Monday, December 18, 2006


Moving to Beta: Plodding along to glory

This site will stay here, as is, so please feel free to comment here if the urge moves you. If it moves you over to the new site too, that'd be good, thanks.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

What's the point of keeping up with the news?

I don't know. I've wondered about this for a long time and haven't got an answer.

Not long ago I avoided all news altogether. I had no idea what was going on outside my own little sphere, and that was good. I was happy being ignorant. The alternative was to know what was going on in the world, and that was bad. I couldn't stop myself getting upset about things. This won't surprise you: most world events are completely beyond my control or influence ;) So there was really no point in worrying about them, seeing there was nothing I could do anyway, but I couldn't stop worrying, so I had to stop the news.

That didn't last. Recently I stumbled across Werner's blog (Soldier of Africa - he's working as a military observer in Darfur) and suddenly realised that the situation in Sudan is one of the worst catastrophes this world has ever seen, and here I am, in blissful ignorance, doing nothing to help. Is that excusable? No.

So now I'm keeping up with the news again, or the Darfur news, anyway. There are untold numbers of other catastrophes and worrying events I could be focusing on too, but no, one is enough. Darfur is it. I'm reading the feeds and writing posts, and now it feels like I'm doing something to help.

And that is completely delusional. What am I actually contributing? Could any of the millions of displaced people in Darfur one day say, "Gee thanks, what you did really helped!"? No.

But the alternative is to do nothing, and that is guaranteed to be no help whatsoever. In other words, I'm hoping that doing something is better than nothing, and anyway, this activity is silencing the voice of my conscience (the one saying "Do something!").

I don't know whether blog posting is helpful, but I'm hoping that any focus on Africa and the events in Darfur will at least not be hurtful. The Australian media's coverage of African matters leaves something to be desired: specifically, some coverage, any coverage, anything at all. And the average Australian's knowledge of Africa is way beyond pitiful. I know this because I am an average Australian.

Look at that decision by the Tamworth City Council yesterday. Six out of nine councillors voted against housing Sudanese refugees, with the Mayor claiming that the refugee programme should be changed because of "the cultural difference of African people, things such as their respect of women in their community". It's a ludicrous statement, shameful and embarrassing, but not at all surprising. Why wouldn't an Australian's general knowledge about Africa be hopeless? If our world views are largely shaped by media output (and I think they are) then for most Australians Africa is just that big shape on the map over there. You know the one: the place where all the wild animals live.

So I'll be posting about Darfur now and then, prodded along by yesterday's decision by the Tamworth City Council, and I'd like to thank them for the inspiration. Very kind.

In case you're interested

From Not going anywhere by David Blair, the UK Daily Telegraph's Africa correspondent, about Zimbabwe's President, the "selfish, delusional" Robert Mugabe, due to face elections in 2008:
He has just announced that he will stick around until 2010 at least. The hapless fools on the government benches of Zimbabwe’s parliament are about to rewrite the constitution, postponing the next presidential election and allowing Mugabe to stay in power until 2010.
In other countries, this kind of legal and political outrage would galvanise the opposition. But not in Zimbabwe.

Sadly, the bitterly divided Movement for Democratic Change is a shambles. Its leading figures are far too busy fighting one another to place any pressure on the regime.

So Mugabe’s calamitous rule will continue and Zimbabwe will drift on into ruin. The truth is that the world is giving up on Zimbabwe.

Quote of the day

For my sister J, flying home today to some sort of Pacific island paradise. She can't wait to get away from Australia, strangely enough.

From the Channel Nine cricket commentary team, Third Test, Australia v. England, Perth, day two, afternoon session, yesterday.

Squeezed between numerous calls of "the tail's wagging" from somebody (was Bill Lawry there?), Ian Chappell - impressed by the way England's Monty Panesar and Steve Harmison were running between the wickets - remarked that it's not often you hear a "wait" from lower-order batsmen:
It's usually a yes or a no, or quite often, a sorry.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The meaning of mateship

Sarcastic title referring to John Howard's Australia. I don't know what else to say.
Australian city rejects Sudanese refugees
15 Dec 2006 03:39:33 GMT
Source: Reuters

By Rob Taylor

CANBERRA, Dec 15 (Reuters) - A group of Sudanese refugees has been refused residence in Australia's most "Friendly Town" because of fears they could spark a repeat of the race riots that gripped Sydney a year ago.

City officials in the regional city of Tamworth said on Friday they had rejected residency for five Sudanese families because they could stir racial unrest in the city, 260 km (163 miles) northwest of Sydney.

"We need to change the (refugee) programme significantly because of the cultural difference of African people, things such as their respect of women in their community," Mayor James Treloar told Reuters, dismissing fears of a divisive race row.

Tamworth in January hosts Australia's largest country music festival and recently won a tourism award naming the busy rural hub as the country's premier "Friendly Town".

But Treloar said local people and some "redneck elements" had aired concerns at a council meeting about 12 other Sudanese already living in the city, saying most had come before local courts for crimes ranging from dangerous driving to rape.

"They will not take a direction from authorities, so we've got a fairly significant cultural problem," he said, adding that health services for Tamworth's 40,000 population were already stretched.

Local churches said they would launch a petition calling on the council to reverse its decision, which was a response to an immigration department programme to resettle refugees in regional areas to help reverse a drift of Australians to major cities.

Several councillors and business leaders said they would try to overturn the decision, arguing that the arrival of the refugees would not fuel the kind of tensions that led to last December's Sydney beach riots where mainly-white surfers battled Lebanese-Australians.

"It will reflect on Tamworth and I feel it will be somewhat of a negative effect. To say that we can't provide for another five families is I think a bit ridiculous," Tamworth Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Max Cathcart told ABC radio.

Australia is a nation of immigrants, with nearly one in four of the country's 20 million people born overseas. Almost six million people have settled in the country since 1945 and Australia plans to accept about 144,000 new immigrants in 2006-07.

But the government is concerned the rapid transformation could fuel tensions and recently announced new citizenship tests to force new citizens to pass an English-language test and questions on Australian values such as "mateship".

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Missing the bloody point

Here follows a selection of online newspaper reports on US actor George Clooney's visit to China and Egypt - a trip he organised "to make a personal plea to Chinese and Egyptian officials to use their ties with the Sudanese government to help stop the violence [in Darfur, Sudan]."

The article (the same one, over and over) is by Associated Press writer, Lee Keath, with some help in a few by Brooke Donald. It begins, "George Clooney arrived in Egypt on Tuesday, campaigning to raise awareness about killings in Sudan's Darfur region."

Please notice where each paper chose to situate the story.

CBS News: Entertainment:

Screenshot of CBS News: Entertainment
China Daily: Entertainment: Movies:

Screenshot of China Daily: Entertainment: Movies
Guardian Unlimited: Film: News:

Screenshot of Guardian Unlimited: Film: News AP Movie News:

Screenshot of AP Movie News
And the winner of "Most Inappropriate Press Photo of All Time" goes to... USA Today:

Screenshot of an article titled George Clooney campaigns in Egypt, China; accompanying photo shows Mr Clooney in a crown and a sash which says Sexiest Man Alive

I'm thinking that a few hundred thousand dead people and a few million IDPs (internally displaced persons) trying to survive in a rapidly escalating conflict - one of our worst human tragedies of all time - probably should qualify as a serious news story.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


[Image removed because it infringed upon the copyrights of others.]

- Gary Larson, The prehistory of the Far Side: a 10th anniversary exhibit (Kansas City, Missouri: Andrews and McMeel, 1989), p. 102.

A cartoon from Larson's sketchbook. And don't panic: it doesn't make sense (as far as I know), I just think it's funny.

In case you've lost the ability to read anything written by hand (and who hasn't? I can barely read my own signature now) the caption reads: "It was Jeremiah's job to guard the rhubarb, but he never knew why."

Happy Sunday to you.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Words of comfort for the people of Darfur...

... from their President, His Excellency Mr Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir, who was addressing the opening ceremony of the 5th ACP [African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States] Summit of Heads of State and Government on Thursday 07 December 2006 in Khartoum, Sudan.


I should have been specific. By "Words of comfort for the people of Darfur..." I meant the exact opposite. I meant the address delivered by their President would be anything but comfort for the people of Darfur, and in fact could be the worst insult they ever receive (just to top off all the other insults they've received already... torture, rape, murder, for instance). I was hoping to use sarcasm or irony or whatever the hell it may be called in order to say something without being direct or specific. If I was being direct I would have said I think President al-Bashir is a lying evil monster and should be dragged to the ICC kicking and screaming, hopefully because he's being kicked as he's being dragged.

If that doesn't illustrate my problem with being specific, here is another reason: I don't know enough to be sure that Mr al-Bashir actually is lying, and nor can I be sure that he's evil or deserves to face the ICC. All I have to go on are media reports, and they are no basis for proving anything, least of all guilt in relation to crimes against humanity. Everyone, including Mr Bashir, should be regarded as innocent unless or until guilt has been sufficiently established to convince any cool-headed and reasonable person. (Perhaps it's not necessary that a court trial be involved, but I don't know enough to be sure of this.) In other words, I should be assuming his innocence. It's very difficult to do this though, because I believe that what follows in his address is complete bullshit. I also cannot believe a group of world leaders - those whose countries make up the membership of the ACP - have willing elected this man to be their leader. I cannot believe it. What the hell are they doing? What's wrong with them? It makes me so angry there's nothing more to say.

If you'd like news updates on the situation in Darfur, Reuters AlertNet reports are very handy - here is the customised RSS feed.

Please note:
1. The spelling of Mr al-Bashir's name varies, so I've used the Wikipedia version.
2. The translation or transcription of his address is not the most clearly written piece of English you'll ever see; it's possible that it misquotes what he said or meant.
3. In the following extracts I cleaned up some typos and punctuation mistakes and threw [...]s everywhere. I don't know whether to apologise for the mess I made or throw a few more in.

Now! Attention, please, for the President:
I [...] assert the preponderance of Sudan to work and collaborate with the ACP member states on the one hand and the international community on the other, in order to achieve our common goals and interests, such as keeping of peace, security and stability, under the prevalence of justice, equality and respect of sovereignty of other states, in addition to the foremost of our priorities: sustained development and eradication of poverty.
May I mention [...] that the experience of our country in attaining peace is worthy to be noted, for it has relied on the recognition of cultural, ethnic and religious diversity. No doubt, agreement on the legal and constitutional formula, which makes of such diversity a source for strength and consolidation, [will] require[...] a long time to fulfil.

We, however, shall endeavour to make of diversity a tool for consolidation, and [...] the implementation of the peace agreements [will] be carried [out] in a manner which shall disseminate the spirit of loving concord, equity, justice and peace among all citizens.
May I indicate here that the noble principles of democracy and good government are principles in which we believe and [are] exalted by our teachings, values and traditions across our countries.
Many of our countries do suffer from conflicts and disputes created by colonial powers and further aggravated by poverty, backwardness, and the lack of recognition of the root causes therein. It is high time, however, to surpass and address them through dialogue, as you realize we witness a new phase of the world of today wherein its people are availed to closely interact, thanks be to [...] information technology, migration, travelling and cross-movement of individuals and cash, so we are now living in a world that looks like a small village. This situation urges that a culture of peaceful coexistence, respect for human rights, prevalence of justice and lifting of injustice on vulnerable societies be installed in addition to [...] endeavours [...] by governments to realize a better life for their citizens.
Following endorsement by member countries at the Summit, the ACP's president for the next two years will be - guess who? - President of the Republic of the Sudan, His Excellency Mr Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir. Mr al-Bashir's name has also been endorsed by Human Rights Watch as one of those individuals who should be investigated by the International Criminal Court. Hmm.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Darfur, Sudan

Here's a post I've been working on, and I mean "working on" in the sense of reading things and wondering what to make of them and what to say, or whether to say anything at all. It was going to be the world's best post, too, so inspirational it would have galvanised you into action, reader - you and your superhero powers - to solve all the problems of the world, starting with the conflict in Darfur, Sudan.

But sadly I'm not going to write the world's best post, because I can't. There's too much to say and I don't know what I'm talking about. I've been reading all week, trying to absorb a few facts and build up a bit of authority, but there's too much to catch up on.

Let's not fuss (I say to myself). We'll just go with quotes - a collection of impressions.

But first an explanation for this sudden interest in Darfur. About two weeks ago and in keeping with the random fluky nature of all things internet, I was doing a Google blog search for "quotes" and one of the results on the first page was Some of my favourite quotes. I toddled on over there and found Soldier of Africa by Werner, a South African soldier who is working as a military observer with the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), and currently editing the AMIS newsletter from El Fasher, Darfur.

I ended up wandering through his archives, amazed that somebody could be blogging from Darfur, and aghast at just how much I didn't know about the place or the situation there.

So. That's how it started. And here's how it will continue: quotes from here and there, snatches of this and that, until hopefully I can sort out all these ideas in my head and put them in neat lines and sentences.

Darfur, Sudan, 2006.

There is no peace whatsoever in Darfur. To a great extent this is the responsibility of the Government.
- Jan Pronk, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations, Weblog nr 38, 27 November 2006.

As of December 2005, more than half of Darfur's six million people - Arabs and non-Arabs, pastoralists and farmers - now suffer the effects of a collapsed economy, little or no freedom of movement, and the loss of livelihoods from looted and destroyed property. More than two million displaced victims of "ethnic cleansing" in Darfur remain confined in camps, some for more than two years, where they are almost entirely dependent on foreign assistance and remain vulnerable to violence. Most displaced persons are unable to return to their rural homes due to the insecurity created by government forces and Janjaweed [militias]. Where individuals have attempted to return, they face continuing harassment and deadly attacks from growing numbers of armed groups, including the rebel movements, in some cases at the hands of the same persons who forcibly displaced them.
- "Entrenching impunity: government responsibility for international crimes in Darfur: I. Summary," Human Rights Watch, vol. 17, no. 17a (December 2005).

Crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by Sudanese military and militia forces have included the targeted killing, summary execution, assault and rape of thousands of civilians, the destruction of hundreds of villages, the theft of millions of livestock, and the forced displacement of more than two million people.
The rebel groups in Darfur are also responsible for serious abuses, including killings, rape and abductions of civilians, attacks on humanitarian convoys, and theft of livestock, that are war crimes.
Escalating attacks on international and Sudanese aid workers and [African Union (AU)] personnel demonstrate that these groups are increasingly viewed by the warring parties as legitimate targets, a situation that jeopardizes the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance to more than three million people, or half of Darfur's population.
- "Entrenching impunity: government responsibility for international crimes in Darfur: III. Background," Human Rights Watch, vol. 17, no. 17a (December 2005).

[Among the lawyers at Amal Center in Nyala, South Darfur, is] Thuriya Haroon Daldon, who is teasingly nicknamed Mrs ICC by local judges and, unusually for a woman here, drives herself around in a van. Thuriya Haroon's first case with Amal was in 2001, representing a group of men who said they had been tortured by national-security officers. "I submitted the names of the torturers to the attorney general, but until now there's no permission even to pursue the case, and no answer," she said, and laughed. A frank woman with a friendly but firm aspect, Thuriya Haroon uses laughter to fend off the realities of death and cruelty that now fill her workday. "Instead, we face harassment," she said. "They follow us, watch us. And until now the victims say to me: 'What do you do? We give our stories, and those who tortured us are on the streets.' Sometimes I'm ashamed. I've done nothing." She has handled hundreds of rape cases, for example, and until now: "No one has been convicted of rape in all of Darfur. We've had only two cases of immoral behavior. They were sentenced to six months."
Since August 2004, the Amal Center has compiled information on more than 72,000 cases [of torture and abuse].
It's not that no one has been connected by Sudanese courts to the genocide. They have convicted several men who did not want to take part in it: Darfurian Air Force pilots who refused to fly bombing missions over their homeland. They are serving 10 to 20 years in Kober prison in Khartoum.
- Elizabeth Rubin, "If not peace, then justice," New York Times Magazine, 02 April 2006.

The main reason other international [television] stations don't always cover Africa well is - not because execs think viewers aren't interested, because they know very well that public attention is shaped by their decisions - but simply money. It costs a lot to send people into Congo and Darfur, [...]
- Andrew Stroehlein, "Great hopes for Al Jazeera International," Reuters AlertNet, 03 November 2006.

While one of the world's worst humanitarian crises continues some 600 miles away in Darfur, across Khartoum bridges are being built, office towers are popping up, supermarkets are opening and flatbed trucks hauling plasma TVs fight their way through thickening traffic.

Despite the image of Sudan as a land of cracked earth and starving people, the economy is booming, with little help from the West. Oil has turned it into one of the fastest growing economies in Africa - if not the world - emboldening the nation's already belligerent government and giving it the wherewithal to resist Western demands to end the conflict in Darfur.
The boom is also strengthening the government's hand at home. Over the past few years, [President] Mr. Bashir has been on an infrastructure binge, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into roads, bridges, power plants, hospitals and schools, projects that tend to boost any government's popularity. Mr. Bashir seems to desperately need it, with many people across the country, not just in Darfur, openly rebelling against his rule.
[According to Abda Yahia el-Mahdi, a former finance minister, now in private consulting] more than 70 percent of the government's share of oil profits is spent on defense. A government priority is to manufacture guns and ammunition domestically, in case external supplies are cut off.
- Jeffrey Gettleman, "War in Sudan? Not where the oil wealth flows," New York Times, 24 October 2006.

UN Sudan Bulletin 06 Dec 2006: West Darfur: Twenty five children, who were abandoned when their parents fled to Chad, were reported in need of food.
- United Nations Country Team in Sudan, "United Nations Sudan Bulletin 06 Dec 2006," ReliefWeb Latest Updates.

Monday, December 04, 2006


I've been diligently reading serious articles with a view to writing a serious post about something really really serious (not joking), but suddenly happened upon the Personals at the London Review of Books. And now I can't think:
My most humbling moment was the birth of my first grandchild. No! Wait! It was when I won the office Grand National sweepstake in 1999. God bless you, Bobbyjo! Idiot gamer (M, 61). One eye on a meaningful relationship, the other on the William Hill Saturday quick-pick cards. Box no. 23/03

This advert began as a limp but over the following weeks it developed into this magnificent sprint. Woman, 36. Probably as good as you’ll ever get. Stop whingeing and kiss me. Box no. 23/04

Young, charming, thoughtful, attractive, sporty, zesty, intelligent. None of these are me, but if you’d like to spend an afternoon or more considering alternative adjectives to be applied to 53-year old cantankerous dipshit, write now to box no 2202

2 out of every 10 times I’m absolutely correct. Man, 35, (Islington). Non-smoker, academic, caring, solvent, passionate, articulate, full head of hair. Box no. 2203

Your Christmas bookings now taken! Pathetic man, 37. Box no. 2207
Oh, bless 'em. Aren't they cute? :)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Blogger commenting

Bloody hell. I just did a random skip back through the Plodding archives and found a comment left on the Blogger system (thank you, Island) (UPDATE: and Greensmile), I know not when. Blogger commenting is not supposed to be on, and for most posts it isn't. If you click on "Comments", you're supposed to get a HaloScan form.

A random Blogger comment happened once before (and I also found a few spams too, damn them to hell) but I don't know why or what I did to the template to mangle it in such a way as to allow this. I hope it was just a temporary mess-up which later was corrected.

But the point is this: I don't get emails to say there are comments left on the Blogger system as happens with HaloScan, and I presume I can't enable this sort of notification unless Blogger commenting gets turned back on, which is not going to happen.

So - if you left a Blogger comment somewhere, and I haven't replied to it, it's because I don't know about it. And unless you come back and point to it with a new HaloScan comment, or unless I do a full archive expedition post by post, then your comment has been unread and unappreciated (at least by me) and that is a sad and stupid waste and I'm sorry.


Okay, I'm an idiot. I hadn't changed my blogger email address, so even if there were notifications, they were going astray. Not any more, but nevertheless: ... errr, whatever. I'm tired :)

The tribe of Melvin

From today's post at The Blog of Henry David Thoreau, Thoreau's Journal: 02-Dec-1856:
I thank my stars for Melvin. I think of him with gratitude when I am going to sleep, grateful that he exists,— that Melvin who is such a trial to his mother. Yet he is agreeable to me as a tinge of russet on the hillside. I would fain give thanks morning and evening for my blessings. Awkward, gawky, loose-hung, dragging his legs after him. He is my contemporary and neighbor. He is one tribe, I am another, and we are not at war.
He is one tribe, I am another, and we are not at war.

Maybe that's how it is on the road to peace? Melvins everywhere you look.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Summer extremes

Today - the 1st day of December - is the first day of summer here in Australia. That's based on calendar time, of course, and the official start of the season never really corresponds to the start of summer weather. In this region (about halfway up the east coast) the temperature and humidity usually start to rise in October, and in most years it would be disgustingly hot and muggy by now. But not this year. This year has been the coolest and most comfortable summer I can ever remember, and I presume this is due to the fact that most of the rest of Australia is experiencing one of the worst droughts of all time. Though we have plenty of water here, the air has been dry, and that makes all the difference.

Heat + dry air = a hot day.

Heat + humidity = hellfire and damnation.

The other day when I posted that photo of the grass under the clothesline (the one with the footprints), it didn't occur until later that looking at such greenness** might break your heart if you're in a drought-ravaged area, and if that happened, I'm very sorry. And I'm not sure that I should be writing a post about how great my summer is when it's all due to the extreme climatic misfortunes of others, either. But it is a great summer here. The coolest, the driest, the best. It's unfair, yes, it is.

** That lawn has never in its life seen water from a hose, or (apart from mowing) any other care or attention. It's wonder grass: kikuyu. Forget to mow it for five minutes and it'll be waving around your head.