Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Fat American

   My blood boiled.    It's taken several days for it to lower to 'simmer' so I could even write this.  And I'm not sure if my temporary extreme annoyance is fed by truth or by the gall of one who lives in a glass house.   It certainly speaks to the general image Americans are known for around the world.  Not the white, straightened teeth or the self-confident comportment but the increasing size of the average American's girth.  It seems all of the U.S. can be found in the potato chip aisle of WalMart.  Or it is assumed so. And that is what rubs me the wrong way.  
   What started this distemper?  Watching a repeat of the BBC's "Top Gear", a show hosted by the Prat Pack (as they are referred to in the popular press here)- three guys who like to talk about and drive cars. Gearheads don't miss an installment as automobile manufacturers from the exclusive performance cars on down to family wagons donate their vehicles  to be driven and critiqued by these self-important prats.  Jeremy Clarkson, the eldest and leader of the trio, was asking  audience members where they were from.  He got to one fresh-faced blonde chick who said she was from the U.S. "What?", bellowed the bombastic Brit, " You're not fat enough to be an American."   This got a chuckle from the crowd and a frozen face from the chicky babe that seemed to say "I don't know how to answer this. But look, Jeremy Clarkson is talking to me!"  This seemed a bit rich coming from Clarkson, who cannot hide his own growing paunch. He complains about how his show is seen in every country but the U.S. and doubtless  this is his way of getting even.
    But he is far from the only person who identifies Americans by their waist size.  In OZ, health experts and average citizens all moan about how Australians are one Big Mac away from looking like Americans.  In Asia, where everyone on the planet seems to be bigger than they themselves are, the temptation for the size generalization is greater.
     The first time I personally ran into this identification tendency was in 1992 when my mother and I went on a tall ship cruise in the French & Italian Rivieras. (Yeah, I'm bragging. It was nice.)The tall ship was loaded with Germans -whose growing national prosperity can be witnessed in their growing posteriors. My mother, born and raised in Germany and speaks the language like the native she is, chatted in her mother tongue to many of our shipmates. For awhile anyway, before she got bored with boorish krauts.  Seems one of them was astonished that I was an American ("She's not big enough") yet had no trouble believing Mom was American. I hope I kept a straight face when she told me this. Mom didn't think I looked like a twig, hmmmmph, besides, how could these bozos mistake her absolutely native language ability for something an American could utter?  This was a double annoyance for her. 
    So while movie stars seem to get ever more boney and emaciated, the rest of us had better lay off the Lay's. We've got more than just our health to consider, as if that itself was not enough.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sustainable Population

       Australia is in a bit of a tizzy.  Her population could soar to 36 million people by 2050 if the population trends continue as they are. Doesn't sound like much for for so huge a piece a land- until you take a look at its topography. It's like a Raisinette, perfectly fine at its exterior edges and all dried up in its massive center.  The lack of water and arable land is not conducive to the building or support of  large population centers. Housing is already in short supply (read: expensive and too dense) , power is expensive and fresh water a bit too scarce.
       So, the phrase "sustainable population" gets batted about a bit. Infrastructure studies are commissioned, alternative energy sources are sought, immigration policy is re-examined and the Federal government changes its practices with a lightning quick speed I would not have believed if I had not seen it with my own eyes.
       But let us back up a bit in history so you have a better idea of what was and what will be.   Before WWII,  Australia employed language and other suitability tests to keep out undesired ethnicities from Asia and points beyond.  The Second World War exposed their vulnerability: they did not have enough people within the nation to protect it,  so many restrictions were lifted. Eventually, inducements of fast visas were made to people willing to fill workforce holes...over 100 professions including hairdressers and chefs. This had an unfortunate consequence of creating an easy side door  for immigration hopefuls and those willing to exploit it.  Training "schools" were founded to 'educate' the hordes of people from India and elsewhere in these desired disciplines. Too many must be just paper mills for visas as there is still said to be a shortage of hairdressers and culinary experts.  There are lots of experienced British police officers on the beat here, but some industries, like mining, are desperate for the much higher skilled engineers of which there are too few.
       Moreover, illegal immigration has picked up the pace.  There is an island off WA's northwest corner, Christmas Island, which has a detention facility for such people.  Viewed as a boondoggle of the previous Federal administration and near empty before I got here, it now has a steady stream of  boats filled with people (mostly Sri Lankans and Afghanis) floating to its shores. [Come to think of it, Columbus didn't have any crack houses before I move there, but...but we are not making any correlations here, ahem] These folks, who had paid huge amounts of money to Indonesian smugglers  to sail over in barely seaworthy craft, hope to supersede those who have gone through legitimate channels for their refugee entry status to be one of the 13,500 true refugees allowed in every year. [And this bit of illegal hopscotch just agitates me  in a big way.] It all became overwhelming for the government to handle.
       Recently, Canberra (seat of the Fed gov't) made an announcement.  Effectively immediately, all preferred profession visa applications less than two years old were cancelled , the list was abolished and soon to be replaced by a smaller, more accurate high-skill list.  Canberra even acknowledged that it may have to refund application fees. People from Sri Lanka or Afghanistan seeking  refugee status visas will now be on mandatory 3-6 month waiting lists before their requests could even begin to be considered. The Australian government was following some international governing body's assessment that  Sri Lanka and Afghanistan may not be  paradises but law & order, free elections and other factors are improving their lot out of refugee qualifications.
       This stop-on-a-dime policy switch was astounding to me. Only in a country as "small" as Australia could this happen or the physical improvements seem possible.  Not even for a moment could I imagine the U.S. (with it population over 15 times as large as OZ)  being able to about-face on any policy so quickly.  The wheels of government churn slowly everywhere on the planet. It will be interesting to see how all the reconsidered immigration, energy generation, resource management and infrastructure improvement will turn out.

What's My Name?

   I have about four blog entries started- long overdue for completion and posting. But every time I start to finish them, I get distracted. Either I'm tired, uncomfortable on the patio chair placed at the computer or just distracted by other things.  With resolve, I will refocus myself by posting the distraction.
    Lots of people walk in and out of the courts where I work and the parade of names is very entertaining. [I'll be careful here not to release any sensitive or identifying information. Names might be slightly changed to protect the innocent, guilty and, especially, myself.]There are the usual oddball spellings of common names that too many people think is clever when it actually looks dyslexic or worse. Names like Dryw or Linzee.  There are the very common Australian names: Kylie, Charlene, Dannii (also a candidate for the previous category), Graeme/Graham, Shane and Marie/Maree (both pronounced MAR-ee, not ma-REE).   Don't look for any Britneys (any spelling)  or Tobys , these are strictly American names.
    And while we're on national sounding names, hark unto these British options.  The reverted: Bevan, Desmond, Llewellyn.  The boys-only-no-girls names: Lindsay, Ashley. It's perfectly acceptable to call a red-haired boy "Ginger".  Catch these names whose spelling or hyphenation say "God Save the Queen": Hayball, Arkwright, Spratt, Fearnley-Goodacre, Shallcross, Passmore, Oldacres-Dear.  And one morning I thought we had the cast present of a 1970's British comedy, "Are You Being Served?" when a Humphries and a Slocum appeared.
     We are now seeing an extraordinary amount of Indonesian people-smugglers coming through. Not the top of the pyramid organizers, but the guys who do all the sailing and dirty work. They are at the lowest rungs of Indonesian society.  Some have but one name only: Glus or other one syllable utterance.
     Is it a quirky sense of humor or an ill-considered act of cruelty that would lead a parent to name their kid after a favored fictional character or car?  Aston Martin Smith. Christopher Robin Jones.  Thank you, Mother, for not naming me Rusted-Out Rambler Radowick. 

     And the name that started the musing. I cannot tell myself, much less you, why such a name would capture my imagination. Neither is common but neither is unheard of. The combination is odd.  But the possibilities for Melvin Rex are endless.