Sunday, 23 December 2012

So much is wrong with this world...

... For example, a dentist in Iowa, US, fired his assistant on the basis she was a threat to his marriage.

The woman took him to court on the basis of sex discrimination. The basic question in the case was: ""whether an employee who has not engaged in flirtatious conduct may be lawfully terminated simply because the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction".

The all-male panel of judges found that bosses can legally fire employees they find "too attractive".

This in the country that has also had 62 mass shootings since 1982. While so much media is focused on tightening restrictions on gun ownership, there is almost no discussion about the links between these killings (always portrayed as "random acts of senseless killing") and the culture in which they happen, the government that tortures innocent people (such as whistle blower Bradley Manning) in Guantanamo and elsewhere, illegally invades other countries and carries out systematic killings of civilians ...

Hypocrisy much,  Obama?

Monday, 3 December 2012

Language, society, disability: thought-provoking article

Today is International Day of People with Disability, and to mark it I wanted to share this article I read a while back which I think might just have swayed my opinion on the issue of "disabled people" vs "people with disability".

Well, no, actually, I just cringed when I wrote "disabled people", so possibly I am still equivocating, but Stella young makes a compelling case for the social model of disability - society disables us, we are disabled by a society so focused on physical perfection.

"To say that a person "has a disability" is to say that these barriers are our responsibility. My disability exists not because I use a wheelchair, but because the broader environment isn't accessible.

In my own home, where I've been able to create an environment that works for me, I'm hardly disabled at all. I still have an impairment, and there are obviously some very restrictive things about that, but the impact of disability is less."
I must give it more thought...

Happy reading!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Islamophobia: alive and well in the Top End

Earlier this year, I went to a fancy dress party dressed as a ninja. 

I drove us there, so I guess through the window all people would've seen was a head veiled in black with a slot for the eyes. In the 15-minute drive through Darwin suburb
s, I had a carload of young white men swear at me and give me the finger, another man in another car yell "go home", and third car speed past us while throwing a beer can out the window, which came flying back in our direction. 

Anyone who thinks Australia is not a racist country need only try out this experiment (at the time I wasn't even consciously undertaking an "experiment" but it sure was a wake-up call).

I was pretty shaken by the time I got to the party. This is the daily reality for women who wear the veil in Australia.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Bundi, Rajasthan

The whole point of  going to India was for the 60th birthday of our friend/second godfather Brad, who spends many months each year in India and  wanted to bring his Australian and Indian friends together. The actual party, a completely over the top affair with Maharaja-esque shades, will have to be another post.

Brad suggested we stay at  the Elephant Stables in Bundi, run by a really lovely family. So my dad and I, and Penny and Philip (First godfather), spent a week at this  incredibly ancient, beautiful establishment that felt like a farm oasis in the middle of a town- set just below the palace walls, it indeed was the Maharaja's elephant stable. Whenever this  was mentioned I assumed people were talking about centuries ago (it certainly is an old building), until our host Raj talked about coming there as a boy when his father was the elephant keeper.

The yard was  filled with monkeys, squirrels and birds. It  was beautiful to get up at dawn and watch all the monkeys heading down the hill into town, for a day of whatever it is monkeys do, then practise yoga while my dad went out for his morning chai.

Here are some photos from the Elephant Stables.

Letter from the US: Petraeus sex scandal covers more shocking story

Sick of salacious "scandals" in the mainstream media? Try a reality check from Green Left Weekly

* * *

Sunday, November 25, 2012
US soldiers in Afghanistan.
The capitalist press has been overloaded with the sex scandal of General David Petraeus, former commander US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his resignation as head of the CIA.
The story has morphed into something wider, drawing in other high officers.
I’ll return to the saga of the “Real Housewives of the High Command” below, but first I want to discuss a story that has received only scant attention, about one of the grunts who was on the ground in Afghanistan.
Staff Sergeant Dwight L Smith was on Christmas leave last year, and returned home to his family for the holidays. He went out jogging, when he says “something clicked”.
He went back home and got into his Hummer. He decided to kill someone, he later told police. He ran down a 65-year-old woman, Marsha Lee, at random. Witnesses saw him get out of his vehicle, and pick up Lee, injured and screaming, and threw her into the back seat.
Her naked body was found discarded in a wooded area half a mile away. Her head was bashed in with a heavy object. She had been raped.
Then he returned home. His mother said he seemed relatively normal, and they went Christmas shopping that afternoon. He was arrested that evening after police found his bloody Hummer.
Smith’s parents did previously notice his outbursts of anger, throwing laptops, and punching holes in the walls. “I know my child,” his father said. “This isn’t my kid. He was a goofy kid. This isn’t the same man that I sent over.”
What transformed this “goofy kid” into a monster? Two related things.
One was that he suffered a severe concussion in the war. Estimates are that 500,000 US soldiers have suffered concussions and other brain injuries in the wars of aggression against Iraq and Afghanistan.
Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrtist and retired brigadier general told a New York Times reporter that the army has failed to treat soldiers who have been exposed to blasts. He compares the situation to the runaround soldiers were given for decades about damage from Agent Orange in Vietnam.
The capitalist politicians and military brass do not want to admit the scope of the problem. They want to keep a sanitised image of these wars before the public.
They are fearful that if the public knew the full truth, these wars would become even more unpopular than they already are. That is why they do not help returning soldiers with brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, unemployment, and other problems, to anywhere near the extent of the problems these soldiers face needed.
The result is soldiers running amok (Smith is far from the only one), suicides, depression and other mental problems going untreated. The soldiers are cannon fodder, to use an old expression.
The other thing that transformed Smith is expressed in a letter to his father: “I’m going to be honest with you dad. I have killed a lot of men and children. Some that didn’t even do anything for me to kill them. Also some that begged for mercy.
“I have a problem. I think I got addicted to killing people. I could kill someone go to sleep wake up and forget that it ever happened. It got normal for me to be that way. I never wanted to be this way. I just took my job way too serious. I took things to the extreme.
“Anyone can tell you that I changed. It’s like being a completely different person.”
He did not mention the women he killed, probably out of shame. It is significant that he chose a woman to murder.
His story, while an extreme example, illustrates a truth about wars of occupation. Even if the US soldiers are greeted as “liberators” from an oppressive regime at first (and the idea that they were to be greeted in Iraq and Afghanistan by hugs and kisses and flowers was always a fantasy), the reality soon sets in.
The occupiers become hated by the occupied. The war becomes a war against a people. Resistance grows within the people. They begin to fight the occupiers. The occupiers cannot trust the people, and soon must start kicking down doors to find the “enemy”.
As the “enemy” increasingly is the people, it includes not only men but women and children too. Soon the occupiers are taking part in atrocities. Some go to extremes, while others are just part of regular “search and destroy” missions.
I am reminded of what a soldier told me in 1968 in Vietnam. I accompanied the Socialist Workers Party presidential candidate, Fred Halstead, to Vietnam to talk to the soldiers on the ground about the war.
One soldier, who was fiercely against the war, was anguished. He said when he was in firefights, sometimes women and even children would pull out weapons and open fire on US soldiers. They shot the women and children.
Killing ordinary Iraqis and Afghans, including women and children, and other acts of oppression, affects the mental health of the soldiers.
The politicians and the brass do not want these truths to get out, either.
The fact that Smith suffered a bad concussion and had become inured to killing men, women and children are related.
The resistance fighters do not have tanks, helicopters and jet bombers. They have small arms, including mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs (IEDs in army-speak). In other words, with explosives at short range, that cause concussions.
To turn to the opposite end of the military hierarchy, what do we learn from the Petraeus scandal?
A not-so-minor point is that the whole thing began with what is called a “socialite”, Jill Kelley, who is a friend of Petraeus and others in the high command, informing a friend in the FBI that a woman who turned out to be Petraeus’s mistress, had sent her emails she found to be harassing.
That the FBI agent could then launch highly invasive surveillance of Petraeus’ emails raises the obvious question: if such could be done to the head of the CIA, what about us mere mortals?
I will leave aside the salacious use the media have made of the affair, including the innuendo that the mistress used her wiles to bring down the poor honorable general, a tale that goes back to Adam and Eve.
No one in the media talks about Petraeus’s part in carrying out the huge war crimes of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
What has been exposed is that for years, the Kelleys have been regularly throwing lavish parties not only for Petraeus, but many other top generals. Champagne, caviar, cavorting with socialites — that is how the high command amuses itself while the Sergeant Smiths get blasted by mortars and kill Iraqi and Afghan men, women and children.
[Barry Sheppard was a long-time leader of the US Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International. He recounts his experience in the SWP in a two-volume book, The Party — the Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, available from Resistance Books. Read more of Sheppard's articles.]

Monday, 26 November 2012

My book of the year

People on Country: Vital Landscapes, Indigenous Futures , edited by Jon Altman and Sean Kerins.

1.     A must-read antidote to the oft-repeated neoliberal “solutions” to Aboriginal disadvantage, and a plea for Traditional Owners to be front-and-centre of conservation programs, particularly in the country’s fragile north. 

The book combines perspectives of Western researchers and their Aboriginal colleagues involved in Caring for Country programs. It celebrates the groundbreaking work of such programs, which have enabled Aboriginal people to incorporate Western employment and scientific knowledge with centuries-old cultural and land-management obligations.

But these programs, like the fragile ecosystems in which they operate, are under threat, as employment policies change and governments push to centralise remote populations, potentially leaving country uncared for.

People on Country offers an insightful and refreshing look at alternative models of economic development, education and employment – models that recognise the intersection of culture and country and the vital role scattered, remote Aboriginal populations can play in protecting biodiversity and mitigating climate change.

Pushkar camel fair

When I was in  Pushkar, Rajasthan, about a month ago, there was a great sense of anticipation as  people got ready for the approaching camel fair.

I didn't really think much of it until I saw these fab photos of the Pushkar Ka Mela on ABC today - now I'd wish stayed!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Dumb ways to die

This is mostly a "we're not dead" post for our US friends.

The following is a Metro campaign to stop people song stupid things at train stations:

The following is a very clever extension of it to our refugee policy:

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Photos from Pushkar, India

Apparently the Laughing Buddha is recommended by lonely people :)

Pushkar is a beautiful small and ancient town in the desert in Rajastan. It is based around a lake,  so all the buildings around the water open onto ghats - which I guess are steps/esplenades that lead into the water. The ghats are where people bathe, wash clothes, perform  religious ceremonies etc.

We were woken early each morning (i.e. pre-dawn) by chanting emanating from the various temples around the ghats. Indeed, night-time noise of one description or another was an ongoing issue in India.... one night there even seemed to be a circular saw below Killa's window, competing with the chanting.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Meals on trains in India

Long bus journeys on the subcontinent can be quite harrowing, but I discovered train rides are great! We caught the early morning train from Delhi to Haridwar, and were very impressed with the fabulously dinky complimentary breakfast.

We'd only just got over the excitement of getting a whole thermos of tea each when the conductor brought around lunch!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Turns out one can enjoy India

After a rather lengthy absence from the blog (absence, indeed, from many things but that's another story), here I am, back to tell you I have just been in India.

I have been to India before, and had quite  traumatic experiences. Indeed I was more surprised than anybody when I decided to head back to the subcontinent this year to celebrate a friend's 60th birthday - India is pretty much his second home these days, so he decided to celebrate the event Indian-style, and invite a few of his Australian friends along.

Off I went, slightly trepidatious but willing to give it a go, knowing I'd be with lots of "grown-ups" this time (last time I was a slightly naive 19 year old who insisted on learning everything the hard way).

It certainly  is different travelling with a man in India - for all the wrong reasons, I suppose, as it does say something about the position of women in India. But I have to say being totally utterly ignored by men, who would automatically speak only to my father, was a slight improvement on the sorts of attention I got from men last time I was there.

Enough said on that topic, methinks.

The point is, I discovered beautiful things about the county. Even, dare I say it, peace and calm - quite a departure more the chaotic madness that is Delhi and other large cities I've visited there in the past.

Some photos are in the next post. More will come, especially if someone can tell me a  quick way to post many photos online at once.... :)

Some pics from India

DelhiDelhiDelhi breakfastDelhi intersectionDelhi skylineDelhi streetscape
Delhi streetscapeDelhi streetscapeDelhi, Red FortDelhi, Red FortDelhi, Red FortRishikesh
Rishikesh footbridgeRishikesh monkeyRishikesh monkeys

More to come... I became impatient with the slow photo uploading process...

Wednesday, 19 September 2012


Briscoe inquest: 'Lessons learnt' - but will justice be done?

On September 17, NT Coroner Greg Cavanagh handed down his damning findings regarding the death in custody of Kwementyaye Briscoe in the Alice Springs watch house in January.

Briscoe, a young Aboriginal man, had committed no crime, but was taken into so-called protective custody for being excessively drunk.  He was found dead in his cell before the night was through.

He was found to have consumed most of a bottle of rum in the police van, which he obtained from another prisoner. He was dragged through the watch house and shoved down against a bench, where he hit his head and arm.

During the inquest, other prisoners reported having seen Briscoe bleeding from the head and gasping for air. He was left un-attended for two hours, despite prisoners asking police to check on him.

Cavanagh found the police on duty that night were “utterly derelict” in their failure to keep Briscoe under observation. He found they were distracted “by various things including an iPhone, iPad and the internet”, according to the September 17 Sydney Morning Herald.

But Cavanagh’s criticism reached beyond those directly involved on the night. According to ABC Online on September 17 he said: "In my view the catalogue of errors is so extensive and involves so many police officers of various rank as to suggest mismanagement for a period of time by police command at a level higher than just local."

However, justice campaigners fear nothing will change in relation to police treatment of Aboriginal prisoners. The SMH said up to 10 officers had been disciplined in relation to the event but confirmed none had been sacked. NT Police Commissioner John McRoberts said “lessons had been learnt”, the paper said.

NT Aboriginal leader Barb Shaw has called for constable Gareth Evans to be sacked. Evans was recorded dragging Briscoe through the watch-house.

Cavanagh recommended police avoid dragging prisoners, suggesting wheelchairs or stretchers be used when people are unable to walk.  He also said nurses must be made available in watch-houses.

New NT Chief Minister Terry Mills has vowed to implement the recommendations, and promised a “genuine change of culture within the police force”. But the recommendations have been criticized as inadequate by justice campaigners.

Hilary Tyler, a friend of Briscoe’s family, said on September 18:  “The recommendations are a farce, and do not address the systemic issues. The NT Police needs to take ownership of this, and Constable Evans should lose his job.”

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Bipartisan support for bilingual ed?

"Our language is like a pearl inside a shell. The shell is like the people that carry the language. If the language is taken away, then that would be like a pearl is gone. We would be like an empty oyster shell."

-Yurranydjil Dhurrkay, Galiwin'ku, Elcho Island, North-East Arnhem Land

Emma Murphy, Darwin

On September 17, the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs tabled its much-anticipated inquiry into language learning on Aboriginal communities: Our Land Our Language.

The report unashamedly puts language front and centre not just to Aboriginal identity but also health and wellbeing. It says, for example, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who speak an Indigenous language enjoy “markedly” better health and are more likely to: be employed, attend school and receive a post-school qualification than those who don’t. They are also less like to abuse alcohol, be charged by police or to have been a victim of violence.

Aboriginal languages are dying at a horrifying rate: of the around 250 languages spoken at the time of invasion, around half have disappeared. The report found that only about 18 are spoken today – many others are being painstakingly revived, recovered and recorded. Greg Dickson, writing on on September 17, said that National Geographic has identified northern Australia as a “global hotspot”, where endangered languages face a “severe threat” of extinction.

It is with this sense of urgency that Aboriginal communities and bilingual education advocates have long rallied for more support and funding for the urgent work of teaching children to speak, read and write their own language.

The recommendations in Our Land Our Language have been welcomed by bilingual education advocates, and are implicitly highly critical of current approaches – especially in the Northern Territory, where bilingual education was dramatically shut down four years ago by the then Labor government.

For example, it recommends “resourcing bilingual school education programs for Indigenous communities where the child’s first language is and Indigenous language” – in the NT, about 40% of children speak a language other than English at home. It also recommends compulsory cultural awareness training, and training in “English as an additional language” teaching for all teachers working in Aboriginal communities.

Beyond the classroom, the report recommends establish a national interpreting service for Indigenous languages, expanding the Indigenous Languages Support Program and establish improving community access to language archive at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

It also recommends constitutional recognition of Indigenous languages.

While it is unclear how many of the recommendations will be implemented, both Labor and the Coalition were quick to welcome the report.  The September 18 Australian said School Education Minister Peter Garrett had promised to “talk to state governments about adopting bilingual education for Indigenous children”. He acknowledged attendance would improve if children were taught in their own languages for the early years.

Opposition Indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion said education was a matter for state and territory governments, but conceded “I generally support bilingual education as a transitional program from preschool to Year 5”, the Australian said.

However in the recent past, both Labor and Coalition governments have stressed the importance of English as the predominant language in education.

Labor MP Shayne Neumann, who chairs the standing committee, told media on September 17 that the result of NT Labor’s English-only policy, introduced in 2008, was “a decline in school attendance and educational outcomes”. He said Territory Labor defended the policy at the committee hearing in Darwin early this year, only to quietly drop it soon after.

This report was released less than a month after the NT elections, which saw a CLP government swept to power on a strong bush vote. On the campaign trail, and during community visits since, the CLP has talked up the importance of first-language learning – without committing to any detailed policy or funding commitments.

The task now for Aboriginal communities and defenders of bilingual education will be to make sure governments start putting funding and resource commitments on the table. It will be a large task to rebuild abandoned bilingual programs in the NT, for example. We must ensure governments don’t adopt the easier, more symbolic recommendations and let the actual hard work fall by the wayside.

[Our Land Our Language can be accessed here.]