indiscriminate shooting of feral animals makes no contribution to environmental conservation or preservation.  We are being encouraged to write to the Premier Barry O’Farrell c/- Parliament House, Macquarie Street, Sydney 2000.

Jacaranda, Bundeena

Jacaranda, Bundeena

CLERGY: Recently a policeman wrote a letter to the NSW Premier about the lack of action by police and the Catholic Church on child sexual abuse by clergy.  This has now led to a broad national Royal Commission which will encompass all institutions and organisations involved with children. The Catholic Church has felt “smeared” by reports in the media of their inaction and obfuscation, but six times more accusations are against the Roman Catholic Church, with very few incidents reported to the police.  The interests of the Catholic Church always seems to be put ahead of the victims.  After a meeting with Cardinal Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, the parents of two abused young girls described him as a “sociopath with a lack of empathy”.

Meanwhile the Anglican Church has a former oil industry executive Justin Welby as the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Although women have been ordained clergy for 20 years, a recent decision still prevents them from becoming bishops. This is a very disheartening, especially as more women than men are joining the ministry.

ASYLUM SEEKERS: Conditions for asylum seekers living in tents in Nauru, possibly for years, have been described as “appalling” and “completely unacceptable” by Amnesty International.  More than 7500 Australia bound asylum seekers have arrived by boat since August, not discouraged by the hypocritical and inhumane government policies, or the very dangerous journey (7 asylum seeker boats have sunk in 3 years with the loss of 400 lives).  Appallingly, the “race to the bottom” by both parties just gets deeper and deeper.  Australia’s mainland was even excised from our migration zone!

Into seas without a shore, 2012. Photograph by Mark Kimber. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

Mark Kimber builds miniature sets with added special effects, and then photographs them. I think he is very creative and imaginative and this image of the ship is so evocative – and ambiguous, I could not resist buying it. I loved many of the photographs in his recent exhibition The Pale Mirror.

ENVIRONMENT: Our Environment Minister Tony Burke has been very busy and quite successful with some highly contentious issues.  He has juggled the competing interests in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (irrigators, communities, environmentalists etc), and placated opposition by spending a “flood” of money over the last few years on already beneficial  infrastructure and “buy-backs”.  Environmentalists still think that not enough water will be returned to maintain the health of the rivers.  The long running forestry dispute in Tasmania may be finally close to a resolution, or a workable compromise.  The supertrawler has been banned from fishing in Australian waters for two years and the Japanese have cancelled this year’s whale hunt.

2.3 million square kilometres of Marine Parks around Australia have been declared.  Unfortunately there has been a 50% increase in coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef – due to agricultural run-off, hurricanes, but primarily star of thorns. There is a GetUp! campaign asking for support to protect the Great Barrier Reef, and to ask Tony Burke to commission an independent scientific review of mining operations affecting the reef.  The dredging to build new port facilities on the coast of Queensland is proving very destructive.

Catlin Seaview Survey

Catlin Seaview Survey

Log onto Catlin Seaview Survey to explore the Great Barrier Reef while we have it!  The Australian Marine Conservation Society International Union for Conservation of Nature lists endangered fish – and what  fish we should eat and not eat.

LIVE EXPORTS:  With the recent cruel and unnecessary slaughter of 20,000 Australian sheep in Pakistan, the live animal exports issue is again being debated.  Apparently New Zealand has phased out live exports trading which has been profitably replaced by domestic processes.

CLIMATE CHANGE:  I think we are at the point of accepting  – no longer debating, that the climate is changing and  global warming is a factor, and humans contribute to this.  People will debate timelines, severity, solutions etc, but many more countries are beginning to understand the urgency and are taking action. It took Hurricane Sandy however, to finally have the words “climate change” mentioned during the US presidential campaign. According to a very alarming Report to climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar, the release of greenhouse gases from the melting of the Arctic permafrost “could ultimately account for up to 39% of total emissions”.

In Australia, official meteorological records kept over 100 years from across Australia, have shown that there has been a 1 degree rise in land and sea temperatures.  Spring now comes two weeks earlier and we are having more rain “than ever”.  The World Bank has forecast what could be a disastrous rise of 4 degrees before the end of the century – also confirmed by a UN Environment Program report, while Price Waterhouse-Coopers forecast 6 degrees. Much greater effort needs to be made urgently by all countries. With the carbon “tax” implemented, Australia may even be ahead of our projected targets and timelines.

Rather disgracefully, many of our own scientists felt it necessary to go to Canberra recently to protest at how their research on, for example, climate change, sustainable stocks etc is questioned or ignored, and underfunded.

ENERGY:  Sixty- six coal seam gas wells may be scattered throughout dense Sydney suburbs, just as new research shows considerable amounts of methane are being released into the atmosphere from CSG.  The public is finally understanding what has caused the huge rise in electricity prices over the last few years (“poles and wires”), with the carbon price/tax, accounting for only 10% of the rise.  Coal consumption is down 30% in the US, and solar seems to be more and more widely utilised. Ten percent of Australia’s energy is now “clean energy”.

At Jenny Kee’s recent exhibition "Expressions of Waratah" with the painting 45 Million Years of Beauty

At Jenny Kee’s recent exhibition “Expressions of Waratah” with the painting 45 Million Years of Beauty

MEDIA:  I, fortunately, can work from home mostly. I listen avidly to the news on radio early in the morning (Fran Kelly Radio National), and read the Sydney Morning Herald when it is delivered. Like a robot I turn off the radio and sit at my computer at 9 am – it must be my Protestant work ethic. Lately I have been loving listening to the radio much more throughout the day.  Friends, especially artists in their studios, have been telling me this for years.  There are so many interesting people out there that know about such diverse and fascinating subjects, and they have often just written a book about it.

The ubiquitous ex PM Kevin Rudd has been giving interviews from all over the world, at any hour of the day or night.  He interviewed Radio National host Phillip Adams and they were both very intelligent and interesting.  What a pity Rudd apparently was such a control freak and difficult and demanding to work with.

The always interesting and sometimes controversial Aboriginal academic Marcia Langton is giving the annual Boyer series of lectures – so far about the supposedly surprising emergence of an Aboriginal middle class, and the opportunities for some in the mining industry. Marcia is a supporter of Noel Pearson and the Intervention in Aboriginal communities, and she seems to be getting more conservative.  Perhaps she has just seen too many failed policies in the past – including the idealistic but seemingly now disparaged policy of Aboriginal “self-determination”. People that object to the destruction and degradation of the environment caused by mining were described by Marcia as “a ragtag team of wilderness campaigners and… disaffected Aboriginal protesters”.

The six part series Redfern Now on the ABC has been an excellent and tough portrayal of the lives and problems confronted by many Aboriginals in the city – including  tensions between those that are in the new middle class, and some of the extended family and friends living in places like Redfern who are not doing so well. Redfern is a gritty inner city Sydney suburb, close to the Central train terminal and handy for Aboriginal country visitors. Many Aboriginal families have lived their for generations and have a very strong attachment to the place and the community.  As it is close to the city it is now undergoing gentrification, and many Aboriginals and others will be displaced.

Journalist Mark Colvin’s Andrew Olle lecture was very interesting about the media.  We know newspapers may have 5-10 years left.  There will be very little time (or budget) for investigative journalism. News will be computer generated by an algorithm.  There will be an even greater explosion in blogging and information dissemination through social media – much of it which is generated by spin doctors and publicists.  The Director of the ABC quoted a reporter out covering Hurricane Sandy in Lower Manhattan, who said he was more up to date by watching the live time action of the many twitter feeds throughout the city as the storm advanced.

GAZA: The Israeli/Palestinian war seemed to be announced on Twitter and other social media portals.  The assassination of Ahmed Jabari, head of the Hamas military wing was posted immediately on YouTube by the Israeli Government.  There was no world outcry at the assassination of a government official – just an almost 100% support for Israel for retaliating against the also unacceptable rockets fired from Gaza on Israeli citizens.

The Australian-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group is one of the largest in Parliament with 78 members.  The informal group for Palestine is 20. Victorian Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou said “What I struggle to understand, there seems to be this fear of offending Israel…To be honest with you, I don’t get it. This is an international issue and if you take an intellectual approach to it, it’s about an ongoing occupation that goes to the question of  justice, one people being subjugated by another….I can’t see how my colleagues can’t see this. I don’t understand how you can refuse to see what is happening to the Palestinian people is wrong”.  Expressing opinions about either side does not necessarily mean you are anti the other side or reject their right to exist.  Surely there can be no security for Israel until the Palestinians feel much less aggrieved, and somehow, a peaceful two- state coexistence established.

The PM is a staunch supporter of Israel and was rolled overwhelmingly by the party caucus into voting “abstain” instead of “against” the very successful vote for observer status for Palestine in the UN.  I think there is an international attitudinal sea change happening, with the “peace process” being recognised for what it is – more a “stalling process”.  A lack of any resolution provides more time for settlements to encroach into the West Bank and East Jerusalem, making a  viable Palestine less and less possible.

Gillard was warned (by her friends) that to vote  with the US and Israel against the rest of the world would be “on the wrong side of history”.  She argued that voting in favour of Palestine would “hurt the peace process” because the US has threatened to withdraw funding for the Palestinian Authority.  No doubt the Palestinians will be punished by Israel over the UN vote, and the US should be increasing financial support for the Palestinians and helping them to build their economy, not threatening them.

Apparently our Foreign Minister Senator Carr believes that “as a friend of Israel, at times you’ve got to save it from itself”.  This reminded me of another remark made years ago: “the Palestinians never miss a chance to miss an opportunity”.

Egypt’s President Mursi earned international praise for his role in the Gaza cease fire, although I’d say it was more Obama’s influence behind the scenes. It is however another indicator of the various and complex changed scenarios, agendas and realignments in the region, post Arab Spring, that require new strategies and approaches.  Next day Mursi granted himself wide autocratic powers “to speed up the transition to democracy”!  This move was primarily aimed at circumventing the judiciary, who are made up of many Mubarek appointments, and who annulled Mursi’s first attempt to form a constitutional assembly.  It has been back to Tahrir Square.

Lives continue to be lost as the war drags on in Syria but the world seems to have given up caring or counting the deaths… 40,000 in 20 months, and millions of refugees now facing winter.

Christian and George Adamson

Christian and George Adamson

MAIL: I received an email from Minding Animals International which detailed upcoming Preconference and Partner Events in New York, Cape Town, Gold Coast, Sydney, Vienna and Berlin. Thanks for the photographs of Christian (and other animal photographs) found on the internet by some of you like Usasportswarrior and Deb, and interesting stories, articles, and emails etc from Elaine, Lisa, Scott, William, Diego, Heulwen, Laverne and others, and apologies for late replies.

VALE: Albie Thoms, film-maker, writer, social historian, and a lovely person who will be very much missed.

US: The world seemed to be holding its collective breath for the US Presidential election, and now for the looming “fiscal cliff” of December 31st.  Still experiencing hard times, a majority of Americans voted very intelligently, and even backed same sex marriage in three states, and a liberalising of some drug laws in others. Romney had a better than expected campaign but the Republican Party has a shrinking base and was shown to be “too old, and too white, too male”.  Unfortunately at a time like this, that calls for reform and attempts to reach a wider support base, parties apparently usually get even more conservative, as evidenced by the emergence and appeal of the Tea Party. Four billion dollars were spent. The Republicans were outmanoeuvred by Obama’s very sophisticated campaigning technology, and  well organised  network of volunteers. Hurricane Sandy did interrupt Romney’s momentum. Yes, there is a degree of schadenfreude for big losers like Karl Rove, Fox News, tweeter Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, who I’m sure Obama would love to pay back for his support of Romney against him. On the other hand, Nat Silver picked the winners in all 50 states.

Every cat should have it's own dog!

Every cat should have it’s own dog!

CHINA: While we may never know – or now ever care about what Mitt Romney actually believes, we know much less about the new Chinese leadership. Xi Jinping is apparently comparatively worldly wise and travelled. Old Jiang Zemin still seems very influential, and this gang of 7 are not known to be reformers. We have at least learnt more about some of the immense wealth some of them have amassed – like US$2.7 billion for the family of Wen Jiaboa.

MISC STATS:  One hundred shootings in Sydney this year -several over the last few days; chances of winning at poker machines 13%; 1 in 8 Australians are living in poverty; 70% Australian males are overweight and 56% of women (while the obesity epidemic  in the US is now lowering life spans); in the top 500 ASX companies 12 have female CEOs, 9.2% have women in senior executive roles, and two thirds have no women on their boards; our Future Fund has invested $37 million in tobacco; as much as a third of some African nations have been purchased by wealthy nations for food production; recent research indicates “nice and less competitive” baboons have longer lives, while chimpanzees and orang-utans slip into a mid-life malaise before bouncing back in old age!

ONLINE EDUCATION: I love the idea of  the many educational opportunities that will increasingly be available online like the Massive Online Open Courses.  I am hoping many courses will be inexpensive and accessible to people previously excluded. Universities are becoming so expensive to operate in their present form as to be unsustainable. It would be sad, however, to lose aspects of university life like the positive social opportunities, face to face contact with lecturers and tutors, and the stimulation of campus life.

I was interested in this article by George Monbiot in the SMH  Children must experience nature in order to learn it’s worth saving. Apart from the existential environmental crises we face, as children’s lives are increasingly removed and disconnected from the natural world, “the young people we might have expected to lead the defence of nature have less and less to do with it”.

Monbiot quotes from Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, that in one generation “the proportion of children playing in wild places in Britain has fallen from more than half, to fewer than one in ten”.  Reasons for this include: a 90% decrease since the 1970s in the areas in the UK where children may play without supervision; parent’s fears; and the quality of indoor entertainment.

People have said to me that part of the attraction of our story with Christian is that it represents a less regulated time when there was more freedom to pursue outdoor activities and have adventures and take risks. We certainly do not encourage others to buy wild animals however, and we now see how by buying Christian we were perpetuating the trade in exotic animals. While our experience with Christian has obviously been a highlight of my life, and he was just so full of personality and amazing to know,  it was also always potentially dangerous, and carried great responsibilities to him and the people around us.

Govett's Leap Blue Mountains

Govett’s Leap Blue Mountains

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

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

OCEANS:  A recent book Ocean of Life: How Our Seas are Changing by Callum Roberts (Allen Lane) has received good reviews.  The oceans are so unexplored and unknown in many respects, but their resources are not inexhaustible and are integral to our lives and survival.  The author paints a frightening and comprehensive picture of what has already been lost  – coral, ocean megafauna, fish stocks etc., and the future challenges.  But Roberts also discusses positive ways to counteract some of the losses – with protected marine areas, bans on many forms of fishing, and global regulatory mechanisms. But despite marine ecosystems being capable of rapid recovery, the world is “living on borrowed time”.

Let’s hope Australia’s newly declared and extensive marine areas are to be adequately protected.

The new CEO for Greenpeace Australia Pacific David Ritter has expressed astonishment – as have many of us – that the Australian Government could be giving the go-ahead for the aptly named Alpha coal mine (co-owned by Gina Rinehart) to build a rail link and one of the world’s largest coal ports ON Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef.  The many environmental concerns are to be managed by “strict operating conditions”.  Sure.  After living in Europe, Ritter wonders how Australia could commit to such an old fashioned development involving fossil fuels which is so likely to endanger the Great Barrier Reef?

You can visit the Greenpeace site to protest should you want to.

SHARKS: Apparently there is a new shark app providing ocean observatories through a wave glider robot of mapping technology for Great White Sharks where numbers can be assessed, and one can “interact” with “Chomp, Mr. Burns, Little John” etc!  I’m terrified of sharks and will NOT be watching.

Grey Nurse Sharks. Photograph by Justin Gilligan.

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

FISH: Protest against the super trawler Margiris (renamed the Abel Tasman!) fishing in Australian waters on a huge scale for small pelagic fish which are critical in our marine ecosystem.  There is now widespread opposition to this 142 metre vessel which will probably vacuum up “by-catch” of other sea creatures indiscriminately.  The trawler is licensed to catch 18,000 tonnes of fish which is 5% of total stocks from a huge area that stretches from southern Queensland, around Tasmania, and across to Western Australia.  Sign the Greenpeace petition here to stop the super trawler.

ASYLUM SEEKERS:  Many boats with asylum seekers have been making the dangerous journey to Australia.  At least 100 drowned last week and there wasn’t even a national outcry, with drownings now seemingly commonplace.  Both major political parties have been in a “race to the bottom” over this issue to demonise these people.  New laws have stripped away their human rights and these inaccurately described “illegal immigrants” are now likely to be locked away out of sight and processed off-shore on a barren Pacific island (Nauru), or a malaria-infested island (Manus Island in PNG) for unspecified periods. Both these previously used centres are in shocking condition and one wonders why the money could not be invested more wisely in the welfare of these desperate people.  This is similar to ex PM John Howard’s Pacific Solution where most people were eventually resettled in Australia, but many with long lasting mental problems. 70-90% of them were found to be genuine refugees.  Australians, I am ashamed to say, have not been compassionate or welcoming.

There has been a fascinating television program called Go Back To Where You Come From on SBS where people with diverse views were actually sent to Kabul in Afghanistan, and Mogadishu in Somali to witness for themselves the conditions that have made refugees flee. The Australians were terrified for their safety. They met an Hazara in Afghanistan who belongs to a small minority of people who have been hounded there for decades. Over 300 of them who reached Australia were returned to Afghanistan by the Australian Government, and some have subsequently been killed.  Unfortunately no easy solutions exist, but hopefully after this documentary series more of the Australian population are  now a little better informed and more sympathetic.

The UNHCR estimates there are 42 million refugees worldwide and Australia’s yearly intake is 180,000.

The polls have slightly improved for our embattled Prime Minister – by playing to our prejudices by being tough on asylum seekers, cleverly wedging the Opposition leader on carbon pricing, and talking about important if unfunded policies – a National Disabilities insurance scheme, education reform and dental care.

While the Australian economy has been one of the best performing in the world, there is now talk that our commodities boom is coming to an end, with a fall in prices for iron ore, and a slow down of the Chinese economy.  The deposed PM Kevin Rudd has worryingly reappeared lately with a few strategic appearances.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: David was recently in Australia and his live performances sold out in minutes. In an interview he said that about 10 years ago it was apparent from scientific data that global warming/climate change was real, and today I think it must be very hard for any reasonably intelligent person to argue that this is untrue and not want to do something about it. At 86 he has 70 documentaries to his credit, and still looks handsome, although he hobbled a little which he blamed on injuries sustained while climbing Mount Gower on our Lord Howe Island several years ago.

The arctic ice cap has shrunk to the lowest level yet recorded.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

WATER: It seems the world will not have the water to feed the expected 9 billion people by 2050. A vegetarian diet may be the solution as animal protein rich food consumes 5-10 times more water.  At present 1/3rd of  the world’s arable land is used to grow crops to feed animals!

ELECTRICITY PRICES: For those wanting to blame our high Australian electricity bills on the recent carbon tax, I am again pointing out that there has been an 80% increase between 2007 and 2012 (and a cold winter!)

CARBON PRICING SCHEMES: From 2013, carbon pricing schemes are expected to be operating in at least 33 countries and 18 states and provinces. These schemes will cover about 850 million people, about 30% of the global economy and about 20% of global emissions. This includes US states and Chinese provinces. Very recently, the Australian Government has scrapped the floor price for carbon and will join our emissions scheme to the European Union by 2015.  I presume this is a good move and it does blunt the Opposition’s criticism that we are “going it alone” and are economically disadvantaged.

Tracey Moffatt and Peter Mack

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

JULIAN ASSANGE: Despite their protestations, the Australia Government has not supported Julian Assange and seemingly lies about what it does or doesn’t know about US intentions. On a television program (Four Corners on the ABC) a few weeks ago it was very apparent the “charges” against Assange in Sweden were non-existent – mere accusations centred around not using a condom.  Julian offered to discuss this matter while in Sweden and was allowed to leave the country. He should be very concerned about extradition to the US where Bradley Manning has spent 800+ days in jail without trial.

Julian should not be surprised by the fierce American opposition to himself and WikiLeaks after his exposures which I support, although I hope no identified “informants” were subsequently murdered.  However I do not support his relationship with both Russia and Ecuador which are two countries with appalling track records regarding freedom of the press.

PUSSY RIOT:  I want to acknowledge these three brave and articulate girls that have been jailed for 2 years for protesting about increasing restrictions in Putin’s Russia and his intolerance to any dissent.  While their performance in a church was provocative, it was appropriate given the Orthodox Church’s political support for Putin.

BURMA: congratulations on the lifting of press censorship…..

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

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

US: Paul Ryan is an interesting choice for Romney’s running mate although he actually gives Obama more of a target – as Maureen Dowd commented “He’s the cutest package that cruelty ever came in”.  The poor or disadvantaged have to become “more self-reliant”, while the rich get richer and have 80% of the wealth.  Apparently over time this has produced a two-tier society where children of the rich go to the best colleges, and subsequently get the best jobs, leaving most others permanently disadvantaged. While polls are close between Romney and Obama, apparently Australians would choose Obama by a 14 to 1 margin – even 64% of conservative voters.

This is partly a hang-over from the Bush/Howard years and the still lingering negativity towards both of them over the Iraq war which cost $US3 trillion, resulted in many deaths and has ended up with Iraq allied with Iran. South Africa’s Desmond Tutu recently said that Bush and Blair should face the International Criminal Court. Don’t forget John Howard!

I was not impressed with the cloyingly sentimental testimonials at the Republican convention or Clint Eastwood’s bizarre performance.  Not surprisingly there was no acknowledgement of the economic and foreign affairs mess Obama inherited from Bush, while Paul Ryan has been accused of making “false or distorted” statements.  I hope Michelle Obama and the Democrats play it a little cooler…

Growth in the US is only 2% but share prices have risen 20% which is one of various indicators encouraging for Obama’s re-election, although 8.2% unemployment is not.  It is anticipated that the US will be energy self-sufficient in a few years from shale gas and oil. No doubt, like in Australia, the short and long term effects of all this mining – on communities, food agricultural land, and water tables, has not been scientifically tested.

RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT: Australia is being left behind in R & D and for the first time the Asian region surpassed the Americas in its investment – $518 billion to $512 billion. China spends 6 times more than Australia does – and our scientists are collaborating on carbon capture technology for power plants, climate change modelling, stem cell medical research, solar voltaic materials and disease transmission from animals to humans.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

MIDDLE EAST: In EGYPT the new President seems have asserted himself and one wonders how and when the Generals will fight back….while SYRIA seems to be “exploding” rather than just “imploding” while the world watches impotently. 100,000 Syrians fled last month. The new UN “Peace” envoy to Syria thinks his job is “nearly impossible”.  There were a few more Australian soldier deaths in Afghanistan, and with such a brazenly corrupt government, local warlords and the Taliban lurking, the sooner we stop the charade and leave the country the better.

When I woke up the other day, the news was that the Syrian government forces were shooting  their own people from helicopters as they queued for bread, more asylum seekers drowned on their way to Australia, and some beheadings in Afghanistan. What sort of world do we live in?

ISRAEL: The historian Tom Segev warns that the Arab and ultra orthodox populations in Israel are growing, and that this is “ the main reason I think we should leave the occupied territories. Those Israelis who built Israel as a Jewish and democratic country are becoming a minority”.  He was quoted in an article by John Lyons in The Australian which went on to say that “Children were taught that when Israel was established in 1948 it had been empty – it was a land without people for a people without land. Historians (like Segev) have demolished the myth with documents showing almost half the Arabs who left were forced out, many violently”. This is similar to the myth of ‘terra nullius” in relation to the Aboriginal people in Australia, and the subsequent British colonisation.

We have to remember that many Israelis are also concerned about the military occupation of the Palestinians and realise that the settlements are designed to make peace with the Palestinians impossible. An organisation of veteran Israeli soldiers called Breaking the Silence have compiled a report from soldiers’ testimonies relating to the wounding and killing of Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza. This follows two other reports that detail multiple violations of international law by Israel in its treatment of children.

I did read a worrying article in Vanity Fair about Netanyahu, which despite his comfortable majority in the Knesset is described as “moving forward by standing still” and is now “unrelentingly cautious”.  His wife Sara apparently “runs the show”, and the media has been neutralised with the assistance of two American billionaires.

So is Israel preparing to go to war with Iran over their nuclear program -or merely threatening for the benefit of the US where the Presidential elections are another complicating factor? Apparently Israel, unlike the US, do not have the weapons it needs to penetrate Iran’s underground nuclear facilities.

The US sold a record $US66.3 billion of arms sales overseas last year.

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

NOEL PEARSON: In Australia it is hard to work out Noel Pearson, a very intelligent and articulate Aboriginal.  He is the architect of the Government’s flawed and controversial Intervention in Aboriginal communities – a one size paradigm NOT fitting all by any means, and imposed originally with no community consultation.  The Intervention has rare bi-partisan support which suits both political parties as most policies and vast amounts of money have seen little improvement for Aboriginal people over many years.  Recently there has been a glut of information about Pearson in both major papers, and I can’t work out why.  Unfortunately he seems to have become autocratic, untouchable, and foul mouthed.  His central idea is that the welfare dependency of many Aboriginal people is counter productive, and it is undoubtedly ultimately demoralising.  Unfortunately the Intervention has led to the discontinuation of many worthwhile programs Aboriginals themselves initiated in their own communities.  Pearson’s chosen communities and projects in Queensland, however, ironically seem particularly awash with government funding.  Scrutiny or criticism is treated with contempt, and it is hard to measure any actual achievements as yet.  While one must applaud genuine attempts to counter Aboriginal disadvantage, some of his ideas do seem paternalistic and a hangover from the Mission days. I do support various ideas and projects however, including encouragement for people to have their own gardens and grow their own vegetables. Make up your own mind.

MISC STATS: Facebook 955 million users but the share price halved; Apple worth $622 billion; 100 million deaths in the world from smoking each year and Australia has $200 million invested in Big Tobacco in our Future Fund; 80% fewer koalas on the east coast of Australia because of urban development; 1/3rd more tigers killed in India this year.

READERS:  As readers, my generation, (and a little older and a little younger), have been “spectators” in a sense and are fast becoming an eccentric minority. Now consumers are more “participants” through Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc.  More people are now into this constant flow of information and other stimulation. Are they afraid of silence? When is the “quiet” time, or the time for reflection?  Planning?  Thinking?

SMH: Over 70 journalists and writers have taken redundancy packages and left my favourite newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald.  This can only have a detrimental effect on the standard of the newspaper, although several of you have complained in the past about the sources for news and commentary that I rely on!

 JOHN RALSTON SAUL: In an essay Saul asks “When did saving a bank become more important than saving a country?” I particularly liked some of his ideas as I grapple to understand the effects of the “solutions” to the GFC and the future for countries such as Greece, Spain etc. in the European Union.  Saul is amazed as “those who have produced the failure press on”.  He sees a failure of imagination, and an illiterate leadership.  He challenges the policies of austerity and growth, and asks when did austerity ever historically lead to prosperity?  He discusses the destructive attitudes to public debt and wonders about the primary obligation to the well being of citizens.  He is not surprised by the return of popularism, xenophobia and fear.  He says there is a production surplus and the problem is that it is distributed unfairly. We must “move on to ideas of social and economic well being not dependent on growing consumption”. Read the full article from the SMH here.

FELINE FILM FESTIVAL: Apparently over 10,000 people attended this recent outdoor event in Minneapolis to view 79 selected entries.  Apparently 10 million cat videos are on the internet!  The winner of the Golden Kitty award was Will Braden’s existential Henri 2: Paw de Deux and it is just marvellous!  He certainly understands cats.

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

Drygalski Fjord" photographer Peter Eastway

 
PHOTOGRAPHY:  There are many wonderful art and photography exhibitions on at the moment in Sydney.  I love these photographs taken on a journey to Antartica by Peter Eastway, who “tweaks” his photographs to convey “how I felt, what it was like, the awe”.  Click here to view more images.  Other great photographs and photographers follow – all doing something different and imaginative with the medium of photography.

"Port Chariot Iceberg" photographer Peter Eastway

Peter Eastway has been inspired by the famous Australian photographer and Antarctic explorer Frank Hurley (1885-1962).

The 'Endurance' frozen in the Weddell Sea, photographer Frank Hurley

AUSTRALIA:  I call this paragraph “Australia” so people can skip it if our news bores you.  I try not to be too local or parochial – and try to only talk about issues many of you must face in your own countries.  Following on from the last blog and the “lucky country” tag, The Economist (UK) criticizes our unimpressive leaders, and both sides of politics are  ‘indolent’ and “captured by opinion poll-driven “short-termism””.  The conservative opposition party “seems to have no philosophical principles at all” and both leaders pander to “xenophobic fears about asylum seekers”.  We have not made enough of the China boom, and I have just read elsewhere that China now views us as “discriminatory” and a “political risk”, and we have slipped to fifth position for the value of their foreign investments.

VISIT:  During the visit here of the  High Commissioner for Refugees we were reminded that mandatory detention of asylum seekers/refugees breaks international law, and she stated that we are demonizing asylum seekers.  We are now hoping to dump them on Malaysia who already have 90,000 refugees, and are not even a signatory to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.  This will include unaccompanied children.

SHAME: AUSTRALIA’S FUTURE FUND – this Government investment fund holds a $135.4 million investment in nuclear weapons manufacturers, and had to be shamed into dumping investments in cluster bombs!  Some future!  It’s like living in a parallel universe….

The French documentary "Oceans"

FILM:  I am looking forward to seeing Oceans which has been described as one of the best wildlife documentaries.  Stylistically it is apparently more Jacques Cousteau/French than David Attenborough/British.  Click here for a review.

MORE SHAME:  The recent television report “A Bloody Business” has created a scandal as we were shown how our live cattle exports to Indonesia are cruelly treated and slaughtered.  It was impossible to watch it all as it was so gruesome – but I can still hear their bellows of fear and agony.  The Australian Government has known about these conditions in the Indonesian abattoirs for 10 years, and indeed this trade has been overseen by Meat and Livestock Australia – funded by the tax payer.  Congratulations to Lyn White and Animals Australia for bringing this to our attention – they have previously put the spot light on our live cattle exports to the Middle East, especially Egypt.  Some cattle had to wait their turn and were able to watch the slaughter ahead of them– the last one in the queue was a quivering wreck.  Click here for the Four Corners ABC Report.  Click here for GetUp Action for Australia to sign petitions to Julia Gillard and local MPs.

Ironically, Australians probably care more about these animals than asylum seekers, although many of them have had to flee for their lives and have had to take huge risks.  These people are never identified in the media, as a “human face” may evoke sympathy.  Frederika Steen asks in the SMH letters “When did public outrage at animal cruelty overtake our commitment to comply with human rights?”

VEGETARIANISM:  Thanks for the emails about this, and the book The Face on Your Plate by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson has just arrived in the post.  I certainly haven’t eaten meat since “A Bloody Business” was shown.

JULIAN ASSANGE:  Julian in fact won the Sydney Peace Foundation Gold Medal, and this week the Martha Gelhorn Prize for Journalism which rewards work that “challenges secrecy and mendacity in public affairs”.  The Sydney Peace Prize has just been awarded to Noam Chomsky.

MIDDLE EAST:  The “spring” seems to have gone out of the Arab Spring for now.  Libya seems a stale-mate, Egypt is still oppressive, the child Hamza Al-Khatib was tortured and murdered in Syria, and everyone in Afghanistan, except perhaps the Taliban, seem sick of the hopelessness and the civilian and military deaths.  We lost our 29th soldier this week and the majority of our population are asking “why”?  The Israel and Palestine conflict also seems to urgently need new leaders and a new paradigm…

EIKOH HOSOE:  There are four seminal series by this marvellous Japanese photographer at the  Art Gallery of New South Wales.  Hosoe has been inspired by Butoh for many years and has worked with many of the actors.  With his arresting photographs, Hosoe, like several of the other photographers mentioned in this blog, wants to convey more than straight photographic documentation, in this case, his feelings for a place where he spent some years of his childhood.  He wants to return to Australia and photograph some of our trees, particularly the Moreton Bay Figs.

BIG TOBACCO:  It has been fascinating watching the pressure the tobacco industry has been exerting against legislation here for plain packaging on cigarettes which already carry the direst and most grisly images of what smoking can do to you.  Our Opposition party however, receives donations from them, and the Opposition leader, although a former Health Minister and show-off fitness fanatic, had to be shamed into supporting the legislation.

GAMBLING:  Australians are the worst gamblers in the world – on average US$1300 each year each person.  There is an attempt to limit problem gamblers on pokie machines – of course a huge source of revenue for governments.  Football players wear jumpers with Centrebet on their back, on playing fields emblazoned with beer commercials, and you can bet online on tabsportbet as the game unfolds!

From the Up in the sky series by Tracey Moffatt

TRACEY MOFFATT:  Possibly our most famous Australian artist Tracey Moffatt is exhibiting  Up in the sky at the Art Gallery of NSW.  Click here to view all the photographs in the series, and Google her!

STYLISH:  Barack and Michelle Obama in Ireland and UK.  How stylish and charming they are.  The Queen actually looked pleased for a change!

Daniel Cunningham, Ildiko Kovacs, Liz Nowell photograph by Stephen Oxenbury

ILDIKO KOVACS:  I love Ildiko’s paintings so it is marvellous to see a comprehensive survey of her work currently at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre until July 3rd 2011.  The exhibition is curated by Daniel Cunningham and is accompanied by a superb publication.  Ildiko received an excellent review by SMH art critic John MacDonald, click here to read article.

Serpentine 1999, was a gift to the Museum of Contemporary Art by the late Ann Lewis, a very generous art benefactor.

Serpentine 1999 by Ildiko Kovacs

BOOKS:  I know I’m very out of date with my reading – with my MA I just read Australian history for years – but I’ve finally read We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.  Brilliant, dark, funny, a mother/son hate/love story – I adored it but not for all.

MISC STATS:  More eBooks are now sold than paperbacks (A Lion Called Christian was Random House’s first eBook)…. 10 million dogs are eaten in China each year – but now the wealthier Chinese are having them as pets…..50% of Chinese are now described as “urban” and in India it is 30%…humans consume 272 billion kilograms of plastic per year….

JANE GOODALL:  The indefatigable and international treasure Jane Goodall is in Australia again – Click here to view her Australian tour schedule.

Rescued from the tornado

ANIMAL VIDEOS:  Mark Lewis’s Cane Toads: The Conquest  has just been released.  Some see this sequel as an allegory for our Australian xenophobia; Therasa sent in a link to very cute cats – Click here ; Dale Swanton sent the most touching photographs of dogs collected and huddling with each other after the destruction of the recent tornadoes in the U.S, and joining them on the back seat was a cat!

VOICELESS:  Click here to view  the Voiceless Grants Program.

PS: Happy World Environment Day June 5th 2011!

The wreck of the Lady Elizabeth in the Falkland Islands, photographer Peter Eastway