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Nicely alliterative headline, but news from La Belle France is disturbing. French Mayors with local beaches have decided to ban the wearing of this cover-up swimsuit for Muslim women, as they consider it a ‘provocation’ against French secular values, or some such. The Conseil d’Etat, a kind of supreme court, has ruled that those bans are suspended, and the polemic continues.

Alas, everyone has missed a critical mistake! But firstly a little history of the burkini, which was invented by Aheda Zanetti, an Australian designer, after the 2007 Cronulla riots in Sydney. She proposed the swimsuit in lifesaving colours for Muslim women to join local surf clubs, and hence improve community relations.

Zanetti’s company owns trademarks to the words burkini and burqini, but they have become generic terms for swimwear acceptable to Islamic traditions, by covering most of the body, except for the face, hands and feet.

Secondly, there are different forms of Islamic dress for women: total body coverage with a burka, a niqab shows the eyes, and face uncovered with a hijab.

So, the overlooked problem stems from the misuse of the word burqa in the creation of a catchy garment label. A burkini does not cover the face, so it should really be called a hijabkini, but that doesn’t resonate like the amalgam of burqa and bikini. So it’s a misnomer, and the repressive, menacing burqa ethos is now attached to harmless full-length cossies (like wet suits?).

Ironically Zanetti’s idea of inclusion has backfired in France, so maybe the swimsuit should be re-branded there as friendly, sun protection wear. What about Cousteaukini, as a nod to the French godfather of scuba diving? Nah, I reckon Koala Kossie is perfect for the French market, with all those cuddly connotations.

In the so-called Western world women had full-length bathing suits early last century. Even in 1946 at Bondi a ‘beach inspector’ remonstrated with the first scandalous bikini wearer to cover up, but now bikinis are apparently the norm.

The French mayors and their boosters should all have a ‘douche froide’! The French habit of investing objects with symbolic meaning and extraordinary power has gone too far this time. Although understandable after the horrors of these last few years, quand même!

(Thanks to Cathy Wilcox for allowing use of her cartoon from SMH 29 Aug))

Cathy Wilcox SMH 2016-08-29

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The sorry saga of Australia’s offshore asylum seeker gulag is not just about bringing suffering and hopelessness to those in detention. In fact for the government contractors who run the island camps it’s a lucrative business.

The eponymous G4S, a provider of ‘security solutions’, claims to be one of the world’s largest employers with 625,000 staff in 125 countries. It earned $244 million for managing Manus Island camp for 5 months. Australian-owned Transfield earned $302 million for looking after the Nauru camp over the last year, but will now take over both islands, under a non-tendered 20 month contract for the bargain basement price of $1.22 billion.

My trusty solar-powered calculator was put in bright sunlight for this calculation. With 1,332 Manus and 867 Nauru detainees it works out to $554,798 income per inmate for Transfield: KACHING! By the way, they are people like us, not hardened criminals – the detainees I mean! A good little earner for Transfield though, paid straight out of our squeezed taxpayer purse. It would certainly buy a helluva lot of incarceration in our regular prison system.

Interestingly objections to the morality of Transfield’s detainee operations are coming from artists in the Sydney & Melbourne biennales protesting against their sponsorship of them. A dilemma indeed for arts organisations and those purporting to critique society.

On a tangent from gulag service providers, but equally repugnant, is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop trying to stitch up the Cambodian government to take our asylum seekers. With Australian aid of $329 million over the last four years, we are one of its largest donors, so her bargaining chips are huge. Human rights abuse is rife in Cambodia, social welfare is non-existent, 20% of the population lives in poverty and 40% of children under five are malnourished. Our Julie is plumbing new depths of cynicism and hypocrisy on our behalf. But who cares, right? Out of sight and out of mind, at any price.

Barbed wire

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The Indonesian government is implementing a ban on the export of some raw mineral ores, particularly nickel and bauxite, to encourage the construction and operation of local smelting and production facilities. To ‘add value’, as the economists call it, which is their ideal development path for mature economies.

As always China holds the key. It imports a quarter of its bauxite from Indonesia for aluminium production, and holds nine-months supply of stockpiles in anticipation of the ban. What will happen then? It will be very instructive to see how this bold move by Indonesia to capture more of the benefits of its ore reserves plays out.

Meanwhile, in the short term, Australian miners are rubbing their hands together at the prospect of replacing the Indonesian supplies with our ore, hopefully at higher prices.

Longer term Australia is in a quandary, with giant aluminium manufacturer Alcoa (US-owned) expected to close one of its two Victorian smelters. BHP has declared the production industry here ‘structurally challenged’, but somehow their smelters in Southern Africa are profitable. And so value-adding goes north, to Indonesia, Africa or China.

Australia slips back to what we do best. Digging the stuff up and shipping it away, without any fancy new taxes or government ‘red tape’. Minerals Resource Rent Tax anyone? Or a Norway-style sovereign wealth fund to better capture the benefits of our depleting common-wealth? Yes, the stuff in the ground actually belongs to all of us! Tell ’em their dreamin.

Indonesia’s government has also introduced laws to restrict foreign mine ownership to 49%. Imagine the outcry and fear campaigns by the mining companies here if our government tried either of these sovereign initiatives.

Go the Lucky Country! How about re-naming it Her Majesty’s Quarry? The place isn’t called Down Under for nothing.

Ore train

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Pope Francis has released a ‘papal exhortation’ of 223 pages of critique on modern life and capitalism. What a contrast with his predecessor Ratzinger, defender of doctrinal faith and church crimes, whose tenure was untenable, and who did well to sack himself.

Inter alia, Francis aka Jose Mario Bergoglio, had this to say about our enlightened and prosperous times:

“While the earnings of the minority are growing exponentially, so, too, is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. The imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation…. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules…. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything that stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”

Liberation theology is not dead. Go Francis, you good thing!

pope-francis-600

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Australia’s military is finally pulling up stumps, so to speak, in this blighted land. Our longest war (12 years) has been declared over. New PM Abbott was on the ground there to wave the flag and send the troops home by Christmas. He admits that it did not end in victory, but will not admit defeat either. He hopes that Afghanistan is ‘better for our presence’.

Vain hope and dishonesty are bad enough, but it seems that the new Australian government will also drastically reduce future aid there. The contradiction is flagrant and so cynical. The logic is that warlords and Taliban will resume control and so disbursements of aid cannot be realistically overseen as our government would wish. Even the fate of Australian-built schools in Oruzgan is unknown and their futures problematic.

The plain, painful truth is that our ‘war’ in Afghanistan has achieved little of lasting value. In fact with the reversion of the country to traditional tribalism and Taliban control, it has to be considered a monumental defeat – an exorbitant foreign failure that cost 40 Australian lives, 260 wounded and $7.5 billion. The damage and cost in Afghan casualties of our operations has not been quantified.

So, it’s a wrap and retreat in the Land of the Afghans. And adieu! To god indeed! Shame on successive Australian governments for spinning the pretense of progress with their weasel words, and sacrificing Australian and Afghan lives. Lest nobody forgets!

And a pox on both major political parties for their fawning attitude to Uncle Sam. So, until he again rings the tocsin of terrorism and sends us off to war in another poor corner of the world, it’s probably more au revoir.

Digger & flag

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Sorry but the alliteration is irresistible, and the subject is truly shocking. It may be out of our minds at present but the drama of Japan’s nuclear catastrophe is still being played out, only more slowly. In fact the de-commissioning and clean-up of the Fukushima nuclear plant is barely under way. It will take 40 years. And cost $11b. If all goes well! If not, we’re in for very serious trouble, and particularly the 13.2 million Tokyo residents, 200 kms away.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is still in charge of operations despite their connivance with the authorities to hide events in the early stages of the melt-down. And it looks like the Japanese government prefers not to get dirty hands, so to speak, while TEPCO is carrying the reactor can.

The details of how they plan to deal with the spent fuel rods in Unit No. 4 make fascinating reading. The risk management document must be a horrifying series of scenarios of further accident and pollution if there are any mistakes, as the handling process sounds very scary indeed.

Over 1300 spent fuel rods must be carefully extracted from their cooling ponds with very slim tolerances, to avoid potentially disastrous contacts which would set off reactions. The computers have gone, so this has to be done manually, and will take 1-2 years. Plutonium is one of the ‘most toxic substances in the universe’.

Then Units 1-3 have to be dealt with too. Hmm, four is unlucky in Japan! Apparently it’s also hard to translate wishing good luck, so some suggest ‘ganbatte!’ or ‘do your best’. So get praying for lots of that in Fukushima, folks, otherwise it’s ‘sayonara’. And we all know what that means!

Tanks & slag

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The name Snowden rang a bell for a literary character and the penny finally dropped, to mix metaphors again: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. Probably not the only punter to make the connection, I was thinking what a perfect segueway to the U.S. National Security Agency scandal with Edward of that name on the run in Moscow Airport. All the Catch 22ishness of that top secret agency eavesdropping on America’s enemies around the world, and friends, is such fertile ground for punditry.

Googling to check whether the fictional Snowden had a first name that I couldn’t recall, I stumbled onto the job already done. My half-formed ideas were already out there in a more coherent and intelligible form. That old adage about great minds thinking alike is some comfort, so I’m re-blogging it rather than plagiarising or trying to compete by racking (or wracking?) my soggy brain. And bask in the glow of Philly’s piece.

It doesn’t end well for Heller’s Snowden (no first name), who literally spills his guts over his pal Yossarian in their last bombing raid together. Here’s hoping that Edward has a better future, and finds a warm welcome in South America. Personally I’d prefer Venezuela to Iceland.

Now KC has presumably raised another red flag alert in the ginormous NSA data base by using its name. An excellent article by Richard Cooke on Australia’s role in the ‘Five Eyes’ shared surveillance program with our allies is worth a read too. The NZ government’s illegal spying on Kim Dotcom to help extradite him to the US is a salutary warning to us antipodeans.

Even out Kookynie way we’re getting a little wary about some previously benign structures which are looking more and more like listening antennae. See how they’re all pointed towards the pub, where KC is produced. Hmm.

Penong windmills 1

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