Someone said,

The opposite of faith is not doubt. It’s cowardice.

About 10 minutes ago, we experienced a sizeable quake here in Kathmandu. Our house swayed and we made our way fairly quickly down the stairs and out into the yard. Gabe did stop at the door to ask if he should bring a cricket bat. (He thought that the reason we were hustling him out of the house was because of robbers trying to get in.) But other than that we were quickly out in the yard.

I know the advice is generally to squat, hold and cover, but building standards being what they are in Kathmandu we’ve made the decision as a family that we will try to get out from wherever we are if we’re close enough to an exit.

The power went down for a few minutes and in the dark we could feel the earth rolling beneath our feet. Trees in the garden swayed.

I haven’t heard of any damage yet, nor heard what size quake it was. Though our landlord said it is the biggest quake he has felt in Kathmandu for 22 years.

It is a very unsettling feeling to be reminded that the solid earth on which we stand is moving. And sometimes with an abrupt violence.

Update: It seems that we were feeling this quake: a 6.8 Richter scale tremor centred on Sikkim in N-E India.

Update: Three people have been reported dead in Kathmandu after a wall collapsed on them, with two other deaths reported in another district. The article also reports 6 deaths in Sikkim.

Update: The latest reports say that 36 people have died (most of them in India, but a few also in Nepal and Tibet) as a result of the earthquake. The toll could go higher as debris is cleared.

Takes a small step forward.

Maoists hand over the keys to some of their arms containers.

Bernard Keane writes in Crikey that in the wake of the demolition of the Government’s “Maylasia Solution”,

We’re left with the policy problems of how many asylum seekers Australia should take, and how we can stop lives being placed at risk.

The point of the Malaysian deal — a deal seemingly more criticised than properly understood — was to try to address both at the same time. When all the cheering has stopped, we still need to address those issues. And doing nothing, warehousing people on Nauru before inevitably allowing them to come to Australia or only giving them Temporary Protection Visas, aren’t any more solutions than what’s left of the Malaysian deal now that the High Court has ripped it apart.

What I really don’t understand, though, about the latest High Court decision / policy train wreck for the Government, is why this was never tested before.

The High Court decision kind of appears to say that maybe transporting people to Nauru was different because – I paraphrase – Australia was still responsible for all the processing, and because the MOU between Australia and Nauru was really short and probably created formal obligations for both countries. Or because refugees had already been carted off to Nauru, so the relevant section of the Migration Act obviously can’t have meant that it’s not OK to cart refugees off to Nauru. (It’s paragraphs 128 and 169 if you’re really that nerdy).

But the broader logic of the decision seems to be that unless the international and domestic legal protections for the protection and welfare of refugees are in place in the country concerned – and it would seem that they were not present in Nauru in 2001 and, arguably, still are not today – Australia can’t send them away.

Father Frank Brennan, and other commentators are highlighting that the judgement at the very least raises serious questions about the legitimacy of processing refugee claims on Nauru or in Papua New Guinea. Don Rothwell, Professor of International Law at ANU is quoted all over the place, saying

At face value it would be difficult at the moment to see how either Papua New Guinea or Nauru would immediately meet [the High Court's] criteria.

Are you seriously telling me that we could have avoided Howard’s “Pacific Solution” entirely if someone had just mounted a challenge to the Government’s power to arbitrarily “declare” a country an appropriate place for warehousing people for their asylum claims to be processed??!!

Lawyers, lawyers, lawyers. What were you doing between 2001 and 2007?

There was a High Court challenge in 2001 to a Federal Court decision about the legality of the detention of people on board the Tampa. But the High Court basically refused to hear the challenge. I think the argument went something like, “Well, maybe these people were detained unlawfully and carted off against their will to Nauru. But they’re on Nauru now, so I guess we’ll never know.”

The High Court’s decision is probably good for asylum seekers. Though that depends on what else the Government is prepared to try in order to “stop the boats”.

It is also probably bad for the Government. Though that depends on what lengths the Opposition is prepared to go to in order to make political capital from a policy failure and ongoing human tragedy.

Oh…

Sorry. Definitely bad for the Government.

… and Nepal’s second-ever Maoist Head-of-Government is Dr Baburam Bhattarai.

He’s got a few jobs on his to-do list. There is a Constituent Assembly mandate to extend again. Former combatants waiting to be rehabilitated. A Constitution still to be written. A less than thriving economy to be revived. And he has to contend with a real deficit of trust in politicians and public institutions.

So, congratulations Dr Bhattarai. Here’s hoping that you and the other Nepali lawmakers can move some of those to-do items into the done file.

Under Australian law and policy, “indefinite detention, even for life in the worst conditions imaginable, is lawful.”

Julian Burnside QC, explores the legal history of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers over at New Matilda.

Australian governments, both Liberal and Labor, have repeatedly shown that they are willing to ignore all the dictates of human decency when the object of their attention is a group of people who are politically unpopular.

For you to be right, then the following national science academies, peak scientific bodies and research institutes have to be wrong:

All of these groups agree that:

1) the world is warming
2) largely because of increasing emissions of greenhouse gases by human beings
3) with potentially dangerous consequences.

Please note, that this is not an illegitimate argument from authority. I’m not saying that just because a large number of smart people and groups with relevant expertise and first-hand research experience agree, then it must be true.

What I am saying is that if you are sure that any of 1 – 3 above are incorrect, then the evidence you base your certainty on really needs to be overwhelming. Say, the kind of evidence that could convince a large number of smart people and groups with relevant expertise and first-hand research experience.

(The list comes from here.)

Note 1: Melting glaciers and catastrophic floods

Around two months ago, a glacial lake in Humla District in the Midwestern mountains of Nepal, burst its moraine dam, causing flash flooding downstream, destroying homes and productive farmland.

Recent studies have shown that increasing temperatures have caused most Himalayan glaciers to melt at an accelerating rate and the resulting glacial lakes (pdf) are expanding rapidly. The occurrence of glacial lake outburst floods (pdf), as they are known, seems to have been accelerating in the last few decades.

The farmers of Halji village have virtually no responsibility for the additional heat-trapping greenhouse gases human beings are pumping into the atmosphere at increasing rates. But they are reaping the whirlwind that others have sown.

Note 2: Increased uncertainty making hard lives even harder

Farmer in Doti, Far Western Nepal

A while ago, we spoke with farmers from Doti, a hill district in Nepal’s Far West about their experiences of the weather and climate. One farmer, Dal Bahadur Balayer, described how a piece of traditional knowledge that had once underpinned livelihoods in his village had been rendered useless by a changing climate.

A local tree, the paiyu (a kind of jungle cherry) was known for blossoming in autumn. Farmers in the area had relied on this signal, as an indicator of the imminent arrival of winter rains, to plant the wheat crop. In recent years, the paiyu, in response to changing temperatures, has begun blossoming earlier and earlier. Farmers now have no way of knowing when to plant the wheat, as it can be more than a month between the paiyu’s flowering and the rain.

Rainfall has never been certain. But with one less tool for managing risk taken away, hard lives have been made even harder. For subsistence farmers in Doti, there is little room to manoeuvre, no way to hedge their bets, and no fall-back option to buy food if crops fail.

Another group of vulnerable people being rendered more vulnerable by the choices of others.