London Olympics Telegram - by Man with a Bag (part 1)

Well, I do say, good sirs, "Well done, London!". 

Your opening ceremony was incredibly entertaining, though obviously inspired by what was staged in Sydney 2000. Only where we covered 40,000-odd years of Aboriginal history, you took us back to the Industrial Revolution; where we had itty-bitty Nikki Webster on a trapeze, you had the Queen parachuting in with 007 (aka Daniel Craig); where we had Cathy Freeman lighting the cauldron, you had David Beckham on the River Thames. 

Not that we're comparing. 

You might have the Beetles, the Rolling Stones, Queen and David Bowie, but we had Human Nature, Julie Anthony, John Farnham and Olivia Newton-John; you had Chariots of Fire, we had The Man From Snowy River; we had "Waltzing Matilda", you had "God Save the Queen"; you had the suffragettes, we had the Tap Dogs; you had JK Rowling and Mary Poppins, we had Ken Done and driza-bones; you celebrated your National Health Care system, we celebrated multiculturalism.

Without doubt, it was Rowan Atkinson who stole the show in London. Why did no one remember to include Dame Edna in Sydney? Atkinson is a world-class comedian. His timing is impeccable. His face contorts itself into hilarious Houdini-like positions.

Aesthete: Country Style, looking sheepish

Aesthete: Country Style, looking sheepish
Country Style, 'The Wool Issue', August 2012. Photography: Lisa Cohen

Short & Sweet - week beginning 30 July, 2012

Here is the church and here is the steeple...
Sometimes when driving I spontaneously pull over to take pictures of churches and contemplate whatever message the resident pastor or priest or reverend has deemed worthy of signage this week. I think it's a marvellous thing to contemplate, that even in this day and age so many of them remain all over the place, though they have turned many away and others have gone astray. Come what may, there they be, in town and city.

One of my favourite scenes in that seminal film Home Alone 2 Lost in New York is when Macaulay Culkin takes refuge in the church in order to run away from the "baddies" (aka "the wet bandits") and comes across the scary man from next door who had been estranged from his son. Really, churches are full of all sorts, which I'm sure delights God because He created us that way, and all.

This past Sunday, our church welcomed a budding but shy young preacher to the pulpit and I was agape at what he had to say... humble, simple but defiant in his approach, he brought it back to Jesus – our most wonderful friend and fearsome fellow – time and time again as he preached on the Beatitudes. "I think Jesus goes deeper, because it's all about your heart, ultimately, and if it's not, then you're just like the religious people who did all the good stuff but didn't get righteousness, other people and love," he said. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth, indeed.

The Word for the Week: "Be confident and determined and so what the Lord orders you to do. Obey all His laws and commands, as written in the Law of Moses, so wherever you go you may prosper in everything you do." 1 Kings 2:3
Quote for the Week: "I was just so proud of myself for getting this far and just believing in myself was the big thing. Having the odds stacked against you is really tough but to have to believe in yourself under those circumstances is even harder. You always have negative comments going through your head but today it was about, "Well, this is you office, you know what to do!" Leisel Jones, girl-hero and Olympic swimmer. word for the Week: usageaster \YOO-sij-as-ter\, noun: A self-styled authority on language usage. "Bill Bryson, Lynn Truss, Stephen Fry... all lovers of language contributing books celebrating the proper usage of English for the layman, and yet mere usageasters in the eyes of professional linguists, much like the lay preacher on the pulpit."

Girl With a Satchel

The Satchel Review - Saturday 28 July, 2012

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman turned his multiple pre-election "can-dos" into a giant post-election "can't do" as the nation's state and territory leaders gathered for the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting on Wednesday. 

Chaired by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, the big issue at hand was the implementation of the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme), more particularly the establishment of trial sites in the states (ACT, New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria), and its long-term funding.

The catchphrase became "they are playing political football with people's lives" as the already tense, tired and tested emotions of the disabled, their carers and families were exposed to a dramatic political play-by-play, the first conclusion after seven hours of negotiation a stalemate.

Labor governments in the smaller states of ACT, South Australia and Tasmania signed the dotted line, receiving rapturous applause, but the bigger Liberal state governments bought more time and put their reputations on the line – for who but the most maladjusted Scrooge would deny disadvantaged people extra help?

Not even Tony Abbott would say no to that.

"What happens at the Lodge stays at the Lodge," said a tight-lipped NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell, whose shortfall of $70 million for hosting a trial in the Hunter Valley would become a sticking point. Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu needed an extra $40 million, while Queensland's Newman – who swept to a vast-majority victory in the March election – said, "we simply don't have the money".

That excuse was not well received in light of the fact that Queensland spends the least amount of money on people with disabilities of any Australian state. Newman stuck to his guns, highlighting the recommendation put forth in the Productivity Commission Inquiry Report into Disability Care and Support that the NDIS be federally funded, possibly with a levy not unlike the Flood Levy or Medicare.

Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan called Newman "cold-hearted and callous" as both NSW and Victoria – who proposed a joint bid covering the Hunter and Geelong regions – went into 'saving face' mode on Friday, ceding the goodwill gap (a benchmark of $20,779 per adult) and finally committing to the NDIS as the state presses ran stories featuring the voices of the disabled and their carers.

The Victorian Government offered an extra $42 million to fund a trial, including an extra $17 million over three years and $25m for an administrative agency; NSW offered an extra $35 million over three years, on top of a redirection of an existing $500 million funding in the disability system, although this was still short $70 million.

The state trials will be supported by $1 billion over four years from the Federal Government to provide individual care packages for an initial 10,000 people, expanded to 20,000 people by mid-2014. It's anticipated that the scheme will need an additional $6.5 billion on top of existing disability spending, while a full NDIS, covering around 410,000 people, should be rolled out by 2018 and is estimated will cost $15 billion a year.

As stipulated by the Productivity Commission – which made 86 recommendations after drawing on 23 days of testimony from people with disabilities, their carers, service providers and workers – the current disability support system is "underfunded, unfair, fragmented and inefficient", giving people with a disability "little choice, no certainty of access to appropriate support and little scope to participate in the community".

Perhaps the best article on the NDIS of all came via Naomi Anderson at On Line Opinion, who wrote:

"For many people with a disability the “alternate self” is not a self without a disability, but a self with appropriate support. A self where wheelchairs are provided as needed, where therapy occurs in time to facilitate ongoing education, where personal support workers are provided so that a hospitalisation does not become the trigger for unemployment and social isolation." 

With no doubt as to the need for the Scheme, perhaps telling was a comment made by the conservative commentator John Laws after speaking to Federal Minister for Families and Disability Reform Jenny Macklin: "This place is not Bangladesh, it's Australia; one of the greatest countries – the greatest in my mind – in the world, yet we can't look after people properly with disabilities."

The big win from the week was undoubtedly the prominence given to disabled children and adults alike, and their families – their daily trials, realities and hopes for the future brought into view as the Olympics got started, though one might ask, "Shouldn't they have always been included?".

As the personal trumped the political, we were all called to ask ourselves, "How might I feel about this if my life were to take an unexpected turn down the road of disability?", or, "What would Leisel Jones do?"

Girl With a Satchel

Arts, Culture & Entertainment - July 27

Gail Jones. Picture: Random House
Librarians "make books matter, make words something worthwhile" said author Gail Jones, recipient of the 2012 Nita B Kibble Literary Award, for her book Five Bells (Random House).

The Kibble Award, named after Nita Kibble – the first woman appointed as a librarian at the State Library of NSW – recognises the outstanding literary achievements of an established Australian female writer and awards her $30,000.  

Five Bells is inspired by Kenneth Slessor’s famous poem about Sydney Harbour and Jone's move to Sydney from Western Australia in 2008. The judging panel, chaired by Professor Robert Dixon, said, "Jones’ characterisation of Sydney is an elegant and essential part of the novel’s emotional pull."

Favel Parrett. Picture: Oscar and Friends
Sister to the Kibble, the Dobbie Literary Award for a first-time author, went to Favel Parrett for Past the Shallows (Hachette), which is set in a Tasmanian abalone fishing community and centres around three brothers and their father. Dixon described the book as a "superbly written raw and realistic story". Of her youngest protagonist Harry, Parrett said, "I loved him like I love my brother and I felt an intense urge to tell his story." Parrett, who was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, has been awarded a ‘Book2′ grant by The Australia Council for her second novel, which she is currently working on.

Both the Kibble and Dobbie for women recognise "life writing" in fiction and non-fiction; both Jones and Parrett were reportedly absent from the awards ceremony due to nubilous weather conditions and flu.

Librarians and bibliophiles alike might be interested in liking "The Goodwill Librarian" Facebook page.

The winner of the 2012 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing is A.J. Betts, for her tender and funny young adult novel Zac and Mia, the story of two teens who meet and form a relationship on a cancer ward, but who find life outside the hospital much more complicated. An English teacher and university lecturer from Perth, A.J. Betts has won $10,000 and a publishing contract with Text Publishing. Betts is also the author of two young adult novels, Shutter Speed (2008) and Wavelength (2010).

AJ Betts. Picture: Text
 "I’m thrilled," she said on hearing the news. "Writing a novel is a long, all-consuming task, often plagued with self-doubt. To come out the other side and receive such validating news is more than a writer could hope for. I’m honoured and humbled by the judges’ decision, and very excited about the future of Zac and Mia." Zac and Mia will be published by Text in August 2013.

Word nerds, rejoice! A scientific study of 5.2 million books written from 1520 to 2008 has confirmed that 'the', 'of' and 'are' have been the most frequently printed words of the modern English language. As for phrases, "The United States of America" beat out other five-word phrases "at the end of the" and "as a result of the" and "on the part of the" to become the most frequently used phrase of the modern era.

Physicist Matjaz Perc, who was driven by curiosity around grammatical constructions and
Spring Summer Love on Dictionary. Picture: Svpply
"preferential attachment" to compile comprehensive tables of words and phrases, found that there was an "erratic period heavily influenced by religion in the 16th and 17th centuries, a time when William Shakespeare is also claimed to have coined many words and phrases".

In the number one spot in 1586 was the phrase "A fine old English gentleman"! Perc suggests that the English language has "matured" over the years. While no doubt the eloquence of a well-thought-out turn of phrase of print remains, we're not so sure about the electronic word. Will the hashtag (#), "Tweet/blog/Facebook that", "On the right side of history", "I'm busy" (aka "I have a lot on my plate") and "I know, right?" be the most frequently used "words" and phrases of the new millennium? Perc's study is published in Interface, the journal of The Royal Society. Read more about it at The Australian.

Meanwhile, a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare, known as the Robben Island Bible, used by apartheid-era ANC prisoners including Nelson Mandela will go on display at the British Museum, reports The Telegraph UK. Beside the passage in Julius Caesar beginning, “Cowards die many times before their deaths” is Mandela’s signature and the date, December 16 1977.
Stan Walker and acoustic accompaniment. Picture: Gary Howard
"How are you going, church?" was the most-used stage phrase by Pastor Garry Mac of Metro Church, Gold Coast, which put on a pretty fantastic event last weekend showcasing the vocal talents of Stan Walker, the motorbike skills of JC Epidemic and the united front of the church's music group and red-shirted, smiley-faced congregation. JC Epidemic emcee Andy Sawden managed to offend bookish Christian types with a quip about how Christians are perceived (no offense taken, Andy!), while Walker's candour, humility and humour were a beautiful insight into the life of a young Aussie singer who's overcome significant challenges and will hopefully go further beyond his Australian Idol status to showcase his wonderful talent.

Young Gold Coast singer David Baker was also spotted at the Metro Church event. Baker has started a new band, Creature Kind, saying that the name was decided on after a random search for words.

And last, but not least, the winter issue of Enhance magazine, which just happens to be published by the creative crew behind Metro Church, is resplendent in yellow and showcases "The Darlings of YouTube" Jayseelee (aka twin sisters Janice and Sonia Lee).

The sisters from Sydney tell Katie Ilses that they first had to get past their father – who has raised his girls since their mother passed away – before putting their music on their YouTube channel back in 2008 and saying goodbye to design college to develop their craft:

"Being a typical Asian father he was initially concerned about the lack of security music had to offer," says Janice. "But the day one of our covers reached on million hits he gave a nod of approval and told us to give it a go."

Ilses notes that the girls provide careful and considered answers about faith and purpose, "politely dodging questions about their personal lives in a way that would make Beyonce and Gwyneth proud", and that "the pair have taken to fame with a remarkable aplomb – revealing just enough of themselves to maintain their authentic connection with their fans without losing their foundation in the fray."

Girl With a Satchel

Artisan: Ruth Fattal, fashion designer

Artisan: Ruth Fattal, fashion designer
Ruth Fattal playing with French lace and silks.
A journal is lost and a courier sent to retrieve it – Ruth Fattal's fashion sketches are within it and it has been left on the east coast of America and she is heading west. Thank heavens for the postal express! 

When the leather-bound book is expediently returned, Ruth's relief is palpable. She can now return to her creative enterprise, squirreling sketching sessions in between trips to the shops and cafes and cultural landmarks on our American expedition.

Three of her favourite things? Coffee, ice-cream and her sketch pad.

Book Shelf: Ignorance by Michèle Roberts - review

Book Shelf: Ignorance by Michèle Roberts
By Brooke Lehmann

Author of twelve highly acclaimed novels, including Booker prize shortlisted, Daughters of the House, Michèle Roberts has raised the bar yet again with her newest addition, Ignorance (Bloomsbury). The English-French authoress' prolific career, including poetry and plays, continues to display itself in her new work, her linguistic flare exhibited on each page.

The story is set in France, pre, midst and post-war, and revolves around two young girls, Marie-Angèle Baudry and Jeanne Nérin, from very different backgrounds – one from the upper class and the other the lower – who attend the same convent school. It follows their journeys as they find their respective lives meshed together by circumstance.

Told from the perspective of several others, the poetic and elegiac tone marvels in another one of Roberts' works. Depicting the lives of people in a small French provincial village, Roberts stands out from the crowd by focusing on the lives of French men and women, not exclusively Jewish, but affected drastically by the war and its raw consequences (hunger, horror, inhumanity) all the same.

Satchelism: A gradual awakening (Part 2)

Satchelism: A gradual awakening (Part 2)
'How many kinds of trials are there?' by DaySpring
Just yesterday I caught a glimpse of a young man, rotund in shape, running up a hill with flushed pink cheeks, puffs of icy winter air coming out of his mouth. He had determination on his face, but also pain. He was at once refusing to stay the same, but struggling to forge a new path for himself. 

What propelled him along, I wondered? Was it the wish for good health of heart, the desire to look like 'one of the hip and cool crowd' in their clothes designed for the slim, some unthinking comment by a friend or passer-by, or a deep conviction that his body is a poor reflection of his true self, that it had somehow betrayed his heart? 

Was it the run of a desperate cry or a determined young guy? Would he reach some finite point where he could feel happy and content? Or would this be an ongoing, laborious journey, up unforgiving hills and down steep inclines? What end in sight? A better life? What does that look like? For what purpose this submission to physical pain? What gain?

Truthfully, I could identify with that young guy; the arduous task stretched out before him, not quite sure of its purpose, of what was really propelling him. Trying this and that to appease the feeling that all is not right; making horrible, embarrassing mistakes; pushing people away; desperately running everywhere to escape the person you are, or who you are terrified you are becoming; scribbling notes into journals into the night in the desperate hope that the problem – you – could be solved once and for all. 

Only when I started out, the journey looked more like a molehill than a mountain. 'I can conquer that!' I thought, slinging my satchel across my back, not realising that in this life, there are many mountains to climb, a series of them rather than a steep incline, depending, of course, on the course set out for you. Just you. Yours looks quite different to mine... my fears are not yours, my choices not yours, my ups and downs quite unlike your own. 

The Satchel Review - Saturday 21 July, 2012

This week, as with most weeks, you would be forgiven for thinking the world is in a sick and sorry condition, its constituents doing their utmost to make life here even more unpleasant for each other. 

As unwitting cinema-goers settled in for a midnight screening of Batman The Dark Night Rises at the Century Aurora film complex in Denver, Colarado, a 24-year-old man appeared at the front, released a gas cylinder and opened fire, killing 12 people and wounding at least 50 others.

"As we do when confronted by moments of darkness and challenge, we must now come together as one American family," said US President Barack Obama in the aftermath of the real-life horror story.

"All of us must have the people of Aurora in our thoughts and prayers as they confront the loss of family, friends and neighbours, and we must stand together with them in the challenging hours and days to come."

As the life stories of the victims lost in the senseless attack proliferate media, so too will the sordid, sorry story of their murderer, James Holmes. Perhaps time to reflect, momentarily, on some ideas about reporting on such events sensitively and the human propensity to inflict untamed anger on innocents.

In Syria, a suicide bomber killed members of President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle, including his brother-in-law (who was also his deputy), his national security chief, and his defence minister, as fighting continued in the capital, Damascus. Formerly, most of the fighting had been concentrated in Homs.  

Activists said more than 300 people were killed on Thursday, making it the bloodiest day since insurgents took up weapons in the fight against Assad's regime in March 2011. According to the Syrian Revolution Martyr Database, 19,980 people have been killed since the Syrian civil war broke out 16 months ago.

The UN's refugee agency has received reports of 8,500 to 30,000 people fleeing across the border into Lebanon, while the Free Syrian Army has taken control of the borders crossing into Turkey and Iraq. Used to be that Syria was a safe-haven for Iraqui refugees, including its Christians.

Crisis talks have been held by the UN in Russia and China urging the countries to cooperate with the implementation of sanctions, measures which have been described as toothless in the face of the slaughter.

While it's expected the authoritarian, take-no-prisoners Assad government will fall, as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, regime change (particularly that enforced by the West) never comes easily. As with Burma and Libya, real change has to be led from within. And though we'd like it to happen within a 24-hour social media-led news cycle, it may not occur even in our lifetime.

As we see the implications of the Barclays demise unfold throughout the London financial world and beyond, it's quite clear that self-interest and illegal practises can incubate and flourish just about anywhere when accountability and decency is subverted by the power hungry and gross negligence.

Putting things right out to be on the agenda when all the world is awry... we cannot anticipate who will be caught in the cross-fire. 

Girl With a Satchel

Trailblazers: Amelia Earhart (July 24, 1897 - unknown)

Trailblazers: Amelia Earhart
By Brooke Lehmann

The lean and statuesque physique of Amelia Earhart, her cropped hair and trademark leather jacket, is a vision of female freedom personified, but there is more to explore about this famous aviatrix.

Could a pot of freckle cream be the clue to her disappearance over the Pacific ocean blue? And what to say of the First Lady of Aviation who was self-conscious about her spotted visage?

Seventy-five years after she vanished with navigator Fred Noonan, a new exploration has been launched by the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), in the hope of finding answers to what happened to a woman who changed the history of aviation as we knew it.

Born on the 24th of July 1897, Amelia Mary Earhart was to become the eldest of two: her younger sister being her happy follower in many of their reckless childhood adventures. Earhart wasn't raised in any conventional manner, often quoted as being encouraged to explore areas mainly restricted to her male counterparts. She became so accustomed to this notion, that she was often seen hunting with a .22 rifle, climbing trees and engaging in other rather unorthodox activities for women.

Video: Marita Cheng, engineer, Robogal and Young Australian of the Year

Video: Marita Cheng, engineer, Robogal and Young Australian of the Year 2012

I first discovered Robogals, a student club which would set up and run LEGO robotics competitions for girls’ schools around Melbourne with the view to encouraging more girls to study engineering at tertiary level, founded by Young Australian of the Year Marita Cheng in 2008, via The New Inventors... they are quite fantastic. Better late than never.

See also: Towards genderless education and beyond!

Girl With a Satchel

Book Shelf: A Good American by Alex George

Book Shelf: A Good American by Alex George
By Brooke Lehmann
Unlikely novelist Alex George has been practicing law for the majority of his adult life. Originally hailing from England, George started out on a gallant quest to establish a new life in the 'land of the free', the Sardanapalian utopia of the western world, America. 

Having established himself in the legal realms of London and Paris, the pilgrimage that ensued seemed to mirror that of his ancestors, when decades earlier his grandparents migrated from England to New Zealand, and later his mother taking the same path, only in reverse. However trivial this information might seem to the common reader, this enlightening tidbit seems to add a certain fundamental truth to the narrative of George's debut novel, A Good American (Penguin).

The plot does not follow the conventional blueprint of many novels, focusing instead on the journey of several generations of the one family – the Meisenheimer's – rather than one single person or storyline. It follows the migration of grandparents from an orthodox and unforgiving family in Germany, to their hasty flee to America in search of new horizons after a shock pregnancy, to the life and times of their children and grandchildren.

Short & Sweet - week beginning 16 July, 2012

"Share it Maybe" by Cookie Monster
"And I think to myself, what a wonderful world," sang Louis Armstrong in 1968. Written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss, the song was "intended as an antidote for the increasingly radically and politically charged climate of everyday life in the United States", its hopeful and optimistic lyrics included in the soundtrack for the 1988 film Good Morning, Vietnam.

Just the same, you can't underrate a good laugh when troubled times come and the world takes on a serious and sombre tone. I have chuckled a lot in the past couple of weeks over very silly things, and I hope you have too. If not, Cookie Monster's "Share it Maybe" for Sesame Street might do it for you. When life gets too much, we can either laugh or cry, or a bit of both. But there must always be hope... even if it takes the form of a giant, moon-shaped chocolate-chip cookie amidst the sparkle of stars on a dark blue night.

Let's catch up: Sophie has lost a cherished loved one so will be absent from the blog this week, while Brooke is off on holiday with a friend leaving two interesting reads in her wake. As for me, I've been nursing a husband with the man-flu and spending time with Man with a Bag (aka Dad) and have a sermon to plan.
The Word for the Week: "Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it?" Job 38: 12-13
Quote for the Week: "Perhaps they are not stars but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through." - Eskimo proverb word for the week: mote \moht\, noun:
1. A small particle or speck, especially of dust.
2. Moit.
"We are but a tiny mote under the wonder of the cosmos, and yet each of us has so much being it's almost as if there's a whole cosmos stirring within left to explore."

Girl With a Satchel

The Satchel Review - Saturday 13 July, 2012

Two-thousand years since Jesus walked the earth and said "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone", it's hard to imagine that a woman might be killed for an adulterous act in a callous and calculated way in public, but so it is in Afghanistan. 

Shot at point-blank range in broad daylight, 22-year-old Najiba met her fate at the hands of Islamist extremists in Qol village north of Kabul, as 150 spectators looked on. Najiba was married to a hardline Taliban commander and accused of adultery with another commander. 

She was convicted of her crime within an hour. A man read from the Koran as she crouched beside a ditch covered in a grey burqua: "We cannot forgive her. God tells us to finish her,” the man said. "Juma Khan, her husband, has the right to kill her."

The Afghan government has condemned the execution, but it's clear that archaic and brutal Islamic practises have not been stamped out by the occupation following the September 11 attacks in 2001. The Taliban first took Kabul in 1996 imposing their strict social laws after the country collapsed into civil war in 1992 and the Taliban rose to power out of the anarchy.

American troops are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, while Australian troops are wrapping up their tour of duty at the end of 2013. Earlier this month, Sergeant Blaine Diddams, of the elite Swanbourne-based Special Air Services Regiment (SASR), was killed during his seventh tour of duty to Afghanistan. He was the 33rd casualty since 2001.

At a meeting of the international community in Tokyo, Australian foreign minister Bob Carr committed $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan. In response to Najiba's killing, British foreign secretary William Hague said, "Such deplorable actions underline the vital need for better protection of the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan."

Senator Carr pledged his commitment to reducing domestic and community violence against women in Afghanistan with $17.7 million to change community attitudes and reduce the rate of retribution attacks for female participation in society.

“We’ve made progress on women’s health and education – these additional funds would improve female safety and access to a fair interpretation of the law," Senator Carr wrote on his Thoughtlines blog.

One of the worst countries in the world in which to be born female, the life expectancy for women in Afghanistan is 44 years of age. According to a 2010 report, 2300 Afghan women or girls attempted suicide mainly because of poverty, mental illness and domestic violence. Adult women's literacy rates are 12 per cent.

Much of Afghanistan's economy, and the survival of the Taliban insurgency, is dependent on the drug trade, more particularly opium. According to a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the total value of the Afghan opiate economy is estimated at roughly $2.4 billion (in U.S. dollars), equivalent to 15 percent of the country’s licit GDP.

A story on Afghanistan's "Opium Girls" due to air on Four Corners Monday night shows how the drug trafficking trade affects uneducated rural farmers and their daughters who have become a tradeable commodity, a way to settle debts with the drug smugglers. It's said the poppy trade is growing.

With the Tour de France tainted with the whiff of drug allegations, it's clear we have another global problem to deal with. As one checkout lad put it to me in a pun on the demise of Darrell Lea, which came as Brett Lee declared his baggy green would be put away after taking 718 wickets, "It's a rocky road ahead". 

Girl With a Satchel

Satchelnomics: Carbon tax - environmental martyrdom?

Satchelnomics: Carbon tax: environmental martyrdom or doing the right thing?
Up above the world so high... 30,000 feet in the air watching the day break.
Such is the microcosm of the comfortably modern life and the grand paradox at the centre of the global warming (aka climate change) narrative, that one might find oneself sipping tea from a paper cup while looking out upon a fleet of jumbo jets from the food court of Sydney airport composing a story on the Carbon Tax and climate change. 

Western comforts have a lot to answer for.

The ‘necessities’ that clever man has created through his industry, which posits human progress as keeping up with the Jones’ (we must raise our standard of living, whatever that may be... onwards we go!), versus the responsibility of man to steward that which he did not make (i.e. the natural world) for posterity remains a pressing matter for our times.

Just this week, the State of the Climate Report has been released, showing that the extreme weather events of last year (droughts, floods and heat waves) coincided with a peak in greenhouse gas emissions. The Report, published by the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO states:

Our observations show that sea-surface temperatures around Australia have increased faster than the global average. The concentrations of long-lived greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new high in 2011. Annual growth in global fossil-fuel CO2 emissions between 2009 and 2010 was 5.9 per cent, reversing a small decline of 1.2 per cent recorded between 2008 and 2009 during the global financial crisis.

But the discourse around the science is still on shaky ground, which gives climate-change sceptics a reason to beat their drums: with so many variables to keep us on our toes, including La Nina and volcanoes that spew C02 (notably, not as much as me and you!), the authors of State of the Climate are “consciously conservative” about attributing wild and weird weather fluctuations to climate change.

According to Dr Karl Braganza of the Melbourne Bureau of Meteorology, who spoke to Mark Colvin at the ABC, “When you come to individual weather events it's a lot harder ‘cause really what you're trying to identify there are weather events that would never have occurred previously without the influence of greenhouse gasses and with a 40 per cent increase it's not that easy to determine that.”

But while the jury is still out on climate change – one of the most polarizing issues in public debate – on July 1, 2012, Australia effectively implemented its Carbon Tax, thereby becoming a world leader (world beater, no less) on the international stage. Hooray, right?! Not so much. The Tax has not exactly been embraced wholeheartedly.

Why? The timing has not been great.

‘Tis a season for global fiscal restraint and Australia, buffered by the mining boom, is operating as if it’s on a different planet. As Gina Rinehart explores for meteorite sites in WA in an effort to extract more of her iron ore from the ground to invest back into her diverse areas of interest (including the media), the warning signs are bearing down like a full moon as we go about extracting a tax from the top polluters.

Arts, Culture & Entertainment - Thursday 12th July 2012

Peter O'Toole
Veteran Irish actor Peter O'Toole has announced that at the age of 79 it is time to "chuck in the
sponge," retiring from the stage and screen "dry-eyed and profoundly grateful" after his 50-year career. O'Toole received his 'big break' in the film Lawrence of Arabia (1962), in which he played the well-educated, self-assured, courageous and passionate Lawrence, who emerges as a visionary leader of Arab independence against the Turks. Receiving eight Oscar nominations during his career, and presented with an honorary Academy Award in 2003, O'Toole plans to focus on writing a third volume of memoirs in retirement.
Stuart Maunder's new production of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado is showing at Brisbane's Conservatorium Theatre until July 28th. Described as "lough-out-loud," the Opera Queensland production is a bizarre romantic comedy set in "a Japan that never existed" where flirting has become a crime punishable by death. The story follows Nanki-Poo, the son of the Emperor of Japan, who sets out on a complicated road to reclaim the heart of his star-crossed love, Yum-Yum. It's bizarre, colourful and poised to provide a healthy dose of nature's best medicine - laughter.

Disney on Ice is currently skating around the Allphones Arena in Sydney's Olympic Park. A classic family-outing, all of your favourite Disney characters will make an appearance in "one colossal party on ice," jumping through all of the seasonal & holiday celebrations around the world. It's Disney, and it's on ice; it's bound to be a little bit magic.

Australia's Winter Festival is underway in Melbourne, Bondi & Fremantle, providing our somewhat snow-deprived cities with a little white winter wonderfulness. The event in each location is centred around "the largest outdoor ice rink in the southern hemisphere", with 30,000 visitors attending at each location last year. The festival also includes kids' parties, entertainment, a fully licensed bar, live music and unique Alpine cuisines. Head to their website to find out more details on what's happening at your nearest city – unfortunately for Brisbanites, the Festival has already wrapped up!

At Home With Julia
The Australian Writers' Guild's 45th scriptwriting awards are due to be held in Sydney on the 24th August, and despite poor reviews at the hands of the critics, the Australian comedy based on the behind the scenes life of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, At Home With Julia, is up for a prize. Telemovies Beaconsfield and Mabo are competing for the original telemovie prize, The Slap and Underbelly: Razor are nominated for best television miniseries, and the Good News Week writing team have been nominated for their ninth AWGIE award.

Usually making headlines for his less-than-uplifting commentary, 2Day FM presenter Kyle Sandilands has made headlines for a different reason (hooray!). During a radio interview with an unnamed 21-year-old homeless woman, the radio "shock jock" announced that he will pay for her to rent her own home. "I've been where you are, and I've had nowhere, and I've lived in cardboard boxes, and it's bad, it's the lowest you can get," said Sandilands during the interview. "You seem like the sort of girl who will do anything to fix your situation. So, and this hasn't been organised, but I'm going to rent you a place to live in myself." 2Day FM and its sponsors will also be providing the Sydney woman with a holiday for two to Phuket and spending money, bedding and cooking utensils for her new home.

Compiled by Sophie Baker

The Middle Brow: Problematic internet use

By Emma Plant
The term ‘Problematic Internet Use’ (PIU) has been bandied about since one's bandwidth became synonymous with social mobility. 

It describes an individual’s reliance on the Internet to the point where it detracts from a healthy, balanced life – i.e., you may be accomplishing all kinds of wonderful things with your online alter-ego, but what on earth (literally) is happening in your non-pixilated life?

The old existential adage asks, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it really fall?”. Now it might well ask, “If you go to a trendy farmer's market and don’t Instagram, Facebook or Tweet it, did you really go?”

Snapshot: Bec & Grace - musically inclined

Snapshot: Bec & Grace, musically inclined
Bec Isijanovski & Grace Harrison
By Sophie Baker
It was put out on the wire (Facebook) that there was to be a musical community event at the local cafe in a quiet country town where nightlife is something of a rarity. On arrival, seats are scarce but the sounds emanating from Bec and Grace wrap around the body like a beautiful rug. 

Local talent bursting from the building, the two fresh young faces – all smiles and a hint of nerves – produce enchanting harmonies to boot, lulling the senses into a soporific state of bliss. I could have listened to them all night. 

It wasn't an obvious pairing at first for 18-year-old Rebecca Isijanovski and 17-year-old Grace Harrison. Originally operating under the assumption that their voices were far too different to work in cohesion, the pair proved themselves wrong after a few just-for-fun jam sessions. 

"Both of us are extremely musical people and have similar interests and taste in basically everything, so when we began singing together, we kind of “meshed”," says Bec. 

"Our voices are really different on their own but they just seem to work when we sing together. It’s odd. We really began to realise this when our family and friends began commenting on how good we sounded together. Then a gig opened up for us, a chance we jumped at." 

See after the jump for Bec & Grace's rendition of "Use Somebody" by Kings of Leon.

Short & Sweet - week beginning 2 July, 2012

How simple life can be! No carbon emissions here, just wonderful photosynthesis.
I reckon Geoffrey Blainey, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and Ross Gittins would make for marvellous companionship... I enjoy their writing, so I imagine their company would be much the same.

But beyond their profession, it's something of their character I like. They are men of a certain age whose bristles have been worn down with the passage of time; who wear sports coats and hats and scarves and slacks and glasses; who look adoringly upon their wives, children, grandchildren with the kind of affection that melts your heart; who have mental dexterity enough to debate you under the table but enough generosity and good humour to allow for your personal foibles; who still have a childlike curiosity about the world, enabled by their daily walks and well-travelled thoughts; the disposition is generally cheery, sometimes cheeky, sometimes curmudgeonly, but not for long. 

They are on pensions or semi-retired and hang out at men's sheds and golf clubs and buy the paper and say, 'Good morning, how are you today [sometimes "sweetie" or "darl"]?'. Some are married, others alone. Three of these older blokes, with whom I am very close, have taken ill of late. It's very disconcerting. They are mighty men to me, full of dignity though I know also their faults, so to see them rendered somewhat incapacitated is saddening.