Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Walking In the Mountains

The trip down south for Christmas is usually an opportunity for a welcome bout of outdoor activity. On a bright sunny Monday, my Dad took my sister Cecilia and I up into the mountains, to the border of Arthur's Pass National Park. From there we climbed up the Bealey Spur, through shady mountain beech forest, along the rim of a canyon dropping into a river gorge, and into the fragile alpine grasslands from where there were spectacular views across the mountains and the deep, glacier-carved valleys below.

These photos have been uploaded at full resolution, and can be enlarged to full screen size with a click.

This view from the Arthur's Pass road looks back east, following the Waimakariri river downstream. This stretch is part of the kayaking section of the Coast to Coast race in March.

At a rest stop climbing up the Bealey Spur just above the treeline, a fat blue mountain dragonfly was very taken with Cecilia's backpack, perhaps spying a family resemblance in its colours.

A herbfield's eye view towards the mountains of the main divide, in which the camera overruled my view that its focus should be on the mountain daisies in the foreground rather than the distant peaks.

Cecilia and my Dad feature in this view looking west towards the headwaters of the Bealey river, which flows out of this valley and joins up with the Waimakariri (first picture in this post). They are seated at the edge of an alpine herb field, which the GPS told us was just over 1,000 metres above sea level. The mountains at the head of the valley form the main divide between Canterbury and the West Coast, with the highest peaks in this picture reaching around 2,300 metres.

The rata vine winds its way parasitically around the trunk of its host tree (in this case a southern beech), stealing its nutrients and gradually strangling the host plant, until it has built up enough of a structure to support itself.

In a spirit of ironic intertextuality, the author inserts himself into a scene made famous by painter Rita Angus, near the main highway between Arthur's Pass and Craigieburn Forest. The lonesomeness suggested by the solitary railway station building against the backdrop of a sombre pine and brooding hills is emphasised by the weighty, post-impressionist brushstrokes of Rita Angus. Here, the effect is slightly undermined by the daytripper from Christchurch who has wondered over from the nearby parked car.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Notes from Academia

I'm putting up some of my university work this year on the Andean Observer website. So far, I have an essay on Latin America and dependency theory (some brief background here), and a literature review on 'Poverty and anti-poverty strategies in Peru'. They're both pretty short given the weight of the topics, but that's because of the approach taken to the development studies course: none of our assignments had more than a 2,500-word limit. This means that some serious questions are skimmed over pretty lightly. On the other hand, it may make some dry material a bit more readable.

If nothing else, there's a reasonable set of references, many hyperlinked, for anyone interested in the topics.

Although it's probably a bad idea to recommend something still half-finished, I'll still put in a plug for the images pages of the Andean Observer site. The 'Arequipa' and 'Cuzco' pages are pretty much there, and I'm working on tidying up the rest. Comments are welcome.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

World Cup Qualifiers: My Teams Take a Bath

While I was squirreling away on my studies and unable to blog, the latest round of double-headers in World Cup qualifying took place. For the teams I follow across three continents, it went about as badly as it could do.

The worst reversal was in the North American zone where a perfect storm of results saw Guatemala lose 1-2 away to lowly Cuba while Trinidad & Tobago pulled off an upset 2-1 result over the previously impregnable United States. The last round of the group was played on November 19, and Guatemala's demise was confirmed as they lost to the US while Trinidad & Tobago comfortably defeated Cuba.

Those two teams now go into a final group with El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico to decide three qualifiers and one playoff candidate.

Results were hardly better in South America. In the previous two rounds Peru showed signs of shedding basket-case status, but in the latest double header they lost 0-3 away to Bolivia and 0-1 away to Paraguay to sink to dead last and lose any chance of qualifying for South Africa. The real disappointment, however, is Colombia. A 0-0 draw with Brazil at the Maracana might have seemed like an achievement to balance a home loss to Paraguay. But having made some early running, the Colombians have now scored only four measly goals in ten games and are lingering in seventh.

The most notable result was a 1-0 win for Chile over Argentina, which would have been a memorable occasion for the Chileans, but mainly served to consolidate the Southern Cone countries into the five potential qualifying spots.

In Europe, Portugal didn't score a goal in either of their games (incuding a 0-0 draw at home to Albania) and are in an uncomfortable equal third position going into the next round of matches. It's all been pretty smooth so far for Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and Fabio Capello's rejuvenated England, all of whom are at least three points clear at the top of their groups. The other big team to be in some trouble is France, in a three-way tie for third, five points behind Serbia and Lithuania.

It's still pretty early days in Africa, with 20 teams for the final qualifying groups only just decided. In Asia, however, it's looking good for previous qualifiers Australia, Japan, Iran and South Korea. If those four emerging powers stay in their current positions, the fifth Asian team to meet New Zealand in a playoff looks like being Qatar, Saudi Arabia, or North Korea.

It will make for an interesting situation. New Zealand's government derailed the national football team's home tie against Fiji by refusing a visa to the reserve goalkeeper because he was related to a member of the sanctioned military administration. Given that at least two of our likely playoff opponents hail from objectionable totalitarian dictatorships (assuming we exclude relatively 'liberal' Qatar), will we also be scrutinising the team members for connections with those in positions of political privilege in their home country?