Sunday, 24 August 2014

And Jabba the Rinehart can shut up an' all

This brilliant piece of work done by Darrin in London.
This all started for me on Friday night when I was watching TV.
I did what I think is the functional thing to do and scanned through the TV guide early, round six pm, to see what was on that evening, thence to decide what was worth watching, and turn the TV off at other times.
As I went through I came to a clattering halt on one of the channels where I saw with astonishment that the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships (the Pan Pacs) were being sponsored by Hancock Prospecting, Gina Rinehart's company.
Now there were so many things about this that jumped out at me that I hardly now where to start, but I'll begin with ecology.
Gina Rinehart's company, Hancock Prospecting, are involved with Indian Company GVK, and thus are two of the F$%^-ing eco-bastard companies who wish to expand the coal loader port at Abbot Point on the north Queensland coast.
The expansion of this port involves dumping three million cubic metres of dredge spoil on the Great Barrier Reef.
I've written about this extensively, as have almost every environmental journo in the country.
Everyone in the damn country who is not actually mining coal, doesn't want this to go ahead, feeling, perfectly correctly, that the Reef is slightly more important than a few bucks from coal.
So this sponsorship of the swimming is obviously a latent attempt by Jabba the Rinehart to gain some popularity, to get us to see her company as a good thing, and not what it is, an environmentally destructive force of pure evil.
Incensed beyond belief, I put this on the Pan Pacs facebook page.

Apart from the ecological consequences of Rinehart trying to buy some popularity, there then came the unholy irony of a tournament featuring Australia's fittest athletes being sponsored by a woman so overweight her arse has its own postcode.
If anyone could use a few laps up  and down the pool, it is certainly Gina Bloody Rinehart.
What's more, if she is going to sponsor a TV program, then she should look no further than that bloody weight loss show on Channel Ten.
I have described that show elsewhere as, "a show whose title accurately reflects anyone who watches it".
And now that I think about it, not only should she sponsor it, but go on it as well.

I have no doubt that this is going to bring down a firestorm of attacks from the politically-correct lobby indicating that I can't attack a woman for being fat.
Well to that I say, I wouldn't be having a dig at Jabba is she hadn't started the war by attacking the rest of us for being poor.
So what's that all about?
This screen grab from The Australian tells part of the story.
basically she outlines in lurid, virulent detail that the reason we are poor is because we all spend our time drinking and goofing off.
The staggering hypocrisy of this took my, and I suspect, your, breath away.
For you see the reason that she is Australia's richest person is that she inherited the company from her father, Lang Hancock.
Lang stumbled upon the world's richest iron ore deposit one day while flying his plane over the Kimberleys in Western Australia.
Jabba duly ascended to the throne, and then seemed to be infused by an almost palpable aura of holier-than-thou.
She seemed, and still seems to think that, she has all this money because she is a sharp business person with a great work ethic.
No, no, no Jabba.
You got lucky, or even then, your dad got lucky.
So then to come out and start telling the rest of us how to work and get rich is beyond the scale for hypocrisy.
Now as to her being fat, my work colleague Susanna, said she "has much more control over her being fat, than the rest of us have over being poor".
The fatness though is not really the issue, it's more a outward manifestation of the grossness of Gina Rinehart's soul.

And I would to draw a comparison with a Oprah Whinfrey.

Oprah before.
Oprah for those of you who don't know, wages a life long battle with her weight.
When she first realised she had a problem, a reflectivity that Gina could well do with, she, Oprah, set out to lose weight.
She duly did so, and was then attacked for it.
The attackers saying that things along the lines of, 'yeah, it's easy for Oprah to lose weight, she's got all that money, so she can employ personal trainers, and buy expensive gym equipment'.
Well maybe so, but Oprah returned serve by pointing out that while that was true, she still had to show a modicum of discipline.
She, with all her money, could of course order a five star-meal any time of the day or night.
She could order a five star meal every hour.
She could order one every five minutes.
But she didn't, she knew that eating all the time was a one-way downhill spiral.
Also, as she pointed out, she still had to get on the treadmill and do the five k running each day.
While her no-doubt, high-priced personal trainer was there to motivate her, the trainer can't do the kilometres for you.
Oprah got on the treadmill and did it each day.
Oprah after.
Now Oprah is not anyone I would watch, but I have to state that I admire her for showing some discipline.
Something that Gina Rinehart would do well to emulate.
And since we're here, here are the wealth figures that most have a minor curiousity about.
The richest woman in the world is American Wal-Mart heiress Christy Walton, who, with her family, is worth $US37.7 billion.
Jabba is on track to overtake her with a current personal wealth of nearly US$19 billion.
That is, with every new coal mine she opens her personal wealth goes up, while the health of this planet's biosphere goes down.
Oprah is rated at $US2.9 billion dollars.
Mexican telco giant Carlos Slim is the richest person on Earth at $US81.7 billion, while probably the best known billionaire, Bill Gates is currently second at $US80.6 billion.
But even here the comparison does well to be brought between Oprah and Gina.
While Rinehart had to do nothing except fight tooth and nail to stop her father's second wife, Rose Porteous absconding back to the Philippines with all his money.
Oprah was born into poverty in rural America.
She worked hard in the media and when her talk show went national when she was aged 32, she became a millionaire.
What's more, Oprah is of course black, and that is still a handicap to being rich in the States.
The odds against a woman becoming rich are big enough, but a black woman who came from nothing, are in the realms of stratospheric.
Oprah is the highest placed African-Amercan at 184 of 400.
And please note further, I've had a look and there is still no Indigenous person on the Australian millionaires list, the closest seems to be an Australian Rules Footballer, Lance "Buddy" Franklin.
His transfer from Melbourne Aussie rules club Hawthorn to Sydney was rated as $10 million deal, and his yearly income is rated at $760,000.
For the record, Gina is at the top of the Australian Top Fifty Richest, Clive Palmer is at the bottom with 0.55 billion next to his name.
I wonder how Gina would have got on if she had been indigenous, growing up outside Karratha with no education or adequate health care?
So let me now regress a bit.
When I was writing this and conversing with Susanna as we went, I was making the point that I've made many a time, which is, 'how much is enough?'
Why does Gina Rinehart still want to go on making more money?
And there's nothing inherently wrong with wanting to make money, I'm no marxist, but in Gina's case making even more money always involves destroying more of the environment.
Isn't twenty damn billion dollars enough to buy her a nice house, and then employ a personal trainer and go on a diet?
Apparently not.
She is currently, while the Abbot Point destruction is being pushed forward, setting up a new mine at Roy Hill in WA.
This Roy Hill mine will destroy more of the coast, and will net her a projected ten billion and take her up to the 19 billion figure stated.
So why does she keep doing it?
Well it seems that she sees herself as a great benefactor.
This foray into grossly deluded lunacy started with the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, John Fairfax media's two biggest mastheads.
Gina bought a share in the company, at a time when it was going downhill financially, and was quoted at the time as saying that the journalists at Fairfax should see her as 'a white knight'.
In a written response to ABC TV on behalf of Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd (HPPL), Ms Rinehart said she had hoped to be a saviour to Fairfax, which had witnessed the declining circulation of its three major mastheads for the past five years.
"Fairfax share price has also declined significantly, some approximately 90 per cent," Ms Rinehart said.
"HPPL had hoped that Mrs Rinehart may be viewed by the (Fairfax) Board as a successful business person and a necessary "white knight" with mutual interest in a sustainable Fairfax."
What?! Excuse, bloody me!
The reason this tub of lard wished to take over Fairfax was to control what they wrote about her, no other reason.
Now this white-knight-ism on behalf of Rinehart is also how she sustains her vision of herself the rest of the time.
By doing all these mining projects all over the country she is trying to hopelessly delude herself that she is loved for providing jobs.
She may be by those who work in the mining industry, but that is only 1.9 per cent of Australian workers.
And since all of Rinehart's employment projects involve destroying 100% of the environment for the rest of us, then I think that may highlight why she is anything but loved by 98.1% of Australians.
And so I'll come to the end of this with a not-so-surprising fact that I came across in my researches for this.
The reason the Pan Pacs are being sponsored by Gina is because she is now trying to buy up channel Ten.
This is another obvious grab for a media outlet so she can control the message.
So if you do watch channel Ten, and I do for The Simpsons, look forward to an increasing number of stories on this channel saying how great mining is for this country, and how terrific Jabba the Rinehart is for providing all these jobs.
Stories indicating that mining may, even slightly, be having a less than beneficial affect on the environment, will be conspicuously absent.
When Gina starts giving some of her money away, as Bill Gates does, and starts providing greater support for the environment, and starts improving the conditions for her workers, then I'll stop making the Jabba the Hut comparison.


Tuesday, 19 August 2014

More on the Great Barrier Reef, and: So we're doing 'Mutiny on the Bounty' again are we?

Bligh and his followers being set adrift.
Each day I go round to my favourite coffee shop here in Byron Bay, Barefoot Roasters, and while
Rodney and his team are making up the coffees for me and my work colleagues we have a discussion on current events.
Most of these conversations in the current era revolve around the current Australian federal government, led by Tony Abbott.
Rodney's oft repeated line is 'how are we letting Tony Abbott get away with all this illegal shit?'
And most days I am stuck for a reply.
I feel much the same as Rodney, when I listen to the news and AM, my favourite current affairs show on Radio National, I spend most of my time in gobsmacked-amazement at the antics, stupidity, and general beyond-belief carryings-on of those clowns in our government.
Clowns implies humour, however (sadly) there's nothing funny about what they're up to.
Our practice of setting asylum seekers adrift on lifeboats and telling them to get back to the country they set out from is probably the most iconic news item that we know about.
When we were discussing this it put me in mind of the most famous setting adrift of all, the mutiny on the Bounty.
This mutiny has been made into three movies, most recently with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins, but previous to this the best known version was made in 1962 with Charles Laughton as Bligh and Clark Gable as Christian.
Mostly Christian has been portrayed as the good guy, though the reasons for the mutiny, and subsequent setting adrift of Bligh and his followers were complex.
The facts are as such: [extract from the oh-so-helpful Wikipedia]
The Mutiny on the Bounty was a mutiny aboard the British Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty on 28 April 1789.
The mutiny was led by Fletcher Christian against their captain, Lieutenant William Bligh. According to accounts, the sailors were attracted to the "idyllic" life and sexual opportunities afforded on the Pacific island of Tahiti.
It has also been argued that they were motivated by Bligh's allegedly harsh treatment of them.
Eighteen mutineers set Bligh afloat in a small boat with eighteen of the twenty-two crew loyal to him.
To avoid detection and prevent desertion, the mutineers then variously settled on Pitcairn Island or on Tahiti and burned Bounty off Pitcairn.
In an extraordinary feat of seamanship, Bligh navigated the 23-foot (7 m) open launch on a 47-day voyage to Timor in the Dutch East Indies, equipped with a quadrant and pocket watch and without charts or compass.
He recorded the distance as 3,618 nautical miles (6,701 km; 4,164 mi).
He then returned to Britain and reported the mutiny to the Admiralty on 15 March 1790, 2 years and 11 weeks after his original departure.

So Bligh was set adrift and made it home.
However, the major difference here was that Bligh was an expert navigator, and was accompanied by experienced seamen.
What we are doing on the high seas is setting people adrift on the ocean who have no ability to navigate themselves home.
I don't want to get into the whys-and-wherefores of the motives of the asylum seekers, but they aren't all terrorists as our government would have the voting populace believe.
So I'll close this strand by pointing this out to our minister for stopping anyone immigrating, Scott Morrison.
Once Bligh reported back to the admiralty in London, a naval ship was dispatched to the south seas to find the mutineers.
The surviving ten prisoners were eventually repatriated to England and tried in a naval court.
Three were pardoned, four acquitted, and, minister Morrison please note, three were hanged.


Latest on the Reef.

Also this week Four Corners did a brilliant show on the Great Barrier Reef.
Those of you who have been following my writings to any extent recently will no I have done some articles on this topic for my web magazine,
The focus has been on the desire by some dead-set arseholes to redevelop the coal loader port at Abbot Point, near Townsville.
To do this, the eco-bastards involved, North Queensland Bulk Ports, Adani, GVK-Hancock and others wish to dig up three million cubic metres of dredge spoil and dump it in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
It's environmental bastardry of the highest order, it's insane beyond belief, its'...., well frankly I'm still at a loss for words.
Anyway, overseeing this destruction of the Reef is the federal environment minister, Greg Hunt.
He featured prominently on the Four Corners show, and every second he was on the screen, the desire of the viewer to punch the mealy-mouthed bastard in the face was overpowering.
It wasn't just his manner, but the way he continues to try to get this dumping on the reef through despite everyone else in the world saying it's a bad thing to do.
Opponents of the dumping stretch from local environmental groups like the Mackay Conservation Group, through international groups like Greenpeace, via tourism operators on the Reef, all the way up to Unesco.
Federal environment minister
Greg Hunt, don't
you just want to
punch him in
the damn head?
It highlights the increasing isolation of the federal government, particularly in the area of environment.
So without letting myself get too overblown with rage at Greg Hunt, I'll stick to the most relevant thing that the Four Corners episode threw up: Water quality.
Greg Hunt's line is that all we are going to do is dig up some clean sand and mud from near the coal terminal at Abbot Point, and put it back down again in a different location, causing no damage to the Reef.
Well as Rimmer said on Red Dwarf, "Wrong, wrong, wrong, you couldn't go further into the field of wrongettyness."
First part of the wrongness of this was that there is still no certainty that the sand and mud that they want to dig up is clean.
I outlined that is my article: Government conceals toxic dredge spoil danger.
I contend the shit is, literally, swimming with toxics.
However, even if it is clean, and is just sand and mud, the Four Corners episode showed that this is as dangerous to the Reef as an inbound strike by helicopter gunships loaded with napalm.
The dredge spoil comes in gradations of fineness, the heaviest particles quickly fall back to the sea bed and merge again with the rocky substrate.
However the fine particles don't.
Soil from dredging lies thickly at the centre of this coral
These microscopic bits of sand and mud float for extended periods of time, months it seems, and thus are spread many hundreds of kilometres up and down the Reef.
So why is that a problem? Plants, like sea grass, depend on soil do they not? I hear you ask.
Well a marine biologist on the show Joe Pollock highlighted the issue.
Coral is part plant and part animal.
The plant part needs access to sunlight to photosynthesize.
Without the plant part photosynthesizing, the animal part starves, and can't build the exoskeleton that makes up the bulk of the coral that we know so well.
These fine particles of sediment spread up and down the reef by currents and wind, block the sunlight, so the plant part of the coral can't photosynthesize, then the whole organism itself, dies.
The most graphic indicator of this death is called "White Syndrome".
Explained here by Joe Pollock:
"White Syndrome is basically like: you can think of it as if the skin started falling away from your hand, moving down, just leaving behind your bone.
That lesion continues to move down your arm until basically all that's left of you is dead white skeleton."

So even the digging up of 'clean' sand and mud, and dumping thereof, is destructive to the Reef.
The death of coral on its own is of course enough of a reason to stop the dumping at Abbot Point going ahead, however it seems that the economic affects may be the most powerful way to get the government to listen.
This is best exemplified by the fortunes of those who operate tourist businesses on the Reef.
All of these businesses rely on coral in one way or another.
White syndrome advancing across this Ctenactis coral.
Whether it is tourist boats to take tourists snorkelling, or professional fishing charters, or even hotels in the Reef resort towns of the Queensland coast, they all rely on healthy coral to make a living.
So it was that Four Corners interviewed a boat operator from the Whitsunday Islands.
These island form a chain on the Reef and are the iconic representation of the South Sea idyllic paradise.
However, dredging up and down the coast has lowered the water quality to the point where snorkelling boat operators fear going out of business, simply because it is becoming increasingly difficult to see any damn thing under the water.
This photo shows the soil plume coming out of the Fitzroy river near Rockhampton.
The Whitsundays are located just to the north of this plume, and so the effects of soil spread are easy to see.
Loss of visibility under water is measured by turbidity.
Low turbidity means clean water, with vibrant colour being visible, high turbidity means you're swimming in a soup, and even colourful objects like reef fish appear grainy gray and washed out.
The tourist operator interviewed on the Four Corners program said that water quality had gone from 1% turbidity up to 23% in a year, following 2011.
What happened in 2011? Dredging in Gladstone Harbour.
This dredging was another eco-nightmare, badly done, hopelessly underregulated, and resulted in thousands of tonnes of soil escaping Gladstone Harbour and spreading up and down the Reef.
So by now I'm sure you've got the point, even 'clean' dredge spoil is killing the Reef.
I ask, nay implore, you to do whatever you can to stop Greg Hunt and his eco-vandals from doing anymore dredging and dumping anywhere on the Queensland coast.
Could you imagine trying to snorkel in this?
Let us not have to say "yes, we were the Australians that let our own government kill the Reef".
Gladstone Harbour.
If you wish to do something, however small, a good contact is Greens Senator Larissa Waters:
Even if you just send her a message of support saying "thank you" for her fight to save the Reef, I know she will appreciate it, and so will the animals and plants, and the tour operators now that I think about it, of the Reef.
GetUp! are also strong in the fight, and have many good petitions you can sign.




Closer to Home

And just to finish on a couple of local curiosities, also marine science related.
What if anything they portend I do not know, but if they're signs of sea level rise that wouldn't surprise me.
It started when I went for my bike ride.
I set out on the southern route, and this takes me through the lamentably titled Sewage Ponds.
Sounds awful, but it is in fact one of the most peacefully beautiful parts of Byron Bay.
However, when I came riding down to the bridge over the ponds I came up sort, startled, to find water over the bike path.
I've ridden that path hundreds of times, but have never seen that before.
I was just standing there wondering what to do, when a young boy rode through it from the other direction.
From his passage I could see that it wasn't all that deep, up to the rubber on his wheels, maybe ten centimetres at worst.
So it was rideable.
However, just as I was trying to make up my mind whether to turn around and go the other way, a small group of girls jogging came along and also halted next to the flooded roadway, obviously contemplating like me, whether to jog through.
I told the girls that the young lad has just ridden through, and so it wasn't overly deep, and they could proceed without worry.
However the girls had a little discussion and then decided that they didn't want to get their shoes wet, and so turned around and jogged off in the return direction.
After they left I decided I was too much of a he-man to be put off by a little water, and so got on my bike and rode through.
The water splashed up as I rode, and soaked my shoes socks and bike pants up to the knee.
I pulled up at the bridge, as there were some people on it, and waited for them to pass.
As they did, I passed the time of day with them, telling them that the water over the road wasn't that deep, and wasn't it ironic that one of the most peaceful parts of Byron to walk and cycle was to be found in the sewage ponds.
To which they agreed, and then pointed out something that the girls had obviously realized and then behaved more sensibly because of, to wit: the water that I had just ridden through and got soaked by was sewage water.
UUGHHHH!!!!!, I said inside my head.
I then got on my bike and rode home as fast as I could to a) dry the fluid of my hindquarters, and b) to get those clothes in the washing machine as fast as possible.
A lesson learned by me: never be a he-man, think things bloody well through Lachlan.
Then once back in town and clothes in the wash, I went off to do my evening's shopping and return a dvd.
On the way I met a friend from Soccer and we chatted for a while.
He said, "Have you been to the beach today?"
I replied: "I checked the surf earlier at the Pass. Why do you ask?"
He said: 'cos I just went and there's seaweed all over Belongil beach."
This was another oddity, so I went down and checked.
And sure enough from the carpark down the Belongil spit was a half metre high trail of seaweed up to the high tide mark.
I've never seen this before (and neither had my friend).
What if anything it portends, again I don't know.
I checked and it was high tide when I rode through the ponds, which may have accounted in part for the water over the bike path, and we have had a lot of rain, which may have had something to do with the weed on the beach.
I might add that this weed smelt abominably, and made anyone contemplating a beach activity decide not to do it.
These two events were probably just in the end local oddities, interesting, but not definitively anything.
But I can say in closing that dumping dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park will lead to the beaches in the area, and the coral reefs, being covered as well.
And that really is something: something that we need to stop.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Wombat holocaust and the sad loss of Robin Williams

The Bare Nosed Wombat.
I have been doing an acutely stressful article for my web magazine, IndependentAustralia.
The article concerns the outrageous activities of loggers in the south-east of NSW.
Down there, in the Glenbog Forest, the forestry contractors have been burying wombats alive in their burrows in the quest to destroy the forest for woodchips.
It's heartbreaking stuff, and is another example of the governments of this country going out of their way to destroy the environment to make profits.
Among the heart break is that most of the damage could be avoided of only a little more care and attention to detail.
But it seems they aren't even prepared to do this.
Burrows have been covered by roads, other burrows have been covered by logging debris.
Wombats can famously dig, but the local wildlife carers have told me that not even these strong diggers of the forest can remove the amount of debris that has been deposited on their homes.
I, and I suspect, many of you, really like wombats.
For me there is something infinitely beguiling about an animal that just wants to be left alone to trundle about the undergrowth and do its own thing.
However, those loggers operating down there obviously don't share my love of the beast and so have been doing their damnedest to end their lives.
Or perhaps more accurately, not wishing the wombats any specific harm, but simply not
caring enough to do anything to enhance their welfare.
Deep under this debris is a wombat burrow.
Local wildlife carer Ray Wynan is trying to dig it out.
Local wildlife carers Marie and Ray Wynan have been doing their best to dig the covered animals out alive, but they can't be everywhere.
So I did my article, but it has affected me.
I simply don't have words to describe the ongoing frustration I feel when having to cover a story like this.
Having to write for the umpteenth time of governments callously consigning animals to death to make a few bucks.
Just so you know it is the state government of NSW under Mike Baird, and particularly the minister for primary industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, who are the people responsible for the death of these wombats.
So it was acutely stressful hearing about, and looking at pictures of, wombats dieing and put me in mind of how I first became concerned with the fate of the world's environment.
It turns out it was in 1972, when I was aged seven, and in second class at primary school (elementary school for American readers).
One Sunday night the local TV station showed The Lorax by Dr Suess.
Some of you may remember this wonderful cartoon, but for those who don't here is a brief synopsis.
The Lorax is a vaguely hippy figure who speaks for the trees.
The trees in question are the Truffula trees.
These trees do everything wonderful trees do, provide shade, keep the water flowing, all of that.
Sadly their bushy crown of leaves is wonderfully silky soft foliage and has great demand in some manufacturing process or other.
The upshot is that some nameless bastards come along and start cutting the Truffula trees down to use in industry.
As their methods become more sophisticated, they begin to remove more and more Truffula trees from the landscape, which begins to resemble more the moon than the Earth.
Then the Lorax appears and tries to intercede on behalf of the trees.
However it is all to no avail and then the last Truffula tree of all is cut down and hauled away.
As I watched that Sunday night all those years ago, I was irreparably sad, I even broke down into tears.
Something just not done in my emotions-are-bad-and-must-be-hated-and-repressed-family.
So broken was I by this that it even got through to my mother, a woman so self-centred that she makes Kim from Kath and Kim look like the Dalai Llama.
With this breakdown into tears, she actually did something to help one of her sons.
She called a contact who worked in the public service for National parks.
She told him about my tears and arranged the next day for my brother David and I to donate $2 to National Parks.
A symbolic gesture of course, but it was comforting to know that in a tiny way my family had done something for the environment.
BTW: As far as I can extrapolate, using a meat pie as an economic comparator, A$2 in 1972 was about A$50 today, so quite a substantial sum from my normally tight-fisted mother.
Anyway, the reason I mention all of that here is because Dr Suess was telling us in 1972, forty years ago, that we were cutting down too many of our trees.
Yet we seem to have learned nothing.
While some progress has been made in the intervening years, we now seem to be going backwards again.
Destroying our environment to make money.
So all I would say in the end is that if you have time to do a microscopic little thing for the environment, sign a petition (GetUp! have many good ones), vote to save trees, that is something.
Don't get hung up on the "this will do nothing", you can't do it all, but you can do something.
My article will not, sadly, keep any wombats alive, but I felt microscopically better to know that I had done something.
I have spoken out a little about environmental injustice.

EXTRA PIECE: When I went round to get coffee from my friend Rodney's coffee shop, Barefoot Roasters, I was more touched than I could say.
One of the staff members there, Rio, bought me this small stuffed wombat.
I'd told him how upset I was of having to write of the death and maltreatment of the wombats of the south, and when he was in the shop he noticed this wombat and bought it for me.
Thanks Rio, that's the sort of thing that friends do to keep friend's mental state intact.


Robin Williams

And so we move onto to another episode of profound sadness, the death of Robin Williams.
I was still feeling the effects of the wombat carnage when this news came through.
It really is a sad blow as Robin was a great comedian, a genuinely funny man.
And it seems that suicide is factor in his death, sadly not an isolated incident when we are talking of comedians.
My first encounter with Robin was on his hilariously funny sitcom of the seventies Mork From Ork.
I was sadly not allowed to watch this show as it was on commercial TV.
However, I do remember snippets of it, so I obviously sneaked a view of when my parents were out, or otherwise distracted.
Silly as the premise was, Williams played an alien from the planet Ork, on Earth to observe, the show was basically a vehicle for Williams to do his stand up comedy on screen.
And it was hilarious stuff.
One I remember, and I'm probably doing him a disservice by relating it here, as nothing can capture his charm and humour.
Anyway, in the guise of Ork he went to his first Earth basketball game.
Later back at home he relates:
"So first a load of Earth females [the cheerleaders] came out and danced. I really liked that and when I stood up to clap, I spilled my coffee in the lap of the man next to me, and then it was his turn to dance."
He then went on:
"Soon after that I had to go to the bathroom, I entered one of the cubicles, and sat down. While the seat was more comfortable, I couldn't see the game."
The cause of death for Williams is not as yet known, but already suicide is being mentioned.
If so, that would not be a surprise.
It is well documented now that comedians have a lot of trouble with mental illness.
And I'd just like to draw in here from other professions.
It is famously said that dentists have the highest suicide rate, and this seems to have some credence, with one website indicating that dentists' propensity to take their own lives is 6.64 times higher than the rest of the working age population.
The reasons given there are:
"Dentists suffer from relatively low status within the medical profession and have strained relationships with their clients--few people enjoy going to the dentist."
I would add that it can't be any fun facing that first mouth on Monday, bad breath and all, and then knowing you have a week of it.
Police likewise have serious trouble with suicide, and for many allied reasons to dentists.
They often suffer low status in the general community - the "social disease" as they themselves refer to it - and rarely are people happy to see police when they show up for a work related reason.
One of my favourite American authors, Joseph Wambaugh, explores this theme in his books.
Wambaugh's novels are of police in general, and he is probably most famous for his book, which was made into a film, The Choirboys.
This book explores police of Los Angeles and describes the unbelievable pressure they are under.
Hated by the public, no real support, either emotional or professional by their higher-ups, all of that.
So this particular group meet after their shift in a run down park for "choir practice".
Choir practice involves heavy drinking to dissolve the stresses of their work, and highlights the dysfunction rampant in their heads.
Eventually one of the younger policemen, Baxter Slate kills himself, and Wambaugh writes:
"Sergeant Yanov came to the briefing and without preamble says, 'Baxter Slate is dead, he shot himself yesterday.' The blood drained from the assembled officers' faces as they realized that one close to them had succumbed to that most contagious of police diseases - suicide."
So we can get some sort of handle on suicide in dentists and police, but in comedians it is much more nebulous.
I think we can understand that a policeperson seeing a whole family dead in a car accident for instance, is a massive stress and cannot leave the officer unaffected.
So what of comedians, and creatives in general?
And of course, I'm nobody's expert, however I have tried my hand at stand-up comedy, and am a very minor creative of sorts here in this blog.
Anyway, I feel that with comedians the pressure comes from having to be funny all the time.
And just a brief recourse to my most unsuccessful comedy career.
I was direly bad, hopelessly so, and the stomach-knotting embarrassment of thinking of myself on that stage, with the audience embarrassed for me, and wishing they were elsewhere, still haunts me occasionally today.
And I do remember as I came off the stage those nights to relieved applause - relieved that is because I was going - that this life was not for me, there was simply too much pressure.
If you're a bad comedian you are under pressure to get better, and go through many nights of no laughs, honing your act, till you get laughs.
To do this you have to have a skin like a rhino to take the lack-of-laughing, and the barbs of hecklers.
I simply didn't have the emotional strength to get up there and be heckled time after time.
I might add, most of the heckles I got were funnier than anything in my act.
Yet even here, it was so easy to sit anonymous in the crowd and launch tried and true heckles - "Don't give up your daytime job" - from the comforting darkness than get up there on the stage and put yourself out there.
Anyway, if you're a bad comedian you're under pressure, but if you are a successful comedian, then the pressure moves to an unholy higher level.
Billy Connolly put it quite well when he said in interview, "What many don't understand is that I've still got to go out there and be funny to the audience who bought their seats months ago, even if I have just had bad news from home".
If the rest of us had have bad news, a child sick, a relative dieing for instance, the last thing we want to do is to laugh.
Yet as Billy pointed out he still had to put those emotions away and make people laugh, talk about pressure and pain.
And when I think of those comedians who suddenly have an unexpected microphone shoved in their face, and know that if they aren't immediately funny at the drop of the hat, that is what people will remember about them, it shows the pressure they are under.
And sadly, Williams seemed to be the most iconic representation of this.
He was always on.
Whenever he appeared in the public eye, he had obviously set out to make people laugh.
And clearly that pressure got to him in the end.
He was, like so many of this profession, a user of substances.
And boy do I know what that's like.
He entered rehab not long before his death, but sadly it didn't have the effects he was hoping for.
There's so much more we don't know about his death, but I'll just say in closing that, I'm more sorry than I can say that he is gone.

So after all that, I turned to The Simpsons to make me feel better.
I don't want to appear flippant about either the deaths of those poor wombats, or that of Williams, but as a life-long depression sufferer, I know the value of turning to non-substance solutions when I'm feeling down.
And for some reason the episode where Homer goes into space came to my mind.
This episode starts with the awarding of Employee of the Month at the nuclear power plant where Homer works.
Everyone has got one, including Tebor the guy who doesn't speak English, except Homer.
However he feels that this is his day, for sure he is going to finally get the award.
However when Mr Burns and Mr Smithers take to the balcony to announce this month's recipient, the award goes to an inanimate carbon rod.
Homer is incensed.
Beyond rage.
And so in an attempt to show that he has the measure of the rod, he yells up at the balcony, "I'll show you inanimate!!!!!"
Which he then proceeds to do by standing inanimately motionless for the next ten hours.
So then the episode proceeds and for various plot related reasons Homer ends up going into space.
The two real astronauts however, have quickly had enough of Homer's crisp-munching presence, and a fight breaks out, during which Homer goes to brain Buzz Aldrin and breaks the door handle.
This leaves them in a quandary, as they are now at risk when the capsule re-enters the Earth's atmosphere.
The carbon rod during the parade.
If the door flies open upon re-entry, then they will all die in the burning wake of the space craft.
However, when Homer went to brain Aldrin, he picks up an inanimate carbon rod, and when he swings it back behind him, it catches in the door slot, and they realize it may just hold and get them home.
It does, and all three of them arrive safely back on Earth.
Then the episode ends with Homer waiting to get salutations for getting them home safely, but is once more frustrated when the inanimate carbon rod he used to hold the door gets all the congratulations and the rod is even given a ticker tape parade to celebrate the fact.
It's funny stuff, and certainly helps break up my regular bouts of depression I can tell you.
Another thing I like about the Simpsons is that everything catches fire.
This is a brilliantly done piss take of Hollywood's infinite capacity for loving an explosion.
Mythbusters have also dealt with this well.
On that show they showed that a cigarette dropped into a trail of petrol, while it looks suitably dramatic, does not ignite the fuel.
Likewise, firing a bullet into a car's petrol tank, will not make the car explode.
Anyway, there is an episode where Homer has to be Mr Burns's personal assistant while Mr Smithers is away.
On the first morning he has to make Mr Burns's Breakfast.
He smashes the door of the microwave and puts some sort of kebab inside and that, not unreasonably, catches fire.
So then he reverts to a more mundane breakfast, and goes to make some toast, and the bread - and the toaster I might add - catch fire.
So then he gives up on that and decides to make Mr Burns simple cornflakes.
He pours out the flakes, then tips in the milk, and that catches fire an' all.
Funny stuff.
There was also an episode, which sadly I can't find a picture for, where Homer drives the family car into a frozen lake.
The car descends to the watery depths, and for a moment all is silent, then it catches fire under water and pieces of the vehicle rain down across the landscape.
If only Hollywood would take note and put some of the real world in their offerings.
See you next week for more moaning.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Quitting drinking is hard, not quitting is harder

Those of you who have been watching this space reasonably regularly will know that one thing I hate is advertising on TV, that is intrusive advertising. 
I would love to say that advertising doesn't work, but it clearly does, and that is why we suffer those ad breaks in our viewing. 
Being the sort of numbers man that I am, while watching Fawlty Towers last night, I noted that the show, which was produced for the BBC, and thus had no commercials in it, took 45 minutes to show on Australian TV.
The show is thirty minutes long, and thus, channel seven put 15 minutes of ads in it, or 30% of our viewing time is taken up by ads.
This is against the commercial television code of practice, but I didn't have the energy to start another strident campaign against another commercial TV network.
However, it did set me thinking about if any ads had worked on me.

And I was able to think of one, or one of a series of ads straight away.
This was the series of quit smoking ads run recently, the theme of these was, "Quitting smoking is hard, not quitting is harder." 
These truly harrowing ads show people (like in the photo above) who just couldn't bring themselves to quit, and so saw out the end of their days on oxygen in a hospital.  
And it worked on me I can tell you.
The long slow march away from cigarettes for me began when I was living in Sydney in the nineties.  
My girlfriend at the time pointed out to me that with all we know about smoking now, if you still smoke, you are effectively committing suicide.
That stuck in my mind, and I wrestled with the maxim over a lot of years.
In the end I had to admit that she was absolutely right.
Deep in my alcoholic, depressed days, I was smoking sixty to seventy rollie cigarettes a day.
And when I thought about it, I had to admit that since I had nothing to live for, then I might as well go out with some pleasure.
Smoking all the way to the grave, as it were.
My rather ignorant thoughts, such as they were, were, 'well I'll smoke, and then when I get lung cancer it will all be over quickly at the finish'.
But then I was listening to Radio National's Health report and a female thoracic physician was being interviewed.
During which she pointed out that a lot of people had similar thoughts to me, lung cancer being their only fear.
However, she went on, lung cancer is the cause of only a small percentage of people who attend hospitals for smoking related diseases.
Heart trouble is actually the main cause of trouble, and also emphysaema, an inability to breathe, due to destroyed lung tissue, being much more common reasons for smokers having to go to hospital.
Then she frighteningly pointed out that, many people who have smoked, spend their last years trapped in a chair, or on a bed, as they simply haven't the lung capacity to stand up and walk around.
That really got to me I can tell you.
I had planned to go out surfing and cycling until lung cancer got me, but this interview showed me that even if free of lung cancer, I may not be able to surf.
Clearly not an option for me.
And then with those thoughts on my mind, the "quitting smoking is hard, not quitting is even harder" ads appeared on TV.
And these ads really reinforced the message.
I haven't been able to find the exact ad that most got to me, but here is a precis.
The ad showed a man, not old, fifty or thereabouts, watching from his window while his wife mowed the lawn.
He was wearing an oxygen mask, and as he told the camera, by not quitting smoking early enough, he now couldn't mow the lawn, and his wife had to do it while he watched at the window.
Frightening stuff.
And then came another ad, that was even more frightening in its way.
It showed a young girl, six of seven years old, who was telling her father, who was in a hospital bed on oxygen, about a funny incident that had occurred at a family barbeque.
The girl's uncle had gone to catch a ball during a cricket match and fallen face first in the mud.
As she ended her story she said, "I wish you had been there."
The clear implication being that by not quitting early enough, he was missing his children growing up.
I don't have kids but it was still terrifying stuff.
I think the most frightening part of that ad was that the man in hospital was very young, in his thirties or early forties, young enough to have a six year old daughter.
So all of that pushed me to walk into my friend Mick's bottle shop one day and ask him to throw away my tobacco for me.
I had been doing the "once I finish this packet, I'll quit" thing, but eventually realised that this was an eternal "just one more packet" way of kidding myself.
And I'll tell you, not that you really need me saying it, but that first period after throwing away a half full packet of tobacco, was the longest day of my life.
I handed over the packet of 'bacco about four in the arvo, then had to get through that evening.
Then came the next morning and it was time to get through the "not having the first cigarette of the day" thing.
And that was harder again.
Only smokers can really know what I'm talking about here, there is nothing, I mean nothing like that first fag in the morning.
However I did it.
Some months later I was cycling up Hayter's Hill outside town and going OK when I realised that I had six gears left.
A clear indicator that quitting smoking had had a health benefit.
So I got through smoking, but then I was reading one of my favourite authors Kim Stanley Robinson's excellent book The Gold Coast, part of his three Californias trilogy.
This book is set in California in 2027, life is good but with the ongoing pressures that come with living in a massively overcrowded area.
Shopping malls are four stories, and if meeting someone at the entrance of the mall, you not only have to designate which exit, but which floor.
The orange groves are long gone, and the roads are beyond crowded.
One of the characters in this book is Sandy, he's a drug dealer.
He has to spend his life constantly on the search for more, and better drugs, to give his hedonistic friends, bigger and better highs.
It is obviously an extraordinary risky life-style with the cops always breathing down his neck, and you get to the point of wondering why he doesn't quit, and go straight.
Then we find out why.
Turns out Sandy's father is trapped on a hospital bed, due to excessive drinking.
Sandy's father can't afford a liver transplant, and even just the daily hospital stay is so expensive that Sandy has to keep selling drugs to keep the money supply up.
Much as I enjoyed this book, I was drinking heavily at the time, and each time Sandy's father was referred to, I felt like someone had opened up a drain in the bottom of my stomach.
So once again reading is generally a good thing to do.
The reading of this book, began the thought processes that eventually led to me really starting to contemplate giving up drinking.
For you see, like with smoking, I thought I could just drink heavily every night, and then die suddenly one day on my surfboard or astride the seat of my push bike.
Bu this book opened up a new and truly terrifying possibility, trapped on a hospital bed for years, unable to do anything that mattered to me.
I have written elsewhere here of my many reasons for quitting drinking, acting like an arsehole, borrowing money off friends, all of that, but in the end, it was the idea of a slow interminable waiting for death, trapped on a hospital bed, that finally got through to me.
So one new year's morning I got out of bed and decided that I would make the first steps.
I would incorporate two alcohol free days (AFDs) a week into my life.
And I would start today.
Now this is as old as the hills, making a new year's resolution to quit drinking on new year's day, often after a real mother of a blowout the night before.
But things were different for me, I didn't celebrate new year's, I had drunk my requisite level the night before, three beers and a bottle of wine (ten standard drinks) and gone to bed at ten pm.
So what was different?
I still don't really know, I think just the overarching impending doom that I couldn't go on like this, drinking ten standard drinks a night, and not end up like Sandy's father, trapped on a hospital bed, inactive till death.
So then began another "longest day".
I went about my business, and then came home around four pm ,and began the longest part of the longest day, four in the arvo till bedtime, when I usually did my drinking.
Knowing I would be gasping for a drink, I bought some tea, and then began sit it out.
I estimate I drank twenty cups of tea in that six hour period, anything to stop me wanting some alcohol.
This amount of caffeine was hardly the right prescription for a good night's sleep, but it got me through that hard part.
Ten o'clock came, and I dived into bed with a feeling of relief.
I had achieved my AFD, time for bed, knowing that tomorrow I could drink again.
Then January 2 dawned and it suddenly occurred to me that, again, like smoking, I had now achieved the hardest part.
The first day off any addiction is the hardest.
So I reasoned this morning, January 2, since I'd achieved the hardest day of my life, maybe I should now push on.
So then I had my second AFD, right after the first.
I did some gardening, went surfing, then went home and drank enough tea to put Twinings shares through the roof.
Then January 3 dawned.
Now I really had to make a choice, I had said I would have two AFDs a week, and now I had achieved that.
The temptation to say, "well, Lachlan, you've really earned this, time to get drunk tonight," was more appealing than I can say.
But I think I had at least subconsciously, come to understand that I had quit drinking for good.
So the third day went by without alcohol.
When the fourth day came, I had a genuine feeling of feeling good in the morning, something I hadn't had for nearly twenty years.
The signs of this were first, I was hungry, and wanted breakfast, and so that day I bought breakfast cereal for the first time in the same twenty years.
Also, I 'wanted' to go surfing in the morning.
Previously I had to clear the effects of the previous night's drinking before taking to the water, usually about lunchtime.
So this day I went surfing at nine o'clock.
After that, things began to work out easier, I stopped buying alcohol and the beneficial effects on my bank balance and my waistline became manifest.
And of course, always present and nursing me through this period was my therapist Paula the Wonder Horse.
Often I would be asked "what does Paula do that is so wonderful?", and the answer is so simple, she just listened.
My essential problem was always not being heard, and being forced to shut up (hard to believe I know), and by Paula's eternal patience, she engendered the change in me that allowed me to quit drinking.
Leonard and Penny from The Big Bang Theory
enjoying a glass of wine on a date. So, so tempting.
So quitting drinking is hard, but I hope this has shown that not quitting is harder.
If you can get through that first day, that is a major achievement.
I am still tempted from time to time.
One trigger, perhaps surprisingly, is when I watch TV at night.
Often the characters on the show would go on a date and have a glass of wine.
Now that I do miss, a lovely glass of bordeaux or chardonnay while you eat.
So that is tempting, but sadly for one such as me, one glass is a slippery slope.

I'd love to be able to say that by quitting drinking my life has turned fantastic, but it's just not the case.
I'm still broke, I'm still depressed, all the things that broke down the other week are still not fixed.
But obviously the, at least, 'broke' part of it is better now that I'm not spending $70 a week on alcohol.
What's more, now that I think about it, when was the last time you ever heard someone say, "Gee, I wish I'd drunk heavily last night."
You never hear that.
So I cling to that, my life may not be what I'd like it to be, but I deffo know that it would be worse if I was still drinking.
What's more, each day that passes and my liver has a chance to regenerate, that horrendous fear of my life ending trapped on a hospital bed diminishes.
So whatever you take from this post, if you have begun to orbit the idea of quitting drinking, or even cutting down, I hope you stick with it.
If you can achieve that first day, you have done 50% of the entire thousand step journey.
So I'll close with this odd pic, which my Possum Creek client, Joanne and I found amusing.
I went up to mow Joanne's lawn, and this day she had to go out.
Normally when she does this she leaves my money in an envelope with "Lock" written on the front.
Normally she leaves this envelope in the laundry at the back of the house.
I normally step in and grab the envelope on my way past.
However this day I looked around but couldn't see the envelope.
After a couple of minutes hard looking, I still couldn't find it, and so I rang Joanne, who was at her office.
When she answered I said, "Hey Joanne, I've, er, had a look around the laundry and couldn't see my money for today, er, did you forget to leave it there?"
To which she replied: "Oh, no, I left it there. It's on the shelf in a little glass."

With the phone to my ear, I realised that the money was indeed there, right in front of my face, as the picture shows.
Once I focussed in I realised, or at least I conjectured why I hadn't seen it, it was in a shot glass, a receptacle exclusively reserved for the drinking of alcohol.
Now that I have been off the juice for 18 months, it seemed that alcohol glasses are now invisible to me, which I think is a good sign.
Joanne and I had a minor laugh and we left it that she would in future leave the money in a tea cup.
I would be sure to see that.