Tunnel Vision – Brisbane’s Clem 7.

We have some traffic tunnels under Brisbane that aren’t very popular. One of the big ones is called the M7, or the ‘Clem 7’ as it is popularly known, after an old, much-loved previous Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Clem Jones. www.clem7.com.au/
The company that runs the Clem 7 is going broke. It seems a lot of people don’t like paying the toll ($4.16) for a one-way, 6 minute trip. The thing is, it’s worth it, as you avoid heaps of  traffic lights, duck right under the central business district and save a lot of hassles.
But here’s the thing: recent events showed that Brisbane drivers hate paying tolls so much they would prefer to sit for hours in traffic instead of taking the easy way out and pay to use the tunnels.
Yesterday there was a very bad accident on the Story Bridge: a four vehicle collision, with one woman in a critical condition as a result. It’s easy to have an accident on the Story Bridge. It’s three lanes each way with only double painted lines to mark the change in direction. Putting up a barrier is apparently too expensive and would increase the congestion because it would reduce the lanes to two each way.

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The Story Bridge is a popular bridge, and not just for traffic. It’s a Brisbane icon, part of the landscape. It features in one scene of my novel ‘Plato’s Cave‘ where being able to do a U-turn on the bridge is a vital plot point. Less creditably, it’s been the scene of a number of suicides over the years.
But getting back to my point. The accident yesterday caused major hold-ups for commuters. Traffic was delayed for four hours, with the gridlock extending for kilometres, involving many thousands of vehicles.
Now, the Clem 7 plunges under all of this chaos and provides a quick, non-congested way to avoid stuff like that. But, according to the Courier-Mail, only 3000 extra vehicles used it that morning.
Only 3000 motorists thought, ‘Stuff this, I’m taking the Clem!’
Am I missing something here? The many thousands of people who did not make that simple choice were delayed for up to four hours because they didn’t want to pay $4.16.
How many man hours of work were lost as a result? How many tempers flared? How many incidents of road rage, because people didn’t want to pay?
Now maybe I’m in a better position than some. I use the tunnels all the time, not just the Clem, but I can claim the toll as a tax deduction. A lot of people can’t, I guess. If you were a regular commuter to town, using the tunnels everyday would add up.
But I’m not talking about every day: I’m talking about one day when things were horrendously bad. On this really bad, congested day, only 3000 people decided to make things easier for themselves.
The Brisbane City Council has been trying for years to keep cars out of the central city area. They have boosted public transport, made parking fees in the city astronomical, and Brisbane’s complicated system of one way streets is no doubt designed to discourage the faint of heart. It’s even illegal to stop and drop off or pick up a passenger in the central city. So the Clem offers a way to avoid the city. If you are a city worker, you are encouraged to park in the suburbs and commute in on public transport.

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Obviously, a lot of people still don’t. They would rather have their cars with them. They would prefer to pay the huge parking fees to have their vehicle nearby.
Recently I was leaving a client’s inner city apartment and had been able to park in their building’s basement for free. As I tried to leave I was almost prevented from doing so from the huge peak hour traffic congestion at the top of the car park’s exit ramp. It was thousands of vehicles refusing to use the tunnels and drive home above ground.

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Why? To save a few dollars?
Brisbane’s traffic problem will not be solved until the drivers learn to use common sense.
–    Russell Proctor   http://www.russellproctor.com

I Forgot I Had Alzheimer’s

It’s an old joke, of course. A man is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but his doctor tells him to go home and forget about it.
Ha ha.
My father had Alzheimer’s. He died in 2007 having forgotten his family and himself and just about everything else. It was tragic, given that he had had such a marvellous mind throughout his life. He was a psychiatrist and a good man who helped a lot of people.
My mother has now been diagnosed with the same disease.
In case you don’t know, Alzheimer’s Disease is a form of dementia. The victim forgets who they are and who everyone else is and can’t properly look after themselves. There is no cure.
I remember what my mother went through when Dad was diagnosed and slipped away from us. I was living in another town at the time, 600 kilometres away, but I visited them as often as I could. Dad became increasingly needy, eventually unable to care for himself and even, on occasion, wandering off. Mum found it enormously difficult and eventually Dad had to be put in a nursing home.
One time I visited him and he had forgotten who I was. His speech became increasingly difficult to understand. We knew he was desperately trying to communicate with us but at the end we couldn’t understand a word he said. That was frustrating for him as much as us. He even asked me on one occasion if Mum was angry with him, because she had sent him away to live apart from her. He had the idea there had been a disaster and he and “these other people” (his fellow patients in the nursing home) were trapped in a cave. Did I know the way out?

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I believe that my father died twice. Once when he lost his mind, and once when he lost his life. He died from septicaemia. We thought it was best to just let him go, so asked the doctors to fill him full of morphine so he could die in peace. At his funeral, my brother gave a eulogy in which he documented my father’s life and achievements but refused to deal with the last few years when he no longer in charge of himself. “That,” said my brother, “was not who Dad was.” My own eulogy avoided the subject, too. I focused on Dad’s wonderful sense of humour and how loving he had been to his family. That’s the father we want to remember.
I now live with Mum. And she is going to go through the same process, apparently. She is ok so far, but the first signs are there. I am trying my best to look after her, but I am gaining a vivid picture of what she went through with Dad.
As I said, there is no cure. It is a terrible disease without hope at the moment. I fully intend to leave everything I have to Alzheimer’s research in my will. There has to be something done about this.
Of course, I should also be worried for myself and my brothers. Are we likely to suffer the same thing because both our parents have had it? I don’t know. Having witnessed (and now witnessing again) the effects of this disease makes me feel uneasy for my own future.

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If you know someone, or have a family member with Alzheimer’s, I know how you feel. I know what you are going through. It is a shit of an illness. My heart goes out to you. Maybe there will be a cure for this horror someday. But it isn’t here yet.

Be strong. Be loving. The person needs you more than anything.

–  Russell Proctor. http://www.russellproctor.com

Lisa Works Hard for the Money

Let me tell you about Lisa.
Lisa isn’t her real name, by the way. It isn’t even her professional name. It’s just a name I chose for her, to protect her identity.
Lisa is a fun girl. She’s caring, forthright, independent, and hard-working. I love spending time with her. She makes me feel good and I get a genuine sense that she enjoys my company, too. If she doesn’t, she at least gives me the feeling that she does. Since I have been a professional actor in my time, I can usually tell when someone is acting. She doesn’t give me that impression, so if she is just pretending, that makes her a great actor, too.
Lisa is a prostitute.

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There are other names for her type of worker, but I won’t put them here. She doesn’t deserve it. Lisa prefers the term “sex worker”. She takes her job seriously, and doesn’t like the negative image some people have about her line of work.
Lisa works hard. She has to put up with all sorts of stupid people, demanding people, crazy people, obnoxious people, angry people, scared people…

“Lisa”, as I said, isn’t her name. That’s because Lisa is an amalgam of sex workers. She is representative of the vast majority of them. I never met a sex worker I didn’t like. I know there are some desperate girls out there, hooked on drugs or whatever, selling themselves because they have no other choice. But I haven’t met them.
And I can tell you why I haven’t. Because I live in a society (Australia) where brothels are legal and registered. There may be streetwalkers out there, but I haven’t seen them. I’ve seen them overseas, but have avoided them.
Most of the girls working in the brothels here are young, intelligent ladies earning a bit of extra cash. Ones I have met have been nurses, teachers, university students, housewives and mothers. They know what they are doing and have chosen to do it. Most of them have high sex drives (a benefit in their job) and genuinely enjoy their work. That must be hard, given some of the clients they must have met.
They have regular health check-ups and insist on safe sex always. So do I. That’s just logical.
I would hazard a guess that it’s the places where sex for sale is illegal, where their services are frowned upon, that have the problems usually associated with the sex industry.
So legalised prostitution is a good idea.
There are restrictions, of course. A girl (or guy) can work from home or a hotel room, as long as they work solo. One can see the sense behind that, but it does limit the services that can be provided, such as when a client wants more than one girl or guy at a time. Still, the situation is much better than in some countries.

And of course, the illegal sex trade, where workers are exploited and abused, is not good. But the prostitution laws are designed to discourage that sort of activity.
So, why the stigma? The usual objections, I guess, arise from people concerned about morals, family values, religious edicts and so forth. None of these are really convincing. There is some evidence to suggest that having a sexual outlet allows people to experiment with other partners in a safe, discreet way. Sure, a partner cheating on their spouse with a sex worker is still cheating, but that’s something for individual couples to sort out. The sex worker isn’t going to say anything, or expect the cheating spouse to get a divorce or give them gifts or hold them to blackmail.
Lisa deserves more praise than she gets. She works hard and fulfils a vital service. She won’t do it forever. She has other things to be getting on with. It’s just a job.
So cut her some slack. And pay her a visit. Or her, friend, Jim. He’s available too, ladies. Or guys.

– Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

Sexting Selfies

The youth of today, some people declare, are narcissistic and obsessed with appearance and popularity.

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The evidence for this is pretty clear. In her article in The Courier-Mail of 10 June 2013, “World of Y is made in their image” http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/opinion/world-of-y-is-made-in-their-image/story-fnihsr9v-1226660911988 Karen Brooks declares today’s teens are “screenagers”, jockeying for fame and recognition from a bunch of “friends” on Facebook. They effectively turn themselves into a brand, she writes, updating that brand and marketing themselves constantly. Appearance, it seems, is all that matters, and getting your appearance out there is equally important.

 
There is, methinks, much reason in her sayings. She goes on to declare that the people responsible for this are the parents. And she is right, there, too. Coddling children, protecting them from harm and the need to make decisions, and, moreover, providing them with the technology to communicate 24/7, has a big part to play in all this.

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I was discussing things with a teenager recently about the propensity for her generation to exhibit the minutiae of their lives online. One example we discussed was the habit some people have of taking a picture of what they are currently eating and posting it as a picture on Facebook. Do I really want to see that? Really? So you enjoyed the meal. Great. But you took a picture of it before you ate it, so how did you know it was going to be so fantastic that everyone needed to see what it was? Oh, I see, you just thought we might be interested. Sorry, no.

 

Even my Facebook page, which has an appropriate proportion of adults as friends, is subject to this kind of post.

 
And selfies. Let me talk about selfies. You know what they are, those pictures taken with a phone camera, usually looking in a mirror or held at arm’s length so a number of friends can cram their heads together, mouths open and say “Look at us! We’re important!” Then the subject of the pic posts it on their social network.

 
No harm in that, really. Not unless they are in their underwear or doing something inappropriate. But I just don’t really want to see it. I don’t care you are, I don’t care what you’re wearing. Well, not always. Depends on who is in the underwear. I must confess I did take a selfie once, and sent it to someone, but it was just for them and not for posting for the whole world to see. I trusted the person I sent it to not to send it on, and they haven’t so far. Besides, you couldn’t see my face. Well and good.

 
So, you ask, if I am guilty of posting a selfie, why should I criticise those who do?

 
Well, for a start, as I said, it was only for private consumption, not general viewing. I got one back from them, and it remains private in my files. For another thing, it’s probably not something teenagers should be doing. A girl posts a picture of herself in a rude pose or wearing (or not) something alluring, and sends it to her current squeeze. The boyfriend may get a thrill out of it, but boys will be boys, and he can post that on to whoever he likes. And probably does.

 
So the obsessed Me Generation (or the “Millenials” as Joel Stern calls them), are a product of our desire to invent machines that can keep us in constant, if unnecessary, communication with everyone all the time, and our desire to coddle and protect the young. Not much we can do about it, I expect.

 
Except that we can, of course, try to cut down on texting, and sexting, and twittering, and social media-ing. I was waiting for a bus the other night in the city at peak hour. Of the forty-odd people (or forty odd people, including me) only three, including myself, were not using their phones or iPads for various purposes. I guess they felt the need to text someone urgently, or check their emails, or watch the news or the sports, or see what someone had for lunch, or see if anyone liked what they had for lunch. Nothing, I maintain, that couldn’t wait until they got home.
It wasn’t just the screenagers doing this. There were adults, too.

It’s a bit much, really.
So don’t send me a selfie. Not unless you have a good body. Then, please.

The Bisexual Atheist

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I am a bisexual atheist.

It’s a very liberating combination, actually. Let’s consider them separately.

Bisexualism allows you to form a relationship with anyone completely unfettered by expectations. There is no need to act in a particular way because you are friends with a man or a woman. People are equal in your eyes, at least as far as gender issues are concerned. And let’s face it, there are a lot of those still hanging about.

When I was younger, and still went to parties, I noticed the men congregated with the other men, and the women with the women. I liked to mix with both equally. In fact, I confess to feeling rather left out of a lot of male conversations. I would end up with the girls, talking to them. But it’s an interesting phenomenon which I am sure you have noticed, too. The sexes seem to feel safer or more comfortable with their own sex. Bisexualism allows you to feel comfortable with both. I guess it’s about those expectations I mentioned: we feel the need to behave in a certain way, so we gather with those who feel the same need.  It’s natural.

Bisexuality allows me to be comfortable with anyone I like.

Now, atheism. Again, liberating. I don’t feel I need to conform to any set guidelines of behaviour, nor do I have any burden of guilt hanging about me. I am a moral person because that is the intelligent, proper way to behave, not because long ago some men laid down rules for their society (which might have been fine at the time) and pretended they came from a god.

Atheism lets you breathe. I don’t believe in a god because there is no proof of one. Faith is an excuse invented by people because they couldn’t explain the lack of evidence for their god, so they pretended they didn’t have to.

I am happy for people to believe if they wish. I just ask that they don’t hurt anyone, including themselves, with their belief. I don’t believe, that’s all. There is still freedom to do that in this world. If god wanted us to believe in him he would make his presence known in an overt way rather than through the intercession of people. The mere fact that there are a variety of religions shows that god isn’t doing a very good job at being specific.

I have the freedom, too, to be bisexual. I have made the choice to follow both of those freedoms.

Fortunately for me, when I have announced to someone I am bisexual, only occasionally have I met someone put off by the idea. Most accept it unconditionally. Some have even been jealous. When I announce I am an atheist, again, almost everyone has been amenable to that. Only occasionally has some religious person taken offence. But the world is full of people waiting to be offended.

So that’s me. Middle of the road, uncommitted, average. The best of both worlds.

Enjoy life. Mine is great.

 

The Lost Art of the Typewriter

Typewriters.

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Remember them?
The other day I was teaching a class of year 7 kids and mentioned typewriters and I asked if any of them had ever used one. And a number of them didn’t even know what a typewriter was.

So I explained how there used to be these machines that you put the paper in and hit a key and a piece of metal would move and strike an inked ribbon and that would leave an impression on the paper, and if you wanted to have more than one copy you had to use this stuff called carbon paper. And it all sounded so complicated.

I love typewriters. I used to own three. I now have none. I feel sad about that.

They were noisy and slow (except the electric ones in the hands of an expert – but even they were noisy). The carbon paper left black smudges everywhere if you weren’t careful. The ribbon needed reversing after a while. You had to manually return the carriage at the end of each line.
But there were fun things about them as well. At the end of each line a bell went PING! to let you know were getting to the end and you had to push the carriage back. There was a solid feel to them. They were heavy and dependable. There were no font styles or sizes to worry about – there was only one of each. You didn’t have any cut/copy/paste options so you made sure what you wrote made sense the first time. They looked great sitting on the table.

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If you made a mistake, back in the really old days you simply typed xxxxxxx over the mistake and re-typed it. Later there were special typewriter erasers that never quite worked. And then, of course, White Out, which came both as a liquid that you slopped on like a paste or as a specially impregnated strip of paper that you re-typed the mistake onto. I like that idea – you were forced to relive your mistake, which helped you understand that you never supposed to do it again. The electric typewriters had special erasing ribbons, which seemed like the most amazing technology at the time.

It was fun.

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Word processors aren’t fun.
Word processors force you to think about all the things they can do. Fonts, captions, columns, dot points, spacing, even tracking changes and colour. With a typewriter, I could concentrate on what I said rather than how it looked.Composer Leroy Anderson wrote a short musical tribute, “The Typewriter”, which featured a typewriter as part of the orchestra. He had the right idea. Typewriters were amazing machines. The world has lost something great: a writing machine that was also a percussion instrument. How cool is that?

I learned to type the hard way. I used to work for the Queensland Department of Justice. I was employed in a Magistrates Court as a Depositions Clerk, which meant one of my duties was typing testimony in court as it happened. I didn’t use a short hand typewriter, just the ordinary sort, so I had to learn to type very quickly, and very quickly. The only special thing about the machine itself was that it was “noiseless”. It had a special construction that did, indeed, reduce the usual intrusive clatter of the keys to a sort of gentle burr. The downside of its construction was that it frequently jammed.
The lawyers usually did me the courtesy of slowing down their speed of delivery, especially while I madly scrambled trying to sort the keys out, but the witnesses didn’t always get the idea. I learned to type VERY quickly. Eventually, tape recorders were installed and my job became a lot easier, but the adrenalin produced by trying to furiously type what people were saying as they said it will never be forgotten.

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They have probably gone forever, but typewriters were indeed one of the great inventions of the world. Mark Twain, I believe, was the first writer to submit a typewritten manuscript to a publisher. That must have one been one of the turning pints of history.

I wish I still had one to take out occasionally and raise a noise on. The clack clack clackity clack of the old typewriter (an even the electric ones could be loud) is one of the defining noises of the twentieth century.

Kids these days just don’t get it.

http://www.russellproctor.com

I Want a Real God

It would be so cool if God existed.

I mean a real God, not one of those crazy guys we have at the moment.

I mean an obvious god, one that reveals itself unambiguously to all. One that doesn’t need interpretation, or faith. One that gives us a holy book we can understand without going round in circles, and we don’t have to argue with others about what it means. One that rewards sensibly those who are genuinely good and punishes fairly those who are bad. One that doesn’t lay down a moral code that denies unselfish pleasure. One that is tolerant of all, even those who don’t wish to believe in it. One that is beyond gender or race or sexual orientation.

That would be so cool.

Wouldn’t it be great of God was a law, like gravity? Have you noticed that gravity exists even if you don’t believe in it? Gravity works everywhere, all the time, not just only with certain people who want to believe in it or surrender to it. We can’t help but surrender to gravity. If God was like that, we wouldn’t have to fight wars over how we believe in it.

But we don’t get that. All we get is a washed-out god, one that reflects the fears and jealousies and hopes and dreams and selfishness of human beings. We get a god that looks so lame, that is almost powerless, that can’t even get the universe right or design a sentient creature that doesn’t run a fairly good risk of destroying itself. Noah’s Ark? We don’t need a god to punish us for our sins, we are doing a great job all by ourselves.

We get a god that doesn’t accept its own creation, that has to fit science into the cracks in the faith it is supposed to have in itself, like a sort of apology.

I’d love to be able to pray and zap! – what I prayed for happens. No problem – just suspend the laws of physics for my own benefit. It would be awesome if miracles actually happened without the need to test whether they really are miracles or just that damned science getting in the way again. If I lost a limb I could just ask for another one, a real one, as good as before. What if Muhammad really had split the moon? No problem: he fixed it up again, but it would have been so amazing to see that.

It would be fantastic if that face I think I see on my slice of toast or in that tree bark or in the clouds really is the Lord. How wonderful it would be to know that god is there, watching me always, caring for me. Really, really concerned for my welfare. Not just some other person telling me that’s what god is doing.

The god we have at the moment – the gods we have – are such a disappointment. They’re so…well, just so human. Like they were invented by people. That’s a shame.

If God existed, it would be something really, really, cool. And I’d love to meet it.

Until that happens, I guess we’re stuck with our imaginings.