Saturday, 31 March 2012

There were just two places to buy books

for children when I was in the primary school. That is, two places to buy something other than "Little Golden Books", cheap editions of "the classics" and books printed on poor quality paper with garish cardboard covers. Most of the latter were "Sunday School" reward type books. I may come to them later.
The real book buying experience however was something quite different. I can twice remember my father being given a sum of money from the School Council to buy books for the school.
On the first occasion we were living in a tiny settlement on the far west coast of the state I live in.  There were two teachers in the school, my father and my mother. No books had been bought for at least eight years prior to our arrival.  Most houses did not own a book apart from a Bible and perhaps the Country Women's Association "Green and Gold" cookbook.  Teachers had come and gone with their own small supply of books.  My father felt the school should have at least a few. He somehow persuaded the parents that a little money should be spent on books. He tells me that he thinks he was given £5 to spend.  It would have been a good sum of money in pre-metric days.
The books were bought by him in the educational supply shop that supplied the schools with books. Most of our textbooks were printed by the same company. They were in a lane off the main shopping street in the city. The main shopping street is now a pedestrian mall. The lane is still there. The bookshop has gone.
It had a basement area where the school and university text books were kept and, on the ground floor, there were books for adults. Most important of all in my not so humble opinion was the section on the back wall that was home to the books for children. My brother was of the same view.
That school holiday my parents spent an entire morning in the bookshop, or so it seemed to us. Most of the time the spelling, reading and arithmetic books were handed on from one child to the next but there were several older children who would be doing "Year 8" by correspondence. My father would supervise their work and there were books to be bought for them. That was dull stuff!
Eventually we all went up to the ground floor again and my parents chose books for the school "library" - a bookshelf in each classroom.
I think my brother and I were disappointed by their choice. Looking back I realise that apart from ourselves, the sons of the bank manager and perhaps two other children the reading ability of the students was low. They did not read at home. It was something you did at school, because you had to do it. My parents chose books to reflect that.
We went on from there to the stationery supply shop. This also supplied the schools with art and craft materials. And, upstairs this time, there was another area which sold more text books and books for children.
Did we want to spend our pocket money, those sixpences we had saved so carefully, on pencils and paper or did we want to go upstairs and get a book? Foolish question! My brother and I disappeared up the stairs while my parents bought bright coloured squares of paper, cardboard and other "art" material. Even the fascinating sight of all those pens, pencils, paper clips, ink, chalk and other things could not compete with books!
It was quiet up there. The area was run by a short, dumpling of a woman who loved books and children in equal measure. When the shop closed she went on to run her own bookshop for children. We were greeted with smiles and by name, after all she knew our father well.
Our parents eventually climbed the stairs and bought yet more books - which sometimes turned out to be various Christmas and birthday presents - but my brother and I would hand over a pile of sixpences and leave with a book each wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.
This was book buying at its very best.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Someone caught me talking

to Pluto the cat yesterday and said, "I never talk to animals. They don't understand."
Now I admit this person is someone I do not particularly like. He is entirely without a sense of humour. He likes the sound of his own voice and he believes he is always right.  He is, fortunately for other people, not married. Locally he is unpopular because of his constant trouble making. (He went on to complain that a rubbish bin belonging to our neighbour had not been taken in on time.) He does however do a great deal to keep the neighbourhood clean and tidy.
I wanted to ask him how he knew that animals did not understand but I kept quiet. His answer would have been long and convoluted and I would not have agreed with it.
I would not have agreed because I am convinced that animals do understand something - often more than we give them credit for - and that they try to tell us more than we understand.  Only that morning someone had said research suggested that cats could make about one hundred different sounds. Dogs apparently only make about ten. I was not given a link for this so I cannot judge how the research was conducted or whether there is anything in the claim. It would not surprise me. What would be the point of being able to make those sounds if they had no meaning - if not for us then for other animals?
When we had cats we used to take them to a small animal vet not far from here. He was a particularly nice person and he would, quite unselfconsciously, talk to our cats as if they understood all that he was saying to them. They responded.  They behaved for him. Other people said the same thing about him. Even now people will say, "I wish 'X' was still there. He could talk to animals." Perhaps he had a particular capacity to observe. I do not know.
I think it would be supremely arrogant of us to believe that animals do not understand and do not communicate. Perhaps they understand us better than we understand them.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

I have a have a friend who is a unicorn,

at least that is what I understand her to be. She lives over on Katherine Roberts'  blog, "The Reclusive Muse" - mind you that is a bit of misnomber. She is really not terribly reclusive because she gallops around in the moonlight collecting authors and interviewing them for "fairytale reflections". No, wait a moment, the "fairytale reflections" bit belongs to a friend of hers although she does sprinkle unicorn dust around to help out. It is all rather exhausting work - or so she tells me.  Her human would like to know her name. We have been debating whether it would be wise to let her know this. Humans can do strange things with names and, of course, if you let your name be known to a human it gives them some power over you.  The unicorn and I need to consider this. Will it be safe for her?
Names came up in discussion the other day. We have another new member of the clan - my brother has a grandson. His second name is one that has been in the family for many generations. We can trace it back to at least the 16thC. It has always had the same spelling, a very standard spelling that has not changed in all that time. It is not a name that is going to cause the child any embarrassment. If he grows to understand why he was given it and has any pride in his family then he will probably be proud of his name too. His first name is also unexceptional and, to my way of thinking, an improvement on what they first considered.  His sister also has an unexceptional name, pleasant and sensible. It is also spelt in an unexceptional way.
When we were discussing these names someone mentioned that they did not like the current fashion of giving a child an unexceptional name but spelling it in an exceptional fashion in order to try and make it different. I know what they mean. There was a recent case of a "John" being spelt "Johnn" - yes with not one but two "n"s. Why? It will only make difficulty for the child. I have also seen "Dayvid",  "Hellen" and "Graice" - presumably "David", "Helen" and "Grace" if the unfortunate children's second names were an indication of their sex and background.
It seems to me that, if you want a child to be known by something unusual then it is better for them to be known by an unusual name rather than an unusual spelling.  It is better for people to be able to say, "That's pretty" or "That's interesting" and "How do you spell that?"  I have no doubt at all that young "Johnn" is going to go through life with problems. People will assume they know how to spell his name. He will be accused of not being able to spell his own name.  It is not a kind thing to do to a child.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

There was "knitting

in the bookshop" yesterday afternoon. Once a month I take an afternoon off and put on my "knitting teacher" hat. It is always interesting.
Yesterday one of the staff had a spare poster for me, a poster for a book called "How Tea Cosies Changed the World".  It will be used as part of another exhibition for another group.
I showed it to the bookshop group and somebody said, "Who uses tea cosies these days?" It was a serious question. She really did want to know.We then started to talk about tea cosies we had known. 
My maternal grandmother had three tea pots. There was the little one for when she made tea just for herself. That had a pink and white cosy she had crocheted herself. The pattern was like a crinoline skirt and there was a doll at the top. It was the sort of thing she loved to make.  The middle sized tea pot was used when she made tea for herself and my grandfather. That had a tea cosy shaped like a house. She had knitted that. I still have the pattern for that cosy somewhere. My mother kept it but, unlike her mother, would never have made it. I would not make it either. The biggest tea cosy was both knitted and crocheted. It was a quilted affair in green and yellow with flowers at the top. It fitted the teapot used when the extended family or visitors were present.
My paternal grandmother had a big teapot for family and visitors too. That had a tea cosy made from a remnant of blue silk woven with a pattern of Chinese temples and flowers. The remnant had been given to my tailor grandfather years before and it had not been wasted. The inside was padded with anothr remnant of calico and an old towel.  The middle sized teapot had a plain basket weave cosy my grandmother had made from yarn leftover from the many pullovers she had made. Nothing was wasted in her house.
And then there was the smallest teapot. It was the teapot my grandfather later used to give my grandmother her morning tea and toast in bed. It was a battered affair they had probably used all their married life. It had a cosy too. I remember it well.
It was blue. It was knitted in garter stitch, the plain knit stitch a child first learns. It was uneven. There was evidence of many many dropped stitches. I wonder that it was not stiff with salt from the tears shed making it. It was nothing more than two squares of incredibly bad knitting. My grandmother used it every day, several times a day. When it needed mending she darned it.  When I was sixteen I offered to make another one. She shook her head.
        "No dear. I want this one. It was the first thing you made."
Yes, it was. It was evidence of her confidence in me. Nobody else believed I could learn to knit, that my hand control would ever be good enough to manipulate yarn and needles. My grandmother did. She believed that tea cosies can change the world - and they did.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

We have a glory vine

growing along the fence at the side of the house. In spring the friend who comes to help with the heavy gardening puts long poles at an angle from roof to ground and the vines climb along the poles to form a canopy of green. It keeps the house considerably cooler in summer and costs us nothing more than a couple of hours of our friend's time. (Yes, we do pay him!)
Yesterday he reversed the process ready for winter. The poles came down. He cut the vines back and our "green" wheelie bin is full of what we cannot compost.
The house is much lighter. The sun will come in during the winter and help to keep that side of the house warm.  It is a system which works well particularly since the vines are watered from storm water and have never needed much attention.
But (yes there has to be a "but") the birds and animals are confused. We have any number of birds in the garden. We were careful to inspect the vines for anything the birds might need but the two nests have long since been abandoned. Nevertheless the birds have made their displeasure known. They congregated along the fence and on top of the rainwater tank we use for the garden and the downpipe which leads to it. They chattered vigorously and then headed for the grape vine over the pergola instead. Problem solved for them? I hope so.
The three visiting cats are another matter. They each have their own spot along that side. They lie along the path. They watch each other warily but do not usually engage in any conflict. The shade is welcome. The concrete pathway is cool. 
After our friend left yesterday two of the cats strolled past. They tried spreading out in their usual places, stayed a short while and then left for their own garden directly across the street. 
The third cat, Pluto, wandered in a little later. He stopped. He sat at the corner of the house and spent a considerable time just looking at the vines, the fence, his spot. I could see him doing all of this through the window as I was preparing lunch.
A little later I looked up and thought he had gone. Then I heard the old cat flap bang. He came in and sat in the middle of the floor. His tail was swishing. His ears kept twitching. He was clearly very displeased about something. No, he most definitely did not want to be patted or cuddled!
Eventually he jumped on the windowsill and looked out at where the vines had been. Then he looked at me and said, "Miaou!"
I think perhaps I was being told he did not like what had happened?

Monday, 26 March 2012

"Best we forget"

is what the headline reads in today's paper. I was going to write about something else entirely this morning but this makes me angry.
Apparently there are suggestions that acknowledging the centenary of ANZAC Day should be kept low key because Australian involvement in current conflicts is unpopular with young Australian and because of the potential for upsetting Australians of other backgrounds.
A considerable sum of money has been spent by the government on "researching" this. They say ANZAC Day commemorations are "something of a double-edged sword" with respect to young people and that we need to be sensitive to the fact that some migrants fought on "the other side" in some conflicts.
I do not disagree with either of those statements but I do believe that we all need to be aware of the fact that there are wars, that people die in wars, that people are injured in wars, that land mines kill and mame, that wars are about power and suppression and the denial of rights. War is never good.
We lived in the centre of a "soldier settlement" when I was in my teens. My father was appointed to the area school. We were surrounded by farms settled by soldiers who had been placed on the land after the war. The government did not know what else to do with these men. Many of them had never farmed but they had no other qualifications. The incidence of physical and, more particularly, mental illness was high in the local community.
Everyone participated in ANZAC Day there. We all knew what it was about. The little ones still got the story about Simpson and his donkey but we got other stories. Our history teacher was the wife of one of the soldiers. She made sure we understood, as best teenagers can, just what had happened, why it had happened, how Australians came to be involved and many other things.
On ANZAC Day itself we turned out in school uniform or Guide and Scout uniform. We were inspected for clean hair, clean fingernails, clean shoes, clean and pressed clothes. We understood that you turned up for the service looking the best you possibly could because it showed respect.
It showed respect. I think that is what angers me about the suggestion that the centenary commemoration should be low key. We should never celebrate war but this is not about celebrating war.  It should be about showing respect for those who died. 
Going low key suggests that the Australian involvement is something to be ashamed of. It is not. Going to war is not something to be proud of but that is not the same as being ashamed. If future generations do not know about these things then, as the saying goes, we will be "condemned to repeat it".
If migrants to Australia fought "on the other side" then they too have to respect our right to acknowledge ANZAC Day. There was a large Greek gathering in Melbourne yesterday - to celebrate the Greek National Day, the day they broke free of the Ottoman Empire. If they can do that and have television coverage, if other groups can also celebrate their national days, their New Year, their religious festivals and other events of importance in the countries they come from, then we must have the right to do similar things.
We have a duty to do it as well.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The election result in Queensland

has apparently resulted in the sinking of Bligh's ship, indeed the Bounty has apparently sunk to the point where only the mast is showing.
The final results are not yet known but it looks as if the former government may be left with less than a cricket team. No doubt those who wanted change are cheering loudly. Nevertheless the size of the win may not be a good thing. It will have national repercussions.
We need a national election. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that there has always been a question over the legitimacy of the present government.  It would not have mattered which side had taken government they would have had to depend on cross benchers. The problem has been that some cross benchers went against the wishes of their own electorates. They may believe that, in doing so, they obtained things for their electorates they would not otherwise have got but the fact remains they did not respect the wishes of their electorates.
We also need an election because the present government is putting in place a number of policies for which they do not have a mandate, even if they had won the election outright. These will be difficult, indeed probably impossible, to completely dismantle but they are going to do damage to the economy. The government is attempting to sell the so-called "carbon tax" as an environmental measure. It is not. It is designed to raise more revenue. It is not designed to change the behaviour of "big polluters" - or anyone else.
The tax on mining will also slow growth and is going to be held up by a challenge in the High Court. There are also issues with the protection of employees rights, with health, with education, with other environmental measures and with the failure to support small business while propping up the car industry although there is apparently no guarantee that all car industry jobs will be saved.
The government however is desperate to remain in power as long as it can. Only that way can it hope to claw back some of the support it has lost. Only that way can it get policies in place and make it difficult, or even impossible, for any other government to dismantle them. That they do not have the support of the electorate is immaterial to them. They believe they know best. That they were not elected to do these things is not an issue. Now that they are there they intend to "do what is best for the Australian people".
Somewhere along the way they have lost the plot completely. Their role is to represent our wishes. The new government in Queensland is going to have to be very careful to listen to the voters of Queensland. It is their job to represent them, all of them.
It is time we had the opportunity to tell our national government that as well.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Pippi Longstocking appeared

on my eighth birthday. My paternal grandparents gave me a copy of her adventures in the South Seas that year.
My mother was not impressed. She disapproved of Pippi as a character. Pippi was rude. Pippi answered back. There are other adults who have disapproved of Pippi for the same reason. Some also claim the books are "racist".
They are nothing of the sort. They are the sort of story you tell as a bedtime story, or to a child who is ill in bed. They remind me of my father's impossible tales to my two younger sisters. They were told to the author's daughter when she was ill in bed.
Pippi appears at the Villa Villekulla with her horse, her monkey, a suitcase of gold coins, and her treasures (housed in a chest of drawers). She is nine years old and she lives alone. She dresses in oversized shoes and a patchwork dress but plaits her red hair. She sleeps the wrong way around in her bed. She is immensely strong being able to lift her horse with one hand. All this has appealed to generations of children. It still appeals even though there is not a computer or cell/mobile 'phone in sight. It appeals because it is impossible.
Her behaviour is impossible too. Tommy and Annika Settergren who live in the house next door are two impossibly good, polite, well brought up and over-protected children who find Pippi fascinating. Their mother does not approve of Pippi.
Pippi lacks manners and education - or does she? She lacks conventional manners. She can be rude to adults. She is certainly rude to anyone she does not like. The man who ill-treats her horse has a hard time of it - and so he should. She deals with the pompous, prim and proper in her own unique way. Nevertheless she shows her own unique brand of respect to those who are deserving of it - rather negating the claims which are made of "racism".
Pippi does not go to school. Attempts to get her there fail. Tommy and Annika are both better educated in the formal sense but Pippi is intelligent and she is street smart too. She tells long stories which are quite clearly not true. Does it make her liar? Possibly not. She admits the stories are not true. The stories are the sort of story any child might dream up and wish for.
Pippi is resourceful, inventive, active and loyal. She will help those in need. She is a good friend to Tommy and Annika.
And yes, she is a ridiculous character - but we all need someone like her sometimes.

Friday, 23 March 2012

We have just spent $275 million

propping up the local car industry...Holden this time. We did it once before. We propped up Mitsubishi but then they closed anyway. Holden will too - although they say they will be here for another ten years.
Now yes, I do understand why the government has done it. If Holden goes then a lot of people will be affected, not just the people who actually work at Holden's.
The Holden plant is in an area where most people vote Labor (yes, the party word is spelt without an "u") and many are unemployed. The closure of Holdren would have had a devastating impact on the community. They did not need that. So yes, I understand why it was done.
I still do not approve. It seems to me that this was a cop out, a temporary measure. It has been done for political rather than economic reasons. People will look on Labor as the saviour of the community and vote for them at the next election. The problem is that the measure is just giving the industry a temporary reprieve.
The money should have been spent on building up something which has a future.
Naturally the Greens muttered things about "bigger, better, more effiicent electric cars" - not a bad idea but they forget that cars are merely assembled here. They are not made here.
I think that may be the problem. We need to start thinking about things that can be made  and exported from here - and that is going to be hard. We cannot rely on mineral resources forever.
All that is also going to take a great deal more cooperation and much more flexibility from not just employers but employees. At the moment that is not happening. It is not likely to happen.
In this state the union movement has just secured extra "half holidays" for people who must work after 6pm on Christmas Eve and Maundy Thursday Eve.  Much of this has to do with the fact that some retailers (but not all) want to open for business at those times. The cost of doing this flows throughout the community whether we shop then or do not shop then. Is it really necessary to shop at those times? I doubt it. Almost everyone owns a refrigerator these days and, should you want to buy something other than food, there are three hundred plus other days to do it in.  To add to the idiocy there will still be places that are not permitted to open even if they wished to do so.  The tiny row of shops near us which includes a specialist stationery store, a haberdashery/drycleaning outlet, a pet grooming place and a remainder clothing store is not permitted to open. Similar outlets in the large shopping centre can - although they do not need to.
Will there be a shift at the Holden factory? I suppose there will be. Will there be people to buy the cars? I suppose there will be.
But what if we manufactured others things? Bicycles? Electric bicycles? Small ride on electric vehicles for getting around the city? Solar panels? Small appliances? Power tools? Precision instruments? Micro-computers? Laboratory equipment? Large scale nurseries for for the forest industries? Clothing using our own wool? It seems the possibilities are endless. The problems are endless too.
We get more rules and regulations all the time. It is all designed to be "good" for us. Perhaps it is but it also seems expensive. It is why we have to hand out $275 million to Holden (and another $60m to surrounding components plants).
The money has to come from somewhere. The problem is that I am not sure where it is really coming from.  I am not sure where it is going either.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The appalling deaths

of young students and a rabbi in France have reminded me once again of an occasion on a Sunday morning when there was a bomb scare in the building opposite my hall of residence in London. The building was a centre for Jewish youth. On Sunday mornings they would have orchestra practice there. I could have conducted a certain Beethoven symphony myself by the end of that year. I could watch them scraping, bowing, banging and blowing from my bedroom window, a nice bunch of musical kids who got together to do some serious work and yet have fun doing it.
We would see these Jewish students going in and out. Most of them were younger than we were. There was not a lot of contact between us but relations were pretty friendly. The hall of residence was not far from a synagogue as well.  I went in once with a Jewish friend. It was quiet and empty, different from a church but there was still the sense of a place where people went to worship. Most places of worship I have visited are like that.
I do not know what the youth centre was like inside. It was probably noisy at times. Teenagers in groups do tend to be noisy. Out on the street however the students were no noisier than any of the many other students in the area. We just accepted that they were there but not everyone did.
The day there was a bomb scare in the youth centre the Warden of our residence did not hesitate. They had to evacuate the building. They were coming out into the rain as the police arrived to search the building. The Warden invited them into our building. I was doing a short stint of telephone duty and watched them come in.
They stood in the big recreation room at one side of the front door. They did not sit. Most of them looked rather frightened. They said almost nothing at all.
One of them in particular was very upset. She had been through this situation once before and the outcome had apparently not been good. The young rabbi in charge of them had separated her from the other students and was trying to talk to her in the foyer but she was just becoming more distressed.
Just then one of our older students returned from doing some shopping and saw the girl weeping. She walked over, nodded an acknowledgment to the rabbi, and spoke softly to the young girl, put an arm around her and led her to a corner and a seat. They sat and talked softly.
The all clear was given a short time later. The younger student hesitated and then hugged the older one.
I do not know whether the younger student knew or not and it does not matter - but the older student was from Egypt. Although her clothing did not indicate it she was a Muslim.
At the point someone 'phoned to ask if everything was all right. Yes, everything was all right.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Our electricity prices are about

to rise again. Nobody will be surprised by this. We all expected it. We will soon be paying more than anyone else in the world for electricity. That will come as no surprise either.
The state government had to privatise the electricity supply some years ago. This was done to pay off the debt incurred by the mismanagement and subsequent collapse of the state's bank. Of course the previous government, which had incurred that debt, now blames the sale of the electricity supply. It is, of course, more complex than that.
When I was a child however electricity supply was an even more complex thing. After I was born I was taken home to a house on top of a hill. It was little more than a tin shed - the only housing available in a small rural township. The power was supplied by the wind. If there was sufficient wind then the windmill turned and you had a power supply of sorts. Nowadays the same location has a regular power supply.
We moved into the township and had 240v. We moved to the city and had 240v. We moved to the country and we had nothing at all for six months. Then, great excitement, they put in a 32v power plant. My father was initiated into the intricacies of running this. My mother invested in a 32v iron after having used flat irons heated on the top of woodburning stove to do the ironing. We had power to read by at night. It was not the best supply in the world. It could dim quite suddenly when the batteries decided to take a rest - something they seemed to do quite frequently.
We kept moving backwards and forwards between 32v and 240v systems. As children we knew to turn off the light when we left the room. My father had a battery operated radio - used for listening to the news - and we were permitted to listen to the Children's Hour. That was it. More than that would have cost more batteries. Our hot water was heated through pipes at the back of the woodburning stove or the "chip heater" in the bathroom. Precious electricity was not wasted on that! The small refrigerator used "kerosene". The house was minimally heated in winter by a second wood burning "slow combustion" stove in the living area
We really used very little electricity.
Now we have a refrigerator and a freezer powered by electricity. The oven, when I use it, is an electric oven. There is the microwave oven and that uses electricity. We have a television set which gets minimal use but yes, it uses electricity.
There are clocks and the computer. As I work via computer perhaps I can justify that?  My father has a workshop with power tools.
We put in solar panels on the roof. It was part of a government scheme which may, or may not, prove viable. My brother-in-law did the calculations and said it would be worth the investment. He considers these things very carefully. We just have to trust his judgment.
We do seem to use more electricity than we once did. It is convenient being able to flick a switch rather than chop wood.  It is pleasant to have the supply flowing steadily rather than intermittently.  It is really good being able to keep things in a refrigerator that works well.  I appreciate all that.
I just have to learn to pay for the privilege.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

There have been some odd

pieces of "research" surface lately. You know the sort of thing I mean, the sort of "research" that is reported in the paper.
There was the "research" which suggested that people who flew Australian flags on their cars were "more racist". I know one person who took his Australian flag off his car after that, "in case people think I am racist". He is not. He and his wife have a "granny flat" at the back of their home. It has not been used since his father died except by people who come down from the Northern Territory to stay while relatives are in hospital. These people are often indigenous Australians who live on the property his cousin's family owns. But, he took the flag off the car worried by how other people might perceive him.
There was "research" suggesting that "eating white rice will give you diabetes". If that was true then almost everyone would have diabetes because most of us have eaten white rice at some time or other. The dietary reality has to be much more complex than that.
There was "research" suggesting that one of the suburbs in this city was the most depressed, dangerous and generally deficient. The researchers interviewed just twelve people living in the summer and claimed that "looking at other data" was sufficient to draw their conclusions. They do not say what that data is, how it was collected or what conclusions were drawn from it.
There was other "research" suggesting that eating more red meat than chicken or fish is likely to lead to a range of other medical problems and an earlier death. Eating anything in excess is not likely to be good for you. I remember being told to cut out eggs and all dairy products from my diet "because they are so bad for you they are going to be banned". The person who gave me this advice was a qualified medical practitioner.  Yes, I know there are people who are vegans. Bill Clinton has apparently turned vegan after a lifetime of eating "burgers". The vast majority of the world however is not vegan and has never been vegan. The advice about eating red meat surely needs to be considered along with a great many other issues?
Then, on the third page of this morning's paper there was another piece of "research". It was said to be "important" and yes, in a way, it is.  It suggests that if you enjoy exercise you are - wait for it - more likely to exercise. Right.
People were actually paid to do these pieces of research. The proposals would have passed ethics committees. Some of the research would have passed academic peer reviews as well. I wonder how they do it?
What could I research?

Monday, 19 March 2012

Our rural doctors

do it the hard way. They have always done it the hard way.  There is a letter in this morning's paper explaining the consequences of a state government directive that will cost rural patients more - and add to the pressure of rural doctors. It is one of those ill thought out policy decisions designed to "save" money which will actually cost more than it saves because yes, if you have broken your arm or leg you do need to go to hospital but you may not need to stay there. If however you do not get admitted for an overnight stay then it is going to cost you more because you should, apparently, have this dealt with by your GP.
Sometimes that just is not possible.
When we lived in "the bush" we always had to travel a considerable distance to see a doctor. As my mother did not approve of doctors and refused to let us see one unless my father insisted this was not a particular problem for my family. As children we were relatively healthy. We caught the occasional cold. We had mumps and chicken pox and measles before there were vaccinations for such things.  My youngest sister broke her leg falling off a bike on a rough country track but, fortunately for us, there were no major medical emergencies.
The doctor who delivered us was later knighted for his services to rural medicine. He built up a hospital in the rural community I was born in. It is still there and likely to remain there because it is almost commuter territory these days. Other places have not been so lucky.
The doctors in the rural areas we lived in were sometimes "characters". One drank too much but the locals still had the highest respect for him. He had operated on one of the locals at the side of a dirt road under the spotlights used for kangaroo hunting. It was a far cry from the antiseptic surroundings of an operating theatre but the man survived having his chest opened.  He just shrugged it off. He was a doctor. It was the sort of thing a doctor did. In reality of course it was quite extraordinary.
When we found another my mother had to see for the medical to return to teaching he was helping to put in the drains in what would become his surgery.
One of the other rural doctors told my father that he had misdiagnosed a patient. It was caught by a locum who had come across for a week so that he could go to an update course. The patient survived but the doctor was deeply distressed by the fact that the misdiagnosis could have cost the patient's life.
My father's last rural appointment was in an area where the local doctor was the wife of one of the farmers. She also acted as the local vet on occasion.  She turned up at the school one day to do some immunisations having first seen to the delivery of a calf.  The same doctor cut short a much needed holiday and came back to care for a critically ill patient. He survived and farmed for another eleven years.
There are many other similar stories which could be told so why would the government make it more difficult for rural doctors to do their jobs? They are already under stress. If they are working solo, and some of them are, they cannot even call quickly for another opinion. That just adds to stress. The rural hospital might be a long car journey from where they practice. They will not send a patient there unless they think it is absolutely essential. If a rural patient is going to be charged extra for using the hospital without being admitted there is going to be even greater pressure not to send them there. Patients in urban areas can go to outpatients without being charged extra.
It seems our state government believes that rural patients do not need hospitals or doctors. Apparently rural residents do not break bones or cut themselves open or threaten suicide or roll their cars. Rural residents are never supposed to be ill. Living in the bush is healthy - or is it?

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Margaret Whitlam died

yesterday. There was an announcement in the SBS newsfeed and it brought back some memories of her.
I encountered Margaret, ("my name is Margaret") when I was a student at the Australian National University.
While many of the other students would go home for the two week Easter vaction I would stay. There was always work to do in the library and my ESL/EFL students needed me.
The hall of residence I was living was always taken over by the National Playwright's Conference. Some big names in theatre would appear and the dining room conversation would be quite different. I would be told something like, "Cat, it is your job to tell them anything they need to know about..." Oh,  right.
I remember the first year I was there David Williamson was in the dormitory room next to my own. I found this out when he knocked on the door and asked rather sheepishly, "Er, I don't suppose I could cadge a tea bag?"
I soon found they were all rather like him, especially when they realised that I had absolutely no desire to act and that my "playwriting" was strictly confined to things for the schools I had taught in.
Margaret however was the Patron of their Association. She may have been the wife of a former Prime Minister but she was also very much a person in her own right. She was extremely well informed about the theatre and arts in general.
 Goodness' knows what she thought of the student facilities but she queued happily with the rest of us to get meals from the servery hatch. She listened to the theatre talk and the usual ranting and raving about lack of funds, disasters, sets, lighting, scripts etc etc. The whole point of the time these people spent together was to try new works, new ways of doing these things, new techniques and so on. Margaret seemed to understand all these things. She would encourage and cajole, demand and divert. She would calm arguments and soothe troubled waters without ever seeming to be doing any of those things.
One evening I took my friend Judith Wright into the dining room for the evening meal after a meeting. The two women knew one another of course. How, Margaret wanted to know, did Judith know me? "Oh, Cat writes."
Margaret nodded. I did not think she was terribly interested, after all with the likes of David Williamson around why should she be interested in me?
The following evening however Gough Whitlam joined her in the dining room. They were in the queue well ahead of me. Everyone was chatting to one another. The noise level was, as always, rising. Suddenly, over the top of the noise we all heard, "Absolute nonsense Gough, absolute nonsense!"  Margaret was making her feelings about something known, a former Prime Minister was definitely being told something. 
There was a momentary startled lull in the conversation and then everyone went back to talking as before. Someone behind me said, "Well, you can tell who wears the pants in that family."
Later, as I was leaving the dining room, Margaret beckoned me over and introduced me to her husband.
She introduced me as "A friend of Judith's. Judith says Cat writes." We had a chat about my attempts to get people interested in what became International Literacy Year. Judith had apparently been telling her about that.
Several years later she was at Writers' Week at the Adelaide Festival of Arts. We literally crossed paths. She stopped and asked if I had heard from Judith recently. What was I writing? She congratulated me on "getting the literacy thing up".  When someone came to claim her attention she passed the ultimate interest test by remembering my name and saying, "Oh this is Cat. Cat writes."
I had not thought she was interested but apparently she was. Our political views were not the same and I would never have discussed politics with her. She knew that but it made no difference to her.
I wonder what Australia would have been like if she had been our first female Prime Minister?

Saturday, 17 March 2012

I do not have many books

by Enid Blyton.
I was not particularly aware of this until a child was searching my shelves and remarked on the fact. "Don't you collect Enid Blyton?" I was asked. Why should I? I collect children's books. I have a particular interest in the post 1945 era especially that period stretching from the 50's and 60's into the 70's. Enid Blyton was around then. She was still writing in the earlier part of that time. It just happens Enid Blyton is not one of the authors I collect.
I was given several of her books as a child. I still have them. I cannot remember when I last read them. My nephews did not bother with them. They had other things to read. Their school library certainly did not have Enid Blyton on the shelves. For a long time no library in this state had Enid Blyton on the shelves. As a teacher-librarian I was not permitted to place her books on the shelves of the school library. It did not stop the children from reading her work. They borrowed it from one another if they happened to have any of it. I was asked why they were not allowed to have it at school.  The official answer was because she was not a good writer and there were other, better books to read.
The Whirlwind read the Enid Blyton I have. She borrowed one or two more. By age nine she had well and truly outgrown it and grown into other writers. According to her Enid Blyton was "okay if you want to read something but you can't be bothered reading much".
At teacher training college we were told that Enid Blyton was like Mills and Boon "pink paperback". I have never read a Mills and Boon "pink paperback" so I do not know if it is a fair comparison. I did look at one once while waiting for an elderly neighbour. The first page bored me but perhaps that was that particular book. I do not think Enid Blyton bored me as a child. I read the books because they were there. I read them along with things like "The Loom of Language", "Genetics and you" and "My Family and Other Animals" - books which happened to be in the bookshelf in our living area.
If a book appeared on my horizon I read it - or tried to read it. I struggled through some of  "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" and even dipped into "Sons and Lovers" - a book that appeared on my father's university reading list after the ban was lifted.(My father did not stop me looking at it. He was wise. I did not persist with it. I thought the book was "boring". )
Enid Blyton was there in the background. If I came across one I would read it. If there was nothing else to read I would read Enid Blyton. One or two children I knew longed to collect "all the Famous Five" or some other series. I did not. There were other books on my list.
I wonder what I would make of Enid Blyton now? Should I look for my copy of "The Castle of Adventure" and try to read it again? I am not really sure I could be bothered. What do you think? Could you be bothered?

Friday, 16 March 2012

"Where does he go?"

my small friend asked me.
My screen saver is, naturally, a cat. His name is Felix and he comes courtesy of some cat food or other. That part does not bother me. I just ignore it.
Felix himself is rather fun. My brother-in-law found him and suggested he would make an appropriate addition to my computer. He arrived, full of mischief, and has resided here ever since -but where is here and where does he go?
It was not something that had really occurred to me before. My father had asked where the information available on the computer was stored and how it was stored but I had left the explanation up to my brother and my BIL. They are the computer wizards. My own understanding of these things is sketchy but adequate in the sense that I understand there are servers and sites and there is a need to "save" things. Right.
But where does Felix "live" and "where does he go"? My small friend was utterly puzzled by this. He had been watching Felix do things. Felix prowls in after a night out on the tiles. He knocks over milk bottles, puts muddy paw marks on the floor and more paw marks on the window as he chases the cloth washing it. He gets tangled in the telephone cord and then sits on the telephone. He puts a paw on the toy train going around the track and dives under the bedclothes. It is all great fun for a small boy to watch. Felix chases butterflies, drinks milk, watches television and rolls in a pile of leaves too. If you open his toybox he can chase a clockwork mouse, jump on a frog he never catches or squash a beach ball flat. Yes, it is fun.
My small friend thought all of this was marvellous but he was puzzled. Where did Felix go?
           "I am not sure," I told him, "He goes away if I stop using the computer."
I try to be truthful, especially with small children. I believe it is important.
           "Where do you think he might go?" I asked.
A small finger pointed at the computer tower.
          "Inside there. He goes to sleep."
Oh, of course. Yes. The logical answer.
          "I think you might be right."

Thursday, 15 March 2012

There were reports of an accident

in my newsfeed yesterday. This time it was not a ferry capsizing somewhere in Asia or Africa. It was not a tourist bus going over a ravine in South America. It was not a derailment in India. It was a bus slamming into a wall in Switzerland. The death toll is high and it is somehow far worse because so many of the dead and the injured are children. I had a moment when I felt - quite literally - sick.
I am supposed to be able to mentally handle disasters. I am supposed to be able to put a distance between myself and what is happening. I am supposed to be able to concentrate on the job of helping.
Perhaps it was because I was not actually required to do something that this was so hard? I do not know. I am well aware that children die in disasters. It happens all too frequently. They are much more vulnerable than adults. Women are more vulnerable than men. Men are often physically stronger and more able. In some cultures they will be better fed. Of course men tend to take more risks. It is men who do most of the fighting in conflicts. It is the way the world works. I do not like any of these things.
But yesterday's news hit hard for another reason. I have friends living in Belgium. They have three grandchildren. One of them was going on a skiing trip to Switzerland. Was he involved?
I paced the room. I paced the house. Did I inquire? Did I remain silent? They may not know yet . I did not want to intrude on what might be a family tragedy. I wanted to show I was alert and concerned. No, better to say nothing. Perhaps I should say something.  My thoughts went around and around.
My friends know I get the newsfeed. The husband helped to set it up for me. We have worked together many times. Commonsense told me they would let me know when they could. They did.
Last night there was an e-mail from my friends, "Maarten not involved." I felt an immense sense of relief for them even while being aware that far too many people are not that fortunate. Life will never be the same again for those who are involved. 
It is different when it is personal.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

"How much is it costing

them to do all this?" the Senior Cat asked me. He was looking at yet another report of the American presidential nomination election campaign.
I was not expected to answer the question of course. We both know that there are vast sums of money being poured into that campaign.
There is an election campaign in Queensland right now as well. They go to the polls on the 24th of this month. Donations are being solicited and scrutinised and criticised more than ever before. The party in power at present is in danger of losing despite having the advantage of being in government and being able to use taxpayer funds to advertise their achievements. Yes, it is advertising even when it is dressed up as "informing". All political parties do it when they are in power.
There have also been several letters in the press recently about where the funding for election campaigns come from. Wealthy individuals are being heavily criticised for giving donations to the political party of their choice, usually the current Opposition. There has also been a rush to defend the right of unions to use the funds supplied by their members to support "their" political party. It is "their" party even though by no means all of them support it. Union membership is no longer supposed to be compulsory but the reality is that there are areas in which workers have no choice if they want a job. Others have been told that, should they leave the union they were once compelled to belong to, they risk losing their jobs. They stay and they "donate" to the party.
I have problems with donations to political parties of any sort. I know they need money to exist and to campaign but there is always the suggestion that individuals who give hefty donations might benefit - after all, why donate if you are not going to benefit? I also have a problem with union funds being used in this way.
As a tertiary student I was compelled to "belong to the student union". It was often quite an expensive business. At my last university the "union fees" were several hundred dollars.  The union was supposed to provide a range of student services - anything from counselling and child care through sports clubs, the student "bar" and market to the "newspaper" and a range of political activities. 
I never used any of these facilities. The counselling service was actually paid for by the university rather than the union fees. I did not have children. Even if I had been able to play sport there would have been no time to do so. I still do not know where the bar is situated. I saw the newspaper if someone left a copyy lying around and I had two minutes to flip through it. It was always filled with the same sort of pseudo-political commentary and other "news" that was of no interest to me. That particular university did not even bother with a "ball" or similar social activity. Other universities I attended did but I never went to these events and most of the people I mixed with did not attend either. We still paid union fees.
The student unions also gave a "donation" to one particular political party. It was expected of them. Many students were unaware of it and, even if they had been, there would have been nothing they could do about it.
       "It's like investing in a company," I have been told, "The company directors might use some of the funds to make a donation to a political party."
No, it is not quite the same. You can withdraw your funds from the company if you do not like the way your money being used. If a private company donates money then there is even less reason to object unless you can see they are buying direct political influence.
I do not know what the answer is to this issue. Is it funding on a membership numbers basis? Is it funding on the basis of the number of votes obtained at the latest election?
Someone suggested an "opt out" scheme. I doubt that would work. There would be a list somewhere. Some people would feel compelled to remain for fear of harassment - and they would be marked out.
It all seems wrong to me.
It is said any US citizen born in the US can aim to be President and that any Australian can aim to be Prime Minister. The reality is that you need to be wealthy or you need the support of wealthy individuals or organisations. 
It is really rather sad.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Is it really any of

our business?
The media here in Australia is currently making a seven course meal out of the affairs of the Rinehart family. They happen to be extremely wealthy. There is a family trust and... well you can guess the rest. Apart from having some sympathy for Mama Rinehart who has worked hard and supported her children in the lifestyle to which we all believe we would like to become accustomed I am not interested. I should not be interested. It is none of my business.
I was once involved in a similarly messy situation. It was not by choice. I was asked to be present at an old fashioned "reading of a will". I was not, I hasten to add, a beneficiary.
The will contained some surprises, some big surprises. "Papa" was wealthy. His children clearly had big "expectations" - well, all but one of them. The older three had inherited money from their maternal grandfather's estate. They were - or should have been - at very least "comfortable". They always wanted more.
The youngest, born after the death of her maternal grandfather, had not shared in that inheritance. "Mama" had died some years before and her will had also been written in favour of the three eldest. She had never changed it. It is likely that she had never had any intention of changing it.
"Papa" had also handed out money to the three eldest from time to time. The money was supposed to be in form of "loans" but only the third child had made any attempt to pay any back.
The youngest child was the only one of the four who had done well at school. She went to university on scholarship. She had a job and, although she remained at home, she paid board and assisted her father in entertaining after her mother's death. People assumed that the youngest would at least benefit from her father's estate. She herself told me she had no such expectations. Her father had made it clear that he did not intend to make the same mistakes as he had before. She could earn her own living.
An organisation I was involved in received a handsome donation. It came with conditions they were happy to meet and I accepted it on their behalf. There were other similar bequests.  The older three children were not happy about this. They were most certainly not happy about the provisions their father had made for them or their children. They expected far more.
The youngest did not appear to get any of those things. There was a much smaller bequest to her.
The older three fought the provisions. They made life extremely difficult for their younger sibling. If she joined the action it was going to be much easier to fight the provisions. She refused to cooperate with them.
She told me, "My father asked me whether I wanted his money or my self-respect. I chose self-respect."
It was an attitude which got her everywhere. She married the son of the other Director and she now has a seat on the board.

Monday, 12 March 2012

When my parents moved into

this house the neighbours on either side of them were different from the neighbours we have now. In fact there is only one other house in the street where the occupants are the same as they were when my parents moved in.
On one side of us there was an elderly couple. They were in their eighties and we did not seem them for about five months of each year. They would hook their ancient caravan to an almost equally ancient car and head off to Queensland. They did that until they were "too old" to handle the caravan. They did several more trips to Queensland and stayed in one of the many "apartments" available for rent having taken several overnight stops in motels on the way.
On the other side was a couple about ten years younger than my parents. They had two teenage boys. One of them was "trouble" - or was he? There were constant battles between him and his parents. He seemed wild and uncontrollable, out with "mates" who looked equally likely to be "trouble".  He was asked to leave school - not expelled as such but the headmaster of the local high school told his parents there was no point in him staying there as he was doing no work and was not going to pass the final year exams. School did not interest him.  He looked untidy. His hair was long. The police turned up one day and had words with him about just where he had been riding his bike. It was nothing terribly serious but it convinced everyone he was "trouble".
His mother thought he could not be relied on to do anything. She would yell and scream at him. It made no difference. His father just gave up and they barely spoke a word to one another.
The old man on the other side of us would sometimes talk to him as the kid slouched past or rode his skateboard in and out of all the driveways along our street.  The kid would actually stop to talk to him briefly.
         "He'll be okay," the old man told me one day. My mother doubted it as much as his own mother did. My father had no opinion. They had scarcely exchanged a word. The old man relied on the kid to water the garden in their absence one year. Everyone said it was madness but the garden was watered and the lawn was kept cut.
I had to agree with the old man's assessment. I had my own experience. The chain on my tricycle came off one day. As I was struggling to get it on the kid skated past, came to a halt, turned back and said,
         "You want some help?"
He had a job by then. He was a roofing tiler's mate for a bit and then did a variety of other things. Eventually he got himself apprenticed to a bricklayer. It came about through word of mouth. He was, it seemed, a good worker. He was on time and he worked hard. He was willing to learn.
I saw his brother yesterday. He was the conservative one who caused no real worries. I asked him how his brother was getting on.
        "He's doing okay - well more than okay."
Somehow I knew that was going to be the answer.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

We have visitors

coming today. My father is not fond of having visitors on an "invited" basis. He prefers it if people just drop in. That way he does not need to worry about changing out of his working clothes. If male they can even go out to the shed with him - and often do.
My father is not unsociable by any means. He still enjoys good company and good conversation. Visitors however are an effort. He feels he needs to help me.
       "I'll sweep," he tells me. Well he does that anyway. It is his self-appointed task. He has done that ever since my mother died. So what if I have to wait until he goes outside to do the bits he misses? I would never tell him but there is one point he always forgets to sweep.
      "I'll dust," he tells me. I am not going to tell him that I get the long handled duster to reach the cobwebs he does not even notice.
      "I'll set the table," he tells me. That's fine because he will say, "What else do you need?"  Then I can say, "The placemats." There may be something else as well but I will quietly put that out later.
I tried asking him to put a hand towel out for guests in the bathroom once but he put out a new bathmat instead so I do that.  I clean there too.
My father is not particularly domesticated I suppose. He was not brought up that way. His parents were born when Queen Victoria was on the throne. Things were different then. He does not think it is beneath his dignity to help. His father was the same. His father would help with the washing up. Once his father reached semi-retirement he would make breakfast each morning. He made the world's best porridge - and always burnt the toast. He did the household maintenance for as long as he could. My father still does what he can too although, like his father, he has stopped climbing ladders.
I am wary of allowing him to do any food shopping. He is wary of doing it. What sort of milk do you buy? Isn't milk just milk? Where do you find....? It amazes him that I can mentally consider the entire supermarket and, for everyday items at least, I can tell him which aisle (and whereabouts in that aisle) you will find something. He does not believe that there is nothing remarkable in this although I tell him that most people who regularly do the shopping are probably able to do this. No, it is simpler to do the shopping myself and just allow him to occasionally bring home the specific item if he happens to be going up there anyway.
My father is the kindest and most thoughtful of people. He is appreciative of what is done for him and he will do what he can to help others.
There is one thing however that my father never offers to do. He never says, "I'll cook."
Thank goodness' for that!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Children's Library

of my childhood was adjacent to the university grounds.
To get there you went down North Terrace, one of the main roads forming the boundary of the square mile of the city laid out by Colonel Light.  If you are coming from the City Railway Station you go past Parliament House and then over King William Street and then continue past Government House and the main War Memorial. Then you cross a smaller road. There is a library on the corner. No, this is not the building. There is the big new State Library building, there is the Museum and the Art Gallery and the University.
The Children's Library was tucked away behind what is now the State Library building and you could walk from there into the university grounds where there was (and still is) a much larger library. The Children's Library was housed in the old police barracks, a building leftover from colonial days.
I wonder now how often it was used because it seems to me that when we went to visit it we were the only childtren who were ever in there.
We did not go often. I am not sure my mother was particularly keen on us going at all but my father was enthusiastic. He went in and out all the time. He would return the books my brother and I had been reading and pick up more. The library staff chose them for him. They knew him well. He went in and out twice a week during the university term. We only went in the school holidays.
It was bliss. The books were shelved around the walls at child height. There were none of the brightly coloured paperbacks or even the dust jackets that we have now. The books were all in "library binding". It did not bother us, after all we knew nothing else. All we knew was that here there were books to read. We worked out "alphabetical order" and "Dewey Decimal System" for ourselves because my father would leave us while he went to "the Barr-Smith" which is the university library. 
Yes, I know libraries are not baby sitting services but my brother and I would not have thought of misbehaving in any way. We were much too busy for that. We did not require babysitting or childminding or looking after in any other way. We had books - and more books.
I wonder what modern children would make of that library? Computers did not exist. Paperbacks were still new and never seen inside a library. There were no posters on the walls. The floor was linoleum. There was a table with hard wooden chairs around it. You were expected to be "quiet".
Our local library is a riot of colour and noise. Children run around in it. They lie on the carpet or lounge in the beanbags and read. It is untidy. There are low tables and brightly coloured plastic chairs. Most of the books are paper backs. There are computer screens and computer games. There is story telling and there are all sorts of activities.
It is all absolutely marvellous. I wonder if they will remember all this when they grow up. What will a library be like when they are my age? Will there still be libraries?
My childhood library was a magical place. Will theirs have been a magical place too?

Friday, 9 March 2012

The right of reply

is essential in the conduct of conversation. Unless there is a right of reply then conversation does not exist. It is surprising how many people forget this.
The media needs to converse as well as communicate. It is one reason why most newspapers have a "Letters to the Editor" section. It is why Members of Parliament are sometimes allowed to take up space there rather than elsewhere - perhaps as a press release.  People read the Letters to the Editor. They seem to like to know what other people are thinking - even if it just so they can disagree with them.
If you write such letters then you have to expect that at least one person is likely to disagree with you. Their letter may also make it onto the letters page. It is, in a sense, the "right of reply" although further conversation may well be curtailed by whichever member of staff is editing the letters on that day. After all, letters to a newspaper also need to be topical.
The Finkelstein report does not suggest that the practice of writing letters to the editor of a newspaper should be curtailed but I can see that changes would need to be made. They would need to be made because Finkelstein proposes quite extraordinary powers for his News Media Council. His complaints procedure amounts to a denial of natural justice.  Complaints should not be directed first to the media outlet in question but to the Council. His argument is that to go directly to the media outlet would take time and people would be at a disadvantage. The Council could refer the complaint to the media outlet.
This means the Council would have the power to stop a complaint or a story in its tracks. The Council would, if the recommendations were enacted, ultimately have the power to require a withdrawal of the story from the electronic media and they would have the power to direct a right of reply in the print media. They could also direct when, where and how this would be done as well as what was actually said. At the same time should someone as small and insignificant as me make any sort of complaint they could just pass the buck.
A further recommendation is made that the Council should not be required to make the reasons for their decisions known - although it is suggested it normally would. There would be no recourse to appeal.
This is all of great interest to me because I have been known to contribute to the pages of more than one newspaper. I have made comments critical of all sides of politics. I have sometimes deliberately tried to stir up debate on an important issue. My "strike rate" of publication hovers around 90% - higher if you count the occasions on which the letter has been used as part of an editorial.
I am not however nearly as prolific as some letter writers. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are predictable. There are letters from children, from centenarians and every age in between. There are letters from every occupation imaginable as well as the unemployed and the "retired". Letters are an important part of the newspaper culture, just as comments are on media websites.
Finkelstein's recommendations would drastically change all that - and I do not believe it would be for the better.
Oh, and yes - you do have the right to reply to this.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

More Leveson v Finkelstein or

at least more Finkelstein. You are interested? Or perhaps you are cheering loudly at the thought that, should those recommendations be put in place, bloggers like myself will simply disappear. There will be no point in blogging. We will not be able to say what we wish to say.
Now please, do not misunderstand me. Let me make it quite clear that I strongly believe that freedom of speech carries with it certain responsibilities. The rules are simple. (1) You do not defame anyone, that is you do not "bring them into hatred, ridicule or contempt". (2) You do not incite violence. (3) You recognise that other people may not always agree with you and may do things differently. (4) You both have a right to be heard.
Right. Along comes the report by Mr Justice Finkelstein.
Finkelstein is proposing a new independent statutory body which might get called the News Media Council. It would oversee his proposals. We already have an Australian Press Council but that is run by the press itself. Oops! It is not independent enough according to Finkelstein. He wants something chaired by a retired judge or a high ranking lawyer with other equally august people seated around the table.
This has the potential to be highly political. The council would surely be controlled by the government of the day even if the people on it were "appointed for a term"?
The Australian Press Council has not done a bad job. Why change it? Yes, there is a perception it is not as independent as it should be but has it really done such a bad job? Is it just possible that there have been a few things governments would like to keep the lid on - especially recently? There was our Prime Minister's membership of a certain political organisation. It was mentioned - and it was also hushed up again pretty quickly. It seems nobody wants to continue with that story. There have been issues with the so-called carbon tax, the NBN, the BER, the pink batts scheme, the bid for a seat on the Security Council, some other things I am not free to talk about - and the Thomson affair. The Thomson affair is going nowhere although it should be. The notion that there has been no political interference in that is laughable. Of course there has been. The government needs his backside on his seat if they are to retain power. It does not take two or more years to investigate the misuse of a credit card and other offences.
If the proposed Finkelstein News Media Council was to be put in place we would learn nothing at all about the Prime Minister's membership of that organisation or of the Thomson affair. It would not be possible to put the stories out.
Ah, but what about blogs you say? They could get the message out.  Well Finkelstein proposes that they be caught up in the same net. My blog would get caught.  Any blog with more than 15,000 hits a year would get caught - that is any blog with around 300 hits a week.  The number is low enough to catch even teenage bloggers who only put a couple of dozen posts a year. We would be subject to the rulings of the proposed News Media Council.
The powers proposed for that council are so wide that they would effectively allow total control of Australian content. There is even a proposal to draw up legislation in such a way that it would catch those outside Australia who can be shown to have a strong connection with Australia.
If such powers were ever given to a group I have no doubt they would be challenged in the High Court. I have no doubt that there is a widespread belief that a challenge would succeed, that "free speech" would be preserved - probably by invoking the external affairs power. The High Court must however work within the Constitution. It cannot simply say, "this is wrong".
It will be better for us if no such case ever needs to come before the High Court. Freedom of speech needs to be preserved not reserved.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Leveson v Finkelstein

Anyone reading this in the United Kingdom will be aware of the Leveson Inquiry and the reasons for it. Australians will also be aware of it. What readers in both places will be less aware of is that Australia has also had a media inquiry of sorts.
I say "of sorts" because it was not nearly as public. The 'phone hacking scandal in th UK was used as an excuse to move towards doing something our present Federal Government has long wanted to do, gain greater control of the media. They already have control the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC). Not only do the funding arrangements see to that but the ABC has, over the years, had any number of journalists and presenters who have made no secret of their political affiliations. One long-time presenter of the 7:30 Report, now retired, made blatant use of his position to support the left side of politics. Others are more careful - and perhaps more dangerous because of it.
The Press Gallery in Canberra is also left leaning. Again, they make no secret of that. Labor governments have a much easier time of it with the press than Coalition governments. The Press Gallery is about contacts. The left has a largely left leaning "Australian Public Service" behind it.
If then the media is criticising the government it is not just about making news. It is because the media believes there really is something to criticise, even on their own side of politics.
Of course not all journalists and commentators are left leaning. There are some who lean just as far the other way. Nevertheless there are fewer of them and they get less space on the page and time on the air.
Why then did the government want an inquiry?
Part of it was to do with the fact that they are absolutely dependent on the Greens to get legislation through the Senate. The Greens believe they have been given a very hard time by the media. (It may be that, even for the left-leaning media mob, some of the Greens policies are just too extreme.)
The leader of the Greens gets plenty of air time. His opinion is sought almost as readily as that of the Prime Minister. In some circles he is regarded as "the power behind the throne" and even some members of the left hope he will eventually be "the power behind the thrown" instead.
The Greens want to see much greater media control. A Labor government would like it if they could get it without people being too aware of what was happening. The Greens would not merely like it, they are determined to have it.
The government also feels it has been given a hard time. Policies have been criticised. Broken promises, particularly big ones like the carbon tax, have been criticised. The behaviour of some MPs, including the Prime Minister, has been scrutinised.  It would happen to any government but this one is particularly vulnerable. It is a minority government. It relies on "independents" to remain in power. It did not have a majority of voters on side when it took office.  There is a serious question of probity hanging over one MP and the government has, despite protestations to the contrary, managed to delay a report into the findings against him. If he needed to resign then the government would almost certainly go with him.
The media, aware that the government came perilously close to losing office a short while ago, has now rallied around it again. The Prime Minister is now being shown as another version of "the Iron Lady". Her appointment of an outsider as Foreign Minister is being praised.
It will be interesting to see what is done about the Finkelstein Report...

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Putin is President

again in Russia but our Neighbourhood Watch group folded last year.
Putin wanted the job. Nobody wanted to run Neighbourhood Watch. There are some jobs nobody wants to give up.  There are some jobs nobody wants.
Putin wants power. I do not think anyone, even his supporters, would doubt that. His turn as Prime Minister was merely "time out" until he could become President again. And yes, he manipulated the results in order to return. Even as Prime Minister he was a powerful man.
Almost anyone who wants to be a Prime Minister or a President wants power. There are perhaps one or two exceptions to this but they are rare. Once there they also want to stay there. They are almost never the best people for the job.
The same thing happens in other groups.  I belong to a group in which the constitution allows for someone to be President for no more than two consecutive terms. The last person to be President was reluctant to pass the baton. There was even talk of changing the constitution so she could continue in the job. I argued against this. Yes, she was a good President in many ways but the very fact that she was prepared to continue was reason enough to find someone else. The Patron of the organisation, a former high ranking politician, agreed with me. The group has found another President.
I know of other groups where there is no restriction on how long someone can remain in office. One group has just lost their President of thirty-one years. They went to his funeral yesterday. One of the members called in to see me about something else on his way home and said, "I don't know what we will do now." Well they could find another President but it is going to be difficult. I suspect the group will fold. They have brought the problem on themselves.
My father has taken his turn on a number of occasions and in a number of organisations. So have I. We have always made it clear that, at the end of our elected term, that will be it. They need to find someone else.
And it is going to be the same with my work. This year I really have cut it down. I have two people who can now work alone and two more in training. Between them all they should eventually be able to do what I did. I am passing the baton - albeit slowly. I know I have to.  It need not stop me cheering them on occasionally from the sidelines if I can be bothered.  I am not sure I will be bothered to do it though and they may not even notice me if I try.
It will not matter. I have other things to do.

Monday, 5 March 2012

There is one of those "worry" articles

in this morning's paper - this one is, yet again, is about the declining amount being donated to charity. And yes, there may be something to be concerned about. Donations to charity have, if the article is to be believed, dropped by about half in the past twelve months.
One reason given for this is that people have less disposable money. That may be true. There is an overall feeling that people are spending less altogether.
Another reason given is that big sporting clubs have been appealing to their fans to keep their membership up so that their clubs do not "go under". Sport, it seems, costs a lot to keep these days.
Once in a while I go past the buildings belonging to one of the league football clubs. The oval is green and well maintained. The buildings are spacious. There are the buildings around the oval itself and there are more buildings across the road at "the club". The premises are licensed. They have "gaming machines". I do not know what else they have but I assume there is an office suite of some sort at the very least. There will be a kitchen because meals are supplied at "the club".  It is, no doubt, nice. What it all costs to run must also be astronomical. I wonder if it is necessary?
When we lived in "the bush" there was a weekly ritual for many people throughout the winter. They would go to "the footy" on Saturdays. There was a club of sorts and club rooms of sorts around a rough oval maintained by the team members . They would raise just enough money to cover essentials with a "chook" raffle. There was no grandtstand. People sat in their cars, on camp stools or - more likely - stood there to watch the players. The players were not paid and they paid for their own boots and guernseys. If one of them was injured in the course of the match then it was understood that his team mates would help out on his farm or at his job until he recovered.
There would be a "footy tea" - always the same simple meal supplied by the women while the men had a drink at the pub. Yes, it was very sexist. There would then be a "footy dance" with someone playing the piano. the drums and perhaps a piano accordion or other instrument. The dances were old-fashioned although the tunes, depending on the pianist, might be a little more up to date. The kids played outside in the dark - unsupervised. The teenagers canoodled and got hauled in occasionally by more vigilant adults. The men congegrated at one end of the room when not dancing. The women sat around the walls. At the end of the evening everyone helped with the clean up and, more often than not, the women drove home while their men slept beside them.
On Sunday at church, which many of them attended, they would reminisce and pull the game apart - and sometimes the evening's entertainment too.
There was money left over for charity. It went into the church collection plate knowing it paid for the minister or priest and for the Flying Doctor or some similar service.
There were many things done back then we would now consider "wrong" - but do we really have it "right" now?

Sunday, 4 March 2012

We had a disparate

group of visitors yesterday. Our house was the venue for a very small farewell to my friend who is returning to New Zealand. 
The group has met in one another's homes over the last eleven years. There were originally three other members of the group. One dropped out very early as, sadly, she has early onset Alzheimer's. We did not realise it then but she was "forgetful" and would lose her way to other people's homes.
Another just left us. I suppose she never really fitted in. We all tried to make her welcome because she has no relatives here and we felt she might need friends. It seems not. We see her from time to time at other events. She is always alone. We remain friendly but not friends.
The third to depart was someone we knew would not always be here. Her husband had a posting here in Australia. We liked them very much and thoroughly enjoy her company. We still miss her. I correspond with her perhaps half a dozen times a year. So does the member who is leaving us now.
It leaves a woman my father's age. She is almost blind. Her life has been an interesting one. She spent thirteen years in Africa. When she returned to England she and her husband found the English winters too cold. They migrated in search of heat. It has always been our New Zealand friend who has given her a ride to our gatherings.
It leaves an Italian migrant. She is seventy. She came here at the age of thirteen and has never been able to go back to Italy. It is "too late" now she tell us but admits that she would like to have gone back at least once. We know she needs friends because, apart from immediate family, she has nobody here. She lives on the opposite side of the city. I wonder how much longer she will be able to maintain her old car and use it to get out and meet people.
It leaves a member of the group we almost never see. She is however still a member of the group. She is a younger mother of twin girls. Yesterday she made a special effort to come to the farewell. Her husband was judging at a rural show so her two year old girls came with her. They behaved extremely well, as I would expect of any children belonging to her. My father enjoyed their company immensely. The blocks came out. The wooden train set came out. The farm animals came out. They played. In August they will be going to live in an Asian country for two years.
It leaves a friend who is an art conservator. She is by far the most intellectual member of the group. She likes music and literature as well as art. She is passionate about animals and cares about the environment. Our tastes are different - she likes opera, especially Wagner, and Patrick White. I like neither. We still enjoy conversation about these things. She is about my age.
I wonder what will to the group now. I suspect we will remain friends but we will no longer meet at regular intervals. If we come together in the future it may be without our nearly blind friend. She is, after all, the same age as my father. It is always possible that neither of them would be there.
And the rest of us? I suspect we know one another well enough that I could leave them to put the kettle on and make the tea themselves. It is that sort of friendship.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Writers' Week is coming!

Oh yes, today's bookish post will not be about books I read in my childhood but about that peculiar phenomenon known as the Adelaide Festival Writer's Week.
It is, more accurately, Publisher's Week these days but there is still an opportunity to hear writers speak - if you are willing to sit on uncomfortable chairs in a tent. It may even be necessary to stand or sit on the grass if you were not lucky enough to get a chair. Yes, the event is popular.
I have no doubt one reason for the popularity of the event is that almost all the sessions are free. A lot of older people go. I have no doubt that they are readers although they often admit that the writers who come are largely new to them. That may be a good thing.
I wonder about the choices sometimes.There is a session on the first day that sounds potentially fascinating, "The Venetian Navigator". The speaker is Andrea di Robitant. I must admit I have never heard of this particular author. How did they find him?
There is the Norwegian crime novelist Jo Nesbo on the programme. That will draw a crowd. Will Juan Gabriel Vasquez draw the same crowd.  I have no doubt he is equally well known throughout the Spanish speaking countries of South America.
There is a session called "Dream a little dream" on getting published. I have never heard of Elena Lappin or Heleen Buth but they are here to talk about that. Perhaps next time I can persuade them to haul Carole Blake out from the UK?
Oh, and that session on "Where to from here?" when international publishers will speak about the future of the book? Hmmm....pity that someone else I know will not be here for that!
But we have some of the usual Australian suspects as well. Frank Moorhouse is back and David Marr is talking about Patrick White. I have tried to read Patrick White and failed. He may have won the Nobel Prize for literature but I did not like him.
Then there is Gary Disher - ah, Australia's answer to some of the English crime novelists. He is talking about "staying in character" in one session and his own work in another.
Children's literature will get a brief mention. There should be more of it. This may happen when the week becomes an annual event.
And Les Murray will be there. He's a poet, an old friend. We have not seen one another in quite a while.
His session is entitled "Taller when Prone".
Yes, "taller when prone"? I have been thinking. That first idea for a book...conception, the rough plot, infancy and on through toddlerhood, childhood and turbulent adolescence until publication sets it in place as an adult. Books are "taller when prone".

Friday, 2 March 2012

The car race is

on again. This happens every year. Have I mentioned it before? I might have.
I do not like car races. I do not approve of car races. In my view they are a waste of precious fossil fuel. They are dangerous. They encourage other people to drive dangerously. Those that use "street-circuits" disrupt the traffic, local business and the lives of many people who are not interested.
I am told "it is good for the economy", that it brings in tourists who spend money etc. Yes, I have heard all the arguments thankyou - and I am not convinced.
Now there are plans to add to the problems by running some of the event "under lights". The cost of doing this will, of course, be much higher. It will use even more power too. The circuit has to be lit as bright as daylight. The spectators have to be able to see what is going on.
Running it under lights will also add to the stress of those who have the misfortune to live close to the event. We live around five kilometres away and we can still hear the noise. If the wind is blowing in the wrong/right direction it is quite loud. The noise gets stopped dead in its tracks by the hills behind us.
The state government apparently plans to run this event "for years to come". It is a "cake" event, an event designed to distract the masses and keep them happy while the government gets on with the business of (not) governing us.
We have already had the bicycle race this year - the "Tour Downunder". On Monday week we have a public holiday for "the Adelaide Cup" - a horse race. (Even Melbourne does not close down for the Melbourne Cup!) The Fringe Festival has started. The Adelaide Festival will be in full swing very shortly. Entertainment is to be had everywhere - at a price.
Are we paying too much for it?

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Where do you live and

why do you live there?
I have a friend returning to New Zealand. It is where she was born and she has been homesick for it ever since she left. There have been frequent trips backwards and forwards. The earthquakes in her home city of Christchurch worry her less than the not seeing her family.
I have another friend who has not lived here for forty-one years. She has been backwards and forwards too but not frequently. Until her parents died it was an annual duty visit. After that is was always several years apart. Now, physically frail herself, she has made the decision she is "coming home". Her sister is here - although they are not close. Her friends live elsewhere.
My cousin and his partner live in London. They plan to retire here. They say it is "home" although they no longer have friends here.
I have lived in this state most of my life. I have a sister here. I also have two siblings who live in other, different, states.
I had a year in Melbourne and four years in Canberra. I also had seven years in London.  If anyone asked me where I had felt most at home it would have to be in London. Given the opportunity I believe I would go back there. It is not going to happen but I would go back despite the winters, despite all the problems, the potential dangers, the difficulties of getting around etc. London had other attractions, mostly intellectual. Friends still live there.
I know I live where I do now because of my father. He can live in his own home because I live with him. He is still easy to live with. We both know that if I did not live here he would not be able to live here either. Nevertheless I feel it is his home, not mine. I do many things his way, not mine. That is only right and proper.
I have been thinking about all this because there is yet another discussion coming up about "unmet need" and "waiting lists" for people with disabilities who are being cared for "at home" by their parents. The general belief is that people should go into "group houses in the community". These places are supposed to become their "homes". 
In reality I doubt any of these places are "home" or ever become "home". In them they will share space with people they do not know and did not choose to live with. They will have an endless stream of changing outsiders supposedly "caring" for them. There are rules and regulations made by outside authorities over every aspect of their daily lives.
There is a perception that, in a "group house" people have more control over their own lives but the time they get up in the morning, the food they eat, the type of clothing they wear and their daily activities are still dictated by others. Meaningful "consultation" is so rare that it really does not exist. These houses were supposed to help people become "part of the community". With the rarest of exceptions this does not happen. Within the population can change in ways that would not happen in the rest of the community. Residents will come and go and you do not choose your housemates. 
I wonder where "home" is for people who live like this?