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.