Friday, 23 June 2017

Up the Cross

This morning I went out early at around 10.30am and stopped at the dry cleaner's to drop off a knitted throw rug that mum made and that she used to use but which has just been sitting on the floor in my apartment since I brought it home with the other things from the nursing home. After getting my docket I headed down to Darling Harbour and went up the stairs to the walkway that goes to Bathurst Street.

On Castlereagh Street I stopped in at a branch of my bank and asked about whether there was a branch with an automatic change counting machine in the vicinity as I had a lot of silver coins at home I wanted to convert into cash and deposit into my bank account. The tellers told me that I could go to the Haymarket branch to do this.

After leaving the bank I headed across Hyde Park and up Oxford Street, turning left at the courthouse to go down Darlinghurst Road in the direction of Kings Cross. When I arrived at my destination I carried on down the street in search of a place to have lunch. I went into Macleay Street and headed along to Potts Point, looking in at all the eateries I saw, but there was nothing suitable. There were low-cost places and high-end places but nothing in-between. When I got down to Challis Avenue I crossed Macleay Street at the lights and headed back in the direction I had come from.

I passed William Street crossing at the lights and headed back into Darlinghurst on Victoria Street. Not far down the road I stopped to look at a printed menu that was sitting on a table on the footpath and saw some things I felt like eating, so I went into the restaurant, which was called Bloody Mary's. I used the toilet before sitting down then ordered a Caesar salad with chicken and a Coors beer. After eating I paid and left, heading back toward Oxford Street.

Outside the hospital there were people smoking cigarettes on the footpath. One man had a green fluoro beanie on his head. When I got to the intersection I crossed both streets and headed back to Taylors Square, then turned left at the Courthouse Hotel and then right into Campbell Street. I passed the Pup N Pussy pet shop (see photo) and then turned left into Crown Street. When I got to Foveaux Street I turned right down the hill. As I crossed a side street a man in a white car honked his horn at me as he drew up close to the intersection. I headed down to Central Station and into Eddy Avenue under the train tracks.

A man pushing a shopping trolley that he was leaning on with his whole body followed me down the pavement under the colonnade talking non-stop but I didn't understand what he was saying and thought him deranged. I crossed Pitt Street and passed by a kebab shop called Five Star, which made me remember that the kebab shops in Kings Cross and at Taylors Square had the same name although the signage and wall menus in each were of different designs. I crossed George Street and saw a man in a dark suit wearing black and white two-tone shoes walking up the street.

I turned into Ultimo Road and stopped at the branch of my bank on the corner of Thomas Street. A man came up to me and asked what I needed. I told him I wanted at some point to use the change counting machine and he passed me to a female staffer who was also there. She explained how the machine worked. I left the store and headed up Dixon Street, crossing the foot bridge at Liverpool Street into Darling Harbour. A woman sitting on a low wall had a label around her neck that read "Happiness and its causes". Further up past the motorway a man came up to me and pointed to a group of about ten young people. He said they were the Year 12 geography class and asked if I would take his picture with them. I asked him how to use the phone he held and he showed me where to press. I took the picture and handed the phone back to him then headed up to Pyrmont.

In Union Square the beggar who had asked me for change when I had started out on my walk was still sitting under his tree. I gave him the coins that I had in my pocket and went home. I had been gone for almost four hours.

Monday, 19 June 2017

A walk to Darlinghurst

This morning I went down into Darling Harbour as usual. Underneath the Western Distributor two trucks were moving, one forward heading in the direction of Haymarket and the other reversing at the same time in the same direction behind it. I headed up the stairs that lead to Bathurst Street and passed by the office building that supports the pedestrian walkway. It leads to a bridge that passes by one of the western exits of the Cross City Tunnel.

At the lights at the bottom of the stairs a number of people waited for the walk signal. When the signal turned green a portly man in late middle age with short orange hair walked toward me. Further up Bathurst Street there was a pair of brown underpants discarded on the pavement, and a few steps further along there was a black T-shirt that had been treated in the same way. Up near Elizabeth Street I saw a huge crowd of people walking in a group down the street on the opposite side. When I got to Elizabeth Street I saw that they had crossed from Hyde Park. There were men in Army fatigues and Navy fatigues as well as people wearing hard hats. Another group of people was still in the park. I even saw a man in Navy fatigues wearing a hard hat.

In the park a crowd of people were walking down the stairs out of the War Memorial. A man with a pink lollipop sign was facing them, standing on the path. I headed up to College Street and crossed at the lights, then walked up Oxford Street. I crossed to the southern side of Oxford Street further up and headed for the kebab shop at Taylors Square. I ordered my food and when it was ready I sat down to eat it at a table at the back of the restaurant under a television set which had half of its display occupied by a crazy tartan of horizontal and vertical lines. A cooking show was on and the waitress stood half facing the front door with her head on the side, watching the screen. She then removed some hot pides from the oven located at the back of the shop.

When I had finished eating I headed down Bourke Street and turned right into Campbell Street, then left into Crown Street. A woman was standing at the door of a donut shop talking to a man standing on the footpath. "I feel like a steak," I heard her say to him. I continued along Crown Street until I got to Foveaux Street. A pub near the corner advertised "proper sandwiches" on its facade. I turned down the hill toward Central Station.

As the hill flattened out I passed by a restaurant with a sign in its window spelling out "Greek Street Food" in neon letters. Next door to it was a sushi train restaurant. The Greek place had long communal tables and all of the spaces appeared to be occupied by diners. There were crowds of people waiting to cross Elizabeth Street, on the other side of which a busker sat on the pavement behind two prone dogs; I had seen the same busker from time to time near Market City in Haymarket. I walked under the train tracks through the tunnel and along Eddy Avenue to Pitt Street, where I turned left. I crossed Lee Street with a crowd of people and then walked west along Broadway to the shopping centre.

I turned right into Bay Street and headed north down to the park. There was a huge group of schoolchildren in the park that moved en-masse toward Wentworth Park Road and crossed at the traffic lights. I headed home, picking up a cup of coffee on the way. It hadn't rained although I had carried my umbrella with me and I was glad to get inside and sit down.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Egyptian for lunch again

This morning I set off shortly after 11am on my walk, which took me through Darling Harbour as usual. On Broadway near Central Station there was a young woman wearing a blue denim jacket with "1966", "666" and "Bad Acid" printed in red and white ink on the back. She was walking along arm-in-arm with another woman, who wore a tan coat. Down near Wattle Street next to UTS a young man wearing a black top and brown shorts walked along with a surfboard in a silver coloured carry bag hanging from his right shoulder. The light changed to green just as I arrived and I walked straight across to the traffic island.

Up near the shopping centre there was a woman standing in the stream of pedestrian traffic holding a computer monitor in her hands. Her eyes were closed as she stood immobile on the pavement. At Victoria Park I was the only person entering along the footpath and I headed up toward the university. In Newtown at Missenden Road the traffic light again changed to green just as I arrived and I went straight across. I headed down to Enmore and went into the Egyptian restaurant, ordering my food and taking a stool at the counter facing the kitchen.

I also ordered a Camperdown Pale Ale, which was sweet and rich in taste. The food was as good as the time before and when I finished eating I spoke briefly with the staffer who came to take away the empty plates. She had dreadlocks and wore grey jeans. I left the restaurant and headed north. At the corner of Enmore Road and King Street I looked up at the dark clouds coming in from the southeast. The wind was chilly here at the square and I hurried on along King Street. Up at the corner of Carillon Avenue and City Road there were three young men waiting for the lights behind me, and they were talking about international plane travel. When we had all crossed the road they turned into St Paul's College and I carried on down the street toward the park.

I decided to go into the city to buy some socks, so I headed back along Broadway and across Quay Street into George Street where the trackwork is going on. Young women stood outside the massage parlours offering leaflets to passers-by. I walked past the pawnbrokers with the steady flow of foot traffic. At Liverpool Street I looked east and could see the buildings that flank Hyde Park glowing brightly in the sunshine. I got to the department store and went up in the lift to the menswear section, found some suitable socks and paid. On the way out I took a phone call so I went down on the escalators. I was still talking on the phone on Pyrmont Bridge. At the pub there was a live band playing music for patrons who sat at tables and at the counter with their drinks. I got home soon after; I had been gone for almost four-and-a-half hours.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Walking home at dusk

Today a friend and I went up to Newtown for lunch and we had some Thai food. After leaving the restaurant we walked south on King Street and I saw a young woman with pink hair wearing a white long sleeved shirt and a rainbow coloured bow tie. My friend and I stopped at Parliament, a cafe near Alice Street where there's an old 70s Ducati 750 stuffed into the fireplace and a church pew for customers to sit on. After leaving the cafe my friend caught a cab and I walked back up toward the pub next to the railway station, because I had to use the loo.

In the pub after answering the call of nature I walked back out into the bar area. It was close to 4.30pm by this time and the room was full of young people. They sat on stools and gathered on their feet around the bar that ran the length of the room toward the street windows. I dodged my way through the press of people, heading for the door and out on the street I walked north, back toward home.

In Victoria Park the lights were already on. I could see two taxis parked at the kerb near the university with their vacancy lights illuminated. The drivers were standing on the footpath talking animatedly and I guessed that they knew each other and had arranged to meet there. Near Broadway I saw a candy coloured police car moving sedately down toward the traffic lights. I went across Broadway into Bay Street and walked down to Wentworth Park. In the park there were still parents supervising their children on the play equipment next to the path. A group of young people walked toward me on the path. Near the viaduct over Wattle Street I saw the train heading eastward, its windows shining in the darkness. There were three vehicles parked on the footpath under the viaduct. People had set up tables and benches for the homeless people who live in the park and they were standing behind the tables serving food to them.

A woman carrying a smartphone in her hands came up to me and asked what was happening. "They're giving food to the homeless people," I said to her as we stood on the footpath next to the traffic. "There are homeless people living under the arches. Lots of them." A group of people walked in my direction on the footpath and I could see that several of them wore T-shirts printed with the name of a well known Sydney seafood restaurant. I guessed they were Fish Market employees leaving work for the day.

At the back of the Fish Market it was dark and I saw a young woman on a scooter and a man jogging on the pavement. The shipping containers in the parking lot with the fish nets piled on top of them stood in front of the motorway pylons, on top of which the concrete roadway sat. It was getting dark. In Miller Street I heard the rail car sound its bell and looking down into the cutting I saw the train pulling up at the station, its lights shining in the gloom. I entered Harris Street with its bars and pubs and was soon home.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Getting a pair of shoes fixed

Today I left home at around midday to go for my walk and it was still quite cold, the sky overcast and nacreous with lighter and darker bands of cloud visible toward the horizon. I went down under the Pyrmont Bridge onto the promenade and there were quite a few people about despite the uncomfortable weather. A man in his 50s wearing shorts and a white singlet jogged briskly along in my direction and passed me. He was wearing a sun visor although it wasn't sunny. There are always a few joggers around in the area because there's no automobile traffic to contend with and today was no exception.

A group of Chinese men in dark coats was gathered around the war memorial at Liverpool Street, each of them holding up a smartphone taking pictures of Dixon Street and its flanking buildings. Up at the corner of Quay Street and Broadway a man with bare feet stood holding a red-coloured slushie facing the heavy foot traffic. He was talking incessantly at noone in particular but I didn't catch what he was saying. Behind him, in the shelter provided by the Rendezvous Hotel, another rough sleeper sat on a pile of blankets with suitcases positioned on the pavement about him.

In the shopping centre I made my way up to the Mister Minit counter and showed the staffer the shoes I had brought from home in a grey plastic singlet bag. The liners had slipped but were glued in place, making walking uncomfortable. He took me around to the side of the stall where some items were hanging on display and picked a new pair of liners in a plastic bag off the hook. He then ripped the existing liners out of my brown shoes with his hands and inserted the new ones. I paid and left, heading upstairs to the salad bar. After eating I made my way out of the building to the street.

A man wearing fluoro work clothes and a hard hat was walking ahead of me smoking a cigarette. Behind him walked a woman in a dark coat carrying two Aldi shopping bags and a teal coloured bucket. I made my way across Wentworth Park. Dozens of small children were climbing on the climbing frame beside the footpath. A completely bald man wearing blue shorts and a blue T-shirt was making slow kicks and punches in the air as he stood next to the permanent training equipment to one side of the park. In Miller Street a young man wearing an orange fluoro singlet was pushing a trolley supporting a large couch covered in a dark blue padded blanket. I bought a coffee and came home; I had been gone just over two hours.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

To Enmore for lunch

It was fine out so I planned a longer walk than normal but my route took me down to Darling Harbour as usual. Outside the Pyrmont Bridge Hotel at the traffic lights a glossy dark pigeon walked between my feet to peck at something on the pavement. Later, near UTS where the construction hoarding is installed, a woman came up to me and touched me on the arm, asking if I could help her. "What's wrong?" I asked. "Oh don't ask," she said, rolling here eyes and turning down the corners of her mouth, before requesting two dollars from me. I was so surprised by her neat appearance and the incongruence contained in the question that I took out my wallet and gave her five dollars. She thanked me profusely as I started back down the hill toward Wattle Street.

When I got to Newtown there was a young man walking down the pavement with a young woman beside him. He wore white sneakers with high ankles and carried a pair of black leather shoes in his right hand. I thought about eating lunch in the Taiwanese vegan place up near Moore Theological College but decided to wait until I got to Enmore, which had been my intended destination. Once there I looked at some restaurant menus posted up in windows. I was walking along when I turned back and entered a place on Enmore Road named Cairo. I ate a huge meal of delicious Egyptian food and had a bottle of beer brewed in Brookvale, a suburb in northern Sydney.

After eating I complimented the staffer behind the front counter and headed back up toward Newtown. I saw a police van, a police car and two ambulances parked in King Street outside the railway station. The police car and one of the ambulances had their lights flashing. As I walked past on the other side of the road I saw two ambos wheel someone up to the front ambulance on a stretcher.

A young woman with short green hair and leotards printed with upside-down Christian crosses lit up a cigarette in the square. I headed back up the road. As I passed St Paul's College I had a look at the development approval certificate posted on the font fence. It said they were building more accommodation on the site. As I passed the driveway leading to the worksite, a woman dessed in fluoro gear was holding up a truck with her outstretched hand, and let me pass by on the footpath.

In Victoria Park I asked a workman standing near a crane what they were doing to the pond and he said he didn't know. "Just fixing it up." I continued down toward Broadway. Stopped at the traffic lights on City Road was a large removalist's truck with DAJIN written on the side along with the Chinese characters for "big money". I walked back along Broadway, retracing my steps, and turned into Quay Street. In Darling Harbour the sun was in my eyes except when I passed under the Western Distributor. The sun reflected off the water played on the underside of the concrete motorway.

I stopped at the pharmacist to pick up some medicine I had ordered the day before. Outside the shop in the mall near the entrance to the supermarket a slim man with white hair wearing a suit was typing on his smartphone with two thumbs; the device had a bright orange case. I stopped at a Vietnamese restaurant on Harris Street and bought a flat white before returning home. I had been gone for just over three hours.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Back to sunny skies

For the first time in many days I went outside today without an umbrella because of the blue skies. My route took me as usual down into Darling Harbour. There was a four-year-old boy chasing an ibis around one of the planter parapets shouting "Shoo, shoo, shoo!" and pointing at the unfortunate bird with an outstretched finger. Children in the Darling Harbour quarter frequently chase birds. Mainly pigeons but seagulls and ibis as well, so I wasn't surprised except that the little chap was so absorbed in his task and was so vocal.

In the Broadway Shopping Centre there was a group of people standing round some floodlights and one of them held a mounted camera attached to a flash. I had seen the same sort of two-handed gizmo earlier, when I started my walk, outside an office building on Harris Street. In that case the cameraman was standing opposite a dapper-looking, shortish man with a beard who was posing in front of the venerable brickwork of the building and adjusting his coat with one hand in order to make the best impression possible. In the shopping centre I didn't work out which of the group was going to be in front of the camera because I walked past quickly, heading for the moving walkway so I could get to the second floor where the food court is.

The wind outside was quite chilly even though the sun was out so I buttoned up my coat when I got out of the building before heading down Bay Street to Wentworth Park. I picked up a cup of coffee at a cafe in John Street Square when I got back to Pyrmont before returning home to my computer. Later, I went out again to get to my scheduled appointment with the dietitian. We talked and she gave me more pointers about what to eat and when. This was my final Medicare-sponsored dietitian appointment for this year. I will be able to use the service again next year. For the moment though I'll have to find a battery for the scales that are currently sitting unused in the bathroom.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Baffled by bookshops

The other day I came across an article in the New Yorker on my Facebook timeline about a photographer of the American subculture named Nan Goldin. It was a great read. There was something so redolent with significance for me in the figure of Goldin and in her history, which takes in what is for me a great but under-observed era: the 1980s. I wanted to know more so when I was out walking today I dropped by Gleebooks and asked if they had any books by Goldin. They didn't and I left empty handed. I thought about browsing and even ventured past the desk into the body of the shop, but the idea of bringing home any more physical books made me feel dizzy with anxiety.

I left the bookshop and decided to buy what I wanted online.

The Kindle was a revelation and although I was late to get one - I bought it only a couple of years ago - it has quickly become second nature to reach out when I get into bed to pick it up from where it sits always on the bedside table. I do think the bookmarks function is poorly designed but apart from that it has been a wonderful addition to my life. I can buy hundreds of books without worrying about storage. I have numerous bookcases in three rooms and the idea of adding to the collection makes me feel slightly ill, as if I were simply burdening myself with something unpleasant, like an unwanted friendship.

Normally I get all my book recommendations, furthermore, from the internet. I have found many unusual books this way, things that would never be stocked in bookshops. I once worked as a publishing company sales rep, so I know how the business works; all bookshops in the metropolitan area get stocked with the same mainstream titles. Unusual and hard-to-locate things are completely overlooked. I know that many people like the heft and feel of the physical product, but such things mean nothing to me. For me it's all in the quality of the writing or the ideas. Books are intellectual property, just like journalism and music, and in that space the rein of electrons has had irreversible effects on businesses. The convenience of buying on the Kindle based on recommendations from social media simply cannot be matched by bricks-and-mortar bookshops.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Crisis in opinion poll industry

Now that the UK general election has played itself out we're seeing a lot of people aim criticism at the media for getting it so wrong. Rupert Murdoch is reported to have stormed out of a meeting when the exit polls came through because he had used his newspapers to campaign strongly for the Conservatives but they had done relatively poorly in the election itself. An oracular Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party was heard promising to lead ... despite the fact that he had failed to get the numbers in the House of Commons.

But Corbyn did surprisingly well and a lot of people in the UK media industry will now be asking themselves why the polls were so out-of-whack. When Theresa May, the PM, called the election a few weeks ago her party was well ahead in the polls. But the same thing happened last year in Australia when PM Malcolm Turnbull called the election that turned out to almost deliver a hung Parliament. Despite the fact that when he called the election opinion polls put his party well ahead, the final result was so close it took a week before a winner could be named. Then there's the Trump phenomenon in the US. Opinion polls all the way up until the election were calling it for the Democrats. There seems to be a crisis in the opinion polling industry. Why do they always seem to get it so wrong these days?

What is certain is that the recriminations in the aftermath of the UK election will go on for some time. Heads have already started rolling, with May's two top advisers falling on their swords and quitting. It remains to be seen whether May herself can last in the top job. As for the red tops, it is doubtful whether they will stop trying to back winners in elections in the UK. Murdoch and his ilk are too used to wielding power to stop so easily. But quietly, on the side, they might start putting less faith in opinion polls. 

Saturday, 10 June 2017

ABC's Guthrie not keen on the limelight

Writing as usual for The Guardian, Amanda Meade interprets in print an interview the ABC's managing director Michelle Guthrie did with Jane Hutcheon, who runs the broadcaster's One Plus One program.

As Meade notes it's the first time Guthrie has appeared in the media in such a candid fashion and many people will take an interest in it. Meade highlights the way Guthrie seeks to distance herself from her past, especially those troubling (for some) years with Sky TV, a company owned by Rupert Murdoch. She also says she's not used to being notorious, and that she finds publicity that focuses on her person unsettling.

But being MD of the ABC is a very public role, so Guthrie is going to have to get used to attracting a bit of attention, especially since the media is so highly politicised in Australia. Polarisation occurs from the top down too, with politicians such as conservative Peter Dutton publicly complaining that they think the ABC is too left wing. Then there's the IPA and their friends in the Murdoch press always on the lookout for weak spots in the public broadcaster's armour that can be exploited for private reasons.

Perhaps Guthrie is not suited to the job. Her predecessor, Mark Scott, came from a media background too - he was an executive with Fairfax Media - and he was very visible in the community, running a Twitter account that was highly subscribed. It sounds callous to put it that way but you have to consider that the ABC sits at the centre of the public sphere in Australia, in fact it plays a unique role. You could say that it is a linchpin in the traffic of public messages of all kinds, from culture to science and from politics to the environment. In many ways it functions too to maintain a critical level of contact between the polarised halves of the community, as you see for example when shows such as Q and A gain attention. People who identify with both the left and the right side of politics can both participate in ABC-mediated discussions in a way that other platforms cannot enable. There is no mechanism in many countries that performs this role.

We can only hope that Guthrie comes to enjoy the public elements of her job. It might be a difficult ride for her if she cannot come to grips with being talked about in the media and by people in the community, many of whom have very strongly-held views about the viability of the public broadcaster.

Friday, 9 June 2017

A hung Parliament doesn't have to mean poor government

Here's an unflattering photo of the British PM from the Guardian website. The media are already on the hunt since the results of the UK general election came in today revealing a big swing to Labour and a reduced contingent of MPs for the Conservatives. PM Theresa May will form a government with the assistance of the Democratic Unionists Party, a Northern Irish mob of social conservatives, but I don't think anyone knows how they will actually lean on most issues.

After she had been to see the Queen to ask for permission to form government, May looked unstable as she fronted the media outside 10 Downing Street. She took no questions. The red tops who backed her have started the recriminations and the way ahead is looking uncertain but operating a minority government does not mean you are going to do a bad job, as the Australian experience demonstrates. In 2010 the PM, Julia Gillard, formed a government with the help of one Greens MP and three independents and her government was fantastically productive, passing bill after bill in the Parliament until 2013 when she was replaced by her party by her predecessor, the man she herself had deposed.

The right wing media was on the attack throughout Gillard's tenure in the top job but the country continued to be governed - and governed well, according to many - despite strong opposition to her leadership in the public sphere. Many people have already started attacking May online but we know from Gillard's time in power that government is entirely possible when the ruling party holds a minority position in Parliament.

Book review: Nikki Gemmell, After (2017)

Euthanasia is a politically fraught subject but one that has resonance within the community. You can see how important some people view it by considering the work done by Andrew Denton last year. Denton was interviewed a lot following his researches but nothing has happened on the legislative front in Australia, probably because of the fact that we still have a conservative government in charge of the agenda. You can only wonder at what will happen when Labor gets back into power, as they will do in 2019.

Nikki Gemmell is both an author and a journalist and to write this book about her mother's unexpected suicide she puts on both hats. The journalist in her knows that there is a market in the community for a book on this subject. The author in her has very happily supplied the stylistic wherewithal to tackle such a personal incident.

Her impressionistic, spare style works well in this context, as the author takes the reader through all the stages of grief and reconciliation, from interviews with police - did anyone help Elayn to die? - to what to tell the children (Gemmell has four). Yes, there's a funeral as well. What the journalist also does is to get in touch with Philip Nitschke directly and talk with the founder of euthanasia group Exit International in order to help her understand her mother's actions. Nikki is grieving for the dead woman and she initially finds the idea of euthanasia abhorrent.

The book furthermore charts Elayn's own trajectory through life and talks about the relationship between mother and daughter, which was not always without bumps. The book finishes still cogitating these things but there seems to have been some sort of closure for the author in the end as she contemplates her mother's life. Gemmell also talks directly with a doctor - who contacted the author after Gemmell wrote a story for a newspaper which garnered a degree of attention - who had decided to take her own life. The issue of chronic pain is also discussed in some detail.

I found it easy to read this book but I wonder about the author's decision to eke it out near the finale. Some of those shards of prose might have been cut without impacting on the integrity of the whole, I thought. And I'm not entirely sure if the kintsugi trope works quite as effectively as the author might have wished. Nevertheless it's a satisfying and timely book which can provide many people with useful guidance. Those confronting chronic pain might take comfort that loved ones can reasonably accept what might at first seem inexcusable. For legislators, the book would be even more useful, helping them to understand why we need to change the law in Australia to allow people to exit life in a dignified manner at the time of their own choosing. Much of the emotional distress the book conveys could have been avoided if we had had the right legislative arrangements in place, as they already have in some countries.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

The public sphere feedback loop and the internationalisation of media outlets

I was having a quiet beer with a friend yesterday at a bar overlooking Darling Harbour. We could hear the rain thundering on the metal roof of the building and see the water outside dimpled during the intermittent downpours. At one stage the conversation veered to a friend of his who is prone on similar occasions to repeating the tropes we are used to hearing from the mouths of radio shock jocks like Ray Hadley, right wing notions often coined in the offices of the IPA and volunteered for public consumption also by journalists working at The Australian. We had a bit of a laugh at his expense.

But of course those outlets are primed to produce such content because it is profitable for them to do so. There is a feedback loop in the public sphere whereby the public grants approval - by tuning in or clicking on links - to the media outlet(s) that give them material that conforms to their own views of the world. Rupert Murdoch has made a fortune out of catering to the idiot middle class, for example, through outlets such as Fox News in America. Whoever you are there is something for you nowadays, even if you are a neanderthal with pretensions to the status of homo sapiens.

Which makes me wonder how the internationalisation of news outlets might be working to homogenise and normalise public spheres around the world, bringing them into closer consonance with one another. We've seen in Australia for example The Guardian opening up offices in Sydney's Surry Hills. In fact the person tasked with orchestrating this advent - Kath Viner - is now in charge of the outlet's global operations. How has opening an Australian franchise affected the way of operating of the British masthead? The New York Times is mooted to be on the verge of opening up here as well. What will that mean for the American public sphere? How can the feedback loop work to make public spheres around the world more conscious of one another?

In the food industry, to look elsewhere, there is a lot of localisation going on. We see it with McDonald's, where you can buy local types of burgers - such as the Mega Teriyaki in Japan - only in local outlets. But Starbucks has apparently started selling flat whites in its US stores, showing how one country can influence another. (Flat whites were invented in either Australia or New Zealand, depending on who you believe.)

In the public sphere the currency in use is ideas, and ideas are more fluid and unpredictable than hamburgers can ever be. How might Australian ideas about gun ownership, to take one example, affect the way the New York newspaper covers the issue in America? Can the public sphere feedback loop operate across borders? Can what readers click on in Australia affect how subjects are written about and covered in the United States? What does that mean for citizens in each country?

May high on pre-poll testosterone

You hear it all the time when there's a terror attack in one of our cities. Politicians come out and encourage residents, visitors and citizens to go about their daily business as usual. It's like a mantra out of the pollie's playbook when this kind of incident occurs. Senior police are accustomed to say similar things when they're dragged out before the microphones in the aftermath of a mass slaying: Don't worry, just act normal. Don't let the terrorists win.

Which is why it's so surprising to hear the British PM Theresa May promise to trample on human rights laws if her government - if elected later this week - finds that that's the only way to combat terror more effectively. Who's calling the shots now? If we let May and her ilk get away with this kind of legislation program we're undoubtedly letting the terrorists win, because it's exactly this kind of draconian response that they are seeking when they commit the crimes we are becoming more and more used too hearing about in the news. We must stay strong to our roots as pluralistic democracies, with central to that aspiration being a belief in universal human rights. In their many forms.

May is possibly just jacked up on whatever hormone it is that animates politicians to over-deliver prior to election day. Of course, there's the alternative - Corbyn and Labour - which seems now to be a real possibility. People across the world lamented the killings on London Bridge and they will be watching what happens later this week in the UK as the election unfolds. For the Australian public an added inducement to tune in will be that the ABC's Antony Green will be covering the election. It should be fun.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Why do people just put rubbish on top of things?

The note is gone unfortunately. If I had made time to take this photo a day or so earlier it would have been there. This is the protective stanchion at the exit to our building's parking garage and there was one resident of the building who would repeatedly put his or her used disposable coffee cup on top of it. It was annoying another resident so much that they - the other resident - stuck to the top of the stanchion a hand-written note asking the litterer to stop. Then other residents with the same feelings wrote their own views on the same sign until it was covered with writing. All messages of disgust.

But this is how it is in our cities. People just put their rubbish on top of any available thing that they come across in the street as soon as they can get rid of whatever they hold in their hands. They do it on seats, on traffic light signal boxes, on walls, on those plastic barriers put out to control crowds, on stanchions and anywhere else that is to-hand.

The city I live in is replete with rubbish bins but a lot of people cannot bother waiting until they see one before disposing of their unwanted garbage anywhere and everywhere. It's even worse with cigarette butts, which unthinking people just drop on the pavement without a moment's thought. And we wonder why the ocean is full of rubbish thrown away - or just put on top of some handy piece of street furniture - by some rascal too lazy to look for a legitimate place to put it. It's disgusting but there you go. We are a careless creature when we only think about our own convenience. You don't see this sort of litter in a place like Tokyo, where people are always careful not to bring inconvenience to their neighbours. We should all be more like the Japanese, I think.

Book review: Rachel Reiland, Get Me Out of Here (2002)

Subtitled 'My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder', this is a rare thing: a first-person account of the experience of living with a mental illness. Reiland - the name is a pseudonym - was perhaps saved as an author by her habit of incessantly diarising her exploits during the process of therapy the book recounts. As a result, there is ample material for the memoirist to work on while recovering the experiences of the patient for the benefit of the reader.

BPD is a nasty illness and Reiland pulls no punches, exposing the abrasive personality traits that it entails in voluminous detail (those diary entries again). Therapy to cure her takes about four years, initially going three times a week but then this frequency tapers off as she improves later on in the piece. The reader is exposed to the relentless emotional swings, the manipulativeness, the tears and the breakdowns involved in living with BPD as Reiland moves slowly from a position of helpless abandon to one of resigned familiarity, and as the ravages of the disease give way to peace of mind.

Reiland's therapist is named Dr. Padgett in the book and he serves her well, soothing and probing by turns as he tries to uncover the family history that lay behind Reiland's illness, the parental issues she had which had caused her to become to uncomfortably unhinged. Reiland in the book watches herself in therapy sessions with Dr. Padgett, showing how she was prone to switch heedlessly between two personality traits (which she herself labels "Vulno"and "Tough Chick") as she negotiates her way through the thickets of signifiers that surround her within the matrix of the debilitating illness.

Reiland is an accountant and a mother of two toddlers when the book opens. Her therapy was initially paid for by her health insurer, but when that money ran out she had to rely on income her husband - also an accountant - could produce. Eventually she herself was able to return to work, and money stopped being such a problem.

The book is quite long and detailed, and so many readers might become exhausted due to the rollercoaster of emotions that it entails. You can't help but sympathise with the author and protagonist as she works her way through some very tough problems. But in the end it's worth it. I found the book both involving and lucid, and am thankful that it gave me some insights into a disease that is relatively unknown among the broader population. I read the book on my Kindle; the image accompanying this post comes from the internet.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

ASIO central to China money expose

An ABC-Fairfax investigation has revealed that Chinese businessmen making donations to Australian political parties are trying to exert influence over the political process in Australia. The five-month-long investigation culminated in a 4 Corners program on Monday night in Australia. Two businessmen in particular - Chau Chak Wing and Huang Xiangmo - warrant attention by the journalists in developing the story. Both have close ties to the Communist Party in China, but since most big business in China is party-affiliated that is hardly surprising.

What is more interesting is that ASIO - Australia's internal security service - cooperated with investigators to such an extent that much of the information that goes to the heart of the issue is sourced from them. Without ASIO there would have been no story. As a result of the broadcast the prime minister has announced an investigation into political funding regulations. And perhaps this is what ASIO had needed and which pressed them to pursuing such a transparent result in the story's production. Perhaps they had for some time tried to get the government to pay attention to their concerns about Australia's sovereignty and, frustrated, had found that their appeals fell on deaf ears.

The resultant investigation has given us a fascinating view into the business of politics here and we can only hope that other journalists in this country continue to explore avenues opened up as a result of the broadcast. But it should be remembered that without ASIO's cooperation there would have been no story.

People are on edge

This morning while returning home from the dermatologist's I was eating a cheeky beef kebab in the food court under Myer on Pitt Street when I saw a member of Westfield staff acting oddly. He was pointing down while standing with his back partly bent. He was facing away from me but I followed his arm and saw a black backpack sitting on the floor underneath a lunch counter. He was standing almost immobile, bent over in this strange position and his left hand was situated on the walkie-talkie strapped to the back of his belt. I realised he must be talking to someone.

Another member of staff arrived - this one wearing a suit - and the first staffer stood up to face him. I saw he had a mouthpiece attached to a headset that he had been talking into. By this time he had brought the black backpack out from under the counter onto a chair and the two men spoke briefly while I sat there watching them. Then the first guy left and the second guy soon after walked away carrying the backpack.

It reminded me of something I had seen less than a week earlier, this time in Darling Harbour. I was walking south from the Pyrmont Bridge toward Chinatown and I saw a team of about five or six police walking slowly toward me. Another policeman was on the wooden wharf just to my left. As I got closer to him I could see that he held a long apparatus with a mirror attached to the end. In his other hand he carried a grey, plastic case like a camera case. He was clearly looking for explosive devices under the wharf.

These two events make me realise how on-edge authorities are. Security guards in shopping centres have an unenviable job, especially when people carelessly leave their rucksacks behind in food courts. The authorities may have left the terror alert level unchanged for the time being but I sense a growing feeling of unease among people who are employed to keep us safe.

Monday, 5 June 2017

London terror attacks could push Corbyn over the line

It was evening in Australia when the terror attacks on London Bridge started and so we got all the action as it was happening. Police were telling people not to load images and videos to the internet, but to give them to authorities first. There were messages telling people to run and hide. A special help line had been set up so that people could phone into authorities even if they were unable to talk openly on the phone.

People all over the world were wondering how it could happen again so soon after the Manchester attack. Three terror incidents in three months in Britain alone.

In the aftermath of the attack social media continues to light up with messages talking about the meaning of what happened. Many are condemning the way that right wing politicians - like the US president - are capitalising on the attack for their own political purposes. But one thing that hasn't until very recently been mentioned is that the British prime minister in her previous job as home secretary oversaw large cuts to police in the UK. In response to PM May's media address yesterday Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has promised to put on more police and security services staff if he gets elected on Thursday.

The election might not have gone ahead on schedule but as May said yesterday things will proceed as planned. But she should be worried. Corbyn looked like a sure loser when the election was called some weeks ago but his party has risen in the polls dramatically and now they are running neck-and-neck with the Conservatives. May's misstep as home secretary could be the thing that finally pushes Corbyn over the line and into government, which is something that nobody could have foreseen.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Just about gotten used to the wafer

Last night at a bout 9pm I put the wafer under my tongue and let it take effect. This was a bit later than the day before, but yesterday it was after I had finished drinking wine. I stayed up drinking water until about 10pm then because I was feeling sleepy I had a shower, cleaned my teeth and went to bed. I read a bit of my book on the Kindle as usual then turned off the light and was soon asleep.

This morning I woke up at around 8am and got out of bed immediately. Usually - with the old medication - I would stay in bed until 11am or so - but now I felt energised and able to face the day. I was also craving some coffee as my mouth was dry. So I got dressed and came out to the living area and made a pot of coffee straight away.

Today I don't feel tired and there is no diarrhea as there had been yesterday morning. The wafer seems to have worked its way through my system completely now and my body has adapted to it finally. I am sleeping better and getting up in the morning instead of, as I used to, lazing around for hours in bed. Also, because the wafer tends to dehydrate you a bit, I am not getting up in the middle of the night to use the toilet and micturate, as I used to do. When I get up I feel much more "normal" and less sleepy than I used to do. All these things suggest to me that the transition from the old medication to the new one has been completed successfully.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Getting used to the wafer

Last night I went out to have a beer with friends and got to the pub at about 4pm after walking across Darling Harbour and up Bathurst Street. We had a few drinks then headed upstairs to the bistro for dinner. I had some fish with greens - taking the low-carb option - and another glass of red with it, then quite early we bundled out the door and I got into a cab on Goulburn Street. The driver had some classical music on - he was unusually an Anglo - and we chatted about the radio station and music for a bit. He also complained about pedestrians crossing after the lights go red, which is a bit problem in the city, especially now with smartphones taking people's attention off their surroundings.

Once home I sat down and had some of the chardonnay I keep in the fridge and attended to social media. For some reason that day had been quite busy online, with Twitter especially drawing attention to political topics - as it tends to do these days - and so eliciting from people their views on government policy. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of chatter online about Trump's decision to remove the US from the Paris climate agreement.

Even though I was still drinking, at around 9.30pm I decided to take the antipsychotic wafer. A friend had suggested on Facebook earlier that instead of taking the pill right at bedtime I should take it earlier, in order to diminish its impact on my sleep as it tends to make my pulse race. So I got up from the PC and went to the bathroom and put one of the wafers from the pack under my tongue, where it promptly dissolved. I was careful this time to keep the spit in my mouth however; yesterday's dose had largely been wasted because I had swallowed the spit immediately, and the active ingredient needs to assimilate into the bloodstream in the mouth (as with chewing tobacco), as if it goes to the liver it will be destroyed as a toxin and there will be no effect at all.

The wafer's bitter taste filled my mouth as the active ingredient started to take effect, and I felt my pulse start to speed up slightly. It was not as noticeable as it had been the first time I had taken the wafer, so I was not so alarmed. I knew what was coming. I went back to the PC and sat down and kept up the conversation online while the wafer took hold of my body. It seemed like not long before I was tired however so I had a shower as usual and went to bed. I read my Kindle book for a while then turned out the light and promptly went to sleep.

In the morning - this morning - I woke up with a very dry mouth and went to the bathroom where I drank two glasses of water. I went back to bed but didn't feel drowsy. Normally I would sleep until 11am but now I felt the need desperately for a cup of coffee, so I got up and got dressed and went out to the living room where the PC sits.

I think that I have worked this thing out now. I had had some negative feedback from different quarters about this wafer and about the psychiatrist who had prescribed it, but I think that you just need to adapt gradually to a new drug - especially something as important and deeply affecting as an antipsychotic. In terms of the diet - because I noticed that the wafer tends to make your pulse speed up, so you can tend to get a bit peckish late at night - I have decided to trim the calories by having toast with something for lunch. Whatever's in the fridge or the cupboard, really. So that means that dinner will be the main source of calories now apart from the wine.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Inadvertent presidential comedy tweet reminds me of how Twitter used to be

Yesterday just after midnight US eastern time the US president Donald Trump made a queer tweet and it stayed up online for the next 15 hours until someone finally clicked to the game and took it down. What is 'covfefe'? Nobody knows. But it kept the twitterverse entertained for a long time and it reminded me of the good old days of Twitter before trolling and extreme views ruined the party for everyone.

Because Twitter used to be fun and light-hearted. Not any more. Every tweet these days is ideally centred at one pole or other end of the political spectrum and people spend hours and more defending unimportant viewpoints because they just cannot let go - and smile. Covfefe reminded us all for a while how much we used to enjoy using Twitter before the left-and right-wing trolls emerged to muddy the waters.

Usually, the only time you see so many people focused on one subject like Covfefe is when there's a terror attack in Europe. This time, there was nothing so dire to energise people, but they were entirely busy making light of a sorry situation - where the idiotic leader of the free world goes gaga again. This time it wasn't a stupid error of policy or foreign relations, it was a neglected tweet that somehow managed to evade the censors in the White House for a good long time. And because Australia was awake for most of that time, most of the best action was coming out of Australia. Although there was a cute Covfefe song two guys in the US came up with yesterday. All in all it was a grand festival of hahas, and we can only hope that we get another opportunity to make merry in the same way in the not-too-distant future. We all need to lighten up a bit, I think.

Second day of new medication

This morning I got up late and made some coffee, drinking two cups at the desktop before going out for my usual walk. Up on Harris Street near the Bendigo Bank there was a single, crumpled, but clean, black sock on the pavement which however didn't take up my attention for long because there was also nearby a big, late-model, silver Rolls Royce with a silver-haired bloke with a cigarette in his mouth sitting at the wheel.

In Chinatown there was a black man with deformed legs balancing his entire body on a basketball while singing along to a rap song coming out of a speaker set on the pavement. He looked so incongruous among the legions of ethnic Chinese who frequent the area, I almost stopped to take a photo but didn't because I didn't have any change to give the poor guy. Back up on Harris Street near the Thai restaurant near TAFE there was an intact pair of metal-framed sunglasses lying on the square of dirt around the base of one of the trees.

I was wearing a light jacket - which I've had for about 25 years, and used to use when I lived in Japan - and the sun was shining, so eventually I started to get quite warm.

Last night was the second night of the new medication. When I put the wafer under my tongue it disappeared in a flash - pop! and it was gone - but I left it alone without using water as I had been advised to do by the psychiatrist. My pulse went up again and I got up to eat a can of sardines - not as much as the night before - because I again had cravings for food. But I lay there trying to get to sleep for several hours before finally dropping off. I dreamt I was being tortured, my testicles in pain, though this had nothing to do with real life. In real life I was just asleep in bed in my apartment in Sydney.

I kept waking up but not as much as usual so I got most of my sleeping last night done after 3am and before about 9am. Which is probably enough, although the actual hours spent in bed were more than that. Today I have decided to keep on taking the new medication despite the fact that it is clearly disturbing my sleep. I had to go to the toilet three times last night before I finally dropped off into slumber. And the pulse issue is a major one. My pulse goes so fast it is like I am high on something or like I am having a panic attack, and it makes it very difficult to go to sleep because you are energised by the medication and do not feel drowsy, even though you know that you should be sleeping.