Friday, 27 February 2015

Build a mosque?

A row has erupted over plans to build a mosque in the northern suburbs of the city. It has gone from the usual not too publicised concerns about traffic and noise to a full blown scare campaign. People simply don't want it there. 
The idea frightens some, angers others and disturbs many more. I  hold something called the "Australian Defence League" responsible for much of the fear mongering.  The ADL is an ultra right wing organisation. It is not large but it is in danger of growing larger. It is anti-Islam and anti a good many other things as well. 
But I was talking to a Muslim acquaintance yesterday and she said, "We're to blame too."
I was surprised and perhaps even a bit shocked by that statement. She tends to fiercely defend such things and blame others for anti-Islam sentiments. 
But then she went on to say, "We haven't been doing enough to make ourselves heard. The trouble is that other people think we're all about the stuff you see on TV. They don't know what it's like to be Muslim and have people avoid you in the street."
Yes, I suppose people do avoid her on the street. She wears the hijab. It's enough these days. It marks you out. She believes she "must" wear it - that she doesn't have a choice. I once tried, gently, to tell her that there was a difference between "must" and "want". I tried to explain that the law here does not require it. She simply didn't understand that. Her fear won't let her understand that. 
And that fear troubles me because it will spill over into other things. She will believe many other things she is told too - just as other people in other faiths will be coerced into "believing" through fear. 
I did not argue with her this time. I doubt anything I could have said then or could say in the future would change her attitude.
But I did leave a message for another Muslim I regard as a friend. I told her of the conversation and said that this young woman seemed a bit down.
This morning there was the response. "Thanks. I'll do something about it."
I am grateful to my friend because, although I didn't say it, we both know that these sort of concerns and attitudes can lead to bigger concerns and stronger attitudes. 
I don't know what it is like to be Muslim or Jewish or wear a sari or be avoided  because of the colour of my skin. I have experienced discrimination in other ways but perhaps it is not the same so I can't comment. 
What I can do is not avoid such person. I can listen to them and their concerns. I don't have to agree over something like "must" wear the hijab but I can at least try to understand why someone feels that way. 

Thursday, 26 February 2015

I too have lost confidence in

Professor Gillian Triggs. For those of you in Upover Professor Triggs is the President of the Human Rights Commission. I have lost confidence in the Human Rights Commission too. I have the lead letter in the national newspaper this morning saying this - and I imagine I will be strongly criticised for saying it. This will be good - but only if it makes people think
The roles of the HRC are many and varied. One of those role is to support the government of the day by offering advice about human rights and warning the government when those rights are breached or might be breached. The role of the HRC with respect to the government of the day goes no further than that.
It is not the role of the HRC or the President of the HRC to be partisan, to deliberately criticise or undermine government policy simply because there is a difference of opinion in how policy is implemented. Nor is it the role of the HRC to inform one side of politics and not the other or delay giving information or reports on spurious grounds designed to benefit or harm government, especially in a partisan manner. Furthermore it is not the role of the HRC to give or repeat false information in an attempt to change government policy. 
The Human Rights Commission is supposed to be an independent statutory body. I got howled down for saying it was also there to support the government. I was told I didn't know anything about the HRC or how it worked or what it was supposed to do. 
Sorry. I am right. The HRC is there to support the government of the day in the role I have outlined above. It is there to ensure the government does not breach human rights. That is a supporting role. It is not lead role. The lead role belongs to the government of the day. 
The HRC's role is not to set out government policy. The HRC may criticise that policy if it breaches human rights. The HRC may not criticise it simply because it does not like government policy. 
And that is the problem. Professor Triggs appears to have gone a step too far. She has allegedly  been partisan. 
She also made claims, particularly about children in detention, which were not substantiated. That is not to say that children should be in detention. They shouldn't. However to suggest that they were not being offered adequate care and attention was wrong. 
By deliberately refusing to retract her claims about children in detention Triggs is also them as pawns. That is unacceptable.
Triggs met with the previous government when it was in caretaker mode. She did not meet the opposition. She allegedly advised the government of the contents of the report she had written but she did not advise the opposition.  She then allegedly delayed formally handing the report to the present government on the grounds that she was reporting on a ten year cycle. There is no such cycle but, by the time present government received the report it was seriously out of date. By then the government had also done much to resolve the matters she brought up. 
The present government is most definitely not blameless. No government is. But when a government does not get the support it should get from an independent statutory body then there is a bigger problem.  When the head of that body would appear to be acting in a partisan manner then the problem grows even bigger. 
And when that statutory body is the one which deals with human rights then human rights themselves are at risk. Triggs, for all the support she has been given by powerful voices of the same political persuasion as herself, has damaged the role of the HRC. We have to hope the damage is not irreparable. 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

So Eddie Redmayne

won an Oscar for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in "The theory of everything". No, I haven't seen the film yet - and the way things are going I may not get to see it until it comes out as a DVD and I can watch it at some obscure hour. 
But the news of the win of course was sent out over the media within moments of it being announced. And, with it, came some of the most vile comments on social media and websites like the Guardian. 
Yes, I looked. I have no interest in the Oscars but I was alerted to the comments by others who were, rightly, disturbed by the responses to the award. They were disturbed for the right reasons. It was not about whether Eddie Redmayne could act or not - although, of those who have seen the film, the general consensus was that he could act and that he had done an outstanding job. That was coming from people who have ALS, know people with ALS and work with people who have ALS. It also came from other people who have severe or profound communication issues. They were, rightly, angry at the response in the media.
They were angry with the idea that Redmayne got it because he portrayed a sympathy character, someone with a disability. There were suggestions that Daniel Day Lewis was equally non-deserving for his role in "My Left Foot". There were remarks about a particular disability being "flavour of the month" - and much worse.
I soon reached the point where I could not handle reading any more. It was too distressing to see people with severe and profound communication disabilities being told indirectly and even directly that there was nothing worthy about trying to portray the profound frustration of their lives as they struggle to communicate on a daily basis.
Unless you are there in that position you can have no idea what it is like not to be able to speak. I have taught  children who would never be able to speak. I have friends who depend on communication aids because they are unable to speak. My day job is about ensuring people can bridge communication barriers. Not being able to communicate is not just frustrating,  it is frightening. It takes immense courage to face the world if you aren't able to make yourself understood among people who would understand you if you could speak. It is not the same as being surrounded by people who speak a language you do not speak - although that is bad enough. When you do understand the language then not being able to speak it easily and clearly is one of the most isolating things on earth.  
If Redmayne got even a hint of that across then he has done a brilliant job. If Redmayne is half as good as Lewis then he will have deserved the Oscar. What he won't deserve and what people with communication disabilities most definitely don't deserve is people saying that the win is some sort of token nod to a pet disability that will be out of fashion next season. 

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

I banged the back of

my head with a real "thump" on Saturday morning. (I was pulling the laundry trolley inside backwards and caught the back of my heel on the mat, landed backwards and hit my head on the cupboard just outside the door.) I don't recommend banging one's head at any time but this was one of those real thumps that gave me a headache. 
I was careful for the rest of the day and Sunday. I was careful yesterday. I didn't do any energetic exercise. If the headache had persisted I would have headed for medical advice. 
I was lucky. If I was concussed - and yes, it felt like it - then it was mild. I felt stupid, sore and frustrated - and I had worried the Senior Cat. I know he worries easily but this was something to worry about. He checked on me several times during the day on Saturday. Was I feeling all right? Not dizzy? Not confused? I could see all right? 
For once, I didn't mind him asking although I wished he wasn't worrying. 
And we both agreed that contact sports where you are all too likely to get a thump on the head are foolish. Why do people do it? Middle Cat refused to let my Nephew Cats play soccer or football or rugby. Their school was not happy about this but they had to give in to the greater wisdom of someone with professional medical knowledge. They played basketball instead - and there was enough danger involved in that. They also played cricket and baseball - but, wear your helmets!
Our GP agrees. She says any game that involves banging your head against ball or person is not to be contemplated.  If there is the potential to do that she says "wear a helmet". As for boxing? Her face goes pink and she starts to splutter in fury. Why would anyone want to involve themselves in something that deliberately sets out to harm another individual and call it "sport"?
I wonder at the way in which people go back on the field when they should be off the field. I wonder at the huge financial pressure to win at all cost. I wonder when winning is more important than health and safety - and when ingesting illegal drugs in order to "perform" and break another record is considered "normal". It isn't.
And, having had the bang on the head and still having a tender patch there I really can't recommend the way you feel.
Don't do it. Stay upright and out of contact!

Monday, 23 February 2015

Australia gave Indonesia

over a billion dollars in aid when the Boxing Day tsunami hit. Some of the poorest areas of Indonesia had been devastated. They needed help and they needed it quickly. 
The government used taxpayer dollars to give most of that aid but individuals helped too. There were all the usual fund raising activities. The Senior Cat took a shawl I had just finished knitting to his church, along with a box made from rare, naturally fallen timber he had made. They were raffled off and the proceeds went off. 
I suspect that similar things happened in hundreds, if not thousands, of other places. Indonesia, a wealthy country, accepted all that aid - and much more from elsewhere. 
I lived on very little sleep for weeks as the tsunami of work rolled in. Again there must have been many other people like me. 
We didn't mind. There were people who had been left with absolutely nothing. They needed help.
Several days ago our Prime Minister got into hot water because he reminded the Indonesian government of the bond that had been forged between the two countries at the time. The Indonesians took it as a "we helped you so you shouldn't execute two drug smugglers who happen to be Australian citizens". The Prime Minister said that this was not the way his remark was intended to be taken. He was simply reminding Indonesia that the country was considered a friend and that negotiations should be able to be undertaken on that basis. Reasonable? Apparently not. Offence was taken.
The fact that offence was taken interests me. It suggests a number of things. The first is that Indonesian officials are aware that the death penalty is not acceptable in many parts of the world. They dislike being criticised for the barbaric practice of putting anyone in front of a firing squad. Delaying the process is a further form of torture but nobody dares to speak of it while, they claim, there is a glimmer of hope that the two in question won't be executed. My own guess is that the Indonesians are simply prolonging the agony hoping to get something from it for themselves.
Another thing that their taking of offence suggests is that the Indonesians are aware that most of the billions of dollars which poured into their country did not come from their fellow Muslims but from the Christian west. It's a touchy issue. 
And yes, there are issues with corruption and money being wasted. Some of the money still hasn't been spent. There are still projects which have been delayed by internal political and business interests. Many other internal problems also exist. 
And I think there is something else. I think Indonesians at the highest levels disliked the presumption that there was any sort of friendship between the two countries. Diplomacy requires the occasional statement about "friendship" but Indonesia does not see it that way. It was, quite simply, offensive to them. As neighbours we are tolerated but we are not part of the family. 
It's not a popular point of view but I believe it is an accurate assessment of Downunder's relations with the Asian region.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Why are our food

labelling laws so complex? 
Those of you in Upover may not be aware that we currently have alarm bells ringing here over the presence of the Hepatitis A virus in frozen berries that were sourced in part from China.
I try not to buy food sourced in China because I am well aware that the way they do things there is - well, different. The mother of my Chinese godchildren has warned me about this and advised against buying from there.
But, sometimes, it is inevitable that some food from dubious sources will enter our food chain. Even buying solely Downunder food would not solve the problem of potential contamination. I did buy some berries - and we have consumed them. So far we seem to be fine. I hope it stays that way. 
I bought the berries because I believed they were imported from New Zealand - where the food standards are as high as ours. But they weren't New Zealand grown. The berries were imported from China. They were mixed up with other berries from other sources and then exported to us.  So, why didn't I know? The word "China" appears nowhere on the box.
How hard is it to put the source on the box? It isn't of course. The failure to do so is about marketing - about the impression you want to give customers.
Our greengrocer is a rather remarkable man. He tries to source as much local produce as possible. If he can't get it locally then he will try to get it interstate - and only after that does he try elsewhere. And everything that is not sourced locally is labelled. If there is no label then you know it is a product of the state we live in. Otherwise it will be labelled New Zealand or USA or Mexico (garlic) or Peru (asparagus or berries). He has a small "freezer" section and the packets in there have to be clearly labelled with the source. 
Yes, he is a little more expensive than the supermarket but the quality is better and the shop is always busy. In the end I think I save money by shopping there. I waste less. 
So, if he can do it - why can't the supermarket do it? They look as if they do it but, in reality, they don't. It is just a few things like out of season lemons from the USA which get labelled. 
And all those other things on the shelves? Woolworth's, one of the two big supermarket chains here, has their "house brand".  About ten to fifteen years ago they really started pushing this. The shelves became more and more cluttered with the "WOW" brand. It was hard to find older brands on the shelves - the tried, true and trusted brands simply started to disappear.
"It's just as good," someone who works in the local Woolworth's told me.  I looked at her. I have known her for a good many years. She got a little defensive. We both know that no, some of it is not as good. It's the cheapest possible version. The bread is imported, half baked from the USA and sold as "fresh-baked" when they finish it off there. It's a small deception and one which worries me less than the failure to say where those "imported" ingredients in almost everything else come from.
I don't shop there if I can avoid it. I use the supermarket which tries to source as much local produce as possible and employs the students who need a job. It's a little more expensive - perhaps two dollars a week - but I think it's the right thing to do.
It wouldn't be hard to list the sources of origin. The simple reality is they don't want us to know. 
Why don't they want us to know? I think the Hepatitis A scare might be able to give us the answer to that.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Twitter, twitter...tweet

and tweet again. Re-tweet (RT) and modify a tweet (MT) and...well on it goes. 
Twitter is, for anyone who doesn't know it, that site where you can connect with all sorts of people by "following" them. Some of them will follow you back. The rich and famous probably won't follow you unless you happen to know them personally. It is also possible that others won't follow you either - and that you won't follow everyone who follows you. Politicians abound on Twitter. The Pope tweets - in Latin as well as other languages. Tweets can come from anywhere and in almost any language but, unless you follow the account or something is re-tweeted (passed on) then you will only see a tiny fraction of the messages sent out every minute of the day and night. 

All of the action goes on in messages of 140 characters or less. People talk, inevitably, about the weather. They talk about driving conditions, gardening, work, food and drink, television, films, books, clothes, holidays, weddings, funerals, people in the news, climate change, earthquakes, tsunamis and other disasters. Almost anything else you can think of gets a mention at some point. 
But what is the point of Twitter? Some people see no point but just recently someone tweeted and asked her fellow knitters if they could remember the name of a pattern. "Clapotis?" I tweeted back. Yes, that was it. She went ahead and found the pattern. Someone else wanted some suggestions for reading while she feeling ill. People made a wide variety of suggestions. She chose one. A male tweeted asking if anyone had any of the Duplo version of Lego for sale. Had he tried the charity shops in his area? No, but he would.  And had anyone seen the new puncture free bicycle tyres? There's rhubarb brack available for a short time from a certain baker....someone has a scholarship or a book coming out or lost their cricket match or is running a marathon for charity. There are research projects going on and requests for people to help - and even research projects about how Twitter is used, especially for people with multiple sclerosis and motor neuron disease and cerebral palsy. 
And Twitter can keep you up with the news. It helps to be "following" the right sort of accounts but even without that there will be others who will "RT" a news item. 
Of course, like anything else, there are people who abuse it. They use it to send messages that are inappropriate, vile and hate filled. They will hound people who mean no harm at all but may hold a different point of view. There are newspaper columnists who will try to belittle anyone who dares to question their research. There are "fake" accounts designed to embarrass the person they "represent" and others which are purely for publicity. Unknown people will challenge you.
Oh yes, be careful of what you say on Twitter because the most innocuous of comments will upset those with strongly held political, social or religious views. It's too easy to rapidly type in such a short response and press the send button.
But, for all that, Twitter can be fun. I have "met" some very interesting people there. I may never meet them in real life but, for someone who works at home, they are my office work mates and most of them are great fun to be with.