Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Australia's Tangled Censorship Web

Confused by all the controversy surrounding the Australian Government plans to filter the internet? New Matilda has been holding forums about the proposed censorship regime. Here's some video to help explain.

Melbourne's session featured:

Colin Jacobs, Electronic Frontiers Australia
Michael Flood, Sociologist
Senator Scott Ludlam, Australian Greens

From Michael Flood:

I'm now far less than convinced that I used to be of the value of ISP based filtering as a strategy. I'm much more convinced of its technical problems and I'm more convinced of its political dangers. ... You can say that one of the early advocates of ISP filtering is now backing away from this.
No permanent friends or enemies, just permanent interests.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine Flu Heath Map

Thanks to Renata Avila of Global Voices for the link to this Swine Flu Map from Health Map.

Intrade also have a new Future Trading market: How many cases of the A/H1N1 Swine Flu will be confirmed in the United States?

It's a bit like betting on the black death.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Flick Crit: Tulpan

Latest film review at Cinema Takes is Tulpan: spring in the steppe

Kazakh documentary maker Sergey Dvortsevoy has brought us the acclaimed feature film Tulpan. Its flat, dusty, dry plains are reminiscent of parts of outback Australia but are even more remote.

It's easy to see why Tulpan has been hot at the film festivals. Superlatives are hard to avoid: original, raw, authentic, genuine, funny, joyous, honest.

Dvortsevoy has restored respectability to the term reality. In fact it is hard not to think that this is a documentary at times. These people couldn't really be actors. It’s great to see the potential of the movie medium stretched in such powerful ways.


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Friday, April 24, 2009

Cyclone Monica 24 April 2006 - Maningrida

Today is the third anniversary of Cyclone Monica, an extreme category five storm that struck Maningrida on 24 April 2006. It was the strongest cyclone ever recorded on the mainland of Australia.

It's time to edit my mate Mason Scholes' video. This is Part 1, which was seen on TV News around the world.

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Oz Flick Crit: Closed for Winter

Latest film review at Cinema Takes is Closed for Winter: unlocking summer's secrets

Australian writer/director James Bogle has given us the very introspective Closed for Winter, an adaptation of Georgia Blain’s 1998 novel of the same name. This dark film brought to mind the recent French language I’ve loved you for so long, “This is a sombre, desolate tale. It is as much about her complex relationships as it is the past.”

Both stories explore coming to terms with loss, about achieving the dreaded ubiquitous cliché and about creating a new beginning.

In theatres now.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Australians divided by Durban II boycott

Cross post for Global Voices:

The decision by the Rudd government to boycott the United Nations Conference on Racism in Durban was a controversial one:

Australia remains undecided about whether it will attend a controversial United Nations conference, which begins in a fortnight.

There are fears the Durban Review Conference, to be held in Geneva from April 20-24, could become a repeat of the original South African event in 2001, which was marred by claims of anti-Semitism.

Govt not sure over UN Durban conference
The decision was only taken at the last minute:
AUSTRALIA will not take part in a controversial United Nations anti-racism conference in Geneva this week.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith said the Geneva meeting reaffirms the 2001 outcomes, singling out Israel and the Middle East.

"Regrettably, we cannot be confident that the review conference will not again be used as a platform to air offensive views, including anti-Semitic views," Mr Smith said.

Australia to boycott UN anti-racism conference
Many Australian bloggers took the opposite view.

Duckpond argued:
Sometimes the truth needs to be told, and it can be unpleasant and discomforting. So was President Admadinejad doing that?

Ahmadinejad is not saying anything here in these extracts that is extraordinary. Anybody who even half follows events knows what he is saying is accurate. So why all the drama?

At group blog Larvatus Prodeo, Paul Norton explained his position on the Middle East:
I support Israel’s right to exist and a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and I am a critic of unbalanced, inflammatory and obsessive criticism of Israel. However, I am also critical of unbalanced, inflammatory and obsessive idealisation of Israel, of the kind that is rife in the polities of various Western countries including Australia and the United States.
He then addressed his concern about the boycotting countries:
One wonders how the countries participating in the Conference (including all of Africa, Russia, Asia (except for Israel), South and Central America and the Vatican) will interpret a boycott confined exclusively to the wealthy white men’s club. How might they respond to the fact that nations such as the US and Australia consider a purported slight on Israel’s good name to be of greater moment than many other issues on which agreement and cooperation is possible with countries of the global South and global East, and sufficient grounds to refuse to attend a forum to discuss such cooperation?

What if they held a conference on racism and all the whiteys stayed away?
Jason Soon, a supprter of the boycott, began an open forum at catallaxyfiles:
... devoted solely to the recent UN talkfest which for once has made Kevin Rudd do the right thing and boycott. So fire away. A little fuel for the fire

Open forum for UN lovers and haters
On the other hand Gary Sauer-Thompson at Public Opinion decried the Rudd government's lack of courage:
I wasn't surprised that Australia didn't have the courage to attend the UN conference on racism (known as the Durban review) and then debate the views of those it disagreed with, namely President Ahmadinejad's interpretation of Zionist history. They just stayed away, rather than making the arguments that need to be made against Ahmadinejad and his followers.

Zionism does need to be questioned because this form of nationalism rationalizes conquest and colonization as “redemption” of Jewish territory on behalf of the world’s Jews. It treats the Palestinians only as an obstacle and threat to its own purposes, not as people with the same rights as Jews and with legitimate claim to the land on which they were born.

at the UN
Dan Goldberg, national editor of the Australian Jewish News from 2002-2007, put the case against the Conference in the strongest terms at New Matilda.

The UN's conference against racism opened yesterday. But Dan Goldberg writes that the meeting is a sham which reminds him of some other low-points in the history of hate:

Remarkably, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was welcomed into the bosom of Europe at a conference intended to deal with racism. It's a perverse irony at best; an utter abomination at worst. And all this on April 20 — the anniversary of Hitler's birthday.

Unsurprisingly, the tyrant of Tehran launched his invective at the Jewish state, accusing it of being the "racist perpetrators of genocide". The bulk of the Arab delegates applauded. The 23 representatives of the European Union walked out. On the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, the United Nations, which has long been a bastion for Israel-bashing, hosted a dyed-in-the-wool Holocaust denier. Ahmadinejad didn't refer to the Holocaust by name, but left little doubt of his support for a second Holocaust against "the most cruel and repressive, racist regime in Palestine".

Red-Letter Days For Racism
Author of the My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution, Antony Loewenstein, is a well known and controversial commentator on the Middle East and critic of Zionism.
As a Jew who writes extensively about Israel/Palestine, I have no desire for Iran to speak for me on human rights (and my recent book, The Blogging Revolution, details the woeful record of the Islamic Republic.) But the fierce resistence to even examine the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and its well documented recent abuses in Gaza is shameful. These are not actions of a civilised nation. It is the behaviour that we would condemn if done by a relatively unknown Third World nation, but Israel is seemingly untouchable.

Durban II, the how, why and who
A final word comes from the mass media. Tim Blair who blogs for Sydney’s Daily Telegraph made his opinion of Iran's President Ahmadinejad quite clear:

Civilisation declined to attend the UN’s anti-Israel festival. Other representatives left once they realised what kind of atrocity they’d blundered into.

They can’t say they weren’t warned.

The Middle East continues to divide Australians and the world.

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Indigenous health professionals on the increase

Some good news for closing the health gap for Australia's indigenous people:

A new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has found the number of Indigenous medical practitioners is rising.

The number of Indigenous GPs doubled from 41 to 82 between 1996 and 2006.

The report also shows the rate of Indigenous people with a post-school qualification has more than doubled to 6,300 in the same period.

Indigenous medicos on the rise: report ABC news online 23 April 2009

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

The world is talking. Are we listening?

Sixth installment in Mong Palatino's series for Global Voices:

Global recession: The world is talking. Are we listening?

He explains the purpose of his posts:

Readers may notice that the articles in this series rarely mention recession stories in the U.S. While recognizing the serious economic challenges faced by the U.S., this series invites the public to study how the recession is shaping and reshaping societies in the world. We want our readers to appreciate how the recession in the U.S. is creating old and new problems around the globe. Many bloggers are providing alternative and insightful views on the crisis. Part of solving the problem is to encourage a global conversation on the economic crisis. This series is a contribution to jumpstart this global conversation.
Are we listening?

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Playing Political Bingo with Boat People

A cross post for Global Voices:

An upturn in the arrival of refugees to Australia by boat has brought tragedy and controversy. The issue of border protection that dominated the 2001 Federal election has re-emerged with extra venom.

A refugee boat has exploded off the north west coast.Three people are dead, two are missing and more than thirty have been injured, some with very serious burns. Three members of the Australian Defence Force, which was towing the boat, are among the injured.

Western Australian police say three people are dead and two are missing following an explosion on board an asylum-seekers' boat being escorted to Christmas Island this morning.

Three dead, dozens injured after explosion on asylum boat ABC News Online 17 April 2009

Allegations that the fatal explosion was caused by asylum seekers have also revived the political storm surrounding the children overboard affair.

Claims that fuel was deliberately poured over the small wooden fishing vessel before the blast will be the focus of inquiries by police and the Northern Territory coroner.

Sabotage fear on boat blast The Age 17 April 2009

A political stoush has erupted with Opposition parliamentarians accusing the government of causing the increase in boat people and encouraging people smuggling through its changes to border protection.

Bloggers are also taking off the gloves. Gary Sauer-Thompson at Public Opinion bemoaned the attempts to politicise asylum seekers again:

Doesn't the old hang on. The Liberals are banging the drum about border security, bad asylum seekers, boat people and soft on security. It is just like a replay of the old children overboard affair with undercurrent of Asian hordes invading Australia because they read The Australian and realized that Rudd Government has gone soft on the processing of asylum seekers.

The reality is that most asylum seekers arrive by plane, many are sent back, whilst the asylum seekers who arrive by boat are processed on Christmas Island. Children are treated more humanely, the so-called “Pacific Solution”, which had people sent to Nauru has been abolished and it has scrapped temporary protection visas, as well as reforming detention policy.

banging an old drum

Mark Thomson’s blog, Seeking Asylum Down Under, has a clear purpose:

Yes, we remember! Blame the victims for their own plight, extract as much sensationalism out of the role of people smugglers, put words in the mouth of ADF personnel who cannot answer for themselves, and then whip up public sentiment against refugees. Throw in dollops of confected outrage over your political opponents complete lack of preparedness to face down the ‘threat' and you have the typical Lib's stock in trade response to the terrible plight of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

Oh, I forgot - then you set about making weak neighbouring countries complicit in policies that violate human rights!

Human rights in Australia - the fear & smear Liberals are at it again over asylum seekers!

Another progressive blog, Club Troppo, was more restrained:

Yesterday’s “boat people” explosion near Ashmore Reef west of Darwin, in which 3 people were apparently killed outright and many more seriously injured, has eerie if obvious parallels with the “children overboard” saga of 2001 which helped John Howard to his third successive election victory.

Returning to the present, there is a crucial difference between the situation the “children overboard” and “Tampa” asylum seekers faced and that of yesterday’s group whose boat apparently caught fire and exploded. The current group didn’t face being towed back out to sea, and they almost certainly didn’t face prolonged immigration detention while their protection visa applications were processed.

In those circumstances, WA Premier Colin Barnett’s claims that the asylum seekers deliberately doused their vessel and the surrounding waters with petrol doesn’t seem to make sense. There must be more to it than we’re being told, unless these particular asylum seekers simply hadn’t heard that the old Howard government “towaway zone” or ”lock ‘em up offshore and throw away the key” policies were no longer operative. There’s a lot more to be told about this story.

The old explosive asylum story reignites

The alternative view was put strongly by Andrew Bolt, newspaper columnist for Rupert Murdoch’s Herald-Sun and perhaps Australia’s best known and controversial right-wing blogger:

AT least three boat people now dead. So how much “kinder” do Kevin Rudd’s policies seem now?

John Howard was supposed to be the cruel one, said Labor. It was Howard when Prime Minister who put in the Pacific Solution, whisking illegal boat people to Nauru, rather than land them here.

Too harsh, said Kevin Rudd, and scrapped it. It was Howard who cut the legal circus that allowed illegal immigrants to play the system for years, until we gave up trying to deport them.

Too harsh, said Rudd, and laid on lawyers. It was Howard who cut the lure of benefits and then imposed on illegal immigrants the imminent threat of return.

Too harsh, said Rudd, and scrapped the Temporary Protection Visas, giving all illegal immigrants—including well-heeled ones fleeing no particular danger—instant access to permanent residency with all the tempting benefits and rights.

Too harsh, said Rudd. And enlightened opinion cheered. Now we were nice. Really? So how nice is it to have now lured at least three people to their deaths? To have not one child overboard—oh, what a confected scandal that was—but a whole boatload of 49?

Yes, indeed. This is a “people overboard” scandal, but for real this time.

People overboard, and the kindness than kills

Possum Comitatus at Pollytics did not show any restraint when condemning Bolt’s post:

… there is no larger magnet for outright bigotry than asylum seekers.

With refugees it’s literally Moral Panic Bingo; Islam, terrorists, race, xenophobia – refugees are the ultimate canvas upon which the shallow end of the public affairs pool can paint their own preferred pathological animosities. If you don’t believe me, then undertake an experiment:

Write down 9 favourite themes of the small minded nutjob set, not specifically about any given thing, any old generically bigoted idiocy will do – then pop on over to the usual creatures that prey on such feeble minded antipathy and read the comments sections on any post they have about asylum seekers. Every time one of your predicted themes is mentioned by a commenter, mark it off - you won’t have to read far before you’ll be shouting “Wingnut Bingo!”.

Of all the Wingnut Bingo halls in the land, there is none bigger than that hosted by The Undescended Testicle.*

He started yesterday with his sneering innuendo, of asylum seekers being “Lured by Rudd to their deaths?”. There really are no boundaries that Bolt’s hysterical Rudd Rage refuses to cross – although the only thing really being “lured” here are miscreants by the bucketful into Andrew Bolt’s site –herding the dross of the internet into News Ltd advertising by playing up to their shallow and spiteful little fantasies.

Why Andrew Bolt should be Sodomised with a Calculator – Part 142

Not the usual sort of criticisms we expect from a statistician and psephologist. For his data analysis you’ll have to visit Possum’s post.

It appears that most of those on the boat were fleeing Afghanistan, a country where Australian troops are currently fighting the Taliban.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Flick Crit: Good the movie

Latest film review at Cinema Takes is Good: just another Third Reich movie

Germany's Third Reich didn’t last its planned thousand years but there seems little doubt that they will be making movies like Good for that long. It’s certainly a winning genre at the Oscars and the box office.

The key word for this Nazi/Holocaust film is derivative.

If you missed The Reader or The Counterfeiter or classics such as Sophie’s Choice or Schindler’s List, then Good will be a fresh and rewarding experience.


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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fijians blogging the crisis

Fiji: The calm after the storm?

John Liebhardt has an update for Global Voices on Fijian bloggers' reactions to the nullification of the constitution by the military regime.

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Flick Crit: Camino - children suffering for Opus Dei

Latest film review at Cinema Takes is Camino: children suffering for Opus Dei

Director Javier Fesser’s Spanish film Camino (The Way) evoked anger and pathos in me in equal measures.

The old cliché that we see what we believe seems to apply here.

With its dream world elements this is a fairy tale in many ways. I was sucked into the story despite initial distaste for the subject matter. Its sentimental plot borders on the telenovela with:

* pubescent love
* hospitals with graphic operations
* secrecy and intrigue
* suspense and misunderstandings
* and of course contrived coincidences

There is even confusion over names.


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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Guide for Twitter Activists

The DigiActive Guide to Twitter for Activism can be downloaded here.

Thanks to Global Voices' Amira Al Hussaini for this link.

Now you can tweet all your friends about it.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Flick Crit: Summer Hours

Latest film review at Cinema Takes is Summer Hours: fading into autumn:

L'heure d'été/Summer Hours is a French language story of family generations. When Hélène Regnier (Edith Scob) dies after her 75 birthday, her two sons Frédéric (Charles Berling) and Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) and daughter Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) have to decide what to do with her home and possessions. Her collection of art and furniture is much sought after, with the Musée d'Orsay as central players. The museum originally commissioned three short films that were never made.

The central theme of “what we leave behind” is familiar one to those of us who are baby boomers. Perhaps this is an advance on the preoccupation of filmmakers with what to do with the old folks. Now it’s how to deal with their passing. Or more cynically, the inheritance.


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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Intrade echoes Obama optimism

Intrade's latest Prediction Markets show some optimism for the U.S. economy but little hope for Detroit's big 2 car dinosaurs:

Their markets not only indicate low probability of a depression, they also suggest there could a turn around by the end of 2009.

The news is not so good for Chrysler with "50.1% chance of a partnership agreement being successfully concluded by April 30th" with Fiat and 79.9% probability of bankruptcy.

Intrade markets hold out slightly more hope for General Motors with bankruptcy at 68.0%.

Barack Obama's latest comments echo these results:

United States President Barack Obama says he is starting to see glimmers of hope for the US economy.

Mr Obama says the US economy is still under severe stress, with many Americans losing their jobs and their homes.

But he says there are glimmers of hope as his massive economic stimulus plan takes effect.
Obama sees 'glimmers of hope' for economy (ABC 11 April 2009)

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Friday, April 10, 2009

True/Slant: latest new journalism

Given the increasing speculation about the future of traditional news media, it's interesting to see another concrete addition to the new kids on the online block. True/Slant is the latest content news network.

It claims to be the digital home for the “New Journalist.” Its founders appear to have a strong background in the MSM. The Wall Street Journal reports:

This week, a new Web news site is entering the fray, with a novel approach to journalistic entrepreneurship, new forms of advertising, and an effort to blend journalism and social networking.

The site, called True/Slant, at, is opening its doors via an odd preliminary status it calls an “open alpha.” This means it’s rough around the edges, and not yet taking in revenue, but hopes to attract enough participation to hone its design and operation.

True/Slant is run by a former news executive at America Online who worked at a variety of publications, including The Wall Street Journal. It covers a wide range of topics, such as politics, culture, sports, business, health, science and food.

True/Slant Tests Another Model Of Web Journalism

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Flick Crit: Let the Right One In - Vintage Vampire

Latest film review at Cinema Takes is Let the Right One In: vintage Vampire:

Låt den rätte komma in/Let the Right One In is vintage vampire. I thought I'd never enjoy another in this genre but this film took me by surprise. A real gem!

This is the best foreign language, pubescent female vampire movie of 2008 by far. It’s set in Stockholm in 1982, obviously a memorable year for Swedish horror. Kåre Hedebrant as the bullied boy Oskar and Lina Leandersson as the girl vampire Eli are magnificent! They even outshine the child actors in Slumdog Millionaire.


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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hold Up the Banks to Account

Thank you to my bank. Which bank?

The big banks are refusing to bow to pressure from politicians urging them to pass on the Reserve Bank's 25-basis-point rate cut.

The central bank has dropped the official interest rate to 3 per cent, its lowest level in 49 years, but so far only the Commonwealth Bank has passed on some of the cut.

The CBA was the first of the big four to announce its reaction; it is passing on 10 basis points of the RBA cut.
Banks resist rates cut pressure
Obviously the Reserve Bank lowered interests rates by 0.25% today to help the banks with their profits. Was the Rudd government's bank guarantee meant to help customers or shareholders? I'd sleep better if there was real competition between the banks and some choice for customers. Greed is still the name of the game.

They even have the cheek to take more than half. It's time the government insisted on real quid pro quo for their underwriting of the banks.

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Flick Crit: Elegy - sex not quite everything

Latest film review at Cinema Takes is Elegy: sex not quite everything:

Kingsley and Cruz make an unlikely pair in Elegy. It took a while to suspend disbelief in this romance/drama. Its protagonist, David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley), is a Literature academic, a lecturer in Practical Criticism at a New York University. Literature, art, photography, and theatre are his milieu. He is also a minor media celebrity.

The story is based on Philip Roth’s 2001 novel The Dying Animal, which I haven’t read. Kepesh is the latest in a long line of ageing male intelligentsia who have libido issues. Self indulgence and total lack of commitment are their essentials.

He is a serial hedonist who seduces one of his mature age students, Consuela Castillo (Penélope Cruz). She comes from a comfortable Cuban American family. Kepesh sets his sexual sights high. However, he ignores all the old clichés: no fool like an old fool; be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. His motto: "When you make love to a woman you get revenge for all the things that defeated you in life."

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

GFC: Survival Tips and Business Opportunities

I missed Mong Palatino's third Global Voices post on the Global economic crisis last week. It's worth sharing what bloggers around the world have been saying:

The global economic recession is spreading gloom and despair everywhere. But the human spirit cannot be easily defeated. Many are trying hard to cope with the crisis. Bloggers are offering survival tips to their readers. Businesses around the world are adjusting. They are adopting new strategies; some are even profiting from the crisis. In this post, I will try to mention numerous examples of individuals and companies exerting their very best to overcome the recession.
Global Recession Survey: Survival Tips and Business Opportunities
Mong has also completed his fourth article in this series:
This post focuses on the stories of the unemployed and migrant workers who are returning home to their countries.

... There are many unemployed individuals who document their daily struggles by creating blogs.
Global Job Losses and Returning Migrant Workers

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Flick Crit: Of Time and the City

Latest film review at Cinema Takes is Of Time and the City: Liverpool Made Me :

The 21st Century has seen an amazing rebirth of feature length documentaries as a rich cinema experience. Obvious examples from 2008 are Man On Wire and Waltz with Bashir.

Of Time and the City is the latest and certainly the most eccentric. It has no obvious claim to a mass market, not even from its home turf Liverpool. It is quite esoteric at times, laced with poetry and introspection which may make it less accessible for some who would otherwise enjoy it immensely. Yet at the same time it is a vivid history of post-war Liverpool, and its working people. A collage of the changing character of British cities in the second half of the 20th Century.

This is filmmaker Terence Davies' homage to his roots.

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