Saturday, November 30, 2013

Notes from abroad

When someone ten years your junior asks you to drop your pants you know it's going to be an interesting evening.  Saturday started normally.  My partner and I were hosted by good friends, Adrian and Pat, at the final day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival.  Down a few dollars I left the track for the public transport trip to Tel Aviv.  Presumably the Qatari passport stamp sent me to be privately screened at Bangkok airport.  My satchel was taken away for an ''X-ray'' before being handed back 40 minutes later with its contents missing.  I was then taken to a private room and asked, ''Are you wearing underwear?''  Mum would've been proud they were clean as I stood for ten minutes as Israeli security inspected every part of my jeans before I reclaimed my dignity and boarded.

In Tel Aviv I met up with my media colleagues participating in the Rambam Israel Fellowship programme organised by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.  The comprehensive introduction to Israel included a tour of the old city of Jerusalem and the ancient fortress of Masada, and meetings with politicians, academics and journalists.  Our Palestinian guide took us to the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem for an uneventful, educational experience about how the locals live.  The local Palestinian kids decided to perform and threw rocks at the nearby Israeli soldiers.  The soldiers also performed by firing two tear gas canisters in the sky, before one landed five metres away, bounced and laid to rest at my feet.  Sadly I couldn't find a T-shirt that said ''I was tear gassed by the IDF and all I got was this T-shirt, stinging eyes and a decongested nasal passage.''

Tear gas is nothing compared to the experience of the small township of Sderot.  If Sderot residents hear the words ''red colour'' in Hebrew, they have 15 seconds until it rains Qassam rockets sent from the Gaza strip only a kilometre away.  That isn't very long, especially as it took five for our bus to stop and open its door.  I counted.  Fortunately Hamas weren't in the performing mood the day we visited.  I only have one bit of advice if you are considering travelling to Israel:  go!

For my sins, I observe international climate talkfests annually.  This year 8,000 environmental activists, rent-seeking businesses, media and negotiators attended.  Based on the current negotiating timeline a new global carbon cutting treaty is supposed to be concluded in Paris in 2015.  I'll have to make sure I am extra sinful that year.  I wasn't expecting to be greeted by a ''Green Warrior of Norway'' handing me a condom at the Polish National Stadium.  On the prophylactic's packaging were quotes about the evils of overpopulation and overconsumption.  Thankfully even far-left green activists recognised recycling's limits by warning that the product was for ''one usage only''.

A rare joy of attending these summits is spending time with like-minded, long-suffering free marketeers from across the globe, all three of them.  A fellow lonely sole at these events is Ron Bailey from the US-based libertarian Reason Foundation.  A disappointment of my travels is that they overlapped with the C.D. Kemp lecture.  This year's lecture was delivered by the best-selling author Matt Ridley.  He quoted Bailey for his erudite definition of the precautionary principle:  ''Never do anything for the first time''.  Bailey is a good dinner companion on cold Warsaw nights, but we have very different tastes in wine.

Climate talks are rarely eventful.  Negotiations are behind closed doors.  Journalists sit in the press centre typing copy.  The real colour and light is offered by activists.  They've mastered the art of providing snappy quotes and visual stunts for a gullible and bored media.  As climate change has dropped in public importance so have activist numbers.  The usual stunts are gone.  They symbolically walked out of the conference in anger at the progress of talks while chanting ''we shall overcome''.  After spending minutes in Warsaw's November climate they walked back inside to enjoy the warmth provided by the nearby coal-fired power station.

Each year a key negotiating theme develops.  This year developing countries wanted a ''loss and damages'' fund to help them finance the costs from major climatic events.  They used the Philippine typhoon as justification.  On the third last day the UN Secretariat installed donation boxes at 5pm so attendees could individually help Filipino victims.  By 7.15pm there was a solitary donation, and I am pretty sure it was put there to prime the pump.  Australia wasn't very popular at the conference.  Disconnected-from-reality activists and bureaucrats weren't impressed we elected an Abbott government that thinks carbon taxes are for repealing, not increasing.

I went through London to get home.  Aussie expat Jason Groves and his British civil partner and celebrated classical pianist Charles Owen organised a dinner in a rather swank Belgravia restaurant with fellow expat Gordon Adams and long-time friend and former Kiwi Shane Frith.  The quote of the night came from Charles who said, ''Not many British classical musicians regularly read The Spectator.  But the truth is, as soon as it arrives, I almost wet my pants with excitement.''  Over dinner I broke the cardinal ''one Martini is all right, two is too many, three is never enough'' rule.  Packing my bags to fly home the next morning was a challenge.

No comments: