Helen Briton Wheeler

An Overview from Down Under - Helen is a retired journalist living in Sydney, Australia. She will be bringing the NFP readers regular comments on current social, environmental and political topics from an Aussie's perspective.

Monday, 08 November 2010 00:00 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler

Hillary Clinton flew in to Australia a couple of days ago and my country is consequentially embarking on a delicate balancing act that would challenge a world-class gymnast.

We’re just a medium-sized nation, with long-standing ties to the US, notably a major defence alliance, trade and cultural ties and plain good friendship that goes back over many years.

We’ve also had good relations with China over many years. Australian business, cultural ties and friendship with China has been building for decades and, now that China is in economic boom times, a good part of our economy is tied up with selling resources to China.

The fact is that both the US and China are very important to people in Australia. And that’s why we’re on the balance bar.

Thursday, 30 September 2010 00:00 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler

Self interest as a fundamental of natural selection is seen by scholars as a root of evolution. As such, it is a vital life force. A reliable motive to produce good change. But is this universally so? Is there a balancing factor involved? I argue that there is.

In personal terms, self interest can steer people towards getting a higher education, going all out for a better job and making more money to provide for their families. It can motivate people to take better care of their health. All those are excellent outcomes. So Tick One for self interest as Friend.

However, it was also rampant self interest that led to a dangerous glut of sub-prime mortgages, the on-selling of risk (carefully disguised) and the global financial crisis. Tick One for self interest as Foe.

Monday, 27 September 2010 00:00 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler

If you want peace (and who doesn’t) please take the steps that lead to peace. As I watched on my TV news while Israeli settlers danced about celebrating the end of the freeze on settlement building, as their blue and white balloons ascended into the cloudless sky, I wanted to cry out in despair.

How is it that they can be so happily taking the steps that lead towards resentment, human misery and possibly war? How can they be so obdurately blind to the obvious?

Peace can only come with justice. Peace means living harmonious lives beside their Palestinian neighbours. Peace means treating Palestinians with respect.

While I was watching, one of the settlers talked about land titles (as these settlements are illegal according to international agreement). He held aloft a copy of the Bible and proclaimed it the greatest land title in the world.

Monday, 30 August 2010 00:00 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler

Surely we’ve reached the stage of Information Dyspepsia. Thanks to that old movie Midnight Cowboy, and Harry Nilsson’s haunting lyrics, ‘Everybody’s talking at me, I don’t hear a word they’re saying …’ are turning in my brain.

We’ve had information overload for a while – the term was popularised in the 1970s by Alvin Toffler in his landmark book Future Shock. More recent researchers agree: we all take in so much stuff these days that we don’t have time to think it through. We’re not digesting it!

Instead, pressured, busy, confused, we brush it all away with cynicism and anger. “Information out the door, can’t be dealing with you,” is our mental response. We have Information Dyspepsia.

Thursday, 29 July 2010 00:00 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler

Asylum seekers being detained by Australia at a high security camp in NauruMigration has been going on since our ancestors walked out of Africa some 100,000 years ago. Some of them probably took to the dirt track looking for food (economic need), some might have been fleeing danger or warfare (they were refugees).

They spread around the globe, creating civilisations, human history and the whole gamut of human achievement. Our world history is that of migration. So today’s population movements are no new things, they are human history in the making.

And with immigration in the headlines again, I think some people are becoming needlessly afraid. Yes, it’s a complex issue; and yes, it’s global. But it’s also very human and individual.

Tuesday, 06 July 2010 00:00 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler

altYes, I’ll need earplugs, because I reckon the vuvuzela is here to stay. I don’t know this for sure, of course, and neither does anyone else. However, I think that, like toothpaste, we can’t put vuvuzelas “back in the tube”. My guess is that exuberant fans will want to buzz and blow those plastic horns to their hearts’ content, expressing their brimming enthusiasm, and that from now on our sports stadiums will sound like over-inflated bee hives. Even from a very long distance.

It’s great to see people in high spirits. And it’s wonderful to see African people expressing their joy at hosting the football world cup. There’s a refreshing exuberance and pride on display and we should all celebrate that.

However, the vuvzelas have their downsides. You can hardly hear a darned thing, for example. I’m not writing this from South Africa, but watching football matches on television here in Sydney, Australia. 


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