Friday, 30 September 2005

The thaw and the freeze

Looks like the shit is in mid air and heading speedily (more speedily than most of us might have thought) towards the fan.

A story on the Environmental News Network, via Reuters, quotes a report released by US scientists that says the Arctic ice shelf is now smaller than it has been in a hundred years, or since we started measuring, so maybe the smallest its been in thousands of years.

The report warns that if melting rates continue, the summertime Arctic may be completely ice-free before the end of the century, echoing last year's findings from the Arctic Council, an eight-nation report by 250 experts.

WooHoo! It's all happening now. And in case you were wondering why it's happening, and who's to blame. We are. All of us, but mostly just all of us in the "developed world".

"It's increasingly difficult to argue against the notion that at least part of what we are seeing in the Arctic, in terms of sea ice, in terms of warming temperatures ... is due to the greenhouse effect," Mark Serreze, a research scientist at NSIDC, said in an interview.

"We've put a hit on the system and we are in the midst of a grand global experiment," Serreze said about the impact of global warming and ice melting on humans and animals. "We will have to live with the outcome."

The worst thing about it is that the more ice melts the spurs the water temperature to rise, which causes, you guessed it, more melting. Talk about a vicious circle.

Oh, and on the topic of viciousness and ice. The US congress, in fine form as usual, is thinking about freezing their mandatory UN dues if the organisation doesn't hastily enact the reforms hey want it to. Super dooper! Once again the US shows it is really part of the international community and not some unilateral, self-obsessed, over-the-hill superpower.

Ironically, the UN-hating US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, has opposed the idea. Unfortunately he is opposed for all the wrong reasons, but opposed is opposed, I guess.

Wednesday, 28 September 2005

G8 pledges 'not enough' to pay for Aids fight

And should we be surpised?

Stephen Lewis, UN special envoy for HIV/Aids in Africa, said funding would fall short of requirements even if the US and other big donors fulfilled the promises made at July's Gleneagles summit. And there were already signs that their commitments were being eroded.

Get the full story here and try not to weep in despair at yet another opportunity to sort out this mess that has gone by the wayside.

Sunday, 25 September 2005

Finally Some photos of the new house. The top one is the view from the front gate showing most of the house.

The second one is our kitchen/garage. Most houses here come equipped with a wooden plank that fits under the kitchen door (the front door in Lao houses is purely ornamental, the kitchen door is where all the action takes place) and allows you to push your motorbike (with some difficulty) up into the house at night. It seems that there is a problem with overnight motorbike theft all over the city and we've been told by our landlord, agent and my boss to make sure we keep the bike int eh kitchen at night. Looks kind of cool actually.

The next one is the living room, where we watch too much tv (or too much O.C, really). Despite their inherent ugliness the couches are actually quite comfortable, something that is rather a rarity in Laos.

The next one is our spirit house. Most houses in Laos have one of these. As far as I can work out the spirits that would otherwise live in the house and bug us live in the spirit house. I think we're supposed to make offerings to keep the spirits happy, just not sure what and when, or even how. Hope our spirits are content to be independent or we might be in a spot.

The last one is of the gargoyles that we found perched on the balcony at the entrance. Not sure where they disappeared to though...

Saturday, 24 September 2005

The battle of the Irish, or how I discovered I might actually like Phil Donahue

On Fox again, just for a minute. O'Reilly, my favourite psychopath tv host had Phil Donahue on the Factor.

Donahue has been very outspoken on the wrongness of the LinkAmerican war in Iraq and the insanity of the so-called "war on terror" (which might just be superseded by the newly announced "war on nature"). He's also been a vocal supporter of Cindy Sheehan, who has single handedly started a mass movement against the war in the belly of the beast.

Anyway, O'Reilly v. Donahue. Donahue 1, O'Reilly 0. Check out the transcript here. Makes for great bedtime reading. Got the heads up from Jeff Sparrow. Ta.

Right, we're off to find C an office chair - the dining room table/office has chairs designed to make guests eat and run, clinching their flaming lower backs. Not the best place to work all day, I'd imagine.

Thursday, 22 September 2005

should be in bed, but

Kate at Moment to Moment put this up the other day. Apparently it was Talk Like a Pirate Day. Don't know how I missed it.

She linked to a Pirate Name Generator. Mine's "Doubloon Swallowin' Bob" in case you were wondering.

Going to bed now. Sorry.

Wednesday, 21 September 2005

Apparently "we should all aim to be fat Americans"

In an essay entitled: "Why people hate fat Americans - Today's attacks on obese Yanks are motivated by a broader unease with affluence", Daniel Ben-Ami has come up with some of the most simplistic and convenient justifications for American (and, one ought to add, Australian) consumerism. In fact, if you believe Mr Ben-Ami, wealthy consumers are actually benefiting the world and almost single-handedly generating limitless growth that will ensure the prosperity and ever increasing affluence of future generations. As far as I can tell, the man is residing on another planet!

Let me take you through some of my favourite sections. First, in one paragraph, he deals a fatal blow to "the incorrect assumption that there is a finite amount of resources in the world [... and] that the world is in danger of running out of resources."
It is not as if there is a set amount of resources which will be used up as society becomes wealthier. On the contrary, as the world becomes richer the amount of resources available to humanity also expands. For example, for Stone Age man, or even in the early twentieth century, uranium and plutonium were of no use to humanity. But with economic development it became possible to use them as power sources.

Fantastic, so now that we have discovered the uses of uranium and plutonium we should have no more problems. Let's not mention radioactive waste, or the fact that we are still reliant on oil and other fossil fuels (both of which are not only running out, but causing enormous damage to the environment). Oh, and please don't bring up Climate Change - Bush dismissed that years ago. Water? What water shortage? Didn't you hear me: WE HAVE URANIUM.

Having dealt swiftly with the whole "finite resources" argument, Mr Ben-Ami moves on to attack the UN's crazy adoption of the concept of sustainable development - which it has described as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations to meet their own needs." Again, Ben-Ami refutes this crazy assumption a deadly blow:
Perhaps the most misleading aspect of sustainable development is its supposed orientation towards the future. It wrongly assumes that curbing consumption growth will benefit future generations. The opposite is true. Holding back on economic growth means that future generations will be less wealthy than they would otherwise be.

Less wealthy in terms of what? It would appear that Ben-Ami thinks that future generations will be able to live on money alone. Oh, and uranium, of course. He doesn't even feel the need to address the fact that the UN is focusing on the environmental impacts of over-consumption. How will future generations feel about living in a world with a depleted ozone layer, insufficient clean water, depleted forests, polluted lands, and widespread aridity and salinity problems? I have to say that I'm not too impressed by these problems already.

However, he finishes with a rousing argument:
By focusing on fat Americans the critics of consumption are saying, implicitly at least, that people should consume less. They are arguing for a world in which Americans become more like those who live in the poorer countries of the world. From such a perspective equality means levelling everyone down rather than raising the living standards of the poor. It means giving up on the battle to resist hurricanes or to reclaim land from the sea.

Yet implementing such a viewpoint is a super-size mistake. Our aspiration for the world should be to give the poor the advantages of affluence enjoyed by those in the West. Living standards in countries such as Ethiopia and Niger should be, at the very least, as high as those in America today. In that sense we should all aim to be fat Americans.

Can I just say that I would rather not?

Fox: unfair and unbalanced

Fox News has once again showed just how "fair and balanced" it and its journalists (and I use that term very, very loosely) are.

Bill O'Reilly, host of Talking Point and The Radio Factor, commented on his radio program that he wished hurricane Katrina had hit the UN Headquarters in New York, rather than New Orleans.

"Bush to address the U.N., says we must be steadfast in battling terrorism. I'm sure all the U.N. people fell asleep. They don't really care about anything over there at all. I just wish Katrina had only hit the United Nations building, nothing else, just had flooded them out. And I wouldn't have rescued them."

This on the day the World Summit opened.

Nice work Bill.

The UN Foundation has called for an apology and retraction. I hope they're not holding their breath.

o' has a nice round-up of the whole schamozzle here.

Not that anyone would ever expect much more than tripe and right wing propaganda from Bill O'Reilly. He's notorious for inviting guests on to his show and then shooting them down and telling them to "shut up" every time they try to speak.

There's a fantastic montage of O'Reilly at his "shut upping" best in Outfoxed, which runs right after he denies he has ever told anyone to shut up. Cinematic gold.

For more debunking of Fox News spin, check out the News Hounds - they watch Fox so you don't have to.

A Thousand Words

Thank you Julie for forwarding this to me.

Tuesday, 20 September 2005

Saucy DVDs

We moved into the new house on the weekend and are mostly settled now. I know I promised photos, but I haven't got any to show you yet. Will post some soon.

The move was pretty easy, and made easier by our friend Grant's ute, which took all our meagre possessions in one load.

Later that afternoon we ventured to the Morning Market (contradiction in terms, I know) in order to grab a few bits and pieces that we needed to make the house a little more livable.

While we were wandering around we happened on the electronics section where all manner of goodies from China and Thailand can be purchased. We had been pondering buying a DVD player since there was one of our former house mates had bought one and we'd gotten used to having it around, so we decided to stop and have a browse.

The enthusiastic sales person wanted to sell us a brand-free player initially, but since we're suckers for a label we decided we'd rather have something with a brand and a warranty. We initially thought we'd just be boring and buy the same model as the one in the old house, a Philips, but then saw a Sony that we were able to bargain down to US$20 less than the Philips.

Since a brand name is a brand name as far as we're concerned we decided on the Sony, only to find that it didn't come in a box (Alarm bells start ringing. They are ignored). Despite the lack of box, everything seemed to be in order, there was a remote and a manual, possibly with a warranty inside. We took the Sony home and plugged it in only to discover the friendly people at the market had sold us a SOYA in Sony's clothing.

For those of you unfamiliar with the amazing plethora of Chinese DVD and VCD players on the market here is a sample of the brands available: Soya, Family, Integrity, and too many others to mention.

Anyway, Soya is not Sony. Soya is, in fact, quite a lot cheaper than Sony. Soya does not come with a warranty. Soya was not what we had paid for.

Throwing caution to the wind we decided to make use of the Soya overnight, as the market was closed by this time, and take it back the next morning. That plan was to be thwarted by the fact that the Soya, true to its name, was a bit gooey and didn't' actually work.

"Ah, well, that's what you get for buying a cheap dodgy DVD player", we would have told ourselves if that's what we had actually done. Well, it was what we had done, but not what we intended to do, if you catch my drift.

Next day I took the Soya back to the market, heavies in tow, and told the saleswoman in my best dodgy Lao that not only was the DVD player a Soya not a Sony, it didn't in fact work. She looked a little sheepish, just enough to win me over, and offered a replacement.

We had decided that a replacement Soya wasn't what we were after and so I asked the sheepish saleswoman if we could swap it for the Philips we should have bought in the first place, paying the difference of course.

The Philips did come in a box and does have a warranty and we are enjoying watching the entire first series of the O.C on DVD, even if it is made by Rupert Murdoch.

Female Judge back on the High Court bench

Well it’s about time, frankly. Actually, it’s probably long over due and too little too late. But still, I am glad that it is a woman that has been appointed to the High Court (although, I know nothing about her as a judge, so I am reserving full judgment at this stage). It is shameful that since Justice Mary Gaudron retired, we have had an all male bench. Of course, 1 out of 7 is hardly representative, but neither are our parliaments, so where's the surprise there.

In light of this, and the fact that we still don't have compulsory paid maternity leave (amongst other considerations), I was shocked when P. told me the other day that Australia came third in a global gender equity survey. I didn't see the site, or I'd link to it here, so I can't read their criteria in order to better understand the result. Still, if Australia is number three, then that is a sad indictment for the world generally...

Moved... and it was easy

This move was definately the easiest that I have ever experienced, and is likely to retain top position for quite some time. The question is: why don't I just have less stuff (back home in Australia) so that moving isn't such an enormous, painful, horrible hassle? The answer: I really don't know, although it could have something to do with being addicted to buying and stockpiling books, and prefering to furnish my own house (that is, the one I share with P). Maybe one day we will be able to afford to seek professional help when we move house - rather than torturing friends and family every time. Even more controversially, maybe one day we won't move house quite so frequently and so it won't bother me so much... mmm, maybe not.

Today we put up our photos all over the walls and the place instantly felt more like home. If only we had our books with us, then it really would be home. Then again, getting back to oz would be quite a pain. The 20kg baggage limit is not very forgiving...

As a random aside, I just stumbled across this blog - Asian Vegan - in my net-travels. The photos almost made me dribble on the key board. The food looks so good! There are actually a few pretty good vego restaurants here in Vientiane, but the restaurant that these guys are putting together looks pretty amazing... Portland has suddenly jumped up in my esteme - although Oregon has always sounded like a pretty cool place to begin with. Maybe when their is a change of government we could go there. I don't think that I would like to while GWB is still in power.

Top 50

In honour of television's 50th birthday in Australia, the SMH have attempted to write a list of Austrlia's most popular television shows, and this is what they came up with:

1. Diana Spencer's funeral (9, 7, 10, ABC) 1997
2. Olympic opening and closing (7) 2000
3. Diana-Charles wedding (9, 7, 10, ABC) 1981
4. Cathy Freeman's Olympic run (7) 2000
5. Olympic swimming (7) 2000
6. The Sound of Music first TV showing (9) 1977
7. Tennis: Australian Open final (7) 2005
8. Rugby World Cup final (7) 2003
9. Roots (10) 1977
10. Moon landing (9, 7, 10, ABC) 1969
11. Australian Idol final (10) 2004
12. World of the Seekers (9) 1968
13. Olympics opening (10) 1984
14. Aus Idol final (10) 2003
15. The Block auction (9) 2003
16. September 11 reports (9, 7, ABC) 2001
17. Boxing: Rose v Rudkin (10) 1969
18. Tennis: Wimbledon final - Rafter (9) 2001
19. AFL final (10) 2003
20. Big Brother winner (10) 2004
21. AFL final (7) 1996
22. Holocaust (7) 1978
23. AFL final (10) 2004
24. The Beatles Sing for Shell (9) 1964
25. Big Brother final (10) 2001
26. National IQ Test (9) 2002
27. Great Moscow Circus (9) 1968
28. World Cup Soccer final (9) 2002
29. Aus Unites appeal (7,9,10) 2005
30. AFL final (10) 2002
31. Homicide (7) 1972
32. Olympic opening (7) 1996
33. World Swimming Day 8 (9) 2001
34. Melbourne Cup (7) 2002
35. Raiders of Lost Ark (10) 1985
36. A Town Like Alice (7) 1981
37. Rugby World Cup opening (7) 2003
38. RWC: Aus v Argentina (7) 2003
39. Against The Wind (7) 1978
40. Ben Casey (7) 1962
41. Desperate Housewives (7) 2005
42. Friends (9) 1999
43. Seinfeld (10) 1998
44. Perry Mason (9) 1959
45. The Untouchables (7) 1961
46. Star Wars (10) 1982
47. 77 Sunset Strip (7) 1959
48. Sale of the Century (9) 1981
49. The Mavis Bramston Show (7) 1965
50. I Love Lucy (9) 1958

Of course 15 of these were first shown on television before I was born. However, out of all 50, I have only seen:
Olympic opening and closing 2000
Cathy Freeman's Olympic run 2000
Olympic swimming 2000
The Sound of Music [although NOT the first TV showing] 1977
September 11 reports 2001
Big Brother final 2001
Raiders of Lost Ark 1985
Friends 1999
Seinfeld 1998
Star Wars 1982
Sale of the Century 1981
I Love Lucy 1958

and with the exception of the 2000 Olympics (which I actually watched from overseas), Sept 11, and 2001 BB, I didn't see any of them when they were current (i.e. they were repeats or on video). No wonder I frequently have no idea about what people are talking about in Australia - at least I will shortly know all about the O.C. thanks to the DVDs we have borrowed...

Sunday, 18 September 2005

I hate moving

Even though we only have two tuk tuk loads worth of stuff it's still moving and I hate moving.

Still, I shouldn't bitch about it since, in some weird and bizarre (though kind of lucky) twist of fate, I was stuck in Laos when C had to move out of our apartment in Sydney to join me. Our fathers pitched in, in what proved a valiant effort to move us into storage without paying movers, and I sat around in Vientiane feeling bad all day.

This time its going to be comparatively easy (though, seeing as I'll actually be lifting stuff, less easy for me) since we're moving about 500 metres and a few winding alleyways.

Photos of the new not-group house to follow soon.

Friday, 16 September 2005

that's tough

On Fox last night:
Bill O’Reilly: The truth of the matter is our correspondents at Fox News can’t go out for a cup of coffee in Baghdad.

Condoleezza Rice: Bill, that’s tough. It’s tough. But what — would they wanted to have gone out for a cup of coffee when Saddam Hussein was in power?

On a day when over 150 Iraqi people died in bomb blasts, Fox is focusing on the real issues.

[First seen at Jim Gilliam's blog, and then over at Mr Zilla]

Life Skills

Kate at Moment to Moment has just posted on this article by the ABC, which informs us that:
A division of the Western Australian Liberal Party wants lessons on beauty, etiquette and how to walk to be included in the curriculum for high school girls.

The state women's council of the Liberal Party has put the issue on the agenda for the party's annual conference.

The motion reads that a finishing style course be provided to school girls from year eight, to include walking, talking, beauty and etiquette in the curriculum.

I think that Kate really sums up my own reaction quite well, starting with
Beauty lessons!

Dear god.

and going on to state that "'walking' is not a life skill."
What does it matter if you walk like a drunken sumo wrestler as long as you're a reasonably decent and productive human being? 'Beauty' is not a life skill. Having plucked eyebrows and knowing how to apply lip-liner says nothing about a woman's ability to do anything beyond plucking her eyebrows and applying lip-liner.

You know what life skills are? Knowing how to perform CPR. Or how to change a car tyre. Or where to turn if, in your first job, your boss takes advantage of you. Life skills are understanding your legal position under certain circumstances. Life skills are knowing how the political system of Australia works. Life skills are being able to make a meal for yourself on a budget. Life skills are knowing your legal obligations and protections as a tenant. Or knowing what to do if you're sexually assaulted.

I am amused (in a horrified kind of way) by the fact that Liberal MP Barbara Scott seems to have tried to moderate the proposal by adding that "boys should not be excluded and that the course should focus on life skills." She goes on to explain that this would include "personal grooming", speaking and answering the telephone. I'd wager a bet that she has quite different ideas about how these lessons would be pitched to the two different genders.

Regardless, why don't they just send them all off to a Swiss Finishing School and be done with it? This will ensure that they can, hopefully, moderate their Australian twang with something a little more sophisticated. While they are at it, this might also be a good time to put some of the tubby individuals on a diet, and guide the less attractive ones to a good cosmetic surgeon. We all know that it is only attractive people that get the good jobs these days. Intelligence, common sense, time management - certainly not relevant if you are just a girl.

I know this is childish

Via Crickey:
In case you missed it, this is the note that George W Bush wrote to Condoleezza Rice during a Security Council meeting at the UN world summit on Wednesday: "I think I may need a bathroom break? Is this possible?" The image was captured by the powerful lens of Reuters photographer Rick Wilking.

You can almost imagine that he was asking for permission. This only reinforces my feeling that Dubya is just like a 10 year old boy. The creepy smirks and lip licking pauses do too...

Maybe they'll actually get him this time

Chile's Supreme Court has, once again, strip former dictator and all round bad old guy Augusto Pinochet of his immunity in relation to crimes committed when he was head bad guy of Chile.

The story, which so far I have only found on a Cuban news site gives scant details of the charges Pinochet will face this time round, saying only that the charges are related

to the disappearance and murder of at least 15 people in a 1975 human rights case known as Operation Colombo.

This is the third time that the Supreme court has ruled to strip Pinochet, one of the most hideous individuals in modern history, of his immunity against criminal charges for the horrendous crimes committed under his 18 or so year reign. In both previous cases the courts later ruled that Pincohet was too ill to mount a defence (what possible defence could he have, other than "the Americans made me do it"?) and therefore couldn't stand trial.

I used to work for a couple in Australia who had received political asylum after being repeatedly tortured for no reason other than believing that their right to freedom of speech and assembly was too fundamental to be taken away by some bozo in a dodgy military uniform.

From their stories and other examples I have seen of Chileans trying to deal with the hellish nightmare they lived through (the play, Death and the Maiden, comes to mind - later made into a not-too-bad film by Roman Polanski), it is difficult to imagine the country ever being able to move on while the architect of their former misery lives among them (occasionally) and slowly dies a natural death breathing free air.

11 September, which this year was marked in the US as the fourth anniversary of "the day the world changed", was marked in Chile as one more year since their democratically elected leader was executed by Pinochet and his troops, and one more year that he goes on living in freedom, unrepentant and defiant.

Pinochet deserves to spend the short remaining time of his life in a Chilean prison, if for nothing else then the lies he continues to propagate about his rule. This comment:

"I never aspired to be a dictator because I considered that to be a dictator would end badly," Gen Pinochet, 87, said from his home in Santiago. "I always acted in a democratic way."

made after he returned to Chile after his first immunity overturning was overturned, pretty much say it all. Let him rot in solitary, I say.

Thursday, 15 September 2005

On Being Privileged

There seems to have been a rash of posts about being poor since Hurricane Katrina, and many of the comments in response have turned into a debate about how best to help poor people, and whose responsibility this might be.

What has disturbed me about these debates is the dominance of the view that somehow individuals are responsible for their own poverty (or conversely their own wealth), and that any assistance is more of an act of charity than an obligation.

Rather than attempt to write on behalf of people whose experiences I have not shared, I thought that I would attempt to contribute to this debate, by adding my own experience of being privileged:

I was born into a family that:
• was not only middle class, but also highly educated;
• believed that girls should have a decent education and genuine career aspirations; and
• made me believe that I could do anything – and that I was entitled to be able to.

I was born into a country where:
• the public education and healthcare system is of a high standard and is accessible to me;
• I am a member of the privileged group – the original colonisers, not the colonised or more recent arrivals; and
• my average income enables me to live comfortably and to afford running water, food, shelter, clothing and even international travel.

I was born into a world where:
• my nationality allows me to gain visas to travel, live and to work internationally;
• I can purchase natural resources from all over the world for a fraction of my
income – and consume more in a day than many people can in a year;
• if everyone consumed as much as me, we would need a couple more planets;
• 46% of humankind live on less than $2 per day in PPP terms (or roughly $241 per
year in 2001*) for working long hours in often dangerous conditions, while I get
more than 50 times this amount to research my PhD; and
• the rules of the international system (such as WTO treaties) are written and
enforced by my government and its allies to continue to maintain our privileged
position, by:
-- selectively opening up markets in the Global South while protecting our own;
-- by enforcing the intellectual property rights of our corporations, even when
they have stolen knowledge from others or have invented nothing (but merely
identified a gene that already existed);
-- by granting the power to corrupt elites to sell off their countries’ natural
resources in a manner that does not benefit their people; and
-- by allowing those same elites to borrow in the name of their people without
ensuring that those same people actually benefit from the funds – and still
insisting that they pay back the debt (with interest).

For most people who are poor, you could simply reverse this list. They are not poor by choice, or even by random chance. They are poor so that I (and people like me) can be rich. Without their poverty we would not be so privileged, and (more importantly) without our privilege many of them would not be so poor.

Poverty and privilege are systemic, not serendipitous, and the solution to poverty is justice not charity.

* Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights, 2002, Polity Press, Cambridge, p.97.

Tuesday, 13 September 2005

"I'm beginning to feel more alarmed by our Government's conduct than about the risk of a terrorist attack"

It would appear that Julian Burnside QC is now acting for Scott Parkin. I really hope that he does stay and appeal this madness - although I wouldn't blame him if he wanted to get out of solitary confinement (and the country) and go home. Still, apparently he may be black listed from travelling outside the US again if he rolls over on this one. Having been labelled a 'security threat', it would be a little difficult to get a visa to travel overseas again. All this with no charge and no evidence - and the new 'anti-terrorism' laws aren't even in yet!

From the SMH:
Mr Parkin's lawyer said the Immigration Department had pressured the activist to drop his appeal by threatening to keep him in solitary confinement.

Julian Burnside, QC, said his client had been told by immigration officers that his deportation would be brought forward if he dropped his appeal to the Migration Review Tribunal to find out why his visa was revoked.

Mr Burnside described this as "factually false and legally improper".

"What they're doing, in effect, is saying: 'All right, we'll hold you here in solitary confinement until you dump your action,' and that's outrageous," he said.

The immigration department is yet to respond.

Mr Burnside said the Migration Act allowed appeal applicants to seek information even after they had been deported. It also requires visitors without visas to be deported as soon as practicable.

He said Mr Parkin's detention set a "disturbing precedent" for the Government's planned anti-terror laws, which had been criticised by civil libertarians.

"Here we've got a person locked up, at his own expense, and then removed from the country without ever knowing what he's supposed to have done," he said.

"Quite frankly, I'm beginning to feel more alarmed by our Government's conduct than about the risk of a terrorist attack."

Mr Burnside said he would consider taking the matter to court if the immigration department continued to hold Mr Parkin in detention.

"You would hope that you wouldn't have to go to a court to tell a government department to obey their own laws."

Funny that Mr Burnside is only just beginning to feel alarmed by our Government. I've been alarmed since 1996.

Oh, and as Jeff at News from Nowhere has been pointing out - Mr Parkin's big 'crime' in the US was the shocking act of dressing up as a fluffy tiger and running around the Exxon Mobile headquarters in Texas. I can see now why they believe him to be a security risk...

Monday, 12 September 2005

Another misogynist pipes up

James McConvill has written a piece for Online Opinion that argues that the reason that child support is such a burning issue in Australia is that mothers "use their children as a status symbol, to compensate for the life they have “given up” to become a mother, or the alternative life that they have never had."
Typically, men still use the career route to construct their path to greater status. Increasingly, women on the status treadmill are using their kids. A woman’s status is measured by the types of clothes their kids wear, what schools they go to, how many fancy moves they can pull at gymnastics class, and the amount of mini-chinos they can swill down in the local café. The results, in my view, are kids who are 60 per cent froth, but have no experience of raw parental love. Our future society is at risk of crumbling because of the insecurity of today’s trendy mothers.

He goes on to argue that "the child support regime should be abolished" and instead a flat tax of 2% should be levied on incomes over $70,000 "The revenue from this extra tax would be set aside to guarantee that mothers meet the basic needs of children until they finish high school." By basic needs, he notes that he is referring to "food, shelter, clothing, and health". He concludes by arguing:
This basic support payment may not cover Latin classes or judo for pre-schoolers, but maybe it’s time for some mothers to withdraw from the status race, and actually attend to the best interests of their children.

Plenty of worthwhile criticism of this article has already been written by Naomi at LP and Kate at Moment to Moment - particularly in relation to the blatant equation of women and mothers and the assumption that men should be entitled to divest themselves of all responsibility for their children if they get divorced. However, I felt the urge to add in my two cents.

I have to admit to having been a bit of a brat during Family Law, since my lecturer seemed to have recently been converted to feminism and was exhibiting all of the typical 'born again' signs. Every lecture turned into a feminist analysis of the Family Law Act and of the case law of the Family Court, even when an economic or class analysis (or even no analysis) may have been more relevant or appropriate. It got a little frustrating.

However, just quietly, the vast majority of women do not benefit financially from divorce or separation, and this whole male backlash (father's rights) campaign is really sickening. So many women fall below the national poverty line after divorce and a huge number of them get little to nothing in the way of financial support from their ex-partners. Not only that, but they continue to live in a society that operates on the expectation that everyone who works has someone else (i.e.; the ideal housewife) at home looking after the house and children - and, as a result, if they get a residence order for the kids, then their career prospects are challenging to say the least. This comes at a time when they have lost the income support of their partner and the marital assets have had to be divided in half - which rarely leaves anyone with sufficient amounts to live comfortably. These women represent the majority and to describe them as "status seeking" women who purchase expensive clothing and boutique activities for their children is not only delusional, but utterly offensive.

I spent 6 months last year doing social research for the NSW government in the suburbs of South East Sydney into the needs of families with young children. Let me tell you, the single mothers in that area were not frittering away their income on status symbols. These women were often living pay cheque to pay cheque, and struggling to afford to pay for the "basic needs" of their children. Rather than funding baby judo lessons, they were finding it difficult to pay for the health care needs of their children, and impossible in cases where their children developed special needs such as the need for speech therapy or reading recovery.

Ironically, physical activities such as the baby gymnastics that McConvill mocks have been strongly linked to the development of these same abilities - speech and literacy. Children who develop their motor skills at a young age and continue to do so throughout school consistently perform better academically than those who are not enrolled in these kinds of extracurricular activities. Is McConvill arguing that this kind of 'advantage' should only be reserved for the children of married couples?

Another thing that confuses me about McConvill's argument is that he never explains why society should cover the costs of children instead of fathers, and yet doesn't offer a similar bonus for women. Taking his argument to its logical conclusion, McConvill should be arguing that society should cover the costs of all children so that parents can focus on giving their children "raw parental love" rather than spending time earning enough to support them financially. However, one suspects that this conclusion is not particularly appealing to those people who are most likely to support McConvill's original argument - after all, it doesn't do anything about punishing women for wanting to have a life does it?

in a strange twist of the global system

One of the world's poorest countries is giving money to the richest.

The government of Laos has sent US$ 25,000 in aid to the US to help victims of Katrina.

Now if that doesn't just turn your world upside down I'm not sure what will.

Of course, the poor world supporting the expansion of the rich through interest payments on bad loans is nothing new. I guess it's just the fact that the aid money is now flowing the other way too that gets me.

I know that a lot of people have been displaced by Katrina and tons of damage has been done, but I can think of a million ways that 25,000 could have been better spent, and all of them are here, not the US.

Police State in Action

With shades of Queensland under 'Sir' Jo, Australia has taken another step towards becoming a police state.

According to the SMH, an American peace activist, Scott Parkin, who was in town to teach peace activism workshops in Melbourne, has been arrested by the Australian Federal Police and locked up in an Immigration Detention Centre, after having his visitor's visa cancelled. All he has been told is that he is considered to be a "threat to national security", but not why this is the case.

Green's Senator, Bob Brown, has stated that he has "serious concerns about the reasons for Mr Parkin's arrest given his history of activism against US military contractor Halliburton, which has close ties to US Vice President Dick Cheney."

"I think the big question here is whether it's a political arrest and deportation," Senator Brown said.

Senator Brown said he doubted the order for Mr Parkin's arrest had come from Australia's security services, given that he was cleared for a visa months ago.

He said the government had been "very secretive" about Mr Parkin's detention and would not say under what law he had been arrested and held, nor why.

Ms Dias [Mr Parkin's lawyer] said Mr Parkin had been involved in one non-violent protest against Halliburton in Sydney, but no arrests were made at that rally.

National Anti-Deportation Alliance spokeswoman Liz Thompson said Mr Parkin had done nothing wrong.

"He's a hippy giving workshops on peace, non-violent direct action," she told the ABC.

Greenpeace spokesman Dan Cass confirmed Mr Parkin had been arrested in America as part of a Greenpeace action, but said his treatment in Australia was unwarranted.

He described Mr Parkin as Australia's first political prisoner, telling the ABC: "This only encourages us to think that when the Howard-controlled Senate looks at review of the ASIO laws, Australia will be facing potentially police state powers."

This is actually quite frightening really, considering the direction in which it seems to be taking Australia. In the decade after our High Court decides that our Constitution gives us a protected freedom of political communication, we are starting to see why this right is so important.

This whole 'war on terror' facade has really opened my eyes in relation to constitutionally entrenched rights. I used to feel that they were, by and large, unnecessary, and even dangerous - in that they focused far too much on protecting individuals (often including corporations) from government intervention, rather than protecting individuals from private power. I thought that as long as the political process itself was protected (including a limited range of political communication), the rest would take care of itself - since people would use the political process to defend or claim their other rights (rather than using the legal process, which is inherently elitist).

However, rights seem to have little political traction without legal back up and sometimes (OK, frequently) government and corporation are on the same side, so I have had to revise my opinions on this subject. Still not sure what the solution is though - it is not as though the US has come out of this 'War on Terror' with their civil liberties any more intact...

[SMH Article seen first at Barista]

Three Long Years

For the people of Zimbabwe, I wonder if three years have ever felt so long:
Robert Mugabe has indicated for the first time that he will retire as president in 2008, when his current term expires.

I also wonder if someone just as bad will take over in 2008 or if this will be an occassion for genuine democracy.

[Quote from The Guardian]

Sunday, 11 September 2005

a lack of boating pictures

Cristy has passed out after an arduously relaxing weekend in Ban Keun, a conglomeration of villages some 50km north of Vientiane. Poor thing still isn't well and I think we'll have to go back to the horribly expensive clinic again.

It's getting a little late and I should be heading to bed myself, but I thought I'd just quickly post a few photos from the weekend. Commentary to follow, I'm sure.

The first picture is of a bag of frogs that we shared our trip. I'll give you one guess where they were headed...

The next is of me looking rather chuffed to have a little girl sitting on my lap. The bus was pretty packed and when a mother and her three kids got on they ended up distributing themselves among us. One of the most amazing things about Laos is that children feel (and mostly are) safe enough with random adults to hop up on their lap on a bus and feel quite comfortable - as long as their parents remain in sight.

The third is of a restaurant we stopped at along the way for a spot of lunch. The whole thing was set out over the river and we were able to take our table (read boat) for a cruise as we ate.

The next one is the view from out balcony. I must admit I wouldn't mind waking up to that every morning.

The second last one is, of course, a shot of a boat race. It was surprisingly difficult to get a good photo, so this one is just to give you some idea of what we were seeing.

The last one is of the back of a spectator's t-shirt. You may not be able to make out the wording. It says: Light up Australia with your inner light. I don't think we'll ever really know what that means.

Time to crash.

Saturday, 10 September 2005

going away for the weekend

We're heading to Ban Keurn for the weekend to see some boat racing.

See you Sunday evening.

Friday, 9 September 2005

Ban Naxay

This post is mostly for Sally's benefit, since she is going to replace Paul at his job next year and, most likely, take our room too.
Here are a few pictures from our village - Ban Naxay (which is what they call the suburbs in Vientiane).
The first is the view from our bedroom window and the next the view of our next door neighbours. The little ones are the girls who live opposite us, and who chat to us whenever we leave or arrive - they are also the ones who invite themselves over every now and then and raid our mango trees when they are in season. Kim (the littlest one) is looking a little tired. The last couple are our local market - Talat Naxay (which is about 30 metres away)- and the munchkin girl who we buy our vegies from. She always gives us free stuff, even though the bill never comes to more than about 70 cents.

Thursday, 8 September 2005

MDGs - Eight Ways to Change the World

While they are nowhere near good enough, the MDGs are at least a bare minimum.

This photo exhibit on the Millennium Development Goals by Panos Pictures, in association with ActionAid, Concern Worldwide, Interact Worldwide, Panos Institute, Plan International, VSO and WaterAid is worth a look.

I especially like the section on Goal 7 - To ensure environmental sustainability, which includes a target to halve the proportion of people with no access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2015.
When Dieter Telemans told the people in these photographs that in the west each of us uses 135 litres of water every day, they didn't believe him. They're lucky to get 10.

One billion people in the world don't have clean water to drink. Far from needing water to "detox" their bodies or "rehydrate" their skin, they just need clean water to survive.

Is that too much to ask?

BBC World also did a special on this issue the other day - focusing on Angola. I can't find anything about it on their website though...

irony is always a beautiful thing

Just as Richard Butler, Australia's former ambassador to the UN, let fly with vitriol against John Bolton and the US for attempting to destabilise the Millennium Development Goals by trying to remove all reference to them from the outcomes document to be signed at the UN World Summit next week, Bolton and the US showed some signs of relenting, a little.

Butler called the US "terrorists" for their underhanded actions over the last few weeks. Bolton has proposed no less than 750 amendments to the document in the lead up to the summit, leading many people to wonder whether it will be possible for world leaders to reach a consensus in the short time left before the meeting.

Ten years ago I chaired the 50th anniversary of the UN and the Syrians were the terrorists, they tried to destroy the document.This time, the 60th anniversary, the terrorists seeking to destroy a declaration of all countries agreeing with each other is the United States.

Bolton's offer of a compromise was that the US was ready to accept the use of the phase "Millennium development Goals" throughout the text "provided it can be properly defined."

Whatever that means. He went on to say:

The new U.S. language would "ensure the timely and full realization of the development goals and objectives that emerged from the major United nations conference and summits, including those agreed at the Millennium Summit that have been known as the Millennium Development Goals..."

The US has also relented a little on mentions of the Kyoto Protocol, saying that "The United States understands that many countries are committed to the Kyoto Protocol and desire to have that commitment reflected in the document."

One of the major remaining sticking points is America's refusal to commit to the 0.7 GDP aid target agreed to by, well basically everyone. Europe has committed itself to meeting the goal by 2015, and three or four European nations has already either met or surpassed it.

The US has stated that it would rather that the focus be placed on the agreements made at Monterrey in 2000, that focus more on recipient countries' governance than donor country targets. But, and correct me if I'm wrong, the outcomes document agreed to at Monterrey included the 0.7 GDP target. Again, irony is a beautiful thing.

The United Nations Development Programme has also just released the 2005 Human Development Report, which says that the poorest countries in the world are worse off now than they were in 1990. Now that's progress.

The report says that 460 million people who live in 18 of the poorest countries were better off 15 years ago.

Hopefully the world leaders who are about to meet in New York will have a long hard think about that before they begin the final phase of negotiations.

Bronwyn Bishop and Hijab

I was just ignoring her, but the shock of seeing this picture stirred me into action. What planet is Bronwyn Bishop on? In defending her call for Hijab to be banned from schools, she claims that: "It has become the icon, the symbol of the clash of cultures, and it runs much deeper than a piece of cloth."

To whom, exactly has it become such a symbol? For many people in the world, the American flag could be summed up in exactly the same way, but I have yet to hear of anyone, anywhere, calling for it to be banned. However, it is her next line that really propels her into crazy status:
"The fact of the matter is we've got people in our country who are advocating - and I'm talking about extremist Islamist leaders - the overturning of our laws which guarantee freedom."

I'm glad that she clarified exactly who she was talking about. Otherwise one could have been forgiven for thinking that she was referring to the government, who are calling for increasing restrictions on our civil liberties (with the new 'anti-terrorism laws'), including freedom of expression and freedom of association, or even to herself - since she is calling for the restriction of the freedom of one particular group from observing their religion and from raising their children according to their own beliefs (in a manner that does not constitute child abuse).

Still, as Phil has just pointed out at Larvatus Prodeo she is certainly not alone in the hypocrisy stakes.

[Thank you - I think? - Barista for the photo link...]

Wednesday, 7 September 2005

Geldof bashing

Love him or hate him, it has been difficult to ignore Bob Geldof in the last few months. He (along with Bono and a junket of their celebrity friends) have been pounding the streets selling "the end of poverty."

Geldof has never been one of my heroes, I always thought he seemed a little too self-righteous and self-serving, but as long as he was doing good things then it wasn't worth taking the time to think to long about it.

That may have been a mistake.

George Monbiot has published a damning critique of Geldof's words and actions in the wake of the disastrous G8 Summit.

Bob Geldof, who organised the Live8 events, announced that "a great justice has been done. .. On aid, 10 out of 10; on debt, eight out of 10 … Mission accomplished frankly."

  Oops. I wonder if he actually listened to the statement our so-called world leaders made. I also wonder if he's noticed they have rescinded on basically every meagre promise they made?

Maybe he should stick to what he knows, whatever that is.

Tuesday, 6 September 2005

Barbara Bush

Here is a charming quote from Barbara Bush - made in relation to the evacuees in Texas that she was visiting with her husband:

"So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway. This is working very well for them."

Yes, being evacuated to Texas away from their homes, their communities and the few possessions they did own sounds like a great deal to me. Just ending up in Texas would be enough to do my head in.

Being Poor

This post is really quite amazing and highlights some of the issues faced by poor people in the US - so many of whom in New Orleans were the ones that were left out of the evacuation plans because they couldn't afford to get themselves out.

Some of the most poignant lines to me are:
Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends' houses but never has friends over to yours.

Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.

Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't know you made when you were 14 years old.

Being poor is deciding that it's all right to base a relationship on shelter.

Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Being poor is people wondering why you didn't leave.

When we moved to DC when I was 14, the level of poverty and polarisation in the USA shocked me. I couldn't believe that there were so many homeless people in the capital city of a country that is so rich, nor that health care was considered a commodity for the rich, not a right for all. There were people who had lost limbs to gangrene, because they had to sleep on the streets in winter, got frostbite and couldn't afford treatment. The contrast between these people and those who lived in the houses on exactly the same streets is what made this so shocking. People in Laos are poorer, but the contrast here just isn't the same. There also isn't the same stigma here. There does seem to be a myth in the States that people have made a choice to be poor - that is it somehow their fault.

UPDATE: Some people felt the need to point out that Being Poor in other countries (particularly those in the Global South) is a considerably different experience to being poor in North America. Some of them missed the point that the original post was supposed to enlighten other Americans who were blaming New Orleans residents for not evacuating. Nonetheless, they do have a point and make worthwhile reading.

Here's a sample of an angry one from Zigzackly:
Being Really Poor

Being poor is not knowing how much everything costs. You can't afford it anyway.

Being poor is hoping the tooth falls out.

Being poor is your kid goes to play on the street. When s/he's not working, that is.

Being poor is people angry at you for looking so poor. Anywhere. And if you tried to get in a mall, you'll get beaten up by security.

Being poor is needing 35-cents. Please.

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't make. And there being a pretty good chance you will never be 14 years old.

Being poor is fighting for shelter.

Being poor is envying people who have never been really poor but think they are.

and here is another one from Nihilist Kid:
But you know what they say on the barstool, there's poor and there's poor. Or as the economists put it, there's relative poverty, and then there is absolute poverty. So here are a few additions for the list.

Being poor is being sold, by your parents, to a whorehouse that caters to wealthy foreign tourists. You're eight years old. You're worth $75. $50 if you have sprouted any pubic hair prior to sale.

Being poor is being beaten by your overseer with branches and bicycle chains, because your diet of unripe bananas and your living arrangements of twenty to a room, sleeping on wooden planks, makes your 12 year-old body too weak to efficiently harvest the cocoa bean with which chocolate is made.

Being poor is having your wife and children shot while you watch because you tried to organize a union. They'd shoot you too, but then you'd need to be replaced on the assembly line. And you wouldn't be able to warn everyone else away from unionizing.

Being poor is dying in a factory fire because you were chained to your machine. Kids your age have a disruptive tendency to crawl under their workstation to the floor and take naps if they're not properly chained.

Being poor is being left to drown in an inner tube on the ocean, because we have enough maids this year, thanks for asking.

To me this second one adds a little more, without being so angry about it, because it highlights the fact that this kind of absolute poverty is directly related to the global economic system that we benefit from so disproportionately, and which our governments help to design and enforce in our name.

human rights violators complain of human rights abuse, nice twist

I just read this piece in Haaretz, an Israeli nationalist paper, about the unsettling of the settlements and the seeing conflict between human rights and the national interest.

The article says that evicting people from their homes is a gross violation of human rights:

"Other than bodily harm, such as murder or rape, it is hard to imagine many acts more brutal, more injurious to human dignity and human rights, than uprooting thousands of people from their homes and destroying the houses and communities that they lovingly built over the course of many years."

This is true, but, like so many things, it is very much dependent on the context. There aren't many people outside Mugabe's regime who would believe that the evictions in Zimbabwe were not a massive and grotesque violation of human rights (There are some harrowing pictures and horrifying stats here). The situation in Israel is very different.

To begin with the settlements are ILLEGAL under international law. Seriously, can that be any more clear? Everyone of the settlers evicted was living on land forcibly removed from the people who had the misfortune to be living there at the time. Those people have been pushed into tiny settlements no better than refugee camps with no possibility of recourse.

Is anyone thinking about their human rights? The US, Israel's largest financial supporter and best friend on the UN Security Council, will never let a resolution condemning Israeli action pass. Apparently the US has used its veto power more than any other country (since 1990 - Russia still has the edge on total numbers of vetoes, thanks mainly to the Cold War period, when both sides were rather veto happy) and the majority of these have been in support of Israel.

I can agree with the statement that evicting people from their homes is an abuse of human rights, but when compared to the situation in Zimbabwe one can hardly call the eviction of the settlements an act "
brutal [and] injurious to human dignity and human rights".

Seriously, get some perspective.

In fact, if we were to look at the situation in Israel from a  simplistic utilitarian perspective of the better act being the one that results in the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, then the evictions in Israel are completely justified, while those in Zimbabwe remain (and would do so under pretty much any moral or ethical philosophy) a gross and outrageous violation of human rights.

One test of how much of a violation of human rights the eviction of the settlers in Israel represents is to ask how many international human rights groups have spoken out in support of the settlers. The answer: None. The fact that every human rights group on the planet has something to say about the situation in Zimbabwe graphically illustrates the difference in the two cases.

Monday, 5 September 2005

Like a scene out of Blindness

The description in the news of what has been going on in the New Orleans Superdome sounds like a scene out of 'Blindness' by Jose Saramago. There is a scene from that book (and if you have read it, I think you will know which one I am talking about - if not, I don't want to spoil it) that will haunt me forever...

Here's this description from Reuters:
The refugees, who were waiting to be taken to sports stadiums and other huge shelters across Texas and northern Louisiana, described how the convention centre and the Superdome became lawless hellholes beset by rape and murder.

Several residents of the impromptu shantytown recounted two horrific incidents where those charged with keeping people safe had killed them instead.

In one, a young man was run down and then shot by a New Orleans police officer, in another a man seeking help was gunned down by a National Guard soldier, witnesses said.

"They killed a man here last night," Steve Banka, 28, told Reuters. "A young lady was being raped and stabbed. And the sounds of her screaming got to this man and so he ran out into the street to get help from troops, to try to flag down a passing lorry of them, and he jumped up on the truck's windscreen and they shot him dead."

"There is rapes [sic] going on here. Women cannot go to the bathroom without men. They are raping them and slitting their throats. They keep telling us the buses are coming but they never leave," another evacuee said.

"They have us living here like animals," said Wvonnette Grace-Jordan, here with five children, the youngest only six weeks old. "We have only had two meals, we have no medicine and now there are thousands of people defecating in the streets. This is wrong. This is the United States of America."

A number of Australians were also caught up in Superdome debacle. Their experiences really sound quite hellish, and I quote here from The Age:

The Aussies stuck together and the men protected the women, forming a tight circle around them while gangs prowled the stadium preying on women, children and the weak.

"I haven't been to hell, but now I think I saw it inside that stadium," Anthony "Bud" Hopes, 32, of Brisbane, said.

"There were gangsters, thugs, rapists, child molesters, anything you want to put in there, it was in there. They were molesting children that we saw. If girls from our group walked to the toilet they were felt up and filthy comments made to them. It was horrible, terrible.

"New Orleans broke down within hours of the hurricane. Once the power went off in the Superdome there was no air-conditioning and no sunlight. We were all locked in the one place with no sanitation, no light, and people were fighting over food and water.

"Nobody really slept at night. The boys stayed awake watching as we were afraid the generator would go out and it would be total darkness again. That is when the rapes happened."

Apparently Hobbes was right when he hypothesised that life for humans in a state of nature is nasty, brutish and short, at least when humans get desperate.

What I really want to know is what is it about disaster situations that makes men rape? There were many many reports of rapes that came out after the tsunami. Many women said that they were rescued from the waters, only to have their 'saviours' rape them and threaten to throw them back in if they resisted. In refugee camps across the globe, women also report frighteningly high levels of rape and sexual assault. According to Amnesty International:
Unaccompanied women and girls are often regarded as common sexual property in refugee camps and may face forced prostitution as well as coercion into sex in exchange for food, documents or refugee status.

While I think that gender-based violence must be strongly condemned, I also would like to understand what makes it happen in the first place. Maybe if we are able to better comprehend what it is that makes so many men react to disaster situations in this way (and I must emphasize that I am by no means suggesting that all men, or even a majority react in this way), we might be able to do something effective to change that response and make women safer in these situations.

forget about Chris Martin, I'm the world's sexiest vegetarian

At least as far as a mob of teenagers in Thailand are concerned.

Let me explain.

Cristy and I crossed the Mekong River yesterday to do a little Thailand style grocery shopping at the Tesco/Lotus (read massive chain) supermarket. Things started out on a weird foot as we ate something a little weird that made us both feel a little woozy in the head. (We figure it was the combination of stupid amounts of chili, too much MSG and a ton of sugar, mmmm).

We were wondering around in the bowels of the supermarket feeling more and more disoriented and weirded out and decided to get out of there sit down for a while. We processed to the checkout and started to load our surprisingly large collection of assorted packaged foods on to the conveyor belt conveniently located between us the cashier.

Cristy ran off to fetch our bags from the bag depository at the front of the store so that we wouldn't have to have everything put into a separate plastic bag and I continued loading the groceries onto the conveyor belt.

Just as she returned with the bags I was assaulted by a mob (read maybe 12) Thai teenagers. I'm not sure who they thought I was but every single one of them wanted to have their picture taken with me, alone and in groups of twos and threes.

The whole situation was somewhat odd, particularly considering we felt like we'd been drugged anyway.

I stood there smiling frozenly while the teenagers swapped about and snapped keepsakes, while Cristy looked on bemused (and, I like to think a little jealous of my obvious crowd drawing looks - though she might have also felt proud that she nabbed me before anyone else. Not that I'm narcissistic or anything...)

Just when we thought it was over and we were safely on our way back to the relative sanity of the Lao People's Democratic Republic my attractiveness was shown to be international. The bus back to the border was packed and I was standing with my head dangerously close to an out of control fan. As the bus approached the bridge I felt my elbow being squeezed gently but firmly. I looked around and the Vietnamese guy sitting in the seat behind Cristy was smiling at me suggestively. I gave him my best "I've not sure what you're after, but if it's what I think it is, I'm very flattered and also very married, sorry" smile and then breathed a sigh of relief as the bus pulled up at Thai Lao customs, not so much because of the guy in the seat behind Cristy, but because I could finally get off the bus and stop worrying about having my "too tall" head made an inch or so shorter by the fan.

I think I'll stay in Vientiane from now on. It's a weird world out there.

Saturday, 3 September 2005

Vegans are sexy

People for the Ethical treatment of Animals (PETA) recently announced the winners of the annual Worlds Sexiest Vegetarians vote. American Idol winner Carrie Underwood and Coldplay singer Chris Martin won . There was some stiff competition from Radiohead's resident vegan Tom Yorke and Dubya's daughter.

I was also happy to learn that I now have some new firepower in any "merits of vegetarianism" discussions I get into with my father, as two of his heroes, John Cleese and Kenny Loggins, were in the running. Take that.

state of global development

The Centre for Global Development just released its annual (since 2003) Commitment to Development Index, which ranks the 21 richest donor countries on a scale based on how much they are doing to alleviate poverty and assist the developing world.

The index is calculated by totaling up various indicators )aid, trade, investment, migration, the environment, security and technology). The most interesting and worthwhile thing about the index is that it's not simply calculated on a straight forward and simplistic analysis, but one that takes into account the complexities of each sector.

In the aid sector, for example, it is not just who gives the most aid, but how untied it is (untied aid allows the recipient government to use the money as it wishes, including deciding who will carry out the projects it funds. Tied aid, on the other hand, is targeted at a specific problem, usually stipulated by the donor's priorities not the recipient's, and is almost always delivered by contractors from the donor country or utilises its goods. This means that tied aid tends to benefit the donor country rather than the recipient in a perverse form of reverse development. It is easy to see where the trend toward tied aid came from. When donor countries see mismanagement and corruption in developing countries they want to be sure they are getting value for their aid dollar, particularly as they are politically accountable at home. This, combined with the fact that aid is always specified to be in the "national interest" of the donor country, tends to skew the donors view of how much control the recipient government should have over its aid. The UN is pushing donor countries to untie their aid and an agreement signed earlier this year, the Paris Declaration, urges them to move in this direction.)

So a donor country's score in the aid sector is mitigated by how it delivers the money it gives and even by the tax incentives it gives its citizens to make charitable contributions and whether it focuses on a smaller number of large projects rather than a large number of small projects, which have a tendency to overwhelm recipient government's capacity.

Similar calculations are used in the other sectors and the scores from each section are added up to give each of the 21 countries a final score.

Australia ranked fourth overall this year, something AusAID (whose new website looks very good, by the way) is justifiably proud of, but a ranking that maintains our position from last year, which was a slip back from third in 2003.

Look for a minute at the top three ranking countries on a simplistic analysis of purely how much aid they give and they are way ahead of the pack. Denmark gives 0.99% of Gross Domestic Product, which means the government gives 99c per person per day. This may not sound like much (and really when you think about it is isn't, but that's the best the world can do at the moment it seems). Norway gives 94c and Sweden 72c. These three countries make Australia look pretty slack as our government gives a mere 24c per person per day, which puts us at 16 out of 21. The US is even worse, giving 14c per person per day (and despite the fact that the US public is more focused on aid than their government, giving around 10c per person per day, even adding these figures together leaves them well short of the leaders, and only a cent better than the Australian government). Even worse than the US, though is Japan, who gives a mere 13c. What it does give, however, it gives well as only 3% of Japan's aid is tied and they focus on a smaller number of larger projects. The US on the other hand, ties 72% of its aid, making it vastly less effective then it could be. Australia currently ties 33%. In our defence, though, completely untying aid to countries with huge governance issues, like PNG (where a considerable part of our aid budget goes), would in fact result in less development rather than more.

Australia is also moving to free up its development tender process, to better allow local contractors to bid for tenders.

There is a global move toward less tied aid (though crucially, not less targeted aid, which can only be a good thing.

Friday, 2 September 2005

New Orleans

Barista posted this link to an email which has been attributed to a rescue worker in New Orleans. It is pretty harrowing, particularly the part where it says:

The poorest 20% (you can argue with the number -- 10%? 18%? no one knows) of the city was left behind to drown. This was the plan. Forget the sanctimonious bullshit about the bullheaded people who wouldn't leave. The evacuation plan was strictly laissez-faire. It depended on privately owned vehicles, and on having ready cash to fund an evacuation. The planners knew full well that the poor, who in new orleans are overwhelmingly black, wouldn't be able to get out. The resources -- meaning, the political will -- weren't there to get them out.

Thinking about that just makes me feel both sick and angry. Since I am already sick with a renewed batch of tonsillitis, I think that I will just leave it there... and get some more sleep.

Thursday, 1 September 2005

Politics is certainly no walk in the park

When I saw the story about John Brogden resigning, after drinking too much at a social function and making some incredibly inappropriate remarks about Helena Carr (and making inappropriate advances towards two female journalists), I thought that it was a mix between sad, shocking, and slightly amusing - as well as feeling a fair bit of respect that he had the integrity to resign from leadership so promptly. However, having just found out that the poor man attempted suicide on Tuesday night really takes away any of that slight amusement.

Politics is certainly a full contact sport in Australia. The media really doesn't give you a break and the pressure of party politics in addition to the polls etc. is full on. How many people have we seen hounded by the press and their own party over the last few years?
There was Natasha Stott Despoja, whose leadership of the Democrats Meg Lees and other party members decided to destroy - after the media decided to spend the last election campaign focusing on her clothing, food choices and facial reactions to babies, rather than her policies or those of her party.
Although I have to admit that he annoyed me considerably with his presumptuous attempts to tell mothers how to raise their children; belief that three free books to every Australian child would have an impact on literacy; and the sheer stupidity of signing a 'guarantee' that interest rates would not rise under his government, I also felt sorry for Latham when the media hounded him during his serious illness which then forced him to resign from politics.
And, of course, I have to mention Cheryl Kernot. Perhaps she shouldn't have marketed it as a 'tell all' book, but whose business was it that she had an affair with Gareth (except, perhaps, their respective spouses!)? Again, she received shocking treatment from the media and the labour party throughout her time in government and (when combined with Natasha's) her experience probably sent a pretty clear message to young women in Australia that you have to have pretty thick skin to think about going into politics.

Anyway, I hope that John Brogden recovers well and that his family are OK. I also hope that the media learn to focus more on politics and give the individuals a bit of a break sometimes.

no more sitting on the fence

The dictionary definition of vacillate is:
vac·il·late (vs -l t)
intr.v. vac·il·lat·ed, vac·il·lat·ing, vac·il·lates
  1. To sway from one side to the other; oscillate.
  2. To swing indecisively from one course of action or opinion to another.
Which, basically, means someone who tends to sit on the fence a lot. I'm not sure if that label accurately describes me anymore.

As I grow and, in some sense, mature I'm becoming, at one and the same time, more and less set in my ways. I'm certainly becoming more sure of myself and my ability to defend the positions I have arrived at through careful consideration, but at the same time I am also finding myself more flexible and able to see the, so-called, "other side" more easily. I often find myself in the midst of a discussion thinking, "hey, I can totally understand that point-of-view" (trust me, this is something novel in my life).

Discussions are becoming more interesting as I am less focused on achieving the goal of defeating an opponent (frequently Cristy) and more interested in a worthwhile exchange of ideas. I guess I'm more interested in expanding my horizons and less in need of having everyone know how right I am about a particular topic.

This means it is a fortuitous time to be moving my virtual home to a new location. Two peas, no pod will integrate my blog life with Cristy's. It makes sense, after all, we've merged the rest of our lives, so why not this aspect?

While there is something to be said for autonomy, I don't think that locating our thoughts and rants in one space rather than two in anyway constitutes a loss of independent thought. Exactly the opposite in fact. Being able to comment on and respond to each others thoughts without having the issues of linking and cross posting, will be rather refreshing and will engender more debate and discussion rather than less.

Hopefully people will use the comments field at the bottom of the posts and express dissenting (or even agreeing) views in order to keep the spirit of debate and constructive thought alive despite the desire of your television to keep you numb.

In order to kick things off, The President of France Jacques Chirac, on Monday announced a bid to launch a global tax on airline tickets, which would be used to fund poverty reduction efforts. You can read the full story here. Essentially, he is proposing a US six dollar tax on all international air tickets, which, initially would be channeled into funds to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

France, Germany, Spain, Algeria, Brazil and Chile have said they will push for it at the UN World Summit, which is aiming to overhaul the UNs structure (a move currently being hampered by the US Ambassador, John Bolton, but don't even get me started on that).

Essentially, it would act like a Tobin tax on air tickets, and is projected, if adopted, to net around US 12 billion a year in much needed aid flows. Predictably, the IATA have issued a statement saying that the minuscule tax would discourage people from travelling and that this means the travel industry, one of the biggest earners for developing nations would be hurt, thereby hurting the nations the tax is designed to help. A somewhat protectionist and naive statement in my opinion (no fence in view there).


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