Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Unexplained absences

I do have to apologise for being away from this blog for so long – much longer than I anticipated. It didn't help that after being unwell for so long, I had relapses (and new illnesses!) of various sorts, which meant having to catch up on a lot at work. This left very little time for blogging.

Then, I went to Adelaide for most of last week for work (our National Conference, and sorry, I can't say much more than that) – boy was I busy there! It was hard slog, and in no way like the gravy train. None of us had our snouts in the trough – unlike this great pig sculpture in Adelaide's Rundle Mall (above).

Needless to say, when I got back to Melbourne on the weekend, I preferred to spend my time catching up with my family (whom I missed terribly!) and getting thrown into the first days of school holidays, rather than boring you with the details here.

Over the weekend, my sister and her family were down from Brisbane for a couple of days on their way through to Tasmania for a holiday, and so we all trooped over to the zoo on Monday – as you can see. I have to say I'm glad to be back in Melbourne! And I hope that I'll be blogging a little more regularly, so remember to check back here again!

[Photos are by me and are published under a creative commons license]

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Support the democracy movement in Burma

Burmese Buddhist monks and students are once again at the forefront of democracy protests against the military junta in Burma, and they need our help.

What started out as a protest march by monks and nuns calling for controls on rising fuel prices snowballed over the week into an open protest march against the junta, with thousands of protesters reported to be marching through Rangoon. is running an international online petition to garner UN support for the Burmese democracy protests. They were concerned that the Burmese military would start cracking down on the monks' protest march, and wanted urgent international support and action:
After decades of military dictatorship, the people of Burma are rising – and they need our help. Marches begun by monks and nuns have snowballed, bringing hundreds of thousands to the streets. Now crackdown threatens.

But last Tuesday Buddhist monks and nuns, overwhelmingly respected in Burma, began marching and chanting prayers. The protests spread--now they're growing by tens of thousands every day, as ordinary people, even celebrities and comedians join in. They've broken the chains of fear and given hope to 52 million Burmese.

However, this hope is hanging by a thread. While hesitating to attack the respected monks, the regime is reported to be organising violence. Demonstrators have already been beaten, shots have been fired.
Now it appears the crackdown has started, with news breaking that 80 monks and protesters have been arrested as the military used teargas and beat protesters to break up the march.

Now, an online petition may be little succor to protesters being hit on the head with batons and tear-gassed, but I believe that international pressure against the Burmese military junta could stop the beatings from turning into an all-out massacre, but only if we also force our own governments to take a strong stance – rather than one of appeasement – against the junta.

You can sign's petition and spread the word here.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Labor and Coalition pass citizenship test bill through Senate

"The federal Senate has approved the federal government's new Australian citizenship test, requiring applicants to correctly answer questions on the country's history, geography, government and traditions.

On the first day of the last sitting period before the election is called, the upper house yesterday approved the citizenship exams with some minor government amendments."
The National Indigenous Times has the AAP's story online today.

The Democrats and Greens opposed the test, with Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett calling it a throwback to the "cultural cringe". I'm inclined to agree with Bartlett's assessment that "a large waste of money and a bit of light entertainment every now and then for the media to run some of the test questions ... against your so-called average Australian in shopping malls." Or blogs, for that matter.

But I believe the real danger of the citizenship test is how it attempts to codify Australian culture, heritage, values and history and
etch them into stone – to be rote learned, tested and passed like a boy Scout being tested for his knowledge of the Scout Law. This undermines our capacity as people living in this country to treat, contribute to, relate with and even contest how we understand the cultures in this land, and the values we aspire to, and what our history tells us about our past and ourselves.

And, of course, the greater danger of the citizenship test – what it was designed to do – is its capacity to exclude people who've lived in this country from participating in all the rights of citizenship – something Bartlett also warns about. It is apparent though that the ALP just don't get it.

Any yardstick for social, cultural and political inclusion – and thus exclusion – in Australia will always be necessarily fraught with contention and dangerous, and should be opposed. In light of this news, Barista's recent post on the citizenship test is worth revisiting.

[Image of N
ewspaper Rock from via Wikipedia under a GFD License.]

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Monday, September 03, 2007

The Wall

I've just heard the news that some German tourists were ordered by New South Wales police to delete their tourists photos of the security fence erected in Sydney as part of the security measures around the APEC leaders' summit there.

I can't believe how ridiculous the police are getting over this! Their explanation for this measure – one they plan to enforce more widely – was that they didn't want protesters to be taking photos of the security fence, or 'The Wall' as Sydneysiders are calling it, for 'reconnaissance' purposes. Police claim that protesters are carrying out this 'recco' to find weaknesses in the fence that they can target in order to break through and disrupt the APEC meeting.

While I have no idea whether the protesters would want to carry out such scouting or even want to break through the cordon, I think the police ban on photos of The Wall is ridiculous and futile because, in this time of quick and easy communication via the internet and mobile phone, the photos are already out there and there's no way the police can stop them!

When I first read the news, I immediately wondered how many photos of The Wall and other security measures have already been posted on flickr or other websites, sharing tools and blogs. A quick search shows that there's a flickr group for photos relating to APEC's Sydney meeting, including shots of the fence and security measures around the summit. Although it only had 30 photos as of time of posting, I'm sure it will grow. There are heaps more photos on flickr, as a search of the combination of the tags APEC, Sydney, security and protests will reveal.

But I'm also angry that police should be stopping people from taking photos of what is so clearly visible to the public, and in the public domain. It is such an overreaction by the police, but more importantly a dangerous limitation on our freedoms – to observe, document, report and broadcast on the actions of the state. I think it is important to kick-up a fuss on such things, otherwise the next thing we'll find is police trying to stop – on similarly baseless arguments – legal observers and other witnesses to police actions against protesters from taking photos, documenting police actions and compiling evidence for possible future complaints of police assault or misconduct.

That is why I'm publishing the photo of The Wall here – an act of defiance and protest. Let's see the police trying to ask blogger, flickr, and a host of others to remove this photos from the internet! It's the least I can do all these miles away here in Melbourne.

[Image of the security fence by mpesce (cc) of flickr]

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Happy Father's Day!

If you're a father and you've bothered to read this on Sunday, Happy Father's Day! It probably means your Father's Day present also included being allowed to surf the net instead of beind dragged off to some bbq at your in-laws or your own parents, or some other similar do.

Perhaps you've spent the morning in bed with breakfast (will you ever get the croissant crumbs out of the sheets without washing them?), unwrapped some presents (boxer shorts or trunks?), and hopefully got to admire a lovely handmade card or hand-drawn picture by one or more of your chilren. I sincerely hope you enjoyed it, and have a great time the rest of the day.

Perhaps you're reading this later this week, or on Monday, as you catch up on your blog RSS feeds and such (thank you, if this means that I'm still in your blog feeds, or being read at all; I appreciate it!). If so, I hope Sunday was great, and this post brings back nice memories.

Me? I don't know how my Father's Day is going – yet. I'm cheating for this post, you see. I've just been posting to this blog and catching up on the blogs I haven't had a chance to read in ages (something I hardly ever, ever, do on a Saturday night. Think of it, I hardly ever comment or blog on the weekend, now do I? It's part of my new 'way too busy at work, so need to make time at home' blogging.) And now I find that it's after midnight, and I can post my Happy Father's Day greetings now, and so won't have to tear myself from the croissants (I know, I know, the crumbs, but I love them, and so does my eldest son, and at six-nearly-seven, he can manage preparing them for breakfast…), or the morning paper, the presents and card, the kids' squealing in my ear, and lazing in bed (I've been promised by she who knows best) just to post! (So, I expecting it to be good!)

Nor will I have to bother with the computer or intermenet the rest of Sunday! Neither should you, surely. Go back to chasing the kids around the sofa. Nothing to see here.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

First day of Spring

It has been a lovely, warm, sunny, blue-sky spring day – the first of the new season. Spring brings its own promises and surprises this year. With such an unseasonably warm and dry August, late winter got itself into a muddle and those who thought spring had begun much earlier could be excused.

Still, despite the cherry blossoms and daffodils and other bulbs making a show these last two weeks, I was lulled into thinking that the preternaturally warm twilight between winter and spring would last a while before spring officially burst on us. In fact, there was a while when I believed that we would have to rewrite South-eastern Australia's four-season calendar to account for climate change. Admittedly, it was a strange twilight, as the unseasonable warmth and sunshine barely compensated for the virulent flus and colds so many of us suffered through. It was as though winter refused to give up without a fight.

I wasn't the only one caught by surprise this year as the horse and racing industries also caught a late winter cold and the rest of the country sneezed. Flocks of birds suddenly thought they'd have a chance of surviving this year without being slaughtered for their feathers, which are used to adorn the ridiculous hats that women so love to wear to horse races and weddings, that other spring feature. I don't know who makes more money this season, bookies or milliners. Or is it fashion designers?

But, if the horse flu doesn't shake its hold it will be the vets who'll be upgrading their Jags, Bemers and Mercs – or is that Land Rovers? – sooner this year. Oh, and buying that second pair of Burberry gumboots, despite there not being a drop of rain in sight for weeks to come. Anything for a tax right-off, right?

[Image is of my neighbour's plum blossoms today, by me (cc) ]

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