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.