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December 21, 2006

Jumping at shadows

My father, who is one of the people I admire most in the world (which I guess one should, but I really do, for so many reasons I couldn't begin to go into) was until quite recently a pharmacist. He'd had his pharmacy in the same place, out in the west of Sydney, for over 40 years. In Australia, and probably elsewhere too, Pharmacists administer a methadone program - methadone is a treatment which seems to have some efficacy in helping heroin addicts manage their addiction, and hopefully get on with their lives.
But as you can imagine, this, and many of the other medicines a pharmacist dispenses, can make a pharmacy a very attractive proposition for shoplifting, break-ins (as a kid dad was not infrequently called out by the local police after a break in, and drove more or less an hour each way in the middle of the night to deal with the situation) and holdups. I know dad was held up more than once - probably many more times than we knew, by people with knives, and guns. I can't imagine how I'd cope, but it never impacted on how dad was with us, his 6, at times surely very trying kids. That's just one tiny part of why I admire him so much.

The point of this ramble is a story dad told me, it must be nearly 20 years ago, about how, after he was held up one time, some tiny little thing (I can't exactly recall what, but I seem to remember it being some dust or other powder dad had unsettled rising up in a puff) triggered a really strong reaction - I guess these days we'd probably more likely recognize it as a post traumatic incident response. Primed after the dreadful incident, the smallest thing could trigger a massive adrenaline response.

I was reminded of it when in the Australian Federal Parliament today, there was a "biological agent" scare. What turned out to be harmless white powder was sent to a number of ministerial offices, causing I can only imagine a huge emergency service response. The headline in the major Sydney paper was "Politicians safe after scare".

I can only think that such jumping at shadows would have been unthinkable a decade ago. That all it takes is someone (quite probably some idiot) sending flour (as was sent to the Indonesian Embassy in Australia last year around the height of the interest in the case of an australian on trial in Bali for drug trafficking, who was widely considered to be innocent, but who was sentenced to a long gaol sentence there) for such a response - emergency services, shutting down of parliament, headline news stories, really has to make us wonder whether in a sense we aren't all suffering from some kind of post traumatic stress episode (and being personally familiar with this issue, I'm not simply talking lightly in a figurative sense.) It's nothing compared with what I am sure millions of Iraqi people face daily where the trauma is almost infinitely worse. But the two are, I think, linked. By "taking the war to the terrorists" we felt we could take it away from our heartlands. Over half a decade after the dreadful events of September 11 2001, and coming up on 5 years since the Bali bombing which killed hundreds (among them a friend, whom I came across a memorial to in her home suburb quite by chance the other day), we have, through all that effort, expense, all those lives lost, only found ourselves less secure, more anxious, more likely to jump at shadows.

One might hope that on those rare occasions when the anxiety strikes close to those decision makers who are responsible for dealing with the situation, that the opportunity arises for a change, a reassessment, to occur. I hold out no hope for that, given the utterly intransigent nature of our government, and particularly prime minister. A profound change will have to occur in our political situation (and despite a profound change in the U.S. political situation a few weeks ago, it seems that things are only going to continue as they are, only more so, in Iraq) for anything to occur which might begin to alleviate the anxieties we all live with now.

But aren't we all sick of jumping at these shadows?

December 21, 2006 | Permalink


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Absolutely no disrespect to your dad or anyone else's experiences at a personal level, but after what seems like the clearly identifiable beat-up that Howard and Downer indulged in at the time of the Corby case (I don't necessarily think she was innocent, but gee Howard was guilty), let alone the children overboard and a couple of other specific instances, I have no confidence that this is not another attempt to deflect attention away from the positive aspects of the change of leadership in the ALP, one that clearly threatens the current government.

Watch for the "you need a strong government to deal with this stuff" and "how could you trust Rudd to deal with this?" rhetoric.

I find it infinitely sadder that jerks in suits seek to gain political points than the actions of pathetic individuals who perpetrate these stupid hoaxes.

It does an enormous disservice to people like your dad, and those who deal daily with having been exposed to genuine trauma.

Posted by: Ricky | Dec 21, 2006 11:28:08 PM

Common sense escapes many in our time. Especially in an information age dominated by the most sensational and outrageous. These dominate the news cycle. The longer it can be played on the air, the better the ratings. Instead of reasoned analysis and informed discussions - which better educate the populace, we get this mishmash of news and opinion that only homogenizes the debate into a nasty, useless gruel.

Watching the analysis of the Iraq Study Group report on Meet the Press last week was revealing in how intelligent the debate was and how out of his league the host was. It was refreshing to see that type of discussion - it's usually not the norm. And our elected political heroes are no better than the media chattering class.

Chin up, mate. :-) All things are cyclical and ever-changing. The best we can do is to work for change at whatever level of society we're in and instill that in our children so they do the same after we're gone.

Posted by: Patrick | Dec 22, 2006 4:30:57 AM

I can't adequately express my disgust with Howard for what he's done to our country. We went from a country perceived as essentially neutral, friendly and - yes - harmless... to being mentioned as targets in the same videotaped speeches as america is threatened.

In short, Howard has made us a target for terrorists; he has given reasons to hate Australia to groups that previously had no reason to even think of us.

All of this through his own personal agenda and eternal licking of the american president's arse (Mark Latham had Howard's number there). There was no mandate from Australians - as if any of us sat at home and though "what Australia really need to do is send our troops to protect oil drilling rigs in the middle east".

So anyway, we've ended up being conditioned to fear attack. White powder in envelopes, lost bags in train stations promoted as bomb threats rather than lost property. I agree that it's a cynical ploy by the government to keep people scared and voting for "strong leadership"......even though that leadership brought the threat upon the country.

Posted by: Ben Buchanan | Dec 22, 2006 10:00:48 AM

thanks guys for the strong, intelligent, heartfelt reponses.

That's what gives me faith that things can and will get better.


Posted by: john Allsopp | Dec 23, 2006 12:49:28 PM

I think what's probably going to be more interesting is that if the international playground stays in a similar state, this will be the new normal. Kids growing up now won't bat an eyelid at these kind of incidents.

People often ask me if I was scared growing up in South Africa, because of their perception of the violence and crime. Thing is though, it was just normal to me. I have all sorts of anecdotes -- one of my schoolfriend's mom faced off with a taxi driver once (she had a pistol, he had an AK47) -- but it didn't seem remarkable at all until I moved over to the UK.

Equally, the British reaction to the London bombings was much less extreme than many expected -- but people forget how recently IRA terrorism made it dangerous to go anywhere public and crowded.

What is definitely possible and really quite sad is that we might be seeing a reset of the global level of normal. I really hope I'm wrong.

Posted by: Meri | Dec 24, 2006 11:42:40 AM

thanks man ;)

Posted by: SvT | Feb 8, 2007 2:32:36 AM