Occident Prone

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Archive for the ‘Diversions’ Category

Sharks catch a break with pilot shortage

Posted by occidentprone on September 25, 2008

Australia has a pilot shortage, a story that doesn’t have a direct impact on a lot of people’s lives. So how to hit readers where it hurts? Make it into a shark story.

WAToday reports: 

Aerial shark patrols of Perth’s beaches will no longer be flown by Edith Cowan University’s aviation school which has operated the shark spotters since they started in 2001.

The WA government first contracted ECU to fly the patrols in November 2001 after businessman Ken Crew died when attacked by a 4m white pointer at North Cottesloe Beach in November 2000.

Until last summer, ECU had been able to marshall the forces of 15 to 20 student aviators to fly the shark spots out of Jandakot Airport.

… But last summer WA’s booming mining industry poached so many student pilots for fly-in, fly-out work that there were no longer enough students to keep the community safety service running.

… ECU is the only university in WA to offer a degree course for budding pilots.

Typically, students gain their commercial licence in the second year of their degree and build their flight hours up in the third year.

But increasingly, mining and tourism companies are employing students as soon as they get their licence, and the students complete their flying hours in full-time employment.

By the by, young and inexperienced pilots have long been getting a raw deal from many small and rural operators. Being a pilot is more of a vocation than a job or profession to a lot of people who have dreamed of owning the skies since the seventh time they saw Top Gun. And bosses have capitalised on that by paying measly dollars to pilots eager to fill in the log book and rack up the air time.

Maybe a short-term shortage is just what the industry needs to show employers they should ditch the cowboy culture, disregard for regulations and shelf-stacker pay and treat its staff as professionals.

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Posted in Diversions, Industrial relations, Perth | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Save the whale stories

Posted by occidentprone on September 25, 2008

Another day, another whale story. This time a baby humpback is stranded at Jurien Bay. It’s not just a whale, it’s a baby whale and this ill kid can’t be saved.

The media love a good whale story. Human reporters and near-human editors like to anthropomorphise animals of all stripes. What good is a fantastic creature picture if people aren’t ascribing human emotions and features to the characters in it?

Here in WA, a famous case is the picture of giraffe Makulu by West Australian photographer Ron D’Raine. The picture is aesthetically cute on its own but once we project our own very human feelings about motherhood and babies on to it, the image of mother giraffe kissing the top of baby giraffe’s head is unforgettable.

So back to the big lumps of blubber in the ocean. What’s the attraction?

Whales are mysterious creatures. They’re mammals, like us, but dwell in the depths of the unknown. It’s a primal thing maybe or perhaps we look for twists on Biblical Jonah’s journey into the belly of the whale. And that whale song – talk about haunting.

Every permutation on a whale story is exploited in newspapers and on telly  – us humans offering help to stranded whales, like mythical mermaids caught twixt land and sea; the barbaric foreigners harming whales for base purposes – food; whale watching as faux connection with nature.

Some whale stories from around the world:

‘Orphaned’ whale thinks mother is yacht. (NineMSN)

Japan might kill world’s only white whale (The Telegraph)

Adding Weight to Suspicion, Sonar Is Linked to Whale Deaths (New York Times)

Study fails to link naval sonar with whale strandings (New Scientist)

So save the whale stories, I say. More whale yarns for everyone and if they’re sad we can have a blubber.

Read more about strandings world wide at whales.org.au. The site also has a clip of Sir Anthony Hopkins speaking out for whales (good with some fava beans and a nice little chianti, no doubt).

Posted in Diversions, Environment, Media | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Suburban mums fall prey to the dark side

Posted by occidentprone on September 17, 2008

Big news in the war against drugs – the drugs are winning. Now those darn drugs have recruited suburban mums in the fight.

That august record,  PerthNow website reports:

Suburban mums are among the over-30s who have emerged as the new users of the illicit drug ecstasy, a national study has found.

Once considered a “young person’s drug”, ecstasy has a new following in more mature users who see it as a harmless alternative to alcohol.

Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia’s Paul Dillon described the results as shocking. “Everyone is stunned. Everyone is thinking it’s a really young person’s drug but it’s not,” he said. 

The recently released 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey has revealed that since 1995, the number of people aged 30 to 39 using ecstasy has increased 5.7 per cent to 6.3 per cent for men, and 2.8 per cent to 3.2 per cent for women. 

Mr Dillon said mature people were turning to the drug because of misinformation about its effects. 

“I talked to two women in their 30s two weeks ago and these were both divorcees, they have recently split from their husbands, they’ve got 15 and 16-year-old kids and they’ve basically discovered their second childhood,” he said. 

“The reason they’re taking ecstasy is because they don’t want to drink, because with drinking they get out of control.” 

School car parks, playgrounds are populated with MDMA-ravaged mothers saying “I love you” to random strangers. 

Mums who don’t want to get out control.  Mums who probably haven’t felt in control since the second trimester of their first pregnancy.

If only …

In real life, mums are people who just say no to euphoria.

And if they were delving into the illicit drug scene en masse, it would surely be speed. A little amphetamine enhancement would make all the sports practice / music / play date chaos run a little more to schedule and deliver the oomph to be heard above the dinnertime din. Or coke for extra confidence in dealing with slouching, sulking, surly teens.

Ok, so I’m generalising and playing on stereotypes. I admit it – what about you PerthNow?

Posted in Diversions, Media | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Games are over, time to get serious

Posted by occidentprone on August 27, 2008

After two weeks spent presiding over Olympic fencing, dusting chalk from gymnasts and a stint in a re-education camp, this blogger is back. 

The biggest challenge of the Games was trying to assess why the Chinese Central Government’s nationalistic party-speak and tight stage management of every facet was bad and Australia’s jingoistic and patriotic jargon – from media, athletes, Rudd, Coates, the neighbours and colleagues – was good.

The games and everything they symbolise have been raked over by smarter people than me so I’ll leave it to the experts and instead explore what I’ve missed in the interim.

Before the hibernation I remember an election being called but it’s hard to tell the poll stuff from the Olympics stuff, so entwined were the cliches. Backflips, poll vault, race-this-and-that.

Over the few weeks remaining before the election, I’ll be carbo-loading and sprint training to get on top of the WA election before we scratch our markings on ballots at the local primary school.

Meantime, send your thoughts, grievances, score cards.

Posted in Diversions, Media, Perth, Politics, West Australian politics | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Mysteries, mass media and mixed metaphors

Posted by occidentprone on August 6, 2008

It’s like the Twilight Zone here at the moment with the missing and mysterious filling the pages of the paper and websites this morning.

An inquest into the disappeared Kaz II crew is sitting in Townsville his week and has heard how three Yunderup men went missing off the Queensland coast last year. The catamaran has been called a ghost ship, with reporters yanking descriptives from their Mary Celeste imagery grab bag. But from inquest evidence in the last few days, it seems there were technical issues and nervous preparation before they set off.

One of two brothers fishing off Walpole is also missing this morning. The 82-year-old Manjimup man was fishing in Broke Inlet with his younger brother on Monday when they were swept out to sea. The 75-year-old swam to shore and searchers resumed the search for his brother this morning.

There has been a search of a different kind at a Chittering property for drug dealer Frank La Rosa who, with his wife Kim, is missing.

Frank La Rosa spent 12 years in jail for his part in a clandestine amphetamine factory and was due in court on further drug trafficking charges in July.

Police are treating his disappearance as suspicious, but have stopped short of describing the inquiry as a homicide investigation.

The property being searched today was once owned by La Rosa. (Source: ABC)

Elswhere, new Liberal leader Colin Barnett is missing the days of loyalty to the party, Varanus Island gas is back online but we are still longing for full gas, which won’t be back to pre-crisis levels till Christmas time, and we are all saying a teary farewell to our privacy as Street View is launched in Australia.

The media has been so outraged at Google’s latest venture that they’ve had to spell out exactly what sensitive landmarks will be exposed – Swanbourne Barracks, the WA police training centre, the PM’s house – to guarantee a free kick to Google and voyerism.

Posted in Diversions, Media, Perth, Politics, West Australian politics | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

A lesson for the Carpenator

Posted by occidentprone on August 1, 2008

 The West Australian reports the WA teachers pay negotiations with the state government have broken down. 

The teachers’ proposed pay deal was on the brink of collapse yesterday, with almost half the union’s governing body breaking ranks to reveal they do not support the agreement struck with the State Government last week. 
   
More than a week after the pay offer was approved by the union’s executive and presented by the Government and union president Anne Gisborne as a fait accompli, seven out of 17 members of the executive have broken ranks to condemn it publicly. 
   
In what could prove to be a major embarrassment for the Government in the weeks leading up to the next State election, the union rebels are urging teachers to seriously question the deal when voting starts this month. 

…The Government has offered teachers pay rises of between 15 and 21 per cent over three years and annual allowances of between $3000 and $19,000 to those who teach in tough city schools and remote schools. Education Minister Mark McGowan says the deal would make WA teachers better paid than those in other States. 
   
But the seven rebels told The West Australian in a statement yesterday that the agreement would only keep pace with inflation. 

This is a tenuous link but under the subgenre of food for thought: What are our public servants to make of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s move to sack 22,000 California state workers and cut the pay of 200,000 more to minimum wage?

Here in WA the government is crying poor every time some two-bit irrelevant section of the public service, like say teachers or nurses or coppers, wants more money for the cushy jobs they do.

“Most of those laid off are seasonal and part-time staff, while the 200,000 remaining state employees would have their full salaries restored when a budget was agreed, the governor said.

“Today I am exercising my executive authority to avoid a full-blown crisis and keep our state moving forward,” he said.

“This is not an action I take lightly but we do not have a budget and, as governor, I have a responsibility to make sure our state has enough money to pay its bills.” 

… Asked whether his administration would sue the state financial controller’s office if it did not comply with the executive order, Mr Schwarzenegger said:

“If that’s what it takes. I’m here to make sure that our state functions, and whatever it takes, I will do it.” (Source: BBC

Alan Carpenter is no superhero like Arnie and our political system doesn’t allow the premier to sign away workers in the stroke of a pen on an executive order as has happened in the US. But in WA, where we have a worker shortage, the state is not going to function at all without happy teachers or nurses or coppers.

Like the man said, whatever it takes.

Posted in Diversions, Foreign affairs, Industrial relations, Perth, Politics, West Australian politics | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Can free rent for artists make the city cool?

Posted by occidentprone on July 30, 2008

There’s a plan afoot to turn dead retail space in the dead heart of dead Perth city into artists’ garrets.

The West Australian‘s paper edition today – but AGAIN not the website – reports property groups such as Hawaiian are making upstairs spaces in the Carillon and the Hay and Murray street malls available at low rent or even no rent to artists. Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi says the landlords are “good corporate citizens”.

More than 90 artists are on a waiting list for city studio space.

Can a place be made cool like this? Can a bohemian vibe be manufactured in this way by the city council?

I don’t see why not. Artists’ ghettoes have long been in places that were dead to the more materially minded and Perth city is in need of resuscitation. And by jewellers and painters and artisans moving in, paradoxically, it becomes cool again.

In a post a few months back I looked at some criteria for making a place desirable but outside the obvious shopping-cafe precinct kind of way. Free rent is another way to draw life back in.

Posted in Diversions, Perth | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Starbucks, I never knew you … and now I never will

Posted by occidentprone on July 30, 2008

WA has been blessed by being free of three scourges insidious in other states.

The cane toad is on the march and could be well into WA’s north within a few years.

Money and life-sucking Pokies are restricted to the Burswood Casino and are not filling every suburban gathering spot from Lockridge to Spearwood but it’s been a while since the Liberals stated their position on this so all this could change.

But Starbucks, which never made it west, looks like never coming here. The ABC reports: 

Coffee chain Starbucks says it will close 61 of its 84 stores across Australia by Sunday, shedding 685 jobs in an effort to shore up its international business.

The company says the stores will close because they have been under-performing.

Twenty-three stores will remain open in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, where Starbucks says it wants to refocus on its core operations.

The multi-national last month announced 600 stores in the United States would close as sales plummeted against a background of a weakening US economy.

About 12,000 jobs were lost.

In a statement, the company’s chief executive Howard Schultz says the company is well into the implementation phase of transforming Starbucks.

The statement says today’s difficult yet necessary decision will help support the ongoing growth of Starbucks’ international business.

In a prerecorded interview released by Starbucks, the company’s Asia Pacific president John Kulver says the company will help staff who lose their jobs.

“We want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can as a company to support them with this restructuring,” he said.

It never came here so I never learned to love the coffee behemoth. But intelligent, interesting, creative people I love and respect were big fans. I couldn’t imagine that could be me but then I bet a lot of pokie addicts underestimated the pull of the flashing lights and mesmerising escapism.

No doubt writers and commentators the blogosphere over are combing the metaphorical significance of Starbucks’ ill-health. I’ll leave the obituaries to those who were passionate about it one way or the other and just be thankful I never had to care.

If you do care, these might be of interest: 

Posted in Diversions | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Forget the flat white, get yourself a good book

Posted by occidentprone on July 28, 2008

Yesterday I popped down to Cino to Go in Mt Lawley to get a feel for what Stephen Smith might have been thinking when he took the US Secretary of State there on Friday, and to just be where she had been.

This is by no means a plug for Cino because there are heaps of great coffee spots in Mt Lawley.  Though I found they’re sprinkling real chocolate on the top of the cappuccino so maybe that’s why our Foreign Affairs Minister finds it appealing.

But if he really wanted to make an impression he should have taken Dr Rice – chaperoned by his parents of course – to Planet Books. She has said she sends friends to do her clothes shopping but bookshop browsing is not something you can delegate. Even the endlessness of Amazon is no match for the smell, see, feel, hear assault you get by craning your neck through all the shelves and flicking through the ones that catch your eye.

Planet, along with the smaller Oxford Books in Leederville, are bastions for the slow browsers. I have easily spent an hour just looking – and not even buying in the end but still feeling as though it was an afternoon well spent.

I can see Condi, brow furrowed before the bank of political and current affairs books, pondering the anti-Bush and anti-US themes, and suddenly having a lightbulb moment – PING – Time for the US to get out of Iraq, time to use this international influence for good, to not just bide time by Bush’s side, to recognise America is no longer the prestigious hemisphere it once was, that its “brand” is tarnished.

Maybe Smith could point her towards a John Pilger rant or the Latham Diaries (any of those still around?) for a bit of perspective.

Or the talented pianist could just buy a biography on Brahms. Either way Rice could see there’s a lot going on outside Planet Bush.

Posted in Australian politics, Diversions, Foreign affairs, Perth, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

International relations amid the art deco of Mt Lawley

Posted by occidentprone on July 26, 2008

“And here’s one of little Stevie on the first day of school – yes he was potty trained, he was just nervous.” A proud mum tells her adult son’s new friend everything she needs to know for a fruitful relationship.

Here’s what it is: The most powerful woman in the world comes to Perth, home of Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister and he takes Condoleezza Rice to Cino To Go in Mt Lawley with his parents.

The Australian today has a pic of little Stevie with the very important Dr Rice and his mum and dad, in an ordinary Perth coffee shop.

For shame.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Cino To Go, hell I even like Smith. He’s been my federal member for some years and like his mum I’ve always believed in him and wanted him to do well. But this is an embarrassment and I’m not so sure he’s the man we need representing our sophisticated, modern face to the world.

Of all the hopes and aspirations political commentators and international affairs observers had for Rice’s visit – an insight into US foreign policy, a hint on future moves in Afghanistan and the Middle East – and Smith takes the US Secretary of State to his daughter’s school and his local cafe.

A few days ago commenter Skink said he too was represented by Smith and maybe the good minister could take Condi to Charcoal Chicken for a feed. I thought Skink was taking the piss but he must have had a peek in Smith’s diary. Maybe the chook shop was shut. Maybe Condi was over chicken after ASEAN. Maybe he’s trying to help Labor’s Karen Brown win the state seat of Mt Lawley. Maybe this is all a bad dream.

Here’s what The West had to say about the visit:

On lighter matters, Dr Rice revealed she and Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith had spent time explaining the rules of cricket and American football to one another.

She said she had enjoyed meeting Mr Smith’s family, and now loves “flat whites” after tasting one at a Perth coffee shop earlier today.

On an overcast day, Dr Rice’s luck held out with the rain starting to fall shortly after she left the park to head to the airport to fly on to New Zealand.

Dr Rice praised Perth as a beautiful city and a special part of Australia and said its openness and optimism reminded her of western America, which is her heart’s home.

Speaking of flat whites, maybe Smith had to cram the cringe-worthy family meetings into Rice’s itinerary (she also met his daughter and son) because he’s aware this gig is short-lived.

And if he wants the open and optimistic relationship with the States to continue Smith should start professing his love for long blacks.

Posted in Australian politics, Diversions, Foreign affairs, Perth, Politics | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »