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The Upside Down: We Won’t Bow Down – What I Learned in New Orleans

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

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Arts, history, Music, Travel

John Mitchinson reflects on his latest trip to the ‘Big Easy’

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I’ve just spent 10 intensely hot and happy days in the city of New Orleans at the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival – known locally as Jazz Fest: a riotous celebration of music and food featuring more than 650 acts across 14 stages. 

I’ve been to many festivals in my time, but none like Jazz Fest. Part of what makes it so special is the extravagant range and quality of the music on offer, but even more important is that so much of the music (and all the food) is produced by people who live in or near the city. 

Jazz Fest is just one important element in an annual calendar of cultural celebration which is unique in the Western world. No city celebrates itself quite as joyously or defiantly as New Orleans.

Some part of that defiance derives from the unique position and history of the city. People who fall in love with it – and I’m one – will tell you it isn’t like the rest of America (Tennessee Williams – another devotee – famously said that it was one of only three cities in America, along with New York and San Francisco. The rest, he said, was Cleveland). 

Founded by the French in 1718 as a port linking the mighty Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, the city of La Nouvelle-Orléans was ceded to the Spanish for the last three decades of the 18th Century, briefly reverting to French control in 1803 whereupon Napoleon sold it to the Anglo-Americans as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The old part of the town – now known as the French Quarter – remained Catholic and Francophone well into the 19th Century. 

By 1812, New Orleans had become ‘the great mart of all the wealth of the Western world’. It was also the world’s biggest market for slaves. Significantly – because the Spanish (unlike the Anglo-Americans) allowed their slaves to own property and purchase their freedom – by the early 19th Century, a fifth of the city’s population were free people of colour, and the area of Tremé, next to the French Quarter, became America’s first black neighbourhood. 

At the entrance to Tremé was the open ground known as Congo Square. It was there, as a visitor to the city observed in 1819, that “the African slaves meet on the green, by the swamp and rock the city with their Congo dances”. It is out of this tradition of public performance, of drumming and dancing, of the mix of races, languages and cultures, of music as a simultaneous act of defiance and expression, that the great American art form of jazz would emerge in the New Orleans of the early 20th Century. 

Bar-hopping in the French Quarter or drifting from stage to stage at Jazz Fest, you sense that music in this city has never stood still. Here, the barriers between traditional and modern jazz, funk and R&B, Cajun and zydeco, bounce and hip-hop are porous. Past and present co-exist. Different traditions feed off one another; musicians swap from band to band – what matters is being present and giving your all. Music in New Orleans resists commodification.

Not that it’s an easy city to live in. Crime is a constant problem – so too corruption, incompetent public services (symbolised by the legendary potholes), and the annual threat of devastation by hurricanes and rising sea levels. Yet there is something about the culture which enables a sinking city to float. New Orleans survived two of the worst environmental catastrophes of modern times – Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which left 80% of the city underwater; and the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion of 2010, in which 200 million gallons of oil was pumped into the Gulf of Mexico. 

In his glowing portrait of the city, Nine Lives, New Yorker journalist Dan Baum hints at how it manages to face down the worst: “In the context of the techno-driven, profit-crazy, hyper-efficient United States, New Orleans is a city-sized act of civil disobedience”. One of the best t-shirts I saw at Jazz Fest bore the line: ‘So far behind we’re ahead’. 

That’s what I love about it. The virus of late capitalism often appears incurable, but New Orleans might just contain an antidote. Life is built around public celebration and ritual – carnival krewes, Mardi Gras Indian tribes, social aid and pleasure clubs, brass bands, crawfish boils and second line parades – not gated communities and pointless wealth.

In 1922, the novelist Sherwood Anderson (another lover of the city) wrote: “When the fact is made secondary to the desire to live, to love, and to understand life, it may be that we will have in more American cities a charm of place such as one finds in the older parts of New Orleans now.”

In short: less Cleveland; more New Orleans!

John Mitchinson is a writer and publisher and co-founder of Unbound, the world’s leading crowdfunding platform for books. He was one of the founders of BBC’s ‘QI

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Citizens push back on Palau’s plan to open marine sanctuary to commercial fishing and exploration

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/04/2022 - 7:38pm in

The move is meant to aid pandemic-related economic loss

Originally published on Global Voices


The “Milky Way” cove in Palau seen from the air. Photo from Flickr page of LuxTonnerre, (CC BY 2.0)

Palau's Olbiil Era Kelulau (Congress) is considering a bill that will open their expansive marine sanctuary, the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS), to commercial fishing and oil exploration. In response, citizens are circulating an online petition opposing the proposal.

Palau is a small archipelago of more than 500 islands located on the western side of the Pacific. In 2015, the Palau government established the PNMS which designated 80 percent of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as a conservation area with no international or domestic fishing, while 20 percent was set aside as a domestic fishing zone. This marine protected area became one of the largest in the world and was hailed as a model for countries that want to conserve their marine resources. After five years of planning, the PNMS became fully operational in 2020.

But two years later, the government is already considering reopening 50 percent of Palau’s EEZ to foreign fishing fleets in order to generate revenue and stimulate the economy. House Bill No. 11-30-2S proposes temporarily reopening the PNMS and allowing commercial fishing and even oil exploration as the nation grapples with dwindling resources caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Palau’s tourism sector, which employs 20 percent of the population, was severely affected by the pandemic.

As of 2021, Palau's GDP had contracted 17. percent due to pandemic-related losses, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The bill says that “foreign fishing agreements brought significant revenue to the Republic,” adding:

By temporarily permitting fishing pursuant to foreign fishing agreements within EEZ, the Republic will bring much-needed revenue for the national and state governments, as well as local vendors and will have a significant positive impact on the economy.

Before the closure, the government received around USD 700,000 per year from fishing licenses through its vessel day scheme (VSD), equaling about USD 40,000 per state. The VSD is an agreement between some Pacific island nations that sets limits on the number of days a fishing vessel can fish in each nation's economic zones and is considered one of the most complex, yet successful, fishing regulations in the world.

Palau receives an average of USD 8 million per year from the VSD.

However, other estimates show that between international conservation and development grants — both money and supplies — Palau has received over USD 70 million so far as a result of the PNMS. This year alone, Palau received USD 1.8 million from the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) to help implement the PNMS over a four-year period, according to reporting from the Mariana Variety, Micronesia's leading news outlet.

Environmental cost

The bill was criticized by Palau environmentalists, community elders, and concerned citizens alike. Environment group Ebiil Society initiated an online petition against the bill. The petitioners have a reminder for Palau authorities:

…While it is understood that there is a need to seek ways to bolster our revenue earning capacity, short-term solutions should not jeopardize well thought out long-term policy objectives established for our Republic by the Palauan people.

…We believe there is a multitude of unexplored alternatives resulting in sustainable revenues that return social and environmental gains, that reflects our deep wisdom and connection to the ocean, which has cradled our lives and sustained our culture for many generations.

Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. acknowledged the petition and responded that the government is offering a solution. He said this to the media:

We want to come up with a solution. So I don’t know if they’re opposing the solution or they’re opposing something else. What we’re doing is providing a solution. So I hope we can all work together to solution that benefits everyone. That’s really the goal. So I think a lot of times we do petitions or we run around doing things being misinformed.

During a public hearing for the bill, House Speaker Sabino Anastacio pointed out that the funds that Palau is entitled to receive from international environment donors are not being used to finance the country’s needs. He added that the state is not aware about how some of the grants given to Palau are being spent by non-profit organizations.

When the money comes, these are non-profit so we don’t see the paperwork. We don’t know how much goes to the [salaries] and where the rest of the money goes.

During the same hearing, some stakeholders asserted that Palau stands to benefit more if the PNMS is maintained.

The hashtag #SaveMySanctuary is used to mobilize online support against the bill.

The Friends of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Facebook page has uploaded several videos featuring Palau residents who want to preserve the PNMS.

Ngatpang Chief and Chairman of Belau Offshore Fisheries, Inc. Rideb Okada Techitong explained how the PNMS was conceived as an application of the indigenous Palau practice of “bul” which prescribes a moratorium on the use of resources to prevent the destruction of a habitat or species.


A screenshot from the Friends of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Facebook video

Dora Benhart, Department of Conservation and Law Enforcement Outreach Officer, warned about how reopening the PNMS will negatively affect the Palau way of life.


A screenshot from the Friends of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Facebook video

Fisherman and Friends of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary board member Adolph Demei recalled how overfishing has caused a decline in Palau’s fisheries which prompted elders to declare a “bul” and led to the establishment of the PNMS.


A screenshot from the Friends of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Facebook video

Ironically, Palau will host the 7th annual “Our Ocean Conference” on April 13–14 as representatives of governments and civil society organizations from around the world will meet and discuss new and significant measures to protect the ocean.

Australia’s refugees react to double standard over tennis star Novak Djokovic's treatment

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/01/2022 - 6:59pm in

Djokovic deported, but many refugees and asylum seekers remain imprisoned

Originally published on Global Voices


A rally led by the Refugee Action Collective, calling for the release of refugees currently being detained in Park Hotel, Carlton. Flickr photo by Matt Hrkac, (CC BY 2.0)

Australia’s refugees and asylum seekers highlighted their struggle for justice by comparing their situation with Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic who arrived in Melbourne on January 5 but was prevented from entering the country after his visa was canceled by immigration authorities.

Djokovic refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19 but he got a medical exemption to allow him to play at the Australian Open. Australia requires vaccination in order to enter the country. After his visa was canceled, he was placed in the same hotel where 25 refugees and 7 asylum seekers have been indefinitely detained. He pleaded his case in court but in the end, he lost his appeal and was deported from Australia on January 16. The Immigration minister Alex Hawke had made his decision based on Djokovic ‘being a risk to “civil unrest” and a “talisman of anti-vaccination sentiment”’.

Australia has a complex history regarding its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

For much of its recent history, Australia accepted refugees for resettlement, with over 800,000 refugees and displaced persons settling in Australia since 1945, according to the Federal Parliamentary Library.

Each year, the Australian government usually allocates around 14,000 places to refugees and others with humanitarian needs.

The main difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee is that asylum seekers are people seeking international protection whose claims for refugee status have not yet been determined.

Nevertheless, a refugee may still not have been granted a visa, in which case they may face indefinite detention.

Since July 2013 anyone arriving in Australia by boat without a valid visa has not been eligible for asylum. Many have been held in offshore detention centres in Nauru or Papua New Guinea. Many have also been turned away and sent to Indonesia. Some of these people have been settled in other countries such as the United States or returned to their country of origin, whilst others have been brought to Australia for medical attention.

In addition, as the Refugee Council of Australia explains:

…detention is mandatory for those without a valid visa. It is also indefinite, and there is no independent review.

…Australian law requires that a person should be detained until they are granted a visa or leave the country.

They may be detained in a prison-like detention centre or in community detention.

Several refugees were able to draw attention to their plight because of the public mania over the Djokovic case.

Reaction from refugee communities in Australia

Mehdi Ali, an Iranian refugee, is disappointed that interviewers want to know more about Djokovic than refugees like him who have been in detention over the past nine years.

He posted a photo featuring fellow refugees carrying banners about the number of years they have been seeking asylum in Australia:

Adnan Choopani, a refugee from southwest Iran, called out the government's double standard and said that some citizens are more equal than others in Australia.

He was also curious to know if the Australian Border Force (ABF) is treating Djokovic with respect:

During a protest, refugees demanded access to basic human rights which had been denied to them. Mohammed Joy, a refugee from Bangladesh, tweeted their demands and said he is grateful to Australians who have been pushing for the recognition and protection of the rights of refugees. In this video he talks about the plight of refugees while addressing a crowd in front of the hotel:

Former refugees, Mostafa Azimitabar also weighed in on the issue and urged the public to learn more about how Australia is treating refugees and asylum seekers:

Journalist and award-winning writer Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian-Kurdish refugee who was detained in Australia’s immigration detention center for six years before his release in 2019, compared the situation of refugees with what Djokovic experienced in Australia:

A further furore emerged after the court's decision, when Prime Minister Scott Morrison tied to muddy the already troubled waters:

Djokovic is already in Serbia, but the campaign for the rights of refugees continues in Australia. He has not yet made any statement of support for the refugees in the detention hotel, despite many calls for him to do so.

Coronavirus Border Chaos: Confusion Over Recording and Enforcing of ‘Day Two’ Tests

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/12/2021 - 2:02am in

COVID BORDER CHAOSConfusion Over Recording and Enforcing of ‘Day Two’ Travel Tests

John Lubbock reports on his efforts to extract Coronavirus travel testing data from the Government

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When a traveller arrives in the UK from another country, they must purchase a ‘Day 2’ test – to prove whether or not they have COVID-19. This provides a reference number that can be used to complete a ‘Passenger Locator Form’. But how do we know that these tests are being completed, and that COVID-positive travellers aren’t slipping through the cracks in the ‘Test and Trace’ system?

I had arrived back in the UK from Italy in September and accidentally booked a test that had to be taken in person in Liverpool. I didn’t go to the test and nobody contacted me. The next time I returned from Italy in October, I booked another test with the same company, Randox. Again, nobody contacted me after I failed to complete the test.

I took free, Government-supplied tests in both cases to ensure I didn’t have COVID-19, which is technically against the rules (travel tests must be purchased from a private provider).

I emailed a number of private testing companies to ask whose obligation it was to report the results of these tests.

One firm – Cignpost ExpressTest – said that, according to section nine of the Department of Health and Social Care’s guidance on Day 2 tests, “providers must complete a daily sales report, which includes date of arrival, type of test and a unique reference number for that test. If a result is not received within the required time period, UKHSA will then follow up with the traveller directly”.

The UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) is a new body that has taken over some of the functions of Public Health England (PHE), and is now responsible for UK-wide public health protection and infectious disease capability.

UKHSA said: “Providers are only required to report to UKHSA the results of tests which are taken. The requirement to take tests sits with the individual. Passengers must upload a photo of their LFD (Lateral Flow Device) test to verify results as soon as possible, with free confirmatory NHS PCRs for any positive cases. If a photo of the LFD result is not uploaded, the UK Government will be alerted, the traveller will be registered as non-compliant and could be fined.”


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However, the UKHSA does not appear to gather data on the number of people registered as non-compliant.

When I asked how many passengers had not completed a Day 2 test or had been fined, a spokesperson said: “Unfortunately, we don’t have that data available to share. We are not in charge of issuing travellers with fines so that may be something you can find out from border force or the Home Office.”

But the Home Office could not shed much light either. I asked the same question – whether the department had any data on fines and non-compliance – only to be passed back to UKHSA and told that it was its responsibility.

I continued chasing the DHSC for a statement on whether and how Day 2 testing was being monitored and enforced, and was told that the UKHSA would provide a statement. Despite chasing for more than two weeks, there has been no response from UKHSA.

“We have made the guidance clear that Day 2 testing is compulsory for people coming into the country, that’s what the law is,” a DHSC spokesperson said.

When I asked Randox why they had not followed up with me about my uncompleted Day 2 tests, a spokesperson said: “As an accredited testing provider, Randox fully complies with the many data requests required by Government associated with Day 2 testing.”

A Profitable System

It seems as though no one has responsibility for policing the Day 2 testing system – not the private providers, the Home Office, the DHSC or the UKHSA.

Ultimately, these tests are a highly profitable line of work. An estimated 4.5 million people arrived in the UK by air in October 2021. If each of these passengers paid £25 for a Day 2 test, private testing companies will have made more than £111 million in a single month.

Allowing COVID travel testing to be run by private companies, rather than the NHS, means that the results of tests are not being reported properly – or are not being taken at all. The evidence suggests that the Government has no idea how many people have entered the UK without taking a Day 2 test or – if the Government does know – it is not sure where the data exists.

With the new Omicron variant currently raising concerns that a new wave of the disease will sweep through the UK, it is alarming that no Government department or agency seems to know which is responsible for making sure travellers complete a Day 2 test.

Neither the Home Office, the DHSC nor the UKHSA could say whether there are any plans to monitor compliance with Day 2 testing in future.

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The post Coronavirus Border Chaos: Confusion Over Recording and Enforcing of ‘Day Two’ Tests appeared first on Byline Times.

Travel Photoblog II: France, October 1-6 2019

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 09/10/2019 - 3:32am in

After Krok, I flew from Moscow to Paris via Helsinki. My destination was this conference in the Loire Valley.

My cheap Paris hotel was near this cemetery.

I stayed in Paris just long enough to meet sister radical feminist Cecilia for lunch at a crêperie near Gare Montparnasse.

Leaving Paris on a TGV. France has excellent trains that put the US to shame.

A double rainbow as seen from the train. A trainbow?

Changing trains in Tours.

French trains have dedicated bicycle areas, while in the US, I can’t even take my folded Brompton on a bus between Champaign and Indianapolis without the driver yelling at me.

From the taxi from in Saumur to l’Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud, I saw yet another rainbow.

The “royale” part of l’Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud, the “palais” where artists-in-residence are housed.

Residents eat, chat, and do laundry in this common area. I was not a resident, just visiting to speak at the annual animation conference. But I had to do laundry after 10 days in Russia, so I used their washing machine.

A fresh batch of international animation residents had just arrived, and I joined them on this tour of l’Abbaye.

Cloisters galore.

The magnificent late-Romanesque cathedral.

More cloisters and animators.

The view from my window in the morning.

It looks so peaceful, doesn’t it? But they were doing construction most of the time, and the drone of power tools and compressors was nearly constant on weekdays.

The architecturally magnificent chimney towers of the ancient kitchen were under scaffolding and submitting to power tools as well. They say they’ll be done in 2021. I may apply to be a resident then so I can come back and see them in their full glory.

The conference opened with displays and presentations from the animators-in-residence. I didn’t take many pictures of the conference itself, and I have no photo from my own talk, with Jayne Piling, but it was apparently well received. I think my take on copyright abolition made some heads explode.

I got to eat breakfast at the swanky hotel, where they had this over-designed tableware. Instead of having a ridge like a normal saucer, this one had a curved cone protruding from its center, on which nestled the reciprocal inverted cone of the teacup.

It was design-for-design’s-sake, serving no purpose but to remind diners they were somewhere expensive, which was probably the point.

I took more photos around the ever-photogenic Abbey my last morning.

The French famously respect comics as an art form. In a bookshop in Saumur I came across this large hardbound graphic biography of George Orwell, among many other handsome and diverse comics.

After a few more French train rides I checked into this Ibis hotel at the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.

It had a pretty good view, considering.

The next morning I took my cattle-class seat on the plane to Chicago, and now I’m back in Urbana, IL, which feels even less glamorous than it did before (which was not at all). Au revoir, France! Das vedanya, Russia!

Travel Photoblog: Krok, Russia, September 21-30, 2019

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/10/2019 - 3:11am in

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Festivals, Travel

Krok is an International animation festival that takes place on a riverboat in Russia or Ukraine or, in the past, both. Political issues have recently forced it to sail in Russia only, even as it continues to be organized by animators in both countries. This year it cruised from St. Petersburg to Moscow, making various scenic stops along the way. I was invited to lead the jury and watched lots of films between taking photos, trying to use the insecure internet in the bar, eating, rehearsing a song for “Carnival”, pretending to drink vodka, and sleeping.

On the drive in from the airport.

Our boat, the Konstantin Simonov, docked in St. Petersburg.

The hallway

My cabin

My cabin’s little bathroom.

A good omen: a rainbow the day before departure in St. Petersburg.

About 800 rubles (approximately $12.50) worth of snacks and provisions I purchased up the road from the boat in St. Petersburg. Those “CHAKA” peanuts-and-mixed-nuts snacks were the best. None of the energy bars tasted good, but I kept one on my person at all times to keep low blood sugar at bay.

A visit to St. Petersburg prior to the Festival Opening.

Distinguished jury members doing the mandatory lifejacket safety test.

Our Itinerary.

Our first stop, Mandrogi. Someone called it “Russian Disneyland”. Yes, it’s a tourist trap, but a rather charming one.

Mandrogi’s “Art Saloon” included this Matryoshka doll painting studio, proudly displaying photos of Putin’s visit a few years ago with his resultant masterpiece in the center.

I rented this bike for a few hundred rubles. Fun, and the only biking I got to do my entire trip.

The world-famous Vodka Museum. Every Russian tourist trap needs one, but Mandrogi’s was recently upgraded at great expense. I didn’t go inside because they charge for entry now. (I visited Krok in 2000, and Mandrogi and other tourist stops have been massively developed since then.)

Next stop: Kizhi Island and its magnificent wooden cathedral.

I remember this structure from 19 years ago. They’re doing a lot of reconstruction now.

Tourists everywhere, including me.

I thought this log “staircase” was cool.

Wood architecture on Kizhi.

I wanted to walk more on Kizhi, but had to turn back so I wouldn’t miss our departure.

Bye, Kizhi!

Fellow juror Isabelle, her Mann Jochen, and fellow juror Daniel “posed” for this photo in Petrozavodsk.

My Lovely Horse in a toy shop in Petrozavodsk.

A cold and rainy morning in Vytegra.

Animators just have to “pose” for every photo. On the right is fellow juror Svetlana, with her signature leg move.

Wood construction in Vytegra.

Our boat went through a lot of locks.

Deck view from inside a lock.

The scenery from my cabin window was ever-changing…

Out on Lake Something-or-Other

On Goritsky I took the tour of the monastery.

The monastery is on a small lake. I went off-tour for a while and passed this local who’d dismounted her bicycle to go fishing.

Back to the tour herd.

Back on board, we passed this church tower of a sunken city buried by a dam.

We all went out to take pictures of it. This was a rare moment the sun was out too.

A bit soured on tours after Goritsky, I didn’t keep up with the group in Dubna. This was my loss, because this tour was necessary and interesting, and I missed it. After getting lost, I found my way back to the boat and looked it up on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dubna

Finally, we neared Moscow. Here’s fellow juror Ülo at breakfast.

After much deliberation, we made our selections as best we could and then signed a pile of certificates.

Then, Red Square w00t! I’d been to Red Square just a few months earlier, but was happy to see it again with my new friends.

You can’t have too many pictures of yourself standing in front of St. Basil’s cathedral.

Lenin’s Tomb was closed that day. Even a corpse needs a day off.

Moscow. I loved this Art deco building at the end of the street Ülo is walking down.

More Moscow.

And finally, the Moscow Airport, where I departed for Helsinki and then France. My next installment of photos will document the latter!