Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Opportunistic hypocrites

I'm really sick of John Howard spruiking nuclear power as the panacea for global warming. It is sheer hypocrisy for him to now condemn those of us who oppose nuclear power and uranium mining as not being serious about, or wanting to everything possible, about global warming when he has been responsible for the most damaging policy of denying global warming and ham-stringing efforts to cut Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.

From outright denial, to spiking Australia's support for the Kyoto Protocol, to foot-dragging, to his recent opportunistic conversion to 'climate change', and now advocating nuclear power at the expense of renewable energy, Howard's track record on dealing with global warming would be pitiful if it weren't so dangerous.

It appears that
where big oil is the industry ham-stringing America's capacity to effectively deal with global warming, uranium and nuclear interests are trying to call the shots over Australia's response. I certainly believe that it was no coincidence that Howard announced his inquiry into the viability of expanding uranium mining and developing a nuclear power industry in Australia months after meeting with mining magnates and with businessman and Liberal Party stalwart Ron Walker over their plans to establish a company to explore developing nuclear power generation.

Howard's credibility certainly took a beating from the Opposition's repeated questioning of the PM over his discussions with the businessmen over their plans to explore the potential for uranium mining. How much clearer can it get that Howard's policy direction is dictated by his rich business mates – whether from media, mining, or the uranium-nuclear industry.

(It is worth seeing how Howard will balance the demands of the coal mining/power interests, whom he has volubly supported, against the nuclear lobby.)

While it is the Coalition's backbenchers who are running around like chooks saying that they didn't want nuclear reactors in their electorates, Environment Minister Turnbull is claiming the Opposition is running a scare campaign on nuclear power. A bit rich, don't you think?

It is clear to me that Howard is first and foremost interested in supporting the vested interests of industry, rather than helping to save our planet from the brink of disaster. He has acknowledged that his support for nuclear power has been on the record for a long time. Meanwhile, he has clearly been an opportunistic Johnny-come-lately over global warming. We
now know clearly what has motivated him.

Howard's response when backed into a corner is to come out fighting, until we all get tired of this and go home. However, we need to remember why nuclear power is such a bad idea, so that we keep up the pressure and turn grassroots opposition to nuclear power into an election issue.

[Digital image by me, from a pic by Sprol that I've used before, used and created under creative commons licenses]

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Bravado on bikes

It's funny what you notice on the roads when you're riding a bicycle. You see people do all sorts of stupid things on the road. Perched on my bicycle saddle, I get a vantage point that offers a unique perspective on things. Sometimes, my perspective comes from a close call.

I ride in the bike lane where there is one, and prefer riding on streets that have them. I'm lucky enough to have access to a lane dedicated to bikes and pedestrians for the bulk of my ride between work and home. However, my close calls with cars often involve drivers who refuse to check cyclists when they are turning across the bike path (or into traffic in front of you). I'm lucky that I've had only a few of those, and no impacts so far. Touch wood.

When riding through busy traffic spots, I've also noticed drivers do some really silly – if downright dangerous – things.

Yesterday, however, I was reminded that cyclists can do some pretty stupid and dangerous things too. I saw a woman cyclist – actually, I first heard her – abusing a driver as she came up behind me. Of course, I immediately though it was the driver's dangerous mistake that upset her (us cyclists have to stick together, you know). Observing how the woman raised her voice at the driver, and her tone, I thought differently.

It was the tone and voice that suggested that loud, brash, aggressive manner that suggests one who feels embarrassed – and defensive – to be caught in a stupid situation of their making, but they're too proud to admit it. Hence, in such situations, they can turn nasty at others – as if they fault were the other's. It happens to all of us, at some time or another.

Her voice didn't strike me as one of outrage at an injustice, or rage stemming from sheer terror at a close call. I speculated then that the fault was probably her own. The way she propelled herself dangerously up the bike track – in a cyclist's equivalent of a swagger of bravado – ahead of the pack of cyclists suggested it further. It can happen to all of us, but it's funny how people get caught up in anger when they do stupid things.

[Image by Hey Paul]

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

He thinks we're idiots

It's clear to me that British PM Tony Blair's announcement to withdraw 1,500 British troops from Iraq has backed John Howard into a corner. Where all along Howard has vehemently criticised calls for Australian – or any other of the allied forces' – troops to be withdrawn as handing a 'victory to terrorists', now Britain – the leading partner in the coalition of the willing and in charge of the south-east of Iraq – is planning just that.

It is the height of hypocrisy for Howard government ministers to support the move – Foreign Minister Downer said it "makes good sense" – when they've resisted to discuss Australia's exit strategy. They're claiming the British move is not a withdrawal but a troop reduction, and that it shows that the coalition (or the British) has been successful in southern Iraq.

Both Canberra and the White House insist they were not surprised by the British move, saying they'd known for a while and that military US and British military commanders have been planning for this for a while. Surely then it made bad sense for Howard to attack Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd for his call for Australian combat troops to be withdrawn – saying that such a policy would "destabilise Iraq and threaten the security interests of this country through a defeat of the United States in Iraq," when a week later the British Prime Minister was going to withdraw 1,500 (with another possible 500 by late northern summer)!

This makes Howard look very bad. It says to me that either Howard didn't know about the planned British withdrawal (what does that say for Australia's 'special place' in the coalition?), or he did know but was stupid to attack Rudd and not expect the British move to hurt him.

Alternatively, considering Howard's reputation for calculation and out-manoeuvring opponents, is the more unsavoury conclusion that Howard didn't care – that point-scoring against internal opponents (Rudd) was more important than a clear and considered approach to managing Australia's and the rest of the coalition's military commitment in Iraq.

It says to me that Howard doesn't care what we, the public, think in Australia – that it isn't important whether we may wonder why withdrawing Australia's 500 combat troops would "destabilise" Iraq, while Britain's withdrawal of 1,500 is "good sense".

Besides Howard thinking we are idiots that won't see through him, the heart of Howard's militaristic machismo approach to Iraq is that Australia's experience of the war is quite different from both the US's and Britain's. We have not had one Australian combat casualty in Iraq, while the Americans and the British are haemorrhaging young men in a war that's growing increasingly unpopular in the US and Britain. There will be a peace rally in London calling for the troops to be withdrawn from Iraq this Saturday, 24 February at Trafalgar Square.

Meanwhile, the war is far away for so many of us in Australia, and it is a struggle to keep our attentions on it. If, however, Australian soldiers were returning from the Middle East in flag-draped coffins on midnight flights, perhaps Howard wouldn't dare try this tact. (Or wouldn't dare attack US Presidential hopefuls for wanting the US troops out of Iraq).

It is worth seeing if Howard's stuff-up causes more than the ripple the government is hoping it will remain. Whether the war and Howard's handling of the war will become an election issue.

Interestingly, the Danes have also announced that they would remove their 460 odd troops from Iraq by August (replacing them with 50 to look after four observational helicopters). Perhaps it is to do with the British strategy, or perhaps it is more to do with the fact that 64 % of Danes think "completely or predominantly wrong for Denmark to continue to have troops in Iraq".
I haven't heard anyone say that Iraq is about to slide into chaos (isn't it already?) because of it.

As Kevin Rudd said on Lateline
last night, "If the British now have a withdrawal strategy from Iraq, why doesn't Australia have a withdrawal strategy from Iraq?"

'R.I.P' by fotologic, who says: "This photo of a British soldier who had died in Iraq was displayed on the war memorial in the grounds of Worcester Cathedral."]

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fathers and the pain of labour

There was a nice conversations recently about men and their involvement in their babies' lives over at Blogger on the Cast Iron Balcony, inspired by Armagnac's pain at having to leave his recent-born babe at home to go to work:
The pain is like having an oxy-torch going inside your intestines. The smiling moments are like snowballs made from white chocolate ice cream.
It's a wonderful thing, is this blogging thing. I read Armanganc's original post a little while ago, and found many nodding along to him (myself included). Then, I find another conversation at another blog (Cast Iron Balcony) sparked by what he said. And the conversation keeps flowing.

Yes, we do want time out from work to spend with our children (though we may not all agree on how long), helping to raise them equally with our partners (or the children's other parents, if the case may be). For some of us, time spent at work is not necessarily the most fulfilling things in our lives – usually just a necessity. Especially when it is time spent away from our children. The trick is finding the balance.

This topic does resonate with lots of people – more and more men what to spend more time actively involved with their children. I wonder when the conversation will turn into a roar that will be heard down the corridors of parliament?

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It's about the tools, stupid

It is a pretty reliable rule of thumb that when a big internet company buys a successful or promising internet based tool or application that creates an online community, the users, the little people, get squeezed through the ringer of inconvenience and made to jump through hoops.

Commenting on my recent post reporting my switch to the 'New' Blogger, i.e. the Google account-based Blogger with its new features, bells and whistles, GoAwayPlease, whose experience of making the switch was less convenient, said, "I keep wondering what their motive was for supplying us with all this supposed new goodness."

Why the 'goodness'? Google wants to bind its Blogger users – the hundreds of thousands of us – closer and closer to the rest of the Google range of 'goodness', such as its Google spreadsheets and document creation, and probably advertising, just as Yahoo! now wants its flickr users to be bound more and more to Yahoo!.

Don't get me started! I recently had to merge my flickr photo sharing account, which I've had for years, with a new Yahoo! account (because Yahoo! now owns Flickr), and I had a most frustrating and annoying time – flickr was always defined by its ease of use (as well as its design beauty and the fact its free). I can't say the same for Yahoo!. I don't need another bloody email account, for Pete's sake! Or another bloody internet membership for services I will not use.

I just want to use flickr!

While various people have experienced hiccups with switching their blogs to Google-based Blogger from the 'Old Blogger', when I switched over, which involved 'merging' my Google account with my Blogger account, it was easy and relatively painless. I wasn't assailed with a clunky, unmanageable labyrinth of new account bumph as I was with Yahoo!. Yet.

The point for me is that I want to use simple, easy and convenient online tools like blogging, sharing photos and communicating with a range of other people with similar interests without the pain and hassle of having stuff – that I don't want cluttering up my life – foisted in my face. I don't want more avenues for my personal information and internet use habits to be mined by a large company and used to sell its main product – advertising. I don't want more email accounts that I can be spamed at. I will not be farmed.

Okay, I acknowledge that nothing in life is free – while Blogger and flickr are presented as free tools (yes, you can upgrade to flickr Pro for US$25), and I enjoy using these tools for nothing but the cost of my bandwidth and telephone calls, I guess I should put up with some expectations from the company providing the services. But do these have to be so damn clunky and annoying? And if they are trying to force a new brand loyalty onto their users, It's not working! Can they be so naive? Are they just stupid? I'm loyal as far as the tool works for me. I'm not too fussed about the brand behind it. (Though I am concerned with the practices of a company behind a brand, but that's another story…)

Meanwhile, I am wondering if my switch to Google-Blogger and the related tweaks I had to make have stuffed up my readers' subscriptions to my RSS or Atom feeds, and so aren't being alerted about my most recent posts...

Have you had trouble with your RSS feed from my blog? Please check your feeds are up to date. I miss you. Please come back.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy New Year of the Pig to all of you. I hope that this year brings you peace, happiness, good health, creativity and a rekindling of hope.

I've heard this year referred to as the 'Golden Pig' year, a reference not only to the 'element' – metal – associated with this year in the Chinese astrological calendar, but also its auspiciousness. It is meant to be a favourable year for having children (hence the image), amongst other things.

Last year, the Year of the Dog, was very good for me – our second child was born (!!), our family enjoyed relatively good health, my job was going okay, and although there were generally a number of challenges, bumps in the road, and surprises, life pretty much muddled on in a positive way.

This year will probably throw a few more surprises and challenges in my path – for all of us too, probably. Hopefully, I'll be able to face them with the creativity, intelligence and style that the Pig is reputed for. I wish the same for you.

[Image by laurenz]

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

A flood of pestilence

Jakarta's hospitals are struggling to deal with the hundreds of flood victims who have sought treatment in the aftermath of the worst flooding Jakarta and its surrounding areas have experienced in five years, according to ABC News Online.
Some 200,000 people have suffered from flood-related illnesses and there are fears that disease could spread with hundreds of people still displaced from their homes and thousands living in homes with no clean water or plumbing.
Ddealing with the outbreak of disease is one of the main problems in the aftermath of any disaster. Flood waters make things worse. A spokesperson for the National Coordinating Agency for Disaster Management says:
"There are 757 in-patients, most of them are suffering from diarrhoea, skin diseases, dengue, leptospirosis and severe respiratory problems."

The Indonesian Red Cross warns of that "danger rotting dead animals" pose for spreading disease after the floods.

The floods have killed 94 people so far.

Last night, my partner and I discussed some recent WorldChanging posts on climate change and 'climate foresight' – thinking about how we should anticipate and prepare for life under a changed climate that brings greater risk, disasters and problems to our habitats, not to mention possible threats of war, terrorism or other economic conflict. We speculated whether we should prepare our children to live in such a world. As we listed a range of possible scenarios of disaster, conflict, threats to health and more, we wondered whether having such a discussion in the first place was a) being paranoid, b) focusing on calamity rather than solutions, and c) betraying hope.

Eerily, this morning I came across another WorldChanging post by
Chad Monfreda, whose list of calamities we will face resulting from climate change mirrored ours:
A planetary fever is about to deal a wallop of catastrophic floods, insect borne disease, deadly heat waves, and an all around worsening of the risks people face everyday across the world.
It can be considered quite heretical to talk about 'adaptability' rather than working on cutting emissions and reversing global warming, because we're urgently required to work on solutions rather than calamities. But, as Monfreda also wonders,
… if human vulnerability gives climate change saliency, aren’t direct adaptations to current risks a more efficient way to meet our goals than greenhouse gas mitigations that would have an indirect effect decades away?
In some contexts and extents, we are already doing this. In bush fire prone parts of Victoria, people are urged to develop their 'bush fire plans', i.e. plans that set out clearly what families will do in the event their homes are threated by bush fire – prepare defences, decide to stay or flee early, etc (as last minute decisions and evacuations, and panic being significant causes for fire-related injury and death).

Where I grew up, during the monsoon season, TV and radio announcements urged people to prepare to evacuate their homes in the event of flooding, and to ensure their important documents and identification papers were handy to grab with them to safety. Are these situations we will have to prepare our children to face in Australia? Families in northern Queensland are already facing this situation. Is this abandoning hope, or being realistic?

As Monfreda puts it, "
it's time to start making our systems more resilient to the effects of climate change, even while we work to limit the magnitude of climate disruption," something other WorldChanging writers have argued for before. I'd say we need to make our selves and our children more resilient too.

[The amazing photos are by Yay!, which I found when WorldChanging published the top one. He has a flickr set on the Jakarta flood.]

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007


burung, originally uploaded by Farl.

Ok, after the earlier morbid post on dead animals, accompanied by the photo of the dead bird, I felt a need to redeem myself.

And I could help but share this stunning photograph of a bird by flickr photographer Farl. His work is amazing, and I'm enjoying the particularly Southeast Asian content and perspective of his work.

By the way, 'burung' is Indonesian and Malay for bird.

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Switch to Blogger 'not' beta

As you may have noticed, I've made the leap and switched this blog over to Blogger's supposedly not beta version – i.e. the 'new' Blogger. If you haven't notice, that's good, because that would mean things went smoothly.

So far, so good – especially as there were only minor typographic hiccups with republishing this blog under the new system. The best thing about this shift was that I was able to keep the old template design, which I'm rather fond of and have spent much time fine-tuning in the right column. (The main reason I took the plunge, really.) And, importantly, all my old posts are still in their correct archived positions – this blog doesn't have to start from day one again, as I've noticed a few others who made the switch had to.

What has been good, though, is labels. That's been the main drawcard (that, and the fact that blogger kept interrupting my normal login to lure me over to the 'dark side', as I thought it was.

Other than a few small annoying differences in the interface for posting and editing content, I haven't had time to explore and notice many other things that could go wrong. Let's keep our fingers crossed that it doesn't stuff up much else. Let me know if you notice any other difficulties or stuff-ups – such as problems posting comments etc.

Now I just have to give some more thought to 'labels' – which ones to use, how to keep them consistent, how to stop them proliferating, and where I'm going to display all the labels I'll coin…

Hum. What label do I put this post under?


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Sweet corruption

Walking home from the train station last night, I caught the sweet stench of a rotting animal carcass. It was probably only a little animal, but it the smell was accentuated by the summer shower earlier that evening.

The way the post-shower dampness collided with the warmth of the summer evening brought many memories of my tropical childhood crashing home. There was the smell of rain and damp earth, I caught whiffs of rotting garbage and stagnant water, and, of course, that sickly sweet smell of corruption – the body of some small animal was rotting in the bushes or weeds growing beside the train station.

You know how it is: you catch a hint, then a whiff of something – it's alluring and you're sure you recognise it, you can't stop yourself from inhaling deeply to know for sure and then stop mid-breath to prevent that cloying sweet rotting from filling your lungs, and from deep inside your evolutionary memory of the danger of carrion, something says, 'I know what that is!'.

Such moments bring home the reality of animals dying and rotting – something I'm finding a fascination for.

In a society where hygiene and tidiness are valued and markers of civilisation, personified in the modern, clean city, we are so divorced from the corporeal reality of animals and their deaths. More generally, we are divorced from the way animals are bred, raised, killed and slaughtered for our tables, our sport, our entertainment and our companionship, to the extent that we are still shocked and dismayed when we come across a cat or possum killed by a car lying by the road, or a bird downed by stiff breezes or, worse, the neighbourhood cat. I know that I am.

In fact, we're often only reminded that we share the city with so many animals when we come across their dead bodies, sometimes mangled by the car that killed it, and complain that 'someone should clean that up'.

Riding to work on my bicycle has given me a few more opportunities to witness the rough justice of nature, something the tram capsule shields me from. Earlier this week, I cycled past a torn bird's wing, with the body it came from nowhere in sight. A couple of blocks further, I smelt some other decaying animal whose stench ripened with the growing morning heat.

Instead of letting go my impulse to shudder and turn my mind away from imagining the rotting body, I've allowed my imagination to dwell on these dead animals. This morbid fascination has started me thinking about the places dead animals and bodily corruption have been given in our culture – separated, feared, loathed, pitied, ignored, grieved – and what it means for our understanding of our ecology, our particular bio-regions or biological spaces, our habitats, and our relationships with animals.

Our habitats are being drastically damaged by human caused climate change (and other human threats to bio-diversity), and we're asked to consider the impacts of climate change in terms of future (and current) species extinctions. However, if we city dwellers cannot comprehend dead animals, and cannot pay attention to what the stench of decay actually means beyond a nuisance in our urban landscape, the I think that humans will continue to struggle to comprehend what we are doing to other animals. If we have difficulty facing the death of one animal, how do we comprehend – and stop – species extinction?

This is by no means an exclusive fascination, as I've discovered. Lots of other people have a greater interest – an obsession even – with dead and decaying animals, as any search for 'dead animals' or 'dead birds' on flickr will reveal. But I'm intrigued where this will go. I'm toying with the idea of setting up another blog about dead animals, where I will share news, stories, reflections, photos and more about animals' deaths – if only to reveal a little more about how they live, and how we live with them. I'd be interested to see if others would like to contribute to it – as part of a group blog. Let me know. Are you interested? Would you like to see a bit more dead animal?

[Image by john.nathaniel ]

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Something to hide

"I think the only people who are worried about things like that are people that [sic] have got something to hide and I've really got nothing to hide."
That was Liberal backbencher, Don Randall, this morning defending the Howard government's Smart card against concerns emerging from the government's own backbench.

Why has the accusation of 'having something to hide' become the new catch-cry of a government seeking to discredit those who oppose its efforts to introduce tools and regulations that impinge on our civil liberties or have the potential to undermine our right to privacy? First, it was used to counter civil liberty advocates' opposition to the anti-terror laws: the government claimed that if you had nothing to hide, you had nothing to fear from the laws.

Now, facing opposition for its push to introduce a Smart Card for all Australians seeking access to public health benefits and other services, they are resorting to the same dirty tactics.

The Howard government is
pushing ahead with its plans, and this morning introduced legislation to Parliament to allow it to bring in the 'Smart Card', which is set to replace the current Medicare card, which allows Australian residents to claim rebates on the cost of their medical treatment under the public health system, and will potentially be used for accessing other federally provided social services such as welfare payments via Centrelink.

Now opposition to the card has also emerging within the government's own ranks, wth some Coalition backbenchers have expressed concerns that the smart Card could potentially be used as a National Identity Card, something they oppose philosophically, and which has already
proven to be unpopular with the Australian public.

While the Howard government may have toyed with the idea of using its Smart card as a de facto identity card – ostensibly as an anti-terrorism tool –
it now claims to have ruled out it being an 'identity card', and the Smart card or 'access card' is touted as a 'one stop' card that they claim will cut down Medicare fraud and other attempts to defraud the Commonwealth (of welfare payments etc). Only, I don't believe them.

Now, the Australian Federal Police have indicated they intend to use the Smart Card as a tool in cracking down on identity fraud.

This is a huge irony, considering one of the biggest concerns raised by IT security professionals and others opposed to the Smart Card is that having one card that accesses a wide range of identifying and personal
information – most likely stored on one database, or a series of linked databases – makes it much easier for those seeking to steal someone's identity to do so, and thus leading to more identity fraud!

It strikes me that there is little to stop the technology of the Smart Card, and the information that it provides access to, from being used by security agencies and the state from tracking and monitoring the activities of those living in this country, and there is very little that reassures me that the information accessed via the card can truly be protected from identity theft and fraudsters. Accept, of course, mass public opposition to the scheme...

But the more vocal we get in opposition to the Smart card, the more we will get tarnished with the 'If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear' taunt. The sub-text, of course, is that only terrorists, those disloyal to the country (or rather the state), or those who have something criminal or illegitimate they wished to conceal would be opposed to either the anti-terror legislation (or the sedition laws, or any host of other efforts by the Howard government to silence dissent), or now the potential for the Smart Card to undermine our right to privacy – as it mines our private information.

A classic move from a government that appears to resent the dissent of the people more than it is concerned with the true threat to our security – infringements on our civil liberties and our right to privacy.

Well, Don Randall, I do have something to hide – the privacy of my personal information, and the security of my identity. More essentially, though, is what I have to protect – my freedom and my rights.

[Image by BlueTigger]

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Monday, February 05, 2007

'Why Do You Blog?' – tell all online

Canadian blogger Darren Barefoot is running an online survey asking bloggers, 'Why Do You Blog?'. If you complete the survey, you may win prizes!

I've just done the survey and surprised myself at how much my attitudes about my blogging have changed – why I started blogging is quite different from why I keep on blogging (though I'm not so sure of the answer to the later question...).

Barefoot is collecting this data for a presentation on why we blog for the Northern Voice bloggers' conference in Canada later this month. I am really curious what his findings will be.

I envy the Canadian bloggers. They've got a lot more going on with blogging and podcasting, including conferences and workshops, and really active and interesting bloggers such as Barefoot in the Canadian blogosphere.

The best we Aussies seem to be able to manage currently is a 'best blog posts of 2006' online anthology (excellent as that may be…). Some of my favourite bloggers and posts made it to the anthology, so it's more of a 'why I read blogs'.


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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Architectural twins – separated at birth

Don't you think that this:

Looks just like this?

I certainly think so.

The image at the top is of part of a deconstructed statue in the former Soviet Union at
English Russia. Before it was disassembled and left to rust and crumble, the gigantic statue provided the image for the logo of the Soviet film distributor. It was designed by Russian sculptor Vera Mukhina. (Via Barista)

The one below it is a shot of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, which was designed by North American architect Frank Gehry. Alison Croggon's post on something completely unrelated at
Sarsaparilla got me thinking about this.

I just love the accidental 'synchronisity' of the web.

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