Rise to Save Our Coast

Rise for Climate Newcastle Panorama

Rise for Climate Newcastle Panorama

The Rise for Climate event was on this Saturday, September 8. You may have seen some of the news reports about it over the weekend but if you didn’t, Rise for Climate saw hundreds of cities and towns around the world join together to hold peaceful protests and rallies calling on the world’s leaders to take action on climate change.

It drew some huge crowds around the world, particularly in the US and San Francisco where thousands marched ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit to be held in San Francisco next week.

Here in Newcastle, the RISE to Save Our Coast rally at Newcastle’s beautiful Bar Beach was organised by Stop Seismic Testing Newcastle and was attended by hundreds of people from all across Newcastle and the Hunter. It was a great event and the energy was fantastic despite it being a very cold and windy day.

Originally I didn’t think I was going to be able to go to the event as I had plans in Sydney for the weekend. But I ended up having to raincheck and in the end it worked out well as I was able to attend after all.

I shot the rally with a couple of other members of the photo group I’m part of and it was a busy hour of shooting but a lot of fun. It was very overcast and damp which was challenging at times but the atmosphere was amazing regardless and the clouds actually gave a nice soft, moody light that really suited the feel of the event.

Afterwards I went to a McDonald’s nearby and frantically edited some of the photos on my laptop to upload as soon as I could. We wanted to get them up within an hour if possible so the rest of the world could wake up to the event – it was tight but we just managed it. I don’t think I’ve ever edited so fast in my life.

I’m pretty happy with how the photos came out. I’d never shot an event like this before and I think most came out well and I definitely learnt a lot. On top of that this was only the second time I’d used my new camera so in the midst of running around like a demented chicken, I was still trying to work out how everything on the camera worked. Note to self: maybe don’t switch camera systems right before an event next time, CJ.

More importantly, though, it was great to be a small part of a cause I really believe in. I’m a pragmatist so I don’t expect the world to change overnight but unless we as citizens speak up and call for change, there is no incentive for our leaders and politicians to ever act decisively on climate change (or any issue). I see events like this as a vital part of that.

And, hopefully, part of leaving the world a better place for our children and grandchildren to live in.

I hope you enjoy the photos.

Photos © CJ Levinson 2018

Q&A #2 – Writing, Zombies, Creationism and Batman

I had planned an interesting post for today but it’s been stinking hot in Newcastle – it passed 39’C where I am – and my brain has kind of shut down. I tried waking it up but it just went “nope stupid human, not gonna happen, come back tomorrow” and went back to being lazy. So I don’t think that post is going to get written today.

Instead I thought I’d do another Q&A as I enjoyed doing the last one and I had a few questions left over. I hope you enjoy them and if you want to suggest any for the future, feel free to in the comments.

  • What advice would you give to someone who is just starting to write?

I think the best advice I ever received is to never stop enjoying writing and that’s the main thing I’d pass on. There will be days where everything flows and writing feels amazing and there will be days where nothing works and you want to smash your keyboard or throw your pen at the wall. And sometimes there’ll be days where it all just feels kind of, well, meh. The best thing you can do is to try to always enjoy writing no matter what because as soon as it starts to feel like a chore, or you feel like you’re writing just because you have to fulfil some deadline, then it becomes much harder and you’re less likely to finish it or to produce something of quality. If you write because you love to write then it doesn’t matter if no one reads it, or if everyone you know hates it, or if it’s never published; as long as you’ve enjoyed writing it, that’s what matters. And to me that’s what being a writer is all about.

The other thing I’d say is that if you want to write, you have to read. A lot of people seem to think that the two are separate but I’ve never believed that. Reading, and reading regularly, keeps your mind sharp but more importantly it teaches you the tools of the trade. Reading improves your vocabulary, expands your knowledge, and teaches you different styles and approaches to writing that you might not otherwise be aware of. And most importantly, reading reminds us of why we wanted to write in the first place, to tell our own stories that will hopefully touch people in the same way. In my opinion the best thing a writer can do is read. And read a lot.

I’d also suggest that it’s a good idea to keep your expectations in check. Anyone can be a writer; all you need is a pen and paper. Being a published author is different and there are a lot of factors which go into it that you cannot control – you may be an excellent writer but never be published and that’s just the way it is. Having unrealistic expectations will not help you and may actually stop you from listening to people and taking advice. Don’t misunderstand me: by expectations I don’t mean desire. There is nothing at all wrong with wanting to be published and wanting to be successful, and aiming and working towards that goal. Just don’t expect it to come to you on a silver platter because you think your novel is the Greatest Thing Ever I guess is what I mean. Like anything it takes hard work and I’m still trying to get there myself after 15 years and a number of small publications. But again, I write because I love it, and to me that’s the most important thing.

My last piece of advice: be careful with adverbs. I hate them and think they are a sign of lazy writing. If you ever find yourself writing “he said angrily”, stop and think if there’s a way you can show us that anger instead. Trust me, your writing will be much stronger for it.

  • Do you think Tony Abbott will ever be Prime Minister again?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: I know some of Abbott’s supporters are convinced he’ll have a chance to be Prime Minister again at some stage but I can’t see it. I think a lot of this comes from the idea that Turnbull is some kind of bandaid fix for the problems that afflicted the Coalition under Abbott’s time as PM; that Turnbull’s popularity will get them through the next election but eventually dissipate and then Abbott could regain the Prime Ministership. I’m sure that Kevin Rudd’s return probably gave them heart too.

The problem is that Tony Abbott is not Kevin Rudd and thinking that Turnbull is a temporary necessity also ignores the problems with Abbott’s leadership. Kevin Rudd still had public sympathy on his side from being dumped as PM in such a harsh way and it made a return to the top feasible; Abbott though was consistently polling disastrously and while there is some public sympathy for him, most people don’t want him back and would not be happy if the Coalition positioned him as a potential leader again.

The main problem with Tony Abbott is that he (and by extension his government) was perceived as out of touch with mainstream Australia and not listening to what people wanted; like his strong opposition to gay marriage, the knights and dames situation, climate change, his way of often politicising issues and giving them a religious context (again like gay marriage but also things like the state of science in schools and how that plays in to creationism and intelligent design), etc. He lost trust and popularity and so when Turnbull prevailed, the reaction was more relief from people than anger or surprise. And so I just can’t imagine the Coalition being able to justify returning him to power.

I can see Turnbull losing popularity at some stage, particularly if people become frustrated with him not being able to deliver the changes they assumed they’d get under a Turnbull leadership, but if Turnbull was to make a substantial misstep I imagine Scott Morrison is the one who’d be positioned to take over. And even then Julie Bishop would be a formidable contender too. I very much doubt it’s likely to happen any time soon though, if at all.

The best thing for people to do is to accept the truth: Abbott’s leadership is over and he won’t be returning. After the election, perhaps he could return to the cabinet as his experience would be useful, but that’s a long way off yet. Really people should just move on and let normal politics resume.

  • Speaking of that – do you think creationism should be taught in schools?

I think there is a place for talking about creationism in schools but no, I don’t think creationism and other ideas should be taught and particularly not alongside evolution in a science class.

Evolution is a theory, yes, but a theory in scientific terms isn’t the same as a theory generally: we might think of a theory as like an educated guess but in science a theory is an actual explanation or statement for why something exists that has been repeatedly tested and confirmed through observation and experimentation. For instance, if I looked and said “ my hand has five fingers”, I am making a statement based on what I can observe and verify.

The same is true for the theory of evolution; it has been tested and reconfirmed many times and is the best explanation we have for how human beings came to be, based on our current understanding. It has stood up to scrutiny for a very long time but that does not mean it cannot be proven wrong, or refined, just that it is what is scientifically verifiable and correct right now. Something like creationism however is not and has in fact been disproven by scientific methods, like radiometric dating showing the age of the earth.

I understand creationism is important to people but I don’t believe that belief is reason to teach something in science classes that is thoroughly unscientific. If we did then it would be potentially misleading and confusing to students as presenting creationism alongside evolution would seem to give the idea a scientific weight it does not have.

This does not mean that creationism should not be in schools at all. Personally I believe it should be mentioned in detail as part of a theology course. But science classes are for science and creationism is not science.

  • How long do you think you’d survive in the zombie apocalypse?

I’d like to say quite a while but honestly I doubt I’d make it more than a few days, if that. I’m not the fastest runner and I think my fitness would hold me back. So yeah, zombies would be feasting on my yummy brains in no time.

My best bet would be to join a group and try to contribute through information and knowledge rather than strength. With a good group maybe I’d last a little while, who knows? Hopefully I’ll never have to find out!

  • Who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman?

So with Batman v Superman coming out soon I’ve discussed this with a couple of friends recently, who all thought Batman. I just don’t get that. Superman is basically a God amongst humans; he has super strength, speed, can fly, is practically invulnerable, has heat vision, etc. I just don’t get how Batman is supposed to go up against Superman and win.

If Batman had time to prepare for a fight, sure, he could get a special kryptonite suit or something to even the odds, but even then all Superman has to do is fly away and use his heat vision. The only way I can see Batman winning is if Superman is completely unprepared and taken by surprise. Which isn’t really a fight then, is it?

So for me it’s Superman. I’ll be interested to see how they do it in the movie. Hopefully it makes sense.

  • What’s your favourite album?

My favourite album is probably also the first album I ever bought. Tina Arena’s Don’t Ask.

There are other albums I love too but listening to it always gives me the feeling of coming home. And there are some great songs on there, like Chains, Heaven Help My HeartSorrento Moon and Wasn’t It Good?.

If there was one album I’d want with me on a desert island and would never get sick of, it’s this one. Don’t think you can really ask for more than that.

Q&A #1 – Trump, Atheism, Love and Guns

So this is the first in a new series of posts I thought I’d start. I’ve always liked the idea of having a random q&a section on the blog; I thought it’d be a fun way to talk about some extra topics and help people to get to know me a little better. So that’s what this is.

The questions below are fairly random and are a mix of questions I’m often asked either online or in real life and others I’ve created to cover a few topics I’ve been wanting to write about. Like most bloggers I have a lot of ideas for posts that I end up not writing about for one reason or another and I thought this would be a good way to cover some of those topics too.

I’m looking to do this semi-regularly and I’d love it if, as I do more of these posts, people started to suggest questions and topics as well. So if you’ve got anything you’d like to ask, feel free to leave it in a comment or use my contact page.

I’m game for most questions, so go wild. 🙂

  • Do you believe in true love?

Yes and no. Do I believe there is just one person out there in the whole world we are destined to be with? No. I find that idea rather insipid to be honest and I dislike the idea of “The One’.

Actually I hate the idea of ’The One’. I think it’s unhealthy and spreads an unrealistic expectation of what we should be looking for in relationships. Basically it gives us permission to be extremely picky over partners and to turn down people who we could potentially be happy with simply because they don’t seem ‘perfect’. And then we wonder why we are alone.

So I don’t think there is any such thing as ‘The One’. I do however believe in love and think there are many people we can be compatible with throughout the course of our lives. We just have to be in the right place and frame of mind to be able to recognise them, and that usually means being willing to compromise and to recognise when our standards are unrealistic.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that we are destined to meet them though. They may live in another country or we may simply not be in the space to recognise them, etc. Whatever the reason sometimes people never meet and that’s sad but it’s okay. It’s life.

Personally I think the best thing is to try to be happy with your own company. If you’re happy with yourself then finding love and companionship is a bonus. And love often comes along when you’re not expecting it too.

  • Can an atheist be a moral person?

This is something that often comes up when people first realise I’m an atheist. Which surprised and insulted me at first but I think it’s because a lot of people relate morality to religious teachings and are curious what keeps someone’s moral compass in check if they don’t believe in God.

The truth is that morality isn’t about religion and I consider myself a very moral person despite no longer being of faith. Morality is something that is perceived to be closely tied to religion because that’s the way for thousands of years people were taught about good and evil, right and wrong, but when you actually think about it morality itself is a concept, a framework for how we should live our lives, that comes from being part of an evolved society.

I believe basic ideas of right and wrong are intrinsic to modern civilisation and are taught in many ways; through religion, yes, but also through school, books, movies, the media, our parents, elders, etc, and our modern world and laws are based on the same ideas. In other words I believe morality is a universal constant and just removing somebody from the religious world doesn’t suddenly make them more likely to commit a terrible act.

For instance, you could say that a devout religious person who is a convicted murderer would actually be a far less moral person than a peaceful atheist. Whether someone is a ‘good’ person or not has more to do with their upbringing and things like potential mental illness than whether they believe in God or not in my opinion.

  • What do you think will happen to Donald Trump? Could he really be President?

At this stage you’d have to say that yes, it’s a real possibility Trump could become President. My gut feeling however is that Trump won’t be President. I also don’t think he will win the Republican nomination either, although I am less sure about that as he has already lasted longer than I thought he would and his momentum seems to be growing.

The main reason I think he won’t get the nomination is that as the race goes on and more candidates drop out, eventually an anti-Trump challenger is going to galvanise support behind them. While Trump is definitely popular, he has relied a lot on his anti-immigration, anti-establishment demographic and you’d think as the process moves into other less conservative states that votes will start to solidify behind Trump’s main challenger. And eventually I think that will be too much for him.

Who that challenger will end up being though is another matter. Rubio seems to have shot himself in the foot recently with his debate performances and Cruz doesn’t seem well liked enough to rally enough people behind him. And Carson has never really recovered from some of his foreign policy comments earlier in the campaign. My guess is that Rubio will finally emerge but there is a real possibility that Trump could ride the wave right to the nomination.

Which, if that ends up happening, would have seemed inconceivable a year ago. But the thing is that Trump is not simply the anti-establishment fluke people have been taking him for. What Trump actually is is a very shrewd political opportunist; the Republican Party has largely been about obstruction for the last ten years and add to that many conservative radio and tv hosts popularising immigration and minorities and all Trump has done is taken the opportunity to personify that. You can’t blame Trump for playing to a demographic that has largely been created for him.

I still think that in the end there are far more people in the Republican Party who disagree with Trump and that eventually they will rally around someone like Rubio. The problem for the Republicans though is that most of the candidates seem fairly bland and taking someone bland into the main election cycle against Hillary Clinton, or even Bernie Sanders, could be a huge problem. But that’s the reality they are left with.

My guess is that in the end it will be Rubio vs. Clinton and Clinton will win but of course Clinton comes with her own baggage which will pull her back. She would then face a real challenge in 2020 from a much stronger Republican candidate. As for Trump I don’t think he’d run as an independent – it would mean spending more money and I think he’s already got enough exposure out of this. But who knows? He is very hard to predict.

Of course this is all just guesswork from an outsider with an interest in US politics, so please take it all with a grain of salt. I’ll be curious to see exactly what happens and if I’m way off too.

  • Do you think countries would be safer if everyone owned a gun?

This is something that has come up a few times recently with the terrible shootings in the US and the way Australia’s gun laws are sometimes mentioned in the debate making people re-question them. Which is understandable I guess seeing as there is a lot of misinformation going on about our gun laws, most of which is not true.

Personally, and I’ll take this from the point of view of if Australia’s gun laws were potentially being loosened, I am not in any way in favour of more people potentially owning firearms, let alone everyone having access to one. I think the laws have made a big difference here and we have not had another Port Arthur style shooting since which is not a coincidence. More importantly they also do not stop people from being able to own a firearm, just that certain weapons are prohibited and overall it’s not been a big loss.

I think our gun laws are sensible and if the US was to try to do something about gun violence, ours wouldn’t be a bad model to look at. But obviously it is a very different country, with a very different gun culture, and I’m not sure it would work the same way there even if there was the appetite to try.

I’m not unsympathetic towards people who do think more guns are the answer though and I know some people still believe that here in Australia. I think it’s understandable that when people see violence they would want to look at ways of protecting and defending themselves.

I just think though that if you stop and actually consider gun violence as a whole, particularly in the West, you realise how while mass shootings are awful, they’re actually just a small part of a much larger problem. The number of accidental shootings in the West is actually far, far higher than the number of assaults and murders committed with firearms and so if you were to multiply that by adding a vast number of new guns into a country, well that is potentially a recipe for disaster. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and the more guns that are available, the more opportunities there are for people to be hurt and killed either accidentally or maliciously.

If everyone had access to a gun it might result in fewer mass shootings, yes, but if it also resulted in a much higher number of accidental shootings and deaths, in the end is that really a trade worth making? Not for me.

I think our gun laws were the best thing John Howard did while he was Prime Minister… I was often on the other side of politics from him but this was one of the good things he did for all Australians and I’ll always be thankful for that. However the US tackles the problem I hope that it is successful and that something happens sooner than later.

  • I’m looking to get my first SLR. Which camera and lens should I buy?

I’m asked this quite a lot and my first piece of advice is, before you buy an SLR, stop and think about if you really need one. Any camera can take good photos. The most important thing is learning about photography; owning a better camera won’t make you take better photos but learning about photographic technique will.

SLRs are great cameras and I highly recommend them but only if you have started to reach the limitations of the camera you are currently using. SLRs will help you to take better photos at night, for instance, and can give you more control over your exposure, but they will not help you to take better photos, just ones with more detail. This is a mistake a lot of people make and they often end up regretting their purchase.

Saying you are one of those people who does need an SLR I would recommend buying an entry level model and seeing how you go with it. A lot of people spend thousands of dollars on getting the best camera, like a Canon 5DS, but they don’t need it and never get the best out of it. Starting with an entry level camera allows you to work out exactly what you need and then if you need to you can upgrade once you find you are reaching its limitations.

For recommendations the Canon 760D is a very good camera, and with a twin lens kit (normal lens and telephoto) that’s pretty much all most people would ever need. I personally prefer Canon over Nikon but a camera like the Nikon D3300 is very good too and would suit the same purpose. I really like Olympus gear too and being mirrorless cameras, they’re much smaller and lighter which is a bonus. Something like the E-PL7 is a great little camera.

I also recommend getting something like Photoshop Elements or Lightroom, no matter what kind of camera you own. You can spend thousands of dollars on gear but a good editor will help you get more out of your photos than any camera or lens. I think Lightroom is the best photographic purchase I have ever made and it doesn’t take long to learn either.

  • Pepsi or Coke?

Can I say neither? I guess I’ve never been particularly into cola, the taste just doesn’t do much for me for some reason. If I had to choose I don’t mind Coke Zero every now and then so I would probably say Coke. I’d rather have a lemonade or lemon, lime and bitters any day though.

Star Wars: Episode X – The Dark Side Rises

Just a bit of fun to go with all The Force Awakens hype this week. I know people are starting to think about Episode VIII now but I thought I’d turn my attention further ahead, to the next trilogy. And I think I already know who the villain might be…

(Warning: there are a couple of mild spoilers for The Force Awakens in the video if you haven’t seen it yet).

Apologies for the audio by the way. I used the StarWars.com creator to make this but for some reason the share/export isn’t working so I did a screen capture instead. It made the audio a little tinny.

What did you think of The Force Awakens? I’m going to do a post after Christmas touching on it and nostalgia in general but basically I enjoyed it. I liked it but didn’t love it I guess – I thought it felt too familiar and nostalgic at times. It sets up Episodes VIII and IX well though and hopefully they will be more original.

Election Thoughts + More Memes

Abbottlanche or Ruddicide

Congratulations to Tony Abbott and the Coalition. It’s only the seventh time in sixty years an elected government has been defeated, so it’s quite an achievement, particularly to topple a government that’s only been in for two terms. It’s something I never thought would happen when Abbott first came to the leadership, it seemed so unlikely and Abbott such an unlikely alternative PM. But the Coalition ran a very clever campaign and then again, I never thought I’d see a PM torn down in his first term either, so I guess it shows anything can happen in politics.

I’ll be frank: I did not vote for the Coalition and will never vote for the Coalition as long as Tony Abbott is leader. His policies and social attitudes scare the hell out of me and I’d much rather see Malcolm Turnbull as PM – if he had been, I would definitely have supported the Coalition and I think they would have won with an even bigger majority. But putting that aside, Labor didn’t deserve to be re-elected at all and only has itself to blame for the outcome. When you spend all your time fighting over the leadership, surrounded by bickering and countless distractions of your own making, rather than actually governing the country, you can’t seriously think the public is going to vote you back in.

The government’s problems are strange in some ways because it’s not even that they’ve been a particularly bad government overall when you look at their ideas and achievements, particularly the NBN and the NDIS, it’s really more that they’ve spent the last six years tearing each other apart from the inside out, have kept back-pedalling on policies that they had made into central platforms (you can’t say climate change is the “greatest moral challenge of our time” and then try to back away from it, for instance, it makes you look like flip-floppers at best and a party lacking moral integrity at worst) and that they’ve been completely incompetent in selling their achievements – especially the strength of the economy, which is relatively strong, particularly when compared to the rest of the world. Abbott’s been an effectively negative opposition leader but in normal circumstances there’s simply no way a government should find itself in this position after just two terms. Which is what I meant with the caption above – in the end I’m genuinely not sure if Abbott won this election or if Labor lost it and essentially committed suicide. Or maybe it’s a bit of both.

I’m not sure what kind of Prime Minister Tony Abbott is going to be and like I said, he wouldn’t be my choice by a wide margin on either side of politics, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and I hope he’ll be one who is consultative and doesn’t try to force an ideological agenda through parliament (although that is one thing that potentially concerns me about him). In many ways because he has been such an effective negative campaigner I don’t think the public has been able to get a real idea of who Abbott actually is (which incidentally I think is also why he’s always performed so poorly in leadership polls, because it makes it seem like he’s stilted and has no personality), so it will be interesting to see if we start to see a new side of Tony Abbott and perhaps that public view of Abbott starts to change. It’ll also be interesting to see how he goes on the international stage – I actually think that’s one area where he might do quite well, with the exception perhaps of our relationship with Indonesia, which will depend a lot on what happens with asylum seekers and the boats.

I also hope that we can start to put the misogynist statements to rest once and for all as well. Gillard’s speech on misogyny was one of the defining moments in modern Australian politics and on a wider level was very true but looking at it objectively, it was also at least a little unfair on Tony Abbott. There are many, many things I do not like about Abbott but he’s not a misogynist – his wife is an incredibly strong influence in his life, he’s helped to raise three daughters who seem to be incredibly intelligent and articulate young women that any parent would be proud of and he’s introducing a paid parental leave scheme that is very generous towards women. What Abbott is is very old fashioned and extremely awkward and gaffe-prone but that doesn’t mean he’s a misogynist. It also doesn’t mean that Gillard’s speech wasn’t true either, just that it was truer on a broader level about society and I think that’s why it resinated with so many people. But hearing people constantly calling Abbott a misogynist during this election – often I think without their even knowing what a misogynist really is as well – is one of the things that’s really grated on me and I’m hoping now people will at least try to give him the benefit of the doubt. No matter what you think of Tony Abbott, the office of the Prime Minister deserves more respect than that – just as it did when Gillard was PM and she was treated so abysmally, particularly by men, many of whom were in the media, and in her own party.

In any case I guess like everyone I’m mostly just relieved this bloody election is finally over. It’s been mind-numbingly tedious but good luck to the Coalition and here’s hoping the next three years won’t be as divisive as the last and the economy stays relatively strong.

I made some more election memes last night while watching the results come in as well, so I thought I’d post them with this for a bit of fun. The one about Jason Wood was just spur of the moment – I’d not heard his quote before and it came on during the coverage and my head just about exploded when I heard it. I used the photo of Gllard as that’s pretty much how I imagine she would have reacted when she heard it too – and it’s not a bad approximation of what my face was like too. I mean, seriously Jason, WTF?

Hope you enjoy them. Who knows, I might start doing these regularly as they seem to be popular. 😉

Budgie-Man

Batman, meet Budgie-Man, our new PM.

Rudd's Concession Speech

Bye Kev. Remember, PMs come and go, selfies live forever.

Genetically Modified WHAT?

Jason Wood, one of Australia’s great visionaries.

Finally Over

Here’s hoping.

Election Fun

Abbott and the Philosoraptor

I’ve been getting into the political mood recently by making some election memes. I’ve shared most of them on Twitter and Facebook but with the election on Saturday, I thought I’d post them here too.

For the record I don’t really lean towards one party or the other and I’ve tried to skewer both equally. It’s been fun making them… it’s been a very long, dull election and being able to poke fun at it all has really been the only thing that’s made it bearable.

Hope you enjoy them and if you’d like to share any of them, feel free. If I make more I’ll post them before the election too.

Kevin Rudd and the Milky Bar Kid

Is there something you need to tell us Kevin? The resemblance is uncanny.

Tony Abbott and Budgie Smugglers of Doom

Or maybe they’re his “budget” smugglers?

Coalition of Misogynists

Glad to say I don’t own many blue ties.

Julie Bishop's Death Stare

Wonder who’d win in a staring contest between Julie Bishop and Hillary Clinton?

KRudd and the Selfie Craze

Poor Kevin. He’s so misunderstood.

Tony and the Pony

We can trust them. They’re politicians.

The Real Reason We Need Fast Broadband

GoT. The real reason we need fast broadband.

Joe Scissorhands

No truth to the rumour that the scissors were removed from Julia Gillard’s back though.

Tony Grows Up

Sorry, everyone has to grow up some time Tony.

Voices of Change

iran-protest

One of the enduring images from the protests in Iran (photo: faramarz)

There’s an old story from The Arabian Nights that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It tells the story of an ox and a donkey and is one of the stories that comes from the original texts, unlike other stories (like Aladdin and Sinbad) which were added later. It’s told by the vizier to his daughter, Shahrazad, to warn her not to marry the King, but it’s really a warning about what manipulation can cost you in the end.

Once there was a wealthy merchant who lived with his wife and children in the countryside and tended to a farm. He had many servants and workers who helped to make the farm prosperous and Allah had given the merchant a great gift: knowledge of the language of animals, although no one else could know of his gift under punishment of death. And so one day the merchant sat with his wife and children and heard an ox and donkey talking while they fed.

The ox, tired from his hours of ploughing the fields and bleeding from where the ploughman’s whip had split his side, said how he envied the comfort of the donkey, resting all day and feeding from a full, clean trough. The donkey, who thought himself clever and wise, turned to the ox and said that he should not exhaust himself for others; instead he told the ox to feign being sick and refuse his beans until they took pity on him. Life would be kinder to him afterward.

The ox thought this was good advice and thanked the donkey profusely. And so the next morning, when the ploughman led him away to the fields, the ox stumbled. His legs would not carry him; no matter how many times the ploughman tried to urge him on, the ox kept falling and lagging behind. That night when the ox was tied to his trough, he slept without eating. And in the morning when the ploughman returned, he found the ox lying on his back with all four legs raised in the air. He pitied the animal and immediately told his master. The merchant, knowing what had happened, told him to take the donkey to plough the fields instead. So it was that the ploughman took the donkey and put him to work, driving him with the fierce crack of the whip until his side bled and his neck was flayed and his ears drooped in exhaustion. Meanwhile the ox rested and ate, giving thanks for the donkey’s advice.

Finally, at nightfall, the donkey returned from the fields. The ox rose to thank the donkey for taking his place but the donkey ignored him, he was so angry. ‘All this happened to me because of my miscalculation,’ the donkey thought to himself. ‘I would be sitting pretty if not for my curiosity. If I don’t find a way to return the ox to his former station, I will perish.’ He went to lie down, scheming, while the ox continued to thank him and Allah for his good fortune.

Isfahan Rally

Thousands gather in Isfahan in a rally to support Mousavi (photo: faramarz)

Like everyone I’ve been following the events in Iran closely this past week and I suppose it’s because I’ve always liked allegories that that story has stuck in my mind. It’s not hard to see the protesters as the ox, desperate for change, and the Iranian authorities as the donkey, more concerned with their own self-interests. It’s probably also because I’ve always interpreted this story a little differently than other people; where most people see the donkey as trying to help the ox (at least at first), I think he was just trying to show how clever he was, believing he was more important than all of the other animals. That was the donkey’s miscalculation; he overreached and lost his position. That’s true of Iran as well; the authorities are still clinging to the old ways, even when for many people the old ways are gone.

I think that’s why the protesters are so angry, that unwillingness to adapt when society is moving forward, and I admire what the protesters are doing. It’s believed that more than two-thirds of Iran’s population is under the age of 30; these are people my age, standing up for a cause they believe in, and challenging not just their government and supreme leader but their very social system. For that they are being shot at, beaten, arrested, killed; and still they manage to get news out to the world; still the cries of Allahu Akbar ring out each night. I can only imagine the courage they’re showing; to go from being afraid to hold hands in public to openly defying Ayatollah Khamenei, just a few weeks ago it would have been unthinkable. But the crackdown is getting much more violent and I fear it will only get worse again in the coming days.

What is happening now in Iran is inexcusable. Whether the election was stolen or not (and we may never know for certain, although there is mounting evidence, as the Washington Post alleged), no government should turn its forces on its own people, let alone on unarmed innocents involved in a peaceful protest. Suppressing ideas doesn’t make them go away; they are only forced underground to spread in different ways. The use of force only shows the true colours of the Iranian government and what little respect it has for its own people. The world is watching events unfold and while that may mean little to the authorities, their actions won’t soon be forgotten.

Much of what’s happening reminds me of Tiananmen Square. Not just the scale of the protests and the demand for change but the students and intellectuals forming the core of the rallies, the role of new media in spreading news as it breaks – with faxes and mobile phones in Tiananmen, with the Internet and social networking in Iran. It’s becoming a similar standoff that neither side seems willing to budge from; but no matter what happens with the crackdown, you get the feeling that culturally Iran has passed a point of no return, whether the authorities admit it or not.

IRAN-ELECTION/

A fire burns in the streets of Tehran after a rally to support Mousavi (photo: faramarz)

What’s been interesting about the protests is how the demands of the protesters have evolved as the situation has deepened. There was an interesting commentary by William Pfaff last week, during the start of the mass rallies, which offered a good analysis of what the protests were about at that time. It was what I felt as well. Watching the protests and following the tweets from Iran, it didn’t feel like the movement was a threat to the Islamic Republic itself; some figures in the government (like Ahmadinejad and others allied with the Revolutionary Guard) were under threat but what was being challenged by Mousavi and his supporters was more the form the system had taken in the last decade than the system itself.

It stated as more of a revolt about the role the Islamic system should have in modern society, and the main issues for the protesters were the legitimacy of the election and the points the opposition had contested the election on – mainly democratic freedom, for young people to be able to enjoy more individual and personal freedom without fear of reprisal. The debate was as much about reform within the system as democracy.

But as the crackdown has escalated and the bloodshed and outrage have spread, the demands have intensified. Now the protesters want justice for the dead as well as democratic freedom and they are defiant, resurrecting the chants from the 1979 revolution and even calling for the death of Ayatollah Khamenei, a man who has been untouchable in Iran for 20 years.

Likewise there are signs of cracks appearing in the system as some of the senior clerics are divided. Today Grand Ayatollah Montazeri warned that the continued suppression of the protesters would create frustrations which could lead to the overthrow of the government and endanger the Islamic Republic. Though a critic of Khamenei, Montazeri is considered the highest authority of Shi’ite Islam in Iran and his word carries considerable weight.

That the protests have evolved this far in such a short time is remarkable. I still don’t think another revolution in Iran is likely – I’ve yet to see the protests reach the kind of critical mass amongst the rest of Iran’s populace for that to be possible and given the reliance upon state-run media, it’s unlikely that will happen – but that it even seems like it could be possible, after so many years of repression, is more than anyone could have predicted. The supreme leader and the government have been challenged in a way that has severely damaged their authority and, regardless of what happens, Iran won’t be the same.

Iran Violence

A man bleeding after the violent crackdown on protesters (photo: faramarz)

How much longer the government will allow that divide to be visible, though, is unknown. The crackdown is already taking a toll on the opposition movement and it’s feasible that a further push by security forces could seriously damage it; there were reports of smaller crowds recently but of particularly brutal clashes near parliament, while others who have been arrested have reportedly recanted after being threatened and one former presidential candidate has also withdrawn complaints he made about the electoral process. Some people, like the New York Times’ Roger Cohen, are calling it the end of the first phase of the uprising and given the overwhelming forces the protesters are now facing, you’d have to think he’s right.

I think whatever happens the opposition movement will survive in some form and the culture in Iran will gradually begin to shift (as I said, you can’t suppress an idea when it has spread to so many people), but in the short term the protesters will have to change their tactics. Their only option now is a more cautious approach and to remain unified; they have to clearly distinguish between what they and the authorities stand for and they need to be prepared for a war of attrition. That may mean calling for national strikes, overwhelming the bazaars, and abandoning many of the symbols that have come to be associated with the protest to become less identifiable.

In the end the only way for a movement to have any success against an oppressive regime is to fully commit to a prolonged campaign of non-violence, to not engage the regime on their terms. That means knowingly placing themselves and their families in danger day after day and finding new ways to protest, and that takes immense courage and perseverance. But some in the opposition, like former President Khatami, seem to have recognised that if they’re to continue then that has to be the next phase. Facing overwhelming force, it’s either that or back down.

Iranian Police march on protesters

Riot police watch over a group of protesters in Tehran (photo: faramarz)

I think that’s why it’s important that the rest of the world continues to show its support as well. The gestures of solidarity, particularly on Twitter and Facebook, have been overwhelming during the last week and have also been helping to keep people informed. Some people have been deriding that as largely meaningless but I don’t agree. While I agree it’s a simple thing to change an avatar or post a comment, for most people the gesture means something more; it shows people standing together and saying that you’re not alone, that your rights matter as much as ours.

But it will become even more important if the protests wear on. No protest, no matter how significant, can produce real social change in 12 days; the civil rights movement didn’t change attitudes in days, nor did South Africa overcome apartheid in weeks. Real change takes time and there will be times when the protesters will need to know the world hasn’t forgotten them. It’s important that we don’t. While the world is watching Iran, there’s still some hope for a resolution and an end to the violence.

It’s also important, though, that we are responsible and don’t lose our judgement. I’ve seen people on blogs and Twitter blaming Islam for what’s happening in Iran, which is totally unacceptable and reminds me of the ignorant reaction after 9/11. I’ve also seen people demonising those who disagree with them. We need to remember that while what the authorities are doing is terrible and there are serious questions about the legitimacy of the election, there will still have been millions of people who voted legitimately for Ahmadinejad. If this is a truly democratic movement, those people also deserve to have a voice and don’t deserve to be shouted down by Westerners. Likewise we (both individuals and governments) need to be careful not to directly interfere in the democratic process that’s taking place; we can support the protesters and condemn the violence, certainly, but the future is in the hands of the Iranian people; we’re just observers.

And if we truly care about democracy, we also need to remember that there are other injustices in the world as well. I wonder how many people are also aware of Liu Xiaobo’s arrest in China or know the full details about the protests in Peru which are also happening at the moment? At least 50 people have been killed and over 100 injured so far, although the death toll could be far higher. The indigenous people of the Amazon are one of the oldest civilisations of the Americas and they have been exploited throughout history. It’s hard to believe it’s happening again. But it barely makes news.

Mideast Iran Presidential Elections

A young woman flashes a green victory sign (photo: faramarz)

I’m not sure what will happen next in Iran. I still hope it may reach a more peaceful resolution, with either a new election or a compromise, but after the violence has escalated I’m not at all optimistic. I also think the one thing that is making it difficult for the Iranian government to put down the protest is the world’s attention and I’m concerned that our interest will wane over time, as it has with other issues. If that happens then the situation really might become another Tiananmen.

For what it’s worth, though, I want to add my voice to those supporting the protesters and condemning the violence. I’m just one person, one voice, but I believe that democracy and freedom are universal rights and I’ll always stand with people to defend them.

I am also planning to write to the Australian government to urge them to accept protesters and their families into the Australian embassy in Tehran. There were reports during the bloody June 20 protest that the Australian embassy gave aid to protesters but there’s been no confirmation from our government. Personally I think it’s the least we can do.

Iran Democracy BadgeIran Democracy Badge (square)

Click on an image to download from Flickr

If anyone would like to show their support as well, I’ve made some badges which you can put on your blog. I wanted something which I could use more long-term than the Twitter avatars.

There is also a petition at Avaaz if you want to do something more practical, and several sources from within Iran are asking people to write to the United Nations to request a new election for Iran. Amnesty International is also urging people to write to the Iranian Ambassador in their own countries.

There is also a Bloggers Unite event planned next week, to help raise awareness about the situation and offer support for a free Iran. I’ll be taking part in it (I’ll most likely be writing a poem) and have done a couple of these before. If you’d like to take part, it’s a great way to show your support.

Bloggers UniteSupport people of IranSupport human rights

Bloggers Unite for a Free Iran: Monday June 29th

I thought I’d finish with one of my favourite videos from YouTube. It’s a cover of Stand By Me by singers from many different countries and is part of a multimedia project called Playing for Change, which promotes peace and understanding around the world through music.

I think it’s something we could all use at the moment.

We Shall Overcome

090120-F-3961R-919.jpg

If there’s one good thing about having insomnia it’s that when something happens in the world, you get to see it at the same time as everyone else. Early yesterday morning, while most Australians were still fast asleep, I experienced a moment in history I’ll never forget.

To see an African American in the White House is an amazing thing; it’s not just what it represents for the civil rights movement and how far America has come but also for disadvantaged people around the world. It’s no less than the power to dream, for a child to believe they can grow up to be anything they want to be. It’s a day I was not sure I would see and I’m happy I have.

What struck me watching the scenes from Washington was how joyous they were. When Obama won the election there was an outpouring of emotion, like all the emotions that had been restrained for so long were suddenly bursting forth. But this was different. This was like a celebration and perhaps nothing showed that better than seeing two million people huddled together in the freezing cold, waiting in anticipation. It was an amazing sight.

I’ve never seen crowds like that. The conditions must have been awful and the lines looked like they stretched back for kilometres but they weren’t ideologues or the Democratic faithful; they were just ordinary people who had been touched by Obama’s message and wanted to be a part of history. That’s what was so moving, particularly during Obama’s speech.

The other thing that was interesting was seeing the surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen from World War II. For so long they had fought against the discrimination that had held them back, trying to prove they could fly as well as any other man, and to see them there, with the pilot of the plane that crashed into the Hudson River, for me highlighted what this moment meant. Seeing two different eras of pilots who once would have been separated by so many divisions being honoured together shows how far America has come.

Of course Obama’s election is at best a stepping stone. It doesn’t end racism; it doesn’t fulfil the dream of Martin Luther King so many years ago. Racism might never be something we can truly be free of, only marginalise. What this moment represents instead is another step forward, another step towards tolerance. And the example it sets for the rest of the world and the hope it gives to minorities is something words cannot describe. For myself, it gives me the belief that I can be more than I am, and gives me hope that one day we will have moved past some of the divisions in Australia as well.

Personally I am hopeful that Obama will be a good president. The world needs stable leadership right now and he seems to be making the right signs but he faces a difficult task with the economy and two wars. But I was impressed by his speech; I thought he struck the right balance between responsibility and optimism. I hope he will be able to bring people together and end some of the division and from an Australian point of view, I hope our relationship continues to grow. Israel & Palestine remain in my thoughts as well.

For me, though, it isn’t about that right now. It’s about this moment in time and I think it transcends your race, political persuasion or where you live in the world. There were over two billion people watching Obama’s inauguration worldwide and watching the crowds and celebrations in Washington, it again reminded me of the moon landing and the fall of the Berlin Wall, events which united all of us together as one. Right now I don’t feel like an Australian but a citizen of the world and I’m glad I was able to watch it live.

I thought I’d post a video to mark the occasion as well. During the civil rights movement We Shall Overcome became a key anthem played at rallies and festivals. I can’t think of a more appropriate song to mark the moment. This is Bruce Springsteen’s version, a tribute to Pete Seeger.

Congratulations to President Obama. Now the hard work begins.

A Piece of History

Barack & Michelle Obama

I was five years old when the Berlin Wall fell. I have few memories of it happening but I do remember some of the scenes; the crowds flooding the checkpoints, the sections finally coming down. I’ve often wondered what it must have felt like at the time, to watch history unfold.

Now I think I know.

Seeing Barack Obama win yesterday is something I will always remember. If you had asked me a year ago if I thought Obama could be elected President of the United States, I would have said no. There were too many divisions; too many obstacles to overcome. And then it happened; Obama won.

I know the election of one man changes little; there is still racism and bigotry in the world and perhaps there always will be. But it’s a step forward and what it means for African Americans and minorities around the world is something words cannot truly describe… it’s the culmination of a dream and just like the Berlin Wall, it’s a moment that will live forever.

For Australia it brings the promise that perhaps things can change here as well. I have long hoped that one day we will have come far enough to have an Aboriginal Prime Minister, that immigrants and minorities will be more readily accepted and the divisions that caused the Cronulla Riots will be healed.

Today that hope doesn’t seem as far away.

I don’t know what kind of president Obama will be but I know this moment is one I will always remember; the scenes in Chicago, the tears at rallies and on the streets. It’s a piece of history. I feel privileged to have watched it unfold.