Sunday, September 25, 2005

Headline translation.

Last week, one of the major daily papers in Melbourne had an article in it under the headline;

The article then goes on to describe the results of the latest finding on obesity in women, and proposals for preventative actions and such. I think the meat of the article is really just a smoke screen for the actual meaning of the headline.
Australia is in the grip of Grand Final Fever. The two major football codes in this country have reached that week when the season winds up with the match that determines which team will be crowned champions. Actually, one - the Australian Football League (Aussie Rules Football) - was decided yesterday. Rugby League has their grand final next weekend. This brings us to the true meaning of the aforementioned headline.
Whilst it looks innocent enough, it is really a warning for women, written in "womenspeak". What is really being said is this;
You think I'm kidding, don't you?
Just ask any woman.

When the subject is tired and Warne.

As a spectator sport, cricket does for me what Angelina Jolie does for spousal fidelity; nothing at all. And I certainly don't consider the off-field antics of Australian spin bowler, Shane Warne, as anything newsworthy. Yet, "reporters" of the various media feel they need to expose us to his pecadilloes as often as he exposes himself.

The latest offering comes from the recent tour of England in which Australia lost the Ashes series. It was the last match of the series. Warne was due to bat the next day. Australia's hopes to save the match were pinned on his ability to slash his bat around with the same abandon as his other appendage.

It now comes to light that Warne met a woman the night before. They apparently engaged in a night-long session of sex. The woman is now laying (no pun intended) claim to making Warne so tired that when he came to the crease the following morning, he got out for a duck - no, that's not a misprint - and England thereby clinched the Ashes series. For non cricket types, "out for a duck" is when the batsman fails to score any runs.

Whilst I find the whole episode trite and and hardly newsworthy, it does bring to mind something I came across when researching another subject.

A woman's lot in late nineteenth century England was not a happy one when it came to the bedroom. Sexual congress between a husband and wife was for the purpose of procreation and to satisfy the rights of the husband as a man. If a husband demanded conjugal rights, the wife was supposed to just lie there and take it. Quite often, the woman found no enjoyment in the process. Religious dogma also stated that it was a sin for women to enjoy the act of procreation. Because of this, on the day of their wedding, many mothers imparted the following warning about the upcoming wedding night to their daughters.

"He is entitled to this because he is your husband, and it is your duty to produce an heir who will go on to become a valuable member of society. It is not a pleasant task, but it must be done. So, lay back, close your eyes, and think of England."


Sunday, September 11, 2005

When the questions stop and the smile falters.

Are we all going to wake up one day and discover we have forgotten how to to laugh, to smile? Are we going to be so immersed in the problems of the world that laughter is only going to be a faint echo resonating in a distant, ancient cranial canyon?

It's easy to see how we could forget to laugh. With everything that is going on in the world today, is it any wonder? Every day we're bombarded with news of disaster and war and economic catastrophe; an endless litany of negativity.

A megalomaniac exploits a loophole in Islamic law and as a consequence, two planes slam into the the World Trade Centre towers. Now, a quarter of the world's military are involved in trying to find this creature.

A despot in the Middle East (who coincidentally happens to be sitting on the world's largest oil reserves) is finally targeted by the FOG (Forces of Good) and flees. Eventually he is captured, and a large third of the world's military are concerned with trying to keep the peace in his devasted homeland.

In 1980, another despot came to power, but the fact that he behaves in exactly the same manner as his Middle Eastern counterpart doesn't seem to matter. Because his land has no economic or commodic value, he is totally ignored by the FOG and is left alone to do as he pleases. It would appear Zimbabwe's only hope now, would be the fortuitous discovery of a large deposit of fossil fuel.

Closer to home, the news doesn't seem to be any better; innocent children dying because their parents can't get along; our youth inundated by a tidal wave of so-called recreational drugs; evidence of corruption by people who hold positions of societal responsibility; road rage; phone rage. The list is added to every day, and more and more, we are afraid to get to know our neighbours.

The media must accept most of the responsibility for this. After all, they are the ones who deliver the doom and gloom to our lounge rooms daily. But we, as individuals, must also take some of the blame. We seem to be all too willing, almost sycophantic, to accept what we see and hear without question. And the more sensational, the more we believe, or so it would seem.

Stories of murder, rape of babies, looting, were recently plastered on our consciousness in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. These stories were given major headline prominence, and were the lead bulletin on the nighttime news shows. Yes, some of the things reported did happen, but it now appears many of them were unsubstantiated rumours. Did the media rush to make sure we heard that bit of news? To date, I have only seen a couple of lines in two leading newspapers. No headlines, more of an afterthought.
"Death and destruction continued today ... blah ...blah ... blah ... oh, and by the way, some of it wasn't true."

Our willingness to accept without question all we are being told is the very basis of fundamentalism, a field which propaganda, terrorism, fanaticism, censorship, and few other nasties, find extremely fertile. Yet, we increasingly pass our fate into the hands of the noise makers, and allow ourselves to be led blindly wherever they choose to take us.

"Their's not to reason why,
their's but to do or die:
Into the valley of Death
rode the six hundred"

We must never stop asking questions. And the best question to ask is that one known to every parent around the world; the one that your child asks and is so annoying; why? The more we ask, the more likely we are to discover just how irrelevant some of things we take so seriously really are.

That's where laughter comes into the equation. It allows us to not take life too seriously. To quote the consummate Peter Ustinov, "Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious." It allows us to examine that which we find important or threatening, and take the edge off it. Mark Twain said it best; "Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place." Comedy allows us to question the motives behind a political experiment in a way that's less confrontational physically, but has the surgical prescion of a scalpel mentally. It's a "rubber sword which allows us to make a point without drawing blood".

The ability to laugh at ourselves; to poke fun at our frailties and inadequacies; to find something funny in a tragic event; this is what allows us to get on with our lives. Without that release of tension, it wouldn't be long before the entire world population was stressed beyond breaking point.

"Total absence of humour renders life impossible."

*From The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Where do you go to, my lovely?

Ever woken up in the morning, only to discover you're more exhausted than when you went to bed the night before? Makes you wonder what the Hell you get up to when you're asleep, doesn't it?

God knows what I was doing last night, but I'm stuffed this morning. Feel like I've run a triathlon, topped off by fifteen rounds with Hulk Hogan. My right arm feels like it's been wrenched from its socket.

Reminds me of that story about the Scotsman who attended a wedding in his traditional dress.

Staggering home after the reception, he realised he wasn't going to make it, so lay down under a tree beside the road and promptly passed out.

Two women, coming home from a nightclub, spotted him lying there, and began wondering if it was true about what Scotsmen wear under their kilts. So they took a peek, and discovered that it was indeed true. Satisfied, they left him lying there, but not before deciding to play a little trick on the Scotsman. One of the women tied a blue ribbon around the object of their curiosity.

Upon waking the next morning, the Scotsman needed to answer a call of nature. He lifted his kilt, and imagine his surprise when he saw the ribbon.

"Och, Laddie!" he exclaimed. "I don' know where ye've been, but I see ye won first prize!"

Monday, September 05, 2005

The lights are on, and someone's home. They just might be out back, though.

I have described the Retreat as "a sanctuary for thought", yet considering the scarcity of - and long periods between - postings, even the most casual of visitors could be excused for assuming that I don't do a lot of thinking.

Not true.

My days are filled with observations and reactions to continuing events, and I am constantly thinking about them. The problem is, they all get jumbled and tangled, and I generally don't get a lot of time during the day when I can sit down and sift them thoroughly. I have gotten into the habit of taking a book with me to work, to jot down thoughts as they attack. Unfortunately, ideas and responses tend to hit at the most inopportune time; eg. when you're carting around 20 kilogram (43lb) cartons and you can't stop what you're doing.

So, the thoughts fade and swirl around in that part of my brain that is always foggy until one day, possibly months down the track, they step into the sunlight and are ready for scrutiny.

Sure, it would be easy to simply write the first thing that pops into my head, but I feel that would be bordering on the outskirts of fundamentalism which is dangerous country. It's no good saying you believe in something without being able to say why.

And that's mostly why I take so long to formulate a response to something that many people would consider warrents immediate attention.

That and the fact that I am easily distr.... Wow! I didn't know John Wayne refused the lead role in the television series Gunsmoke because he didn't want to be type-cast as a cowboy...

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The ripples of a Sand Pebble

The Sand Pebbles; 574 Pages; The Sand Pebbles is a gripping novel of adventure aboard a Yangtze River gunboat at the very moment of China's bloody awakening to its new destiny. It is also the story of Jake Holman, caught between the perils of love and the madness of war. Finished reading this book, The Sand Pebbles by Richard McKenna, a couple of nights ago. Anybody who has been paying attention to my reading list will have noticed that there has been a fair bit of time elapsed between this book and the previous one. That's because Sand Pebbles came as somewhat a surprise, and demanded a bit more attention than most.

I came across this second-hand copy at the annual OXFAM giant book fair in Eltham. The book was only fifty cents, and I freely admit that I bought it for all the wrong reasons. I thought it would be a real boy's book, with lots of bang-bang-shoot-em-ups and lusty interludes. Instead, I found a well crafted story that gives us a unique view of the birth pains of a nation.

The tale is set in China in 1926 - 1927, just before, and at the beginning of, the revolution that was to shape China into the nation it is today. It tells of an opressed, disenfranchised people struggling to find their identity, of a country steeped in the feudal ways of warlords, ready to explode. Chiang Kai-shek will write his name in the pages of history.

And in the middle of it all is the gunboat the San Pablo (Sand Pebble) and her crew, the Sand Pebbles. Their transition from opressor to opressed is as inevitible as the annual flooding of the Yangtze River which they patrol, and equally as unstoppable.

Well worth the careful read. And it inspired me to look up and gather some more information on that period which, in turn, has led to a better understanding of where the China we know today came from.

Just goes to show. When you throw a pebble in the river, sometimes the ripples become a tidal wave.