Monday, June 26, 2006

a short sharp shock

another midlife-crisis cockle-warming pic

Still on the coupe du monde - I go on missing the live action - fell asleep at half-time in the England-Equador yawnfest, missing the only goal. Woke up half an hour into the Netherlands-Portugal foulfest, missing the only goal, but at least catching all the red cards.

On the subject of coloured cards, plaudits to the match ref in the Potugal-Netherlands game, which just happened to score the highest tally of cards in world cup finals history. I'm not being ironic - certainly all four of the red cards were deserved, (I haven't been able to check out all the yellows) and if fans feel that reducing teams to nine or ten men ruins the game as a spectacle (it often has the opposite effect in fact), they should blame the players, not the officials.

I remember watching Portugal's last world cup finals game in 2002. One of the most disgraceful exhibitions of dirty football and referee intimidation I've ever seen. I was heartily glad to see the back of them. This time the fouling was more persistent than nasty, but the cards were there to be given, and it seems to me that if you don't uphold the law, in football as in life, mere anarchy will be loosed upon the field.

It was a tough game to referee with so much at stake and so much tension between the sides going back at least to Euro 2004, but it was noticeable that both teams tended to take out their frustrations on each other rather than on the ref - a backhanded compliment perhaps.

It's a strange fact that fashions in foul play come and go. The penalty box wrestling and the faking of injury that so marred the last finals has waned slightly, but handling the ball in defence appears to have become all the rage. This should be nipped in the bud quickly - if you give em a short sharp shock, they won't do it again.

It's surprising that this behaviour has taken off as it's usually so easy to spot (though only one of at least two deliberate handballs by Croatian defenders was penalised when they played us), and the punishment is as severe as it should be. I still think, though that wrestling and shirt-tugging is dealt with way too leniently. Keep penalising them till they've three men left each, and you'll wipe the practice out. I'm with Martin Tyler on this.

While on this subject, raspberries to certain commentators who complain about the number of sendings off or yellow cards, with the implacation that the ref has lost control, even though they haven't been able to put a finger on a single wrong decision. When the official makes a decision about an infringement, it would be completely wrong of him to take into account how many cards have been issued in the past or whether his decision will have a major impact on the balance of the teams or the outcome of the game. That's for the player to worry about when he commits the foul. Of course, this does come into the ref's consideration, largely unconsciously - he's only human - but he should try not to let it, as far as he's able.

Worst example of commentating of late - Andy Gray's abysmal performance during the UEFA Champions' League final. He seemed to think the ref had ruined the game by sending Jens Lehmann off for deliberately tripping the Barcelona forward who'd beaten him - a clear and unequivocal sending off offence. And Gray moaned and droaned on throughout the game about this, doubly ruining it for viewers.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

all of a haze

something perky gratuitous wintry and footballish

Ok, I'm suffering from cup fièvre, unkempt, unshaven, bleared and smeared, coffee-flavoured, abandoned. What's worse, parked under quilts before the tube, I keep blinking and missing whole matches. What happened in this morning's Holland Argentina game? Don't know, missed it, I'll settle down for some Cote d'Ivoire magic - oops, it's gone, didn't see a single shirt-tug, I awaken to Pria in Chicago, yesterday he was in San Francisco weaving his own peculiar charm, a pleasant consolation for more missed matches.

Just to top off the last, long ago post. The issue of Commonwealth Rent Assistance is too fuzzy to deal with at present, it's part of phase two of the state housing reforms and we'll have to wait and see. There's a concern among individual tenants though that it'll affect their rents. I wasn't aware just how many tenants were accessing CRA, and how much CRA they're getting. In fact I too am eligible for it and should've applied for it ages ago insteading of dwelling in clouds and bemoaning my fate. Need a lease, though, and our tenancy officer won't give one to me due to disputes about repairs and such to be done here and next door.

That's all, just touching base here - oops for the Americanism, how about 'marking the crease'? - am doing a bit more writing on my Faith Hope blog.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

their plans for our communities

La Luna's future assets

Now for something more local, but obviously dear to my heart, the state of public and community housing, and its future in South Australia, and particularly for La Luna Housing Co-op, the CHO (Community Housing Organisation) with which I'm housed.

Back on May 12 I attended an information session organised by the Community Housing Council of SA (CHCSA), at which Peter Smith, deputy CEO of the Department of Families and Communities, presented an outline of the sweeping changes to social housing services announced by the Minister, Jay Weatherill, a few days earlier. Smith's full presentation is available here.

The changes are complex and are linked to other changes in social welfare provision. They include the formation of a new umbrella organisation, Housing SA, to work in conjunction with Disabilities SA and Families SA in [hopefully] creating a tighter, more coherent and effective community welfare network. Michael Jacobs has reported on this in the May 5-18 edition of The Adelaide Review, p3.

Obviously the key organisation in the provision of public or 'social' housing in SA over the past 50 years has been the SA Housing Trust, and reform of this organisation has naturally been a target for government. To judge from the info session, the state government has been impressed with the community housing model for provision particularly of special needs housing, an expanding area which the old Housing Trust model has struggled with. The model they're talking about, though, is not that of small special-interest Co-ops such as La Luna, but large Associations run by NGOs such as Anglicare. Their hope is to transfer much of the Housing Trust stock, with tenants, to CHOs, which not only would free the government from having to service these declining assets directly, but would shift the stock from the 'public housing' classification to a classification (community housing) that would attract Commonwealth Rental Assistance (CRA).

The governance plans set out in this first stage of the reforms sound fine enough of course, and they're obviously well-intentioned, but it will take some time to work out how effective they are in practice. It's also unclear as to how they'll impact on little La luna. The eventual plans, to move housing stock to the community housing sector and to implement CRA capture in one form or another, clearly have implications, but we'll have to wait and see what will be in it for us.

Something that Smith raised in the info session has rung a few alarm bells. Government is looking at the community housing sector and wondering whether some 4000 houses run by about 120 CHOs, each one a separate administration or bureaucracy, is the most efficient way of doing things. It's perhaps a typically government-bureaucratic way of looking at things. It might be worth mentioning to government that these 120 separate enitities are each communities, not just bureaucracies. The fact remains, though, that some CHOs are struggling, and might well be under more pressure, post-reform, to justify their continued existence in their present form. That means forced mergers. We shouldn't be touched by this, and certainly we need to hold out against those types of faux-efficiency arguments.

Next, I want to look more closely at the CRA agenda, though that might be quite speculative at this stage.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

ode to a woman [overdue]

All the world loves a lover, and so do I.


Friday, June 02, 2006

we was warned

a little map of East Timor, coz I love maps

Having just touched the surface of the East Timorese crisis, I feel the need to post further, to find out more.

Yesterday, two key govt ministers resigned, apparently under pressure from Prez Gusmao. One of them, interior minister Rogerio Lobato, has already been mentioned in at least one of the despatches I've read as possibly corrupt, or at least as an underminer of stable govt. He's described as having 'a strong personal security network'.

It seems that control over security and the military is central to the immediate problems facing the Alkatiri govt. To judge by the looting of a rice depot in Dili the other day, reported here, the local administration has just about given up on enforcing security and is hoping the Australians and other outsiders will look after things. The report suggests that thousands of law-abiding citizens are losing out to the looters.

Meanwhile, the Australian govt has decided to weigh in on the side of Gusmao. I'm not sure what to make of this. From a purely legal perspective, it seems that Alkatiri should still be in charge. He's democratically elected, and he hasn't yet lost the support of his party, at least not officially. There are rebel factions accusing him of murder, but no charges have been brought against him, and I don't know how serious these accusations are. From a pragmatic perspective, though, Gusmao is far more popular and far less divisive. Downer and co seem to have based their backing of Gusmao on something in the constitution which designates the President as commander in chief of defence and national security forces, but I think this is merely titular, except, I suppose, in times of crisis, and that's the nub. In any case there's a dispute within ET as to who's in charge.

Clearly the resignation of the two ministers has sent another message to Alkatiri, but, according to this report (I'm mining The Age online), Gusmao and other political and religious leaders are reluctant to move on Alkatiri directly at this stage, because of the support Fretilin has in regions outside of Dili.

Although the violence is now 'reduced' to gangs of unemployed and disaffected youths (egged on, according to Australian military authorities, by external forces), there's a more serious stand-off between rebel and loyalist forces within the military, which dates back at least to March and the mass sackings within the army, ordered by Alkatiri, following strikes over issues of pay and discrimination. Those sacked were mainly from the west of the country, and this has increased east-west tensions, which are complicated further by divisions along ethnic lines, and various hangovers from the earlier pro-independence movement.

The police, too, are in total disarray. As reported here, ten unarmed police officers were shot dead last week by soldiers after an attack on police headquarters in Dili. The police were in the process of surrendering and being escorted from the building when the army opened fire. It appears to have been something unpremeditated, with tensions running high due to suspicions that many police were siding with rebels in the military. Australia has sent a number of federal police to support and assist police ops in ET.

According to a radio report I heard yesterday, ET's police force has more or less completely melted away. There's talk now of transforming the foreign intervention from a quasi military peace-keeping operation to a policing operation.

Finally, some comments that put Howard's offensive accusatory remarks about the ET government into perspective. They come from a report by an independent think tank, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and they were written in 2002, just at the time that ET's first ever independent government took office.

Australia's key policy challenge is to help East Timor meet its urgent security problems, and to encourage other countries to do the same. In the long term that challenge is best met through economic growth and political development. But before that can happen, East Timor needs to overcome pressing internal security and law and order problems. The new Government in Dili does not have the capacity to meet these problems. Australia's current program of aid to East Timor is doing little to help in these sectors, and other donors are doing no better. If we fail to help effectively, Australia's security interests in a stable East Timor and a peaceful region will be at risk: East Timor may become a failed state, and a source of continuing tension between Australia and Indonesia.
The Australian government has had ample warning, but again it has chosen to blame the victims.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

toughing it out in East Timor

Cool it, lads

Was up last night catching up with events in East Timor, thanks mainly to the work of Ken Parish,
here and here, and his links - this one in particular.

I must say that when I heard Howard saying that East Timor was 'poorly governed', my suspicions were raised. We've been copping flak [is that how you spell it?] for pushing East Timor to stand on its own feet without outside support, for reasons more to do with saving our own money and resources than a genuine interest in and belief in East Timor's future. The 'penny wise, pound foolish' remark seemed a reasonable summation, and it would be par for the course for Howard to blame the victims.

Having now familiarised myself a bit more with the crisis at the top at least, my views are, I suppose, a little more nuanced but not substantially changed. Sure there are problems at the top. Mari Alkatiri, their PM, is seen as something of an outsider [he was in Africa - Angola according to one report, Mozambique according to another - during the referendum and subsequent violence] who hasn't really experienced the suffering of the people. He's not popular, according to all accounts, yet he was democratically elected - presumably because, for some reason or another, he was chosen to head the popular Fretilin party. Recently, he fended off a challenge for the Fretilin leadership by Jose Luis Guterres (ET's UN ambassador), and he appears to be a hang on at all costs kind of guy.

Jim Dunn, former adviser to the UN mission in ET, elaborates on the 'poor government' claim
here. According to him, the ET government has focused too much on 'structural economic and political development' (by which he appears to mean the kind of economic development that has no effect on people's living standards, at least in the short term), to the detriment of the immediate needs, both material and psychological, of the people. The much more popular and laid-back Xunana Gusmao chose not to embroil himself in party politics and took up the largely ceremonial role of President of ET. Apparently, he and Alkatiri can't stand each other, and with the crisis growing, some of Gusmao's friends and advisers, Jose Ramos Horta among them, have been trying to push him forward to test the Presidential powers under the new constitution. According to Parish and others, though, the constitution provides little room for Gusmao to manouevre, so we appear to be left with something of a stalemate.

Now, irrelevant desk-bound pundit that I am, I can't help but feel that the mistakes made in government by the East Timorese hardly warrant the criticism it has suffered, particularly from the Australian government. This criticism, I feel, was largely for Oz domestic consumption (we did our best for them and they still can't manage, maybe they're just innately incompetent - don't worry folks, we're not going to get embroiled in ET like we are in Iraq). The fact is that this is ET's first ever government, a government that has, from the first, had to preside over a traumatised, impoverished, deeply divided people. The Australian government has never been faced with anything like what the ET govt has had to face. The consequences of its mistakes are far far greater than the consequences of our govt's mistakes. The AWB scandal has barely touched our govt, even though it's clear enough to everyone that they were deliberately turning a blind eye for self-serving reasons. Imagine if the ET govt was caught up in something similar - the screams about corruption and dishonesty from without and within wouldn't have subsided until the government was brought down.

In short, to blame the ET government solely for ET's knife-edge situation displays extraordinary insensitivity to the difficulties it faces. I'm sceptical, too, about complaints over the constitution - I'm familiar enough with the politics of even the smallest communities to realise that, when there's serious conflict, the group's rules and constitution
always let it down. ET hasn't been around long enough as a political entity to develop the kind of unwritten but fiercely adhered to conventions that enable - with the odd exception - the smooth running of public affairs. ET needs support, but it isn't a basket case. It's in our interest to help it out - and it's certainly a more ethical involvement than our involvement in Iraq. Oh, and just to give an example of the difficulties it faces - one thing that has apparently detracted from Xunana's popularity is his
'refusal to pursue the issue of human rights abuses by the Indonesian military during their brutal rule', as reported here. I think I can follow his reasoning - and how can we forget that he was imprisoned by the Indonesians himself? He has probably felt that bad blood between ET and Indonesia would be more disastrous for his struggling little nation than just about anything else. The Indonesian reaction to Australia's acceptance of a few Papuan asylum seekers is testimony to the sensitivities involved, and ET's position is a thousand times more vulnerable than Australia's.

Having said that, I don't myself agree with Xunana's position (for what it's worth). For internal political reasons it might be better to have these things out, but above all it's a matter of simple justice.

It's easy for me to write these things though. Jim Dunn's final lines strike me as typical pundit-speak. He was talking about the East-West divide in ET, and said: 'it's a tricky situation but it should have been dealt with long ago'. Oh yeah yeah yeah yeah, bla bla bla bla.

There's an interesting-sounding site here, a policy report on Australia and the security of ET, by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, published back in 2002. I'm about to read it in detail, but I note in passing that it highlights some problems with the constitution.


pavlov's cat