Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sky continues to fall in

In the paper today:

On October 15, 1972, a farmer in Trujillo, Venezuela, heard a sonic boom in the sky. The next day he discovered a cow lying dead in the field, its neck and shoulder pulverised. The bemused farmer found a boulder lying nearby, which he took away to use as a doorstep.

It says further that this unlucky cow in Venezuela was “the only living thing that has been documented to have been killed by a meteorite.”

Well, I’ve noted before on this blog that in the 18th Century two sailors were reportedly killed when a meteorite struck a ship in the Java Sea.

Poor cow — not only dead, but a runner-up in the documented-to-have-been-killed-by-meteorite stakes.

Humanitarian assistance and Burma

There’s a thought-provoking commentary in the latest edition of The Lancet on the challenges for rendering international humanitarian assistance in Burma.

Chris Beyrer of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, writes that, although the recent ‘Saffron Revolution’ was ostensibly sparked by the junta’s imposition in August of substantial price increases for petroleum fuel products, the outlook for ordinary Burmese had already been quite desperate:

In 2000, Burma’s health-care system was ranked 190th out of 191 nations by WHO. UNICEF estimates that close to a third of children nationwide were malnourished in 2006, real wages were being devoured by inflation, and HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and a range of other health threats were taking terrible tolls on ordinary Burmese. UNICEF reported that Government spending on health care in Burma amounted to US$0•40 per citizen per year in 2005, compared with $61 in neighbouring Thailand. Childhood (aged under 5 years) mortality was 106 per 1000 livebirths in 2006, compared with 21 per 1000 in Thailand.

The price increases were especially inflammatory for two reasons. First, they affected an already impoverished majority. One estimate is that for an average worker in Rangoon, 50–75% of daily wages would now be spent on travel alone—and fuel-price increases immediately raised the cost of basic commodities, including food. Second, the junta under General Than Shwe made the energy sector one of its principal supports and one of its show pieces, selling oil and gas reserves to Thailand, India, China, and others. And the junta was spending these revenues lavishly: an estimated $3•4 billion on arms in 2006 (mainly from China, Russia, and Ukraine), and running costs for the so-called City of Kings, the new capital Naypyidaw, costed by the International Monetary Fund at $120–240 million a year. All that in a country where the total national budget for HIV/AIDS in 2005 was $137000.

Beyrer therefore notes that the need for substantial international humanitarian assistance will be ongoing for the foreseeable future. Delivery of such assistance, however, is hampered by restrictions already imposed by the junta, with conditions exacerbated by the recent crackdown.

Beyrer sketches the dilemmas attendant upon provision of humanitarian assistance by international donors:

Some people might call for a depoliticising of aid efforts and for increased direct collaboration with the junta, its Ministries, and its affiliates. It would be heartless to deny the people of Burma any assistance the international community can provide. But it would be equally heartless to allow aid to be manipulated so as to prolong the junta’s rule or provide preferential relief for the junta’s supporters. Burma’s people have shown again that they want freedom and they have been willing, again, to die for their beliefs. All due diligence must be paid, as health and humanitarian efforts are ramped up, that such efforts do not prolong the cause of the very suffering they seek to alleviate: the military regime, which has proven such a threat to health, wellbeing, and prosperity.

There are certainly no easy answers to all this, and Beyrer doesn’t pretend to offer any. Rather, it suggests the need for an approach that is both creative and cautious, with a focus on maximising the benefit for the affected population, while minimising any advantage conferred upon an abysmally illegitimate regime.

  • The Lancet, Volume 370 , Number 9597, pp. 1465-1467 (subscription only)

Rectory on the Road: a retro

Came across the US road atlas I used to plan that part of January's trip whilst looking for something else entirely this morning. It's full of pencilled mile calculations and average travel times scribbled on the Rectory front lawn, this time last year, whilst into full on planning of rental cars, routes and stops.

That came and went bloody fast. Doesn't seem like a year ago that I was busy working out where in California/Arizona/New Mexico we could get to in seven days of car hire. There are times it seems like it never happened. The Rectory finances, having suffered a spending incontinence matched only by the current candidates for PM, declare that it most emphatically did.

I figure, in the effort to assuage the returned fright at that fiscal flatulence, that I might post a few of my personal favourite spots - if only to see some result of all this guilt.

Funnily enough, although NYC is a perenial favourite, I have a rather inexplicable attachment to the US southwest - Arizona in particular. I'm not at all sure why that is but, any trip I'd do to the US in the future would include that area without a doubt.

Leaving La - a good thing to do...

Route 66: Silegman

The Big Hole

Humphrey's Peak, near Flagstaff Arizona: 12,663'

At $6.98 all you can eat, the Rectory will not be invited back soon...


Friday, October 26, 2007

Witty Caitlin

By Postulant Josh,

Between drinks at the pub bistro...

Caitlin, you are pretty.
And you’re really nice.
But sometimes you’re witty
Sometimes you don’t think twice.
You make bad choices,
Sometimes they’re good.
You really like horses
Even if they were wood.


Harnessing misogyny

From ABC news:

A campaign is underway to chastise Burma’s military regime, not through dialogue or sanctions, but by flooding the country’s foreign embassies with women’s underwear, an activist said.

A pro-democracy group based in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai is urging people all over the world to “post, deliver or fling” their undergarments to Burma’s international embassies.

“The Burma military regime is not only brutal but very superstitious. They believe that contact with a woman’s panties or sarong can rob them of their power,” the Lanna Action for Burma group said on its website. ...

Those behind the so-called “Panty Power” campaign hope that lingerie can succeed where international diplomacy has so far failed.

“We want to raise awareness first, and we want to target the Burmese government officials, letting them know we are against them abusing their power,” said Tomoko, an activist with Lanna Action for Burma.

Tomoko, who goes by one name only, said she had heard that Burma’s embassy in Canberra as well as others in Thailand and the United States have been targeted by the Panty Power campaign, which began last week.

“We are sending [the generals] panties as a symbol of putting their power down,” she said.

Great questions of our time

Does Kevin Rudd have, like, half a chance of becoming Prime Minister this year?

31. Hsien — Influence  (Wooing)

The Judgement

Influence. Success.
Perseverance furthers.
To take a maiden to wife brings good fortune.

The Image

A lake on the mountain:
The image of Influence.
Thus the superior man encourages people to approach him
By his readiness to receive them.

Goat Friday

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A glass economy

What a fragile thing is ‘the economy’!

Under-stimulate it, and you get recession.

Over-stimulate it, and it overheats.

It requires a Goldilocks approach to make it just right. But a Goldilocks approach is somewhat parsimonious, particularly in an election year.

So, if a government wants to give us back some of our hard-earned dough by way of tax cuts, this threatens to overheat the economy, ultimately forcing us to plough some of said tax cuts into servicing a heavier mortgage burden.

If instead a government wants to plough the money into infrastructure and services, this still threatens to over-stimulate economic activity that will cause more overheating.

The solution would appear to be for the Treasury to stack all that surplus dough into the back of their filing cabinets and just forget it’s there.

Don’t mention the surplus!

The economy must be served that it may serve us.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Your union dues at work

A communiqué from the world peak union body:

Preliminary Key Findings of a Joint FIDH-ITUC Mission on Burma

Paris-Brussels, 23 October 2007: After the September crackdown on peaceful protests in Burma, the International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) decided to send a joint international fact-finding mission on the Thai border with Burma to collect first-hand information on the wave of repression. The objective was also to discuss with Burmese pro-democracy and human rights groups about possible international strategies to contribute to the democratization of the country.

The mission, composed of four members from Australia, Belgium, and Thailand, stayed in Bangkok and on the Thai-Burma border from October 13 to 21. The mission did not travel to Rangoon or central Burma as the risks involved for the people interviewed would have been too high.

The joint fact-finding mission made some observations on the vexed question of sanctions:

“Negative signals to the SPDC need to be combined with signs of encouragement to the Burmese people” added the mission delegates Vanloqueren and Tate. All organizations from the Burmese democratic movement in exile repeated their call for immediate sanctions on trade and investment in the three ‘milkcow’ economic sectors that provide vital support to the military regime (oil and gas, timber and mining, including gems and minerals). While Burma saw a 2000% increase in FDI between 1995 and 2005, 95% of the population lives with less than 1$ day, and 90% with less than 0.65$ a day.

“Sanctions hurt the regime and the crony elite, not the people, living from agriculture or the informal economy” mission delegates were told many times. Economic sanctions from the EU, whilst not as impactful as a freezing of Burma-China or Burma-ASEAN trade, are seen by Burmese democrats as a moral issue and a positive signal to the people living inside Burma.

The organisations met by the mission also discuss and consider ways to bring the SPDC generals to account for the crimes they committed. Most interviewed persons thought increased pressure would help, not hurt the existing possibilities of political dialogue.

The root causes of the protests have not been addressed. The fuel price rise, the widespread violations of economic and social rights as well as the severe restrictions on civil liberties, the lack of rule of law and the impunity of the authorities are fueling the desire for change more than ever.

Hmm, wonder how the businessmen’s unions (ACCI, BCA, etc.) are going with their humanitarian efforts to free Burma’s oppressed people. No, really, I’m genuinely interested. I’ll have a google when I get a moment...


Using the search facilities of both the Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Business Council of Australia websites yields absolutely zero results from both on the topic of Burma/Myanmar. The ACTU website, by contrast, has ample material on Burma, clearly aimed at imposing world domination fostering international solidarity.

A Changeable Chief

By Father Park

Mick Keelty, the “war in Iraq has made us a larger target for terrorism….sorry, scratch that: on Prime ministerial advice no it hasn’t” AFP Chief, has decided that he always knew there was no case that could be made against Gold Coast Doctor Haneef. He even told the Director of Public Prosecutions his view that the case should be dropped. This because, in changeable Chief’s words, “I didn't think the evidence was strong enough”.

A pity he didn’t say so at the time. And why didn’t he say so at the time? Well, it seems what he thinks doesn’t matter:

"Mine was an opinion that I expressed to the DPP, but I understood all the time that the prosecutor was independent of me and independent of the investigation and needed to come up with a view for himself."
Pardon the bleeding obvious pun but what a cop-out.

Had the case made it to a court, who will have provided the brief of evidence? The Chief Cop and his investigative team; the people who, on the word of the changeable Chief, did not have the evidence to back the case. Keelty would have us believe that the DPP, having been advised by the AFP top cop that the evidence it would have to provide would not make a case, went ahead with a that case.

That’s not what the AFP Chief said at the time though. Back then there was” other evidence” not made public and “continuing evidence gathering” into all sorts of things including communications by Haneef and his finances. None of which amounted to anything.

It was a political trial from start to finish. We can have a government baying for a public enquiry into TWU “slush funds” but absolutely no countenancing of an enquiry into the complete balls-up that was this “investigation”. The whole incompetent imbroglio makes a complete mockery of our ridiculous “anti-terror laws”.

Perhaps the lack of any enquiry is to spare our agencies any further acute embarrassment. More likely it is the hide the government’s role in the affair. A role, judging by the actions of minister Andrews, that was relentlessly partisan.

Today's SMH

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

tribute to The Man

watch at youtube

The Chaser’s typical ABC hate-drenched character asassination satirical lampooning piss-take on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s ascendancy to the Top Job.

(Seems like only last year...)

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Richie’s new toy

image by jarcob  —  click to enlarge

This is a flying model helicopter having two rotary wings, each providing lift and counter-torque for the other. The tail rotor is just for show.

And yep, it flies superbly — here it is doing a turn of Richie’s living room...

image by jarcob  —  click to enlarge

No limits to ‘growth’, but...

Former Victorian opposition leader, Robert Doyle, senses a pachyderm in close proximity:

... But for some time now I have been thinking along a different line, a line that should be up for public discussion. What if it is now impossible for the health system to deliver all that the community expects of it?

If this is true, and I think it is, then we are led to a discussion about our health priorities as a community — or, more bluntly, how we ration a resource that cannot meet all the demands put on it. It would take a brave politician to enter this debate. But it is a debate we will need to have sooner rather than later.

Time will tell whether Mr Doyle’s concerns are merely a spurious manifestation of roomatoid elephantasia, or whether in fact there’s real cause for such a debate.

I think probably the latter, but what interests me equally is the elephant crammed in unseen behind Mr Doyle’s pachyderm, faintly trumpeting the question: How is it that a species with the ingenuity to put men on the moon — among a catalogue of other feats of breathtaking genius — cannot get the health system together?

The world, indeed, rests on the back of an elephant. But what is the elephant standing on?

Another elephant — in fact, it’s elephants all the way down...