Weekend Australian Columns


Why and how we get scammed


How and why do we get conned? According to Paul J. Zak neuro-economist, and columnist for Psychology Today it’s about brain chemicals

A COLLEAGUE of mine got caught in a Nigerian money scam before much was known about them. And he lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. He was bright, head of a leading company, and savvy. None of his friends understood how he could have been roped in. (more…)


Don’t sweat the small stuff


We fret our daily pains without remembering how trivial much of it is

IT’S been a hell of a week for me. Many things have gone wrong, with one drama snowballing into another. The only thing that’s kept me above water was hanging out for an amazing trip we had planned for Christmas. Even though I’m a travelling gal, it was to be the trip of a lifetime, trekking across the Sahara to a festival called Festival in the Desert, in Timbuktu, Mali.

Being a great lover of African music, in particular music from Senegal and Mali, it was powerfully exciting to imagine being amid the indigenous peoples of the region who come each year for the festival — from north and south on camels and by foot in their traditional costumes, carrying instruments. And then to sleep under the stars surrounded by crackling fires and song.

Warnings on government websites of al-Qa’ida activity in the region did not deter us, so strong was our passion for the music, the dance. Then at the end of my nasty week, the news. Six foreigners were kidnapped from or near Timbuktu — one executed. (more…)


Depression at Work


Depression at work is becoming an epidemic around the world.

IT’s interesting that while people who haven’t got jobs or have been recently laid off tend to despair, actually having a job doesn’t ensure happiness.

A global study reported in The Wall Street Journal claims that almost a quarter of the global workforce is depressed. Apparently, 92 per cent of people surveyed linked the state of their mental health to job performance and only 12 per cent claimed to be optimistic on the work front. The respondents came from a variety of industries, but mainly in the financial and professional areas.



Sex surrogacy


We should respect those who help with sexual problems not condemn them.

I’VE known several sex surrogates and have admired them all, which is why I was so surprised recently to hear that a Melbourne sex therapist had called them glorified prostitutes and called for an end to the practice.

Surrogates are women or men who get paid to provide what crooner Marvin Gaye pined for — ‘‘sexual healing’’. The practice is sex therapy with a touch more, as advocated by sexuality pioneers Masters and Johnson in the 1960s. It’s used in conjunction with traditional therapies to provide help for erectile dysfunctions such as impotence and premature ejaculation, intimacy issues and marriage problems.

Sex surrogacy has a reported 95 per cent success rate in Australia, according to a study presented to the World Congress on Sexual Health in 2007. (more…)


Bullying with a smile


Even smiling at the wrong time can be considered workplace bullying.

IT was another interesting example of political correctness gone crazy. My friend, a senior manager, was asked to attend a retraining course on workplace bullying in the light of tough new laws. As someone who has had her fair share of bullying rising up the ranks in media, I welcome any and all legislation that protects employees from this often subtle and insidious form of cruelty.

However, my friend was told that even cocking an eyebrow at the wrong time, with a smirk on one’s face or a sarcastic quip, can now be considered an act of bullying. I have to say that, well, frankly, the new laws are making me feel bullied.



How to deal with suffering


It’s hard to stomach world suffering

IT’S been a horrible few weeks in the world, and a hard time for sensitive people. The daily news has been so distressing and appalling that if I were not a journalist, I wouldn’t turn on or read the news.

As it is, I can’t read the papers over breakfast, or watch television news over dinner, as what I see often makes my stomach turn and I can’t digest my food.

Last week there were two or three stories that had me feeling ill and powerless, but I soldiered on, feeling dreadful: children hit by cars, abused, murdered, starving; the massacring of animals; revelations of torture. But something snapped one morning after one particular story: I was in the bathroom putting on make-up, then I was suddenly crouched on the floor, crying. My partner tried to comfort me but I said this to him, and I am saying it now.



Kids and music


With iPod earphones strapped to their ears, kids today are missing out on musical riches of days gone by.

I GREW up surrounded by music. Tchaikovsky and Beethoven were playing for much of my early childhood. My father’s family came from Europe and brought with them an old record player and loads of classical records.

My house was filled with the sound of great operas and symphonies. I don’t think in those early years that I liked any of it, although I was fond of Rachmaninoff.


As I grew older the music became familiar to me, and familiarity burgeoned into love. Now I feel deeply satisfied that I was given the opportunity to appreciate the genius and beauty of many classical masterpieces and much more. My father was musical and sampled every type of sound imaginable.

I think of this often as I try to expose my daughter to many forms of music: classical, folk and world music, each coming with its own rich history.



Teenagers and Party Drugs


Agonising over ecstasy: What do we tell our kids about party drugs in the era of the backyard mix?

IT was a horrible story — every parent’s nightmare. A number of years ago the daughter of an acquaintance died. She was only 18 and had just finished her Higher School Certificate. She was a lovely, normal girl. It was her first trip abroad. She landed in Europe. And went to a club. Of course no one ever knows the details of these things, but her parents were rung in the middle of the night to say their daughter had died on the dance floor.

The autopsy showed ecstasy in her system. She’d been offered party drugs from what’s known in the industry as ‘‘a bad batch’’. The story, and those like it, are more prevalent than anyone could imagine.

Which brings to light a controversial issue. I’ve been battling with friends over my views regarding teenagers and drugs. (more…)




There’s been a lot of admissions of lying in the paper these past week. Is it ever OK to lie?

Olympic swimmer Kenrick Monk, recently broke down crying and admitted he invented a story about being hit by a P-plate driver as he rode his bike to training. Monk, who is 23, faced the media to confess to having made up the elaborate hit-and-run story to hide the fact he hurt himself when he fell from his skateboard.

‘‘I didn’t know what to do. I panicked, I freaked,’’ he said, tearfully explaining that he couldn’t tell the truth because he’d fallen off ‘‘something that a 10-year- old can ride’’. With the Olympic trials coming up in March, he had been too embarrassed to admit he suffered two broken bones in his elbow from such a stupid and irresponsible accident.

‘‘I lied,’’ say the spate of cheating men and women caught with their pants down each week. ‘‘I lied because I was scared, fearful, depressed, anxious, I had a sore tooth, a gammy foot. I lied to save you from having hurt feelings. I lied because it was in my best interests, wasn’t it, and if I didn’t you would have been angry at me. I lied and I will lie again. Everyone does it all the time, so why not me?’’ (more…)


Positive attitude


To what extent does having a positive disposition change your Fate?

I SAW a local store owner, whom I shall call ‘‘Sam’’, in the street recently. His shop seems empty a lot of the time. I politely asked how he was going and was met with an angry tirade about how no one comes in any more because X down the road had stolen all his customers away by offering uncompetitive prices.

‘‘Customers! You customers expect this and that. Everyone wants a discount. I haven’t had a holiday in ages. My supplier has upped his costs; I have rent to pay; I have kids to feed,’’ he raved as I stood there blinking.

I remember the last time I went into his shop. The chewing gum I bought was stale. I brought it back to the counter. He looked at the use-by date and said: ‘‘There’s nothing wrong with it’’, and handed it back. (more…)

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