Friday, 28 November 2014

"Ahora contaremes doce

y nos quedamos todos quietos..." thus begins one of the poems by Pablo Neruda.
       "Now we will all sit still and count to twelve" is the way it is translated in "Extravagario" - the English version I have.
It is both a contemplation and a command.
There have been some deaths recently. The death of the cricketer Phillip Hughes at the age of 25 has made headlines around the sporting world. He was young, too young. It was a freakish accident and I would feel saddened for him and his family, Sean Abbott (the young bowler who bowled the ball which struck him) and his team mates whether they were professionals or amateurs.
A young boy has died in the US - apparently shot because he was carrying a toy gun that looked too realistic and was confused with the real thing.
PD James has died. She was 94. People will say she had a long and productive life. She was one of those highly intelligent people who had an acerbic wit and a capacity for hard work. The Senior Cat is currently reading the last book she wrote. When I told him he gave a small smile and said, "A good life." Yes, it probably was.
There has been another death here that has, curiously, gone almost unnoticed - that of a former politician in this state. Heather Southcott famously managed to retain a seat for "the Democrats" in my local electorate - at a time when everyone was sure the seat would fall to another party. Like many current and former politicians she was involved in many other things as well. She was ill for some years before her death and perhaps her departure from the public scene has meant there has been no real mention of her in the media. She was also in her 80's. People will no doubt say she had "a good life".
Of course there have been many other deaths as well - of people old and young. Many will go barely noticed except by those immediately around them. Others will still say that some of these people had "a good life".
I wonder what "a good life" really is it achieving what we want to achieve, is it "winning", is it doing things for others - or doing no harm - or making a mark on the world in some other way? Or is it, just sometimes, the ability to do what Neruda contemplates and commands? Can we just sit still for a short while and count to twelve and marvel at life itself?

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Should we get rid of the Equal Opportunity

Andrew Bolt, the columnist we love to hate, has a piece in today's paper about the Commission. More specifically, it is about the President of the Commission, Gillian Triggs.  It is also about perceived bias and the need to be rid of the Equal Opportunity Commission.
It is not the job of the President of the Equal Opportunity to display any bias. Is it fair to say that Professor Triggs does? Does the Equal Opportunity Commission actually do the job it is supposed to do?
I don't think it does.
I have to admit a certain degree of bias here. The Commission has a number of areas of interest - Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islander Social Justice headed by Mick Gooda, Age and Disability Discrimination headed by Susan Ryan, Children's Commissioner (Megan Mitchell),  Human Rights (Tim Wilson), Race Discrimination (Tim Soutphommasane) and Sex Discrimination (Elizabeth Broderick).
It wasn't until 1993 that the Commission had a Disability Discrimination Commissioner and when Elizabeth Hastings, who held the position, died there was nobody appointed in her place. There were Acting Commissioners who had other jobs. When Graeme Innes took over the job in 2005 he was also the Human Rights Commissioner. Now Susan Ryan has the responsibility along with the responsibility for Age discrimination.
In other words Disability Discrimination has never really been considered to be such a serious issue that it needed a full time, dedicated commissioner. This is despite the fact that the biggest issue facing most people with disabilities is that of communication - both individually and as a group. They need to get their message across and they often have difficulty in doing it because of their physical and intellectual limitations.
If an Equal Opportunity Commission is to do the job then it has to deal with all people equally. It should not have a political bias. Ours does. Race and Sex Discrimination and Human Rights have always taken precedence. They are important, very important - but so are the rights of people with disabilities.
And recent moves by Professor Triggs suggest that, far from behaving in an unbiased manner, she has deliberately delayed taking action on other issues so as not to embarrass the previous government. Instead she is trying to hold the present government accountable for the actions of the previous one.
Quite simply I believe the EOC has become a political body instead of an apolitical one. If it has then it cannot work because it will not allow equal opportunities for all - particularly for those who lack the capacity to stand up for themselves.
It may be time we ditched the Commission and found new ways to communicate injustices. I hope they prove me wrong. 

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

It seems cricket is becoming a violent

and dangerous game.
As any regular reader of my witterings is aware I am not very interested in sport. Not in the least interested might be a more accurate description - apart from the faintest interest in the psychology of cricket. (It seems to me that cricket is quite unlike any other sport in its individual/team focus.)
However, the news that yet another cricketer had been critically injured by a hard ball bowled at massive speed does disturb me. It should disturb any right-minded person.
Cricket used to be seen as a sort of gentleman's game. There is still a lingering suggestion that cricket should be played on the village green. Afternoon tea - with cucumber sandwiches - should be served. The weather should be fine. The teams should be evenly matched. I am sure you know the sort of thing I mean.
Or perhaps cricket should be what is played in summer in the back streets and alleys of suburbia. There should be long afternoons of arguing about whether someone was "out" - and who was going to climb the fence to rescue the ball from the garden of the house with the dog.
Perhaps cricket is still played on the village green in England. I don't know. It was never really played like that here. The cricket pitches of Downunder tend to be dry and dusty and surrounded by scrubby gum trees and bull ants. It tends to be hot and the coolers tend to be filled with beer rather than tea.
Children rarely play cricket in the back streets and alleys now. If they play cricket at all it is done "properly" under adult supervision. They are "taught" to bat and to bowl and to catch - and made to "practice". I suspect that a lot, if not most, of the fun has been taken out of it. Negotiating skills are not needed either because an adult decides who is doing what and how they will do it.
So, is it any wonder that adult cricket has also changed. Winning is more important than playing now.
And, at the very top level, it is big business. Enormous sums of money are involved in all sorts of ways. Cricket has to be entertaining. Performance is everything. Winning matters. The balls have to be bowled faster and harder than ever.
A cricket ball weighs about 160gms. It has the potential to be bowled with lethal force. Cricketers now use protective helmets - something once not thought necessary. But those helmets are not a guarantee of full protection. The cricketer hit yesterday was wearing a helmet but was apparently not using the most up to date and technologically advanced helmet - would it have made a difference?
I don't know the answer to that but I wonder why it has been necessary for cricket to become such a dangerous game - and I feel deeply concerned for the cricketer who was hit and the cricketer who bowled the ball which hit him.
Perhaps we all need to think of them next time we settle down to be "entertained".

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

I have just written

a letter, a very cross letter. I have been very polite. I have made sure I have checked my facts. I am still cross so bear with me.
The Senior Cat came home from church on Sunday and waved the pew bulletin under my twitching nose. (My nose was twitching because it was clear he was cross about something too.)
I had thought it was a little odd that I had not heard anything from the organiser of the Christmas Bowl Appeal's local collection point. Now I knew why.
The local shopping centre management has refused permission for the collection to take place. If people want to collect for the Christmas Bowl they can, they have been told, do it at some other time of the year - and pay the shopping centre management for permission to be there.
Our shopping centre is over run with charity collectors. It is rare to walk into the shopping centre and not find a charity collector. They pay to be there. The majority of them come from an organisation which pays to be in shopping centres, pays the collectors and takes a cut for itself before any money goes to the charity. I don't give that way.
The Christmas Bowl Appeal is different. It is run in December with the idea that Christmas is also, or should be, about giving to others - especially those in need. Nobody gets paid to collect. The local organiser puts in many unpaid hours at multiple collection points. It is done on just one day of the year and the proceeds go directly to a project in Africa.
On a number of occasions I have stood there for an hour or more to collect. I don't like doing that sort of thing but the Senior Cat is too old to do it and - well, I can. I know, from my own experience, that it is seen as multi-faith by some. I have seen Muslims and Sikhs give - and give generously. It is, they have told me, "that time of the year for everyone".
Everyone it seems but the shopping centre management. So, I have written a letter to our state newspaper. If they publish it I hope it will cause the management to think again - something the shopkeepers will be happy to support.
After all, it is almost Christmas - isn't it?

Monday, 24 November 2014

There is a story in

our news services about a baby boy found after being deliberately dropped down a drain. It is one of those horrific and incomprehensible stories that cause people to ask "How could anyone do that?" 
I don't know the answer to that. I don't think anyone knows the answer to that. I don't even think the person who does such a thing knows how they managed to do it.
Like most students of behavioural psychology I was taught about the theories of John Bowlby concerning "Attachment and Loss" - the notion that children are born with an innate need to attach to one individual  and that they should receive almost all their care from this individual for the first two years of their life.
Bowlby believed that the consequences of maternal deprivation were possible increased risk of delinquency, depression, aggressive behaviours and reduced intelligence. Even short term separation is seen as leading to anxiety.
Bowlby's theories led to the belief that mothers and babies should be kept together. It led to a reduction in the number of babies available for adoption. It makes assumptions about mothering.
I wonder about this.
I don't have any children of my own. I have two godchildren, one is now an "adult" but the other is still at school and will be for some years. I also try to be there for the Whirlwind who is growing up without a mother but does have a very strong attachment to her father - and yes, she had normal mothering for the first two years of her life.
Am I protective of those children? Yes. I'd be the same for the Little Drummer Boy who lives next door - and for his brother. I think I would be protective of any child - whether I knew them or not. For me, it is just something I'd do because it would be the right thing to do.
But I wonder about Bowlby's theories and the way we allow babies to be put into extended day care from as young as six weeks and certainly after three or six months - long before the two years which Bowlby claimed were the formative period. I also wonder at the way in which women who want to give up a child for adoption or say they don't want a child are encouraged, indeed told, they must keep the child. They are told it is "better" for the child. Is it really?
I know people who have children who did not want them. They never intended to have children. The precautions they took did not work - or they failed to take them. Yes, some of them have learned to love their children and the bonds are close. Others have resented the presence of children in their lives and pushed them from the nest at the earliest possible moment. They have never managed to learn to love their children even while making sure they are well cared for and providing for all their physical needs.
I wonder what will happen to the mother who has, allegedly, dropped her child down the drown. She is, if the media is to be believed, to be charged with attempted murder. It's a serious charge and her mental state will be the deciding factor. Quite likely she will be found to have a serious form of post-natal depression. She will be treated for it and the child will be returned to her care in the belief that, because they share some of the same genes, there is strong biological bond between them.
People will say this is the best thing for the mother and the baby. But, I wonder about this. Is it really the best thing for the baby? Is it possible that some people simply don't love the children they have brought into this world? What's best, to be brought up by a natural parent who does not love you or to be brought up by adoptive parents who wanted you?
I know that every relationship is different and that there is no single answer. But, in a case like this, I worry about the baby. It seems to be such a complete case of rejection - and I suspect a baby can sense that.
I hope I'm wrong.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

No power at the library

There was knitting class at the library yesterday. I didn't want to go but I had to be there.
I didn't want to go because of the weather. We had already had thunder, lightning and a nice amount of rain. As we desperately needed the latter I had no objections to that - even if it meant trying to get two loads of washing dry indoors.
I managed to pedal to the library in between the showers. Only five people came to knitting. There are usually eleven or more - crammed into a small room intended for ten people. I don't blame the others for staying home. The weather was not kind.
Knitters, as long as they can see, can manage without power. The book group, which meets next door, can manage without power - just.
The rest of the library? Well, yes and no.
Nobody can return a book or borrow a book. Nobody can use the catalogue. Nobody can work at the bank of computers. The free Wi-Fi was down. The automatic doors didn't work - fortunately the old swing door on the other side did. All the other things depend on power.
One of the staff thought about making tea. No, that meant putting the electric kettle on.
The books had all been put away. The workroom is internal and it is impossible to see in there without the light on. There was nothing else that could be done by the Saturday staff - unless they had power.
So, people did what people should do in a library. It was light enough to see near the windows. People read. The staff talked to the readers. I went on teaching someone to knit.
Eventually of course power was restored and the library went back to being the way it usually is. But, just for a short while, without power it was a very different place.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

"You've lived on an island?"

someone asked me yesterday evening.
The answer to that is, "Yes, my father was posted to a school on an island. We lived there for four years."
Living on an island is different. Downunder (Australia) is the largest island on the planet - or the smallest continent. Take your pick.
The island we lived on was much smaller - but still a large one as islands go. If you have a look at a map of Downunder you will see a leg in the centre of the lower coastline. If it is a big enough map you will see an island close to that which looks rather like a piece of jigsaw puzzle. We lived on that.
It is called "Kangaroo Island" and, in old measurements, it is about 120 miles long and 80 miles across at the widest point. Yes, a good size.
The capital of the state was nearly put on the island. If there had been a good supply of fresh water that would have happened. When discovered by the early explorers there were no human inhabitants, just the kangaroos which give the island its name - along with a great variety of other wildlife.
There is a strip of water between the island and the mainland which is called "Backstairs Passage". It has the reputation for being one of the roughest stretches of water in the world. The island itself rises steeply out of the water on the southern side - and there is nothing between it and the Antarctic winds. It can be very cold in winter. My brother once broke a sheet in two. He went out, at my mother's request, to take the sheet from the line. It was frozen there and just snapped in two. My mother was not impressed. Clothes on the line would often fly out horizontally.
When we lived there the population was about 3000 in two main groups. There were the old settlers who lived and worked in a community around the coast. There were the soldier settlers who lived in the centre and who had been there for only a few (by island standards) years. The two groups had very little to do with one another. Other, very small communities also existed.
The school in the centre, the one my father was in charge of, was the largest. It had over 600 students, almost all of whom came on one of the big yellow buses lined up at the gates. The school had the most buses and the longest bus runs in the state. Some children travelled a 76km to school and another 76km home. The school buses were driven by the teachers - often driving into the sun in the morning and into the sun in the evening. There was a spare bus if one broke down - which they did occasionally. It was the job of the deputy principal to keep the buses running. The teachers lived in small caravans at the end of each route. The caravans were parked near the house of a farmer and most teachers ate with the farmer and his family.
All this was discussed last evening because someone else had said she thought she was too gregarious to live on an island.
Yes, it was isolated. I know 3000 people sound like rather a lot - and most people knew each other and certainly knew us - but many were on farms a considerable distance from each other. Living there was expensive because most food and all other services were imported from the mainland. Electricity had to be generated on an individual basis. (The school had a big diesel unit. If it failed there was no electricity. We had a tiny 32v unit which was only set to run when absolutely necessary.)
Medical services were limited. Accidents were common and it was often faster for the local "crop duster" (a tiny plane that sprayed the crops) to be used to transport a patient out. The plane only had room for the pilot and the patient. (One night the pilot flew five times between the mainland and the island.)
Was the community close knit? In the area we lived in it was not. The people were too new to island life. It takes generations for that sort of closeness to be achieved.
It was interesting but I have no desire to go back there. I am not particularly gregarious and, if you were, it would not be a comfortable place to live.
All the same the beaches, when we got to them, were magnificent!