Friday, January 11, 2008

Fashion Labels Kids As Losers

For many years we have been accustomed to seeing tee shirts with all sorts of slogans and statements emblazoned upon them. Some of them are funny, some of them are clever, some of them are offensive and some of them are nothing more than advertising. Tee shirt statements can be political or social comment, and they can be provocative. And most of the time that’s OK.

But now concerns have been raised about a line of clothing aimed at kids as young as eight which has the endearing name “Little Losers”. Obviously it’s meant to be funny, but is it really funny when an eight or ten year old girl is out in public wearing a shirt that proclaims her to be “Miss Bitch” or “Miss Floozey”? Or how about a young boy with a shirt identifying him as “Mr. Asshole” or “Mr. Well Hung”?

Shocking, anti-social, rebellious statements are a part of growing up, but legitimate expressions of such thoughts usually come from teenagers, not eight year olds. And they are usually not thrust upon them by commercially driven adults who have no interest in the personal or social development of these children.

For generations, child development experts have advised us of the damaging effects of “labeling” children by calling them derogatory names and abusing them for perceived failures. Now we have a clothing company that wants us to literally label our kids as “Bitches” and “Assholes”. Now what does that do for the self-image of growing children? And what does it say about parents who allow it?

It’s a free country, with free expression, but with freedom comes responsibility. If we can’t be responsible in the way we bring up our children it’s no wonder we have teenagers who throw rocks and bottles at buses and cars and think it’s funny.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Save Qantas Before It’s Too Late.

Qantas seems to be having a rough patch. For a company whose greatest asset is its reputation, there has been a surplus of negative press for the last couple of years. What makes this a matter of concern is that, due to its history, all of us as Australians feel as if we have a personal stake in the fortunes of the national airline, even if we don’t actually own any of its shares. Qantas is important to all of us because it is a symbol of our nation and our success.

So here’s the question: Is this rough patch the result of bad luck, or bad management?

So far Qantas has escaped serious catastrophe. But this week’s electrical failure came within a bee’s wing of being exactly that. If Bangkok had not been so close, the aircraft would have almost certainly crashed. For some time now, many people have been concerned that safety and maintenance standards are being undermined by the cost conscious culture that now exists not only at Qantas, but throughout the corporate world.

Modern day economic thinking stretches people and resources to their limits to produce greater profits. But in doing so tolerances are reduced and margins for error disappear. Niceties such as customer service are eroded, and judgements are made on the basis of cost / return ratios rather than best practice. When it comes to aviation safety that’s just not good enough, unless we are prepared to accept that from time to time people will die in accidents, because preventing those accidents is just too expensive to be worth it.

There was a time when industries were run by people who knew how to build the product or create the service, while accountants were given the job of working out how to make it pay. Now the roles have been reversed so that the beancounters are calling the shots, and the people who actually know how to make something fly somehow have to figure out how to do that within the constraints of a system which is serving profits before people.

As for Qantas, none of us want to see it lose its hard won reputation for safety and service. We all want to be proud of our national icon.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Plenty of Style, Where’s the Substance?

Despite the new government’s enthusiasm for warm and fuzzy gestures such as immediately ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, and preparing to issue a formal apology to the stolen generation, it has to be asked if there is substance behind the style.

After all of the hysteria about the Kyoto Protocol, when push came to shove at the Bali talks many were disappointed with Australia’s position on the setting of emissions targets. Yes a declaration was made, but it fell short of the expectations held by many. In many ways there is a certain pragmatism to the idea of embracing the symbolic gestures, but acting more cautiously on the measures which have a real economic impact. Ironically, it turns out that Kevin Rudd really isn’t that much different from John Howard in those terms.

In the same way, much has been made of the plan to make a formal apology to the stolen generation, but the proposal for a $1 billion compensation fund has been flatly rejected by the new government. Instead, more practical forms of reconciliation are considered to be more important, such as measures to address health, education and social equity issues. It’s a position that sounds remarkably similar to the one expressed by the previous Prime Minister.

There is a catch however. In the absence of a capped compensation fund, some legal experts believe that a co-ordinated campaign of litigation could ultimately cost taxpayers much more in court awarded compensation payments. It’s sad that it comes down to this, but many people will be cynical and say that it was only ever about the money. I wonder though, how many people would object to the idea of compensation for the white victims of foster homes who have also suffered injustices over the years… No it’s not just about the money, but sometimes the money is a pretty good indicator of your sincerity.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Casting the First Stone

In the wake of Australia’s decision to step up its opposition to Japanese whaling by deploying the Oceanic Viking, supporters of whaling in Japan have posted a controversial video on the internet. It runs about ten minutes and aggressively promotes the idea that Australia is racist and hypocritical in its opposition to Japan’s whaling program. Most of what it contains is a distortion and an outlandish misrepresentation of the facts. There is one aspect however which is confronting.

The video suggests that we are hypocritical to oppose the whaling at the same time as allowing and condoning animal cruelty here in Australia. It illustrates this with video footage of dingos being killed and skinned, and kangaroos being shot and their joeys ripped from the pouch and bludgeoned to death. In one case it shows a man killing a joey by stomping on it, and a boy in the video also takes a turn at stomping the baby kangaroo.

All of this is disturbing to anyone who has concerns about animal welfare. Many would assume that these acts were not condoned by law. But apparently that assumption would be wrong. After many years of debate there is now a revised code of practice relating to the killing of kangaroos which has been released for public comment. The new code removes the previous recommendation to kill joeys by smashing their heads against a towbar. However the new recommendations are not much more pleasant.

There are other discrepancies in the code relating to differences in the standards imposed on professional and non-professional shooters. But the bottom line is that we do kill kangaroos and their joeys in ways that would sicken many people. Obviously, kangaroos are not whales, but the question that is being asked is “do we have our own back yard in order when we condemn the practices of other countries?”

If you want to see the proposed code of practice you can find it at

Monday, January 7, 2008

It’s Just Not Cricket!

The second cricket test will unfortunately be remembered for all the wrong reasons. I don’t often comment on sports stories because there are others who know more about the game than I do, but this controversy goes beyond the normal paradigm of a sports story. There are two main controversies associated with this match. The first is the appalling standard of umpiring. The second is the racial insult directed at Andrew Symonds.

Racism is not acceptable at any time, and our sporting heroes are so often held up to be role models that it is important that they recognize this and behave accordingly. Many are still debating whether the reference to a “monkey” is actually racist. After all we commonly insult each other using other animal references such as “rat” or “dog”. It is something that must be judged in context, and that is what the cricket authorities have done. Whether or not it is any worse than some of the other sledging that goes on is a point of debate, and give the Australian team’s talent in that department it might seem a bit rich to be pointing the finger at Harbhajan Singh. The only way to properly deal with this is to stop the sledging altogether.

The other issue of the bad decisions made by both umpires is also a difficult one. Many are calling for more technology to be brought into use to prevent this sort of travesty from occurring again. I believe that such a move is detrimental to the game. Aside from slowing the game by having everything stop every five minutes, isn’t respect for the umpire’s decision part of the game? Most of the time umpires get it right. Sometimes they get it wrong. Over time it should balance out, with some decisions going your way and some not. What we saw during the second test was an aberration, a highly unusual set of circumstances where both umpires appeared to be having really bad days, for five consecutive days.

Yes, perhaps umpires Benson and Bucknor should be sidelined for the rest of the series, but I don’t think it would be an improvement to rely more heavily on cameras and computers.