The fighter

13 11 2011

“I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments.

The front page has nothing but man’s failures.”

Earl Warren, 14th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America

This post is dedicated to the memory of Joe Frazier, the Olympic and world champion boxer, who died this week, the first man to defeat Muhammad Ali in ‘the fight of the century’ in the year of my birth. It will come as no surprise to anyone who follows me on Twitter, or reads this blog, or has ever had a conversation with me, that I love sport. My interest in some has diminished over time, while others have grown into obsessions. Some loves, however, are constants: cricket and the round ball game, soccer, football, call it what you will.

Let me be clear: I am an armchair sports fan par excellence. I cannot run out of sight on a dark night, as my Dad would say; and my body attests. In a family where generations of sporting trophies were displayed throughout homes, my contribution is a small silver-plated medal: dux of my primary school, 1983. I readily admit to envying the seeming ease with which my father played tennis ambidextrously and went to the beach every morning to run and swim, big night before regardless; my brother competing at state and national level in multiple individual sports; a sister who rowed surfboats.

I may not have won the dust-gathering trophies, but I love that as a gangly girl who could bowl overarm, I was always picked to play Joel Garner in caravan park cricket. It was the ultimate icebreaker with kids I met across India in 2007. I love a day at the races, wearing hats and watching horse and jockey round the straight; I cherish the many nights spent stalking angles on the pool table of my local in East Dulwich, London. My hands clasped together, involuntarily as a Sydney Swan lines up for a shot at goal, the involuntary ‘YEEEES!’ as I leap and cheer from the O’Reilly Stand; the joy of watching a perfectly-delivered cross headed past the keeper (unless the keeper is Mark Schwarzer); the tension, ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of a long rally in a Grand Slam final.

Whenever an Arts Minister trots out the statistic that more Australians attend a ‘cultural’ institution each year than a sporting match, I wince. Who decreed sport is not cultural? Is it not a slight twist in our colonial kowtowing to label as philistines those Australians visiting Mother England who choose the Theatre of Dreams over the Old Vic? I don’t believe sport has to be an either / or – even an ‘and’; love it, loathe it, let one, another or all leave you cold. It doesn’t have to be The Ashes versus Ashkenazy; Cadel winning the Tour de France or a tour de force by Cate. Why are people confounded by others’ enjoyment of some, or all of these things, and more? People who watch the boxing documentary, When We Were Kings may also think of the detritus of a State left by an unhinged dictator; those who read For Whom The Bell Tolls might learn more about the complex rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid (it’s not all Republican vs Nationalist); we can mourn Ayrton Senna, not only for his brilliance on the F1 track, but for his philanthropy; we remember the image of St Kilda’s Nicky Winmar lifting his guernsey, pointing to his brown skin, defiant in the face of overt racism, just as we celebrate Charles Perkins and the Freedom Riders for returning to Moree, unbowed, after being denied entry to its public swimming pool, forcing council to lift the 40-year-old ban.

… so I reach, in a not-so-neat segue, back to Joe Frazier, and his great rival, Ali. Then Cassius Clay, Ali threw his Olympic gold medal in the Ohio River after being refused service in a restaurant and seemed to throw his career away when he refused induction into the United States army. Reviled and admired for his overt protest, Ali symbolised the ‘Black Power’ zeitgeist. Less loquacious than Ali, Frazier lobbied for his right to box to be reinstated; and refused to contest Ali’s championship belt after it was stripped from him for saying no to Uncle Sam in 1967. Imagine the hatred, the hurt burnished into ‘Smokin Joe’s’ heart when ‘The Greatest’ called him an ‘Uncle Tom’, at a press conference before their ‘Thrilla in Manilla’ fight. Ali, whose words were as powerful as his punch, wanted Frazier to be seen as the ‘white man’s boxer’. It was a low point in a personal enmity between two men raised in the segregated South and a deeply political one, more impactful than the inanity passed off as political comment today.

One final tribute. On learning of Frazier’s passing, another of his great fighting foes, George Foreman, simply tweeted:

Good night, Joe Frazier. I love you dear friend.

Poetry, in less than 140 characters, from a man who was integral to the, ‘apex of pedigree fighting in which each man would not give an inch until they were dead.’ ~ Mike Tyson.

Cry, the Pariah Country (Part I)

5 11 2011

Ankara, Turkey: 3 March 1997

Of the few cities I have visited so far, Ankara is one I am definitely leaving out of the the family slide night. The overnight bus from Istanbul hadn’t helped, & when we got to the bus station, there were surprisingly few hotel touts. A woman approached us. ‘Where are you from?’ Australia. ‘Sprechen Sie deutsch?’ I remembered the many Turks who lived in Germany & scratched for an answer. ‘Nicht deutsch. Nicht Austrian … AUSTRALIAN.’ ‘Hotel?’ she asked. Anything, anything to dump the 20 kilo backpack, so I gave in to my Year 8 German. ‘Ja.’ ‘Kommen Sie.’

We followed her outside to the local bus queues. ‘Kommen Sie.’ ‘Ja, OK’. Onto the bus, into the unknown. The woman turns to me, again in German, pointing out the sights. ‘Bahnhof. Bahnhof, ja?’ ‘Ja.’ Feigning spitting on the floor, she said, ‘Juden.’ I’m exasperated & tired & now I have to deal with anti-semitism? Simon, helpful as ever, says nothing. It’s up to me & my crappy, tired, exasperated self. ‘Nicht Austrian. AUSTRALIAN.’ The entire bus is staring at us. I search for some more German. ‘Ein hotel?’ Her face relaxes. ‘Ja, ja, hotel. Here.’

The building looks like an office block. The lobby of the hotel is full of staring, chain smoking businessman. We check in, grab the keys and I sit in the hotel room & cry & wonder whether my grand plan – to go overland from Istanbul through Syria & Jordan to Egypt – was a mistake. When I floated the idea, back in Cardiff in January, Simon was intrigued. ‘Why not? How many people can say they’ve been to Syria?’ As we unpacked stock at work – a Welsh music & video chainstore – the friends we’d made were more dubious. ‘SYRIA! It’s full of terrorists!’; ‘Syria? Aren’t you scared of being blown up?’; ‘Syria – why would you want to go there?’

I gave them the same answer: ‘I’m going because it’s there.’

Ankara, Turkey: 4 March 1997

Woke up, checked out in front of the smoking businessmen. Had they moved, or drunk coffee & raki all night? In the taxi on the way to the Syrian Embassy, I looked around for something that might redeem Ankara. The embassies, located on a hill, offered a view of a city obscured by a filthy haze of wood burners and brown coal. We joined the queue to get our visas. The embassy opens, we leave our passports and are told to come back at 2pm to collect them. Nobody seems in a hurry to go back into downtown Ankara for a few hours. Mixed bunch. Another Australian couple. A few Canadians. Always Canadians, with their maple leaf patches sewn onto their packs. The man next to me is wearing a kheffiyah, but the face is not quite Arab; Crutches, a right leg amputated below the knee. A smile. ‘I am from Afghanistan,’ he said. ‘I speak English not well.’ ‘Very well,’ I smiled. ‘My leg. My leg.’ His fingers spread like a magician’s above the phantom shadow his leg should cast. ‘My leg … war.’ War against the Soviet Union? He looked too young to have fought the Russians. ‘Syria? You … you go to Syria?’ ‘Yes. Sunni. Pashtun.’ Is it the same as Pathan? ‘Now,  Hama. Afghanistan … never. No Afghanistan again. Taliban.’ I had never heard the word. Is it his his village?

Border control, Cilvegözü, Turkey: 5 March 1997

As soon as we had collected our passports, Simon & Len & Anne – the Australian couple we met at the embassy, headed for the bus station & hightailed it south, to Antakya. Turkey has an amazing network of modern coaches, traversing the huge country. They also save on paying for a night’s accommodation. We arrived at Antakya … the ancient Antioch just another bus stop now, somewhere to eat dusty bus stop kebabs for breakfast, change millions of lira back to a fistful of USD & Syrian pounds. We decide to push on and cross the border into Syria at Cilvegözü. Len, tall, with sandy blonde hair & a beard, dressed like a Pakistani and carried a huge rolled up carpet. He & Anne had travelled from India, Pakistan, into Iran and then through eastern Turkey to get to Syria. To new backpackers, they were godlike. We were all buggered & took taxis to the border checkpoint, Len & the carpet in one; Anne, Simon & me in another. The guard, mustachioed, bored, saw Len’s carpet & said he had to pay a ‘carpet tax’ before he would stamp our passports. Len saw bullshit & showed the guard the pattern. ‘This – this is not Turkish,’ he said. The guard snorted, smiled – sprung. Len, you legend! I would have just paid the magic ‘carpet tax’. The guard laughed at us & we laughed as well. ‘Suriye?’, he shrugged. I hadn’t even thought about how we were getting to Syria. Len pointed to the road. ‘Walk,’ Len said to the guard; sounding like a command from an officer in the backpackers corps. Walking from Turkey to Syria. This ought to be good.

No man’s land: 5 March 1997

The silence, after all of the travelling, the noise, the anticipation of the last few days, was weird, but comforting. It helped me get into a zone. I didn’t know how long we would be walking for. I think we all thought there would be a border guard just around the corner from Cilvegözü … but there wasn’t, so we walked, joking about snipers wondering what the fuck they were seeing from their position in the hills. After a good while of nothing but a road & silent hills, we stopped talking about snipers. I was more than a little worried that we had done a very stupid thing. ‘We’re on a road to nowhere …’; I wanted to start humming Talking Heads but I was scared of Len, walking ahead, carrying the huge carpet. Then, a building. A building and some cars. Hopefully with Syrian number plates.

Syrian border post: 5 March 1997

The young border guards smiled warmly, but spoke no English. The boss comes in, & he’s much more stern. Flipping through our passports, the word hangs in the air: ‘Israel?’ ‘La!‘ we reply as one. A little too heavy with the, ‘no way, why would we go there!’ response? He looks up, stamps the passports & we’re in. We’re in Syria. Still no idea where we are or where we’re going. The young border guards walked out of the office, & beckoned us from the entrance. They pointed to a ute. I wanted to film this scene and play it to the world, to everyone who had said the country was full of terrorists. We had just walked into their country, & border guards were offering us a lift. We sat in the back of the ute & smile at how the day is shaping up. We came into a town, & the border guards took us to a bus stop. They wouldn’t accept any money for petrol; just a smile & a wave goodbye. A bus arrives. ‘Hama?’ Len asks. ‘La. Halab.‘ Aleppo. Len & Anne are on a tight schedule. They have to be in Cairo in two weeks & don’t want to stay in Aleppo. I’m disappointed; it’s the second largest city in Syria, & Simon & I weren’t under any obligation to be anywhere, anytime. That said, I’m in awe of what they’ve done, where they’ve been, & want to hear more. While it’s not on the way to Hama, we’ll definitely be able to get there from Aleppo, so we board the bus. The driver waves away our money. The carpet has its own seat.

Aleppo: 5 March 1997

Everyone off the bus. Aleppo. We find something to eat that isn’t a Turkish kebab. Syrian kebab. A few young men have latched on to us, eager to speak to us in English as we bumble our way through the crowds, all the time following the rolled-up carpet that means Len is ahead. We are going to Hama. We can’t stay in Halab, sorry. They peel off, disinterested, and we find our way to the Hama bus stand. This time we pay our fares. It’s a long trip to Hama, & the scenery isn’t particularly inspiring. We arrive on dusk. Hotel-finding time. We’re walking around fairly aimlessly, but still on a high about how everything had worked out. An old man approaches us. ‘Salaam alaykum,’ I’m so proud of my five Arabic phrases, I have to try it on – why should Len have all the fun? The old man greets us, formally, then switches to French. Of course. Syria was a French protectorate. I’m the only one in the group with a basic grasp of French. This is so cool! ‘Nous sommes Australien. Ou est un hotel, s’il vous plait?’ The old man’s smiles, warm & broadly, as if his four grandchildren have come to visit, ! ‘Ah, Australie, Australie! Bienvenue a la Syrie, Australiens. Australie … la guerre … tres bonne, libre de la Syrie.’ OK, now I’m struggling. Australia fought a war to free Syria? Think, think, think … bien sur! – he’s talking about World War II & a Syria ruled by Vichy France. ‘Australiens … allez, s’il vous plait’. He walks off in an old man way, that slow assuredness, waving for us to follow. How much better could this day get? ‘Un hotel? Pas de probleme.’ This day is so good & we haven’t seen anything yet; not the Roman waterwheels, a souk … we haven’t had a single Kodak moment, but this is exactly what I want; just to be somewhere, walking around, communicating, barely, giddily, in three languages & smiles. Our Hama grandfather takes us around a corner, to a pale green-washed concrete building. ‘L’hotel.’ The hotel owner & our Hama grandfather talk & then take us upstairs to a four-bed room. It’s basic, spotless & has a private bathroom. I’m surprised. I was expecting to have to put on my ‘wedding’ ring again, a gold claddagh that I bought in Ireland; but there’s no suggestion that the four of us should sleep separately. We agree a price, & the old man smiles and waves as he leaves. ‘Bonne journee, Australiens, wa’ alaykum salaam.’

We wash, change & leave the hotel to find something to eat that is not a kebab. Sitting outside a restaurant, we gorge on the best chicken in the world, spit roast before us and discuss making Homs our next base. Back at the hotel, we find a pack of dates in our room. A sweet present, better than a chocolate on the pillow of a five-star hotel. We wash some underwear in the sink, put up the backpackers’ pegless clotheslines and lie on our beds, eating dates and listening, exhausted but enthralled, as Anne & Len speak glowingly of Iran.

Move your bloomin’ arse!

31 10 2011

My flexi trifecta is probably a bit dodgy this year, here are the six, no order:

No. 2: Jukebox Jury

No.6 Manighar

No.9 Lucas Cranach

No.12 Red Cadeaux

No.22 Tullamore

No.23 Niwot

Happy punting.



Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

23 10 2011

Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate.

Hubert Humphrey

This is a cropped image taken (stolen) from the Herald-Sun’s #occupymelbourne gallery. I was flicking through, & this poster caught my attention. I flicked back & forth & still ended up at the same image.

Why? Because it speaks to me so loudly of everything that I find disturbing about the occupy movement as it exists in Australia. No economics or factoids in this post. Purely visceral.

Firstly, an apology to #occupysydney participants for not fully understanding why the camp was established outside the Reserve Bank of Australia. I was hammering away, railing inside my head & on Twitter as to why camp hadn’t been set up in Bridge Street (drunken aside: #occupybs would be a cool hashtag) given it’s home to the ASX? I asked a question on Twitter tonight (depending on how quickly I write this, maybe last night) and, thanks to @hailants, I learned something. Securency. I thought polymer notes were just a cool invention. I asked politely, genuinely, & I got a polite, genuine, informative answer about something I knew nothing about. That’s pure gold to me.

OK, so back to the poster. This is so fucking far from pure gold to me it’s not funny. Starving African child juxtaposed with obese Western kids eating junk food. Seems like everything capitalism, everything wrong, everything #occupy represents. Not to me.

I am in no way accepting of how totally fucked it is that gross poverty, is delivered in white 4WDs to the Global South by, yes capitalism, but also inept, corrupt governments & non-state actors. The answer (according to me) to a fraction of that starving African child’s problems is not the carte-blanche, lazy finger-pointing at evil capitalism. It is pathetic infrastructure. It is more expensive to transport food to famine-declared areas from a food bowl IN Africa than it is to ship food aid from Europe. As this Massachusetts Institute of Technology project contends, it is only through global actors such as the World Bank that intra- and inter-country roads in Africa can be built and maintained (the example it uses is the Mombassa - Nairobi road project in Kenya). People in sub-Saharan Africa starve not because there is no food, but because transportation costs are so high, making them aid dependent, and if the greedy Global North cannot be arsed, they die. Dambisa Moyo’s seminal work, Dead Aid may not be popular, but her central thesis, that cutting aid will force these capitalist solutions to take hold, is worth study. I do not agree with cutting foreign aid; but I would play with the idea and put forward the following solution – that the member states which signed up to lift aid to 0.77 per cent of GDP under the UN Millennium Goals – make that abysmal fraction higher, and invest in an infrastructure fund that will assist in building transportation routes and enable, empower the most impoverished to trade with their neighbours. It’s a capitalist solution to a problem that exists, that is so obvious, that for the life of me, I cannot understand.

Next: is this problem assisted by a poster in Melbourne? No. Bring forth the person in, Melbourne, or my Sin City of Sydney, this city of 4.5 million, who is not aware, that somewhere in the world, people are starving. Seriously, I will travel to them, I will jam my foot in their front door  & show them this poster if I am wrong. People know famine exists; they may not understand why, beyond natural causes such as drought; but we know it happens. Forgive me, Occupiers, but where are your solutions, where are your ideas, to fixing this unnecessary, base evil, ill? Capitalism Isn’t Working? It’s not an idea; it’s a statement of questionable fact. There is no attempt to make a constructive argument; it’s not even a talking point memo. Where, in the general assemblies or working groups, are the solutions? I know what the problem is. I’m disgusted by it. I’ve been to Dharavi, one of the world’s largest slums. I’ve seen poverty in South London, where I worked in social housing; in Gaza; in Russia; in Redfern – none of which this poster represents – barring one teeny, tiny thing. The fat kids. The ultimate representation, the tool to demonstrate, about the greedy Global North. Shyeh, right on.

Yep, the fat kids eating junk food. What greater depiction of corporate greed could you imagine? Oh, I can. Teeny, tiny mind of mine suggests that the kiddies sat at the Golden Arches of the capitalist piggery of the Global North, are the the poorest percentile, those totally dependent on welfare; the kids who grow up in households where generational unemployment is a fact of life … these kiddies, the fat capitalist pigs gorging on the fries – they are the 99 per cent. Not you, not even me, with my multitude of fucktardness visited, uninvited, on my childhood. Fact: poor families sacrifice, or cannot afford, fresh fruit and vegetables. They eat fried food. They have less playing space. They are the children whose life expectancy is slashed; who will develop NCDs (non-communicable diseases) such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They will die earlier, their lives straining public health systems in between. They will, on average, not go to university. They won’t make these posters & camp in Martin Place or City Square, because they have never fucking been to Martin Place. They are in our rural and regional centres. They are on the fringes of our cities & at there epicentres. They do not regularly attend school. They are supplied with breakfast & taught how to read by the best of the 99 per cent – our under-valued teachers. These are the children Occupiers need to speak to; not Twitter twats like me. These children are growing up poorer than any of us – not in terms of disposable income, the measurable, cold, economic indicators I have written about before but under-educated, not even disengaged. They are the scorn of our ‘current affairs’ programming. Fringe-dwellers, regardless of race. The underclass. The illiterate and innumerate. The kids who set London on fire while we, the lucky 99 per cent of the Land of Oz sat here and watched. Rail against quantitative easing, #occupysydney … give me a small break while I imagine an austerity package, two or three, visited upon us. The truly frightening thing is that these children are not the stereotypical fat, unruly progeny of Macquarie Fields, or Fitzroy Crossing, or Frankston: they are the middle classes of  the BRICs, especially China and India. There are 78 million Indians with Type 2 diabetes. To work these most basic health issues through, we – who are not the 99 per cent – must get off Martin Place and reach Mumbai. Indians don’t see themselves as victims of capitalism. Indians thrive on trade; not just now, but through the ages. They live in a post-colonialist, still caste-ridden and religiously-divided country. They are more powerful than this lazy portrait, the Indians, South Americans, South Africans, Russians than our piss-poor democracy can imagine.

OK, I am drunk, and tired and I have ranted and railed more than enough for the early hours. Please leave a comment or tweet me about what this poster says to you. I am a cranky old woman, sure; but I genuinely want to know, in more than a cut and paste about how we are controlled by the banks, the media, the corporations and politicians, just what this poster represents. I want more of you,from you, as the individuals who claim to make up the 99 per cent. Agree, disagree; just don’t ignore. Oh, and don’t bash the people you have so long admired for kicking against the pricks of the right, and laughed at the idiocy of the Convoy of No Confidence. If you believe that Wayne Swan is going to chuck a Tony Abbott and stand in front of an ‘occupy buildings, abolish gaols’ banner, you are sorely mistaken. Barack Obama is endorsing #ows in his cool, pragmatic style. He wants to save his presidency by appealing to his base. End of Politics 101. Time for bed. Like this, loathe me, just think about it. Please.

Occupy This

16 10 2011

To steal from Network, Americans are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

The #Occupy movement, which began as #OccupyWallStreet, a protest against bankers, bailouts and corporate greed.

In my tiny mind, Americans have every right to be angry. They might be angry enough to consign Barack Obama to a one-term presidency – unthinkable a few years ago. The left is angry, the right is angry and the Tea Party is the small government, small tax version of the pro-life, pro-gun, pro-Christian base for this decade

A few fast facts on why I think Americans are mad:

The economy: No wonder President Obama is playing golf with President Clinton. The baseline in American politics is the economy, stupid. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics‘ latest release (7 October), seasonally adjusted unemployment in September 2011 was 9.1 per cent. That’s a 0.5 per cent improvement on September 2010. Breaking that down:

  • 14 million Americans are registered unemployed
  • Of that number, the long-term unemployed (people out of work for more than 27 weeks) make up more than 44 per cent, or 6.2 million)
  • 24 per cent of teenagers (16-19 year olds) are unemployed
  • 16 per cent of blacks are unemployed (c.f. with 8 per cent unemployment among whites; 11.3 per cent for Hispanics and 7.8 per cent for Asians)
  • The annual 2010 unemployment rate of ‘Gulf War II’ veterans (i.e. military personnel who have served post September 2001) is 11.5 per cent
Delving slightly deeper, while the labor force and employment figures lifted, the civilian labor force participation rate (64.2 per cent) and employment:population ratio (58.3 per cent) remain fairly static. Disturbingly, 9.3 million Americans are classed as involuntary part-time workers (i.e. their hours have been cut or they’re unable to find full-time work). In August 2011, the number was 8.8 million – an additional 444,000 people in one month. Those ‘marginally attached to the workforce’ – some 2.5 million Americans who have sought work in the last year, but not in the last four weeks, are not counted as unemployed. There are 1 million ‘discouraged’ American workers. These are the defeated and demoralised. They believe they cannot get a job, so they’ve given up. Average hourly earnings? $23.12. Average weekly earnings? $793.02.
‘Failed’ stimulus: President Obama signed The Recovery Act on 7 February 2009. The total package of $787 billion was increased to $840 billion in 2011. I bracketed ‘failed’ because it’s open to interpretation. There is certainly a perception that while some of the leading indicators have resulted in an improvement in certain sectors of the economy and regions, in my view, this is counterbalanced by one of the saddest statistics I think I’ve ever come across: $8 billion additional spend on food stamps to feed 38 million hungry Americans. (Reuters)
Dysfunctional government: the White House is caught in a pincer movement. President Obama has come out swinging at Congress recently, most notably on his jobs bill. He’s moving to Candidate Obama, criss-crossing the country selling a Bill which has no chance of passing. These people who were willing to play brinkmanship with the country’s credit card. It is pathetic.
The cost of foreign policy: President Obama got Osama bin Laden. Terrific. It doesn’t change the economic and human costs of the country’s operations in Pakistan and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the key findings of a recent report from the Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies:
  • The U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan will cost between $3.2 and $4 trillion, including medical care and disability for current and future war veterans. This figure does not include substantial probable future interest on war-related debt.
  • More than 31,000 people in uniform and military contractors have died, including the Iraqi and Afghan security forces and other military forces allied with the United States.
  • By a very conservative estimate, 137,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by all parties to these conflicts.
  • The wars have created more than 7.8 million refugees among Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis.
  • Pentagon bills account for half of the budgetary costs incurred and are a fraction of the full economic cost of the wars.
  • Because the war has been financed almost entirely by borrowing, $185 billion in interest has already been paid on war spending, and another $1 trillion could accrue in interest alone through 2020.
  • Federal obligations to care for past and future veterans of these wars will likely total between $600-$950 billion. This number is not included in most analyses of the costs of war and will not peak until mid-century.
That’s just war. Don’t start me on the President’s broken promise to close Guantánamo Bay; conduct of extra-judicial killings and the disconnect between endorsement of the Arab Spring where it’s easy (Libya, for example) and wilful disregard for others (such as the Shi`a of  Bahrain).
The 99 per cent: Campaign finance reform; the disparity between tax breaks for the super-wealthy and the middle-class; corporate bailouts; out-of-control student debt it’s the beginning of a national conversation Americans haven’t engaged in for a long time.
So … it was with a general sense of irritation that I heard about the #OccupyPickAnAustralianCity protests that took place yesterday, for one reason: the great Australian propensity for whingeing. If whingeing was an Olympic sport, it would be, ‘GOLD! GOLD! GOLD!’ for Australia. I whinge, I hear others whinge and I read about people whingeing on a daily basis. It’s healthy to vent, to verbalise frustrations, irritations and feelings that systems, services and other people are failing us; but when you conflate whingeing into the #Occupy movement, you cheapen it. Yes, I am fully aware that Australia was only one of 78 countries to hold protests yesterday. I would also contend that people in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece have legitimate fears and grievances against prevailing economic conditions and systemic corruption. Australia? Not so much. While many on the ‘left’ view Tony Abbott as the Nabob of No, the Occupiers of Australia are playing his game of fear and loathing:
The economy: 5.2 per cent unemployment in September 2011. As the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Measures of Australia’s Progress 2011 report shows, pretty much everything (barring productivity) has improved since 2000. Including unemployment. The bad news? That increase applies to threatened animal species due to climate change. The average weekly income per full-time employed adult is $1,305. The average hourly income is between $29.70 and$33.10 (the disparity? Female wages c.f. men) (Source: ABS)
‘Failed’ stimulus: I’m leaving this one to George Megalogenis
Dysfunctional government: I am not a cheerleader for the current Government, but I am thankful that there are some quality people in our Parliament. Not naming names, but as close to the bone it has come on major issues – especially in the last few weeks – it is functional. I may not like the politics, the policies, the poor communication and quality of political discourse, but it continues to roll on.
The cost of foreign policy: Defence estimates an approximate $6 billion spend in Afghanistan to 2014. Iraq Mk II, approximately $2.3 billion. To me, the irreparable damage is in civilian deaths, leaving Australian citizens in Gitmo, irregular migration flows (UN-speak for refugees), international reputation and pathetic policy reactions to the problems we helped cause. That said, I don’t think we’ve been breaking arms embargoes, killing people willy-nilly or uneven in our condemnation for despots the world over.
The 99 per cent: according to a new release into household wealth from the ABS, the top 20 per cent of Australian households have seen their average net wealth increase by 15 per cent to $2.2 million since 2005/06, accounting for approximately 60 per cent of total household wealth. The bottom 20 per cent’s average net wealth grew by only 4 per cent. They account for approximately 1 per cent of total household wealth. That leaves almost 30 per cent of Australian households with an average net wealth of $720,000, up 14 per cent since 2005/06 – almost on par with the richest in the land and 10 per cent ahead of the poor. I contend that there is no ’99 per cent’ in Australia. Of course there is disparity in wealth; but the two major assets of Australian households (property – $520-540,000; superannuation – $60-154,000) put ‘average’ Australia within striking distance of the top 20 per cent. This is not the case in the US. It never has been and never will be.
I hope this stirs some pots & kettles. It stirred mine.

The perfect social media manager (via Prakkypedia)

29 08 2011

Professional communicators are often terrible at selling themselves – eight points on what sets us apart from the rest!

The perfect social media manager A lot of blogs have been written about the ‘perfect social media manager’ or, as often called these days, ‘community manager’. Social Media Today wrote about “What Makes an Exceptional Social Media Manager" and there are some great traits listed on this blog by Powerhouse USA (an older post, but still valid). As social media seeps more into organisations, employers are grappling with finding the right person to manage their online forums, Faceboo … Read More

via Prakkypedia

So much cheese gone to waste

9 08 2011

I lived in the UK between 1996 and 2001, firstly in Cardiff, & then after travelling from Istanbul to Alexandria, Amsterdam to St Petersburg, my then-partner & I settled in London. At first, we lived in a semi-detached in East Putney. Nice place. Not flash, but a solid 3 out of 5 on the chintz cushion scale of comfort. My boyfriend worked in ‘The City’ and I had various temp assignments, one as a receptionist at a housing trust in Peckham.

Each morning, I caught the Number 37 bus from SW15 to SE15. It wasn’t your average descent from posh to povo until you entered Peckham proper. The huge housing estates of London are difficult to describe. Transferred to specialist non-profit organisations by councils unable and unwilling to maintain them, they are grey and poorly designed. Tower blocks where the lifts work on a lottery basis. Abandoned flats used as crack houses. Largely home to an underclass which can’t even claim working class status, generations who have somewhere to live only because the state pays housing benefits. Private rental properties remain out of reach. Almost all on transfer rolls to get out of the huge estates and into a row of detached houses. In the 1990s, the big estates of South London were the strongholds of criminals, drug dealers & men with guns. Regardless of your circumstance, no one would choose to live in them.

Taking on bigger estates – some housing up to 4,000 people – was a huge undertaking for the housing association. I moved from being a temp receptionist to PA and admin assistant in the development department, responsible for bidding to take over estates and undertaking their physical transformation. Each estate had its own, small office. One day, a package arrived at one of the satellite offices on an estate which had recently been transferred from a council. It was a video of a man suspected of grassing on a drug dealer being ‘necklaced’ – bound by tyres, doused with petrol & set on fire. He survived. The housing association was working to revitalise the estates, physically and socially. A lot of people were very positive about what we were trying to achieve, joining neighbourhood committees and coming to public meetings where plans were discussed, argued over and amended. The video was a message that there were some people who didn’t like the idea that their turf, their power bases, might actually change.

After I split from my boyfriend, I moved to East Dulwich, then Peckham, before I ended up in Brixton, in a housing association flat on Tunstall Road. I loved Brixton. It had everything and nothing. One summer night, my upstairs neighbour stuck his head through the front window. ‘Let us in, let us in man.’ He burst through the door with a gym bag; running through the flat, he emptied the bag on my bed, about 40 bottles of perfume. He threw a Chanel No. 5 at me and said, ‘you keep that one, hide the rest’ before sprinting out the back door, through the garden & over the high wall. Billy wasn’t a ‘yardie’ but he was no innocent. He was an unemployed, 20-something living with his Mum, a West Indian immigrant. He spent a lot of time with me & my new boyfriend, a Dutch guy who listed ‘beating up hippies’ as a hobby. Dave climbed through the front room window (the door was still open, but hey, he was nuts), laughing hysterically, barely able to speak. ‘Where’s Billy? Oh, you got to come and see this.’

‘DAVE! I’ve got half a Chanel counter on the bed! What the fuck is going on?’ He just ignored me, the overgrown toddler high-on-red-cordial look on his face. ‘Come, come outside.’ We walked out onto Tunstall Road. There was a group of about 40 people running in an out of Morley’s Department store. They were looting a Brixton institution, & I was a receiver of stolen goods. The riot police arrived & people scattered, running past the flat. I started panicking about the loot on my bed. ‘Don’t worry about that baby, just put it in a drawer until Billy comes back,’ Dave said, shrugging his shoulders. ‘As if the cops are going to come in here. We’re white.’

Dave & I thought it would be OK to go out for cigarettes. I was too scared to try & get on to the High Street, through the police cordons, so we walked up Tunstall Road, and around a corner to a small off-licence and literally into a wall of riot police on horses. ‘Go home,’ one of them said. Dave, ever respectful of authority, was having none of it. ‘Man, I just need to get some smokes, you know. We’re just going to the shop?’ ‘No, you’re not’ was the blunt reply. I grabbed Dave’s shoulder & hauled him away. Billy eventually came home and collected his plunder. I gave back the Chanel No. 5 – only because I didn’t like it. However, I had committed a crime – I had handled stolen goods; and that’s when I started thinking about what Dave had said. Firstly, if I turned myself in at the police station, would the police have charged me or simply asked for information on Billy? After all, the riot police had not questioned what we were doing outside. They accepted what we had said and told us to go home, no questions. I wondered whether the answer would have been the same if I had been with Billy. Would we have been stopped and searched? Race relations in Brixton had changed utterly, to steal from Yeats, since the 1981 riots, but the area was still overwhelmingly black and the Metropolitan Police were viewed as the enemy, particularly after the Stephen Lawrence case. I experienced a new feeling: I didn’t want to get my mate into trouble. I didn’t want him identified as one of the looters. He hadn’t hurt anyone, I figured. It wasn’t right, but I said nothing.

So what leads people to riot and loot in their own neighbourhoods? There was no ‘reason’ for the looting that summer evening a decade ago. No warning. The current riots in the UK have spread from members of the Tottenham community peacefully rallying around a family with a grievance against the police like a case of herpes, with cars, businesses, buses, and houses ablaze across the city. The vioence and looting has blistered, my old stomping grounds of Peckham and Brixton hit, and now other cities including Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. The pattern is similar to that of riots in France in 2005, when the deaths of two teenagers pursued by police sparked violence from the outer suburbs of Paris across the country, from Lille to Lyon and Bordeaux. The rapid outbreak and spread of violence may be alike, however, those riots were more heavily identifiable with racial tensions. In the UK, the looters are not stereotypical, but share one common denominator: impunity. At a micro level, this stems from the personal envy that builds when you see other people, everyday, in your neighbourhood, leading lives that you are not (while Tottenham is one of the poorest areas of London, it is not the worst; and areas including Hackney and Brixton have undergone substantial gentrification as the cool kids moved in). The death of Mark Duggan (under investigation by the coroner) was hijacked for people behaving with impunity, taking  and destroying symbols of the state and success. Why not take or destroy what doesn’t belong to you, from whoever has it, when you don’t? Who cares if you set fire to a furniture shop in Croydon if you don’t work there and can’t afford what they sell? Then there is systemic impunity. This year, UK student protests against massive hikes in fees were interspersed with outbreaks of violence, which made for pretty pictures for the TV crews. What was lost as people smashed windows at the headquarters of the Conservative Party was the fact that tertiary education is now out of reach for many – not simply the ‘underclass’. The real message may have been lost in the media coverage, but it still resonates with young people: even if you buy into the idea that you can change your circumstances by working hard at school, there may be nothing for you at the other end.  Britons were hit hard by the failures of their financial institutions and the impunity with which they and tax-dodging corporations acted; the ‘Big Society’ promised by their new, fresh government undermined at once by budget cuts that unleashed the broader ‘UK Uncut’ movement. The establishment has been engulfed in scandal, from MPs expenses, to Hackgate and the corruption of the police – and so we have a collision of immediate and impersonal impunity; an unfocused, bewildered rage. ‘I don’t care’ meets ‘neither do you’. 

Australia being Australia, every overseas news story must have an Australian angle. One of the most compelling was that of The Ledbury, a 2-star Michelin restaurant in ‘fashionable’ Notting Hill. Notting Hill, like Brixton, was a traditionally Afro-Caribbean suburb, most famous for its annual carnival than a movie starring Hugh Grant. Like Brixton and Hackney, gentrification means that houses costing hundreds of thousands of pounds sit cheek by jowl with estates where water runs down the walls from condensation and your kids have nowhere to play, so they hang about, ripe for the picking by people who exploit their boredom and undirected, simmering resentment. The Ledbury’s Australian chef, Brett Graham, was interviewed by Mark Colvin for ABC Radio’s PM programme, and described young ‘kids’ smashing their way into the restaurant, stealing from customers, even smashing a Bentley parked outside with the driver inside. Graham said (aside from the Bentley episode) that ‘they weren’t smashing cars …they were targeting businesses where people were, so we got done, the pub got done’. His words reminded me of the opening scene from Pulp Fiction where the characters consider the benefits of robbing a restaurant. You get the business takings and rob the customers as well – and no one is expecting to be robbed. No one deserves to endure a terrifying, violent attack on their person, from the appalling vision of an injured man himself being robbed to the experience described by Brett Graham and one of his diners in this blog; but it is hard to ignore these lines:

“I was sad for the wonderful smelling cheese cart that had glass littered all over it.

So much cheese gone to waste!”

Dave says Billy is dead. He had joined a car-stealing racket and crashed a BMW trying to make a getaway.

So much cheese gone to waste, yes; and so many lives.