Archive for February, 2007

h1

Just look up

February 25, 2007

It’s been about a year since I first spotted Saturn through my telescope. It’s true what most people say – the first time you see it, your heart skips a beat at the sight of it. It’s amazing to see this beautiful giant silently sitting there in the night sky. I spotted it again last week from my own backyard looking up into the clear skies of Canberra. Of course, it’s small and a little blurry through my somewhat low-tech Newtonian reflector, but you can still behold the majesty of it. Cassini has been getting up close and personal with Saturn since 2004. Back in 2004 when the Cassini-Huygens craft was approaching Saturn, it sent back an amazing view of it to Earth – a bunch of composite images that formed the most close-up, exquisite and detailed view of the planet we have seen thus far:

Image from here.

Saturn has been nicknamed “The Lord of the Rings” for obvious reasons. However, it is one of the many beautiful things in the night sky. Saturn is relatively easy to spot and instantly recognised. But there are so many things to take pleasure in by just tilting your head up towards the sky after sunset – you don’t even need binoculars or a telescope. On the outskirts of any major city in Australia, you can clearly see the band of the Milky Way stretching across the sky with the naked eye. Get a little further out of the city and your own eyes will pick up the wisps of hot blue stars in the cluster of Pleiades or if your eyes are even more sharp, you’ll catch a milky smudge in the belt of Orion which is of course the famous Orion Nebula.

To catch a glimpse of these stars is to catch a glimpse of the eternity of the universe and all the beautiful things in it. To lie there on your back and take the time to focus on the sky above us is to feel at one with the unbelievably amazing phenomenon that is nature. To be conscious of it all is to feel the true essence of what it means to be alive, to be in existence and to take stock of everything around you while you can.

It’s amazing looking out into the night sky, even without a telescope. It always reminds me of how small and insignificant we are – but at the same time this makes you realise how unique and beautiful we are.

h1

Dick, the wanderer

February 23, 2007

Peter Hartcher’s column says it all. With approval ratings at 29%, a Congress and Senate controlled by the Democrats and his mate Rummy no longer in the corridors of power, what’s a vice-president to do? Visit Australia of course! To say “thanks” of course! That this chief war-monger is still traversing the globe in Air Force II spewing forth pro-war sentiment is a testament to the kind of unrealistic, selfish and downright arrogant thinking that neo-conservatives seem to be prone to.

Just before coming to Australia, Dick the brave gave a fervently pro-war speech to US troops on an aircraft carrier stationed in Yokosuka in Japan. With over three thousand US troops dead as a result of the Bush/Cheney administration’s decision to go to war with Iraq, Cheney again showed his utter comtempt for the lives of the soldiers he has sent off to fight this despicable war:

We will be flexible. We’ll do all we can to adapt to conditions on the ground. We’ll make every change necessary to do the job, and I want you to know that the American people will not support a policy of retreat.

Does Cheney, Bush or Howard or anyone else ever say what “the job” is? No, except of course for the new Vietnamisation “shift the responsibility to the Iraqis” policy. It was interesting to see Dick’s fellow lame-duck John Bolton on Lateline last night drive home the rhetoric on that one.

Cheney has no right to speak of “retreat” in a negative tone to anyone, as Hartcher points out:

With the US at war in Vietnam, the young Cheney, of drafting age, applied for four deferments to avoid service. “I had other priorities in the ’60s than military service,” he would say later. This is why he has been branded in the US as one of the Administration’s so-called “chicken hawks”.

And yet Cheney has the hide, during his visit to Sydney, to schedule an event at Victoria Barracks where he will pose with Aussie war veterans, hoping, one presumes, for valour by association.

I wonder if the three thousand US soldiers who are now dead had other priorities. I wonder if their families had other priorities. Why is Cheney only visiting Australia now? It’s been six years since his last visit and it’s been four years since the beginning of the war in Iraq. To say “thanks”? Yeah right! He has nothing better to do.

Is Howard guilty by association with this man? Of course not. Australia is close to the US and always has been. However, Howard is guilty for blindly following the bad policies that Cheney and the neo-cons have espoused, for involving Australia in an unjust war based on lies and for putting Australian lives at risk in doing so. This is the point that Kevin Rudd is making and it’s an entirely valid one. Howard, like Cheney is defending the undefendable and turning blue in the face as he insists that he wasn’t wrong, still isn’t wrong and never will be wrong. It’s OK to be arrogant sometimes when you believe in something – but not when you’re sending young men and women off to war. Rudd, like the Democrats in the US, is pointing out the obvious and appealing for common-sense and a way foward. I’ll be remembering that come election day.

h1

Blair acknowledges failure, Bush calls it sign of success – awaiting Howard’s spin

February 21, 2007

The disintegration of the COW. Tony Blair has contacted George W. Bush to tell him that he will be pulling British troops out of Iraq. No doubt Blair will of course talk of what a great success the occupation has been – but his actions will speak louder than his words. As late as October last year, Blair was insisting that we must not withdraw as there was still much to do. Wow, he did it all in four months it would seem! At a time when the Howard Government here in Australia is saying that any withdrawl by any coalition forces will be akin to a defeat in Iraq, the COW seems to be disgruntled, disorganised and completely out of puff. I bet Alexander Downer is fuming that he wasn’t told before his Lateline interview last night. Referring to the British so many times – tsk tsk tsk Alexander: do you get told anything by anyone? Howard was asked this morning by a journalist “Has Tony Blair undermined your argument against a withdrawl timetable?” to which Howard responded “I’ll talk to you fallas later”. Indeed, how do you bullshit your way around this one Howard?

UPDATE: British reaction over at The Tomb.

h1

A Rosy Morning

February 21, 2007

A break from the political swamp we’ve all been wading through over the last few weeks. Behold – I finally have a place with a garden. And furthermore, I’ve been here for over a month now and nothing in the garden is dead yet so I must be doing something right! However, something has got to give soon. The drought here in Canberra is really bad. I took this photo of one of our roses in full bloom this morning.

Very Pretty.

h1

John Howard cuts and runs… and shouts… and goes red

February 14, 2007

As I watched John Howard from the gallery again yesterday foaming at the mouth trying to shift the focus of what he actually said on to a completely different point (a classic Howard tactic if there ever was one), Kevin Rudd remained calm and focused. After about an hour of question time, Rudd stood up and directly challenged Howard to a nationally televised debate at a time and place of Howard’s choosing regarding Australian policy on Iraq. Howard simply cut and ran – he would not debate Rudd in front of the Australian people on a matter that Howard himself has said is one of the utmost importance regarding Australia’s national security.

So, one has to wonder (or does one really?) – is Howard simply out for his own personal political gain here and sticking by his mate George Bush or does he have Australia’s national security interests at heart? Over the last few days, Howard has constantly reiterated that he has the courage of his convictions and is “staying the course” in Iraq (gee, he’s about six months behind with the echo on that one). Brendan Nelson backed up the PM’s claims on Lateline the other night equating a withdrawl from Iraq with the downfall of civilization as we know it. Now, if these two men (and indeed the Howard Government as a whole) are so concerned for Australia’s future and believe that this future hinges heavily on Iraq, then why have we got such a small committment of troops there? I would have thought that Howard and Nelson would be in there themselves so dire are their warnings about the future of Australia if we withdraw. Obama hit the nail on the head when he said that unless Howard increases his committment, then it’s just a bunch of empty rhetoric. And, well, that’s exactly what it is – we all know it and Howard himself knows it.

Bush, Howard and Blair GOT IT WRONG when they invaded Iraq. Needless to say, the situation in Iraq is absolutely out of control. A newsflash for Howard is that the Iraqis are going to keep doing what they’re doing regardless of whether America is there or not. At the moment, most Iraqis see the US as an occupying force propping up an ineffective government. The fact that the number of attacks against the general populace and US troops has been increasing at an alarming rate in the last three months highlights the fact that the several “wars” that are going on in Iraq have been lost already. Perhaps Howard should ask for some TV time on Fox in America (he’d get it no doubt) and explain to the American people why he thinks they should sacrifice thousands more of their young women and men to die for a cause that has changed so many times since the start of the war that we honestly wonder what he, Bush and the other neo-cons will come up with next. I’m sure many Americans are dying to hear Howard, the “man of steel”, the omniscient, the wise old statesman tell them why they should support a war that has cost them so much in lives, money and morale, was started because of lies Bush, he and Blair told the world and has not achieved any objectives other than the overthrow of a government that wasn’t friendly with Al-Qaeda in the first place.

Or perhaps most Americans, after Howard insulted them by saying that the great Democratic Party of the US (a party that was voted into a majority in both Congress and the Senate only last November by the people of the United States) is the party of choice for terrorists see Howard’s words for what they are: BULLSHIT with a capital B. As Terry McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee stated after he heard Howard’s remarks: “Firstly, the Prime Minister has been a great friend of George Bush’s. He has been with him lock-step from day one on this war in Iraq. He and George Bush, they can go off and talk to each other. We don’t care what he says.”

As for Australians, well we should care. Not only has he embarrassed the hell out of us internationally, insulted one of the great US political parties (the party of Roosevelt, Kennedy and Clinton) and treated the American people with contempt, but has acted contrary to the interests of Australia. On top of all this, he doesn’t even have the guts to debate Kevin Rudd after making such a big deal out of all this over the last few days. Howard is the one who is cutting and running – what a disgrace, what a coward.

UPDATE: Since Howard said yesterday that the proper place for any debate regarding Iraq is in Parliament, Rudd challenged him to an hour long debate in the House of Reps this morning. The Howard Government in response shut the debate down and moved that Rudd no longer be heard, once again proving they are a bunch of idiotic cowards who aren’t willing to act in Australia’s interests on this matter.

h1

Howard picks a fight with Obama

February 12, 2007

Silly Howard. Firstly, not only is what Howard said ridiculous, but it is completely inappropriate for someone in his position to try to interfere with the elections of another country. Saying that if the Democrats win office in the US that the terrorists will win is completely stupid of Howard – and he must have known so when saying it. So what do we have? Yet another fear mongering comment from Howard – except this time he’s slipped up. Whereas his fear mongering is usually careful and targeted, he has picked a fight with the wrong person and the wrong party at the wrong time – and has mis-read the deep feeling of resentment in the US over the Iraq war. I guess that’s the mindset you fall into though when you’ve been hanging off George W. for too long.

I noticed Howard saying of Obama: “He’s a long way from being President of the United States”… Yes, well so are you John and you have no right whatsoever to go strutting around with an arrogant air of self importance regarding a matter of US politics – particularly when you are one of the leaders that committed us to this mess in Iraq in the first place. Howard should be thanking candidates of the Democratic Party for trying to fix and end the mess in Iraq. I suppose Howard being the wise old statesman that he is has a wonderful, all encompassing solution for Iraq other than “more money, more troops and more time”. At least Obama has put his cards on the table. In taking Obama on, John Howard has shown how feeble, small-minded and arrogant he really is and Obama’s response shows him up as such.

h1

Makes sense

February 8, 2007

The push to introduce a national curriculum makes sense as far as I’m concerned. Quite apart from the administration and co-ordination benefits that such a move would undoubtedly bring, I think there are plenty of benefits for teachers in terms of their pedagogical development and for students wanting to co-ordinate their learning with other students as well.

Consider the fact that Australia’s population is only a little over 20 million, with a little over three million school students across all states and territories. Consider the fact that there are about 235,000 teachers teaching these students. With 7 different forms of subjects across KLAs such as English, Science, the Humanities and Vocational courses being taught in a different order, with different content and with different emphasis on different aspects of each subject, it’s no wonder students are coming out with different levels of skills and knowledge every year.

With tools such as the internet revolutionising the classroom, the benefits of nationalising the curriculum only increase for teachers and students. For example, teachers are using the net more and more to swap ideas, resources and strategies about what they teach with each other. Imagine a teacher from Sydney chatting and swapping resources with a teacher from Perth with both of them referring to the same curriculum framework or syllabus – two heads working together and their students will be the winners. Furthermore, when I was doing my HSC, the benefits of swapping ideas and having online debates were only beginning to be felt – I spent many a night up late debating historical points with other HSC students; this helped me enormously come exam time. With a nationalised curriculum, the participation and room for wider interpretation by students and teachers only increases – and they’ll all be referring to the same content, themes, objectives and outcomes.

I can’t really see a problem with co-ordinating the curriculum across states and territories.