Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Indigenous People suffer the failure of governmental will ....again

Nothing beats travel to expose oneself to the idiocies of other governments and their failures to fulfill promises to underserved and overexploited minority groups. While we had a fabulous time in our travels through Australia (we covered 5000 km, a mere speck in a continent of that size!), we did do our due diligence by reading the local papers and talking to many people. It is possible to travel in Australian cities and ignore the plight and problems of the Indigenous Peoples of Australia; visits to any museum- art, cultural, migration-bring these peoples and their rich cultures and suffering to light. An opinion piece in The Australian on 18 September does much to inform one of the promises made, but not kept, by the current government...be sure to click through and read it.

The Migration Museum in Adelaide is excellent.

We took these photographs outside The Migration Museum, Adelaide.

China spreading it's largesse in Africa and beyond

I have posted on several occasions about the investments China has been making in infrastructure and resource development across the African continent. Initially, people were thrilled with all the news and hoopla attendant with the investments. However, there has generally been grumbling and resentment simmering and surfacing by locals in most African countries. Usually when there is this type of aid and development, the ancillary businesses which crop up to support the building of roads, mines, water systems, etc are local, so the local economies grow. In China's case, though, Chinese businesses tend to move in, do not hire locally, look down their noses at "inferior" locals, so that only the ministers who cut these deals with the Chinese benefit. In today's New York Times, there is an excellent example of what has happened in Namibia, especially after locals woke up:

"Namibia charged that the state-controlled company selected by China to provide the scanners — a company until recently run by President Hu’s son — had facilitated the deal with millions of dollars in illegal kickbacks. And until China threw up barriers when Namibian investigators asked for help looking into the matter.
Now the scanners seem to illustrate something else: the aura of boosterism, secrecy and back-room deals that has clouded China’s use of billions of dollars in foreign aid to court the developing world."

Be sure to read the rest of the article.

Depressing news on the education front.....again....

But this time in South Africa. The New York Times had a front page article on Saturday detailing the failure of the ANC to adequately address education problems faced by students. The distressing examples reminded me of driving through KwaZulu/Natal in 2005 and being impressed by the number of new school buildings we saw in the rural communities and the hordes of school children in their smart uniforms in maroon, green, navy, black walking miles and miles in pursuit of improving their lot in life. We were so impressed, until we began to realise that we were seeing these children walking to and fro at all times of the day. We discussed this with an old anti-apartheid fighter in East London. She informed us that what we had been observing was called "schooling": when teachers don't show up, when attendance requirements are not upheld, when there are no books, then the children walk to and fro, in a fashion parade of uniforms, getting their "schooling". Their parents have had to buy these uniforms, pay tuition just so that these students can walk the highways. The teachers' union, the ANC, the community should feel ashamed and demand accountability and live up to the promises that have been made to the youth of South Africa.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Booker Short List is Announced

The short list for this year's Man Booker Award has been announced and the list will make intereseting reading, regardless of who wins. JM Coetzee is going for his third and AS Byatt for her second. I am pulling for Hilary Mantel for her book Wolf Hall.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Update on the highjacked Russian ship

A story in the The Melbourne Age updates the story I drew attention to several days ago. The Russian reporter who first brought this story to light for the rest of the world has fled Russia in fear of his life after receiving a very creepy phone call. Let's hope this intrepid reporter will not suffer the fate of other Russian journalists who cross the Kremlin. Remember to support Reporters Without Borders. Please consider a contribution to their heroic work.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Initial & Abbreviated Observations from Australia

Sydney: the tunnel system is incredible...never seen so many tunnels for cars as well as trains. But traffic is also a nightmare partly because road signage is terrible. Everyone also uses navigational devices....so they are driving and reading their devices! But, the buildings are really interesting, beautiful hiking trails in the city along the many shorelines, and people are very friendly.
Country driving: terrible signage!...great roads but.....one comment by local is that since everyone is using GPS devices, the government saves money by limiting spending on road/street signs.
Driving in the Barossa Valley wine country: beautiful, fabulous wines, but....limited signs to towns and wineries, especially driving in from the south. Driving in the McClaren Vale wine country: great signs!
Australian roads are remotely monitored for speeding...and they are very serious about this. Lots of rules and taxes in Australia, making the cost of living here very high, for locals and tourists alike.
Adelaide and Canberra...great parks, very heavy looking public buildings. The houses in town and country are really pleasing to the eye and reflect the country's settler and colonial history.
Museums and art galleries: really excellent...The Migration Museum (an educational experience for all to understand the rich variety of in migrants, their experiences and influence in this country, as well as the effects of these in migrants on the Aboriginal Peoples already here), the Art Gallery of South Australia, the Museum of South Australia in Adelaide are well worth hours of browsing. The National Glass Museum in Wagga Wagga as well as the Contemporary Art Gallery there are fabulous, unexpected in a town of several thousand in the middle of nowhere.
Wineries: in general, the wineries have not succumbed to the ostentatious inclinations of many Oregon, California, and a few Washington wineries of building neo-Tuscan villas: the tasting rooms suit the landscape and reflect the history of the area, landscapes, and materials found locally.