Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More Work and Less Play

The 38 hour working week is in jeopardy for most of Australia’s workforce. Statistics from the ABS show that work is now encroaching on our private lives more than ever before. Instead of continually pushing ‘larrikinism’ as one of our defining traits, perhaps we should be framed as a nation of overworked (yet unproductive people) who are essentially slaves to our jobs and stuck in a work/eat/sleep cycle.

The statistics from the ABS report, ‘How Australians use their time', show that male and female adults in the work force are working approximately two hours more each week, than they were in 1997.

Unions NSW has recently put forward a claim for the paid working day to begin while in transit to work. Though the problem of long, unproductive commutes could be alleviated in this way, the balance between work and leisure becomes less even.

According to Dr Helen Masterman-Smith, sociology lecturer at Charles Sturt University, there is a situation of extremes: most employees are either working too many hours, or are underemployed.

“A standard full-time week (38 hours) does not apply for much of the working population today.”

She also adds that this affects all people, despite socio-economic status. “Higher paid workers are often working long hours,” says Dr Masterman-Smith. “And at the other end of the spectrum, low paid workers are struggling to strike a balance between a low hourly rate of pay and working sufficient hours to earn a decent living.”

Her statement is no truer than in the case of Nicole Gaudry, an ex-store manager of a retail giant which demanded she work for up to 48 hours each week, in and out of the store.

“I was coming home with paperwork, and not really helping my kids with their homework or spending quality time with them. I think it was actually less productive because I’d just think about how my family life was suffering and I felt that I wanted to blame work for it,” Nicole says. “By the end, I became bitter towards the work I had.”

The pressure and the time that she had to forfeit for work, eventually led her to leave the company and to search for another job where the hours allowed her to have real time away from work, making her more productive in her roles as a parent and as a professional.

Research by the Director of the Centre for Work + Life, Barbara Pockock, shows exactly this. The Centre investigates how work intersects with household, family, community and social life in Australia. What it has revealed is that we need a balance between the time spent doing work and the time we have for ourselves; otherwise health, relationships and time with children can all suffer.

Fifty Families, a report commissioned by the ACTU and co-written by Pockock, details the experiences of Frank - a man pushed beyond his limits. Forced to work 50-60 hour weeks for long periods, he was finally overwhelmed and broke down.

“I came in - and the kids were just playing …I told my wife off. Had a go at my kid and then realised I was just tearing the hair out of my head,” he states. “And it was all because I’d just had enough of it…I’d started to bring work home - mentally – for months before that.”

The sad part of the story is that despite his GP and psychiatrist warning his employer of his fragile state, it took a relapse for them to really take him seriously.

“I went into depression, and I ended up having the full-scale mental breakdown… I don’t think they know they are actually playing with people’s lives.”

In highlighting Frank’s story, however, it is important to note that different people can tolerate different workloads. Yet, current conditions are not only lowering productivity, but putting substantial mental and physical strain on workers and their families.

A national survey was taken by the Centre for Work + Life; with results further cementing the issues raised by Fifty Families. Research Fellow, Dr Pip Williams worked with Barbara Pockock on this study, and their findings showed that people who worked long hours were more likely to have poor work-life outcomes.

“Essentially, they felt pressed for time and felt that work interfered with their responsibilities and activities outside of work," says Pip. "A lack of time resources within the family can disadvantage children, their families and the wider community. Opportunities for social interaction within local communities are reduced when families are time poor.”

Clinical psychologist, Patricia Durning sees clients from the city and North Shore areas, and likens the work/life imbalance to overdrawing a bank account.

“Overloads on work lead to deficits, and when people keep on overdrawing, they go into debt. So when someone feels one hundred per cent, but puts in one hundred and ten percent, where does that extra ten per cent come from? Once a person keeps putting in more than they can handle, they can start to develop some serious mental health issues.”

There are many misconceptions which occur in the workplace to fuel the overworking of employees, as Dr Durning has encountered in her role.

“I see clients, like young lawyers, who feel a lot of pressure to work long hours because everyone is doing them," says Patricia. "There are perceptions that everyone is doing fine, and that they look like they’ve got it together, but they really don’t. As a result, people come to see me, stressed and feeling alone, and this lack of support impacts upon their mental health.”

Research Director for Unions NSW, Amanda Tattersall, says that the Industrial Relations system needs to consider the strain that an unbalanced work/life ratio has on workers.

“Work time is a serious problem that needs a total rethink in the industrial relations reforms that the Rudd Government is contemplating. Providing workers with space away from work is a vital ingredient in an industrial relations system for the 21st century.”

With pressures mounting on employees to invest more time into their work as a sign of their commitment, the focus should be on increasing productivity through balancing work and life. Until this is understood and appreciated by employers and employees alike, there will be some form of neglect both at home and at work.

Essentially, there is no quick fix to this widespread issue, but all work and no play really does make Jack a dull and unproductive boy.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bang Bang: My Baby Shot Me Down

There’s an adage for almost any situation. Swim with sting rays, you will get stung. Dance in the snow for an extensive period, you will get pneumonia. Give the mentally unstable narcissist a gun, he will shoot you.

Houston, we have a landing. Unfortunately, such logic doesn’t apply to the USA or it’s craftily manipulative National Rifle Association – no siree.

Last time I had intermittent dreams about dying, shooting, and murdering (not that I do, hypothetical here), I was under the impression that guns had the capacity to maim and disfigure. Charming in the least, I hear you say.

Yet in America, thirty-eight states have passed legislation to allow the carrying of concealed hand guns – thanks to the successful lobbying of the well funded and powerful NRA. It’s democracy that enables a Rifle Association to have political leverage in exchange for financial support to campaigns. Apparently integrity is expendable.

Several psychopathic killers have gone on shooting rampages at universities and high schools; possibly the world’s most sacred institutions, and why? Gun laws lack any stringency or arduous mechanisms to sift through instances of those who are capable of handling a gun, and those whose subsistence relies upon fulfilling a disturbed fetish to kill.

Cho Seung-Hui of the Virginia Tech massacre snapped, because his girlfriend left him. Maybe Sonny Bono would do good by changing the words of “My baby shot me down” to “My psychopathic ex-baby shot everyone down”.

Obtaining guns in perfectly legal conditions in Virginia, the screening processes were so meticulous; he had to wait an entire month to purchase a second gun. Wow, talk about putting his plans on hold. Cho’s past involved stopovers at mental institutions. I’m perplexed that a background check only measures criminal activity – nothing else that would be necessary before you bestow someone with a gun and say ‘fire like the wind’.

Gun laws need to be repaired before the American Government can truly sympathise with the families involved in such tragedies. Contrition cannot be genuine without necessary change. The political fa├žade of condemning these killers remains to foster sympathy, yet they leave every avenue open to permit the continued destruction of peoples basic rights – even worse still supporting such legislation for financial support.

It seems civilisation is best at disintegrating every right we’ve taken an age to cultivate.

Then we had the Westroads Mall shooting in Nebraska. Robert Hawkins, the emotionally fragmented nineteen year old who deemed himself “worthless”, attempted self glorification through “taking a few pieces of shit with me”. He was fired from McDonald’s (evidently showing traces of going far in life). His girlfriend also left him two weeks prior to the aforementioned spree.

The delightful child threatened to kill his stepmother with an axe when he turned 14 and was subsequently hospitalised, yet he had the authorisation to attain a gun and shoot dead eight people in a twisted egotistical pursuit of self-validity and restorative pride. “I’m gonna be fuckin famous” reads the suicide note. This epitomises the very narcissism and resolute self-importance that we are consumed by.

Surely there are deranged psychopaths lurking at every corner. But making the means available only facilitates the issue in enabling every raging narcissist to execute their compulsions. Only a non-American can look on that country with sheer amazement as they rapidly descend the evolutionary ladder.

Have we learnt our lesson? Do not break up with a girlfriend/boyfriend if you sense their brain composition is slightly damaged through their tendencies and desire to kill and destroy. Wait no; that was the second lesson. First lesson? Don’t move to America.

Photo: Flickr - P.Retuta

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Changing Face of Anorexia

At first, there’s nothing to place her apart from everyone else, except that she seems to be one of those lucky people blessed with a quick metabolism. Jealous? Not when you realise her cheeks protrude a little more than is healthy and her clothes hang baggily off her beyond-skinny frame. Her eyes are empty and her body language says, ‘I have no energy.’ And the lines etched upon her face make her look like she’s in her late 60s, or even her 70s.

Chances are, however, that she’s only in her 30s or 40s. Women like this are the new face of anorexia. A recent study of ‘weight preoccupied women’ in Canada found that “women in the 45–64 year age group were more likely to be ‘food preoccupied’ (e.g. bingeing, feeling guilty after eating, feeling ‘food controls your life’, and giving too much time and thought to food) than those aged less than 45 years.” Statistics published in [health journal] PLoS one last month reported that “people who reported purging and dieting [a]re on average 10 years older, a difference much greater than expected by population ageing,” than the average anorexic female was in 1996.

Older women typically have more stress to deal with than younger women, which could be one of the reasons why more older women are becoming anorexic. Greta Kretchner of the Eating Disorders Foundation says, “It may be divorce, it may be a sickness, a loss of a partner. It could be job stress, it could be children moving out and moving on, you know, growing up and so their role as a mum has changed - those sorts of issues – and the pressure of their own parents aging and the stress that comes with that.”

Or it could really just be the desire to lose weight that triggers the onset of anorexia. “Particularly for women that have had babies, there’s the pressure to drop baby weight very quickly. There’s a whole lot of pressure on celebrities so it’s taken as a given that people have to drop baby weight very quickly,” says Kretchner.

Dr. Patricia McVeagh, of the Sydney Children’s Hospital Randwick, says, “Women having problems recognising their own hunger can have problems with their own children. Sometimes they might overfeed them, because the mother doesn’t want her children to follow the same route. Other times, they might limit the child’s feed, because they can’t interpret signs of fullness and take food away before the child is finished.”

“It’s also harder for them to be there for the baby, particularly if they are a compulsive exerciser.”

Kletchner says it’s important not to judge, but that those around the anorexia sufferer should “express honest concern and encourage her to seek professional help and then, if they manage to get them into professional help, supporting them in whatever way that can encourage them stay with that help.”

“I would think that apart from monitoring in a community setting, through a GP and maybe her relatives and friends, it would probably be important that her mental strength get assessed,” says a clinical nurse specialist from Westmead Hospital.

In a way, it’s sad that society makes it so simple for women to fall from being mildly self-conscious about their health and weight, to being obsessed to the point that she places “being thin” as her number one priority. In the March edition of US Elle magazine, Amanda Fortini wrote about how men preferred her when she was a stick-thin waif with a BMI (body mass index) of 16.1 (the average person’s BMI should be between 18.5 and 24.9).
She wrote, “As a male friend once put it to me, semifacetiously, 'A little anorexia is hot.’”

So it’s clear that thin is in, and this makes it easier for women to slip into anorexia. Particularly older women, as they battle with middle-age waistlines and the stresses of life. And then, while losing weight may not be their initial goal, once they’re thin and anorexic, they may be shunned. How dare they become so scrawny? How dare they place so much importance on it? But they’re really only reflecting what society drums into us – that to be thin is the most important goal in life.

Photo: Istock photos

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

One hussy, Two hussy, Three hussy, Four.

Politics, media, and the public: three entities with an often intriguing yet compromising relationship. Though what becomes of expectations when the line between public and private is indistinct? Moral judgment may not be affected, yet the principle of integrity prevails as a benchmark for tolerability, writes Bonita Silva.

Newly resigned Governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, and French President, Nicolas Sarkozy with his newly wedded supermodel wife, epitomise the perplexities that riddle political careers and reputations. Should personal failings matter, and does it affect their ability to govern?

What exactly went through the mind of Eliot Spitzer – now infamously known as “Client 9”, when ordering a call girl from the International Emperors Club at a lavish rate of $4,300 – the public is still trying to ascertain.

Known as an ethical crusader, Spitzer fought corruption in the city of New York. As a former prosecutor, his knowledge of the very electronic and surveillance tools that brought about his downfall, was expansive. In 2007, he signed a law to lengthen jail time for customers of prostitutes, from three to a possible 12 months.

Spitzer prosecuted prostitution, and served to fight corruption which earned him his reputation; one that’s reflected in his grandiose labelling: “I’m a f______ steamroller, and I’ll roll over you.” His ability to execute correct political judgement was never hindered – but the public and media reserve no tolerance for counterfeit leaders.

It was the very exhibition of rank hypocrisy and disregard for the rules that facilitated his downfall. Investigators believe up to $80,000 was spent on escort services over several years preceding and following his appointment as governor.

Perhaps more condescending and ill-informed was his statement concerning Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, over a policy dispute: “[Bloomberg] is wrong at every level – dead wrong, factually wrong, legally wrong, morally wrong, ethically wrong”.

For a governor who freely dishes out accusations of moral and ethical breaches, it’s startling to see the same standards did not apply to his own personal undertakings. It’s not so much to say that personal lives should be a determinant of political success: it is however fair to conclude that the enforcer of a standard must abide by that standard to maintain any credibility or integrity in office.

The whirlwind romance of French President, ‘speedy Nicolas Sarkozy’ to ex-supermodel turned singer, Carla Bruni attracted its fair share of criticism and media coverage. Meeting 11 weeks before their marriage, and only divorcing his second wife last October, Sarkozy’s personal decisions have become the subject of ensuing media and public scrutiny.

It appears that when a politician stumbles upon increased happiness, the criticisms intensify. Divorce, marriage, and love are components of everyday life. To suggest his character, ability, and judgment are weakened, is to suggest a politician must be of an inhuman nature to successfully administer his position of power.

Some would be eager to apply similar principles to those of Eliot Spitzer. Humans are fallible, and whilst it’s important to recognise that politicians aren’t entirely pure in their personal dealings, it is the recognition of the notion that one who sets the rules must abide by them. Where personal dealings interfere or directly contradict the very core of political undertakings, their integrity is shattered, demeaning the very support invested in them by the public.

Political judgment may not be affected by their questionable personal decisions. It is however the blank hypocrisy that offends constituents in a manner that transcends all expectations, confidence, and mercy towards a falling or offending candidate.

An imperialistic attitude doesn’t stand in politics. He/she may effectively govern well, but the constituents that voted them in will just as easily bring them down.

Photo: Flickr
Licensed under: Creative Commons

The Writers

international editor

age/d.o.b: 19 - 26th April 1989
degree: Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Journalism) @ UTS
fav music: Rock and other random stuff - QOTSA, Queen, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Vines, Wolfmother, Michelle Branch, Tegan and Sara
fav tv shows: Extinct: Veronica Mars, Current: How I Met Your Mother
fav movies: Shawshank Redemption, Amelie, A Very Long Engagement (anything Audrey Tautou), Pride & Prejudice, Bend it Like Beckham, Life As A House
fav books: Pride & Prejudice, anything Kathy Reichs, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harry Potter, The Grenadillo Box, A Clockwork Orange
fav publications/media: SMH, Mags - Vogue, Harper's Bazaar
hobbies/interests: computer/console games, flute, shopping, reading, facebook (though more of an addiction), movies, cars, travel

fashion&beauty/lifestyle editor

age/d.o.b: 18 – 22nd Aug 1989
degree: b communication (journalism)/ba international studies (Spanish) @ UTS
fav music: anything house/ministry of sound, justin timberlake, the chemical brothers, fall out boy, kanye west, gabriella cilmi, soundtrack of Chicago.
fav tv show: the simpsons, family guy, south park, the chaser’s war on everything, futurama, gossip girl, so you think you can dance, thank god you’re here.
fav movie: big fish, dead poet's society, anything involving hayden christensen.
fav book: outlander series by Diana gabaldon, shopaholic series by sophie kinsella, novels by terry goodkind, harry potter
fav publication/media: Vanity Fair, US Elle, UK Glamour, Shop Til You Drop.
hobbies/interests: shopping, reading, playing organ/piano/cello, reading, making a mess in the kitchen, using speed limits as suggestions, going for long walks in the shopping centre.

political and national editor

age/d.o.b: 18 - 4th June 1989
degree: b communication (journalism)/b laws @ the University of Technology, Sydney
fav music: muse, coldplay, the cat empire, radiohead, franz ferdinand, jeff buckley, damien rice, basement jaxx, justin timberlake, moby
fav tv show: scrubs
fav movie: the sound of music, the godfather, amelie, the count of monte cristo, the motorcycle diaries, the shawshank redemption
fav book: amadeus, to kill a mockingbird, harry potter, gone with the wind
fav publication/media: time magazine & SMH
hobbies/interests: violin, piano, drums, reading, collecting records, stalking hot imports, drinking nice coffee, craving chicken laksa, live concerts, pesto gnocchi tasting

arts/photography editor

age/d.o.b: 19 – 5th January 1989
degree: bachelor of communication (journalism) @ the University of Technology, Sydney
fav music: five for fighting, the kooks, playradioplay!, Dashboard Confessionals, hellogoodbye, boyslikegirls, motioncity soundtrack, frou frou, Tegan and Sara, The Morning Light, This Providence
fav tv show: Grey’s anatomy, Scrubs
fav movie: Anne of Green Gables, Amelie
fav book: Pride and Prejudice, Unexpected, Syrup, and I would have to say the Twilight Saga
fav publication/media: Frankie, Cream and Yen magazine
hobbies/interests: I’m in love with fictional men: Mr. Darcy (of course), Edward Cullen, Laurie/Teddy, Severus Snape, Colonal Brandon, Angel (Tess of the D’Urbervilles), and totally infatuated with Christian Bale! Okay, now that we have the male interests out of the way, I’m also: photography obsessed, loves to pick up a pencil now and then to draw random things, plays tunes on the piano, rollerblades like a 6year old (no actually they’re probably better), photoshops photos out of reality, and likes to avoid strangers on public transport by wearing earphones and big sunnies.