Spreading it around: why cruise lines ban sick people

It seems like a case of damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Here’s a news story about a cruise line that’s under fire because it ruined a family’s holiday when it refused to allow two sick children to board.

Serenade of the Seas (Royal Caribbean)

And yet the same web site — and many others — regularly runs stories (such as this and this) about large numbers of passengers whose holidays are ruined because they got norovirus (“gastro” in Australian headline-writing parlance) on cruise ships.

Continue reading Spreading it around: why cruise lines ban sick people

It’s time for a inquiry into internet data roaming prices

Telstra, the Australian telecommunications giant, has just announced a A$10-a-day roaming package for travellers to 57 countries.

Before we break out the champagne to celebrate such a groundbreaking deal, can I be allowed to point out — in fact, shout out — that this is still outrageous and unacceptably high given what’s on offer?

Continue reading It’s time for a inquiry into internet data roaming prices

We want affordable wi-fi!

There is one area where the hospitality industry has struggled (or is unwilling) to keep up and be competitive: the provision of internet services.

It is ridiculous in this day and age that some hotels, airlines and cruise ships offer near-extortionate prices for internet access (which, according to the United Nations, is a basic human right, no less).

Continue reading We want affordable wi-fi!

Reality TV bites

If you’ve ever watched one of those “fly on the wall” television shows set in airports and wondered why some people — especially those who do something foolish or illegal — would allow themselves to be a part of it all, this might be a clue.

This sign was spotted at an Australian airport recently, and I find the wording quite interesting.

Continue reading Reality TV bites

Where to find the best 4G

Where in the world would you expect to get the better 4G mobile coverage: Romania or Great Britain?

4G or 3G? That is the question

The answer might surprise you: it’s not Britain, According to the National Infrastructure Commission, the United Kingdom has worse coverage than Romania, Peru and Panama.

Continue reading Where to find the best 4G

Have you heard about quarantine?

Many people will be aware of this video made by American actor Johnny Depp and his now-ex-wife Amber Heard about Australia’s strict quarantine laws.

The video was made as part of a deal when the couple faced charges for brining their dogs, Pistol and Boo, into Australia illegally. Their awakwardness is probably explained by the deteriorating relationship between the couple, but it also may indicate a lack of commitment to the words they are speaking.

Continue reading Have you heard about quarantine?

Review: Ibis Styles, Singapore

Ibis Styles on Macpherson
June 2016

I chose to stay at this hotel for a very simple reason: it was the cheapest  room I could find online among my preferred brands.


I was looking for a relaxing stay in a no-hassle place. I’d already chosen Singapore as my destination because of the excellent business-class deal I secured from Oman Air, and the knowledge that I’d be comfortable with my surroundings.

The Styles came in at about S$128 (US$95.50) a night for bed and breakfast. Continue reading Review: Ibis Styles, Singapore

Riddle me this, Batman


Bat Cave from TV Series
The Bat Cave from the 1960s TV series


It seemed like good idea at the time. I woke up about 1am with an urgent compulsion to write down a brilliant idea for a blog post.

Except that it wasn’t that brilliant and, as I should’ve expected, it certainly wasn’t original. Still, I think it’s worth sharing.

I must have been dreaming about Batman and how it was that his alter-ego Bruce Wayne could’ve built the bat cave  under Wayne Manor without anybody knowing it was there.

Even if it was a natural cave in the first place, somebody would have had to build the access slides/lifts and fit the place out with all the tech equipment and furniture. Not to mention the expertise needed to design and build all the bat gadgets and vehicles.

Certainly it was too big a job for Wayne to undertake,  even if he had the help of his elderly butler and only confidante Alfred Pennyworth. More recent tellings of the story add Lucius Fox to the Batman circle, but even if you throw in him and Robin, the boy wonder, that’s hardly a construction crew.

A quick Google search revealed that I was not the first person to have this thought, nor was I the first to speculate that Wayne had copied a page from the Pharaohs’ playbook and had the place built by slaves who were then entombed and left to die so they could not share its secrets. (Cracked addresses the details here.)

A few other theories are floating around. One that’s vaguely plausible is that Batman, rather than Bruce Wayne, commissioned the bat cave, and ensured that the workers were blindfolded on their way to and from the construction site so they didn’t know where it was.

Or, then again, maybe he got Superman to build it for him.

Whose (Doctor) Who?

Peter Capaldi in Doctor Who
Peter Capaldi in Doctor Who (BBC)


I stopped watching the American sitcom Two and a Half Men just after Charlie Sheen left the show in 2011.

Sheen may have been a pain in several body parts at the same time to the show’s creator, cast and crew but, to my mind, his character was the heart of the show. And Sheen is, in my opinion, a much better actor than Ashton Kutcher who replaced him in the series.

I also felt that the scripts had deteriorated from diverting, above-average sitcom fare with plausible plots into excuses for stringing together a series of crude jokes.

Anyway, as I say, my solution to not liking the show was to switch it off.

My favourite program right now — in fact, my only “must-see” TV — is the British sci-fi drama Doctor Who.

While the occasional episode makes me cringe, I’m generally enjoying the show, the characters and the direction in which it is going.

Others disagree.

I understand that long-time viewers of Doctor Who, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, feel some form of ownership over it, and have quite fixed ideas of what it should be about, how the central character should be played, what sort of stories should be told, and whether those stories fit into the canon.

Most of the online criticism I see — and some of it is quite venomous — is directed at showrunner Steven Moffat. Clearly a some people don’t like the direction in which he has taken the show, and they have taken to social media to say so.

Week after week, they deconstruct the latest episode and spell out exactly where Moffat has one wrong and why they hate them so much.

It would be much simpler for those people to stop watching. Unless you are paid to do so — as increasingly fewer people are — watching a show you don’t like is a bit like continuing to hit your head against a brick wall long after you’ve established that it hurts.

I know this is not particularly sophisticated advice, but it seems to me that some people just don’t get it.

I have a little list


Despite their apparent omnipresence on the interwebs, listicles are not a new thing. When I first went to work in the UK, every mid- and downmarket tabloid newspaper was running daily items such as “15 things you didn’t know about Jimmy Saville” (although they missed out the really important one).

I don’t think they were called listicles then, but they were a staple of journalism because the editors knew that the readers liked them. Oh, and they were (and are) very easy and cheap to compile (except that the researchers had to used the newspaper’s clippings library to find their facts rather than Google).

If only they’d have devised a way of making people buy more than one copy of the paper to find out the next fun fact, which is essentially what websites do know by requiring you to click through to the next page for another meaty morsel.

Anyway, it got me thinking about what kind of clickbait headings I might use if I lowered myself to the level of running regular little lists.

Here are some off the top of my head:

Ten celebrities you don’t give a damn about any more

Twenty foods that will make you even fatter

Seven sex positions that will send you straight to hospital

Thirty-five excuses for not going straight home tonight

Eighteen people you wouldn’t spit on if they were on fire

Eleven countries you never knew existed — and one that doesn’t any more

Three things you’ll have forgotten by this time tomorrow

Fourteen places you may have left your car keys

Six billion people who don’t even know you exist



The future is not free

Doctor Who from the BBC
Doctor Who from the BBC

Back in March, 2012, I wrote a few articles on my former blog about how we will consume television shows and films in the future, noting that the free-to-air television stations were living on borrowed time.

Now that was before Netflix and other streaming services  had taken a hold in Australia (which was my specific market of reference then), but there were already all sorts of offerings on cable, satellite and the internet that seemed a lot more interesting to me than what the free-to-air (FTA) networks were offering.

The day after I tackled the subject, I received a confidential message from somebody who worked in the television industry.

Noting that “fatal decay” in broadcast television had begun many years ago, my correspondent noted : “Who wouldn’t rather order from a menu?”

As I wrote then: the food analogy is a useful one, but I’d employ it differently. I’d say, who would want to choose from a limited menu when there’s a whole smorgasbord to be enjoyed? Oh, and not everybody wants to eat at the same time, and no matter how good the chef is, we don’t always want to eat at the same restaurant.

This is why, even with the greater flexibility offered by having extra digital channels, free-to-air television can’t compete with pay-TV, let alone the internet.

This is a global phenomenon. At the moment, network production resources are largely devoted to sport, news and current affairs, and reality TV. That’s a good thing for short-term ratings results but, in general, these programs have a very short “shelf life”, meaning limited returns in terms of repeat fees.

To survive, networks  must focus on being production houses first, and broadcasters second. The BBC, for example, is constantly under threat of having its budget slashed through the reduction (or ultimate elimination) of the licence fee that Britons pay to support it. Its ultimate lifeline will be its vast back catalogue of quality drama and comedy — including the likes of Fawlty Towers, Black Adder, (the original) House of Cards, Bleak House and so many more —  its ongoing role as producer of such shows as Doctor Who and Sherlock, which are popular beyond the UK, and its international news, entertainment and documentary channels.

If other broadcasters are not out there seeking fresh talent — starting with writers who can produce great scripts — and prepared to take a punt on drama and comedy, then they are signing their own death warrants.

Ultimately, even material produced by what are now the FTA networks will appear first on paid-for platforms. FTA TV will be a wasteland of repeats with little or no marketable value, or with some appeal to particular advertisers (think of a supermarket chain sponsoring a cooking channel).

There may be a few people who are prepared to wait until the content they want to see to appear on FTA, but most of us will opt to pay for what we want to see, as long as we can see it now. Right now.

Sticks and stones

We all face criticism in life. The healthiest thing to do, of course, is to brush it off. But sometimes it gets a bit too much.

I’m thinking about a situation about four years ago when a television program dedicated 12 minutes of its one-hour running time in an attempt to eviscerate me over a few tweets I’d exchanged with the show’s host.

All is fair, I thought, until a young woman co-host, who I’d never met, started making comments about what my reaction might be to seeing her on the screen. I won’t repeat what was said, but it was highly defamatory.

I was encouraged to take legal action, but I didn’t because I knew that to do so would only draw attention to a show on a community station that had a very small audience. Better to do nothing than to give publicity to somebody who didn’t deserve it.

I was reminded of this tonight while reading some comments on a Facebook post linking to this piece I wrote about the shrinking size of airline seats. (Please read it and let me know what you think.)

Here’s the comment:

Facebook comment
Facebook comment

Now, I don’t know who Ian Staples is, and I really can’t complain about being called a “fatty singleton” in any jurisdiction where truth alone is a defence against libel.

But I do buckle at being called a “moron” by somebody who makes a plural by using an apostrophe.



He really likes me!


One of the great delights of social media is the (albeit slim) opportunity of directly engaging with somebody famous.

When I first signed up for Twitter, I followed Stephen Fry and was absolutely delighted that he followed me back — although I later found that, at the time, he followed everybody back and the process was probably automated.

A little while ago, I had a short Twitter conversation with Sally Thomsett, who was my schoolboy crush when she starred as Jo in the British sitcom Man About the House.

And last night, I got a retweet from Danny John-Jules, who plays the Cat in sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf and policeman Dwayne Myers in Death in Paradise.

Is my virtual life complete, or are there other celebs to stalk?

Lessons from Lehrer

I’ve had satire on my mind for the past few days, which led me to write this piece about why this particular type of humour can fall flat in the Arab world.

In the course of my discussion of the history of satire, I mentioned Tom Lehrer, a particular favourite of mine.

Space then didn’t permit me to discuss his contribution in more detail.

Lehrer came to prominence as an undergraduate in the mid 1940s with a parody song, Fight Fiercely Harvard. He went on to sell self-funded records on campus.

Within a decade, he’s become something of a sensation, and by the early 1960s, he was appearing on the cabaret stages of the world singing such songs as Poisoning Pigeons in the Park and The Masochism Tango.

It is widely believed that Lehrer came unstuck when he dared to send up Dr Werner von Braun, the German rocket scientist who might have faced war crimes charges had he — and many others — not been whisked away to America to work on what would become the space program that eventually took the good guys to the moon.

Lehrer’s statement that von Braun’s “allegiance was ruled by expedience” became the subject of a law suit. But Lehrer wasn’t sued out of satire, he just went back to being a mild-manned maths professor.

Thankfully, he left behind a wonderful legacy of satirical songs, including The Vatican Rag (about the Vatican 2 reforms of the Catholic Church), Be Prepared (about the Boy Scouts) and I Got it From Agnes (about venereal disease).

His songbook even inspired a musical, Tomfoolery.

Enjoy the videos above and below and, if please Google Tom Lehrer to seek out more about him and more of his material.

Official: Pope is Catholic



When I was a journalism student, I had to write about the meaning of “news”. There are plenty of definitions out there, but the handiest one seemed to be “something that you didn’t know yesterday”.

Of course, it’s an incomplete answer because there are many things we didn’t know yesterday that are so mundane that we have no interest in knowing them at all.

A more complete definition might also include something about the event being relevant to the audience, or being somehow unusual or unexpected. For example, a car accident down the street from where I live is more interesting to me than an equivalent event in a town in Armenia, but for an Armenian person it may be the other way around. However, if the car accident in Armenia involved a Volvo being driven by a chimpanzee and a semi-trailer carrying a load of bananas, then we’d both be interested.

The problem with journalism is that you can’t just sit around waiting for the news to come to you. Unless you work for one of those aggregation sites that merely put a spin on stories already published on the web and wire services, you have to go out and find the news for yourself.

And that involves going to places where you anticipate that something newsworthy will emerge: say, local council meetings, speeches by dignitaries or courts of law. And, of course, sporting fixtures.

It is, again for example, only natural that the media would cover a sermon by the Pope. And so, every so often, we get news stories the Pope calling for peace, love and harmony. Occasionally, especially, with the current pope, we get something considered a little left-field, which tends to suggest he supports a few causes that popes are generally shy to talk about. But, more often than not, it’s generally pretty much the same, worthy thing, and it gets a good run online, in newspapers and on news bulletins. That’s often because anything associated with the Catholic church generally lends to good visuals — they sure know how to put on a colourful show, with lots of ceremony, bling and interesting costumes — but it’s also because it would be a waste of resources if they didn’t run something they’d spent a lot of time in effort in covering.

In other words, you know you’ll be in the news when you call a media conference and the media actually turn up. (And you know you’re yesterday’s news when, as the former Queensland premier Campbell Newman did recently, you hold a book signing and nobody turns up.)

As much as covering speeches and council meetings are a journalist’s bread and butter (or they used to be when there were enough journalists to do these things in every city and town), the stories you get from these events are generally not exciting in the same way as a big, unexpected incident that has you scrambling to the scene.

Well, for most journalists, anyway. There’s always the (probably apocryphal) story about the student reporter who returned to the newsroom after being assigned to cover a council meeting. “Where’s the story?” the editor asked. “There is no story,” the reporter replied, “they had to call off the meeting because the building burnt down.”

A brief earlier version of this post appeared on debritz.net in April, 2006

Sorting fact from fiction



Like millions of children of my generation, the one before it, and the ones since, I’ve watched thousands of hours of cartoons, live-action television shows and movies in which the characters have died in the most awful ways.

It has not inspired me, or the vast majority of others who consumed this material, to take a weapon to another person.

Yet, every so often, we hear somebody wanting to ban or censor violent TV shows or video games because of the damage they supposedly do to youngsters.

In the West, a cartoon is probably the closest a child is going to get to a death, other than the demise of a family pet. In some parts of the world, children are experiencing the deaths of others — friends, parents, neighbours — on a daily basis.

As the much-publicised perversities of the so-called Islamic State (ISIL/ Daesh/ ISIS; call them anything) have shown, what happens in real life is worse than anything any animator could imagine.

Kids of my age knew it wasn’t not real when Wyle E Coyote was squashed by a rock, then squeezed out from under it, dusted himself off and wrote off to the ACME company for some other device with which to fail to capture the Road Runner. Just as children now know, that as crude as they are, the situations in video games are just imaginary.

To think censoring films and television programs beyond the restrictions already in place will magically solve schoolyard violence is, at best, naive and at worst dangerously misguided. Good parenting and good schooling will make a difference, though.

The challenge for parents and teachers, however, is when and how to tell children that the footage they see on the television news, or on YouTube, of the obscenities committed in war and terror attacks are real, and that poverty and disease do exist.

Harder still will be the discussion about how this genuine threat may encroach on their own lives unless all generations and nationalities act now to stop it.

An earlier version of this article appeared on debritz.net in 2006

That’s easy for you to say

One of the first things I learned in newspapers is that an editor should not pay an undue amount of attention to the content of the letters page. Mostly, I was told (and later discovered for myself), they were written by the same people grinding the same axes, and they were in no way indicative of the consensus of the general (or targetted) public.

The fact though was that, if you wrote to the newspaper enough, the chances were that you’d get published often and your opinion would be given disproportionate prominence.

The same is true of callers to talk radio — ring in a lot and, especially if you’re provocative or a bit simple (so they can poke fun of you), or it’s a slow time of day, you’ll get to air. In the online world, there is often no filter: post a lot of comments and no matter how awful, inane or inflammatory they are, they will all appear.

In my experience of many different papers on three continents,  letters to the editor are read carefully and edited by professional journalists who understand the laws of defamation, contempt of court and sub-judice, and have a fairly well-honed sense of what is appropriate and fair, and what isn’t. Many papers also go to the effort of confirming the  identity of the writer by phoning them.

On radio, producers vet callers before they go to air, and “live” broadcasts are on a 5-to-7-second delay, meaning the announcer, producer or panel operator can press a “kill” button if things get out of hand and the offending words won’t be heard by the listeners.

But all this is falling apart. The sheer volume of comments on many websites mean they are often published unmoderated, with the publishers hoping that other readers will draw their attention to inappropriate comments.

Now, however, many reputable media organisations — newspapers and broadcasters — are simply turning comments off altogether. About a year ago, CNN announced that it was phasing comments out, saying this was in line with other prominent websites including Reuters, Popular Science and the Chicago Sun-Times. This past week, the Toronto Sun and its sister papers have also announced that they will be shutting down comments on most of their websites.

Part of the explanation for the CNN move was was the much of the online discussion had moved to social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. But it was also an economic and legally savvy mood. No need to employ moderators, and no need to worry about being sued for something written by a troll who is using the comment section to launch, often vicious, personal abuse at the writer, or the people mentioned in the article.

From where I’m sitting now, though, getting trolled is the least of my problems. As with any personal blog, the key is getting enough attention first.

(This post builds on an argument I first made online in August 2011.)


Past imperfect


Advisory: I am not a scientist, so it’s entirely possible that I have this all wrong.

I occasionally bore people with a story about a discussion I once had with an old friend about something that happened to us when we were much younger.

The intriguing thing, to me at least, was that she and I remembered the details very differently. Neither of us had a reason to remember it differently — in neither version was it an incident that put either of us in a bad light — but we did. Had it been a matter of consequence, which is wasn’t, we could have both sworn in a court of law that our version of events was the correct one.

But how could this be, that two sensible people without agendas, had recollections that were entirely at odds?

In this piece in the Huffington Post, Dr Robert Lanza says some scientists are now suggesting that the past is not a fixed thing, and that whether things actually occurred in the past may depend on events in the future.

Imagine the ramifications of this — and not just for the scriptwriters of Doctor Who. For example, that lie you told the wife about what you were doing last night may not have been a lie, because the past isn’t set in stone.

On a more serious level, a person convicted of and punished for a crime may, in fact, prove to be innocent once the past is properly played out. Perhaps those thought dead may, in fact, turn out to be alive. It’s intriguing, and scary stuff.

But wait, there’s more. Some scientists believe in the theory of parallel universes. And some people have taken this to mean that there are multiple, perhaps infinite, but different versions of our “reality” out there — in which case, presumably, there are many pasts and many futures.

This creates a whole new raft of mindblowing possibilities. As Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory puts it: “You know, it just occurred to me, if there are an infinite number of parallel universes, in one of them, there’s probably a Sheldon who doesn’t believe parallel universes exist.”

Or, as I put it, “There’s a Brett out there who’s having a lot more fun than me. And I’m envious.”

(An earlier — or, perhaps, later — version of this post may have appeared on debritz.net in January 2012)

The wrong stuff



Exactly what do you think you are doing, Brett? If only I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that.

The most recent was yesterday, when a colleague asked me why I am writing this blog. The answer I gave was that it was to exercise my writing muscles, to write about things that wouldn’t have a place in the newspaper I work for, and to stretch my brain in different directions.

In the course of a working week, I commission and edit opinion pieces about world events and politics, and I write editorials about all manner of, mostly serious, matters.

This blog is my space for relaxation, a sandbox where I can attempt to discover a different voice that may eventually propel me in a new direction. Subject and style-wise, it may be all over the place, but there is some method to this madness.

As part of this process, I’ve been thinking about what it is that makes certain commentators, be they newspaper columnists, radio “shock jocks” or  television pundits, more popular than others.

If only, many a writer has thought recently, I could be as successful as Katie Hopkins, the former British reality TV star whose column has just been poached by the Daily Mail from The Sun.

Make no mistake, Hopkins and her like are not being paid for sober, well-considered analysis of world events. They are being paid to provoke people — to promote a certain type of extreme public opinion. The people who agree with her lap it up, and a surprisingly large number of people who hate what she is saying are nonetheless addicted to hearing her say it.

So: how to become the next Katie Hopkins — or, Bill O’Reilly or Alan Jones or Andrew Bolt or Jeremy Clarkson?

The first trick, I’ve been told, is to be able to say things you don’t actually believe. Or, at least, to amplify the things you do believe (or ideas you sometimes toy with) to the point that they get attention. And this idea goes back a long way.

In his 1729 pamphlet A Modest Proposal For preventing the children of poor people in Ireland, from being a burden on their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the publick – 1729, generally referred to just as A Modest Proposal, Jonathan Swift argued that the poor should eat their babies. Now, Dr Swift was not really advocating cannibalism among the lower classes, but he sure got a lot of attention — for himself and for the issue he was writing about — by saying so. Nearly 300 years later, A Modest Proposal remains on the reading lists for many university writing courses.

Katie Hopkins is no Jonathan Swift. When she calls the thousands of Syrian refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean on leaky boats and find a safe haven in Europe “cockroaches”, and claims the famous photos of the dead toddler, Aylan Kurdi, were staged, it’s not clear whether she believes it or not. If she does believe it, then I pity her for lacking a human soul. Like Swift, she’s saying it just to get attention, but unlike Swift’s readers, her core audience is likely to buy into her one-dimensional, send- ’em back-to-where-they-came-from argument than actively contemplate the issue and possible solutions to it.

The great thing about being Katie Hopkins is that you don’t have to do anything about the world’s problems, except moan about them in an attention-grabbing manner. But you do have to learn how to sleep soundly at night.

As for me, I’m happy to noodle about here as a means of self discovery and, I hope, provide some entertainment or food for thought for others.