Thursday, July 28, 2005

Hitting the road again... and again... and again...

Just got back from Wakathuni - around 800kms southeast of Port Hedland. I've travelled close to 2000kms in just under two days. I'm off to Exxmouth this weekend (on the coast, about 1500kms south east of Port Hedland), followed by an office-wide camp fest outside Roebourne (somewhere between Exxmouth and Port Hedland). No showers after tomorrow for a week. At least we've got some guitars and plenty of clean underwear. In the mean time enjoy some photos...

Welcome to Wakathuni. Watch out for over-protective dogs.

Wakathuni has been hit hard by alcohol and marajuana. Community members are willing to try anything to have even one dry night.

This image says it all. A trailer filled to the kilter with empty beer cans. Next to it, a car windscreen lies smashed, the victim of yet another argument between family members. I won't go into the details here.

Father and son.

Hmmm... I don't think anyone's coming to take me back to Hedland.

Need a lift brother?

A stereotypical piece of road.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Zimbabwe and Botswana

The plight of Zimbabweans, black and white, is a real one. Thankfully, the situation in that country is something which has garnered significant media attention. Sadly, things are getting worse, so a great deal is still necessary. David Coultart, Shadow Justice Minister for Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, argues that Mugabe's increasing use of repression is a reflection of his regime's slow disintergration. He also outlines what people like us can do to to help. You can listen to him discussing this and more here.

And, whilst you're at, it's worth reading this excellent little entry from The Killing Train's Mandisi Manjavu comparing Zimbabwe and Botswana. Next time you hear our Prime Minister bemoan African leaders' lack of condemnation of Zimbabwe, which is a real problem, think about the situation in other African countries like Botswana. Where is Howard or Blair's condemnation then?

Blogging from Haiti

Ben Terrall, a gutsy freelance journalist from the US, writes about his experiences confronting poverty and repression in the Third World's most tragic independent state. Bookmark this blog!

Monday, July 25, 2005

Accept no substitutes

Yet again, Australia has defeated England in an Ashes test. This time, it was a pretty close contest. England lost by just 239 runs. Never underestimate a champion team.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

On the water front

Today I decided to take a walk along the beach at Cooke Point.

The tide is at its lowest in the late afternoon so you can literally walk kilometres before you reach the ocean. Forget about beach cricket, you could play a proper test match over here!

The little blue dots in this photo are sand crabs. They spend their days rolling little balls of sand. I have no idea why. It must be purposeful, it looks too deliberate to be pointless. If you try to look at them close up they get frightened and quickly borrow into the sand. Very cute.

Self portrait

A bird walks on water

I wonder whether they still measure the depth with this wooden peg?

Halfway there

The sun begins to set

The evening has landed.
So ends another 'tough' winter day in the Pilbara.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Who could it be?

During a lull in my mental faculties today (read – after pouring through around 1000 pages of legal documents), I decided to google my name (as one does). I stumbled across this entry on another web log:

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


The real question is: what message is blogger, and frequent Anthony Loewenstein commenter, Iqbal Khaldun, sending with this photo? And, who is that on the poster in the background?


MJ said...

Best image enhance I could do - 90% sure the poster is of Malcolm X.

5:36 PM

J F said...

Yep, you're right, mj. It looked to me like the figure was bearded, which threw me off.

See image here.

6:13 PM

The_Real_JeffS said...

It's Malcom X all right, I recognize the poster from when I lived in Chicago. I didn't even need image enhancement.

The Photo Message? With a masked dude wearing a Mao t-shirt? Lemme think on this one! ;-P

6:41 PM

EvilPundit said...

I'm thinking along the lines of the Gimp in Pulp Fiction.

6:17 PM

Wow, for the first time since Grade 3*, I have groupies! Well, probably not, judging by the crap posted on this site. But there’s nothing wrong with a little dream time. When in Rome

* in Grade 3 I was the only kid at school whose parents owned a pool.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Eerie similarity

I just saw Star Wars Episode Three tonight. I almost missed the explosive opening scene because my bike fell into a trench whilst I attempted a short cut to the cinema. Mental note to self - don't attempt short cuts in dimly lit mining towns. The trench must have been at least 5-6 feet deep! Thankfully I'm uninjured. Was quite funny actually. I trudged out of the trench onto one of the roads around here. I wonder what all the car drivers would've thought as they saw this bewildered looking dude lurching out of the bushes.

Whilst watching the movie, I suddenly realised that Emperor Palpatine looks remarkably similar to a famous member of Australia's political life. Then I just discovered this.

End of an era?

Probably not. It's too early to tell. But Australia did get bundled out for 190. Sounds like England's been bowling a lot of short stuff. I'd give anything for a television right now.

Australia 1st innings                                    R
JL Langer c Harmison b Flintoff 40
ML Hayden b Hoggard 12
*RT Ponting c Strauss b Harmison 9
DR Martyn c GO Jones b SP Jones 2
MJ Clarke lbw b SP Jones 11
SM Katich c GO Jones b Harmison 27
+AC Gilchrist c GO Jones b Flintoff 26
SK Warne b Harmison 28
B Lee c GO Jones b Harmison 3
JN Gillespie lbw b Harmison 1
GD McGrath not out 10
Extras (b 5, lb 4, w 1, nb 11) 21
Total (all out, 40.2 overs) 190

Did you know?

Whilst preparing an old fella’s affidavit, I discovered that Port Hedland was bombed by the Japanese during World War Two! Momentarily distracted by this revelation, as is my want, I stumbled onto this little summary of Japanese air attacks on Australia prepared by the National Archives. I noticed this interesting excerpt on the Japanese bombing of Darwin:

In the hours following the air raids on 19 February, believing that an invasion was imminent, Darwin's population began to stream southwards, heading for Adelaide River and the train south. Approximately half Darwin's civilian population ultimately fled. The panic in the town was repeated at the RAAF base, where servicemen deserted their stations in great numbers. Three days after the attack 278 servicemen were still missing. The exodus south (which later became known as 'The Adelaide River stakes'), and the looting and disorder which subsequently occurred, led the government to hurriedly appoint a Commission of Inquiry led by Mr Justice Lowe which issued two reports, one on 27 March and the other on 9 April 1942.

My first reaction was disbelief. I thought Australians were ready to fight tooth and nail. Isn’t that the Aussie digger spirit? Alas, we’re all human. It also got me thinking about another thing. It took the Japanese a matter of a few hours to make white fellas flee the north end. Something the black fellas have been trying, and have failed to do, for a lot longer. I guess, when you take something through violence, very often the only way you’ll give it back is when you taste your own medicine.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Blair et al

So a range of leaders from the British Muslim community met with Blair. They agree with Blair on the need to stamp out extremism. That is a welcome sign. Not so welcome is the fact that, according to Reuters, it was left to Anjem Choudary, the former leader of an fundamentlist Muslim organization, to mention that:

Britain would inevitably be attacked again by Islamist militants if it refused to change its foreign policy in Iraq, the Middle East and Kashmir.

Interestingly, according to this report, one of the Muslim leaders did mention Britain’s involvement in Iraq. I haven’t been able to locate this attribution in any other mainstream sources.

Yet again, the extremists amongst us win important political points because our ‘leaders’ don’t have the guts to tell people like Blair how it is. Sure, it’s not easy (like it is on a blog). And the fear of being marginalised when your voice is already marginal is great. But did we Muslims, does anybody, ever choose the situation we’re in? If we had a choice, would we opt out of getting extra special attention by security guards at airports?

Like it or not, we need to tackle the issues head on. There’s nothing wrong with dialogue with people like Blair. In fact we need more of it. Further marginalisation is not an option. But, as the first lieutenant in the Coalition of the Willing, Blair is heavily responsible for the present situation in Iraq. We must keep him to account.

Choudary went on to say

For us, the main objectives are to work to implement the sharia wherever we are and obviously to support the jihad wherever it is taking place.

When those resentful see that only these lunes have the courage to mention uncomfortable facts about the West's involvement in Muslim nations, there is a greater chance that they will also swallow their Wahabi* preaching. Of course, Muslims have to take responsibility for their own actions like any other group of people. But we also have a responsibility to remind the powerful about what exactly they are doing in places like Iraq, Palestine, and so many other corners of the globe.

* an orthodox brand of Islamic theology

Where's your country Donny?

Victims of our liberation

An independent study has concluded that at least approximately 25,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the American invasion of March 2003. As the Guardian reports:

Nearly 25,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the two years since the invasion, and four times as many died at the hands of US-led forces as from suicide bombers and other insurgents, according to a detailed study of the human cost of the conflict.

Where are the front-page news items on this one? Got to love the way the media and governments work the population into frenzy over the potential for violence committed by Muslim extremists against Westerners. Even before the London attack, for example, the British Government was telling its population to be prepared for possible terrorist attacks. After all, we are told, the terrorists aim to destroy our way of life irrespective of our actions. Yet our governments (the US, UK and Australia et al) remain totally silent in relation to the (many more) deaths our forces are responsible for.

The Guardian notes that this most recent assessment is much lower than the 100,000 casualty calculation by the Lancet Study. It’s worth remembering that the present study was calculated based on deaths which could be verified by at least two separate sources. In other words, it’s likely the 25,000 estimate is low because it does not include unreported deaths. Given that the US has free reign over the skies of Iraq and the high collateral casualty rate caused by aerial bombardment, might I suggest that there is (still) more to the Iraqi fatalities issue than meets the eye?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Not in our name

A friend got his letter published in the Herald today:

Moderate Muslims, stop these extremists hijacking your religion and reputation. I am a Muslim from a Pakistani background and I've had enough of these extremists killing and maiming innocent people and dragging the name and background of honest Muslims through the dirt. The extremists are making us ashamed of our religion and background; they're attempting to make the word "terrorism" synonymous with the word Islam.

It is time the moderates in the Muslim community stood up to this evil and started spreading the word that if we find anybody preaching hatred we report them to the authorities. All the fellow moderate Muslims out there, I call upon you to expose and corner anyone preaching extremism and hatred.

Mohammad Ahmad

Spot on.

Uncle Tom

Noel Pearon argues that parents whose children 'consistently fail' to send their children to school should have their family allowances cut. Note the glib reference to 'parents' when Pearson is obviously referring to Aboriginals. The Australian report continues the lie by referring to the truancy problem in 'remote communities'. They must surely mean remote Aboriginal communities. And, no doubt, the readership can read between the lines. Welcome to racism in a liberal, Western democracy, circa 2005.

This is not about obfuscating from Aboriginals taking responsibility for their own lives. No one can doubt that parents have a responsibility to take care of their kids. Yes, that does include Aboriginal parents. But Pearson's rendition of the situation, and the media's happy reflection of it, paints a false picture. It implies that governments have been the victim of lazy, taxpayer fund guzzling black fellas. Aboriginals alone are to blame, and they ought to be punished. To their credit, both the Australian and Northern Territory Governments rejected Pearson’s call, saying it was an unfair burden on parents.

What about targeting Aboriginal social dysfunction more broadly? To be sure, regional Australia is heavily under funded in several key areas (health services springs to mind). Yet, even then, Aboriginal communities in regional areas get close to nothing.

It is impossible to divorce centuries of social, cultural and physical dispossession from Aboriginal Australia’s present condition. Yet Pearson, and the media, neglect to mention any of these issues, or, for that matter, the Howard Government's consistent refusal to acknowledge the grievances of the past. Or, his Government’s refusal to seriously consider implementing the recommendations of government-sponsored inquiries. One such inquiry determined that a systematic program of removing Aboriginal children from their parents was instituted by governments between 1910 and 1970.* In many instances, the aim of these programs was to breed out the ‘full blood’ Aboriginal population. It is difficult to fathom the consequences this had for our Aboriginal peoples.

I haven’t even mentioned the stolen wages situation in any length.

Governments have continually refused to invest in Aboriginal communities, opting instead for a 'welfare' approach which promotes disempowerment and dependency.

Sadly, yet again, Pearson, perhaps the most energetic of Aboriginal leaders, appears to be playing a dangerous political game to curry favour with Howard. And they call me House Negro?!?

* This was a period of Western history when eugenics was considered a scientifically plausible social measure.

Football fatwa

Is sport a religious experience? In Saudi Arabia it is. As Abu Aardvark reports, religious leaders in Saudi Arabia have placed a fatwa on a footballer in an attempt to prevent him from switching teams.

Not only is God dead, try finding a decent manager in Saudi Arabia! (with apologies to Woody Allen)

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism

Last week Phillip Adams spoke to Robert Pape, an American academic who has catalogued every suicide terrorist attack since 1980. The research is now available in his book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.

The Tamil Tigers... at this point, have still got the greatest number of suicide bombings to their credit, they've been the world leaders in the technique, haven't they?...The Tamil Tigers are a secular group.

Suicide terrorism is not as closely associated with Islamic fundamentalism as most people think... They're part of the pattern of over 95% of suciide terrorist attacks around the world including those by the Tamil Tigers are done not for a religion but for a specific strategic goal. To compel a moderate democracy to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.

You can listen to Robert Pape speaking to Phillip Adams here. In an article in the Chicago Tribune, Pape goes further:

Our best strategy is to return to the policy that the United States had for decades. In the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. secured its crucial interest in oil without stationing a single combat soldier in the Persian Gulf, instead relying on an alliance with Iraq and Saudi Arabia, the presence of naval air power off the coast and land bases to rapidly deploy troops in a crisis. Offshore balancing worked splendidly against Saddam Hussein in 1990 and is again our best strategy for securing our interest in oil, while preventing the rise of more suicide terrorists coming at us.

In other words, suicide attacks will continue in Iraq, if not escalate, so long as the country remains under occupation. Important words from a dispassionate specialist who, interestingly, isn't interested in limiting American geopolitical power. Why hasn't this man's research been frontpage news? (NB rhetorical question) Instead, we get this. Next we will hear that Osama will be at Dymocks signing autographs of his new bestseller 1001 Things To Do In A Dark Cave.

Given the significant use of suicide attacks in Sri Lanka, you'd think the conflict there might provide some insights into how to stop such attacks in the future. That should be a moot statement, especially since the most brutal stages of the Sri Lankan civil war, including the suicide attacks, have now ended (touch wood). Of course, plenty of work is still necessary to ensure that the two communities have a peaceful coexistence. The slow progress towards peace did not come about from a military response. They occurred through dialogue and significant outside arbitration. That's right, arbitration, not ordinance from 10,000 feet.

On the road through Karajini

There's a road,
A road they call hell.
It ain't that pretty,
As a southern belle

But ay it be there.
The mighty Karajini.
Park, that is,
What a splendid place.

First you stroll.
Then you run.
Then you realise,
What you have done.

I'm in the middle of nowhere.
How's the serenity?
Pretty good, actually.

Letter from a free man

Dear Friends,

I want to thank you, the many thousands of my supporters, who have campaigned for so long to secure my release from jail in Pakistan where, for the past three years, I have been under sentence of death on a charge of blasphemy.

My case was a travesty of justice. A patriotic and law-abiding Pakistani, Muslim by birth, a medical doctor and college teacher by profession, I was an innocent victim sentenced to death on false and fabricated charges under the infamous Islamic blasphemy law, 295-C of the Pakistani Penal Code. I was convicted on mere suspicion and trumped-up allegations of words I was supposed to have uttered at a lecture that did not take place. My accusers were fascist fundamentalist mullahs and Pakistani Taliban who neither heard nor witnessed anything themselves. They were aided by Pakistan's corrupt and high-handed Islamic Police and the Inter Services Intelligence (Military Intelligence). My lawyers were subjected to mafia-style harassment, and warned to "think of their children", while the Pakistani Taleban demonstrating their power with verbal violence outside the courtroom.

The appeal court gave partial judgement in my case on 10th October 2003, expressing its dissatisfaction with the verdict of the lower court and sending the case back to the lower court for retrial. The retrial was held in three sessions during November. This time, in view of the threats my lawyers had received, I decided to conduct my own defence. I was acquitted on 20th November and released in great secrecy on 21st.

Following my release I spent several weeks visiting family and friends, but during this time I received indirectly a number of threats to my life, and in the second week of January I heard that my accusers had appealed against my acquittal. I realised that for my safety I had to leave my country.

I am very grateful for the campaign led by IHEU, the Rationalist International and other organizations from all over the world, and for the demonstrations, letters, phone calls, media interviews and meetings with diplomats made by so many of you. I shall be emailing most of you in due course to give you my personal thanks. I also want to thank the diplomats and government officials from many countries, and in particular, Norway, France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and the United Nations who made representations on my behalf to the government of Pakistan, and to those who have offered me a new
home in Europe.

But happy though I am to be free, I cannot forget that as long as the Blasphemy laws are on the statute books, they will continue to be misused. At this very moment there are at least 100 innocent people,victims of these black laws, languishing in various jails and lock-ups in Pakistan awaiting an uncertain future. It is a sad reflection on the state of society in Pakistan that even when individuals are exonerated, their lives may still be threatened by the fundamentalists and many will be forced to flee Pakistan. The state seems unable to provide us protection. I was not at all eager to leave my country and would willingly have stayed with my family and friends.

We must all work for the elimination of these and all of the other dreadful, draconian, religiously-motivated laws, and to save innocent victims from their abuse.


Dr M. Younus Shaikh

Thinking the 'unthinkable'

Are the US and UK secretly preparing to withdraw from Iraq? Simon Walters from the Daily Mail believes so. You can read his article here. Only time will tell whether the document speaks the truth.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Bridging a gap

I have come to ask forgiveness for what Saddam has done

Sadoun al-Dulaimi, Iraq Defence Minister to Ali Shamkhani, Iran Defence Minister, 7 July 2005

Under its American-made blanket,
Iraq is slowly strengthening ties with one-time rival Iran. On 8 July, an agreement was reached between Iran and Iraq whereby the former would provide training and upgrading of the Iraqi military and $1 billion in post-war reconstruction.

This morning, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari began an important visit to Iran, this time to discuss greater economic and infrastructure ties between the two countries. This includes linking the two countries’ electricity grid and constructing a new oil pipeline.

The integration of Iran and Iraq politically and militarily is still at an embryonic stage. And the two countries are still beholden to the usual contradictions. For instance, Iran is openly called a terrorist state, and, more recently, an outpost of evil, by the Iraqi Government’s major ally, the United States.

The reality is that the territorial limits of most nation-states do not correspond to the social and ethnic similarities that bond people within their boundaries. Most Iraqis are Shia, as are most Iranians. That they have been divided for so long is a quirk of British imperial designs. The political machinations within the two countries have developed around this initial separation.

Could the two nations be taking the first steps towards uniting one people? It’s too early to say. But it’s already obvious that natural domestic alliances are going to pose a significant threat to the United States’ long-term domination of the region.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Quick Spruik

Who says altruism is dead and gone in the modern world? Every few weeks, the friendly folk at djmixes2k feature live sets from the world's best DJs, free to download. They even provide track lists so you can know exactly what that sweet track you're listening to is called. But you've got to be quick, the sets get replaced pretty quickly.

All they ask in return is that you provide feedback.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Afghanistan Part II

Australia’s decision to deploy further troops to Afghanistan is yet another political response to a social issue. As an isolated gesture, which it is, it is unlikely to lead to a significant improvement of the situation in Afghanistan. In purely immediate terms, there is no doubt that Afghanistan does require further military assistance from outside. But the country is not a theme park, and it is dangerously incorrect to assume that the Taliban, if not Al Qaeda, can be isolated from the general population with the use of Special Forces, helicopters and precision ordinance.

According to former SAS commander Jim Wallace, a 'significant contingent of army engineers' is also expected to be sent. If that happens, it will be a welcome development. Until that happens, Australia’s response may only be judged on the basis of the commitment of a few hundred SAS soldiers. That decision represents a further lack of imagination on the part of the government when it comes to combating terrorism.

The present situation in Afghanistan is fundamentally the same situation that has existed since the Taliban were first removed from power. Lawlessness is endemic as the country is controlled by different war lords. The Taliban have shaved their beards and have been absorbed into the local populations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ethnically, the people in much of the region between the two countries are the same. They are Pashtun, and people’s loyalties are attached to a mix of ethnic and tribal affiliations. Accepting this is key to understanding the social dynamics in Afghanistan.

Over a year ago, I visited the tribal region buffeting Afghanistan and Pakistan near the city of Peshawar. I was told that the Afghan troops patrolling the main gateway between Pakistan and Afghanistan at Torkum were, to a man, ex-Taliban. How did my guide know? The soldiers’ affiliation was tribal, not political. They followed whosoever their tribal leaders followed. Where once their leaders supported the Taliban, now they supported Karzai. Times had changed, as did the garb. It was pure expedience. Afghanistan’s warlords and their patriarchal social set up still operates in this way. There is nothing to suggest that the situation has fundamentally changed. The Afghans ‘we’ will fight alongside are fair weather friends, and there is no intrinsic reason why we should expect their friendship to be any different. The conditions necessary for the development of lasting peace in Afghanistan, let alone democracy, are still a distant dream. Such development cannot be reached through the barrel of a gun.

Just as Iraq was favoured for Western intervention at a time when Afghanistan was deemed too ugly to be newsworthy, Afghanistan now has been invoked (at least, for the time being, by the Australian Government) to deflect eyes away from the mess in Iraq. We do well to assume that advisers in nice suits have assured our government that sending troops to Afghanistan will make the Howard Government look proactive in the never-ending War on Terrorism. No doubt the Government hopes it will persuade a skeptical population that the Government knows what it is doing. They may also think that it keeps us in favour at the White House. The reality is that, yet again, Australia is treading where it ought not to tread. Rightly or, more likely, wrongly, would-be terrorists will therefore feel that they now have a right to ‘tread’ on our territory.

There is literally billions of dollars in Afghanistan - from US bribes to warlords and the smuggled goods trade owing to the fact that Afghanistan is a regional centre for the black market. Yet public services (schools, roads, etc) have literally nothing. Nothing of note has been done to improve that situation, because our governments have no interest in any long term investment in Afghan society.

Most media have reported favourably on the deployment and no one can seriously object to the idea of ensuring that Afghanistan is not neglected. Paul McGeough, for one, seems to be on the right track when he argues

Australian management and staffing of one of the provincial reconstruction teams that entwine security and reconstruction in the new Afghanistan would be a meaningful contribution to a country fractured by decades of war and hardship.

Unfortunately, he goes further to support the deployment of Australia special forces as a 'money-where-our-mouth-is use of Australian military resources'. Who is he to say the deployment is good or bad? Just because a white man visits a foreign land doesn’t mean he knows the place inside out. Have we bothered to obtain an independent local voice? Would we want to know what they’d say?

The problem with a lot of war correspondents is that they spend so much time chasing war zones that they often assume the people they see there have no other capacities. Hence their proposals for western engagement with those regions tend to have a militarist flavour. Similar sentiments were expressed, post-facto, about the Rwandan genocide of 1994. So much commentary focused on UN or general logistical failures and ensuring in future we have some sort of rapid military response. But what about corporations in G8 nations drastically reducing their output of conventional weapons which they happily sell to antagonists in Africa?*

Not a word. In a way I can understand. A war correspondent isn’t best place to ask such questions. Then again, if all we want to do is look at conflicts around the world in isolation and avoid deeper analysis, it serves us well to just pan across some devastated landscape and bemoan this bitch of a world.

* In the case of Rwanda circa 1994, French companies knowingly sold weapons to troops committing the atrocities. For further information on this, read this excellent piece.

Media war on terror begins in earnest

The Age reports...

Over the next three weeks, the government will spend about $2.2 million telling Australians to be vigilant but not alarmed about the terrorist threat.

As Attorney-General Philip 'no, please just call me Phil' Ruddock explained...

We don't want Australians to panic, because we have a robust democratic life, and the threat from terrorism is still relatively low here.

However, we do urge all Australians to keep an eye out for funny looking, particularly bearded or generally ethnic-looking persons.

If you happen to fit into this category yourself, I am advised that the Australian Government suggests that you report yourself in to your nearest Burger King or contact Andrew Bolt.

When reporters asked whether further fridge magnets would be distributed, Mr Ruddock declined to comment. Sources close to the Minister later confirmed that no fridge magnets would be distributed. In protest to Australia's recent approval of dissident Chinese official Chen Yonglin's asylum application, China, which manufactured the limited-edition magnets, refused to distribute further magnets.

Mr Ruddock's office would neither confirm nor deny that the Government was considering the distribution of 10 million Steve Liebmann anti-terror blow up dolls manufactured by asylum seekers on Nauru.

Day in the office

The price of fish

I just tried to get a copy of my home loan agreement and latest statement from my home loan provider. I was told it would cost $30 for the copy, $60 per hour for someone to find the physical agreement in the provider’s archive, $7 to mail it, and $7 to mail my most recent statement. Even then, the documents cannot be mailed directly to me in Hedland, because my address here hasn’t been nominated as a postal address. If I nominated it, all future correspondences will be sent here and I’d have to call the provider again to get the postal address changed. When I suggested they fax the documents instead, the earnest telephone banking consultant explained that it would cost $12 per fax.

I’ve decided to ask a friend to pick up the originals in Canberra instead!

Phrase of the day

Whoa insert tape 3

This phrase is used when someone speaks and you don't understand a word he/she is saying.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The stuff that dreams are made of

This morning I woke up at 6am, which is relatively unusual for me. I was woken up by the sound of a loud, dull thud emanating from the roof. Quite suddenly, the thud was accompanied by what can only be described as a dull swiping noise, followed by a stream of profanity from what unambiguously was an enraged male voice. It lasted for what felt like 30 minutes. It’s always a bit of a trip whenever you become aware of externalities whilst only partially awake. Somehow, those externalities work their way into your dreams. As I lay there half asleep, half awake, I began dreaming of what was happening upstairs. I began dreaming of this room. A room with this frightened, balled-up creature in one corner, hand crouched firmly in front of her face to deflect any possible hits to it, feet somewhat shivering. Standing above this form was another, more robust, anger-ridden thing. His contempt and hatred poured out into every facet of the room, punctuated, as it always is, by abrupt grooves running up and down his face the way only charged emotion can etch on a human face.

Once the noise died down, and I heard the front door slam, I considered going upstairs to see if everything was okay. Of course, I never did. Who am I to get involved in another’s troubles? As with most of the moral dilemmas I am confronted with, I decided not to respond. The images and emotions of that morning were soon distant memories as I ate my breakfast and read some headlines on Google News.

Something happened upstairs this morning. Exactly what, I do not know. My assessment of the situation might be inaccurate. But something did happen, whatever the precise details, causes and effects. Perhaps it had something to do with the isolation and heat over here? I’ve felt it ever so slightly myself. Alcohol abuse is high up here, as is the call over rate at the local women’s refuge centre. An acquaintance who has worked at the centre told me alcohol-related domestic violence rates in this region were indistinguishable between the black and white communities. It’s a common enemy that makes no bones about ethnic or socioeconomic distinctions. I have never been abused, but have witnessed physical abuse occasionally. It always shakes me up.

Violence is indeed a weapon of the weak. But it is particularly effective against the vulnerable.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Dampier Salt salt mound

The Dampier Salt salt mound is one of the major tourist attractions in Port Hedland. Nestled elegantly amongst the low lying shrubs of the greater Pilbara and the slag infested coastal waters of the port region, it is a testament to man's ability to compile copious amounts of homogenous material. As a testament to man's obsession with phallic objects, however, it is rather less impressive.

Overlooking the mound is a romantic lookout post (complete with a 'tourist lookout' sign). This is where I took the photo. No doubt the spot is a popular site for young lovers to unfurl their youthful passions. Sadly, all I had with me at the time was my trusted mountain bike. Oh what a mighty frame it has!

Give 'em guns not doggy style

Shock, horror! A group in the United States calling itself the National Institute on Media and the Family has called for a "nationwide parental alert". Why? Because they just discovered that one of the most popular video games around, Grand Theft Auto, has hidden pornographic scenes embedded in it. The game also happens to be an orgy of guns, drugs and hooning. But it's that dirty sex business we've got to shelter our young minds from!

In other breaking news, the parents of a 13 year old girl are suing Nintendo after their daughter fell pregnant to Super Mario whilst playing Mario Kart.

Chen Yonglin update

ABC online reveals that Chen Yonglin, defector extraordinaire, met with ASIO to discuss his claims that China has an elaborate spy network in Australia. Although details are still quite sketchy, it appears a key project of the network is to spy on dissidents. Chen has alleged that Chinese dissidents have even been forcibly removed from Australia.

There's another interesting thing hidden away in the ABC report, something which you'd think would be something of a bombshell. It reads like this:

Mr Chen also claims he has evidence that some Australian politicians have been encouraged into supporting China's Communist party.

"The consulate's senior officials will host dinners for them or meet them on some occassions and ask them to help on the issue of dissidents," Mr Chen alleged.

Excuse me, what was that? Isn't national security one of the great holy cows of federal politics? Aren't we waging a war on all manner of crazed outsiders bent on destroying our way of life? Where is Alan Jones on this one? How come Andrew Bolt and Gerard Henderson have neglected to publish another one of their polemical masterpieces of detective fiction? Perhaps it has something to do with the truth of the matter. Not to forget the fact that the offending party is a large trading partner. To put it more forcefully, China is a significant revenue source for both government and big business, the same big business which owns and operates our mainstream media.

If only Osama offered to sign a free trade agreement and purchase bucket loads of our natural resources...

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Allende the fascist psycho?

Was Salvador Allende a fascist and anti-semite? A recent guest on Late Night Live, Professor Victor Farias, believes so. You can listen to the audio here. Even if he was as racist and lame a politican as the guest suggests, does it retrospectively justify his execution by Pinochet and the violence that ensued afterwards? No answers to that question from the good Professor.

North and South bridge gaps?

Finally, there’s some good news coming out of the Sudan. Sudan’s Arab-dominated government has entered a power sharing arrangement with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, a predominantly Christian opposition group. The new arrangement was reached with support from the African Union and the United States. Under the arrangement SPLM leader John Garang will be vice-president. However, all other political posts remain in Arab Sudanese hands, effectively maintaining the status quo. The constitution has also been changed. The changes have widely been reported as enabling greater political and religious freedoms. A state of emergency, which, amongst other things, outlawed opposition political parties, has finally been revoked after some 6 years. Despite these welcome developments, Amnesty International has been critical of the new constitution, claiming it provides “sweeping immunity for high level officials.” As ever, there is more to the story than meets the eye.

Reports of violence continue to surface in Darfur. Robert Zoellick, Condoleezza Rice’s deputy at the State Department, is currently touring Darfur, where he noted that the situation there “is still very terrible.”

Any move towards a more inclusive, pluralist political system in Sudan should be celebrated. But considered analysis of the country must not be avoided either. For instance, could the Sudan Government’s current interest in a political solution have something to do with pressure from the International Community, including the United States? The United States, in turn, appears to be under pressure from Christian groups to look strong on Sudan, a Muslim-dominated nation which has directly on indirectly been harassing the ethnic populations of Darfur which are predominantly Christian. Therefore, will things really change for the better merely by virtue of the major players being seen to be doing something about the human rights situation in Sudan?

Speaking of which, the Sudanese Government has also set up a special court to prosecute those who have committed crimes in Darfur. The court, which has yet to begin, has been roundly condemned by outside observers as a piecemeal, politically motivated solution which will not seek to prosecute those most responsible for committing crimes in Darfur. The creation of the court appears to be in response to a referral by the United Nations Security Council to the International Criminal Court of 51 Sudanese accused of committing war crimes in Darfur. Prior to the referral, a commission set up by the UN handed down a report which concluded that the Sudanese Government was responsible for crimes in Darfur. Interestingly, the commission report did not find evidence of genocide, as had previously been claimed by the United States. Since making those claims, even the United States now appears reluctant to call the crimes in Darfur genocide.

Whether things will actually change much for those on the ground (read – predominantly Christian and animist minority groups in the country’s south) remains to be seen. I’ve deliberately sidesteps geopolitics here, but there is certainly more to consider on the outside world’s involvement in the region.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Download this

Jumping Jack, the hardest working DJ in Australia, has done it again. I finally got a chance to listen to his most recent, publicly released liveset. This is thumping stuff. The mp3 audio is available here. Play dat moozik loud brudda!

Visa, at last!

Chen Yonglin, the Chinese diplomat who sought Asylum in Australia in May this year, has been granted a permanent protection visa in what appears record time. This despite Government protestations that Chen’s application for asylum would be processed like any other. After all, it took him 6 weeks to obtain something that many others either are refused or wait far longer to obtain. As his lawyer, who also happens to be coordinator of the excellent Refugee Advice and Casework Service, explained to The Age:

It is unusual that a protection visa would be granted as quickly as this but I'm not surprised it was, given the complexity and the public nature of the case.

Clearly, the Australian Government wilted under the public pressure. Do not doubt it, public advocacy can work.

What was China’s response? China’s Ambassador to Australia is reported as saying Chen is motivated by greed and a yearning for a better life. Can’t fault the latter explanation.

Welcome to Australia friend.

The London terrorist attacks

As everyone now knows, London has been hit by a vicious terrorist attack. Antony Loewenstein assesses the day after. According to ABC Online, a group calling themselves the Secret Organisation of Al Qaeda in Europe has claimed responsibility. The group has been reported as saying the attack is a response to Britain's role in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Jack Straw, Britain's Foreign Minister, spoke of the attacks in these terms:

What they cannot and will not succeed in doing is in their overall objectives, which is bluntly, I mean literally to destroy the way of life of people in the civilised world, whatever their religion.

Note the total absence of any attempt to address causality. You can't reason with terrorists, whether they wear stupid glasses or have stupid names. The attack on London counts as one of the most cowardly, criminal acts in recent times. The perpetrators must be brought to justice. Not as devils whose acts, it will be argued, retrospectively justify Western violence in other corners of the globe. The perpetrators must be prosecuted as the criminal human beings that they are.

Having said that, expect the British Government to act as it already does. Using the attack as another pretext for maintaining or escalating the ill-described 'War on Terrorism' and its presence in Iraq.

My heart goes out to lovely London.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Chinese whispers

Otiose has unearthed a cracker! Apparently you can purchase a pirate copy of Star Wars Revenge of the Sith. Only this version has subtitles in English which directly translate the Chinese intepretation of the script. A longer list of subtitles from the movie is available here. My favourite is the translation of Darth Vader's 'Noooo!' into 'Do not want!'. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The true believers!

Faith can be a mindnumbing thing, especially to someone as atheist as I. What always makes me go daft is the way otherwise intelligent people can dredge up 'plausible' explanations in favour of one very specific dogma. It's as if they treasure the creation of absolute answers over sketchy world views based on observation and skepticism. Hmmm, I dunno, like the fact that so many different people think they worship the one true God (even within the same 'religion', eg the denominations of Islam or Christianity). Or the fact that religion almost always follows the historical geopolitical contours of the planet. Ever wondered why there are so many Hindus in India??? Take this for example (taken from a recent e-mail debate I had with a friend)...

Morality is law-like in nature. The context (the preconditional framework) in which objective morality is intelligible is one that includes ‘something’ that has the requisite authority (authority is a personal rather than impersonal attribute) to bind universally. For it to be objective and absolute, that ‘something’ must have existence independent of human minds and must be unchanging, otherwise morality would not be necessary at all, rather contingent (otherwise). The context also must provide for a way in which human minds are in contact with this ‘something’ so that they may know what is right and wrong. The superior context, it is suggested, would also be able to account for why humans frequently do the wrong thing and it would probably have that ‘binding something’ take morality seriously enough such that moral transgression is not going to go unpunished.

Already on the face of it, there is only one worldview, as far as I can see, that is as I just described. Let me knock off the contestants straight away…

Naturalistic worldviews don’t even begin to resemble anything like the above and cannot, for the reasons given above, account for morality.

Now to pagan worldviews… Pagan gods are typically conceived of as being capricious and often get up to much evil themselves. In pagan worldviews, the gods are thought of as not the ground of morality but subject to it. Since pagan gods are not absolute and are themselves under morality, they cannot be the source of it. Another reason to dismiss a pagan worldview as being the precondition of objective morality is that pagans typically have an array of gods, each with their own distinct personality and sometimes these gods are seen to be in conflict with one another. These differences, and particularly the conflict, mean that objective morality cannot be grounded in pagan gods.

Second, theistic worldviews that consider morality to be merely whatever God says it is cannot acccount for objective morality for then morality would depend on whatever God’s will might be and that could be subject to change. In such a case, God could say “X is good” one minute and “it is not the case that X is good” the next. Morality would be arbitrary and, for God, there would be no difference between right and wrong. Worldviews of this kind would include Islam. Why would Christianity be immune from such a criticism? The reason is that morality, in the Christian worldview is not merely what God says it is. Morality is grounded in the immutable nature of God which is perfectly good. His commands are not whims, but are expressions of His good, absolute, unchanging, immutable nature.

I say the Christian worldview alone can account for objective morality because, as far as I can see, it alone can:
(1) Account for objective morality metaphysically – it is grounded in God’s immutable nature; and
(2) Account for humans being in contact with that ground – we are made in His image and He has revealed moral truths to us; and
(3) Account for moral deficiency in humans’ moral compasses and the occurrence of immorality in the world – the doctrines of The Fall and Total Depravity;
(4) Account for taking morality seriously – God must punish immorality and cannot merely sweep it under the carpet.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

God is a DJ

This lazy Sunday afternoon I caught an interesting ABC documentary on the rave scene. Apparently it's 3 years old. That may explain why I knew virtually every single track they played! Still, why haven't I heard about it until today? The documentary included a surprisingly sophisticated social analysis of the modern dance scene, along with interviews with DJs, ravers and intellectuals. The basic thesis seemed to be that dance culture gives people a space to express themself unselfconsciously.

There were perhaps only limited references to the role that recreational drugs, especially ecstasy play in the scene. But, to its credit, the documentary did note that dance culture was losing its roots and becoming too comercialised. The DJ, no longer merely a facilitator of the transient state, has become a superstar. Most of the DJs interviewed said this was undermining the essence of dance culture. I tend to agree. Certainly, in my experience, I've found that every year raves get bigger, more expensive, and less fun. The camaraderie that you once formed with total strangers, people who you'd often only ever meet again at your next rave, has diminished somewhat. I think the scene has a lot of potential for developing political consciousness amongst the young adult population. Obviously, its present trends are quite inimical to that. Perhaps something to discuss in greater detail later.

It's a shame the documentary wasn't given more prime time coverage, as noted by ABC Television's arts producer. It's not very often that the ABC discusses something squarely relating to Australia's young adult population.

The G8 and the arms trade

Amnesty International, the International Action Network on Small Arms, and Oxfam International recently released a damning report on the role played by the world's wealthiest nations in the proliferation of conventional weapons. It explains:

...contrary to their responsibilities and legal obligations, the G8
countries - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Russian
Federation, the UK and the USA - are still supplying weapons and
munitions to irresponsible end users. Six of the eight G8 countries are
among the top 10 largest global arms exporters, and all of the eight
export large amounts of major conventional weapons or small arms.

The report is available here.

Prospects for reform in Iran

With the election of a genuine conservative to the office of President in Iran, expect the reform movement in that country to face continued, rigorous challenges from within and without. For more information, read these excellent commentaries on the prospects for reform in Iran.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Probing Iran for a provocation

The United States says it will investigate whether Iran's latest President-elect was involved in the 1979 kidnap of US embassy staff. Of course, it can be taken for granted that the United States will not investigate the reasons behind the kidnapping. That is, the role played in the 1979 hostage crisis by the United States's support for the repressive Shah of Iran. An excellent analysis of this is available in Steven Kinzer’s All the Shah’s Men.

It would be more appropriate for Western media reports to read thusly...

United States seeks new way to advertise Iran's pariah status so as to prepare Americans for the invasion of that country. "Plans for the invasion of Iran have been prepared for some time now," Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld explained today...

Expect the usual, very casual moral relativism that would make Winston Churchill proud. Why would Winston Churchill be proud, you ask? I’m glad you did. The same Winston Churchill, better known for his stubborn defiance of German fascism, once remarked:

I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have been there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.

(Palestine Royal Commission, 1938).