Thursday, October 25, 2007

Happy Seventh Birthday, Jacob!

I can barely believe how this has happened! My little boy, who was, it seems only a moment ago, just like this:

Is now like this!

My eldest boy, Jacob, turns seven today. Seven years! Where did that time go? As I told him yesterday, it hardly seems that long ago that I watched him being born, all wet and slippery, into the midwife's arms, while I held his mummy's hand.

He is a wonderful boy with a great spirit, a love for any sport that involves balls, yet a great love for reading and writing, and truly creative energy and wild imagination. Sounds like any seven-year-old, I know, but this one is growing up with me, so that's pretty special to me.

Happy birthday, Jacob! May you have all kinds of great adventures in life, good health, love, and happiness, and may you know what you want in life (no problems there so far!) and go out and get it!

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Itchy and scratchy

Howard's reaction to voter criticism that his performance was "feisty, testy, cranky, defensive and scratchy" at the 'great debate' against Opposition leader Kevin Rudd on Sunday night was … feisty, testy, cranky, defensive and scratchy.

I was barracking for the worm.

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Monday, October 22, 2007


Helen of Blogger on the Cast Iron Balcony had tagged me a little while ago for this 'animeme'. She, in turn, was tagged by tigtog. It's taken me a while to get to it, and this is my first ever meme. It was fun, especially as I recalled stuff from my growing up that I hadn't thought of in a while.

Now, the photo of the peacock above isn't linked to any topic of this meme, but I had to add it here because of the animal theme and because it is my favourite photo of an animal at the moment – from my recent trip to the zoo. At least it is doing something interesting.

An interesting animal I had
When I was a teenager, my family had a hill myna – a bird with the uncanny ability to mimic sounds and voices. The bird mimicked my mother's voice when she called the dog – and by doing so repeatedly drove the dog, a rather dim-witted doberman, nuts. The bird was a larger relative of the common mynah that is found in the forested, highland regions of Asia – hence its common name 'hill myna'. The variety was more common in the inland areas of the Southeast Asian country I grew up in, and my father had bought the bird from a dealer on one of his many business trips inland because he was impressed at their capacity to mimic human voices. It was an amazing jet black, had a long bright yellow beak with a streak of orange, and sharp yellow claws.

We named the bird 'Guff' – because he was full of it, and it was also our family's slang for 'scarfing'. And scarf was what Guff did regularly. I had a love hate relationship with this bird because it was my job to clean out his cage – more a large enclosure closer to an aviary – including the mountains of revolting, stinking poo he produced regularly. He had a dog's water bowl to bath in, which he loved, but whenever I washed it out and refilled it with fresh water, he would poop in it again! I also hated how he would attack my hand whenever I had to reach in to his enclosure to straighten food containers, clean up, or top up food – so much so that I had to wear leather gardening gloves to protect my hands. But he took to attacking my forearms!

An interesting animal I ate
I was going to write about the frogs I ate as a teenager at a Chinese wedding banquet (stir-fried with dried chilli – yum), just to be able to link to this great photo I found on flickr (warning, yuck factor), but I remembered another interesting animal I'd eaten far more recently: magpie goose.

A colleague of mine, an Aboriginal woman from Darwin,
had some roasted magpie goose for lunch at work one day and shared it around for us to try. She had brought it back to Melbourne from a recent trip to Darwin. We'd had many discussions about bush tucker and Indigenous foods over time around the staff lunch table, so I had been intrigued to try it. I only ate a morsel, and all though I found the bird a bit dark, gamey and dry, I regret not trying more. Maybe next time she brings some back from Darwin with her…

An interesting animal in the museum
My first thought was the whale skeleton at Melbourne Museum – a massive skeleton of a blue whale that had washed up onto a beach in Victoria a while ago. Accompanying that exhibit is an interesting but at times revolting documentary showing the dead whale being found, then autopsied by vets, and then how the flesh and blubber was stripped of the bones by people, rats, mice and scavenger birds and finally bacteria and other microbes at the Werribee sewage treatment plant so that its bones could be preserved and displayed at the museum. My eldest was fascinated with that documentary for a while, an would sit absorbed through the whole thing.

But I also want to mention a live animal that caught my fancy at Melbourne Museum. There is a blue-tongued lizard (well, at least one) in the Forest Gallery at the Museum. In fact, there are heaps of live animals there – something which in itself makes it interesting for the museum setting. The Forest Gallery was created to show how Australia's forest ecosystems range from cool rainforrest and wet gullies to hot, dry, bush-fire prone landscapes.

Walking through it, I was happy to look at the frogs, toads, snakes, fish, birds, and long-necked turtles in their glass walled mini-habitats, cages, and enclosed ponds, but I was completely taken aback – a bit freaked actually – to find this lizard sunning itself on verge of the path. The last thing you'd expect in a museum is a live animal outside an enclosure or glass case! I assumed it was a blue-tongued lizard, but if anyone can correct me, do.

An interesting thing I did with or to an animal
I racked my brain for something on this one – especially something original, since tigtog mentioned the same thing – but I can't think of anything other than snorkelling at Portsea Pier (yes, I've mentioned it before, so I'll keep the details short here) amongst the fish, seaweed, sea horses, sea dragons and other marine life that make the Pier's posts their home.

The most interesting would have been the sea dragon, but being short sighted and not being able to wear my glasses under my snorkel mask, I couldn't see them clearly enough! Well, you could imagine how frustrated I felt, especially when the others I'd gone snorkelling with had seen them and rave about them!

All the same, snorkelling is an amazing thing, and I would love to do it again – hopefully at the Great Barrier Reef, before global warming completely bleaches it!

An interesting animal in its natural habitat


previously posted about my encounter with a blue-tongued lizard during a family camping trip to Wilsons Promontory, but because I earlier mentioned the one I saw at the Museum, I thought I'd bring it up again. Of course, you'd expect to find heaps of animals at Wilsons Prom – but what I find so striking is that this lizard (like the one at the Museum) was also sunning itself on the path, and didn't skitter off or show any hurry to get away from the humans. It was in the warm, drier part of the path to Lillypilly Gully, which was very similar to where I encountered the lizard at the museum. I don't know much about them, but the species is quite special to Australia – one of the few places its found – and though I've never seen it, I hear their blue tongues are a sight to behold!

What also makes this animal interesting to me is that two other bloggers, Mike Bogle and unique_stephen, have also posted photos of blue-tongued lizards on their flickr sites and blogs within the same time-frame! (Though they'd found their lizards in their respective back yards.) Serendipity? Cue spooky music.

And that's why I am tagging unique_stephen and Mike, as well as Kirsty (because of her encounters with the interesting birds of Brisbane), phil from Veni Vidi Blogi (because, well, I want to), and Wadard at Global Warming Watch (because I'm sure he'll have some great perspectives on the impact of warming on animal species and biodieversity) for this meme.

[All images by me under my CC license]

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Amateur night or citizen journalism?

I enjoyed much of the October (oops) September edition of The Monthly magazine, but Gideon Haigh's review of Andrew Keen's book The Cult of the Amateur really bothered me because an essayist/writer whose work I really enjoyed and respected had bought into Keen's arguments that 'amateur' content makers – including, in particular, bloggers – threatened the legitimacy of professional journalists, writers and opinion makers and their capacity to inform – and form – public opinion.

Being one of those 'amateurs' myself, I tried to think through a response, but couldn't get to it. So, I was pleased to see that The Monthly has published a letter
by Ken Nielsen responding to Haigh's review, and Keen's book, on its revamped website (unfortunately, they haven't put Haigh's review online). Nielsen's comments resonate with me (the emphasis is mine):
My worry is not about a "culture without a hierarchy of talent, expertise and authority" but about a mainstream media that is peopled with columnists whose regular writings are as consistent and predictable as a McDonald's burger. You know what Phillip Adams, Tim Blair, Kenneth Davidson, Janet Albrechtsen, Hugh Mackay and Miranda Devine are going to say about any issue. And with several, you know what issue they are likely to write about: some react to the previous day's headlines, others cycle through the same five or six topics. Few surprise or make us think hard. It seems that editors do not like readers to be surprised by a columnist. They prefer us to nod solemnly when our opinions are supported or grind our teeth when reading someone we always disagree with. Columnists have become brands and are subject to the same quality control. I see little "talent, expertise or authority" among them.
Nielsen is no uncritical cheer squad for bloggers:
Among the bloggers on the internet - Keen's amateurs - I find much stimulating, thought-provoking and informative material, as well as a lot of rubbish.
But he does highlight the capacity of blogs to engage him and even change his mind about some things! When was the last time something you read on a blog changed your mind about something? Or, as importantly, made you go 'wow!', or 'Oh!'

If you're interested in the 'citizen journalism' angle on this, I recommend this post on Gatewatching, a Queensland-based site devoted to the topic.

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Round and round the mullberry bush…

The monkey chased the weasel...

Okay, I've been busy, and so tardy with the blog, so I missed out on blogging the election being called last Sunday. After waiting so long for the election to be declared and the 'real' campaign to begin, it's a bit of a let-down to finally be election mode. So much so that I can't seem to muster much excitement about it. Don't expect a blow-by-blow account of the campaign from this blog!

Don't get me wrong. I most certainly will be goaded into writing something here about the election campaign by the inevitable stupidity or dog-whistling expected in this campaign. I wonder though if I'll spend more time yelling at the TV than blogging about this.

On the other hand, the thing that has got me tied up in knots is that the Liberal Minister for Immigration, Kevin Andrews, has decided to cut the refugee intake from African countries because – he claims – some from certain Africa communities are not 'settling' into the "Australia way of life" successfully enough – i.e integrating and assimilating! Yes, I know it's old news, but I've been so confounded by the bare-faced lying and racist scapegoating by the minister that it's been hard to put fingers to keyboard on this.

I'm glad that Cast Iron Balcony managed to do so, and I'm also pleased to see the massive public outcry against the minister's decision and the lack of evidence behind his claims – and his capitalising on the tragic, senseless and apparently racist killing of a young man who was a refugee from Sudan.

The organisations who are campaigning to support refugees and migrants from African should also be congratulated.

I hope to follow this further. I don't want to let this just go away.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I'm so excited…

That my partner bought us tickets to Laurie Anderson's performance Homeland next Friday for the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Cool! Will post more later.

[Updated 11.00am]


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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Swimming with the fishes…

I have to say that I had more than a flash of worry when I first heard the news that the Navy had just 'safely' detonated an old World War Two bomb found at Portsea pier. Perhaps it was the inkling of sheer terror! An inkling because ABC Radio News this morning described it as 'unexploded ordinance'. How benign, until what that meant sank in!

About two summers ago, I had gone snorkeling at that very Pier, with my partner and her brother. We went through an adventure tour company that operated in the Mornington Peninsular, and our guide/snorkeling instructor was a very able and knowledgeable young German man who was also training for his scuba instructor certificate through his company.

So, this morning I thought of us snorkeling amongst the weeds, fish, sea-dragons and other marine life that made Portsea pier home.

Alongside the old WW2 bomb.

The tour company also ran dive tours and training at that very same pier, a very popular diving and snorkeling spot in Victoria. I wonder if one of their crew found the bomb.

[The image is of the underside of the pier at Rye, a few miles from Portsea, but I'm using it to illustrate what Porsea was like from the water. Image by sachman75 (cc)]


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Monday, October 08, 2007

Science will not set us free – or why approving the Tasmanian pulp mill is wrong

The federal government's decision to back the Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania's Tamar Valley is wrong.

Federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull's justification to support the pulp mill based on the 'science' of the Chief Scientist's report and recommendation is just hiding political expediency behind the 'black and white' of science. By claiming that the 'science' has 'spoken' is just hiding a wrong decision behind a flimsy excuse. Opposition Environment spokesperson Peter Garret's and the ALP's similar justification for their support for the Minister's decision is no better!

For one, the Chief Scientist's analysis was lopsided and narrow! How can he on the one hand advise the government that Australia needs to plant more trees to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stop global warming, and on the other hand support the development of a pulp mill that will directly result in logging more trees than is sustainable? This kind of 'single-issue' science is blinkered and not only fails to consider the big picture, but is highly politic!

Further, the Chief Scientist did not consider the impact of the pulp mill on air quality or on the forests. How can his advice be taken at face value as providing a whole picture on the environmental impact of the mill?

More importantly, we cannot rely on science alone to justify or inform our actions. Especially as science does not actually work on certainties, but on levels of risk. Rather than being able to categorically state that the conditions placed on the mill shall make it 'safe', scientists rely instead on what are acceptable levels of of pollution, toxin, or danger to the environment and people – ie what are 'acceptable' levels of risk. Why offer us the false certainty of 'science' without being honest to us about the levels of risk scientists are prepared to accept – on our behalf?

In all, science should only help to guide our decisions, not dictate them. In the final analysis, the basis of the decision should be 'is this the right thing?'

Is this pulp mill the right thing for protecting forests, or reducing greenhouse gases? Is this pulp mill the right thing for the marine environment in the Bass Strait, or fisheries that rely on it? Is this pulp mill the right thing for ensuring the the viability of local sustainable fisheries against imported cheap fish and prawns from unsustainable fisheries and aquaculture elsewhere?

Is this pulp mill the right thing for protecting the health and safety of the residents in the Tamar Valley, or the growing food, wine, tourism and related industries there? Is this pulp mill the right thing for protecting Aboriginal heritage and supporting Aboriginal people's continued connection to the land, including their food collecting and cultural practices in that area?

On these and many more factors, the pulp mill is NOT the right thing. The federal government's decision to support the mill, and the ALP's support for it, is WRONG, and the claim of 'world's best practice' for the mill is a flimsy veil of deception. We should not let short-sighted political gain win over our capacity to think and do what is the right thing.

In this case, the right thing is to stop the pulp mill.

If you want to help do this, you can sign the petition against the mill at Get Up Australia,
who say it is not too late to change this because "Nationwide opposition has forced the Federal Environment Minister to allow ten days of public comment before making his final decision."

Of course, the other thing people can do is put this issue on the agenda for the federal election: this has the chance to shift some of the polls-driven obsession with the lower house
to some much needed attention on the Senate, and who will hold the balance of power there!

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Free Burma!

Free Burma!

Also,'s online petition for Burma has passed half a million, but they still want the full million ASAP! Things are getting worse in Burma, and the Burmese democracy movement needs all the help we can give them. You can sign the petition and see the advertisements they will publish in print press internationally here.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

So, should we now boycott the BBC?

It's one of those freaks of timing: the day I raised the possibility of including Lonely Planet guides in a boycott of companies profiting from the Burmese military dictatorship, the sale of the publishing house to BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC) has increased the spotlight on Lonely Planet for their support of tourism in Burma.

The publishers of the world-famous travel guides have defended their support of tourism in Burma by insisting that they make their feelings about the Burmese military junta quite clear to their readers, and encourage them (as potential tourists to Burma) to think through their decision to visit the country.

It is clear,
however, that their guide encourages tourism in Burma, in contravention of an international boycott of such tourism and commercial dealings in Burma – called for by democracy and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi (amongst others).

While such tourism has been defended as allowing people to discover for their selves what's going on in Burma and help the people, others such as Britain's Burma Campaign have argued strongly that tourism directly benefits the junta, and is intimately tied to their repression of the population:
Burma's military regime has identified tourism as a vital source of income and it is working hard to develop the industry. According to the Ministry of Tourism, its top two objectives in developing tourism are to generate foreign exchange earnings and attract foreign investment. Compared to its neighbours, Burma's tourism industry may be small but it is still earning a cash strapped regime millions of dollars every year.

in Burma many human rights abuses are directly connected to the regime's drive to develop the country for tourists. Throughout Burma men, women and children have been forced to labour on roads, railways and tourism projects; more than one million people have been forced out of their homes in order to 'beautify' cities, suppress dissent, and make way for tourism developments, such as hotels, airports and golf courses.
So, I'm wondering now if a boycott of companies profiting from Burmese dictatorship should be extended to the BBC's commercial activities? Does that mean that I should refrain from buying the previous season of Dr Who on DVD? Darn. What would The Doctor do?

Well, if principles and ethical buying didn't make our choices challenging – even difficult – it wouldn't be so interesting, would it?

On another note, thanks to a commenter here this morning, we've learned that bloggers who support democracy in Burma are encouraged to join in the International day of Blogger action to free Burma on 4 October. You can do this by posting a banner from the Free Burma blog campaign on your blog.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

1 million signatures needed to help stop things getting worse in Burma

The Burmese generals have used terrible violence to stop the democracy protesters in Burma, but reports indicate that the democracy movement's resolve is holding – and so must ours in supporting them. is calling calling on supporters to tell all their friends about their online campaign so that they can reach their target of 1 million signing their petition!
Burma's generals have brought their brutal iron hand down on peaceful monks and protesters -- but in response, a massive global outcry is gathering pace. The roar of global public opinion is being heard in hundreds of protests outside Chinese and Burmese embassies, people round the world wearing the monks' color red, and on the internet-- where our petition has exploded to over 200,000 signers in just 72 hours.

People power can win this. Burma's powerful sponsor China can halt the crackdown, if it believes that its international reputation and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing depend on it. To convince the Chinese government and other key countries, Avaaz is launching a major global and Asian ad campaign on Wednesday, including full page ads in the Financial Times and other newspapers, that will deliver our message and the number of signers. We need 1 million voices to be the global roar that will get China's attention.

If you're wondering what else – direct and ongoing – you can do besides signing the online petition, there is a range of things. More solidarity protests are
coming up across the world, with the international campaign for democracy in Burma (based in the UK) calling for an international day of action for Burma for 6 October. Details of these and Australian protests (4 October in Sydney, Melbourne details TBC) are on's Burma campaign page (scroll down). If you, like me, missed the protests around Australian capitals last Thursday, please make an effort to go along to the next lot.

The UK based Campaign for Human Rights and Democracy in Burma also has excellent coverage of the issues and events – both of the protests in Burma and actions in the EU and UN to support the protesters.

Should we boycott?
Also, Phil at Veni Vidi Blogi has suggested a boycott of the Beijing Olympics to increase pressure on China – Burma's main supporter, and seen as a sure avenue to pressure the junta to back off from increased violence. While I agree with a boycott that pressures the Chinese, I do wonder if a Beijing Olympics boycott is too far off to garner the necessary attention and immediacy needed now. But perhaps the effectiveness of such a boycott lies in people talking about and threatening it now.

That's why I think any boycott should also target the Burmese regime and other companies that profit from operating in Burma.

For many years in the 90s, tertiary Student Unions in Australia boycotted a certain soft-drink company because it had bottling operations in Burma. Now, we're not just talking about student activists not buying the drinks. This was a highly organised ban of the affected brand's vending machines, sponsorship of events and cross-promotional activities on campuses. Also, the relatively recent widespread boycott and ILO campaign against Triumph bras for their operations in Burma were also very successful – Triumph pulled out of Burma as a result.

Perhaps this will re-open that nasty old wound of Lonely Planet guides publishing their travel guide to Burma in defiance of a long standing boycott of tourism in the country. The UK's Burma campaign has more on that boycott here.

If you want to think more about boycotting or writing in protest against companies doing business with the military junta in Burma, there is a list of such companies here, but it's unclear how current the info is.

There a whole range of photos of protesters in Burma at this site, including of those shot and injured (I'm posting a link instead of posting a photo for copyright reasons) – take a look, but I'm cautioning that some of the photos are quite disturbing.

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