Wednesday, November 22, 2006

knee surgery

Tomorrow I go into hospital in Sydney for knee surgery. I'm having both knees replaced and while I don't look forward to the pain of it all I do look forward to the time when I can once again be pain free as I walk, climb stairs, garden, go walking, etc. These last few years I've experienced a very significant decline in mobility... and, oh my, how painful it's been.

I enjoyed the following cartoon and want to share it with you...









My quack is definitely better than this one!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Mountain view near Mae Sai, Northern Thailand


Originally uploaded by bhojman.

Yesterday afternoon a friend and I took a drive from Mae Sai up through the mountains to Doi Tung. The scenery was spectacular. We went a bit late in the day so we lost light quite quickly. However, the shades of the evening colour in the mountains was quite lovely.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Burma leader's lavish lifestyle

There's a must see video currently on YouTube showing 10 mins of the July wedding of Than Shwe's daughter in July. The lavishness of the event is in stark contrast to the poverty and suffering being endured by most of the country. If it's true the couple received $5o million worth of wedding gifts then I am truly distressed.n Most do not earn enough to even feed their families, minority groups are continually on the run from the Burmese military, their crops and homes destroyed, their women raped and many forced into slave labour to build roads or be porters for the military.

See the movie at: Burma's "Royal" Wedding

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Burma leader's lavish lifestyle aired


A video of the wedding of the daughter of Burma's military leader Than Shwe has appeared on the internet, giving a rare glimpse into a lavish lifestyle.

Thandar Shwe and army major Zaw Phyo Win actually married in July, but the video has only recently come to light.

In one 10-minute clip, now on the internet site YouTube, the couple pour large quantities of champagne and stand before an ornate, golden bridal bed.

Thandar Shwe is shown draped in what appear to be expensive jewels.

The newly-weds were reportedly given $50m-worth of wedding gifts, including, cars jewellery and houses.

Most Burmese will not see the video, since internet use inside the repressive country is restricted.

But some of those who have seen the video, both inside and outside Burma, viewed the wedding as a tasteless extravagance in an otherwise poverty-stricken nation.

One local reporter told a Thai newspaper that people were asking themselves where the money came from.

"It's outrageous, just outrageous, especially when you consider that most Burmese live in extreme poverty," Aung Zaw, the editor of Irrawaddy, a publication run by Burmese journalists in exile, told Reuters news agency.

Than Shwe himself is seen in the video, walking stiffly at his daughter's side in traditional Burmese dress - a rare glimpse of him out of military uniform.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Security gone amok!

While I appreciate the careful security that is being carried out at airports around the world, it does run amok occasionally. The following article is one such occasion. It's probably a miracle the guy didn't die. I hope Qantas not only apologises but also provides for the medical expenses that resulted.

Security restrictions are applied in rather haphazardly (if at all) in many places and then are over the top in others. While in US recently I fly from one city to another without my id ever being checked... not once was I asked for it. Not only that but carryon bags just went through the system without question about fluids of any kind. On the return journey the security was over the top... everything was checked and I was not allowed to take on board my bottle of water from which I was obviously drinking. No beverages were served on the flight as it was bumpy all the way... I was already rather dehydrated and got more so... Add to that the trip messed with my head and inner ears and I ended up needing to go see an osteopath which cost me $300. Not sure how much lack of fluids contributed but my suspicion is that they contributed quite a lot.

I'm all for the security but surely there are better ways to do it?

Qantas apologises over insulin incident - Travel - smh.com.au

Qantas has apologised to a diabetic who fell into a coma after airport staff refused to let him take his insulin on board a flight from Auckland to Christchurch.

The New Zealand Herald reported today Tui Russell, a 43-year-old Auckland chef, was told by check-in staff at Auckland last month he could not take the clearly-labelled medication on board because it was dangerous.

He had a severe attack on the flight and was hospitalised for two weeks after falling into a coma shortly before landing at Christchurch Airport.

Qantas yesterday admitted Mr Russell was "wrongly advised" and apologised, saying passengers were permitted to take essential medication and prescriptions on board in their hand luggage.

Even at the height of the furore over the alleged bomb plot in Britain in August, when liquids such as face creams and sports drinks were banned for international flights, passengers were still allowed to carry on essential non-prescription medicines, including insulin.

Mr Russell told the New Zealand Herald Qantas had offered him a free return flight from Auckland to Christchurch, but he also wanted help from the airline to recover $500 in hospital and medication bills.

NZPA

Monday, October 30, 2006

Gay sex forces closure of store toilets

This is disgusting. Now public toilets are no longer safe places... they've become the haunt of gays on the prowl for sex in a public place. Their sexual needs must be so overpowering if they have to resort to having sex like this... how demeaning of our humanity. It sounds like the they are possessed by it rather than it being under their control.

Gay sex forces closure of store toilets - National - smh.com.au

The closure of customer toilets in a Myer store due to rampant homosexual activity has exposed a massive list of venues being used by members of a gay website as hook-up points.

Among the places listed as meeting spots for men "cruising for sex", on squirt.org, is the Royal Australian Air Force's Richmond base and Sydney Opera House's toilets.

Management at Myer's Sydney city store in Pitt Street were forced to close its level one toilet to the public because homosexuals were using the facility as a meeting point, often having sex in full view of other horrified users.

A Myer spokesman, Mark West, confirmed he had heard that the retailer had been mentioned on squirt.org, which men used to arrange meetings at the toilet, and one month ago the store's management decided to make it a staff-only facility.

The website claims to list more than 15,000 locations around Australia "where gay and bisexual guys meet for sex" and still has the Myer city store's toilet listed as a meeting place. A search of the site yielded hundreds of well-known Sydney buildings, parks and beaches.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Defence said she would look into the matter after being told about the RAAF listing, and possibly make a comment by 5pm.

A Myer staff member who spoke to smh.com.au said she had seen men running out of the toilet alerting employees about homosexual activity, while others had complained about being propositioned.

"I wouldn't let my friend's young son go in there, no way. I was really worried about his safety," she said. "There were men going in and out all the time. You'd see them come out, and say 'Woops, I forgot my mobile or wallet', and then go back in. I'd see men sitting on the chair near the toilet just waiting.

"It's been happening for years. I know they were making plans on a website to meet here."

A security guard in the store said the toilet had to be closed because "we had problems with people in there ... there were safety issues". Asked if the problem was due to men using the toilet as a hook-up point, he replied: "The whole city has got that problem."

Mr West said: "There has been a range of security concerns surrounding that toilet and we have closed it pending a review. There were some customer concerns about anti-social activity in there. Ideally we wouldn't have had to close it; it is a temporary measure.

"We are reviewing security, there is certainly no risk for customers."

Other prominent places used by subscribers of the website include the toilets of Westfield stores and Marrickville Metro, the library at the University of NSW, various Fitness First gyms, and Bankstown Airport's rest area.

Comment is awaited from various Fitness First gyms and Westfield stores.

Another is the Crows Nest Community Centre, which it seems is extremely popular, with 100 comments posted from the website's users regarding the site. The centre's chief executive officer, Michelle Boston, was unaware of any incidents in the listed ground floor toilets, and was appalled when told by smh.com.au.

"This is awful," she said. "We have so many vulnerable people that come here."

Within 30 minutes of being informed, Ms Boston phoned smh.com.au back and said: "I have taken immediate action. All toilets are now locked. People will have to report to reception to get a key. All children who use the facility will have to be accompanied by a parent. We care about our community and do not want them put at risk."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Thailand's new Suvarnabhumi Airport


Suvarnabhumi Airport #3 - one of the huge halls, like a zeppelin hanger
Originally uploaded by bhojman.

I just had to good fortune to come through Thailand's new airport. It is truly an awesomely huge structure despite the teething troubles they've had since it's opening on Thursday. Everything is new, clean, glitzy! It is light and airy and feels very spacious...

I spent several hours up on the 4th floor where there are a lot of shops. They are all still settling in and fixing stuff that doesn't yet work properly.

The biggest lack was places to sit. If you weren't spending money at a food shop then there were no chairs to be had anywhere. I went looking for somewhere to sit and could only find the cement base around the fake palm trees down on the 2nd floor. I think there were plenty of seats in the gate areas.

Once the wrinkles are ironed out I think it might be a rather fun place to travel through.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Film on Christian children's camp

Not sure what to make of this. I'm all for kids praying as they don't have the hangups we adults do. This idea of terrorists for God doesn't sit well. Jesus instructed his people to love our enemies and to do good to those who hate us. Is this lady encouraging that? I don't know. I probably should see the film before I make a judgement. But I am concerned that it will bring Christianity into disrepute, yet again...

Film on Christian children's camp has cross to bear - World - smh.com.au

TWO-YEAR-OLD Ivy's grandfather had serious eye problems, diagnosed as a detached retina. He had surgery, but despite doctors saying the procedure went well, his eyes did not improve.

One day, after a visit to Ivy, he left. When his granddaughter realised he was gone, she ran after him down the street. "Grandpa! Grandpa! Wait I have to do something," she yelled.

He knelt down and said: "What do you have to do?"

"I have to kiss your eyes," she said, and with that she removed his glasses and kissed each one of his eyes and said, "Jesus", then put his glasses back on.

Within a week, grandpa's eyes were totally healed and he was able to go back to work.

This story, and many more like it, are on Becky Fischer's website under the title "Peewee Prophets".

Fischer runs an organisation called Kids in Ministry. She is the central character in a new documentary which raises uncomfortable questions about religious education and politics in the United States.

Jesus Camp is the story of three children, Rachel, now 10, Levi, now 13, and Tory, now 11, and the summer camp they attended last year.

Becky Fischer enlists a group of children as young as six as Christian soldiers in the service of God, as they weep, speak in tongues, collapse and writhe on the floor and find the power of enlightenment.

At one stage Fischer warns the children against Harry Potter. Warlocks, she says sternly, are enemies of God. If Harry Potter had been around in the time of the Old Testament, he would have been put to death.

She frequently uses war terminology, but says it is about a spiritual warfare, not one with guns and other weapons.

On her website, she answers her own questions, such as "Are you raising up Christian terrorists or another Hitler Youth Movement?" and "You are charismatic. Do you represent all evangelical Christians?"

She says: "Christians do believe they are in a cultural war for the lives and souls of people worldwide, and particularly for the minds and hearts of our children and youth."

In the US, the film has been rated PG-13, which means it is recommended that the three children should not see themselves on film. Perhaps the film classification board was concerned about young people being impressionable. The three young stars of the documentary, who attend the camp, are all from evangelical homes in Missouri.

...


Thai army jittery as it moves to quell unrest

Strange events in a peaceful area of Thailand. Looks like someone might be stirring up trouble over the coup. I hope this does not spread and cause more than just a few burnt buildings. Thailand needs to move on... get a new interim government installed and prepare for its new constitution and general elections.

Thai army jittery as it moves to quell unrest - World - smh.com.au

AS INVESTIGATORS pick through the embers at five smouldering schools in central Thailand, the military coup leaders have tightened restrictions on community radio stations to ensure their message is the only one rural Thailand receives.

The army is unsettled by the co-ordinated attack on five remote schools in a sleepy, conservative farming province five hours' drive north of Bangkok with no history of political unrest.

The pragmatic locals know trouble when they see it. With soldiers looking on, the villagers laid flowers amid the still smoking ruins of Baan Chantima school, in Moo 3 village on Thursday, and cursed those who brought politics to their doors.

Initially, the military blamed tensions between teachers, but this has been quickly dismissed. The most likely scenario - an unsettling conclusion for the generals - is that the schools represent the first aggressive opposition to the coup on September 19.

The military has called in Bangkok's Central Institute for Forensic Science to co-ordinate with forensic police. A third army investigation is also under way.

"It is a challenge to the coup people and it is a stronghold for [deposed leader Thaksin Shinawatra's party] Thai Rak Thai," said one man at burnt-out Baan Chantima school who did not wish to be named.

There were more valuable targets to the north, he said on Thursday, such as the heavily armed 3rd Army Command at Phitsanulok, and oilwells. "Perhaps the event took place here because no one would expect it."

It seems an odd place to start a counter-revolution. Kampang Phet province is a Thaksin stronghold, but the rice and sugar-cane growing province is better known for its bird flu outbreaks than revolutionary activity.

....

Baan Chantima school was one of five schools in three districts torched by arsonists. In each case a wooden school building was targeted and the concrete buildings left alone. Two were completely gutted and three partially burnt.

Burning schools are a familiar sight in southern Thailand but are unheard of in central and northern Thailand. "It has never happened before in the nine years I have lived here," said Piyarat Wongmanee, 36, who teaches sixth grade at Baan Chantima.

"Personally, I don't feel like it's the same as the south. It's very peaceful here, nothing like this has ever happened before."

Police Lieutenant-General Somchai Chalermsooksant, the deputy director of the forensic institute, said these attacks were different from the south. "In the south they use branches, tie it with soaked cloth, light it and throw."

The villagers in this remote district now have one thing in common with the south: soldiers on their streets who say they are there to reassure locals that they are still safe.

"Soldiers never visit this place, this is more a police dominance area," one villager said. "People trust the police more than the military here."


Friday, September 29, 2006

Hair Trade !!

I've never thought about hair being a commodity to be traded at any significant level... but apparently it is. I wonder what several tons of the stuff looks like??

Hair Trade Expands into Bangladesh (Burma/Arakan News)
Hair traders from Arakan State have turned to Bangladesh markets to buy hair from local Bangladeshis for cheaper prices since hair has become a rare commodity in Arakan State, following the exporting of several tons of hair to China a few years back, a local trader reports.

"We are now purchasing several tons of hair from local Bangladesh traders with cheaper prices, but the quality is very poor and very different than hair from Burma," said a hair trader.

In Bangladesh, Arakanese traders can by a kilogram of hair for TK 1,300, and a mung, which is 40 kilograms, for TK 5,200. Strands of hair are TK 2,700 per kilogram and TK 18,000 per mung.

In the hair markets of Rangoon and Mandalay, a viss, or 2.5 kilograms, is 60,000 kyat, while the highest quality hair is priced around 155,000 kyat. After purchase, hair traders from Burma send the hair to the Chinese markets of Yunnan Province.
...

The land down under going under

Now this is something weird... It's what Oz would look like if seas were to rise 300 metres due to global warming. Yikes, my home town is well and truly drowned, as is Sydney and a lot of my favourite places.

I find it rather telling to see something like this and realise that this could be where we're heading if the global warming trend doesn't slow down/stop. It might not be in my lifetime but it would be in someone's lifetime. Not a nice thought... especially given that the whole earth would experience similar drownings of the land. What would this mean for all the people in the world at that time? Where would they fit? It'd be pretty crowded, I guess.

The land down under going under - National - smh.com.au

IT IS Australia as we have never seen it before - a dry brown land transformed into an archipelago of disparate islands.

The six images, a fusion of art and science, portray what would happen if sea levels rose by up to 500 metres and the waters inundated the lower-lying regions.

The series is part of an exhibition, Australia from Space, created by a US geographer, Stephen Young, based on images of the continent captured by astronauts and orbiting satellites.

Professor Young, of Salem State College, near Boston, said remote sensing could now reveal extraordinary details about the land, oceans, atmosphere, ice caps and cities.

The starting point of his vision of Australia gradually disappearing was radar information from the space shuttle. Using the map of the rise and fall of the landscape this provided, he calculated how the continent would appear after each additional sea level rise of 100 metres. During the last ice age, about 20,000 years ago, sea levels were 100 metres lower than today.

Extreme global warming might eventually lead to another rise of 100 metres, he said. "And on a longer geological time scale the indundations shown are not out of the realm of possibility."

But his intention in producing the set of images - one of 80 in the exhibition - was not to warn of the dangers of climate change. "The piece was created purely for the beauty of seeing Australia in a different way."

Professor Young began using satellite imagery for his research on changes in vegetation more than a decade ago. "I would often come across truly awe-inspiring images of the Earth."

He hung some on his office walls, and found they were very popular with students. Since 1998 his images of landforms, weather patterns, pollution, oceans and bushfires have been shown in galleries around the world to try to inspire "a sense of wonder and curiosity" about the planet.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its last report predicted sea levels would rise by between nine centimetres and 88 centimetres by 2100.

The two-day exhibition, a collaboration with the NSW Geographical Society, opens today at the University of NSW.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The best breads in town at Kasem's store in Chiang Mai


The best breads in town at Kasem's store in Chiang Mai
Originally uploaded by bhojman.

Kasem's store was just about the very first store in Chiang Mai that started to cater to tastes of foreigners. They have the best breads! They even have really good bagels... not the soft cakey fluffy things you sometimes find being passed off as bagels... but the nice dense variety. Mmmmm are they ever good, and especially slathered in butter and vegemite!

Harbour bridge


P7317570, originally uploaded by bhojman.

It's not often I'm a passenger and able to take photos... but I had a great time one day with a friend and captured this view crossing Sydney's harbour bridge.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Thai coup leaders claim endorsement by king

If true that the King has endorsed the new government then things will continue to be calm here.

For the first time today I saw a military presence in Chiang Mai. They seemed to be guarding a school, and had lots of children peering into the interior of a troop cariier. Some Thais were taking photos of the soldiers who were holding their weapons in a vigilant yet relaxed manner.

Life goes on here as usual!

Coup leaders claim endorsement by king - World - smh.com.au

The leaders of Thailand's coup claim that the king has endorsed their new military government, effectively sealing the deal on the most peaceful coup in Thai history.

In the 48 hours since the tanks rolled onto the streets of Bangkok and deposed caretaker prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, not one shot has been reported.

A spokesman for army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin and other generals in a so-called "Council for Democratic Reform" announced on national television overnight that King Bhumibol Adulyadej had endorsed their actions by royal proclamation.

Mr Thaksin may still have a large supporter base outside Bangkok, but the king receives an almost spiritual reverence from all Thais so if His Majesty thinks it is the best way forward, Thais will follow.

Now that the military has royal backing, the chances of a counter coup appear to have evaporated.

...


Classic photo of a bloodless coup!

Coups in Thailand tend to be fairly bloodless. The worst that occurred since I've been here was in 1992 when the then Thai leader Suchinda sought to crush a popular uprising against his illegal leadership which he gained through a coup the year before. In that 1992 event there were only 50 "official" deaths though many hundreds of people disappeared forever.

This one has been bloodless and I pray continues to be so. Here's a great photo that says it all... not fear but perhaps a sense of adventure and certainly an event to be celebrated and photographed for posterity.

Ousted and out of touch, PM says he won't give in - World - smh.com.au


THAILAND's caretaker prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, has not relinquished his powers and is not seeking asylum following the bloodless military coup in his country, his advisers said last night. ...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Muslim animosity strange: Howard

I have to say that I agree with John Howard. The angry reaction of Muslims seems so out of all proportionate to the so called offence. It's almost as if they are looking for ways to pick a fight and to then justify a war. It's madness.

I don't know what the Pope thinks about the Muslims but he is entitled to say whatever he feels is appropriate to the situation. What was the context of the quote? It was a scholarly lecture, for crying out loud! Why is it that the Mulims, and especially the militants are so insecure about themselves and their religion.

They bash Christians. They bash Jews. They probably bash others as well... But do these rise up in anger and fury? Not at all. We might not like the things they call us but they have a right to free speech just as I do.

My freedom of speech does need to be tempered with love, and not driven by hatred. I don't hate Muslims. Those I know are wonderful people and I'm delighted to know them and to count them as friends.

There seems to be something very perverse afoot in the world today. It does not feel good. It's divisive and foments hatred and violence. It's time to stop it before whatever it is takes over the world to all of our destruction.

Muslim animosity strange: Howard - World - smh.com.au

THE Islamic world's angry reaction to comments by Pope Benedict was disproportionate, strange and disappointing, the Prime Minister, John Howard, said last night.

"We should take a deep breath on these things and all have a sense of proportion. We seem to be living in a world where people have no sense of proportion," he told the ABC's Lateline program. "OK, they don't like what was said. I'm sure the Pope was not intending to attack Islam. He's expressed his regrets, and I think we should really move on."

As shadowy threats against the Pope and Christianity multiplied, the Vatican dispatched diplomats to capitals of Muslim states to contain anger. Police patrols were increased around hundreds of churches and mosques in many Western countries.

Despite a personal and public apology from Benedict on Sunday, protests continued on Monday in the Muslim world. Governments everywhere recalled that the row early this year over Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad flared unexpectedly into violence around the world.

In in some countries, conciliatory voices were emerging, but many Muslims said they remained dissatisfied with Benedict's statement because he said he was "deeply sorry" for the outrage his speech provoked but did not apologise for the remarks themselves.

In his speech last week to academics at Germany's University of Regensburg, where Benedict was a theology professor in the 1970s, the Pope quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who regarded some of the prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman".

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, alleged the Pope's speech was part of a "crusade against Islam" launched by the US President, George Bush. On the sidelines of a United Nations meeting in New York, Mr Bush told the Malaysian Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, that Benedict's apology was sincere.

Mr Badawi agreed but cautioned the Pope to avoid making further divisive statements. "I think we can accept it, and we hope there are no more statements that can anger the Muslims," Mr Badawi said.

The Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, expressed respect for Benedict and acknowledged the pontiff had "modified" his remarks. But Morocco's King Mohammed sent a letter to the Vatican to protest against the comments.

Angry protests continued on Monday in India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Iraq. Most of the demonstrations have remained fairly small. Guards have been posted at Christian churches in Egypt and in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where several were firebombed.

Websites linked with Muslim extremists have posted a batch of threats against the Pope and the Vatican. In Britain, police visited clergy in the London area and were asked to contact their local stations urgently to discuss security.

An Italian nun was shot and killed on Sunday in Somalia after a radical cleric there condemned the Pope's speech. An Italian diplomat and his wife were killed on Monday in Morocco - a country that recalled its ambassador to the Holy See in protest - but Italian officials said the case appeared to be a robbery gone wrong.

The Pope is next expected to address pilgrims during his weekly audience at St Peter's Square tomorrow. The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano published the Pope's expression of regret on its front page Monday in Italian, French, English and - highlighted in the centre - Arabic. Vatican officials confirmed that plans for Benedict's trip to Turkey, scheduled for late November, remained on track.

The Turkish commentator Selcuk Gultasli said the words of regret from the Vatican were encouraging, and Muslims who compared the Pope to Hitler or who attacked churches and shot at nuns were an embarrassment. The chasm between the Islamic world and the West was larger than ever.

Coup in Thailand!!

Well, it's finally happened! The army have taken control of Thailand in a bloodless and shotless coup... I was here for one in Sept 1985 when I first came, then for another kerfuffle a few years later and here I am again. There's obviously been a lot of dissatisfaction with Thaksin's stubbornness in holding onto power.

The TV here is only broadcasting the King's song. The Thai papers on the internet are not accessible. Schools are closed as are banks and the stock exchange. However, mobile phone networks are still working okay. And, so is the internet... for which I am extremely grateful.

The military who've taken control are wearing a yellow ribbon in honour of the king... and hopefully this means they really have Thailand's welfare at heart. Must away to do other things today.

God bless Thailand's king Bhumipol!

Coup: Thai army in control - World - smh.com.au


The Thai army took control of Bangkok without a shot being fired, dismissed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, revoked the constitution and promised a swift return to democracy after political reforms.

A government spokesman at the United Nations with Thaksin telephoned a Thai television station to announce a state of emergency in an apparent attempt to head off the coup. He said the army could not succeed and "we're in control".

But tanks and troops took over Government House in Thailand's first coup in 15 years and a coup spokesman said the army and police were in control of the capital and surrounding provinces.

Armoured vehicles and soldiers took up position on many street corners, but life in most of Bangkok continued much as usual with traffic moving through rain drenched streets and the airport operating normally.

The seizure would be temporary and power "returned to the people" soon, retired Lieutenant-General Prapart Sakuntanak said on all Thai television channels.

Foreign news channels, including CNN and the BBC, were cut off.

The army told all soldiers to report to base and banned unauthorised troop movements, suggesting the military leadership was worried that Thaksin loyalists in the armed forces might attempt a counter-coup.

Prapart said the armed forces and police had set up a body to decide on political reforms, ousting billionaire telecoms tycoon Thaksin in the midst of a political crisis stemming from accusations he had subverted Thailand's 74-year-old democracy.

...

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Lines in the sand repost...

Maybe it would be good to be reminded of an Oliphant cartoon which I posted September 3. This is what's at issue with all the jumping up and down the Muslims do whenever anyone says or does anything to which they take exception. The non-Muslim world is being forced to keep taking steps backwards. If we're not careful there'll come a time when our backs are up against the wall and there's no where to go.

The Pope politcally incorrect... good on him!

The Pope spoke... and, the Muslim world is all stirred up, the fires probably fanned by the same people who fanned the flames after the Danish cartoons.

Why can't he say what he said? If the comments had been about Jews or Chtistians there'd be no reaction whatever. The whole business of politcal correctness is a bunch of hogs wash based on lies. There may have been some value to it once but the whole thing has run amok... and free speech is being curtailed. Even comedians are having to watch what they say!

This has a rather nasty resemblance to what happened during the nazi era. No one stood up to Hitler and all his posturing. The West kept drawing a line in the sand... and Hitler kept moving forward. It has a similar feel now. Then we had WW2! Where are we heading now?

I've come across some interesting work by Pierre Rehov who has been documenting the suicide bombers, trying to understand why they do what they do and why their families are so proud of them and their "sacrifice". Check out the July 27, 2005 Interview with Pierre Rehov, documentary filmmaker, on psychology behind suicide bombings. Also, his website on the Middle East Documentaries that he's made. He has some chilling insights.

I hope the Pope stands his ground!

Malaysia demands apology - World - smh.com.au
Malaysia's prime minister has demanded Pope Benedict XVI apologise and withdraw his recent remarks about Muslim holy war, the national news agency reported today.

"The Pope must not take lightly the spread of outrage that has been created,'' the Bernama news agency quoted Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as saying. ``The Vatican must now take full responsibility over the matter and carry out the necessary steps to rectify the mistake.''

Muslims from across the world deplored remarks made by Pope Benedict on Islam and many of them said the Catholic leader should apologise in person to dispel the impression he had joined a campaign against their religion.

Influential Turkish legislator Salih Kapusuz fired back today, saying the Pope would go down in history ``in the same category as leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini.''

``He has the dark mentality that comes from the darkness of the Middle Ages,'' Kapusuz said.

Pakistan's legislature condemned Benedict, as did Lebanon's top Shi'ite cleric. "We demand that he apologises personally, and not through (Vatican) sources, to all Muslims for such a wrong interpretation," said Beirut-based Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.
In Gaza, angry Palestinians marched through the streets. "This is another Crusader war against the Arab and Muslim world," said Hamas official Ismail Radwan as he addressed some 5,000 chanting demonstrators.

And in Cairo, Egyptian demonstrators chanted, ``Down with the Pope!''

In Britain, the head of the Muslim Council urged Benedict to ``speak with responsibility and repudiate the Byzantine emperor's views.''

And in Iraq, warring Shi'ites and Sunnis paused from slaughtering each other to condemn the Pope. "This is the second time such an offence has been give before Ramadan," said Sheikh Salah al-Ubeidi, one of the aides to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, referring to last year's publication of cartoons in a Danish paper sparking violent Muslim protests around the world.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the Arab world's largest group of political Islamists, demanded an apology from the Pope and called on the governments of Islamic countries to break relations with the Vatican if he does not make one.

The Sheikh of al-Azhar, one of the Sunni Muslim world's most prestigious seats of religious studies, said: "The Azhar asserts that these statements indicate clear ignorance of Islam.

"They attribute to Islam what it does not contain," the sheikh, Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, said in a statement on MENA.

Muslim leaders in New York demanded the Pope apologise.

``He is declaring war by his words,'' said Imam Kadhim Mohamad at the Ahlul Bayt Mosque on Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn. ``He should either apologise or at least prove to the people that what he says is true. Otherwise, he should say nothing.''

more...

Friday, September 15, 2006

Call for frequent flyers to skip airport checks

I reckon something like this could be very helpful for those of us who find ourselves to be frequent flyers. I get soooo tired of standing in line waiting to be checked... and then rechecked at the next place... and then rechecked again at the next place. It's not just the standing in line... it's the frustration of feeling that we're all guilty until proven innocent.

There really has to be a better way. I don't know if the suggestion in the following article is the best way to go, but at least it's a starting point for looking for more effecient ways of dealing with ecurity in air travel.

Call for frequent flyers to skip airport checks - National - smh.com.au

FREQUENT-FLYER benefits could extend to passengers being fast-tracked through aviation security, if the head of Sydney Airport gets his way.

Max Moore-Wilton yesterday outlined a two-tier system for airline passengers: one for those known to airlines as regular and safe passengers, and those who are unknown to airlines.

"I see no reason why regular flyers should be treated as if it's the first time they've been to an airport," said Mr Moore-Wilton, chairman of Sydney Airport Corporation.

He said that within two years a frequent flyer's booking could be tested against a database of personal information - if the Federal Government and overseas authorities give the go-ahead.

"When you went to the airport, there'd be a line for known travellers. You wouldn't have to take off your belt or your shoes.

"This is not about profiling Muslims: it's about people opting in to saying you can assess risk."

Mr Moore-Wilton said his cost-cutting and time-saving proposal was akin to random breath testing. "You don't stop everyone, because you know most have not had too much to drink," he said. "We treat everyone as if they're a potential terrorist. It's dumb."

He acknowledged his views might be seen as contrary to Australian sensitivities about discriminatory treatment. "That's a particularly old-fashioned view. We see differentiation in every part of society."

A spokesman for the Transport Minister, Warren Truss, said the proposition had been informally discussed and would be further considered as part of the "constant review of aviation security".

Addressing the Focus on Business conference in Canberra, Mr Moore-Wilton said it was questionable whether the tripling of security costs at Sydney Airport - to $48 million a year - or the $US5 billion annual increase in global aviation security since September 11, 2001 were value for money.

He said balance was needed between security screening and "the relatively free flow of people".

Otherwise, he said, widespread chaos resulted, as it did in Britain with the recent in-flight ban on liquids and gels. "Passengers were standing in line for hours," Mr Moore-Wilton said. "Thousands of bags missed flights … and hundreds of flights were cancelled.

"This is not to say that it is not legitimate to meet the public expectations about security. However, the financial impacts, the assessed risk and the effectiveness of the introduced measures all need to be carefully considered."

He said airport security was "least efficient" in the area of human involvement. "Security is relatively low paid, with relatively low skills. That will have to change to interface with increasingly sophisticated technology."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Lost, twice!!

Some people don't seem to learn from their mistakes... or so it seems with this guy in Central Australia!

He gets himself lost, not once but twice... and in the same area. The heat must have addled his brain!

Lost British tourist found a second time - Breaking News - National - Breaking News
A 50-year-old British tourist missing in bush north of Alice Springs has been found by searchers for the second time in a week.

The man sparked a major air and ground search last Tuesday after he called police on his mobile phone and told them he was lost.

He said he had gone walking on tracks near the Old Telegraph Station on Sunday, September 3 and had become disorientated.

He was eventually found and taken to hospital suffering sunburn and dehydration.

Tuesday at about 12.40pm (CST) the man called police from his mobile phone to say he was lost again in roughly the same area.

He had gone walking around the Old Telegraph Station again and had been lost since Friday.

Police mounted an air and ground search and found him five hours later, about 4.6km north-east of the Telegraph Station.

The tourist - again suffering dehydration - was taken to hospital and is undergoing medical assessment.

© 2006 AAP

More landgrabbing in Burma

The ordinary people in Burma continue to suffer to whims of those in charge. Paddy fields belong to someone, they're not just land laying around waiting to be grabbed by military or civil servants.

The usual role of the military and civil servants is to protect the citizens of the country, not to take advantage of them.

It's time for this sort of behaviour to stop and care about the country and all its people!

Land grabbing for Burma new capital (Democratic Voice of Burma)
A Burmese civil servant admitted that the ruling military government’s plan to make the new administrative capital Kyappyay Naypyidaw populated by allocating 8000 plots of land for new buildings, involved confiscation of lands from local farmers living between Pyinmna and Lewe.
“Yes. There is a plan to allocate plots of land measuring 80x80, 100x100, 120x120 (feet?). The price has not been fixed. They haven’t said it yet,” the civil servant from the capital’s municipal department said. “There are 4000 plots on the way to Lewe and 4000 plots to be created at the areas adjoining the army and civilian lands. Application forms are not sold, but you could apply for them at Naypyidaw Municipal (office).”
When asked who originally owned the lands, the civil servant said: “There are various kinds in this matter. They are paddy fields of the villages. Some of them are paddy fields. I don’t know about that”.
But when asked how many acres of paddy fields had been confiscated, the civil servant refused to answer the question.
According to a local resident in nearby Pyinmana, the majority of the people are neither interested in the government’s project nor applying for the plots.

'Rat's disease' in Thailand's North

I've never heard of leptospirosis or of 'rat's disease'. It does not sound at all pleasant.

There are quite a few mysterious ailments that seem to be connected with tropical areas. Apparently a person can have this particular disease and not show any symptoms... my question in that case is, 'Is it still causing liver and spleen damage?'

'Rat's disease' takes 31 lives in the North (Bangkok Post : General news)
Leptospirosis, also known as "rat's disease," has killed 31 and infected thousands of villagers in flood-hit areas of the North, a senior health official said yesterday.

Disease Control Department chief Thawat Sundarajarn said the disease is spreading in flooded areas of Nan Province, and over 1,400 cases have already been reported in Muang, Pua, Ta Wang Pa and Wiang Sa districts.

"The leptospirosis outbreak is more severe this year due to the long inundation period and a high fatality rate in the North," he said.

The disease is an infection caused by rat urine which contaminates water and wet river banks. The bacteria in the urine does not survive for long in dry conditions and the disease is mostly found in tropical areas such as Thailand, India, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and countries in Latin America.

The epidemic is usually at its peak during the rainy season between August and September and can occur in areas struck by natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes. Humans can contract the disease by either coming into contact with an infected rat or its urine. Dogs, cats, cows and buffaloes can also be carriers of the disease, Dr Thawat said.

Symptoms of the flu-like disease are high fever, muscle pain and red eyes, which eventually leads to liver and spleen failure if left untreated.

Around 350,000-500,000 leptospirosis cases are recorded around the world each year.

In Thailand, where at least 2,000 people get infected each year, most cases are reported in the northeastern and northern provinces. So far, there were more than 13,000 suspected cases in Nan province alone this year, said Dr Thawat.

The country's most severe outbreak of leptospirosis occurred back in 1999 with 14,285 infections and 362 fatalities.

As a precaution, Dr Thawat said people in flooded areas should avoid walking barefoot on damp and wet ground. "You should immediately see a doctor if your foot gets infected in the floods for urgent diagnosis and treatment," he said.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A man of passion on his eternal journey



Steve Irwin, 1962-2006

Steve Irwin (SMH Obituary)

Celebrating the life of Steve Irwin, the following obituary appeared in today's Sydney Morning Herald.

Steve was a passionate man who lived a passionate life and remained true to the ideals he espoused.

May God give comfort to his wife, Terri, and the children, Bindi and Bob, as well as all his close friends and colleagues at Australia Zoo and around the world.

Wildlife warrior took his passion to the world - Obituaries - smh.com.au
Steve Irwin, 1962-2006

Stephen Robert Irwin, killed by a stingray off the Great Barrier Reef last Monday, knew throughout the last decade of his life, when he enjoyed superstardom, that two things were true: he was one miscalculation away from doom; and if such a thing happened, detractors would say: "It was only a matter of time."

But he amounted to far more than that. If he did offend some traditional naturalists - and critics like Germaine Greer - he brought an awareness of wildlife to living rooms throughout the world and imbued in his listeners a respect for all creatures, even those they had been taught to revile.

Born in Essendon, in Melbourne's north-west, Irwin was destined to grow up, as were his sisters Joy and Mandy, in what was from outward appearances a normal family. His father, Bob, was a plumber and his mother, Lyn, a maternity nurse. Irwin loved sport and barracked for the Essendon Bombers in the AFL. The family took holidays and explored parks and creeks. But it was the couple's private passion, wildlife, that instilled itself in the young Steve, who was also to learn quickly that some of those beloved creatures did not necessarily appreciate the attention. When he was four, a cockatoo bit him badly on the nose.

For his sixth birthday, Irwin asked for a snake and his father, an amateur herpetologist, thought that was fair enough. While other children watched The Flintstones, Steve Irwin was catching mice for Fred, a 2.6 metre python.

At seven, he was following his father into the bush, trying to catch snakes as his father did, and barely surviving an attack by a brown snake. Once, having batted poorly in a cricket match, Irwin went looking for lizards, found a red-bellied black snake and thought the best place to transport it home on the bus was in the driver's esky. The driver was not impressed.

In 1970, following their dream, the family moved to Queensland's Sunshine Coast and founded the Beerwah Reptile Park. Lyn filled the house with injured and orphaned native animals, turning her nursing skills to bottle-feeding joeys in home-made pouches that swung from kitchen chairs. Bob taught his son to catch animals being exhibited, including crocodiles. Steve initially helped his father who "jumped" the crocodile. The boy would use his weight to pin the reptile down while his father blindfolded it. Then when Steve was nine, they reversed roles, when the boy jumped a one-metre "freshie".

After completing his schooling at Caloundra State High, Irwin joined the Queensland Government's program of trapping and relocating rogue crocodiles in the state's north. Taking his best friend, a dog called Chilli, a small boat, ropes and nets to trap the crocodiles too big to jump, he worked alone for months on end. He relocated many crocodiles to the property at Beerwah, including Acco, the 1000-kilogram "saltie" that had feasted on cattle for 20 years.

In 1991, Irwin's parents handed over to him the running of the wildlife park and he changed its name to Australia Zoo. He also began the Channel Ten documentary series, Totally Wild, which is still running. The same year he met John Stainton, who was to become his great mate and financial partner. The following year he met Terri Raines, a vet from Oregon who had a keen interest in American wildlife rehabilitation. She asked him whether he had a girlfriend, he said he did and whistled for his Staffordshire bull terrier cross, Sui. Eight months later Steve and Terri married, and invited a camera crew on their honeymoon to film the rescue of a crocodile.

In 1996, with Stainton's backing, Irwin became host of The Crocodile Hunter series, co-starring with Terri and using the services of Sui, and it thrust him into public awareness. He and his wife made more than 100 wildlife documentaries. He appeared to be showing off, almost to be taunting the crocodiles and snakes. He was often bitten, but he had a sense of humour.

Cherrie Bottger, now an executive with Channel Ten, said the first time she went with a crew to produce a segment for Totally Wild at Australia Zoo, she exhibited a phobia about snakes. The idea of a wildlife film producer having such problems sent Irwin into fits of laughter. "But he always made me feel comfortable and instructed the staff to keep the snakes away from me," she said.

Irwin certainly took risks, pushed the boundaries of safety for what he believed in. Terri Irwin once said: "People tune in because they want to see this guy die or get badly hurt. But instead they get a message about wildlife, and they get to see a guy who says, 'Isn't a rattlesnake beautiful?' Who else says that?" And who will now? What Steve Irwin saw as ordinary, most of us would call extraordinary. What Steve saw as awesome was the beauty of creatures others fear - or misunderstand. And Steve devoted his life to conveying his sense of awe to the rest of the world.

Irwin was never inclined to be cautious, or to spare himself. Trevor Long, the marine science director for Sea World, said he was once with Irwin on a boat, catching turtles for the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. Disregarding questions about his safety, Irwin dived and badly fractured a finger. Coming up, he said it was only dislocated and gave it a yank. "You could see the wave of pain go across his face." Long said. "But Steve said, 'I will strap it up', and he did and continued catching turtles for the rest of the day."

Irwin's first child was Bindi Sui, named after Irwin's favourite crocodile, Bindi, and Sui. She was born on July 24, 1998. By 1999, through cable TV series, some 200 million viewers - many of whom were in the US - had been drawn into his private enthusiasm. He had become the new Paul Hogan, the archetypal Australian "good bloke", the de facto ambassador for all that was best in his country.

The environmentalist, Dr David Suzuki, said: "Most academic environmentalists speak as if they have a pole up their behind but Steve Irwin vulgarised environmental issues in the best possible way and so popularised them to the extreme. The environmental world benefited enormously from Steve Irwin because he not only identified threatened species but hugged and kissed them, making the viewers want to save them as well."

Those who preferred the academic refinement of David Attenborough hardly warmed to Irwin, and his detractors had plenty to work on. A son, Robert Clarence, born on December 1 , 2003, was little more than a month old - too weak even to hold up his head - when Irwin took him in one arm into a crocodile pen. With the other arm, Irwin dangled a chicken carcass over the gaping mouth of a large crocodile.

Irwin, with his wife's support, said Bob was in no danger and that each of their children was going to be taught to be "croc savvy". But Irwin barely escaped a charge of child endangerment.

Irwin worked tirelessly to raise public awareness of conservation issues and bought expanses of land in several countries as part of his dream to extend the family legacy with protected parklands around the globe.

He found himself in a further spot of bother when he was filmed too close to Antarctic wildlife. That probably was the problem: he wanted to get too near.

But in April he launched his own conservation organisation, Wildlife Warriors. Its executive director, Michael Hornby, said: "We are now even more committed than ever to carry on what Steve started. Our charter includes buying land, when funds become available, and we will continue the education process he started so well."

At the time of his death, Irwin was shooting material to be used in Bindi Sui's wildlife documentary series for kids. Bindi had been brought up well. Irwin remarked with some pride on Enough Rope, Andrew Denton's ABC TV show, that she had received "her first snakebite". Obviously her father's daughter, she said at age eight that she harboured an ambition to run Australia Zoo.

Malcolm Brown and Wendy Anderson

Forced relocation and land grabbing in central Burma

The iniquitous behaviour of the Burmese military continues. Now they are trying to grab land that does not belong to them... and to force the relocation of those who are the legitimate landowners.

Do they have no conscience at all?

Forced relocation and land grabbing in central Burma (Democratic Voice of Burma)
The authorities of Meikhtila Township in central Burma and regional military officers have ordered local residents of 200 households to move their homes within 21 days from 25 September, on the pain of being prosecuted for encroaching on army-owned lands.

The order was issued on 25 August with the signature of Khin Maung Soe, the township chief administrator, and it was the second time the ‘notice letter’ was issued, a local resident told DVB.

“The ward authority members came to give us that letter, but people from the ward couldn’t accept it. Last time, we accepted it. This time, we told them that we could not accept their letter and sent them back.”

He added that the first notice letter only told residents to move out but they are very incensed by the second as it includes the threats of forced relocation and prosecution. Residents have decided to stay put and local Buddhist monks volunteered to protect them and intercede for them.

The army claims that the land belongs to nearby army-owned textile factory and accused the residents of being squatters. The residents insisted that their land doesn’t belong to the army as they can prove they bought the land with contracts long before the army built the factory.

A similar attempt of land grabbing was made by an army officer some years ago at the same place, but he was told to give up his claim by his superiors after some investigations.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

RIGHTS-BURMA: Ethnic Minorities Starved, Denied Medical Care

The disgraceful behaviour of the Burmese leadership and the military continues. And the suffering of the minority groups escalates. So many have been internally displaced that the numbers border on the unimaginable. Yet, life does go on and the spirit of those on the receiving end has not been broken. Fear abounds but the desire for life and freedom has not been quenched.

RIGHTS-BURMA: Ethnic Minorities Starved, Denied Medical Care
To be a health worker along Burma's eastern borders, home to the Karen and Karenni ethnic communities, is to court death, injury or imprisonment, say doctors working in the area.

Even midwives have not been spared. One in her mid-50s was arrested and tortured, they add.

Such abuse by Burma's military regime on health workers are only part of a grim picture in the border areas that have been laid waste by the junta's policy of crippling the health and food distribution systems where the ethnic minorities live.

This continuing abuse has created a humanitarian crisis that places the Karen and Karenni victims on par with, or even worse than, victims in war-ravaged African countries like Rwanda, Somalia and Sierra Leone, say the doctors who are leading relief efforts inside Burma.

''Maternal mortality rates are higher than in Rwanda,'' Dr. Mahn Mahn said at a news conference here earlier this week. ''The internally displaced people in eastern Burma face a chronic humanitarian crisis.''

''Pregnant women cannot access obstetric emergency services. They cannot even have blood transfusions,'' added Dr. Cynthia Maung. ''Health workers cannot carry medicines to help communities. They cannot be identified as health workers. It is very dangerous for them.''

The doctors who are part of a novel health care service -- the Backpack Health Worker Team (BPHWT) -- made these comments at the launch of the first ever report on the health of internally displaced people (IDPs) in eastern Burma, where Rangoon's troops are locked in a decades-old battle with ethnic rebel groups.

The maternal mortality rates (MMR) among the IDPs is between 1,000 - 1,200 deaths to 100,000 live births, states the 81-page 'Chronic Emergency: Health and Human Rights in Eastern Burma.' The MMR rates in Somalia, by contrast, is 1,100 deaths for every 100,000 live births, is 990 deaths in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and 1,400 deaths in Rwanda.

Read on...

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Parts of ancient wall in Chiang Mai collapse

After a long silence, I'm getting back to blogging... I've been away from Chiang Mai for a couple of months and have just returned. The wet season is well under way and lots of rain has fallen here in the north of Thailand.

The result? Chiang Mai is falling apart! The rain seems to be seeping down into the cracks of some of the ancient structures of the old city causing them to fall apart. Chang Puek gate (white elephant gate) is the latest victim.

Parts of ancient wall in Chiang Mai collapse (Bangkok Post)
Parts of the 700-year-old wall in downtown Chiang Mai collapsed yesterday after heavy downpours. The ancient Chang Phuak Gate, or Gate of the White Elephant, partially collapsed. It forms part of a long ancient wall in the centre of Chiang Mai, surrounded by a moat.
Officials expect further damage to the wall because more cracks have been found. Persistent heavy rain is thought to have seeped through the cracks, weakening the wall's foundations.

The ancient wall dates back to 1276, during the reign of King Mang Rai.

Chiang Mai mayor Boonlert Buranapakorn said officials were preparing to restore the wall.

He also told officials to prevent further damage to other ancient structures in the city, including almost a dozen run-down pagodas. Torrential rain earlier brought down a 505-year-old pagoda in Chiang Mai municipality. Heavy rain has lashed Chiang Mai in the past few weeks. ...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Is Xena our 10th planet?

With the discovery of another celestial body beyond Pluto that also orbits the sun the astronomers are faced with a new dilemma as to what really constitutes a planet, and whether Pluto is really a planet or not, and whether this new found lump of ice is really a planet or something other.

There should be some hot discussions on the topic at a conference starting on Monday.

Khaleej Times Online - Astronomers struggle to define 'planet’ - and perhaps name a new one
Our solar system is suffering an identity crisis.

For decades, it has consisted of nine planets, even as scientists debated whether Pluto really belonged. Then the recent discovery of an object larger and farther away than Pluto threatened to throw this slice of the cosmos into chaos.

Should this newly found icy rock known as “2003 UB313” become the 10th planet? Should Pluto be demoted? And what exactly is a planet, anyway?

Ancient cultures regularly revised their answer to the last question and present-day scientists aren’t much better off: There still is no universal definition of “planet.”

That all could soon change, and with it science textbooks around this planet.

At a 12-day conference beginning Monday, scientists will conduct a galactic census of sorts. Among the possibilities at the meeting of the International Astronomical Union in the Czech Republic capital of Prague: Subtract Pluto or christen one more planet, and possibly dozens more.

“It’s time we have a definition,” said Alan Stern, who heads the Colorado-based space science division of the Southwest Research Institute of San Antonio. “It’s embarrassing to the public that we as astronomers don’t have one.”

The debate intensified last summer when astronomer Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology announced the discovery of a celestial object larger than Pluto. Like Pluto, it is a member of the Kuiper Belt, a mysterious disc-shaped zone beyond Neptune containing thousands of comets and planetary objects. (Brown nicknamed his find “Xena” after a warrior heroine in a cheesy TV series; pending a formal name, it remains 2003 UB313.)

The Hubble Space Telescope measured the bright, rocky object at about 1,490 miles (2,400 kilometers) in diameter, roughly 70 miles (113 kilometers) longer than Pluto. At 9 billion miles (14.5 billion kilometers) from the sun, it is the farthest known object in the solar system.

The discovery stoked the planet debate that had been simmering since Pluto was spotted in 1930.

Some argue that if Pluto kept its crown, Xena should be the 10th planet by default - it is, after all, bigger. Purists maintain that there are only eight traditional planets, and insist Pluto and Xena are poseurs.

“Life would be simpler if we went back to eight planets,” said Brian Marsden, director of the astronomical union’s Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Still others suggest a compromise that would divide planets into categories based on composition, similar to the way stars and galaxies are classified. Jupiter could be labeled a “gas giant planet,” while Pluto and Xena could be “ice dwarf planets.”

“Pluto is not worthy of being called just a plain planet,” said Alan Boss, an astrophysicist at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C. “But it’s perfectly fine as an ice dwarf planet or a historical planet.”

The number of recognized planets in the solar system has seesawed based on new findings. Ceres was initially classified as a planet in the 1800s, but was demoted to an asteroid when similar objects were found nearby.

Despite the lack of scientific consensus on what makes a planet, the current nine - and Xena - share common traits: They orbit the sun. Gravity is responsible for their round shape. And they were not formed by the same process that created stars.

Brown, Xena’s discoverer, admits to being “agnostic” about what the international conference decides. He said he could live with eight planets, but is against sticking with the status quo and would feel a little guilty if Xena gained planethood because of the controversy surrounding Pluto.

“If UB313 is declared to be the 10th planet, I will always feel like it was a little bit of a fraud,” Brown said.

For years, Pluto’s inclusion in the solar system has been controversial. Astronomers thought it was the same size as Earth, but later found it was smaller than Earth’s moon. Pluto is also odd in other ways: With its elongated orbit and funky orbital plane, it acts more like other Kuiper Belt objects than traditional planets.

Even so, Pluto remained No. 9 because it was the only known object in the Kuiper Belt at the time.

When new observations in the 1990s confirmed that the Kuiper Belt was sprinkled with numerous bodies similar to Pluto, some scientists piped up. In 1999, the international union took the unusual step of releasing a public statement denying rumors that the ninth rock from the sun might be kicked out.

That hasn’t stopped groups from attacking Pluto’s planethood. In 2001, the Hayden Planetarium at New York’s American Museum of Natural History unleashed an uproar the situation.

Yes, Mel still has friends, give him a break!

Yes, Mel has made a mess of things, that's for sure... but I reckon we need to give the man a break. Some people have very very public falls from grace, and Mel has been one of those.

It's great that not all Mel's "friends" have dropped him like a hot potato. We need our friends whether things are good or bad... fair weather friends are no friends at all. Maybe it's during the times when we're at our worst that we find out who are real friends are... friends who will continue to love us despite our rotten behaviours.

Yes, Mel still has friends - People - Entertainment - smh.com.au

After a horror week in which friends have been hard to find, Mel Gibson has received support from Hollywood heavyweights.

Since shaming himself with an anti-Jewish tirade against the Los Angeles policeman who caught him drink-driving on July 28, Gibson has been relying - as ever - on his wife, Robyn, whom he has dubbed a saint.

But yesterday, two close friends - actor Jodie Foster and Jewish film producer Dean Devlin - spoke out, urging the 50-year-old's critics to understand that he is an alcoholic.

In the Los Angeles Times, Foster, who starred alongside Gibson in Maverick, said: "Is he an anti-Semite? Absolutely not. But it's no secret that he has always fought a terrible battle with alcoholism."

Foster paid tribute to Gibson for having survived an addiction that had haunted him throughout his adult life.

"[He is] a shining example of how low you can go when you are young and still pull yourself up," she said. "He took his recovery very seriously, which is why I know he is strong enough to get through this now."

Devlin - who co-produced The Patriot, in which Gibson starred - told the Los Angeles Times: "If Mel is an anti-Semite, then he spends a lot of time with us, which makes no sense.

"But he is an alcoholic, and while that makes no excuse for what he said, because there is no excuse, I believe it was the disease speaking, not the man."

Having been charged with three counts of misdemeanour drunken driving after his meltdown late last month, Gibson's career is in crisis, and his marriage is under strain. Whether Robyn can save the man who, by his own confession has been to the brink of suicide due to his war with alcoholism, remains to be seen.

Almost certainly she will not leave him. Through carousing and controversy, Robyn, 50, has stoically stood by her man.

"It evolved over a couple of years. We were friends, just a platonic association," Gibson said of meeting dental nurse Robyn Moore in an Adelaide share house in 1977 while he was in a production of Waiting For Godot.

Moore fell pregnant and the two married in June 1980. Theirs has since been regarded as one of Hollywood's most enduring marriages.

"Sometimes it almost doesn't bear analysing because it just does [work]," Gibson has said. "She certainly has a lot of wonderful qualities that I don't possess and I think I admire that. There's something true about opposites attract . . . She's 10 times more responsible [than me] . . . She's a lot more constant. I'm thankful for that. I need that."

The question is whether Robyn needs it. She has become the most isolated of Hollywood wives, seldom seen and most certainly never heard publicly. Her job is at home in the couple's lavish, ocean-front Malibu compound with most of their seven children - Hannah, Christian, Edward, William, Louis, Milo and Tom, aged between 26 and seven. She has never given an interview.

Lethal Weapon director Richard Donner once said of the pair: "Mel and Robyn are the definition of how two people can be in love. Nothing can come between them."

Source: The Sun-Herald

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Offensive outburst doesn't make Mel rotten to the core

Louis Nowra column in Thursday's Sydney Morning Herald brings a bit of sanity to the hoo-haa that's developed over Mel Gibson's fall from grace. Why does the media jump all over some people's public "sins" and ignore those of others? Mel Gibson blew it. So what? The guy has apologised. He's gone into rehad. He's paying a high price in his family. And was his drunken spree the result of the troubles between he and his wife?

Louis Nowra's says:
As every cop knows, drunks say the most terrible things. Black cops are racially abused by white drunks and vice versa. Woman cops are abused by drunken men ("What are you looking at, sugar tits?"). Experienced cops generally pay no attention because it is the drink or drugs talking.

Would you like to be held accountable for the things you say and do while inebriated? Endless amounts of time are spent in courts arguing this very thing, and often with the result a person is acquitted or convicted of a lesser misdemeanour.

Offensive outburst doesn't make Mel rotten to the core - Opinion - smh.com.au

THE recent international kerfuffle over Mel Gibson's drunken anti-Semitic remarks created a blizzard of sanctimonious and hysterical attacks on the actor. I thought the incident was blown out of all proportion but there is something about the uproar which shows a disturbing trend in this era of media witch-hunts.
Let's look briefly at Gibson's scrape. He was pissed as a fart and told the arresting officer: "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world."

As every cop knows, drunks say the most terrible things. Black cops are racially abused by white drunks and vice versa. Woman cops are abused by drunken men ("What are you looking at, sugar tits?"). Experienced cops generally pay no attention because it is the drink or drugs talking.

There has been a consistent strand to the attacks on Gibson, besides guilt by association (his father has insane ideas about Jews and the Holocaust) and that is that his inebriated comment reflects a core belief of his. Critics rest their case on the idea of in vino veritas, booze brings out the truth. But does it?

How many people have woken up the morning after getting plastered, hung over and filled with remorse at what they have done or said? They are remorseful because they did not mean the hurtful or hateful things they said and, in fact, their words or actions were totally uncharacteristic.

Years ago a drunken Elvis Costello made a racially offensive comment about Ray Charles. This comment, overheard in a bar, nearly cost Costello his career in the US and yet he was and is one of the great supporters and lovers of black music.

Take an example from literature.

When the letters of the fine British poet Philip Larkin were published, many people were horrified at the crass anti-Semitic and anti-black comments. The letters had been private and were obviously written to shock and even amuse some of his correspondents. The hysterical reaction by literary mavens overlooked the fact that Larkin was a devotee of black jazz musicians and never made publicly disparaging statements about Jews or blacks. Were the remarks his true beliefs or just the product of an uncensored mind?

The loudmouthed former Test cricketer Dean Jones was fired from his job as a commentator this week after he called a devout Muslim South African cricketer a terrorist. This was not part of his commentary but an offhand remark caught by an open microphone.

It's easy to imagine that Jones and his mates would have joked privately about the Muslim and they would have considered it a bit of harmless banter that in no way reflected their actual beliefs.

But does Jones really think that he's a terrorist? Absolutely not.

These examples have one thing in common. They were private comments not meant for public consumption. But, some people will say, they reflect the beliefs of those who said these awful things.

Our private thoughts can be unruly - obscene, sexist, racist and ridiculous. Sometimes we keep them to ourselves or share with others. Humans are driven by contradictions and there can be great divisions between our private and public thoughts, actions and words.

Our private selves can contain a swarm of ideas and imaginings that can be contradictory to the actual beliefs we express truthfully in public.

A feminist can have fantasies of being raped that sexually excite her, but be horrified by the notion of it happening in reality. Aborigines can talk among themselves about "white c---s" and yet work with, live with and love a white person. The expletive is why we have expletives - to let off steam or anger - and can even be humorous in the right context.

One has just to sit through the documentary The Aristocrats, in which comedians present filthy, obscene variations of a crude joke, to realise that there is a huge gulf between thinking hideous things and actually doing them.

Common to all these examples is that they were meant to be private before the media blew them up. If our thoughts and private conversations between friends were to be made public, how many of us could stand the scrutiny?

For me the racist abuse by Australian spectators of coloured cricketers is a public utterance and therefore to be condemned.

And I think the insulting and publicly expressed loony ideas about Jews from Gibson's sober father are terrible because you know they are his core beliefs.

As for his son's true beliefs about Jews, a couple of drunken offensive remarks will not tell us.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Asean must take action on the rape of freedom in Burma

Nursyahbani Katjasungkana, Eva K Sundari and Teresa Kok Suh Sim have written the following guest column for The Nation.

When will rape and pillage taking place in Burma be finally confronted by the international community and the perpetrators brought to justice? It does not seem possible that justice could ever occur for those who have suffered so miserably at the hands of the military and seemingly with the blessing of the military officers and the country's leadership.

It does have a feel of a deliberate plan to demoralise and tear apart the minority groups who have as much legitimate right to live in the country as these brutes do.

Asean must take action on the rape of freedom in Burma (The Nation)
Gender-based sexual violence obstructs peace and development, particularly when it is a weapon used by military dictatorships against their own peoples. Burma is now permeated by such state-sponsored violence.

Systematic sexual violence became visible in Burma when the Shan Women's Action Network (SWAN) and the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) published "Licence to Rape", which documents 625 cases of rape committed by the military in eastern Burma between 1996 and 2001. The report noted that nobody had been prosecuted.

Burma is suffering the impact of decades of civil war. Civilians have become the main victims of a strategy aimed at undermining the guerrillas, which has resulted in forced labour, the use of human minesweepers, and massive relocations of entire villages. There are now an estimated 600,000 to one million internal refugees.

SWAN and SHRF argue that rape is used as a weapon in the Burmese military's war against ethnic minorities.

Women and girls are particularly vulnerable - owing to gender as well as ethnicity - to a horrific practice whose aim is to demonstrate the army's power and punish those who confront it. When the army enters a village, chaos erupts. Villagers are killed or ordered to pack their belongings and leave. Several of the reported rapes took place under such conditions, or when women are taken for forced labour.

Many victims have fled Burma. SWAN and SHRF learned of many cases from women who arrived in Thailand. In February 2006, we visited a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border and learned first hand of war and abuse.

"Licence to Rape" has attracted wide attention in Southeast Asia. Kraisak Choonhavan, chairman of the Thai Senate's Foreign Relations Committee and vice chairperson of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Burma Caucus, called for an investigation by the United Nations. So did the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Commission.

Rape brings stigma, shame, and reluctance on the part of victims to speak out about what happened to them. But an increasing number of women and girls from Burma have begun to tell of their experiences of rape and other forms of sexual violence in the country's war-torn areas.

Army deserters confirm that rapes have occurred. And the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women has published material that corroborates information in Licence to Rape and adds numerous new cases from Burma.

Nevertheless, four years on, a UN investigation has yet to take place, because the military junta refuses to grant the UN access to the country. Incidents of rape continue to be reported, and the Burmese military surely must know what is happening. But the junta engages in Orwellian doublethink. It has rejected the reports, instead launching its own investigations whose conduct and staffing leave no room for confidence in their credibility.

National governments and the international community have an obligation to protect women and children against abuse. In 2000, the UN Security Council recognised that gender-based violence thwarts security and adopted Resolution 1325, which calls on parties in conflict to respect the rights of women and children, and particularly to prevent gender-based violence.

In 2004, the governments of Asean vowed to end the impunity states like Burma have enjoyed and signed the Declaration to Eliminate Violence Against Women in the Asean Region.

Burma is failing miserably to live up to the standards of decency that the Southeast Asian region is setting for itself. It has ratified the UN Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Moreover, a national committee exists for the advancement of women.

But such measures are of no use when the military remains firmly in control, the rule of law is absent, and the government refuses to admit to the systematic sexual violence committed by its soldiers as they terrorise the population.

Asean cannot afford to stand by idly. Neither can the international community. Such abuse of power is inadmissible, and we expect Asean to address the military's use of rape in the conflict in Burma. We urge the UN Security Council to raise the issue. All of Burma's people deserve security, and refugee women and girls who have experienced gender-based violence need the world's solidarity and support.

Nursyahbani Katjasungkana and Eva K Sundari are MPs in Indonesia. Teresa Kok Suh Sim is an MP in Malaysia.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Speculations on Thaksin's Burma trip

Sopon Onkgara has written a wonderfully speculative article on Thaksin's recent secret 1-day trip to meet with Burma's leaders. It does make one wonder what Thaksin is up to... I've become rather cynical of Thai politicians over the years. It seems that so very few have the nation's welfare at heart, and most seem to be more interested in preserving (and increasing) their own wealth and the wealth of their families.

I suspect that there's a value system in place that has its roots back in the old days in China... This value system had the family interests in mind where an individual member of a family was groomed for positions of power and influence and then was expected to bring great benefit to those above them (the emporer, etc), to cronies, and to their own families. What was good for the country as a whole does not seem to have been part of the paradigm... maybe I'm all wrong but I do wonder...

It would make an interesting topic for research for someone in the social sciences.

Secret of Thaksin's Burma trip might be in the skies (The Nation)
Even critics of Thaksin Shinawatra have to grudgingly admire his audacity and public-relations stunts. Still, as caretaker prime minister, his stealth diplomacy - with an abrupt half-day visit to Burma on Wednesday - surely more than raised eyebrows.

Controversy followed, with persistent doubts, but he got away with evasive responses and lame explanations.

People have to bear or live with his style of working, never mind tradition or protocol. Thaksin described his visit to the cut-throat rulers of Burma as modern diplomacy, bypassing cumbersome rituals and saving a lot of time to actually get results.

What results? Thaksin claimed that the trip was all for national interests, nothing else, and that the 35-minute meeting covered a lot of ground and wide-ranging issues. Indeed, our energy minister said the talk focused for a while on investment in oil and gas; the agriculture minister said there was discussion on bird flu; the Army chief said there was nothing much of interest.

If there was any achievement at all, Thaksin must have been the sole beneficiary, but he kept most of it to himself following the one-on-one huddle with the Burmese junta's overlords.

Let's look at this way: if the talks were all in the national interest and achieved much success, a shrewd politician like Thaksin would have optimised the useful outcomes to chalk up political points as the country heads towards a general election, if not put another halo around himself.

As far as we know, Thaksin is still trapped in bad times. He is very desperate to restore his sinking popularity following five years of numerous misdeeds, massive corruption and abuse of power, among other scandals in government. If the visit was urgent, necessary and genuinely beneficial to the country, he would have rambled on and on about the results non-stop.

Surely, the true achievements of the Burma trip, or even failures if there were any, must be something he is not prepared to reveal to the people, who footed the bill for the trip. When he did not come up with tangible results, it was inevitable that he would fall prey to all sorts of speculation.

It might sound funny or ridiculous to those who are not familiar with his odd behaviour, but it was just another sad episode for the country, whose future and destiny remain murky under Thaksin's power.

This was not the first time Thaksin's foreign trips have raised suspicions about his family's business and vested interests, particularly concerning the Ipstar satellite. Speculation and hearsay were confirmed by either credible evidence or business agreements.

There was talk about some hitches in the Shin Corp deal with Temasek Holdings of Singapore. One version was that it was not yet a done deal regarding ground stations on high mountains in Burma for the Ipstar satellite to have a direct link with Australia. Singapore has become the proprietor of the facilities through the sale of Shin Corp stocks and Burma feels uneasy about such an arrangement.

There was speculation about Thaksin's desire to invest his cash holdings in energy ventures, rare earth and other natural resources. "Why should I pursue business deals after I have sold all," he asserted. His argument was not taken seriously by those familiar with his style of doing business through nominees and funds.

There was talk on the grapevine about Thaksin's desire to drive away misfortune and whatever jinx now menaces his star by paying homage at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon. The embattled billionaire is said to be fascinated by superstition and fortune-telling. His visits to various places led to wild talk about such practices.

If people are inclined to believe what Thaksin has to say, they should be prepared for disappointment later on. Somehow, what he has denied has tended to turn out to be true. As a politician who never admits any mistake, Thaksin did not care when his claims were found to be false.

If there were some truth in all the wild talk, it would be about his family's unfinished deal with Temasek Holdings. Half of the Bt73 billion has been paid over so far, but it remains untouched and Thaksin cannot remit it abroad, as there exist doubts about the legality of the entire transaction. What's more, parts of the deal encountered legal problems that led to sharp falls in the shares of Shin Corp companies, resulting in massive paper losses and a red face for Temasek Holdings. With Thaksin's political future in the doldrums, the likelihood of a strong rebound looks pretty remote, if not impossible.

More similarly unplanned foreign trips will be heard of soon enough. Thaksin's next one is expected to be to Cambodia, where there are still rich natural resources for joint investment. Don't be surprised if he shows up at Angkor Wat or other sacred sites as well.

Despite his mighty political power and supreme self-confidence, Thaksin still believes and has faith in the supernatural or paranormal - if it can yield some benefit to him.

Sopon Onkgara

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Burmese generals in cahoots with drug lords in Shan State

This report does not surprise me. It's one of the common knowledge sorts of things but nice that now there's some hard research been done.

The whole situation in Burma continues to be awful.

Burmese generals in cahoots with drug lords in Shan State (Mizzima News - Specialising in Burma-Related News and Multimedia)
Burmese military generals are actively involved in the drug trade, accept bribes and cover up for drug traffickers, said a report released on Wednesday by media in exile the SHAN.

The 64-page report titled 'Hand in Glove,' by the Chiang Mai, Thailand based Shan Herald Agency News took two and-a-half years to compile. It has accused some of the top military brass like, Lieutenant general Thein Sein, the secretary I of the State Peace and Development Council, Lieutenant General Myint Hlaing, Lieutenant General Kyaw Win and some other military officers of having their palms greased by drug lords in Shan state.

Lieutenant General Thein Sein, the former commander of Triangle Region Command with the rank of major general received an astonishing 45 assorted motor vehicles, both for his own use and as gifts for his superiors in Rangoon, said the report.

"The army leaders used to collect taxes on poppy fields, the products and make way for the transportation of chemicals to drug refineries in south western Shan State borders areas," said Sein Kyi, an assistant editor and also field researcher for the booklet to Mizzima.

SHAN interviewed about 80 people living along Burma's borders with Thailand and China which are mostly controlled by pro-junta cease-fire ethnic armed groups.

"It is not unlike Afghanistan where most government allies against rebels are found to be drug bosses," the report quoted an informed local as saying.

The report pointed out that the Burmese military expansion, from 168 infantry battalions in 1988 to 528 in May 2005, is one of the factors for military units to be lured to the illicit drug business in opium, methamphetamine and Yaba. The drug lords are from United Wa State Army, Kachin Defence Army, Shan Nationalities People's Liberation Organisation, Kokang and pro-military junta militia forces.

"Many teenagers use these tablets (methamphetamine) on their way to school because they are easy to buy and cheap, " said Sein Kyi.

The report claimed that opium production in Shan state is on the rise. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has, however, reported that poppy cultivation dramatically decreased in 2005 to 32, 800 hectares down from 160,000 hectares in 1999.

"The military junta showed outsiders, including UNODC, some places which are easy to reach in areas controlled by ceasefire groups in Shan state. But there are many places which are under military control in very remote areas in the mountains between the eastern Than Lwin river and Northern Namkham rivers where major poppy fields exist," said Sein Kyi.