Anzac Day: an immigrant’s education

6968598698_f28850d25b_z This Anzac Day, my eleventh in Australia, was a milestone for me.

While I didn’t attend a Dawn service – something I would still like to do – for the first time I got an education about April 25, 1915 and what it means

(And…what it clearly doesn’t mean to a fair proportion of Australians, including SBS sports journalist Scott McIntyre, sacked for his disparaging views.)

Firstly, I wanted to understand why “April 25″ and what in fact was being commemorated.

An excellent article by Age journalist Tony Wright “Nation forged by heroes & horror” was a great starting point. Wright wrote his account of the significance of Anzac Day in Gallipoli ahead of the commemoration services.

While evoking the horror of the battles below the cliffs at Anzac Cove –  “shells roaring a few metres overhead, the bodies piling up and the flies and the lice” – Wright provided a neat summary of the important facts and figures:

– that about 40 per cent of the male population between the ages of 18 and 44 enlisted to fight in the Great War (the Returned Services League provides the exact number, 331,781)

– that they were all volunteers (this came as a complete shock)

– that they all thought they were going on a “fine adventure’ (another shock), the RSL says they “rushed to enlist for an exciting war”.

– that 8709 young Australian men died at Gallipoli on a patch of land ” barely larger than an Australian farm” and more than 21,000 were injured, (and that more than 60,000 in total died during the War and more than twice that number were wounded).

– that the invasion of Gallipoli by the Anzacs was a military failure, that achieved “precisely nothing for the invaders in the course of World War 1″.

The innocence, bravery and naivety of the Anzacs astonished me, the loss of life monumental for a small country of just 4.9 million at the time (though I disagree with Wright that the numbers are unimaginable: as a Jew, the slaughter of six million by the Nazis in the holocaust is truly unimaginable).

First Anzac Day, Hobart Domain, Tasmania - 1916

First Anzac Day, Hobart Domain, Tasmania – 1916

Another excellent article, by Tony Stephens, author of The Last Anzacs entitled “Legend outgrows the men who fought“, provided an understanding of what was achieved from the point of view of actual Anzac veterans.

Peeling back the almost cult-like, untouchable heroic status that Anzac Day has undoubtedly achieved among many Australians (among them, the “poorly-read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers” McIntyre derides in his contentious tweets) there thoughts are sobering and cautionary:

– Tom Epps of the 27th Battalion: “It provided a lesson in the futility of war.”

– Harry Newhouse of the 4th Battalion: “The Turks never did anything to us and we never did anything to the Turks. We did not think we were going to fight them, poor buggers.”

– Albert White of the 25th Battalion: “I never understood what we were fighting for. I went because most of my cobbers went.”

– Ted Matthews, of the Ist Division Signals: “Some people called us ‘five-bob-a-day murderers’ but the politicians were the murderers. Politicians make up the wars. They don’t go to them.”

Stephens writes that Gallipoli built national pride and confidence, but that it’s a “tired cliché to say it marks the birth of a nation, or a coming of age”.

Other events, he says like Federation in 1901, prime minister John Curtin defying Churchill in the Second World War and bringing troops home to defend Australia against Japan, the 1967 referendum that included aborigines in the Census ( I would add the 2008 Rudd government apology to the stolen generations), could all be said to be defining moments in the continual evolution of the shifting Australian national identity.

Many Australian I know – educated, smart, well read – don’t care much for Anzac Day, or how it is remembered.

There views may not be as extreme as Scott McIntyre, but what they really want is some authenticity about how Gallipoli and the Anzacs are remembered and they revile the crass commercialisation, hijacked by the likes of VB, Anzac biscuit makers, Woolworths and others.

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There were hundreds of people, including senior politicians like Malcolm Turnbull who welcomed the sacking of McIntyre for airing his views, but debate about what Anzac Day should mean is healthy and necessary if it is to have resonance for immigrants like myself and our children.

I agree with Guardian columnist and satirist Geoff Lemon, who wrote in light of the sacking of McIntyre, that while his tweets were historically “flawed”…

“…the greatest insult you can offer the fallen is to lie about who they were and what they did – to whitewash their sins and burnish their glories.

Keeping Anzac Day alive and strong starts with education – in my case self-education – not deception, myth-making, political spin and marketing tricks.

I feel a greater affinity with my adopted country, armed with a bit more knowledge about its history.

Lest we forget (…what really happens in war-time)

Writing well really does pay according to a new survey

slide_272894_1944735_freeAs a journalist, there’s nothing more annoying than finding spelling mistakes or grammatical errors in your own work.

I confess that I always read my own stories first in the Australian Financial Review – the newspaper I write for – and feel gutted if there is a glaring error – spelling, punctation or grammar. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen to often.

Writers hold their own written work in high esteem, as they should, as it represents their personal brand.

Errors make you look stupid and can be downright embarrassing – or very funny if it’s not your own work.

A while back, a bestseller called “Eats, shoots and leaves” by British radio journalist Lynne Truss attempted to, very humouresly, highlight common punctuation mistakes and how they often change the meaning of a sentence. Her aim was to lift writing standards which have arguably gotten worse since publication of the book given the popularity of Twitter, Facebook and text messaging.(Embarrassingly, Truss made mistakes of her own, in her book).

You may scoff as you type out a garbled text message on your phone or dash off an unreadable tweet, but new research has found that there is a high correlation between how accurately you write and how well you do your job – and very importantly – the level of pay you earn.

Regardless of whether you are a salesman, lawyer, engineer or accountant – those who make fewer mistakes in their emails, reports and presentations are better regarded by those that employ them, and, they earn more money.

This came out of a study of  448 profiles on freelance jobs website Elance by Grammarly, a start-up proofreading web application that finds and explains in-depth grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes online.

Grammarly found that an engineer who made 10 or fewer errors per 100 words written in their online profile earned on average $521 per project while an engineer who made 30 or more errors earned less than half that.

Similarly, lawyers who made less than 10 errors per 100 words earned $372 per job, while those that made three times as many errors earned only $198.

Overall, it found that freelancers who made the fewest mistakes received the highest reviews from their employers – those who made the most mistakes were rated much lower.

In short, accurate writing increases credibility, hireability and pay.

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Grammarley survey: writing well pays better

Journalists and others that write for a living will be pleased to know that – according to the study – writers make the fewest mistakes, followed closely by those in admin and  legal roles.

While it was perhaps not surprising to find that IT professionals make more mistakes on average than any other professional – almost one in every five words – it was alarming to learn that those in leadership positions (in finance and management roles) are almost as bad.

Perhaps it explains why big companies all hire expensive public relations executives – to find and correct all those top management mistakes, before they become public relations disasters.

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Freshlyworded.com is also giving away one free premium access account to Grammarly. Just send your name and email to freshlyworded@gmail.com – The first email received will win the premium pass.

Melburnians – enjoy the world’s best liveability while it lasts

traffic jam

Gridlock: where Melbourne is heading

Melburnians love to crow about Melbourne’s long-running status as the world’s most liveable city.

Melbourne has ranked top city in the world for the last four years in a row according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s liveability survey – with Sydney a lowly seventh.

Melburnians rightly love to lord it over Sydneysiders and other global city dwellers, but I’m afraid our world’s best status is fading fast.

I could point to a hundred different articles (try this one on urbanisation by Fairfax economics writer Ross Gittins) or extensive research data to explain that we are building upwards at such a rate but without the necessary investment in transport infrastructure to get everyone to and from work, schools and the shops. 

My own daily commute into work is a good case study of the looming chaos that awaits. It begins with a short 15 minute bicycle ride from my home in Niddrie in the northern burbs to Essendon Station, where the Craigieburn line stutters along towards the city, 15 kilometres away.

What a year ago was a pleasant cycle down a quiet backstreet, where I could drift off into my own thoughts, is now a busy road packed with frustrated people-movers, utes, sedans and station wagons, who weave past me in desperation to avoid the gridlock on the main thoroughfare, Keilor Road.

Even this far out from the city, any vacant lot, deserted car yard or decrepid office building is giving way to an apartment block with dozens of units crammed on top. On the quieter streets, old houses have been bulldozed and replaced with three townhouses. 

 More people, more cars, same roads, same frequency of trains and trams. 

At Essendon Station, Rose Street is most days clogged with cars and buses while the train platform is just as crowded, heaving with already weary-looking fellow commuters.

melbourne platform

Flinders Station, Melbourne

There’s a collective groan as the citybound train pulls in and commuter’s faces stare back from inside carriages, pressed against the glass.

And that’s on a good day when there isn’t a dreary announcement about a train cancellation forcing two sets of commuters onto the same train, resulting in carriages packed so tightly you fear getting an itch you could never scratch.

Finally, twenty minutes later we pull into Southern Cross station. I extract my head from under a stranger’s armpit, apologise for inadvertently rubbing my backside against a pensioner’s bald head (hey, at least they got a seat), exhale, and make my way towards the escalators and the exit. Here a gang of transport Gestapo (train police) are usually standing by ready to spear tackle the elderly, children, mothers with babies and minority groups, should they have forgotten to swipe their Myki card.

Lucky for me I fit none of those categories.

 

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Fit for a queen? I think not!

Yet more fun awaits me later in the day when I hop onto a tram on Collins or Bourke Street for a meeting uptown – the geniuses who came up with the idea of free CBD trams seemingly did not factor in that every man, woman, child, homeless bum and confused tourist now chooses to take a tram rather than walk a city block.  Tempers flare as we all contort ourselves into weird shapes and postures. The tram driver, oblivious to the gang of drunk vagabonds that have boarded the train with shopping trolleys, four large dogs and a spicey pepperoni aroma, yells out that he won’t close the doors until we get off the steps.

Cursing under my breath, I decide to walk back to the office from my meeting…

Liveability my ass.

Melbourne’s crown is slipping as the city grinds towards eventual gridlock.

Anyone who takes a bus, train or tram – or is crazy enough to drive into work – can surely see that for themselves. The old cliched saying of “what goes up, must come down” applies when “up” means high rise apartments and “down” means liveability without investment in public transport

Dealing with my Twitter addiction or: please be kind and retweet

twitterHello world. My name is Larry Schlesinger and I am an addict.

It’s not crack cocaine, or alcohol or heroin or chocolate that I can’t get enough of.

I am addicted to Twitter. I make this confession openly and honestly and promise to change.

I realised I was addicted to Twitter – really realised – when I sat down on a Tuesday evening last week in front of the television to watch an episode of my favourite show, the UK detective drama Midsomer Murders. As the killer was unmasked by Detective Inspector Tom Barnaby of Causton CID, I was completely clueless as to how the great sleuth had reached this stunning conclusion (Who would have thought it was the priest with a limp in love with his brother’s ex-girlfriend?)

The truth was I had completely lost track of the plot, Christ, I didn’t even know who the main characters were anymore.

It was all because of Twitter.

It seemed impossible that I could go more than 15 minutes of a Midsomer murder (in some quaint flower-encrusted cottage) before, with sweaty palms and gritting teeth, I yanked my phone out of my pocket and ravenously checked the updates on my Twitter feed.

Had I missed something? An explosion? A plane crash? A new government crisis? Had Tony Abbott spontaneously combusted? Had someone cooked a hamburger all by themselves? Or remembered the name of their dead pet parrot? Or decided they liked the colour blue more than red?

How could I possibly go on watching Barnaby as he traipsed through the English countryside finding clues while all these important things were happening in the lives of others – some of whom I don’t even know?

And then the utter ludicrousness of it dawned on me.What the f-ck was I doing? Had I gone mad?

Yes, Twitter is without any doubt the most powerful social media device in the world bar none – I realised this the day someone at work yelled out: “Someone has just tweeted that Oscar Pistorious has been arrested for shooting his girlfriend” – but the addiction (and the envy: he has how many followers???) came much later.

Never mind breaking news about really significant events – where Twitter has its true power – I had to know the insignificant minutiae of everybody else’s lives – and tell my eager 1,500 or so followers all the boring crap about my own. Had it really come to this?

Of course I am not the only one addicted like a twit. There are millions of us updating the world about ourselves, 140 characters at time. We’ve all become experts at the “#” and “@”. We know what’s trending. We know who said what to whom.

Get on any train in Melbourne or Sydney or Paris or London, or a bus in Dar-es-Salaam of Caracas, or a camel in Morocco and there will be someone tweeting or retweeting or favouriting or replying.

The kind of crap you used to mutter to yourself on a lonely stretch of highway as the tumbleweeds drifted buy  – that’s what’s become breaking news in the Twit-o-sphere.

– I just saw a dog that looked like my grandpa. Better tweet that.
– What a beautiful row of palm trees. Better tweet that. Etc etc.

I am pleased to say I am dealing with my addiction, though temptation is the route of all smart phone evil.

For the last two days, there has been no Twitter and no inane tweeting after work. I’ve actually given my wife and my daughter my full attention between the hours of 6.30pm and 8.30pm. It’s been a struggle, my palms have been itchy, my fingers twitching, seeking out the phone I’ve stuck in a locked drawer, but I’ve managed…somehow.

Home in the evening has become a Twitter-free zone, especially as the bodies start dropping all of over Midsomer County, the deadliest county in England.

Baby steps, Baby steps…each day is a struggle, but I think it is getting easier.

I’m so pleased with myself, so delighted with my progress that I think I’ll celebrate. Yes, this is what I will do: I’ll compose a little congratulatory message to all my ‘friends’.

Exactly 140 characters.

The freshlyworded 2 minute review: Serial

141023_CBOX_SerialPodcast.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlargeWhat’s being reviewed?

Serial

What is it ?

A 12 podcast series produced by ‘This American Life’ a  syndicated American radio program and WBEZ Chicago, a community radio station.

What’s it about?

Part story telling, part investigative journalism, part amateur sleuthing in the style of Scooby Doo (as one reviewer put it), Serial tells the story of the 1999 murder of Baltimore high school student Hae Min Lee and the conviction, after two trials, of her former boyfriend Adnan Syed, who was given a life sentence. In each episode, journalist and broadcaster Sarah Koenig attempt to unravel a different element of the case to answer the question: Did Adnan do it?

If you only know one thing…

It’s the most downloaded podcast of all time with more than 5 million downloads as of January this year.

Is it any good?

Yes. If you love a good detective story or a riveting documentary, you will love Serial. The show’s executive producer, Ira Glass said of it: “We want to give you the same experience you get from a great HBO or Netflix series, where you get caught up with the characters and the thing unfolds week after week, but with a true story and no pictures. Like House of Cards, but you can enjoy it while you’re driving.”

What I liked most about it?

The chatty, personal style that exploits the audio-only medium and draws you in. How much you learn about criminal investigation and procedure. The setting, Baltimore, one of America’s most interesting cities. The interweaving of narrative, interviews, opinion and evidence that gives Serial its power.

What I disliked?

Trying to remember all the details and keep track of the various plotlines. At times confusing. The ending may disappoint some.

How much time do you have to invest?

Eight and a half hours of listening time, plus many more hours on the Serial website, doing your own research and reading analysis and comments about the show. It’s addictive.

How do I listen to it?

It’s free. Download it from iTunes or from serialpodcast.org

Can you recommend something similar, in another medium?

The Oscar-nominated documentary: “Capturing the Friedmans” about dark secrets in a upper middle-class Jewish family in New Jersey. And watch The Wire, a television series set in Baltimore about criminals and the police that pursue them. Arguably the greatest television show ever made.

The Asian Cup of rogue nations

afc-asian-cup-1420749072-2318216It struck me – with the force of a Tim Cahill wonder strike – that there was something decidedly wrong with the 2015 Asian Cup.

North Korea. Iran. Saudi Arabia. All run by brutal dictatorial regimes, all with appalling human rights records, but allowed to compete in an international sporting event.

Has the world gone mad? Have we lost our moral compass?

I ask from the perspective of a South African who remembers our isolation from world sport, forced to live off a diet of local competitions and the occasional ‘rebel’ cricket or rugby side visit.

Of course, it was quite right that we were banned, given our cruel apartheid policies, though there were some who argued that sport and politics should be kept separate and that we shouldn’t punish individuals, many of whom opposed the government’s policy of separation, from competing internationally.

Certainly, there were many great South African sportsmen and women denied their opportunity on the world stage, barred from competing at  Olympic and Commonwealth Games and from cricket, rugby and soccer world cups.

We had a world-beating cricket team in 1970 (thrashing Australia 4-0 at home) before we were kicked out of world sport, champion rugby and soccer players, swimmers and athletes.

But, I got a real shock when I saw North Korea arrive in Australia to take part in the tournament, a ridiculous charade, given they refused to give media conferences or engage with the public and thankfully were bundled out in the group stages. Clearly instructions came straight from mad dictator Kim Jong-un and his henchmen on how to behave in a foreign country, a rare treat for the lucky few who were able to travel outside of their home country. The rest stay home and starve.

Iran’s another shocker. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is a jihadist theocracy that has dragged Iran into economic depression while executing, imprisoning and intimidating its domestic opponents” wrote the Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul Sheehan recently. Iran is more dangerous than the Islamic State, he added.

Iran’s people are beaten, imprisoned, tortured…but its team is allowed to compete in the Asian Cup. Even the players over here play with fear in their hearts: during the tournament players were warned not to be photographed with young female fans.

As for Saudi Arabia, being a Jew I wouldn’t be allowed into the country (not that I have any plans to visit). Saudi Arabia is by all reports a brutal, repressive place, with medieval laws. The penalty for homosexuality is death. The penalty for blasphemy is death.  Commit adultery and the punishment is to be stoned to death. Steal and you lose a hand. State your opinion in a blog and you get flogged.

So, I ask again, has the world lost its moral compass?

Do we now turn a blind eye now to every human rights violation in the name of sport and entertainment?

Or have we finally decided that sport and politics should not mix. If so, a lot of South African sportsmen and women deserve an apology.

Would you like to ‘go large?’ ‘Super Size Me’ and McDonald’s a decade on

super-size-meHere’s an old joke. A man walks into a McDonald’s…

He order a quarter pounder with cheese meal.

Before he has time to lay a $10 note on the table, the fresh-eyed young lady behind the counter asks: “Would you like to ‘go large?”

Doesn’t she just mean ‘super size’? he wonders to himself. Sensibly, he declines the upgrade.

A minute late, his meal is on a tray in front of him…

It’s just over 10 years since Morgan Spurlock made Super Size Me (the film was released in September 2004), a low-budget documentary about the fast food industry, where he nearly killed himself eating a McDonald’s meal three times a day for a month, and where he forced himself to ‘super-size’ his meal whenever it was offered.

I watched Super Size Me for the first time recently (it aired late one night) and thought it a very engaging, thought-provoking and entertaining film, if you can stomach watching a young bloke quickly push his previously fit and healthy body toward’s ruination to prove a point about the evils of the fast food industry.

The film was made for just $65,000 and grossed almost $12 million. Made two year’s after Michael Moore’s groundbreaking Bowling for Columbine, it cemented documentary film-making as a mainstream film genre, earned an Academy Award Nomination and dozens of other film prizes.

Anyone who remembers the film will remember that famously gross scene, when Spurlock eats a double quarter-pounder supersize meal about the size of his car steering wheel and then, soon after, vomits it all up out the window of his car.

Morgan Spurlock: My arms… I feel like I’ve got some McSweats goin’. My arms got the McTwitches going in here from all the sugar that’s going in my body right now. I’m feeling a little McCrazy.

Over the course of the film Spurlock develops numerous medical conditions – high cholesterol, strange bodily sensations, depression and finally fast food addiction with his team of doctors and specialists flabbergasted at the decline of his health.

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Not only did Spurlock show how unhealthy McDonald’s food is – very high in fat, salt and sugar – but also how the fast food industry had gained control of America’s lucrative high school lunch menus and how it spends billions of marketing dollars every year to virtually brainwash young kids into consuming its products via its catchy advertising, bright colours and cheap meals.

Morgan Spurlock: In 2001, on direct media advertising…McDonald’s spent US$1.4 bn worldwide…[By comparison] In its peak year the [US] Five-a-Day Vegetable Campaigns total advertising budget in all media was a lowly $2m.

At the end of the film, and thankfully not dead, Spurlock declares a victory of sorts with McDonald’s announcing an end to its super size offer.

Or has it? It was me who ordered that McDonalds meal. Was there anything really different in principle (yes the quantities may be a little smaller) between “going large” and super-sizing’?

Over the years some things have changed. McDonald’s has introduced healthier menu items like salads, water and yoghurts, while in 2012 it started including kilojoule labelling in all its restaurants.

But deep down, it’s the same philosophy driving the company: greasy burgers, made cheap, sold in their millions.

If it had changed, the woman behind the counter would have asked if I wanted a salad or fries with my burger (as is a healthier option). Instead, she asked me: “Would I like to go large?”

Of course I am an adult and can make an educated choice, children are far more impressionable and McDonald’s is fighting harder than ever for it’s new generation of customers.

It continues to promote its ‘Happy Meals‘ complete with toys and popular movie tie-ins. (In its PR spin it makes the ridiculous claim that toys are “a response to the desire of parents for their child’s Mcdonald’s experience to be a fun and special occasion”.)

McDonald’s also continues to sponsor local youth sports events including athletics, rugby league, union, AFL, soccer and netball.

In Melbourne, my home town, McDonald’s has kept its restaurant contract with the government’s Royal Children’s Hospital and will also have a restaurant in the new Monash Hospital, when it opens in 2017.

It also has the backing of the recently appointed Labor Victorian government with premier Daniel Andrews – a former health minister no less – defending the company from suggestions that its hospitals should perhaps consider a healthier food offering.

Mr Andrews told people – including parents, doctors and nutritionists – to “get over themselves” and said McDonald’s at the children’s hospital was “here to stay”.

McDonald’s will argue that it gives millions of dollars to sports programs, children’s charities and community events and that it creates jobs, which is true.

But what it gets back is billions of dollars in revenue –  the fast food giant has about 20 per cent of the $17 billion Australian market – and millions of new customers, many of whom are young and impressionable.

This in a country with one of he highest rates of obesity in the world – double what it was 20 years – it seems we are losing far more than we are gaining.

As for the end to McDonald’s super sizing, which Morgan Spurlock proclaimed a decade ago was a direct result of the popularity of his film, it seems a pretty hollow victory now.

(Admission: the author does occasionally eat fast food, including McDonald’s. I usually wish I hadn’t).