24 December 2012

peace on earth - perspectives

There has been appropriately despairing horror at the deaths of young children in a gun rampage at an American school. And diverse comment on it, including this moving discussion of the backdrop of greater numbers of dead by guns in America in 'lesser' events day-in day-out. That deeply personal article argues also that young American men go to war for their country motivated not least by the fact that in their private lives they are at war, as young people in America. So the fight-ability of war, the recruit-ability of large armed forces, is assisted by this sickness at home, or so it is argued.

Others, such as Glenn Greenwald, note that there is one reaction to death of young at home in America, another to deaths of children in other places in 'state-sanctioned' killings.

There is an interesting 'intellectual' nexus between on the one hand the numbing of public attitudes towards prosecution of war as the key to strategic purpose, encompassing alteration of customary international law, in effect, to sanction remote and secretly authorised killings and on the other the National Rifle Association's blaming violent games and videos (a point worth making) and the proposal for a good guy with a gun to protect every school in America.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” 
Is that national security policy or the NRA?

I go back to what I wrote in 2003 to then Australian Foreign Minister Downer:
it is in the nature of modern war that it tends, more than anything else - certainly it does not tend to ‘victory’ - to import into the righteous invading countries the problems you seek to eliminate by invading... Your assertion of effectiveness of violence in international policy drifts down to validate the use of violence by non-states in international affairs, and increasingly by individuals in national and sub-national affairs, and indeed, I suggest, in domestic life. We are dealing not just with a narrow national security issue but a large ethical dimension.
The process is self-feeding, self-perpetuating. Sustained also by the difficulty, ever, of shaking national policies from deeply worn ruts.

Also regarding contrasting of perspectives: the media howl about the anti-Christmas fatwa of an evangelical mullah at the Lakemba mosque in Sydney. More sensible Moslem voices seeing it removed swiftly.  I look forward to similar patterns of conduct when next there is an attack on Moslems (or other minorities) by people who do not share their views.

The miasma that poisons our public and private thinking in Australia is that we are living on the edge of misery and we need to keep at bay contrary thoughts, contrary people, contrary values. This fed from the top by the antagonistic nature of our politics, the constant damnation by opposition, the adoption of ways of campaigning that appeal to base instincts and the perversion of politics here as in the US and UK by the great media mogul with his domination of the press and intimidation of politicians.

Let me end the year then by noting that we still rank second after Norway on the UN Development Program's Human Development Index... Norway above us no doubt because it is an even bigger-government country than we are imaged to be by clods who want to rip down community supports and wage protections. Thank goodness we have Ross Gittins.

Also in the media this month the dreadful cyclone that hit first Samoa and then Fiji. And so much of the popular media had its focus on the fate of "Aussies" having holidays disrupted. A shame that young adults could not learn from being in a place at a time where their energies could be useful to other people, people who presumably so recently smiled at them and were their hosts; that seems far from the 'schoolie' mindset or that of the schoolie-parent.

I could grinch on. But should call a halt and simply hope that starting locally we all be more insightful, aware and compassionate in 2013.

06 December 2012

critical juncture in world affairs

I have just put an update at this web page I established many years ago, when the Iraq war was upon us and figures in the then Australian government, committed to war, told opponents to shut up.

My update brings in information on the cost of war in money and human horrors also in Afghanistan. We are trapped in fantasies in public policies, seemingly unaware that we leave behind wreckage from war that will poison lives there and here for generations.

I maintain this view as expressed to the Australian foreign minister in 2003 (no reply):
I have become increasingly of the view... that it is in the nature of modern war that it tends, more than anything else - certainly it does not tend to ‘victory’ - to import into the righteous invading countries the problems you seek to eliminate by invading... Your assertion of effectiveness of violence in international policy drifts down to validate the use of violence by non-states in international affairs, and increasingly by individuals in national and sub-national affairs, and indeed, I suggest, in domestic life. We are dealing not just with a narrow national security issue but a large ethical dimension.
In my update on that page set up to speak about Iraq and Afghanistan, I have limited my comments to those subject, with the US 'fiscal cliff' thrown in. That's the purpose of that page.

But the diseases of head in sand, staying the course, being great again, etc (aka pride?), also are poisoning capacity to deal with the increasingly profound issues related to climate change, the decline of Europe into depression, the approach of "Arab winters" in the wake of the "Arab Spring" and so on.  Insert the word Israel here, Israeli conduct contributing heavily to mayhem in the Moslem world.

The weakening of the developed world has huge impacts on developing countries left, as many are, poorly equipped with self-confidence, too often poorly governed, wanting cago-cult like deliverance of and by the material and modern.. these countries also dealing with China as the new global power (another large subject***, but on the resources scramble, do read Geoff Hiscock  — I do not profit in any way from this Amazon link).

I've had an email swiftly after writing that last bit asking questions about Chinese investment. I should make clear that I do not regard China's hunt for resource access as more predatory than is western multinational activity. And is tiny in Australia compared with other more traditional foreign investment. I think it would help people seeking to understand China's approach to issues (including for example opposition to military interventions in Syria (another very big subject) to read about the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence which do really hang about at the core of Chinese policy (along with lots of self interest). Also to read some of the policy documents from the recent party congress. OK, hard? Try reading Hansard ... or the local government act for my state. Or the Australian federal opposition's foreign policy. The Chinese stuff is pretty elegant!

30 November 2012

Australia-China relations: oral histories

The National Library of Australia is placing online audio and transcript of a project by the Library, Australia-China Council and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, called "Beyond the Cables" to record perspectives of forty years of Australian ambassadors to China for the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China established December 1972.

I approached listening to my own recording with some trepidation. I am always apprehensive about re-reading things I've written... this recording went from unprepared to on-the-record in three hours sitting in a fancy studio with the lovely Michael Wilson as my interrogator. I had not expected Michael to begin at the beginning as we seemed to do. You are spared my prenatal life but not much more.

I guess it's in the nature of oral history that it may ramble. I speak not in prose but in utterances, as we are supposed to do. I fear there are anecdotes incomplete as we changed subject here and there.

It is mercifully easier to browse with the text and audio parallel. The transcript not perfect but a huge labour. I hope no one will sue me for things said  :-)

As I write this, my own transcript is the only one accessible online so far. I will have to find time to listen to others as they become available, I suppose... life is a string of distractions from what you think you should be doing (I refer not to the vacuum cleaner but the novel).

I hope this collection amounts to something valuable long-term. I hear from GS who interviewed a number of the others that he has been having a good time, that there are some good stories. More seriously, perhaps it will give international relations and history academics more insight into how we go about making international relations. Too much writing in the history of Australia-China relations, in my observation, has drawn upon news clippings and the surmise of authors as to how to pin them together... dignities and dogmas become entangled with notions unsoundly based on fragmentary evidence.

29 November 2012

video support for Congo project

I have made a small video in support of the trades school project in Nyalebbe, DR Congo (see also my blog entry of 27 November).

 The video is for the fundraiser of Reach Architectural Studio in Toronto, see and contribute at their website.

The protagonists, the principals of Reach, are two remarkable and committed women, Crystal Waddell and Lisa Sato. See also Crystal's website.

This Congo project is for their masters degrees in architecture at the University of Toronto. You can contribute online... I think it's worthwhile — as I say in my video:

When, in 2007, I sent the Nyalebbe Community Development Alliance funds to buy the first sewing machine for their tailoring trade course, they sent me back this wonderful photo and asked "can we call it the Argall machine". 
I said could they please call it the Agwara Machine, after their traditional Agwara dance, music clip here.

28 November 2012

on the national political front; sport and beginning the 'silly season'

'The silly season' is a term in Australian public life for that summer period when top people have gone on leave and other people become spokespersons - and when junior journalists get a run at showing their understanding or otherwise of truth and what sells newspapers. This seems upon us in Australia already this summer, except that the principals remain in place as the silliness grows.

There is a tendency for some people (an increasing number just turn off in despair) to retreat with a sigh to sport and away from politics when the politics gets divisive, which is odd, when one considers that division and contest are at the core of competitive sports.

An observation made when I was an anthropology student long ago was that in the highlands of Papua New Guinea the arrival of football with the colonials provided a generally non-lethal alternative to warfare which was an integral part of daily life for men, who painted up and went on guard or rampage. I note in passing that, comparable with our modern politics in Australia, attacks on working women was deemed easier, safer, more likely profitable than frontal engagements between blokes.

It's summer, the end of the parliamentary session for the year is disappearing under dirt, someone (in a Murdoch online rag) had to say that cricket is no less than "The Last Great Unifier in a Deeply Divided Nation."

I was pleased to see some commentators disagreeing. I have added my comment thus:

The team competitive chauvinistic bind-us-together drive comes from the r-complex, the ancient and primitive part of the brain we share with dinosaurs and fighting ant colonies.  
It is not noble, it does not solve local or global problems but feeds divisiveness. 
One might hope that with Lynton Crosby gone to drive the next British Conservative Party election campaign that we might experience a turn for the better in Australian public life, but he has left a lasting legacy from his years managing willing marionette Howard that  division, sledging and hatred pay dividends if fanned well and in particulars. 
In drafting that I sought the right word to describe the Crosby-Howard relationship and was delighted when I found Wikipedia had this description for 'marionette':
marionette is a puppet controlled from above using wires or strings depending on regional variations. A marionette's puppeteer is called a manipulator.[1] Marionettes are operated with the puppeteer hidden or revealed to an audience by using a vertical or horizontal control bar in different forms of theatres or entertainment venues. They have also been used in films and on television.The attachment of the strings varies according to its character or purpose.
Observing the development of Crosby's career in the UK has led me to the thought that we do need to review the public image of former Prime Minister Howard. Even those who hold negative views on his impact on the nation see him in awesome power. But he was, under the garb of postures, a small figure. What did The Great Oz say to Dorothy? "Pay no attention to the little man behind the screen" or words to that effect.

Noting also that the role of the marionette, the manipulated, is of course to manipulate the audience, generally with extravagant emotions. In which context, we can carry the metaphor further, to Punch and Judy, the archetypal marionettes, amusing because of all the violence displayed. And oh gosh, The Punch being the name of the rag in which the cricket story was published. Game over.

27 November 2012

Port Kembla billy cart derby

Well, making those little rough films (Congo blog entry below) meant I had to do something with the film and photos taken at the Port Kembla billy cart derby a week and a bit ago. Port Kembla is an industrial town, near Wollongong, south of Sydney in southeastern Australia. A town hit by the bomb of steel plant re-design, sale and reduction since the 1980s, along with other factory closures in garments, etc, plus the knock on-knock over of associated business. Loss of jobs, loss of community meaning and integrity. In recent years the main street has been looking like a battered empty film set. Some efforts have been made in the community organisations over some years, recently also in greening the main street and in the 'wedding industry' deciding to move in and make this a centre for trade.

My partner Helen Backhouse, active a long time in regional community services and social policy leadership, took me to the billy cart derby on 17 November - a major event, none for the previous 25 years, this a big revival. Revived under the lead of the local Redpoint Art Group.... a bit courageous in these days of nanny-rules insurance and liability.

The day was brilliant - sunny and mild. I hope it gives the town a real boost, itself and in the eyes of a wider public and media in attendance.

Here's my little movie.. .as usual I'm interested in the crowd too. The sound is as recorded in the street.

Congo project

Crystal Waddell and Lisa Sato of Reach Architecture Studios
meeting with women in Nyalebbe DRC, August 2012
I spent some time this week helping Vincent Ulargiw of the Nyalebbe Community Development Alliance in the eastern DR Congo, editing a film - subtitles to come [link] - and making a film from photos - voiceover to be added in Toronto[link] -  to be used at a Toronto fundraiser by Reach Architecture Associates for their project helping establish a technical college for the CDA.

I have worked on some projects with CDA and Vince since 2007. I have seen all the working papers and planning information associated with the REACH-CDA project. There is no communication directly with Nyalebbe; Vince lives over the border in Nebbi, Uganda and has to travel by motorbike to Nyalebbe, while also trying to keep his fledgling IT business going in Nebbi— not easy with constant mains power failure and generator problems  See this website which Vince and I have to find time to update.: the technical college project is #1 item now.

You can donate to the Reach-CDA project here. I have made a donation and will look to doing more as the project develops. I am quite sure of the integrity of those involved.

It is difficult to mobilise and achieve positive attitudes and energy in a community which like Nyalebbe is recovering from war. Every effort is being made. In my view the importance of this project is the extent to which it is based in the community, it uses local materials, local management and timelines agreed between the two sides to meet obligations. It is designed to build local confidence. This is different from aid projects which may dump their own priorities on local communities. See this quote from Mama Mado, chair of the CDA at a local meeting some time ago:

Most people believe that NGOs are supposed to distribute free things to the community as was the case with some international NGOs who first operated in our area when we had just returned after the war. I urge everyone in the community to focus on the fight against poverty but not materials gains. Poverty is not only lack of material wealth and money but also ignorance. Ignorance is actually the biggest problem that people in our community face and is the reason why people are poor.
I urge everyone to embrace opportunities such as the training that CDA is going to offer and other development projects that will come by. Let us break the vicious circle of poverty that ties most of us down.
Mama Mado Beriu, Chairperson, Nyalebbe CDA,

04 November 2012

Colours of Tasmania

We have been two weeks in Tasmania - family, friends and anti-clockwise around the island, which is 2% of Australia's population in a space of 1% of Australia's territory, geologically, biologically a recalcitrant fragment of our lump of Gondwana traipsing behind the blathery brazen mainland slowly northward, moistened and blown at to greater and lesser degrees by the often over-articulate Southern Ocean, an extraordinary distinctive diversity, not big but as a lady whose husband told us he drove a cart a hundred miles through its wilds 60 years ago said: "If you ironed it out, it'd be as big as Queensland!"

Compare with France: Caesar saw its limits compared with Tasmania (which perhaps fortunately he did not see): 'Gallia est omnia divisa in partes tres' [the whole of Gaul is divided in three parts]. Tasmania, by contrast, I reckon, is divided into six parts:

  1. the east coast with its mild weather, beaches and seafood;
  2. the north with its comparative warmth and moist climate and extraordinary farm fertility and colour;
  3. the west coast facing the sea
  4. the mountains and lakes of the interior
  5. Hobart and hinterland, old colonial and waters tumbling through pastoral worlds rushing to the sea in 1/20th of the distance the waters of the Murrumbidgee and Murray take from comparable landscape on the Monaro, through comparable vertical distance — and without drying up on the way...
  6. and the sixth wonder: MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, just upstream from Hobart.
Hobart, Bicheno (via Frecinet), Launceston (via St Mary's), Smithton (via Penguin),
Strahan (via Waratah) and then through winding rainy roads to New Norfolk,
just upstream from MONA and oh yes, Hobart and airport.
We flew and rented a car —
time and money cheaper than driving a car 1000km from home to the overnight ferry
(wilderness failure of his graciousness our 1994 Peugeot diesel also possible!)
Everywhere there is astounding landscape and, more than most of us, Tasmanians actually live in the environment.

There is a warmth of engagement offered by many people, also for the most part modest lives and incomes. Australians who shift to Tasmania are different from those who travel north. They wear shoes, jumpers and they think. The economy struggles, given its small size; there are quarrels over environment. Tourism is a huge element of the economy but tourism is a mixed blessing for tourist-trodden people, not everyone looks pleased to be a servant in a fluctuating industry where the customer often enough is a whinger. "Industry, Industry!" many cry, but (for example) at Waratah, where the tin mine was opened again for several years recently before shut again by the global downturn "...we got nothing, it did nothing, it was all contract, they just blew in and blew out, no work for us, no business for us." Population 200, 50 houses for sale online today.

Predominantly the images of Tasmania in the outside world are of wilderness, especially as inspired by Olegas Truchanas, and the darker hues of the national parks and Derwent, as exemplified by the lovely work of Veronica Youd, in whose rental accommodation we stayed for our two last nights, upstream from Hobart. Predominantly the tourist experience is of the resort locations, but we managed to stay mainly in towns, in reasonably priced houses and apartments. These communities were very friendly and conversational places to be.

My photos below predominantly focus away from the familiar wilderness.

Here is rocky coast at Bicheno at dusk, gulls and children waiting for the parent penguins to come ashore to feed their babies in their fish-vomitty, squarky burrows.

Here is the [Fairly] Big Penguin of Penguin, also under seagull guard

and here perhaps a dreaming of customers at the fabulous and fabled Penguin Sunday Market

Here are colours of the human-imprinted Northwest.  I was staggered by what I could see if I really looked as we drove, thank you Helen for driving most of the way, thank you cameras (now an Olympus E-PL1 with standard zoom or with my old 50mm f1.4:1 Nikon lens to see in the dark) for having enabled me to capture and show such as I began to see in Italy long ago.


If you look carefully at the hedgerow above , you will see that this is in fact a photo of the famous 'Nut' of Stanley
... or, it seemed to us, 'StanleyWorld' - so picturesque and fully tourist focused.

Some of these photos are taken from the car at highway speed

and then we headed south through mountains to Strahan which to get to seems way down the west coast but while the most southerly town is in fact not half way down the coast, the rest of the south west being wilderness

Strahan is on beautiful Macquarie Harbour, an old fishing port... but you cannot buy a fresh fish to cook... The population is under 1000, with tourist surges. Retail of anything except catered tourism is precarious. A town which is shaped for tourists, like Strahan or Stanley on the north coast does look like, well, it's shaped for tourists. We escaped not on the rack railway ($133 or $220 per person) which we were told not to miss, but up the road from the supermarket to Lette's Bay where we found the habitations of locals and the wonders of heath plants.

We were in Strahan on two of the few days in the year without rain (the boy on the checkout at the supermarket said it rained 350 days of the year, apologised for the strange weather we were getting.

As Chinese friends might, we looked around here as elsewhere and said 'so many people could live here!' (as did demographer W.D. Borrie in his report on Australia's future population to the Whitlam Government in the 1970s, when he suggested that Tasmania, if developed like Manhattan, had resources for 60 million people, as I recall). But where large populations could be managed in the north, in the southwest the land is more fragile and vulnerable, be it in rainforest or heath. The secret would seem to be in finding the right kinds of settlement (not mind-numbing clear-felling timber) and making it work in the environment with strong local planning, limiting urban spread, building up not out, using modern technology for energy efficiencies, comfort and communication. A leap forward from simply butting heads together in endless arguments.  


Macquarie Harbour

We did not go back to Hobart at the end of our trip but to its western edge, at New Norfolk, again choosing a town not a resort. Here is a view down the Derwent (Hobart not far down there by road but out of sight) from a lookout opposite New Norfolk.

Down there, where a small river, the Lachlan, enters the Derwent on the right, we saw a platypus. Taken me almost seventy years to see a platypus in the wild... ! 

Here is a little movie:





We find the new MONA to be a gallery of world importance—and the world seems to be coming to see it now. It is so good to be able to wander through and be immersed in a whole enclosed environment, the underground building and the art, without interpretation everywhere. You can delve into lots of commentary on an iPod-like device provided. The senses and mind assaulted variously, mind-shifting: don't go if you don't enjoy that.

It hides in a vineyard in a suburb. on a small peninsula on the river.

The staff are not haughty or intimidating but smile and converse. 

You can use camera but not flash. This is an odd collection below. So is MONA; not appropriate to try to add some form, other than perhaps my own sight,.... also I was absorbed more in the visceral than the digital and the camera battery died. 
Photos have their own life and meaning, these are from me, not MONA. And as usual, the people are art forms too.

Well yes, there is a bit of printed info at the beginning...

People do look beautiful

The artist's statement for this hollowed out recumbent full sized human form is:
This work, with its glass display case, 
draws attention to the sinister way museums and art institutions
 alienate visitors from their own emotions.
—very much a statement of what MONA works hard to avoid being.


Greg Taylor. Dr Philip Nitschke

He has tapped the screen and assisted death is under way,
on his own initiative and by his own decisions.
He did not have to sit there and discover the experience.

This is a very moving exhibit.
The thing in his hand is not a needle in his arm, perhaps his finger makes the point.
Here we exit. Moved and alive.

and to lighten things up again