Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Hicks is torture for us all

As Australia goes into assorted paroxysms about the news on Australia's Gauantanamo detainee, David Hicks and his first court appearance, I slink into a corner of despair. I am sick and tired of hearing about this foolish would-be terrorist who now has pled guilty to supporting a terrorist organisation.
I think the American Government has been yet more obnoxious than Hicks in insisting on his lengthy and inhumane incarceration at Guantanamo, which is the very sort of hell hole of torment from which the US purports to want to rid the world. Its' treatment of Hicks has only served to turn him into a celebrated case - and, doubtless, a seriously traumatised nut case.

I venture to suggest that this whole shambles might have been avoided if David Hicks had stayed at school and learned a thing or two. He left school at 14, expelled - a raw boy with comic book dreams of being a warrior. He replaced school learning with gun learning, drugs, car theft and sex. He had two children by the time he was 20. At 24 he was off in Albania joining the Kosovo Liberation Army. Any fight would do. He tried to get into the Australian army, but it insists on education among its recruits. So he turned to Islam, headed off to Pakistan to be trained and the next thing, he was bragging he had met Osama bin Laden 20 times.
He was a pretty reprehensible young man.

But then the Americans mistreated him and denied him his rights in that vile detention centre - and he has been headlines ever since.
This man who sought to fight against his own people is now a cause celebre. Not a day goes by without mention of his name. He has turned into a major political issue - so much so that the forthcoming Australian Federal election is destined to be waving the flag of his case in a frenzy of point-scoring. It is going to go on and on.

And we are all punished for a school drop-out's stupidity.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Not just a petfood scandal

Rat poison in wheat from China! This turns out to be behind the renal failure death of dogs throughout America.
How the wheat became contaminated is anyone's guess. A rat plague in the wheat storage facilities? Misuse of agricultural chemicals?
China has quite a history of the latter. It remains a very disturbing problem as Dune Lawrence points out in Bloomberg.
"Pesticide poisoning affects half a million Chinese a year, causing more than 500 fatalities"

For a long time Western bio-tech companies were dumping into the Third World markets products no longer saleable in their own arenas. This, notoriously, resulted in some serious pollution of food sources, especially in China, where farmers were making almost random chemical mixtures because they were unable to read the labels on the products. There was a time that Hong Kong put a ban on fresh foods from mainland China because of the toxic levels of pesticides etc.

My suspicion, therefore, is that we have here a tale of greed from two directions. Firstly, there are the agri-chem corporations which sacrifice ethics for profit in dumping discredited product on hapless poor countries. Secondly, we have the petfood people buying the cheapest ingredients to keep their shareholders' pockets lined. And, in a class of their own, there are the pet-owners who choose expediency as a way of nourishing their animals. Theirs is the crime of laziness.

It astonishes me that people who purport to love animals don't think about giving them more pleasure and better nutrition in their meals. Food is not only necessary, it is one of the fundamental sensual experiences of life. And yet, people who are prepared often to pay thousands for a pedigree animal will blithely fill its bowl with tinned or pellet food.

It truly is not hard to cook for the dog. We cook in three-day batches - ground chicken stewed with carrots, chard and parsley, bulked with pasta or rice and sprinkled with vitamins (plus, for our elderly doberman, Glucosomine). There are variations on this theme, of course. The dog loves the whole ritual of his food preparation, as he loves his food. He drools for handouts of carrot as the chopping goes on - his favourite treat, apart from blueberries. Cooking the petfood is as economic as it is wholesome - and it has provided a dividend of eliminating dog farts capable of asphyxiating a small nation.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

United in music

Festival time in Adelaide and a whole city is out in the streets partying. What a glorious spirit the Fringe brings forth. The experiment of holding Fringe festivals every year seems to rise triumphant, embraced with loving enthusiasm by the city at large. The parklands glitter with coloured lights and crowds, the sidewalk restaurant tables are packed late into the nights and exuberant people stream through the streets. There is so much going on it is hard to know where to be.
I was at Womadelaide, however - one of the world's exquisite festivals, a celebration of world music. In Adelaide it fills the huge Botanic Park, this drought year, rather dusty. Flags flutter on towering bamboo poles, lanterns hang from the gracious old trees, roaming performers in all bizarre guises entertain the picnicking and wine-drinking masses and we all swarm from stage area to stage area to settle for the performances of choice.

It is on a very large scale and, for those of us on an opening-night reviewing schedule, it is very strenuous - scampering to and from our transportable backstage office to turn around tiny, tight reviews for the morning paper. It was wonderful, at about 10pm, to sit under a tree and drink a glass of red wine, bone-tired at the end of the deadlines.
Just letting the rhythms of the world throb around one - tango from one stage and Celtic from another. They had replaced the deep, seductive drums of earlier performances, those pulsing rhythms which join the crowds into one huge visceral mass of humanity. One looks across to see the sea of people bopping as one... This is one of the secrets to this festival, one of the reasons it evokes such sweet temperament amid the crowds.

Another is the universality of the programming - all ages embraced, meeting in the sharing of music. Thus from the Mahotella Queens, the South African all-dancing-and-singing grandmothers, to the Gotan Project's techno for the young, the jaunty jigs of the Irish for all, Latin, Indian, Aussie...

It was wonderful on my review schedule to find myself sittings amid a carpet of friendly strangers with the stars twinkling through the boughs of the old gums and sheoaks, listening to the mysterious and mesmeric harmonics of the Tuvan throat singers. Grabbing needed refreshments - a superb ginger, lime and lemon drink, from the gentle hippies manning their sumptuous cafe tent lined with Persian rugs and serving chai teas, organic coffees and home-made cakes.

A drift of the scent of marijuana here, incense there, aromatic curries, coffee, beer... fragrances all around - another cultural intermingling feeding the senses until they are quite sated.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The pity of progress

They are an endangered species - facing extinction. It seems so perverse. They do no harm, these lakeside shacks. And yet, bureacracy has ruled that they may not stay. Those who holiday in them have been given lifetime occupancy - but one which curtails the tradition of handing down. The movement is to reclaim foreshores on lakes and rivers where families of the less wealthy have always holidayed in their simple, much-loved shacks. Shacks are an official "eyesore".
On Lake Alexandrina at the tiny town of Milang, there is this community of lovingly-kept shacks, primitive little constructions occupied for generation after generation, where fathers fish and children learn water skills and explore wetlands. This community has fought the demolition edict and begged for a heritage listing, for it knows it represents a history of holidays and cultural mores. Officialdom has denied this request. The shacks are doomed.

Milang is not a tourism mecca. It is a fairly obscure little township - one pub, a pizza place, a general store, a campground... It sports a small wetland trail, dry as a bone now in the drought, a train exhibit and a little cafe-cum-information centre. It is a darling town with a history of lake activities and some historic buildings. But it is a bit off the beaten track. Tourists trickle through and are enchanted by the time-warp, particularly by the shacks.

The irony is that the bureacracy which hates the shacks is the very one which will approve the developers. Are large condos more beautiful than these colourful, characterful little shacks? Ye gods, no! They are the new ugly. The greedy new ugly. The eyesore and the bane.
Is there some rule that says that the rich should enjoy water views and the working class should not?
Apparently there is.
I abhor it.
The shacks of Milang represent all that is joyous in family holidays, in childhood pleasures, in the simple things of life. And in an egalitarian culture.
This is not jet ski sound-and-water-pollution territory. Nor powerboats and mindless watersports. It is sailboats, canoes and fishing - the gentle water pursuits. It is a haven of black swans, pelicans, ibis...

Destroying this little world is nothing less than a government crime against family life!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

In support of hemp

Hemp! Hemp! Hemp!
The call by Australian union leader Bill Shorten for the country to replace water-wasteful crops such as rice and cotton with hemp is the sort of common sense I have been waiting to hear from the world of politics - as they bleat and argue about the drought and the pitiful state of the poor, over-used River Murray.

Which complete idiot decided that Australia should be a rice or cotton-growing nation in the first place?

Talk about inappropriate, illogical and completely damned profligate.
The ultimate inanity of it all is that Australia has to export its cotton to India, China and Korea to have it processed. That's only half an industry - with a considerable cost to the environment. The Cotton Australia website admits freely that cotton "ammonium nitrate, radiological sources, harmful biological materials and hazardous chemicals" are associated with cotton-growing. Chemicals such as endosulfan, sodium chlorate, paraquat, aldicarb, disulfoton and phorate are actually national security concerns, for heaven's sake.
What are we doing here?
All it can do is to pollute the landscape and suck up the water supply.

As for the rice. We grow the worst rice in the world, in my expert culinary opinion. I do anything to avoid buying Australian rice - because it always means a disaster in the pot. I love my son very much - but when he brought Australian rice into the house instead of proper Thai Jasmine, I was really piqued with him. I had to cook this crap? Guess at water measurements because it is never consistent with the ancient traditions of rice cooking? Our neighbours in Asia grow wonderful rice in environments suited to the required irrigation. I don't care what the industry proponents say, it seems to me that we are compromising our fragile environment for the sake of an unnecessary and second-rate product.

Australia now has a scandalous 2500 rice farms and brags it lives at the top end of the international rice market.
Australia, always short of water, now is in the throes of drought. But we still divert water for rice crops.
Hemp is the logical answer.

It is no silly hippie solution as the market conservatives try to propagandize. It is a brilliant fibre crop which produces a product stronger than cotton with by-products equivalent to wood pulp plus an excellent seed oil. It endures drought and climate variablility and it does not need a squillion pesticides or supplements.

But of course, gasp, it is "hemp" and attracts the knee-jerk response of the ignorant who seem to think it is a drug. It has negligible THC. The THC thing is the big red herring and the rice/cotton vested interests will drag it around to see if they can make it stink rather than change any of the things they are doing.

It will take a resolute government to tackle water shortage from the cropping point of view. One with a new sort of moral fibre - er, so to speak.