Wednesday, February 29, 2012


 By  OUR scientists, I mean all those scientists working in the public interest who have been hobbled, nobbled, smeared, dismissed, discredited, had their funding cut or been otherwise silenced, for telling the truth. They have asked that we support them on February 29th.  It may be a bit late now for Aussies and others on this side of Greenwhich, but do it anyway.

 This type of behaviour was going on at least as far back as 1953 when Rachael Carson published her expose about DDT called "Silent Spring" and it has resurfaced most recently  in the villification of Peter Gleick after he exposed the machinations of the Heartland Institute. The  A-Z list on the Union of Concerned Scientists website has plenty of  examples of suppression and intimidation. See also The Union of Concerned Scientist's report, Heads They Win, Tails We Lose  which outlines the some of the more common methods:

How Do They Game the System?
Let Us Recount the Ways

Heads They Win, Tails We Lose is full of real-world examples of the ways corporations interfere with science. Here are just a few of the highlights:

Suppressing Research:
Hog Farm Emissions

After pork producers contacted his supervisors, a USDA microbiologist was prevented from publishing research showing that emissions from industrial hog farms contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Corrupting Advisory Panels:
Childhood Lead Poisoning

A few weeks before a CDC advisory panel met to discuss revising federal lead standards, two scientists with ties to the lead industry were added to the panel. The committee voted against tightening the standards.

Ghostwriting Articles:
The Pharmaceutical Industry

A 2011 analysis found evidence of corporate authorship in research articles on a variety of drugs, including Avandia, Paxil, Tylenol, and Vioxx.
"Corrupting the Science. Corporations suppress research, intimidate scientists, manipulate study designs, ghostwrite scientific articles, and selectively publish results that suit their interests.
Shaping Public Perception. Private interests downplay evidence, exaggerate uncertainty, vilify scientists, hide behind front groups, and feed the media slanted news stories.
Restricting Agency Effectiveness. Companies attack the science behind agency policy, hinder the regulatory process, corrupt advisory panels, exploit the "revolving door" between corporate and government employment, censor scientists, and withhold information from the public.
Influencing Congress. By spending billions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions, corporate interests gain undue access to members of Congress, encouraging them to challenge scientific consensus, delay action on critical problems, and shape the use of science in policy making.
Exploiting Judicial Pathways. Corporate interests have expanded their influence on the judicial system, used the courts to undermine science, and exploited judicial processes to bully and silence scientists."
 The  entries on Atrazine on Sourcewatch  are also instructive. They show leaked corporate emails seeking people to respond to newspaper articles and  instructing investigators to discover the funding, affiliations, character and possible weaknesses of the reporter about to do an interview on the issue. See also the long list of law suits involving Monsanto in wiki.

While Professor Gleick's opponents largely belonged to those industries which would suffer financially as a result of changes needed to halt  climate change, Monsanto continues to deny that their agricultural chemicals and genetically modified organisms have an effect on human health and the environment, just as they did all those years ago about DDT. All scientists ask, is that the precautionary principle prevail  and that they be allowed to do honest research before these are released into the environment.  

Unfortunately, the last day of February was also the last day for Australians to make submissions to the review of regulations concerning Farm and Veterinary Chemicals being conducted by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
Since this does not appear to have received much attention in our newspapers with all the Leadership tussles going on in Canberra, perhaps we could respectfully demand an extension of the time period.  Also of concern is an item in the outline which calls for  

 " using the science and studies from overseas to their full extent"
Australia has long relied on the findings of Government bodies such as the FDA to do our testing for us. However, due to agency capture, political appointments and reduced funding, the FDA finds itself ever more reliant on research produced by the very companies seeking approval. Read for example what happened with the attempt to ban antibiotics in large scale agriculture because of  risks to public health such as increased antibiotic resistance
“And last month, the FDA scrapped its three-decade-long effort to regulate the use of the popular human antibiotics penicillin and tetracycline in livestock. While the FDA says in the announcement that it "remains concerned about the issue of antimicrobial resistance," it also says "contested, formal withdrawal proceedings" consume too much of its time and money. For example, withdrawing nitrofurans from livestock use took 20 years, DES (diethylstilbestrol) took seven years and enrofloxacin took five years and cost $3.3 million….." READ MORE HERE.....
I'm going to say something here which will not make me very popular, but must be said. Why, oh why, didn't scientists band together and speak up long ago, go to the press or seek public support earlier? Many of them are employed in the public interest and while I understand fear and self interest, surely ways could have been found. 

Interestingly, many of the same players involved in The Heartland Institute mentioned previously  - Phillip Morris, Oil Companies and Pharmaceutical companies, have been busy wooing delegates from countries involved in the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership in New York which will affect Australians, New Zealanders and many other countries in the region.This is no doubt the kind of outreach program mentioned by Matt McDermott in,
"US diplomatic cables newly released by Wikileaks furthers the picture previously leaked cables began painting--that the United States pushes agribusiness interests, such as those of Monsanto, overseas pressuring nations to accept genetically modified crops."

"Several cables describe "biotechnology outreach programs" in countries across the globe, including African, Asian and South American countries where Western biotech agriculture had yet to gain a foothold. In some cables (such as this 2010 cable from Morocco) US diplomats ask the State Department for funds to send US biotech experts and trade industry representatives to target countries for discussions with high-profile politicians and agricultural officials."
The Big Lie
A misconception often trotted out in support of GMOs and the ever growing arsenal of chemicals is that we are all going to starve if we do not accept this technology, regardless of the cost to ourselves or the environment. According to Greenpeace, this is not only untrue, but these technologies may in fact exacerbate the problem.
"Despite industry claims to the contrary no GMO crop has ever been modified to increase yields or to resist to climate change. GMOs pose a major threat to food security due to their adverse effects on biodiversity, their continuous contamination of conventional crops, the agro-biotech companies’ control over food and agriculture through their control of the global seeds market and their heavy-handed tactics surrounding GMO patenting rights (see: ‘Foodsecurity and climate change’ and ‘Who will feed the world’). Our report on the agricultural crisis in Argentina revealed introducing GMOs locked the country into growing commodity crops suchas soya for export. The result was that instead of growing food for themselves, people were farming for international markets and the number of people below the poverty line increased dramatically." Read more...
 The Worms are Turning....
Earlier this month China rejected Monsanto's GM rice seeds, India filed a lawsuit against them for selling contaminated egg plant seeds, British activists forced the retreat of Monsanto from the UK and a French farmer succeeded in suing Monsanto for chemical poisoning.   Consumers International which represents 220 consumer organisations around the world won the right for 100 countries to determine their own labelling laws, despite opposition from the USA which considered them an impediment to Free Trade.
 European citizens have largely rejected GMOs, depending on the region (Switzerland, France, Hungary, Germany, Austria and Luxemburg have at least some bans) and very little GMO food finds its way to supermarket shelves. Unfortunately, their US counterparts have not been so lucky. Despite 45,000 objections to a new strain of genetically engineered corn, this application was approved during the news lull over Christmas and, despite being supported by 300,000 organic farmers and seed producers seeking protection against being sued by Monsanto when their seed became contaminated by the giant company's product, the court ruled in favour of Monsanto.
Read more
Two more petitions opposing Dow Chemical's  2,4-D and Monsanto's modified soy beans unfortunately closed yesterday, but here are some more:

  • There are some suggestions on their website, also about contacting politicians and writing to newspapers.
  • You could also donate
  •  Or start your own petition using the  form on the Care2 website
 Other Petitions:

US Petition opposing the appointment of former Monsanto lobbyists to FDA
US Petition Objecting to Scotts/Monsanto partnering with the Northwest Wildlife Fund
US Petition to Stop Monsanto 
Canada Clear Food and Beverage Labelling Petition

They Don't Make them Like that Anymore

There aren't too many places like this anymore!
Too much running around today so just a little bit of news, mostly Australian, and two pleasant surprises. I'll tell you about those in a moment, but first a couple of updates...
Most of these issues have been raised by CHOICE* The People's Consumer Watchdog.
As well as lobbying government and industry about issues of concern to consumers –  check out their marvellous Wall of Shame,  Choice also does independent research to rate all kinds of products. I always find this  particularly useful when buying major appliances that I will have to live with for years. Last year for example, when I was looking at TV’s and was completely baffled by what was on offer, I looked at their website and found valuable technical advice – not just price comparisons, but the features of each product and what would be most suitable in my situation, and how it rated in terms of the environment – e.g. differences in power consumption which could save money for years to come. However, I also like it for small things like choosing between different soap powders and shampoos. It's always a joy to discover that the best aren’t necessarily the most expensive.

In other good news:
  • One of Australia's two big chicken producers (see Eggactly Post) - has agreed to far greater scrutiny of their work practices and more humane treatment of their workers too.
  • Seattle is starting an urban  food forest in a public park where everyone can help themselves. An excellent idea. Exactly what I was fantasising about the other day. 
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, had occasion to visit a service station today – a real one, one that still had a mechanic. As well as old movie posters and a very electic assembly of odds and ends, it also had some interesting signs like this one:

There was another minor miracle as well. The gas ran out while I was in the middle of cooking dinner last night. When the new cylinder came today and the gas burners were tested, the piezo switch that hadn't worked for almost a year, suddenly sprang to life. That hadn’t happened since I cleaned the stove last year and shorted out all the power in the house. When the electrician came to restore the electricity, he said I would have to buy a new stove top. Not being able to afford one at the time, I have managed to get by using matches and lighters. Although this spontaneous remission looked absolutely miraculous, the simple explanation was that the switch had apparently finally dried out. It was 39oC on Saturday. That may have had something to do with it. I solemnly swear that I will never clean the stove that thoroughly again.  It does make me want to try my old phone again, but maybe that's just tempting fate.

Have a good night/ day all. Promise to harangue you again tomorrow! Sometimes Real Life gets in the way.

* There may be a similar Consumer organisation near you. Check out the website for Consumers International  which has affilated groups in 115 countries and also offers guidance and advice.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Shame in Maine

Way of the future
Declare war on packaging
I just signed a petition about plastic bags in Maine. Since we have pretty much done away with these I was very shocked that the USA was so far behind on this, especially given the size of its population and that the neighbouring state, New Hampshire already had very effective drink deposit legislation way back in 1999. (There wasn’t a can or plastic bottle to be seen anywhere). Except for occasional lapses, the transition here has been relatively painless and you just wouldn’t think of going out now without taking your cloth bag. These are usually cheaply available in the big supermarkets with proceeds going to charity. I am surprised that more shops haven't seized on the idea of giving them as loyalty gifts, since they would not only save on bags, but with appropriate printing, they would have walking billboards.

Anyone who has read Donovan Hohns’ Moby Duck, in which he traces the fate of 28, 800 plastic bathtoys that had fallen from a container ship while crossing the Pacific, will know why it is important to get rid of this unnecessary curse. Plastics in general and bags in particular, cause considerable damage to marine life, and persist far longer in groundwater, the ocean and the food chain, than their temporary usefulness could ever justify. What I did not know, was how much petroleum it takes to make them. According to the petition website, the petrol needed to make fourteen plastic bags, would run a vehicle for one mile.
Future generations will no doubt scratch their heads and wonder how we could possibly have wasted a diminishing resource in such a stupid way. Plastic bags have not been around for that long. Before that people brought attractive baskets and string bags. Two -wheeled shopping trolleys were popular too and we usually took our backpacks to the market because they were a much more sensible way to carry bulk purchases anyway.
Germany was charging a small fee for plastic bags at least as far back as 1987 and you never saw anyone without their own. They also made manufacturers responsible for their packaging. It was remarkable to see how quickly they banded together and came up with intelligent solutions. The only downside now, is that where I always used to have cupboards bursting with  plastic bags, I now have trouble finding one when I need to pack shoes or wet towels. I do still keep the nice sturdy ones for that kind of thing. The others that invariably creep in with say, a bottle of wine brought by friends, I take back to the supermarket who recycle them. Though they get turned into things like moulded furniture, this too consumes energy and water and no doubt creates other health and environmental hazards.

While we are at it, you may want to sign the petition about NY and plastic bags  too. This site has an excellent overview of the problem
Also in Austin

 Australia still has some way to go in other areas. There are still too many plastic drink bottles around (expensive to collect in far flung regions), too many polystyrene takeaway containers and those awful plastic trays which are used for pre-packaged vegetables, meat and instant meals. These do not have the recycling logo on them so I never know what to do with them except to try to avoid them as much as possible. You can only make so many craft projects and seed trays out of them! Oh yes, and there are also those 3.5 million disposable nappies used by Australians and New Zealanders each day, though I got a “404 Site not found” error when I tried to follow that link.
Meanwhile, it’s good to see the KeepCups turning up in my favourite coffee shop and real milk in a real milk bottle at one of the local shops.  If I return the bottle, it will cost about the same as milk in a carton, though it contains 250mls (about 1 cup less) less. This would also help to reduce landfill.

Yes, I know there are many other problems, but Maine could at least pick the low hanging fruit. You can help the process along by declining to accept excessive  packing or returning it to shops. You could also try the Zero Waste Challenge. The Ethical Consumers Group ran these here in 2009, but you will find excellent resources on that site including some from the USA.

A burning question:
Why is it that no matter long I proofread the draft version, I never ever see all the typos until they are up there on the screen for all the world to see?  Bear with me. Also I am sure I am mostly preaching to the converted on this one but it amazes me that there are still people in so called 'first world' countries who think that we can go on living in a throwaway society.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Against the Wall

It’s really hot and sticky so I am sitting here in my beautifully stitched second-hand Japanese kimono and wondering if it too was made by slave labour. Did it help to pay for a child's education, help a daughter take care of a parent, or just enable someone to live for another day?

No, not a picture of my kimono. This is Watcher. a friend's fractal  design. See more at Schlaraffenland  They are even more spectacular with light and sound. Listen to one on You Tube

It makes me think that perhaps consumer boycotts are not always the way to go. Though they are one of the most effective tools in our armoury against abuses of various kinds, don’t  they always hurt the little people at the bottom of the food chain most? I am thinking of a small and beautiful French restaurant here which folded when all things French were condemned during the era of French nuclear testing in the Pacific. I also think of the millions labouring in sweatshops when we say let’s not buy goods and garments made with slave labour. They wouldn’t be there if they weren’t desperate. Most of us have more in common with the people making them than with the people raking in the profits at the top. In those images of shark finning in the video mentioned in yesterday’s post, the Africans cutting off shark fins didn’t exactly look as if they had too many other job options.  If those sharks are not endangered, let’s make the people who buy shark fins responsible not only for their humane killing, but wise use of the meat. Perhaps it could provide alternative forms of work as the price of shark fins rises and the practice (one hopes) gradually declines. [Sharks are one of the most endangered species in Australia, so we should definitely sign that petition on yesterday's post or see the full report by Greenpeace: A Recipe for Disaster: The supermarkets insatiable appetite for seafood] .

That doesn’t mean that these things should not be stopped, rather that where possible, we should find other ways to bring about change.  Sometimes exposure of abuse, downright stupidity or corruption is enough. Sometimes we must continue to press for changes in the law and make sure that those laws are effectively prosecuted. Very few of the countries mentioned in the post about  journalists a few days ago, are not a signatory to the UN convention regarding the protection of journalists, yet in Russia for example, there has been only one  arrest so far, despite numerous disappearances and deaths.

My own shopping basket is hardly a model of political correctness. Yesterday I even had to buy a biodegradable plastic bag because the one I brought wasn’t big enough.  Quite often I don’t have the money to be too picky and at other times I’m in  too much of a hurry to read the labels. Am I supporting some evil dictator or slave labour?  Of course, it’s hard when things are not labelled accurately. In the USA, the issue is about whether products include Genetically Modified Crops. To find out why it’s important, READ THIS and sign the petition. In Australia a more immediate threat is the passage of the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), a Free Trade Agreement currently being negotiated behind closed doors. This would not only weaken our own laws with respect to media, give corporations the right to sue governments and allow  Agribusiness companies to abolish GE Food Labelling, but would exist in perpetuity, irrespective of future changes of Government or changes of circumstances or the will of the people. STOP IT NOW. 
There are other  dodgy labelling practices in Australia, such as being able to use the Made in Australia label for goods produced overseas, but which have some part of their production such as packaging done here. This is bad if we want to keep some jobs in Australia. We also do not usually know who is currently the owner. With so many takeovers and mergers, even familiar brands are not necessarily Australian and the  profits flow out of the country instead of  circulating within the local and national economy.   

Would be nice if there were honest facebook pages showing you  exactly where things came from, who you were buying from and how it was made or maybe a little audiovisual as you walked along the supermarket  aisles. Too much to hope for and who would have the time. The nearest thing to it would be the phone app. from the Ethical Consumer Group which can tell you while you do your shopping. For the Luddites among us who don’t have the technology, there is always the pocket book edition or a free download

There are still boycotts on a number of companies including Nestles, Coa Cola and L'Oreal. Please also review the excellent submission regarding labelling.

PS Spaniards are by no means the only people who treat dogs badly, but please try to sign this petition before Dog Spinning takes place in Bulgaria on March 6.

A Win for Whales and Chickens; Gay People 50: 50; Sharks nil

Just a quick update tonight. It's been 37oC all day. The neighbours are having a party and I have just finished a glass of wine.

At least there are a few things to celebrate this week. The chickens are doing well, Amazon has withdrawn it's whale meat offerings from its Japanese website and there have been a couple of wins for gay people. It would be nice if we could now extend a little of that sympathy to sharks and stop shark finning. Sharks are not cuddly and not a few people wish they would stay away from our beaches, but sea life is under threat everywhere and not even they deserve to be treated like this.Watch the video and you will see what I mean.   Eating shark fin strikes me as another frivolous food fetish which causes unnecessary suffering, in much the same way as pate fois production does, not to mention the criminal waste involved. That is, it would not be so bad if the sharks were being used for food, but the fins are just cut off living creatures which are then left to drown, rot or be eaten by predators. 
Although the above petition relates to Australia, there is an international one on the Care2  site as well.

With respect to the civil rights of gay people, Uganda's Death Penalty Bill  for HIV positive homosexuals has been averted and Swedish transgendered people who wish to be recorded as having a different gender, must no longer undergo forcible sterilisation, a curious throwback to eugenics thinking in an otherwise enlightened nation, but there is still some way to go. Still on the table are an urgent petition in St. Petersburg, to stop anti -gay censorship, and several others in the USA. In New Hampshire Gay Marriage Rights may be revoked. Meanwhile, same sex civil unions have just been vetoed again in New Jersey while in Maryland they just may get under way, making it the eighth US state to OK them.  It could happen in Queensland, Australia, too  but only IF Queensland ONLY voters sign the petition now.

Not being gay or lesbian, same sex marriage is not a pressing issue to me personally, so why bother? Why get involved in things which do not concern me directly, especially those involving other countries? The reason is that people who are being persecuted are often powerless themselves. By way of example, were it not for the intervention by other people and other countries in World War II, Europe would look very different today. In fact, reading about the issues in Sweden  and what was happening in Uganda made me think a lot about what happened in Germany during the war. I thought we had all moved on from there too. So long as what people are doing or believe does not harm others, we should defend their right to do so, if we are lucky enough to be living in a place that allows us to do so. Today it's them, tomorrow it may be us. Let's hope they will stand up for us too. The letters of gratitude from the  the gay community in Uganda says it all.
 "Brave Ugandan LGBT activists and millions of people around the world have stood together and faced down this horrendous anti-homosexuality bill. The support from the Avaaz global community has tipped the scales to prevent this Bill going forward. Global solidarity has made a huge difference"

The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs' Office also wrote to Avaaz:

"Many thanks. As you know, thanks to a very large extent to the intensive lobbying and combined effort of you, other civil society representatives, EU and other governments, plus our delegation and embassies on the ground the Bill was not presented to the Parliament this morning."

The victory there echoes across many other places where hope is desperately needed, showing that kindness, love, tolerance and respect can defeat hatred and ignorance. Again, a huge thanks to all who made it happen."
Here's  a little postcard with  an antt- anti gay message to send to Russian Airline Aeroflot on their birthday. I hope it says end the discrimination against gay employees, the censorship and the criminalisation of homosexuality: 
Send Aeroflot and Sky Team a birthday postcard. Below you'll see two postcards (in English and Russian) that Russian activists are encouraging folks to send to Aeroflot and Sky Team. You can post on their Facebook pages (Aeroflot here, Sky Team here), or send an email to, and (For full size versions of these cards, click here for Russian and here for English.)

 You can also sign their petition here:

This is from MoveOn: In Which States Can Ellen Get Fired For Being Gay?


PS: European Union Citizens, may want to stand up for Greece too.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Endangered Species

Slim Pickings
Such a lovely day. I went out blackberrying this morning. Great walk. Not many blackberries. This means that Landcare of which I have been a member from time to time, has done an excellent job in this area of eradicating invasive species, a big problem in Australia and, as I have just found out, even in the UK. Nevertheless, come autumn, I really miss them. I was looking forward to some apple and blackberry crumble and making a bit of jam, not to mention just hoofing some down with a bit of yoghurt and muesli. Maybe the time has come to consider them endangered and set aside a little plot somewhere - strictly fenced and controlled of course, where it's still possible to find a bit of wild fruit occasionally. Natives are nice. But you can't eat them. If we take this to its logical conclusion we should remove all the introduced humans as well. [By the way, does anyone know what that plant is on the left? It's a tree really, rather like an elm, but I have never seen one with fruit on it].

Speaking of endangered species, our scientists are under siege too, from religious fundamentalists on the one hand, to big business on the other. When I was last in Canberra, there was a campaign "Hug A Climate Scientist today." Perhaps we should hug all our other scientists as well. One in particular needs one right now. It's Professor  Peter Gleick who blew the whistle on the Heartland business (yesterday's post). He is now being ostracised by both colleagues and the press for having had to lie to get the information. Contact him via his website.  The site itself is interesting, especially for those of us bordering onto the Pacific.

You may also want to read and sign the excellent petition from Canadian scientists who are sick and tired of being muzzled.

PS. The sites for Press and Internet Freedom are now listed on the previous page.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

For the Fallen

For Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik
Today's page is dedicated to the two journalists killed in Syria yesterday - Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik and all the others who have fallen in the line of duty while "trying to shine a light into the darkest corners of their societies." 

According to Reporters without Borders there have been five such deaths this year. A further 153 reporters have been imprisoned as have 120 internet activists. A report by the Brussels - based International News Safety Institute, quoted in  says that the situation has steadily worsened since 2000, with over 1000 journalists being killed in the last decade. While there is no consistent information gathering and recording, the hall of shame currently looks like this:

"Iraq (138), Russia (88), Colombia (72), Philippines (55), Iran (54), India (45), Algeria (32), the former republic of Yugoslavia (32), Mexico (31), Pakistan (29), Brazil (27), USA (21), Bangladesh (19), Ukraine (17), Nigeria, Peru, Sierra Leone & Sri Lanka (16), Afghanistan, Indonesia & Thailand (13)."

As Tom Curley, President and CEO of the Associated Press (AP) pointed out:

“It confirms how insignificant the efforts have been to achieve justice for journalists who are harmed or persecuted as they work to keep the world informed. We are at a perilous point in journalism: fair and accurate coverage is more necessary than ever but the risks to those who pursue it are greater than ever, too.
It should be noted that only four of these deaths occurred in war zones. As well as outright murder and imprisonment, there have also been other forms of harrassment and persecution such as beatings, burnings and bombings of newspaper offices, kidnappings, exile or punitive damages claims. Nor are they confined to unstable countries in the midst of civil unrest.

For the most part though, even in Western democracies threats may be more subtle, but they exist nonetheless - from making internet service providers liable for content displayed on their sites, denial of service, forced disclosure and identification of users and sources, to monitoring of phone calls without due process. For specific issues which affect individual countries, please click on the  Reporters without Borders Site.
Also insidious, especially in smaller countries, is the high concentration of media ownership and their dependence on advertising dollars for their survival, giving  undue influence to those with the most money. Most insidious of all, is self censorship. You don't notice what is not there.

Journalists are our eyes and ears. Give them the support and protection they need by signing petitions, writing to your MP or starting your own. Protection for Whistleblowers is also urgently needed along with an international body with the authority to investigate such killings and bring the perpetrators to justice, so that "Killing the Messenger" no longer becomes the easy way to deal with dissent. Australians should also honour and never forget the Balibo Five who were murdered while alerting the world to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1999. They also serve who wield a pen, a camera or an ipod! 
Above all, we must all remain vigilant.

Petitions and sites related to Press and Internet Freedom follow:

Petition to protect Russian Journalists
Petition to protect Gambian Journalists 
Petition Site for Sri Lankan Journalists
 Please let's start one for Iraq!

U.S. Petition for Protection of Whistleblowers in Private Comapnies

U.S. Petiton to protect Whistleblowers in Government

Australia really needs these as well. Limited protection is available for persons reporting to ASIC, The Securities and Investment Commission.
We also need the kind of protection for journalist's sources, that Germany has.
What we really need is effective International protection via the U.N. for all journalists and the right to investigate crimes since many of the countries involved, probably have good reason not to want to investigate too thoroughly.

Internet related sites:

Petition Cisco Systems not to help China in suppressing dissent
Stop the Internet Blacklist Bill
Protect Freedom of Speech on the Internet
Australia: Don't let TPP become the new ACTA
Electronic Frontiers Foundation
The Global Internet Freedom Consortium
The Care2 website  lists a number of others.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Is my Nomophobia showing?

Don't worry only one of them works at any one time.

Nomophobia according to an article by Deborah Netburn in the Sydney Morning Herald, is that profound anxiety you feel when you are without your mobile phone. It seems that polls in the UK show that it is rising, particularly among the young, but surprise, surprise, seniors are the next group affected. I suppose it could work as an excuse for a 'sickie' so long as your boss hasn' t read the article as well. Treatment is available.

If I had nomophobia last week, I certainly don't have it now. Since I posted that very graphic picture of a dog in Spain, the trickle of news about animals has turned into a torrent. There are also many dedicated people and organisations taking action, mostly far more qualified to respond than I am, so that my main job now seems to be directing the traffic - local issues here, national issues there, international ones elsewhere. That's excellent, so long it gets the word out and helps to bring change, because there are certainly a lot of other issues which need attention.
This being The Year of the Farmer, it is a good time to highlight what happens to our farm animals - the bobby calves, the pigs, the chickens and  even the sheep  especially given the fact that Australia now lags behind other developed nations in many of these matters. Don't forget to let the big supermarkets, politicians and our own big takeaway outlets know about the example of Subway, Burger King and McDonald's in the US,  and tell them that we too want cruelty free food.   The issue of the cruel treatment of Australian greyhounds exported to Macau has now also been taken up by Animals Australia.

However two other worrying trends also need to be addressed. One is the growing concentration and increasing use of contract labour in farming where neither the owner nor the labour hire firms accept any responsibility either for the animals or the workers. This is particularly apparent in the almost closed shop of the Australian chicken industry, where two big private companies have bought out all the other firms, but it also happens in the USA.
Growing free range meat is more expensive, but I get around that by buying cheaper cuts. I hope it also allows more small operators to flourish. Better still if you can buy less meat altogther, or go vegetarian. This would not only be much better for millions of animals, but  also for the planet, not to mention your health.  Read more...

The other is a trend in the USA where farmers in Florida are trying to make it illegal to videotape or photograph what is going on in factory farms [If you live in the USA sign the petition on that site now before it closes] and the collusion by big business generally  as seen in the recent exposure of the Heartland Institute. If we cannot know and/ or our governments are being influenced by big business lobbying or electoral donations, we cannot help or change things.[NB The last article is by the brilliant George Monbiot who writes for The Guardian].

On the other hand, look how far we have come. On the 26th of February, it will be exactly ten years since Tasmania's very own home- grown chicken campaigner, Pamela Clarke was arrested for breaking into a battery hen farm and rescuing four sick hens. Back then, no one could have imagined the enormous policy changes which have since occurred around the world. Ms. Clarke was a most unlikely heroine. White haired, unassuming, well -spoken but surprisingly strong. It just shows what one determined person can do. She must now be in her seventies, but  was last seen a couple of years ago, trying to stop council workers in Kingston from chopping down old and venerable foreshore trees.

Please note that is is not about pots calling kettles black. While there are abuses in every country, there are also thinking,feeling people who want more humane treatment of animals. This is very difficult to do in isolation, especially in smaller countries, poor countries and where there are repressive regimes. One of the few ways in which change can be brought about there is with the support of the international community or by bringing pressure to bear on big retailers such as Walmart who deal with them, or even better - as the Humane Society of USA did with Krispy Kreme, by buying shares in them and demanding change from within. For those who see the problem but feel helpless to help, the sites and organisations which have been listed over the last couple of days should provide much inspiration, so I will add a couple more:

Although I have focussed mainly on farm animals today, and need to move on to other issues such as GMOs, honest food labelling, privacy, democracy etc. don't forget either, those animals used in cosmetics and scientific experiments or the loss of animals in the wild.

By the way, feel free to comment on any of these pages

Cheers all!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Happy Pancake Day!

Oops! Just found out that just because something says, 'free stock photos,' you can't actually use them for free, so you have to look at my old pic of hazelnut pancakes again till I take some new ones.

Today in celebration of Pancake Day I am experimenting with a variation on Lebanese pancakes which involves walnuts (haven't got any pistachios), rosewater and honey. There can't possibly be another food as versatile, cheap, ubiquitous or delicious as pancakes. You can have them with pineapple or banana in Bali; with smetana (sour cream) and berries or with ham and mushrooms in Russia; with stewed apple and cinnamon in Germany; as delicate crepes Suzette in France or with maple syrup in Canada and many variations in between.
Although the form  - usually some combination of flour, eggs and too much fat, varies from place to place, Pancake Day is celebrated in many countries too. While the familiar flat, round pancakes are the norm in most of the English speaking countries, Germany, German -Americans, Danes and Lithuanians favour a sugared or jam filled doughnut -though Lithuanians are pretty keen on both.  In Finland  and Sweden, where the day is called Fettisdagen (Fat Tuesday) they fill their doughnuts with marzipan and whipped cream. (Haven't tried those yet!). Canadians in Newfoundland and Labrador like to add trinkets and coins as a predictor of future fortunes, whilst Poles in Poland and abroad favour the pączki , another type of doughnut - glazed, filled and/ or sugared and eaten in large quantities on Fat Thursday, the Thursday before Lent. Meanwhile the Portuguese from the Island of Madeira, prefer their Masledas filled with custard or fruit, a custom which planters also carried to Hawaii and New Orleans.
[Most of this is from  wiki ]

These days, the custom is most often associated with the Christian Calender - it's the last Hurrah before the start of the Lenten fast, a period of austerity and atonement. In France, Germany and the Spanish speaking countries, it is usually also accompanied by colourful processions, costumes and frivolity, variously known as  Fasching in Germany, Carnivale (meaning farewell to meat) in Spain and South America, and Mardi Gras (also meaning Fat Tuesday) in France, the idea of this excess being to consume all the rich food left.
However, I just found a website from the Ukraine which celebrates Pancake Day (Maslenitsa) all week long. It describes it as an ancient pagan custom which was adapted to Christianity (like Easter and the Winter Solstice)  because the people could not be persuaded to give up their traditional festivals.
I couldn't agree more, though not all Pancake Day celebrations were great.  In Britain, for instance, along with pancake races with hot pancakes, football games and wrestling, cockfighting was considered part of the fun. Mercifully, this has largely been stamped out in Europe though sadly there are still parts of the EU, and other parts of the world where killing animals for fun, is still considered OK.

Cock -fighting in Bali a few years ago
I promised I wouldn't preach (much) this week, but I'm glad that most of us have learned to enjoy ourselves without having to be cruel to other animals. By all means bring on the pancake races. Life is much too serious these days. Men dressing up as housewives for a pancake race could be fun and bring on those free range eggs too so that we can unite in the joy of  
Pancake Day! 

PS I have been giving our major retailers a bit of a serve lately, so if you need some pancake ideas, I'll just say that there are  some good recipes on the Coles website.

Monday, February 20, 2012


A win for UK chickens

Twenty four million chickens in the UK will be grateful. Although caged egg farming has not been phased out, the new types of cages which give the chickens more room, straw to scratch in, a nest box, a perch and a higher roof, should certainly allow them to lead more normal lives. The UK was among fourteen other countries which refused to follow a UN directive. The UN is now pursuing the other 13-Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain.

There's good news from the US too, where other big chains such as Subway (we have them in Oz too) are starting to follow the example set by Mc Donald's
Related Stories
Krispy Kreme Switching To Cage-Free Eggs
Subway To Phase In Cage-Free Eggs: Victory For Hens Everywhere

According to a recent Australian article in The Age, caged hens produce 20% less carbon  because hens allowed to wander freely require more feed to produce a kilogram of eggs than their confined cousins.This information came from The Australian Egg Corporation after it joined with the government to assess the carbon footprint of egg production.
This however, does not take into account the other environmental impacts and health risks involved in this form of egg production such as the "impact on watersheds and the dead zones"  and the higher incidence of salmonella and antibiotic resistance, or the effects on the hens themselves.

Read more....
Yes, free - range eggs may cost a little more - $1 whole dollar a week in my case, but I think it is well worth it in the interests of treating their producers more humanely and they simply taste better without the guilt.

Coincidentally the Sydney Morning Herald has also had an article about Factory Farming today (20/2/2012) which says that since the passage of the EU directive, Australia is now among the worst offenders in the developed world when it comes to the treatment of commercially raised pigs and chickens.To highlight their plight the Sydney office of  animal welfare group Voiceless is currently conducting a campaign featuring Hugo Weaver in their video clips Check them out on their website or
Click here for ways to help.
Animals Australia  also has an excellent site.

(The lovely chicken picture at the top is from  Thanks!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Free Tibet

It is Tibetan New Year on Wednesday, the 22nd. but will it be a happy one for Tibetans?

At present it looks doubtful. Another monk burned himself two days ago, the third in the last few days and and the 22nd. in the past year. So far this has only resulted in further repression from Chinese authorities. It is a shame that Tibetan Buddhists are so peace - loving and killing themselves to try to save their beliefs and unique culture.They should take a leaf out of the books of their Korean counterparts who, despite being Buddhist, are allowed take up arms for a just cause. This has been going on for over fifty years, but has reached new levels of intensity since 2008 when many monks seeking to return to their homeland were brutally killed.

Currently has an enormous international petition going which will be sent to world leaders and the UN. Please sign this now and pass it it on to your friends, colleagues and anyone else you know. It is one of the few things we can do since our governments are beholden to China's economic might. The only others I can think of which we as individuals could do, are to refuse to visit China until this matter is peacefully resolved - we missed a huge opportunity with The Beijing Olympics, and to avoid buying Chinese goods if we can. Click Here to sign.

More details and groups Here

Do it and I promise I won't spam you or preach for at least a week!

Thank you

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Piggies in the Trough cry " Foul"

It would be funny if it wasn't so sad. In the lead article in yesterday's Age, Mike Smith CEO of  ANZ, one of the four big banks in Australia, called for an end to "bank bashing" while announcing a $1.48 billion profit, the last of the four banks to do so, even though they have all shed thousands of jobs and raised interest rates.

He also lashed out at tough new bank regulations being introduced around the world, predicting tough times ahead. Well they certainly will be. Especially for those who have lost their jobs and homes or are facing higher interest payments. We already have the highest interest rates in the world.

Naturally the comments in response to this article were scathing, especially in the light of the enormous salaries paid to Mike Smith and his colleagues.A couple of typical ones follow:
"Give me a break! The sooner consumers/customers can get rid of overpaid pratters (try $10 million per year) like one M Smith the better off we will all be. ANZ (and the other ":big" 3) make the majority of their "super" profits from ordinary mums and dads through housing morgtages. So ANZ likes nothing better than hiking the morgtage rates to keep those huge profits rolling in at the expense of ordinary working-class Aussies trying to make a go of it. -"
Commenter Had Enough Date and time Feb 17, 2012, 05:21PM
"When the banks - including the ANZ - accepted the federal governments deposit guarantee as a safeguard for deposits during the GFC I do not recall the banks disputing the "politics" involved. In accepting this assistance the banks must accept that their antics would be under closer scrutiny. I for one would vote for any political party that introduced a wealth tax on their excessive profits, a job export levy for each job they create in an off shore operation that services the Australian domestic market and promises to establish a government bank to act as a further point of competition. The banks' behaviour in this country is breathtaking for its greed, its arrogance and its total failure to be enterprising.
Now, one of the fat four, decides it is apt to suggest we think about the big picture. Riiiiiight....take our eyes off them for a moment and they will have their hands deeper in our pockets."
Commenter Des Location Sydney Date and time Feb 17, 2012, 01:13PM

"Here's an idea, which will save ANZ 10 million dollars, so it'll help us on mortgages, and save 1000 jobs................................... outsource the CEO to India"
Commenter Guava Location Sydney Date and time Feb 17, 2012, 03:39PM
Mostly such comments reflect the helpless anger being felt by people struggling with mortgage payments, small business owners, or retirees watching their life savings dwindle away. I would say that Mr. Smith and friends are fortunate that bank bashing is confined to verbal outrage here and that most Australians are too busy trying to pay their mortgage, watching sport or just too apathetic to burn and loot.

Nor are these feelings confined to Australia. People have voted with their feet on the Bank of America and there are petitions on the web addressed to bank mangers and governments as far away as Iceland and Scotland to curb excessive greed and corrupt management practices.
Might I suggest that if bank executives wish to win back some trust, goodwill and credibility, they should immediately do as the executives in a large multinational I worked for did in the seventies.To avoid having to sack people during a downturn, they immediately took a 10% pay cut themselves. Perhaps not just politicians, but bank managers should spend a few weeks on the dole or the minimum wage and see how tough it is. How dare someone on $10 million a year suggest Australian wages are too high? Hate to break it to Mr. Smith that they have to be to cover the ridiculous cost of housing and mortgages in this country.

Yet I  do agree with the much maligned Mr. Smith in a way. Yes, we should stop bank bashing and do something about it instead.   Here are a few things you might try.
  • Call for a tax on outsourcing. If we keep doing this, of course our economies will continue to contract, imposing more pain on everyone else.
  • Ask governments to set limits on corporate salaries
  • Vote with your feet as many Americans have by moving your accounts to building societies and co -operatives which operate for the benefit of members rather than shareholders. By the way, whatever happened to the people's bank owned by the Government,which used to keep the other three in line?
  • Sign some of the petitions currently in circulation and ask your friends to do likewise or start your own. A few are listed below
Here is a typical petition directed at the UK Government:

We don't want to bail out the banks.

The banks are private companies who pay themselves massive bonuses on top of the huge salaries they receive.  At the same time they are taking taxpayers money to pay off their debts.   None of the bankers have been prosecuted over the collapse of the financial industry even though it was caused by massive fraud.
Because of their criminal and irresponsible behaviour thousands of people have lost their homes, their jobs and their standard of living.  If these austerity measures continue thousands more people will join them.
Debt is being redistributed from the poor to the rich, its not fair, its not acceptable and we have had enough. 

Read more on the site and if you agree, sign it, especially if you live in the UK.

The ones below are mainly for the USA.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Onya, Adele!

Adele at the 2012 Grammy Awards where she took out the awards in six categories

I really, really wanted to send a Valentine to Adele, not just for her fabulous singing or for winning all those awards, but also for taking on Karl Largerfeld and his ilk. When criticised by Lagerfeld about her weight she responded by saying that she was " proud of her body because she represents the everywoman."
"I've never wanted to look like models on the cover of magazines. I represent the majority of women and I'm very proud of that," she told People magazine.

Real women, curvy women everywhere should be eternally grateful for that.

And, while I am doing a bit of Fashion bashing, I also applaud the article in this week's National Times

Sexed up tween advertising shows fashion needs to grow up

Emma Rush and Caroline Norma
February 16, 2012
 "The 'sexualisation' of girls for the purpose of selling products has been condemned worldwide for several years now as a form of 'corporate paedophilia.'" 

 "The 'sexualisation' of girls for the purpose of selling products has been condemned worldwide for several years now as a form of 'corporate paedophilia.'"
'Corporate paedophilia' is a worrying global trend on the rise.

Later:.... I' ve just looked at the online catalogue with its videos and don't find the images particularly pornographic - certainly nowhere near as bad as some earlier Calvin Klein ads. However, I have to agree with one of the commentators that what is wrong with these videos is that they are
".... highly objectionable, obnoxious and distasteful in their vapid narcissism. I agree with an above comment suggesting that this is more an outcome of our consumerist world. More fodder to promote rampant and desperate consumerism in this demographic.
Clearly, the actual clothing is not the intended as the focus. It is just another medium that reinforces in youth culture, self-obsession, shallowness and the pursuit of unachievable and empty objectives."
Hear! Hear! DJM of Sydney (posted Feb 16,2012 10:40AM

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Shame in Spain

Yes, I know it's shocking, but perhaps shock and outrage are necessary to hasten change

This is one of the dogs a friend tried to save last year. She had gone to Spain to work on her doctoral thesis but found herself totally traumatised and caught  up with rescue work. She asked me afterwards if I knew anyone who could do something about it. Although I contacted a few organisations at the time, nothing much came of it. Yesterday when I was looking for her email address to send her a Valentine's card, I came across this picture that I hadn't noticed before. As I have since had contact with other concerned people and organisations who really are doing something about it, I will pass these on as a matter of urgency.

Perhaps one of the most eloquent and active is Beryl Brennan who worked for BBC regional radio in Manchester and for local radio in Suffolk before retiring to rural France in 2002.  Having acquired her first stray greyhound while still in Suffolk, she has been involved with rescue work in Spain ever since. She has two websites largely devoted to Spain's unique hunting dogs - the galgos and podencos and has recently written a book about the appalling treatment of galgos once the hunt is over. Her sites list many other concerned groups and ways to help, from lobbying local councils directly (their addresses are listed) to close the many "killing stations,"  to how to adopt these dogs abroad. She also currently has a petition going to the European Commission which I would urge all dog lovers and those concerned about the welfare of animals to sign. As Beryl puts it:
“We really have to all expose the vile treatment of animals in Spain, not just dogs but all the animals which are treated as though life has no value. We must all pull together in raising our voices and letting Spain know that their behaviour will not be accepted. It claims it is a part of civilised Europe..............ha! “

Add your voice here.

Now I am not much of a doggie person these days  - too many committments, concerns about the impact on our wildlife, appalled at the enormous amounts of money being spent on ridiculous things like gourmet pet food, dog treats and diamante collars, when there are so many other issues to get worked up about and it's not as if we don't have abuses in our own backyard - the abattoirs, the live export trade, rodeos, the treatment of factory farm animals and too many people who think animals are on earth for our sport and amusement- but everywhere - in Spain too - there are also many people who believe that it is time for a more ethical approach to our next of kin, whether at home or abroad, especially as there is more and more evidence from science that they are thinking and feeling beings, not just inanimate objects for our consumption and pleasure.

Although the Orca Slavery Case against Seaworld in San Diego was thrown out of Court, it wasn’t that long ago that we thought about humans in the same way. Likewise, we thought it was fun to watch public hangings and dismemberments or the insane being dragged through the streets for the amusement of passersby.  I want to believe that we have collectively moved on from there.

Other Places and Other Animals
We hear similar stories of cruelty in the Philippines, about Greece and China and yes, there is still dog fighting and cockfighting in Bali, dog -eating in Korea, where live dogs are beaten with sticks to make the meat tender, despite this being banned in 1989. There is also still bullfighting in Spain, cows being mistreated in India  for religious purposes, likewise pigs in Vietnam and you can sign petitions about all of these too, but Spain has pretensions of being civilized and part of Europe, so I believe that is a good place to start. Criticising the cultural practices of other countries is always risky and I know we can't stop all forms of abuse, but we can try to stop the worst evils and the more frivolous forms of exploitation. As it says on  the website of  International Aid for Korean Animals:
"The greatness of a nation and it's moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated "  -Mahatma Ghandi

Farm animals really deserve a separate chapter, but it is good to see McDonalds, "the world's fourth largest employer" responding to public pressure by phasing out the use of eggs from caged hens and the use of pork from crated sows. It is already setting an example to other fast food outlets.

By the time you read this, some petitions will have closed, but there are always others. Just click under "Animals" on the Care2  website and you will find more than enough horror stories to go on with. Other ways to help are as diverse as making jackets for galgos - they really feel the cold, or going to see the Aussie movie Red Dog, by director Nelson Woss. Not only has it had excellent reviews and is a heartwarming story about animals, but proceeds from international premieres go to animal welfare organisations in that country.

 If you would like a more meaningful holiday in Spain, you may want to help out with dog rescue of work in  the shelters. Read about it on Beryl Brennan's websites.She is also active on other issues such as bullfighting.