Thursday, May 29, 2008

On how to dump a king

Strangely, the South-Asian continent comes into my view today, as the news breaks that Nepal has abolished its monarchy. After a long period of internecine fighting between the Maoist rebels and government forces, the now Maoist dominated elected assembly has democratically abolished the 240-year-old Hindu monarchy in favour of a secular parliamentary democracy. They have asked the latest, unpopular manifestation of the Hindu dynasty, King Gyanendra, to pack his bags and leave his palace within a week.

They plan to turn the palace into a museum.

And ten years ago today, Pakistan tested a nuclear device – in effect, a bomb – in an underground explosion. It's hard to believe that the two South-Asian continent nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, have nearly come to war at various times, particularly over Kashmir, and are now in a somewhat less than troubled détente.

Perhaps its is because Pakistan has been too busy chewing through its democratic opposition to try picking fights with its neighbour.

It is worth remembering that the previous Australian government wanted to sell uranium to India, despite the fact they have a nuclear weapons program and have not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. I wonder if the Rudd government is game to try that as well.

[Image: photo of the Royal palace in Kathmandu is by germeister (cc) ]

Labels: , ,

Read more!

Flowers for your day

On the tram coming to work this morning, I gave up my seat so that a young child who had just got on could have it. It was no big deal – I was only three stops away from work, and I've been trying to get off a stop early to stretch my legs, so it wasn't heroic at all. But it didn't quite work out as I intended.

Within moments of the mother and child getting on the tram, I had heard this little piping voice calling, "Sit dowwwwnn…" (as they do), and the mother saying, "No, you can't sit down, it's busy," (it was, very). I know what it's like to keep a young child standing upright on a busy, crowded tram, so I wanted to be helpful and considerate to the child. After all, other people had done the same for my children at various occasions.

I got up from my seat and stepped toward the mother, passed a couple of people in the way, and said – loudly enough for others to hear as well – "she can have my seat if you like." She smiled and thanked me, but as she negotiated her child passed me and a couple of other passengers, she saw that someone else had sat down in my seat!

A large man in trendoid clothes, sunglasses, and a pair of headphones clamped to his head had taken the seat I had offered for the child.

How rude! The twit. He seemed oblivious to the few glares thrown at him by various people around us who realised what happened, but, then again, he struck me as particularly self-absorbed and lost to the little things, and little people, going on around him. By that point, I was too far away to say anything to him. Thankfully. Perhaps I'm being unkind, but I never really liked mirror-style aviator sunglasses.

Instead of letting this incident chew on me today, I considered how things – whether acts of kindness or utter selfishness – have a tendency to come around to you again in the long term. Including for Mr Aviator-Sunnies.

Luckily, for the little child, a woman sitting across the aisle from where I was gave up her seat for her – without fuss.

I've added the lovely flowers (above) I photographed off Block Arcade in Melbourne on Monday as an
offering for all you nice and considerate people out there – especially all of my readers – as a fillip for the day. Along with my hopes that you have a lovely day.

Labels: , ,

Read more!

Monday, May 26, 2008

"We've come home, now"

Archie Roach and Rubie Hunter play for the Sorry day commemorations
Today was Sorry Day – the tenth anniversary of the first Sorry Day, in fact. Part of Melbourne Aboriginal community's commemorations this day was observing this anniversary and reminder of what they have been through.

It also served as a reminder to the non-Indigenous community that despite the federal government's national apology to the Stolen Generations, there is much that needs to be done to address Indigenous disadvantage in this country – not the least of which is financial compensation for members of the Stolen Generations, as part of the full reparations to them recommended by the Bringing Them Home report.

Archie and Ruby
Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter, with their band, performed at Federation Square in the late afternoon as part of the commemorations, and as usual their performance was powerful.

Archie Roach in song
When Archie started to sing 'Took the children away', all those present went up to the foot of the stage to place a white flower on the wreath that was placed there to commemorate all those who had suffered the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families – those stolen passed and present, and their families who suffered unbearable loss. It was powerful moment. And not one I wanted to spoil by taking photos of.

Archie Roach and band
Archie also spoke about how important being a father and being part of a family is to him now, particularly in light of his experience of being a member of the Stolen Generation. I'm uncertain if the lyrics were in the original version of his song, but Archie now finishes the song by singing "We've come home, now", from which the title of this post is taken. The roar of approval and applause from the crowd sent a chill down my spine.

Archie Roach

Labels: , , , , ,

Read more!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Art and censorship – not a good mix

Early this morning, I was going to join in the chorus of those decrying the censorship of photographic artist Bill Henson, some of whose work has been seized today by New South Wales police from an exhibition about to open in Sydney. (Hey, I just did.)

I think Henson's persecution by politicians, the media and various self-appointed guardians of our propriety and moral rectitude is appalling.
This instance of censorship in art has the stink of moral panic about it. I was even going to link to this image to make a point about nudity in art and context. But I've been watching this debate brew online, and the response in the 'art community', as it has been so billed, and I think others, especially the crew at Sarsaparilla, are doing a sterling job of highlighting this case.

Instead, I've decided it is as important to highlight the case of political censorship of an artist here in Melbourne, revealed in this morning's

Van Thanh Rudd's painting has been pulled by the Melbourne City Council from its intended inclusion in an art/artist exchange with Vietnam. Due to be exhibited in Ho Chih Minh City next month, the painting depicts Ronald McDonald bearing the Beijing Olympics torch running past a self-immolating monk from that infamous incident in the nascent period of revolutionary upheaval in Vietnam.

Not that the case of Van Thanh Rudd's artwork being censored has not received attention – perhaps being the nephew of the Prime Minister can get you the front page of The Age. However, there hasn't been much reaction in the online arts community about this case, from what I can see. (Perhaps because Henson has a greater arts-profile, and the severity of the issue in Sydney has caught everyone's attention and earned Henson more online coverage.)

The City of Melbourne claims they pulled the artwork because it does not "fit in with the purpose of the arts grant program, which was to show the lives of young artists in Ho Chi Minh City", and that "legal assessment had also indicated it might infringe trademark and copyright provisions". The main criticism of the Council's interference and censorship in art was that the Council, under Mayor John So, is very sensitive of criticisms of China and actively stifles criticism of China's human rights record, and is sensitive to highly political art in the first place. There is some merit to this argument, based on the Council's track record, and this is cause enough to criticise the Council's political censorship of art.

What I can't help but wonder, though, is how on earth the Council assumed that
Van Thanh Rudd's work would not be political, when his whole reputation as an 'activist artist' and his previous works speak for itself.

However, what really galls me is the assumptions the Council seems to have made about what an artist of Asian descent – Van Thanh's mother is Vietnamese – will or won't make art about. Reading between the lines, I think the council expected some insipid 'Joy Luck Club' inspired story of growing up Vietnamese in Australia, or 'returning to the mother country and seeing how my contemporaries live - culture clash' type experience being recorded in paint,
and that just gets my goat.

It makes me sick that arts administrators, grant bodies, publishers and others still expect artists and writers of Asian descent to churn out such material for their own cultural expectations and
market demands.

Artists and writers of Asian descent have just as much chance of creating highly political art works – or not – as any other culture workers from whatever backgrounds. Just as they are likely to continue memoirising their cross-cultural experiences, and tapping the rich political veins in Australia's migrant experience.

The City of Melbourne stands condemned for its political censorship of art, as well as its other recent censorship of art – whether because of public nudity or because the artist criticised one side or another in Middle-East conflicts.

If you wish to show Van Thanh your support, you can write to him, as i did this morning, via his website. You could also criticise the Council for its decision. And don't let this issue go away just because Henson's predicament as grabbed all the attention for now.

Labels: , , , ,

Read more!

Big bank pulls funding for Tasmianan pulp mill

The ANZ bank has pulled out its funding for the Gunns pulp mill to be built in Tasmania, according to the Finance Sector Union.

As yet, I haven't seen anything else on the online news sources confirming this, only earlier growing speculation. But if it's true, this is a huge success for the campaign against this debacle of a pulp mill, and a big step in forcing corporations to face their ecological and social responsibilities. If only they didn't keep hiking up borrowing interest rates.

Labels: ,

Read more!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

It was cold this morning

It was cold this morning, originally uploaded by Mark Lawrence.

How cold? There was ice on the roof and windscreen of our car! This hardly happens. I had to chuck a bucket of water onto the windscreen to get the ice off. At school, Jacob wanted to walk to the Before School Care building through the school field so that he could see more closely the icy frost on the grass. If this carries on, we'll have to dig out the kids gloves and mittens...

Read more!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Men and the myths of mid-life accomplishment

This is an edited version of an early form of an essay I'm currently working on tackling men about to or entering their forties, and the social expectations and myths about male achievement. Part of this project involves a photo essay, but more on that later. I'd appreciate any feedback you have to share.

As I start the quickening slide toward 40, I can't help but look at the images and expectations of men in their forties all around me and wonder how my own life looks nothing like this picturebook story. This has sparked a lot of reflection and even doubt on my part in figuring out what it is I should have accomplished, if anything, by the time I reach my mid-life.

If your thirties are meant to be the age of tribulation in your life, then your forties, the received social wisdom suggests, are meant to be the moment you ‘arrive’ – where you reap the hard work of your sowing, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. For men, this is supposed to mean the well-paid job and career advancement, a lovely wife, a house and mortgage, a great car (maybe two), private school kids, annual holidays, great clothes and a whole lot of grown-up’s toys that your job affords you.

Of course that assumes that you’ve been able to survive the tumult of a busy life – if your marriage has braved any threat of separation or divorce, you didn’t stuff things up by having an affair with your colleague over those late nights you were ‘finishing’ that all-important, promotion-guranteeing project, your kids haven’t forgotten who you are because you’ve spent all your time at work or at golf, and you haven’t stuffed your knees, or back, at the gym fighting off the specter of your father’s heart disease and those greasy steak sandwiches you rammed down your gullet over those hurried lunch breaks.

And there you have it, the two great clichés of mid-life masculinity. On the one hand, you so reek of accomplishment and success that you’re the new pin-up for a Johnny Walker advertisement – no, not Red Label, that’s for Mr 30-something-no kids, but Black label, the sign of good taste, maturity, success, refinement and the credit card bill to match. On the other hand, you are sifting through the wreckage wondering how your life ended up like that other great cliché of mid-life masculinity – the Raymond Carver story, with a nameless man and woman yelling at each other one night over a half-packed suitcase, you can cut the dread and resentment with a knife, and the man has no idea how he got there.

But it is no secret that life rarely, if ever, follows the path that social expectations and stereotypes dictate. Most men closely approaching forty or chipping tentative toeholds into that new age of middle-life, are in fact wedging ourselves somewhere in between the myths and expectations of our society.

Looking around me at the men who are my age or in their early forties, I know that the story of accomplishment for men in their forties is a highly embellished one, and that, if anything, the paths of our lives are far more torturous, twisted and unpredictable than we are asked to believe.

For some of us, the road into our forties is a lot less smooth than we are led to believe, or achieve, with various unexpected changes in career, often with resulting loss in income or sacrifices in financial security, where we make job and careers choices out of personal satisfaction or necessity.

Sometimes, the reasons behind some of our choices are clear, deliberate, albeit unconventional. Other times, they are partially thought out combinations of gut instinct, sheer desperation and that certainty that if you'd kept going the way you were, you'd lose your health, or your marriage, and never see your kids growing up. And no amount of career accomplishment is worth that.

Labels: , , ,

Read more!

Monday, May 12, 2008

US aid plane lands in Burma

BBC Online reports that the first US plane carrying emergency aid has landed in Burma – nine days after Cyclone Nargis!

The plane was carrying over 12,000 kgs of supplies, including mosquito nets, blankets and water. According to the BBC, "The US spent days negotiating with Burma's military government to gain permission for the aircraft to land."

This is a significant development in this emergency, as in the early days the Burmese had refused to allow US planes to land, and all commentators were saying that any aid worker with a US passport wouldn't be allowed into the country.

BBC also reports that three Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) planes are due to be allowed into Burma soon.

The biggest worry is that although the military is showing signs that it is softening its hardline stance against foreign aid intervention and help in the disaster, the pace of their cooperation with international relief agencies, the UN and leading western aid donor countries is too slow and this natural disaster is going to turn into a humanitarian disaster

Over 1 million people are still very much at risk from the aftermath of this cyclone, and the reports indicate that there are still many, many dead bodies unretrieved from the disaster areas.

It is still important to exert pressure on the Burmese military junta to allow the smooth flow of the international relief effort into cyclone ravaged Burma – especially via putting pressure on the junta's international supporters: China mainly, but also their Asean supporters and neighbours including Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia.

Labels: , , ,

Read more!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Burma disaster roundup

I trawled through a number of websites to find sources of information and insight into what is happening in Burma post the Cyclone Nargis disaster, and I made an effort to find out what other blogs and Burmese voices, especially from the region, are saying.

Also bearing in mind that the crucial issue now is how quickly the international emergency disaster relief can get into Burma and to the areas most in need, and the military's reluctance to ease their entry, I've also found some information from the aid and relief agencies.

The Burma Campaign (UK) have called for concerted international effort to force the Burmese junta to accept international aid. They are lobbying the British government, for one, to take a strong approach. They say:
"The United Nations has the power to authorise aid shipments to Burma even though the regime has not given permission. Yesterday the French government tried to secure a discussion on this at the Security Council, but it is believed to have been blocked by China and Russia.

“Every day of delay is costing lives,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “If the regime won’t give permission for aid, the international community must deliver it anyway. We can’t stand by and let thousands more die.”
However the level of concern, verging on panic, over the junta's refusal to allow the free flow of aid, most sane international aid and Burmese democracy groups are, however, stopping short of calling for an all-out 'humanitarian' invasion of Burma a-la Somalia, if only just. Reason will prevail in this matter, I hope.

The Democratic Voice of Burma has an amazing gallery of photos of the damage in Rangoon, from which the photo above has been lifted. The level of damage in Rangoon is pretty bad, but Tim Costello of World Vision has reported on ABC Online that the city is beginning to put itself back together, as its citizens pick up the pieces.

columnist and blogger Awzar Thi, writing in Rule of Lords, reports that 90 per cent of the large trees in Rangoon are gone – uprooted or split and cracked. Besides the damage this has done to power lines, buildings and roads, this does not bode well for the future urban ecology of this major city. Awzar Thi has extensive coverage of the cyclone's devastation.

I found Rule of Lords via web correspondent Mong Palatino, who is blogging on the disaster at
Global Voices Online, the online aggregator of political and social blogging of the non-Western world. He has been tracking many more bloggers and websites reporting from either within Burma or from its neighbours. The region has many political bloggers, it seems. He has found a number of eyewitness reports as well, including this quite representative one:
In our house we were trapped when tress around the house fell over after 11 hours of strong winds at 200-240 knots. The mess is terrible everywhere, with all electricity down and no water for days.
With one million homeless and facing terrible conditions, hunger, thirst, exposure to the elements and risk of disease are the major challenges, and the aid efforts must reach them as soon as possible.

One of the most heartbreaking things I've learned is how the children and babies have been affected. According to a Save the Children media statement I found, 40 per cent of the dead are children. The young are at the highest risk of water borne diseases, and most feel the cold, thirst and hunger.

Save the Children's Burma director, who I mentioned in my previous post, is quoted in that statement saying:
“We know that some areas are still completely under salt water – some people have no drinking water or food. Unless assistance gets into those kinds of areas very soon, the death toll will keep rising. It is a race against time and now our priority has to be those who are left - we urgently need help to be able to reach the surviving children and families and deliver what we know they need.”
Medisans Sans Frontier's Australian division has set up a page on their website to provide updated information on what is happening in Burma and what they are doing as part of the efforts. Thankfully, MSF has had workers in Burma for many years now who could respond quickly to the disaster, but they are running out of human energy, resources and supplies, and are desperately waiting for the planes carrying relief supplies to be allowed into the country.

I trust MSF to do the right thing in terms of their aid efforts, their capacity to look after people, and how they use the money they raise through fundraising for their emergency efforts. They proved themselves many times over, including in responding to the Boxing Day Tsunami in the West Sumatra region.

You can find out more about what MSF are doing, inlcuding a video, here.

The Burmese people need the help and generosity of the international community. And out continued attention to ensure the military regime don't keep stifling the aid efforts. Leave me a comment if you know of other ways to help.

Labels: , ,

Read more!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Cyclone devastation and the aid crisis in Burma

It is growing increasingly apparent that the extent of the death toll and damage in Burma from Cyclone Nargis is getting much worse – horrendous, in fact. It is certainly far worse that the Burmese military dictatorship can either handle or is prepare to admit.

So far, Burma's official death toll has jumped from 15,000-odd to about 22,000, but aid agencies are predicting it may reach 100,000, and at least 40,000 people are thought to be missing. Hundreds of thousands are thought to be homeless as a result of the devastation.
Exacerbating the problem is the military's refusal to allow international aid agencies to freely enter the politically and socially isolated country to both assess the crisis and get aid to those who have been hurt, made homeless or otherwise affected by the storm.

The unpleasant but terribly urgent job of retrieving dead bodies – especially from the extensive river system of the Irrawaddy delta – must be done quickly if they are to prevent a massive outbreak of cholera and typhoid and other water-borne diseases – one of the big risks now, besides starvation and thirst. Electricity failure has compromised fresh food storage and there isn't enough clean drinking water going around. I heard on the news last night than aid deliveries of rice had begun arriving yesterday, but I couldn't help but wonder how the hungry were going to cook the rice when there wasn't clean water and precious little in the way of dry fuel.

This is where the infrastructure expertise and equipment of international aid and disaster relief
agencies – especially the Red Cross – come into play: besides medical equipment and food, they have the water purifiers, electricity generators, portable cooking stoves, canvas and plastic for tents and shelters and, as importantly, sanitation equipment (so the already contaminated water doesn't get worse). What is troubling is that the Burmese military is dragging its heels in letting them in.

I cannot understand such a callous regime with so little regard for the lives of its own people and
is so hell-bent on defending its own pride and power – and insisting with continuing with its charade of a constitutional referendum.

What is heartening is news that the Burmese people are throwing their energies into the job of helping each other, especially in the clean-up. One report on the radio this morning spoke of Burmese Red Cross volunteers, themselves victims of the devastation, are putting on the Red Cross vests and going out to help. They need to be congratulated and supported. They need help.

I have found that BBC Online's coverage of the turmoil in Burma far more effective, extensive and thorough than ABC Online's – despite Burma's proximity to us, and the large number of Burmese refugees now settled here in Australia, the ABC hasn't managed to make such a major humanitarian disaster a priority for its online coverage (it is heavily reliant on audio and video pulled from the rest of the broadcaster's coverage, compared to the specially developed text content on the BBC's site). Pity.

If you want to keep track of the relief effort, the BBC Online is publishing the diary of Andrew Kirkwood, Save the Children's 'man in Burma'. They are also publishing eyewitness reports of the devastation (Warning, the reports are quite disturbing), and background analysis of the cyclone and whether the military are responding adequately to it.

In the aftermath of the Boxing Day Tsunami, as with a number of other recent disasters in the region, there were a large number of blogs and websites set up to track, report, and pool news of developments in the relief efforts, and to help channel people's desire to help. I'm going to look out for these in relation to Burma's tragedy and I would appreciate any tips or links for these in the comments. I will keep following this as closely as I can.

Meanwhile, flickrites
MaiNaSukhumvit, luisrene and Azmil77 have photos of Cyclone Nargis's trail of destruction.

[The image above is of the peak of the storm in Yangon, witnessed by

Labels: , , ,

Read more!


It was Jamie's – my younger son – birthday last Friday – he turned two. That, in part, explains my silence here on the blog front. As does my sister's flying visit from Queensland over the weekend.

As you can guess, we had a lot of fun, and it did take us a while to get things back on track. A bit longer for the blogging to get back on track, but there you go. Life happens.

It is pretty astonishing to think that only two years ago I announced his birth here. How many parents of young children exclaim about how quickly time passes with young children, and how quickly they grow? On Tuesday, while I was caring for a cold-suffering Jamie at home, I witnessed another step in his remarkable growth: he saw a photo of himself with his brother on my desk, pointed at himself and said his own name – as clearly as any two-year-old boy can!

Self-recognition and being able to say his own name – repeatedly – within earshot of his own parents, that is. Wow.

My partner and I have found it so amazing to watch this little baby grow into toddler, and now into a little boy. He is loving and caring, and demands cuddles regularly – even in the middle of cooking. He also loves toys and books, as you can see from the photo of him unwrapping his presents on the morning of his birthday.

He enjoys books, trains, cars, balls and teddy bears, along with other soft toys and pretty much anything his big brother is playing with. He loves having books read to him, turning the pages and asking what everything is in the illustrations. He has his favourites – whether books or toys – but he is still happy to experience, play with or have read new things.

Jamie adores his big brother with a passion, and misses him when he's away. Despite the usual wrangling that comes with the 5-year age gap between the boys, and little things like incompatibility in the intricacies of games, toys, and other complex big-boy arcana, big brother Jacob, in turn, loves Jamie with a fierce but tender passion.

What a joy. Happy birthday, Jamie. We love you very much.

Labels: , , ,

Read more!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Bread and Roses – Happy May Day!

If you have a minute to down tools and look up from your work – whether paid or unpaid – for a minute, I urge you to perform at least one subtle act of resistance, or defiance, against that great yoke of human life – work – in celebration of today's international workers' holiday and moment for remembering labour struggles.

Of course, it isn't a holiday here in Victoria, Australia, because this state celebrates 'Labour Day' on another day that commemorates the start of the eight-hour day campaign in the 19th century. All the same, it is still important to pause and reflect on how workers across the world have traditionally celebrated our struggles for justice and our rights as workers. So I'm using this moment to have a cup of tea and quickly write this post – my small act of resistance against the sometimes overwhelming expectation to 'get the job done' before the end of the day.

Of course, May Day is still tied so intrinsically to the celebrations of various socialist, communist, anarchist, anarcho-syndicalist and various other democratic (or otherwise) versions of movements for revolutionary change. However differently
they envisaged what they were changing, how they were to achieve the change, and what they wanted instead, they usually fiercely clung to the ideal of people across the world uniting in celebration of their struggles on this one day. Tonight, if things go as they predictably do on this day across the world, you will probably see footage of rallies turning into riots by anarchists in France or Socialists somewhere in South America, but before you go 'tut-tut, bloody commies' and write them off, do spare a thought for the fact that over 100 years since the early socialists started campaigning around food, land, freedom and dignity and liberty in labour, including around the slogans of bread and land, or my old favourite, 'bread and roses', the United Nations is warning us that we are entering one of the worst global food crises – putting the health, security and lives of millions of people at risk.

So no, capitalism hasn't solved world hunger after all.

Labels: , , , , ,

Read more!