Thursday, 4 September 2014

Pacific Poet Sounds Climate Alarm

Poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner surveys her island home.
This post first appeared on
We are shocked to find
the rising waters have displaced
our grave sites
The land crumbles away
beneath rows of skywhite tombstones
The crashing sea swallows up
our ancestors
We watch
as it devours
our histories
The sea is angry with us
 an old man
It has begun.
These are the words of Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a poet from the far-flung Marshall Islands, one of the many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) grappling with the consequences of climate change and sea level rise.
It’s something I saw with  my own eyes in a small coastal village in Papua New Guinea earlier this year. Rest In Peace is no longer guaranteed.
Kathy will open the U.N. secretary-general's climate change summit later this month, where she will address 100 heads of state, alongside Ban Ki-Moon, and tell them what it is like to live in a country which may soon become uninhabitable.
The Marshall Islands has already suffered a massive drought, necessitating a national emergency to be called, and for the US government, through IOM, to mount a large-scale relief operation across the islands, separated by hundreds of miles of deserted sea.
Life is harsh in these island paradises, and Jetnil-Kijiner exposes that, using her poetry to raise “awareness surrounding the issues and threats faced by my people". Those include rising sea levels, extreme weather, forced migration, as well as a legacy of nuclear testing on the islands, and racism.
IOM’s Director General, William Lacy Swing is currently in Samoa at the SIDS conference, where he is raising the issue of climate-induced migration. “Threats to small island states should awaken the moral voice of us all”, he tweeted today.
IOM has been active on climate change an migration since 1992, believing the two phenomena are interlinked. The Organization works closely with governments, the UN and civil society to develop more comprehensive strategies to better manage environmental migration and to address potential impacts of migration on the environment.
Standing in solidarity with these remote populations, highlighting their plight, and working with them to find sustainable solutions is of major significance. No less a personage than the UN Secretary General has put it quite starkly:
“Climate change, in some regions, has aggravated conflict over scarce land, and could well trigger large-scale migration in the decades ahead. And rising sea levels put at risk the very survival of all small island states. These and other implications for peace and security have implications for the United Nations itself."
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Monday, 1 September 2014

The Ice Bucket challenge a la joejoebloggs

I told herself I wouldn't do this and she agreed with my reasoning but predicted I would jump at it when a peerless peer challenged me.  Herself,  as per usual,  was right.  So here's the ice bucket challenge,  with a joejoebloggs twist.  And please,  if you feel moved to get involved do note that sweat,  or the donation of your time and talent,  is often more appropriate and more rewarding,  than a cash donation...  Governments and the corporate sector have money,  the rest of us have time,  enthusiasm,  and a will to make things right.

Over to you, joejoe

joejoebloggs icebucket

JoejoeBloggs the ice bucket

Saturday, 23 August 2014

James Foley: Journalist and Humanitarian

This blog first appeared on
The savage murder of journalist James Foley is a defining moment for all who work in perilous situations. Many people reading this will know people working in Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Ukriane and the other flashpoints and will be worrying about them.
Without knowing James, I feel a great sense of loss at his untimely, gross passing. His work was excellent, his bravery unquestionable. The grief of his family is raw, and sometimes too painful to watch.
His life is of course of no more nor no less value than any of the thousands of casualties of war that have transpired this year, last year, every year. It is priceless to his family, as is the life of every fallen son, daughter, father, mother.
The ransom of $132 million demanded by his eventual murderers has no real meaning – it would have been used to further a conflict that by now seems intractable.
But what he did with his 20 or so years of professional activity, now that has real value. The emotional, desperate scenes he captured in Aleppo’s hospitals, his interviews with volunteer doctors, his pictures of wounded children, wailing mothers… some may see it as prurient, but I see it as essential.
The horrors of war, of the suffering of the innocents, must be witnessed. The real prurience is that of his killers and of those who seek out the video of the execution. This murder makes all journalists, all aid workers, targets; our emblems and our mandates now count for naught. We are cheapened by the price tag on our skins.
Journalists and humanitarian workers meet on the frontline – not just as witnesses but as colleagues. The camera can be as effective as the scalpel or the bag of rice.
My own work has taken me to scenes of great suffering, and I sometimes wonder what good I am doing by filming the wounded, the sick, those fleeing for their lives.
But there is another dimension. My IOM colleague in the Central African Republic, Sandra Black, a woman I have never met but admire immensely, is working amid war, displacement, disease and desperation every day. She recently penned an incisive, inspiring editorial in the Huffington Post for World Humanitarian Day, the day we commemorate aid workers who have died on duty. In it, she made the humanitarian case for making suffering visible.
‘”During a recent assignment a man caught up in the CAR conflict said to me, ‘Take my picture. My family thinks I'm dead.’ I realize the importance of my communications work not only to bring attention to crises, but also for the beneficiaries I meet. My interview and photo requests valorize the struggle of those affected by conflict, demonstrate respect for their situation, and provide a sense of recognition for those in dire situations.”
James Foley was a humanitarian. And a migrant, who died miles from home. We are right to feel a great sense of loss at his gruesome death.

James Foley started out as a poet and writer. His namesake, American Poet James W Foley (1874-1939)  could not have penned a better obituary, had they ever met.

The castle totters,
With earth is blent
The offcast mantle
And tenement.
Claims its ashes
The waiting sod,
But something lingers
That came from God.
The something voiceless,
Shapeless, vast,
The sweeter perfume
That lives at last.
In dust the flower,
The life is fled,
But something lingers
And is not dead.
- See more at:

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Robin At Rest

Try watching the video below without misting up.

Not easy. Today of all days.

Its' crazy how a man as funny as Robin Williams can make us tear up so easily. Today of all days. And unthinkable that a man as outgoing as he, the one man you really wanted to meet and hang out with, the man who saw the funniest things in the simplest moments... unthinkable that he should have been so depressed that he saw leaving this earth as the only way out.

He was great in so many movies, but when I saw him in the Fisher King, on a crisp November night in 1991, in a cinema near Harlem, it took me days to come down. His performance, the cinematography, the way he came off that screen and into my mind just blew me away. The same day I'd been awestruck by the elegance of Grand Central station, and then that dance scene... the same day! (see below). He created a whole new layer in New York for me, and a realization that madness is a crack in the pavement,a breath, an encounter away from what we call sanity.

Again in Garp, again in Good Will Hunting, (those two in particular, in a canon of amazing work), and in his zany, brilliant standups, Williams confirmed himself as just about my favorite living actor. A softer De Niro. A saner Woody Allen, a cuddlier Liam Neeson. Yes he had his dark side, and he must have hurt people. I think that's called fucking up. Aka being human.

And now, he's my favourite dead actor.

What moves me most about his death is that he was the first actor that my children and I agreed was really great. (OK, that honour may technically go to Ben on Big Cook Little Cook).  We have watched Mrs Doubtfire countless times (yes, I know, there's bits in it that are too saucy for them, but think how embarrassed they'll be when they realise "OMG... we watched that with Dad..."). He came into our living room and gently taught us many things.

And maybe next time we watch it they'll tune in on my sadness and ask me what's up. Or they'll say "he's so funny. Where's he from?" And I'll say he's from Ork, but he lives with Mindy, at 1691 Pine Street, Boulder, Colorado.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Have the first "Climate Change Refugees" just landed?

A Tuvaluan child. Where will he grow up? (
First published on
I live with someone whose country no longer exists. My wife was born in the Soviet Union, in what is now the Republic of Belarus. The culture she was brought up in as a child, the festivals, the education, the products, like the USSR itself, exist only in books, films and memories. But the land, the land is still there. The people still tell their stories, sing their songs, grow their crops, raise their families.
In my own migrant nation of Ireland, entire villages from the 19th century, ravaged by famine, lie decomposing. Once-thriving islands have lost centuries-old communities to modernity. Only the birds and the seals remain.
Countries disappear, are renamed, and borders are redrawn. Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Gran Colombia, Prussia, the Republic of Texas… others exist only in the aspiration of separatists, or await recognition.
And other countries are dying. The sea is encroaching on them, ever higher tides making the soil unfit to grow plants or raise animals. The coast, where fishermen need to live, is crumbling into the sea. Houses calve off the cliffs like the melting glaciers that feed that change. Storms swell rivers, washing away the soil, creating new floodplains, or simply covering precious land where houses once stood.

Child of a vanishing culture, Siberia (National Geographic)
Those who can, pick up their corrugated iron sheets and their planks and move on to the next seam in the raggedy edge where they start again, without jobs, without health care, without schools, without any thought other than a brighter day for their children.
But could this ever happen to a whole country? Will a whole nation ever pack up and leave? If they do, there are a million questions to be answered, micro and macro, apart from the whimsical “Will the last one to leave please turn out the lights?” Can a citizenry exist if its country is no longer on the map? What identifies a country; land, people or culture?
We may have inched closer to something that environmental activists have long been forecasting – the start of the era of the “climate change refugee”: someone who moves to another country when his/hers is no longer habitable.
A New Zealand tribunal recently accepted for permanent residency a family from Tuvalu (a tiny Pacific Island country, threatened by rising sea levels). When their claim for refugee status was overturned, the family appealed and the tribunal found “exceptional circumstances . . . which would make it unjust and unduly harsh for the family to return to Tuvalu.”
Tuvalu – population 11,000 and falling – suffers from recurrent droughts, the drinking water is contaminated by sea salt, and the “king tides” mean that – in the worst case scenario – the country will be uninhabitable within five years.

“The loneliest boy in the world” – the last child on Ireland’s Great Blasket Island, 1948 (Irish Examiner)
The family was not admitted as “climate change refugees” (or refugees at all, for that matter). What counted was the time they had already spent in the country and the number of family members already resident. But the judgement makes some interesting observations.
It accepted that “exposure to the impacts of natural disasters can, in general terms, be a humanitarian circumstance,” that under certain conditions could make it unjust or unduly harsh to deport a particular individual.
It recognized that Tuvalu was particularly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change and environmental degradation, including “coastal erosion, flooding and inundation, increasing salinity of fresh ground-water supplies, destruction of primary sources of subsistence, and destruction of personal and community property.”
It acknowledged that the children’s young age made them “inherently more vulnerable to natural disasters and the adverse impact of climate change.”
Tuvalu, noted the tribunal, was actively taking steps to meet the challenges caused by natural disasters and the adverse impacts of climate change. As such, there was no basis for holding that the family was at risk of being subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by the government.
Tuvalu is not the only Pacific country where the clock is ticking. The island country of Kiribati has bought agricultural land in Fiji (which some feel may eventually be used for housing, if Kiribati disappears). The Government already trains its people on how to adapt to a new culture. Christopher Loek, President of the Marshall Islands, greets visitors with the phrase “welcome to climate change”.
An elderly Tuvaluan, now resident in New Zealand was recently quoted in Mother Jones Magazine as saying, "The next generation gets caught by two cultures. Before Tuvalu sinks physically, our identity might sink in a foreign country."
It seems that unique cultures in this sun-splashed region are already under threat, and may go the way of other indigenous lifestyles in Arctic nations. This would be the ultimate irony.
- See more at:

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Porn and Propaganda

I don't often seize an entire article and reprint it on my blog. I prefer to use my own words. So if i do, I freely admit the author is better than me: I want his or her words to live forever as a telling of an incident, or series of incidents, that makes a statement or a thesis about something that has moved me greatly.

The following piece by Ethan Grant is a wonderful piece of writing which examines much more than the headline "How the Conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine are Playing out across Women's Bodies", and I'd like to build a bit on it.

Despite the week that is in it, when we paid respect to the millions of men who perished in that unfathomable barbarity of WW1 I still firmly believe that women are the biggest victims, long-term, of war. Yes, nowadays they may carry arms, they may die beside men in an instant of sharp pain, or spend a life wounded, but the arms carriers - unless kidnapped, unless wounded - are participating.

The bereaved, the violated, the looted, the widows, the motherless sons, the beaten, the traumatized, those who bury the children who are termed collateral damage - they feel war's pain the most savagely.

The trending protest of painting anti-war slogans on the body feels right, but maybe exposing women to great danger.

I am really concerned that painting Fuck Hamas on your buttocks, bearing your breasts in protest to Putin's war will have a grizzly consequence. This point is not explicitly made by Grant, but it hangs there, waiting to be elucidated.

Of course I support women's right to protest, nude if they wish, and men's too. Non-violent protest, even if it breaches decency laws is to be welcomed, because conventional protest may not be working. But I am concerned that when a women makes herself deliberately vulnerable, she may too close to appearing to be a participant. And, thus in the mind of the fighter or the thug, fair game. Is she brave? Is she bait? Is she both?

Rape is one of the oldest, most sickening weapons of war. It dehumanizes and it transmits hatred through generations. The perpetrators know that. It is not about gratification, it is about control and humiliation.
The female body is indeed a beautiful canvas, and source of all human life. Why move it to the front line?

Here's the article, from Quartz

How the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine are playing out across women’s bodies

In recent days the term “propaganda” has been deployed throughout news media covering conflict in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip as asymmetrical invective so that propaganda is—from whichever vantage point—simply what the other guy says. Russian media accuse America of reductively demonizing Putin while American media accuse Russia of baldly lying to its own citizens; both sides are right. Likewise, Israeli media parrot the government line and attempt to quell voices describing the miseries suffered by Palestinians, whose supporters in turn amplify the more-and-less implicitly anti-Semitic rhetoric that is infecting media outlets we might normally consider progressive.

But the most striking images circulating online in recent days have been rather personal or private: those of the the human bodyThe body in all its wonders and terrors has long been at the center of much militaristic and pacifist propaganda alikeOur sense of wonder is all too easily exploited through objectified soldiers and “pinup girls,” our disgust and horror exploited through portrayals of enemies as sexual predators as well as their innocent victimsLove, beauty, and sex are marketed as spoils of war that belong to the victors, ultimately romanticizing and sexualizing violence itself.

The Nazis brought this to its logical conclusion in their obsessions with the perfection of the Aryan body, a historical fact that seems lost in recent days’ overblown mini-scandal over the “Standing with IDF” Facebook page in support of the Israel Defense Forces. The page features a large collection of racy images of women with “I [heart] IDF” and other messages scrawled here and there on their skin. In one sense this seems comparatively innocent (so to speak). Amid images of actual death, perhaps it is silly to wring our hands over a shapely behind with “fuck” written on one cheek and “Hamas” on the other. But it is troubling to think that Jews, who were slaughtered by the millions in the name of racialized constructs of beauty, would celebrate militarization of the idea that—in the words of the page’s creator—Israel has “the most beautiful women in the world.”

The Instagram caption reads: “Mascara from Amsterdam; to be precise, from the field. Well, you understand.”
In Ukraine, too, beauty and bodies have been deployed in varying ways by people on both sides of the conflict. Tabloids have reported a young Russian separatist allegedly posting to Instagram images of herself proudly wearing make-up looted from the crash site of Flight MH17. On the other side of that conflict, women baring their breasts and messages to “stop Putin’s war” painted on their skin protested the conflict in Simferopol, capital of the recently annexed Crimea region. Perhaps the most striking image of that protest showed a topless woman being choked by one man while another leered at her.
In all of these countries of course there are religious traditions that might be called sexually repressive by some and simply modest by others. Today, Western media tend to associate this most with Islam, but Conservative Judaism and Russian Orthodoxy—not to mention US Puritanism—all prohibit and punish the revelation of the body, especially the female body, in different ways. It’s tempting to look for an upside here, to see some de facto relaxation of sexist taboos in all the skin bared for political purposes during wartime. But there is a dark side to this as well in declining standards of respect for women’s bodies.

The infamous sailor and nurse kiss in Manhattan’s Times Square during celebrations for the end of World War II in 1945.AP Images/U.S. Navy, Victor Jorgensen
In America, this is most iconically frozen in the 1945 photograph of a soldier spontaneously kissing a woman in the street to celebrate the end of World War II, which has since been decried as a depiction of sexual assault. This picture is fundamentally different from most of the images discussed here because the woman is not a willing participant. You can see joy in the picture, as it has usually been understood, or you can see trauma, but this debate does not scratch the surface of the largely invisible but widespread problem of a rape culture of impunity in the military and its relationship to media depictions of women in wartime. In these and other ways a woman’s body may become site, subject, and medium of propaganda as well as victim to it.

This photo of a victim of MH17 ran on the front page of the New York Times to much controversy.Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev
Often however the imagery of war is filled with bodies reduced to objects of another kind. The flip-side of our sense of wonder at images of the beautiful, living body is our horror and disgust—moral and otherwise—at images of the dead. Initial reports of bodies “raining” from the sky in the moments following Flight MH17’s explosion were often accompanied by graphic images of corpses strewn about the landscape. As the Russian separatist rebels then attempted to control the situation and its story, evidence of the crash became increasingly mystified: What were the rebels doing with the bodies? Should we believe grainy images purporting to show soldiers looting from the dead? Unclear. And this is precisely one of the great problems of mediated wars.

BBC revealed that many photos with the #GazaUnderAttack hashtag were actually from Iraq and Syria—some dating back to 2007.BBC/AP
Whether we choose to call it propaganda or not, the contradictory, fragmented stories we receive often serve to confuse as much as to inform. Russian pseudo-news organization RT publishes under the slogan “question more,” which seems an unconscious admission that their real goal is to sow uncertainty using a smorgasbord of conspiracy theories mixed with genuine reporting. Images of Palestinian misery have faced related ambiguity, lacking clear provenance as they circulate and re-circulate through digital networks—some of them taken years ago and in other countries. The suffering is real, but some of its images aren’t, which makes the reality of war, already so difficult to grasp from its mere images, even more distant.

Yet still images are strangely powerful. Some, such as those of sexual torture emerging from Abu Ghraib, confuse our different compulsions to look. We cannot help but stare; we dare not ask what about ourselves draws us in. I cannot say why, of the many images that have flashed past my screen in recent days, I am most haunted by a picture of a dead Palestinian child’s legs dangling from the edge of a hospital bed. I think it is real, but I don’t really know, and it is easy to resign oneself to the position that its veracity is beside the point, that the image’s raison d’etre is persuasion, or sympathy, or horror, or whatever inscrutable quality affected me so. But that would be to abandon the ideal that news should inform the public and serve as a “first rough draft of history,” in the famous phrase. To follow the news is to suffer, and to look away is to ignore the suffering of others, so even if we cannot entirely believe what we see, sometimes we must look, and then look away, and then look again. Anything less is to surrender something more than our eyes, ears, or other body parts. It is to surrender part of our humanity to propaganda rather than squinting to see the truth and wincing when it comes into focus.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

My first facial

Being in Thailand, one is constantly exposed to a lot of new things. I vividly recall a jet-lagged morning, ten years ago, when unable to sleep I stumbled around the Asok area, my only company stray dogs and sleeping street people. Before dawn the sounds and smells of a million breakfasts being prepared were evident, as were the bright orange robes of the monks, collecting alms.

I hopped on the new skytrain, took a river boat to the edge of the metropolis at sunrise, and watched three transvestites solemnly and prayerfully releasing fish into the river from a plastic bag. But I'm not going to write about a muddy old river or a reclining Buddha - I'm going to write about being pampered.

Panda eyes
I've long been a fan of the foot massage - a  30-minute or one-hour kneading away of the pains of the day, complete with elements of deep tissue massage of the arms, back and legs, popping of fingers and toes and clicking of the neck - and while there may have been some confusions sometimes about the type of venue I was in I have always made myself clear that a felicitous denouement is not required.

So there I was, in the cavernous MBK centre recently, having my feet and lower legs luxuriously swathed in oil when in strolled a big, I mean Big, Aussie fella, dripping testosterone, with his pleasant local lady. He greeted the masseuse like a old pal, heaved his bulk up onto the gurney-like massage bed, bade farewell to his woman and settled in for a facial. I couldn't quite believe it - the rugged sexagenarian, with the ears, nose and body of a prop forward, laying back beatifically while a beautician placed little pads o'er his eyes, tied a towel around his head, and commenced to slather him in unguents, attacking his face with all matter of implements that looked they belonged in a dentist's, while he let out little mews of pleasure.

I recounted all this to Mrs Wife when I got home. As per usual, she knew what I was really saying before I did.

"You want to go for a facial, don't you? OK, I'll book somewhere."

With her usual efficiency and eye for value, Lena quickly got us an appointment for 5pm the same day, and trusting her (and without paying much attention) I ambled up Silom Soi 2 to our rendezvous. Ah... I knew there was something special about this laneway I thought, as I passed the "Senso Men's Club" and the mother of our children led me into "Pinky Body Care."

At times like these, I am glad we have Russian to switch to. "Bl... shto takoy galoboy tsentr" I started to protest, to be shshed with a look that said "oh grow a pair" by my beloved.

Ho hum. In for a satang in for a baht I suppose. The place was pretty chi-chi. Or pretty and chi chi. And when you got over the frills and frippery it was quite cosy. The staff looked at us (actually at me) in slight confusion, so i brazened "me and the WIFE. 5pm. Facial" in my best heterosexual accent.

The only other customer was a women, in mid-treatment. The lady beautician (there were only ladies, and before you ask, yes I am able to spot the difference here) seemed to be gouging the sides of her client's nostrils with a crochet hook, but she wasn't whimpering (unlike me, ten minutes later).

Lena changed into a fetching scarlet robe, whereas I was given a blue nylon dressing gown that I swear my grandmother wore in the early 70s. It barely fit over my bulging biceps, let alone my manly chest (OK, OK, truth is I couldn't tie it closed over my gut, Happy now?)

And then, masseuse lady number one set to work. A warm cologned wipe was applied to my face, and cool, moist cotton pads to my eyes. Deprived of the ability to see, the other senses became heightened. First, a pleasant cream was applied, followed by what felt like grainy French mustard but I imagine was a "scrub". Next came a moist cloud of vapour, followed by what seemed to be the tongue of a middle-sized dog, possibly a labrador, licking my face. That was followed by a bird's beak scratching me, paying particular attention to the grubby bits on the flanges of my nostrils, grinding out the Krung Thep grime. Ow ow ow. When the jackdaw had finished that, it started kissing me on the cheeks, forehead and chin. Aaah. A coat of gloss paint was then applied and removed, wiped off by icy sticks of uncooked spaghetti, and then it was back to the steam treatment.

I was enjoying this.

A metal bar was then inserted in my fist, and a tiny paint roller, which emitted equally tiny electric tickles glided over my face. Weird, but far from unpleasant.

And then a deep tissue massage of the legs, arms, upper back and neck. And - pads off eyes - finished. Apparently I had the better of the masseuses/facialists but we both left with clear, healthy skin and you know what? I'm damn well gonna do it again. My mate Lasse Norgard, in Bangkok for a month or so, has promised to take me to his favourite spot, Cutey and Beauty. Please don't Google it. Please.