Monday, 31 July 2006

The carnival is coming

The Carnival of Empty Cages 3 will be appearing right here in about nine hours. Right after a good night's sleep and leaving enough time for veg*ns in other time zones to send in last minute posts.

Until the morning then.

Bad news comes in threes

  1. Howard announces that he plans to stay on as PM to face the next election.
  2. Over 60 civilians, including at least 34 children, were killed by an Israeli bomb while sheltering in the basement of a house in Qana, Southern Lebanon.
  3. Blair announces that he and Bush plan to "revive the deadlocked World Trade Organization talks sometime in the next few weeks."

I may be forced to avoid the news for the next 24 hours in order to preserve my sanity.

Friday, 28 July 2006

Moroccan Chickpeas

This is one of my favourites recipes and, like the minestrone; I learned it from my Mum.




Ingredients:
  • 1 tbl of olive oil
  • ½ an onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1 small fresh red chilli, diced
  • 2 teaspoons of harissa spice
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp hot chilli
  • 6-8 button mushrooms, diced
  • 1 quarter of a preserved lemon, chopped finely
  • 1 tin of chickpeas (or equivalent of dried beans soaked overnight), rinsed thoroughly in boiling water (I also take off some of the skins so that they are softer, but this is probably unnecessary)
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 8 baby tomatoes, quartered
  • Several handfuls of snowpeas, chopped into thirds
  • Lemon and/or lime juice to taste
  • Couscous or basmati rice to serve
Place onion in pre-heated pan with olive oil on medium-low. Stir over heat until translucent (5-10 minutes). Add garlic and chilli to pan and stir together. Add spices, ensuring that they remain moist. Add the mushrooms, stirring through the spices so that the mushrooms get coated in spices and a little oil. Raise the heat slightly and add some of the tomatoes and the preserved lemon to avoid the mixture becoming dry, stir for around 5 minutes. Add chickpeas and stir into the mixture, stir for around 5 minutes. Add the rest of the diced tomatoes and a little water to create a sauce. Finally add the baby tomatoes, snowpeas and lemon/lime juice.

This should be served on couscous, but I am avoiding wheat at the moment; so we used basmati rice instead.

Wednesday, 26 July 2006

Pitstop Ploughshares found not guilty!

I’ve just heard that Ciaron O'Reilly, an Australian peace activist, has been acquitted on charges of “causing criminal damage without a lawful excuse” (what kind of excuse could you have to cause criminal damage?).

O’Reilly was part of a group that attempted to dismantle an American navy plane that was refuelling at Shannon Airport in Ireland. Interestingly the group, which included four others, all part of the pacifist Catholic Worker Movement, did not deny the attempt to dismantle the plane saying they had to dismantle the plane to prevent it from taking part in the war in Iraq.

Here’s a statement released by the five after their acquittal:

The jury is the conscience of the community chosen randomly from Irish society. The conscience of the community has spoken. The government has no popular mandate in providing the civilian Shannon airport to service the US war machine in it's illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. In 1996 in Liverpool the Jury acquittal of the four 'ploughshares' women contributed to the end of arms exports to the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia and the independence of East Timor. The decision of this jury should be a message to London, Washington DC and the Dail that Ireland wants no part in waging war on the people of Iraq. Refuelling of US warplanes at Shannon Airport should cease immediately.
- Ciaron, Damien, Karen, Deirdre and Nuin.

Go Ireland.

If you're interested the transcript from an interview O'Reilly recorded for Enough Rope is available here. And there’s plenty of coverage of the event on the Indy Media Ireland site.

"Today there are only losers" - except for all the people in developing countries, but they don't count, do they?

I just had to blog about this. It was on the news last night and C and I did a little dance.

I always find it so interesting that the mainstream media (on our tv at least) lays the blame for these repeatedly stalled trade talks on developing countries’ shoulders. The US and EU are pushing so-called developing nations to cut tariffs on imports, while at the same time refusing to cut their own, significantly more trade distorting, subsidies.

Pascal Lamy, the director general of the WTO, was quoted in the NY Times as saying: “There are no winners or losers in this assembly,” he said. “Today, there are only losers.” I beg to differ. Our tv news said much the same thing, emphasising, however that out of all the losers developing countries would be the biggest.

But have developing economies really lost anything?

I know that trade is more important in the fight against poverty than aid ever will be and that developing economies have much to gain from an end to developed economy subsidies, BUT they also had a hell of a lot to lose, particularly in the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) negotiations that were happening on the sidelines of the Hong Kong ministerial.

Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch says the GATS covers "everything that you cannot drop on your foot” (including banking, telecommunications, postal services, tourism, transportation, waste disposal, oil and gas production and electricity). Most importantly for developing country citizens, GATS also seeks to widen the scope for privatising public goods essential for life, like healthcare, education and drinking water. This is a disturbing trend, and while developing countries may have lost an opportunity to gain a slightly larger toe hold in developed country markets (something that’s very much debatable) they have gained a reprieve from the inherent nastiness of GATS.

Peter Hardstaff, Head of Policy at the World Development Movement, said: “Ever since the start of this so-called development round, the EU and USA have consistently opposed, sidelined and ignored a string of development friendly proposals made by poor countries. After the WTO’s Hong Kong Ministerial Conference it was clear that there would not be a development outcome. In that context, the collapse of the talks is positive.”

Hear, hear.

In all of this, I think my favourite thing is how well the WTO’s “consensus” model (which is generally enforced through coercion and scare tactics) really works. As it turns out vast majority of members weren’t even a party to the decision to suspend the Doha round. The WTO even admits as much:

Mr Lamy reached the conclusion to suspend the negotiations after talks among six major members broke down on Sunday 23 July. Ministers from Australia, Brazil, the European Union, India, Japan and the United States had met in Geneva to try to follow up on instructions from the St Petersburg Summit on 17 July.

So much for consensus.

And yay, for once, for developed country pig headedness.

Monday, 24 July 2006

I’m not a technophobe; I just don’t want to cuddle up with my phone, okay

This article in the SMH got me a little concerned. I suppose I should be excited, but I’m not. I’m not even torn.

You see, loads of people, in Japan at least, are now downloading e-books and reading them on their mobile phones. It seems that tons of Japanese youth who just weren’t into reading the classics have started doing so now that they are available in digital format.

"We find that e-books complement the printed publications," said a spokeswoman for the Shinchosha publishing house, Sonoko Fukaya. "As a publisher we of course would like to see our printed publications sell well, but at the same time we find that digital contents are cultivating a new generation of readers who would not have read the contents otherwise."

Maybe I am a luddite after all. I just can’t imagine enjoying a book on my phone. There’s just something so comforting about curling up with a real book, feeling the cover and smelling the pages. And what about browsing in bookshops? I would be one sad little puppy if there were no bookshops to spend hours just wandering in.

Though the environmentalist in me says I should be applauding the fact that people are moving away from paper-based reading as the technology evolves, I just can’t – not on a phone. I’m all for the development of digital newspaper and e-book readers. The ones that are designed specifically for the purpose and are still some ways away from being perfected (though see the effort from Jinkie, above). Bring them on. I’ll happily sacrifice the paper feel and scent for one of those (just so long as I don’t feel like I’m staring at a squidgy computer screen (I get enough of that already – not so much the squidgy though).

And just in case you thought that Japanese youths were the only ones nutty enough to want to read books on their tiny little mobile phone screens, Harper Collins wants you to believe otherwise. They have launched a mobile reader club and I’m not giving you the link. If you’re odd enough to want to read books on your mobile you can find it on your own.

Final Call for Submissions

There is just over a week to go now before the Third Carnival of Empty Cages, which will go up on Tuesday 1 August 2006. So please if you have been planning to write a post of your own or submit someone else’s, now is the time to do so. Our email address is nopod(dot)blog(at)gmail(dot)com

As a reminder of the focus of this Carnival, we are particularly interested in the life cycle of veganism and vegetarianism (veg*nism):
1. The story of when and how people became a veg*n.
2. The evolution of people’s reasons for staying a veg*n.
3. The most frustrating aspects of being a veg*n.
4. The most rewarding aspects of being a veg*n.
5. Whether or not people make much of an effort to “convert” others to veg*nism and what people think of this as a concept.

If you are not a veg*n, but your post is on topic (and in the spirit of the Carnival), we would be happy to hear from you too. We are also really keen to hear from people from all over - so please get in touch with us.

Sunday, 23 July 2006

ASEAN take a stand on Burma (finally)

This is really great news. As long as ASEAN were willing to be patient with the Burmese military Junta and to continue to cooperate with them, there was not a lot of hope that change would ever come to Burma. However, now they have indicated that their patience has run out and that they want action to be taken against Burma. They have also called on China and India to stop investing in the country.

Of course, I have some difficulty in imagining China doing anything in response to this call - they are still bankrolling Mugabe and investing in Sudan, let's not forget - but the support of ASEAN (especially Thailand) was crucial for the Junta and without it they are going to find themselves extremely isolated.

Imagine if Burma became a democracy. Now isn't that a nice thought to start the day with?

Early morning meme

I woke up with a start at 6am today. I had been dreaming that my apartment was being blown to pieces by an Israeli missile and I couldn't find Paul in the rubble. The images were so clear that I could not go back to sleep. So, instead, I am going to do a meme to settle my mind.

This one comes from Ampersand Duck via Pavlov's Cat.

Five things

In my handbag
  • Ridiculously large wallet full of every receipt that I have ever been given (until P. does his ritual cleansing and the process starts over again)
  • Gloves, beanie and scarf (it is cold outside)
  • Lip gloss
  • Pen and highlighter (for reading articles when waiting in places)
  • Ipod nano full of Radio National podcasts (left over from a bus trip to Sydney)

In my fridge
  • Soy products galore: tofu, tempeh, soymilk, soy yoghurt and soy cheese (right now I have it all)
  • Vegies – especially green ones
  • Tahini (always running low, because we eat far too much of it)
  • Cloudy apple juice
  • Frozen raspberries and strawberries (for morning smoothies)

In my closet
  • Far too many polar fleeces, from when I believed that they were the answer to all of my fashion needs
  • A collection of Lao textiles
  • A growing collection of knits
  • Three jackets
  • Lots of plain t-shirts (mostly Bonds)

In my car
  • I don’t own a car – I have a very nice bicycle though

In my bathroom cabinet
  • A recently acquired hairdryer (I now feel like an adult).
  • Moisturiser from Lush (several packs, for fear of running out)
  • A comb that I rarely use (yes, I am very lazy)
  • Herbal toothpaste (baking soda flavoured)
  • Tea tree oil – for so many purposes

Friday, 21 July 2006

An eye for an eye will make everyone blind


I struggle for the words to describe how I feel about the war that has broken out between Israel and Hizbullah. I am horrified by the violence. I am horrified by the tactics used by Hizbullah - kidnapping soldiers and firing random missiles into civilian centres in Israel - and I am horrified by the brutal response of the Israeli military/government - firing missiles into civilian centres in Lebanon and purposefully destroying infrastructure, thus creating a humanitarian emergency throughout the conflict.

It brings to mind the old saying:
"An eye for an eye will make everyone blind."
Except, in this case, there are so many more Lebanese civilians being blinded (well, killed actually) and the disproportionate use of force strikes me as brutal and ill considered. The Israeli government has announced that the attacks will not end until Hizbullah is brought to its knees - destroyed. Imagine if England has taken a similar approach against the IRA - decades of attacks and destruction of essential infrastructure would have destroyed the lives of all the civilians in Northern Ireland before it would have destroyed the IRA. In fact, it would have only swelled its numbers, as more people were driven through desperation and a burning sense of injustice to join and fight back. Actually, that really does seem to reflect the situation that has already developed in the Palestinian territories.

What kind of future are they trying to create for the region? Why do innocent civilians have to pay such an enormous price? How did this become acceptable? It is, after-all, in direct violation of the Geneva conventions on war crimes.

Of course, Hizbullah’s action are also in violation and utterly reprehensible. But that is why they have been legitimately labelled a terrorist organisation. How do you differentiate if a democratically elected government is also permitted to behave in the same way?

Image from the Guardian.

Thursday, 20 July 2006

The irony of it

After the Indian government hastily blocked access to all blogs and blogging sites after the Mumbai train bombings it seems Indian bloggers have been accessing their blogs through a Pakistani site. It’s always comforting to know that in times of civil strife when democratically elected governments start to act like autocrats citizens can rely on autocratic states to provide them with services.

There’s something seriously wrong with this picture.

Even the proposed solution, making individual bloggers liable for their blog’s content, is more than a bit worrying. This would enable the government to more effective go after the authors of sites “which carried material from religious and political extremists” (there are 17 of them targeted at the moment), but would also enable individuals voicing thoughts the government would rather not hear liable under new anti-terror laws.

Still, Indian bloggers are using the Pakistani portal and other methods to continue blogging in the face of government crack downs, just as bloggers in China and other information repressing states do. Prasanto Roy, president of the Dataquest Group, which analyses technological trends in India, is confident that the flexibility of the internet will ultimately prevail:
The internet was built to resist these physical barriers. Information is mirrored and copied quickly. I think what happened here was just some idiot in some ministry decided to block these sites without thinking it through.

Indian government officials were quick to retreat from their actions, saying that blogspot and other sites shouldn’t be blocked:
Gulshan Rai, director of the computer emergency response team, which is responsible for India's cyber-security, said: "Blogspot.com should not be blocked." He added: "What we need to do is work with service providers so that we block individual pages. Just give us some time."

Even blocking individual pages is an infringement of article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
That’s pretty clear, I would have thought, and since India is a signatory they are bound to uphold this right (not that being a signatory stops other countries from abusing all manner of rights wholesale).

And, just in case India needs any further prompting to allow people to access the rights they are entitled to, there’s always article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by India on 10 April 1979:
1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.
I know that "the protection of national security line" is the one the Indian government is running, but preventing people from speaking their minds in a public forum is actually not a very good way of protecting the national interest. It merely forces people underground where they can plot unimpeded.

Tuesday, 18 July 2006

Death of democracy or new game show? You choose.



The state of Arizona in the US has passed a law which will allow it to try a new method of getting people to vote on polling day. Each general election (till Arizona comes to its senses) one voter will be awarded a million dollars, just for turning up and voting.

It seems people are up in arms about it, but really, what difference can it make? It’s not like the US is very democratic anyway, why shouldn’t people have the chance to win something after going to all that effort to turn off the tv, get off the couch and head all the way over to their nearest polling booth and casting a vote. Gosh, maybe everyone should get a prize. They could institute lucky door prizes and prizes for voter number x and what about a prize for the person who manages to vote the most times in one election? Oh, wait, that’s illegal. As, apparently, is Arizona’s new idea:

One federal statute calls for fines or imprisonment of up to one year to anyone who “makes or offers to make an expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote, or to vote for or against any candidate; and whoever solicits, accepts, or receives any such expenditure in consideration of his vote or the withholding of his vote.”

“It’s clearly illegal,” said Jack Chin, a professor at the University of Arizona law school who has studied voting rights issues.

Illegal or not, what kind of message does it send to the various US democracy projects around the world? Perhaps voters in Iraq and Afghanistan should ask the US military for prizes for their next elections. “Living to see another day”, “immunity from racial profiling” and “free passage through road blocks for a month” would all be popular choices I’d imagine.

All jokes aside:

“Bribing people to vote is a superficial approach that will have no beneficial outcome to the process, except to make some people feel good that the turnout numbers are higher,” said an editorial in The Yuma Sun. “But higher numbers do not necessarily mean a better outcome.”

When all’s said and done I think the initiative will achieve nothing other than to further tarnish the once-shining image of America – that bastion of freedom and democracy and leader of the free world.

Oh, and it turns out you still have a better chance of dying from a lightning strike in Arizona (at 1 in 55,928) than winning the voter lottery. I wonder what the chances are in Washington…
Read all about in today's New York Times. The picture is from NY Times too.

Speaking of oil

The G8 summit ended yesterday and the focus was on energy security. Predictably the rhetoric was large, but the focus narrow. While the leaders of the most powerful nations on earth tipped their hats to alternative energy sources, like wind and biomass, they concentrated their talks mainly on the issue of bringing more oil to market and making this market accessible to more people.

The statement on global energy security predicts that energy needs will rise by 50% by 2030 and that “approximately 80% of which would still be met by fossil fuels”. The statement does concede that fossil fuels are “limited resources” but declines to discuss just how limited. The rest of the statement goes on to undermine this essential point.


The meeting also endorsed the activities of “those of us who have or are considering plans relating to the use and/or development of safe and secure nuclear energy”, saying that these leaders “believe that its development will contribute to global energy security, while simultaneously reducing harmful air pollution and addressing the climate change challenge”. Ignoring, of course, its important contribution to massive environmental instability and that nuclear power will only assist in “addressing the climate change challenge” is we define climate change in a very narrow way – ie that the only problem is in releasing pollutants into the air.

The debate on nuclear power has surfaced again recently in Australia and it is being proposed as a “clean” source of energy and a potential way to reduce our greenhouse emissions in line with Kyoto Protocol commitments (not that we’ve actually ratified Kyoto or anything). This whole debate seems to be ignoring a rather large white elephant sitting in the corner – how is it possible to label nuclear as clean energy when, for starters, the uranium has to be extracted from the ground (read major mining activities, which use fossil fuels by the gallon). Added to this is the fact that nuclear waste has to be stored somewhere for thousands of years (somewhere safe and secure and usually underground, which means digging another rather large hole in the ground).

It seems to me that this is a bit of a false debate – expanding Australia’s nuclear program might well be a means of meeting our energy requirements, but it is certainly not a means of meeting them “”cleanly”.

Enough said.

Monday, 17 July 2006

It's hard to get around it, Canberra's home (but it's hard to get around it)

It’s always nice to head back to Sydney for a weekend. Nice, but confusing and somewhat disorientating at the same time. Canberra has, so far, been a fairly easy and congenial place to reside and, until the recent (and destined to last till September) cold snap, I hadn’t thought too much about what was missing from this town. Every time we’ve gone back to Sydney, however, it becomes rather painfully clear that Canberra is no Sydney.

Somewhat ironically, though, this last visit has perhaps confirmed that, for now at least, C and I have actually moved to Canberra. Which is fine, no really.

The weekend away was very pleasant. We caught up with friends, wandered the shopping area downtown and spent time with some of C’s family. But, at the same time, I think we both had mixed feelings. Up until now we’ve always spent our time in Sydney wondering why we were living in Canberra, but this trip we had an interesting conversation around the issue and came to the understanding that we’re actually, for the moment at least, happy to visit Sydney and live in Canberra. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it was a bit of a revelation for me.



So there it is. We live in Canberra. At least for now…

The one thing that bothers me about this new-found semi-permanence in the ACT is that Canberra has possibly the worst public transport system in the world. C and I are all about not owning a car for environmental reasons and we think this position is well borne out by the ever-rising price of oil (it’s at US$78 a barrel and averaging 134.7c per litre in Sydney today, by the way) and the fact that some scientists think we might have already hit peak global production, so things probably aren’t going to get much better any time soon. On top of that is the fact that cars are horrible polluters and have absolutely zero positive impact on the environment. They also cost a fortune to run and insure etc. and frankly we don’t like them very much.

We have taken care of the lack of car-ness in Canberra as much as possible by living super close to the city centre and riding bikes wherever we can. The only reasons we have to use Canberra’s lousy public transport system are when it’s too freezing to ride (which is pretty much June to October) and when we want to visit family members who live in Canberra, but in parts of it that are miles away. We can definitely ride to the family things when it’s not freezing, but winter and outlying family members do pose a problem, particularly when these two coincide on a Sunday. Sunday bus timetables are nothing short of horrific – something like one bus an hour (and never intersecting) until about 6pm and then you’re stuck wherever you are.

I’ll stop ranting now, but in the face of rising petrol prices governments (and especially the ACT government) are going to have to think long and hard about the level of service offered on public transport systems and how to address commuters’ concerns. Should we be forced to buy an unsustainable, environmentally devastating and horrendously expensive form of transport just because we might want to cross town after 6pm on a Sunday? Seriously. How hard can it be to have a functioning public transport system? Pretty much every other city I’ve lived in has had it mostly worked out (Sydney, Melbourne, Seattle, London – heck, even Vientiane was better than Canberra!)

So either Canberra public transport has to get better or I have to buy a car. And while there may be scant chance of the former happening anytime soon, there’s even less chance of the latter happening. It’s me versus the state and I think I’m more stubborn.

Oh, and while we’re on the topic, I found this on the Oil Change International site (via entropy production) and thought it was quite funny:

The Five Stages of Peak Oil

DENIAL — Driving from suburbia to your downtown job every day in your Chevy Tahoe.

ANGER — “%$@^##& Exxon!, gouging me at the pump. I demand you lower your prices or I will boycott you!”

BARGAINING — “The Chinese need to stop using so much oil. My, they’re burning six million barrels every day.” “We need to get corn farmers to make more ethanol, a 5 % blend would really help.” “Maybe we can invade Iran and take control of their oil reserves.”

DEPRESSION — “Oh God, civilization as we know it is going to be destroyed. What are we going to do without oil? How can farmers possibly grow any food? Think about the big box retail industry! Oh the calamity!”

ACCEPTANCE — “You know what, my ten minute commute by bicycle is far nicer than my hour long commute from my old place.”

Friday, 14 July 2006

Off to the big smoke

We're about to head to Sydney for the weekend. Will post on Monday, probably.

Have a lovely weekend dear readers.

Thursday, 13 July 2006

But, how will the terrorists choose what to attack?

This piece in Tuesday’s NY Times is a killer. It seems the US government’s anti-terror database, called the National Asset Database, a list of potential targets of terrorist strikes in the US, is fundamentally flawed. So flawed, in fact, that it lists, among many, many other targets “Old MacDonald’s Petting Zoo, the Amish Country Popcorn factory, the Mule Day Parade, the Sweetwater Flea Market and an unspecified “Beach at End of a Street.””

How great is that. Better not go to that beach at the end of the street…

It's kind of like so much else in the US, you get so much choice you become paralysed with indecision and end up with either nothing or everything. Maybe that's the strategy. Give the terrorists an overwhelming amount of choice and hope they choose nothing rather than everything.

It turns out “that as of January, Indiana, with 8,591 potential terrorist targets, had 50 percent more listed sites than New York (5,687) and more than twice as many as California (3,212), ranking the state the most target-rich place in the nation.”

I love that. Indiana has to be one of the least interesting places in the world and it kills me that some database somewhere has the US government worried that fundamentalist jihadis are just lining up to blow up places like “Nix’s Check Cashing,” “Mall at Sears,” “Ice Cream Parlor,” “Tackle Shop,” “Donut Shop,” “Anti-Cruelty Society” and “Bean Fest.”

The Homeland Security Department’s press secretary, Jarrod Agen, was adamant that the list is still useful and that “We don’t find it embarrassing.” But some lower level officials beg to differ, saying that the inventory “was of low quality and that they had little faith in it.”

Tell me about it:
New York, for example, lists only 2 percent of the nation’s banking and finance sector assets, which ranks it between North Dakota and Missouri. Washington State lists nearly twice as many national monuments and icons as the District of Columbia.

Montana, one of the least populous states in the nation, turned up with far more assets than big-population states including Massachusetts, North Carolina and New Jersey. The inspector general questions whether many of the sites listed in whole categories — like the 1,305 casinos, 163 water parks, 159 cruise ships, 244 jails, 3,773 malls, 718 mortuaries and 571 nursing homes — should even be included in the tally.
The final say in the article goes to Brian Lehman, the owner of Amish Country Popcorn, which is listed on the database as a potential target.
“I am out in the middle of nowhere,” said Mr. Lehman, whose business in Berne, Ind., has five employees and grows and distributes popcorn. “We are nothing but a bunch of Amish buggies and tractors out here. No one would care.”

But on second thought, he came up with an explanation: “Maybe because popcorn explodes?”

Pure gold.

Wednesday, 12 July 2006

As close as we are likely to get


my pet!


This is Zack, our new pet monkey. I have always yearned for a pet monkey in full knowledge that such a thing was both improbable and unethical. Well, now I can have a guilt-free pet monkey online.

Stolen from Kate.

Yes, this is all that I can think to write about today - my mind is very cluttered and confused.

Friday, 7 July 2006

Carnival of Feminists and Sexual Harassment

The 18th Carnival of Feminists is up on Ink and Incapability, and it looks to be full of interesting posts. I will have to wait for the weekend to get into though...

One of the posts that I did read, from Diary of a Freak Magnet, is a well written light-hearted account of sexual harassment in the work place - "Sir, they make lozenges for your problem" - that gives a good idea of how unpleasant it can be to experience (particularly for young women). This post makes a good match for a one by Winter over at Mind the Gap, which looks at sexual harassment from a more serious angle and is really worth the read.


Thursday, 6 July 2006

That a happy face can cause such rancor should be no surprise

This story in the New York Times raised a giggle this afternoon.

Apparently, Walmart and the company that holds the (almost) worldwide patent on the use of the smiley face we all love to hate so much are in a bit of a legal tussel.

The French company, owned by Franklin Loufrani, makes tons of cash from charging licencing fees to companies wanting to use the ubiquitos image on their products all over the world. The stumbling block is that they don’t have a trade mark on the image in the US.

Things are getting nasty with Walmart accusing Loufrani of being a “trademark troll” registering the symbol in as many product categories as possible.
"They are applying for rights over the smiley face in product categories that include animal semen," John Simley, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said. "It shows they are trying to trademark everything they possibly can."
My favourite thing is that the Walmart spokesperson’s name is Simley – sooo close to smiley.

Simley obviously feels that his (massive and rather hideous) company have been wrongly slighted by the law suit and that they only have the best of intentions for the poor smiley face:
"We don't want to be precluded from using the smiley face anywhere we do business," Mr. Simley, the Wal-Mart spokesman, said. "We feel an obligation to defend the smiley face."
Wow! Who knew Walmart felt an obligation to anything. Still, if you are going to have obligations to something, best to pick the smiley face over your staff and the environment.

But the best part of the article is yet to come:
For his part, Nicolas Loufrani said that if SmileyWorld won, he would not license the face back to Wal-Mart. "We want to aim our brand more upmarket."
Umm, I’m not sure whether I should say this, but, the smiley face, upmarket? Maybe I’m a snob, but really?

Wednesday, 5 July 2006

Minestrone

This is one of my favourite recipes - particularly when it gets cold outside.





Ingredients
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 onion
4 large cloves of garlic
3 small red chillies
8-12 button mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon of chilli powder
2 zucchinis
1/2 a head of broccoli
4 small/medium carrots
1/2 a bunch of celery
1/2 sweet potato
1 tin of mixed beans (or soaked dried beans)
1 tin of kidney beans (or soaked dried beans)
1 tin of tomatoes (blended)
1 litre of vegetable stock
1 litre of water
[You can also add potato or pasta to this recipe, but it makes it a little heavier. A blend of fresh basil and olive oil also makes a really yummy side dish to stir in at the end.]



Heat a heavy-based stockpot on low-medium heat. Dice the onion and add to pot with the olive oil. Stir over the heat for 3-5 minutes so that it starts to go translucent. Dice the garlic and chillies and add to the pot and stir. Dice the mushrooms and add to the pot with the chilli powder and stir. Peel, wash and dice the sweet potato and steam separately. Wash and dice the remaining vegetables and add to the pot with a small amount of water. Stir and turn up the heat to medium.




Wash the tinned beans and add to the pot. Blend the tinned tomatoes and add to the pot. Stir together. Add in the steamed sweet potato and stir. Slowly add the vegetable stock and the remaining water. Cover and leave to simmer on medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes.




Remove 3 cups of the soup (mostly the solids) and blend. Add the blended vegetables back into the soup and cover. Leave to simmer on low heat until ready to eat.




Tuesday, 4 July 2006

Equating moral wrongs of differing magnitudes

This article on the BBC’s website has gotten me thinking about the place of women in the world. I hate to say it, but I guess the crap that’s been going on Big Brother recently has also gotten me thinking.

On the one hand there is a world of difference between the actions of Ashley and John and female infanticide in India, but on the other hand all actions that degrade cheapen the lives women are morally reprehensible. I don’t think that Ashley and John should face the kind of punishment that should be metered out to those found guilty of killing a newborn because it happens to be the “wrong” sex (and for the record I think they got exactly what they deserved, even if channel 10 has handled the whole thing appallingly), but legal punishment for wrongdoings does not necessarily equate to the level of morality involved in the wronging in the first place.

To be sure, the killing of an infant is in a realm of moral wrongness of a higher order than holding someone down and slapping them in the face with your penis, but, in my opinion, the level of moral wrongness (that’s a technical term, by the way…) in performing that act live on national tv (or at least in front of cameras that are recording and webcasting) elevates it to a place higher on the badness scale than it might otherwise occupy.

I’m disturbed and distressed that some males in Australia are attempting to justify the actions of Ashley and John, as I’m sure many people in India try to justify the practice of female infanticide.

The perpetuation of harmful and disadvantageous practices and attitudes cannot be justified (in the case of infanticide) on the protection of cultural integrity or (in the case of Big Brother) harmless fun. To those who would defend Ashley and John’s “harmless fun” and tell the rest of us to loosen up, I ask, would you say the same in the face of female infanticide?

I’ll take a leap of faith and assume the majority of people who feel Ashley and John should have the right to have their fun would reject infanticide as an acceptable practice (quite a stretch, I know). What makes the two actions different for these people? I’m assuming it must be distaste for death (though the majority of them eat meat I suppose – but we’ll leave that little contradiction aside for the sake of convenience). Taking a longer perspective, can we not see that the actions of Ashley and John perpetuate the second class citizen status of women in our society (despite the gains that have been made – many of which we are now in the process of undermining)? Stretch this attitude a not-too-great distance further and you arrive at a society where women are valued less than men to the extent that couples would rather have male children than female children. The logical next step is late term abortion and female infanticide, practices that are engendered in certain sections of Indian society.

But that couldn’t happen here, you might argue. And why not?

Because we have strong laws in place to prevent such atrocities? India has such laws in place and they seem to have little impact. In fact, we have strong laws in place to prevent all sorts of actions deemed harmful to society (murder, reckless driving, etc) and these actions are still performed on a regular basis.

Because our culture is more (developed, refined, advanced, civilised – or any other racist and degrading word you can think to insert)? I can’t even muster the strength to engage with people who hold this position; you don’t deserve to be called human.

Moral relativity is important, we can’t be condemning someone who commits cold blooded murder and someone who steals a stick of chewing gum on the same level, but on issues like these that affect (more than) half the human population of the planet, we can’t afford to let relativism get too comfortable.

Trafficking in (football) dreams

I was saddened to read this article in the International Herald Tribune the other day.

While Kofi Annan might envy the World Cup and wish the UN was run more along its lines (though one would hope the UN’s referees would be a little more together), the world game has its darker side too. And, no, I’m not talking about diving here.

It seems the popularity of the game in Africa is leading to a new form of exploitation (neo-neo-colonialism perhaps) in which young and often times naive boys with some soccer skills are being lured to Europe under false pretences and dumped.

The way it often happens, according to the Tribune, is that an “agent” from a European club will attend a youth tournament in Africa and afterwards approach a skilled player with an offer to play with a major club. The only catch is that the family will have to scrape together several thousand dollars to pay for plane tickets and other expenses. The family is told that the money will be a great investment. The young boy then heads for Europe with the tout, head full of dreams of stardom and money, only to be dumped in a dodgy hotel in Paris and left to fend for him self.

Apparently some of these so-called agents are actually bonafide, but that doesn’t stop them from dumping players that don’t make the cut rather then flying them back to their families.

The article outlines the story of Stéphane K., an 18 year old from Cameroon, who fell victim to soccer trafficking.

In April last year, he had just scored 12 goals in a two-day soccer tournament in western Cameroon when a tall man with a Congolese accent and a winning smile walked up and asked: "Would you like to come to Europe and become a professional soccer player?"

Four weeks later Stéphane was homeless in Paris, his one-month tourist visa expiring and, with it, his hopes of a meteoric career.

"I trained for one week with an Italian team in Genoa," he recalled this week. "Then the agent put me on a plane to Paris, paid two nights in a hotel and I was on my own. He just stopped answering his phone."

You could say that Stéphane was one of the luckier ones, since he actually did get to train with a real club, but in the end his situation is the same – he’s stuck in a foreign country, with no visa and no hope of getting home. The article goes on to show how easily these agents can dupe families:

Stéphane's face hardens when he recalls the agent telling his mother that he would need €3,000 to cover expenses. "She said: 'If what you say is true, then so be it. Sometimes one has to trust people one does not know,'" Stéphane said. "Then she went around to all her friends to borrow the money."

When he has a few coins to call her in Cameroon from time to time, he tells his mother that he is training and that things are going well. "I can't go back before I have got the money to pay back my mother," he said

For kids like Stéphane the world game and the dreams that it engenders have turned to nightmares.

While the game at its highest levels is a thing of beauty (most of the time), it’s worth remembering that there is an ugly underbelly of corruption and greed that elevates some to the level of superstars while destroying the dreams and ruining the lives of thousands of others.

Call for Submissions - Carnival of Empty Cages 3

We, here at no pod, have agreed to host the next Carnival of Empty Cages, which will go up on 1 August 2006. So please start submitting posts (yours or someone else’s) to us at nopod.blog@gmail.com

We are particularly interested in the life cycle of veganism and vegetarianism (veg*nism):
1. The story of when and how people became a veg*n.
2. The evolution of people’s reasons for staying a veg*n.
3. The most frustrating aspects of being a veg*n.
4. The most rewarding aspects of being a veg*n.
5. Whether or not people make much of an effort to “convert” others to veg*nism and what people think of this as a concept.

If you are not a veg*n, but your post is on topic (and in the spirit of the Carnival), we would be happy to hear from you too. It would be great to hear from people from all over.

Sunday, 2 July 2006

What does this say about Australian men?

Rumour has it that two male Big Brother housemates have been evicted from the house for quite a serious act of sexual harassment (you can read more details about the rumour at ausculture). The rumours are bad enough (if correct), but just as concerning to me is the response of quite a number of male commenters on ausculture about the incident.

This attitude that a women "deserved it," or "asked for it," or "was lucky to get the attention," is extremely concerning, particularly coming so soon after the disgusting revelations of what happened to Diane Brimble on that P&O Cruise. Incidents like these, and the reactions of some men in Australia, only reinforce how far we have to go in creating a society in which women can be safe from sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence.

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