Sunday, 28 February 2010

"She's a friend of yours..."

She is? I do not recognise the person being described to me. "You know she has a red car with a ding in the side and her hair is sort of down to here and you were talking to her outside the library the other day. " Right. I still do not know.
"Oh come on Cat! You must know who I mean! She's got this sort of funny..."
The explanation goes on and eventually we sort it out. I do not know the name of the person being described and I certainly would not have called her a friend. She is a perfectly pleasant person but she is a casual acquaintance - if that. As we both use the same library and the same supermarket we recognise one another's faces. We can chat about the weather, something we have read or what her son did at school or her daughter did at pre-school. I have no idea where she lives. I know she buys the expensive 'organic' milk and likes to use the Farmers' Market at the Showgrounds on Sundays. I do not know much else about her.
But, according to the other acquaintance, she is a 'friend". I have been puzzling over this ever since. What makes someone a friend rather than an acquaintance or someone you are friendly with?
I count as friends people I have never physically met. We usually have a lot of things in common. We might have shared experiences. We may have similar interests. I suspect that, at very least, we could enjoy a cup of tea or coffee together. I wonder if this might be the dividing line for friendship v acquaintanceship? I do not know. I doubt it but it may be a marker.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Now if they can find a million dollars

for "temporary art installations" why can they not find money for other things?
It will, I suppose, be a 'good thing' for the artists who benefit. This is taxpayer patronage of the arts. Someone will be employed to oversee the expenditure. Artists will get a space to display their wares and, hopefully, somebody will buy from them. In turn they may even pay some tax on what they sell - if they earn enough.
Compared with the level of taxpayer support for sport and 'the racing industry' it is little enough.
What bothers me however is that other organisations do not get the same level of support from government. Most of them have no permanent home. They meet in halls scattered over the city. They often pay excessive rent for premises that are, at best, only a place to meet. There is nowhere to store equipment, books, audio-visual equipment etc. It curtails activities and does not allow for the sort of temporary installations that would bring the public through the doors.
They are also required to have public liability insurance.
Currently a modest public liability insurance policy for an organisation I belong to is just over $1000 a year. (Yes I do have the number of '0's' correct.) It is a lot of money for a group that does not engage in a 'dangerous' activity. Of course we are helping to pay for those who do engage in slightly more dangerous activities. There is also a 'user pays' argument. We want to engage in the activity, therefore we should pay the associated expenses.
There is however another argument. These activities are actually beneficial to the taxpayer. Those who engage in them develop social networks, more importantly they develop social support networks. This is good for both mental and physical health. Almost any activity - knitting, life drawing, woodwork, embroidery, electronics, radio, carving, quilting, bonsai, gardening, walking, water-colours, ballroom dancing - is of value to someone. If just one person in a group finds support that prevents the need for professional mental health support or support that keeps them active and in their own homes for longer then this would more than pay for a public liability insurance takeover by the taxpayer.
There was a possibility several years ago for the government to convert a school in the city into a permanent community arts centre. They did not take it up. There was another possibility for a permanent residential centre in another area. They did not take it up.
It is unlikely to happen. We will continue to pay just over a $1000. It is money that could be spent on books. I would rather have the books.

Friday, 26 February 2010

How do you remember things?

I was asked this yesterday and I have to say that I am not sure. I just do. I think there is a reason for it - get to that in a moment.
My father has a, to me, complex method of association for remembering things. One of my tutors in law school admitted to remembering things in the same way. I cannot do that.
One of the lecturers in law school would walk up and down on the covered side of the quad drinking a small carton of orange juice and smoking a cigarette before coming in to deliver a lecture. We knew better than to interrupt him. He was reviewing what he was about to say. His lectures would be liberally sprinkled with word for word quotes of what an actual judge had to say - down to the exact point at which it was to be found in the law reports. I cannot do that.
One of the students could remember things in pretty much the same way and would then apparently forget them the moment the examination was over.
There are obviously other people who remember things for the duration. Actors will remember lines but they may not be embedded in their memories for ever. I remember things like shopping lists and then forget them again. I suspect most people do the same. There is no reason to remember them.When I was writing my doctoral thesis I could remember well over four hundred Chinese characters but only by their English meanings. I have forgotten almost all of them. There is no reason to remember them.
People say I have a 'good' memory. I am not sure what they mean by this. I know I remember some things. I know there are also some things I remember in more detail than other people - but they will remember other things in more detail. Whether I really remember more I do not know. It may be that I do.
When I was a formal student, writing essays, listening to lectures and sitting exams I had to rely more on memory than most people simply because the physical act of writing anything down would get in the way to listening to what was being said. That is a result of my physical disability and it is perhaps in a small way the way it must be for a person with a visual impairment but I also know it is not the same. I can, if necessary, go in search of the information again. For a person with a visual impairment it is much more difficult. I also know that I will forget much of what I find out. I will forget either because it is not important to me or because I no longer need the information. Faced with an examination now in Succession Law I would fail rather than obtain a Distinction. Faced with an examination in psychology I would not be able to write an essay any more than I can remember the formulae for various statistical procedures. It seems a dreadful waste of all that effort.
I can, for short periods, remember considerable numbers of words in other languages for the purpose of setting up a communication board for someone. Then I forget again. It is , I think, because I do not use these things myself.
And that may be the key for some things. I have a 'good' memory because I need to use it. I also have a 'bad' memory because I do not need to use it. It does not explain why I can remember
other things and it does not explain how I remember them.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

I have come to the conclusion that

turning an idea upside down or inside out or back to front or wrong way around is essential if I want to write about it. I may not use the idea like that (or it may not use me) but I need to see it like that. It requires mental gymnastics.
This may be why I do not watch very much television and, aside from the cost, do not see very many films. I dislike having other people's visual vision imposed on mine. When I am writing I know, or need to know, what my landscape looks like. Other people's ideas are apt to confuse me.
It was therefore with great hesitation that I went researching tunnels yesterday. I knew nothing about tunnels. Even after the research I did I feel I know very little about tunnels. I think I know enough now. I also like them even less than I did before and that may be a good thing. I think I have solved my problem. I do not think I need to change the idea but I have changed the direction. I had the geography wrong. Now that I understand the geography I can continue the journey.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

I am going to have watch more closely.

My father is 87. He is alert, mentally active and as physically active as someone with two knee and two shoulder joint replacements can expect to be...but the last 24 hours have suggested that I need to watch more closely. He let the kettle boil almost dry (I rescued it when I came home in time), failed to put the 'phone properly back on the hook, and left the garden hose running overnight. He is not sleeping as well as he usually does.
His mind is elsewhere at the moment. I know what the problem is and I cannot do a damn thing about it. My youngest sister has been living elsewhere for the past nine and a half years. This has been a great relief to everyone. She has made the sudden decision to return 'home'.
She will not be living with us but she will be much closer than she was - too close.
My father loves her as parents do love their children but he does not want her living close by. She worries him.
My other siblings and I are, with good cause, deeply concerned by her decision. We also wonder why she has made this decision. We wonder whether the claims to have work where she was living are true and whether any of a host of other statements she has made to our father in recent years are true. It is unlikely they all are true. We know that. My father wants to believe them. It is the only way he can cope with her erratic behaviour, unreliability and lack of sense of responsibility.
She believes that they are 'good mates' so that arriving late or not at all or asking for money is not an issue. None of her problems are ever her fault and she is a very convincing liar. We could all cope with her more easily if she was mentally ill. She is not. She is a sibling.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

If it is an adult activity then

you should be an adult to engage in it - that means at least 18.
Why then do we allow 16yr old adolescents to get behind the wheel of a car or on the back of a motor bike? I know it is different in some places but this is the law in South Australia. You can get a licence to learn to drive on your 16th birthday. It is far too young. I suspect 18 is too young. Teenage brains are still developing. There is a good deal of evidence to suggest that not all teenagers have the physical or psychological maturity to drive.
With another election coming up neither major party seems willing to commit to raising the driving age. I am not sure why - apart from the fact that they say the move would be unpopular in rural areas where there is little or no public transport.
Teenagers, particularly male teenagers would not like it of course. It is a male rite of passage to obtain your licence, to obtain the 'old bomb' and put it through the tests that do not appear in the learner's handbook.
I have been thinking about all this because of something I have been writing. The reaction of the child in question is based on a real life incident. I was told about it in the course of some research I once did on road accidents, children and the law. It convinces me that 16 is far too young to drive. Realistically we cannot leave it beyond 18 but that should be the minimum age for a licence to learn. It should be a minimum three year process beyond that with P (probationary) plates for some until 26.
If we added virtually zero alcohol tolerance and limited the capacity of cars to go beyond the legal speed limits we might begin to reduce the road toll. None of it will happen. We do not even see driving as an adult activity. Is it, or am I wrong?

Monday, 22 February 2010

Maybe children "do not read" because

they are too busy doing other things?
"Well, there's ballet on Monday, basketball on Tuesday, Wednesday it is piano lesson, Thursdays I do swimming and Friday is Guides and then on Saturday mornings I have to play for the school team and Sundays we have to go and watch my brother play football." Phew! Wild social life. This is the weekly timetable of an eleven year old of my acquaintance. She goes to the local state primary school and her friends do much the same as she does. If they are not doing that then they are in 'after-school care' where, apart from homework, they are not expected or encouraged to sit and read. Doing that would be regarded as anti-social and questions would almost certainly be asked about social adjustment.
All this activity is designed to keep her busy and occupied and under the supervision of an adult at all times. When she is not doing those things she is busy doing homework, texting her friends and getting ready for the next exam or test or badge. It is all highly competitive. I thought she was exceptional - until I discovered that all but two of her classmates were similarly occupied. One of her teachers assured me that it was "pretty much normal" for local children in our "pretty much middle-class" area.
It does not leave much time for "just reading".

Sunday, 21 February 2010

They don't read fiction?

I am still puzzling over an article I came across in the UK Telegraph

According to this only 42% of boys and 48% of girls regularly read fiction. Now I would need to read the actual research to find out more but, assuming the reporter has even the basic figures right, then I am puzzled. Children must be reading.

The report goes on to suggest that children are accessing websites, e-mails, blogs and other social network sites. I am also certain most of them can send a text message on a mobile phone. About a third of children said that reading was 'boring'. Boring?

The article linked to another saying that teenage brains were being 're-wired' by their preference for surfing the net and could have long term negative consequences for the way they learn. What is going on here?

If the research is correct then alarm bells should be ringing. We will have a generation in which a large proportion of people will be unable to read for pleasure and may even be unable to 'read'. They may appear to be able to read but their critical thinking skills will be impaired by a lack of imagination caused by an under exposure to the world of imagination. Anyone who doubts this needs to look at the problems experienced by children who are brought up in cults or rigid religious traditions which do not allow free access to a wide range of ideas. All that has implications for society as wel know it. It will be much easier to manipulate people if their critical thinking skills are reduced. We already have a problem with the manipulation of mass thinking on such issues as climate change, green technology, terrorism etc. Far too many simply believe what they believe they are being told. They cannot critically analyse statements made to and by the media. Failure to read widely and well can only make matters worse.

Fortunately there are still some families where reading is important. This has consequences. In the library yesterday there was a small girl neatly dressed in a sparkling green 'fairy' costume complete with wings and leafy coronet. Someone asked her, "Are you being a fairy?" "No I am not being a fairy. I am a fairy." Sensible answer to a silly question. You can be anything you want to be if you learn to read.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

A little paragraph suggests that

at least 74% of people feel that they have been bullied in childhood. I suspect most people were bullied in childhood but some much less than others. Even as adults we get bullied. We are made to do things we do not wish to do and pay for things we do not wish to pay for.
Some time ago a doctor I saw when my regular GP was unavailable told me, "I'm putting you on a diet. No eggs. No dairy products. Dairy products are so bad for you they are soon going to be banned for everyone." What I should have done faced with this behaviour was say, "I have never heard anything so ridiculous in all my life" and left the room. I did not because I needed a prescription. He knew I needed that prescription, and made me promise to adhere to the diet he was proposing before he wrote it. That was bullying. I will refuse to see him again. It is the only way I can handle his behaviour.
And why should I feel guilty about not giving to the same charity five days in a row because it is their week in the local shopping centre? It used to be just Fridays and now it is every day of the week and often two different charities trying to collect.
Yes, I do consider it bullying of a sort. I know charities are desperate for money. But, I object to the fact that many of them get so little of what I might give. I find myself walking the long way around to avoid those who collect much more aggressively than they once did. One young paid collector told me she was reduced to tears when, at the end of a long hot day, she was berated by her employer for 'not collecting enough' - because it reduced his income. That is also bullying.
Governments bully. Public servants bully. A Centrelink staff member once boasted about a deliberate campaign to increase compliance through measures that could only be described as deliberate bullying. The police bully, taking their frustration out on innocent members of the public when they have failed to collect sufficient fines - because they will be bullied by their superiors for not getting increased revenue.
Advertisers and sales people bully us into buying things we do not wish to buy. I think I am actually reasonably immune to advertising and sales people because my lack of disposable income means I cannot comply with their demands.
It makes me suspect that, while totally unacceptable it may be, bullying in schools is not going to cease through any education campaign. It will only take on new and different forms - because adults enjoy doing it too much.

Friday, 19 February 2010

I have to ask, "Cui bono?"

Has the Industrial Relations tribunal gone mad?
If the reporting is correct they have demanded the reinstatement of a worker who was legitimately sacked for repeatedly breaching safety regulations. They agreed that the worker was at fault. They agreed that the company in question had the right to sack him. They agreed that it was not a one off offence. They agreed that the worker had a poor attitude and that he was abusive. All that and they demanded his reinstatement because he is (a) middle aged, (b) poorly educated, (c) has three children and (d) a mortgage.
Now if he has an accident the company will be (a) heavily fined and (b) his employers could find themselves in gaol. His fellow employees have to continue to work with him and that may put them at risk.
What is the law there for? Why bother with dismissal legislation?
The union movement is also flexing muscles to an extent that the Japanese have apparently warned the Australian government that our industrial regulations are jeopardising international investment and trade. For the Japanese to even comment on the internal regulations of another country would appear to suggest that there is a problem.
But there is another problem that bothers me. The new industrial regime is making it more and more difficult for people with disabilities to get real work. True more of them appear to be getting work - until you analyse the nature of that work. It is often very part-time, almost always casual. It is low paid and unskilled. Even if you have qualifications and skills you will almost certainly be underemployed on a part-time, casual basis. The employer will have been careful to ensure that the job description does not discriminate and that there has been no apparent discrimination in the selection process - but the discrimination will be there. The employer will simply say privately that they cannot afford to take the risk - because of the government's industrial relations measures.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Spending other people's money

is apparently easy for politicians. The state election campaign does not officially start until Saturday. Unofficially they have been at it for weeks in the 'nicest' political sort of way - spending money they do not have. There is the usual competition to outspend each other with promises they will not keep because they cannot afford to keep them. We, the voters, know that but we like to believe that we believe the opposite.
This time however they may have gone too far. Adelaide has a Southern Expressway. This road has a peculiar almost one way system. In the morning there are more lanes open going into the city. In the evening there are more lanes open going out of the city. It is probably dangerous but it was done to save money. Now both government and opposition say they intend to fix it. I rather suspect that is impossible. Why? People travel further than the portion they say they intend to fix. The population (and thus the number of cars on the road) is increasing all the time.
There are plans - but only plans - to extend the railway a short distance south. This is not the answer either. There are also plans to put a freeway to the north but, so far, no serious thoughts about extending rail passenger transport.
Adelaide's problem is that it is built on a coastal strip and it is not long before you reach a hilly barrier - the southern end of the Flinders Ranges, known as Mount Lofty Ranges. In terms of height these are low but they are still a barrier and people have been building north and south for years. We need a rail service as far as Victor Harbor on the south coast and Clare up in the north. We need a rail service to Murray Bridge in the east. Why? People commute from these places. They may not want to use public transport but they must, I believe, learn to do so.
Until they do that they will, like politicians, spend other people's money. It will be spent on roads and road maintenance, on policing, on insurance, on greenhouse gas emitters (aka as cars) and on policing, on all the services that come into play when there is an incident or, worse, an accident. Everyone pays for these things, not just those who use the roads when they do not really need to do so. Cocooning yourself in a steel cage with heating or cooling according to season and entertainment via radio or music player and with illegal access to a mobile 'phone is a comfortable, selfish way of getting to work. Yes some people need their vehicles for the purposes of work but, for many, it is selfishness and laziness that causes them to use their car -and to be the sole person in it.
Spending other people's money comes easily to most of us it would seem. The government should not be encouraging this.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The words are simple

"Paul died this morning at about 8:30". We have been watching the progress of his illness, expecting it. He had cancer, diabetes, heart disease and then a stroke. He also had what is now called 'bi-polar disorder'.
Paul was one of those people with whom a relationship is best described as "not exactly but almost" a friend. My father and I had known him for years. We know his wife and his business partner. His sister-in-law, who let us have the news, is much closer still.
My father knew Paul from Paul's university days - when Paul was struggling with the ups and downs of his turbulent emotional life. They were opposites in just about everything but they had a common love of literature and they both trained as teachers.
My father was suited to it. He still loves to teach. Paul was not suited to it. Few people would be suited to trying to teach Shakespeare to 1F and 1G but Paul was even less suited. He left class teaching as soon as he had worked off the bond required of teachers back then. He was married by then and his wife went on teaching while he tutored on an individual basis. Even that was difficult so Paul turned to what he knew best - books. He began a second hand book business. There was no nonsense about being 'antiquarian'. Paul simply went out and found books people no longer wanted, bought them and then sold them again. The business grew. Word spread. People would 'phone and he would go out and buy an entire deceased estate, the library of someone moving into a nursing home or someone moving interstate or overseas. He would sort and price and then offer the books for sale at venues of growing size. He taught himself about the books he bought and their commercial values. Gradually he bought storage capacity and the book sales became major events held several time a year in a huge hall. His wife retired early from teaching to help and they took on a partner. He added a "press" to his business, wrote and published several biographies. They were competent but it is unlikely that a mainstream publisher would have taken them on.
He could be rude, impatient and patronising. He liked to be in control. It was all part of his mental state.
My father returned to the city about this time. He was on the mailing list for announcements about the book sales. We would go seeking out of print books to fill in the gaps in our collection. I gave Paul a long list of out of print children's books I was searching for. He never computerised but he found all but two of them. Children's literature however did not really interest him. He would leave abrupt messages for me and I was never sure if he really thought much of me. He once told someone that he liked something I had written but, when we were discussing it, he was highly critical and I was left with the impression that he loathed it.
The last thing Paul wrote was a sort of autobiography. Much of it is, strangely, taken up with his acquisition of an artifact that he had wanted to possess from late adolescence. It is a strange little book and, if you know Paul, it is very moving in places. It shows him for what he was, a confused person who wanted people to like him but was unsure how to like them in return.
When, as I know I will be, people ask me if he was a friend I will have to reply, "Not exactly, but almost." There should be a word for it.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Where do I go from here?

I am caught in the middle of the novel I am trying to write - and trying to fight my way out. I am not sure why I started it. Writing is, damn it all, supposed to be the thing I do by choice. Sometimes I hate it. I hate it when the characters refuse to do as I want or the plot insists on going in a direction I do not want it to take. Who is writing this thing - the characters, the plot or me?
I actually left it strictly alone to sulk by itself on Sunday. I went and did other things. I ignored it. All writers should have a day off now and then. It is good for their characters to know that they are not always available.
Yesterday I crept in cautiously and they pounced again. I need to rethink. They are very determined.
A friend of mine has just expressed surprise that I do not listen to radio. I grew up without it - and without television too. I watch very little of the latter as well. Why bother when you have a head full of characters telling you what to do? Does this make writers insane - or fortunate?

Monday, 15 February 2010

Our Sustainable Development Commission

members are sustained on $3000 a day - plus expenses. They have been charged with the task of finding $750m in cuts permanent cuts in the state budget.
That should not be difficult. I could suggest a few cuts myself - and for less than $3000 a day plus expenses. The problem is that we do not apparently see the need for the same sort of cuts.
There is, for example, the tram line to nowhere. It should have gone in the other direction - to the hospital. There is, of course, a very good reason it went in the opposite direction. It will now go past the proposed new hospital which is to be built over the railway yard. I would have sent the tram line past the old hospital - and rebuilt the old hospital. It could have been done. It would be closer to the university and the other facilities the hospital and the patients use. It would also have been closer to the Botanic Gardens and the parklands - both used by patients and staff. It would not however have been a brand new hospital which the present Premier aims to be opening in a few short years from now. He will, after all, still be the Premier. Nothing is going to shift him. He has backtracked on the proposed name. Isn't that enough? Now he believes he has the right to go on governing and to have the hospital where he wants it - even if it is in the less desirable and sensible location.
Then there is yet another sports stadium. This one is designed to change the quiet, pleasant ambience of the Adelaide Oval - where world class cricket has been planned in a gentlemanly and not so gentlemanly fashion - into a soccer shrine. That way the Premier will be able to meet and greet the stars of the soccer world - for a price. This is apparently essential to the economy of South Australia - just as it was essential to pay a certain cycling star a million dollars to advertise the fact that the Premier is the Premier.
There is the desalination plant - but that is underway. This is because we cannot be seen to harvest stormwater. Apparently 'expert' advice to the government is that stormwater is not fit for drinking. I am not sure what flows into the River Murray or any of reservoirs but apparently it is not stormwater - despite the fact that much of it is urban run off.
There are plans for a freeway to the north. The southern freeway is hardly free of traffic snarls and has a strange one way system - designed to save money and cause accidents. The northern one is being similarly designed because it is a 'success'. There are vague plans to extend the railway to the south but they may go in the is SDC decides this could save money.
All this is, of course, designed to preserve the precious AAA credit rating built up by the previous government after the State Bank disaster of the previous government of this political flavour. It is designed to 'keep the budget in surplus' - and the present politicians in power.
I am of the view that sport should pay for itself. The government should not be subsidising the wages of over paid individuals who happen to be able to kick a ball or ride a horse. I believe we should extend the rail network before we extend the road network. It makes good environmental sense and has other benefits. I am concerned about the environmental impact of a desalination plant - and the quality of the water from it. I am also concerned about the failure to recognise the importance of the healing environment with respect to the location of the proposed new hospital.
But an AAA credit rating has to be maintained at all cost. That is why the government has 'requested' me to do some further unpaid work this week. Apparently I must assist them in finding .0001% of the $750m.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

So, if you could be a dictator

what would you do? Ms Whirlwind put the question to me yesterday while we were in the supermarket. Apparently the subject is under discussion at school. I wonder what else is discussed at school these days but I promised to give it some thought. I did not think my immediate thought, "Get rid of this queue" would be considered an adequate response.
Ms Whirlwind asked my father the same question and his response was, "Close down all the television stations and shut the video shops for six months." "Why?" "It would give people the opportunity to find out how to entertain themselves." "You would still have the internet." "Not quite the same thing." True. She went off to think about that.
I thought. I am still thinking. I asked some people. Someone I know only through internet contact said, "I am a dictator. I am a mother." The same contact said her husband would ban news items which begin, "The Government will announce today..."
I also got, "Raise the school leaving age to 18 and reintroduce technical high schools." "Raise the driving age to 18 and the drinking age to 21." "Raise the voting age to 26 - well may be 21 - but let anyone in the armed services vote." "Get rid of compulsory voting but educate people about the importance of voting." "Put in place a programme that required the government to plant at least one tree for every person in the country every year." "Make politicians learn English." "Require everyone to invest in solar energy." "Increase public transport and make it an offence to drive your car to work unless you need it to do your work." "Make everyone walk everyday for exercise."
I will put these ideas in front of Ms Whirlwind today. If anyone would care to add to them I will be pleased to pass them on.
Myself? I am still thinking.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

The laws of libel and slander

are designed to protect people from others saying untrue things intended to bring them into 'hatred, ridicule or contempt'. (Libel is written. Slander is verbal.)
Nicola Morgan has just put up a post on her blog about this.
It is worth exploring.
I have to agree that the laws of libel and slander are being abused by the rich and powerful - but we still need these laws. What is needed is a change in the way they operate. There are issues here of power, privilege, freedom, rights and, above all, responsibilities. It is the last of these so many people fall down on.
The changes to South Australia's Electoral Act that I mentioned some blog posts back have not yet been repealed despite assurances from the Attorney-General. Expert legal opinion is that the law does, can and will apply during the election campaign should anyone choose to use it despite government claims that it will not and will be retrospectively removed. The reality is that anyone writing anything critical and not putting their name and address to it will be (a) breaking the law and (b) could be required to give information to identify themselves. The other reality is that the legislation now looks unlikely to be repealed in full. It may be, almost certainly will be, reviewed and altered but it is unlikely to be repealed. The present government may well be returned and the argument will be that it did not harm debate and makes people responsible for their statements.
It would be a compelling argument were it not for the issue of retribution or potential retribution. Whistle blowers have already discovered that legislation designed to protect them cannot protect them. There are too many other ways of dealing with whistle blowers and critics.
One is to threaten potential violence or other harm or to use actual violence or other harm. Another is to abuse the laws of libel and slander, or threatend to do so. I have had all this happen through doing no more than supporting the rights of others to be literate or to have access to the same basic services as other people - and I have supported these things pretty quietly compared with activists who strut the world stage. I suspect in fact that may be part of the problem. It is the quiet activists that worry the wrong doers. It is stealth that really worries them. They do not know where or how they will be attacked next. They can deal with the outspoken critics much more easily.
Writers - of anything - have a responsibility to use words responsibly. We need to be aware of the potential impact of our words and use them wisely and for good and, as Dag Hammarskjold puts it, "Never 'for the sake of peace and quiet,' deny your own experience or convictions."

Friday, 12 February 2010

Eco Wash Balls?

I took a couple of hours off yesterday. (I know, naughty of me as I have only been working almost without a break for four weeks now and I had two hours off on Saturday as well. That's an hour off a week!)
Dad and I went out to lunch. One of the other people at the same event was talking enthusiastically about "eco wash balls". I had never heard of these things. She talked on and on about what a marvellous job they did of washing the clothes without the need for any washing powder. When the wash was done, she claimed, they could use the same water for the floors and the car and then the garden. It sounded too good to be true. Why has this invention not made a huge impact in the media? Did I miss something?
I asked her how they worked. The answer was full of fancy words like 'ion' and phrases like "oxygen in the water". Oh. I see. She was obviously very sincere and absolutely convinced. I accept a business card with the name of the supplier. Yes, I will look into it but why has there been no media splash? Oh, well they have been around for a while. Why is it they are not sold in supermarkets? Well that would be the soap powder manufacturers stopping that. I see.
Apparently I need to remember that some people sell these balls for $75 or more. They can be got for as little as $14.95. Right. I will remember that too.
Out of curiosity I did look them up when I got home. Dad was equally curious. Choice gives the things a 'shonky' award. That is good enough for Dad. It is what we suspect. He reckons he could make one for about 40c, less if he could find an old plastic ball.
But 'ion' is what really bothers me. I had this glorious vision of pulling clothes ready to wear from the washing machine. The real problem is that the wash balls do not 'iron'.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

I live in a village inside a suburb

inside a district inside a city. (The city has two cathedrals.) The focal point is the little area that contains the shopping centre, the library, 'the old village' and the Council chambers. A little further up the hill there is one of the oldest churches in the state, one of the local historic hotels and a row of tiny historic shops (empty apart from the restaurant in the old post office).
It is an area where many people know one another. If they do not know others by name they know them by sight. Many people have lived here all their lives. Others, like me, have lived here, gone away, returned, gone away and returned. I did not do this by choice but many others have. They feel at home here. Take it away and they would feel lost. They live in houses they call homes but the reality is that 'home' is also the extended area around their actual dwelling. They know it. They feel safe there.
I considered all this as I was glancing, for the second day, at the ongoing uproar over the demise of a much loved football team - much loved by others that is. I have no interest in football. It long ago ceased to be a sport and became big business with players bought and sold like slaves in a Roman marketplace. (Yes, I know. These slaves are paid exorbitant sums of money to kick a ball around a muddy field.)
The football team concerned belonged to one of the poorest areas of the city. It has been struggling for a long time. It does not get the financial support from local business that teams in wealthier areas get. Local business undoubtedly cannot afford it. There has been an economic downturn. But, if the football team goes, then something much more important goes. It has been the focal point for a great many people. Around 20% of 'footy fans' support the team in one way or another. It is their meeting place, their weekend entertainment, their support group, their pride, their - everything. It is the team the kids I taught to knit 35 years ago made their beanies and scarves for. It is the team that won premiership, after premiership until the central body took the best players for the state team that played in the national rather than the state league.
I suspect the decline set in then. Local people were not really interested. "Footy" is a local passion. There is no international competition. It is not rugby or soccer. It is "Aussie rules". It bores me rigid but I understand the outcry because it is "their team" and they are losing it.
In my area it would make a difference but other things would replace it. In that area there is nothing to replace it. There is no focal point. It will mean the loss of community. I think it will be the cause of an increase in the social problems that already exist there. There will be many more bored young males with nothing to do. After all, you do not switch allegiance from one football team to another just like that.
This is not of concern to the officials who made the decision. They are running a business. They are running a very big business indeed. It is a business worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The bottom line is more important to them.
In the end it is going to cost more than it will save.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

There was story telling at the library yesterday

for the little ones...and the big ones.
Story telling for mothers and very small ones and story telling for pre-schoolers and mothers and...story telling for those adults who still find themselves hooked by a good picture book.
"Just watch this Cat," one of the librarians whispered to me as I came in yesterday. I watched. We have done this before but it always delights both of us. There were the pre-schoolers wriggling into their favourite comfortable places for a story. Their mothers collapse into the middle size chairs behind them. (I believe you can collapse into anything for a few minutes if you are the mother of a child that age.)
Then, ever so casually, there is a slow migration from the other end of the library. One adult wanders apparently casually down to use the catalogue terminal at the children's end. Another suddenly has reason to be looking at the returned books shelf. A third goes to the junior bookshelves, a fourth goes to the teen section. Gradually, when they believe nobody is really looking, they settle in to listen.
It is soon clear why. The girl who is reading this morning is a professional. The children, of all ages, are soon engrossed. The story is a good one.
I have never felt the need to hide my joy in good picture books. I love the way pictures and words complement each other in the best of them. I have no concerns at all at being found in "that end" of the library. Some adults are more hesitant. I sometimes think there should be storytelling for adults or, at very least, "grown up children welcome".
The library is quieter than usual. Most people are listening. There is "Once upon a time...."
and then there is "And they lived happily ever after." In between there is the magic.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

There is apparently a shortage of

school librarians. This was reported in this morning's paper. Apparently 25% of schools lack a trained librarian. This is a mystery to me. I would have thought this was one of the better and more desirable jobs in schools these days.
I once spent a short time as a school librarian and it was - well marvellous. I had a genuine excuse for telling children about books, all sorts of books. I had a genuine excuse for explaining how libraries worked. I could help them find things and find out things. I could encourage the 'top reading group' (who came to me) to read further and wider than they had before. We talked books and more books.
Of course there were no computers in libraries back then. There was none of the other high-tech equipment which makes a library more like a space station than a comfortable place to read. I had cushions on the floor. There were chess sets and Scrabble for those who did not want to read every lunch hour. Yes, I spent lunch hour in the library. It was my view it should be open. The other staff thought I was mad - but the kids loved it. There would be sixty or seventy kids crammed into the library in wet weather. It would be noisy - but not rowdy. It was mostly the sound of the younger ones reading aloud.
I wonder if computers have made libraries less friendly. Is the library too much like the classroom and the computer area at home? Is the constant struggle to get funds too much for the librarian? Are books considered less important now that computers can provide so much?
I do know that providing factual information, non-fiction, is considered more important than providing reading for pleasure.
Not so long ago a teacher actually said to me, "You know it's a wonder any child actually wants to read fiction these days. There is so much for them to find out about other things."
I have a sneaking suspicion that this is a view held by more than one teacher. Fiction does not, in their view, have the importance it once had. Oh yes, they think children should read some fiction - but not too much and it is preferable if it is fiction with a 'message'. "If kids are going to read fiction then we need to ensure that they are learning something from it, getting a message across," another teacher told me. The idea that you read for the sake of reading has apparently gone along with the cushions on the floor and the joy of discovering a new book by your favourite author. I loved having a child rush eagerly in and ask, "Are there any more like this Miss?"
They say 28% of current librarians will soon retire. Perhaps they could be replaced by information machines, "The material on gene therapy is to be found..." or "The item you require can be accessed on the web at...."
I would prefer to think of a library as a different sort of web, a spider web attracting the reader-flies and swallowing them up into the world of books, of reading, of imagination - into the world of a darn good story which is there for the sheer enjoyment of losing oneself in it and coming out as a slightly different person.

Monday, 8 February 2010

I wanted to see you!

The best birthday present of all arrived yesterday - on her way home from her honeymoon. (They went to Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia the cheap way.) My niece and her husband did a huge detour and a night's stopover just so that they could see her grandfather.
The rest of us said absolutely nothing about this. It was touch and go until the very last minute as her mother is seriously ill and they may have needed to go straight home. Frantic messages backwards and forwards from her family in Sydney reassured her however and she came to see "Granddad" because he had missed the wedding.
"I wanted to see you! Talking on the 'phone is not the same." And it is not. My father talks to her father each week. They usually chat for about an hour. My father 'phones my other sister in another state to reassure himself. That conversation is shorter but it keeps him in touch. It is not the same as seeing them. I wonder sometimes if we should get Skype, especially now there is a great-grandchild due. However, my father cannot manage basic computer skills and the thought of trying to teach him to use Skype fills me with mild alarm.
The two of them had a few precious hours in one another's company. They talked - stopping barely long enough to eat - and then talked some more. The questions came one after the other, unlike the shorter telephone conversations. It is much harder to respond when you do not see the person at the other end. There are all sorts of little cues that you miss. They held hands, shared the photographs stored in her camera and hugged more than once.
Modern technology is wonderful. It is amazing. It does extraordinary things but it is not the same as seeing each other. Most important of all it does not allow you to hug each other.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Yesterday I crawled out of the bog of work

for long enough to go to the first meeting of our Handknitters' Guild. I am not sure why they call themselves a 'guild' because, to me, that suggests a professional or artisan group. This guild is neither. They meet about once a fortnight in an old hall in an adjacent suburb. I can pedal over there and back. If I could not I probably would not have bothered to go - except that it is network of sorts and networks are important.
I had not actually been to the group since October of last year. November was taken up with a craft fair and I did not manage to get to the December meeting because of a family commitment. Somehow I did not make the alternate fortnights. We do not meet in January because of the heat and holidays etc. So, it seemed a long time. I viewed the group with fresh eyes. I like most of the people who go but would count very few of them as friends. Those that I do count as friends went out of their way to say hello. Two of them gave me small and much belated birthday presents. I reciprocated with one of them.
I left with the ex-politician who belongs to the group and we discussed the situation in Haiti.
I mentioned the 100 stories for Haiti project I blogged about earlier and we both agreed that this sort of thing can only occur if there are networks. Her chief network, I suspect, is still her political party. Coming to the guild has been a new experience for her.
I came back to finish some work and clicked on the e-mail to send it off.
There were a little bundle of messages from the new 100 stories site and I realised that here is another new network. It took one person and an idea and now there is new network of people who did not know one another but have come together and will stay, at least for a while. They will reach out to their networks and those networks will reach out further still. Good networks are good to have.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

"Mind the gap..."

are words I remember from my terrifying journeys on London Underground. I am not sure I could actually handle the Underground any more. The local transport system is causing enough trouble.
We have two railway stations fairly close to us. I use one in preference to the other. To get to the first one there is a journey up a quite steep little rise and then through a very awkward underpass. There are barriers on either side of the underpass. These were designed, supposedly, to stop the local boys from flying through on their bikes. It has slowed them down slightly but it has not stopped them. They simply use the barriers as exercise bars .
What has happened is that the underpass is unusable for anyone on a gopher or in a wheelchair. Baby strollers and my tricycle get stuck. Those of us with access issues mormally use the other station.
Once you do access the station there are other access issues. The platform is about 30cms lower than the trains - and there is the gap between the platform and the train as well.
The driver is supposed to render assistance to anyone who needs it by putting down a ramp taken from a locked box. Drivers hate doing it. The system is not safe. At the local station I am speaking of it is positively dangerous - although the ramp is made to Disability Standards Number Whatever. They do not put the ramp down for bicycles and my tricycle is classed as a bicycle. There needs to be a change in the law before they will acknowledge that it is not a bicycle.
My father thought he would try the train the other day. He walked up to the first station. It is quite a walk. He managed to get his walker through the underpass. He stood at the marked point for assistance - and got none. One of the passengers helped him on to the train. At the terminus in the city there is no problem about getting out - apart from the gap - because the platforms have been made level with the trains.
Coming home he needed assistance to get off - and again got none. The swivel wheels on his walker got caught in the gap between the train and the platform. It was his sheer good fortune that a passenger saw his plight and assisted.
I reported all this as a serious safety issue and had a meeting with three railway employees at the station yesterday. I made a suggestion with respect to signage which will be carried out right along the line but the gap is a different story.
The gap is there to stop trains hitting the platform and derailing. The gap is a safety issue anywhere in the world where there are trains.
It seems that we can build a space station and a docking bay for the astronauts to enter and exit it. We cannot build something to bridge the gap.

Friday, 5 February 2010

What part of No - that was NO -

do you not understand?
We are on the "Do Not Call" register. The register is designed to reduce the number of nuisance calls from people wanting to sell us fertiliser, roof cleaning, movie ticket 'deals' and lottery tickets for the local footy club etc. We are not interested in these things. If we were we would seek them out.
Unfortunately the register does not stop everyone. Charities still have the legal right to call. So do politicians. Survey people believe they also have the right to call. Calls come from overseas.
Yesterday we had a call. My father answered the call. There was a very heavily accented voice at the other end of the line. From India? My father immediately thought of the 'phone service. They use an Indian call centre. No.
He does not understand what they are trying to say so he passes the 'phone over to me as I come in.
"What do you want?"
"It is the home of...."
"Yes. What do you want?"
"I am from the..." This is something I have never heard of. "We are doing research on..."
"I am sorry we do not participate in telephone surveys."
"You are required to participate..."
"No we are not."
"It is a government requirement. It is important. It is about..."
"If it is a government requirement then you can put it in writing. We do not participate in telephone surveys."
I put the 'phone down gently.
The 'phone rings again. It is the same person. He is still trying to insist. He says there is nothing 'personal'. No? Does he want an age range? Yes. (No comment.) Does he want an income range? Yes. (No comment.) Does he want to know whether someone has an investment income? Yes. (No comment.)
"You must answer these questions."
"I do not have to answer any questions at all. They are personal. What part of No do you not understand? Now, may I have your name and address because I am going to send you a bill for wasting my time."
The 'phone goes down at the other end of the line with a bang. Will we get something in writing? I doubt it.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

100 stories for Haiti

is to be found here 9
It is an initiative of Greg McQueen and others. They asked for contributions of 'flash fiction' - short, short stories for a book to be sold for the benefit of the earthquake victims in Haiti. Proceeds to Red Cross efforts there.
I heard about it from two sources, one was a colleague who works for the International Red Cross and was in Haiti. (He heard about it from a writer friend in the United Kingdom) and the other was a link from Vanessa Gebbie's blog - one I do not normally read - where she had also mentioned it.
Now, I do not write short stories - or so I thought. The colleague said, "Come on Cat - write something for us." I snarled and said, "I haven't got time I am too busy writing communication boards so you can talk to the locals."
And then, something happened. I came home from my friend Polly's jubilee celebrations and went to finish a bit of work and there was the link to Vanessa Gebbie's blog. I clicked on the link to Greg McQueen's site, read and then clicked on the link to put it into e-mail mode - and wrote.
I am still puzzled. I do not know how I did this. I have no idea where the words came from. It just happened. I am actually terrified in case I have subconsciously, unconsciously, somethingly and totally accidentally and unintentionally plagiarised something. I hope I have not - because they accepted what I wrote. "And the first note sang" (they had to ask me for a title because I sent it off untitled) is sitting in the list.
Am I going to feel like this if I ever get anything else published? It is just plain scary.
It also bothers me that the writing has not been edited...and heck it needs to be. I should have been able to leave it for at least a few days and then go back and do some weeding and planting in the way that Nicola Morgan was suggesting just recently. The problem was that I got it in with about three hours to spare before the deadline and it was very late when I did it. It is not an excuse, I know I can write better than that, much better. I think I am scared of myself.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

With a little help from my friends....

there have been results. I did not do this alone of course. Many others also complained - loudly.
They hit the airwaves. Several internet sites almost crashed under the strain of keeping up with the howls of rage over the attempts to intimidate. The legislation I spoke of yesterday is to be repealed retrospectively. The Attorney-General must be cursing the fact that the election had not been called. He would then be in caretaker mode and nothing could have happened. (Reminder to self - send letter pointing that fact out.)
I sent out an e-mail to a network of people who do not see newspapers and that would have added several hundred complaints to the list as they passed the message on. There was support from as far away as Scotland, Seattle and Singapore. I will leave it at that.
The process made me think again of networks and friendship. My father keeps saying, "Everyone needs a support group" - all very Milton's "no man is an island" perhaps. We both know people who have no support network. Our next door neighbour on one side is an example. They never have visitors. The new baby is four months old and we have yet to see him. We have inquired politely over the fence that all is well but she has not invited us in or brought him to see us. She appears to be happy with that but, if anything went seriously wrong, she would have nobody to turn to. Her partner has exchanged telephone numbers with us. He knows he can call on us in an emergency - but doubts she would. She simply does not welcome any intrusion. It is her choice - but perhaps not good for the children and clearly frustrating for her partner.
On the other hand my father is heading out this morning to look at a workshop full of tools. The tools belonged to a man who died last year. Colin had Alzheimer's. He had not used the tools for some years. His wife does not know whether they are of any value or, if they are, how much value they have. She will probably give them to family but she wants to be certain they are fairly divided. Would my father come and look at them? He knows enough to help her out. It is the sort of thing friends do for friends.
Networks. Links. They make us human.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

"Freedom of speech" in South Australia

I was going to write about something completely different but this morning's "Advertiser" (the South Australian state newspaper) has a front page story which needs airing. Put simply there has been a law passed which makes it an offence to comment on elections in South Australia for the 25 days prior to the election unless the writer puts up their real name and their postcode. In other words the government has to be able to find you - and so does everyone else. THIS APPLIES TO INTERNET BLOGS as well as things like LETTERS TO THE EDITOR. There are some other issues as well but that is the one that matters here.
Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I have already had two government 'minders' on my doorstep informing me that I had to cease writing letters critical of our Beloved State Leader. I was easy to find. There was a surname and a suburb in the newspaper - a quick look in the electoral roll will do the rest. It is part of the deal if you write letters to the editor of the Advertiser. You also run the risk of being criticised, defamed, held up in the aisles of supermarkets, accosted by complete strangers in the streets and on the train. I will wear that. I tell people, "I do not always agree with myself. I write letters to make people think." I am still puzzled by the appearance of the minders. My letters are not rants. I try to keep them balanced. I also criticise the Opposition and anything else that I feel needs to be thought about. I have also been known to offer support for a variety of causes and query the unthinking support for others.
My blog though is different territory. For reasons of personal safety and the safety of my elderly father I choose not to use my full name on this blog. "Cat" is adequate. Some of you know who I am and a casual reader has no need to know. If the Beloved State Leader wishes to know then he can leave me a personal message in the comments and I will inform him. I doubt he knows my blog exists. It is not overtly political. I do not hide behind anonymity to make defamatory remarks.
I am also required by law to present myself at the ballot box (although not, as most people believe, to mark the ballot papers). If I am required to do that then I should be free to comment on the election provided that I do not bring "hatred, ridicule or contempt" upon anyone. I may yet make some comments about the election. I will not post my real name or my address on this blog site. If the Beloved State Leader wishes to haul me into court he can do so. I will be happy to see him there.

Monday, 1 February 2010

"Time present and time past

are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past" (Burnt Norton, TS Eliot)
There was a television programme I wanted to see last night - and did not get to. Other things got in the way. It was called "What time is it?" and was a BBC programme in case anyone is interested.
"Time" is just one of those odd concepts I am interested in. I have been interested ever since a Russian writer I met at a long ago Writers' Week at the Adelaide Festival of Arts told me of a Russian who, she said, claimed to be able to "stretch" time. How the topic came up I cannot remember but I know I ended up introducing her to Eliot's Quartets. She went back to Russia with a copy. I hope they did not confiscate it at the border.
Neither of us knew what to make of the concept of "stretching" time but I went on thinking about it. I am still thinking about it. I still do not know what to make of "time". What is it? I know we ususally think of it as linear - past, present, future - going forward. There are cultures where time is thought of as circular. I wonder if it can move up and down as well as forward? Can it move backwards - or sideways? Or is it something even more complex than that? Can it turn in on itself? Does time weave itself? Is it made up of many parts? Is there my time, your time, somebody else's time?How does it all fit together.
I see it in strands rather than blocks. There has to be something to connect with more than blocks would allow. Then I wonder if the "something" is actually "nothing" at all - and yet we need it.