Is it hard to surf with boobs?

Griffith Review

Edition 40: Women and Power

April 2013

JUST after dawn on a grey muggy morning in February 2012, some of the best surfers in the world, along with their sponsors and event officials, gathered on a beach in southern Queensland, all eyes on the ocean. It was the first day of the opening event in professional surfing’s annual competition, a season that would see the best surfers – male and female – compete around the globe for millions in prize money and lucrative sponsorship deals, and a decision needed to be made.

The location, Snapper Rocks, is famous for an unusually thick sand bank that lies on the ocean floor, at its best, transforming the waves that roll over it into long barreling cylinders perfect for riding. This morning, though, the swell was small and tide too high for the bank to work its magic; unsteady waves messily peaked and collapsed without a tube in sight. But the event was on, and someone had to surf.

Asking a surfer to paddle out and compete in poor conditions is a necessary evil in professional surfing; nature shows scant regard for competition timetables. Yet it’s something every elite surfer hates and vociferously resists. Good waves equal a better performance; a chance to be your best, achieve greater renown, and potentially, more sponsorship dollars.

The decision of event organisers that morning at Snapper Rocks surprised no one. Send the women out to surf, and let the men wait until conditions improve.

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Iran: Not Tweeting, Hacking.

The Global Mail

April 2nd 2012

In early February this year, in an online forum frequented by Western computer hackers and internet security buffs, an urgent call to arms was sent out:

“This kind of help is not for the technically faint of heart but it’s absolutely needed for people in Iran, right now.”

The message was posted by 28-year-old American Jacob Appelbaum. Appelbaum is a well-known hacker and dissident — his work for Wikileaks has seen him detained and interrogated by US law enforcement many times. He’s a research scientist at the University of Washington’s security and privacy research lab, and is a key developer on a computer software program called Tor.

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The Truth About Mamdouh Habib

New Matilda, 2nd March 2012

A week before Christmas last year, the independent authority that acts as a watchdog over Australia’s Intelligence agencies handed the results of a year-long investigation to the Prime Minister. The investigation was into the involvement of Australian government officials in the illegal arrest, detention, and torture overseas of Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib. But, since arriving in the Prime Minister’s office two and a half months ago, the contents of this crucial report remain secret.

The report has not been publicly released, despite the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, who conducted the investigation, also providing the Prime Minister with a version of the report described as “suitable for public release”.

In a letter to Mamdouh Habib, the Inspector-General Vivienne Thom said she had handed her report to the Prime Minister on 19 December 2011, and that “I have also provided the Prime Minister with an abridged version of the report which is suitable for public release. I have suggested that you should be provided with a personal copy of this public report.”

Habib has not seen this report. He says he has written a number of letters to the Prime Minister’s office and received no reply.

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Habib’s Victory Against The Shock-Jocks

Habib’s Victory Against The Shock-Jocks

New Matilda 27 February 2012

One of the most maligned figures in the Australian media, Mamdouh Habib, has won a long-running legal battle against some of his prime antagonists — securing a defamation payout from the employers of three of Sydney’s most popular radio shock-jocks. Coming down the steps of the District Court in Sydney on Friday, just moments after being awarded a total of $176,296 in damages from Radio 2UE and 2GB, Habib said he felt vindicated by the decision. “It’s not about the money, it’s about the dignity,” he said.

In his ruling the judge found that the comments made about Habib by John Laws and Steve Price from 2UE, and Ray Hadley from 2GB, were “extreme, strongly expressed, exaggerated, unjust, irrational … and also violent”. The tone and content of John Laws in particular was “clearly spiteful and laden with ill-will towards Mr Habib, as well as being intentionally aimed at ridiculing the plaintiff”.

Most problematically though for Radio 2UE and 2GB, in the context of a defamation trial where truth can be relied on as a defence, was that the comments in question were simply not based on fact.

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The dispossessed

The Griffith Review

Edition 32: Wicked Problems, Exquisite Dilemmas

2011

IN mid-afternoon just days after Christmas, finding a park in the small National Heritage town of Central Tilba, on the far South Coast of New South Wales, was proving difficult. Rows of Audis, Prados, the occasional BMW and all kinds of shining new four-wheel drives lined the narrow streets. Throngs of day-trippers surged in and out of the century-old houses now converted to shops and cafés: pretty timber-clad buildings with red tin roofs, bordered by neat gardens of hydrangeas and roses.

Central Tilba is a snapshot of a prosperous early-twentieth-century rural Australian town, captured for voracious tourists. In the Old Cheese Factory I stood shoulder to shoulder with others as cheese, ice cream, fudge, books, tea towels and a mind-numbing array of knick-knacks were sold. Devonshire teas and meat pies were gobbled as people sauntered and shopped their way through the art gallery, the leather shop, and the new-age hemp clothing and crystal store.

I caught myself gaping, astounded by the display of affluence. Just a few minutes’ drive from Central Tilba is the Wallaga Lake Aboriginal Village, a community of 180 people. Here the median weekly income plummets from Tilba’s $379 a week to just $200 a week. At the entrance to the village an Aboriginal flag flutters, and a sprawl of 1970s brick-veneer homes begins. A few are well kept, but most are in various states of disrepair: broken windows, sagging gutters, overgrown lawns littered with rubbish. There are as many decaying car bodies parked on lawns as there are cars on the road. Save for two kids fighting over a bike, the streets were deserted when I visited that same day after Christmas.

Adjacent to the village is the Umbarra Cultural Centre. If Central Tilba is a snapshot of Australian history, Umbarra is a panorama. Inside is a museum and cultural centre that tells the story of the Yuin, the people who, archaeological evidence suggests, have inhabited this region for 20,000 years. Yet on this day, with thousands of tourists nearby, the car park was deserted and the centre doors locked. Outside, a boat with ‘Wallaga Lake Cultural Tours’ emblazoned on the side sat in the dirt, covered in a film of dust.

Earlier I sat chatting with Uncle Stephen Foster on the doorstep of his house, behind us an old man coughing excruciatingly and a radio blaring. Uncle Stephen was spending the day, like most days, sitting around listening to music on the radio. At forty-four he already has the emaciated body of an old man, his face so tiny it seems all eyes and smile. Like many here, he has had a long battle with the grog. ‘I used to go seven days a week if I could. Me little girl and me diabetes slowed me down. I slowed down for me daughter – that was me main priority. I just drink once in the blue moon now.’

As we talked a voice in the near distance started yelling aggressively, the tone making me nervous, but Uncle Stephen waved away my anxious enquiries with a gentle flick of his hand. Violence, particularly drunken violence, is not unusual here; while no one likes it, most are acclimatised.

To find this pocket of disadvantage amid the rolling green farmland and tourist towns of the South Coast is incongruous, and disturbing. Like most people who live in the region, I’d never set foot in the community before. To find myself venturing in with the same sense of curiosity and trepidation I used to take into foreign countries was strange. I was motivated by a simple question, but one I suspected was unanswerable: what went so wrong here?

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The Sisterhood of the Super Wealthy

New Matilda 16th February 2010

Just before she married, Helen LaKelly Hunt’s father called her fiancé into his study for a two-hour, closed-door meeting. She was told later it was to discuss her “financial situation”, something no one had ever spoken to her about. As the daughter of one of America’s richest men — Texan oil tycoon H.L. Hunt — Helen says she was expected to be no more than “a southern belle who just smiled sweetly at the smart men who handled the money”.

Today, at 61, Hunt is a successful businesswoman, feminist activist, and one of America’s leading philanthropists. The pivotal moment for Hunt in breaking out of what she calls her “golden handcuffs” was when she discovered the extent of her wealth by reading about it in Forbes magazine. She also discovered that her money was held in a trust fund controlled by her brother’s fraternity “brother”. The fight to regain control of this fund was, she says, “radicalising”.

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Japan: Will Obama meet the survivors of Hiroshima?

New Matilda 11th November 2009

It’s amazing that Sunao Tsuboi survived the atomic bomb blast of 1945 at all — let alone the subsequent years of chronic disease, blood disorders, and two bouts of cancer. Yet he’s made it to the age of 84 possessing a remarkable vitality.

When I arrive to interview him on the third floor of the Hiroshima Peace Hall, we discover the door is locked. Tsuboi shuns the elevator, and, with startling speed, darts down the stairwell and returns with a key.

To illustrate his place in the world’s first nuclear attack he shows me a copy of one of the most iconic images of World War II: the huge billowing mushroom cloud rising above the destroyed city of Hiroshima, shortly after the Enola Gay dropped the bomb. He points to the base of the mushroom “stalk” and says, “that’s where I was”.

Tsuboi was 20-years-old and walking to university when the atomic bomb exploded above him. The intense heat tore off his clothes and burnt nearly his entire body. His ears melted down the side of his face. For the first six months, his mother was told everyday by the doctor, “your son will not make it through the night”.

The after-effects of radiation exposure are just as severe. Tsuboi has been hospitalised 10 times in his life, and three times, he not expected to survive when he was admitted. He has chronic aplastic anaemia — which means his bone marrow doesn’t make enough blood cells — and he is also undergoing treatment for cancer. His running joke during the afternoon is only the good die young, so he endures.

When I met him in October, Tsuboi, a chair of the Japan Confederation of A and H Bomb Sufferers, was focussing his considerable energy on convincing US President Barack Obama to visit Hiroshima. It was announced this week that Obama won’t include Hiroshima in this week’s one-day stopover in Japan on the way to the APEC conference — but he has declared a willingness to visit both Hiroshima and Nagasaki while in office.

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