Thursday, January 28, 2010

Machu Picchu Mudslides

With growing concern for those stranded by the Peru floods in Aguas Calientes, this post from Global Voices is timely:

Local twitterers were especially active reporting the latest events in the disaster areas, and posting photos and videos almost in real time since early morning.
Peru: Heavy Rains and Mudslides in Cusco
The author, Juan Arellano's website Globalizado is in Spanish but google translate can help.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Flagging Australia Day.

When the Governor-General's representative in London visited Oz in 1954, I was six years old. We stood waiting patiently in Mt Alexander Road, near Melbourne's Essendon Airport for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. We had been given little British and Australian flags to greet her passing by. The Union Jack in both hands! The height-challenged amongst us also had periscopes similar to those used by the Anzac snipers at Gallipoli. Neither the flags or scopes were much use as the royal Roller flew by at speed.

In the good old days (god for short) it was generally un-Australian to indulge in excessive flag waving or ostentatious patriotism. It was a bit like disputing the umpire's decision or revealing family business to friends, much less strangers, or the media.

It was an era in which Australian Story and A Current Affair would have lacked the stream of volunteers ready to spill their guts or dob in their mates. someone who erected a flagpole on their front lawn wold have been shunned by the neighbours.

When god ruled, the Southern Cross in the guise of the Eureka flag, was associated with the dreaded Builders Labourers Federation or the local commies. Today it is becoming tainted with redneck, true blue Aussie jingoism : Our national flag has been highjacked by hillbillies Please excuse the mixed-colour metaphor.

In 1954 the only cars that wore the Australian flag belonged to Her Majesty's/Commonwealth of Australia car fleet. Today our local supermarket has the OZ flag on stubby holders. Is nothing sacred?

In the great flag debate, I favour some version of the aboriginal flag and the Southern Cross. Bound to upset lots of people.

Topically, India also has its National Day on 26 January. It is a republic with its own flag, as well as being a member of the Commonwealth of Nations aka the former British Empire. Its Independence Day is on 15 August. Indians celebrate the end of colonialism, as we commemorate the beginning.

More at my new website Red Bluff

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School League Tables Spark Stoush

It's no secret that there is no love lost between the Deputy PM and Education Mnister, Julia Gillard, and the teacher unions. The industrial action by the Victorian branch of the Australian Education Union just 3 days before the 2007 Federal election didn't help. Members of her staff were still smarting on election night even after the result was known.

The latest bad blood is about the so-called "school league tables". The government website starts on Thursday:

A SHOWDOWN is looming between the Federal Government and teachers over the publication of information on the nation's more than 10,000 schools that will allow the creation of so-called league tables.

From Thursday, the My School website will detail - among other things - individual schools' attendance and retention rates, an index of disadvantage, and results in national numeracy and literacy tests.
Showdown between Gillard, teachers looming over schools website

Industrial action has been threatened by the AEU:
Public school teachers at an Australian Education Union meeting have voted unanimously to boycott national literacy and numeracy tests unless the Government changes its plans to publish the results online.
Teachers vote to boycott school tests
Meanwhile principals have questioned the effectiveness of the disadvantaged rating system:
The International Confederation of School Principals says there is no evidence to suggest rating schools will help those that are disadvantaged.

...The confederation's Australian-based executive secretary, Ted Brierley, says the system has failed in England and the United States.

"The problem is, very rarely, if ever, has funds ever been generated in sufficient quantities to enable any improvements to occur in those schools," he said.
School disadvantage ratings system 'just doesn't work'
Julia is unmoved by threats of a boycott:
Education Minister Julia Gillard has vowed to take action to ensure national literacy and numeracy exams go ahead if teachers boycott the testing.
Gillard warns teachers over tests
My view after three decades teaching in schools is that the energy that goes into the testing, teaching to the tests and engaging in unhealthy competition between schools, would be much better spent on teaching and learning. During our years in Arnhem Land, the waste of valuable time and resources going into the testing regime in remote indigenous schools was disgraceful.

The Opposition are happy to wedge the ALP and its teacher constituency by opposing a scheme similar to ones they have proposed in the past.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Victorian Hoon Bidding Spree

It was bound to become a bidding war. Following the Victorian State Opposition's holidays offensive , there is a law and order bidding spree:

The State Government has announced plans to strengthen Victoria's dangerous driving laws, hours after the Opposition released its own hoon driving policy.

Mr Holding says the money raised from selling cars will be donated to victims of crime and road tragedies.

The plans come after the Opposition released its anti-hoon policy earlier today.

The Opposition's policy is a three-step process that includes impounding the driver's car and eventually crushing it should they re-offend.
Government and Opposition talk tough on hoon drivers
Wouldn't have anything to do with the Altona by-election in 3 weeks time or the State election in November. Better start building more prisons ASAP.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Refugee Payments: The Facts

One of the ongoing problems related to refugee and immigration issues in Australia is the continuing misinformation that regularly circulates about government payments. It is not just word-of-mouth or the blogosphere, as the ABC's Media Watch has pointed out on numerous occasions:

A few weeks ago we highlighted a vicious little viral email that makes ludicrous claims about refugees' welfare entitlements. Versions of it keep appearing on letters pages around the country.
Does no-one listen to Media Watch? (14 April 2008)
A paper from the Parliament of Australia Library by Luke Buckmaster of the Social Policy Unit tries to put the record straight:
... there is no truth to claims made in emails recently circulated throughout Australia that refugees are entitled to higher benefits than other social security recipients. Refugees have the same entitlements as all other permanent residents—they do not receive special refugee payments or special rates of payment.
Australian Government assistance to refugees: fact v fiction ( 1 Dec 2009)
You can download the pdf here. Thanks to Australian Policy Online for the link.

Experience tells us that the struggle between facts and prejudice is a tortuous one.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Monarchy Maps: Google a Royal Visit

With the current interest in Prince William's visit to the colonies, a look at the royal website is good for a laugh. The monarchy is supposed to stay relevant and modern. The Google Maps Past and future Royal visits in my area should be bookmarked by anyone visiting the mother country.

If you've been losing sleep about where the Countess of Wessex is expending the public purse today, she is at Rowcroft Barracks, Aborfield Garrison, Reading, Berkshire, presumably in her role as Colonel-in-Chief, The Corps of Army Music. If you're not sure who she is or how she fits into the Royal Household, join the club.

The British taxpayers spent approximately $A 70 million on Royal Public Finances in the 2007-8 financial year. Not sure how much royal visits to Oz and related matters cost Australian taxpayers. The map of engagements doesn't include areas Down Under. You have to visit the young Princes website. I'll let you google that yourself if you must.

For those interested in Australia's future republic, please visit the Australian Republican Movement

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Monday, January 18, 2010

New Home at Red Bluff

My new online multimedia home is Red Bluff. It brings together blogging, video and other personal perspectives on Australian and international news and politics, the environment and the media. This blog and Cinema Takes will be featured there.

Thanks to Weebly for the free web hosting and website editor.

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Herald Sun Shows No Shame

Let's hope that Herald Sun journalist/gossip columnist Mark Dunn and/or the paper's editor on Saturday doesn't have a love child. The frontpage story was a low even for a tabloid:

EXCLUSIVE: THE late billionaire Richard Pratt has left a $22.8 million fortune - more than three-quarters of his personal assets - to his 11-year-old love child, according to his last will.
Visy tycoon Richard Pratt leaves fortune to 11-year-old love child ... (Herald Sun 16 Jan 2010)
Not only did they name her in the story but also included a large photo in case any of her friends didn't know about it. The Ethics Unit must be optional in some journalism courses these days.

Like all these cases I feel ambivalent about publicising something that should have remained private, namely the minor's identity.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Vic Opposition Take a Summer Break from Their Lethargy

We've been back in Victoria for 18 months or so after 10 years up North. Until recently it seemed that it had become a one party State. The Liberal Opposition leader and his team were mostly absent or absent-minded. Our local Liberal member, and failed shadow minister, Murray Thompson typified their lethargy and incompetence.

They couldn't lay a glove on a government with an unelected leader and more than a decade in office. Well the summer has seen a wee change. Ted Baillieu's public relations managers have filled the January political vacuum with a series of populist policies and pronouncements.

The latest is the abolition of suspended gaol sentences:

Victorian Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu – frequently derided for his genteel and small ‘l’ liberal approach to politics – has boldly started a law and order auction that could see him elected Premier come November 26th.
TED GETS TOUGH: Vic Libs show true grit pledging to scrap suspended sentences
It's a wimpy version of the kind of mandatory sentencing proposals that pollies find irresistible around election time.

An Onymous Lefty is less kind:
Sending more people to prison for less serious crimes makes me a big tough leader. Please take me seriously? Please?
Law and Order is the old standby for conservatives bereft of original ideas. The latest dabble in populism followed close on the heels of Baillieu's plans to relocate the Victoria Police force to the train stations at night.

The Opposition would love to emulate the Brumby/Bracks courting of disaffected voters in the regions. It certainly helped in the 1999 victory against Jeff Kennett. It was also a major factor in the 2008 defeat of the Carpenter government in Western Australia. The only noise on that front concerns the North-South pipeline:
Opposition leader Ted Baillieu said the pipeline should not have been built and was a "white elephant".
North-south pipeline a reality
He has other problems as he cannot afford to alienate the thirsty Melbourne suburbs:
THE Coalition appears to be walking away from its election promise of a new dam to boost Melbourne's water supply.

...With the election just 11 months away, pressure is mounting for Mr Baillieu to clarify his policy for resolving what will be one of the most pressing issues of the campaign.
Baillieu backpedals on the Coalition's dam commitment

At the beginning of an election year, you'd think the the National Party would be trying their hardest to copy their WA cousins. I'd be hard pressed to remember the name of their State leader.

Talking of names, a million dollars couldn't squeeze the names of the Opposition Shadow Attorney General or their frontbench spokespeople on water or transport. Ted Baillieu has done all the running lately. Perhaps the earlier reference to his team should be deleted.

Anyway it has stirred the government from its complacency. Just back from vacation, Brumby hopped into his opposite number:
VICTORIA would need a new jail if suspended sentences and home detention were scrapped, experts say.

And the cost of implementing the changes would be several hundred million dollars, because each new prison bed would effectively cost $600,000 to create.

The Herald Sun revealed yesterday that the Coalition would dump suspended sentences and home detention if it got into power - a plan condemned by the Government.

Premier John Brumby and acting Attorney-General Bob Cameron attacked the Opposition's plan by saying "mums and dads" convicted of more than two driving-while-disqualified offences would go straight to jail.
Premier John Brumby says Opposition plan to scrap suspended sentences has fallen apart

The complacency was not about Brumby's attitude to government where the polls indicate he is viewed as both active and effective. The cracks in that picture are public transport, traffic congestion and nighttime violence. Plus fire and water, of course.

Conventional wisdom has an easy victory for Labor at the upcoming November election. Despite the Opposition's inability to get much political mileage from the bushfires tragedy, another Black Saturday could change all that. As the WA and Northern Territory elections showed, Brumby cannot afford to take either his opponents or the voters for granted.

Baillieu gave an exclusive to the Herald Sun. That's only fitting as the editors of that paper have filled the role of Opposition leader for many years. Though it would be impossible to exceed the anti-government campaign by the West Australian newspaper in 2008, I'm sure the Hun will have a real go. Nevertheless, they may be a bit ambivalent about the other issue that have gained some traction:
A NEW independent watchdog will crack down on politically motivated, taxpayer-funded government advertisements if the Coalition wins next year's state election.
Baillieu pledge to end political ads
The mass media are the beneficiaries of this kind of government spending. Hackneyed as it is, the Opposition took a long time to catch on and hatch this one. The Working Victoria ads have been running since August.

Update: Thanks to Terry Wright for his comment alerting us to the ban the bong policy that heralded Ted's New Year offensive.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Anglican Church Leader Questions Internet Filter

From Canon Dr Ray Cleary, chair of the Melbourne Anglican Social Responsibilities Committee:

Federal Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy claims it is "just one part of a range of measures designed to make the internet a safer place". But questions remain. If there is to be a filter on selected subject matter such as child pornography what are the safety nets and accountability structures in place to prevent present and future governments censoring a range of political views, opinions and expressions that they find politically unacceptable or enabling them to track what individuals are looking at or accessing?

Conroy is right in suggesting we need a multi-pronged response to inappropriate material. I'm just not sure the filter should be one of those prongs.
Protecting children online takes more than a filter (The Age 14 Jan 2010)

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Avatar Stirs Conservative Ire

It seems that Andrew Bolt et al are not the only conservatives to have problems with Avatar's political message:

James Cameron's "Avatar" may have smashed box-office records, but it's receiving less-than-stellar reviews from some conservative writers who have panned the movie's blunt political messaging.
James Cameron's gamble pays off as his "Avatar" passes the billion-dollar mark.
The Politics of 'Avatar:' Conservatives Attack Film's Political Message

Thanks to Current for the link.

My view from Cinema Takes:
Those looking for a message will probably find it, but be warned it’s not much of an allegory. It may have upset some conservative commentators, but not all tree-huggers, gaia greenies or animal libbers will embrace it either. The indigenous people are full-on meat eaters.

Ultimately god/gaia is an anti-colonial, anti-globalisation, save-the-planet, peace warrior. She’s called Eyra on Pandora. The 'mother" doesn’t take sides, she just gets even.
Avatar: One, Two, Three Dimensional

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Whaling War of Words

Cross post from Global Vocies:

The whale hunt seems to be the forgotten war in the public relations hype that surrounds the collision of the Sea Shepherd’s Ady Gil with a Japanese whaler.
Australia: Whaling War of Words

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Indian Homicide Reignites Racism Ruckus

A cross-post from Global Voices:

Australia: Indian Homicide Reignites Racism Ruckus

The murder of an Indian man in Melbourne has reignited the debate about racism in Australia and the safety of overseas students. It has also severely strained relations between Australia and India.

... Meanwhile the safety of athletes and visitors at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October is an ongoing issue that could erupt at any time. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a High Degree of Caution as its current travel advice for India. Tit for tat coming up perhaps?

UPDATE 6 January 2010
The Times of India reports that an advisory warning has been the result:
Succumbing to popular outrage over continuing attacks on Indian students in Australia, the government on Tuesday issued an advisory warning students heading to Australia for studies and those already there.
The foreign ministry cautioned students that incidents of violence had started affecting the larger Indian community in Australia. The advisory came three days after accounting graduate Nitin Garg was knifed to death, the first fatality in the attacks. It also came on a day when Indian and Australian officials met in Canberra to search for better ways to deal with the continuing violence even as the partially burnt body of another Indian was found.
Advisory asks students to be careful in Australia

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Animator vs Animation for Frustrated Amatuers

For those frustrated amateur animators amongst us, an animation gem from Alan Becker:

Animator vs Animation

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Indigenous Menagerie at Melbourne Museum

'Butterfly'  Marina Murdilnga

Menagerie, an exhibition of indigenous sculpture, is running till 21 February 2010 at the Melbourne Museum. 33 artists from around Australia are on display.

A wide range of styles are used including both traditional and modern media, ranging from pandanus leaves to barbed-wire. Works by well known artists such as Owen Yalandja and Marina Murdilnga are represented as well as some others who should tickle your imagination and broaden your horizons about aboriginal art.

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Hampshire New Year Welcomes Gay Marriage

After a bleak end to last year, 2010 brings positive news from New Hampshire:

Gay and lesbian couples rushed to marry in New Hampshire on Friday when at the stroke of midnight it became the fifth U.S. state to allow same-sex marriage, reversing some setbacks for the polarizing national movement.
Gays rush to marry at New Hampshire statehouse

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Friday, January 1, 2010

Bran Nue Dae Hits Cinemas

Advance screenings of Rachel Perkins' glorious Bran Nue Dae start next week with the national release to follow during January.

This is one of the best 2009 Australian productions. This indigenous Shakespearean-style comedy/romance/road movie is all fun. Don't miss it.

Spread the news!

It's also screening at the Sundance Film Festival later this month.

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