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.

Friday, July 15, 2005

An outside world

I was deeply touched to see a comment added to this blog today - on a posting from last June, a posting marking the death of my old friend, Milan. It was a superb description of Milan. Beautifully conceived - and every bit his due.

It is strange, because I don't think of anyone reading this blog. I write it into the ether, for no rational reason. I started the blog only because I was writing about blogs and figured I needed to test the waters for myself. But this is a blog with no particular point - just occasional observations and accounts of time and place, since I have had the outlet of expressing myself in the mainstream media.
My paper, however, is changing. My place in its scheme of things also is changing. It is become a paper intended for the young - and I am being put out to pasture.

The blogsphere is about to become the field for my ruminations.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Blogs are news

How the balance of information power has swung. Now the mainstream media reports on the activities of the blogsphere. Movements in the blog world are news!

Monday, July 11, 2005

Festival of Ideas

Huge queues snaked way down North Tce. One might have imagined that there was a rock concert on. But perhaps the crowds were a little too mixed in age. Perhaps there was a different sensibility in their demeanor. No, they weren't waiting for a rock star. They were waiting to hear an Imam from New York talk about how to heal the relationship between the Muslim world and the West.

Throughout the weekend there were similar queues outside large venues in the city - and for each one, a similar explanation. For this was the Festival of Ideas, a festival of thought and enlightenment, a winter brain-warmed in the city of Adelaide.
Such a civilized affair, attended with such enormous interest and enthusiasm by so very many that it rekindled my hope for humankind.

A perfect passing

Margery Irving was an actress. She died last week, aged 98, having given her last performance on radio only the week before. As she was leaving this world, she uttered one of the best deathbed quotes I have yet encountered. Quoth Margery to her daughter Amanda: "There's nothing wrong with me, dear. I am just dying."

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Reflections of a Georgia night

Out there in the night, the dogs bark and howl and the cocks crow. It is 12.45am with a huge red moon rising over the trees of Sautee. Everyone is asleep and I sit with only the ghostly light of the laptop screen to illuminate the keyboard – in the screened porch of the family farmhouse in Nachoochee, North Georgia. It am touch typing in the dark. Badly probably. It was a lifetime ago a schoolteacher put a box over the old Remington typewriter keyboard and told me to master this. I hated it - a skill for secretaries, I thought. Journalism had not entered my head. I was only taking typing as an extra-curricular because it was a 9am class which enabled me to escape attending the religious rituals of my church school's morning assembly. And here I am, glad in the darkness of the Georgia night in the world of an American family of which I never could have dreamed, but a family which I adore and which has become mine.
The nocturnal intensity is the lushness and stillness, most of all the lushness. The air hangs heavy with fecundity. Fireflies are at rest now. Only the odd flash of starlight on the ground. But earlier in these warm nights, they turn the trees to sparkling constellations, and the lawns and fields to glittering galaxies.
The night is theirs, just as in the rich, misty greenness of the mornings, the strident red cardinals proclaim their world as theirs with their self-approbatory call of “birdie birdie birdie”.
I have not been writing here in Georgia - because it does not fit in with the schedule. It is an antisocial pursuit. There is not the right time. Which is why I steal this moment in the slumbering night. I want to soak in the sensations of this place, the drenching beauty and serenity of this farmhouse in its valley among the Blue Ridge Mountains. To keep them and take them away with me, to bring out again in other faraway places. I am sipping a vodka and red grapefruit juice nightcap and allowing myself to be "in the moment".
Of course I will regret it in the household's early-rising morning when another full day races forth. And soon I will tiptoe into the grand old high-backed bedstead beside my husband, in that sweet white room where portraits of the ancestors gaze earnestly from the walls, reminding us of their place in this world. Their stories are told around the dining table - tales of the days when this was a working farm, when its garden produce was sold in a stall down in the field. When great-grandfather built the City Hall in nearby Cleveland and how he was cheated with payment in Confederate money. How another great-grand was the minister who declared slave freedom hereabouts. How earlier ancestors were among the very first to settle the area amid the Cherokees. How land was owned and lost... The family keeps its progenitors alive and one realises one has become a small part of its evolving history.
Now the divine Aunt Libby keeps the farm groomed and loved, quietly triumphant that she, a retired history professor, has been able to do alone what she knows would utterly astonish her late father. And with single-minded determination and not a little courage, she learns to master a new mower to keep the acreage trim and aesthetic.
The family comes and goes for holidays and she shares her knowledge of time and place - always fresh with her love and enthusiasm. I pinch myself at the fortune to be within the family bosom. Here amid the mountains called Lynch and Tray and Yona, amid the rushing streams and moist forests, the boiled peanuts, sumptuous peaches and musical Southern accents...
Ah, Georgia, I now take you with me wherever I go.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Surmounting the hiatus

The whole web at my fingertips - all of it except blogger and fotopages. I thought it must have been Tiger, the new Mac OS, since it has not been without a few challenges amid my older applications. On arrival back in Australia, I attempted to post some pieces written back in the US and the site froze and then crashed - and thereafter nada. I assumed blogger was having a problem so I gave it a day and then another day. Then I Googled to see if anyone else was having similar problems. No. So why was my computer blocking just those specific sites? I tried my younger son's old Clamshell and I tried the home PC. Same deal. "The server is not responding". Much puzzling, consulting my Mac guru at work, hauling in my Mac doctor older son. He quickly tried to get blogger up on his iBook. Same message. "Did you check the router?" he asked as he rushed off to work. "Nuttin' wrong with my router, all other sites work," I retorted. Days passed and I grew more antsy. So I rang my provider's help desk to discover that it was, indeed, the router. "The 504 ADSL modem has some peculiarities," explained Andrew after I had rebooted and hooked seamlessly into blogger. "Sometimes a site annoys it and it decides to firewall it."
Well, blow me down.

Now to work out why this layout is not justifying.