Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Missed it!

My forced absence from blogging caused me to miss writing about a number of recent issues and events in this blog, and that cheeses me off. It's not that I didn't realise these things were happening, it's just that I was either too sick, or too busy when I got back on my feet and had to return to work, to blog. So, instead of letting them slide off my radar, I thought I'd at least acknowledge them here.

Darn, Missed it! The Howard government decided it would go ahead and sell uranium to India despite the fact that India has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, thus creating a minor international incident with Pakistan, whose nuclear weapons programme is aimed directly at the Indians, and potentially China, who are technically still at war with India and are the largest nuclear power in Asia.

The Howard government's promises that its deal with India over inspections and safeguards over India's non-military use suggest they're only thinking of short term economic gain from uranium exports and how much the Howard governement is captured by the uranium lobby, and how little they understand the geo-political situation in South Asia, and with China. While Howard may claim there's no threat of Austraian uranium turning up in Indian nuclear ballistic missiles, there's no denying that our uranium will free up their other uranium sources for weapons use.

Glad I missed it: the news media reported that Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd visited a strip joint while on a jaunt to the US – four years ago! Rudd said he'd had too much to drink, realised too late it was a crap thing to do, grovelled to his wife about it the next day (I hope she put him in the dog house when he returned to Brisbane), apologised for the poor judgement when the news broke last week, then pointed the finger at Foreign Affairs Minister Downer for leaking the story to the media. Far from creating the conservative or Christian backlash the leakers were hoping for, it kinda washed over the punters as many just shruged their shoulders and went on to the next story, after a while. Though some think that we shouldn't underestimate the impact of this revelation – especially with women voters. What do you think?

Missed it!
A week ago, the Sydney Morning Herald broke the story that the federal government was actually spending a lot less on Indigenous communities than it claimed. The money either hadn't been spent, or had been spent to benefit all Australians. Apparently, the government was using creative accounting to boost the figures of what it spent on Indigenous Australians. The most galling was that, according to the SMH, "at least $30 million of the money the Government promoted as being for Aborigines was used to oppose native title and compensation claims". Aaagh! The sheer hypocrisy!

The government also included money that benefitted all Australians as specifically benefiting Indigenous people – such as the nineteen million dollars, "the cost of the National Museum of Australia's Indigenous galleries and programs to educate all Australians and overseas visitors".

What else did I miss?
  • It was the sixth anniversary of the Tampa debacle on the weekend;
  • right on the heels of losing his brains, Karl Rove, George Bush has lost his Attorney General, the highest ranking official forced to leave his administration due to criticism and scrutiny of the White House;
  • oh, and Hurricane Dean – which developed into a Category 5 storm – hit Mexico, causing at least 12 deaths there, and another 17 in the wider Caribbean region. I was thankful that my mate Francisco, who is originally from Mexico, had no family or friends in the path of the hurricane. Considering how strong the storm got to, it is amazing the death toll wasn't much higher!
Well, I hope I don't miss much more. Let me know what caught your attention this last couple of weeks.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Normal programming will resume shortly

If you're wondering where on earth I've been and why this blog has been quiet for so long, then I profusely apologise. (If you're not wondering, it's probably because the number of readers of this blog has plummeted – a factor not unrelated to the lack of blog activity – and you probably didn't notice anyway!)

I was very sick with the flu there for a while – I was away from work on more sick leave than I had taken the previous six months! I won't bore you with the details other than to say that I was bloody useless as I lay on the couch, or in bed, for three or four days, and the thought of dragging myself to the computer and connecting to the internet to share the distressing news was furthest from my mind. Besides which, the news leaked home that probably about a third of the nation was also suffering from the flu or colds, and so probably wasn't online to read about it anyway!

Unfortunately, the whole family has been sick, with the kids suffering bad colds and ear infections (and with my flu gone, I've now got the kids' cold!) and my poor partner having to keep the family and household running with little help from me – despite suffering her own cold! Thanks, love. You've been wonderful!

Well, I dragged myself back to work and a host of other pressing needs late last week, and now can steal the time to explain my absence here. I hope to make up for it in more posts and news in coming weeks, so stay tuned.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Remember Hiroshima

Today is Hiroshima Day, which commemorates the day the Americans used the world's first atomic bomb to kill thousands of people in Japan at the tail-end of World War Two. Two days later, the Americans dropped another larger atomic bomb on the port city, Nagasaki.

The survivors of the blast, and the peace movement that holds fast to the memory of the tragedy, would like the Hiroshima memorial dome (below) and Hiroshima Day to be a reminder of the horrors of nuclear weapons and nuclear power. It seems, though, that we all still have to struggle with getting that genie back in the lamp.

The Japanese have had their own recent close call when their largest nuclear power plant was compromised during the recent earthquake – releasing radioactive water into the Japan Sea and reportedly clouds of radioactive steam into the atmosphere, before the situation was brought under control again. While the authorities insisted that the radiation leaks were within 'acceptable' levels, there still many concerns about the powerplant's refusal to be open about what happened early in the emergency.

In its peace-time applications, the nuclear genie too has many casualties – not the least of which are truth and transparency.

I didn't make it to the commemorations in the city this year – by the time I knew about them, I had already promised the kids and made plans to take them to the ABC's 75the birthday party in Federation Square. Does anyone know how the commemorations went in their neck of the woods?

[Images: paper lanterns at last year's commemorations in Hiroshima by Giyu (Velvia) (cc); and Hiroshima memorial dome by bebouchard (cc)]

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Friday, August 03, 2007

“We’re all going to die.” *

Barista has posted a wonderful obituary on Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman and Italian born filmaker Michelango Antonioni, who died earlier this week – on the same day:
As an artist, [Bergman] put the actor and character at the centre of the frame and the process. He was unafraid of stillness, content to watch, absorbed in the great mysteries and depth of a human being struggling with life itself.

In the sacred space of shared artistic process, Bergman was unflinching and profound, full of joy and pity, laconic and dark, playful and despairing.

[Antonioni] was able to embrace a world in which certainty and continuity are no more than a carapace. He was fascinated by discontinuity, disappointment, the world between objects, the unintelligible gesture and the unanswered question.
… he was the first truly valorised modernist of the cinema, who took the medium forwards into wider artistic possibilities.
Personally, my knowledge of their work is limited, and my recollection of what I have seen of theirs is constrained. If anything, what I knew of them is nicely summed up by Barista's comment that they were "the enduring icons of the art movie, and clichés in popular culture".

However, his post brought their work and legacy alive for me. I think we may be having a retrospective at home this weekend – if we can get hold of any DVDs, as I suspect lots of others have the same idea.

* to get this reference, please do read Barista's post.

[Image: 'Wild strawberries' by deaddamien (cc)]

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

The most dangerous police power of all – secrecy

Ken at the road to surfdom predicted earlier that Howard would exploit the Haneef affair to push through 'stronger' police and 'anti-terror' laws, but even he was surprised at the extent of the police powers Howard is now pushing for:
1. Let the police go on endless fishing expeditions amongst suspects’ files;
2. Let the police do it on their own authority without having to get approval from a judge;
3. Don’t just limit it to terrorist offences – let them do it for any serious offence.
He's also surprised at the relatively quite response these proposed laws received in the news and internet circles – even ABC News last night failed to cover it!

Ken quotes from a SMH article to indicate the extent of the new police powers Howard is proposing:
POLICE and security agencies will be given unprecedented “sneak and peek” powers to search the homes and computers of suspects without their knowledge under legislation to go before Federal Parliament next week.

Police and security officers will be able to assume false identities to gain entry and conduct the surreptitious searches.

The warrant is to be issued by the head of a police service or security agency without the approval of a judicial officer. It can also be extended for more than 18 months with the sanction of the minister.

The lack of judicial oversight was justified by the Minister for Justice and Customs, David Johnston, on the grounds that a court or judicial officer might leak news of the warrant.
What is particularly troubling is the extent to which the laws will allow Federal Police to 'investigate' people without them knowing it – and do so without judicial oversight. I understand where you may sometimes wish to keep suspects under surveillance to gather evidence on them, or to see if there is grounds to pursue an investigation in the first place – or even stop them from committing an offence, such as a terrorist act.

However, this walks all over that fine line between investigating suspects to gather evidence and spying on people.

Roll on Big Brother Johnnie Howard.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Wait till your father gets home

I couldn't help notice some cynicism in reactions to Steve Bracks's news that he was resigning as Victoria's Premier because he wanted to spend more time with his family. It was almost as if punters couldn't believe that after his success in politics that he would go so quietly and 'gracefully' for such a mundane reason as wanting to be a more attentive and present husband and father.

Although many people were sympathetic to his desire to be a family man who could be home and available more, some radio talk-balk callers and commentators speculated over what other motivations he may have – was he perhaps trying to avoid an impending scandal that was about to break, or a political shit-fight he no longer had the stomach for?

Can we blame him? Barista said in response to the news:
I think high political office in this day and age is a bit like being a jetty in a storm. The waves just keep coming at you until something breaks inside. Then you go or buckle. If you don’t, you wake up one morning to discover you are old, sun-bleached and covered in barnacles.
Perhaps because Bracks was so honest about his reasons –
including citing the fact that his son's drink-driving incident tipped the decision for him, and admitting that he could no longer put '100 per cent' into the job and so thought he should go – that he won most most people over. In fact, it struck many as a typically endearing Bracks quality that he should leave for his family. In the end, the more common reactions were positive, compared to the hurtful disbelief that another Labor leader, Mark Latham, copped when he announced he was leaving politics because he couldn't stand to be away from his wife and children.

Unfortunately, it descended into a schmaltz that kind of defused some of the very valid criticisms of Bracks's time in power in Victoria. But not all got the wool pulled over their eyes. As Barista said:
The Bracks government is said to be boring, staid and conservative. I am no supporter of its attitude to the S11 demonstrations, or its policies on old growth forests, or its inability to articulate a long term policy about water.

But my partner Susie was in the The Alfred Hospital today for some physio, and she says the staff were shocked and despondent. One staff member said it was as if someone had died. That reminds me that the Bracks government has been about the slow, unspectacular provision of decent services to Victorians.

As Susie said - she stood in the new wing of The Alfred and thought “This is not a casino.”
Barista's post and the conversation there got me thinking – aloud, and I thought I'd repeated it here. The statement “This is not a casino,” pretty much sums it up for me, and people I know have said good things about the redeveloped Austin in the Northern suburbs too. But, we’ve had money woes in the Women’s, which spilled into the Children’s, and hospital waiting lists are still too long.

And while we didn’t see the grand splurging on a central casino under Bracks, nearly every corner pub, RSL and bowls club in some suburbs is a casino, with no signs of the state govt taking its finger out of the pie.

This is indeed a government of contradictions – how do you measure up the brilliance of establishing marine parks with the ongoing channel deepening fiasco, or the strong measures to encourage households to save water but the poor commitment to long-term water policy?

How do you puzzle through the bastardry where they promised us, at the last election, recylced grey-water for industry use and lambasted the Liberal’s desalination push, but now turn around and push desalination onto us?

And we still can't get around the fact that the public transport system in Victoria, especially railways, is still heaving under pressure that many put down to ageing infrastructure – something the government was still responsible for under the Kennett created privatised system.

Phil of Veni Vidi Blogi suggested that Bracks 'seemed preferable in most ways to our local man for all seasons, Peter Beattie', but I wasn't convinced.

If the bright side to Bracks compared to Beattie is that he hasn’t foistered a dam onto us, or spun pipedreams out of pumping water from the tropical north to the scorched south, I could agree with you.

But many a times I wonder…

Lavartus Prodeo also has a good roundup of the achievements and failures of the Bracks era.

[Image from the ABC's 2006 Victorian election blog]

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