A backwards step for world peace

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A backwards step to make a point about world peace

In 2009, Greens candidate Peter Bell walked several kilometres backwards from a Mackay fast food franchise to the office of the National member for Dawson, De-Anne Kelly.

He told ABC radio at the time he did this to highlight the backwards nature of the Howard Coalition’s policies on industrial relations and climate. Despite making headlines with this stunt, Bell polled only 3,489 votes (4.4% of the Dawson ballot). But he made his point, in public.

 

There was a time when if someone said you’d taken a step backwards, they meant a return to older and less effective ways of doing things. The Cambridge Dictionary’s example: “The breakdown in negotiations will be seen as a step backwards.”

You could argue the ‘step backwards’ is in vogue here and around the world; for example the public re-emergence of white supremacists in the USA. President Trump set the mood for this, with florid statements about expelling Muslims and building a wall to keep Mexicans out.

Now Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are trading threats about the latter’s reported development of missiles capable of delivering nuclear war heads. One of Trump’s responses, tweeted in the early hours, was to bring down ‘fire and fury’ on North Korea. Does that not seem like a backward step for world peace?

Australia’s non-compulsory, non-binding postal vote about a simple social justice issue is also a step backwards. The Australian government’s stubborn commitment to this $122 million folly could have been avoided if PM Malcolm Turnbull had called a free vote for all federal politicians.

There’s a backwards look too about the kerfuffle over whether you can be a politician in Australia while also a citizen of another country − even when you didn’t know you were a dual citizen. I seem to recall the media making much of Julia Gillard’s Welsh background and Tony Abbot’s British roots. So what? We all came from somewhere else, didn’t we?

“Whatever”, as the Gen Xers used to say, one should never say rash things in print like “if anyone can hum a few bars of Song of Australia I’ll walk backwards to Conondale.”  Several readers challenged me about their memories of Song of Australia, the fourth choice when Australia last held a plebiscite in 1977. Regular FOMM reader Elaine Beller wrote to say that in the years leading up to the plebiscite, she was a teenager living in Townsville, and a member of the local youth choral society.

Just wanted you to know that I really enjoy reading FOMM each week,’ she wrote. “However, I also wanted to let you know that walking backwards to Conondale is on!”

“We had to learn all the patriotic songs for a public performance on The Strand, so the citizens of Townsville could make an educated choice,” she said. “So, I can sing/hum more than a few bars of Song for Australia! The lyrics had us kids in fits of laughter (‘gushing out with purple wine’ being a particular favourite).”

Caroline Carleton wrote the poem (later set to music by Carl Linger) in 1859, her winning entry for a competition held by the Gawler Institute.

I still can’t believe I walked backwards to Conondale on the strength of such purple prose as:

There is a land where honey flows
Where laughing corn luxuriant grows;
Land of the myrtle and the rose.
On hill and plain the clustering vine
Is gushing out with purple wine,
And cups are quaffed to thee and thine – Australia.

So, while I was steeling myself for the backwards trek to Conondale (note how I carefully did not specify from where), I did a little research on the art of backwards perambulation.

Shannon Molloy writing in The Courier-Mail about colourful Qld political characters, found an endearing photo of former Industrial Relations minister Vince Lester walking backwards.

“The intriguing figure of 1980s politics was famed for his hobby of walking backwards, often for hours at a time. He would complete trips in the name of charity, once rear wandering for several hours between two regional towns.”

Colourful Queensland MP Bob Katter once promised to “walk to (or from, according to some reports) Bourke backwards if the gay population of North Queensland is any more than 0.001%”. Despite his half-brother since coming out as gay and Katter being (often) reminded about this loose remark (there was a rainbow protest outside his Mt Isa offices in 2011), he maintains that gay marriage isn’t an issue in his electorate. It appears he never did take up the threat to walk frontwards or backwards to or from Bourke in Western NSW (about 1,600 kilometres to his Mt Isa electoral office).

Sometimes known as ‘retro walking,’ the seemingly unusual habit of walking (or running) backwards is widely recommended for fitness.

You will find many health and fitness links on the Internet which suggest walking backwards strengthens little-used muscles, improves balance and is good for people with knee, hip and back problems.

Some people even do it for a living.

Seaman Nathan Winn is a tour guide for the Pentagon, and routinely walks up to eight kilometres backward per day (including escalators)

Whatever you do, don’t try walking down stairs, steps or steep bush tracks backwards (or backward as they say in the US). As Seaman Mann found, when he tried going down the up-escalator, it’s embarrassing and definitely not funny.

I walk every day but if you want to have some idea how far you’re walking and set some goals to increase the tempo and distance, a pedometer is useful.

It is said that for maximum fitness from walking you need to chalk up 10,000 steps a day. That’s about eight kilometres, the same as that logged by Seaman Winn, but in a forwards direction.

If you fell asleep in your recliner while reading this on your IPad, you may want to do something about your general level of inertia.

Here’s a suggestion: Sign up for Steptember (a fund-raiser for Cerebral Palsy), where you pledge to walk 10,000 steps on each of 28 days during September.

Or you could just donate money and loaf in the recliner and watch old movies on SBS on Demand, Stan or Netflix. I’ve been looking but have not yet found the critically panned 2008 remake of The 39 Steps, a spy thriller starring Rupert Penry-Jones (Silk and Spooks). I’m curious, having seen the 1959 remake starring Kenneth More (which was spiffing). Never did see the original (Hitchcock, 1935).

UK author John Buchan wrote the book at a clifftop nursing home in Broadstairs while recovering from illness. A set of wooden steps which led from the garden to the beach are thought to have inspired the title. In the book these steps become the escape route (frontwards) down to a quay where the villains’ vessel, Ariadne, is waiting to speed them away.

 

 

Happiness, harmony and Central Africa

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Melbourne harmony singers Co-Cheol

A musician friend alerted me on Monday that not only was it his birthday, it was also International Day of Happiness. Once I’d finished doing cartwheels around the room in response to this spiffing news, I wished the dear boy a very happy birthday. As if that was not enough to get the cockles of the heart percolating, the next day She Who’ll Sing at the Drop of a Hat went down town to celebrate World Harmony Day.

Continue reading “Happiness, harmony and Central Africa”

Great wall of Mexico

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South Australia dog fence Photo by Bob Wilson

There are precedents for President Donald Trump’s plan to build, or complete a 3,208 kilometre wall between Mexico and the US. The Australian outback features not one but two barrier fences, sprawling the length and breadth of the country.

A tour guide took us on a sunset tour out to the ‘dog fence’ near Coober Pedy in 2014. The South Australian section of the 5,531km fence which runs from the SA border to Queensland is 2,250 kms long.  Built in the 1880s, it’s the longest fence in the world and keeps wild dogs out (or in).

In Western Australia there’s also the 3,256 kms long Rabbit Proof Fence. Possibly because there’s a movie by that name, it is now known as the State Barrier Fence of Western Australia. Having done our share of outback travel, we can tell you that rabbits are still breeding away and undermining parts of Australia, despite myxomatosis, 1080 poison and vermin proof fences. Western Australia’s fence was completed in three stages in the early 1900s as an attempt to isolate the west from the national rabbit plague.

Just so you all know, dingoes and rabbits were not asked to pay for the construction of these fences.

Yes, it makes you think.

There’s no doubt that well-built vermin fences, extending a long way into the ground, have been successful at keeping rabbits and other pests from undermining Australia and also prevent dingoes from savaging livestock. So the cost is defendable, as is the ongoing expense of sending out boundary riders on weekly repair patrols. Feral camels do the most damage, so not surprisingly; there are plans for a taller (electrified) fence.

So what about President Trump’s wall between Mexico and the US? Despite the fact that a 1000 kilometre stretch was completed by George W Bush’s government, this is still going to be a $20 billion exercise. Crikey, that’s about 30% of the US education budget, right there.

And speaking of education, a Pew Research survey found that 61% of Americans think a wall between the US and Mexico is a dumb idea.

Our Albuquerque correspondent, despite living 693 kilometres from the New Mexico border at Juarez, thinks the wall is ‘insulting, a blight and really bad foreign policy.”

Thanks to Bloomberg and heavyweight sources like the Department of Homeland Security, here’s what we know about the challenges facing President Trump’s wall. The notoriously porous border between the US and Mexico is almost 3,208 kilometres long, two-thirds of it tracking the Rio Grande River. The border passes through cities including San Ysidro (California) and El Paso (Texas), rural farmland, desert, mountains and wildlife reserves. The border features 30+ patrol stations and 25 ports of entry.

Barriers already extend along a third of the border, giving President Trump’s contractors something of a head-start. Most of the California, Arizona and New Mexico borders have existing barriers. These range from 5.5m high iron and corrugated metal fences to what our Albuquerque correspondent calls “pedestrian fencing.’

Bloomberg reports that in 2015, the Customs and Border Patrol claimed an 81% strike rate for apprehending and turning back Mexicans attempting to cross illegally (or should that be irregularly).

No-one really knows how many undocumented Mexicans are living in the US but informed estimates figure around 11 million. There have been amnesties in the past, but that does not appear to be an option under a Trump administration.

A Pew Research Centre survey conducted in 2015 found that 72% of Americans (including 80% of Democrats, 76% of independents and 56% of Republicans), thought undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay “if they meet certain requirements.

Most of the existing border fence was built after 2006, when President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fences Act. I hate to be pedantic, but the act specifically says “Fences” not walls. When President Trump talks about his vision, most of us imagine a Great Wall of China or the 8m high sections of the West Bank edifice.

Al Jazeera reports that the West Bank security fence is the largest infrastructure project in Israel’s history. Nearly 15 years old, the 706km long fence costs Israel $260 million a year to maintain.

The ‘separation barrier” as it is coyly known, comprises mostly 2m high, electrified barbed-wire fences with vehicle-barrier trenches and a 60m exclusion zone on the Palestinian side. But in densely populated urban areas with space limitations, the Israelis built an 8m concrete wall.

Walls built between countries or within countries are always controversial, and, well, brutally divisive.

There’s no space at this time to delve into the tragedies of the Berlin Wall, which divided East and West Berlin for 27 years, for reasons which now seem specious. History shows that barrier walls built for whatever reason are destined to become decaying tourist attractions,

Visitors to Britain often schedule a visit to Hadrian’s Wall, a fascinating relic of 122AD when the emperor Hadrian demanded a wall be built east from Wallsend on the River Tyne to Bowness-on-Solway in the west. Hadrian’s Wall was the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire for nearly 300 years, built by the Roman army (to separate the barbarians from the Romans). Hadrian’s Wall was made a World Heritage Site in 1987.

In 2010 English folksingers Julie Matthews and Chris While joined a group of songwriters to write songs inspired by Hadrian’s Wall. Their song which emerged from the All Along the Wall project, Rock of Gelt, imagines a bored centurion who has been dragooned, if that is the appropriate word, into “building the Empire’s last frontier.”

There are only a handful of inscriptions to be found along the remains of the stone wall, including a piece of graffiti found in the Gelt Valley. It translates to: “Daminius didn’t want to do it,” which becomes the repeated refrain at the end of the song.

So will Donald Trump persist with a plan to build/complete a wall that 61% of Americans do not want? No doubt the 39% who want it would argue it will employ large numbers of people, through the building phase, then on maintenance and security.

Maintenance of walls and fences is an ongoing issue – just ask a fencing contractor called in to repair or replace fences wrecked or washed away in floods. The annual maintenance bill to keep the Dingo Fence in sound repair is around $10 million, according to an article in The Conversation. The authors argue for a re-think of the country’s vermin fence policies, including a plan to move a section of the fence to test whether the now endangered dingo can help restore degraded rangelands.

The humanitarian question is, if you must build a barrier wall or fence, surely you should have to justify the exclusion of a species?

As poet Elvis McGonnagal wrote, inspired by the Along the Wall project:

“Walls entomb, walls divide

Walls barricade the unknown

Berlin, Belfast, Gaza

Walls set difference in stone

 But the same sun that sets on the west bank

Rises up on the eastern wall

A man’s a man in Mesapotamia

A man’s a man in Gaul.”

*thanks to Julie Matthews for the insights

In search of quality news

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Where I go to escape the news, fake or otherwise

Some of my Facebook friends have been on a search for quality news – and a way to divert Donald Trump stories and memes from their news feed. There was just too much analysis, too many suspect ‘news’ stories from unfamiliar sources and hundreds of derogatory memes which only serve to confirm readers’ biases.

Australian comedian and folk singer Martin Pearson had evidently had enough too. He shared an insightful infographic (see below) which makes plain where media outlets sit in terms of quality news and partisanship. Pearson shared Vanessa Otero’s media infographic with a plea to his 1,520 friends to check the sources of news, especially if it is about Donald Trump:

“Please, you should all follow SNOPES on FB straight away; you get a good supply of reporter-checked news and fact-checked news straight to your page. And take a look at the info-graphic. If a news story confirms your bias, check its source.”

Vanessa Otero is a US patent attorney who enjoys snowboarding, reading, writing and observing communication patterns. Her infographic, originally posted on Twitter, was re-posted and shared so many times Otero went to her blog to explain in detail the reasoning and methodology.

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News Infographic by Vanessa Otera (Creative Commons)

The infographic places media outlets on a chart which clearly suggests where the publication or electronic media outlet sit in terms of quality news and partisan bias. The ‘utter garbage/conspiracy theory’ news outlets, be they conservative or liberal (that is, left of centre), end up on the extremes of the chart, grouped as ‘don’t read this’ or ‘Just no’. I note with a chuckle Otero places local TV news, US Today and CNN (dressed in partisan blue), as ‘sensational or clickbait’, though apparently relatively unbiased, so earning the category – “better than not reading news at all”.

Otero writes: “I wanted to take the landscape of news sources that I was highly familiar with and put it into an easily digestible, visual format. I wanted it to be easily shareable, and more substantive than a meme, but less substantive than an article.”

That much worked – the infographic was shared 20,000 times on Facebook and viewed one million times on Imgur. Otero said this is evidence that she accomplished the goal of reaching people who hardly ever engage with lengthy editorials. And as she self-deprecatingly acknowledges, very few will read her “boring-ass article” about the methodology behind it.

“Many non/infrequent readers are quite bad at distinguishing between decent news sources and terrible news sources. I wanted to make this chart in the hopes that if non/infrequent readers saw it, they could use it to avoid trash.”

Otero has said that considering all feedback, she’d make some changes to future versions of the chart (like moving The Economist more to the centre).

Otero’s chart is no one-off, though. Business Insider cited the Pew Research Centre to compile an infographic on the most (and least), trustworthy media sources in AmericaThe most trusted news outlets, that is, purveyors of quality news, are British, topped by the BBC and The Economist.

Conversely, BuzzFeed and The Rush Limbaugh Show are at the bottom.

There’s a difference between trusted and most popular, however. Pew polled 3,000 Americans in a random sample to find that they get most of their news from local TV, Facebook, and major networks like CNN and Fox News.

Some Australians who reacted to Otero’s publication wanted to know when someone would do a similar exercise on the highly concentrated Australian media market.

I suspect an Australian version of the search for quality news would look quite different; less crowded and lack the dubious news sources which appear to flourish in the US. There have been attempts in recent years to loosen the stranglehold a handful of media companies hold over Australian media audiences. They include Crikey, The Monthly, the Saturday Paper, New Matilda and The Conversation, the latter a collaboration between academics and journalists. Whatever subject you wish to research has probably been turned over there at least once and if not, send them an email and suggest a topic.

In this article from December 2016, authors Tim Dwyer and Denis Muller explore the concentration of media ownership in Australia.

They cite market research firm IBISWorld’s findings that the industry’s four largest players, News Australia, Fairfax Media, Seven West Media and APN News and Media, accounted for more than 90% of industry revenue in 2015-16. A very small list of owners, notably News Australia and Fairfax Media, publish content that reaches the large majority of Australians.

Since then, 12 Queensland and NSW regional daily newspapers and 60+ non-dailies and 40+ websites were sold to News Corp for $36.6 million.  APN News and Media agreed to sell Australian Regional Media (ARM) last June (News was already a 14.9% shareholder). It was approved by the foreign investment and competition regulators in late December. For Queenslanders, this means that Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd owns every substantial newspaper in the State, from the Cairns Post in the north to the Tweed Daily News in the south and the Toowoomba Chronicle in the west.  News also publishes Brisbane’s suburban weeklies.

Only the Fairfax-owned online newspaper, Brisbane Times, stands out as a daily voice of difference.

The latest iteration of newspaper monopoly in Queensland has received surprisingly little coverage or analysis − much less so than when Rupert Murdoch took over The Herald & Weekly Times group in 1987. That transaction delivered him ownership of every daily newspaper in Brisbane. The competition watchdog ruled that Murdoch must sell one of these to an ‘independent’ owner. So he kept the Courier-Mail, The Telegraph and Sunday Mail and sold the Daily Sun and Sunday Sun.

As for the ARM/News merger, The Australian quoted Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman Rod Sims:

“The ACCC reviewed the acquisition very closely, as News and ARM are the two largest newspaper publishers in Queensland. However, feedback from readers raised very few concerns and suggested that there is not close competition between the paid daily Queensland papers published by News and ARM.”

Having said surprisingly little about this, the ABC’s Mediawatch made its 2017 return on Monday with a special on ‘Fake News,’ a term now so pervasive it has wormed its way into the Macquarie Dictionary (and FOMM).

As Mediawatch host Paul Barry said:

“Fake news is hardly a new phenomenon, nor is believing stuff that defies all evidence.

“But in a world where anyone can set up a website and so many are on social media, it can spread like wildfire. Almost 2 billion people log onto Facebook every month. And Facebook works by giving them the news they want.”

Craig Silverman of National Public Radio (NPR) said in December, fake news works because “we love to hear things that confirm what we think and what we feel and what we already believe.’

“It tells people exactly what they want to hear. It makes them feel very comforted and it gets them to react on the platform. And the platform sees that content does really well and Facebook feeds more of it to more people.

So as Martin Pearson advised, and I concur, be sceptical, subscribe to a source that fact checks (Snopes, The Conversation).

Above all, don’t immediately share something on Facebook or Twitter without reading first, thinking about it and doing some checking.

We can only hope that’ll happen…LOL

http://bobwords.com.au/elephant-captured-nullarbor-plain/