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

Sumatran Tiger Cubs at Taronga Zoo.  Photo by Rick Stevens

Sumatran Tiger Cubs at Taronga Zoo. Photo by Rick Stevens

TONY THE TIGER:  Thanks for the immediate responses to the petition for Tony the Tiger.  See the recent update on Tony from the Animal Legal Defense Fund (http://www.aldf.org/tony).  Unfortunately Tony remains in his cage while complicated legal battles over him delay attempts to relocate him to an appropriate sanctuary.  Is this case receiving media attention in the US?

I would like the blog to be primarily a notice board for animal welfare and rights issues and I rely on your contributions.  I think we have put the spotlight on some of the more quiet achievers doing great work for animals or the environment, and the blog is now a Directory of many organisations and people.

Like many of you I support many of the campaigns of the ALDF (http://www.aldf.org/), GetUp! (http://www.getup.org.au/), AVAAZ (http://www.avaaz.org/en/), and http://www.change.org/.  Internet activism is huge and will grow in influence and become more targeted.  I remind myself clicking “sign” on a petition and pressing “send” is pretty easy.  I think trying to be informed is a good start, and donations are always a practical contribution.  I’m sure we all wonder how our efforts could be more effective, and I admire people who volunteer and give their time to organisations like BushCare, and visiting imprisoned asylum seekers.

Birds of America, John James Audubon

Birds of America, John James Audubon

AUDUBON:  Two copies (out of only 200) of the first edition of Birds of America by John James Audubon (1785-1851) sold last month at Sotheby’s for $11.5 million, and $7.5 million at Christie’s.  With beautiful life size colour plates, this classic work contains over 700 North American species.

SUMMER HOLIDAYS:  It has been a relaxing time spent mostly with family and friends.  There has been time to read, and to reflect on 2011, and what 2012 may bring.  While many of you are in freezing temperatures, our weather has been erratic and courtesy of La Niña, quite a lot of rainfall and flooding again in the north east, for some the third flood in three years.  I remember how dry, hot and endless summer holidays used to be, and people now seem to go back to work much earlier.  My vegetable garden is a disgrace and was even overgrown before I saw a black snake.

The Year of the Dragon apparently promises to be unpredictable and exciting.  With the EU and the Middle East, anything could happen.  On a positive note, I think the momentum is swinging back to a majority of people (again) accepting that climate change is real and something has to be done about it.  China, the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter (8.88 billion tonnes) is to set a price on carbon but a low $1.55 a tonne, to increase gradually.  It must now be hard to argue that the weather is not changing.  In the Maldives, 14 out of the 200 habitable islands are now uninhabitable.  2012 does carry some pretty dire predictions for the Euro Zone by the World Bank, IMF, and George Soros amongst many others, especially with such seemingly inept leadership.  Many are questioning the calls for austerity measures (made by Germany especially), when it seems people should be encouraged to spend and generate growth and jobs.

Roseate Spoon Bill - Birds of America, John James Audubon

Roseate Spoon Bill - Birds of America, John James Audubon

ARAB WINTER:  In Egypt, what accommodation will the military come to with the winners of their election, the Muslim Brotherhood?  What is known about this very influential and well-funded organisation?  Now in parliament the party will not be able to remain as secretive as it has had to be in the past.  See Stepping out of the shadows by Ruth Pollard (SMH News Review Jan 28-29), an article that illustrates just how little is known about them or what the future may hold.  After the recent soccer riots and deaths, questions are being asked about the failure, deliberate or otherwise, of national security.

SYRIA:  A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald helped me understand the situation in Syria much more clearly, and all the regional repercussions.  I realised it is in some ways a proxy war.  In Every Middle East player has a stake in Syria’s sectarian showdown (SMH Feb 6), Jackson Diehl writes that this is “the most complex, volatile and momentous power struggles in the history of the Middle East”.  The invasion of Iraq upset the delicate regional balance between the  Sunnis and Shiites, and Syria “has precipitated a crucial test of strength between Sunnis and Shiites and between Turkey and Iran.  It has also triggered existential crises for Palestinians, Kurds and the Shiite government of Iraq”.  Syrians are being killed daily while the UN and the Arab League appear impotent, and the Russians and Chinese are recalcitrant and entirely self-interested.  While Syrians are crying out for our help and being murdered, we watch helplessly.

Vafa animal shelter Iran (Behrouz Mehri_AFP_Getty Images)

Vafa animal shelter Iran (Behrouz Mehri_AFP_Getty Images)

Thanks to David for sending this beautiful selection of photographs of Iran from The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2012/01/a-view-inside-iran/100219/.  It is important to see the human face and everyday lives of Iranians many of whom are held hostage by their government.

The sanctions and rhetoric against Iran – with talk of an Israeli attack against Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facilities as early as April must only stiffen Iran’s resolve to defend themselves with nuclear weapons.  Saudi Arabia was reported to be “shopping in Pakistan for a nuke”.

Sydney Morning Herald correspondent Hamish McDonald wrote very interestingly about returning to Israel after 13 years Life in Israel an ultra-orthodox paradox (SMH 21 Jan News Review) http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/life-in-israel-an-ultraorthodox-paradox-20120120-1qa2k.html.  He questioned if a two-state solution was still possible “Or is all this negotiation and capacity-building simply a prelude to living together, somehow – two nations in one land – on better terms than the status quo, miserable humiliation for the occupied, corrosive for the occupier?”  The best of luck to Fatah and Hamas with their recent reconciliation.

PARALLEL UNIVERSE:  Some times last year I felt I lived in a parallel universe:  Israeli government spokesmen saying new settlements were not an impediment to peace; Osama bin Laden located and assassinated after living for years in a suburb in Pakistan; the bizarre and so unlikely propaganda for the new North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un – described as a “joke” by his brother; the race in Australia to hand over high food producing land to Coal Seam Gas mining or sales to foreign investors; Australia handled the GFC better than any other country, yet the Opposition here say it is the worst government (or PM?) on record.

Iranian Youths during water fights at Water and Fire Park northern Tehran, July 2011. AP Photo/Milad Beheshti

Iranian Youths during water fights at Water and Fire Park northern Tehran, July 2011. AP Photo/Milad Beheshti

SPORT:  Australian cricket has been in crisis, but suddenly there is the emergence of good young fast bowlers, although two have already succumbed to injury.  The visiting Indian team were easily beaten in the Test matches. Tendulkar failed to get his elusive 100th Test century. Several older Australian cricketers (like Ricky Ponting) have had to perform, and have. Records have been broken.  The Australian public has finally warmed to the newish captain Michael Clarke who was Man of the Series and scored 329 not out.

Both tennis and cricket have fast food sponsors.  Their advertisements for their food on TV looked so totally unappetising and unhealthy; hamburgers, and chicken in batter and bacon sizzling in fat.  You are encouraged to relax at home watching sport on TV, eating fattening fast food, drinking Coke (or beer) and we are now urged with frequent interruptions to bet online on every aspect of the unfolding games.

Playing an Inter school tennis match circa 1963 – my style is very old-fashioned!

In Australia in January we have several tennis tournaments building up to the Australian Open in Melbourne.  There were many highlights – like actually being there to see the best players in the world play the semi finals. It was especially thrilling to see Rafa play Federer, and I was surprised at the fanatical support for Federer.  I do have to admit his record is extraordinary, and he is the most graceful player who always makes the game look effortless.  Overall the standard of tennis in the tournament was very high, although too many points were lost by an error, rather than won.  However, as the legend Rod Laver pointed out, returning is so good these days, that shots that would previously have been “winners” are now being returned, in very long rallys.

Any number of girls could have won, and at least six of them have been number one.  Many are attractive and healthy looking and are dressing much better.  Serena Williams made a surprising comment that she “never liked sport or exercising” (knocked out 4th round).  Men dress in a much cooler way these days although the Federer team uniform was a rather naff quasi-military jacket and cap he ( he lost).  Verdasco wore a shocking red and yellow outfit (he lost) and Dolgopolov wore red shorty pyjamas (he lost).

Both lost to Bernard Tomic, Australia’s long awaited new tennis star who has developed into quite an extraordinary player at 19 and has the tennis world fascinated.  One of quite a few players with parent coaches! Murray’s new coach Ivan Lendl seems to have banned Murray’s mother – I couldn’t spot her in the crowd.

Players have a punishing schedule, and many seem to be suffering or recovering from injury.  It is very hot at this time of the year here and most games are played outdoors, and the final was over 5 gruelling hours.  Tennis should not be such an endurance test.  There were several matches where players “found a way to win”.  The mental attitudes and psychological games were fascinating, and players confronting their particular nemesis – Federer failing again against Nadal, and Nadal against Djokovic.

Back home for the final on TV I was very moved to see a parade of the past Australian winners of the Australian Open –including  Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson, Frank Sedgeman, Rod Laver, and John Newcombe.  We seemed to dominate world tennis back then.  Azerenka thrashed Sharapova, and Djokovic beat Nada in the longest, and possibly the best final ever. Both winners won $2.3 million.

Taronga Zoo elephants.  Photo by Rick Stevens

Taronga Zoo elephants. Photo by Rick Stevens

AUSTRALIA:  It was quiet over Christmas with the politicians on holidays – there always seems to be less news!  But things hotted up quickly.  The PM was dragged to her car by security from a protest by Aboriginals who were nearby marking the anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy erected on the lawns of Government House 40 years ago.  I think Aborigines are remarkably sanguine under the circumstances about their dispossession and the poverty that so many of them still live with. There is a rare bipartisan approach to Aboriginal affairs so nothing is done.  A report on recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the constitution has just been presented to the government.

Media driven leadership speculation is running hot.  The deposed PM, Foreign Minister Rudd continues to stalk the PM, pretending he isn’t, and helping to destabilise an already unpopular government.  Too many careless and strategic errors cloud what have been major achievements for the government in a hung parliament, and in many ways a good economic record.

CSG:  The rampant mining of coal seam gas is a great issue facing Australia.  Environmental activists who are protesting over Coal Seam Gas are being spied on by the government!  Too many disturbing stories are surfacing from around the world about the effects of the mining techniques on the water aquifers, and other issues including the leaking of contaminated water.  Ultimately it is not suitable as a low emission “bridging fuel” between coal-fired electricity generators and large scale renewable energy. According to a recent American report the amount of greenhouse gases released by unconventional gas drilling exceeds that of oil and coal.

Some of our best agricultural and food producing areas are at risk, and many other properties are being sold to foreign investors at an alarming rate, with all food produced likely to go off shore.

Other recent reports seem to conclude that wind farms do not cause illness.  What does have to be considered with wind turbines as a clean source of energy however, is all the emissions from coal-fired power plants from producing the steel to build the gigantic turbines, and all the cement for the foundations.

Moir SMH 8 February 2012

Moir SMH 8 February 2012

GINA RINEHART:  Australia’s richest person ($20 billion), and possibly soon to be the richest in the world, Gina Rinehart seems to be increasingly throwing her weight around.  In the past it has been reported that Gina has proposed using cheap Asian labour in her mines, that the state of Western Australia secede, and that nuclear bombs be used for mining purposes and creating harbour facilities.  Not surprisingly, she funds climate-change deniers.

In a bizarre spectacle in 2010 she and sundry other mining billionaires protested on the streets against a proposed Super Profits Tax.  On the back of a flatbed ute, Gina shouted “axe the tax”.  Up against a campaign that cost the miners $23 million, the government watered down the Mineral tax, losing billions of dollars.

Now Gina has begun buying into Australian media – 10% of a television channel, and just recently nearly 14% of Fairfax Media which owns my newspaper of choice, the Sydney Morning Herald.

View this the video you were never supposed to see” and see how Gina’s move is most likely part of a strategy to control and influence aspects of the media.

I’ve complained at length about some examples of bias in Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian, which in many other regards is a very good newspaper.  Luckily the Fairfax Board in my opinion is known more for its lacklustre performance,and not editorial interference.

BILL GATES:  Leading by great example, Bill and Melinda Gates have donated $US750 million to make up for the shortfall in The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

WHALING:  The anti-whaling vessel the Sea Shepherd and supporters had the first skirmish of the season when 3 men boarded a Japanese vessel in the Southern Ocean.  In a costly exercise they were returned to an Australian vessel, and they did put the whaling issue on the front pages briefly.  All has been quiet since… or for the moment.

Asian Elephants, Taronga Zoo

Asian Elephants, Taronga Zoo

ELEPHANTS:  Recently there was a suggestion that elephants, highly endangered in Africa as we know, be brought to Australia to eat and control the highly flammable introduced gamba grass.  Oddly George Adamson advocated this when we spent time with him in Kenya.  I would imagine there would be problems of immunity to diseases, damage to vegetation and soil, and be scary for an unprepared public, especially if the elephants went feral like the herds of camels and buffaloes.  Other destructive introduced species in Australia include the cane toad, rabbits, foxes, cattle and sheep – and cats.

INDO-ASIA-PACIFIC:  It seems Australia may finally be well positioned in the world with the global focus now on the Asian region.  Obama’s decision to pull out from the Middle East and concentrate on the South East Asian region, is recasting international strategic thinking, although everything these days seem to be all about China!  There will be a small US base in northern Australia.  The Indian Ocean is the oil route to the Asian economies, and the navies in the region including the US, China, India, and not forgetting Iran and the Strait of Hormuz, will be keeping an eye on each other and these vital sea routes.

AMERICA:  A while ago I received an irate email after I had made some complimentary remarks about President Obama. She “wanted her country back”.  What did she want back I wondered, remembering the Bush years – a failure of intelligence over 9/11 and an inability to find Bin Laden, 2 expensive, deadly and unnecessary wars, and the GFC on their watch.  That’s a lot of mess to inherit and to clear up.

John Howard, our fellow conservative PM of the time, rushed to join Bush in Iraq, without even advising Parliament, and subsequently and unnecessarily made Australia a terrorist target.  An Australian passport can now be a liability although now we are to host a small American military base.  A recent letter to the SMH editor said “I returned to Australia at the end of the (John) Howard years.  I found Australia a colder, harder and more selfish society”.

My irate emailer also spoke very disparagingly about the participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  It is a very old-fashioned protest movement, and perhaps some are a little scruffy, but the movement keeps gaining momentum and has certainly entered international consciousness very quickly.  In Ireland, protesters are occupying some of the many empty buildings for community purposes.  In Sydney some protesters got arrested on a rainy night recently allegedly “contravening council notices” in what seems ongoing police harassment.

Income disparity is predicted by some to be the key issue for 2012.

Former venture trader Mitt Romney (worth $250 million) personifies the 1% and that this is an issue in the US election is more evidence of the effectiveness of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  He pays a 14% tax rate and Obama is taxed at 26%.  The concerns of the 99% have been put on the agenda, triggering a sudden feigned concern by politicians for the middle classes. Romney is wooden, insincere and subject to faux pas but the most presentable of a pretty bad lot – and he seems to have been an effective Governor.  I don’t know what he believes in and I suppose it is a relief he is a “moderate”, which seems to be a dirty word in some Republican circles.  Hopefully he will see off Gingrich with his “ethical violations” and a call to an America of the past, not the future, and the “Jesus” candidate Rick Santorum who has just been resurrected.  In Australia most of us seem to accept – reluctantly, that a certain level of taxation is in the national interest, and while the Christian Right is also influential, it is not as powerful as it is in the US.

The tide may be turning for Obama.  There are some encouraging if small signs – like employment figures of the 3 year low of 8.3%.  A trump card could be Hillary Clinton running as Vice-President to Obama, while Joe Biden becomes Secretary of State, as has been suggested.

Birds of America Osprey

Birds of America Osprey

ASSANGE:  Judges have adjourned to consider their judgement about Julian Assange’s extradition to Sweden.  He is soon to be a television host on Russia’s RT network, interviewing “10 key political players, thinkers and revolutionaries… who will be shaping the political agendas of tomorrow”.

MISC STATS:  There are now more urban Chinese than rural;  5 million dogs are put down a year in the US;  $US56.8 billion worldwide sales for McDonald’s from 33,510 restaurants;  US national debt is $15 trillion;  Mexico’s drug trade is worth $38 billion; a 21% increase in drive-by shootings in Sydney’s suburbs.

MAIL:  Susan cheekily asked how my vegetarianism is going.  It was Christmas and the holidays and I’ve eaten everything offered to me!  I haven’t bought any meat except for my cats.  As it has been summer it is lovely eating lots of fruit and salads.  Overall I’ve tried to “graze” rather than eat big meals.  I eat too much bread, drink too much tea, and I don’t have cakes, biscuits or chocolates in the house.

A Lion Called Christian has just shown on Danish television and thanks for the many emails from Denmark – I’m so glad you have enjoyed it. Friends saw the video in their hotel in India last year and emailed “we didn’t know you spoke such good Hindi”!

Family Bush Tucker Dreaming c.1972 Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri

Family Bush Tucker Dreaming c.1972 Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Courtesy Aboriginal Artists Agency

TJUKURRTJANU Origins of Western Desert Art is a superb exhibition, which I saw just before it finished at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.  These were the first paintings produced in the desert in the early 1970s by Aborigines who brilliantly and effortlessly transferred their traditional designs and creation stories to a new medium of canvas board and acrylic.  Look out for the exhibition in Paris later in the year at the Musee du quai Branly (http://www.quaibranly.fr/en/), running 9 October until 27 January 2013.  Continuing at the NGV until 24th May is Living Water: Contemporary Art of the Far Western Desert, a colourful and comprehensive exhibition which illustrates how many of the desert Aboriginal artists like Ronnie Tjampitjinpa (below) have developed over the decades, in what has been described as one of the great art movements of the last century.

Water Dreaming at Malparingya 2001 Ronnie Tjampitjinpa

Water Dreaming at Malparingya 2001 Ronnie Tjampitjinpa, Courtesy Aboriginal Artists Agency

VEOLIA ENVIRONMENT WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2011: I love this annual exhibition of Wildlife photography which travels widely. It is now at the Australian Museum, Sydney until 18 March 2012.  We are reminded how beautiful nature is, but fragile, endangered and at risk, like these pelicans rescued from the oil spill in Louisiana.

Photo by Daniel Beltrá Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

Photo by Daniel Beltrá Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011 Winner

THE WORLD:  What a difference a few weeks or even a day can make.  More people killed by their own governments in the Middle East,  the illegal invasion of Iraq over and US troops withdrawn, protests begun in Russia, and the unknown future of North Korea and the region with the death of Kim Jung-Il in North Korea. Those crocodile tears!  But the EU are still unable to solve their problems and ease global financial uncertainty.

DURBAN:  One hundred and ninety four countries including the world’s worst greenhouse gas emitters DID sign up to a 2015/20 agreement of sorts in Durban at the United Nations Climate conference.  Emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production grew by 5.9% last year to a record high of more than 9 billion tonnes of carbon.  There are reasons for some optimism however – even if driven by factors such as unsafe urban air pollution levels.  China is positioned to benefit most in the renewable energy economies.  9.6% of Australian energy comes from renewables, but there are plans to export even more coal, enough to drive carbon emissions above world targets.

EU:  If it wasn’t so serious, it has been fascinating learning more about the EU – such as the dominance of Germany with France playing second fiddle.  How marginalised could the UK become and what are the implications?  Germany has obviously benefited most from the EU – it has been a good export market for them, and  if low on profitability, it has provided good employment as they recovered from their reunification.  The Germans don’t like the debt of their profligate neighbours and do not want to compensate them for their perceived laziness.  Other smaller EU countries have found it harder to benefit.  Suddenly there are echoes of their not so recent wars and histories, like the German fear of hyperinflation from the Weimar Republic days.

Photo by Jack Salzke Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

Photo by Jack Salzke Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

PUTIN:  Good to see that posturing Putin put on notice and an Arab Spring come to Russia although it is a potentially very dangerous confrontation – Putin is a very formidible opponent.

MIDDLE EAST:  My friend emails from Egypt, in one long sentence: “The Muslim Brotherhood will be good for the general population and give them again a sense of dignity after having none under Mubarak, they are really only interested in business and money so their religious fervour will be curbed by that, the army will not leave but act in the shadow to give an impression of a civilian state, it might be a slight improvement, but the liberals and artists and intellectuals, the ones who started the revolution will in fact gain nothing and might lose again.”  In recent days however, protesters, including women, are being beaten and shot at and killed by their government.

In Tunisia there has been a successful election and the Opposition installed, but unpopular leaders are hanging on in Bahrain and Yemen. In Syria Assad is living in a parallel universe accepting no responsibility for the killing of his citizens, and in his interview with Barbara Walters he said words to the effect “No ruler would shoot his own people”. It has become a family tradition.  I suppose the big news is the US troops leaving Iraq but one can only feel sad – hundreds of thousands of deaths, a trillion dollars, sectarian violence and an unstable future.  A warrant for the arrest of the Vice President was not a good start to “democratic” Iraq.  Like many others around the world I marched against the illegal invasion of Iraq, but it gives no satisfaction to still believe we were right!

I read in the SMH 20 Bedouin communities between Jerusalem and Jericho are to be relocated (again) close to a municipal rubbish dump on the edge of Jerusalem.  The report said this had been described as part of a strategic plan for a ring of Jewish settlements that would cut East Jerusalem off from the West Bank and would make a contiguous Palestine state impossible.

I hope it is a reason for optimism that Hamas in their rapprochement with Fatah, while still not acknowledging the state of Israel, has said it is shifting it’s emphasis from”armed struggle to non-violent resistance”.  Hopefully this means no more rockets and mortars will be fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip.  550 more Palestinians have been released as promised from Israeli jails.

Iran is angry that the  Hamas leadership in exile are relocating from Syria, and have consequently cut their funding – an example of the many changing scenarios and allegiances in the Middle East.

Obama, Mr Cool, has seen his approval rating among US Jewish voters fall from 78% to 54%.  Luckily for him the Republican Presidential candidates to date have been a circus.

Photo by Hui Yu Kim, Veolia Environment Wildlife Photograph of the Year 2011

Photo by Hui Yu Kim, Veolia Environment Wildlife Photograph of the Year 2011

UK RIOTS:  It was interesting to read a report into the riots – the background was a pervasive sense of injustice, and for some this was economic, with a lack of money, jobs or opportunities, but also a significant factor behind the riots was a “widespread anger and frustration at the way police engage with the communities”.

AUSTRALIAN ISSUES:  The PM survived a tough year with a hung parliament (described by some as episodes of Survivor).  Just as abysmal polls rise slightly, the unhelpful distraction of Gillard/Rudd/Shorten? leadership tensions emerge.  The Government handled the GFC extremely well, in my opinion, but will be tested again.  Our current national shame is the months old stalemate between both parties over the processing of asylum seekers off-shore. Both agree with it, but not which countries to do it in. Meanwhile people are dying in their attempts to reach Australia – possibly 180 drowned last weekend which may finally force some action. The Indonesian Government has halved the number of Australian live cattle exports as pay back for the temporary ban after the footage of conditions in Indonesian abatoirs were shown on Australian television. There has not been an equivalent public outcry over the 180 asylum seekers who have just drowned.

Our conservation issues should be uranium mining and sales to India, and coal, with mega mines planned in the Galilee Basin in Queensland with 375 million tonnes of coal a year capacity which by 2035 would be eating up 4% of the world’s carbon budget and 9% of the emissions set aside for coal.

“If this goes ahead, it will destroy our chances of keeping global warming to 2 degrees.” John Hepburn from Greenpeace commented.

There is finally a debate about the wholesale embracing of coal seam gas mining without any definitive environmental impact studies as yet. “Wind turbine” syndrome is being discussed – do wind farms actually affect health?  Perhaps if you live near by, but are not being paid well to host them!  Water management, particularly in the Murray –Darling River basin is being fiercely fought over with the impossible task of pleasing local communities, farmers and irrigators.  From an environmental point of view, 4,000 gigalitres (GL=a billion litres) of water needs to be returned to the river, and the current proposal is for 3573 gigalitres by 2019.

A court decision has for the time being blocked plans for a big $30 billion liquefied natural gas terminal in the Kimberley region. The clearing of the site may have been in breach of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act, and unresolved issues include sacred Aboriginal sites, a divided Aboriginal community, and environmental and heritage concerns.

Photo by Marc McCormack Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

Photo by Marc McCormack Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

WHALING: The Japanese Antarctic whaling fleet has set out with a target of 900 whales in 3 months for “scientific data”.  There are bound to be confrontations with the Sea Shepherd who last year kept their total number to 17% of their target.  The hunt has been described as an expression of national pride – or that the Japanese are sick of being lectured to.  It is now however as provocative as it is anachronistic.  To protect the expedition the Japanese Government have given the project $28 million from earthquake/tsunami relief money!

MISC STATS:  China has $US3.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves; Chinese trade with Australia is worth $105 billion; 271 (US dollar) billionaires in China (this has doubled since 2010), 400 in America, 57 in India, 35 in Australia; 600 million mobile phone users in China, 500 million in India; 40,000 Irish nationals left Ireland in the 12 months to April 2011; 150,000 Russians left home as well.

PREDICTION:  Hong Kong to emerge as the world’s financial centre.

HIV:  34 million people live with HIV.  There are 2.7 million new infections each year.  Fortunately drugs are prolonging lives but of the $22 billion funding required now, only $16 billion is available.

BRADLEY MANNING & ASSANGE:  It is interesting watching the Bradley case unfold, with the portrait being painted of his unstable behaviour something his superiors should not just have ignored.  Some people think that the US Government would like him to plead guilty, get a reduced sentence and be used as a witness against Wikileaks and Assange.  Julian has won the right to appeal against his extradition to Sweden.  I hope the treaty between the UK and Sweden prevents him from being extradited to the US. In the absence of any support from the Australian Government, quite a few prominent Australians have written an open letter to Foreign Minister Rudd asking him to protect Julian Assange from rendition to the US.

CONGRATULATIONS:  “The Protester” TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2011.

OCCUPY WALL STREET:  The small Sydney contingent are still camped in Martin Place.  There seems some sort of tacit arrangement with the police, but with on going harassment – like taking away some items of “public hazard”, and just recently, tents and sleeping bags.

JOHN DARLING:  John Darling, poet, artist and film maker was farewelled in a moving ceremony in Perth that brought together the cross cultural influences of Aboriginal, Christian and Balinese Hinduism customs and belief.  I spoke, and quoted an academic who said “John’s contribution to Australian understanding of Indonesia was unique” – although John had asked that he would prefer to have his “essence” discussed. He was indeed a beautiful person.  Tjokorda Gde Mahatma Putra Kerthyasa oversaw the appropriate Balinese rituals with grace, and when he spoke, conveyed moving words from his father, the Prince of Ubud. There was a Memorial service in Melbourne, to be followed by a ceremony in Bali.

My thoughts are with those that have also lost family members or friends, and those living with illness.

Tjokorda Gde Mahatma Putra Kerthyasa in Perth for John Darling's ceremony

Tjokorda Gde Mahatma Putra Kerthyasa in Perth for John Darling's ceremony. Photo by Made Wijaya

VALE:  Christopher Hitchens.  I am reading Arguably, a marvellous collection of Hitchen’s essays and articles. My friend Mandy said I should read his memoir Hitch-22 first.

VOICELESS WRITING PRIZE: To advance public understanding of the relationship between humans and animals – see www.voiceless.org.au.

MAIL:  Thanks for the emails, Christmas wishes, and sharing your stories on the blog and on the A Lion Called Christian website. Some people have had trouble leaving a “comment” on the blog – please email me directly if you are having trouble with this.  A Lion Called Christian showed again on Saturday night and I get such nice emails or messages each time.  This year Christian’s story has become better known in India and I’ve loved receiving emails and stories from there.  Thanks to Therasa, my sister Lindy, and Kylie for their help with the blog.

CHANEE: See Chanee’s latest video Sounding off about the forests about the deforestation caused by palm oil plantations. As I write this now, the tallest tree I can see from my windows, is being cut down. I wonder what the offence is – too old? Too high? Blocking someone’s view? I feel guilty that I never walked to the base of the tree and admired it up close and now it is gone.

CHRISTMAS GIFTS:  One can probably still buy online practical and useful Christmas presents from various Aid organisations.  From pigs, cows and goats to fruit trees, clean water and immunisation and educational needs.  I can’t really personally vouch for them but see CARE www.caregifts.org.au – gifts.  Also see www.worldvision.com.au/gifts and www.oxfamunwrapped.com.au. WSPA also have gift suggestions.  At this time many unsuitable pets are given as gifts and later discarded. This year it is “Red Dog” kelpie puppies (after the movie), but these dogs are sheep dogs and belong in the country.

SEASONS GREETINGS:  Merry Christmas if you celebrate it,  and hopefully some happy and relaxed time with family, friends and pets!  Happy New Year – some have predicted next year will be big, but the scientists have assured us it won’t be the end of the world! Good luck for the undoubted challenges and delights that lie ahead in 2012.