The Satchel Review - Saturday 4 August, 2012

We will soon be landing on Mars, but we still can't get things here on earth quite right, which makes one think, is man's curiosity about big things far away leading us astray? We cannot simply appreciate, we must investigate! Conquer! Buy! Put a ring on it!

Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is heading the commercial race into space, making his native London's Olympic endeavours look like child's play (landed gentry, eat your heart out, we're going to space!), while Clive Palmer and James Packer have created their own solutions for Australia: super-casinos in Sydney and grandiose (read: gauche) hotel developments on the Sunshine Coast!

You can keep your dirty dollars and your high-rollers, Mr's Packer and Palmer, thank you very much. But this does raise a moral question: does it matter where the money's coming from if it's getting the job done?

Alas, all this new Packer/Palmer money could very well offset the fallout from the mining boom should there be one in time to come. After all, we have an NDIS to fund, Gonski reforms to make, infrastructure to build, Carbon Tax to pay, Third World aid to generate, not to mention jobs to create for all the poor folk laid off by Ford, BHP, chicken factories, the Queensland Government and the like.

But over in the UK, it should be duly noted that Tony Blair got into quite a bit of trouble circa 2004-2007 for suggesting that bringing super-casinos into super-impoverished parts of England would be a good thing; his thinking that dollars could regenerate rundown areas. Wishful thinking. A gambling pandemic was predicted.

What would have become of Good Will Hunting had there been a casino up the road? He might not have put those Math skills to better use. What if all the British astronauts and athletes and David Attenborough and Jamie Oliver had succumbed to the gambling bug? What then?!

Nevermind that in Syria it's unlikely many people will never live life to its fullest potential because of the ambitions of one Bashar al-Assad, his special forces and the activities of the militant insurgency. Even the UN's special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan has quit.

"I did not receive all the support that the cause deserved," Annan said at a press conference in Geneva, pointing to the failure of the implementation of the UN's six-point peace plan, which commenced with a ceasefire from April 12 that was unrealised.

"You have to understand: as an envoy, I can't want peace more than the protagonists, more than the Security Council or the international community for that matter... I believed it was a sacred duty to do whatever was in my power to help the Syrian people find a peaceful solution to this bloody conflict... however daunting the challenge''.

There is, apparently, no Plan B, as far as the UN is concerned. Washington blamed Beijing and Moscow for a lack of compliance. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said Annan "deserves our profound admiration for the selfless way in which he has put his formidable skills and prestige to this most difficult and potentially thankless of assignments."

All this as the world was brought news of insurgents executing people in Aleppo, via a video of a family with ties to Assad who were executed by them went viral, it is as if all hope is lost. The comments alone were disturbing, regardless of the atrocity.

"The video is disturbing but the supporting comments are really shocking," Wissam Tarif of the human rights group Avaaz wrote on Facebook. "Few condemned and most commentators approved and congratulated. This is not what Syrians or at least most Syrians are fighting for."

On Friday, Syrian troops killed dozens of foreign-backed insurgents in the Raqqa and al-Khafseh neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
is posting regular updates on the fighting and deaths of men, women and children in the provinces and cities. Meanwhile, ethnic clashes in Ethiopia, caused 33,000 refugees to flee into Kenya.

And to think we're complaining about Olympians failing to bring home the gold. What the Gonski? Like the 90,000 Hong Kong protestors who took to the streets to rail against plans to introduce a national curriculum loyal to mainland China, we can only hope our children will be better equipped through their education to the face of the state of the world.

For now, life on Mars is looking infinitely more appealing. Perhaps Branson is onto something.

Girl With a Satchel