Thursday, 31 August 2006

Google launches book search, publishers sweat

As part of its bid to “organise the world’s information” Google has launched its latest tailored search engine, this one for books. Google Book Search does just that, it searches the entire text of books Google has scanned and stored online. You can download entire books and print to your heart’s content, but, according to a London Times article, you’d be a bit stupid if you did.

It seems Google is being very careful to steer clear of picking a large fight with major publishers by only making out of copyright publications available on the website. They’ve been scouring the shelves of several libraries in the US and UK, scanning the text and sticking them online. They haven’t scanned anything more recent than the mid-19th century to avoid violating any copyright laws, anywhere.

This sounds great, but there is a bit of a hitch. You might think that downloading and printing out, say, the complete works of Shakespeare might be a fun way to spend an evening and a cheap way to get hold the master’s words, but, according to the Times:
At present home download and printer speeds, it could end up being more expensive to get hold of a free copy of a classic work.

An 1825 complete works of Shakespeare, found by the Google book search, runs to 908 pages and takes 56.6 megabytes of data.

Downloading the tome would take up to five minutes on a broadband fast internet link, and could take approaching an hour on a traditional dial-up connection. But the determined reader would have to endure reading the plays on a backlit screen.

Printing out, though, adds to the complexity. Using a cheap home printer working at 12 pages a minute, it would take 75 minutes to produce the entire book for bedtime reading.

The exercise could easily consume an entire ink cartridge, which costs between £35 and £40.

On Amazon it is possible to buy a paperback Complete Works of Shakespeare for £4.79.
Well, that puts a hole smack bang in the middle of that theory...

Even though only crazy people (or those seeking to really abuse work stationery) are going to bother printing out entire books, publishers are up in arms, talking about the death of their field. Not quite yet, I’d venture.

I think it’s great. I could really have done with digital copies of some novels during my undergrad degree. Cutting and pasting quotes into essays rather than re-typing them would really have cut down needless typing in my honours thesis, and having the ability to perform word searches (looking for that half-remembered line) would have cut out tons of flicking and needless re-reading.

Now, if only digital readers would become more readable…

Sydney: Exhausting

I had a great trip to Sydney last week. I gave a guest lecture. I met with my supervisor and made some fairly big changes to my thesis. I located books in the new law library (which has been laid out to challenge us all) and photocopied articles on Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Habermas, Bentham and Singer. I met up with a different person for dinner every night, and several others for 'coffee' in the day - all over Sydney. Paul came up on Friday and we wandered along Crown St, ate Zino's falafel balls, browsed in cute boutique shops, and met a friend at our favourite cafe for dinner (Cafe Mint). We shopped, we yum cha-ed, and we went to see Thank you for Smoking (which I found thoroughly amusing) with my Dad and Stepmother on Saturday. Finally, on Sunday morning, we caught up with my grandparents (who had just returned from a holiday in Thailand and Cambodia) and drove their car back to Canberra (with them in it) stopping at Goulbourn on the way for a roast dinner (well, we had a sandwich)... and then I collapsed on the couch completely and utterly exhausted.

I missed soccer and slept for the whole afternoon instead.

For my next trip to Sydney, I plan to lie on the beach and sip fresh juice.

Sunday, 27 August 2006

More delicious than I can tell

We were in Sydney this weekend, which is always nice. Canberra is great, most of the time, but what it isn't is a city. I mean a real city, with people and traffic and LOTS of stuff going on all the time.

Don't get me wrong, we're quite happy in Canberra for the time being, but going to Sydney for a break is just always such a nice thing to do.

Well, it is and it isn't, actually.

It is because Sydney is a hectic place and there are always lots of people to see and lots of things to do and by the end of the weekend I'm really ready to head home and slow down a bit.

It isn't because it never ceases to remind me that I could be living in the thick of things, but I'm not. I'm living a three-and-a-quarter-hours drive south in Canberra, of all places.

Still, it could be a whole lot worse - it could be a tiny country town in the middle of nowhere, with no shops or people or cafes or restaurants, etc. Nope, Canberra is just fine for now, just fine indeed.

Back to the point of this post. The weekend in Sydney was lovely, as they always are. We caught up with friends and strolled around. Saw Thank you for smoking on Saturday night in an old restored theatre on the north shore. Beautiful theatre, hilarious and clever film (even if it was made by Fox). Sat around and read the Saturday papers. Went to our favourite cafe (Mint on Crown Street in Surry Hills, if you must know) and just generally had a nice time.

Saturday lunch was spent yum cha'ing vegan-style at the Green Gourmet in Newtown. Our friends had stopped in at a new Chinese grocer downtown on their way to meet us (or at some point) and had seen the above pictured item and couldn't not buy it.

The package contains (and it really doesn't matter what it is) pine nuts and salt, but with the words on the pack you'd think it was some kind of miracle food. Just in case you can't read it on the screen, here are the best bits, from the top:

More delicious than I can tell


Aftertaste without end

Unable dispute

Hot sell the good taste

Can not forget

The good taste comes up

Now, I'm a bit of a grammar pedant, but I'm also a lover of new forms of English, particularly those of the written variety. On that front this otherwise innocuous packet of pine nuts is pure gold.

I'm not sure if I'm game to try them though. The combination of an aftertaste without end, and a flavour that comes up might just be something I can not forget.

What do you think? Tear the pack open for a sample of hot sell the good taste, or buy a frame and hang them on the kitchen wall? Close call.

Friday, 25 August 2006

Finally some good news aboout P&O

The annual Ernie Awards, which are given each year for sexist behaviour or remarks in the public domain in Australia. This year's clear winner was P&O Cruises for their 2003 advertising campaign (pictured above courtesy of The Age, sorry, I know it's disgusting).

I've got nothing good to say about P&O and the way they have created a culture of sexism and encouraged predatory behaviour in men on their cruises. The way the company has handled the investigation into the death of Dianne Brimble is also pretty revolting.

Congratulations P&O, a well deserved award for a sexist company.

Thursday, 24 August 2006

My turn on the book meme

1. One book you have read more than once

I've read Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children more times than I care to count. I love the way Rushdie plays with language, sending you through twists and turns before spitting you back out pretty much where you started – so much for the progression of character... Same goes for Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude, for pretty much the same reasons (but you do end up coming out somewhere different, which is nice).

2. One book you would want on a desert island

I'd have to say Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, I've read it a couple of times and figure I could spend the rest of my life re-reading it over and over without getting close to understanding all of it. I'd also want to take Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia for pretty much the same reasons (also apparently you are supposed to read it while listening to very loud music, so I figure it might be able to take the place of music eventually...)

3. One book that made you laugh

I remember when I was a teenager discovering the Red Dwarf Omnibus by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. It made me laugh so much I'd cry. There was a period of a few months when I'd finish reading it, put it down, get something to eat and start reading it again – and find it just as funny!

4. One book that made you cry

I'm not much of a book crier, I must admit. The Da Vinci Code brought me close to tears, but not for the right reasons (and we'll get to it in a minute). I was deeply troubled by Jose Saramago's Blindness, and, if I'd been a crier I'd have cried a lot.

5. One book you wish you had written

Umm, anything good on the effects of globalisation and the problems of development. Maybe, Amartya Sen's Development as Freedom or Thomas Pogge's World Poverty and Human Rights. On the fiction front, I'd be pretty happy to have my name on the cover of Amitav Ghosh's The Glass Palace.

6. One book you wish had never been written

Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is a clear winner in this category. If the choice was between having people never read a book or reading that one, I'd be hard pressed not to suggest the illiteracy path. That book made me want to poke my eyes out just so I wouldn't have to finish it. I'd also hasten to say the Christian bible (few other books have caused so much angst and violence in their various interpretations) but by that token I'd have to add the Qur'an and Mein Kampf, just to name a couple, so let's stick with Dan Brown for now.

7. One book you are currently reading

I'm slowly making my way through a friend's copy of William Easterly's White Man's Burden and am flicking through Francis Wheen's How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions, which is particularly entertaining.

8. One book you have been meaning to read

There's a growing pile next to my side of the bed, which includes (and this is by no means an exhaustive list)

Hardt and Negri's Multitude;
Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilization;
Clive Hamilton's Growth Fetish;
John Banville's The Sea;
Jared Diamond's Collapse (sorry Chris, I'll return it soon, I promise...); and
Public Citizen's Whose Trade Organization;

I'm sure that's not all of them, but it'll do for now.

9. One book that changed your life

That's a tough one. I'd have to say that, intellectually, at least, the two books that I stumbled across at pivotal moments were Fredric Jameson's Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism and Chomsky and Herman's Manufacturing Consent.

The book that really got me reading as a young teen was Raymond Feist's Magician, I think I had an unhealthy obsession with that book (and the dozens that came after it) for a few years.

Who to tag? Aww, I hate this bit, it shows how much I've been neglecting reading other blogs of late... Let's just pretend that there wasn't a 10, okay.

Tuesday, 22 August 2006

One of those days

I had one of those days today. Woke up just feeling crap. C. in her wisdom firmly told me to stay put and I ended up sleeping till almost noon, before getting up, eating a bowl of ceral and passing out on the couch for another couple of hours.

That was more sleep than I've had in a week and I'm feeling a whole lot better now.

Gotta get a handle on the sleep thing though. I was seeing a doctor the other week about something unrelated and happened to ask what I might be able to do about the fact that I have trouble getting to sleep most nights and tend to wake up a couple of times as well. To my surprise, the doctor told me I was nothing special and that around 30% of people in Australia suffer some form of insomnia (and here I was thinking I was special).

What surprised me more, however, was the answer to my obvious follow-up question "what can I do about it?" The doctor thought about it for a minute, said he wasn't sure and wandered off to consult with a colleague (as if no one had ever asked the question before - I guess he'd always had the fortune of seeing patients from the other 60% of the population). A few minutes later her came back and handed me a glossy brochure for "Sleep Better... Without Drugs", a "proven 4-6 week self-help program, You choose the solutions that work for YOU".

I must have looked at him rather blankly, because he felt the need to explain that there are no sleep specialists in Canberra, and very few in the country (apparently). The doctors in the clinic I visited recommend the aforementioned CD set (for the bargain basement price of $149 - RRP $199!), in lieu of actually knowing anything about the subject.

I know that GPs are qualified sleep doctors, but you'd think they'd at least have some idea of how to treat an affliction that purportedly affect 30% of the population. Palming people off with a sales pitch for a self-help manual aimed at people who have turned to drugs to get some sleep seems somewhat slapdash (in fact, I hadn't even thought about taking drugs to help me sleep till I saw the brochure, but now I'm wondering if I'm missing out).

Guess we'll see what happens tonight. I'm feeling pretty well rested right now, so hopefully it won't ruin a good night's tossing and turning...

Saturday, 19 August 2006

five days in a sweatshop killed me

NOW, a Nottingham-based art group, has developed an online game that attempts to mimic life for the millions of sweatshop workers struggling to surive all over the global south.

Sim Sweatshop that was aptly described by Mark Oliver, a Guardian journalist, the other day:

Players have to frantically put together trainers as the clock runs down, using a pathetic wage to buy drink and food to stop their energy bar from disappearing... There is a daily quota of shoes to hit, with wages being docked if it is missed... If money runs low, it is a struggle to buy food, and the shoes become blurry as tiredness sets in.

Oliver says he lasted three days before expiring from lack of food and over work. I managed slightly better at five, but never made my full shoe quota (and consequently had my pay docked every day), couldn't afford to buy my child new shoes and my shoes were constantly blurry from lack of energy.

It's hard not to feel the sense of dread and urgency as you attempt to drag the pieces of the sneakers together as quickly as possible, attempting to stay ahead of the clock, while knowing full well that even if you do manage to make your shoe quota for the day, there is a good chance you won't make it tomorrow and, even if you do, you still won't have enough money to feed and your family and pay the rent.

More distressing than the game itself was the statistic quoted by Oliver in his article, citing a report that found more than half of under 25's in the UK have no idea where or how their clothes are produced, nor do they care.

This comment, left on the article the day it was published, just about says it all:
Is it the responsibility of the consumer to know where and how their items are made? Get a bloody grip, do not have a go at under 25s who understandably do not know where their clothes come from it is manafacturers and manafacturers alone who can stop this. Or yes we could boycott all products not made in the West and then watch how the dreadfull wages of sweatshop workers disappears into nothing as they lose their job? The consumer is not at fault here, and it should not be the consumers responsibility to find out.
Notwithstanding the horror inspired by Svenny's ignorance of simple grammatical rules and English spelling, the attitude espoused, seems to me, to neatly sum up the major problem in the world today. Most people in the global north simply do not care about anything beyond their self defined borders. For some that stops with themselves and for many more it expands to encompass family and friends, even as far as most members of their particular nation state (the ones that are of the same colour and religious beliefs at least), but no further.

Thinking about this reminded me of an article written by (one of my favourite philosophers) Peter Singer in 1971. The article
Famine, Affluence, and Morality argues compellingly that we not only have the moral obligation to assist others in need, but that this obligation extends to the ends of the earth. The article is definitely worth the read, but, even more deserving is a piece from 1997, The Drowning Child and the Expanding Circle, in which Singer postulates that few people would hesitate to save a child drowning in a shallow pond, even if doing so inconvenienced them in some small way:
To challenge my students to think about the ethics of what we owe to people in need, I ask them to imagine that their route to the university takes them past a shallow pond. One morning, I say to them, you notice a child has fallen in and appears to be drowning. To wade in and pull the child out would be easy but it will mean that you get your clothes wet and muddy, and by the time you go home and change you will have missed your first class.
Singer then asks "would it make any difference if the child were far away, in another country perhaps, but similarly in danger of death, and equally within your means to save, at no great cost – and absolutely no danger – to yourself?" and systematically destroys the various arguments that can be raised in favour of doing nothing in the face of millions of people living precariously, day by day.

Singer's conclusion is worth quoting in full:
In a society in which the narrow pursuit of material self-interest is the norm, the shift to an ethical stance is more radical than many people realize. In comparison with the needs of people going short of food in Rwanda, the desire to sample the wines of Australia’s best vineyards pales into insignificance. An ethical approach to life does not forbid having fun or enjoying food and wine; but it changes our sense of priorities. The effort and expense put into fashion, the endless search for more and more refined gastronomic pleasures, the added expense that marks out the luxury-car market – all these become disproportionate to people who can shift perspective long enough to put themselves in the position of others affected by their actions. If the circle of ethics really does expand, and a higher ethical consciousness spreads, it will fundamentally change the society in which we live.
While the crisis of 1997 in Rwanda may have abated to a certain extent, there are plenty of other examples (Zimbabwe, Sudan, Burma, the Congo and DRC, Afghanistan and Lebanon to name but a few) if you really need persuading, but many others (1.8 billion at last count) around the world are living on the equivalent of US$2 a day or less - the World Bank's poverty line, below which life becomes very percarious indeed. Close to a billion are living on less than US$1 a day, at which point life becomes next to impossible.

As Singer argues, it doesn't cost much to make a difference. There are plenty of organisations who would be grateful to receive some of your spare cash on a regualr basis (Oxfam, Medecins Sans Frontiers, Baptist World Aid, CARE, ActionAid, the ICRC, Save the Children, World Development Movement, UNICEF, again, just to name the first few that spring to mind), there are also ways you can get involved yourself if you have the time and inclination. Volunteer somewhere in your spare time, for example.

But more than this, the single most important contribution you can make is simply to consume less and consume wisely. Know where you clothes are made, buy organic food, recycle and try to live more simply. You'll find you have more time to spare, and more money to spare too (which you really should flick towards an organisation you identify with, if you ask me).

*The anti-Nike ad above is courtesy of AdBusters

Wednesday, 16 August 2006

Overweight 'top world's hungry'

You’ll hopefully be as alarmed as I was to know that there are now more overweight people across the world than hungry ones.

The BBC has reported the statement made by Professor Barry Popkin from the University of North Carolina at an agricultural economists’ conference at, of all places, Australia’s Gold Coast, where one can see whale-like people from many nations lazing in the sun. Perhaps the economists thought a field trip to the second fattest nation on earth might be fun.

According to his data, there are now 1 billion overweight people compared to 800 million undernourished.

But how to combat this spreading epidemic (no pun intended)? Professor Popkin says manipulating global food prices could be an answer:

For instance, if we charge money for every calorie of soft drink and fruit drink that was consumed, people would consume less of it. If we subsidise fruit and vegetable production, people would consume more of it and we would have a healthier diet.

But isn’t that what we have the WTO for? Don’t they specialise in letting countries subsidise some foods at the expense of others, or am I just cynical?

I know that obesity is an increasing problem, and not just in the north, but I’m concerned that a conference of development-oriented agricultural economists was focusing on it, rather than the persistent issue of world hunger. In Laos for example, close to 40% of the population is undernourished.

1 billion people may well be overweight, but the percentage of them that are morbidly obese would pale in comparison to the percentage of the 800 million people going hungry who are in dire straights. We can do so much, so easily, to prevent people from slipping below the WHO’s 2100 calorie a day threshold for food poverty line. But the invisibility of poverty in our so-called ‘developed’ country, shields us from our moral responsibilities, which, personally, I find disgusting.

Book Meme

Kate has tagged me for the book meme that has been doing the rounds and since I love a good meme, I couldn’t resist.

1. One book you have read more than once

I went through a phase of re-reading books a lot when I had chronic fatigue, but they were mostly sci-fi/fantasy books and I have lost interest in them now. I also loved re-reading Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr and Letters from the Inside by John Marsden when I was younger.

These days, I will have to go with the predictable Pride and Prejudice. It just makes me feel so warm inside and has so many layers of interest to keep me entertained.

2. One book you would want on a desert island

Survival manual is getting a little predictable, but for good reason. Something thick and worthwhile would also be good: maybe Robert Fisk’s Great War for Civilization, or Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

3. One book that made you laugh

Bill Bryson never fails to make me laugh. I am a particular fan of Notes from a Big Country, because I could relate to his experience of moving (back) to the US and be utterly bemused by so much of what is considered normal over there.

4. One book that made you cry

I cry quite easily when I am reading books, but no book has ever made me cry quite as much as The Gadfly by Ethel Lilian Voynich. I think that I cried from about two-thirds of the way in all the way until the end – great heaving sobs.

5. One book you wish you had written

Pride and Prejudice.

6. One book you wish had never been written

In Defense of Globalization by Jagdish N. Bhagwati. It made me so angry and reinforces so many ideas that I believe to be detrimental to the lives of people across the Global South.

In high school I would have said Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I love books, but I hated every second that I spent reading that one. (I quite like his other books though).

7. One book you are currently reading

I have a pile up next to my bed at the moment – it is a disgrace. It includes Paper by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, The Carpet Wars by Christopher Kremmer (which I got half way through in February and inexplicably stopped reading), Failed States by Noam Chomsky, Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon.

8. One book you have been meaning to read

All of the books next to my bed (although I have read part of most of them) and Robert Fisk’s Great War for Civilization (which is occupying part of the pile next to P.’s side).

9. One book that changed your life

I’m going to be greedy and name three:
(1) The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper (my mother’s partner read them to me when I was 6 or 7 and got me utterly hooked on reading);
(2) Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (got me thinking about nuclear war and peace at a young age and gave meaning to all the peace marches and anti-nuclear protests that I participated in);
(3) Food for Life by Neal Barnard M.D. (helped me to convince my Dad to let me go vegan when I was 15).

10. Now tag five people:
1. Kristy
2. Paul
3. Armaniac
4. Damian
5. Laura

Monday, 14 August 2006

Howard pulls Migration Bill

Thank goodness.

Maybe it would have been nicer to see his bill go down in flames in the Senate, but I am just glad that it is gone. It was draconian, immoral and disgusting (not that similar things could not be validly said about the last amendments or the 'Workchoices' legislation). I am glad that some members of the Liberal party have shown that they have a conscience and a moral backbone. I am merely baffled by Senator Fielding - why did he wait so long to oppose the bill and what were his reasons for eventually opposing it?

Hat tip to mark lawrence for the heads-up.


I had a really good sandwich for lunch today. Or, at least, I really enjoyed my sandwich today while sitting in the sun at the park.

The problem with this is that it has left me feeling completely obsessed with food ever since. By 2pm I found myself reading reviews of vegan restaurants in NYC and feeling jealous about all the options that New Yorkers have. Then I remembered that HappyCow's vegetarian restaurants guide is global and I started to look a little closer to home.

The Canberra selection didn't really inspire me, because I have been to all of the restaurants fairly recently, but I did get a little excited by the Sydney section (since we are heading up there next week). I started harassing Paul at work with requests to go to various vegan restaurants while we are in Sydney and then began contemplating whether a trip to Cabramatta would be taking things too far.

As if to answer my question, Veggie Friendly (our new blog of the week) posted a new review of An Lac Vegetarian Restaurant (Cabramatta) and suddenly our fate was sealed. Well, at least that is what I am saying now.

It may be that I'll be more concerned with the beach than my stomach by next week. Only time will tell...

Saturday, 12 August 2006

Just your average Saturday night

It's after 1am on a Saturday. If I'm going to be up this late I'd prefer there was a good reason. You'll be most unhappy to know there isn't. More to the point, there, in fact, is, but I'm clearly not awake for it.

A friend's band are playing tonight at a local club. Alien Digit, they are really good, you should check out the website. Anyway, I've been trying to see them ever since C and I got back, but haven't managed yet and tonight is no exception.

So, here I am, up well past midnight working on a job application. I really hate writing these things. In fact, there is little else I would rather not be doing right now - the obvious exceptions (like touristing in southern Lebanon) being set aside of course.

It doesn't seem to matter how many times I sit down and address selection criteria it never gets any easier, and, it would seem, as I gain more experience it actually gets harder, both to remember what's relevant and to squeeze it all in.

The worst thing though is that, essentially, I'm applying for a job I'm already doing. The Australian Public Service makes you go through the entire competitive process (selection criteria, interview, etc) every time you go for a promotion. When I'm in a lucid mood I can see the value of this for transparency, accountability and fairness, but when the clock is fast approaching 1am and I'd much rather be sleeping my perspective gets somewhat skewed.

Still, only a little talking myself up left to do this gentle evening and I'll be able to reward myself with some well deserved (cough, splutter) sleep.

Speaking of things that annoy me. I'm not sure if C or I have filled you in on the insanity that is the fire alarm system in our building. When we moved into our apartment 6 months ago it was brand spanking new and rather too shiny. The only issue we had was that the fire alarm seemed to have a penchant for setting itself off at all hours. At least a couple of times a week we'd drop what we were doing (eating, sleeping, showering) and trudge down 5 flights of stairs to wait on the street with dozens of dazed fellow building dwellers for the fire truck to roll up and give the all clear. After the first few weeks things eased off and we hadn't had an alarm for a few months - until last week when things started going haywire again. We've had so many false alarms in the last fortnight that we've started ignoring them altogether (Chicken Little style) which is not a good thing.

And here's why.

Tonight (during a hard earned tv break) the alarm started screeching, but we were in the middle of an episode of the West Wing (just got hold of season 4 on DVD...) and so decided that, since the other 60,000 had been false alarms this one probably was too. The general routine is that the alarm goes off for about 10 minutes, the fire truck arrives and several strapping young men in yellow jump out, turn the racket off and tell everyone to go back inside as it was a "false alarm". If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that this year...

Anyway, we ignored the alarm for the better part of an episode before realising that it hadn't stopped. I popped out into the corridor to have a peak and, to my horror, saw (count them) five fire trucks, including one with a giant crane on top, and four police cars blocking off the street.

We quickly layered up and headed down the stairs to face the cold. Nobody seemed to know what was going on, so I approached a chilly looking officer and asked what the deal was only to be informed that they were trying to figure out where the smoke was coming from.

SMOKE! Holy crap! And to think, not 5 minutes ago we'd been happily immersed in the West Wing totally unawares that there were yellow-suited hardbodies stalking the corridors risking life and limb trying to track down a fire!

After about 10 minutes we were told it was safe to reenter the building, unless you were from level 3, where they were testing the air quality...

It's been all quiet ever since, but I'll be sure to not ignore fire alarms (however annoying) in future, that's for sure.

Right, now back to that selection criteria...

The joys of getting organised

Lately, I have been letting little things build up. I have let a pile of papers grow on the corner of my desk, and left another small group sitting in the newly created 'household inbox'. I have also had a growing number of stickies filing my desktop to remind me to get on top of all of this personal administration.

Once it built up to a certain level, it just seemed too big to tackle, and so my little problem continued to grow. Yesterday, however, I found my motivation and tackled things head on.

I called my superannuation organisation to ask why I was receiving mail in two different names (one very similar to my own), only to find out that not only was I receiving someone else's mail, but also somehow the superannuation people had managed to roll my old super accounts into that person's account instead of my own. After speaking to a few different people, I was able to sort this out and get my money back.

I also paid some bills online, updated our health insurance information, paid for our flights to South Africa, and filed away a whole bunch of bills and papers. Well before midday my desk was clear, as was my desktop and my conscience. I felt great.

Now it is Saturday morning and there are no administrative tasks looming over the weekend. Plus the weather is supposed to be glorious. How good is that?

Friday, 11 August 2006

Goodbye Coke

Breaking news (Trivandrum, India, August 9, 2006):
"The state government of Kerala in south India has banned the production and sale of Coca-Cola and Pepsi in the state. The companies will be asked to close their operations entirely.

Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan stated today that the ban was being imposed because of the health hazards posed by Coca-Cola and Pepsi. "We have arrived at the decision to ask both Coke and Pepsi to stop production and distribution of all their products, based on scientific studies which have proved that they are harmful," said Mr. Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan.

Chief Minister Achuthanandan also pointed to the four year campaign by the community of Plachimada in Kerala where the community has protested falling water levels and pollution of the groundwater and soil - directly as a result of the Coca-Cola company's bottling operations in the area.

This is extremely exciting news, particularly if you have been following the story in Plachimada from the beginning. If you missed it, let me give you some of the background.

In March 2000, Coca-Cola commissioned a plant in Plachimada, Palghat Kerala, to produce 1,224,000 bottles of soft drink, for which they were issued a conditional licence to install a motor to draw water. However, Coca-Cola started to take far more water than it was legally permitted to extract, and the water level in the area fell dramatically. To make matters worse, the plant also pumped wastewater into dry bore wells within the company premises and promoted its toxic waste sludge as free fertilizer to the local farmers, thus contaminating the remaining ground water in the area. The surrounding areas began to experience serious water shortages, including the drying up of 260 bore wells which were provided by public authorities for drinking water and agriculture facilities. By 2003, the district medical officer informed the people of Plachimada their water was unfit for drinking.

The people of Plachimada, Kerala, resolved to take back control of their water. In 2002 the local women started a dharna (sit-up) at the gates of the plant in protest over Coca-Cola’s illegal extraction of the region’s water. In 2003, local people took Coca-Cola to the Kerala Supreme Court to stop them from illegally extracting ground water. The court ruled in their favour, but the plant continued its operations. On 21 September 2003 the women organised a rally that attracted large numbers of protesters from the region and beyond. The protest came under the international spotlight, when the World Water Conference was held in India between 21 and 22 January 2004, and drew global activists like Jose Bové and Maude Barlow to Plachimada to support the local activists. The movement continued to gain strength until 17 February 2004 when the Kerala Chief Minister was forced to place a temporary ban on the Coca-Cola plant from extracting any more groundwater.

Even since then Coca-Cola has been challenging the ban in court and has repeatedly stated their intentions to continue their operations "for the good of the community." However, now it looks like it is all over for them in Kerala and they may soon be faced with the bill for the damage that they have inflicted on the Plachimada community, which is great.
"The cola companies have inflicted a lot of damage to the fabric of the community in Plachimada by destroying lives and livelihoods. We are now putting the companies on notice that they must make reparations to the affected community members, and the campaign will move to a new stage," said R. Ajayan of the Plachimada Solidarity Committee, a statewide coalition that has been campaigning on the water depletion and pollution issues.
Even better news is that it may be over for Coca-Cola and Pepsi in all of India if everything goes to plan.
Last week, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a leading public interest research and advocacy group in India, released a study that found a "cocktail of between three to five different pesticides in all samples" of Coca-Cola and Pepsi products they tested in India. On an average, the CSE study said, the pesticide residues were 24 times higher than European Union (EU) standards and those proposed by the Bureau of India Standards (BIS), the government body responsible for standardization and quality control.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi have now been banned in government and educational institutions by many states in India, including Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Delhi.

Efforts are underway in India to develop regulations that will govern safety standards for soft drinks to ensure consumer safety. The Centre for Science and Environment has accused the Coca-Cola company and Pepsico, as well as "powerful interests in the government", of blocking the adoption of the standards.

The Supreme Court of India has also ordered Coca-Cola and Pepsico to reveal the ingredients in their products in six weeks, or face a potential national ban.
Now if only campaigners in Colombia could be so successful...

Wednesday, 9 August 2006


The sun has started shining more brightly of late and yesterday I was even feeling quite warm while sitting in the park at lunchtime. And yet, I am utterly bored with winter. I am yearning for a few days on the beach. I would like to lie (briefly) in the warm sun and go for a swim.

My research is at a very boring point (I am trying to gather together a large number of facts, read over last few weeks, and to condense them into a small number of words) and I just want to be on holidays. The bother is that we took a holiday just over two months ago.

A long weekend would do though.

I was momentarily excited at the prospect of the census, but it really is very boring. I know that each extra question costs money, but I do wish that they could throw in a few interesting ones, like:
  1. How many countries have you visited?
  2. Which was your favourite?
  3. How many pairs of shoes to do you own?
  4. What do you think of Alan Jones?
  5. What did you eat today?
  6. Did you just lie on the last question to make yourself feel better?
  7. What else did you eat?
  8. What is your favourite form of dancing?
You know, just something that seems to ignite a bit of personality into the form. It ended up feeling a bit like doing the tax return - except I usually get something at the end of that, so it is infinitely more interesting. Incidentally, I realised this year that I had actually managed to pay not one cent of income tax, so I didn't have a lot to report. If I had been paid for my tutoring a week earlier, it would have been quite a different story though...

I think that I am going to have lunch now. Maybe I will feel more inspired after I have eaten.

Update: More suggestions and discussion over at LP.

Monday, 7 August 2006

I'm unimpressed

Having breakfast at 5.30am is not something I'm accustomed to. Getting on a plane at 6.45am to spend a day in a meeting room in Melbourne is even less impressive. At least if I was going overnight I'd be able to enjoy a little of what Melbourne has to offer - maybe even catch up with some friends. But going to Melbourne for a day is really pissing me off.

This isn't work travel, it's just annoying.

Thursday, 3 August 2006

The children

I just read this amazing article in the Guardian: "You go a bit crazy when you see little body after little body coming up out of the ground". I had huge tears falling off my chin before I'd even finished. War is always a tragedy and the impact on everyone is terrible, but the impact on these children just broke my heart.

He describes watching scores of bodies being pulled from the rubble of houses, all of them children.
Four medics carried a little boy by on an orange stretcher: he was perhaps 12 years old, dressed in black shorts and a white T-shirt with a coloured motorcycle on it. His arms were stretched behind his head, but apart from the bruises on his face and the swollen lips, he looked OK. For half a second I told myself, as I tell myself every time I see death, that he was just sleeping, and that he would be fine. But he was dead.

Two more small dead boys followed them. The medics were running out of stretchers, so they piled the corpses of the boys on one orange stretcher. One of the kids was slightly chubby; he was wearing a red T-shirt and shorts. His head rested on the lap of the younger, who was about six years old; both had the same exploding lips, covered with blood and dirt. It was obvious to everyone that these boys were not sleeping.
He then goes on to describe his encounters with children who are still living, but enduring the horrors of war.
A week ago I met Abbas Sha'ito, a chubby 12-year-old boy in a bright orange T-shirt who was sitting on the side of a road south of Tyre, blood covering his face, his T-shirt torn by the bomb that had hit the minivan he had been in. He and 17 others had been inside; his mother, brother and aunt were all injured, moaning and in agony a few feet away. Inside the minivan remained the headless corpse of his uncle, and the bodies of his grandmother and another man who had been fleeing with them.

Abbas was weeping, and had an arm round his mother, who seemed to be fading fast: she was injured in the chest and head, and one of her arms was almost severed at the bicep. "Don't leave me, mother," the boy wept. "Don't go, don't go."

It was clear that his mother believed herself to be close to death. "Take care of your brothers and sisters," she said to Abbas.

"Don't leave me," Abbas kept saying.

What kind of memories will be left with these children? What will their attitudes be towards their neighbours in Israel? How will they feel about the international community who has done nothing to protect them or their families?

Can you imagine if they were your children? How would you be feeling right now about all this talk of waiting until a permanent solution is found before considering a cease-fire?

I'd be thinking that the permanent solution can wait until people stop dying; until our homes and families stop being destroyed. I'd be thinking that all this talking of waiting was completely devoid of humanity and compassion. I'd be thinking that there is no justice in this world and that only those countries with nuclear weapons get to defend their citizens.

For the record, their are also people in Israel who think that this whole situation was mismanaged - that the chosen strategy has backfired, and that a better solution could have been reached by avoiding the missiles in the first place. I am sure that there are also plenty of Lebanese who do not support the tactics used by Hizbullah too, but I'd wager a guess that they are dwindling in numbers as their country gets destroyed and humiliated.

Photo from the Guardian


I am writing my PhD on the right to water. For some reason, this means that it is topic that I rarely blog about - I guess because it seems that if I were to start, I would have no idea when and how to stop.

However, this is one of the quotes that I am using to start a chapter, and it is really resonating with me today, so I thought that I would share it:
Water consumption has almost doubled in the last fifty years. A child born in the developed world consumes thirty to fifty times the water resources of one in the developing world.* Meanwhile, water quality continues to worsen. The number of people dying from diarrhoeal diseases is equivalent to twenty fully-loaded jumbo jets crashing every day, with no survivors.**
Imagine if twenty fully-loaded jumbo jets were crashing every day, with no survivors. It would definitely make the news. If they were Western people, we would also definitely be doing something about it. We would really really care.

I know that it is not so much that we are devoid of compassion for what is happening in the global south. I know that it is more that the problems seem too huge and our ability to do anything about them seems so intangible (almost like conflict in the Middle East), and so we turn away to avoid feeling permanently depressed about the state of the world.

But the thing that gets me is that this issue really isn't that complicated (or that expensive). We know how to purify water, and we know how to install water pumps and dig decent wells, and it would save so many lives (not to mention the additional health and economic benefits from freeing people - usually women - from the hours of daily labour involved in collecting water from far away impure sources).

OK, minor rant over. I'll go back to my case study on South Africa.

*United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), State of the World's Population 2001, (New York 2002).
**World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP), The First UN World Water Development Report: Water for People, Water for Life, (2003), p.5.

Tuesday, 1 August 2006

Carnival of Empty Cages 3

In our call for submissions for this Third Carnival of Empty Cages, we asked people to address five big questions about being a veg*n. We have organised most of the posts featured in this carnival under one of each of these headings, but a couple of people made the heroic effort of addressing all five of them and so we have included this post upfront as a great overview for the rest of the Carnival.

First up we have vegankid with the post “hey, vegan….” over at Taking Place. We were glad to hear that the questions were fun to answer, and particularly liked this quote (which runs counter to the belief of so many non-veg*ns that veg*ns are all suffering from boring starvation diets):
the most rewarding aspect has been the great love of food that i now have. I have yet to meet a vegan that doesn't LOVE food. [...] Seriously, there is nothing like a kitchen full of vegans cooking up a great meal or a room full of vegans at a potluck.
Over at Bibliobillabong, Ron has also addressed all of our questions in his carnival submission, and concludes with this great summary:
I am a vegan solely for moral reasons: any health benefits as a result are an added bonus. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to spend a lot of time re-learning nutrition, shopping and cooking but it has been worth it. I don’t ever see myself eating animal flesh again and, hopefully, any other animal-derived food.
Becoming a veg*n
One of our favourite vegan blogs is Vegan Lunchbox, so we were very interested to read this interview, over at New Heritage Cooking with its author Jennifer McCann about when and why she became a vegan. In it she shares the story of reading a book’s dedication to a “glossy black calf on its way to the slaughterhouse” and says that this made her decision an easy one.

Vegcat at Two Vegans emphasizes that it really wasn’t as difficult as she had always assumed in her post Simply Vegan:
Before I tried it myself, I thought being vegan was something that required loads of self discipline and denial. I thought vegans were hungry people with no social life.

Imagine my delight then, when after only a couple of weeks eating vegan, I realised with a start how easy it is, how incredibly simple. I felt fantastic, I looked better - my skin was clearer, my breath was sweeter, I slept better and I wasn't wasting away eating lettuce. I could even have a vegan version of my favourite - cappuccino with chocolate sprinkles!
Nick Kiddle, over at Livejournal, also shares his story, which is perhaps more unusual than most, but does show that transferring our concerns from ourselves to the impact of our food choices on others can help to reduce our own neurosis and insecurities around food. Over at Pure Zucchini, Pure Zuke shares a personally familiar story about some of her reasons for switching from a vegetarian to a vegan diet in “Veganized Kitchen, Evil cheese & Chocolate Bliss”:
I’m constantly appalled by what I read about the dairy industry (organic or otherwise). I’m appalled with how the animals are treated, with what is allowed in our milk (pus, ewwww), with how closely in bed they are with the meat industry.
And, finally, Ashley, at MySpace, shares a list of 30 reasons for taking up a veg*n lifestyle.

Being a veg*n
Sujay Prabhu, over at Dangerous Intersection has written a beautiful post, “Do animals have rights?” about giving a class presentation about Sujay’s reasons for being a vegan. Although the presentation focused on factory farming, Sujay emphasises that “my convictions about vegetarianism are rooted in a larger moral framework, one which recognizes the rights of all forms of substantial intelligence, including animals.” The discussion of rights that follows challenges those people who believe that rights ought to be reserved for humans, and is really worth a read.


The folk over at Las Vegas Restaurant and Food Blog: The Vegas Table have written about the frustrations that vegans can sometimes experience when eating out and trying to find something worth eating on the menu. However, in her post, The Hunt for Spicy Eggplant, the author describe the common experience of having her eyes opened to new food possibilities, (in this case; Spicy Eggplant):
CUE THE CLOUDS PARTING AND THE LIGHT OF HEAVEN BREAKING FORTH WHILE ANGELS SING! The spicy eggplant was like nothing I’d ever eaten! Sensing he was in the presence of a life-altering experience, Mark turned his meal over to me, secure in the knowledge that we would be eating Chinese food much more frequently in the future.

And so began a quest to find the greatest dish of spicy eggplant in Las Vegas and beyond…
Over at Martin’s Rants, Martin also shows the silver lining of one of the main frustrations of being a vegan – being surround by food that you cannot eat and of (initially) having to read all the labels on food in order to work out what you can actually eat – in that it enables you to make more informed choices, and that it becomes easier as time passes.

Finally, Wannabealtruist, over at LiveJournal, writes about the frustrations that many veg*ns in share houses experience when their meat-eating housemates decide to eat the veggie food rather than their own, in her post “It's lunchtime in the big brother house....”.


Over at A Drop In The Stream Doug shares his story of being vegan, and also shares a few of the side benefits that he has reaped since taking the plunge two years ago:
  • I lost 50 pounds
  • I have no problems controlling my food consumption
  • I experience no cravings for sweets
  • I don’t experience the urgent need to snack mid afternoon
  • I don’t get sleepy after meals
  • I have more energy and feel better than I’ve ever felt in my life
  • I have no problem controlling my weight anymore
  • My cholesterol level dropped 30 points and remains low
There is much more to be said about the inner workings of this diet and its ripple effects into a person’s sense of well being but I’ll have to end here for now and pick up this thread in a later post.
Kristy, over at Kblog, writes about how vegan friendly Melbourne is, and links to a new blog, Melbourne Vegan, to prove her point. Peter Carman of Melbourne’s Vegan Voice puts Melbourne Vegan together and in it he lists all of the vegan and vegan-friendly activities that are taking place in Melbourne (in addition to throwing in some posts about current animal rights issues).

Converting others
Catswym, over at cat(s)wymming, shares her story of being a vegan in her post Vegetable Medley and in this story she beautifully addresses the very personal issue of whether or not to try to convert others:
but mostly i live this life quietly. i don't proselytize. if people ask, i'll explain my reasons. but i also know many people aren't ready for the truth. aren't ready to change what they do, and who they are. what i hope most is only to show that this life can be lived. that it isn't hard, it isn't out there. i recommend cookbooks, recipes. i cook for people. i live my life to show other people that this life can be lived. i think that is how change often begins. that's how it began for me.
Itsmallo, over at LiveJournal, also rejects the idea of being an “evangelistic vegetarian”. However, Itsmallo also adds, “If someone's thinking of going veggie, I'll encourage them, but I don't like to try to change people. Not my prerogative”, and then proceeds to list facts that may well compel people to consider adopting a vegetarian lifestyle.

For a slightly different take on the topic check out Veganfreak’s Why Veganism Alone Isn't Enough. Veganfreak argues that it’s not really enough “just to avoid products of cruelty”, but that we must also “educate and to be activists in our lives.”
The movement against animal suffering is broad and deep, and I guarantee you that there’s a place in it for you and your talents. Your boycott of animal products should be coupled with some kind of activism, outreach, or support in some way that you’re comfortable with.
Animal Rights
We also had some submissions on some broader animals rights themes:

Bull, over at The Bull Speaks!, writes about the ease of assisting animals in shelters, in his post “One Rescue that is Cheap to Feed!”.

Starling Hunter, over at The Business of America is Business, writes about a shocking story of the slaughter of greyhounds who are no longer considered to be fit enough to race.

Lakshmi, over at Babblogue XL, writes about her concerns over seeing a sign in a butcher’s shop window announcing that the meat was “dressed live”.

Finally, Eric, over at An Animal Friendly Life, critiques a Washington Post article entitled “Is There Anything Left That We Can Eat?” which discusses the dilemmas facing consumers who wish to be ethical while making the glaring omission of completely failing to mention veganism as a option.


Finally, for a bit of inspiration, here are some fantastic veg*n recipes that have been posted in the ‘sphere over the last couple of months:

SusanV at Fatfree Vegan Kitchen posted a delicious looking recipe for Inari Sushi and Kale with Mushrooms and Water Chestnuts. While Bryanna from Notes from the Vegan Feast Kitchen has a mouth watering fresh tofu scramble, Indian-style. For a different type of treat, try the Grilled Tofu, Mashed Potatoes with Mushroom Gravy, Braised Leeks, Steamed Broccoli, Ciabatta at What The Hell Does A Vegan Eat Anyway? or try a veganised version of una vera cena italiana [a real italian dinner] at the urban vegan.

Then it’s time for desert, so why not try that traditional Australian favourite – lamingtons, vegan style, prepared by Jennifer over at Shmooed Food.

And that's it for this Third Carnival of Empty Cages. The next Carnival is scheduled to take place on the first of October and is currently open. If you'd like to host it, contact vegankid on veganwonder at gmail dot com.


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