The green brain

G Magazine

YOU’VE heard the phrase “you are what you eat”. Well, psychologist Dr Bob Rich thinks you are how you act. “Habits are everything,” he says. “Your very personality is a network of long-standing habits. Everything that can be said about you is something you do.”

In fact, almost 50 per cent of behaviour is habitual, and those habits can take many months to form. One recent study found that the average time for an action to become fully automatic was 66 days. Even simple behaviours, like eating a piece of fruit with lunch or running for 15 minutes before dinner, can take more than two months of daily repetition to become ingrained.

Breaking your old, wasteful habits and forming new, sustainable ones isn’t easy, but this article will give you the psychological know-how to achieve that goal. So take your typical route to the lounge room, settle into your favourite armchair, adopt your usual reading posture, and let’s get started.

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To buy or not to buy

G Magazine
G Magazine

With the silly season just around the corner, we put the question to every environmentally conscious shopper: can buying green save the planet?

YOU’RE standing in a store facing a shelf of sustainable products. Their earthy green packaging beckons. For many an ethical consumer, a heated inner dialogue ensues. If you vote with your dollar, you’ll be supporting sustainable industries, runs one argument. But what happened to the message of reduce, recycle, reuse? Do you really need the item or is it just a waste of resources cleverly marketed to make you feel like you’re doing your bit for the planet?

Touring a supermarket and eco-store with advocates from both camps, G opens the debate and welcomes your opinion on when to fill your trolley with green goodies and when to walk away.

A write-off

Emerging Writers' Festival anthology

THREE make-up artists. Four producers clutching clipboards. Five cameramen. I’m sitting in the studio of SBS quiz show Letters and Numbers, trying to count how many people are working behind the scenes. The glare from the coloured stage lights casts everything in magenta and cyan shadows, like a 3D image before you put the glasses on. It’s hard to see, but I can spot at least 15 crew members.

When the episode goes to air, viewers will see only five people. They’ll be seated around a semi-circular desk against a blue background. One of the regular panellists will be David Astle, playwright, novelist and long-time freelance journo. Right now the cameras are rolling and he’s flicking through a massive Macquarie Dictionary propped up in front of him. He’s my first profile subject.

‘Borzoi,’ he says. ‘A Russian Wolfhound. Very tall, long nose, extremely quick.’ Remove the Russian reference and Astle could be describing himself. Lean and lofty, he has shaggy, salt-and-pepper hair, a rapid-fire wit and a dominant proboscis. In this, I’m sure he can weather the insult. This is a man who once described an Italian chef as ‘built like a gnocchi ball’.

A funny upbringing

The Big Issue
The Big Issue

MANY teenage boys are embarrassed by their mothers. I had good reason to be. When I was in high school, my mother became a professional clown.

As a young woman, she was the person you would least expect to spend her days playing the fool. From what I’ve been told, she was an introvert. She went to teachers’ college, got married and settled into a life of domesticity. Then she hit middle age and flipped out. She threw off her apron and, with it, others’ expectations. She was over 40, she had had her kids, and she would do whatever she wanted, thank you very much. Unfortunately for me, what she wanted to do was wear silly costumes and act like an idiot in front of my friends.

Vict govt laws stifle democracy

Crikey

CONTROVERSIAL Victorian climate change protest laws breach freedoms of political expression and are “stifling democracy”, a prominent barrister and Greens candidate has claimed. Brian Walters SC, who is running for the seat of Melbourne in the Victorian state election on November 27, told Crikey that new penalties relating to “critical electricity infrastructure” specifically target climate change protesters.

The next wave

G Magazine

TWELVE days after usurping the Labor leadership, new PM Julia Gillard outlined her “boat people” policy to an anxious public. The plan? A “regional processing centre” on East Timor.

There was nothing new about the idea – regional processing has been part of Australia’s response to asylum seekers since the first wave of Indo-Chinese refugees in the late 70s. The only novel aspect of the policy was the astonishing speed with which it was cobbled together. A hasty call to Timor-Leste’s President Jose Ramos-Horta, a quick chat with the UN, and Gillard was ready to strike asylum seekers from her pre-election to-do list.

Yet the issue of “boat people” can’t be swatted away so easily. Australia needs to develop a considered, long-term approach to asylum seekers and refugees because they could be heading our way for a long time to come.

A pleasant day at the zoo

Veranda 25 Deakin University
Veranda 25 Deakin University

STEVE looked up from the dinner table to see a panda standing in front of him. It was his wife, Margaret. She had synthetic fur – black for her paws and hind legs and white for her belly – up to her neck. Above that was her face, red and sweaty from wearing the costume all day. Under her arm was the panda’s head, its eyes rimmed by inky bruises, the pupils plastic but somehow alive.

Steve stared at his wife, speechless. He was surprised because she usually came home dressed as the arse-end of a hippo.

‘Cutbacks,’ she explained. ‘A hippo requires two actors to look convincing. A panda, just one. Guess the zoo went with the cheaper option.’

In transit

The Big Issue

The first problem is getting here. The second is getting permission to enter. Then asylum seekers living in the community must find somewhere to stay. Greg Foyster meets a group of people constantly on the move.

SORIYAN SPENT  a year and a half travelling on trains to nowhere. He would wake up early, haul himself off a bench at Cheltenham Station, in Melbourne’s southern suburbs, and shuffle, tired and cold, onto the six o’clock train. Dressed in jeans, sneakers and a red-and-black jacket – a gift from a friend – he would stretch out on a row of seats and close his eyes while the suburbs whooshed past the windows.

He would spend three, four, five hours on the train, travelling on almost all the lines, passing all the stations. Craigieburn, Cranbourne, Sydenham, Glen Waverley, Lilydale, Pakenham – this 28-year-old man from India has criss-crossed the city more times than most locals. At night he would return to Cheltenham or Watergardens Station, in the city’s northwest, and lie on a bench, a backpack under his head for a pillow, a brown blanket over his body for warmth. Sometimes, neighbourhood kids would come and abuse him, shouting racial taunts or trying to grab his bag. Sometimes, he would be left alone. At dawn the cycle would start again: another day riding the rails to pass the time; another night chasing sleep at a train station.

Crank up the power

G Magazine
G Magazine

YOU might have seen the odd electric bike or two roaming around the streets (especially uphill), but you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s a new trend about to explode – at least for the time being. Despite technology pushing ahead, e-bikes have taken a long time to gain momentum.

Patented as early as 1897, power-assisted pushies are only now taking off, with more than 120 million electric scooters, bicycles and tricycles zipping along the congested bike lanes of crowded cities, mostly in Asia. Not even the financial downturn halted manufacturing – last year electric bicycle production in China soared 8.2 per cent.

On the other side of the globe, Europeans have also caught the battery-powered buzz.

I am every asylum seeker

Eureka Street

I WAS born in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. I was born in Kashmir, between India and Pakistan. I was born in Iran. I was born in Iraq. I was born in Sri Lanka.

I worked as an architect, building up my business. I worked as a negotiator, liaising with the government. I worked as an engineer. I worked as a veterinarian. I worked as an accountant.

I am a member of the Hazara ethnic group. I am opposed to the government’s occupation of Kashmir. I am a firm believer in women’s rights. I am a whistleblower for government corruption. I am an ethnic Tamil.

I was held down while I watched my father beaten to death. I was kidnapped by the government and taken to an interrogation room. I was knocked out with the butt of a rifle. I was shot three times. I was arrested and put in a camp.

Get me out of the claptrap

The Sydney Morning Herald, My Career

“We’re going to focus collectively as a group to streamline our growth so we can hit the ground running with a win-win. You know what I mean?’’

No. I have absolutely no idea. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat in a meeting, heard a manager regurgitate buzzwords onto the boardroom table and then nodded as if what he said was perfectly understandable.

Enough!

Trouble concentrating?

YEN (cover story)

CHANCES are you’re reading this magazine with your mobile nearby, switched on and ready for action. The second it beeps your attention will be yanked from this page, pulled by the invisible cord that connects us to friends and family, work and the web. It’s an electronic lifeline that nourishes with texts and tweets, news and gossip. It’s infiltrated every aspect of our lives and, according to some experts, it’s driving us to distraction.

So if your mobile beeps, just ignore it. Better yet, switch it off. Because for the next five minutes, we’re going to look at how technology saps your focus and what you can do to get it back.

Beware the multitask monster

The Sydney Morning Herald

A HALF-EATEN sushi roll. Paperwork stacked in different-sized piles like a bar chart measuring inefficiency. A computer desktop strewn with the debris of some digital cyclone. These are the first signs of Obsessive Compulsive Multitasking (OCM), a disorder that affects hundreds of thousands of clerical workers around the country.

Doing good in bad times

The Big Issue

THREE o’clock at the office. The sounds of clerical work reverberate through densely packed cubicles. The familiar clackety-clack of fingertips on keyboards, the laboured breathing of printers under the duress of impending deadlines, and the mechanical slurping of a hungry paper-shredder form a percussion track that’s been playing since morning. Among it all sits a young woman, attuned to the rhythm of industry. She types, files, tends to chirping phones. She’s a typical office worker in a typical office, except for one important distinction: she’s not getting paid.

Talulah is a volunteer; one of a growing number of laid-off workers looking for something to fill the empty pages in their yearly planners. You might expect the recently redundant to be confirmed misanthropes, oozing spite from every pore. But, in some cases, the opposite has occurred.

Technology’s missing chapters

WAtoday

WITH all the hullabaloo about the Kindle™ and the iPad™, it’s easy to overlook the e-reader’s centuries-old rival. But the Book™ is alive and well, with a sleek new design, lightweight packaging and wireless mobility to suit today’s busy bibliophile.

I have to admit being a little baffled by the Book™ at first. No matter how hard I looked, I just couldn’t find the ON button. After much fumbling I managed to start the device, and all it took was turning the front cover from left to right. No loading screen, sound effect or grand hurrah. It was an elegant beginning to what proved to be a charming piece of technology.

The iPad makes too many headlines

New Matilda

CAN newspapers get any more desperate? Since Apple launched its newest bit of consumer electronics a week ago, newspaper editors everywhere have dedicated acres of space to the gadget, hoping to hold the attention of “tech-savvy” younger readers.

The day after the world’s least aesthetically pleasing dresser, Steve Jobs, released the world’s most aesthetically pleasing hunk of metal and glass, the iPad, the Age ran four articles in the “Focus” section, the Herald Sun ran a double-page spread asking if this product will “change the world” and the Australian ran three reports, an editorial and an online survey.

Overkill, anyone?

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Hi, I’m a Gen Y stereotype

Trespass Magazine

HI! I’m Greg, I was born in 1983, which kind of makes me Gen Y. Being Gen Y is really cool, ‘cos we’re ‘technologically savvy’ (I just looked up ‘savvy’ on my iPhone dictionary app) and ‘globally aware’ (I’m going to South-East Asia next year), and we’re the most ‘materially endowed’ generation, like, ever.

It’s true, I read it in The Age on Saturday, even though I didn’t finish the whole article ‘cos I had to check Facebook and tweet my friends to let them know what I was up to, just in case they were wondering. And then I got the BIGGEST laugh when I went back to the newspaper ‘cos the journo wrote that Gen Yers have ‘nomadic online tendencies’ and I thought, that is totally me right now.

The meditation myth

The Words We Found: The Best Writing From 21 Years of Voiceworks, Hardie Grant 2009

I KNOW two serious meditation practitioners. Half an hour after the first told me meditation gave him a calm and balanced mind, I heard that the second had been committed to a mental hospital.

Passing paramedics spotted my flatmate meditating on the footpath of Swanston Street and called the police. Recently he had been suffering from psychosis tinged with Buddhist altruism and had come to the conclusion that moving through the world ‘killed molecules’. He would suddenly freeze, mid-stride, to avoid colliding with nearby atoms. When the police found him he was rooted to the sidewalk, gawking at his own shadow.

I didn’t find out about his episode until returning from an interview with Mr Siladasa, the chairman of Melbourne Buddhists Centre, days later. During the session Siladasa, a respected neurologist, had spoken eloquently about the benefits of meditation. He was lucid, logical, sane and happy. How could the same technique have contributed to both mental states?

The woman I remember

Visible Ink

AFTER passing through throngs of poor Chinese outside the station and negotiating queues of rich Chinese in the ticket hall, you and I finally make it onto the train platform, which is crowded with both groups. Men, women and children are packed so tightly together they have become one seething mass of human flesh.

I imagine this entity as a person who is both male and female, old and young. The person is wearing a rich man’s jacket and a schoolgirl’s dress. Begrimed beggar’s fingers protrude from sleeves adorned with gold cufflinks. One of the person’s thighs is brown and cracked, desiccated like a dried-up riverbed, and the other is milky-white and youthful. The person’s skin is wrinkled under the chin and taut on the cheeks.

A train screeches into the station. We become swept up in the tide of bodies clambering for the carriage door. Somehow, we keep our heads above the surface of jostling shoulders, paddle past the flailing limbs and make it onto the train without being crushed alive.

I look at your shocked expression and know what you’re thinking. I had the same thought the first time I found myself part of a desperate mob in China. How can there be this many arms and legs in the one place? This many kicking feet, jabbing elbows and clawing hands?

As we fight our way to the dining carriage I note that you have not yet complained about the constant shoving. I broach the subject, almost apologising on China’s behalf. Rudeness is a necessity here, I explain. With so many people competing for so few resources, one needs to be pushy to survive. Politeness is a luxury enjoyed in rich and roomy nations.

A boy scampers past carrying a bowl of steaming noodles. Suddenly he slips, sending pasta tendrils snaking across the linoleum floor. From the volume of his crying, I assume he won’t be getting another bowl tonight. I know that you have a spare noodle packet and, given the circumstances, I expect you to hand it to him. Instead, your head morphs into a carnival clown’s and the carriage booms with cackling.

That was an extract from the full story, available here.

Dark day for solar

Eureka Street

THE sun beats down upon the necks and arms of 200 people facing a brick building by the banks of Melbourne’s Yarra River. The rays don’t seem to worry the onlookers. The sun’s power is, after all, the reason they’re here.

The building houses Solar Systems, a company that was, until recently, developing a way to put sunlight to good use. A world leader in its field, the renewable energy start-up spent 15 years and $150 million designing and demonstrating a 154-megawatt solar farm in Mildura that would have produced electricity for 45,000 homes.

Then the dark day came.

Policy, not prejudice, is the problem

ON LINE Opinion

IT sounds strange, but the attacks on Indian students in Australia really should have made for boring headlines. Despite the media reports of “curry bashings”, the true culprit wasn’t prejudice bubbling to the surface, but policy buried deep in our bureaucracies. Laws and regulations are to blame, and they need to be subjected to the same scrutiny as the spineless thugs who punched, kicked and stabbed their way into the limelight.

Buy our brown coal! Now cleaning up on eBay

Crikey

ACCORDING to recent reports, the Brumby government plans to export brown coal to India. For those who don’t know, brown coal is one of the most emissions-intensive ways to generate electricity  — even more polluting than oil, gas or black coal. The Brumby government is desperate to capitalise on Victoria’s abundant coal reserves before a global emissions treaty or carbon price takes effect. After that happens, burning brown coal will be socially unacceptable and considerably more expensive.

But isn’t there a simpler way to offload the stuff? After all, how do most people get rid of a dodgy product in a hurry? They auction it on eBay, of course.

So that’s what I’ve done.

The new generation of readers

Harvest

I’M a writer who can’t read. When I plunge into a novel, I don’t stay submerged in the fictional world for long. After a few minutes some snag in the text will deliver me back to the present, and I’ll find myself staring at the page, confused. Sometimes I’ll feel a sudden need to check my email or send a text message, watch television. Reading makes me restless, thirsty for fresh stimulation.

I can’t believe it’s not coal!

New Matilda

STEP right up folks, and witness the amazing energy-producing properties of Chocolate-Coloured Fossilised Carbon! See how this ancient substance magically turns black and vanishes under increased temperature! Marvel as a beautiful Dioxide Mist materialises before your very eyes!

What will the Victorian Government come up with next to describe the process of burning brown coal?

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