Sunday, June 28, 2009

Breast Feeding while Drunk

All hail the the North Dakota officials who have prosecuted a new mother, 26-year-old Stacey Anvarinia, for breastfeeding while intoxicated. There is no social group more in need of protection than infants, and what are they to do when even the people who are meant to protect them the most fail in their responsibilty? Often we hear of quite absurd legal rulings eminating from the the good ol' US of A, but this one needs to be applauded.

I can't stand the way people neglect and abuse their children. A few months back I was interviewing Father Chris Riley, a Sydney priest who established the 'Youth off the Streets' program in Australia. He told me that we didn't treat our children very well, a comment that shocked me.

His comment did however, make me sensitive to the media reports of child neglect, and with credit to Fr Riley, I now think he's correct. Just this week in Australia, a man and woman have been found guilty of starving their autistic daughter to death.

Could this be any more disgraceful?

The seven-year-old girl died in November 2007 at her home in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, weighing just nine kilograms. Officially, she died of malnutrition and dehydration resulting from starvation. Worse still, the trial heard the girl was so thin that she looked "mummified" to paramedics.

Both parents had pleaded not guilty to murdering the child but several doctors testified the girl suffered the most severe case of malnutrition they had ever seen, with one expert saying the child's head resembled a skull wrapped in skin.

This is just beyond belief. Is it case of mental illness? Poor social skills? And what of the local community? What were the neighbours doing? Didn't anybody notice? And it wasn't as though these parents didn't know about having children. The couple's three (yes...three!) other daughters have now been taken into care by the state. Bravo! But perhaps too late.

Not only did the parents fail in their care of this poor child, but so did the community, and so did the state.

Can this be fixed?

Sure it can. It takes a village to raise a child, and we all need to be aware of the circumstances around us. In the same way that we ensure our personal safety on a daily basis, we also have to mindful of those around us, especially the most vunerable, being the children who (unfortunately it seems) only have the grown-ups to trust.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

She Fell Asleep?!!??

I don’t have any tattoos, and never wanted any, but I am told the procedure is quite painful. So how amazed were we all when a Belgian girl , Kimberley Vlaeminck, wanting just three stars on her face, woke from the tattoo session to find her complexion covered with the constellation of Andromeda.

Irrespective of why anyone on earth (or any other planet) would want to tattoo their face for anything but medical or cultural reasons, how the hell did she fall asleep? Please, comment below if you have ever had a tattoo and found the procedure comfortable enough to fall asleep through. Is it a cure for insomnia? Having a needle prick your skin, on your face, multiple times a second?

Something is not correct here. Perhaps the poor girl should have said, “I was on a meth bender and passed-out after telling the freakshow artist with the needle that I wanted a face full of stars, when anyone knows that just means three…” Hmmm... Chk Chk Boom.

Perhaps she spoke French and he heard Flemish. That would be more understandable but just as unbelievable.

And about that “artist”. I have refrained from posting his picture here for fear of frightening the children, but compared to his ink, any tattoo would be considered minor (

In fact, he says that all was fine, until the girl’s old man showed up. Then the situation got (comparatively) ugly(er).

Apparently these days, tattoos can be removed with laser treatment, and the tattoo ‘artist’ will pay 50% of the cost. Now, laser treatment is something I am familiar with, and it can be painful. I certainly didn't sleep through it! More painful than tattoos? I can’t say. But no doubt the trauma ultimately applied to this girl’s skin could well be a legacy for life.

Now a Dutch website says it’s all hoax.

The site bases its claims on the fact the girl has declined all publicity and only given interviews to Belgian radio station MNM.

And the famous Kimberlizer, which uses webcam images to put stars on the user's own face, was launched by the advertising agency behind MNM.

More than that, MNM's logo is a star.

So the truth still remains to be seen, but either way, who is the bigger fool?

(Pic: AAP)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Heading Overseas? Behave yourself!

Today we hear the news of a distressed Aussie mum who can’t take her kids to Disneyland, because the US won’t issue her a VISA. It seems a few months back, the mum found herself in hot water in Thailand for the theft of a ‘bar runner’, a cloth used in bars and pubs to soak up spilled alcohol.

She stole what?

Well apparently a friend put it in her bag (I’ve heard that one a few times in the Sydney airport customs hall myself). The Thai authorities weren’t too impressed, neither with the details, nor with the offer made by her travel mates to ‘pay a fine’ to settle the dispute. Anyway, a few days later after much indignity, she plead guilty to end her horror and was deported back to Australia.

As any traveller knows, the jumping through hoops that is currently required to enter the USA, requires you to declare any criminal conviction. Duly noted, our despairing mum now finds herself without an entry permit to the Land of Walt, and probably won’t score one for the next 5 years or so.

What a shock!

Actually, it shouldn’t be. Now, I’m no fan of any country’s draconian laws or customs that may seem inappropriate or outdated from our point of view, but I certainly do understand the need to respect such laws and customs, irrespective of whether I’m visiting a foreign nation or a local pub. I’m all for national reform of oppressed populations, but until that takes place, I’m always sure to be courteous, well mannered and respectful of any authority when travelling overseas, no matter how corrupt I may (mistakenly or not) believe that it is.

The mum in Thailand got off easily. Consider for a moment Nasrah Alshamery, the 44 year old Sydney woman sentenced to two years in a Kuwaiti prison for insulting the country's ruler. This followed a ‘misunderstanding’ between family members and an airport official last year, in which she was accused of screaming obscenities and insulting the emir.

She denied the charges, and her lawyer claimed witness testimony was contradictory.

She had appealed her sentence last week and was waiting to hear the outcome when her sentence was suddenly suspended. According to her lawyer, the Kuwaiti's government's decision to instead deport Mrs Alshamery's was a "satisfactory political solution to a sticky problem."

Her family is well relieved.

I’m familiar with that part of the world, and while there are many ‘traditional’ laws and customs in the Middle East that ‘westerners’ may find confronting, they are certainly not for challenging when visiting such countries, whether in private, in public, or least of all, at the airport.

That said, there are signs all over Australian airport check-in counters saying ‘We take jokes very seriously’. That is, don’t joke about drugs, bombs, guns or any other security issues. You'll probably find yourself questioned, delayed and missing your flight, all for being a goose. Holidays are fun times, but that doesn’t mean your regular candour should also take a vacation. Consulates can do little when local laws are broken, but as recent events have shown, it takes very little to find yourself in an awkward situation, either stupidly or unintentionally.

Illustration: Cathy Wilcox

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Goodbye JASJAM…yes it’s all due to age

Distracted, hurried, pre-occupied.

That’s all it takes to leave your cell phone on the roof of the car as you pack the child into the back seat, then forget where you left the phone. Anyway, a beautiful day at Sydney’s Centennial Park ended with my wife wondering what that thump and clank sound was as we drove across Alison Road. I knew immediately what it was. I check my pockets and my worst fears are confirmed. My lifeline was lost. Not being able to do a u-turn, we circled a few blocks and parked close to where we thought the phone had fallen. I walked back across the road, dodging the traffic headed for the park, others headed for the SuperCentre, others finding themselves in the wrong lane for entry to Fox Studios.

A break in the traffic lets me spot some mangled broken piece of technology scattered across the bitumen like debris from a space station after re-entry. I scurried across the road, picked-up the major bits (pictured) and saw a small glimmer of hope…in the form of the sim card looking in near perfect condition. I drove home with anticipation, wanting to eagerly check whether the sim card would work in my ‘stand-by phone’ (doesn’t everybody have a stand-by phone?), and YES! It worked! Now the challenge is to see if I can synchronise my NOKIA stand-by phone with the backed-up data on my PC from my now destroyed Windows Mobile driven HTC JASJAM. This, I know, will take some doing. And my level of patience will be tested only for as long as I can save my pennies for a newer WinMobile type phone.

Is there a lesson here? Yep. Always back-up your data, even if it is just a phone. And Yep, I certainly did that. Is there another lesson? Yep. Never be too distracted, too hurried, too pre-occupied to overlook details that are obvious. Having a car roof to put items on is luxury for me. This is the first time I’ve had a car with a roof low enough to reach (my vehicles before now have always been larger 4WD). So although I have saved on fuel, on repayments, and from being abused by pedestrians for having a 4WD in the city, I’m now about a grand in the hole, all due to a stupid phone.

Email me, it’s cheaper.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Divorce? No, Watson had a different idea.

How is it that a man who married his wife just 11 days earlier can leave her to die on their honeymoon? US citizen David Gabriel "Gabe" Watson pleaded guilty this week of the manslaughter of his wife while they were scuba diving on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The underwater picture shows Watson in the foreground, his wife on the right of the picture, lying face up, probably already dead, while another diver swims to her rescue.
AND he was a qualified rescue diver! Apparently he testified that the newlyweds entered the water at 10.30am on that day in October 2003. Six minutes later, Watson surfaced alone, distressed and signalling for help. But, being her dive buddy, he did not check that she had oxygen. He did not offer to share his own oxygen. He did not inflate her buoyancy vest or remove weights from her belt. He did not try to help her to the surface. He just let go of his bride, leaving her to sink to her death on the ocean floor as he resurfaced. The other diver found her eyes open, her mask still on, her regulator still in her mouth, oxygen in her tank. But she was not breathing.
We have to accept the finding of the court, but we’ll probably never really know what happened. Is this a case of a new husband getting cold feet? Was it an opportunity good too miss for man who made a mistake?
What’s wrong with divorce? Better than killing someone, don’t you think? Better than a jail sentence, better than distressed relatives filled with hate, better than having to face the ultimate judgement irrespective of your beliefs.
This couple had no kids, newly married so there was probably little or no property between them. A divorce or separation would have been disappointing yes, but at least no one would be dead; no one would be convicted of a heinous crime.
Justice Peter Lyons sentenced the US citizen to 4½ years jail, suspended after 12 months. Watson will be deported back to the US once he has served his term. Good riddance!
The victim's father, sister and best friend flew to Australia to be present at the sentencing. Watson's new wife, whom he wed last August, was also in the courtroom. I can’t wait for the tabloid magazines to print ‘her story’.
Outside the court the victim's father said the sentence was "a total injustice". "Today he [Watson] was allowed to take the easy way out. This is in no way, shape or form a beginning to get justice for our daughter … we believe that Gabe Watson murdered our daughter."
The family is considering seeking an appeal.
No wonder.
Photo: Queensland Police and Channel Ten

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

It's Due to Age

Never in my 44 years has this ever happened before. I was rushing to get home to a very active 3 year old and a sick wife awaiting respite. Stopping at the supermarket to pick-up some bread and milk, I whizzed around and also filled the trolley with herbal cold tablets, some powdered lemon stuff laced with paracetamol, chocolate chip cookies and hand sanitiser to ward off the H1 N1 virus. “Did I have everything?’ I thought to myself. Yes, I was sure.

Into the ‘400 items or less’ check-out lane, I quickly moved up the queue, scanned my booty, only to discover my EFTPOS card missing from my wallet. How so??? It’s always there! Had my wallet been raided? When did I use it last? Did my wife inadvertently ‘borrow’ it? Not that it mattered. The steam building under the collars of those behind me was starting to vent. The check-out chick found something interesting to look at on the ceiling as I checked all the obvious and hidden compartments in my wallet. “This is so embarrassing” I laughed unconvincingly. I didn’t have enough cash to pay, but finally discovered a rarely used VISA card lurking between my football club membership card and some useless loyalty card that is a waste of space. I swiped it with anticipation…I couldn’t even remember paying any money off that card. Perhaps it has been cancelled and the sheriff hasn’t caught up with me yet. Will the store’s security screens slam shut? Will the Tactical Response Group raid the place and have me facedown in the aisle, limbs akimbo? Nope. Card accepted. I quickly left and continued home.

Such focused attention on personal failure is as intense as a pinprick. I remember helping an elderly woman at a newsagent when she found herself short 20 cents to pay for her lotto ticket. I handed the sales clerk the money, quite disgusted that the clerk wouldn’t forego the payment in the first place as a gesture of understanding the lady’s predicament. Rather, the clerk allowed the poor woman to suffer the embarrassment for that short period before I interceded.

Ultimately though, it’s but a tiny piece of our lives taking place in a huge world. Today an Air France jet with more than 200 passengers was lost over the Atlantic. There are pictures of despair on the faces of people awaiting news in Charles de Gaulle and in Rio. The news will be bad.

Perspective is everything. Never lose it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Keep the job? Or move on?

One of my clients recently had to make some workplace changes, both to improve efficiency and to reflect the changing economic times. Being a small production company producing an enormous amount of live TV, the changes impacted the core of the senior producers, a group of 5 people or so. After much negotiation, the best offer that could be made by management was to have each of them work one Saturday every 5 weeks. Remuneration was taken into account, day off in lieu offered, as well as an improved bonus scheme.

But, the offer was no good. 4 out of 5 of the producers said 'no' and left management with very little choice. This came at the end of a tense and difficult time and relationships within the firm had been strained for some weeks. Left with no other choice, with negotiations at an impasse, the 4 producers all indicated that they were leaving the company....all on the same day. A bold move in current economic times, wouldn't you say? Unfortunately, to ensure survival, the firm couldn't back down, as the 'Saturday' schedule needed to be fulfilled. Surprisingly for a media company, the firm offered to engineer a 'redundancy' for the departing producers...a type of golden handshake.

Now of course, the firm is without 4 experienced producers, who resigned of their their own volition, and advertisements were posted to fill their roles. Close to 200 applicants (at last count) have applied for the positions.

But the questions remain: Given the improved remuneration, was it unreasonable for the producers to be expected to work one Saturday in 5? Was is right for the firm to engineer a redundancy for them? Is this the time to tell your employer to 'shove it' considering the economic climate? All the producers are under 30 years of age, so I guess they are employable, but expecting to pick up another gig in the TV biz any time soon might be a bit of an ask.