With all the attention being paid to the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands at the moment, it's worth keeping in mind that they aren't the only remote pacific islets that China and Japan are feuding over. And despite their much-maligned size and lack of resources (besides bat guano), the Diaoyus/Senkakus aren't even the most desolate of the ocean rocks inflaming tensions between the two Asian superpowers.
See: Okinotorishima (pictured above). This singularly unimpressive coral atoll barely remains above the waves at high tide -- and only does so thanks to human help. Japan has spent $600 million taking measures to defend Okinotorishima from the sea by encasing parts of the islets in concrete and steel. Several years ago it sent fishery officials to plant extra coral around them in an attempt to beef them up and protect them from erosion (the islets sit in a particularly stormy corner of the Pacific). Yet even so, at high tide the two chunks of the island that protrude from the water are described as hardly larger than a pair of king size beds, and remained threatened by rising sea levels.
To be clear, this fight differs from the Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute in that China does not want Okinotorishima (translated as "remote bird island"), or challenge Japan's claim. But the Okinotorishima fight highlights the geopolitics often underlying these island feuds: Japan has gone to such lengths to preserve Okinotorishima because possession of the tiny islets lets Japan claim an extra 150,000 square miles of exclusive economic zone, strategically located between Taiwan and US military bases on Guam. China - which been accused of violating Japanese sovereignty by mapping the sea floor around the islands - claims that they are not islands at all, but marine rocks, and therefore not entitled to their own EEZ (the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea says that rocks must be able to sustain "human habitation or economic life" before they get an EEZ). A recent UN panel on the issue has generated claims of victory from both sides.
At this point, the geopolitics of the Diaoyu/Senkaku fight have been mostly overshadowed by issues of historical grievances and nationalism - however, these islands, too, would give China and Japan EEZ rights to waters potentially containing significant oil and gas reserves. Similarly, the Okinotorishima fight, while at heart a geopolitical one, has occasionally also been complicated by nationalist feelings: following the Chinese crying foul over the islets in 2004, the right-learning Nippon Foundation scrambled to construct a lighthouse that would help generate "economic life", and help bolster their claim that it's morethan a reef.
While the Diaoyu/Senkaku furor is clearly top priority for the moment, Japan hasn't forgotten about Okinotorishima: earlier this year, the Cabinet approved legislation that gave the Coast Guard new law enforcement powers in some of the country's disputed territorial waters. The Diaoyu/Senkaku islands were on the list; so was Okinotorishima.
There's no relief in sight for the embattled 80-year-old media tycoon. Today, British analysts grappled with a question many have called unprecedented -- what power, if any, does the Parliament have to compel Rupert Murdoch to testify? Murdoch, an American citizen, declined an invitation to attend a parliamentary hearing next Tuesday (though he said he will participate in a separate inquiry set up by Prime Minister David Cameron).
The chair of the committee said if Murdoch doesn't show on Tuesday, he would be in contempt of Parliament -- though there was confusion about what that actually means since its rarely ever been implemented. The BBC said it was "unchartered waters,"given that Murdoch is a non-Brit.
"If they have any shred of sense of responsibility or accountability for their position of power, then they should come and explain themselves before a select committee," the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said today (referring to Murdoch and his son James, who has also declined to testify Tuesday).
The Murdochs are most likely trying to buy some time, hoping the media frenzy dies down a little before they are forced to talk publicly -- in what is likely to be a very hostile setting. (James said he'd be willing to testify in August).
In the meantime, things aren't going any better for Murdoch in his home country -- the United States -- nor in Australia, his place of birth. The scandal has truly taken on a global dimension.
United States: Today, there were more calls for a congressional investigation. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA), a powerful member of the House oversight committee, accused Murdoch's company of potentially engaging in "political espionage or personal espionage."
He joined Republican Peter King, who yesterday called on the FBI to look into whether journalists tried to tap into the phones of 9/11 victims. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said earlier in the week he suspected a U.S. probe would "find some criminal stuff."
A U.S. criminal investigation -- though unlikely -- would be disastrous for Murdoch, who's empire is based in the United States. It would put the company -- and its many holdings, including the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and the New York Post,under a microscope like never before. Even beyond illegal activity, embarrassing or less-than-exemplary practices could be exposed.
Eliot Spitzer, for one, believes more shady dealings will emerge -- and will likely include Murdoch properties based in the United States. "Given the frequency with which he shuttled his senior executives and editors across the various oceans-Pacific as well as Atlantic-it is unlikely that the shoddy ethics were limited to Great Britain," the former prosecutor, governor, CNN anchor, and expert on shoddy ethics wrote in Slate.
Australia: Speaking of the Pacific, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard today said she was open to initiating a probe of Murdoch's Australia holdings -- which comprise nearly 70 percent of the country's print media and a good chunk of its TV market.
Gillard said she was "disgusted" by the extent of the scandal in Britain.
The head of News Limited, Murdoch's Australian media arm, John Hartigan, said there would be an internal review of the company's practices, but said it was "offensive and wrong [to] connect the behavior in the UK with News Limited's conduct in Australia."
So, where does that leave Murdoch? Maybe China, where he's been expanding his footprint lately, is looking like a good refuge. His wife, Wendi, just produced a movie that is a hit there.
In fact, she told the Los Angeles Times -- apparently without any sense of irony -- that she had little trouble raising money for the movie: "Everybody in China wanted to give us money," she told the paper. "In China, everybody knows who I am. It definitely helped. They have confidence in me."
Back in June, I blogged a too-good-to-check item from the Daily Mail about rapper Snoop Dogg trying to rent the entire country of Liechtenstein for a music video shoot. As absurd as that story sounded, I was reminded of it by the news that New Zealand has just agreed to rewrite its labor laws to accommodate the filming of Peter Jackson's new Hobbit movie:
Warner Bros and New Line had considered taking the production elsewhere after acting unions threatened to boycott the films in a row over wages.
"I am delighted we have achieved this result," PM John Key said at 0720 BST. "Making the two Hobbit movies here will not only safeguard work for thousands of New Zealanders, but it will also follow the success of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy in once again promoting New Zealand on the world stage."
As part of the arrangement, the New Zealand government will introduce legislation to clarify the distinction between independent contractors and employees working in the film production industry.
Thousands took to the streets in Wellington and Auckland earlier this week carrying signs with slogans like "New Zealand is Middle Earth" and "We Love Hobbits," when Jackson suggested he might move the production elsewhere. Economists have said that losing the production could have cost New Zealand as much as $1.5 billion -- more than 1 percent of its GDP. Precious!
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The Philippine Congress voted unanimously yesterday in favor of a law that forbids deviating from the tune of the country's national anthem or displaying the flag in an unpatriotic manner:
The proposal has been put forward as the MPs felt that Filipino artists had been changing the anthem's military march melody and beat, and the flag was being made into clothing articles. The change in the anthem's tune was noted when it was sung at the boxing matches of Manny Pacquiao, the seven-time Filipino world champion.
If this new law is passed, Filipino singers deviating from the anthem tune could be handed a jail sentence as well as a $2,000 fine.
As a newly elected congressman, Pacquiao presumably voted for the measure himself.
Public figures are making a habit of lying on their resumes, but (now former) New Zealand military scientist Stephen Wilce has won the prize for most absurd claim.
Wilce claimed that he was a member of the British Royal Marines (Wilce was born in Britain), which isn't true. But that's been done before, and if that were Wilce's only falsehood, his story would have likely attracted very little media interest.
The claim that raised suspicion of Wilche's qualifications was refreshingly ridiculous. He alleged that he was a member of the 1988 British Olympic bobsled team, and that he raced against -- and personally knew -- the Jamaican team that was later immortalized in the 1993 movie "Cool Runnings." Wilche was caught on a secret tape, aired by "60 minutes," a New Zealand-channel TV3 program, saying,"I knew all the Jamaican guys" and that they were "mad, absolute nutters."
Not only does Wilche's claim scream fabrication, but why the hell did he have it on his resume in the first place? What employer did he think would be so impressed by him simply having met the Jamaican team? But it seems he's somewhat of a serial resume embellisher:
Previous employers and colleagues told the programme Mr Wilce had claimed he designed guidance systems for Britain's Polaris nuclear missiles, a now-defunct system that was launched in 1960, at the height of the Cold War. He also said he had worked for MI5 and MI6, the British secret services, the program reported.
It said at one previous workplace he was known as "Walter Mitty," a reference to U.S. author James Thurber's fictional character who lives in a fantasy world.
I have a hard time believing Wilche will find work in the near future.
H/T to Boing Boing.
David Yarrow/Getty Images
In an inspired bit of YouTube surfing, Gawker has assembled a compilation of military recruitment commercials from around the world. There are a few clunkers -- three minutes is an awful long time to watch a Russian paratrooper sort of rapping in front of an obstacle course -- and I have my doubts that this Japanese ad is not an elaborate sophomoric hoax, but on the whole they make for pretty fascinating viewing.
Watching these as an American, the most immediately noticeable thing is how little time most of the ads spend overtly appealing to patriotism. There's Estonia, which does it cheekily, and Lebanon, which does it with a slow-motion sentimentality that would be cloying under other circumstances but is actually quite poignant in the context of a country that is eternally trying to keep things together. France and India, meanwhile, both hearken back to the U.S. military ads of the pre-9/11 era, in which we mostly see the life-advancing stuff that enlistment is supposed to get you, with a minimum of actual warfighting. (A career in the Indian army evidently prepares you for a lifetime of golfing and competitive diving.)
The Ukrainian army opts for an admirably straightforward "you'll get girls" approach. Singapore features a naval vessel transforming into a giant robot, presumably developed to contain the same giant lava monsters that have long plagued the U.S. Marines. Britain's jarring entry -- which a student of post-colonialism would have a field day with -- looks like it was directed by Fernando Meirelles. (This kind of "I dare you" approach to recruiting must work in the U.K. -- back in the '90s, when the U.S. Army was mostly promoting itself as a way to pay for college, the Brits ran magazine ads showing a Royal Marine eating worms as part of a survival training course.)
But the real winner here, I think, is Sweden, which is promoting military service to young women as a means of avoiding working as an au pair for awful Americans:
PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images
Another side effect of summer heat? In August, according to CNNGo, Japanese monkeys "get most feisty." This year, at least 43 people in Shizuoka prefecture have been injured due to monkey transgressions. On August 25 alone, about 15 people in the city of Susono were injured. Residents have been bitten and scratched; one 73-year-old woman reported that a monkey grabbed her leg from behind.
In Tokyo, a wild monkey was caught two weeks ago after hiding out in a three-story house. In Mainichi, the local newspaper reported a lack of progress in halting the monkey mayhem: "Police, firefighters and local hunters have been searching for the monkeys but so far none have been captured."
The leaders of those countries say they understand the delay. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who would know, said that he "himself would find it very difficult to leave Indonesia in the middle of a natural disaster -- like, for example, a tsunami."
Publicly at least, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was similarly understanding. But the Sydney Morning Herald reports that he might have his own personal reasons for regretting the further delay:
Although his popularity is waning in the US, Mr Obama remains popular in Australia and there were hopes within the government that some of that would rub off on the Mr Rudd before the federal election, which is expected to be held by October.
But whatever frustration Rudd and Yudhoyono are feeling over their missed chance to play host to Obama, I imagine it's nothing compared with what the producers of "Little Obama" are going through right now.
Paul Kane/Getty Images
Barack Obama's emerging reputation is as a president who doesn't put much stock in personal relationships with other world leaders, but he apparently told an Australian interviewer that he felt a particular bond with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd:
O'Brien says during his 20-minute interview with Mr Obama, the US president shed some light on his relationship with Australia's Prime Minister.
"It was interesting. Diplomats and politicians say nice things about each other when they're having international chats," O'Brien said.
But O'Brien says Mr Obama spoke candidly about their relationship - which has in the past been described as a "meeting of minds".
"He was quite expansive and quite genuine on what he saw as the commonality and connections between [he and Mr Rudd]. One of which was humility," O'Brien said.
Granted, Obama was playing to the Australian public, but he hasn't exactly taken the bait on similar opportunities to say nice things about his relationship with, say, Gordon Brown.
Obama is also not the first U.S. president to talk up Rudd. Bill Clinton told FP last December that Rudd was a leader everyone should be paying attention to because he "has a thirst to know and figure out how to do things." At a bloggers' round-table I went to with Clinton last year, he positively gushed about Rudd, calling him one of the smartest world leader's on the scene today. The Australian PM has also reportedly wowed Chinese President Hu Jintao with his knowledge of Chinese.
Rudd doesn't get the international press of a Sarkozy or a Lula, but he seems to be emerging as the world leader's world leader.
Big news today in the world of geographical absurdities. Abkhazia -- which wants to be a country -- has been officially recognized by the Pacific island of Nauru -- which is barely a country. Nauru now joins the motley group of Nicaragua, Venezuela, and of course Russia in recognizing the breakaway Georgian region. Recognition didn't come cheap, though:
Nauru, an eight-square-mile rock in the South Pacific with about 11,000 inhabitants, was no pushover, according to the influential Russian daily newspaper Kommersant. In talks with Russian officials, Nauru requested $50 million for “urgent social and economic projects,” the newspaper reported, citing unnamed Russian diplomats.
$3,500 $4,500 per Nauruan. This was just the latest of the ill-fated island's get-rich-quick schemes:
Nauru, the world’s smallest republic, has been desperate for income since its most important resource, phosphates formed by centuries of bird droppings, is nearly exhausted. The island has tried housing refugees for Australia and investing millions in a West End musical. (It bombed.)
Recently, it has begun to dabble in foreign-policy hardball. In 2002, Nauru severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan, coincident with a reported pledge of $130 million from China. Three years later, it switched again, prompting a Chinese official to grumble that the islanders were “only interested in material gains.”
For a time, Nauru was also a major money laundering center used by the Russian mafia.
TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images
The editor of China's most influential financial muckraking journal, Hu Shuli, has resigned. For several months, Hu had been under pressure to tone down the aggressive, investigative tone of the magazine from Caijing's business partners, who in turn had come under pressure from government officials. Hu will assume a new post as dean of Sun Yat-sen University's School of Communication and Design, and is expected to launch another editorial venture, likely involving several of her top editorial staffers, who quit alongside their editor-in-chief.
More details will surely come out in the coming days, but already one thing the incident shed light on is how censorship works in China. To western audiences, when we hear about "state-run media," we are accustomed to envisioning a censor with a red-pen, a list of forbidden topics, and an army of automaton scribes marching out to do the state's bidding.
In fact, the reality is much more subtle, and pernicious. There are indeed directives sent from the central propaganda office to the editors of major news outlets in China detailing forbidden topics. But aside from this high level communication, most censorship actually happens internally -- Chinese journalists, who by and large are bright and inquisitive (and drawn to journalism for the same reasons as western journalists: curiosity about the world, desire to travel, etc) work within the system and gradually learn the boundaries of what can and can't be said.
Official politics, for instance, are off-limits, as are details about the personal lives of political leaders. A friend who edits the Beijing-based Environmental Protection Journal once complained to me that he was struggling to make climate change interesting, and lamented that he couldn't tally and lampoon Hu Jintao's carbon footprint, as American publications have done for Al Gore. (Also off limits are any details about Hu Jintao's hair dye, which a reporter at Beijing Youth Daily classified, only half-jokingly, as "deepest state secret.")
What makes Hu Shuli so unique is that she's operated effectively within this system, without ever internalizing it. She has spent time studying and working abroad, not uncommon among Chinese journalists, but never accepted that the rules must be entirely different in China. Caijing has not been directly dependent on state-funding, also relatively rare in China, because Hu went out and secured independent financial backers who, until recently, allowed her greater editorial space.
Now this delicate balancing act has fallen apart, as Hu's departure indicates. It's also telling of how Chinese bureaucracy and censorship works that she wasn't fired. There were no high-profile stories that inflamed the government into a high-profile response and rebuttal. Instead, the end of Hu's tenure at Caijing has been brought about in subtler ways, through pressure exerted by middle-managers raising complaints about whether certain editorial content will turn off readers or advertisers, always tip-toeing around the real issue at hand.
This, too, is typical. When activists or trouble-makers, from the official point of view, face censure in China, they are usually presented with relatively benign-sounding charges. Xu Zhiyong, the pioneering rights lawyer in China and founder of Gongmeng (Open Constitution Initiative), was held in detention earlier this year after being charged with tax irregularities. Environmentalists in Beijing who come under scrutiny have been cited for failing to obtain the proper motorcycle licenses. In other words, small alleged sins (and the chaos of daily life in China means almost everyone has something on their record) are suddenly discovered and pounced upon by authorities when an individual begins to be seen by the government as too troublesome.
We don't know the full details of what's happened behind the scenes at Caijing. Likely we will know more in the coming days, though Hu, as a smart, savvy operator, probably won't fully spill the beans,
But I am reminded, sadly, of the fate of another, much smaller, but also innovative publication in China that met an unhappy end two years ago. ChinaDevelopmentBrief.com was a bi-lingual Chinese and English web site founded by a Brit, Nick Young, and employing several Chinese reporters, that examined a variety of development and environmental issues facing China. The staff was smart and sometimes cutting-edge in its analysis, but always extremely cautious not to finger-point or inflame the authorities.
Still, as environmental topics became hotter in China, and the site's traffic grew, it was perceived as a threat. (Being run by a foreigner was also a liability.) Young, who is no longer in China, left an account of how the house of cards fell, which is painful, haunting reading for the mundaneness of the charges: "On July 4  our Beijing office was visited by a joint delegation of a dozen officials from the Beijing Municipality Public Security Bureau, the Beijing Municipality Statistical Bureau, and the Beijing Municipality Cultural Marketing General Legal Implementation Team ... I, as editor of the English language edition of China Development Brief, am deemed guilty of conducting "unauthorized surveys" in contravention of the 1983 Statistics Law."
The other telling detail of Young's account was this: "After investigations and interviews lasting around three hours, they ordered the Chinese edition of China Development Brief to cease publication forthwith. The authorities are now deciding what punishment to apply. It appears that initially they were considering a relatively modest fine." In the end, the publication was permanently banned, and Young's visa revoked. But that wasn't a foregone conclusion.
There can be an extraordinary arbitrariness to how rules, including rules pertaining to media, are enforced in China. That's easy to miss if, from the outside, one has the impression of the PRC as an efficient police station. If you've lived in Beijing, you quickly realize that it's anything but.
And so, with regards to Hu Shuli and her new venture, it's clear that everyone -- muckraking scribes and wary officials alike -- are improvising their roles, and circumspect about what comes next. There isn't a firm policy, or clear marching orders. If this was China of 40 years ago, Hu might have been jailed, or exiled, or worse. But today, China's government is trying to control and curb the influence of independent voices like Hu Shuli in a more circuitous and at times uncertain way, with the final outcome - what degree of editorial freedom Hu will have in her next incarnation -- still unwritten.
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It appears the Uighurs have arrived in Palau, but they may not have much company there for long:
President Johnson Toribiong himself welcomed the group when they arrived before dawn Sunday on a secret flight, and he will treat them to a personal tour of the Rock Islands, a diving attraction that is country's top tourist destination, later this week as part of their orientation.
But Toribiong has also announced plans to send home between 200 and 300 Bangladeshi Muslim migrants whose work visas have expired, and last month he banned anyone else from the South Asian country from entering . No timetable has been set for deporting the Bangladeshis.
Palau's Muslim community of about 500 is made up almost completely of Bangladeshi migrant workers. Reducing their number by half could make the Uighurs' transition to island life that much more difficult.
"They need a community of Muslims," Mujahid Hussain, the only Pakistani in Palau, said of the Uighurs.
Definitely never imagined I would see a quote from someone identified as "the only Pakistani in Palau" in an AP story.
Toribiong, who I spoke with briefly in September, has a nack for getting his country international headlines with moves like accepting the uighurs or creating the world's first shark sanctuary. The downside of that is that messy Palauan immigration disputes are now covered by the international press.
Only two countries supported the United States in a U.N. General Assembly vote condemning the embargo on Cuba yesterday: Israel (not exactly a surprise) and Palau. While these votes do little more than force commentators to write that "virtually the entire world opposes the embargo" rather than "literally the entire world opposes the embargo," it is interesting to see how Palau seems to be going out of its way to support the United States's most controversial policies.
Remember, Palau famously joined the "coalition of the willing," supporting the invasion of Iraq (despite not having a military) and agreed to take in Uighur detainees from Guantanamo Bay. (Granted, Palau was a U.S. protectorate until 1994 and still depends on the U.S. military for its defense.)
It would be nice to think that the U.S. might return the favor by taking significant action to prevent the global climate change that is literally wiping Palau off the map.
A new proposal in Australia plans to slaughter thousands of camels that are wrecking havoc in the outback.
First introduced to the country in the 1840s to help explorers traverse the harsh deserts, feral camels now number more than one million, with a population that doubles in size every nine years. The herds roam unchecked through much of central and western Australia, destroying sacred indigenous sites and fragile ecosystems alike. Traveling in large, intimidating packs, they compete with livestock for food, trample vegetation and ravage residents' homes in search of food and water.
Last month the federal government set aside $15.6 million dollars for a "camel reduction program" that needs to drastically reduce the population down to at least a third of its present size to avoid "catastrophic damage". So far the most practical strategy seems to be a cull, with sharpshooters in helicopters firing on large groups -- an "actually quite humane" plan, according to some. This is good news for certain farmers, who are looking to expand the market for camel meat, reportedly an excellent source of low cholesterol protein. Alternative suggestions, including exporting the camels or instituting a mass sterilization policy, are thought of as unfeasible given the animals' enormous size and aggressiveness.
Unsurprisingly, animal welfare activists are deeply disturbed by the proposals, but criticism for the government is also coming from an unexpected outlet: the foreign media. American broadcaster CNBC referred to the plans as "camelcide" and dubbed Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd a "serial killer." Similarly, hosts of a program on China's Central TV are calling the government out for its "massacre...of innocent lives."
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
As far as executive tributes go, Australia's latest ranks pretty low.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd spoke today in fond memory of Sam the koala, who died in surgery six months after she was rescued from the country's worst wildfires and became an international "symbol of hope."
The four-year-old koala suffered second- and third- degree burns on her paws in the February fires across southern Australia that killed 200 people, destroyed 1,800 homes and devastated more than 1,500 square miles of land. A video of Sam's rescue by a volunteer firefighter made celebrities of them both. But during a risky operation to remove life-threatening cysts associated with urogenital chlamydiosis, which affects more than half of Australia's koala population, the disease was determined to be far too advanced and Sam was, sadly, euthanized.
To all those who question Australia's political relevance, Rudd retorts:
The symbol of hope for so many people around the world was the great picture of that wonderful koala being fed water by one of our firefighters. And I think that gave people of the world a great sense that this country, Australia, could come through those fire -- as we have, and Sam the koala was part of the symbolism of that and it's tragic that Sam the koala is no longer with us.
Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty images
Earlier this month, the leaders of the G8 attracted strong criticism with what many perceived as a failed attempt to make progress fighting climate change. The lack of action, though, is not stopping the tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu; the world's fourth-smallest country now pledges it will become entirely carbon-neutral by 2020.
Public Utilities Minister Kausea Natano said his nation of 12,000 people wanted to set an example to others.
Tuvalu is made up of a string of atolls with the highest point only 4.5m (15 ft) above sea level, making it extremely vulnerable to flooding.
The government hopes to use wind and solar power to generate electricity, instead of imported diesel.
"We look forward to the day when our nation offers an example to all - powered entirely by natural resources such as the sun and the wind," Kausea Natano said.
Many Pacific atolls like Tuvalu are worried that rising sea levels in the future could flood entire islands. But Tuvalu is not the first to make such a pledge -- in fact, it is only the 11th to make the pledge, joining countries like Iceland, New Zealand, and even Portugal (which has 10.6 million people, or approximately 1060 times as large a population as Tuvalu's).
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Australia's National Parks and Wildlife Service, troubled by recent fox attacks on little penguins, have taken protecting the endangered species to the next level:
Fox attacks on endangered penguins have led Australia's wildlife authorities to post snipers at night to protect the birds.
A colony of about 120 little penguins (Eudyptula minor), also known as fairy penguins, at Quarantine beach in Sydney has recently lost about nine of its number to attacks. On Sunday night, the two snipers took their first watch but were unable to shoot the animals responsible[...]
Meanwhile, the snipers are there to stay. "We've had no luck so far finding what has done this so we'll keep on trying," the parks service said. "We'll be there for as long as necessary."
No word yet on whether the Parks Service will be deploying a special cat sniper squad.
Brendon Thorne/Getty Images
The Times of India reports a total of 81 confirmed attacks on Indian citizens, mainly students, in Australia since May 23. The New South Wales state government and police admit a reluctance among Indian populations to report crimes against them, alluding to what is potentially a much larger figure. The attacks are believed to be both "recessionist" and racist in nature. The violence has prompted a patrol of Indian men along Melbourne's suburban train system to protect other Indians from attack.
The attacks were condemned by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last month, who insisted that efforts to make international students feel safer would be undertaken at both the state and national levels. Australia currently plays host to over 93,000 Indian students and its education institutions fear a significant drop in attendees from the sub-continent if the current climate of 'curry-bashing' is not effectively dealt with. Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland released figures showing 1,447 reported cases of robbery and assault against Indians in 2008-2009, up from 1,083 the year before.
WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images
The New York Times reports:
Two years after [Australian] Prime Minister Kevin Rudd drew worldwide applause for reversing Australia’s longstanding refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol on global warming, the government’s ambitious plan to change the way Australians use energy is facing major obstacles, raising the prospect of an early election with climate change as the central issue.
Two key points to note here: first, new elections could give the liberal Labor party a serious leg up on the climate change issue and increase the chances for the passage of future green legislation. But if Rudd wants to hold elections and gain that edge before the world meets to talk about climate change in December, that means losing today's battle to win the war.
Second, and more importantly, is this plan as "ambitious" as Australian officials are making it out to be? It proposes a cut in carbon emissions by "at least" five percent of 2000 levels by 2020. Granted, Australia is responsible for only two percent of the world's carbon output, but if it wants to be seen as a leader on climate change (as Rudd allegedly wants), it'll have to do better than that.
Remember those movies with such convoluted plot twists that make you say "there's no way that would happen in real life?" Yet, in Australia, the Melbourne gang war continues to prove that fact can be just as improbable.
A vicious gangland struggle that has gripped Melbourne for more than a decade took a surprising twist this week when the matriarch of the city’s most powerful criminal clan was charged in connection with the murder of her brother-in-law.
Behind the image of friendly suburbia the city presents to the world, a battle for control of the lucrative drugs trade has led to the deaths of more than 30 people and brought mayhem to the streets.
The past two years have been quiet — relatively speaking — but that all changed with the killing of Des “Tuppence” Moran, 61, on Monday. He was shot a number of times, at close range, by two masked men as he sipped his daily coffee in a café in the busy Ascot Vale area[...]
About 15 minutes after the shooting, Judy Moran — whose two sons, Jason and Mark, and husband Lewis (Des’s brother) have all been killed in the gangland wars — arrived at the crime scene in tears, screaming his name[...]
However, within 24 hours Mrs Moran, 64, and her friend Suzanne Kane, 45, were charged with being accessories to the murder, with Ms Kane’s partner, Geoffrey Amour, being charged with the killing.
Police told a court that officers saw Mrs Moran dumping the getaway car and a rifle used in the murder, while phone taps caught her discussing the disposal of other items used in the killing. A search of Mrs Moran’s home uncovered three handguns, a loaded shotgun, stolen numberplates, clothing and a wig matching the description of those worn by the gunmen who carried out the hit.
In a further twist, Mrs Moran’s house was damaged severely on Tuesday night in a fire described by police as suspicious.
Thinking this would be a great TV show? Too late to get credit for that: the gang war has already been turned into a critically and commercially successful show in Australia. In fact, it was so popular that the program was banned from being broadcast in one Australian state, for fears of swaying a murder trial. Ironically, many people ended up seeing the series anyways--through illegal copies.
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Despite a recession dramatically affecting some of the biggest and most robust economies in the world, Australia has managed to have an economic improvement. In the fourth quarter, not only did the GDP creep up 0.4 percent while others stalled or fell, but stocks rose and the value of the Australian dollar increased to 82.40 U.S. cents, the highest it's been in several months, thanks to generous government cash handouts intended to stimulate spending.
Craig James, the chief equities economist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia explained:
"Rumors of the death of the Australian economy have been highly exaggerated... Much of the credit for Australia's resilience must be given to the swift actions of the Reserve Bank and government in stimulating our economy."
So even though China is on the verge of buying out a huge portion of the country's natural resources, and its soldiers are the world's pickiest eaters, Australia does seem to be doing something right.
Australian troops on the front lines in Afghanistan have seen their fair share of the horrors of war. But if there's one thing they won't put up with, it's European cuisine:
Troops [in the Oruzgan province] had passed on complaints about the "lousy" food, Senator Johnson says, to both Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon on recent visits.
Food is mainly supplied by the Dutch, which commands the provincial reconstruction taskforce in the province.
Australian Defence Force chief Angus Houston defended the soldiers' diet.
"Our soldiers all the way through have had the required amount of calories and the food has been of a very high standard," he said.
"I think the issue is, it's not Aussie food, it's European food and it's pre-prepared.
Worse, getting a taste of home seems to be a status symbol in the Aussie army:
A major issue seems to be that while general troops are taking their supplies from the Dutch, their colleagues in the elite special forces have their own cooks dishing up the grub.
"Essentially, special forces have been eating Aussie food," Air Chief Marshal Houston said.
Top brass insist that the soldiers are getting good food, but "in total, 10 cooks will eventually be deployed to vary the diet of the soldiers." Whether they will be followed by an elite "Grandma's pies" batallion is at this point unconfirmed.
AWAD AWAD/AFP/Getty Images
Think Pat Robertson et al. are uniquely American? Think again. Here's an item in the Sydney Morning Herald about the leader of a fringe church in Australia:
The Pentecostal church's leader, Pastor Danny Nalliah, claimed he had a dream about raging fires on October 21 last year and that he woke with "a flash from the Spirit of God: that His conditional protection has been removed from the nation of Australia, in particular Victoria, for approving the slaughter of innocent children in the womb". [...]
Pastor Nalliah said he was helping to co-ordinate fire relief, including providing trucks to distribute clothes and food and giving his own blood, but he said he must tell "the truth".
Asked by the Herald if he did not believe most Australians would regard his remarks as being in appallingly bad taste, he said today: "I must tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear."
He said it was no use "molly-coddling" Australians.
Asked if he believed in a God who would take vengeance by killing so many people indiscriminately - even those who opposed abortion, Mr Nalliah referred to 2 Chronicles 7:14 to vouch for his assertion that God could withdraw his protection from a nation.
"The Bible is very clear," he said. "If you walk out of God's protection and turn your back on Him, you are an open target for the devil to destroy."
TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images
Iceland economic and political collapse may have indirectly paved the way for a major gay rights victory, but it also seems to have resulted in a setback for environmentalists. On its way out the door, Iceland's previous government substantially increased whaling quotas for the next five years in what environmental groups see as a swipe at the left-leaning interim government, which largely opposes whaling:
"This is basically an act of sabotage, an act of bitterness, against the incoming government," said Arni Finnsson from the Iceland Nature Conservation Association (INCA).
The new rules will allow the hunting of 100 minke whales and 150 fin whales over the next five years. The incoming government may still overturn the decision. Iceland is one of the three remaining countries -- along with Norway and Japan -- that stil permits commercial whaling.
Japan is also pushing to overturn international restrictions on whaling. Rumors recently trickled out in the Australian media that the International Whaling Comission that the countries of the International Whaling Comission, led by Australia, are considering expanding Japan's quota for whaling in the North Pacific. Australia's government, a member of the commission, has denied the reports but evidence seems to be mounting that some sort of offer was made to the Japanese.
Could the harpoon be making a comeback?
(Hat tip: TD)
Photo: DAVID BROOKS/AFP/Getty Images
Who'd have guessed it? U.S. President George W. Bush might be going down as the greatest protector of the seas ever. Later today, he is to announce the establishment of the "largest area of protected sea in the world." Commercial fishing and mining will be largely prohibited in protected zones of the remote Pacific that include some of the most biologically diverse locations on Earth.
Critics say that any benefit from the establishment of protected areas will be cancelled out by the effects of greenhouse gases and climate change. Nevertheless, Joshua Reichert of the Pew Environment Group told the BBC that Bush has "protected more special places in the sea than any other person in history."
It just might be another achievement to add to Bush's legacy.
Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
If going green isn't cool anymore in today's economic climate, this recent batch of news isn't going to help. According to a recent study published in the journal Conservation Letters, farming and eating kangaroos instead of cattle and sheep would made a dent in Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.
Unlike sheep and cattle, kangaroos emit little methane, which accounts for 11 percent of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. The study suggests that increasing the kangaroo population to 175 million while simultaneously decreasing the the number of other livestock would lower emissions by 3 percent over the next 12 years. The plan would have added benefits for soil conservation, drought response, and water quality as a result of reducing the number of hard-hoofed livestock.
Still, there's the small issue of kangaroos being a national icon and all:
The change will require large cultural and social adjustments and reinvestment. One of the impediments to change is protective legislation and the status of kangaroos as a national icon," [the study] said.
For Australians, that's an inconvenient truth not likely to go away any time soon.
Yesterday's Washington Post Quote of the Week:
And I reminded the president that I am reminded of the great talent of the—of our Philippine Americans when I eat dinner at the White House.
Felix Salmon weighs in on the unintended consequences of water pricing:
[P]ricing water can have interesting and not necessarily intended effects. In Australia, for instance, water rights can be traded. When the country was hit by drought, the price of those rights rose, and wheat growers started selling their water rights to the vineyards, because doing so was more profitable than growing wheat. And that, in turn, contributed substantially to the rise in global wheat prices.
The world would be better off right now if Australia's wheat growers had continued to grow wheat, and if Australia's wine growers had simply produced less wine. But that's not how the market incentives played out.
Well, the problem is about to get worse. The Australian government announced today it is buying $2.9 billion worth of water rights from farmers in an effort to safeguard drinking-water supplies. People have been predicting for years that water would become more precious than gold. Now, drip by drip, it's happening.
Rachel Morris, writing for the Washington Monthly's blog, says that "Hillary Clinton may have gravely insulted" New Zealand in a recent Newsweek interview. Asked if a scrapbook she's been keeping since childhood contains "any good jokes," Clinton came up with this zinger:
Here's a good one. Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand: her opponents have observed that in the event of a nuclear war, the two things that will emerge from the rubble are the cockroaches and Helen Clark. [Laughs]
Ha ha, I guess?
The trouble, as Morris points out, is that "Helen Clark is the current prime minister of New Zealand," and has been since 1999. "[T]he joke doesn't get funnier even if you happen to know something about New Zealand politics," Morris tartly observes.
That's not Clinton's worst New Zealand gaffe, however. In the grand scheme of things, it's hardly a big deal. New Zealand, after all, is a pretty obscure country halfway around the world. This, however, is just plain embarrassing:
Mrs Clinton also once said her parents named her after [New Zealand native] Sir Ed Hillary, a nice line till it was pointed out she was born more than five years before he climbed Everest, when he was still a lesser-known beekeeper.
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