Saturday, January 30, 2010

Celebrity, heal thyself!

The world can barely contain its excitement!  Just when life was getting boring, along comes a disaster in a country populated by black people!  Bring out the chosen ones, with the most finely honed rescue instincts: The Celebrity.

Haiti's earthquake has brought out the tweeting, singing, dancing, cheque signing, hand-delivering aid celebrities from around the world.  The George Clooney-led Hope for Haiti Now telethon is estimated to have raised $95m in just two hours. Oh, the lure of celebrity endorsement!

It is tempting (and I admit that this analysis is based on snippets caught on the news) to be cynical about heartstring-tugging fundraisers, especially when they include Alicia Keys performing "Prelude to a Kiss" to a backdrop of weeping Haitian babies , and Beyoncé changing the lyrics of some song called "Halo" to include the words "Haiti, we can see your halo, you know you're my saving grace."

It is easy to mock pop star celebrities' earnest remarks, and to snigger at their heo antics, when the likes of John Travolta (at least I've heard of him) showed up in Port-au-Prince in a private jet packed with ready-to-eat-without-a-microwave military rations, and medicines, and accompanied by the most important emergency rescue resource of them all: a herd of Scientology ministers.

"But, OM," you might say, "so what if it's all a bit cheesy?  At least these celebrities are Doing Something.  Isn't that the important thing now to get aid over to Haiti, where hundreds of thousands are reported to have died and one million are now homeless, as quickly as possible?"

Yes, I agree it is important that we try to help if we can, and it is heartening that people around the world have been moved to donate millions to help Haitians rebuild their lives.  But it is also worth taking a hard look at just why Haiti has rocked up to the position of The Top Cause For Celebrities, and what consequences this might have.

Is the road to hell paved with crooning celebrities?  Past experiences show that fundraising frenzies inspired by emergency situations tend to to little to improve the lives of people "over there", but these earnest initiatives do a lot to lend some meaning to life over here.

Just like with past causes célèbres, such as Ethiopia and Darfur, the earthquake in Haiti has quickly become more to do with about well-to-do Westerners than catastrophe-struck Caribbeans.  It is news that allows celebrities and politicians to keep a flattering spotlight on themselves (always making sure they wear casual clothes and no (or little) make up), and chance for celebrity reporters, such as Mike McRoberts to take a little girl to a hospital shelter in time for the evening news bulletin.  For politicians who are desperate to score some easy points with their electorates, Haiti is the place to be.  Who can disagree with a statement that the earthquake was tragic and was a devastating event and that Haitians deserve help?

Over the past week, the celebrities have elevated themselves into selfless heroes, and turned themselves into intermediaries for our sympathy, as if we can only really care about Haitians if we know that movie stars and pop singers are personally affected and touched by their fates.  We are encouraged to follow and interpret what is going on in Haiti through the concerns and emotions of the stars.  Haitian-born singer, Wyclef Jean, wraps the flag of his native country around his neck, sings a Creole tune, and tells telethon viewers that he has just returned from Haiti, where he pulled his countrymen out of the rubble, carried the bodies of mothers, fathers, children to the cemeteries.  We are encouraged to feel for the former Fugees member as much as for his Haitian friends.

Admit occasional good news stories of people being pulled out alive from beneath the rubble, we have also learned that the disaster is helping to bring some of our most popular celebrities back together, with some selfless stars leaving old quarrels aside in the name of helping Haitians.  The juiciest gossip of all is that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were spotted chatting backstage at Clooney's telethon.  And this just as news spread that Pitt is separating from Angelina Jolie, whom he left Aniston for five years ago.  Will Brad and Jen become an item again? Will Haiti bring them together?

Once the televised pitythons are over, and the realities of delivering emergency relief set in, who will really benefit from all this feelgoodness?  Who will really get the money?

In the world of celebrity humanitarianism, the Live Aid concerts of the 1980s, initiated by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, are seen as the hallmark for bombastic fundraisers.  The charity they created raised over $300m over the next 20 years and caused a wave of sympathy for emaciated Ethiopians who dominated the television screens and front pages of the newspapers in the mid-1980s.

But not only did it imprint an image in Westerners minds of Africans as fly-stalked, wide-eyed, helpless and childlike creatures, it also did very little, if anything, to help.  Few of the suffering Ethiopians saw the cash, which instead helped to boost the coffers of the Mengistu-regime and prolong the war and suffering in Ethiopia.

Now it is the turn of Haiti to attract the mass descent of aid workers, diplomats, journalists and celebrities.  Self-important, sanctimonious aid agencies might claim to have the best of intentions, but they are actually contributing to the tragedy and catastrophe with an obsession with box ticking procedures and distrust of the Haitian people.  A UN peacekeeper nicely summed up the disdain and loathing among the rescue workers when he said of the fellow human beings he is meant to help: "Whatever we do, it doesn't matter - they are animals."

Reports from the earthquake aftermath have oscillated between portraying Haitiains as desperate, helpless victims and desperate, marauding savages who can only be saved and tamed by caring Westerners.  Because Haiti is poor, lacking in infrastructure, and has a political regime widely regarded as illegitimate, Western figures can easily portray themselves as a new hope for the country, and can justify placing themselves in loco parentis.  In this sense, Haiti is well suited as a place where celebrities and politicians can come together or reunite their romance.

Of course, as with the 2004 tsunami, the suddenness, force and scale of the destruction in Haiti has meant the earthquake has become a global concern, as it should be, and no doubt many celebrities, politicians and aid workers are sincere in their desire to help.  But while celebrities have helped raise impressive sums of money in a short time, the message being sent out here is that those black, pitiful savages over there should be grateful that a who's who list of global celebrities are getting together to rescue them, not just from the rubble, but also from their ineptness.

The last thing Haiti needs is to be turned into a stage for attention-deprived celebrities.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Topical epicurean adventures UPDATE

When I was younger, I was easily swayed by hype, and was thus on the side of the whales. With the wisdom of a few more years, and having watched many antics of anti-whalers, I have now developed a taste for whale meat.

Much to the dismay of Greenpeace, the recent war on the high seas between Greenpeace and Japan has only piqued my interest in edible marine mammals.

A Joint of Whale Meat Steeped in Red Wine Marinade would be very nice, but I might pass on the Cape Flattery Whale Mincemeat Pie. I hasten to add that my decision to pass on the mince whale meat has nothing to do with Greenpeace and everything to do with a dislike of the consistency of mince.

The Sea Shepherd’s Chief Plankton, prior to this week’s ocean reality tv, has said that “The Ady Gil gives us the speed necessary to catch and stay with the Japanese whaling fleet.”

But, oddly, when it really mattered, it appeared to not have speed to avoid getting hit by lumbering, very heavy whale ships. From the outset, I was disturbed by the design of the Ady Gil. As I am no boat builder, I will refrain from offering constructive advice, and just say that I thought it looked weird. I often wondered if there was something wrong with her. Now I know Greenpeace thought the same (oh the shame of sharing a thought with Greenpeace) and they decided they needed a new chase boat, hopefully paid for by insurance (that bastion of evil capitalism), so that’s why they shoved her under a whale ship’s bow.

The Sea Shepherd’s mother ship is registered in the Netherlands and the group’s lawyer, Liesbeth Zegveld, feeling left out of the international blubbering, said the group had filed a complaint there too.
This particular ship that attacked the Ady Gil was at a close distance all the time since they left the Australian harbour.
It was sent out and equipped for following and harassing the Ady Gil.
The whaling boat in question, the Shonan Maru 2, has a top speed of 12 knots. The Ady Gil, which holds a record for global circumnavigation, can streak along at 45 knots. Is legal counsel conveniently missing some pertinent points?

The video coverage shows the crew of the Ady Gil sitting around congratulating each other on how awesome they all are. Then the Shonan Maru 2 appears in the background, sounding an audio alarm. The crew’s dismissive response ("I’m so scared!” “Somebody get me out of here!") indicates a certain lack of concern for their situation.
We were just idling. My guy driving tried to turn to starboard at last minute but was too late.
Maybe it wouldn’t have been too late if you moved earlier, when the Japanese warned of their approach.

Also had a wave pick us up which carried us another metre or so into danger. In the end we had right of way. They were on our port side and they were also overtaking. So it is up to them to steer clear of us regardless.

So now it’s the fault of a wave, made more convincing by the use of non-nautical terms in increments of one metre, this is following the casual placement of said boat in the general path of a 500-ton vessel making its way through rough seas.

Now will these littering envionazis clean up the environmentally-polluting greenie mess they left behind?  I’m too scared to suggest this directly to Greenpeace, in case they choose to voice their protest against me by running their car under my SUV, or defacing my house, abseiling down my trees to unfurl a banner, shrieking into their cellphones while Geoff Robinson tries to talk to them, or burning an effigy of me.

But, like most things, a good thing has come out of this incident. The Ady Gil, that maritime monument to green hypocrisy, is not very seaworthy at the bottom of the sea. Building a speed boat out of autoclave-baked carbon fibre and powering it with a poor country’s food supply isn’t going to help the planet or humanity.

Disregard that last paragraph.  I mistook Greenpeace for people who care.

UPDATE Nobody says it quite like South Park (thanks to Oswald Bastable).

Monday, January 4, 2010

As if childbirth and child rearing isn't scary enough

I am offended by this truly sickeningly obnoxious blog written by a Canadian midwife.  Her disgusting post provides us with a 7-step recipe for creating an autistic child.  If I can bring myself to give her some credit (deep breath, OM, you can do it), she has at least changed the name of her blog posting to "7 step recipe for scrambling the brain of a baby".  But that wasn't her original intention and only happened after comments were posted.

If you have always wanted your very own autistic child, and never knew how to get one, read on!

1.  Allow ultrasound technicians to "date" your pregnancy, see if you have twins, check the growth of your baby. Even one ultrasound affects your baby’s brain. Multiple ultrasounds will move cells in the brain around and also affect future generations of your family.
2.  Eat whatever you like in pregnancy. Don't take the time and trouble to study the effects of over-processed, high fat diets. Don't worry about buying organic produce and meat.
3.  Let your physician induce you. Induction drugs over-ride Nature’s pace of the birth process. They cause prolonged periods of oxygen deprivation similar to holding a pillow over your child's face. Any form of hurrying you into the birth process or, once into it, hurrying the process faster than it goes naturally will damage cells in the baby’s brain.
4.  Take pain-killing drugs during your child's birth. Every anesthetic goes immediately to the baby so choose whatever one you like. The longer the baby is medicated, the more brain damage is done.
5.  Continue on with the interventions in birth by having a cesarean, forceps or vacuum pull out of your baby. None of these procedures are gentle. All involve incredible traction on the baby’s neck and head. Sometimes all three are used on the same baby. Risks of all 3 are increased when inductions and epidurals were brought into the birth.
6.  Once your baby is born, feed him/her solutions made by pharma giants like Mead Johnson.
7.  Be sure to inject your baby with every toxic pharmaceutical vaccine that your doctor recommends. Don't do any research. 36 vaccines is the modern North American child's recommended allotment of mercury preserved toxic waste.
Remember that this frightening excuse for a midwife has no specific scientific training.  Highly qualified scientists have been puzzling for decades over the cause of autistic spectrum disorders and the latest evidence points to a genetic component. But let's conveniently ignore all of that and instead follow the advice of a dubious midwife.

So, autism is caused by interventions in childbirth.  It's all so simple, and I am thrilled that, based on this, I apparently have 3 autistic children (I presume their autistic behaviour will become apparent eventually?). No, wait a minute.  Autism is actually caused by ultrasound (lucked out there 3 times too). Wait, no, it's caused by eating the wrong food in pregnancy. Oops, I spoke too soon, it's caused by pitocin. No, silly me, it's caused by epidurals. Wrong again, it's caused by C-sections (why don't I just institutionalise all 3 children now).  Or, it's caused by formula. Wait, no, it's caused by mercury in vaccinations. Vaccines no longer have mercury in them? No problem, it must be caused by the vaccinations themselves (my kids are doomed!).

This woman, with her blind ignorance and with no formal training in science, statistics or medicine, has boldly gone where only stupid people have gone before. And, as a special bonus, she manages to be thoroughly offensive at the same time.

She is right about one thing, though. If you hire her as a midwife and your baby dies as a result of her idiocy, it will not develop autism. Somehow I doubt this will be of comfort to the parents.

Translating Indlish into Strine

Not for the first time, I am puzzled that I somehow came out of the Australian education system with a passing grasp of English.

An Australian, whose day job is - dear me - a teacher, on holiday in India, felt it would be productive to sanctimoniously mock the locals:

As we drove though a mid-sized village I noticed a petrol tanker at a service station bearing a hand-painted sign on the back: “Highly inflammable”. I love Indlish.

Strewth, you plonker. It isn’t "Indlish". The locals are correct. Change your profession. Now.

So, Indians for whom English is probably their third, if not, fourth or fifth language (granted, this is probably 40,000,000 Indians), show up an Australian, for whom English is probably his mother tongue. What lovely irony.

Bring on the Education Revolution.