Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"It's not just about whether to take an umbrella"

Sometime this week was World Meteorology Day. I say 'sometime' because the ABC News website's diary had it for today's calendar, while the World Meteorological Organizations' website has it listed for the 23rd. They celebrated it on the 25th. Go figure.

Either way, it got me thinking about the intricacies of forecasting the weather and appreciating the difficulties our homegrown weather bureau faces in forecasting Melbourne's weather, let alone Australia's. So spare a thought for those poor boffins who have to disembowel and read the entrails of some small dog, or other animal of choice, and observe the directions the Collins Street pigeons fly at sparrow's fart. And then get yelled at by us Melbournites when they don't warn us to take the umbrella out with us before the skies open up. This is for them:

[With apologies to Goscinny and Uderzo. The image is from their 1972 Asterix and the Soothsayer, and it immediately came to mind as I thought of the boffins.]

The Bureau of Meteorology celebrates its 100th birthday this year. They are using the opportunity to highlight the importance of weather forecasting to Australian community. The Bureau's Victorian director, Mark Williams, says "It's not just about whether to take an umbrella, but this is about livelihoods and about lives."

As we face the escalating and increasingly dangerous changes of global warming, the capacity to study and forecast the weather is becoming increasingly important.

Especially when we get caught in the rain without an umbrella.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Should we boycott the Beijng Olympics?

I think it is time to revisit the call to boycott the Beijing Olympics.

Various groups and campaigns have called for public boycotts of the Beijing Olympics, because attending the Olympics would be seen as turning a blind eye to the Chinese Government's domestic human rights abuses, and its role in the human rights abuses of other regimes. Foremost amongst these have been those campaigning for human rights and freedom in Tibet.

Reporters Without borders has information on the campaign to boycott the Beijing Olympics.

Not long ago, I supported the boycott call as a way to highlight how the Burmese military dictatorship is supported by China – in terms of political support, international legitimacy and trade dollars – and to pressure the Chinese to drop their endorsement of the Burmese regime, thus allowing the Burmese democracy movement room to breath.

More recently came the news that Steven Spielberg, following the example of other Hollywood celebrities, had pulled out of his involvement in the Beijing Olympics because many argued that such involvement was seen as an endorsement of the Chinese government – which was unacceptable in light of the Chinese's continuing arms sales to the Sudanese government, and how those arms are used to oppress the people of Dafur, and other minorities in Southern Sudan.

Now, according to ABC Radio 774 AM this morning, Australian Senator Andrew Bartlett has called for an Australian boycott of the Beijing Olympics because of China's brutal crackdown of protesters in Tibet who are highlighting China's brutal treatment of Tibetans in their homeland.

Now, you can consider how realistic a boycott of the Olympic Games would be – considering Rudd's attitude towards China, it is not surprising that Australia has rejected the call for an official boycott of the Games. Nor can we expect enough pressure to mount in this short time for other countries to formally boycott the games. In these changed geo-politics, we won't see the tit-for-tat Cold War tactics that led to the official Moscow and Los Angeles Games boycotts.

Howevever, in light of the brutal crackdown on Tibetan rights protesters, we must not allow China to once again brush off insipid international criticism and the
UN's glacial, byzantium manouverings of registering its 'concerns'.

The fact is, China will put on a multi-billion dollar pageant for the world in only a few months – in the guise of an international sporting competition – that will be a huge propaganda exercise to show a modern, stable, prosperous, peaceful – and unified – China. And we should not buy it. Literally.

In an age of consumer awareness and growing public consciousness, and the tools available to us, the possibilities of a consumer boycott of the Games are stronger. Don't go to Beijing for the Olympics, and if you, like me, can't afford to travel to China anyway to watch the Games, don't buy Olympics merchandise associated with the Beijing Olympics.

You can write lots of letters, emails and faxes to your Chinese embassy telling them this is how you feel and what you are doing, and write similar letters to your local papers, mention it on talk-back radio,
and leave such comments on blogs and online forums (as long as they are relevant to the topic, of course – I wouldn't endorse off-topic comment spam!).

You can tell your friends and family – especially if you know of people who are inclined to buy the inevitable sports clothes, tracksuit pants, predictable panda bear mascot and other paraphernalia emblazoned with the Beijing Olympics branding that we know will be made cheaply in Chinese factories with poor working conditions – that you don't want any of this stuff for either yourself or your kids (if you are parents), and why you think they should join you in boycotting it.

It worked with delegitimising South Africa's Apartheid regime, and it can work with China.

Let's not let China's regime off the hook for its deplorable human rights record.

[The image is of Tibetan monks who were beaten by Chinese security forces during the recent brutal crackdown on protests, from the ABC]

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Proof Melbourne's public transport is overpriced

I'm paying $6 to be trapped in a steel box on wheels to get to the city and there is no air cooling. Do excuse the whinge post: it's 38 degrees heat!

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Racism is alive and well in Australia

Despite the current media and online outrage, I am not surprised that a month after the National Apology to the Stolen Generations we are hearing reports of racism against Aboriginal people in Central Australia. Appalled and outraged, but not surprised.

A group of young women and children were asked to leave an Alice Springs backpacker hostel because they are Aboriginal – within a short while of their checking in and taking their luggage to their rooms. The group of young women leaders from the Central Australian Aboriginal community of Yeundumu had been brought to Alice Springs by the Royal Lifesaving Society, who had booked the accommodation for them.

According to ABC news online:

The group included several young mothers and a three-month-old baby. Most were young leaders, chosen specially for their standing in the Yuendumu community.

The resort manager told Bethany Langdon from the Yuendumu Young Leaders program the group would have to leave.

“The manager came out and told me that we weren’t suitable to stay there,” she told ABC1’s Lateline program.

“They said, because you’re Aboriginal, other tourists were making complaints that they were scared of us.

“I felt like I wanted to cry, because it made me feel like I wasn’t an Australian.”

Ms Langdon says it is her first experience of overt racism.

"It's a disgrace against Aboriginal people, especially when an Aboriginal women comes into town trying to be a role model to their community and get looked up to by elder people and younger people from their community and other communities," she said.

The Royal Lifesaving Society was obviously unaware that certain hostels and hotels in Alice Springs have racist policies of not allowing Aboriginal people to book and stay with them, or that this hostel – Haven Backpackers Resort – was one of them. Judging from what I've heard from people who know Alice, this racist practice is common.

The Hostel's manager disputed that they were asked to leave because they were Aboriginal, denied such a policy exists, and claimed that the reason was that other guests at the hostel had made complaints about the Aboriginal women, and that the hostel is intended for international guests. The manager also claimed that the women left of their own accord, and that the hostel arranged
alternative accommodation for the women.

Now a former employee of that hostel has reported to the press her first hand knowledge of the hostel's racist policy of denying bookings and refusing accommodation to Aboriginal people.

The Royal Lifesaving Society had brought the group of young leaders to Alice Springs to learn life saving so that they can return to their community and act as life guards when their new swimming pool opens. Despite initial concerns that this experience would tarnish and undermine the Society's efforts to work with local Aboriginal communities, the picture above suggests that the woman are persevering with their lifesaving training – clearly a strong indication of their leadership qualities!

Apparently, the hostel is now facing lawsuit after telling the women to leave. It would be just as important for a complaint be taken to the Anti Discrimination Commision by the women against the hostel. Hopefully, this will open the big can of racist worms that is the tourism industry in Central Australia. And the Northern Territory overall, and Australia more widely.

Tigtog and Lauredhel at Hoyden About Town have led the charge in reporting this matter in the bloggerspere, and joined in the call for a boycott of the racist hostel, and for bloggers to help publicise this issue and the boycott online. In that spirit, I'm reproducing here this statement from them, which, it is suggested, is also intended to screw with the hostel in question's google search rankings:

Ethical tourists please avoid the Haven Backpacker Resort on Larapinta Drive, Alice Springs: it is a racist establishment, please don’t support it by staying there.

If it is true that this instance is just the tip of the iceberg, and that this practice is widespread in the Northern Territory tourism industry, and in Australia overall, then this should be only the start of a campaign to take the tourism industry to account for the way it capitalises on the appeal of Aboriginal culture and heritage to make its money, but gets away with treating Aboriginal people this way. The truth is, outrage that this should actually happen in 'muticultural, post-apology Australia' not withstanding, the racism experienced by Aboriginal people is very real, and quite widespread.

The apology was never meant to be a panacea. It is a first step. How we deal with the dirty reality of Aboriginal people being denied services and discriminated against will be the mark of this supposed new chapter that Kevin Rudd proclaimed in his apology speech (see the Update in that link, which is to my earlier post on the apology).

And while we're at it, let's remember the whole gamut of racism that Aboriginal people experience in the receipt of services – whether in accommodation, travel, or hospitality, where small minded people discriminate against Aboriginal people because they fear and loath them, or in in the provision of essential health, emergency, communication and other services, and the provision of education, infrastructure and employment, something governments are elected to do, but have consistently failed to do so. As we aim to make private enterprises accountable for their racism, so must we make our governments.

Image source: it's an SMH pic, which I also found via Hoyden About Town (thanks!)]

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37 bikes in the bike shed

Yesterday was Ride to School Day, where school children were encouraged to ride their bicycles to their schools (under their parents' supervision, in the case of youngsters) – instead of being driven there by their parents. Our eldest son's government school got in on the act.

He rode the bicycle he got from us for his birthday last year –
the whole two-and-half blocks to his school. It was his first time riding his bike to school, though he's probably ridden more than twice that distance for various neighbourhood outings. All the same, he was pleased as punch to be able to ride his 'BMX'. He was not so pleased at his mother's insistence at documenting the occasion with my camera (at my request). Hence this perfect back shot.

Not that taking an alternative to the car to get to school is novel to us. My eldest has walked the two-and-half blocks to and from school for the vast majority of his last two years of schooling. Unfortunately, this year's family travel arrangements have changed somewhat, but that's another story. It has made the bike ride an event, though.

In today's school newsletter, the Principal reported there were "37 bikes and 14 scooters in the bike shed yesterday," and that "This did make a difference to the traffic conditions in the immediate vicinity of the school." I wouldn't have hoped for less.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wordless Wednesday No.4 – Moomba


I grabbed this shot of a parade participant on her way back down Swanston Street after the Moomba Parade had finished and the crowds were going home. She said she'd had a good parade, but it was very hot! I could only imagine how hot under all those feathers, and with 37 degrees C heat!

I had gone to the Moomba Parade on Monday morning to take photos – with a 35 mm SLR Minolta. I haven't gotten those developed yet, but this was the last of the three photos I managed to take on my Canon digital before the batteries died on me. I have to remember to recharge the batteries before I go out to take photos!

By the way, I think I'm failing at the 'wordless' part of the Wordless Wednesdays...

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Equal work, equal pay

Tomorrow, 8 March, is International Women's Day. Coinciding with that, Get Up Australia is running a campaign for equal pay for women. They point out that:

For every $1 earned by men in Australia today, women earn just 84c.

Even worse - the gap has actually widened since 2004.

Isn't it outrageous that 99 years after the first International Women's Day, we still have to campaign for equal pay between men and women? Now we have a Labor government with more women in cabinet that ever before, you'd think that the Rudd government would be inclined to fix up that inequity. Well, you'd hope. Let's not take that for granted. As the Get Up email says:
From paid maternity leave to high-quality affordable childcare - a people's movement has the power to convince politicians and corporations to actively remove the stubborn systemic inequalities that still exist, to ensure productive participation - for equal reward.
You can sign Get Up's Equal Pay campaign petition at their website (the image above is off their site).

To help celebrate IWD, I also recommend that you visit and read these wonderful Australian, feminist bloggers:
Of course, there are heaps more out there, but these are the ones I enjoy reading regularly. If there are others you'd like to suggest, please feel free to leave a comment.

And happy International Women's Day to all women, and especially all those who read this blog, for tomorrow.
Update: as a further celebration of
International Women's Day, I've posted the fabulous photograph of women workers at an American railway dated 1943. It is from the Library of Congress flickr collection. [updated Friday 4.16 pm]

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Wordless Wednesday No.3


Wordless Wednesday was nearly photo-less this time round, with things really busy during the day. I thought I'd just make it in anyway with this photo I took of my partner's niece – well, my niece too, I guess – Alix. I took this on Saturday, when we were celebrating my partner's mum's birthday, and her grandchildren were out playing in her backyard.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

festival of fruit trees now up

The March edition on the Festival of Trees (which I'd mentioned earlier), with its special theme of Fruit Trees and Orchards, is now up at Orchards Forever. It is a great collection of posts on fruit trees and orchards that I'm going to enjoy dipping into over time.

I haven't had a good look at anywhere near all the posts, but I do find the festival is a bit American centric, and heavy on their preoccupation with apples (which I share to some extent), although it does feature a fair few British blog posts, and even a Portuguese blogger (in Portuguese), and a memorial post from a Polish-American writer living in Buenos Aires. Nice. I made it in too – listed as an Australian blogger, even – for my apple tree post.

I've enjoyed writing on a theme and deadline set by someone else. It also inspired another post on fruit trees in suburban Melbourne which I hope to polish off and post here sometime in the future. the other great thing is coming across all these other blogs an bloggers that I wouldn't have otherwise – a great way to break out of my reading habits and hear/read some 'new' voices. Even if I have to get used to unfamiliar accents.

I have to admit, though, that I am inspired to take the family apple picking this autumn. We will have to look for an orchard close enough to Melbourne whose crops haven't been devastated by the drought and where we can pick our own apples. We're going to the Farmers' Market at Collingwood Children's Farm this Saturday. Hopefully we'll get some ideas there!

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