Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What we eat

Sarsaparilla has a fascinating review of Peter Singer and Jim Mason’s The Ethics of What We Eat. The review, by Meredith, has captured many of the issues about animal food and cruelty that are close to my heart, and sparked close interest amongst readers. I thought I'd share bits of my response in the comments to Meredith's review here. This quote by Meredith sums up the issues of cruelty to animals, but her review is definitely worth reading in its entirety:
We have intricate relationships with non-humans that include some disturbing contradictions. We spend more money on our companion animals than ever, buying them toys, expensive food and medicines to prolong their lives. They’re treated as members of our families.… Yet most of us happily consume products made from creatures that have lived deprived and painful lives.
I would accordingly identify myself as a ‘conscientious omnivore’, but I continue to struggle with my choices: I refuse to buy pork, and refrain from ham and other pork deli goods, but have my lapses. And I can’t give up Chinese bbq pork etc. Yet. I too am suspicious about whether the ‘free range eggs’ I’m buying are truly free range, but don’t make the effort to buy only from accredited suppliers - too much hard work.

Am I sacrificing ethics for convenience?

I crave for pork ribs the way my mum makes them, but am too cheap (or broke) to buy organic free-range pork. The prices dictate that organic pork would be a rare, festive treat.

One of the commenters, Betty, made a good point on leather and its alternatives. My brother-in-law has been an avowed vegetarian for decades (for the Singer type reasons), but still prefers leather goods because of the significant environmental damage that PVC and plastic alternatives cause.

I do think that organic farming offers better alternatives to factory farming – but for a wider range of reasons beyond animal cruelty. It is about water use, what crop (or animal) varieties are farmed, and how the soil is treated. All things we need to consider, not just how well organic animal farmers treat their beasts. But organics are bloody expensive - no questions about that, and all those promises that increasing interest in organics will bring prices down? …hah.

Yet, for the reasons I mentioned, and many others, I think shopping organic or food ethics shouldn’t be just a ‘middle class’ issue, as suggested by some Sarsaparilla readers. Many of us may not afford organics, or cruelty-free animal food production, but perhaps we all can’t afford any more what factory farming and industrial agriculture is doing to our environment and our relationship to animals.

It is quite is an interesting conundrum. Cost, convenience, taste, culture, habit, and convictions all fighting it out in the shopping basket. Vegetarianism and veganism offers the option of just not participating in the factory farming industry. I wonder though if it is a viable option for many people.

If you're interested in following this issue further, there's an interview with Peter Singer on the issues of food ethics at MotherJones. But, do read Meredith's review and the increasingly interesting and insightful comments at Sarsaparilla.

[Image: pigs at Collingwood Children's Farm, by sashy1]

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Let the circus begin

And so, the election campaign that we weren't really having is over, and the election campaign we really are having has begun. Now the 'PMS' is over, the real blood-letting will begin.

In case you've missed it, Victoria is now officially in election mode as Premier Steve Bracks this morning asked the Govenor to dissolve Parliament and call the election. The date has been fixed at 25 November for ages now. So what was all that happening before hand? What was all that jockeying and political manouvering and name calling about? Just attempts to make a jaded, bored electorate interested in the political fortunes of the chronically priveliged.

One interesting thing to emerge in this election, though, is the shaping fight between the right-wing Family First party and the Greens. And from what I heard on the radio this morning, it looks like Family First are prepared to play dirty, and that Labor will do prefrence deals with them. It appears the ALP, after giving us
Family First Senator Fielding in the Federal parliament, whom they complain about doing deals with the Howard government, is prepared to hand the balance of power in the new Victorian senate to the same right-wing Christian party.

Beyond this, I really don't think I'm going to follow this election much in this blog. I suggest you follow it on local ABC radio instead. 774 AM is going to do big coverage, by the looks of it.


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Monday, October 30, 2006

Happy Birthday Jacob!

I have been so busy that I had forgotten to blog a momentous occasion on this blog: my eldest son, Jacob, turned six last week!

Happy Birthday Jacob! You're wonderful, and we love you!

Of course, one reason I've been so busy is that I was organising his birthday party at a local park for last Saturday. I'm exhausted!

Let's just say it involved a kids v parents soccer match, pirates hunting for treasure, a piñata, lots of sugary food (and fruit!) and a chocolate cake with green icing – in the shape of a train. Hmmmm.

The green train birthday cake was made by my partner, Shelley, who is a star!

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All men (of god) are (not) created equal

How odd that there has been a furore over men (yes, I mean men) of god lately: the Sydney Imam gets roasted for making disgusting statements about women's dress and rape, and PM Howard announces $20,000 per school wishing to hire a chaplain!

Is this just part of Howard's conservative (Christian) values agenda, or something more 'realpolitic'? Phil at veni vidi blogi speculates whether there's a link between Family First Senator Fielding's support for the government's new media laws and the government's cash for chaplains in schools. Either way, it's certainly not good for secularism.

As Phil points out, "We'll never be an Iran but the Enlightenment is taking a battering at the moment, it would seem."

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Push to get global warming on the Howard agenda

There's been a recent push to get global warming on the Howard government's agenda – and it is coming from unlikely sources: farmers, amongst others. Or maybe not so unlikely after all, considering how global warming is driving the drought and affecting farming.

The Climate Institute published large advertisements in major papers across the countries yesterday calling for national leadership on global warming and legislation to ensure Australia's CO2 emissions go down, not up. Amongst other things. Why is this significant? Because of who'se involved. Amongst others, Clive Hamilton of the Australia Institute (who's been very vocal in his criticism of Howard's global warming inaction) chairs the board of The Climate Institute, and farmer Mark Wootton, who is from a 'conservative' area of Victoria, is also on the board. There's quite a range of people involved here, but this push suggests that farmers, scientists, industry people and policy analysts are working together effectively to shame the Howard government into action.

Importantly, they're taking their campaign to the bush. Let's hope this works. After all, the bush is where Howard can be hurt politically.

The Age had quite a bit of background coverage to the issue in Monday's edition (but I can't find the stories online, sorry), besides the paid-for advertisement. ABC's Lateline covered the story here, where you can also find a videocast of the story.

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Wasting water, energy and money in the shower

ABC News reports that singing in the shower a 'waste of money':
Energy Australia has conducted research showing people are wasting money on hot water by singing and daydreaming in the shower.
Ouch! It is one of my big vices – is daydreaming! Not only does it waste money on our gas and water bills, it wastes water in our drought-struck land, and wastes energy – something our warming climate cannot afford. I've been trying to cut down my shower times – really. But, I still occasionaly wonder off into a daydream, and before I know it…

I will have to find some other outlet for my daydreaming, which is one of my powerful creative spaces for new ideas and initiatives. Ideas, anyone?

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Stick out your tongue and say 'wow'

In one of those freaky synchronistic moments of the web – and life – two bloggers I like to read have posted about encountering blue-tongued lizards – and shared photos of them – within nearly a week of each other. Weird coincidence? Or is it just spring?

But the coincidences pile up. Both live in New South Wales – probably within cooee of each other, or not: Mike, who writes
Peasants are Revolting, lives in the Blue Mountains and Stephen, who writes Emunctory, lives in Sydney. Both are dads who write about their kids and families regularly (a reason I enjoy reading their blogs), both are IT/web guys, have similar interests in social and political concerns, and take great photos of wildlife (all also reasons why I like their blogs)!

Weird. But fun. It's one of the things I like about the web and the blogosphere: I wouldn't have come upon such a coincidence without it, and I would never have 'met' either of these guys without blogging.

I've shared Stephen's photo from his flickr site above. You can find Mike's here. Their shots sure beat my lame attempt from Wilsons Prom earlier this year.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Martin Flanagan on rising to the challenge

Helen has pointed me to Martin Flanagan's recent talk:
We went to this lecture the other night and Flanagan was … a champion. The lecture was called 'The Fight for the other Australia: Writer and journalist Martin Flanagan discusses the factors that enable some people to rise to the political challenges of their times, while others fail to do so'.
Flanagan's talk was the 2006 Stephen Murray-Smith Lecture, presented by the State Library of Victoria, and is available for download as a podcast. You can also read the transcript online. Thanks for the tip, Helen!

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Media madness

When I am in doubt over how to express my growing frustration and anger over what's happening with the media in Australia, I turn to the ever insightful Barista. Unable to formulate any clearer beyond 'Aaaargghhh!' my concerns about how the Howard government's newly passed media ownership laws will affect the media landscape, I've turned to Barista again. He has a great post disecting the latest moves by PBL, the media empire built by Kerry Packer and now run by his heir James. Barista notes:
Various pundits have been saying for months that James, being a bear with a limited range of interests, can’t keep media and gambling in his noggin at the same time, and will give up Nine, Foxtel and ACP. At the moment, the opposite is going on, and PBL is loose in the media supermarket created by Howard. As Stephen Mayne pointed out today in Crikey, PBL has been a loyal supporter of the Libs since 1995, when Kerry did what he could to put Johnny into government.

PBL’s obvious target is Fairfax…
To make matters worse – or murkier – Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd has also launched what has been described as a take-over bid for Fairfax.

Poor Fairfax – for so long now seen as the obvious target for take-over and more in the wake of Howard's media shake-up. Fairfax owns The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, and the Australian Financial Review – it bugs me that my favourite weekend papers – The Age and Sunday Age – in fact the only ones I'll read, are in the firing line of a bunch of faceless grey suits who wish to make more money and settle old scores with various identities at Fairfax…

No matter what shape the final shenanigans of financial manouvering, shell companies, sell-offs, acquisitions, mergers and take-overs leaves our media in Australia, I'm sure of one thing – Howard's media laws will narrow the diversity of opinion in this country, and I do believe that threatens our capacity for a full and lively democracry.

Just recently, there was the story that an internal inquiry into the New South Wales police operational response to
the Cronulla riots found – amongst concerns that police were inadequately prepared – that the riots were fueled by the media. According to the ABC:
The report also found the media played a significant role in fuelling the violence. The internal police review says much of the media reporting of the events leading up to last December's riots was inaccurate and a distortion of the facts. It says comments aired in the media, especially on talk-back radio, were at times racist, exaggerated and advocated vigilante behaviour.
This is not new. The Monthly's Issue 12 had a lengthy essay by David Salter disecting Alan Jones as a media player, which looked at his role in fanning the Cronulla riots through his radio broadcasts and talk-back last summer. What is new this time is the report is by a former NSW police commissioner, and I feel this aspect of its findings has been burried in the news. What is also significant is that so far I've only noticed the ABC carrying this aspect of the story. (Don't get me started the threat to public broadcasting and on the new 'anti-bias' regulations for ABC content! I'll come back to that another day, though Barista also has an excellent piece on that.)

What is clear is that the mainstream media is loathe to cover stories that criticise other key players in the media or their owners – unless they're opposition. The problem is exacerbated when we have fewer media outlets controlled by fewer owners. This story does illustrate the problems with the narrowness of Australia's media currently, and fuels the argument that the new media laws threaten diversity of opinion. This leaves us the poorer for it, and the media moghuls billionaires – again.

[Image by Ben McLeod]


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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Google campus goes solar

Boing Boing reports that Googleplex will go solar – in an iniative that will make the company's headquarters the US's "largest solar electric installation on a single corporate site" and one of the largest such project in the world. With a capacity of 1.6 megawatts, that's enough power to supply 1,000 "averrage California homes". Ouch. That's a lot of power. At least it's cool.


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"Each peach, pear, plum…"

Yesterday's frost that hit Tasmanian orchards is only the latest case of climate conditions affecting fruit production in Australia, and I fear it will compound the affects on fruit prices. Never mind the bananas, I reckon we haven't seeen the last of the fruit driven inflation.

The ABC reports that "full extent of the damage [in Tasmania] will not be known until later in the week, but early reports suggest severe losses of cherries, apricots and apples."

Previously, there was a frost in Victoria's Goulburn Valley recently that is said to have wiped out swathes of the region's pear and peach crops. I cried at the news, fearing the skyrocketing prices robbing me of the chance to enjoy peaches this summer or have the chance to preserve them in brandy again (yum). And what will I do without pears next autumn? Now it will be the cherries and apples!

With the pressure that global warming is putting on our water stores – yes, we are having the worst drought on record – including water for farming, I think we will see the price of food crop production go up. All the governments are busily handing-out 'drought relief' to farmers hardest hit.

Clive Hamilton of the Australia Institute has criticised the hand-outs as bad policy because they subsidese farmers with poor farm management. He argues that the farmers who can't cope with drought conditions are the ones getting the 'relief', whereas those who are coping by drought-proofing their land and implementing good farming practices are not being supported. He goes as far as saying:
"It's time we just faced up to the reality that much of the land currently farmed, shouldn't be farmed and by repeatedly bailing out farmers through drought relief, which is erroneously called exceptional circumstances relief, we're only making the problem worse."
I don't think this makes him a popular man with farmers, or the National-Liberal coalition, I think.

In many ways, he is right. We should be thinking about changing farming practices towards more sustainable, water and land efficient methods that can cope with the impacts of global warming. Organic and sustainable farming is doing great things in that area. As consumers, we should consider directing our dollars to support organic farmers a lot more so that we can reward sustainable farming in ways that the government won't. And we should support their call for more sustainable farming.

It is time to start listenting to the voices in the wilderness.

Update: reports indicate that cherry crops were hardest hit in Tasmania, and pundits expect fruit shortages in this next season. Bye-bye cherry clafoutis. [Updated Friday 20 October, 1.25 pm]

Market Hall in Wroclaw, Poland, by harbalea]

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Friday, October 13, 2006

An age of fire

Friday the 13th brings all its fascincation with horror, the macabre to the fore, and taps into all our superstitions. If you're superstitious. My father insists that 13 is not an unlucky number for him, and therefore in our family - him being the thirteenth child in his family. So, I usually miss such signficant markers of time and lore.

I can't help but wonder, however, if this Friday 13 is different. And what it hints at for the future. Today has been marked by
raging bushfires burning in four states of Australia – Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and New South Wales. Each year now, Australia's bushfire season seems to start sooner and sooner. And with greater intensity. Today, the Country Fire Authority (CFA) (a volunteer fire brigade that fights fires in areas country and has authority over fire emergencies in rural areas), has been battling a massive fire at the face of an open-cut coal mine in country Victoria that spreads across something like 2 kms!

It is no coincidence that the increased incidence and threat of bushfires comes with some of the worst impacts of global warming in Australia to date. Only yesterday, the Howard government declared the drought we're experiencing to be the worst on record since 1914 (or 1912, depending on which reports you hear). The Victorian government continues to shell-out drought relief to rural communities hardest hit – the Mallee.

The hot dry weather has gone on for too long, water levels in the dams have dropped too low, and communities are
coming close to conflict over how we share the precious water resources we have available, or figure out how to stop companies profiteering from natural water resources as they struggle to maintain self-sufficiency.

The CSIRO predicts that the warming and its worsening bushfire threat will continue. Dr Penny Whetton, the leader of the climate change and risk group for the CSIRO, says:

"We've undertaken research looking at how projected changes in temperature and precipitation can affect fire occurrence and we've found the risk of fire danger increases significantly as the decades go by," she said.

"The frequency of days of very high fire danger are increasing 20 to 30 per cent over the next few decades."

…"I'd expect these sort of occurrences will become more frequent as the years go by because we are expecting quite significant changes in our climate but that has implications for things such as fire frequency,"

We appear to live in an age of fire. It surrounds us in all its forms – bushfire, heat, drought, war, and the testing of nuclear weapons.

North Korea's nuclear weapon test is truly testing the international community, and our commitment to peace. The war of words continues as governments wrangle over how to deal with the North Korean regime. For a while there, judging from its propoganda, I was truly afraid that the US would push us into another Iraq – this time in East Asia. And this time, with a despotic, authoritarian, militarist regime that has demonstrated to have nuclear weapons capabilities. Now, they will fight over how to force North Korea to stop its nuclear weapons programme, and we will wonder if we're being dragged deeper into a conflict we can't get out of.

This age of fire is of our making. My hope is that we can un-make it quickly and peacefully.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Afternoon lift

sea tumbled
Originally uploaded by omnia.
This beautiful photograph, sea tumbled, by omnia has really lifted my afternoon. I just wanted to share it with more people. Hmm… beach… summer is coming…


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Reversing global warming - not by any means necessary

Alex Steffen, one of the best environmental writers/activists around, has done it again. In his WorldChanging piece, Carbon Blindness, he has captured so succinctly and eloquently what has been bothering me for so long now, and what is the heart of the problem with mainstream responses to global warming here in Australia – whether it's the Howard government or Tim Flannery:
For those of us who have spent years warning that climate change is a problem of the highest magnitude, these are gratifying days. Politicians, business leaders, labor unionists, celebrities and religious figures all seem, finally, to be listening to the science and beginning to hear its meaning: we must change, dramatically, at once.

This is a Very Good Thing. At the same time, I am beginning to have misgivings about some of the debate emerging around climate change - and perhaps not in the direction you might think.

… What has begun to set off my inner alarm bells is a new meme emerging from the ranks of the newly-converted: fight climate change at all costs. …

What is worrysome… is the idea, which one is beginning to hear all over the political map, that climate change trumps every other environmental issue, or, even more, that climate change is not an environmental issue at all. These arguments usually precede a call for some action which reduces carbon output but has other demonstrably negative environmental impacts, whether that's damming a river for hydropower, launching into a massive nuclear energy program or seeding the ocean to produce a plankton bloom.

…But innovating to solve the wrong problem usually fails as a strategy, and the problem we have today, I believe, is not that our climate is changing, per se, but that we have created an unsustainable civilization which is deeply instable. [my emphasis]
Yes, yes, yes! The are the very sentiments I've been stewing over, and why I'm driven to argue again and again in this blog against nuclear power and the expansion of uranium mining in Australia – and to reject the argument that global warming makes nuclear power 'necessary'.
The climate crisis we face will not be bested through the kind of thinking that got us into the problem in the first place: because, seen with any degree of rationality, the climate crisis cannot be distinguished from the overall planetary crisis of environmental degredation, massive poverty, conflict and inequity of which it is a part.
There it is again - not a new idea, but one we certainly have lost track of: we can't fix a problem with the same ideas/tools/ways that created that problem in the first place! Go read Alex's essay, and thanks to Penmachine.com for pointing it out and reminding me to check it this week.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Melbourne blog meet tonight

Yes, yes, very short notice, but if you're in Melbourne this evening, you may be interested in the blog meet that I heard about from Barista. Here are the details:
FAD gallery, Corrs lane, off Little Bourke St, 6pm on, this Friday.

If you would like to meet like-minded Melbourne bloggers like Barista, come along. He says, "people who look as if they have just been told the last six years was a ghastly joke, and that Jeff Kennett is still in power… head for them". Don't know about that, but I've got a evening pass, so I'll be there!

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Monthly to revisit Palm Island story

As a quick follow up to my post on the Palm Island death coronial inquiry, I thought readers would find this promo from The Monthly about its upcoming November issue noteworthy:
Chloe Hooper writes a coda to her award-winning March Monthly essay “The Tall Man: Inside Palm Island’s Heart of Darkness”. Late last month, Queensland’s deputy coroner found that Sergeant Chris Hurley might have been involved in a criminal offence connected to the death of Aboriginal man Cameron Doomadgee while he was in police custody. Chloe writes about the findings of the inquest and her recent return to Palm Island.
Considering how good her first article was, I'm looking forward to this one… Meanwhile, the October edition is out (though I'm yet to get my hands on it).


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Death of 'a brother'

Peter Norman died yesterday of a heart attack. He was 64. He was the Australian athlete who won silver in the 200 meters at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, but was more famous showing his support for the other medalists – African American atheletes Tommie Smith (gold) and John Carlos (bronze) – in their 'Black Power' salute on the winners podium.

It was a powerful act that the two African American athletes had planned to highlight the demand for civil rights for African Americans, and an enduring moment of the American Civil Rights Movement. What is less known is that Peter Norman supported them by wearing a badge of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) when he joined them on the podium. Also, according to
Norman is also the one who suggested that Smith and Carlos share the black gloves used in their salute; it was originally planned for Smith to don both.
I heard ABC Radio current affairs show AM interview John Carlos this morning, who was understandably quite upset. Asked how he will remember him, the thing that stood out most in Carlos's description of Norman is where he called him 'a brother' – what I perceive as possibly the highest honour an African American who was in the struggle for civil rights could give a white man. It signifies Norman's – a priveliged white man – solidarity with African Amercans' civil rights struggle. Unfortunately, it's something that's possibly lost in translation today. Pity. Vale, Peter Norman – a brother.

[Image by AP via Wikipedia]

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Cashing in on internet loneliness - noisily

This came via David (Again! Come on, other readers. Lift your game - drop me something…). Robert J. Samuelson wrote a Washington Post piece on the blogging and internet networking crazes - A Web of Exhibitionists - and slags off 'our' propensity to bare our souls to complete strangers on the net:
Call it the ExhibitioNet. It turns out that the Internet has unleashed the greatest outburst of mass exhibitionism in human history. … We have blogs, 'social networking' sites (MySpace.com, Facebook), YouTube and all their rivals. Everything about these sites is a scream for attention.
Samuelson goes on to complain that many on these sites just want some self-promotion or make money. Well, some of us are honest about it. Others pretend we are doing it to improve our writing, change the world, keep sane, etc (mois! non, non!). Far be it for me to pretend otherwise, or write a long piece defending blogging etc from print journalists who like nothing better than to slag off bloggers and internet groupies for the titillation of their readers. ; )

I do find it ironic that washingtonpost.com, who published the piece, uses a slew of internet networking tools to promote its articles and build a sense of online buzz about them: they've tools in a window showing readers who's blogged about that article, and allows readers to link straight to those blogs that have posted on the particular article. (See the screenshot of the washingtonpost.com page on the left)

AND they have tools to let readers tag the article and save it to their Del.icio.us website saving and sharing tool - also an internet social networking tool! Yes, the same tools of the 'Exhibitinet' that their writer likes to slag off. Well, anything to create a buzz about your 'product' (articles, ads) and make more money – and use bloggers to do so. We're just suckers. Hmm. Have I created enough cred for the Post to sell its advertising space yet?

Still, I wont begrudge the fact that Samuelson makes interesting points about our preoccupations with baring our souls (or egos) online:
we are clearly at a special moment. Thoreau famously remarked that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." Thanks to technology, that's no longer necessary. People can now lead lives of noisy and ostentatious desperation. Or at least they can try.


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