Friday, December 28, 2007

Happy Holidays!

A belated Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate this holiday. As you can imagine, I've been a bit busy with the family celebrations, and enjoying being on leave on these warm summer days.

Then again, if I eat another mince tart, piece of fruit cake (which I made, BTW) or morsel of roast fowl, I'll explode.

Hopefully, regular blogging will resume – when I get sick of lying about reading the Best Australian Essays 2007, Best Australian Stories 2007 (Christmas presents from my partner Shelley) and Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (lent to us by Shelley's mother). Or when my family get sick of me lying about reading (whichever comes first).

I've finished the first of Pullman's trilogy, from which the film The Golden Compass was adapted. I'm looking forward to seeing how they've treated for the big screen. If it gets any hotter, a darkened, air-conditioned cinema will offer inviting relief.

I hope you're enjoying this holiday season.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007


In yet another apology for a week of inactivity on this blog, I can only say that work has been hugely busy as I got yet another publication off to the printers in time for the Christmas closure. It was very frustrating to still have to keep up the energy and work to meet a print-deadline while many others I knew, and surely throughout Australia, were winding-down their workloads and tidying their desks in preparation for the Christmas holidays.

What added to the frustration is that the organisation I work for, like so many others, is chronically deadline-challenged, and I had to keep up the slog while last-minute things got added, and space just had to be made for new material.

So, there was little spare time for blogging, despite there being lots of things to blog on, such as the Japanese whaling fleet hitting the Southern Oceans, the Bali climate change conference and Rudd's role there. Perhaps there will be time now, and whaling is definitely on my agenda again.

Now, I am truly thankful for the reprieve from hectic, deadline-driven work. I start a decent break from work till just after the New Year, and I can finally enjoy this season with a bit more cheer - particularly as I've also finished my Christmas shopping!

Amazingly, I did much of my present shopping online this year – a first time for so much shopping. We decided to buy goats, chickens, seeds and other such developmental needs on behalf of, and in lieu of presents for, our close relatives, via Oxfam Australia's website. We did buy some presents for the kids – our niece and nephews, as well as our own kids. Children don't really understand if they get a card on Christmas Day that tells them that instead of a present, you donated the money to some Aid agency working with under-privileged people in a developing country somewhere.

We still bought a few, small, less-expensive presents for our loved ones and each other – it helped that we wanted a low-key Christmas where we didn't spend so much money on stuff. Practical things that we need for the coming year seem to be the priority this year. It was also a chance to put into practice our thoughts about consumption and sustainability.

Surprisingly, I managed to fine quite a few presents online - one of which I'll blog more on after Christmas, as I don't want to spoil the surprise – but I realised that shopping online doesn't replace old-fashioned, really good customer service in a shop – especially a bookshop. Even if you call them on the phone.

So here is a hearty cheers to the two sales assistants who were so helpful to me in two separate bookstores – just across the road from each other in Carlton (some of you will know where that means!) – and who made only my second Christmas shopping foray last night
such a joy! You had obviously kept your cool and manners in Christmas retail hell. Thank you.

I have a love-hate relationship with
the retail hell that is Christmas. I hate the crowds, the indecision, the pressure to find the right present, and the costs, but sometimes being out and about helps get me into the spirit. This year, about the only thing I really miss is the Salvation Army brass band busking in front of the GPO – on the corner of Elizabeth St and the Bourke St Mall. I just haven't been into the city to shop at all! Perhaps I'll get a chance to hear them tomorrow when I head into the Victoria Market in search of a free-range turkey and chicken.

I hope your Christmas preparations are going well, and you find some time to enjoy this holiday season. I still have a fruit cake to bake, and presents to wrap, so it's not plain sailing yet, but there'll be more cheer now that work is done for now.

Happy holidays!

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

'A plane pops out of the sky and out pops Santa and some presents'

I just love this. No, it's not the premise for a new Christmas movie or TV special. Nor has Santa retired the reindeer.

It's the story of the Salvos' (Salvation Army) flying Santa, who gives Christmas presents to outback kids in Australia's remote north – from Queensland's Gulf country to Birdsville (near the border with South Australia), more than 800,000 square kilometres by small plane.

It seems the Salvos also have something similar in the Northern Territory and ranging into Western Australia.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Put the pressure on Rudd at the Bali global warming negotiations

There's been growing concern at Kevin Rudd's softly-softly approach to the proposed targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to be discussed at the Bali negotiations to frame the next international agreement on cutting emissions. I think that this is where Rudd's avowed economic conservatism will collide with the expectations of the Australian voters who elected Labor into government on the hope – and promise – that Labor will do far more, and urgently and effectively, than Howard's government to stop Australia's slide into climate change oblivion.

Many developed countries are supporting the proposed cuts (to be made by developed countries)
of 25 to 40 percent below 1991 levels of greenhouse emissions by 2020 being discussed at Bali. Some scientists and environmentalists are saying this doesn't go far enough, so it would be a huge concern if this gets watered down further.

Meanwhile, Rudd claims his new government needs to do more research and modeling to see how the proposed cuts will affect Australia - economically. (Interestingly, I haven't heard talk from Rudd's people about how the cuts could help Australia's experience of global warming!) I reckon Rudd is effectively trying to buy some time so that he and his team can figure out their bargaining position at Bali. It may come down to a question of how much developed countries should cut their emissions compared to developing countries.

It is troubling move, or lack of movement I should say. Especially as the United States is now pushing to derail any attempt to mention any figure of emissions cuts in the Bali declaration – they are still playing the '
uncertain science' card! Any push to soften target from Australia could strengthen the USA's hand at Bali.

We need to keep up pressure on Rudd to commit to binding emissions targets that will be effective in slowing the rate of warming – to avoid the 2˚C rise in temperature that scientist say will lead to dangerous climate change.

You can do this by supporting the Get Up Australia petition calling on the Rudd government to take a stronger position on cutting Australia's greenhouse gas emissions and to support the cuts proposed at Bali.

For a more international tact, you can also support the petition
jointly organised between Al Gore and Get Up Australia (amongst other campaign groups) to lobby for strong action at Bali.

I'll try to keep up with the movements at Bali and the campaigns, but it has been so busy, especially at work and with the lead up to Christmas at home, that I'm getting little time to blog.

The 25 – 40 per cent cuts by 2020
are medium-term targets they are arguing over, and the growing consensus is that strong medium-term targets are what is needed to make an impact on emissions and slow the rising temperatures. Now the United Nations is also putting the pressure on Rudd to declare his support for medium-term targets at Bali:

The United Nations says Australia must officially declare its position on short-term emissions targets when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd arrives at the climate talks in Bali today.

UN climate negotiator Yvo de Boer says developed countries must commit to a global emissions reduction by 2020 if a new Kyoto deal is to make progress.

"Every week that you don't make clear where you intend to go is a another huge capital investment in a potentially wrong direction," he said.

[Updated 10.00 am 11 November]

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Australia ratifies Kyoto – at last!

In their first official act, the newly elected Rudd ALP government has today ratified the Kyoto Protocol!

This is indeed a historic act. If not for how this instrument will actually help curtail Australia's carbon emissions and help slow global warming, but to help build a new consensus around serious cuts to emissions.

It's arguable that the usefulness of Australia's greenhouse gas emission targets under Kyoto are doubtful, considering how Australia's conservative former government secured various concessions for Australia that avoided comittments to real, effective carbon emission cuts – and then refused to ratify it! This left Australia and the USA as the only two developed countries in the whole world who hadn't signed the protocol, and the Howard government's failure to take global warming seriously was a huge factor in voters kicking them out of government two Saturdays ago.

Now, only the USA has refused to sign the protocol, and Australia will be going to Bali to participate in the negotiations for the next round of international agreements to cut global carbon emissions.

I think that is the greater step for Australia, rather than the piss-weak targets for Australia under Kyoto.

Barista has a bit of insight into two of the Rudd cabinet team who are going to Bali next for the negotiations – Garret, now Environment and Arts Minister, and Penny Wong, Minister for Climate Change and Water. For my money, Penny Wong is the one to watch – for how she will balance the ALP's struggle between wanting to do the right thing on climate change and wanting to keep on the good side of business, energy industry and coal mining interests, and the mining and energy unions.

I know who – or what – I want to win. As green-oriented unionists have been known to say: there are no jobs on a dead planet.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Mangoes – or where have all the Bowens gone?

One of the joys that the warmer weather brings is mangoes. I've just eaten one of the nicest mangoes I've had in ages. It was large, fat, and firm-fleshed but juicy. It wasn't perfect - just a little over-ripe (my fault: I bought it last week and forgot about it in the fridge). But that wasn't so bad because the flavour more than compensated. And the smell – yum. Sorry, I've no photo of it to show you as I only thought to blog about when I was washing my hands after eating it.

So often I've found Australian mangoes at the markets that just don't have any smell – you think that's because it's under-ripe, so you take it home and wait and wait, but it doesn't ripen. Or rather, it goes soft – like it's bruised – and those black spots become black blotches – before its flavour really develops. However, besides a small black spot around the stem base, and that ever-so-slight fermented tinge of over-ripeness in one part, this mango didn't have any of those problems.

But the nicest thing about this mango is that it reminded me of Bowen mangoes – that quintessential Australian mango. When I first came to this country – over 15 years ago – mangoes and Bowens were one and the same. Now, you just can't seem to find that variety. Australian grocers, markets and supermarkets are flooded with cheap hybrids whose flavour and aroma can't hold a candle up to the Bowen.

Perhaps its complete bollocks. Maybe Bowens aren't as nice as I remember, and I'm just being sentimental about them because I can't find in the shops the variety of mango I identify most with summer and the arrival of tropical fruit in the south of Australia.

The things is, I didn't appreciate Bowen mangoes when I first came here. I had come from a country where mangoes were ubiquitous – well, almost as ubiquitous as they are in Brisbane or other parts of Southeast Queensland – and we had some of the best mangoes around. I believed that Australian mangoes couldn't touch those from home, so I turned my nose up at them. And baulked at the prices asked for them.

The same went for a whole range of tropical fruit – especially papaya, or pawpaw, as it was known here. T
o me, the papayas grown here smelled like vomit. In fact, these days many still do, and the only Australian-grown papayas I really enjoy are the organic red ones. But that's another story.

The mango I ate tonight also reminded me of what changed my mind about Australian grown mangoes – the lovely generosity of the president of the Student Association at Deakin University, in Geelong. That is where I spent my first year in Australia – studying for a Social Science degree that I went on to complete elsewhere – and I had a miserable, homesick, and terribly disorganised time for a lot of it.

Anyway, sometime late in the academic year, the Student Association president, a friendly, no-nonsense woman, who was a mature age student, and who had taken a number of us adrift overseas students under her wing, shared with me a mango from a box of beautiful Bowens that her brother had sent her from Darwin, where he lived. Well, at least I think they were Bowens.

Well, that one mango that she shared with me was a lovely, red-blushing, fat and juicy fruit. It had a rich aroma and flavour, and it blew me away to realise that Australia could grow tropical fruit so well.

It was also very generous of her to share that fruit with me – she obviously really enjoyed them, and she had her three young daughters at home to share the fruit with too, but she must have guessed that it would cheer homesick me up. This represented that lovely Australian generosity and hospitality that was beginning to thaw out my defensiveness and open me to this country. That, and the realisation that Australia could grow good mangoes. After that, whenever I visited relatives in Queensland, I would eagerly seek out Bowen mangoes.

The mango I ate tonight reminded me of that occasion, and generosity, and how I came to appreciate Australian mangoes and their heralding of summer.

It is just such a pity that Bowens are so had to come by in Melbourne nowadays.

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