Howard’s Mental Health Day

It might be a hard concept to get your head around, but… Our prime minister did something this week we can only applaud.

Starting from next month, the services of psychologists and other mental health professionals will finally be claimable on Medicare. I believe everyone would be entitled to ten or twelve counseling sessions per year, plus they’re giving more resources GPs to help with people’s brains.

Our prime minister came out with this long-overdue change on the first day of Mental Health Week. Although of course it would have been initiated by the health department, who in turn have probably been prompted by literally years of reports telling them this was the way to go. As often happens, he’s probably taking the credit for policy made elsewhere. But if his presence increases the number of cameras and the attention when the announcement is made…

Until now, only psychiatrists have been claimable. Some psychologists take a dim view of psychiatrists and no doubt vice-versa. What ever your preference, you can now chose the discipline of your choice to help sort you out. The figures are pretty scary – over a lifetime, one in five of the people reading this will need the help of a professional. And now finally it won’t be a matter of the kind of care you can afford.

Now, all we need is for trips to the Dentists to be claimable.

And, perhaps more interestingly, could this be the first sign of a miniscule amount of compassion in the federal coalition? Could we be seeing Tony Abbott and Mr. Prime Minister developing a soft side? I’m not holding my breath, these guys are interested first and foremost in gaining and maintaining power, showing a soft side is no doubt part of that larger strategy. And strangely, sometimes the right things happen for the wrong reasons.

Make yourself an appointment now.

Mental Health Week (Victoria)

Say goodbye to The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald

This week, in fact in the next few days, the Senate will be voting on Helen Coonan’s Media “Reform” package. This package seems to be universally unpopular with everyone – the journalists on the ground, most of the media owners, and we consumers.

One of the smaller media companies in this country is Fairfax, publishers of arguably the best newspapers in the country – the sister publications The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. Whatever you may think of recent changes to these publications under their current editors – there seems to be far too many “news” pages populated mostly with large color photographs, like a flimsy daily magazine – these two publications are still the papers of record in this country.

They are the two publications which really attempt, with greater or lesser success, to tell both sides of the story. Watching an issue being thrashed out, day to day in the opinion pages will both delight and infuriate depending on which view is getting aired that day.

Compare this to some of the other major dailies, such as The Australian, which is clearly has a viewpoint, and clearly expresses it every single day in the way in approached stories and the stories it chooses to report. The Fairfax approach is both better and, unfortunately far rarer.

Now, despite reportedly increasing circulation and very successful websites – whatever you might think of the “lifestyle” content – Fairfax is a small fish, compared to Rupert’s News Limited and Packer’s Publishing and Broadcasting. And indeed any number of large overseas media companies.

It is a little fish which is very likely to get gobbled if the restrictions on media mergers and acquisitions are removed. As is currently before the parliament.

Now, some would argue that “ownership” does not automatically mean “editorial control” or “undue influence.” That a well-behaved, hands off proprietor will allow an organisation to have and keep its own voice.

This argument is, to put it politely, bullshit.

Every organisation tends to, over time, come to reflect the particular biases and opinions of its leaders. This is true from the local scout club all the way up to the international corporations. Look at News limited. It wouldn’t be the kind of company it is if it was run by someone else. Anyone who argues that the whole place isn’t infused with Rupert’s DNA is also talking bullshit. A company like that is a massive externalized expression of the proprietors personality and, indirectly his opinions. Just by the decisions the guiding hand makes, the company will slowly evolve into the proprietors beast, ditto the new divisions it acquires.

There are no guarantees that the Big Fish can give about the little fish they will swallow. They can’t guarantee anything about retaining editorial independence. No matter how hands off they will attempt to be, the corporate mind set will permeate and take over.

Assuming they even attempt to be hands off. More likely will be the slashing of journalist roles, the combining of functions with other parts of the organization, and other “synergies” which will quickly sap anything unique about these newspapers.

Now, they might not be your preferred daily rag, but they should at least have your respect. And they are an endangered takeover target, for reasons that are still not clear.

So don’t just sit there. The folks over at Getup have started an online campaign to lobby senators about the upcoming changes, sign on and tell them what you think.

And get the “paper dinosaurs” delivered or go pick up a copy, read them while you still can.

The Age
The Sydney Morning Herald
Getup’s Media campaign

October Surprise

Traditionally, the US goes to the polls in November, every year. Every second November there are Senate and Congressional election, and every fourth there’s a Presidential poll.

Almost all US federal administrations since the second world war have had an exclusive focus on external affairs – be they wars, or one or other crisis, somewhere the world, in which it is felt influence can be brought to bear.

This is more so with the Bush administrator than almost any other. Although Clinton was not significantly different after his attempts at reform at home bogged down.

In fact, the US has been fighting somewhere in every one of the last fifty years.

The party in power often uses these distractions overseas to seem as if it is doing something, to be seen to be pro-active or powerful or even “making America feel good about itself again.” A phrase heard after the first gulf war. Basically, as a big distraction from issues at home.

How does this relate to elections?

What better time to seem powerful, in command, to be taking charge, than just before an election. This has become so predictable as to be almost a cliche, with it’s own name: the October Surprise. Anything organised specifically to happen around October, just before an election, in order to reinforce whichever image the administration is trying to project.

It is October.

It is an election year.

The Republics, this time around, are looking very, very vulnerable and doing a superb job of stumbling around and shooting themselves in the foot. We have a administration which has built it’s image almost exclusively as “tough” and “take charge”, which has worked itself into a huge mess in Iraq.

I think we can expect a surprise.

It’s impossible to predict what form it’ll take. Although if they have any sense, if Dick Cheney still has any of his alleged intelligence left, perhaps they’ll have second thoughts about invading somewhere new, or blowing something up. Hopefully they have got it through their thick skulls that throwing their weight around in the world isn’t working the way it used to. Haiti, Panama – Iraq is a whole different kettle of fish. Which is also using up any resources they could conceivably use to launch a strike of any kind. They are already overstretched, although they could probably spare a few bombers for a few missions.

What they really need is a good capturing of some major “enemy” of the United States. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if they’re sitting on someone already is a secret prison right now, and are just waiting to show him off on the nightly news late in October.

Failing that, a quick bombing run into a budding nuclear power to bomb some installations might do the trick. Much the same as a raid Israel ran in the eighties hitting installations in Iraq. And just think, there’s a belligerent nation just across the border from all those new airbases in Iraq…

It could also be argued that several of the major regimes in the world who have been clustered together in the “Axis of Evil” might actually have an interest in the current powers that be staying in office. It must be nice to have such a touchy enemy with which to tussle and use to rally their own populations behind the glorious leader. They could organize their own surprises to suit their own purposes.

By, for example, conducting a nuclear test…

This is Not a Blog

This is not a pipe
“This is not a pipe” – René Magritte, 1928

“The Beatles were just content providers” – Doonesbury.

This is not a blog.

This is a website that uses common blogging software as a way of managing content.

This is a just a site, in the old fashioned sense. The web has seen more than enough blogs, millions upon millions being created every day. The have evolved from their original purpose – a kind of web diary – into something that purports to be more. However, aside from blogs written by actual journalists, most of them can only be opinion pieces. Millions of opinion pieces.

Blogs entries often also take the form of “Check out this cool thing I saw on another site”, which almost has the effect of making the web a self-referential closed system.

I will endeavor to avoid both these extremes, and will infrequently post “check out this cool thing” and “Another episode from my life” type of entries. I have another, personal blog on one of the major blogging sites for that, and that mostly because I have formed a small community of people on it. Most of whom I knew offline already. I’m also using it as a kind of externalised memory. This is an outlet for my more serious writing.

And my only real source for “look what I found” posts are sites that you could just as easily browse yourself. Such as slashdot, digg, b3ta, and so forth. See post to follow.

And here are too many blogs out there already anyway. I tried to demonstrate as much early in 2004 when I created the entirely fictitious “Goatboy Diaries”. The life and times of a poor wage slave in a cubicle somewhere. Ok, so that part is true.

Yes folks, I intend to create Original Content.

Having said that, I can’t pretend that I am a writer or journalist. Like 99% of people online, I rarely have access to original sources, nor do I have the backing of a large organisition with the ability to do research. This is what distinguishes most efforts from actual news organizations. I do have access to a very small number of People of Interest and News Worthy events, which I will exploit and publish here. Even if I have to generate news myself through my efforts as an activist.

My interests are diverse, and in some way’s counter to each other. For example, the last five magazines I acquired where Flight International, the New Yorker, Viz comics, New Scientist and Time magazine. I also regularly read Adbusters and other journals of that ilk. More on these later.

Self published sites like this are necessarily promoting a (hopefully unique) point of view. I will let you guess what my political leanings are through the content I create. I am a member – just – of one of the major political parties here in Australia, but out on one edge with a love-hate thing going on. I suspect this is the case for all free thinkers attempting to graft themselves onto a larger, more cumbersome organization.

Another thing that differentiates a blog from serious journalism is the used of the personal pronoun, the inclusion of the reporter into the story. You will see the words “I” and “me” and “myself” on this site frequently. I could pretend I’m channeling Hunter Thompson, who was frequently the story himself, but no – I just never went through a course or cadetship to learn the pyramid story structure or the exclusion of self from the narrative.

I will publish here as frequently as the muse and my time allows me – which may not be often, I am after all employed full time and have many other things on my plate.

And finally, a few guidelines on the site itself. I used WordPress software simply because I’m familiar with it. And a slightly tweaked version of a template because I don’t know enough PHP to create my own. If I had the time I’d learn how to use joomla but for my purposes, this setup is sufficient. I will by default place most links at the end of an entry, rather than breaking up the flow with highlighted blue text. I find that when reading webpages I read a few sentences then jump off to the links as soon as I see them, one of the downfalls of Tim Berners-Lee’s little invention here, and my short attention span. Also, there are no ads on this site, and so it will remain until the unlikely day that I can’t afford my web hosting due to the number of hits I get.

And finally I am verbose. As you can see. Get used to it.