Republic of Moreland

March 24, 2010

Practising what we preach

I’m conflicted about vege2go in Lygon Street, Brunswick. The food is okay, the prices are somewhat okay, the place is clean and pleasant. And the folk are very nice and they’re kiddy-friendly and all. But while they preach saving the earth, with Peter Singer sermons plastered over their walls, the place whifs of petrochemical excess. Not only are the chairs and tables plastic, but their smoothies and juices — even ‘eat-in’ versions — are served in plastic cups with plastic lids. Half the cutlery is disposable plastic, too. You may as well be eating at McDonald’s. And much of their produce is out of season, and so would’ve accrued lots of fossil-fuelled food miles. I’ve seen melon & berries in their winter fruit salad, for example. And the pantry stuff on their shelves is all imported.

And when the vege2go folk preach good nutrition, perhaps they might reconsider zapping their food in the microwave. Several studies show significant nutrient loss from food subject to microwaving. And perhaps they should reconsider selling the coloured lolly-water posing as health tonic.

Compare and contrast with Each Peach, just a few shops up. The folk there source local produce, would not at gunpoint even consider microwaving their food, and they sell home-made pantry goods. Their furniture and adornments are reused and recycled stuff. And their walls don’t preach saving the planet. They’re just doing it, in their own delicious way.

Perhaps vege2go just has more mainstream appeal, which is good. Different strokes, I suppose.

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April 9, 2008

Call to action: save Coburg pool

Filed under: architecture,Coburg,politics,urban planning — Kath @ 10:50 am

The campaign to save Coburg Olympic pool is still going strong. The campaign has a website here, where you can download fliers, get background information and attend action meetings.

Meeting in Brunswick to discuss proposed freeway

The following is from the Moreland Greens’ Mike Puleston:

Moreland Council will be sponsoring a Public Meeting on the proposed East-West Freeway at Brunswick Town Hall on Sunday April 13 at 2.00. This will follow the Cyclovia, [pictured] when Sydney Rd will be closed to motor vehicles from Bell St to Brunswick Rd for the morning.

The Greens are opposed to the proposed freeway for a number of reasons:

1. The project puts motor vehicles at the centre of a transport strategy that should be looking first and foremost at public transport in this era of climate change. For example, motor traffic would be greatly reduced by construction of a light railway from Doncaster along the Eastern Freeway to link up with inner city public transport – this railway has been on the books since the 1970s.

2. Provision of freeways is massively more expensive than public transport options. The billions earmarked for the East-West Freeway could be better spent on public transport, including better rail connections to outer suburbs.

3. The freeway would funnel even larger numbers of motor vehicles into inner suburbs. Even though Eddington does not have off-ramps into the City in his report, there is general agreement that the project’s financial backers would not accept a lack of off-ramps. The increased congestion would not only affect suburbs such as Collingwood, Fitzroy and Carlton. It would also cause slowdowns to trams coming from further out, and greater risks to cyclists.

4. The freeway would cause massive disfigurement of Royal Park – which has already suffered from land grabs in recent years.

And so it goes on.

It would be good to have a strong turnout of Greens members and supporters. Please bring your Greens triangles – there will be triangles available if you do not have one.

Brunswick Labor MP for Brunswick Carlo Carli is showing uncharacteristic energy on this issue, and will speak at the meeting. It is hard not to think that Carlo’s rare burst of vigour has been largely promptly by the threat to his seat posed by the 30% Greeens vote in 2006 – the highest in the state. With a few more % in the primary vote and favorable preferences, the Greens will take this seat in 2010, as we will take Melbourne, Richmond, and possibly Northcote.

Although Carlo may speak out against the freeway, he is a small cog in the Brumby Labor machine. When it comes to voting in Parliament Carlo will toe the Party line – to do otherwise would be political suicide.

We need more Greens in state parliament to ask the questions others are afraid to ask.

April 8, 2008

Your cardigan is a national security threat

Filed under: crime,politics — Kath @ 10:26 am

And your washing machine is spying on you. Read about it here.

February 29, 2008

Smear of scientists

Filed under: food,health,politics — Kath @ 9:22 pm

I think that’s a good collective noun, isn’t it? “There was a smear of scientists at the convention”. If you can think of a better collective noun for them, let me know. Anyhoo, the following smear was published in Crikey yesterday:

______________

Tomorrow ends Victoria’s ban on genetically manipulated (GM) food crops — and following widespread media exposure of the putative health and environmental hazards of GM food, chief scientist Gustav Nossal will be joined by three scientists for a media conference to brief journalists on “Which concerns [about GM food crops] are the most justified? Which risks can be managed and which can’t?”

Yet tomorrow’s briefing is “vested interests masquerading as public interest science” claims Greenpeace spokesperson Louise Sales. Comprising scientists who campaigned in support of lifting the bans, it was organised by the Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC), which claims itself “free of bias”.

But absent are independent scientists who warn of dangers of GM food: biochemist and nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM; or medical scientist Professor Stephen Leeder; or epidemiologist Dr Judy Carman; or crop research scientist Dr Maartan Stapper. There are many.

Media Manager Lyndal Gully told Crikey in an email:

“There was no attempt to line up a panel with a particular GM viewpoint… [but] if scientists on the panel are more likely to end up arguing with each other rather than answering journalists’ questions, then there is a good chance that the science (that either side is trying to communicate) will be lost in the story.”

Gene Ethics director Bob Phelps said the selected scientists “are speaking way outside their area of scientific expertise.” But AusSMC CEO Susannah Eliot said the panel was chosen because “they have done the research and have the knowledge-base, and they are happy to be grilled by the media.”

One panellist, Dr TJ Higgins, is CSIRO’s co-inventor of the ill-fated GM field pea, abandoned because it caused lung-damage when fed to mice. His published claims that “there isn’t a single piece of evidence that [GM food is] any less safe than conventional food” reportedly prompted the ire of environmental scientist Dr Brian John, who branded these claims “a lie.” Experimental biologist Dr Arpad Puzstai also saidMost of Dr Higgins’ comments are factually incorrect… the final refuge of the incompetent.”

Critics of second panelist Dr Chris Preston claim his published reviews ignore negative studies. Professor Rainer Mosenthin reportedly said Preston’s methods should be disregarded as they “have limited scientific value.”

And third panelist Professor Rick Roush reportedly failed to disclose his research funding by GM companies. Allegedly as a result, Science journal revised its disclosure policy, as it is recognised that industry-funded research tends to be much more industry-favourable than independent research.

Accusations don’t amount to guilt — and many anti-GM-food scientists also face public mud-slinging (including from some on this panel). This is the problem, says AusSMC’s CEO Susannah Eliot. “The issue is so polarised it gets tricky to select a panel. Many scientists are happy to discuss the issues privately but aren’t willing to speak publicly because they don’t want to be labelled as pro- or anti-GM.”

_________

Postscript:

Professor Rick Roush said today:

“We know that eggs and nuts can be harmful to people — there is no evidence GM foods can be.”

Obviously Professor Roush missed this. And this.

January 6, 2008

The vegetable-industrial complex

Filed under: environment,food,health,politics — Kath @ 6:13 pm

A superb article by Michael Pollan.

November 28, 2007

Moreland objects to Brumby’s GM decision

Filed under: environment,food,health,politics — Kath @ 7:49 pm

Moreland State MP Carlo Carli supported Victoria’s ban on GM food crops. So did The Greens, of course, and so did Moreland City Council. And so did between 70-90 per cent of Australia’s polled population, including farmers. But John Brumby, learning nothing from Howard’s spectacular defeat, made the secretive and undemocratic decision to overturn the ban yesterday. Sigh. From today’s Crikey:

Coinciding with Jeffrey Smith’s Australian tour to promote Genetic Roulette: the documented health risks of genetically engineered foods, yesterday Victorian Premier John Brumby bowed to pressure from big agribusiness and announced, without consulting caucus, that Victoria would overturn bans on GM food crops.

Gene contamination knows no borders, and New South Wales has also lifted its bans, to the rancour of other states.

But, even facing the threat of revolt among up to 40 of his own MPs, Brumby refused to release Victorian Chief Scientist Sir Gustav Nossal’s review of the impact of lifting the ban before his announcement. Sir Gustav was appointed to lend scientific credibility to a review whose terms of reference were strictly and solely economic: not scientific. As the review itself states: “It is not the purpose of this panel to judge… health and environment assessments.”

Overturning the bans was widely regarded as a done deal at least a year ago, prompting an un-named MP to tell The Age Brumby was “treating caucus like idiots”.

So why was Brumby secretive? Perhaps he feared market revolt. Last Tuesday, Coles government relations advisor Chris Mara told a Parliamentary forum that “Coles listens to our customers and over 90% do not want GM ingredients in their food.” Goodman Fielder, Australia’s largest food company, also backs the bans. Tatiara Meats, Australia’s largest lamb exporter, and 250 other food companies also want the bans kept.

Why? Because the public does. In polls taken by AC Nielsen, Roy Morgan, Millward Brown, The Age, and Swinburne University and Choice magazine, a whopping majority of Australians (between 70 and 90 per cent) don’t want GM foods. In this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald poll, 84 per cent of respondents don’t want it.

Despite agribusiness bodies giving the nod to GM food crops, 80% of farmers surveyed in a 2002 poll taken by the SA Farmers Federation supported a ban. In an August 2003 Biotechnology Australia poll 74% of farmers surveyed were not considering using GM crops. A Biotechnology Australia 2006 study found that “The Australian public see great risks from GM foods and crops and concerns are continuing to rise.” This followed an ABC report that there was “no market” for GM canola in Australia.

As big UK, Japanese and US chains remove GM food from their shelves, the EU is discussing the withdrawal of five GM crops. “Consumers are rejecting GM foods. Markets in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere are closing and domestic markets are likewise threatened. This is driving prices down,” Canada’s National Farmers Union reported.

This also comes at a time when scientists and farmers internationally are warning about the economic and health perils of GM food, some of which is unwittingly eaten because of inadequate labelling laws. Whether or not Brumby believes these warnings is irrelevant. He has forgotten that in a democracy and a marketplace, the customer is always right.

September 28, 2007

Get Up!

Filed under: environment,politics — Kath @ 3:22 pm

To help this ad get screened, go here.

August 16, 2007

Stonewalled

Filed under: politics — Kath @ 3:23 pm

Hell hath no fury as a mother whose efforts to protect her young child from health risks are being stonewalled by bureaucracy. Whose quest for answers is being met with spin.

Be afraid, faceless bureacrats. Be very afraid. Watch this space.

June 2, 2007

Moreland Council “targets populism over longer term responsibility”

The Age reports that climate change will soon see expensive bayside real estate under water (I wonder where Andrew Bolt lives?). Meanwhile, in Moreland we’re sticking our heads in the sand. So say the Greens Councillors, Jo Connellan and Andrea Sharam, in a media release.

They say the Moreland City Council is not putting its money where its mouth is, and keeping rates low at the expense of its stated climate change targets:

“A key reason that the 2007/08 Council budget represents a slipping backwards from financial sustainability is that Council wishes to retain the rate rise at 6.5%.

The only responsible way to do that, and maintain the trends of the five year plan (ie to keep moving to a sustainable position), is to either cut service, or alternately increase rates to 8.5 –9%. By retaining all services and not ensuring adequate income (ie sufficient rates), the only option is to borrow from the future. The impact of this (as illustrated in the draft budget papers) is as follows.”

I for one am happy for rates to rise a little to meet climate change targets. But other steps can be taken, too, such as stopping wasting money on useless expensive things like the street steles. The authors continue:

“Keeping rates as low as possible is always popular. But there is also a level of responsibility that needs to exercised by a Council. The community rely [sic] on Council to make the best decision it can in keeping rates at a reasonable level AND at maintaining a financially sustainable level of operating over the longer term. The proposed budget not only reduces financial sustainability, it constrains future Council’s options. This occurs because there will be very limited capacity to deal with emergencies or to implement some of it’s [sic] capital intensive plans (eg renewing aquatic centres) as rates income in these future years will be needed to re-fill the cash reserves.

The proposed 2007/08 budget targets populism over longer term responsibility. It postpones the hard and unpopular decisions to the next Council. It should be rejected. It is in the best interests of the community to have a slighter higher rate rise in the current year rather than a significantly higher one in the first year or so of the next Council.”

What say you? Would you pay higher rates or rents to meet climate change goals? What cuts in services would you tolerate to meet these goals?

May 25, 2007

How Exxon-Mobil and the Howard government meddled with my backyard

Filed under: Backyard experiment,gardening,gardens,politics,urban farming — Kath @ 10:40 am

Somehow I doubt the Howard government’s $23 million advertising blitz to try and persuade Australians that the government is tackling global warming is going to wash with my apple tree. Without losing its leaves, it has started blossoming. That’s right: my apple tree thinks it’s spring.

Pictured above is a branch from my plum tree, against this morning’s newspaper. That’s right: it’s started blossoming, too! Despite the carbon lobbyists’ campaigns, it too thinks it’s spring. It’ll get a rude shock when winter finally does arrive, and all that energy will be wasted. I wonder if it will fruit at all. I wonder when I can take cuttings to graft, since the plants’ hormones are so out of whack.

Just as I was gearing up to the miserable end of my summer vegie patch, just as I contemplated building a hothouse, I get a whole new bumper crop of tomatoes. In autumn. It’s almost mid-year, almost winter, and I’m still picking summer produce. I’ve still got lettuces, broccholi and beans in force.

I should be overjoyed, of course. With climate change, as The Age reported this morning, autumn is the new spring. With record temperature rises:

Normally flowering in the hottest months of summer, they are blooming with profusion right now.

Experts say temperature changes are reducing the difference between seasons, sending many plant varieties into a spin.

Melbourne is heading for a record warm May as the average maximum temperature hovers at 20 degrees, significantly higher than the historic monthly average of 16.7 degrees.

We can expect to enjoy longer vegie seasons with global warming. But we can expect the downside, too: extreme weather and very confused plants. The warmer weather is also bringing unseasonal fungi and insects into our backyards. Just last week I cut a budding citrus-wasp nest out of my lime tree. They’re suppossed to happen around September.

My nectarine tree hasn’t even started losing its leaves. My nashi tree, peach tree and grape vines haven’t lost theirs.

I’m really interested in how these weather patterns are affecting back yards, so I’d be grateful if anyone visiting would record their experiences in the comments.

May 17, 2007

When ‘science’ is bought and sold

Filed under: Brunswick,food,health,politics — Kath @ 2:31 pm

Brunswick Labornet reports a science and maths boost for public schools around here. A good thing. And timely, considering Australia’s Chief Scientist Jim Peacock has just come out and said that our brightest students are avoiding science.

But considering some other wild things Jim Peacock claimed this week, and considering the Bracks’ governments’ apparent closed shop and done deals on important science issues, I’m wondering what sort of science will be encouraged in our schools. Will it be evidence-based science? Will it be science that serves the needs of people? Or will it be the sort of science endorsed by our Chief Scientist? His website doesn’t, as you might expect, endorse “Empirical, disinterested science that meets the needs of society”, but “An independent perspective, based in industry and science”. A big difference when you think about it. And note that industry comes before science.

(Also, don’t you love that euphemism “independent”? As in “independent schools”, aka “commercial learning shops on the corporate welfare gravy train”?)

Here’s how the Bracks government decides on GM food issues. It doesn’t consult the 80 per cent of farmers who support a ban on GM food crops; nor does it consult the majority of shoppers who don’t want it. In all polls taken by industry and AC Neilson, and all media polls, the majority of Australians reject GM food. (This majority, according to our Chief Scientist Jim Peacock, are in fact “self-serving” “unprincipled minorities”. So much for empirical science advice. And a bit rich, coming from someone who probably stands to gain from his current lobbying to overturn GM bans.) Nor does the Bracks government consult with our overseas markets that reject GM produce; nor with those independent scientists who oppose GM foods.

gm-for-vic.jpgInstead, it holds closed-shop meetings at Parliament with the industry lobbyists, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). Now, from its history, it would appear to me the IPA doesn’t endorse empirical science. The IPA has a history of lobbying for the tobacco industry, and I’ve got a nice little collection of climate-change denying and GM-promoting literature from them. They’re famously secretive about their funding sources, but they’re reportedy sponsored by Monsanto and other multinational giants.

Now, with the ban on GM food crops up for review, since members of the Victorian government are happy to hold meetings at Parliament with whacko industry lobbyists, will it hold meetings with those whacko citizen-supported groups like, say, the Public Health Association of Australia, the Conservation Foundation, the Network of Concerned Farmers, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace and GeneEthics? After all, these independent (of industry funding) groups, unlike the IPA, have widespread electoral support. In a democracy, you’d think that counts.

But somehow I don’t think so. I had a word with a couple of these groups this morning. They tried to RSVP to go to this closed-shop meeting, but they were told they couldn’t.

So come on, guys at Labornet, defend this one.

May 3, 2007

Another reason the State should support home vegie patches

Oh, Bettina, Bettina. In your plagiarised article, syndicated in newspapers Australia-wide, you claimed that organic food was more dangerous than factory-farmed food. There are too many outright lies in this copied-and-pasted industry spin article to unpack here, but they have been adequately discredited elsewhere.

But you got me thinking about the ongoing lobbying efforts to discredit organic food — even in our suburban vegie patches. Recently, our own Melbourne Times printed some typesetting claiming the answer for home vegie gardeners could be genetically modified crops.

“Efforts to grow drought-resistant crops,” typed Kirsten Alexander, “could extend to the garden… Once crops have been created to cope with drought there’s surely an opportunity to offer genetically modified, drought-tolerant plants to the gardening public.”

This is WAY unlikely, Kirsten. For a start, no such GM commercial crops exist, or have been field-trialled. And repeatedly, industry and independent polling shows that the overwhelming majority of Australians don’t want GM. And a poll by the South Australian Farmers’ Federation revealed 80 per cent of farmers didn’t want it, either, and supported a moratorium on it. There’s no reason to suppose we urban farmers will feel any differently.

And the rhetoric of drought-tolerance coming from industry isn’t matched by peer-review studies. The promises of (patented, monopoly-owned) GM crops — lower yields, drought tolerance, pesticide tolerance, save the third world — look good, but are simply not backed by evidence.

Back to sexologist-turned-industry-lobbyist Bettina’s campaign. I’m reading Michael Pollan’s magnificent book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Did I mention that this book is stupendous? Part history, part gastronomy, part biology and politics and philosophy and intrigue, it’s so elegantly researched and written that even those not interested in food production would love it, I swear. It reads as a giant literary essay, and as Penelope Hobhouse said, it’s “as compelling as a detective thriller.” Buy this book: it’s peerless. Really. (If you want examples of Michael Pollan’s writings, they’re here.)

Something I’m learning about from this book is how the by-products of war became integral in industrialised agriculture. In particular, the introduction of petroleum-nitrogen fertilisers meant farmers no longer had to rotate their crops (for example, with legumes, which fix nitrogen in the soil, or livestock, whose poo also adds nitrogen). Using nitrogen fertilizers derived from fossil-fuels, farmers could now plant monocrops repeatedly in the one space:

Liberated from the old biological constraints, the farm could now be managed on industrial principles, as a factory transforming inputs of raw material–chemical fertilizer–into outputs of corn. Since the farm no longer needs to generate and conserve its own fertility by maintaining a diversity of species, synthetic fertilizer opens the way to monoculture, allowing the farmer to bring the factory’s economics of scale and the mechanical efficiency to nature.

… From the standpoint of industrial efficiency, it’s too bad we can’t simply drink petroleum directly, because there’s a lot less energy in a bushel of corn (measured in calories) than there is in the half-gallon of oil required to produce it. Ecologically, this is a fabulously expensive way to produce food…

Put another way, he writes, “it takes more than a calorie of fossil fuel energy to produce a calorie of food.” The traditional farm, on the other hand, “produced more than two calories of food energy for every calorie of energy invested.”

More than this. Nitrogen fertilizers decrease our food’s nutrient content. Graham Harvey has documented the ways nitrogen fertilisers don’t stimulate nutrient density, but they do cause excess growth of sappy tissue within plant cell walls. Repeated studies show animals and plants fed chemical fertilisers are lower in the essential vitamins and minerals than organically-fed animals and organically-grown food. Although Bettina’s plagiarised article reckons the opposite.

We home gardeners, even those who buy our fertilizer from Bunnings, tend not to pullute river systems with petroleum fertilizer run-off. And we use far less water and energy to make our food.

Even if you do believe Bettina’s claims that organic food isn’t tastier (it is), and isn’t more nutritious (empirical studies show it is), for these reasons alone we should be encouraged by the state to grow the stuff. If the State is really interested in sustainability and public health, that is. And there’s no better place to grow it than in our fertile, intensive backyards, where we can use much less water and energy than broadacre farmers.

April 12, 2007

Kevin Rudd sells out

Filed under: environment,politics — Kath @ 6:20 pm

The Ruddster is looking very shabby today. This morning we learned he’ll still appear on Alan Jones after The Parrot’s racist and violent Cronulla bile. It’s one thing for Rudd to disabuse us of his conviction-politican credentials; it’s another to reveal himself as a boneless scaredy-cat. And there are no realpolitik excuses: Jones weilds far less power than politicians fear. The evidence shows he preaches only to the converted, and his ratings are less than those of Gardening Australia. You’d have more influence appearing with Peter Cundall. But by consenting to appear on Jones, John Howard and Kevin Rudd bestow power to a bigotted megalomaniac. Here’s just one of Jones’ on-air rants about Lebanese, pre-Cronulla:

Caller: If the police can’t do the job, the next tier is us

Alan Jones: Yeah, good on you, J…

Caller: Now, my grandfather was an old digger and he used to say to me when we were growing up, ‘Listen, shoot one, the rest will run’.

Alan Jones: [laughing]

Caller: Right?

Alan Jones: … yes [laughing]

(source: crikey)

But wait, there’s more. Just now, I learned that the Ruddster drives a big fat 4WD Toorak Tractor. That’s right. As Crikey reported:

Even Malcolm Turnbull has the wit to drive a hybrid… the Opposition Leader’s publicly paraded Greenhouse piety is at odds with his level of personal environmental commitment.

It’s also more indicative of a certain intellectually sloppy hypocrisy than any amount of faultily recalled family history. If not a bridge too far, it might well be testing the waters for the last straw.

I wouldn’t normally write about federal politics here, but I feel so goddam disappointed. I always thought it was after elections that disillusion with Labor set in. Not before. Kevin Rudd, I’d like to unleash Catherine Deveney on you.

UPDATE: What the Ruddster drives is a Ford Territory (one is pictured, left.) Not quite the Toowong Tank, but still.

April 5, 2007

Terry Hicks to speak out

Filed under: crime,events,politics — Kath @ 10:27 am

They’ve silenced David Hicks, but they can’t silence Terry. Hear him speak on how the government forced his son to plead guilty and why Guantanamo must be closed. 1pm Saturday 21st April State Library. Speakers include Terry Hicks and  Bob Brown. For info call: 0407856628.

Endorsed by Civil Rights Defence, Liberty Victoria, Victorian Trades Hall.

March 28, 2007

Justice for young Moreland men

Filed under: crime,events,Glenroy,neighbours,politics — Kath @ 3:02 pm

Few people swallow the federal government’s spin that David Hicks’ guilty plea vindicates the charges against him or his treatment. As Bob Brown told SBS last night: “David Hicks’ guilt will always be in doubt. John Howard’s guilt won’t be.” Or something like that, bless him.

Last night, at a legal briefing organised by Civil Rights Defence, concern was expressed that while Australia is rightly worried about the treatment of David Hicks, few of us are aware of the Guantanamo-style conditions happening to those branded ‘terror suspects’ in Melbourne. (more…)

Catherine Deveney tells it like it is

Filed under: crime,environment,politics — Kath @ 11:41 am

Bravo, bravo, bravo.

March 21, 2007

Time to outlaw petrol-heads

I’m starting to be a bit of a fan of Moreland author and stand-up comedian Catherine Deveny. She has an oped in today’s paper which, despite its meandering, is spot on:

HOW about that Grand Prix, eh? One look at the racing fans is all it takes for me to realise that some suburbs should have fences around them. Knuckle-dragging petrol-heads, anorexic bottle blondes marinated in fake tan and middle-aged blokes with man boobs and pimples on their arses paying exorbitant money to watch cars go fast…

I’m sure the parents of terminally ill children suffering rare diseases that there is no funding for researching will take comfort in the fact that the State Government has probably spent $30 million on loud, polluting cars while their child dies. They’ll be at peace knowing that Bernie Ecclestone has pocketed a $20 million licensing fee. (more…)

March 19, 2007

Priorities

Filed under: Brunswick,politics — Kath @ 12:08 am

We received a notice last week urging us to help Little One’s primary school working bee today. It requested that we bring a wheelbarrow and broom and rake if we can. I love this kind of thing. As a friend of mine often remarks, schools are centres of communities, and Little One’s school is a particularly good centre. But as Bloke on The Avenue asked, what kind of government doesn’t give our schools enough for very basic maintenance? What kind of government sponsors carbon-emitting tossers to hoon around Albert Park while schools like Debney Meadows PS have to create new classrooms by squashing kids up and separating existing rooms with a row of lockers? (Meanwhile, Wesley builds boatsheds for its new elite fleet.) As Helen so adroitly puts it today: ”it’ll be a fine thing when the Defence department has to put on a cake stall to buy a fighter jet”. She’s just warming up:

why should I cough up for a raffle for a private school which, to all accounts, I’m already unwillingly supporting with my taxes, on top of the fees they collect? Haileybury is already “(a) major beneficiary of increased funding from the Federal government“, and I don’t think it should be. The public system needs a mighty injection of funds right now to bring its resources up to scratch and pay teachers properly. Instead, my taxes get spent on making Liberal mates private businesses wealthier… we have abandoned the right of all children to a decent public education and are diverting my taxes so that schools like Haileybury can spend on marketing and extra sporting facilities.

March 17, 2007

Communism: a love story

Filed under: books & writing,politics — Kath @ 9:52 am

At last, The Age has published a review of Morelander Jeff Sparrow’s magnificent biography, Communism: a love story. As Amanda Lohrey has observed, the book rollicks along like a good novel. You can also read about it here.

The MUP website has a sample chapter you can download and read. It’s not the book’s best chapter, in my opinion, but it’ll give you a taste. What I love about this book is that while it IS a love story (or many) of the erotic kind, it also profiles many famous Australians’ doomed love affair with Communism without sentiment or dogma. There’s a lot to learn in there.

March 10, 2007

Fair enough or “ludicrous overreaction”?

Filed under: Brunswick,Coburg,crime,Pascoe Vale,politics — Kath @ 9:40 am

In a move described by the Law Institute of Victoria as a “ludicrous overreaction”, our local member, Shadow Attorney-General Kelvin Thomson, has been forced to quit the front bench because he unknowigly wrote a reference for notorious gangster Tony Mokbel seven years ago.

The Age this morning reported that Kevin Rudd was tipped off by an anonymous source and that, given that Smearfest 2007 is in full force, Thomson had to resign. Apparently Thompson didn’t know Mokbel, didn’t remember the reference, and the reference was “a pro-forma”.

The LIV president Geoff Provis said there was no evidence that Mr Thomson had done anything wrong, and that the use of “past associations” to damn politicians was approaching “McCarthyist America”.

I’m fence-sitting on this. I kinda agree with Provis, but still, politicians shouldn’t be writing references for folk they don’t know or haven’t checked out.

March 6, 2007

My neighbour’s facial discrimination

Filed under: Coburg,crime,neighbours,politics — Kath @ 9:11 pm

Last year I left the wilderness of Coburg and went to the National Security Summit and Expo in Canberra, in part to have a look at new biometric software.

Biometrics — technologies that measure people’s physical or biological features — aren’t foolproof. They’re easy technologies to foil. German journalists at c’t magazine outsmarted face recognition systems, iris scanners and fingerprint readers by simple tricks like holding life-size photographs to their faces. As Charles Mann reported in The Atlantic Monthly, “many of the fingerprint readers could be tricked simply by breathing on them, reactivating the last person’s fingerprint.” Not all biometric systems are so easily fooled, “but all of them fail badly.”

I was disturbed to find the Summit’s face-recognition demonstration featured close-ups solely of Asian and Middle-Eastern faces. This seems a pretty racist assumption to me. Historically in Australia, the overwhelming majority of acts of terrorism have come from far-right, Croation emigré and neo-Nazi groups: not Middle-Eastern groups.

Which isn’t to suggest middle-Eastern types couldn’t commit acts of terrorism here, as they have overseas. But two of the three Australian men convicted of terror offences in recent times were Caucasian, not Middle-Eastern. A forth accused, Brisbane schoolteacher John Howard Amundsen, is Caucasian.

So why are People Of Middle Eastern Appearance (I shall call them POMA) the only ones singled out for security checks at our airports? Or so my Lebanese neighbour told me this afternoon. Her over-the-fence account does not a fact make, but I have no reason to disbelieve her. She said whenever her twenty-something son gets on a plane, local or international, he’s picked out from the crowd and rigorously scrutinised, along with all the other POMA.

I believe her because I observed it first-hand, in another scenario. At the trial of one Melbourne man accused of terror offences, there were rigorous security checks at the court. After emptying my bag and being screened, I got in no worries. So did others. But one man was stopped and questioned. He was a POMA. He said he worked as a freelance journalist, just as others had said. But not having a card or press pass, he wasn’t allowed in to the court room. Others weren’t asked for IDs or press passes.

Making national security judgements based on appearance can be fatal. In the US, two air marshalls thought they heard 34-year-old air passenger Rigoberto Alpizar say “bomb” (something other passengers deny hearing), and shot him dead. No explosives were found in Alpizar’s luggage; no link to terrorism was found. In the UK, 27-year-old Jean Charles de Menezes was killed by police officers who wrongly assumed he was connected with the London bombings. (Not long afterward, in a ₤2 million operation, London police shot 20-year-old Abdul Koyair, who was later cleared of any terror suspicions.)

I can see why Mrs Neighbour is worried about her son’s forthcoming trip to the US. He’s a lovely, generous and gentle dude despite his doof-doof music. He experiences ‘appearance’ discrimination all the time, she said: particularly on transport. Especially since the war on terror began, even here in Coburg, and despite being Christian. Meanwhile, as I wrote in an earlier post, his Muslim neighbours are also experiencing the pointy end of Howard’s $20 billion war on terror campaign.

March 1, 2007

VCAT to review decision to abolish Coburg High School

Filed under: architecture,Coburg,events,notices,politics,urban planning — Kath @ 1:28 pm

The pain of school closures from the Kennett years is still felt by many Victorians. Coburg High School was one of many Jeffed communities, and 11 years later, its site remains a source of contention. This is among a number of pictures of the heritage school site taken by Peter Robertson and available on his blogsite. As Peter reports, residents who opposed the Council decision to demolish the heritage building are attending a VCAT hearing to determine the validity of the Council decision. 10am, 7 March, 55 King St, Melbourne.

February 18, 2007

Online petition to save Brunswick Baths

Filed under: Brunswick,environment,notices,politics — Kath @ 10:10 pm

is here.

UPDATE: Interesting to see  Cr. John Kavanagh’s response to this petition here.

February 7, 2007

Bagging Coles Online

Filed under: environment,politics — Kath @ 11:40 pm

Greenhouse gas emissions are governments’ fault, and their problem. They’re the ones who under-regulated industry to the extent of gross negligence. (It was heartening, though, to read this report today.) But of course we can and should do our bit. Which is why I decided to embark on a greenhouse gas reduction plan. It went pear-shaped, thanks to Coles Online Shopping. (more…)

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