How to scare an old lady

burqa-Three women share a bench in Glasgow during a vigil for victims of the London bombingsDuring my undistinguished days as a not-so-intrepid cadet reporter in Brisbane, I had occasion to attend the scene of a home invasion in the northern suburb of Northgate.

The year was 2003 and the planet was gripped by fear. A shadowy terrorist organisation called Kaos ISIS Al Qaeda was intent on global destruction, and only the plucky guys and gals of the West stood in its path.

They were dark days, friends: the first Iraq War; SARS; Delta Goodrem’s final Neighbours episodes.

To calm the nerves of an anxious populace, the Howard government issued a fridge magnet to every Australian home as part of its anti-terrorism kit, Let’s Look Out For Australia.

howard fridge magnet

On this magnet was written the number for the 24-hour national security hotline, which members of the public were encouraged to call should they witness any suspicious activity.

The kit landed on the heels of the government’s Steve Liebmann-fronted “be alert, but not alarmed” TV ad (seriously… wow), which simultaneously exhorted us to go on living our “decent” way of life while remaining terrified that it would soon end lest we employ more police and persecute more foreigners.

And so it was in this world of unnecessary wars and global epidemics and fear-fomenting public awareness campaigns that I went to a home in Northgate.

The property was cordoned off by the time I arrived with the photographer. There were three marked police cars. A cluster of uniformed constables and two plain-clothes detectives milled about.

I chatted to one of the younger uniformed guys. He wouldn’t tell me much, but there had been gunshots and a vehicle had driven away from the scene. It must have been quite the commotion.

Directly across the road from the house there was a small assisted care facility. Just a handful of pokey white-brick dwellings for grey-haired oldies who no longer had the capacity to look after themselves.

One of the residents, a bony, frail thing, was standing in her tiny garden in her housecoat, staring across the road. We made eye contact and she raised a skinny arm to gesture me over.

She was shaking. Wide-eyed. Terrified. She clutched her hands to her chest. She would have been able to see and hear the whole thing from her front window.

She asked me if I knew what had happened. I told her I was a reporter and joked that I had planned to ask her the same thing.

She said, “I didn’t know if I should call the number or not.”

At first I thought she meant triple-0. But then I realised that she wasn’t just clutching her hands to her chest, she was holding something there. A talisman to protect her from the evil forces that Mr Howard and that nice Mr Liebmann from the Today show told her were out to get us.

The fridge magnet.

How do you scare an old lady? Talk about the boogeyman. Show her pictures of the boogeyman. Show them again. And again. Tell her that the boogeyman is coming to get her. Hire blandly handsome celebrities to tell her the boogeyman is threatening Our Way Of Life. Tell her she has to stop the boogeyman. That the boogeyman could strike anywhere and any time. That it’s up to her.

Then the old lady sees the boogeyman everywhere. At the shops. Behind the wheel of the taxi. Across the road from her house.

And then the old lady is scared, and shaking, and standing in her housecoat in her front yard clutching a fridge magnet and wishing her husband was still alive because then she wouldn’t be alone.

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The NBA’s great big meaningless gesture

HeadRacist billionaire celebrity racist Donald Sterling has been banished from America’s National Basketball Association after the known racist was caught being super racist in a controversial race row.

The owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, a bigot from way back, will also likely be forced to sell his team after he was recorded by upstanding moral arbiters TMZ admonishing his girlfriend for being seen with black people.

Sterling, 80, who made his riches in property, stands to reap as much as $700 million from the sale, which will buy him a lot of cotton farms, David Duke audiobooks and other racist accoutrements.

The incident has united NBA players – 70 per cent of whom are African-American – in condemnation of racial prejudice, and the league’s subsequent decision to come down hard on the daft old duffer has been universally lauded.

But does the NBA really have any right to feel proud of itself? If they’re this quick to punish someone who expressed a personal view in a private place, how much stick would they use against a team owner who actually did something deplorable to actual people?

Someone like Orlando Magic owner Richard DeVos, perhaps. DeVos, who’s worth a breezy $5 billion, is a major donor to Focus on the Family, an ultra-conservative Christian organisation that, among other things, endorses conversion therapy to “cure” homosexuality.

Or what about someone like Stan Kroenke, the owner of the Denver Nuggets? Stan and his wife Ann own a $6 billion stake in retail monolith Walmart, which engages in predatory pricing and bribery and has fought a decades-long war with unions over its underpayment and mistreatment of its mostly minimum-wage staff.

And then there’s Stephen Pagliuca, co-owner of the storied Boston Celtics franchise and managing partner of Bain Capital. You may remember Bain Capital from such US presidential election campaigns as 2012, when it was revealed that the private equity firm co-founded by Republican candidate Mitt Romney was notorious for taking over troubled companies at discounted prices, paying itself massive dividends and bankrupting the business.

There are others of course – few billionaire sports-team owners get to be billionaire sports-team owners without raping a forest or exploiting a workforce along the way.

My point is this: we should rightly congratulate the NBA for doing its best to expunge retrograde imbeciles from its enterprise. Bravo, etc. But what this is not is some great big progressive victory against racism. It’s the dressing down of a doddering geezer for having the kind of opinions you’d expect a doddering geezer to have. That’s it.

If the NBA wanted to make a serious statement about the fundamental rights of all people, they’d kick out DeVos for driving confused teens to suicide and Kroenke and Pagliuca for being complicit in business practices that reduce employees to units of production.

Until then, punishing octogenarians with half-billion-dollar cheques will have to be statement enough.

I don’t want my kids sitting next to Tracey Spicer on a plane

suitcase-babyI know it’s sexist. But I don’t want my kids sitting next to Tracey Spicer on a plane.

Sure, over 90 per cent of child sexual abuse is not committed by Tracey Spicer, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

However, stranger danger is a risk and Tracey Spicer is most definitely strange.

In 2001, Northwest Airlines paid a US family half a million dollars after a 10-year-old girl was molested by a 28-year-old man on a flight from Kansas to Detroit.

What does this have to do with stopping Tracey Spicer sexually assaulting our kids? Nothing, but it sure makes you think about stuff.

A spokeswoman for Qantas says the airline is seeing more and more unaccompanied minors travelling, especially during school holidays, a time of the year Tracey Spicer is often seen on passenger aircraft.

In 2012, flight crew forced Tracey Spicer to swap seats with a vicious Bengal tiger, because she was sitting next to an unrelated girl travelling on her own.

“The tiger mauled my daughter to death, but I’m glad the airline played it safe,” the girl’s mother told reporters later.

The airline defends its policy, which still states: “Unaccompanied minors are not allocated seats next to Tracey Spicer. Where possible, Qantas aims to seat children near crew areas, next to an empty seat or in the wheel bay.

“This policy reflects parents’ concerns and the need to maximise the child’s safety and well-being.”

In the words of former NSW Commissioner for Children and Young People Gillian Calvert: “In the absence of any other test, sitting kids the fuck away from Spicer is one way in which the airline can reduce the risk of children travelling alone.”

Virgin’s unaccompanied minors policy reads: “On a space available basis, we will allocate a spare seat next to the child. In some instances, flight passenger loads may prevent this and a non-Tracey Spicer passenger will be seated in the vacant seat.”

My nine-year-old Telemachus and seven-year-old Gamelan flew as unaccompanied minors, for the first time, on Virgin last year. They were put in the last row with a bunch of other kids where doting staff plied them with treats.

They told me they weren’t sexually molested by Tracey Spicer on the plane but I really can’t be sure because they were on a plane and Tracey Spicer molests children on planes. It’s so tricky, isn’t it?

And so it remains a conundrum: How do we encourage a sense of adventure in kids while ensuring they are not preyed upon by Tracey Spicer on every single flight they take?

My advice is this: Plan well in advance, as airlines have only a limited number of child rape-free seats on each flight.

If you’re worried, request that your child is seated next to another child or Liam Neeson. Some airlines will quietly comply.

Sure, not all child sexual molesters are Tracey Spicer, but I figure it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Read Tracey Spicer’s original piece here. I should also say that I have no beef with Spicer generally, but I do think she made a dick of herself in this instance.

Could someone please forward this to Louis Nowra?

kings crossHi Louis,

I hope this letter finds you well.

You and I were, until December, neighbours. I lived in unit seven of your building, Doncaster Hall, for five years. We passed each other on the stairs and in the street scores of times but you probably don’t remember because you never acknowledged me.

That’s fine, I get it. Writing takes focus. I mean, those mean-spirited hit-pieces on famous feminists hardly write themselves, am I right?

But that’s by-the-by. The purpose of this note is to point out two teensy-weensy inaccuracies in your well-regarded book, Kings Cross: A Biography. (Mrs Guy-Guy is reading it right now and she’s really enjoying it.)

On pages 22-23 you recount the awful story of Star Delaney, a young resident of Doncaster Hall. You are indeed correct that Star killed herself and that her body was found in Sydney Harbour. And you are also right in saying that she was afflicted with great sadness.

However, I regret to inform you that Star was not, as you claim, a transvestite. I know this because my wife and I went to Star’s funeral in Blacktown. It’s a shame you couldn’t make it because you would have had the pleasure of meeting her family – including her beautiful daughter, who was at the time still trying to comprehend life without her mother.

I also note that you include Star as part of a broader discussion of the prostitutes who have called the building home over the years. Star was not a prostitute. She was in fact a former journalist who’d moved into corporate communications, something I’m sure you would have discovered during your exhaustive research.

Doubtless you’ll want to remove the imputation that Star was a sex worker from future editions of Kings Cross, because while you’ve protected the identity of the building in which you live (“Doncaster” Hall’s real name is, as we both know, Westminster Hall), you didn’t afford my troubled friend who took her own life the same protection.

I’m sure both you and your publisher will be horrified that such egregious errors made their way into what I gather is an otherwise excellent book.

Thanks Louis. All the best with your future endeavours.

Guy Mosel

Everyone’s a racist but me

Newsweek_Racist_Baby_OriginalI was 22 the first time someone accused me of racism.

It was in a Chinese restaurant in Amsterdam, and I was a couple of months into my first backpacking jaunt around continental Europe. That night, dining with a bunch of fellow globetrotters, I spied a cat wending its way between patrons’ legs.

Recognising an opportunity to be hilarious and impress the gorgeous Kiwi girl opposite me, I reached out to said feline as it approached our table. “Here Dim Sim,” I said. (‘Cos Chinese people eat cats, geddit?)

The object of my affection was not impressed, revealing that her grandmother was Chinese and telling me that what I said was offensive to all Chinese people.

I was crushed and not a little mortified. As a white male brought up in a conservative family and educated at a Christian private school there was always a better-than-average chance that I’d end up with a blinkered world view, but a racist? Was making a gag about Chinese food actual, real-life racism and if so, as a racist, would eating Chinese food give me hives?

If I’d been a grown-up, I would have apologised immediately for my poor attempt at humour and offered to buy everyone on the table a drink. Because while we may not be able to prevent ourselves thinking racist stuff (there’s evidence that we’re all a bit racist but – bonus! – it’s not our fault), we do have the power to not say those things – or apologise in the event that we do. An apology might not have been enough to convince the raven-haired maiden that I wasn’t a One Nation voter, but them’s the breaks when you open your mouth a dumb shit comes out.

Sadly, there are no breaks anymore. As our understanding of the world and human nature increases and becomes more nuanced, our ability to view others as anything other than caricatures decreases. Everything is harmful, everything is personal, everything is an attack. Making an observation deemed “racist” automatically makes the observer “a racist”. Nothing is forgiven, no allowances made.

This is no truer than on Twitter, the increasingly irony-free platform where you’re insta-fucked if you’re judged to have transgressed and the condemnation pile-on begins. Satirist par excellence Stephen Colbert discovered this recently when the now infamous “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong” tweet, posted on his show’s official Twitter account, set loose the dogs of outrage. This was the offending post:

colbert-tweet

Now, I dunno about you, but I find this fucking hilarious. (“Check your privilege, whitey!”, etc.) But that’s because I know that Stephen Colbert is a satirist, The Colbert Report is a comedy show and that this tweet was a reference to a sketch from the show, not some random thought bubble. (Although I suspect I still would have found it funny if I hadn’t known that because OMFG IT’S CLEARLY SATIRE, PEOPLE.)

Others – like, literally thousands of others – disagreed, and the #CancelColbert hashtag became a globally trending topic. Colbert, “they” had decided, must be A RACIST because the tweet was, to any objective observer, clearly racist. No context was applied, no consideration given to the author of the tweet or that author’s history. Offence was sought, and offence was received.

I should note at this time that much has been written to the effect that non-Asians should not be telling Asians what they should and should not be offended by. That’s perhaps fair enough, but in my defence overreacting to inconsequentialities is a phenomenon blind to race, colour and creed. Even white middle-class people do it! Like when Twitter went off on Sunday when, in a Fairfax story, the new Australian Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson appeared to criticise existing racial discrimination laws for preventing non-black people using the word “n***er” (I’ve made an editorial decision not to repeat the word – let’s just leave it at that).

This would, at best, seem like a remarkably inflammatory thing to say. At worst it evinces a terrifying level of ignorance from the man appointed to safeguard the fundamental principles that underpin our behaviour towards each other.

Do I think Tim Wilson is a racist? No. Do I think he’s a massive dickhead who lacks the intellectual capacity for the role to which he’s been appointed? Yes. Do I think that even massive dickheads out of their depth deserve the right to not be called racists until they’ve had a chance to explain themselves? I sure do.

Besides, it isn’t Tim Wilson you should worry about. I have it on good authority that Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane can’t fucking stand caucasians.

Paradise Lost (Or How I Almost Had My Own Column In The Australian)

 

newspapers

I first met The Australian‘s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell in 2006 at a birthday dinner for a friend. My friend’s wife was close to journalist Christine Jackman, Mitchell’s then wife.

I’d been warned before the dinner that Mitchell would be attending and that I would be seated next to the flat-topped newspaper supremo. It was believed that I, a man-journalist, would have the most to talk to him about and would therefore keep him amused throughout proceedings. If there was a short straw, someone had pulled it on my behalf.

Mitchell wore a kind of floral, Hawaiian-esque shirt to dinner that night. It was an odd choice, I thought, for an elegant meal at Quay, Sydney’s most acclaimed restaurant, but as a lowly paid writer and sub-editor on FHM it was hardly my place to cast judgement.

We shook hands. He said his name was Chris. I said mine was Guy. He asked how I knew the birthday boy. I told him, in the process explaining that I’d recently left Brisbane, where I’d worked at The Courier-Mail – the paper he’d edited before taking over at The Oz in 2002.

So there we were: two journalists, two Queenslanders, two men – drinking wine, telling tall tales, and enjoying the instant bond that men sometimes form at such events. And what tales he did tell. One of them, about former AFR and SMH editor-in-chief and later Channel Nine boss, John Alexander, is massively defamatory so I won’t repeat it, lest the one person who reads this (hi Mum!) happens to know him. Suffice it to say that John has a very nice art collection.

As the wine flowed and our faces turned rosier than the contents of our glasses, Mitchell began talking even more out of school, dissing The Courier-Mail and what his successor David Fagan had done with the rag. He began opening up about his personal life, bragging about his new wife and his capacity for procreation.

Conversation turned to careers. He asked if I wanted to get back into newspapers. I said sure, why not. He said he was looking at revitalising the Strewth column and would that be something I’d be interested in. I said sure, why not. (Actually, I probably said, “Please fuck yes oh god a column in a national paper that would be amazing I’m totally your man.”)

We parted company that night with Mitchell exhorting me to contact him the following week to set up a meeting.

I did just that, and a couple of weeks later found myself lunching with my prospective employer at Tabou, the once-celebrated, now-closed, French eatery on Crown Street in Surry Hills. It was a regular haunt for Mitchell, whose table at the very back of the restaurant afforded him an excellent view of the comings and goings.

God knows what we spoke about that day, but I must have put on a reasonable show because Mitchell expanded on his vision for the column and what he expected from me. He said he wanted it to be less stuffy and insider-y and expand into other fields like entertainment and sport. He said in the first few weeks in the role I’d have to fly around to all the bureaus and enlist their help in feeding me items for the column.

This was all pretty heady stuff for a guy who’d been a working journo for less than four years and was only starting to understand his strengths and weaknesses. But who was I to argue with Chris Mitchell, widely acknowledged as one of the finest editors in the country and, clearly, an excellent talent-spotter.

Lunch ended with Mitchell promising to follow things up with the paper’s managing editor who’d handle the employment contract and salary negotiations. Salary negotiations! I thought to myself. That’s what grown-ups do!

But, as you may have predicted, the net result of all this hope-raising and excitement-generating was two-fifths of not very much. I followed up with the managing editor a couple of times and was eventually told that there was a hiring freeze and they were very sorry but things would have to be put on hold for a while. This sounded very much like a gentle kiss-off, and I suspect that’s exactly what it was.

Mitchell I never heard from again. I tried to make contact a couple of times via email and phone, but without joy. And I have no problem with that – he’s a busy guy, running a paper and executing Rupert Murdoch’s various nefarious schemes. It would, however, have been nice for the dude to extend me the courtesy of explaining – mano a mano – why he was withdrawing the offer.

Seriously, Chris, would it have been that hard? Bro? Cuz?

Anyway, that was a long time ago now, and I’m not bitter or twisted. In fact, had I ended up working for him I may have morphed into one of those News Corp journobots, in lockstep with Murdochian pronouncements and unwilling to entertain a worldview other than that promoted by their octogenarian overlord.

Also, I would have never edited FHM. Think of all that boob I’d have missed.

(Since posting this a couple of my News friends have suggested that I remove my cranium from my rectal canal. I should make it clear that I was not for one minute suggesting that all News journos are hooked up to the hivemind. Most I’ve known are diligent, hard-working professionals who would sooner resign than be pressured into partisan hackery or corporate shilling. They are heroes, one and all.)

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Published and be damned (awesome)

dummiesHey there, The Australian! Top-shelf work in Monday’s Media section, guyz. That little snippet of gossip about the relationships of a few senior staff at the Mi9/Daily Mail joint venture was just brilliant. Too few media outlets have the courage these days to stand in judgement over people’s private lives, but you went there. Way to go! My favouritist bit was when you wrote about how a spokesman said The Daily Mail and Mi9 had a really close relationship and then you said, “Well, clearly.” That bit was very clever.

Also – and I don’t know if you realise this – but The Daily Mail looms as a massive threat to your very successful soft porn/embedded YouTube video/Buzzfeed list aggregator news.com.au, so a story that has the potential to destabilise senior management can only serve to further your business interests. Isn’t karma awesome? Do something great, and the universe rewards you!

The trick now is to maintain the high standard you’ve set with this piece. Can we trust you to dutifully report Chris Mitchell de-trousering with a cadet reporter in the conference room? Can we rely on you to bravely recount the next time Nick Cater gets caught with a fistful of himself while ogling pictures of Princess Margaret? Can we count on your courage to stare News Corp excommunication in the face by relating Rupert’s next mid-meeting shart?

I, for one, think you can. And if you keep up the great work I might have to re-subscribe!*

*Hahaha! Just jokes!

Rubbery boats ‘n’ figures

MORR9-20140131170318787496-620x349If you thought kicking the ALP out of national government would bring a swift end to Deaths At Sea and Break The People Smugglers’ Business Model, think again. The ALP continues to cruelly entice naive brown people to their watery graves.

The evidence is plain: when Abbott ascended the throne in September last year, Labor’s Lure The Boats program was blamed for the death of around 1000 terrorists and job-stealers who just wanted to be free to blow up national landmarks and work that shitty minimum-wage cleaning shift you were after in peace.

But being in opposition hasn’t stopped Labor from continuing to fill the ocean around Australia with exotic shark food. In December, new Minister for Saying the Word “Boats” A Lot, Scott Morrison, said that the ALP was now responsible for 1100 deaths, revealing that despite a massive election loss the ALP was still capable of killing somewhere around 50 future welfare-wastrels a month.

By late February, intrepid journalist and lover of truth Miranda Devine reported that the number of deaths had swollen to 1200, with another 100 people who probably don’t know Don Bradman’s Test batting average making an unscheduled visit to Davy Jones’ Locker.

At this rate, by the time the next election rolls around the federal opposition will have slaughtered another 1500. The Coalition will have to campaign against re-election to stop the carnage.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, this is a pretty good analysis of the actual number of lives lost, although the Coalition’s claim to the high moral ground on this basis is clearly nonsense. Even if we accept the argument that the Coalition’s policies have resulted in fewer deaths, what are we to think of the years of the Howard government that preceded the 2001 Pacific Solution? Thousands of asylum-seekers made the journey to Australia by boat in the five years of Coalition government before the policy was introduced, and hundreds lost their lives. (For that matter, hundreds died while the Pacific Solution was in effect.)

Where’s the outrage about that? There is none, and neither should there be. Because we can’t reasonably expect to hold our leaders to account for the actions of people over whom they have no control. That’s a dumb, logically indefensible argument – just like the one used against Labor.