Sunday, November 22, 2015

A brief stay in Córdoba

Sunset over Córdoba

Córdoba is a small town around an hour by train out of Madrid but for such a small city it is packed with history and things to see.

Córdoba was an important city for the Romans, the Moors and the subsequent Christian kings and so it contains historic sites from each of these eras.

Roman temple in Córdoba.
Roman temple in Córdoba
Roman Bridge
Roman bridge
Roman bridge from the bridge gate

However, the main historic feature of Córdoba is the Mezquita. Originally a grand Mosque, it was converted into a cathedral but much of the original architecture and religious iconography was retained.

Archway pointing the way to Mecca
The hallways
Statue of Christ - with the archways from the Muslim period in the background

The mixture of Christian and Muslim iconography and architecture makes the Mezquita a truly amazing historic building. The sheer size and grandeur of the place, its architecture and beauty makes this an absolute must see on any trip to Spain.

But, there are many other beautiful historic sites in Córdoba - including the Castle of the Christian Kings.

The Castle from the tower
Castle walls
Castle gardens
View of the Castle gardens
Statue in the gardens

A half day can easily be spent wandering the beautiful castle gardens and exploring the Castle itself.

Córdoba is a truly beautiful city, steeped in history with a relaxed small town vibe. To explore it fully takes around two days - definitely worth an overnight stay, rather than the day trip from Seville that's recommended in a lot of travel sites.

Córdoba from the river

Farewell, Cordoba, next stop - Seville

Friday, November 20, 2015

A rocky start to adventures in Spain

View from the apartment window, Madrid.
When I arrived in Madrid last week, I thought that I had managed to survive 26 hours travel without too much mishap - however, in the days that followed: terrible jetjag coupled with terrible gastro made the brief trip to Madrid a sightseeing tour of the apartment and the pharmacy at the end of the street.

There was one day not punctuated by illness that enabled some wandering around Madrid's sights, and thankfully the Weather Gods were extremely kind.

The Plaza Mayor was built during the 16th century and is one of Madrid's famous landmarks - architecturally it's beautiful surrounded by buildings of the period. However, being a famous landmark it was also inhabited by enormous tour groups and clichéd "buskers" hustling for a euro or two which ruined the ambiance somewhat.

Plaza Mayor
Phillip III statue in Plaza Mayor
From the Plaza Mayor it was a short walk to the very beautiful (and for some reason less touristy) Royal palace.

The Palace
Palace gardens
Although this brief stay in Madrid was cut very short by illness, at least the weather was good enough for walking this small part of the city.

Thankfully, I intend to be back in December.

Atocha Station
Farewell Madrid.... For now

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Adventure begins...

Probably the best place to start any story is from the beginning, so I have started my year long adventure to Europe and South America back in my home town in Tasmania.

View from the farmhouse

View overlooking a dam

Farm track


Apart from relaxing after the stress of moving all my belongings into storage and all the other hassles of moving, I was able to spend some time wandering around the farm.

I also wandered the tracks that reach deep into the wet sclerophyll and temperate rainforest that surrounds the farm.


Wet sclerophyll forest

View from the top of the track

And the weather was nice enough to bring some of the local fauna out....

The highly venomous Tiger Snake

But the trip wasn't all about nature. There is a local award winning microbrewery in Scottsdale: Little Rivers Brewery - and it would have been remiss of me not to do a tasting at the brewery. 

"Dam busters" mid-strength, Dark larger and Golden ale

Pale ale

The beers didn't disappoint. The Pale Ale was the standout but all of the others were excellent too. The real surprise was the "Dam Busters" mid-strength - delicious and full bodied with an excellent hop bitterness, very unusual for a mid-strength.

Inevitably the sampling of beers led to the local drinking hole: Lord's Hotel.

View from Lord's

A few pots and some pub grub later we called it a day - since our plans for the next day involved cycling the North East Rail Trail.

The North East Rail Trail is a mountain biking trail that follows the old North East Rail line from Scottsdale to Ledgerwood.

Our plan was to ride the 46 km round trip from Scottsdale to Billycock Hill. The trail is extremely picturesque as the trail slowly winds its way up the 345 m to the top of Billycock.

The NE rail trail

Once again some local fauna greeted us.

Echidna on the trail

The trail is reasonably challenging as it is all up a gentle incline and unfortunately the top of Billycock Hill ends at the Tasman highway which wasn't the most scenic spot to end the journey.

The top of Billycock Hill

Although we were tempted to travel the addition 11 km round trip to Ledgerwood, we wisely decided to turn back remembering, despite the downhill run from Billycock Hill, the last 10 km back to Scottsdale was almost all uphill.

It turned out to be a very wise decision. By the time we got back we were exhausted and famished.

The pies from the Cottage Bakery tasted awesome after the exhausting ride - the Australian Olympic cycling team should get on to them, because they certainly worked for us.

With that the first leg of my trip was over - a couple of days to sort out the last of my stuff in Melbourne, then next stop: Madrid.

Farewell Tassie

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Early Elections and Government Legitimacy

#Marchinmay down Elizabeth Street in Melbourne
The recent budget handed down by the Abbott Government has been poorly received by the Australian people and has resulted in an outpouring of community anger with up to fifteen thousand people marching in Melbourne. Similar protests were held throughout the country.

The breaking of several election promises was secondary to the anger over a raft of changes which undermine the universality of Medicare, restrict access to university education, impose draconian conditions on the young unemployed and cut $80 billion from health and education services.

During the rally, several speakers called for a double dissolution election. The Greens deputy leader, Adam Bandt, suggested that an alliance of the Greens, Australian Labor Party and the Palmer United Party could bring about a new government by Christmas.

Adam Bandt addresses the crowd
Bandt's call reflected an earlier sentiment by ALP leader, Bill Shorten, in his budget reply speech for  Tony Abbott to "bring it [an election] on" as Abbott had threatened to call a double dissolution election should elements of the budget be blocked in the Senate (a position he has since backed down on).

However, this sentiment has morphed into calls from twitter megaphones and sections of the Left for an immediate double dissolution or for the senate to block supply.

Double Dissolution

As has been pointed out by experts such as Anthony Green, there are a number of reasons why an immediate double dissolution election is impossible:
1. The elements of s57 of the Constitution have not been satisfied.
2. After s57 is satisfied, a double dissolution occurs on advice from the Government to the Governor General to dissolve both houses. Something which is extremely unlikely; considering the current unpopularity of the Government.

Blocking Supply

Blocking supply means blocking the government appropriations bill that appropriates money for the general running of government. Although  the appropriations bill contains some of the cuts to expenditure, new policies such as the ones which have elicited such community anger cannot be attached to this appropriations bill. It is likely that it is these new proposals are the ones that the Senate are likely to block - not the appropriations bill.

Blocking the appropriations bill will spark a constitutional crisis as the government begins to run out of money. It will not in and of itself spark an election. The only precedent in Federal politics is the 1975 constitutional crisis where the Governor General stepped in and sacked the Whitlam Government. The subsequent election was actually called by the appointed Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, using double dissolution triggers that had occurred in the Whitlam government's tenure. There was no constitutional reason why an election needed to be called - it was merely politically advantageous for Fraser to call an election at that time.

As can been seen, there were specific circumstances (and personalities) around the 1975 crisis. There is no reason why similar events would result in a similar outcome. A constitutional crisis is just that: a crisis which result in unprecedented and unpredictable actions  in our political system. They damage the political process and undermine our parliamentary system. It is for these reasons that they ought to be avoided (and are unlikely to be pursued by either the Labor party or the Greens).

The legitimacy of a government

The calls for new elections stem from questions surrounding the government's legitimacy. As with the Right's constant and unprecedented attacks on the Gillard government, the Left is focusing on the legitimacy of the Abbott Government, elected as it was on promises of integrity and honesty in its commitments. There are serious questions around the moral legitimacy of the Abbott government - considering it's central pitch to voters was one of trust. However, legally, the government was legitimately elected.

In the same way that the Gillard government was legitimately elected and even though the Right never accepted it, the government went to its full term. No matter how much the Left does not accept the legitimacy of the Abbott government, in the same way, it is most likely to go full term.


Protest at March In May Melbourne

Even though the Government will likely go to its full term, it does not mean that protest such as marchinmay are pointless. The use of public protest to continue to question the Abbott Government's moral legitimacy serve the same process as the campaigning by the Murdoch press on the legitimacy of the Gillard Government.

It is important to maintain the momentum that has built around the questioning of the legitimacy of the Government, however, calls for the irresponsible blocking of supply undermines the Left's message. It drags the Left to the level of the appalling action of the Right and their allies in rejecting the legitimacy of Australia's democratic system during the Gillard government.

The fact is that Abbott was legally elected and his government is likely to last until 2016. One Term Tony could become a reality if the Left stays on message about the legitimacy of a government that lied their way into office. It does not need to sink to the level of the Right with irresponsible calls to undermine Australia's democratic institutions by blocking supply.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Labor can't have it both ways on East West Link

The East-West Link is an $8bn proposal to build a major highway linking the Eastern Freeway to the Western Ring Road. Part of this extension will be a tunnel under Royal Park which will seriously undermine the amenity of the park, affect the zoo and create traffic problems in Moreland and surrounds. In addition the supposed benefits of the link are not expected to be sustained past twelve years. Despite these factors, and polling showing that the community does not support the building of this road, the Napthine government seems determined to push on with the project.

The Labor opposition, while ostensibly opposing the road, has said that it will honour any signed contracts. This is despite the tenders being received before the consultation period and various other issues surrounding the issue of these contracts.

On 30 March there was a rally against the East-West Link in Brunswick.

Rally against the East West Link
Approximately one thousand people marched up Sydney Road in Brunswick to oppose the project, demonstrating that there is significant community opposition to it. The march concluded at Warr Park, where several speakers took the stage.

East West Link protest marching up Sydney Road in Brunswick
The speakers included the local ALP member, Jane Garrett. In her speech, Garrett only obliquely referenced the East-West link, preferring instead to focus on the Abbott government's antipathy towards public transport.

Jane Garrett addresses the rally at Warr Park after the march

While this is worthy of criticism, the focus on the Abbott Government's failings was deliberately evasive - a vain attempt by Garrett to deflect from the ALP's equivocation on the East-West Link. Garrett was duly booed off to chants of "rip up the contracts".

Rally at Warr Park after the march
The ALP wants to have a bob each way - trying to gather votes in marginal Outer Eastern seats while simultaneously trying to keep the voters of the Inner North on side.

The ALP must make a choice on this issue or Garrett will not only be booed of the stage at a protest, she will be booed out of the seat of Brunswick by the electorate and replaced by the Greens.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Abbott government cares little for our sovereignty

Image source:
Sovereignty is the quality of having power over a geographical area. Traditionally, this has referred to governments being able to exercise political power and control over their jurisdictions.

In the recent election campaign, Tony Abbott made much of the supposed threat to our sovereignty from people seeking asylum in Australia. The Abbott government even went as far as to name its refugee policy "operation sovereign borders" and militarise the operation by appointing a 3-star general to oversee it.

However, while desperate people seeking asylum on leaky fishing boats are characterised as a threat to our sovereignty worthy of a military response, a true threat to Australia's sovereignty has quietly become government policy.

On the eve of the last election the Coalition quietly released its trade policy [PDF] which significantly changed the previous government's approach to investor state dispute settlements (ISDS) in trade treaties. ISDS' are clauses which allow multinational corporations to sue national governments that are signatories to a treaty for passing laws that are harmful to the interests of these corporations. These cases are not heard in national courts but in tribunals that are often presided over by representatives of multinational corporations - hardly independent arbiters.

This effectively allows multinational corporations to over-ride government's powers effect legislation without the threat of significant legal action. Already, Australia is being sued in Hong Kong by tobacco companies for passing a law to enforce  plain packaging of cigarettes. This law was passed by both houses of the Australian parliament and confirmed by the High Court, however, the ISDS in a bilateral treaty now has the potential to penalise the Australian Government for performing its democratic function.

The previous government rejected the use of ISDS' as not being in the national interest, however, the Abbott Government's trade policy remains open to the use of ISDS'. The Abbott Government has stated that it is keen to conclude free-trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) - a treaty negotiated in secret that contains ISDS'.

Leaked sections of the TPP indicate it will potentially undermine fair access to copyright material and limit environmental protection laws, public health measures and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Governments will be limited to legislate in these areas by the threat of serious financial penalties - even if it is in the national interest to legislate.

At the recent APEC conference Malaysian Prime Minister Razak characterised the TPP as:
"impinge[ing] fundamentally the sovereign right of the country [Malaysia] to make regulation and policy''.
This curtailment of a government's sovereign power represents not only a threat to democracy, but a fundamental shift in political power from the citizenry to multinational organisations.

When the Coalition said that 'Australia was open for business' what they really meant was that 'Australian sovereignty was for sale'.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Pulled Pork


1 kg Pork Shoulder
1 Onion
1 Clove Garlic
2 tsp pickled jalepeno chilies
300 ml Dry cider

Spice Rub
2 tsp Smoked paprika
1 tsp Chili flakes
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Coriander
1 tsp Fennel
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
1 TBSP brown sugar


Take the skin off the pork shoulder (use it to make crackling!)
Rub the spice rub into the pork.
Slice the onions and place them in the pressure cooker
Add the garlic and pickled chili
Place the pork on top of the onions and add the cider and any leftover spice rub.
Pressure cook for 1 hour.
Once cooked remove the pork from the sauce and pull the pork apart with a fork.
Add the shredded pork back to the sauce and bring to a simmer. Add cornflour if it needs thickening.

Serve with a good coleslaw (on a bun or in a taco)