31 October 2006

Blogger troubles

Over the weekend something went awry with my Blogger beta (claimed by many bloggers to be a great improvement upon Blogger ordinary). It's not possible for blogs to revert to the earlier version so, to reduce the risk of being left without any personal online forum, I set up another two blogs Casting a Short Shadow 2 and Nudges and Deflections 2 to mirror or, in the worst case eventuality, to replace the Blogger beta "upgrades".

Well, as you can see from this, a kind of normality has been restored, but I won't delete the no.2 blogs just yet.

For the record here's what I posted on Shortshadow 2:

Monday, October 30, 2006
Blogger beta restored...

Blogger beta has now been restored, so I'll revert to http://shortshadow.blogspot.com/ for postings but keep this for the time being as a backup in case of further interruptions.

Saturday, October 28, 2006
Back up

I've created this blog as backup for my principal one Casting a Short Shadow, which I'd transferred to beta blogger hoping and expecting that it would work better. Alas, a combination of factors, including problems Google are having with beta blogger and my own low level of technological competence, have dashed my hopes, so I'll keep this one going for the time being.

I've done the same with my mostly cricket blog, the overflow version of which is Nudges and Deflections 2

28 October 2006

The Mufti speaks

The comments of Sheik Hilali have been reported not only in the Australian media, eg this "edited transcript" from The Australian but also internationally, eg the BBC, Al Jazeera, CNNand The Guardian.

I find it difficult to get inside his mind, and in particular wonder why he is not fluent in English after 20+ years' residence here.

While the Mufti is reported as apologising for his remarks, he has apparently not retracted them, and has exacerbated matters by claiming, as The Age and the ABC among others have reported, that he will only resign "when the world is clean of the White House first". This will only intensify the anti-Islamic feeling among non-Islamic Australians and perhaps some Islamic ones as well.

26 October 2006

Back on line

I wasn't surprised to learn that my computer hard drive needed to be replaced. I've spent much of the day reinstalling or trying to reinstall programs.

For the last week I've used computers in local libraries to check my email, but didn't have time to do much else.

I hope to resume more regular postings soon.

20 October 2006

Withdrawal symptoms

Last night my computer crashed, so I'm posting this from the local library while I wait to see if the hard drive can be brought back to life. I shall return, but for now I can't say just when.

17 October 2006

Not the Mark Scott who robbed his own bank

The recently appointed ABC managing director, Mark Scott (not to be confused with his NZ namesake who robbed his own bank) has effectively conceded that the mostly right of centre critics of the ABC are correct. He has said in a speech to the Sydney Institute

I suspect the truth is that we are by no means as bad as our critics might suggest and not as blameless as our defenders might wish. My focus, however, is on the future and ensuring our performance is better in the future.

He proposes a number of changes, which are summarised in the ABC media release:

1. ABC Editorial Policies now [ or will from March 2007] require the ABC to be able to demonstrate impartiality at the platform level (i.e. the individual television or radio network, or on ABC Online) for opinion, topical and factual content. This means the ABC must provide its audiences a range of different perspectives on the subject under consideration.

2. A new content category called Opinion is being recognised within ABC content for the first time. This is content presented from a particular point of view about a matter of public contention. This content will be signposted and the requirement for impartiality will mean a range of views must be presented over time.

3. A new position, Director of ABC Editorial Polices will be created to report to the Managing Director in his role as Editor-in-Chief to provide independent assessment of editorial performance.

How effective will all this be? This morning on RN's
Breakfast (one of the programs which Scott praised in his paper), Fran Kelly quizzed him about how far the "Opinion" category might extend. Did it cover reviews of films such as An Inconvenient Truth which dealt with "matters of public contention"? Apparently yes. At the Movies will now, it seems, be "signposted". Is this Scottspeak for saying that there will have to be some kind of right of reply to anything which the DABCEP deems contentious or unbalanced? Sometimes circumstances change rapidly so that yesterday's perceived imbalance becomes today's middle of the road position: for example, Mr Howard and some of his ministers have shifted their ground considerably about climate change in the short time since An Inconvenient Truth was released here.

How too, will the "range of different perspectives" be provided? Point 1 implies that entries in online guest books and forums (which many radio and TV programs now have) will not be sufficient as they are on a different "platform". Will the guest books themselves have to reflect this "impartiality". Already these comments are usually moderated: will the ABC have to implement a quota system to ensure this?

Will the changes also encourage critics to whom Scott refers as "those who sound off against the institution but appear never to be reluctant to sound off before an open microphone and receive an endorsed appearance cheque" ? Will the "rigorous, intense and well-mannered discussion " which he asked for at the begining of his Sydney Institute speech be possible in his new world?

Other bloggers have weighed in to the debate Here , here , and here are some with whom I generally concur.

Wrestling with ideologues #2

The Australian is not letting up on its criticism of the deficiencies which it perceives in our public secondary schools, about which I've posted previously . Last weekend it published an editorial "Little Red Curriculum" which raised the spectre of Maoist ideologues corrupting the minds of our youth.

It has produced a variety of responses including these . A very good one was published today with the headline "Mao and maths don't mix". The writer begins "I'm a teacher, a maths and physics one for that matter and, try as I might, I have been unable to teach Maoism and physics/ maths in harmony with each other". After making some other points, including that he's met "left-wing, fruit-loop teachers" but "they represent a bizarre anomaly and are not in significant numbers", he concludes "There are many serious issues in education that require the attention of serious people. This 'lefty, commie' political diversion is not one of them". Hear, hear.

15 October 2006

Nudges and Deflections

Today I've started a new blog Nudges and Deflections about cricket. I expect that I'll have a lot to say over the coming months; beyond that....well, who knows?

Where is the next drink coming from?

I took this on Friday near Victor Harbor, which is in, by South Australian standards, a high rainfall area. That's the sea in the background. The empty dam shown here would normally at this time of the year have enough water to satisfy the cattle.

Parish pump malfunction

In my letterbox today was the first communication I've received from my two local councillors, who were hoping to be re-elected in the forthcoming elections. They reported that because the only other candidate for the ward had withdrawn her nomination the State Electoral Office has deemed the election to have "failed". This means that the ward will be unrepresented, as their missive states," until a supplementary election is held sometime in 2007".

This is preposterous. Councils or, more specifically, elected councillors may not have much clout (they didn't do anything to modify the planned development next door to me which has now resulted in much of my natural light being blocked off) but some people, like me, believe that citizens should be given some opportunity to influence how they are governed. Even so, I'm not surprised that none of the Council's , State Electoral Office's , Local Government Association's , or the Minister's websites mention it.

This is all relatively small in the scheme of things, but it would be good to see something done, and soon, to remedy this.

12 October 2006

Another literary prize

The 2006
Nobel Prize for literature has been won by Orhan Pamuk . Unlike the Booker, which is awarded to a particular book, the Nobel is awarded to a writer for the body of work which they've produced.

The brief citation on the official website refers to Pamuk as a writer "who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures". More detailed "biobibliographical notes" (in English) are posted elsewhere on the Svenska Akademien website.

At the same time as his win is announced comes a report from the BBC that the French lower house has voted in support of a bill making it an offence to deny that Turkey committed genocide against Armenians in 1915. If you know anything at all about Pamuk you'll know, as I've previously posted and
The New York Times states in its report of the Nobel Prize, that Pamuk has been in trouble with the Turkish authorities:

Pamuk, whose novels include ''Snow'' and ''My Name is Red,'' was charged last year for telling a Swiss newspaper in February 2005 that Turkey was unwilling to deal with two of the most painful episodes in recent Turkish history: the massacre of Armenians during World War I, which Turkey insists was not a planned genocide, and recent guerrilla fighting in Turkey's overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast.

''Thirty-thousand Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands, and nobody but me dares to talk about it,'' he said in the interview.
The controversy came at a particularly sensitive time for the overwhelmingly Muslim country. Turkey had recently begun membership talks with the European Union, which has harshly criticized the trial, questioning Turkey's commitment to freedom of expression. The charges against Pamuk were dropped in January, ending the high-profile trial that outraged Western observers and cast doubt on Turkey's commitment to free speech.

Apart from watching developments in the next few days and beyond, I'll also be looking to read more of Pamuk's work: earlier this year I read Snow, and I hope to try My Name is Red next.

Bookie Prize

The winner of this year's Man Booker Prize is Kiran Desai for her novel The Inheritance of Loss , which is not yet available from booksellers in Australia. Why not? Many Australians, including me, would be keen to read the winner of such a prestigious award asap; but the only way of acquiring a copy is to source it overseas. No doubt the book will be available here soon, but the delays in doing so make the local book publishing and distribution trades (or their global parents) look inept.

While I'm on the topic, my eyebrows were raised by the official official Man Booker Prize website which features a link to the "Man Booker bookie". I don't particularly mind if people want to bet on the outcome, but what would happen if bookies were allowed to advertise on, say, the websites of sporting bodies?

09 October 2006

Watch out!

The Independent (also available here)has just published a 7,000 word piece by Robert Fisk in which he reviews the history of the Middle East over the past 31 years and his part in reporting it. Did he predict some of the things that have happened? Reviewing his old notebooks, he finds that he did issue some general warnings, but of course he couldn't predict the precise nature of the attacks.

Here's a sample which captures the flavour of his style:

I don't like journalists who, in middle age, start to pontificate morbidly about the wickedness of a world that should be full of love, or who rummage through old notebooks in search of pessimism. So I own up at once. Surely we don't have to be weighed down by the baggage of history, always looking backwards and holding up billboards with the "The End of the World is Nigh" written in black for readers too bored to look at the fine print. Yet when I sit on my seafront balcony today, I am waiting for the next explosion to come.

Beirut is a good place to reflect on the tragedy through which the Middle East is now inexorably moving. After all, the city has suffered so many horrors these past 31 years, it seems haunted by the mass graves that lie across the region, from Afghanistan to Iraq to "Palestine" and to Lebanon itself. And I look across the waters and see a German warship cruising past my home, part of Nato's contribution to stop gun-running into Lebanon under UN Security Council Resolution 1701. And then, I ask myself what the Germans could possibly be doing when no guns have ever been run to the Hizbollah guerrilla army from the sea. The weapons came through Syria, and Syria has a land frontier with the country and is to the north and east of Lebanon, not on the other side of the Mediterranean.

And then when I call on my landlord to discuss this latest, hopeless demonstration of Western power, he turns to me in some anger and says, "Yes, why is the German navy cruising off my home?" And I see his point. For we Westerners are now spreading ourselves across the entire Muslim world. In one form or another, "we" - "us", the West - are now in Khazakstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Lebanon. We are now trapped across this vast area of suffering, fiercely angry people, militarily far more deeply entrenched and entrapped than the 12th-century crusaders who faced defeat at the battle of Hittin, our massive forces fighting armies of Islamists, suicide bombers, warlords, drug barons, and militias. And losing. The latest UN army in Lebanon, with its French and Italian troops, is moving in ever greater numbers to the south, young men and women who have already been threatened by al-Qa'ida and who will, in three of four months, be hit by al-Qa'ida. Which is one reason why the French have been pallisading themselves into their barracks in southern Lebanon. There is no shortage of suicide bombers here, although it will be the Sunni -- not the Hizbollah-Shiite variety -- which will strike at the UN.

This is Fisk at his best: describing the situation and outlining what will probably happen if things don't change. As ever, he doesn't suggest ways of avoiding this (and he's said elsewhere that it's not a journalist's job to do so), but it would be good to hear what he, with his all his experience and knowledge of the region, believes could be done to avert or even ameliorate some of the carnage he expects to follow. The closest he comes is at the end :

It's always been my view that the people of this part of the Earth would like some of our democracy. They would like a few packets of human rights off our supermarket shelves. They want freedom. But they want another kind of freedom - freedom from us. And this we do not intend to give them. Which is why our Middle East presence is heading into further darkness. Which is why I sit on my balcony and wonder where the next explosion is going to be. For, be sure, it will happen. Bin Laden doesn't matter any more, alive or dead. Because, like nuclear scientists, he has invented the bomb. You can arrest all of the world's nuclear scientists but the bomb has been made. Bin Laden created al-Qa'ida amid the matchwood of the Middle East. It exists. His presence is no longer necessary.

And all around these lands are a legion of young men preparing to strike again, at us, at our symbols, at our history. And yes, maybe I should end all my reports with the words: Watch out!

08 October 2006

"Nets tomorrow at 9am. I trust I shall see you there": cricket revival in USA?

An unexpected source, The Smithsonian magazine , describes the growing popularity of cricket in the USA. The author, Simon Worrall (one vowel away from a great cricketer's surname) includes a succinct historical summary with some interesting facts, eg that NYC Mayor Bloomberg in 2005 announced plans to build a $1.5m "pitch" in Queens.

Worrall also describes the spread of the game beyond its original bases in Philadelphia and New York, though IMO he underrates the influence of the West Coast, where British Empire/ Commonwealth expats in Hollywood such as Sir C Aubrey Smith ( who once appeared for England at cricket as well as in many movies such as the 1939 version of The Four Feathers ), Laurence Olivier and Boris Karloff raised the profile of the game and where, as Cricinfo reminds us, a match was televised in 1958. It was "Round the Corner" Smith (the soubriquet derived from his bowling runup, not from any propensity to unsporting behaviour) who set the tone for the Hollywood Cricket club which he founded in the 1930s and which still continues with, we are told, support from such latter day cricket fans as Mick Jagger.

For the un-, or insufficiently, initiated The Smithsonian website also has a companion piece "Cricket for Dummies" by Matthew Engel the editor of Wisden. His (or his sub-editor's) summary: "It's a lot like baseball. Except that it's profoundly different". This and much of what he goes on to say is generally OK, though by describing bowlers' "throws" he may be sowing the seeds for future controversies if cricket really does take hold in the USA.

06 October 2006

Wrestling with ideologues

The front page of today's Australian features two articles which comment on the current state of Australian education and training. The lead story headline boldly asserts "Canberra to seize syllabus", while another headline "Skills crisis paves path to payday for Aaron,16" accompanied by a photo which makes the secondary story seem more important than the headline .

The first story quotes Education Minister Bishop:

"We need to take school curriculum out of the hands of the ideologues in the state and territory education bureaucracies and give it to a national board of studies, comprising the sensible centre of educators."

It? Is there really a single overarching curriculum, or is she really thinking of curricula for various subject areas? And who are the "sensible centre of educators" she has in mind? Her attempts to draw a comparison between the state education bureaucrats and Chairman Mao are grossly overstated and will deflect public attention away from the merits of some of her points. I can see the appeal of greater consistency across the board in many subject areas, but would be wary of a centrally imposed curriculum in subjects such as history and geography which
would inevitably tend to reflect the views of the Eastern states.

Aaron's story makes the Minister's concern about ideologues seem pointless, as the young man has turned his back on the school system and followed the lure of good money. The Prime Minister has endorsed this:
"Not everybody is suitable for a university education and we have to get back to the time when a prized and valued technical qualification was as important to somebody's future as a university degree".

Did this time that "we have to get back to" ever exist? I doubt it. The PM and his acolytes, notably Ministers Bishop and Nelson, have had a lot to say recently about ideologues and school curricula. Aaron has already bought a car and is saving for a mortgage: he admits he was not a great student, but at 16 he seems to be wedded to many of the values which the government (and the opposition for that matter) espouse.

Minister Bishop made her provocative remarks at a History Teachers' conference. Matt Price was also there: his views are much closer to the "sensible centre" of opinion than the Minister's.

05 October 2006

Not in our backyard

I took this photo today when I was walking in the Fleurieu Peninsula near the area where it was recently reported that uranium exploration would be taking place. Uranium was mined at Wild Dog Hill near Myponga for a time in the 1950s.

In a media release Premier Rann has pooh poohed the idea:

“Under Don Dunstan’s 1971 mining act companies have a legal right to explore,” Mr Rann said.

“However, this does not give companies the automatic right to develop or establish any mining activity without the approval of the Environment Protection Authority and the State Government.

“While I am Premier of this State there will be no uranium mining established anywhere near Myponga Reservoir.”

Marathon, the company concerned, has, according to the ABC, "moved to allay fears that the area would ever be mined".

That said, the reported comments of Dr Santich, the CEO of the company,

"Down there at Myponga we've known since we put in the application that it was highly unlikely that we'd ever get a permit to mine, even if we found what you call a viable deposit which would have to be massive and very rich...Nevertheless it's worth exploring, it's worth getting that knowledge."

suggest that we may not necessarily have heard the last of the matter.

04 October 2006

65 years on: another clue in the HMAS Sydney mystery?

Today the media, including The Australian , The Age and the ABC report on the exhuming of what may be the remains of a survivor (or a crew member) from HMAS Sydney which was lost in 1941 following an engagement with the German raider Kormoran.

The existence of the possible survivor's remains has been known for some time but only now have what may be his remains been re-discovered, afterthey were apparently buried in an un- or poorly marked grave on Christmas Island just before it was occupied by the Japanese in 1942.

Almost 65 years after the event many questions remained unanswered, notably how the Sydney could have been surprised by the Kormoran and why there were 317 survivors of the Kormoran
but none from the Sydney. This has given rise to continuing speculation about what really happened, for example whether survivors were killed by the Germans (or possibly the Japanese even though at the time they weren't at war with Australia but may have had a submarine in the vicinity).

The official view is summarised on RAN and Australian War Memorial websites. Some alternative theories are evaluated here.

In 1999 a Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade reported on the loss of the Sydney. Here is the link to the full report. The Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations is here . It concurred with one author's opinion (prefiguring Donald Rumsfeld's on a broader range of issues) that much about the loss was "unknown and unknowable", but ended with a rousing but essentially hollow appeal to all parties:

The Committee is well aware that the level of interest in Sydney and her fate is so extensive that, regardless of the outcome of this inquiry, individuals and groups will continue to research the topic and expound on their various theories. This is to be welcomed, if it is undertaken with an openness to the information available and a willingness to listen and to take into consideration opposing views. ...The Committee strongly believes there is a need for all involved in the Sydney debate to move beyond animosity and antagonism and find common ground. No one group 'owns' Sydney, or has a monopoly on truth. The Committee hopes that in future researchers will rise above the personal acrimony and suspicion that has marred so much of the debate thus far. An exchange of differing views is a positive process, and can only lead to a better understanding of the events of November 1941. HMAS Sydney deserves no less.

Since then there have been moves to locate the Sydney's wreck, and an organisation Sydney Search Pty Ltd has been set up to do this. The Federal (($1.3 m), WA ($500,000) and NSW (($250,000) governments have provided or promised funding to assist with the search, preparations for which have gone quiet after a report in September 2005 that it would begin "within months".

Perhaps Tony Barrass the writer of today's Australian
piece could shed some more light on the topic. In July this year he wrote that "searchers are deady to start" though he also implied that the usual suspect of a funding shortfall was delaying things.

02 October 2006

Does the unadorned truth often prevail?

The many perceptive comments about the Hungarian Prime Minister's recent outburst of extreme candour include some from a local perspective, such as those of Matt Price and Bill Leak.

A-G's wake up call on torture

Yesterday on ABC TV's Insiders the Attorney-General Mr Ruddock, speaking from Washington, played his customary straight bat on several matters related to his portfolio, including a trial date for David Hicks ("needs to be dealt with expeditiously") and what constitues torture ("I don't regard sleep deprivation as torture").

In today's Australian Bill Leak has a cartoon titled "Humane torture" showing the AG as one man band (bugle, banjo, drum) demanding admittance to a Sleep Deprivation facility saying "I'm here to help...". Enough said?