Thursday, December 29, 2005

Scientology at the top

A passing mention in "The Australian" identifies James Packer, newly-inherited richest man in Australia and head of a media and gaming conglomerate, as a scientologist.
I must say I was gob-smacked.
There is much one could say about this - but I have written about Scientology in the past and the repercussions from the scientologists were pretty nasty. They were aggressive and persistent. A bit on the bully-boy side, my experience showed.
So one leaves them alone, feels contempt for the pitiful pea brain of Tom Cruise - and one wonders about how much influence this sect may exert on our country through its hold on James Packer who might be the richest man on the block, but was never the sharpest knife in the drawer.
The Packers control a huge gambling empire - so one wonders how gambling and sceintology go together. I did a Google and found a mention of "clam casinos" which apparently are where scientologists gamble. This indicates that profits from gambling must suit their cause - and the connection with the Packer empire might suit them very well indeed.
This is only speculative, of course. But I think it is probably something Australia should know and ponder.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

All hail Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais IS new comedy. If we are lucky, every era produces some ground-breaking new comic form. The Goons. That Was The Week That Was. Monty Python. Fawlty Towers. Absolutely Fabulous.
They all left strong influences on the culture of comedy.
Ricky Gervais is the "now" comedy of this comic history timeline - with series that will live on in timeless reruns. I just watched his new series, Extras, and I ache from all the laughter. It is as funny as The Office - no, funnier. Ineptitude, eccentricity, the little man at large...
So long as the Brits keep breeding original comics, the world is alive and well.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Tourist hell

Once they said it was the Americans. Those in the know in Europe always said it was the Germans. But I am starting to think that the Singaporeans have become the worst tourists in the world today.
Certainly this was the impression of an entire boatload of people this week, cruising the fragile Coorong ecosystem in South Australia.
The first sign was when the boat had to wait at dock and delay departure. The busload of Singaporeans was late because, reported the bus driver, they had made an en route loo stop and the Singaporeans had just gone off and taken their time re-boarding the bus.
When their bus pulled in to the dock, the Singaporeans scattered again and had to be rounded up. One small boy spotted a pair of ducks grazing on the grass and charged at them, waving his arms and screaming. We all called out to leave the ducks alone, but he made repeated charges until they had made a series of defensive flights to the edge of the dock. A grey-haired man looked as if he was coming after the boy and we thought, "oh, good, a parent". But the man indulgently watched as the boy made a last screaming affront on the ducks and forced them to fly out into the water. The man then put his arm around the boy and they meandered amid their tour pack onto the boat. Not just one small boy but more and more...a large group of boys aged between 7 and 11.
If only they had all had IPods or gameboys! If ever children needed them, this was the time.
At the sight of this rowdy bunch, we quickly escaped to the exposed upper deck. Bad luck. Within minutes they had followed us. They shouted, wriggled, fought, yelled, jumped, wrestled...
We asked them to quieten down. They cared not a hoot, although they spoke good English. I tried a warning in Malay. They understood this, too, and were amused by it, but not impressed.
No sign of parents. Just a teenage girl who seemed to be in charge. A Singaporean nanny who took care, kept company, but did not discipline the kids.
And thus, as the parents sat comfortably downstairs with the other adults in their group, did the quiet eco journey of bird-watching become a noisy riot of stomping and screaming.
Repeatedly we told the children to hush so we could hear the guide's commentary on the locations. Repeatedly we received defiant stares or laughs.
The parents popped up once or twice to look approvingly upon their young. They were indifferent to our general misery and annoyance.
When we moored to walk across the dunes, the boys raced up the sanddunes screaming and proceeded to make landslides for the fun of it. I could only walk away at this point. Where were their parents? Oh well, I don't suppose they really understand environmental degradation. Singapore is hardly an eco site. Was this trip meant to edify the young on this issue? Or, had they thought it was some sort of a leisure cruise?
I was hoping the long trek across the sandhills to the open ocean may have tired those kids from hell. But no. They returned bouncy and noisy, the horror boy with his nose running badly. And ugly site. We turned away. "Go blow your nose," snapped Ben.
The wrestling and shouting resumed as the boat chugged quietly back upstream, pausing to look at massed swans and pelicans.

It was not until this worst of the children held a coke can over the side of the boat threatening to throw it in the protected waters of the reserve that we really exploded. "Don't even think about it". "Do not do that!" This pleased him and he threw the can in.
That was it. Four of us turned hissing with fury. "You can't throw rubbish in your country, how dare you thow it in ours," bellowed Ben.
"In your country you would get 20 lashes for that", shouted Bruce.

At last, something was said to cow that horror child. He retreated to the nanny. The others joined him and they sat in a huddle looking grim - and then, at last, they withdrew to the lower deck and their doting parents.

We had, at last, some peace on the trip - half an hour from home on a four and a half hour trip.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Workers uniting

A union meets to view the prognosis for its existence under the forthcoming Workers' Legislation. It is an odd union, a merger between journalists and theatricals - the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance. Like all the other unions in Australia, it is in for a hard time - with most of its conventional forms of negotiation and communication about to become illegal. The Howard Government has made the move of its dreams, to disempower 150 years of worker union strength and to give employers the ability to call the tune without argument.
The ACTU secretrary, Greg Combet, a quietly-spoken and restrained man, came to give support and advice to the union's Federal gathering in Sydney.
He spoke of the ethos of unions, of why they exist, which, of course, is to defend and support the working people. He spoke of the beliefs on which unions are founded - compassion at their core.
And he noted that this new legislation would be but a blip in the great scheme of history. For, indeed, reason and fairness must prevail - eventually. But not right now.
He noted the sweet irony of how the Government's $55million advertising campaign to promote its new Workplace Legislation had resulted in a one per cent fall in its approval rating.
But he warned that things were going to be dark, dark, dark. The Government has everything in place to give power to its forthcoming rules. Even the High Court is stacked now with people of the Prime Minister's mindset.
Unions' right of entry to workplaces now becomes perilous with constraints. It will take only one cavalier union official to lose rights of entry altogether, he warned. To put it bluntly, "union activity is being criminalised".
He called for union restraint - and opposition to be only in the form of a professional campaign by which the public, which is still remarkably unaware of what is happening, is informed of their immense vulnerabilities as workers.
Employers henceforth will be able to dictate the terms of employment, the rates of pay, the hours worked, the shifts worked. They will be able to dismiss at whim - with no recourse through "unfair dismissal", if the company is under 100 strong.
Young people will be signing workplace agreements without option, or at least option of which they know. Their careers will begin at a disadvantage. And, indeed, this is all about young people - for their future is written in this legislation.

Combet left to hold a press conference - and was still at it, cornered by a gaggle of cameramen and boom mikes in the hotel foyer, when the meeting broke for lunch.

Lively and diverse with its range of talents, the union delegates talked on into the afternoon - for a second day of discussions and deliberations. Sedition reared its ugly head. It is another of the Howard Government's forms of suppression - raised in the name of the War Against Terrorism. It seeks to censor written word and, well, any manner of things it may choose to define as inciteful - a union meeting, for example. Once such laws are in place, they may go as far as the whim of those in power.

It is a sad and difficult time to be in a union - but we must have fortitude because once the people clue up, they will seek change. And perhaps, in a perverse way, this appalling legislation will shock the country out of its years of apathy - the years which have allowed this Government to have its way for so long.

Until then, we shall maintain the rage.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Creationists evolving

A colleague wrote a column critical of creationists. He was spammed by streams of primitive vitriol - most ubiquitously containing the accusation of "idiot". He was shocked by the spiteful vehemence of the mail, more abusive than articulate. But such are the creationists, it seems.
We might not find them very educated or articulate - but one has to acknowledge that they are organised and outspoken. Their campaign is a serious attack on science and education and it is succeeding - so much so that it has, in the USA epicentre of creationism, managed to intimidate respectable corporations.
Hence, the disturbing report that the historic Darwin exhibition is unable to find sponsors in the US.

From the SMH: The failure of American companies to back the exhibition reflects the growing influence of fundamentalist Christians, who are among President George Bush's most vocal supporters, in all walks of life in the US.

While the Darwin exhibition, which features a live Galapagos tortoise, has been unable to find a business backer, the Creationist Museum near Cincinnati, Ohio, which takes literally the Bible's account of creation, has recently raised $7 million in donations.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Pondering economic rationalism

Economic rationalism mystifies me. There is no such thing as "enough" for the corporations of today. Shareholders always want more and every era of management has to seek elevation and reward by generating greater profits than the one before - and the year before. Logically, success has to plateau at some time. But that is not acceptable. If the success rates cannot grow any more, then cost cuts must be made to ensure that the graph can keep rising. And so the functioning of the workplace keeps eroding. The golden creature rots from within to keep the shareholders happy. I just don't get it.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Fun with Rumsfeld

So the old Rummy is in town - to talk defence with other heavyweight warmongers.
We are just so thrilled in gentle Adelaide. So much so that we have cancelled all police leave and put our sweet city into lockdown. Streets are blocked all over the place. People have been told "don't come to town unless you have business there". Great for the economy. But we comfort ourselves that at least we are being protected from Rumsfeld, which is very thoughtful of our City Fathers. Talking of which, the Town Hall is in lockdown - and even the Mayor is not allowed in. He is performing his duties in a cafe!
Protesters have been out by the thousands, of course. They have business in the city. Protesting.
It has been reassuring to note that Rumsfeld takes all this gravity in his stride. Having arrived on his super jumbo with a massive security entourage and been delivered to the lockdown, security surrounded Hyatt at high speed through sequenced green lights in the midst of his bigger-than-Ben-Hur motorcade, he donned his shorty shorts, grabbed a racquet and went off with a handful of mates on foot across the parklands - to play squash! And all that security is guarding no-one! The city is in lockdown for a man playing squash.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Bill O'Reilly - the ultimate boor

As if there is not enough to get grumpy about in this world, that vulgar loudmouth has inveigled his way into the headlines again with the most crass opinions about San Francisco, a city which he seems to find expendable. So much so that he seems to want the city to be attacked my terrorists. Why, I wonder? Do the free-thinking, multicultural inhabitants offend his bilious bigotry? The mission is on to Google Bomb him as a terrorist sympathiser - which is not a bad idea, albeit that it gives the redneck ego yet more attention. The comfort is that he is, at last, being left behind the times. Americans are turning against his bellowing form of patriotic jingoism. He is becoming a has-been - and the sooner he is fully reviled, the better, in my gentle opinion.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Reform redux

Howard's Industrial "Reforms" have made me almost too angry to blog. It's the old "reform" trick again, that mutiliated word which brings evil tidings and regression. It is frightening to realise just how vulnerable this workers' legislation will make the workers. It de-powers the unions, of course. People continue to re-join their unions in a panic. But it is really too late. The tiger has been de-fanged. And the thing which annoys me most of all is that so very, very many of the people now bleating about the employer-takes-all attitude of John Howard are the idiots who voted him in.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

ET Phone home

Cellphones - the blessed curse or the cursed blessing. We love to hate them and we absolutely depend upon them. But they have produced some extreme behaviour - and as this article suggests, they have emerged as some sort of post-air flight epidemic. The moment a plane touches down, everyone is on the phone. Well, almost everyone.
One notices that in airports people can't stay off their phones. Mainly the conversations go: "Where are you? I'm at the airport."
Perchance a lot of people are just walking around with their phones to their ears and no one on the other end, simply because they feel more secure looking as if they are popular on the phone. For that is what it is all about. People don't NEED to make the phone calls they make from public places. They make the calls because they are afraid of being seen alone. They are afraid people will think they are alone. If they are on the phone, they are not alone. It is the fear of abandonment - the stigma of solitude. Just as people are now afraid of silence, they also are afraid of solitude.
It's rather sad, really.


My friend, Les Nayda, had a stroke a few weeks ago. He was up in central Australia where lay on the floor for some days before he was found, I was told. It sounded very bad. He was brought down to Adelaide for treatment. I sent him a card saying that I knew he would recover because he was Les and he had surmounted worse obstacles in this life. Yesterday my cellphone rang and it was Les. The old Les with just a bit of a slur. And, oh yes, he is recovering, for the fire was there in his belly - that wonderful, irrepressible fire. A beautiful, fierce, optimistic fire.
Les is an Aboriginal man. He was one of the "Stolen Generation" because his skin was light. He was taken from his mother and sent to a Church of England boys' home whence he was adopted by a white family who loved him dearly. He was given a good education. He grew up and married a white woman. But in his heart, he was a black man. A black man who mourned what had been taken from him, but returned the love of the white people who loved him. It was not their fault, that appalling governmental paternalism which assumed that "half-caste" Aboriginal children should be absorbed into white society. "Assimilation", they used to call it.
Les went on to make a success of his life. He was an Aboriginal activist with a gift for connecting with white society. Such an unusual firebrand was he that the enlightened Leftist government of the 70s put him where he belonged, working with and for the government on Aboriginal issues. He rose in the ranks and, by the time I met him in the 80s, he was running a vital Aboriginal affairs department and initiating bold and orginal schemes to help young Aboriginal offenders and dispatching wholistic counsellors to support the stoic "Aunties" of the Aboriginal world to cope with the weight they bear as the true carers, the ones at whom the buck stops in Aboriginal society. They are the strength of Aboriginal community who try to cope with the drunkenness, crime, petrol sniffing and deaths-in-custody, try to steer the young to another path... Les understood that, of all people, the "Aunties" must be kept strong. Many people looked askance at what they perceived as very "alternative" thinking. But Les got on with it, swearing and endlessly calling us in the media to help him keep the show on the road.
Governments change and bureaucrats jostle for elevation. Les could see it happening as they elbowed him sideways and then, crudely, out of his job. He had been decorated with a high Australia Day honour for his achievements - but the new powers-that-be were disinterested. Les put up a fight, and lost. He was devastated. He got cancer - and there was another fight. This one he won.
Meanwhile, something odd had happened. He had been overcome with an urge to paint. He had never painted and he did not know how. As a cross-cultural man, he took up chopsticks as his art tool, along with acrylic paints and board. And he did astonishing dot paintings. "Black Man with Chakras" comes to mind. And suddenly he was quite a good artist - exhibiting and selling his work.
Then he decided to move north. His marriage was all over. He had found a new woman and she worked in Alice Springs. He would return to his roots. And, up there, still ringing media and agitating for Aboriginal causes, he set up his new life - until the stroke.
Now, only weeks later, still working at physical co-ordination, he is back on the phone to his media mates, telling us how it is, what is wrong and what we have got to do to fix it. The solution is, says Les, to take Les on as a newspaper columnist - since, let's face it, we've never had an Aboriginal columnist.
You know, it's a great idea.
If only I could make it happen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bird Flu stew

There has not been a global pandemic flu since the Spanish flu of 1918 and yet we are all in a state of abject fear about the bird flu of 2005. It is difficult not to be infected by the fear factor of it all as governments withdraw the stocks of flu fighting drugs and even face masks for their own defences - leaving the hapless public to their own fates. This sudden division, the sense of rightness of authority in denying the people supplies of defences, is the way in which to whip up fear. Make the little people feel vulnerable. Show them where the power is. Look, little people, you can just get sick and die. We will keep the show on the road with the drugs and masks while you are dying.
It is the stuff of science fiction writers.
There have been other flu epidemics. Asian flu was nasty in the late 50s. The Hong Kong flu in the late 60s. Then there was SARS which seemed to be contained. But oh what a panic governments and media made of that one. There was a run on face masks and they became impossible to buy.
One could be cynical enough to think that mask manufacturers or drug manufacturers whipped up such scares for a bit of profit - as wars are generated for weapons manufacturers, many believe.
I am quite sure that the Bird Flu is out there among birds, just as cat flu is out there among cats, and cat AIDS which is not the same as our AIDS. Then there is Ebola which is the scariest thing of all.
Then again, influenza generally is the biggest of all killers - and the 1918 pandemic was a recor-breaker. Maybe 50 million people died.
Today it is easier to spread disease with the little germ tubes of international air travel. I have never escaped from a long-distance flight uninfected - a nasty upper respiratory tract infection after every major trip. Air travel is sickness travel.
So, if they are going to get the flu shots going,(and they are working like fury on getting them ready, testing now and maybe results by December) they should begin my innoculating every air traveller and move on into the general community from there. Not looking after politicians and the military. They need to go to the points of infection.
But of course that would not work for the power play of politics. Like terrorism, the Bird Flu is another way to make the populace afraid and vulnerable.
We are discriminated against. We are depowered. We are shown who is boss.
Oh yes, there is more to this media campaign than Bird Flu.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Moving blues

The horrors of house moving dwindle to serenity when one is faced with the process of moving not just an office but an entire newspaper. We move into our state-of-the-art new building on Monday. Rolling towards the Friday deadline of having all gear packed and owner-coded in uniform boxes finds newsrooms wherein the sounds of phones and keyboards are overwhelmed by the rrrripp of packing tape and the thud and whack of box-packing. The new premises is large, but desk space is smaller by far than that to which we are accustomed. It's throw-out time. How did we accumulate so much? Bins are rolled away and replaced with fresh ones throughout the day as old files are turfed, boxes and boxes of papers, press releases, note books, research... Review books and CDs, sample cosmetics and DVDs are being hauled from cupboards and set out for general grabbing. There is no room for reference books in the new office. It is supposed to be paperless. So we drag our private libraries home in bags. All will be pristing and sleek in the new building. Well, that is what the designers believe. We shall see. Journalists are untidy and busy workers - and the incoming tides of material often are overwhelming. I predict it will be only a matter of days before the new takes on a look of the old.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Airport to nowhere

What does one most want to do at airports?
Get out of them.
But not here in Adelaide. Oh, no. We have a new airport terminal and everyone wants to be there. It is the place for the A-List to play. It is just the "in" thing to go and hang out at the airport. Fancy dinners have been held there. Charity events. Some people brag that they have already been to the airport two or three times. This does not mean they travel. It means they are important.
I guess that means that I am a slavish follower of the "in" crowd that I accepted an invitation to the Adelaide Festival of Arts 2006 program launch at the airport. And, I admit I was curious to have a look, since everyone has been carrying on about it.
Well, guess what? It is an airport. It is a spacious, modern airport - with not very many check-in desks but masses of room for those snaking queues, which are really the fashionable thing in travel these days.
Of course everyone else also had accepted their invitation to this event - and it is a big one on the Adelaide agenda. The Festival is a singularly splendid thing and everyone is agog waiting to know what is going to be on the program.
However, this meant that there was a massive crowd at the airport. One could not move. It was cheek-to-jowl in-crowd, all clutching glasses of wine, seeing and being seen - well, as best they could in the cram.
There's no such thing as a free lunch, let alone a free launch.
So there were speeches - one after another after another. Sponsors, politicians, high arts factotums and, finally, the Festival artistic director revealing all with powerpoint on giant screen. The cost of this for the hapless "in" crowd was standing on the hard stone floor for two solid hours. It's an airport. The seats are in departure - not in the massive check-in foyer. Many of the social dainties were in their best stilettos. Even those of us in sturdy sneakers felt the pain. In fact I was feeling it a day later. It was a tough stand.
But, hey, we now can say we have been to the airport. And gone nowhere.

Monday, October 10, 2005

"Reform" remains a dirty word

What sublime insight the Australian Prime Minister has in the workers of his nation. Explaining his ruthless, union-disempowering industrial "reforms", he recommended that workers unhappy with their employers simply get another job.
"There are a lot of recourses. I mean, one of them in today's conditions, labour market conditions, of course is to go to another employer who will pay them, better."
Well, isn't that all so simple.
If only it was not a politician's fiction.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The woman.

It was lunchtime in the city on a sunny, cool, spring Friday. Belly full with salmon don, I strolled contently out of the lane and into the seething foot traffic of the Mall. And there she was.
Just standing there.
Standing to attention, hands by her sides, feet together. Only moving her head as she scanned the faces of the passing people, left to right, right to left...
She was positioned exactly in the centre of the entrance of a large department store shopping complex, people hurrying in and out on either side of her.
A well-dressed woman of middle life, slim in a camel-coloured summer suit, a small handbag slung low from a long shoulder strap. She wore expensive stiletto shoes and a mane of rather striking salt and pepper hair was held back with a broad headband. Quite a smart and cultured-looking woman. But oh, her eyes. Oh, the burden of sorrows therein. The saddest eyes I have ever seen. Heavy with bags as if they had wept a sea of tears.
And she just stood there, so very still, looking slowly from left to right at the faces on the street.
And I stood still and watched her watching. Wondering if maybe someone would come along to meet her. Surely she was waiting for a friend.
"Haven't you seen her before?" asked my colleague. "She stands there every day, I believe."
My heart lurched with distress. Every day? The woman stands and waits?
I wanted to know everything. I wanted to go up and ask her. I thought maybe I would. But there was some sort of invisible barrier around her. A "don't approach" message in her demeanour. So I held my ground respectfully - and wondered.
Is she waiting for someone who will never come? Every day returning to the spot where once they agreed to meet? Is she abandoned by a loved one? Waiting for the man fate took to other arms? Is she quite mad? Maybe her mother told her if ever she was lost to stand in one place and wait to be found - and now she is very lost in life itself.
I will probably never know.
She is the sadness in the throng.
But she now comes with me wherever I go, a shadow in my mind, a haunting - and a reminder that, for many, life consists only of surviving disappointments.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Bully blues

Workplace bullying has become an issue of the moment - mainly because various health funds seem to find that the stresses and depressions it creates is costing money. Attention will be paid if money-saving is at stake.
Of course the phenomenon is older than dirt. It is just the old power game under another name. And, unfortunately, it is the most common and calculated of management strategies.
The nasty aspect of contemporary workplace bullying is that it is directed towards senior employees. Age is an issue. Older, more experienced workers usually are paid more. It is economical to get rid of them and pay less to younger people. Forget the quality, it's about expediency. Thus are we hearing of an epidemic of workplace bullying directed exclusively towards older employees. The young workers are encouraged and advanced. They are given to think that they belong to an inner sanctum of favour. And they given the strong impression that it is not a good idea to associate with the older employees because they are somehow out of the loop. This, it is being found, is now dividing workplaces. It is also denying the young the benefit of learning from their experienced colleagues.
And, backwards we walk into the future.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Voting yes to compulsory voting

Australia is to retain its compulsory voting system - for now. The Liberals - capital "L" Liberal in Australia equating to Republican or Conservative in other countries - have been trying to undermine the old traditional voting system because we all know that voluntary voting favours the Right. Naturally they want "reform" to make life easier for themselves. They have been uttering assinine things such as "compulsory voting is not really democratic". Well, it is not compulsory to vote, as it happens. It is only compulsory to have one's name struck off the electoral roll on the day of voting. Thereafter, one may throw away the democratic process if that is one's will. One can write "Fuck politicians" on the ballot paper. It is then called an "informal" vote. Isn't that quaintly polite!
One of the precious things about compulsory voting is that it stimulates a need to think about the political status quo. Once a term, even the apathetic are stirred to look at the political environment and make a choice. In the long run, this has created a more politically aware society than most. Aussies are notorious for being political thinkers. I can't see that this is a bad thing.
As a politically conscientious Aussie, I was keen to be involved in the democratic process when I lived in England a lifetime ago. What a shock it was. On polling day I trotted off to my nearest polling station. Well, I tried. There was not much to give guidance and when, finally, I found the little South Kensington school, there was barely a sign that anything was going on. One desultry person standing in the grounds with some party leaflets. None of the colourful lines of party representatives handing out how-to-vote flyers that one sees in Australia. No party rosettes or candidate placards. Just an empty expanse of school tarmac. They seemed quite surprised to see me inside. I was one of a pitiful few who had turned out.
How can people dare to so much as comment about a government when they have not bothered to vote? How realistic a reflection of national opinion is it when only a small percentage have voted?
America also has this problem - and a mass of people too indifferent and lazy to vote. Many are simply not educated about their democratic voice.
This seems to me to be unforgivable. I see voting as a duty as well as a right.
It is the only way that the real people can have any control over their destiny.
It is the one and only equaliser. The vote of the pauper is worth as much as the vote of the corporate fatcat.
I am glad we retain our system - and I hope that when next they try to undo the national strength of the compulsory vote, it will be put to the vote.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Bali, the morning after

The blogsphere is alive with expressions of shock and sympathy for the bombings. There are not too many Bali bloggers giving on-the-spot reports. The couple I located were amazingly ho hum about the whole catastrophe. This resident, an expat with a Bali Blog describes the way in which people flocked to the scene to have a look - and then he went off to find a bar in which to watch football. Another blogger, a holidaymaker, writes that the restaurant in which they were dining stopped service and they found themselves in crowded streets finding no taxi. Seeing people crying they thought they must be "having a tough night".
Meanwhile many analyses are emerging. Islamic extremists were not responsible, says one. There are images posted here and there. Conservative Weasle (what an awful nick) has video. And, this blogger has one, very desolate image.

Much is becoming clear. Restaurants were fairly uniformly the target. Not a clothing store. That was just collateral damage. Morning pundits are theorising that the "Bali lifestyle" is the real target. I would suspect it was more Bali economy, for the Balinese lifestyle is village-based, deeply spiritual and anything but decadent. There could be no more innocent people in the world - albeit that Bali has had some fairly fiesty phases of history. But the focus of the people is on religion and afterlife - an extraordinary amount of energy being devoted to the making and presentation of offerings and the mounting of rituals. Large parts of family earnings are dedicated to bigger and better ceremonies, particularly funerals.

I am worried about my friends in Bali, for I know this new blow will make their lives harder and leaner. Tourists are cancelling their planned trips en masse right now. And that welcoming, magical island will be struggling on its own resources for the forseeable future. Even I, who was hoping to hop up for a week in the New Year, now will not take the risk. I am so sorry, sweet Bali, so very sorry.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Poor Bali, again

More bombings in gentle Bali. Chaos on the streets. Fear and loathing. Again the targets are the tourist spots. Jimbaran Bay was hit, this time. This moves the attacks upmarket. It is a very different sort of tourist who stays there. It is not the drunken disco swill of Kuta, which also was attacked. Jimbaran Bay, last time I visited, catered for soft and more expensive getaway tourists with decadent and indulgent resorts. Absolutely lovely, actually. And then there was an attack on a department store, a very nice one filled with the latest Western fashions. A strike against women? That, also, is a new strategy from the terrorists.
The television footage tonight has been graphic to the extreme. Western tourists surrounded by Balinese doctors and nurses with close-ups on badly burned hands and the emergency procedures. Perchance there will be questions of invasions of privacy at some later time, since the victims would seem to be identifiable. Were they asked permission for filming, I wonder? It is a hard line the media walks when covering these crises.
And, of course, I am thinking of the newsrooms around the country. It is late on Saturday night and the Sunday papers will have been put to bed. Are the presses stopping and the editors rushing back to the office to change front pages? I bet they are.
Meanwhile, the Asian media analysts are discussing why it may be that Muslim terrorists are using a Hindu island for their attacks on the West. Perhaps it is just because it is easy and with so many Javanese there to shelter and support them. Perhaps it is because Bali has become so beloved of the wicked West and has compromised itself to much to cater for it.
There are many reasons to ponder and right now nothing is clear. Last time the bombings were targeting Australians and the reason give was East Timor. Maybe it is still the case. We can only mourn as we wait to be told - and mourn also for the sweet and civilized Balinese who will be beyond devastated that their island thus has been sabotaged yet again - and by their fellow Indonesians.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Baby blues

Hospital bossy boots can't help themselves. With a medical world in general crisis - waiting lists and nursing shortages - staff at a British hospital have had time to fight for the human rights of babies. Just what babies don't need, to be ignored. But, hey, this is a right they have, so they must have it, say the Brits. Dare one say this is all rather infantile?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Firing up for the Festival

We were treated to a briefing on the program for the 2006 Adelaide Festival of Arts this morning. Just arts writers and critics from our paper. The official program launch is in a couple of weeks and the Festival wants to keep the program secret. Why tell us if they want to keep it secret? Well, they reveal all with an embargo, thus compelling us to silence. It is the best way to shut up the media, the old embargo. In fact, the best way to keep things out of the news is to tell all off the record. We are hamstrung.
Unfortunately for the Festival, there have been leaks. We already knew a number of the program features - and we had printed them in the paper this morning before the briefing because we knew that we could not print them after the briefing since we would be under the vow of silence. The Festival was livid. But that's showbizz - and the cat and mouse game we play.
That said, the briefing revealed all sorts of things we did not know and, putting it all together, we departed thoroughly thrilled and excited about what is in store for the city of Adelaide next year. It is not for nothing that we are called the Festival City. Our international arts festivals are stunning - not just because of the programming, but because the size and layout, as well as the spirit of the city, makes them superbly accessible. The city is transformed and the spirit of the festival reigns supreme.
However, for those of us for whom it also is work, it is a stamina and endurance challenge of gargantuan proportions.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

More shark attacks

Another man was attacked by a shark in South Australian waters today. It seems to have become an epidemic, fulfilling the overseas fears about the dangerous nature of this country. Of course it is not a dangerous country. The sea is inimical everywhere - and sharks do have a certain right of way. This attack was off the beautiful wilderness island, Kangaroo Island, which one can see from the cliffs here on a clear day. The last attack was not too bad, insofar as the man has only abrasions. It is, however, the third attack in South Australian waters in a month - and it is only early spring.
Great White sharks are protected and the family of the young man killed by the shark last month has been adamant that there should be no cull, let alone retribution.
I'd say that it is up to the scientists to establish why there seems to be an increase in attacks on humans, albeit that in the first case the diver was in schnapper grounds and in the second, the surfer was in seal territory. But, since it is purportedly know that humans are not tasty to sharks, not sufficiently oily and nutritious, there are all sorts of added environmental possibilities for why sharks are attacking more frequently - food sources decreased from over-fishing, pollution in the sea making the sharks manic... Although way down here at the bottom of the world, we are reputed to have the most pristine waters. But currents are many and pollution is global. So who knows? Not I.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Waiting for the Rita bloggers

Glued to Fox and CNN yet again, this time watching the exodus through Texas. Gridlocks ten miles long, petrol stations run dry, people sitting in their cars for 14 hours on motorways. How are they coping? Soon the reports will appear in the blogs and we will get graphic descriptions of this new human hell. Where can they have a pee? How much food did they think to take? Where on earth are they all going? It is hard to comprehend the scale of this evacuation and that powerful America is so vulnerable.
It makes one also reflect on population density. The huge numbers which make the country so strong can also make it weak.

Meanwhile, on the blogger front, there is good news.
Reported tonight on the ABC is a new handbook which is showing bloggers and cyber dissidents around the world how to circumvent censorship and disclosure laws.
The handbook comes from the human rights organisation Reporters Without Borders, with support from the French Government.
It offers advice to people seeking to publish information on the internet when they’re up against countries like China and Iran with tough media restrictions.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Getting the IDea

The Intelligent Design issue bubbles away in the media. The columnists are having a field day.As well they should, since the Federal Education Minister said that, if parents and schools wanted the option of teaching it, then they should teach it. If that is scarey, the real worry is that Australians in general simply are not taking ID seriously. Well, except the Creationists who are loving it, I imagine.
Stephen Matchett wrote a lovely Wry Side column in The Australian today. Sadly, the column is not online and I can't link to it, so I quote a few very pithy pars:

Cynics suggest the man responsible for reforming Australia's university system would not recognise an intelligent design of anything without a flashing neon sign. But what can you expect from cynics?
So, if intelligent design is the popular choice, perhaps we should just get used to it.
Because as smart politicians such as Nelson (who was obviously away the day they did scientific method at medical school) seem to have sussed out, there may be an angle in the argument against evolution. If we are all subjects in some cosmic Sims scenario, then it is hard to blame politicians for anything.
Of course intelligent design advocates may not like the downside to their idea, that whoever is doing the programming is clumsy or cruel.
Biologists have all sorts of explanations that do not involve an active designer as to why so many human functions, from pregnancy to prostate problems, can be so uncomfortable.
But if there is an element of intent in either, somebody needs to explain to the designer that suffering is a program problem, not a plus.
And why stop at biology: petrol up, shares down, hurricanes headed your way?
Sorry, nothing to be done, it's all down to the designer.
It will be so much easier for educators if instead of having to explain the laws of economics or meteorology, all they have to do is attribute everything to ID. And there is the problem: perhaps the explanation is that we are all part of a cosmic computer game, an unimaginably vast version of The Sims. But one being played by a bonobo.

Then there is Paul Rudnick in New Yorker with his 7 days of ID creation. It begins:

Day No. 1:

And the Lord God said, “Let there be light,” and lo, there was light. But then the Lord God said, “Wait, what if I make it a sort of rosy, sunset-at-the-beach, filtered half-light, so that everything else I design will look younger?”

“I’m loving that,” said Buddha. “It’s new.”

“You should design a restaurant,” added Allah.

It is lovely that everyone is laughing - but perchance it is like Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burns.

Storms of emotion

Hurricanes hitting America in sequential attacks. If only the Cowboy President could clue up to the fact that turning one's back on the environment is akin to an act of terrorism! One watches Rita taking her wicked course and feels desolate for the people and places in her path. They do not deserve this.

Meanwhile, Downunder in the City of the Arts, I have been at the theatre - a long night at the theatre. Two new plays, one after the other. This night was historic in that there are certain moments in a critic's life when one sinks to a spectacular low, a new nadir. Tonight provided such a moment. It was a play written by a retired defence scientist and based on the life of physicist Richard Feynman, a fairly didactic play examining the degree to which scientists should be culpable for the uses to which their discoveries are put. Therein, the audience was subjected to a graveside grief scene in which a particularly tedious and over-exposed mature actress, playing Feynman's oh-so-Jewish mother, gave such a strident and torrid delivery of sodden emotional cliches that it took only one long-suffering sidelong glance from my companion for me to start finding that this was so sensationally bad that it was really very funny. I found myself getting the giggles. Ohmygod, how embarrassing. I sat taut and contained myself, covering my mouth and closing my eyes. If anything was visible, maybe a slight shuddering - until I had the mirth under control. Then, the only evidence were the tears rolling down my cheeks and one can only hope the cast may have thought I was deeply moved by the tragedy of the scene. Well, maybe - until they read my rather stern review.

There was an interesting corollary to this scientist's play about scientists. He depicted two - Feynman and a modern chemist engaged in developing highly profitable and expedient agrochemicals the legacy of which would be a generation of toeless Thai children. While the subject matter is decidedly interesting, some of the emotional interplay is absolutely not. It is drenched with laborious stereotypes and emotional kitsch - the playwright proving one of the principles of the play, that scientists are not good in emotional matters

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A spit on Latham

If the Australian Labor Party has been guilty of complete stupidity, it was when it elevated the excreable bullyboy, Mark Latham, to leadership. He did not last long. Thank heavens. God forbid such a pig of a man should have become Prime Minister. He makes John Howard look erudite and statesmanlike. Albeit that Latham advocated civilized policies in the social justice department, he was and is a boorish loudmouth. Now he has published a spit-and-tell book in which he pours buckets on almost everyone - except his saintly self. His vulgarity knows no bounds. He refers to women as "rabbit boilers" and to pedophiles as "kiddy-fiddlers". He called the ABC's intelligent politics interviewers "gibberers". And he told them that they should go down to the pub to get up to date with his lingo.
Of course it is clear to most of us that Latham has completely lost any plot he ever had. He is a lather of paranoid venom. What a pity that he is getting all this airtime which may show us that we are lucky to be rid of this madman but also flogs his book making money for the opportunistic publishers as well as this most offensive politician in living memory.

Words of no wisdom

We are supposed to be "edgy" in the paper. "Edgy" is the buzzword of the year. But what the hell does it mean?
I'd better synergise the parameters and paradigms, throw in a matrix or two to push the envelope, resonate a bit - and maybe I'll be meaningfully "edgy".

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Fine vines and lost words

Three eccentric journalists on circuitous route to a Writers Festival. Via country weekend markets - venison sausages, honey, olive oil, mandarins... To the latest uber-trendy coastal cafe where the coffee was not just good, it was sensational. Would we please vote for them in the barista challenge? Certainly!
It was the sort of shining spring day which makes one feel good to be alive. The new growth of the eucalypts like russet crowns on the crests of the trees. The wattle still blooming vivid yellow. And the rolling vineyards with strident green infant leaf bursting exuberantly from the austere sculptural contortions of winter sleep.
Of course the Festival events were being held at a winery - elegant marquees beside a lush, red gum-lined creek, earnest bookish people drinking wine and coffee...lots of beards and tweedy respectability.

Two of us were booked to appear on a strangely-titled forum - "Reel writing".

We were given pretty much carte blanche in interpreting this subject which resulted in me making the sounds of whooshing spaceships to exemplify the lack of reel, real or any writing in contemporary movies and then going on for a rant over the ubiquitous misuse of pronouns. Interestingly, two of the subsequent speakers misused pronouns, which is a worry when they are purportedly writers, but certainly illustrated my rant.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Leisure is work

The sound of the sea outside. Ironic that it can be so comforting when on the radar I can see the edge of Ophelia slamming rough weather onto the coasts of Mass and Maine. But I am a world away and this is a peaceful little bay. Another weekend escape from the city - but not quite. A lot of work. Two stories to be grabbed down here for the food pages. A book to be read ready for an author interview on Monday morning and a speech of sorts to be prepared for the South Australian Writers' Festival tomorrow. Such is the pace of life today. The only different between work time and leisure time seems to be location.

The new reformation

Lots of significant things are happening in the world. Iraq is a nightmare of murderous/suicidal mayhem - poor labourers being massacred as they prepare for work, worshippers slaughtered as they leave their mosques...
New Orleans is a sewer and Ophelia is threatening New England. Mark Latham is the toyboy of the rightist media because he is slagging off against his former colleagues in Labor. It's all a mess.
And I am stuck upon a word.
That word, which once had positive implications, has become a word of absolute and disasterous negativity. It is the spin word of the economic rationalists. The spin word of ruthless and destructive politicians. Today's reform is job loss. Today's reform is tax burdens. The moment the word reform is used, the news is bad.
When I was a girl, bad children were sent to reformatories - and reform was frightening, although it was meant as a word to make things better. But it was a punishment. Perhaps it is the boys of those reformatories who now have mutilated the word.
For sure as hell, any reform today is going to punish us.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Not you, dear, Media!

This is my idea of a good blog. Media Cynic.
Searching the blogsphere for new and brilliant blogs to which to direct my Saturday Netsurfer readers, I find myself always on a forward journey. The styles and standards of blogs are soaring towards new standards of excellence. I cringe as I look at this old template and wonder if I will ever have time to ritz myself up to something snazzy. But there is the rub, the mystery of life. How do these dedicated bloggers find the time to do the surfing, researching and writing? Can they sneak in some blogging from the workplace? Do they not work? Maybe they just don't take work home with them as idiots such as I do. Maybe if I did less, then I would have more blogging time. What shall I give up - the shopping, the cooking, the washing, the cleaning, the reading, the reviewing? Work, maybe?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Where are the lawyers?

Surely the pernicious damages lawyers should be circling the Hurricane Katrina victims by now? I would have thought they would have been first on the scene. Sueing is part of the American way of life. When my good friend, Peter, lost his parents in a Pan Am crash over Baton Rouge, he had to be physically protected from the avalanche of compensation lawyers which descended upon the victims' families. So why aren't they swarming now? There must be somebody they can sue on behalf of those poor people whose babies which died for lack of fluids, grannies who died similarly from the ineptitudes of care in those godforsaken refuges or those hospital patients who were left to drown or die from neglect. FEMA comes to mind. Homeland Security, too. But of course those bodies would be constitutionally free of liability. Which is the only explanation one can find for the lack of a legal feeding frenzy.

Theatre, theatre, burning bright

There's nothing like an opening night. I should know. I go to enough of them. There was a time one knew everybody there. These days are the days of kiddie publicity people and sponsorship - so the papered first nights are packed with a new crowd. The sponsors, who mostly are newcomers to theatre, are out for a big night of special VIP treatment and they take the VIP status very seriously, assuming an expression of great importance and thudding down the foyer en masse at interval to get at their free drinks. In an unreserved house, they have reserved seats to which they arrive, very smugly, just before curtain - just like the first class passengers coming from the VIP lounge. Then there is the new young crowd invited by the new young publicists. They are predominantly young actors and their partners, fashionably known as "industry" people. Then there are the genuine VIPs who have managed to stay on the A list and, of course, my lot, the critics. Between us all, there is not room for a paying customer.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Newspaper blues

One can spend a whole day working in the hothouse of a metropolitan daily newspaper - and have not the faintest idea of what is going on in the big wide world outside. Isn't that ironic.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The poor are a race apart

The race card is on the table in the wake of Katrina. What a tricky card it is. Everyone is treading tippytoe around it, scared to opine lest their words are taken as racist. I still see the refugee issue of New Orleans (ooh, dear, mustn't say "refugee", so many Americans get upset about it - they don't like refuge, preferring "evacuee" which sounds like a bowel movement) as a class phenomenon. The poor are always the ones who have it hard. No matter what their colour. The poor were stuck without transport and without instructions. There are many reasons why people are the underclass and I would always assert that education is common factor. There may be some blacks in the US whose chips on their shoulders are so heavy that they weigh them down. But we have that sort of underclass here, too. Just in much smaller numbers, because we are such smaller numbers. There are also people who are trapped in a cycle of poverty and disenfranchisement. They have known nothing else. A few clamber out and are dazzling. But that is not the issue of the moment. What I am seeing in the post-Katrina coverage on cable is a media which is in a shock of its own at having to report on the inequity of its country. The terrible scale of it. It was not that New Orleans was ill prepared for the disaster or that the Federal authorities were red tape-ridden and incompetent, it was that no one had ever paused to consider that the scale of the underclass in the US is a major disaster in its own right. A proud and confident capitalist country is simply blinkered towards welfare. It's response to its social inequality was the invention of the word "loser". America is about winners. So the losers are swept under the carpet - until something hideous such as Katrina washes them out, and the cosy middle class has to look at them all in their daunting numbers. Shocked and appalled. What they need to know is that most among these displaced masses are good people, loving, kind people. Vital people with interests and skills of their own. And if you want proof of the sweetness and generosity of the poor, just go door-to-door charity collecting. The rich will slam the door in your face. The poor will ask you in, offer a glass of water and scratch around looking for something to give.
If I wished anything from this catastophe, it would be that it became a wake-up to that great nation to review the social welfare, education and health systems so that the poor were not left so helpless.
Black or white, the poor are a race apart.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Truly awful people

Number one on the list for today: Geraldo Rivera, the millionaire Fox reporter who carried a gun in Afghanistan and was going to kill Bin Laden all on his own - and instead, fell to the ground when there was a bit of military action around him. The man who was expelled from embedded reportage in Iraq for drawing a map in the sand which gave away his own forces' immediate strategy. Now he is the gung ho man in poor, hurricane-devastated New Orleans. Quoth he in the worst of taste:
"This is a dress rehearsal for a nuclear attack".

Number two is Australian Federal Health Minister, Tony Abbott who bragged that he never made inappropriate jokes and then made not one but two. That he used the former NSW Liberal head John Brogden who had resigned after apologising for an inappropriate joke and then attempted suicide as the butt of his jokes was despicable. That, as a health minister, he could snipe at anyone who had attempted suicide is profoundly unprofessional. Brogden resigned for less. Abbott needs also to resign. The country is screaming for his resignation. Instead, the Prime Minister stands behind him and says an apology is enough. It was not enough for Brogden. But then Brogden was a moderate conservative and Abbott, of course, is a far right conservative - like the Prime Minister. Isn't that cosy.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Katrina strips the US bare

I have been glued to cable's 24-hour American television coverage of Katrina-ravaged New Orleans all week long. Last week, my colleagues, watching Australian media coverage, agreed that it was a terrible catastrophe. Today they were coming up to me with much higher emotion. Not that the authorities were slow to help the people. Not that the city is in ruins. But, "Can you believe the scale of the underclass in the USA?", "Who knew there were so many poor?", "Did you know those people were slum dwellers who were too poor to get out?" etc etc. I am a little shocked that so many educated Australians seem unaware of the class divisions of the US. Clearly they have never seen a Spike Lee movie, let alone noticed the level of begging in urban America. It is not that they have not been there. Australians are travellers. They go everywhere. Yet now they are aghast. They are scandalised. They are incredulous. What they perceive is, under the glossy and confident surface of the most advanced superpower First World country lies a veritable Third World for many of its citizens. I don't imagine Australians are the only ones gleaning this new perspective. Katrina has done more than destroy a city, it has exposed the national underbelly.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Back off, Government

Men in suits have been trying to get some sort of control of or profit from the Internet ever since they realised it was there (which was not exactly quick off the mark - but then again, nor are men in suits). Now those embedded in the Government are trying to silence anonymous Australian political bloggers. There has been a proposal to demand authorisation under the Commonwealth Electoral Act for anyone who wants to blog politics without identifying themselves. This would mean, of course, that they were identified and under the Big Brother control of the Government. So, naturally, no one would ask for bloody authorisation - and therefore, could be closed down because they were not authorised. I am not sure how this would work. But it is a blatent attempt to muzzle the free voice of the Internet, not to mention the satirists and the whistleblowers.
But clearly the Blogsphere has the Government rattled. As well it should.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Lost in the blogsphere

The blogsphere is out of control. Since blogs became uber fashionable, everyone is doing it and the media is collecting blog links and reviewing blogs and and and...
As an early blogophile and a steady student of the now impossibly vast sphere, I diligently follow link after link. And I find some supreme blogs of daunting content and commitment - and I can only wonder at how much time the bloggers are dedicating. Well, how the hell they find the time to fuel such passion. Then there are the linker bloggers whose postings are just a maze of links - so much so that, in themselves, they are nigh unreadable. Then there are the cult blogs - which are hobbiests and specialists, again with a lot of time on their hands, and with quirky interests or accounts of self. I dismiss the teen bloggers, of course. I am disinterested in their games, parties, loves and hates - and frequently distressed by their corruptions of the language. I think I like the originals - the clever hobbiests indulging themselves. Anonymous Lawyer comes to mind. He's on my links. And I love many of the diarists. That's not very fashionable of me, is it.
But I am finding that a lot of the blogs so heavily recommended by the media are something of a disappointment. So many are arch and pretentious. Frightfully clever. Smug. They send me hurtling into a bolt hole.
I don't think I fit into any of the blog categories. Then again, I have never quite worked out why I blog at all. Just because?
Oh well, I don't have a lot of time to spare - and there are a lot of blogs out there. I had better keep surfing.

Presidential priorities

Looking tanned and fit, the most vacationed president in history paused from his rigorous exercise regime today to speak out on the massive devastation of Hurricane Katrina. His first priority was not to sympathise with the affected but to thank Americans for praying.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Of Moths and Muslims

Last night when I went downstairs I could hear a strange clinking, clattering sound - soft and incessant. Looking up, I discovered it was moths and more moths, beating themselves against the flouro light strips in the carport. It is very early spring - not the time for moths. But later, looking out onto the streetlight, there was a whirring spiral of moths in the arc of the light. I gazed for some time, looking for the bats which come feeding on insects at the light in summer.But it is not summer and there were no bats. Just a mass of moths. I woke at about 3am and looked out the window. There were yet more moths, by now maybe 10 or 15ft down from the top of the light - a vast, busy cone of motion. Today the news reports that these moths are everywhere, covering trees like blossom, settling on houses like snow... They have come from the desert, a vast plague of them, produced no-one quite knows from what circumstances of nature. Where they are going or why is anyone's guess. But tonight there is a storm. Perchance their plague numbers will meet a natural solution from the rain.

Meanwhile, the hijab controversy boils around the country. Should Muslim girls be banned from wearing hijabs to school? Bronwen Bishop, a right-wing politician with a very strange hair-do, says the head coverings are an "act of defiance". Unlike her hair, which is just an act of odd taste.
The country is arguing ferociously about tolerance, religious freedom, fashion, individuality, choice and multiculturalism. People who wear crucifixes seem opposed to people covering their heads. I find this quaint. It is OK for Christians to brand themselves with religious paraphernalia, to put fish on their cars and anti-Darwinian propaganda, but it is not OK for Muslims to cover their heads. I am not mad on the Muslim head covering or on the Christian adornments. But who am I to talk? I wear Buddhas and Ganeshas and Quan Yins. My only reservation on the hijabs is their origins. I find this disturbing. My readings on Islamic culture uniformly assert that women are to be covered in public because the sight of their hair might stir males of the species into some sort of uncontrolled passion. Women must never make eye contact with strange men. Women must be ferociously guarded against males who are not of their immediate family. There is this suggestion that Islamic men have no control. I find it offputting from both the male and female perspective. Particularly the male, when I think about it. I have known some elegant, erudite and genteel Muslim men and this piece of gender caution does not do them justice. One would think that, particularly in the egalitarian and emancipated West, Islamic men would not want to be surrounded by such sartorial defamation.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Angry Penguins to the Max

The underwhelming Sunday paper, The Independent, comes out with an article on Angry Penguins - a beat-up from John Miles reviving interest in his book, "The Lost Angry Penguin". It was a book we praised many years ago when it was published. But here we have the author publicising his own work with a story which asserts that my father, Max Harris, somehow cheated his friend Sam (DB) Kerr from acknowledgement as founder of the 1940s arts magazine, "Angry Penguins". Huh? It is patently absurd and downright rude. I know as lifelong fact that Max never stopped mourning and acknowledging his friend and co-founder of Angry Penguins. Yes, they were a group. It was at university. They were students - young modernist literarti. Who cares which of them first said "let's start a magazine"? It was never a huge issue of credit. The fact is that, together, they did. Miles snipes dismissively over its name, because it was adopted from a phrase in a Max poem. At the time, it was a triumphant, pertinent, poetic and amusing choice to all of them. Miles snorts that it was chosen "by default". You'd think he had been there. But it looks to me as if he has a li'l ol' agenda - and is trying to flesh it out with his own editorialisation. An old academic ruse.
Max honoured Kerr in his poetry and never forgot his role - let alone his early death in the war. Miles seems to be trying to earn himself some sort of reputation as a brilliant researcher in comparing what Max said before the Ern Malley scandal and after it. Max, as publisher of Angry Penguins, took the king hit when the literary publication was prosecuted for obscene material in the Ern Malley poems and it was Max who was the target of the hoax. Forgive the man if, alone and carrying the can, he did not keep on reminding the world that he had not been the only student founder of the magazine. Miles, I find your judgements shoddy and self-serving. I note, as a post-script in the last par of your article you admit "Harris cited Kerr as the pre-eminent poet of Australian modernism and founder of Angry Penguins". Exactly!
So why the beat-up at Max's expense? What do you have against a man who was one of the first to encourage you in your writings? Weren't you the inaugural winner of The Max Harris Literary Award? And this has set you on a course to undermine his memory?
I doubt Sam Kerr would be congratulating Miles on the "get Max" campaign. They were friends and a team.
Oh, what unpleasant and mean-minded little people populate the self-aggrandising world of academe and literary history. Methinks they are not so much interested in getting it right as they are in getting attention. Trying to carve reputations out of the achievements of others.
Well, Miles, whereas the book was something we respected, your subsequent tawdry sensationalism of your theories is not.
You're off my Christmas card list, mate.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Shark! Shark!

The global nature of Google. There was a young man, a university marine biology student, I think, taken by a shark while diving on an artifical reef at a suburban beach here today. The top report on Google comes not from our local metro daily or even the national breaking news service. No, it comes from an Irish newspaper - a world away.

It is strange and melancholy, the shark story - another shark death in the gulf waters. I was looking out on those waters today, just a couple of hours before the attack. I was delivering a test car back to the dealer at a seaside suburb and en route I paused to have a quick gaze at my inimical friend, the sea. It was utterly beautiful. Today was a sunny, mild, spring-like day. The sea was flat calm except at the shoreline where small, flat waves shusshed in on the smooth, hard, white sands. Retirees walked with their dogs exuberantly off the lead, darting along the beach, bounding into the water. At sea there were small fishing boats in each direction, some quite far out, some close enough to sea the silhouettes of the fisherman standing in the stern. It was a vista of immense peace and beauty. I could see small disturbances on the water where schools of fish were at play. And I scanned the sea for fins - for it struck me as a dolphin day and a shark day. Yes, a shark day. And so it turned out to be - and one bright young man is the tragic toll.

A colleague turned my stomach with a foodie joke in the worst possible taste. "Sharks like manshimi," he said. Shudder. It is sticking in my head and won't go away.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Routing the router

Persistent problems in accessing blogger and blogspot sites is hopefully to be solved. A new modem was delivered today. It's hooked up and humming along. Now all we have to do is to do a spot of testing, a spot of blogging, of cruising blogs... It has been a very perverse and mysterious issue and many hours have been expended trying to analyse how and why blogger sites seem to be firewalled. Not all the time, mind. There has been a limit. One can blog and surf blogs for between two and six hits and then, suddenly, no more. Reset the modem, maybe get one more, maybe two. Then "the server is not responding". Things have become significantly easier on every front of the Internet and computers since new new ubiquity of the technology - so when there is a glitsch, it just has to be confounding.

Even the help desk techs of today probably don't recall the bad old days, which were also the most exciting of days - the days when we had to key in ridiculous DOS commands, we had to wait to get a line, when email was Pine and very clunky and, anyway, only the few were into it, when we only had bulletin boards and good old IRC and the WWW was barely there. I used to be able to cook an entire meal in the time it took to download a single image. But it was all thrilling, miraculous, cutting edge.
It's only 11 years ago.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Mourning for Bali

Another Australian has been arrested for drug possession in Bali. Fortunately she is a gorgeous Adelaide model so publicity is guaranteed. This girl is accused of having two ecstasy tablets in her bag at a party in Kuta - two little tabs wrapped up in a piece of paper. Now, one does not know if she is guilty or not - only that both the girl and the tabs were in the same place at the same time. In Kuta.
As far as I am concerned, people who go to Kuta are not going to Bali at all. They are going to sleazy night clubs and boozy parties. They may as well go to the sleaze streets in their own cities. They are all much of a muchness. Kuta is a ghetto of the worst of Western decadence. It is a tropical dive in which inane young people indulge in excesses they would not contemplate at home. There are not so many Balinese left in Kuta. The Javanese long since have moved in to extract their pound of flesh. They are Moslems and far less tolerant of Western immorality than the Hindu Balinese. Not that the Balinese approve of the behaviour of the guests in their country. They are just very polite. I have heard them, though, the girls scrubbing clothes at the well, laughing about how appalling they find some of the Westerners. The joy of learning their language was being able to eavesdrop on just such commentary.
I have not been to Kuta in aeons. The last time I went, I was simply sad and disgusted. It is a place to avoid. A clamour of pestilent hawkers and strips of loud and crude booze joints.
And the people who choose the cheap Kuta holiday tend to be the worst kind of tourist. They are not interested in the profound culture of the island, only in their own base, narcissistic urges.
The absurdity of it is that Bali itself is the ultimate drug - if only those morons had the wherewithall to clue up. Bali is a wonderment in itself. It is as intense in sensory and spiritual stimuli as an acid trip. It has a strange power which it is happy to share. I know, because I miss it terribly.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Small world syndrome

Before she died, my friend Julie Duncan had told me of the grief and stress she was suffering at the hands of a certain accountant who, she lamented, had cleverly manipulated her funds so that her daughter would be deprived of her inheritance - a daughter soon to lose her mother. Julie asked me to see if I could help to track down this man. Then she told me his name. And it was the name of a man I had known briefly many years ago - a rakish and colourful man, a charmer affectionately known as "Mr Rat". Our mutual friend, to my amazement, had blithely introduced him as a "top white collar criminal", which did not seem to offend him at all. This was rather exotic and fascinating to me. And, since Mr Rat seemed also fascinated with me, I enjoyed a couple of assignations with him. He was the sort of man who would rock up not just with a bottle of chilled bottle of Tattinger but several such bottles and crystal champagne flutes to go with them. For me, it was an amusing flirtation and a chance to study a rogue playboy. For the friend who had introduced us, it turned out to be something more - and she was very keen to reclaim his attentions. So much so that she took to ringing me to trace his movements - and, when I told her that Mr Rat had been in touch and had invited himself over to the house, she jumped into her car and arrived ahead of him. Giggling impishly as conspiratoral women, we then secreted her in the pantry. Mr Rat made a flourishing arrival complete with champers - and just as he was popping the cork, the other woman threw open the pantry door and leapt into the room with a big "Surprise - caught out, you bastard!" It was one of the funniest moments of my life. Mr Rat was gobsmacked. It was a moment of the jaw-dropping shock - a delight to behold. After my friend had given him the rounds of the kitchen, we toasted each other with the champagne, laughed a lot and my friend reclaimed him with my blessings. I did not see or hear of him again until this terrible story of the cruellest and morally bankrupt con. I was and am aghast. I did try to locate Mr Rat for my dying friend, but the leads were dead-end. He was around, flitting from state to state, I gathered. He has family and a wife who, heaven help her, seems still to be loyal to him. He remained elusive. But now the law and the media is on his trail. This mysterious playboy of yore is a headliner. The spirit of Julie has jumped out of the cupboard and it looks as if he has been caught out.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Big Brother blues

It was not a surprise but it was deeply depressing to hear that the Logan twins had won Big Brother 2005. I felt as if it was a set-up because there was never, to my mind, a hope that the intelligent and sensitive young journalist, Tim, would be permitted to win. That would mean that Australians did not support the lowest common denominator syndrome - the demographic of youth and ignorance to which the program panders. An educated and articulate person, a person with negotiating skills, with ideas and broad interests, with good manners and a sense of consideration for others is a fly in the ointment of crassness which lubricates the ratings. Excellence has never been a winner in Australia. The country celebrates its fools and bullies, it champions its beer culture and earthy, macho values. The Logan twins were all of this - two course young males with an extraordinary ability to pick their noses. No, they did not just pick their noses, they scraped and plunged and routed their noses, flicking their findings around their environment with casual satisfaction. And we watched on television, our stomachs churning. These were the Ocker lads who were rough and ready, who knew about working weights but little else. I got the feeling, as the show evolved, that they were planted for the win and that, no matter what the profit lines of the voting calls may be, they would come out on top. And they did. I am not aware that Channel 10 has ever made public the figures involved in its phone-voting profit line - but one suspected, as they urged the viewers to keep ringing to the last neck-breaker moment, that it was only about dollars, not winners. Well, of course it was. The figures are audited, I believe. I'd love to see them. I'd love a real expose of the way in which the show manipulates the images of its housemates to rev up and control the voting.
And I'd love, for once, to see an intelligent person come out on top. But neither, I suspect, will be wishes realised.
I have to come to terms with the fact that my country, more and more, is a land of seriously dumbed down people.
The prognosis, therefore, is not good.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Winter ups and downs

Sunshine on lush green fields. Wattle trees erupting into yellow ecstasy. Almond trees shedding blossom petals like snowflakes. The sea a hundred hues of teal. Winter can be lovely. If only the cost of keeping warm was not so obscenely extortionate.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Ruminations with a view

However much we speculate and read speculations about Lachlan Murdoch's departure from "The Firm", we may never know the underlying frictions or causes. Lachy, as he is commonly known around the Murdoch traps, seemed a bright and refreshingly alternative presence in the newspaper world - branding himself so quite clearly with that wonderful tattoo which he tended to display with sleeves rolled up. His future seemed cemented into the family empire, so it was shocking to read that he, suddenly, had quit and was looking towards some new turn in career.
I read avidly the reports on the twists and turns of the Murdoch empire. Well, of course I do. I am a Murdoch journo.
There are many schools of Murdoch journalists these days. I am old school. I don't relate at all well to the new-wave Fox News variety, although I can understand the market ploy that they embody. I can understand it all, the machinations of the mainstream media. I am not always sure that the demographic decisions are right as the print media struggles to find its balance in a changing world. But I am fascinated by the process.
I keep reading about the "monster" Murdoch and his "paranoia" - and I think back to my one and only private encounter with the man and somehow doubt it. My meeting, a million years ago was in London when he was known as "the Dirty Digger" for his then highly controversial incursions into Fleet Street. I was all of 22 and had been hawking myself around the city and failing to find work. Finally, I took the advice of my colleagues back in Australia and made an appointment to see "the man". It was not difficult. I was slotted in promptly. Not only that, but Murdoch was welcoming and charming. My colleages in Australia had said "just tell him that you're one of his, you're bloody good and you need a job". I did just that. Murdoch laughed. To my astonishment, he knew exactly who I was and he cited several pieces of my work with praise. We sat and chatted a while in his office which was adorned with some exquisite pieces of contemporary Australian art which I identified and admired. He was like an old friend. He made me feel that I belonged. He made me feel that I was valued. And, he picked up the phone and, a minute later, I had a job on an Australian bureau in Fleet Street.
Since then, I have not run into Murdoch, although I did get a message from him saying that the columns I was writing at the time were the best of their kind in the country. The years have rolled on and my job description has changed many times since then. As is the way in newspapers. I am now a senior in culture of youth. I don't mind this. Not that it would matter if I did. But it feels a little strange when I look around and realise that my working peers would not know what I was talking about if I mentioned "hot metal", "fudge", "the stone" or even "comps". Of course one doesn't talk of such things. They'd think one was a dinosaur - and I'm not ready for that. But, as one old sage told me when, in callow youth I derided some old journo for being out of touch: "He's forgotten more about journalism than you'll ever know". I guess that's me now. Except that I have not forgotten.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Jacko jury

That messy business that was the Michael Jackson trial has wriggled its way back into the news. Now two jurors from his molestation trial are saying they were pressured into making the Not Guilty verdict - threatened to be removed from the jury unless they did not concur with the others. It is pointed out that they are both promoting books which they have produced as a result of being on the Jackson jury. Nonetheless, it is one hell of an allegation. Jackson seems to have gone away, at least out of the limelight, since the trial - but the mystery lingers on.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Infidelity held in contempt

Men. Why can't their brains override their sexual impulses. Just as
Bill Clinton made a a complete idiot of himself in his indiscretion
with silly young Monica, so has one of my favourite local politicians
brought himself into public shame and ridicule with a sexual
dalliance. Mark Brindal is not of my political persuasion, but I like
him for his incisive brain and tolerance. I like him for his culture and his eruditition. I just like him. He is now on the carpet and
over the front pages for having a sexual encounter in his office with
a young intellectually disabled man. The man's guardian is reported to have
attempted to blackmail him over this - and the sorry saga came out,
Brindal standing up for himself and saying that he did nothing
illegal. No, Mark, it was not illegal. It was short-sighted.
That Mark Brindal is bisexual is no surprise. That a man of such
intelligence, such a superbly rational debater, could not argue with his own libido is a surprise.
I am disappointed in him.
It is not with whom he had an affair. It is that he had an affair.
I am not a fan of infidelity. Hetero, homo or bi, it is preferable
that one disengages from one relationship before initiating another.
It causes less pain to those around you. But, it seems, many men
are willing to accept the
consequences - well, if they think of consequences. I have always
considered that the male of the species is somewhat consequence-
handicapped. They don't think ahead - unless they are financial
Brindal, as I see it, has not only humiliated his wife and step-children, he has
embarrassed his political party and completely demolished his
professional future. Before becoming a politician, he was a
headmaster. Neither world will be rushing to open doors to him now.
And this marvellous man is wasted - just for the sake of a short affair.

Co-incidentally, with Brindal holding press conferences and his
political party doubtless holed up analysing how they are to deal
with his disgrace, the theme of male lack of foresight is being mirrored in the theatre - albeit that there is absolutely no similarity between the love objects of reality and the drama, just the issue of emotional fallout. And that is, of course, my one and only point here. My solitary moral stance. Oh, how I hate the betrayal of infidelity. Ah, yes, I have felt its sting.

The controversial Edward Albee play, "The Goat -
or who is Sylvia" opened at the Playhouse last night. It is devilishly witty
absurdist work about a man who brings down the world around him by
admitting that he is having an affair with a goat. It studies a
family confronting complete disaster - a massive black hole out of
which they may never emerge, so great is the taint of the man's
sexual foray. And he, at the glittering peak of his career, is doomed
by his own disgrace. None of this having occurred to him as he
succumbed willingly to the "amazing" emotional connection he claims
to have experienced with a rural nanny goat. The play depicts the
crashing of his world - so brilliantly written by Albee to have the
actors pausing, mid tearful confontational scenes, while the audience
roars with laughter at the pithy dialogue of the great Albee. Who
would have thought that so many years after "Virginia Wolf", Albee
could perform the same boundary-pushing trick again with yet another
superbly-constructed piece of tragi-comedy.

And here we have, once again, a core emotional predicament with which far too many of us can, oh so sadly and bitterly, identify. Brindals,'s much the same.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Fads are skin deep

Boswelox. L'Oreal is producing skin cream with Boswelox. I can't stop the word from running through my head. Boswelox. Is that literary smoked salmon - Boswell's lox? Nope. It's tree gum. It's incense. Frankincense. Ah, that is why Catholic priests keep looking so young. It's the regular wafting of boswelox smoke. Except that it is boswellia, which is significantly prettier nomenclature than L'Oreal's challenging choice of boswelox. Boswellia serrata to be exact. I had to look it up. That bloody boswelox was playing in my brain - itching and irritating it. The only satisfaction was to find out what the hell it was. And it turns out to be an Indian tree, the resin from which has long been used as an anti-inflammatory to treat rheumatoid conditions. And colitis. There is no mention of faces. L'Oreal, I gather, has somehow mixed it with manganese and described it as "a breakthrough phyto-complex". Phyto, of course, is a bit of a buzz word these days. It means plant, for heaven's sake. If L'Oreal had described boswelox as a "plant complex" it would just not have the cachet. Unlike boswelox. Oh, boy, that is a marketing name if ever I heard one. It just goes to show how malleable women are when there's the slightest suggestion of beauty and youth. They will buy an ugly name. Boswelox may well be a magical ungent to reduce wrinkles. It probably is. The cosmetic product has been around for some years now, so obviously women are getting right into good old boswelox. Of course, this will change, when someone comes out with the next promising ingredient with an obfuscatory name, maybe oxalistox, methanitol or even arghoblob. So long as they call it "new" and "breakthrough" associated with the words "beauty" and "wrinkle-free", it will be a goer, like all the others. Women are not loyal where their vanity it concerned. And boswelox will go the way of retinol and cross-linked elastyn - into forgettable cosmetic history. Oh, it is such a can of worms, the beauty business. Hmm....essence of worm. Oligochater has a sophisticated cosmetic ring to it, don't you think!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Creationism evolves

We all know that President Bush is a Christian rightist. And that he is using his power to pull the right's reins as tightly as he can around every facet of his massive country. And, chillingly, we recognise that most of the country reveres him as a political god. So secure is he in his might that he now promotes Creationism in schools - under that artfully-contrived label of "Intelligent Design". He does so knowing that a majority in his country are on the same page - they believe that their God set out to test their faith by dropping a fossil record on the planet. They are too clever to be fooled by this, unlike all those overeducated scientists who waste their time arduously deducing the amazing timelines of evolution. Silly old science, eh.
I am thinking that the "Intelligent Design" theologists should give us some explanations of what sort of a God would be bothering with such absurd trickery. To cull out the intelligentsia? Oops. That sounds a bit Darwinian. Just for fun, maybe? So He can sit aloft and, in between answering the prayers of the faithful, giggle at the folly of developed minds trying to fathom his trail of deception? Oh yes, that sounds logical.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Plague of the passionates

It will feel better to get it off my chest.
I think that sportspeople are boring. Well, boring as interview subjects. I am sick to the painted toenails of having to hear them utter a formula of tedium about how well they won or how well they lost, or what their hamstring is doing. And I am sick of hearing them say they are "passionate" about their sport. Another fine word comes crashing down from over-use and misuse. Everybody is passionate about everything.
Oh well, it beats "know what I mean?" which punctuates the conversation of the vapid masses. Yes, I know what they mean - nothing! People who incessantly ask if one knows what they mean never have anything meaningful to say.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Condi cometh

Fascinating news that Condoleezza Rice is set to come to Adelaide for an environmental summit. It's the alternative-to-Kyoto pact. The last time Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer held a summit here, one of Foreign Ministers, he did it out of town and right within view of our house on the coast. I wonder if he will seek that sanctuary again for a high-security event - for, indeed, it is a place which can be better secured than any venue in the city proper. And, certainly, Condi is going to bring a security network unlike anything we've seen in this gentle centre of the arts.
There are some who say that Condi's visit might be linked with Halliburton interests expanding rapidly here, or with defence interests in the centre of the country. These things we cannot yet know, but only ponder.
Not everyone is thrilled that we should attract this sort of international political attention in these unpredictable and violent times. We would rather be a backwater, insignificant,
I can't disagree. But, Condi intrigues me. I think there may be layers to that powerful woman, that she is not quite what she appears to be, that her daunting intellect must harbour some wisdom that has to sit suppressed so long as she is the star minion of the Bush Administration. One must hope so, for it is far from impossible that she should become a US President.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Variety spirit of the heart

I loathe going to functions - so much so that I'm long since knocked off the A list for my incessant refusals. Nine years as gossip columnist is serious aversion therapy.
Today, however, I made the rare gesture of turning up to the opening of a new building - the Variety Club (Tent 75) of South Australia. There, with a core of some of the more generous-spirited old media celebs, was a gathering of people who truly reflect the symbol of Variety, the heart. Big-hearted people. Not to labour the heart theme - but it was deeply heart-warming to hear the tale of how this building came to be built - the way the money was raised away from the core fund-raising for the children' causes, the way the builders came and worked for free, the way a team of truck drivers gave their time to truck in cement, the way one chap took on a zillion major tasks just because he had the know-how. It was a saga of give, give, give - to help the people who are in the business of giving.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

London in terrorist thrall again

London is struck again. It looks to me like copycat terrorism, not
the sophistication of the July 7 attackers. This time there are nail
bombs and detonators and things which don't go off. There's a
rucksack thrown into a train by a man who runs away - runs for his
life. The fundamentalist Islamic terrorists don't run for their
lives. They give their lives as acts of political and religious
martyrdom. Oh, cringing humilation. Failed martyrdom. They will be
the laughing stock of the fundamentalist world. Albeit that chaos has
ensued - and fear. For terrorism's aim beyond sheer cruel destruction
is to engender a pervasive sense of terror. These no-hopers have
succeeded in this, if not in devastation. And certainly they have
succeeded in disrupting the city. But for the stoic old Londoners,
it is just another rash of terrorism. It was going on when I lived
there in the 70s. Bombs and constant bomb scares. Then, as now, the
Londoners had a stiff upper lip.
Now, more than then, however, London is a strongly Arab city - and
one can only feel compassion for the good Moslems, of which there are
many, who will be the social collateral of this fundamentalist malice.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Toxic air in the air

It does not matter how fastidious one is, how thoroughly and often one washes one's hands or even how many vitamins one takes, one is still likely to get sick from long-haul air travel.
I lost several weeks of my time in the US with a particularly debilitating bronchial infection which, all timing and logic told me, was contracted en route in the air.
On return to Australia I again became sick - fortunately, with a less serious version of upper respiratory tract infection but nonetheless nasty enough to force me to take three days off work. Once again, without a doubt, I caught this infection in the air.
I wonder how many people get sick after air travel.
My local GP wondered the same thing. She suggested that someone should do a PhD study on the phenomenon.
Forums on air crew websites indicate that sickness is common among crews on long hauls. There is even a handbook coming out aircraft air quality.
Its blurb reads: The issue of aircraft air quality is attracting considerable attention of late, as access to public air travel has expanded exponentially. Aircrew and passengers are increasingly concerned about operating and service decisions that could affect their health, comfort, and safety. The editor of this volume invited a wide range of experts to provide an in-depth treatment of virtually all aspects of aircraft cabin air quality.
It's about time. But what a pity it is meant only for the industry. The industry can happily ignore it.
I am feeling very hostile about this air quality issue. It is another instance of punishment by economic rationalism - who cares if the people suffer, so long as a dime is saved. One knows that airlines are in financial strife. How much do they save by rationing air supplies?
I read on another air crew website that first class gets piped three times as much oxygen as tourist. How cynical could that be, if, indeed, it is so. One suspects it may well be, for the corporate high flyers would not tolerate frequent illnesses betwixt and between their megabuck commitments. They surely would be making a fuss.
But the little people cramped in tourist sucking in the coughs and colds and heaven knows what from where... They just take it as fate. They probably don't remember the days when aircraft air was not so dirty and dulling.
Just think of the backlash against smokers. At least when smoking was allowed on planes, they used to provide good air circulation. They banned the smokers and then skimped on the air. The subsequent meagre, filthy, fetid air is more poisonous by far than tobacco smoke.
But where is the backlash? Where are the health authorities? Why don't air crews go on strike? Why don't businesses sue airlines for loss of productive time among travelling staff?
If the airlines can be cornered into recognising deep vein thrombosis as a liability in cramped conditions, then it needs to be forced to accept liability for the veritable epidemics it generates among its hapless passengers.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Insitutions have their place

One often writes in editorials that it is hoped that common sense will prevail. It is a mantra of leader writers.
What joy it is to discover that common sense at last has prevailed, at least in the cause of our mentally ill. I have written on this issue many times over the years, observing that "de-instutionalisation" has been a crime against many of the mentally ill, who simply cannot cope within the fussy bureacratic demands of the social security system, let alone an exploitative quasi criminal street-wise world bent on tricking them out of their pensions as well as their drugs. For years now, mentally ill people have been adrift in society, often begging, sometimes having fugues, often having run-ins with the police. The idea that they were entitled to living freely in the community was a con. They are entitled to the community's care! Sick people require looking after. They need nurture and understanding. And, often, they feel happier when they know that they are not alone in their predicament. Within traditional mental institutions they had peer groups, a society of their own, a sense of belonging. I recall visiting a facililty which rehabilitated the brain-damaged when it was being forced to close by the same economic rationalists who turfed the mentally ill out onto the streets. Some of the inhabitants had contacted me and asked me to come and see their Centre and hear how unhappy they were about its closure, to help them to fight to save it. And it was about a sense of belonging and being among people who were in the same boat which they wanted projected. They were terrified of being thrown out to their own devices, to look and sound different in a "normal" world, to have to catch buses and find their way to their rehabilitation sessions. But it was no good. The economic rationalists won. The Centre closed. And these hapless souls were cast out, too.

Thank heavens common sense has prevailed and such people can have sanctuary again.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Leaf the trees alone

A sad indignity. Just a few days ago it was a gracious and grand old tree, a vast spread of lush shade and home to who knows what birds, possums, insects, arachnids. Suddenly, today, it is decapitated - a great big stump with severe amputations whence boughs once reached. Looking at its huge girth, I would have imagined that it qualified as a heritage tree. But these heritage definitions are flexible, if a developer wants the land on which a tree grows. Suddenly the tree is dangerous and sick. Then it is gone and there is just sunbleaching, bland sky.
The public has a short memory. It accepts change because change is constant.
But I go on missing the profiles of trees in the city. Driving every morning through Hindmarsh Square I look for the huge pines which once gave character to the square. They were suddenly gone one day - and no one seemed to notice.
I drive up the Parade and daily I am made happy by the row of mighty ironbarks on its median. Such exquisite trees which have grown fast and strong in a mere decade or so and now attract a technicolour dangle of parrots. These trees are the pride of Norwood - but for how long? Any minute we will be told that their roots upset someone's plumbing, or may be lethal if a car loses control and mounts the median. Any excuse will do. I am pessimistic. I know it is inevitable. The more beautiful the tree, the more endangered it is.
Our city's cultural boulevard has been raped of its old trees in the name of progress. Now the once handsome terrace is barren and shadeless. Our children's children will know shade there when the baby plantings grow. If the tree-lopping obsession has not taken hold again.
There is talk of felling all trees which grow close to country roads - since several fatalities have occurred with people driving into them in the dim hours. It seems to be the trees' fault, never the drivers who were probably tired, speeding or drunk. And now the campaign is up and running. Trees must go. Trees are dangerous. Trees are bad. Down with trees.
In this land of harsh sun, in the land which leads the world in melanoma, and in a time when carbon credits are supposed to be a plan against a greenhouse future, this is all nothing less than dumb.