The Null Device


A new report might challenge Australia's image as a tolerant, easy-going society, at least as far as non-heterosexuals are concerned, showing that gays and lesbians suffer abuse and depression in Australia. The survey of 5,500 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people revealed that 90% curb public affection for partners, 60% have suffered verbal abuse, nearly half have suffered a major depressive episode, and 16% have had suicidal thoughts. I imagine that Family First and the outer-suburban evangelical megachurches can take heart in the Australian silent majority's true-blue, dinky-di, resounding disapproval of "deviant" and "immoral" sexual behaviour. Meanwhile, those who don't fit in with "mainstream Australian values" can always pack up and move to Berlin or somewhere where that sort of thing is tolerated.

It would be interesting to compare this to, say, 10 years ago, and to see whether this has always been the case, or whether things were more tolerant back then and this is a sign of a growing culture of social conservatism and intolerance in Howard's Australia, which some commentators have pointed out.

Victoria's (State) Health Minister Bronwyn Pike will release this report, along with a website dedicated to gay and lesbian health. The Federal Government, meanwhile, is expected to announce its own solution to the gay depression crisis, in the form of Medicare funding for a range of faith-based programmes to cure homosexuality.

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An interesting account from the recent Ukrainian election, which pitted the country's Russian population (a legacy of Stalin's mass population transplants) against its Ukrainian-speaking one:

The sense of persecution was not alleviated by a spectacular official cock-up in the run up to the election, which left many disenfranchised. Computer software translated Russian names into Ukrainian ones. Mr Shkvortsov (Mr Starling) became Mr Shpak and could not vote because his passport did not match the electoral roll.

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A recent issue of The Times has a fairly detailed section on rail travel today; this section includes a survey of the state of European rail travel (summary: it's enjoying a renaissance, thanks to Eurostar and environmental consciousness, likely to improve further when cheap flights dry up, though ticketing still has some way to go before booking international rail journeys is as easy as booking flights), a section on travelling across Europe on Inter-Rail passes (along with four recommended European rail journeys to make with one's pass), as well as articles on train travel in Italy and India, shinkansen journeys in Japan, the backpacker-infested Trans-Siberian Express (whose 1-week journey time, the previous article notes, could be slashed to 18 hours if it was rebuilt using maglev technology soon to be deployed in Japan), as well as various luxury train journeys, such as the current holder of the "Orient Express" trademark (an opulent art-deco train journey from London to Verona), the Canadian Rockies and opulent Hungarian luxury trains. Also, Australia's Adelaide-Darwin rail link gets a writeup, getting rather mixed reviews (apparently the "Darwin" terminus 18km from the city centre is an afterthought, the carriages aren't quite as luxurious as one would believe, and the ride is bumpy; not to mention the fact that, catering only to tourists (it's too expensive for casual commuters) and having no stations along the way, it's "not quite a proper train" compared to others).

For anyone wanting more information on rail travel in various parts of the world, there's always The Man In Seat Sixty-One, a (somewhat UK-centric) one-stop information shop for rail buffs and travellers with an aversion to air travel.

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Some 40 years after being forcibly expelled from their island home by the British government to make way for the huge US military base in Diego Garcia (one of the more ignominious episodes in post-war British colonial history), the Chagos islanders are being allowed to return, albeit only for a few days. 102 Chagossians will make a 12-day visit to the outlying islands, beholding the derelict coconut oil plantations where they or their ancestors lived, and tending to ancestral graves. The visit, which is being organised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will also leave behind a trail of memorial plaques, an exercise which is presumably meant to whitewash the government's somewhat tarnished image over the forcible expulsions (they were reclassified as temporary contract workers, a rather shabby legal fiction which allowed the government to, in the space of one day, herd them onto ships to Mauritius, forcing them to leave homes and possessions behind), and ongoing efforts to deny the islanders the right of permanent return, at the Pentagon's behest. There will not be any members of the press on the trip, apparently for reasons of space.

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Intense competition in the global fishing industry has produced some ruthless efficiencies, such as the Chinese zombie ships. Disintegrating, abandoned pirate vessels off the coast of West Africa are being repurposed into clandestine fishing vessels; patched up just enough to remain more or less afloat, the ships never see a port, with crews, supplies and catches being transferred at sea. The economic desperation of those who work on them means that workers often remain onboard for years, and don't kick up a fuss over things such as safety standards, translating into further efficiencies. This is what streamlining looks like in the grim meathook present:

Here's the thing - these ships seldom, or ever, visit a port. They're re-supplied, refuelled, re-crewed and transhipped (unloaded) at sea. The owners and crews don't seem to do any basic maintenance, apart from keeping the engine and winches running. There's no glass in the portholes, and the masts are a mess of useless wiring. These floating deathtraps don't carry any proper safety gear - on one boat, I saw the half-barrel case of an inflatable liferaft being used to store a net.
Back on the Esperanza, we try to put together what we'd witnessed. When asked what it was like 'out there', we answer 'grim'. I wondered how the fishing company could convince these men to spend time living on such dangerous ships, half around the world from their loved ones. Do their families know where they were? These trawlers might be engaged in illegal fishing activities, stealing fish from the countries of West Africa, but it seems that the fishermen themselves are just pawns of some brutal corporate policy, where human life is cheap, and profits take priority.

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