Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

Photo: Getty

Aussies – who suffer the highest rate of skin cancer in the world – are acutely aware of the need to guard against skin cancer. We lead the world in both prevention and cure.

Aussies all know the sun-safety adage slip, slop, slap, seek and slide - excellent advice, Dear Reader –  and now new Australian research has now found another surprising way to protect your body from skin cancer.

In a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Queensland have found that over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen and aspirin can decrease your risk of developing squamous carcinoma – the most common for of skin cancer.

According to study authors, these particular drugs could work as preventative agents in high-risk people.

While studies have previously linked aspirin with a lower risk of colon cancer, this is the first time it has been connected to skin cancer prevention. After a meta-analysis of nine studies, researchers found that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) had an 18 per cent reduced risk. Non-aspirin NSAIDS had a 15 per cent reduced risk of squamous carcinoma.

We would like to think it may be another way to reduce your risk of developing these cancers,” study co-author Catherine Olsen said. “Of course, the best way is to reduce your sun exposure – that will always be the number one preventative action for skin cancers – but this might be a supplementary skin cancer control measure.”

Bad. Bad. Stupid. Dumb. Idiotic. (Only coz it's Christmas did we spare you pictures of people with half their nose removed.)

Bad. Bad. Stupid. Dumb. Idiotic. (Only coz it’s Christmas did we spare you pictures of people with half their nose removed.)

Skin cancer accounts for around 80 per cent of all newly diagnosed cancers in Australia, and the rate of incidence is higher than anywhere else in the world.

If you’re over 40, Cancer Council Australia recommends doing a full skin check every three months – more if you spend a lot of time outdoors. Look out for changes in shape, colour and size of any moles or sunspots and if you’re concerned about any changes – see your GP or dermatologist.

We suspect this is just the beginning of yet more reveals about the health-promoting properties of buffered aspirin in particular. We munch our little red pill daily. Needless to say, take your doctor’s advice.

As for the Wellthisiswhatithink household, we have had more than our fair share of cancer-y things removed from our collective skin. We have this to share.

“Shade. It’s a wonderful thing.”

And not just because I was the Editor on the book. ;-)

soozeyHaving worked on it for a year, “I am the problem” by Soozey Johnstone is the simplest, most insightful and easiest-to-implement book on dysfunctional executive teams – how to make success happen more often and more easily, and rediscovering your organisational “mojo” – that I have ever had the pleasure to read.

One influential CEO called it “the best Australian book on business I ever read”. I am hopeful it will go on to be a worldwide best-seller.

As the blurb reads:

Is this you? Buy the book!

Is this you? Buy the book!

 

The book is designed to be a very practical “hands on” primer for anyone facing apparently intractable organisational obstacles, whether or not the organisation is recognising or facing up to those obstacles – yet.

As a Director or Manager, you can choose to act on any of the 9 obstacles: just one, or a few, or all of them. Acting on all of them would be a genuinely transformative move.

Or buy the book. Really.

Or buy the book. Really.

From personal experience I am can confirm that acting on any of the excellent advice in the book will make you happier, and your organisation much more functional and successful. Each chapter includes at the end a simple to follow “To Do” list to make implementing positive change easy and painless and there’s a wide “additional reading” section too.

Frankly, I think it will help people navigate everyday life better too, including with family and friends.

And at thirty bucks Australian, trust me, it’s an absolute steal. Incredible value.

So don’t procrastinate: buy it. Buy it for yourself, or buy it for the stressed executive in your life.

You can thank me later, and let us take this chance to wish you a Very Merry Christmas and a stress-less 2015.

#stooshpr #iamtheproblem #merrychristmas

As surely the whole world knows, yesterday and overnight a mentally-disturbed man with a long legal history bailed up 17 or so people in the Lindt cafe in Sydney, demanding to speak to Australia’s Prime Minister, and seeking wide publicity for his points of view.

We do not wish to talk about him.

We do wish to note the outpouring of grief and support from the Australian people for the families of those killed, and the victims themselves, for those terrified and injured, and for ourselves – for the whole nation – which has been deeply shocked by the scenes of the last 24 hours.

The flowers are gathering at the site of the seige. All day, Aussies have quietly turned up, written in books of remembrance, laid down flowers, and stood in silence. Many in tears, all in shock.

They have been joined by politicians and notables, police officers and emergency workers, but mainly it has been the ordinary Australians who have trekked to Martin Place to be part of the mourning.

And uniquely, and so typically Australian, a single woman’s gesture – “I’ll ride with you”- spoken quietly to a Muslim woman who was removing her hijab for fear of being abused, spat on or assaulted – all things that have happened recently – has “gone viral” and been repeated by millions of people worldwide, who wish the wider Muslim community to know that they are not blamed for the actions of lunatics or fanatics.

Muslims arriving to place flowers at the site have been especially welcomed with quiet smiles, a touch of approval on a shoulder, a gentle look.

Today is a very sad day to be an Australian. It is also a great day to be an Australian. As so often in this remarkable nation, it is the ordinary people who show the true mettle of the country, who reveal in the simplest of human ways the unique communal nature of this wide brown land.

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There will be other horrors. There will also, sadly, be some extremist idiots who inevitably break the seal of national tolerance.

But the true Australian spirit – the spirit of its people, not its luminaries – stood up and was counted today, under the most painful of circumstaces. I am so proud of my fellow citizens, and have never regretted for an instant asking to belong to this tolerant, good natured, welcoming and egalitarian nation, the very essence of which is “everybody comes from somewhere else.”

Our deepest sympathies go out to all caught up in this madness.

#illridewithyou, Australia.

HughesAustralia and much of the sporting world is reeling in deep shock and disbelief today at the death of Australian batsman Phillip Hughes after he was struck by a cricket ball to the head in Sydney two days ago.

We do not intend here to eulogise Phillip – others will do a better job of that, and his exciting batting play in many arena is all the evidence we need of his brilliant skills. He was also, by all accounts, and by his many interviews with the media, a fun, charming and engaging young man.

No sport is entirely without risks. A couple of weeks back we wrote with deep shock of the death of two young female Australian jockeys in the space of a week.

Cricket seems uniquely likely to cause injury to its participants. German Kaiser Wilhelm once presciently remarked that the British Empire was incapable of being defeated because its officer corps were trained for battle by making them stand in the middle of a mown field while small cannon balls were thrown at them. Indeed it is remarkable more people are not hurt playing the game.

The advent of helmets with wrap-around face guards or grills for those facing fast bowling, not to mention those fielding near the bat, has been a helpful and effective move. That this ball hit Hughes behind the helmet on the back of his head when a millimetre or so either way would simply have left him nursing a sore head and feeling a bit foolish is a bitter, bitter pill. We confidently expect to never see such an event again in our lifetime.

Yes, we should review the design of those helmets, just as we should review the turns on racetracks to make sure most horses – all horses, as far as we can arrange – get around them without slipping up at speed. Just as we have reviewed the safety features of Formula 1 cars so that serious injuries or death are almost banished from the sport, where they used to be almost weekly events, just as the auhorities work to make road cycling safer, and so on. We didn’t ban ocean racing after the Fastnet or Sydeny-to-Hobart disasters, and the crews for those exciting events still queue round the block to take part. What we did do was implement better communications, better rescue provision, and better weather alerts.

Our reason for writing tonight is simply to say again, woefully, that we must face the stark fact that there is always only so much we can do.

Sport will never be without risk and we cannot make cricket’s helmets so all-encompassing that they make batting impossible, especially against fast bowling. What happened to Phillip was dreadful bad luck and extraordinarily unlikely. Sometimes we just have to bite down hard and accept that life throws us all some ugly balls, now and again.

Those of us who love nothing more than the settle back on our couches or take our seat in the stands and watch elite athletes of all kinds do what they do best should remember that, and express our thanks for their courage. None of them can ever be entirely sure they will survive their career. Equally certainly, none of them would be put off competing by that doleful knowledge.

Phillip Hughes was a country lad with a ready smile. He started out playing cricket at 12 years old against adults, who he cheerfully bashed all over the grounds of small-town New South Wales. Raised in Macksville – a relaxed fishing and oyster-farming town centre of a rich rural district on low-lying land around the Nambucca River – and finished in Sydney grade cricket at Western Suburbs, where he, like his friend and Aussie captain Michael Clarke and fellow future Test player Mitchell Starc, were coached by Neil D’Costa, Hughes’s precocious talent would lead him to the modern cricket star’s cosmopolitan life.

He turned out not only for NSW and Australia but also the English counties Hampshire, Middlesex and Worcestershire, the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League, and for the Strikers and South Australia when he moved to Adelaide in 2012. He represented his country in all three formats and made new friends in each. Wherever he played, he was popular for his simple, light heart; there was no “side” to Phillip Hughes. He was just a bloody nice guy.

It would be nice if something could be done to memorialise his life and career by further supporting youth cricket, especially in country Australia. If the net result of the robbery of this young man’s promising life was with sad irony to unearth the next Philip Hughes then today’s loss might seem not quite so dreadfully, appalling, awfully hard to take.

Our deepest sympathies go out to Phillip’s family and friends, and the whole cricketing world.

Anzac dead in captured Turkish trenches in Gallipoli

I wrote this poem remembering attending so many Remembrance Day services with my mother, whose husband, the father who I never knew, died at 46, a cheerful but essentially broken man, after six years of service in the Royal Navy..

I am very proud of this poem, both as a poem, in and of itself, and as an authentic expression of my feelings and some things I consider important.

I am largely a pacifist in my outlook, but I have great respect for those who put their lives on the line defending values I hold dear, and opposing tyranny.

It references not only those solemn services attended at memorials with my mother, but the many times since I have seen elderly people stand and pay their respects to the dead of both World Wars, and other wars.

Anzac DayThere is a wave of emotion sweeping Australia at the moment when Anzac day rolls around, with record numbers of people attending Dawn Services both around the country and in places overseas such as Papua New Guinea and Galipolli.

Increasingly, those people have young faces. The great grandchildren, grandchildren and children of those who were wounded, broken, and died. Why the sudden upsurge of interest? Perhaps younger people today look back to a past when the issues were simpler and convictions stronger.

I am also sure that the 39 Australian service people killed in Afghanistan since hostilities broke out there have something to do with it. The Americans and others have lost more people, of course, but those 39 lives are a grievous loss to a country with a population as small as Australia’s, just as the disproportionate sacrifice of the World War I diggers left a scar across the country that took generations to heal: the faces and stories of those brave young people killed in Afghanistan in recent years sure focuses the mind.

I am also reminded, on this solemn day, of the most important thing ever said about conflict, which is, of course:

“War will continue until men refuse to fight.”

If you are interested to purchase my collection of poems called Read Me – 71 Poems and 1 Story - just head here.

(Article re-published for Anzac Day 2013 and Remembrance Day 2014.)

abbottdutton

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L), and Australian Health Minister Peter Dutton (R) during a press conference in Sydney, Australia, 5 November 2014.

 

As we have pointed out before, Australia has been slow and mealy-mouthed in sending aid/health workers to try and control the Ebola outbreak at source.

Yet even now some small move has been made, as PM Abbott and Health Minister Dutton have been dragged kicking and screaming to the table, people around the world, and indeed at home, could be forgiven for being a little confused about Australia’s response to the Ebola crisis.

The government has been sending out somewhat mixed signals over what help it can offer, as is now pointed out for the world to read on the front page of the BBC website in the UK. Nice.

First, the Abbott government refused to send any official medical or military personnel to West Africa, a decision for which he was widely criticised on this blog, inside Australia, and overseas, at the same time as President Barack Obama was saying the US should be encouraging health workers to volunteer to go to the frontline.

Mr Abbott has now bowed to pressure and announced Australia will be contributing A$20m (£11m; $17m) to help fund a British Ebola response clinic being set up in Sierra Leone. However, the prime minister has been vague about who will be staffing it.

The Australian side of the operation has been contracted out to the private health provider Aspen Medical and Abbott suggested most of the staff would be recruited locally, but contradictorily health officials in Sierra Leone have said the principal thing they are lacking is qualified local doctors.

Meanwhile, the managing director of Aspen Medical, Glenn Keys, has said around 350 Australians have registered with the company to go and help.

What is clear is that the prime minister is sticking by his line that no government medical teams or military personnel will be dispatched.

Mr Abbott said the decision to contract in Aspen had been reached after Britain agreed to treat any Australians who become infected while in West Africa, something the Australian leader had said was his principal concern.

It’s now emerged though, that the European Union had already made a similar offer to treat Australian staff that Mr Abbott had rejected.

 

How many innocent lives could Australian workers have saved in the last few weeks? We will never know.

How many innocent lives could Australian workers have saved in the last few weeks? We will never know.

 

Yet the media in Australia have been perfectly silent in asking him “Why?”, and still are. Especially as the end result is Australia’s response has looked very tardy and been delayed by crucial weeks. Meanwhile the poor of West Africa continue to face death rates from Ebola of up to 90% of all those infected.

Add to that the strong criticism Australia has faced after it became the first developed country to ban the issuing of visas to anyone from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The Sierra Leonean government called the move “discriminatory” and “counter-productive” suggesting it created a climate of panic.

As the BBC say, anyone who’s visited Australia will know they take a tough line on bio-security. There are strict rules about bringing in food products due to fears of bringing in disease.

But given that only a handful of people have been tested for suspected Ebola in Australia and all have tested negative, the government here risks being accused of showing a lack of compassion in the eyes of many around the world.

What is more important is that if this outbreak is not stopped AT SOURCE, and somehow transmits itself into other poor areas of the world with bad sanitation and inadequate health services – the rest of Africa, India, Pakistan, Central and Southern America, great swathes of South East Asia, even China – then we would be looking at an Armageddon scenario. In the face of which, Abbott and Dutton looked nothing more nor less like rabbits stuck in the headlights. So much for “strong leadership”, eh?

obama in churchMeanwhile, the political and media beat up worldwide on the outbreak has continued, with near hysteria levels, in the USA in particular.

A couple of weeks back we predicted that there wouldn’t be another Ebola case in the USA in the next seven days. It’s now 14 and counting.

But has the fever of commentary died down? Hardly. And why is so annoyingly obvious. The Republicans knew that by making Obama look “weak” on Ebola, by terrifying the population, in simple terms, then they would hurt the Democrats. And so they did, as seen in their “wave” of wins in the mid-terms on Tuesday just gone.

In fact, as is widely acknowledged, Obama’s response has been a small miracle of intelligent healthcare policy.

That he has not received the credit for acting smartly, promptly and effectively – not just in the USA, but in West Africa – is truly sickening.

Thanks to Mix FM for gathering together people’s photos of the monstrous electrical storm that hit Melbourne in the wee small hours of Monday morning and to Colin for alerting us to them.

It was a real doozey, and the traffic and train chaos from power outages and flooding the next morning was astonishing. It is only a matter of time, of course, before some religious nut blames it all on God being angry over homosexuality, abortion, or the Australian cricket team. Actually, looking at the result against Pakistan, I think the cricket team were to blame.

The Wellthisiswhatithink household was certainly bleerily woken up, with candles lit in advance of the expected blackout which for some reason didn’t occur, unplugging computers from the wall etc. We’re only sorry we couldn’t take our own photos, but the new camera hasn’t arrived yet … of that, more soon!

 

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Abdullah ElmirA Sydney teenager who ran away to join jihadists in Syria is the pawn of terrorists who “groomed” him just like pedophiles groom their child victims, a terror expert says.

Abdullah Elmir has turned up in a propaganda video for the IS group, also known as ISIL, after disappearing from his Bankstown home in June, saying he was going fishing.

The video is the fourth in a series called “Message of the Mujahid” which features foreign fighters, with previous releases showing British, French and Moroccan jihadists.

Grand Mufti quick to condemn "Islamic" extremists

Grand Mufti quick to condemn “Islamic” extremists

The Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, urged Muslims to reject calls from abroad tocommit violence against Australia and said it was “utterly deplorable for violent extremists to use Islam as a cover for their crimes and atrocities”.

In a joint statement, the nation’s peak Muslim organisations expressed “profound concerns and sadness” over Abdullah’s appearance in the Islamic State video and said there was an “urgent need” to examine how and why the teenager felt the need to leave the country and fight with a terrorist organisation.

In the clip, the 17-year-old threatens Australia and any nation that would try to stand in the group’s way.

Professor Greg Barton from Monash University’s Global Terrorism Research Centre says Elmir was recruited by wanted terrorist Mohammad Ali Baryalei, an Australian based in Syria.

He says terror recruiters lure targets by making friends through social media, like many sexual predators.

“It’s like sexual predation,” Professor Barton told the media.

“Somebody might strike up a friendship in an online chat forum and present themselves in a different fashion – to try to get them into their web. By the time they actually meet the people they’re speaking with, they may be in too deep to know better.”

He says the boy appears as a “pawn in the machine” in the chilling video.

“He thinks he’s the star … but the reality is, his new friends have got him a one-way ticket,” he said. “He’s not in charge of his own destiny at all, he’s being used.”

Prof Barton says young people are the easiest to radicalise.

“Teenagers, 20-somethings, particularly young men more than young women, are vulnerable to making rash judgments,” he said. “And they tend to be more rebellious toward (older) generations and sceptical of establishment figures.”

It is believed former Kings Cross bouncer Mr Baryalei, 33, recruited Elmir through western Sydney street preaching group Parramatta Street Dawah.

“He’s said to have recruited 30 plus young people – mostly in western Sydney through Street Dawah” Professor Barton said.

We agree with Professor Barton. What we are seeing is teenage braggadocio. No 17 year old understands the geo politics behind the likes of IS, they have no idea what the reality of death and injury is on the battlefield, they do not yet have an understanding of the terrible implications of the violence they may wreak on other families or what it really means to take another life, nor do they have the discretion to understand varying views of their own religion. What we are seeing here is the sophisticated internet version of the gathering of child soldiers by unprincipled militia in Africa and elsewhere.

abdullahThis young man will, one day, without any doubt, die a bloody death unknown, unmourned and unmarked in the conflict in Iraq. Those who recruited him as a footsoldier will not bat an eyelid at his passing.

Even if he does not, his life is effectively ruined, as he will no longer be welcome in his home country. The very best outlook he probaby has is to become a stateless refugee, in hiding.

It is all very sad, and a huge burden of guilt lies on the souls of those who recruit our innocents. The cases recently of two young Austrian women who travelled to join IS only to find themselves pimped out to fighters, impregnated, and now unable to leave after becoming utterly disillusioned, is yet more evidence that these people deserve our unflinching condemnation.

Meanwhile,  Abdullah’s family have said they are shocked and devastated. They believe he has been “brainwashed” and they want to know who paid for his air ticket and encouraged him to go. They have described him as academically bright and caring: and it is often so – those with intelligence, compassion and passion are the easiest to turn to the darkness.

We should all pray this young man somehow survives and is reuinted with those who can care for him. That, however, is vanishingly unlikely.

Ebola in Liberia

Watching the world go into collective meltdown over the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is highly instructive for anyone who is interested in how the media works, how politics works, and how groupthink works.

The media are rubbing their collective hands with glee. Suddenly they have a new and potentially terrifying threat to wax lyrical about: ISIS terrorism is so last week, right?

Now a “deadly” virus that most people have never heard of, that’s escaped from the nasty, mucky, dark continent of Africa, and threatens us nice white people in our impeccably clean western societies, offers the media a chance for wall-to-wall coverage, most of it hysterical and uninformed.

Politicians now fall neatly into two camps. Those who give a shit about tackling the outbreak, and those who simply give a shit about blaming someone else, and always on the other side of the aisle.

And groupthink has merely descended into group terror. You can’t blame people for being scared, but the level of fear has reached ridiculously high proportions astonishingly quickly.

So here’s a few facts.

ebolavirusEbola can be and is deadly, (with morbidity rates as high as 70% in some of the countries currently under attack), but the vast majority of people infected (perhaps upwards of 90%) will survive IF they receive proper medical care, such as simple matters including rehydration.

This is actually higher than some other much more common severe illnesses.

The huge death numbers in West Africa are because the sanitation, medical and social systems there are completely inadequate to deal with the illness.

The strain of Ebola affecting Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Liberia is not airborne. You HAVE to have an exchange of bodily fluids to catch it. The rapid transition rate in West Africa is because poor people are caring for sick relatives in their own homes, and avoiding contact with saliva, blood and bodily wastes (or surfaces contaminated with them) is extraordinarily difficult in those circumstances.

In reality, as you can see here, the spread rate of Ebola against other serious illnesses is very slow. This is partly, tragically, because in poor countries the sick don’t live long enough to pass the virus on to very many people. Ebola is actually a very inefficient virus. It kills its victims too quickly.

The solution to the Ebola crisis is very simple. By all means isolate the very few cases that will occur in advanced countries, and treat those people with all due care for the treating staff as well. The majority of infected people will recover, especially if they are treated early. Impose travel bans if you wish, though it would be much more sensible to implement heat screening of in-bound passengers, such as was used during the SARS crisis in China.

There is also evidence from previous outbreaks that educating the local community about how to handle patients and reduce infection-risk is an effective way to slow or end outbreaks. This is another area of activity that should be ramped up.

In the meantime, though, whatever else we do, we must DRAMATICALLY increase aid to West Africa. We should be FLOODING the area with capacity to deal with the crisis, AND to deal there with any aid workers from advanced countries who become infected, keeping them there instead of repatriating them to their home country. Although conditions in these countries are extremely difficult, it is not beyond the wit and wisdom of mankind to isolate and treat the virus there. What IS needed is willpower and decisive action and plenty of fast money.

If this was a war, an immediate and resolute response would be found.

Well, this is a war. A war to save potentially hundreds of thousands of poor victims worldwide. This is not a war to protect the West. It was and is and will be a war to protect countries in Africa (and possibly elsewhere) from being set back 25 years in their development, through the avoidable death of countless innocent people.

Rabbit caught in headlights? Pretty much.

Rabbit caught in headlights? Pretty much.

In this regard, the failure of the Australian government to yet send staff to the area is staggeringly weak and vacillating.

Health Minister Peter Dutton waffles on about not knowing where to treat any staff who contract the virus.

Well, here’s a question to answer, Mr Dutton. If Ebola gets into the slums of the poorer countries of Asia (such as especially the Philippines and Thailand) or the favelas of South America, it will then GENUINELY be too late to stop a worldwide humanitarian disaster. What will you do then?

If you are genuinely concerned about the safety of our aid workers or troops, (and not simply trying to save money and hope someone else does the heavy lifting) then explain the situation simply and clearly, and ask for volunteers.

Action, this day. Nothing else is acceptable.

PS Don’t expect to see the commonsense in this article reported in mainstream media, so feel free to share it.

 

 

australian progressives

As a bit of an ironed-on old radical, I have long despaired of finding a political home in Australia to nestle in, to work for, or even to stand for. The Memsahib and I used to be very involved with the Australian Democrats, but they sadly degenerated into squabbling and ultimately irrelevance, which is a great sorrow. We have happy memories of being a speechwriter and campaign organiser for Janine Haines, the great work done by Sid Spindler and Janet Powell, (all now very sadly deceased) and the consistency, clarity and dignity of Lyn Allison.

Anyhow, I simply can’t join the Liberal Party, even though I have some time for identities on the left-wing of their party, which still includes some old “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” centrist types. Indeed, as recently as a few weeks ago a very senior minister in the Liberal Government in Victoria almost begged me to join. But I am afraid the party is now comprehensively captured at all levels by the hard men of the neo-con Thatcherite Friedmanite right, and we wouldn’t last five minutes in it before being comprehensively squashed or expelled.

The Australian Labor Party is so right wing it could virtually replace the Liberal Party and no one would really notice the difference, except, perhaps for the trade union barony replacing the influence currently wielded by the top end of town, and as anyone who has dined in top restaurants or clubs around the country can attest, away from the confected antagonism of the bear pit of Parliament or the Murdoch press, there is nothing a good Trade Union leader likes as much as a generous and compliant Captain of Industry, and nothing the Captain of Industry likes as much as a supine and properly tamed Union Leader. Plus the sight of Labor seeking to out-do the Coalition on creating ever-more brutish asylum seeker policy, and caving in utterly on environmental protection, makes one throw up in one’s mouth just a little. Or a lot.

The Greens have their moments, but the leadership is weak and faintly ridiculous, and they are far too oppositionally-populist for my liking. They seem obsessed with trying to take over the news cycle with what are often ever more silly statements, and as a result they have undoubtedly plateaued in support, and they also seem very uncertain as to how to broaden their support base from its current inner-urban trendry core plus a few “doctor’s wives” thrown in. I am not passionately opposed to them, but I am not encouraged to join them, either.

As for the Palmer United Party, that is one pup I am not buying. I actually quite like Jackie Lambie’s complete lack of guile – it’s moderately refreshing even when I don’t agree with her views – but Clive Palmer just doesn’t ring true to me, as anything other than a rather maniacal ego for hire with more money than sense. You just can’t make up policy on the run month after month with no clear identification of where you sit on the political scale – somewhere to the right, but where exactly? – and no clearly enunciated suite of policies for the future. Pure populism is all very well – and there is still considerable scope for Palmer to wreak havoc in the next Federal Election, hurting the Liberals and Nationals especially – but it is a waning asset, and I suspect PUP will die out before long, and they won’t be much missed, either.

I am not going to join the Nats, basically because I am not especially interested in country or regional development (I’m not agin it in any way, it’s just not where my interests lie, you understand) and I am not a socially-conservative-agrarian-socialist-protectionist with no real interests other than clinging to relevance in Government and the seats gifted them by their Liberal brethren. No tick there. And I have been impressed with the Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm elected by accident in NSW – he’s been excellent and uncompromising so far on personal liberty – but their laissez faire libertarian-right economic policies belong on the toilet walls of a lunatic asylum. So no tick there, either.

Which is a long way round of saying “A plague on all your houses” and announcing that I am so fed up with both established right and left in Australian politics that I have decided to join a new party as a founding member. That way I avoid just vegging out and leaving it to the idiots, and I get to help form the policies and direction of the new party.

Could turn into nothing. Most new parties do. And if it does fizzle and bust, well, no harm done. But I like the way it talks about working outside the electoral cycle to promote new thinking as well as being an electoral alternative. There are many ways to influence events, and not all of them involve winning overall power at the ballot box.

Or it could turn into something I distrust or dislike, at which time I will leave.

So it’s a punt, but really, Dear Reader, what have we got to lose?

Join me?

https://www.australianprogressives.org.au/

 

progressive values

 

I would welcome comment, positive or negative. And polite.

Stephen Yolland
Melbourne October 2014

 

Shock death: jockey Caitlin Forrest.

 

Regular readers of Wellthisiswhatithink will be very familiar with our love of thoroughbred racing.

But there have been stark reminders this week that it is anything but a sport without risks.

The racing industry in Australia is reeling from news of the death of a second jockey in one of its most important weeks after Caitlin Forrest died from injuries sustained in a horrific four-horse fall at Murray Bridge on Wednesday.

The 19-year-old South Australian apprentice crashed to the turf and was hit by the pack of horses behind her when riding in the race before the Murray Bridge Gold Cup.

Forrest was semi-conscious and responsive when airlifted to hospital, but her condition deteriorated and she died from her injuries overnight.

Horrific four horse fall.

Horrific four horse fall.

Adrian Patterson (El Prado Gold), Justin Potter (Ethbaal) and Libby Hopwood (Barigan Boy) were all flung to the turf as well when Forrest’s mount Collo Voce stumbled on the turn. Collo Voce was put down, but the other three horses regained their footing after the fall.

Forrest’s death came just a day after Queensland jockey Carly-Mae Pye died from injuries she sustained when a horse she was riding in a Rockhampton jump out on Monday broke both its front legs.

Race clubs across the country flew flags at half mast and jockeys wore black armbands on Wednesday in the wake of Pye’s death.

Tributes are flowing on social media for Forrest, who was considered a top prospect in the saddle after notching up 44 wins last season.

Caitlin and her partner, fellow jockey Scott Westover - the other tragic fact, of course, is the young age of so many of those killed in sport.

Caitlin and her partner, fellow jockey Scott Westover – the other tragic fact, of course, is the young age of so many of those killed in sport.

“She was there when I was starting my stable, she worked closely together with myself and Kelly and she was really part of our family,” said trainer Sam Kavanagh, who took in Forrest while she was learning her craft.

“She comes from a racing family, her dad Darren rode worked for dad and myself and her mum Yvonne broke in horses for us. We watched her grow up and my heart goes out to them and her partner Scott [Westover].

“I can still remember giving her her first ride in a trial and a race, she was always happy and had a great sense of humour. She had a great attitude and a great love for all animals.

“She was a very good young jockey and had it all in front of her, so it is just very tough to think she is gone.”

Forrest’s death has sparked calls for a complete review of Australian racing, which has lost four female jockeys in 14 months. Simone Montgomerie died after falling on Darwin Cup day in August last year while mother-of-two Desiree Gill died after tumbling from a mount on the Sunshine Coast in November.

At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk we strongly doubt that racing of any kind can ever be made totally risk free. We have recently seen a near death on the Formula 1 circuit, a death on the Nascar circuit, last year a death in international cycling, and various very sad accidents in the ski-ing world. And it’s not just racing: for racing, read football of all kinds – read rugby, Aussie Rules especially – ice hockey, and more.

But we cannot, surely, do more than to make these sports “as safe as possible”? It would be an immeasurably poorer world were people stopped for pursuing the sports they love because there is an element of danger in them. Caitlin’s death – the death of any sportsperson – is a bitter tragedy, but it should also be said that a tiny percentage of sportspeople die in pursuit of their dreams.

Professional jockeys put their lives on the line more than most, though, and today we salute them all for their skills and for the mesmerising excitement they bring to millions. They deserve every cent they make.

Our deepest sympathy to all who grieve.

Sydney Morning Herald and others

sleepy pilotWhen we first arrived in Australia some 25 plus years ago, our first experience of flying inside the country was from a small airport in Cairns, when we were heading to the very pretty Dunk Island for a few days unashamed luxury.

A small bunch of us sat and sat, and sat, and sat some more, until in the end they actually paged the flight crew. They duly wandered out of the bar. As one of our fellow passengers commented, “Well, they might have been drinking orange juice.” He didn’t look convinced, though.

It was a very small plane. Our communal confidence was not increased when the co-pilot (who was flying) asked the pilot which way to go. The pilot scrabbled through his maps for a minute, before admitting he’d left the maps behind. “Look out of the window, follow the road” was his advice to the co-pilot. Which is exactly what the co-pilot did: opened the window and stuck his head out. As you do.

Anyhow, an ex airline pilot wrote an interesting article on Yahoo about the stuff that goes on in the cockpit that passengers really don’t want to know about. This segment of article jumped out at us, especially the last bit (in bold). Seems like good advice to us:

Prior to 1978, each airline worked out schedules with its pilots to accommodate the routes the airline flew while protecting the pilots from undue fatigue. But after 1978’s deregulation, all that changed. Competition between airlines became so fierce that pilots were forced to fly more hours with less rest. Fatigue led to accidents. At the beginning of this year, new rules established by the FAA and supposedly based on scientific study, went into effect which gave pilots a reasonable amount of uninterrupted rest between days of flying, but increased the number of hours a two-pilot crew could fly per day from eight to nine hours!

Under these new pseudoscientific rules, a pilot who reports for duty at 7am can be on duty for 14 hours. That may sound reasonable until you consider that being at work at 7am may mean getting up at 3am, leaving home at 4am, and driving two hours to the airport. That allows only 20 minutes for traffic and 40 minutes to catch the bus from crew parking to the terminal. Your pilot can be forced to work until 9pm, 18 hours after waking up — if lucky — from five to six hours of sleep.

According to research done in Australia, a person who has driven more than eight hours has the same ability to function as a person with a blood-alcohol level of .05. The research also showed a person who has been awake for 18 hours function like a person with a blood alcohol of .05. What does that say about your pilot who is landing the plane after flying nine hours or being up 18 hours?

Pilots are stuck with the new rules, and no matter how fatigued a pilot may be, refusing to fly means big trouble. As a pilot, you don’t fly fatigued, you can’t keep your job. Don’t expect things to get better.

So, if you want a pilot who is fully awake after a full night’s sleep, don’t fly earlier than 10am.

If you want to be sure your pilot’s performance is better than a drunk driver, steer clear of short flights after 7pm.

Longer domestic flights and international flights that depart after 7pm are not a problem in this regard because on such flights pilots are usually beginning their work day.

Red HijabThe nightmare of a terrorist attack on innocent Australians?

No. That has started already. It has been going on for years, and it will go on for years. It may never end. As long as some marginalised nutter can find a knife, a bomb or a gun, innocent people here and overseas will always be at risk.

No: what we face now is the nightmare of random abusive attacks on entirely innocent people just because of their dress, or their religion. Victims of the hysteria whipped up around IS and other groups, not least by our own government – for shame – and certainly by the media, and the Murdoch tabloid media especially.

In Melbourne last week a Muslim woman was bashed and pushed from a moving train in a vicious racist attack.

Police say the 26-year-old victim was standing near the door on an Upfield line train when a woman approached her and started making racist remarks.

The culprit then allegedly grabbed the victim by the neck and hair and repeatedly slammed her head into the wall of the carriage.

She then pushed the victim off the train as it pulled into Batman railway station, police said.

Police are hoping to speak to two men who approached the woman to offer help after the attack last Thursday.

Police do have a description of the attacker.

She has unusual light-coloured eye brows, short dark hair and a heavy build.

She was wearing baggy jeans, a puffy hooded top and runners.

The incident was captured on CCTV and police are now in the process of reviewing the footage.

We sincerely trust a severe example is made of this scum, who behaves as if 200 years of civilised decency had not produced, in Australia, a country which is uniquely racially content, even in today’s fraught climate.

We are a decent people – our country was built on immigration and always will be. Here, we do not judge people by who they are but by what they are – by the efforts they contribute to wrest a living from this challenging country. We welcome people from anywhere and everywhere.

Yes, there is naked racism in Australia. We are not naive. There is in every country on the face of the planet. But it is much less persistent or obvious than in most other places, and certainly in equivalent Western countries.

Let us make an example of this attacker – as a community, we say “no further”. Stop this insanity before it starts. Women all over the country are reporting abuse and worse as they walk the streets.

Not here. Not in our name. Not in Australia.

 

 

plane

If only he WAS going to be flying one of the jets, Abbott might not be quite so enthusiastic.

In the last couple of weeks, we have watched dismayed as Australia has become perhaps the most gung ho of all the world’s nations waiting to wade in and “stop” IS – the so-called Islamic “State”.

Let there be no mistake – we also think these appalling thugs need expunging from the world, and as soon as practicable.

But we are alarmed and worried by the enthusiasm with which the Australian government – especially Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop – have not just fallen in lock-step with our Western allies. but have been seen to be stoking the fires of conflict with a triumphalist air that amounts to “Look at us, we’re strong leaders, and you want strong leaders, right?”

We are undoubtedly already seeing the first signs of a deeply unpopular government using the conflict to bolster its electoral fortunes – a so-called “khaki election” looms – and given that our bravura chest-beating almost certainly increases the likelihood of a terrorist attack against Australians, that’s a very risky card to play. Nevertheless, for a Prime Minister with a Government that has proven itself both tone-deaf and gaffe-laden, the conflict with IS is the gift that keeps on giving. “Hey! Let’s all stop worrying about Medicare co-payments and go BOMB something, already!”

This rhetorical style has been echoed to a lesser extent by Cameron in the UK and the Republicans in America, especially the surely past-pensionable John McCain, but much less so by a carefully-nuanced President Obama. It’s almost as if Barack phoned Tony and Dave and said “Ramp it up a bit, will ya, cobbers? We’re a bit bruised over here and I have to be a more laid back.” Surely not?

There’s no question that IS are pretty much the worst of the worst going round at the moment, but let us be absolutely clear what their murderous public tactics are designed to achieve. These are people playing a long game, who have no respect or care for their own lives or for others. They are trying to drag the democratic West, against which they have a visceral, systemic hatred, into a seemingly endless conflict in a war zone where the alliances and influences shift weekly, and where the sectarian divisions are about as deep as it is possible to find them. It’s virtually impossible to “pick winners” in this environment, because this week’s ally is last week’s mortal enemy. As even Abbott himself once presciently remarked about Syria, “it’s a choice between baddies and baddies”.

We have already seen America co-operating with Iran and Russia to attack IS – both countries currently under sanctions and blockades from the West. We have seen America calling openly for Iran to aid in the fight against IS, despite the fact that they already are, a call that has been rejected by the top Ayotollah, despite the fact that this is exactly what they are already doing.

We have moved from being a day away from air strikes against Assad in Syria (thankfully averted when it became clear that the gas attacks on the Syrian public were probably carried out by rebels, and perhaps that the White House knew that all along, and even allegedly that the rebels were deliberately encouraged to do so, under Western guidance) to now cautiously needing to support him against IS, which will lead to the partial abandonment of the non-extremist Syrian opposition, or what may be even more bizarre, the joining of Assad with his former enemies to create a newly viable Syrian state to defeat the IS and Al Nusra insurgents.

How anyone is supposed to conduct a sane rational policy in this environment is beyond us. It’s a floating, shifting miasma of shifting lines, and we see no end to it. We are reasonably sure, though, that bellicose trumpeting is the least helpful thing we can do, especially as we have no idea how that plays amongst the general public in the contested regions.

What IS knows is that in this confused environment, mistakes can and will happen. IS and their backers know that the first time a bunker buster hits a school in Mosul there will be a flood of worldwide sympathy from both within the Sunni Muslim community and without it, and there’ll be a fresh rash of recruits flooding to a simpler, less complex view of the world than that offered by democracy. The angst and confusion created by the Israeli bombardment of Gaza will be seen to be just a shadow of what’s going to happen in northern Iraq and parts of Syria. Indeed, the mistakes (and concomitant slaughter of innocent civilians) are already happening, even if they’re not being widely reported in mainstream media.

Is there any question Bishop sees this as her chance to leap Malcom Turnbull and become Abbott's obvious replacement? We think not. Mind you, if we could win wars just with her "death stare", we'd be home and hosed. She scares the hell out of us, wonder what she does to IS?

Is there any question Bishop sees this conflict – and that with Russia in the Ukraine – as her chance to leap Turnbull and become Abbott’s most obvious replacement? We think not. Mind you, if we could win wars just with her “death stare”, we’d be home and hosed. She scares the hell out of us, wonder what she does to IS?

But that’s only the half of it. We cannot deploy hundreds of Australian troops (and thousands of Americans) plus people from all parts of the globe, and not expect some of them to fall into IS hands.

If we see that the road to war has been greased by the appalling executions of journalists and aid workers, not to mention the mass slaughter of civilians, Peshmerga and Iraqi army fighters, then imagine what will happen the first time video is released of a clean-cut Aussie or Yank fighter pilot or special forces hero having his head clumsily sawn off for the camera.

The calls for “boots on the ground” would surely become irresistible, especially if a newly-bolstered Iraqi army makes no discernible progress in recapturing rebel-held areas, or in forming a more broadly based Government capable of yoiking together Sunni and Shia in a workable state.

Having failed once to pacify Iraq, there is little doubt that we are very close to being dragged into the same maelstrom again, with a side serve of Syria and for all we know Lebanon and God knows where else as as well. We do not purport to know what the answer is – although one thing we cannot understand is why the Arab states, who are at least as much at risk from IS as anyone else, especially Saudi Arabia, cannot be prevailed upon to play a much more intrinsic role – perhaps they are so aware of the powder keg many of them sit upon that they dare not risk enraging them by sending ground troops to attack the Sunni IS as 85-90% of Saudis are Sunni – but as a start we could at least begin by not looking so goddamned happy to be heading off to war again.

We are not alone in our caution, which frankly borders on despair. This excellent opinion piece by experienced Middle East hand Paul McGeogh in the Sydney Morning Herald deserves to be widely read. His neat skewering of the lack of Arab co-operation, the unseemly rush to attack and the lack of an exit strategy (yet again) is spot on, and echoes our own concerns.

war sheepIt seems to us that only those who have actually fought wars show real reluctance to engage in them again. That is rarely politicians, especially those who have spent their entirely career crawling slowly up the political ladder.

Having seen the slaughter of innocents, the gore, the messy incompleteness of most military solutions, military men are almost invariably more cautious before setting off to the trenches once more.

But politicians revel in the limelight. It’s that set jaw, that gleam in the eye, the grimly-expressed determination. Not a hint of doubt, or worry, or regret. Nothing is allowed to ruffle their seeming purposefulness.

The prelude to war always looks to us like people with their egos way out of control about to play roulette with other people’s lives, and right now, it sure as hell looks that way again.

For reasons which need not concern us here, we were this morning browsing the Victorian Police crime statistics for the last year on offer, 2012-13.

We came across this staggeringly depressing statistic:

Incidence of rape against minors

This year 542 +0.71%

Last year 538

Incidence of rape against adults

This year 1,106 +1.5

Last year 1,090

child abuseYou might imagine, Dear Reader, that we are about to fulminate against the growth in the incidence of rape in both cases, in a sort of Colonel Mustard-like “Disgusted of Tonbridge Wells” manner.

But although we deplore the fact that the figures are rising rather than falling, we suspect the slight rise recorded is due to natural population growth.

 

Yes, we would have hoped that we would be seeing a steady decline in these stats, given that we are all supposed to be becoming more “aware” of the disgusting nature of sexual violence. But it appears it is a very slow process.

Something for those with the purse strings of Government advertising budgets to consider, perhaps.

We should see all domestic violence and rape and sexual assault as part of the same patriarchal continuum, and until men take it seriously, it will continue.

But what really horrifies is the raw number of more than 500 rapes against children in a year. Coming up for one-third of all rapes.

500? Five HUNDRED?

How many of these are against sexually active teenagers isn’t the point.

Rape is rape, it is never justified, and no excuses or attempted slut-shaming of the victims is ever acceptable. And although they were all against people who are legally children, ie under 18, and so there will be some mid-teens in there, it’s a pound to a penny that many of these crimes were against what you and I would recognise as children. Kids. Little tackers.

And this is the REPORTED cases. Ye Gods, the mind boggles. Unreported cases would run into the thousands.

Given the high profile given to many of these types of cases in the UK in particular, and in the various enquiries into child abuse in Australia, especially involving religious and community organisations, not to mention the recent brouhaha in the UK press about whether or not there was a high-level pedophile ring operating at the top of British Government (involving, allegedly, those close to at least two Prime Ministers, and perhaps even one (now deceased) Prime Minister), we simply suck in our breath in disgust and horror that this most avoidable and heinous of crimes, which leaves lives shattered sometimes beyond repair, is so persistent and pernicious despite the obvious fact that for the offenders the advice is utterly simple and unavoidable: don’t.

Just don’t. Do something else for your kicks, don’t do that. They are KIDS, for fuck’s sake.

To steal the innocence from a child, to betray their trust, to warp and bend that child’s value system until it is unrecognisable, to sometimes terrify the child into silence: these are crimes which demand the most urgent enquiry and vigilance, and an unrelenting determination to root out the offenders. Not one adult offender in this area can possibly imagine, for one moment, that their activities are anything more nor less than utterly destructive and illegal.

We must be unyielding in our attempts to cure this plague. Period. Full stop. That’s it. End of.

(Post scriptum: this article obviously talks about Victoria, Australia. I would be very happy to publish statistics from elsewhere if you can look them up. I urge you to find out how prevalent this crime is in YOUR community. And if you know of a community where it is LESS prevalent, perhaps we can all learn why.)

Much to ponder. From rooster to feather duster in under a year?

Much to ponder. From rooster to feather duster in under a year?

 

Bad news for Tony Abbott and the Coalition continues today with the publishing of another poll that shows just how dramatically the Liberal and National parties have slumped since 2013’s election.

The latest poll shows the Abbott government is now a full 10 points below its election-winning vote. This is way beyond mere “out of honeymoon” blues.

The Newspoll, published in The Australian on Tuesday, puts Labor ahead of the coalition 55-45 per cent in the two-party preferred vote, a further depressing drop of two points for the coalition since the previous poll two weeks ago.

Primary support for the coalition is also down two points to 35 per cent, from 37 per cent, while Labor is up one point to 37 per cent – two points ahead of the coalition. This result would have seemed impossible in the dark days when Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd were engaged in their death struggle. It remains to be seen if Tony Abbott goes down in history as the only man capable of breathing new life into the Labor corpse which seemed crucified, dead, buried, with multiple stakes through it’s heart and then cremated such a short while ago. That they are even competitive again so soon is startling.

It’s not all good news for Labor. Outflanked on the left, the Greens have also gained three points in the primary vote – up to 13 per cent.

Voter dissatisfaction with Tony Abbott has reached the highest level since he became prime minister, 62 per cent, and is his worst personal result since November 2012, The Australian reports. With his approval rating at 31 per cent, Mr Abbott’s net approval of minus 31 points is the worst for a prime minister since Julia Gillard scored minus 34 points just days before she was replaced by Kevin Rudd in June last year, when she was widely considered to be leading the Labor Party to certain disaster. It will not have escaped Liberal and National backbenchers that Abbott now appears to be doing the same.

 

They also serve who only sit and wait. Is that just the hint of a smile?

They also serve who only sit and wait. Is that just the hint of a smile?

 

Whether Abbott’s vast slump into extreme unpopularity will prove enough of a motive for the hard heads in the Liberal Party to replace him with the much more moderate Malcolm Turnbull remains to be seen. We have always been of the view, even before the last election, that Turnbull would be Prime Minister before Christmas 2014. Abbott is both simply too relentlessly self-satisfied and negative to play the role of Prime Minister, a job which requires the ability to reach across the aisle to independents and natural Labor supporters to build a centrists’ coalition.

Abbot is not a conservative. He is not a “one nation” Tory. He is a radical right winger – a born-again Thatcherite, his idol in his youth. As such, he was never going to sit well in power with the essentially small-C conservative Australian public. We are seeing the hubris of Nick Minchin and others on the hard right coming home to roost. They wanted their boy – they got him up by one vote – and now he is proving to be manifestly un-re-electable. A great opposition leader doth not a great prime minister necessarily make. They might have won less big had Turnbull remained at the helm (they might have won bigger, too), but they would have won more enduringly.

Labor leader Bill Shorten has also regained a 10-point lead as better Prime Minister that he took after the budget – on 44 per cent, with Mr Abbott on 34 per cent. We do not believe he is yet “popular” – he has neither the common working man’s touch of a Bob Hawke or the swaggering certainty of a Paul Keating. But he has hardly put a foot wrong yet, revealing that he has both a good “ear” and a smart brain. His meek persona also contrasts nicely with Abbott’s arrogance.

It is well-known that Shorten wishes to keep his powder somewhat dry, and not to “knee-jerk” to every mistake or missed step from the Coalition. Thus former federal Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan played Shorten’s stalking horse yesterday when said Liberal-National Party backbenchers were too gutless to speak out against the “savage cuts” in the budget, which he sees as reflected in the Newspoll. “If they had any decency, they’d be standing up in the party room and holding the LNP to the promises they made to the people of Australia at the last election but they’re not because they’re gutless,” he told reporters in Brisbane. “There’s no spine in the LNP backbench either at the state level or the federal level. They sit back and meekly accept the savage cuts … which are going to hurt the peace of mind and welfare of families right across Australia.” You can expect to hear a lot more of that as each and every Budget action wends its way trhough the legislative process.

To be fair, Swan was probably speaking from the heart, too. As a Labor backbencher during the early 1990s, Mr Swan led a revolt against the Keating government’s unpopular post-election budget that increased taxes.

Anyhow, the next few months will be interesting indeed. From being one of the most successful Opposition leaders the Liberals have produced in a long time, Abbott may well go down as their most unsuccessful Prime Minister. A recalcitrant Senate filled with newly hopeful Labor and Green representatives is now replaced with one with even greater complexity. At first blush, the new Senate looks like a more amenable one for Abbott. But appearances can be deceiving. Clive Palmer, for example, knows full well that supine agreement with the Government – any Government – would render his populist message irrelevant. There’s no point being “anti” the establishment and then joining it, as the Australian Democrats discovered over the GST, and the Liberal Democrats in the UK and the Free Democrats in Germany can attest more recently.

We can therefore expect regular little eruptions of rebellion from Palmer and his mates, and watching his eye for publicity and gesture politics one can expect those rebellions to be on core issues, such as the politically smart agreement to scrap the unpopular carbon tax and return the dividend to ordinary voters as a reduction in household costs. And if they aren’t core issues, he will trumpet them as such, anyway. And every time he lays a glove on the Government, Abbott will not only look dumb, but weak. A terrible combination.

The essential problem that Abbott faces is that by manufacturing a financial crisis out of a structural deficit (which is not, after all, the same thing) he has critically reduced his room for manoeuvre. As a result, he is now stuck with slogging round the country telling everyone, basically, bad news, for at least the next 18 months.

He might even have pulled that off if his presentation, and that of his very lacklustre Treasurer Joe Hockey, had been less simultaneously preachily self-congratulatory and ham-fisted. But apart from his suddenly incoherent and uncertain delivery (has any senior politician anywhere in the world ever said “Er” so often?) he has also wedged himself by a serious of actions that were never going to get through the Senate, and which were guaranteed to appear mean and un-necessary.

The most obvious example is the GP co-payment, which looks and smacks like nothing more than soak the poor, and should never have been advanced in a month of Sundays. But once advanced, it was not “sold”, beyond a repeated mantra that this was somehow “for the good of the country”. Scores of worried little old ladies and the chronically ill duly queued up on talk-back radio stations of all political inclinations to tearfully ask what would become of them now they couldn’t afford to go to see their doctor. The message that the co-payment was theoretically designed to be capped at a maximum of $70 a year completely failed to cut through. Once again, the central Liberal Party message-meisters and their political puppets have been shown to be far less competent and aware than they are often painted.

Denis Napthine. If he's not careful, Abbott will do for him, too.

Denis Napthine. If he’s not careful, Abbott will do for him, too.

(A similar problem assails the Victorian Liberal and National Parties, where two years of good financial management and the resulting announcement of the biggest-ever infrastructure spending program in the State’s history – in any State’s history, actually – is being completely overwhelmed by the unpopularity of the Abbott Government. Liberal and National Party publicists seem at a loss to know how to punch their message through. (There’s a clue in this paragraph by the way, boys.) Meanwhile Denis Napthine despairs in his eyrie and Daniel Andrews hugs himself with glee, saying very little, cheerfully waiting to fall into office. But that’s another story.)

Those surrounding Abbott need to understand this: it’s one thing to drag down an unpopular Prime Minister in whom trust has been lost. It’s quite another to sell a swingeing austerity package that very few people think is needed in the first place.

They – and he – need to lift their game very fast, or yibbidah yibbidah, that’s all folks.

 

 

We'd like Holland to go all the way in this World Cup. Just, you know. Because.

We’d like Holland to go all the way in this World Cup. Just, you know. Because.

OK, Dear Reader, I have decided on the job I want in my next life.

Don't think we can bring ourselves to support Argentina for any reason. Then again ...

Don’t think we can bring ourselves to support Argentina for any reason. Then again …

It’s to be the guy who sits in a football stadium with a pair of binoculars as a “spotter” for the cameramen for those inevitable cutaway shots of beautiful scantily-dressed 18-25 year old women who are cheerfully sitting there looking stunning while they holler and hoot for the country, all festooned in team colours with their faces painted with flags and a big grin on their face. See, someone has that job. It’s not the Director, because he’s too busy looking at the overall coverage of the game, including those oh-so-vital flashes of “colour” – that’s what it’s called in the trade. You know the ones: the crying eight year old boy watching his life get ruined forever as his heroes ignominiously crash out of the tournament, the great tub of lard with no shirt, worker’s shorts and a sombrero clutching a vuvezela and a bottle of what looks suspiciously like what you’re not allowed to take into the ground, and, of course, the wannabee supermodels who have taken a day off their relentless rise to glamour stardom to bounce up and down looking all jiggly and happy while their boyfriends explain the offside rule to them. And it’s not the cameramen finding them either. Coz they’re pointing their cameras where they’re told to. Nope, there’s actually someone whose job it is just to scan the crowd and find the young ladies (80-90% of the job, I reckon), and just occasionally a crying kid or a nearly-naked middle-aged man so we’re not all bailed up for just being a bunch of dirty old pervs. We could do that. Giz a job, Mister.

Apparently this young lady from Korea is an instant sensation in Asia. And she thought she was just going to the footy.

Apparently this young lady from Korea is an instant sensation in Asia. And she thought she was just going to the footy.

Hey: it’s dirty work, but someone’s got to do it. Here’s an example of the process. http://www.sooziq.com/11964/world-cup-cameraman-impossibly-finds-the-pretty-girl-in-the-crowd/. Why anyone would think we’d want to look at her instead of some gigantic black guy in a Nigerian shirt I can’t imagine.

A young lady from Denmark. We tried all the puns we could think of about horns but couldn't come up with any that would be publishable on a nice blog. You do the math.

A young lady from Switzerland. Oh, those crazy, whacky Swiss. We tried all the puns we could think of about horns but couldn’t come up with any that would be publishable on a nice blog. You do the math.

 

We are reminded that some years ago a very funny video circulated via email of a couple having awkward sex waaaay up at the top of a stand at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, thereby fulfilling two of Australia’s obsessions – sex and sport – in one convenient time-efficient hit. Should you need to, you can see it here:

http://www.ebaumsworld.com/video/watch/80740298/. Oh go on, you may as well see it if you haven’t already.

Colombia are doing expectedly well at this World Cup and garnering a lot of interest. Can't imagine why.

Colombia are doing expectedly well at this World Cup and garnering a lot of interest. Can’y imagine why.

It’s quite tame and rather funny, though probably still not safe for work – but that will depend on your work, I guess. What you can’t hear on this webpage, which you could on the version of the clip that circulated by email, is the amused banter between the Director and the cameraman. “They are, you know.” “Nah, they couldn’t be.” “They bloody are.” So funny to think that they’re probably now married with kids – either to each other or someone else – and in relatively senior professional jobs, we bet. Ah, the careless joys of yoof.

Australia have been, er, holding their end up. So to speak.

Australia have been working hard, er, holding their end up. So to speak.

Anyhow, the young ladies of the World Cup are altogether tamer, but so much nicer for it, too. Bright young lasses all of them,
to be sure. Bringing a little light relief to the fevered tensions of the game, and all quite innocently. And that, M’lud, explains why we were in the crowd with our binoculars trained on the young lady from Columbia in Row ZZ 17 and we conclude the case for the defence. Talent spotting in crowds has a long and honourable (ahem) history, of course.

*mops brow* Pammie does her first TV commerical. Photo: Tumblr

*mops brow* Pammie does her first TV commerical.
Photo: Tumblr

Belgium’s most famous teen is not the first to shoot to global stardom after being spotted in the crowd.

In 1989 a certain Pamela Anderson, then a fitness instructor, attended a local football game in Canada.Footage of the blonde on screen was well received and her success with Playboy ensued.

The rest, as they say, is popular cultural history.

And more recently supermodel Kate Upton found fame after a friend uploaded a video of Upton dancing in the stands at an LA Clippers game.

Meanwhile, here is further evidence, should it be needed, of why England, compared to the rest of the world, are really just a bunch of losers.

Right.

Right.

 

cyber bullyingWe are a big fan of this innovative and effective little TV spot, and not least because it was written and directed by an esteemed colleague.

It’s also emphatic evidence that a big idea trumps a big budget every time.

Sometimes a really strong idea can be produced for peanuts and still go on to change the world – commercially, or socially. This is one such ad.

We’d love you, Dear Reader, to spread its message widely.

Now it’s going to get a run on Channels 1, 10, 7 and 11 on Aussie TV, which is just a great result. You can read the story of the genesis of the campaign here.

http://www.campaignbrief.com/2014/06/bully-zero-australia-foundatio.html

Not all ad men are wankers. Well done, Pat.

Migrants arrive in Australia

Australia is a nation of immigrants. But why is immigration such a “hot button” topic around the world?

 

Recent events have us believe, Dear Reader, that we are in the tiny minority of people who actually welcome immigration to … Australia, Europe, America … and elsewhere.

In the EU, anti-immigration sentiment is running so strongly that right wing parties which previously would not have been given headspace have soared to unlikely prominence in the recent Euro elections, especially in France and Britain, but also in Denmark and elsewhere.

So why is this mood so prevalent at the moment?

It is simply, in our opinion, because it is so easy to mis-handle migrant programmes and annoy the host communities, and also because migrants become an easy target when people become disgruntled generally. And generally disgruntled many people undoubtedly are, with the stresses of the failures of a fundamentally de-regulated capitalist system (especially in America) manifesting itself as a “Global Financial Crisis” which is still reverberating through the world’s economies.

Let us take the first point first.

When waves of migrants land in a particular country, whether it is Chadians in Italy, Algerians in France, Turks in Germany, Poles in the UK, Latinos in America or Afghans in Australia, the Government needs to demonstrate that the society is capable of absorbing those waves comfortably.

A rally in New York protesting cuts in English as a Second Language classes and other adult literacy services.

A rally in New York protesting cuts in English as a Second Language classes and other adult literacy services.

It needs to actively sell the advantages the migrants bring with them, and to put in place rigorous and thorough integration programmes to both inculcate local values to the new migrants (eg an explanation of and belief in democracy if they come from countries with authoritarian governments, trust and confidence in the police, an explanation of how social support systems work, top up education where required, an introduction to local business norms, and, above all, host language classes) and to reassure the locals that the things they hold dearest are not going to be watered down or abolished.

These are areas in which Australia leads the world, at one time a generation ago having the clarion call “Populate or Perish!”, and it is no surprise that Australia absorbs immigrants with more seeming ease than almost anywhere else on the planet.

For example, there is almost no anti-Islamic sentiment in Australia, despite the current levels of tension between the Islamic world and the West (I say almost, because to pretend there is none would simply be a lie, it exists on the fringes as virulently as anywhere else), and this is in start contrast to the much more overt mutual loathing and suspicion of many in the Muslim community and the host communities in Britain and France, for example.

It seems to us that one of the worst signals a Government can send is to allow “ghetto-isation”, to wit, the geographic concentration of ethnic groups, with high expectations but low levels of genuine opportunity, and especially when they do not share the host country’s language. The people who live in those areas might welcome the variety that comes with it – the new shops, restaurants, looks, sounds and smells – but they are just as likely, depending on the scale of the immigration and its clash with the local culture, to be angered and unsettled by it. And in this respect, even Australia has shown itself to be less than imaginative.

It is not racist to acknowledge this reality. It is annoyingly politically correct, and stupid, to ignore it.

When Government ignores it, people vote with their feet. They often leave the areas concerned (increasing the effects of ghetto-isation) and wax lyrical about how they were “pushed out”, “overwhelmed”, “driven away”. Those who listen to them, who may not have experienced anything negative at all personally, are understandably concerned for their fellow host nationals. They then become easy fodder for those who prey on people’s fears of the unknown. One plus one becomes two then ten then a hundred and ten, and before you know it, a whole set of anxieties about immigration in general have grown up.

Populist parties, to continue to point two, then seize on this generalised anxiety and target migrant groups as a means of crystallising anti-Government sentiment. They could care less if they cause harm to the civic body: they seek power. Hitler was the ultimate exemplar of this process, but his egregious sins have been repeated, to some extent or other, all over the world, both before and since.

Over time, even ghetto-isation fixes itself, because in reality, of course, immigration does not equate to lowered economic results – rather the opposite. Survey after survey shows that migrants tend to work harder and be more entrepreneurial than their host nationality, they make a net contribution to levels of economic activity, and are socially more mobile than the locals. The ghettos become steadily better off, and the occupants move out to the leafy suburbs, while those that stay behind turn the area into a well-regulated locale with their own cultural flavour. (The Chinatowns of the world are the easiest example to grasp.) As it becomes clear that the whole area is not going to hell in a hand-basket, so it gradually becomes more diverse again, (with the children of the host nation often moving into lower-cost accommodation in the newly gentrified ghetto) and it forms a more comfortable relationship with the neighbouring boroughs.

 

An anti-immigration billboard in Zurich, Switzerland. And if that looks disturbingly familiar, that's because it is.

An anti-immigration billboard in Zurich, Switzerland. And if that looks disturbingly familiar, that’s because it is.

 

What saddens us about the generalised debate about immigration is that it becomes a catch all discussion for debates that are really about economics.

Invariably, immigrant communities make a stunning contribution to their local society, (the research is unanimous), driven by both ambition and their unique skills. Where would America’s track and field team be without African Americans, where would its music be without African and Latino influence, (where would world music be, for that matter), how would any English Premier League team field a side without descendants of West Indian migrants in it, where would Australian science, gastronomy and architecture be without the immigrants from Europe after the war, and so on and so on? Ad infinitum.

Indeed, one could argue that many countries of the world still celebrate elements of their former colonial overlords – which could be viewed as forced immigration, if you like – where would India be without its system of Government and law? In Vietnam they still idolise French cakes and pastries, in Singapore the mercantile system, and so on and so on, again ad infinitum.

It is this point we wish to stress. The mingling of races, cultures, religions and peoples is as old as humanity itself, and it is actually, more often than not, a spur to progress and positive evolution. Yes, it can create stresses and tensions, but it should not be beyond our wit and wisdom to ameliorate those, and certainly not beyond our ability to counter the toxic propaganda of those who argue fiercely and frequently ignorantly about the role that migrants play. It is all about a steady, unspectacular exercise of the political will. To often, though, our spineless politicians quake and quiver in the face of ignorance, lacking the leadership ability to win the contest of ideas.

In 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote these words. In 1903 they were engraved on the Statue of Liberty.

COLOSSUS

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me …”

How did we ever stray so far from ideals like that?

 

The Ainger Award winners from 2013 - last night was the 2014 final.

The Ainger Award winners from 2013 – last night was the 2014 final.

 

Your indefatigable correspondent has been given over to these ponderings in the last 24 hours because we have just finished judging the Ainger Awards, a competition for public speaking for teenagers in Melbourne.

Over 100 youngsters stepped up to the plate and spoke on any topic they liked for four high-pressure minutes, from new technology and how it blinds us to the world around us, to the plight of the disadvantaged native peoples of the world, to the position of women in society, to their inability to drive or relate to the opposite sex, their fascination with space travel to their love of words.

Over four heats and a final, the brightest and best young people from a host of Melbourne schools dazzled and occupied us with their intellectual capacity, their passion, and their empathy for the world around them. It is the fourth time we have participated, and it was, as always, inspirational. There is a blessed naiveté in the young that we should do everything to preserve as long into adulthood as we can. Theirs is a world of moral imperatives, or problems that can and should be righted, of moments that should be seized, or barriers that must be broken down. The wary and weary cynicism of adulthood is yet to invade their tired limbs and minds, and we are all the better for it. We should listen to them more.

What really struck me, though, in a quiet moment, was their ethnicity. As the Chairman of the judges, it was our role to announce each speaker, and more than once we simply could not divine how to pronounce their surnames. Impossibly complicated names from Iran, India, Sri Lanka, Albania, Russia, Ukraine, Kenya, Nigeria, China and Vietnam. It is a noticeable trend that increases every year, reflecting the variety of immigration into the country.

With a cheerful smile they would correct our stumbling attempt and then deliver their speech, sometimes in heavily accented English, and sometimes in perfect Aussie English, showing that their parents had been the immigrants and they were born here. To a boy and girl, they watched their fellow students with polite and rapt attention, applauded furiously, and chatted cheerfully to each other in the breaks. Reflecting, no doubt, the character of their school life, they were very obviously and completely oblivious to the ethnic background of their fellow contestants.

The kid from Russia talked, with a strong accent, of his magnificent stumbles and struggles to learn English and of how he appreciated the opportunities available in his new country. And yet here, also, in the blink of an eye, was already the cliched version of a perfectly-formed Aussie – tall, lithe of limb, blonde, an amiable ambling giant, modest and shy in company but with a ready smile.

The pocket-rocket daughter of an African immigrant delivered a riveting piece on concepts of self and identity, challenging us to look beyond the surface of people to understand their needs, their drives, exactly what it is that makes an individual. Immediately one could see her successfully prosecuting a case at the Bar, or leading some seminal social studies research.

And the winner, the child of Hare Krisna immigrants from Northern India, had us laughing our pants off with a humorous confection of “Things that annoy” me, delivered in perfect accentless English, but with a gleaming smile and confident swagger that could have been imported direct from the can-do markets of Madras. We confidently expect him to head a major corporation one day.

His parents, vegetarians, quietly and with great dignity, knowing that they were unlikely to be catered for but not wishing to make a fuss with the waiting staff, brought tupperware containers of their own food to the silver-service white napkin- and candle-laden table. They politely insisted we share their “paneer”, little cubes of cheese nestling with diced courgettes in a delicious lightly-spiced tomato gravy, which complemented the rubber chicken the hotel served us perfectly – saved it, in fact. Their generosity was as unforced as it was moving.

We have been given over to pondering, who wouldn’t want these people in their society? These driven, uncompromising teenagers. Their smiling, polite, and patently obviously decent parents, sacrificing, one does not doubt, some of the creature comforts of life to ensure their kids get a decent education in their new land.

As we left, the mother of the Russian boy, who didn’t win, by the by, pressed a small plastic key ring into my hand, with the Kremlin on one side and St Basil’s on the other. She patted herself on the chest and told me her name with a big grin. Then she indicated the keyring. “Moscow! Moscow! Hello to Moscow!” she beamed at me. “Spasibo!” I replied, to her obvious delight. Her son asked me to sign his speech notes. “I am not a rock star!” I protested. “To me you are,” he smiled, quietly.

I signed his speech, and then turned to congratulate the girl with Ukrainian parents who had just delivered the best exposition of society’s need for a rational, sane but determined feminism that I had heard in a decade. She pumped my hand with thanks as I urged her to smash through the glass ceiling when inevitably she came up against it, how it was as much in womens’ heads as it was in men’s hearts, and how inspirational I found her speech and how I hoped she remembered it when that day inevitably came.

And then I hurriedly left before my watery eyes betrayed how proud I was of all of them. My fellow Australians. Who wouldn’t want these people here?

Not me. I want more like them. Am I really alone?

ImageMany mental illnesses are as bad for you as smoking, research has suggested.

Life expectancy for people with mental health problems is less than for heavy smokers, experts have found.

Serious mental illness can reduce a person’s life expectancy by 10 to 20 years, when the average reduction in life expectancy for heavy smokers is eight to 10 years, according to researchers from Oxford University.

But critically, mental health has not been the same public health priority as smoking, they said.

The study, published in the journal World Psychiatry, analysed previous research on mortality risk for a whole range of problems – mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, dementia, autistic spectrum disorders, learning disability and childhood behavioural disorders.

The authors examined 20 papers looking at 1.7 million people and over 250,000 deaths. They found that the average reduction in life expectancy for people with bipolar disorder was between nine and 20 years, it was 10 to 20 years for schizophrenia, between nine and 24 years for drug and alcohol abuse, and around seven to 11 years for recurrent depression.

The loss of years among heavy smokers was eight to 10 years.

“We found that many mental health diagnoses are associated with a drop in life expectancy as great as that associated with smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day,” Dr Seena Fazel of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University said.

“There are likely to be many reasons for this. High-risk behaviours are common in psychiatric patients, especially drug and alcohol abuse, and they are more likely to die by suicide.

The stigma surrounding mental health may mean people aren’t treated as well for physical health problems when they do see a doctor.

Many causes of mental health problems also have physical consequences and mental illness worsen the prognosis of a range of physical illnesses, especially heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Smoking is recognised as a huge public health problem.

There are effective ways to target smoking, and with political will and funding, rates of smoking-related deaths have started to decline.

We now need a similar effort in mental health.”

Dr John Williams, head of neuroscience and mental health at the Wellcome Trust, which funded the study, added: “People with mental health problems are among the most vulnerable in society.

This work emphasises how crucial it is that they have access to appropriate healthcare and advice, which is not always the case.

We now have strong evidence that mental illness is just as threatening to life expectancy as other public health threats such as smoking.”

At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, like most people, we have had a few run ins with mental illness in the family and friends coterie. Thankfully, the stigmas associated with mental illness is reducing – albeit achingly slowly. Especially as it is increasingly understood that mental illness does not betoken “weakness” or “badness” but rather chemical imbalances in the brain that are no more the sufferer’s “fault” than, say, diabetes.

We warmly welcome this research finding and trust it is widely studied at government level. A heap of misery can be lifted off the shoulders of sufferers and their families through early intervention, prompt care and adequate treatment with “talking therapy” and medication.

Assuming Government now longer feels itself morally bound to take action (it seems simple need is the least strong motivator for many Governments worldwide now, sadly, as you can see below) then what about this thought?

mental-illness-not-contagiousJust imagine the hurricane of productivity and wealth that would be released if mentally ill people became weller, faster, and more thoroughly well, and lived that way longer.

Yes, that’s something we’d like to see in our shiny new hard-headed neo-con austere world.

Meanwhile, here’s some additional reading on how Government in rich “advanced” countries consistently fails the mentally ill:

UK: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/cuts-send-rates-of-mental-health-disorders-among-young-soaring-9392996.html

UK: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/12/risks-deep-cuts-mental-health

Australia: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/mental-health-funding-cuts-spark-fears-of-social-mess-20140518-38hz9.html

Australia: http://www.businessinsider.com.au/these-two-budget-charts-show-how-much-money-joe-hockey-is-cutting-from-hospitals-and-schools-2014-5

USA (four stories): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/mental-health-budget-cuts/

USA: http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2013/10/10/mental-health-loses-funding-as-government-continues-shutdown/