Monday, January 11, 2010

Japan loses patience with Australia's support for ecoterrorists

JAPAN has risked an open breach with the Rudd government by hitting back hard at Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard's handling of last week's whaling confrontation in the Southern Ocean. Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials have accused Ms Gillard of aggravating the whaling controversy between Tokyo and Canberra, and called for Australian action to prevent further illegal activities by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

The officials warned a senior Australian diplomat on Friday that Ms Gillard's statements immediately before and after the collision between Sea Shepherd's speedboat and a Japanese whaling ship were inflaming public opinion in Japan and making diplomatic resolution of the underlying dispute harder to realise.

This is the toughest public stance a Japanese government has taken towards Australia on Antarctic whaling -- or any other issue -- in recent times and is also highly unusual in singling out for criticism a senior member of a friendly government.

The move betrays Japanese frustration with the Australians' political management of the issue, including Kevin Rudd's repeated threats of international legal action against so-called scientific whaling, while not obviously helping to curb hazardous protest activities, including Sea Shepherd's efforts to disable whaling ships.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs senior officials told acting Japan ambassador Allan McKinnon it was "not appropriate" for Ms Gillard to urge Japanese whalers and the activists in equal terms to show restraint, "notwithstanding the Sea Shepherd itself was conducting the unlawful rampage".

Sea Shepherd accuses the Shonan Maru 2 crew of deliberately running over Ady Gil during a day of confrontation in which the activists' speedboat ran across the Japanese factory ship's bow and allegedly tried to entangle its propellers.

Ms Gillard yesterday stood by her call for calm on both sides and for Japanese and Sea Shepherd skippers to ensure crews' safety as their first duty. "These are extremely dangerous conditions and it is likely Australia would be called upon to deploy a search and rescue mission if things were to go horribly wrong," Ms Gillard said. "It is not therefore inappropriate for Australia to call for calm from both sides in these circumstances."

Japanese officials questioned the jurisdiction of Australia's Maritime Safety Authority to investigate last week's collision. Without access to the crew of Shonan Maru 2, any finding by an Australian inquiry into the collision is likely to be meaningless.

The Japanese have agreed to co-operate with a New Zealand investigation (Ady Gil was New Zealand-registered) and they are expected to vigorously contest a piracy complaint lodged in a Dutch court by Sea Shepherd on Friday...

Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, in answer to questions from The Australian, have called for the Australian Federal Police to investigate Sea Shepherd's actions the next time its vessels put into an Australian port. Japanese officials were already annoyed that the Steve Irwin, which uses Australian ports for its annual Southern Ocean campaigns, was allowed to put into Hobart without question late last month after initiating the first clashes of the season.

They told Mr McKinnon that Ms Gillard's call for the Institute of Cetacean Research to suspend charter flights monitoring the Sea Shepherd vessels that have been harrying the whaling fleet since mid-December "has already unnecessarily provoked the Japanese public opinion". "This has invited the Japanese public (to) call for a strong protest and it might impair both governments' will to lead the whaling issue to a resolution through diplomatic efforts," said a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Japan aims to slaughter nearly 1000 minke whales this summer for "scientific research", as well as 20 rare fin whales and 50 humpbacks. It has urged Canberra to distinguish between official Australian opposition to Antarctic whaling and illegal acts in international waters that put at risk Japanese crewmen and ships....

Ms Gillard yesterday maintained that the Australian government was "pursuing its anti-whaling position through the appropriate diplomatic and legal channels very strongly". "The government also respects the right of those who also oppose whaling to protest, and to do so peacefully," she said. [The ecoterrorists are "peaceful"???]

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop said yesterday the government's handling of whaling was damaging Australia's relationship with Japan. She said Mr Rudd should either fulfil his pre-election promise to pursue international legal sanctions against Japan or withdraw the threat.


Chaotic schools mean that some kids have to turn to the courts for protection

KIDS as young as 10 are turning to the courts to protect them from fellow students, with 613 taking out apprehended violence orders against other children last year. But these figures are only the tip of the iceberg, according to the Daily Telegraph, with thousands more being protected by bail conditions ordering juvenile offenders to stay away from their victims while their cases are pursued through the Children's Court. Even the education department took out AVOs against two students in 2008 to protect teachers and other classmates.

Teachers complain that the increasing number of court orders is making the school system almost unworkable as they try to minimise the contact between the disputing parties, placing them in different classes, having allocated areas in the playground or staggering their lessons and lunch breaks.

Psychologists also attacked the trend and said adults are failing children by letting the situation deteriorate to such a point the courts have to become involved.

According to latest figures from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research there were 3062 children across New South Wales protected by personal AVOs, 20 per cent of them from other children. Personal AVOs are court orders to protect individuals from others in society, as opposed to domestic AVOs which offer protection from family members.

The surge of AVOs taken out against bullies is coming from the state's west. One country school teacher said that dealing with AVOs when the students attended the same school was "almost farcical". "They come in and this kid's got an AVO against this one, this one and this one and another's got AVOs against these kids," he said. "But in a small town like this there is only really one high school they can go to and legally they still have to attend school."

Wagga Wagga's Senior Constable Steven Johnson said some students were taking out AVOs against fellow classmates in a sort of arms race or "one upmanship". Armed with an AVO, he said they wielded it as a threat when they came into further conflict with their rival.

University of NSW National Children's and Youth Law Centre director James McDougall said: "It's adults failing children." He said it meant bullies would be excluded from mixing with other children and never learn how to change their behaviour. [i.e. much less effective than a good thrashing]


Culturally adrift without classical moorings

A return to Latin and ancient Greek would make for a real education revolution, writes Dan Ryan

MY grandfather, who spent most of his life on a sheep station in western Queensland, could quote tracts of Virgil and Homer from memory. My mother topped Latin in year 10 in her school in Brisbane in the 1960s, but things were on the slide; her prize was a copy of the Iliad not in Greek but in English, and in an abridged form, with all the poetry stripped away.

By the time I went to school there was apparently no need to teach the classics any more. They were dead languages and, besides, there was not enough time in the school day to fit them in between classes in home economics, woodwork, typing and the like. How sure are we that the effective elimination of the classics from our education system has been without consequence?

Educators once believed in the classical education very strongly. Little more than a generation ago you could not get into Oxford or Cambridge without demonstrating competency in Latin, and practically every Western historical figure and writer until the 1950s was taught the classics from an early age. The line of thinking that we don't need to learn Latin and Greek because they are too hard, irrelevant, not useful or not the languages of the future would have been regarded as the argument of philistines.

The rationale was not always stated explicitly; it was simply understood. A classical education was needed first of all to impart content -- to maintain basic Western cultural literacy. Your understanding of the West would be necessarily incomplete and superficial without a good acquaintance of the Aeneid, the works of Ovid and Aeschylus, the speeches of Pericles and Cicero, and the Homeric epics. The second reason, as classicist Tracy Lee Simmons emphasises in his excellent book Climbing Parnassus, was that learning these hard ancient languages had a point in itself -- it required students to focus on the precise meaning of words, making them less patient with sloppy language and thinking. For Westerners, only the languages of Latin and Greek can perform this role.

The high-minded hope was that the combination of the content and the process would make us better able to govern ourselves, both individually and as a society. To know a liberty fit for men, notanimals. What does it say that we are now fixated about becoming Asia-literate, but that there is no concern about the obvious decline in Western cultural literacy levels?

I am not saying that one should not learn Asian languages or have a deep interest in the cultures of Asia. I speak and read Mandarin and have been learning since university days. I ended up marrying a Brit who speaks Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu. Whether spending $11 billion on compulsory mass Asian language education training from year 3 onwards would result in a net economic gain or otherwise make sense is something others can duke out. From what I've seen so far of the plans, colour me highly sceptical.

What I do strongly believe is that one's understanding of the East will, in the long run, be hindered unless you have a proper understanding of the West. Lawrence of Arabia would have thought the lack of Latin and Greek a terrible obstacle to the understanding of Arabic. William Jones, the famed Sanskrit scholar, would have thought likewise with regard to understanding the languages and cultures of the subcontinent. The same holds true for the languages of East Asia. Australia's pre-eminent Sinologist, Pierre Ryckmans, was educated in Europe. I bet my bottom dollar he was taught Latin during his formative years. It shows in his writing style and liberal mind.

Without a decent acquaintance with the Western classical heritage we are dooming ourselves to a glib relativism born of ignorance, to being forever trapped in the parochialism of the present, to being a nation adrift without a cultural anchor.

What is needed is not a new state education plan. The renewal is unlikely to come via our sclerotic state-directed command-and-control education system that governs both fee-paying and non-fee-paying schools. Carthago delenda est.

If there is a renewal, I suspect it will be through less mainstream institutions like Sydney's Campion College, through teachers with a deep love of Western culture, and through some of the classically educating home schooling families I have been honoured to know.

It will come when we realise that it has been a terrible dereliction of duty not to pass on "the best that has been thought and said" to the next generation and we are not going to let it continue. Now that truly would be an education revolution.


Dickensian lessons on homelessness

We should learn from the Victorians rather than mock them, writes David Burchell

WE weave history out of the thread of our collective vanities and self-delusions. And yet our attempts to lord it over our ancestors, to present ourselves as their superiors and emancipators, usually say more about us than them. Thus it is that the television series Mad Men can reduce the pre-Woodstock 1960s to an endless gallery of repressions about to be unbound, of hypocrisies about to be uncloaked, of blindness and prejudice about to be exposed to the all-seeing eye of futurity.

Yet at the end of every episode we are bound to have an uncomfortable tingling sense that we enjoy the very hypocrisies we pretend to deplore, and luxuriate in the social conventions from which we pretend to have emancipated ourselves. The things we enjoy mocking about the past are often the very things we are concerned to deny about ourselves.

This, of course, is why the Victorians are so necessary to us: so necessary, in fact, that we have had to reinvent them. Who, after all, could be better qualified than us to titter over what we like to describe as Victorian sexual prudery and hypocrisy: we who want to expose and condemn every single politician (and politician's spouse) who ever had an affair, at the very same moment that we wolf down every anecdote of their affairs, almost as if we had indulged in them ourselves? And who could be better qualified than us to burlesque the Victorians' supposed moralism about the poor: we who so skilfully combine a pretended easygoing egalitarianism with a clinical contempt for the manners and mores of everybody lower down the sociocultural ladder than ourselves?

We know the Victorians invented the modern idea of the social conscience. And yet, as a means of dispelling that uncomfortable thought, we tell ourselves they invented it only to deploy it in all the wrong ways and to all the wrong ends. The Victorians, we tell ourselves, moralised the poor, blamed them for their poverty and divided them into deserving and undeserving classes. We, on the other hand, have rectified these errors by the simple expedient of inverting them.

Rather than attributing poverty to personal agency, we deny all possibility of agency whatever, either in poverty or in people's efforts to extricate themselves from it. Then we assign all social ills to steely, impersonal forces, which we label as underlying causes, objective factors or entrenched factors of disadvantage. Except that, since the iron hand of necessity in the end offers no hope whatever, we still find our consciences pricked by the same woebegone images that Dickens used to touch the hearts of his readers some 150 years ago. Just like the Victorians, it seems, we are affected by the down-and-out, the pitiable, the wretched of the earth, Les Miserables.

At present, our emotional attentions are being exercised on what we've come to call the problem of homelessness. The ostensible source of this attention -- though the number of people who've read it through may well be small -- is the federal white paper on homelessness by Tony Nicholson of Melbourne's Brotherhood of St Laurence. And yet, were we to wander past the prefatory obeisances of Nicholson's report, we would discover that homelessness is a rhetorical and political issue rather than a social one. It is the aggregate effect of a series of distinct forms of personal trauma and dysfunction woven into a composite figure designed to arouse our pity. We need the homeless in the same way the Victorians needed Little Dorrit or Oliver Twist.

Though Nicholson makes the point plainly enough, not very many commentators have yet registered the fact that very few of those defined as homeless are sleeping rough. Rather, they subsist for shorter or longer periods across an archipelago of insecure housing forms, either because of their inability to hold down a job or apply for benefits efficiently, or else because of a well-founded fear of violence from their former life-partners. Only a tiny percentage of this broad population (about one in 25) will ever sleep on a metropolitan park bench in sight of a conscientious observer. Most of them are circulating, unobserved, on the fringes of remote indigenous communities; or else they cycle around various forms of crisis accommodation in the outer suburbs, avoiding their psychotic menfolk and trying to get their lives back together again.

Nor does the creation of this problem of homelessness require inventing brilliant new analyses or crafting radical policy initiatives, as the problems that lead to housing insecurity have been studied for decades. We know, for instance, that many remote indigenous communities are in acute distress and that their menfolk are especially so. We know that much serious mental illness is untreated and that its sufferers often choose to self-medicate by combining it with multiple forms of substance abuse. We know -- in the unfashionably Victorian language of the Australian Institute of Family Studies -- that the development of a sociable temperament is an essential element of personal and familial wellbeing.

We know, likewise, that civilised functioning requires fragile resources of psychic peace, which are maintained only with difficulty in situations of acute financial or relationship stress. We know that a significant minority of men have a violent element in their personalities which they are unable or unwilling to control, and which is most likely to exhibit itself as they feel more socially marginalised and useless. We know poorer communities are much more violent than richer ones and that the most dangerous places in which to live are generally also the most dangerous places to be a married woman and a mother. And in knowing all these things, we also know already, more or less, why so many people are defined as homeless and what will best aid them in extracting themselves from this circumstance.

But here's the trick. Every single one of these social policy diagnoses points us back down the road from which we believed we had travelled. They all depend on questions of conduct, of demeanour, of wellbeing, of self-respect. They all invoke matters of personal agency and responsibility; even, as it might once have been said, of ethos. And how dismally, shockingly, Victorian is that?


1 comment:

Paul said...

Sad though it is for lovers of nature, It is for the Japanese people to decide as an independant, free nation to end whaling. It is not for various outside or International (supra-state) authorities to dictate to them. This is the end that should be worked toward, not this constant "appeal to the umpire" atitude. I don't think a lot of people undertand the concept of National Sovreignity anymore.