Saturday, 31 August 2013

This time next week

it will be Election Day.
The campaigning will be over. The Leaders of the various parties will be filmed putting their voting papers in the ballot boxes.  (And I will wonder what it feels like to see your name on the ballot paper and vote for yourself.) The media will make last minute predictions about individual seats. Exit polls will be conducted.  Carefully chosen members of the public will be interviewed.
Some people seem to think that election is all but over now. All the opinion polls appear to be going in one direction. The respective leaders of the incumbents and the coalition of the opposition are looking less and more confident.
Yes, it probably will go the way the opinion polls and the media are suggesting but I doubt either leader is taking anything for granted. They would not be leaders if they were doing that.
And I wonder what would happen if suddenly we could not vote? How would Australians react?
I had to do a hospital visit yesterday. One of the reasons for going was to assess whether someone who has had a stroke, can no longer speak and will need someone else to mark the ballot paper was still mentally competent to vote.  The person responsible for making the final decision wanted a second opinion. Taking away someone's right to vote is not a decision to be taken lightly.
Next Saturday I will also mark the ballot papers for several people who are not able to mark their own. In most instances this will be easy. They can speak even if they cannot speak clearly. They will be able to tell me what they want. The process will be almost as fast as it is for anyone else. I hope they know what they are doing. In one case I am not sure the person really understands what the election is about but his name has been placed on the electoral roll and he is required to "attend" the ballot box.
And there is one person who wants to vote "below the line" on the Senate paper. I have no doubt at all that he understands what he is doing. He will have thought long and hard about it. He will have read the material. He will have listened to the debates, to the news and the commentary.  He wants to line up in his wheelchair along with everyone else and get his name marked off in the same way. The one concession he will make is that he is, he promises me, coming prepared with the order marked on a piece of paper his brother will have taken down for him.
This man nearly didn't get a vote at all. He can communicate only using his eyes - up, down, left and right. I taught him to read once - and had trouble convincing other people he could read. He reads a great deal. There is not much else he can do. But he has a vote and he is going to use it.
The vast majority of people will go in and mark the ballot paper as their first candidate of choice has told them they should direct their preferences. He is going to do things differently. He is really going to use his vote and it is going to be an enormous pleasure to help him do it.  

Friday, 30 August 2013

Mediaeval knitting

apprentices were required to produce a lengthy list of items. In among the gloves, stockings and caps came a "carpet".
Of course it was not what we think of as being carpet today. What they called a carpet was often a highly ornate tablecloth or wall hanging. They were not just examination pieces for entry into the guild but often designed and made to the order of wealthy and aristocratic families.
But yesterday I did see what amounted to a knitted carpet or floor rug. It was a piece entered in the annual "Royal Show" here and it was extraordinary.
The piece of work measured 2m by 2.8m. I suspect it is the biggest piece of knitted work that has ever been put into the show. It was made from recycled yarn, a remarkable thing in itself. The pattern is similar to that of a Turkish kilim pattern. If you are knitter and reading this and I say "Kaffe Fassett" style you will know what I mean.
The entire thing was back with the sort of felt which is designed to be non-slip. The edge was knotted.
How was it done? The judges and stewards from various sections were crowding around it when I arrived to help.
"Cat? What do you think?"
It took close looking and that made it even more extraordinary. I had immediately guessed that the carpet had to be knitted in strips but I had expected them to be long, narrow strips going the length of the carpet. That is the normal way to knit pieces which are too big to knit in one piece. This was not.
The strips were knitted across the carpet so each piece of knitting had to be two metres wide. The weight of the yarn used meant that the strips had to be knitted on a very, very long circular needle or two circular needles.
Each strip was quite narrow and, again almost unbelievable, the knitter had woven them together with what knitters call "Kitchener Stitch" - that technique used to give the toes of socks completely smooth joins. It was so well done that, although it was possible to see the joins because of the multiple colours in the carpet, it was also very difficult to see.
It, rightly, won best in show for the hand knitting section despite the magnificence of a pair of Latvian wedding mittens and a well researched pair of socks made in the way an early Egyptian might have made them. There were some other lovely things too - and some fairly ordinary things as there always are. We never mind the fairly ordinary. We just think it is lovely that people are willing to try their best and then put it in for judging and display.
But the carpet? It was a privilege to see it. Like the one twelfth scale model of Milan cathedral that took eighteen months to make (in the woodwork section) I suspect that the carpet took a very long time to design and execute. It is the sort of entry that makes all the hard work of putting the show together worthwhile.
I will probably never meet the person who made it but I will always wonder at their skill and determination.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Apparently it costs

an average of $712 to register the 'average' family car for a year - at least that is according to a recent article in the paper. The article went on to suggest that the government was considering allowing people to pay their registration monthly - and by direct debit.
I am probably much too cynical but I suspect that, if this option is taken up, the cost will rise a little further. There will be some sort of 'administration' fee. It will not matter that any direct debit arrangement will be handled by two computers.
I had to transfer some money to London recently. The amount of paper work involved was extraordinary. It was going from one bank to another bank. Both banks have offices here in Australia. They must make similar transactions hundreds, probably thousands, of times a day. Despite that the way it was handled could only be called 'cumbersome'.
Oh yes, things came up on the computer screen. I read it all as the bank officer was dealing with it. She knows me quite well. I read out a very long number to her and then she read it back to me after she had typed it in. I had to produce three different forms of identification - even though the bank officer was well aware of who she was dealing with.
It is, supposedly, all about ensuring money does not get 'laundered'. I doubt it does anything of the sort. No self-respecting criminal would front up to the bank and ask for money to be transferred like that. What it really does is allow the government to know exactly what we do with our money.
After I had done that I went into the supermarket in the adjacent shopping centre. I do not normally shop there but I had promised to pick up three items for someone and deliver them on my way home.
At the checkout I was reminded of why I do not shop there. I went to pay cash and I was asked for my 'rewards' card. I told the check out assistant I did not have one. The information was greeted with shocked silence,
        "But you should have would be cheaper..."
I smiled sweetly at her and said,
        "No, it would not be cheaper. I don't normally shop in here. This is for someone else who does not mind paying a little extra just for today. The 'rewards' card just brings the cost of the goods down to the same price as the supermarket I normally shop in. All the 'rewards' card does is ensure people shop here because they believe it is cheaper - and it allows the company to know exactly who is buying what if they use it. It costs the customer to allow the company to invade their privacy like that."
There was silence. My change was given back in silence. I was given the docket. The assistant did not say, "Have a nice day."
I heard her start talking to the next customer and the next customer saying,
         "Before you ask I don't have a 'rewards' card either - for the same reasons."
I felt a bit guilty. Perhaps I should have told the checkout assistant to 'have a nice day'.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

It seems that the need of parents

are once again being considered more important than the needs of their children.
There was a serious suggestion in the press several days ago that the school day should be lengthened - to accommodate the needs of working parents.
The idea was that children would be at school between 8:30am and 5:00pm. They would do their homework there and have their other after school activities there. That way their parents would not need to care for them until after 5:00pm and they would not need to supervise homework.
Oh, there was supposed to be an advantage for the children too. They would  have everything finished by 5:00pm. The "pressure" they feel would no longer exist because, when they were picked up, that would be an end to their working day.
This seems muddled thinking to me. Many children are already in extended day care at school. There is nothing to stop these things happening already. The real question is whether school hours need to be extended.
The local state schools start at around 8:45am (secondary) and 9:00am (primary) and finish at 2:30pm (for the first year of school) or 3:30pm. The fee paying schools tend to start earlier and finish later. The Whirlwind's first class starts at 8:45 but she has to be in her form room at 8:30am. She finishes at 4:00pm. There is also supervision for preparation until the mid-secondary years after which the girls can stay behind and work if they wish to do so and their teachers are available until 5:00pm. If not called upon they use that time for their own preparation. It is what the parents are paying hefty fees for. I believe the other fee paying schools have similar arrangements.
But out in rural areas children often need to travel long distances too and from school. My father ran a very big rural school where one of the bus runs (and buses were driven by teachers) started at 7:20am. The smallest children would fall asleep on the way home. It was a very long day for them. When the children reached home they would have farm duties as well as homework. 
Starting the school day earlier in an area like that simply would not work.
But I also wondered at the other reasoning. This was not about making things easier for the child. It was about making things easier for the working parents. It was about allowing them to hand over yet more parenting responsibilities to others. They would not need to supervise "homework" or sport or ballet or music lessons. Someone else would take that on.  Some grandparents already do a great deal of that but at least they might be able to watch the progress a child was making and take a personal interest in what they are doing.  Other grandparents are still working,
Like my concerns yesterday about parents not being able to attend school events this seems to be another area where the many consequences of having both parents in paid work seems not to have been considered. Having both parents work is nothing new. It has happened right through history but it is where and how they work and the type of community we live in which has changed. Without the "village" or "local" environment in which to be cared for some children seem to lead lives which are regulated almost entirely by the needs and desires of their parents rather than having a balance between the two.
Perhaps it is why some children feel so isolated?

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Senior Cat has been invited

to attend a "Special Persons Day" (sic) at a local primary school tomorrow.
The invitation came via the little drummer boy next door. Talking to his mother about we discovered that the school can no longer have Mothers' Day, which was the common thing when I was at school. Fathers' Day is also out.
My nephews had Grandparents' Day but that has gone too.
It seems that all these people are busy working. They cannot get to a school to see what their children and grandchildren are doing.
I remember Mothers' Day at school. Even most of the working mothers managed to turn up for that. They would take half a day's leave. Their employer was expected to give it to them too. 
Everyone turned out trying to look extra neat and clean and tidy. Every classroom was tidied. The desks were straightened up. (We sat in four straight rows facing the blackboard back then.) Any jars containing water on the "Nature Table" were freshened up. The "best work" was pinned up for mothers to see and we had to put our exercise books in a pile on our desk so that our mothers could look through them.
Of course my mother was a teacher so she did not attend. She was busy attending to other mothers who came to the school for the big day.
I know that, by the time I was in the primary section, it did not bother me. My mother was all too prone to look at my books anyway.
When I was in the infants' section though it was different. I wanted my mother to be there like everyone else's mother. The very few of us who did not have our mothers there felt left out of it.  Sometimes other mothers would be kind and pretend to take an interest in what we had done but I knew it was a pretence. They were really only interested in what their child had done. I don't think their children were too pleased either. After all, their mother was there to seem them!
Fathers' Day was an even rarer event. I can only remember one. My father of course was teaching at another school by then. I knew there was no chance of him attending. Most of the fathers who turned up looked uncomfortable. They came in their suits because everyone owned one back then. They congregated at the back of the classroom and listened to us recite poetry and looked at the work on the walls but, even at that age, I sensed they were glad to get out of there. Bringing up the children was women's work!
My nephews had Grandparents' Days because, by then, so many mothers went to work. My parents dutifully went off to school and I suspect they quite enjoyed themselves. School was a familiar environment for them. My nephews were doing exceptionally well and were unlikely to embarrass anyone. From the start they were much more actively involved in showing the visiting adults what they had done.
The Senior Cat has not set foot in what is now called a "junior primary" school since my youngest nephew left his fourteen years ago. Things have changed dramatically since then. He wonders if he will even recognise a classroom as being a classroom.
I think he will. He still loves mixing with children and talking to them. They seem to like talking to him too. And, even more importantly, it means that the little drummer boy next door is going to have someone there to help him keep in time with everyone else.

Monday, 26 August 2013

We seem to have an unhealthy addiction

to opinion polls, and even more so at present.
One of our neighbours gleefully announced to me yesterday that the political party she supports had risen again in the polls. I refrained from saying anything but I wanted to point out that the "1%" rise she was so excited about is meaningless. It comes within the "margin of error" and that is usually considered to around 4%. In other words there could be four percentage points difference between the figure given and the actual votes her party gains on the day.
Indeed, although the opinion polls and the political pundits suggest the Opposition is in a winning position at present there is absolutely nothing certain about this. Anything could happen. Indeed there are many in the government who still genuinely believe they can win.
But, the media makes much of opinion polls. They are published on a regular basis. Politicians claim not to take any notice of them. This is why the government recently recycled the Prime Minister. They were not (perhaps) taking any notice of the opinion polls.
Of course they do.
Opinion polls are, as I have said elsewhere, an inexact science involving samples of the population. We rely on them for all sorts of reasons, not just politics. They give an indication of what might happen. They can be right - and often are. They can be wrong - and often are. Those conducted by some of the big, well respected researchers provide essential information for the development of government policy and for those involved in social activism. They have their place.
But a movement of 1% is meaningless.  A movement of 5% would not be. That would suggest there is a shift in opinion large enough to influence the outcome of the election.
In my humble, or perhaps not-so-humble, opinion the media is spending too much time reporting on these things. It is lazy journalism. It makes for quick and easy reporting. It fills in a nice large space in the print media and can take up a minute or more on air.
It would be good for all of us if those opinion polls ceased, at least for now. It would be good if, for the rest of the election campaign, they were not mentioned. It would be even better if the media concentrated on telling us what the policies of the various parties are. We get a little of Labor. We get a little of the Coalition. We get an even smaller amount of the Greens. Katter's Australia Party has had the occasional mention, as has the Palmer United Party. Little detail has been mentioned. Wikileaks has rated a mention but no real analysis.
Oh yes, you can look the details up for yourself on the internet if you are a political junkie. Most of us are not that interested. I know of only one person who is likely to do it. Her hobby is politics. Mine is not. Most people are not interested enough to do a search.
The major parties are relying on that. They are relying on the loyalty of voters to "their" side of politics.
I do wish the media would spend less time on opinion polls and more time on policies. It might make those opinion polls mean something.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

I do not often

hear about the end result of any of my work. I do what I am asked to do and send it off. Sometimes I do not even get a "thankyou", not because the person using it at the other end is being deliberately rude but because other people see it before it gets to them. There may even be more than one person who uses what I have put together.
Sometimes I will work with other people and we will set up a communication board for a very specific purpose or a single individual. Surgeons in particular often have individual ideas about what will work best for them. That's fine. It is what I am there for. We all want it to work.
And sometimes I get the chance to work with people who are doing the incredible job of caring for unaccompanied and injured children in war zones. I still don't know how people can do this. It is perhaps the most emotionally and physically demanding job on earth. The "burn-out" rate is high. People need regular rest breaks - and they do not always get them.
I won't even try to explain the extent of the physical and psychological trauma that some children experience. The children we see each night on the news footage are the lucky ones, the children that those responsible for giving us the news have decided are not too distressing for the rest of the world to see.  Most of those children will still speak, will still have the capacity to speak.
Behind all that are the children with far worse injuries. Some of them do not survive, those who do will never fully recover. There are always some who will not be able to speak because of their injuries and some who have simply stopped speaking. They have shut themselves up in their own tiny individual world.
Writing communication boards for those children can be a long, slow process as people try to find out what these children might actually want and need to say when it seems they do not want to say anything at all. Some of them could speak but they have chosen not to. They do not want to make eye contact with anyone. They do not want to be held at all, let alone hugged. They trust nobody.
A communication board is both a barrier and a bridge in these circumstances. It can provide a child with the means to communicate without making eye contact. In other places the approach might be quite different but in a war zone or a disaster there is no time for therapy and getting information as rapidly as possible is often a priority.
Some months ago I worked with several people to provide a communication board for a boy we think is about ten. He was taken into a makeshift hospital in the suburbs of Damascus. His injuries were horrific and he was not expected to live. Contrary to expectations he has. Nobody knows who he is. His face is unrecognisable. He cannot speak and, even if he could, he might not. He kept avoiding any eye-contact for weeks. The first time he was shown the communication board he pushed it away. It went on for weeks. The people working with him finally just left it by his bed.
Yesterday they sat him in a chair for a short while. It is the first time in months he has been able to do even that. The communication board was apparently on a box by his side. He pulled it towards himself and "told" the surgeon who had saved his life, "Thankyou."
I don't often get to hear about those things but thanks for letting me know Michel. It makes it all worthwhile.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

What does the London Underground

taste like? I prowled in briefly to Twitter this morning and, having looked at my work feed, naughtily prowled over to my personal feed for a moment and found this posted by @caroleagent : It is a link to an extraordinary "map" of the London Underground made by a man with synaesthesia - someone who strongly, and I mean strongly, associates colours, odours, sounds or (in this case) tastes with something else. 
Nicola Morgan has written a book called "Mondays are Red" in which (obviously) the main character associates Mondays with the colour red.  Please go and read if you want to know more.
I do not have synaesthesia myself although I do associate some odours with some places. I think I once mentioned on this blog going into an Oxford Street shop and smelling the same cleaning fluid that was used by the small delicatessen near my grandparents' home. It brought back a flood of childhood memories, an intense longing for my grandparents and that part of my childhood. Most of my childhood was not particularly happy so those memories are perhaps particularly strong.
Other odours also evoke strong memories for me. I dislike some perfumes because I associate them with being required to hug and kiss my maternal grandmother and her cousin. They both used "Ashes of Violet" on occasion which, as children, we all found quite overpowering. Last summer my brother was here and found a small patch of violets in the garden. We don't know where they came from but my father left them there. My brother picked one and sniffed it. Then he said,
"Ugh. That reminds me of...." His memory was similar to mine. I won't say it was the same because we must all smell things differently.
Then there is the smell of creosote. I tried to explain that once as being "dusty and sharp" but the person I was telling clearly had no idea what I meant.
And how do you explain the smell of lemon or rose or bleach? We don't seem to have as many words for describing these things as we should have.
But tastes? I think they still make "Life-Savers", those small round sweets with a hole in the middle. They come, or came, in a little roll. My grandfather used to buy "clove" flavoured Life-Savers. I think he thought they disguised the smell of the cigars he would smoke twice a year - one on his birthday and one over the holiday period. I don't think they make that flavour any more but if I smell cloves then I am always reminded of that taste. It is the smell of the cloves though and not their taste. I tried to think of something that was actually the taste which evoked the memory and I find that really difficult. There are other kitchen smells which remind me of my paternal grandmother's kitchen. There are times when such things make me feel an intense longing for that part of my life but I don't smell it.
The Underground Map tells me that the man who made it associates the taste of a "Picnic Bar" with the stop I often used.  It seems to go well with the research teams which were labelled "FISH" and "CHIPS" but I don't taste these things either, although I do remember the shop where we occasionally bought fish and chips.
And sometimes, even now, although I have not been back to London for years, I will be waiting to cross a road and I am transported back suddenly, sharply and painfully waiting to cross the road outside Dillon's University Bookshop or into the crypt of a nearby church or into the basement where the canteen was. I don't know what makes me suddenly see these things so clearly that I might almost be there.
It makes me glad I do not have synaesthesia because I think it must be very hard to live that way. 

Friday, 23 August 2013

There are questions being asked

all over the place right now. Of course questions are asked all the time but we are in the middle of an election campaign and the pollsters have  been busy.
We seem to have two sorts of polls these days. There are the traditional sort of polls from the Morgan-Gallup people, the Nielson people, the Newspoll people and the Galaxy people and other pollsters. There are also the relatively new kids on the block, the "robo-pollsters", those automated telephone polls. In the Cat household we politely decline to answer the first and put the phone down on the second without continuing to listen.
I once met Gary Morgan of the Morgan-Gallup poll. After we had discussed the issue he wanted to talk about we talked about the way his company worked. It was interesting and informative but it made me no more inclined to answer pollsters. I believe, and the Senior Cat believes, that the way we vote is our affair.
I know that, like me, the Senior Cat will vote "below the line" on his Senate paper. (Voting below the line means making your own choices and not voting according to a party ticket in our compulsory preferential system.) I do not know how he will vote however. I do not want to know. I will not ask him. He will not ask me.
Pollsters seem to believe they have some sort of right to invade our privacy and ask such questions. I was in a room full of people last week and the person running the meeting asked how many people had been polled about voting intentions. In the context of the meeting it was a legitimate question and we were not being asked what our voting intentions were, just whether we had been polled about them.
Interestingly almost everyone in the room had been polled. Even more interestingly most people had either declined to answer or given a false answer. I have reason to believe that this might not extend to the wider population. It seems that if a thousand people do answer the pollsters then the margin of accuracy is within 3% if the poll is conducted in such a way that it takes non-compliant cats into consideration.
So, it would take a movement of more than 3% before the results were significant, and only if the poll is conducted in accordance with the sampling rules that most pollsters seem to agree on. Oh yes, they know something even if they do not know everything.
And don't believe those people who tell you that only those with old fashioned landlines are polled. These days the "reliable" pollsters are up to the mark on that one too. They have to be.
It seems too that we are addicted to the wretched things. Politicians will tell you publicly that they are not addicted, that the only poll which matters is the one that occurs on the day of the election. 
Yes, it is true that the only poll which matters is the one on election day but I know that every poll is being watched and analysed and that internal party polling is being conducted, especially in "marginal" seats.
I suspect we have an unhealthy addiction to polls. They caused the downfall of the current Prime Minister in his first term. They caused the downfall of the woman who replaced him. They may yet help cause his downfall again. The Leader of the Opposition has never been particularly popular though and he has somehow retained his position. 
I really don't know what to make of this polling business.   

Thursday, 22 August 2013

The senseless death

of Christopher Lane, a young Australian playing baseball in the United States, is something that should not have been allowed to happen.
The reports say he was killed by three teenagers who said they were "bored" so they went out to kill so they could watch someone die. I find that almost but unfortunately not quite incomprehensible. Those three teenagers should not have been bored. They should not have been riding aimlessly around in a car. They should not have had access to a gun. They should not have been or done many things.
They made a decision and they have to face the consequences. A lot of other people also made decisions and now have to face the consequences. What will matter now is the decisions they make in the future.
Last night the Senior Cat and I watched a repeat of a short segment on the SBS Global Village programme. It was worth seeing again. It was about "El Sistema", a music programme for underprivileged children and youth which was begun by Jose Antonio Abreu in Venezuela in 1975.
Abreu began with eleven children and eleven instruments in a garage and it has developed into 125 youth orchestras across Venezuela, orchestras of underprivileged youth playing classical music together. Yes, grit your teeth as the four year olds scrape a bow across the catgut. It's a start. Then watch a girl of about twelve play a clarinet with real skill and, just as importantly, a real understanding of the music. That's progress.
Those children and young people are going to be too busy to get into trouble. They are busy doing something that has an outcome.
I might be wrong but I think that's the difference between being bored and not being bored. If you are doing something that has an outcome there is no time to be bored.
Many of our local programmes for teens are about entertaining them but not about teaching them to entertain themselves. There is an expectation they will be entertained but not that they will learn to entertain themselves.
I think most people would agree there is a difference between playing the football match and going to watch it. The first is surely doing and the second is being entertained. Sport is a major part of Australian culture but, if you are not in the team, it is entertainment rather than activity for many.
Perhaps we need to move on from sport and on from providing pop/rock concerts and venues where "kids can hang out". We need to cease the "clubbing" culture and ask young people to be responsible for their own entertainment while giving them the skills to be able to do that.
The Senior Cat has a series of pictures drawn by someone who, like him, was a member of the church youth group he belonged to when he was a teen. They show some memorable incidents. One is of the night they were carrying a bed across a bridge. They were stopped by the police. What were they doing with the bed? It had been a prop in a skit which was part of a variety concert and they were returning it to the owner.
Now it is unlikely the bed would be needed. The variety concert, organised entirely by them, would not have taken place. Adults would supervise such an event now. And, even if it had taken place, the bed would be loaded onto a trailer because someone would have a car.
What would happen though if we taught, really taught, children and young people to be responsible for entertaining themselves without the electronic gadgetry which is now used as a substitute for "doing"? I suspect that, for a while, many children and young people would be lost. They would need to be taught how to entertain themselves.
Abreu said "Music has to be recognised as an agent of social development" and I think he was right. It teaches independence and interdependence, team work, coordination, social cohesions, creativity and much more. All arts, crafts, literary and musical pursuits can help the young learn these things.
Perhaps it is time to start teaching them, really teaching them. Then there will be no time to be bored and Christopher Lane might still have been pitching a baseball.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Apparently it cost

just over $800,000 for the recycled Prime Minister to take his partner (wife) to Afghanistan.
I had all this explained to me yesterday, along with the reasons why it was so important for them to go. It involved planes and camera crews and journalists. There was security to consider. Right.
Or maybe wrong.
If the Prime Minister had really wanted to go to Afghanistan to rally the troops then he could have gone with his immediate staff on a plane that was flying in anyway. His trip to Afghanistan, prior to the announcement of the election though it may have been, was a slick piece of electioneering at tax payer expense and it cannot be justified. That $800,000 could have been better spent. It could have been spent on providing health care for the soldiers who return from Afghanistan. Making a statement about how much the work being done there is appreciated in front of the cameras for the audience back at home and shaking a few hands cannot be justified with that sort of cost.
Of course Prime Ministers and Opposition Leaders, Presidents, Secretaries of State etc. have all been to Afghanistan before. No doubt they will go again. They use the trips as photo opportunities. Have any involved their partners the way our Prime Minister did?
Our politicians, of all persuasions, seem to like leaving Australia. They seem to travel overseas frequently.
Our recycled Prime Minister spent a great deal of time overseas when he first had the position. When he was Foreign Minister he was away even more. He claimed the job demanded it. Perhaps it did, although other people seem to do it on less travel. And of course our recycled Prime Minister actually resigned as Foreign Minister when he was outside the country. (He was in Washington at the time.) That was a dramatic gesture aimed at undermining the then Prime Minister in as public a fashion as possible. The media loved it of course. It was considered very newsworthy.
But most of our politicians seem to travel abroad with very little fanfare. At some point a list will appear in the paper of who has been where and why and what it cost.  I wonder sometimes just what good these trips do. Networking? Perhaps.
The problem is that, unlike senior business figures, a politician might be a one term wonder. They may be re-elected but the hard work of getting a contract from that engineering firm they visited will be left to others.
I know it's all part of the games politicians play just as they are currently playing election games. I just wish someone had given me that $800,000. I could have made much better use of it.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The door was always

open at your house.
I met your Dad first. He was out walking the dog. I had to be careful whenever I passed the house because it would jump the fence and run after me for a pat and a cuddle. It had no road sense at all. Your Dad walked the district with that dog. He knew almost everyone. It wasn't long before he knew us, the newcomers.
Your Dad grew older and worried about your Mum who kept having those TIAs - the little mini-strokes that seemed to make her even quieter.  The dog grew older too. The front door stayed open. 
Then your brother died. Suicide. That made your parents seem old very suddenly. The front door stayed open though. It was a way of letting the rest of us know you were there and up and about.
Then your Dad became ill. It was cancer. All that pipe tobacco on the back porch did it for him - he never smoked inside.
He stopped me as I pedalled past one morning and said,
"Cat, have you got a moment?"
Yes of course I had.
"I'm buggered," he told me, "I'm not going to last. Will you keep an eye on her for me?"
He meant your Mum of course. You were still living up north with your husband and the two children.
He left us a few weeks later but I kept the promise I had made. I checked every day. If the door was open in the morning I knew your Mum was up and around. She would slowly walk the dog around the block. He was getting very old. It was as far as her heart would take her. I would call in several times a week, do her shopping and take the prescriptions to the chemist.
If the front door was not open and she did not answer the bell then I would let myself in with the key your Dad had given me. Once I found her sitting, frozen, at the kitchen table. She had had one of those TIAs. The ambulance men were very kind and she spent the night in hospital. I looked after the dog and the boys next door took him for a walk. It was one of his last walks. He left us too.
Your Mum moved into a small unit and the house stayed empty. We knew you and your family were coming down at the end of the year. I went backwards and forwards to the unit instead but, in a way, the door was still open.
When you arrived your Mum said, "You'll watch out for her won't you?"
And yes, because of your epilepsy, I did. You would often sleep late because of the medication but your Mum and your family knew that I would check to see you had opened the front door. If your Mum could not get you on the phone later in the morning she would ask me to check. I would let myself in with the key your family had asked me to keep.
I found you on the floor once. You were sitting there not quite sure where you were. It was the aftermath of yet another seizure. Fortunately you had not hurt yourself that time. We sorted things out together. I rang your Mum and lied. You were fine. You were under the shower. Why worry her if you were going to be fine?
I don't think most people realised how debilitating your type of epilepsy can be. You could not go anywhere unless you went with someone. Being at home alone was not really safe. Your Mum rang to check. I looked to see the door was open. Your husband rang to check at lunchtime - and rang me if you did not answer. Your kids came straight home from school - to check.
Your Mum moved into a nursing home and we all went to visit.
"You will watch out for her won't you?" your Mum asked again three days before she died. I promised, just as I had promised your Dad.
And so it went on. You were ill of course. There was that first lot of thyroid cancer and all the follow up treatment. Then your seizures became so severe that they eventually operated to try and stop them. And, they found the cancer had spread when they did the scans. It was why you were having a problem swallowing. They operated and you lost the ability to speak. We knew the prognosis was not good. The front door kept opening.
Through it all you somehow managed to smile. You simply loved to be hugged. We did a lot of hugging. You had a sign for it. We would hug when I arrived and hug when I left - and sometimes we would hug in between.
I couldn't always be there but I would make sure the front door was open and, if your husband phoned me, I would drop everything and rush around to the house. Yes, a couple of times it was urgent. You were choking once. We had it sorted before the ambulance arrived but you really scared me that time.
I admit it was a relief when you went into hospital for the last time and then into the hospice. It was a relief when your husband took leave to be with you for the last few weeks. I pedalled back and forth to the hospice each day so we could hug because you wanted the hugs and because I had promised your Mum I would watch out for you.
You asked me, "You will watch out for them won't you?"
And then you left us. I know some people will say you have gone to be with your Mum. I don't know what I think but I think you live on in your two children. They are teens now and they hugged me yesterday and her daughter said very softly,
        "Cat, the front door is still open. You will look after us won't you?"

Monday, 19 August 2013

You just have to love

conspiracy theories, or perhaps not.
I note there is a new one about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. I am sure she would be bemused rather than amused by it. She has been "murdered by MI6". She was "pregnant". She "faked her own death and is living in luxury in a hideaway". She is "still alive but in a coma". She is "still alive but so badly injured that "they" do not want us to see her". I could go on. The latest one apparently makes more claims about murder. It has apparently been made by an unstable individual who has been in trouble with the law. Enough said.   
Of course the claim has generated inordinate amounts of publicity without any thought for the effect that it might have on her family. The media has no interest in that, not if it sells news.
I have an acquaintance who loves conspiracy theories. He believes them. It's a quirk of his personality. If you try to argue with him he will give you all sorts of whacky reasons as to why you are wrong. I haven't tested him on the latest theory about Princess Diana yet but he is sure to mention it and I can guess the sort of arguments he will come up with as to why it will be proof positive of, well proof of something.
He still believes there was a love affair between President Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe and that "those letters" prove it. That the letters were written on a model of typewriter not built until after Kennedy's death is beside the point. "They are  just saying that."
That the letters contained post codes, or zip codes as the Americans call them, is beside the point. "They put those in to fool you."
And how many people type their love letters? "Well they would if they didn't want anyone else to know they were having an affair."
I once made the mistake of jokingly suggesting that the Princess had gone to live with the King (Elvis) and he took this seriously. It was, he declared, a possibility.  Since then I have been very careful about what I have said to him. You don't joke about the news. He takes it as being literally true even when it is obvious it cannot be.
The odd thing is that he is not a fool. He is an otherwise intelligent person. He can look at a practical sort of problem and have it sorted in no time. His solutions are often ingenious. For some reason however tell him something he would like to believe about someone who is rich or famous and he is likely to believe it.

And surely most other people are not fools either but we still get regaled with urban myths and conspiracy theories and lurid details about the improbable and fictionalised private lives of the rich and famous. So why do we want to believe these stories? Is it because the reality is dull? Do we need to believe the untrue? What's the difference between that sort of "news" and another piece of fiction which does not purport to be news?

Of course the internet just makes it easier than ever to spread these sort of stories. We don't have to wait months for a sailing ship from England to land in Australia. The news won't come as a letter written in copperplate handwriting with a pen dipped in an inkwell. All you need to do now is hit some computer keys.
The "send" button on e-mail really needs to be used with more care.  Does that count for blog posts too? Oh, I think I'll hit "publish" today.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

@LindseyFraser posted

a link to Twitter about bedtime reading - here - and I prowled over to read it. Yes, it is worth a read. What a wonderful experience those children are having!
I have a deep love of bedtime reading. I need to read at bedtime. I watch very little television. Our television set gets very little use as the Senior Cat also prefers to read. It does not matter how late it is or how tired I am I need to read, if only a little.
I am sure I get my love of reading from the Senior Cat. The blog post above transported me back to my own childhood and bedtime reading.
It was my father who read to me, not my mother.  Some of my very earliest memories are of sitting in front of the old Metters No 5 - a wood burning stove a little like an Aga. I am sitting on the Senior Cat's bony knees. He has the book open in front of me and he is putting his finger on each word as he reads to me.
The oven door has been opened in order to warm the room and the Senior Cat is holding me firmly with the one hand as the other hand turns the pages and points to the words. It must be winter, probably late winter, and I would have been around twenty months old.  And yes, I really can remember this. The images are still sharp in my mind. Even at that very young age I was hooked on books.
I can even remember some of the books, although I think those memories must come from later. I could read some words by the time I was two, really read them. I did not just recognise them in a familiar book. I would find them in other places. I would go through other reading material and try to find the words I could read.
My parents believed in phonics so I was taught to "sound the word" from the start. I went from recognising letters and words in things like "Splish Splash Rainy Day" and "The tale of Peter Rabbit" to sounding words out for myself.
Of course I did not always get it right. There were times when I became intensely frustrated. I can remember my mother shouting at me, "Not now Cat! I'm busy." More than once I resorted to the neighbour over the fence. She seemed to have more time.
But, at night, the Senior Cat would pick me up and put me on his knee and we would read together. There was no public library in the little country town where we lived but the Senior Cat would bring books home from the school and there were books from the Children's Country Lending Service. If the Senior Cat had to go into the university during the school holidays he would take me to the big library in the city and I could choose books for myself. I can remember arguing, probably not very politely, with the librarian about what I was allowed to borrow. Aged about four she, perhaps rightly, thought that picture books were more suitable. I had chosen Mumfie's Magic Box by Katherine Tozer and it was only after I had read the first page to her that I was allowed to borrow it!
When we moved to the city just before my fifth birthday the Senior Cat stopped reading to me every night. He was not always there. He was finishing his degree. Teachers rarely did degrees back then but he was determined to get one and was doing it part time. That meant lectures late in the afternoon and an evening tutorial. 
If he was home though he would still try to find the time to read to me. He brought books back from the Children's Library for me and I devoured them. Bedtime reading was part of this. "One chapter!" my mother would say and then take the book away.
And I dreamed of writing my own books.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Throwing another $500 million

at the Australian car industry is not going to save it. Plans to increase that amount to $2bn by 2025 are ridiculous.
All these plans are probably just election posturing. Both sides of politics are saying that they will provide more support for the car industry. It will be a waste of money.
I know that money sometimes has to be wasted in order to save some jobs in the short term. There are situations in which there needs to be a transition period.
The problem here would seem to be that the money is not being used for a transition period. There is vague talk of a new, "Australian designed" car but that is not going to employ enough people to save the industry and all the component industries.
I really doubt we can make cars at a competitive price in Australia. It is simply too expensive to pay people to make cars - and do a lot of other things.
Australians expect to be well paid. They expect to have what is really a very high standard of living for most people. It is not seen like that of course. The expectation is still that you should be able to own your own home on a decent sized suburban block, run at least one (and preferably two) cars, have all the basic modern conveniences and give your children access to extra-curricular activities. That is pretty much a minimum. By no means everyone achieves the "own your own home" any more but the vast majority of people do have access to a car, a 'fridge and a stove in rented accommodation at very least.
There are people who live below the poverty line in Australia. Shamefully many of them are indigenous Australians. Like indigenous Australians others who live below the poverty line often do so because other issues have intervened - mental health, law breaking, alcohol, drugs, other health issues and an inability to handle their own affairs are all issues.
I doubt any of that is news to anyone so why am I worried about throwing more money at the car industry? Won't it stop people being unemployed? Won't it stop the flow-on to all the component industries which also employ thousands of people?
I think that's the problem. I doubt it will. It is a Band-Aid solution. It won't last. It is just a short-term fix. We really need to spend that money on developing other industries with long term employment prospects. We need to provide the people who are now employed in that area with new skills so that they can make the transition to new jobs.
It puzzles me that governments must be able to see this but they do almost nothing about it. The car industry situation seems to frighten them. It has employed thousands upon thousands of people over the years. As a child I can remember frequently travelling into the city past a car factory in the suburbs. If you were travelling past at a shift-change (as we often did in the afternoon) there would be a traffic jam because there were so many workers spilling out of the gates.  The number of workers now is less than a third of what it was then - and it costs more to produce the cars.
Unions would say they had done a good job. The workers who remain have excellent working conditions. Some of them have just agreed to take a pay cut in order to keep their jobs which suggests they have also been very well paid. Have the conditions been too good? Have they been too well paid? Naturally they would say no but perhaps it is time to ask why it costs so many taxpayer dollars to produce a car here. 
I feel sorry for the people who work in the industry. The uncertainty about the future must be a constant anxiety. But I also think we need to give much more thought to what is going to happen next and spend the money on that instead. Or perhaps I just don't understand economics.

Friday, 16 August 2013

I did the PC

but it had nothing to do with "political correctness". I don't think the term was even in use when I "did the PC". We all did it back then. It was the exam that determined which sort of high school you went to or, if you lived in a rural area, which stream you went into in the secondary section of the school.
But, let's start a little earlier than that. My parents did something called "the QC" and no, that did not mean "Queen's Counsel". It was "the Qualifying Certificate".
I saw a Qualifying Certificate yesterday. A very elderly woman showed me hers. She went on to high school and then to university. She studied medicine and became a doctor. Her mother, a teacher, had kept all her certificates. She had also kept copies of the examinations her daughter and others had been required to do.
I really do doubt a modern child could do them. It is all metric rather than imperial of course but even the standard number work would puzzled them. There really is a question about trains arriving and departing.
There is grammar too. You had to know your nouns, verbs, adjectives and much, much more. There was a formal letter to write and, I was told, "We had to have that properly set out, with all the commas in the right place too."
I can imagine. We wrote letters too.
They had history and geography. There was "composition" and spelling and reading comprehension and other things.
It was a tough test. By no means everyone passed it well enough to go to high school and they went off to technical high schools or did technical subjects in rural schools. Many of them left at the end of primary school because you could.
Ours was not as tough as that. The school leaving age was fourteen by then so most students had at least a couple of years of post primary education. Many students still left at that age. They got jobs in shops and factories, back on the farm, as labourers and elsewhere. Some of them did training at night.
I remember doing the exams for the Progress Certificate as the PC was properly called. They were set by the central office and sent out to all schools but they were marked locally. We did it over the last two years of primary school - at the end of each school year. The maximum marks were 500.
My memories of those exams are such that I have doubts that the children I now know could do those examinations either. The maths was still imperial rather than metric. (I can remember one question about cricket and how far someone would have run - and then how far the team would have run.)  I can remember we had to write a letter too. We had to write another "composition" as well. There was history and geography and nature science, spelling and grammar. The only marks I lost were marks for "writing" but I know that the boy behind me in my final year barely scraped through. He told my father that it didn't matter. He was going back on the farm.
I wondered about that when, having come home from seeing that Qualifying Certificate, I read about some examination results in England. Many students got their A level results yesterday. Some of them seem to have done very well - but they worked for it.
I wonder if those mathematical and linguistic whiz-kids could do the Qualifying Certificate papers, or if they could even do the Progress Certificate papers. They are smart, hardworking kids who will make great citizens. What they are learning is often quite different.  That's not a bad thing but I wonder what they know. They must know a lot I do not know.  

Thursday, 15 August 2013

There are some remarks which

would be better left unsaid. I have no doubt that the Opposition Leader's remark about one of the candidates having "sex appeal" is one of them. No doubt he regrets it.
Did he mean it as anything other than a compliment? No. I doubt even his critics could honestly say that but naturally they have made much of it. After all the man has been called a misogynist and now he is being called a lecher as well. Can you be both? It makes no difference to his critics.
They also demean him with continued remarks about his "budgie smugglers" (a brief bathing suit if you have not come across the term).  Apparently that is fine even though the derogatory term would extend to all men who wear that style.
It will probably never matter what the Opposition Leader says or does, he will always be referred to in a derogatory fashion by some. They will say he deserves it. They will say it of a man whose manners are such that he opens doors for women, sees to it that the person he is speaking to also has a cup of tea and thanks the person who provides the tea.
Those sort of manners are apparently considered "old fashioned" by some. They were considered to be that by some when I was at Law School. I can remember our first "lecture" at Law School. It was more in the nature of an information session. The staff who would be teaching us in the first year were introduced. We were told about the library and the importance of keeping up with the required reading, where to go for help and so on.
And we were also told about manners.  I know many students were surprised but there are certain customs which have to be respected in the courts. You stand up when the judge or magistrate enters. You are appropriately dressed when you do so. You do not speak out of turn and you use the accepted form of address. There are other rules as well but these relate to good manners.
And, we were told, there were rules in the Law School too. They also related to manners. Men would open doors for women and, conversely, if a man was carrying a load of those law volumes a woman would open a door for a man. We would, both staff and students, treat one another with respect. If we were visiting the courts at any time we would dress appropriately and follow the rules.
I know there was a small group of women who did not like that. They prided themselves on being "rad-fems", women with a strident feminist leaning. They wore bib and brace overalls and they objected to a great many things.
I did not mix with them. They did not do the cause of sexual equality any good.. If anything they did some harm. They were not generally liked even by those, and that meant most of us, who genuinely believed and still believe in sexual equality. I doubt they see the harm they did even now. They were already supposedly "mature age" students, mostly students who had come back to university after having children.
There was nothing very mature about their behaviour. There is nothing very mature about the behaviour of those criticising the Leader of the Opposition now, especially while ignoring the poor manners of some other politicians, especially the Prime Minister.
In the end these critics will do more harm than good both to themselves and the cause they are trying to promote.
Perhaps a little more caution on one side and a little more respect on the other, and vice versa, might help everyone.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

I wonder when

the Electoral Commission will have the sense to ban the use of "How to Vote" cards?
For those of you who live in other places I perhaps need to explain that "How to Vote" cards are actually pieces of paper, advertising literature if you like, which tell voters how to vote for a particular party.
They are only necessary because Australia has a system of "compulsory preferential voting". The system is, according to those who support it, fairer than one of "first past the post".  I have talked about that elsewhere.
But back to the "How to Vote" cards. On election day you turn up to the polling booth and there you are met with a formidable array of people all wanting to hand you pieces of paper which tell you how to vote for their party.
You have three choices.
You can take one piece of paper from someone handing out paper from the candidate or party of your choice. That immediately tells everyone how you intend to vote. No, that's my affair.
You can take a piece of paper from everyone. That doesn't tell anyone how you intend to vote but it is a waste of paper unless you come back and return the papers. That is a waste of time.
You can, politely I hope, refuse to take any cards at all.
I do the latter saying, "Thankyou. I know how I want to vote."
Then I join the inevitable queue, prowl in, get my name crossed off the roll, take my papers, enter the booth, mark them according to my wishes, place them in the requisite boxes and prowl out again.
My wishes may or may not accord with the wishes of my number one choice. I make up my own mind about these things.
I believe the vast majority of people do not do this. They do as their first choice has asked them to do. Many people even believe they must do this.
The various parties claim that How to Vote cards ensure that people do not "waste" their vote. Despite that around 700,000 people did not cast a valid vote at the last election. (Around another 900,000 people did not bother to vote although attendance at the ballot box is compulsory. There are also about 1,200,000 eligible adults who are not on the electoral roll.)
It seems to me however that information could be put up in each booth at a polling station. It could be provided by the Electoral Commission after they have been advised about the exchange of preferences.
Such a move would save a great deal of money, trees and paper. There would be no need to have volunteers manning the polling stations and making the voting experience even more uncomfortable for many people. It would also reduce the potential for dubious tactics, of which there are many. (As this election is looking very tight at present there may be even more.) 
Yes of course people should know how they intend to vote before they reach the polling station. The reality however is that around twenty per cent of people still have not made up their minds. They don't know who the candidates are or what they stand for. Somewhere in the back of their minds they may hear a voice from the past, often their father, telling them to vote for "X" or "Y" party. Or they might know one of the volunteers and like or dislike them. My maternal grandmother once voted for a candidate because she thought he had "a nice smile". She had no idea who or what she was voting for. My paternal grandmother on the other hand, a woman with just three years of formal education, would ask, "What do they think about...?" and then vote accordingly. 
Some people just mark the ballot paper at random believing it makes no difference. 
Whatever people do however they should not be harassed at the last moment by people handing out "How to Vote" cards. If you have not made up your mind by then it might be better to accept the ballot papers and not mark them at all. It is quite legal not to mark them. It goes in the statistics as an informal vote. If you still want to vote then a list of the candidates and their preferences in each booth should be enough.
Let's save paper and people.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

I think I have

mentioned before that my first cousin is in a same sex relationship. His partner is very much part of the family. He is a gentle, caring, witty and intelligent man with a very responsible job. My cousin's life would be chaos without him. His partner is the sort of person who manages to organise things and get things done. I am never too sure how he manages to handle my cousin so well.
They live in London but we usually see them at least once a year. My cousin's mother is still alive although now living in a nursing home. My cousin's partner still has his parents and siblings here.
I also have another, more distant, cousin in a same sex relationship. We see less of her and her partner but they are still family and we just accept the relationship.
I also know other people in same sex relationships. I once went out for the afternoon with a man who is in a same sex relationship. His partner had a violent migraine and there was a spare ticket going to a Festival event. They were visiting from Canberra. I was the only person he knew in the city. It was an event that would be attended largely by people in same sex relationships but he was confident enough to ask if I would like to use the ticket. I did. I had a marvellous afternoon too.  What is more I would do it again because they made me welcome even when made aware that my sexual orientation is not theirs.
I really do not have a problem with people who have same sex relationships. I really do genuinely believe that a person's sexual orientation is their affair.
I do have a problem with the politicisation of sexual orientation however and, it seems, so do many people in same sex relationships. I was actually stunned by the strength of feeling of some people in same sex relationships who are angered by the way that the present Prime Minister is now using the issue as a means to try and garner votes. These are people I would have thought would have been (a) strong supporters of the issue of same sex marriage and (b) likely to vote for the party the Prime Minister represents. It may in fact be that they are still both but at least some of them appear to be genuinely angered and upset by the Prime Minister's statement that he would introduce legislation to change the Marriage Act within the first hundred days of a new parliament if he is re-elected.
It is being seen as cynical - and it is. When you think about it of course there is no guarantee that (a) the legislation will actually be put up or (b) that it would actually get passed. There have already been failed attempts. If the matter went to a conscience vote it might get through but one party has, so far, refused to give their team a conscience vote.
I am also of the belief that this should not be an election issue. It should not be a game changer. It is not something that should be used to try and garner votes.
It is a bi-partisan issue and it should be resolved that way. My friends in same-sex relationships tend to be older people who have had the same partners for many years. Marriage, they tell me, is not an issue. Some of them have had commitment ceremonies. They have written their wills in favour of each other and so on. All they really want is a legal recognition of their relationship so that things like superannuation benefits can pass between them. They do not feel a need to get married.
Perhaps a younger generation of people in same sex relationships feels differently. I don't know. I really rather doubt it. There are three young couples I know who have had commitment ceremonies as lavish as any wedding - and two of those couples have also parted company. It seems no different from marriage and the processes and heart ache they went through were no different.
There is no need to politicise "marriage" in order to see that people in same sex relationships get treated equally in the eyes of the law. Civil relationships can be recognised without that, indeed are already being tested in the courts with wins for same sex partnerships. It is likely that same-sex relationships will soon be fully recognised in law.
It seems to me though that the Prime Minister is determined to make something of it just in order to win votes. He claims he has changed his mind on the issue. It is a road-to-election-conversion and I do find that objectionable.

Monday, 12 August 2013

No, I did not watch

the election debate in full. I saw some of it. I saw enough of it to know that I did not want to see more. What I saw was pretty much what I expected of both sides. 
Election debates make me cringe. They are never going to be serious intellectual debates. There is no time for that and that is not what people are there for anyway. Election debates are about selling yourself (and thus your party) to the voters.
We had debates at school. I can remember doing the first debates in the primary school. My father, who was my teacher at the time, set them up. His purpose was to try and give students some confidence about speaking in public. They were nice country kids and speaking in public was not their idea of fun at all. 
We had "morning talks" as well and, apart from my brother and the bank manager's son, the talks by the boys would invariably begin, "Mr...., girls and boys I want to talk about when we went 'rooing. The girls would often talk about kitchen activities or the football dance. Listening to many of them would be painful indeed, hence my father's efforts to get them to debate. 
We would, unlike election debates, have three on each side. In primary school we were given some help with the arguments. In secondary school, and we had moved yet again by then, the first debates were organised by other teachers. The rules were fairly strict. There were no notes (our present recycled Prime Minister please take note of that fact) and there were time limits. Marks were given for the points made, the way the argument held together and was organised between the three members of the team, our appearance and our delivery style. 
I loathe speaking in public but I was never able to avoid the debates.
At university I was twice peripherally involved in the Jessup Moot but never involved as one of the speakers. The rules there were very strict. It is, after all, an international competition. It took the students a month of intensive preparation. One year the final Australian debate took place in the High Court. The students involved are now no doubt successful barristers. I have not followed their careers. I can remember them as being fluent but the arguments were still lacking in depth. It seems there is no time for depth in debating.
So, what's the point? I suppose it is fun if you like that sort of thing. A late friend of mine belonged to what I think was called a Penguin club. They did public speaking and debating exercises. He loved that sort of thing. 
And let's not forget the great debating societies of Oxford and Cambridge universities. More than one politician has honed his or her skills in those venues. 
But, I am not that sort of debater. I love words. I like (perhaps too much) writing them but I do not want to spend hours in preparation for a few minutes of speech, the words of which will be washed away in the wind of artificial applause. 
I am not sure what good last night's election debate did. It depends which report you read who "won" the debate. 
I suspect the reality is that nobody won anything. 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Our present Prime Minister

(the recycled one) is on Twitter - and probably Facebook and whatever other social media sites are available to him. He's a big believer in social media is our Kevin Rudd. He has more than a million followers on Twitter. At last count it was 1,398,811. Wow!
He's a popular guy. Or is he?
The Leader of the Opposition is on Twitter too - and I suppose he is on Facebook as well. Apparently he's not mad keen about social media. He has a mere 180,726 followers.  Mmm. Not a good look. Or is it really that bad?
There have been comments in the media about the Prime Minister's use of social media. Remember? He posted that "selfie", the picture of himself with a shaving cut.  It was supposed to show him as human. It is the sort of thing that some teenagers do and perhaps it does engage with them. Not all teenagers are old enough to vote though so why did he do it? The simple answer is of course publicity. He saw a chance and took it.
Kevin Rudd is a master at that. He loves playing a role in front of the cameras. He will be relaxed in front of the cameras for the debate tonight.
His opponent will not be. He really does not care much for the media, particularly social media. He does not care much for the artificial nature of election debates and he is aware of the many ways in which they can be rigged. It will not go in his favour.
But, back to all those followers, or should it be apparent followers? How many of Mr Rudd's many followers are in fact people with dual, triple or even greater numbers of accounts? How many of them never send a "tweet"?
It is apparently easy to set up multiple accounts on Twitter and Facebook. I don't know how to do it but I am sure I could find out. If I then spent a day doing it I could probably increase the number of my "followers" very rapidly indeed.
But what good would it do? What's the point of having all those false followers? I have little doubt that many of the Prime Minister's "followers" send very few, if any, tweets. If approached they would undoubtedly say they just want to follow the Prime Minister.
I wonder what all that really means. It's not engaging in the social chatter and banter I have seen between other groups. It isn't even really informing people unless you intend to tell them where you are going to be or where to find a speech. The Leader of the Opposition tends to use his tweets for such things. He does not do a lot of tweeting and I suspect he does do most of it himself. The Prime Minister on the other hand almost certainly has someone do it for him most of the time.
Then there are the critical questions. Is tweeting going to win you the election? Of course not. Will it help? It might or it might not but analysts are apparently warning against expecting too much from it.
Twitter can be fun but using it as a campaign tool in the way the Prime Minister is endeavouring to do seems slick and insincere. I doubt it will work where he wants it to work.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

You know those "express" lanes

don't you? No, not the express lanes on the freeways and autobahns of this world, nor the express lanes for buses but the "express" lanes in supermarkets. You know the sort of lane I mean. It is the lane you go to if you have just a few items and you want to get out of the supermarket quickly.
I always want to get out of the supermarket quickly but I don't always qualify for the "express" lane. Often there is nothing particularly express about it anyway. If there is just one person serving there then half a dozen people with half a dozen items can take as long to serve as someone with almost a trolley full elsewhere.
I had more than twelve items but the other checkouts were busy and, for once, there was nobody in the express lane so the girl on duty waved me over.
            "I can do that for you Cat," she told me.
I thanked her and began to unload my fourteen items. Someone else arrived just as she started to scan my items.
I could sense trouble coming up and I think she could too. We looked at one another.
Yes, he counted.
          "That was fourteen items! You shouldn't be here. You should go over there. You're queue jumping!"
          "There was nobody waiting here sir. I offered to serve the customer."
          "I don't care. You aren't supposed to do it!"
He kept up an angry commentary all the time I was paying for my shopping.
As I left he slammed down his three items. He wanted to pay with his credit card. He could not get the credit card to work. 
It is very naughty of me but I really could not feel sorry for him.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Do you know some with a

disability? If you do could you tell them about and, if necessary, give them some assistance to access and complete the following United Nations survey?
It is a survey about living with disabilities and disasters.
It was, rightly, pointed out to me yesterday that I had failed to mention this here and that I should have spoken up about it several months ago.
Anyone who knows me will know that my "day job" is concerned with the provision of low technology communication assistance for aid workers in what the United Nations calls "complex humanitarian emergencies". I am not going to explain what I do here. It should be sufficient to say that you have to be able to communicate with the people you are trying to help and that aid workers do not always speak the language of the people they are trying to help. Relying on interpreters does not always help either, indeed it can sometimes hinder matters.
There are also many other people who need communication and other assistance in disaster situations and they can sometimes be left out altogether. In some situations it is impossible to assume that the majority of people affected are literate or it may be that many of the males will be literate but very few of the females. The males may be bilingual. The women may be monolingual. In such situations putting up signs in camps directing people to assistance is of little value unless it is done in such a way that everyone can "read" it. Pictures and symbols will be used but even that can prove problematic. There are also all sorts of cultural, social, tribal, religious and other issues which have to be considered as well.
And then there are other issues which are often given far less consideration than they should. These are the needs of unaccompanied children (those who do not have an adult responsible for them), the needs of people who are very elderly and frail and the needs of people with disabilities. In the chaos following a natural or manmade disaster these groups are often the last to get help although they are the groups who need it most.
People with disabilities, particularly in countries with lower literacy rates, may not be able to access information about what is going on and may only be able to communicate with a very limited range of people. Communication problems are not just an issue for people with hearing impairments but for many other people with disabilities as well. Add mobility problems and medical issues to communication problems and there are many people who need even more assistance than is first recognised.
Even in countries where there are high rates of literacy and otherwise good disaster preparedness people with disabilities can miss out on vital assistance. Communication is a key issue even here.
If anyone is interested in further information the paper below is one I wrote several years ago for a conference presentation. The much more important thing however is to ask people to fill out that survey and inform the UN just how little assistance is available!

                                          Silent Voices: Special Communication Needs in

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies


In Complex Humanitarian Emergencies there can be social, cultural, political and linguistic issues which reduce the capacity of people to communicate. Many people with disabilities also have a reduced capacity to communicate. In Complex Humanitarian Emergencies people with disabilities and others who have also suffered serious trauma are at still further risk of not being able to communicate. Unaccompanied children with disabilities or who have suffered trauma and also have a reduced capacity to communicate are frequently at extreme risk. There is a need for extensive awareness of those with special communication needs in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies and provision needs to be made to assist them at minimum cost.

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies do not occur in isolation from social systems. The often complex range of events leading to emergencies may be natural or manmade or a combination of both but they will still impact on the social system of the region in which they occur. Social and cultural customs can contribute to the spread of disease or to the introduction of social measures to control it. Political and linguistic differences or the refusal to acknowledge them can contribute to outbreaks of violence. Whatever the cause or causes these events all require that those responding to the emergency have the capacity to communicate with those they are trying to assist.

One of the defining features of such emergencies however is the failure of normal modes of communication. At the same time as communication has failed, or is failing, efforts are naturally focussed on rescue and relief where the capacity to communicate is essential. Rescue and relief efforts therefore rely heavily on a capacity to communicate as well as the other physical capacities of all those involved. (1)
The most frequent mode of communication in circumstances where other forms of communication are reduced or non-existent is speech. Despite this speech, and the visual forms which represent it, can be a barrier to communication. It will clearly be a barrier where there is no common language and levels of literacy are low. It will also be a barrier if the individual has a disability which reduces their capacity to use speech, or the visual forms which represent it, to communicate.

Good communication skills however can mean the difference between lives lost and lives saved. Lack of information is a major factor in the failure to adequately assist those in need. Micro aid workers Walter Mizner and Paul Leclerc are just two of many who have reported lives being lost due to communication failure. Mizner reported that villagers in Burkina Faso were not advised that a water hole had been accidentally contaminated by chemicals and, as a result, three children who swam in it died from the contamination, (J.Mizner, personal communication, May 22, 1997) Le Clerc reported that, while the bags were labelled with a symbol, illiterate villagers in Ethiopia were not advised that the seed they had received was not suitable to be eaten. As a result four children and three adults, already in a weakened state, who ate a meal prepared with the seed died and many others became seriously ill. (P. Leclerc, personal communication, October 11, 2003) When such tragedies can occur among groups who, while communication disadvantaged, are not considered to be at greatest risk the likelihood of harm to those at even higher risk must also be greater still.  

In 2005  a report commissioned by the United Nations (Groce 2005) found that children with disabilities were at increased risk of being victims of violence and abuse. (2)
Despite this the needs of at risk groups in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies, and especially of children with disabilities in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies, while being acknowledged, has received scant attention. (3) This has implications for everyone involved in a Complex Humanitarian Emergency but it has particular significance for anyone, and most especially a child, with a disability and any unaccompanied child whether they have a disability or not. If the issues can be even minimally addressed, especially in a cost effective manner, it may be possible to carry out rescue and relief efforts more effectively.
Many people with disabilities, particularly children with congenital or early onset conditions, already have a reduced ability to communicate due to the nature of their disabilities and a complex range of other social and environmental factors. Research by the author (2005) suggests that as many as 84% of people with a disability will also have a reduced capacity to communicate in at least one significant area of their daily life. (4)
In addition, events which give rise to a Complex Humanitarian Emergency
situation frequently occur in areas which suffer cycles of disadvantage because of their geographical and/or political location. One of the frequent characteristics of such areas is an already reduced capacity to communicate. Levels of literacy are often low. Education may be disrupted or not occur due to conflict, poverty or isolation.
Literacy rates in disadvantaged areas are also almost always lower along women than men and among girls than boys. Among children with disabilities they are often lower still. Makambe (1999) reviewed records for ten years of more than 2000 children from conflict areas who passed through a temporary refuge for unaccompanied children in Africa. Not a single child with a developmental or other congenital disability had received any formal educational training. At the same time she found that children who had been injured in regional conflicts had received education at the same rate as their non-injured peers up until the time of their injury.(C. Makambe, personal communication, 11 November 1999)   Davidson (2003) found that no male child with a visible disability in fourteen remote villages affected by the internal conflict in Afghanistan had received any formal education at all  In addition no female child was receiving any formal education.(S. Davidson, personal communication, June 13, 2002)  He considered these children to be at very high risk if further conflict broke out. (S.Davidson, personal communication, June 19, 2002).
Despite low levels of formal education in some regions where emergencies occur it is a mistake to assume that a person with a disability is not further communication disadvantaged or at further communication risk when a Complex Humanitarian Emergency arises. While children without disabilities in some less developed regions may have had little or no education they will have had wider contact with their community, will know more adults and have a greater knowledge of at least their immediate surroundings than children with disabilities. Hazarikah (1996) found that children without disabilities in two large Indian villages knew as many as five or six times more people than their siblings with disabilities.   (I Hazarikah, personal communication, June 2, 1996) Even if children with disabilities have had some education their level of educational attainment may be much lower or of a different nature. Hazarikah also found that, where any education occurred, it was designed solely to teach a craft and that eventual earning capacity was still negligible. (I. Hazarikah, personal communication, June 30, 1996) It is likely then that children with disabilities may already be communication disadvantaged in areas which are prone to events which lead to Complex Humanitarian Emergencies. 
Once an event, or series of events, which gives rise to a Complex Humanitarian Emergency has occurred all people with disabilities may be at much higher risk of decreased levels of communicative capacity. The reasons for this are both diverse and complex. While they apply to adults as well as children, it is necessary to recognise that, because as already shown,  children are an already at risk group and the effects on them are potentially more serious. Some of the difficulties giving rise to lower levels of communication and which can apply to all people with disabilities are:
            (a)    The person with the disability may not be able to move from their location to a source of information due to changes in the physical environment and/or due to their physical capacity to travel.
            (b)   They may have been separated from members of family or the community on whom they depend for communication with others.
            (c)    Members of the family may have suffered illness, injury or even death and may be unable to give communication assistance.
            (d)   The person with the disability may also be injured.
            (e)    There may be no common communication system between the person with the disability and those providing rescue and relief services
            (f)    Assumptions may be made about their needs and the information they require
            (g)   The person with the disability may fail or be unable to communicate his or her lack of understanding
            (h)   Information may be provided in a single way which is impossible for the person with the disability to access
            (i)     Information may be passed  or need to be passed through another source where it is filtered or altered in such a way that it becomes inaccurate
            (j)     there may be other social restrictions or taboos which, in conjunction with a disability, cause a disruption to the capacity to communicate.
            Disruption to communication because of a lack of ability to travel and move freely was observed by Planhol (2005). He found that a number of people with pre-existing disabilities who survived the South East Asian Tsunami were confined to their (sometimes damaged) homes and were unaware of what was happening in the community.  Of the 28 people Planhol found in one small area of Sri Lanka, 11 were between 12 and 18 years of age. All had very little knowledge of what had occurred and their understanding of the event was seriously impaired due to a lack of information as well as intellectual capacity. (J. Planhol, personal communication, March 3, 2005) Planhol also reported that two of those found had not had any contact with their community since the tsunami and did not understand what had happened at all. Both had been the victims of sexual abuse since the event. (J. Planhol, personal communication, March 5, 2005) Newell (2004) reported searchers finding numbers of frail elderly and children with disabilities abandoned in the Darfur region when other villagers fled. (C. Newell, personal communication, November 14, 2004) Khaulavi (2001) reported the finding of 9 children with disabilities abandoned in a village in Iraq when conflict caused other villagers to leave. Only one child was able to give any information about her family. All others were too young or lacked the intellectual ability to do so. (M Khaulavi, personal communication, October 28, 2001).
Dahl (2005) reported 15 children in a reception camp estimated to be over the age of five who were unable to make themselves understood due to a range of disabilities. In each case they had been separated from their principal carers and five of them showed signs of sexual abuse. (K. Dahl, personal communication, March 19, 2005). There were also an unknown number of other children who appeared to have event induced psychiatric disturbances which resulted in a refusal to speak. When they were given medical examinations further instances of sexual abuse were revealed.(K. Dahl, personal communication, March 22, 2005)  Bensimon (2005) also reported three children from the same family in a Pakistani village, all with the same congenital condition, who were unable to communicate freely with anyone because of the associated speech defects. Both parents, on whom they had relied for all communication with the rest of the community, were deceased. The girl had been sexually abused and, at age 12, was shown to be pregnant. (A. Bensimon, personal communication, November 23, 2005)
Failure to communicate can result in tragic consequences. Lecawasam (2005) noted that a critically injured eight year old child was airlifted from a disaster zone. No member of his family was found to accompany him. After his right arm had been amputated it was discovered he also had a hearing loss and had used signs to communicate. Had the medical staff been aware of the underlying condition greater efforts would have been made to save the arm despite the limited medical assistance available. ( R. Lecawasam, personal communication, November 1, 2005)
The hearing impaired appear to be at particular risk of the most complete breakdown of their communication systems. Their ability to communicate with the rest of the community is often already severely compromised and those who are able to interpret for them will be few. If rescue and relief assistance is being conducted by speakers of another language then those who use signs to communicate must, if they can find anyone to assist them at all, go through a double translation process when attempting to give information about themselves. (R Bazin, personal communication January 27, 2005) In the sometimes vital registration processes, without which food, shelter and medical assistance may not be available, this can be time consuming and may not occur at all. (R Bazin, personal communication, February 1, 2005; H. Grousset, personal communication, February 3, 2005) Furthermore, when an unaccompanied child is unable to make himself or herself understood it has been observed that adults in the vicinity, if not ignoring the child altogether, will take over and act without reference to the child. (R Compton, personal communication, January 11, 2005). They may even claim a relationship with the child that does not exist. (S Ramsaran, personal communication, March 18, 1992). Such claims can place a child at extreme risk of sexual abuse and other violent acts. (S Ramsaran, personal communications, March 26-28, 1992)
Those providing rescue and relief assistance or ongoing care may also make assumptions about the needs of the child (F. Amundsen, personal communication, February 12, 1994) and those assumptions may be inaccurate (F. Amundsen, personal communication, December 22, 1995; A. Janssen, personal communication, January 11, 1997). The results can include a child being removed from an area where there is family to care for him or her and children being taken by local officials and then, in the worst cases, abused or sold. (F. Amundsen, personal communication, February 12, 1994; C. Makambe, personal communication  May 8, 1988; J Menéndez, personal communication, March 27, 2003) In such instances it is vital for communication to be established with the child and basic information be recorded so that the child can be tracked. Too often this does not happen. (F.Amundsen, personal communication, December 22, 1995; J Menéndez, personal communication, March 27, 2003).
Just as in daily life elsewhere assumptions may also be made about the level of information people with disabilities require. While this should be an issue of concern at any time the consequences can be of even greater concern in the emergency situation. While all children may be shielded from some information, children with disabilities may be shielded from or prevented from obtaining information which can allow them to maintain contact with familiar persons. Rangarajaran (2005) found that a small group of children with disabilities had been separated, on safety grounds, from all other members of a temporary camp. In the confusion which followed these children were then sent to a different location. Several children had surviving family members in the other group who were willing to care for them. Language differences and the failure to provide any language assistance to the children meant that they were unable to ask where family members were and were wrongly informed that their family members were deceased. (L. Rangarajaran, personal communication, April 19, 2005).  
Older children and adults with disabilities may also be excluded from meetings about movement away from a location or the reconstruction of a community on the grounds that, as they are unable to actively participate they can have no interest in how this is done. Comrie (2005) found that three teenage boys with disabilities were excluded from meetings attended by all other males their age and older on the grounds of their disability alone. (S. Comrie, personal communication, April 24, 2005) Gao found that the decisions made about the placement of two girls of five and six who had limbs amputated were made without any reference to them. Both were sent to orphanages on the assumption that they had no family to care for them. This later proved incorrect. (Y. Gao, personal communication, July 16, 1997)
Mufwene (1996) found that, not only were young people with disabilities being excluded from decision making processes, they were being excluded from the outcomes. Five teenage boys with physical disabilities were excluded from a meeting to discuss who would have access to limited education facilities and then from the education facilities that were offered. Each had the intellectual capacity to benefit and perhaps become independent as a result. (A. Mufwene, personal communication, May 2, 1996).
Fernandez (2005) found that, while levels of illiteracy were high, there was a lack of pictorial information about services in reception centres and that reliance solely on verbal modes of communication caused unacceptable delays as well as contributing to the failure of some to gain access to goods and services which were theirs by right. Unaccompanied children were particularly disadvantaged and any unaccompanied child with a disability was in grave danger of not accessing any goods or services. (J. Fernandez, personal communication, March 22, 2005). When simple pictorial illustrations to indicate the location of services were made available there was a marked increase in orderliness noted by those delivering aid. Those delivering aid were then also able to uncover some of the abuse of those with disabilities and handle it without further tensions arising. (J. Fernandez, April 29, 2005). (4)
It is clear that there is a need to develop some simple, low cost measures that can be put in place to assist not only people with disabilities but all members of the community who are in need of assistance. This can have marked benefits for everyone. Van der Hoek (2005) reported a decrease in violence in a reception centre when visual illustrations of the entitlements of each individual was made available and recipients were asked to acknowledge that they had received them. (H. Van der Hoek, personal communication, July 19, 2005). Unfortunately there is often insufficient aid to provide for everyone and the most vulnerable will almost always miss out. (Z. Berger, personal communication, September 18, 1988;  R Wilson-Taylor, personal communication, October 19, 1991; J. Fernandez, personal communication, April 3, 2005)
In a Complex Humanitarian Emergency however many people who have never done so before will need to provide or use the services of another person to give or obtain information. Often those supplying the information are those who also have control over access to the rescue and relief operation. Sometimes they will be elected by others to serve in those positions, at other times they will be existing community or religious leaders or government appointed officials. However they are chosen they are almost never people with disabilities and people with disabilities almost never have a voice in choosing them. They are frequently distrusted by those seeking assistance and even more so by those with disabilities who are seeking assistance. (D Becirozic, personal communication, May 12, 1997; S Milinkovic, personal communication May 15, 1997; N Rajaratnam, personal communication, January 21, 2005; G Wickremesinghe, personal communications, January 19 -22, 2005)
It is also unlikely that, in the vast unmet need of a Complex Humanitarian Emergency,  those in authority will see any reason to treat any person with a disability, let alone a child, with special consideration. While working in Iraq Elimam (2001) found that, while there was stated sympathy for the difficulties of any person with a disability, this did not translate into the provision of  assistance, let alone extra assistance. Any child with a disability, who was not in the direct care of an adult, was regarded as an insoluble problem which was best ignored. Only people with disabilities who were also articulate enough to make themselves heard were likely to obtain any assistance and even they were unlikely to obtain any extra assistance. (A. Elimam, personal communication, June 4, 2001)
One of the greatest difficulties is that there will often been more than one language involved and use will be made of untrained interpreters who may or may not be able to do the task. Even when they can do the task they may have other reasons not to do it. Political issues do not cease to exist in a Complex Humanitarian Emergency, indeed they may be heightened by it. As a result information may be filtered or altered.  In one case Cuevas & Lopes (2005) found that two untrained interpreters were not asking questions they deemed to be unsuitable to ask people with disabilities and that they were providing a false medical diagnosis rather than ask the questions they were requested to ask. (J Cuevas and M Lopes, personal communication, February 1, 2005)  Children with disabilities are even more at risk of being refused adequate interpreting services and Makambe (1989), Mufwene (2000) and Santarém (2000) all found instances of radical medical treatment being administered to children with disabilities without prior consultation or the consent of the child or a parent. (C. Makambe, personal communication, November 2, 1989; A. Mufwene, personal communication, March 9, 2000; J Santarém, personal communication, March 11, 2000).
Communication for people with disabilities, especially children with disabilities, in a Complex Humanitarian Emergency then presents a very complex set of problems influenced by many other aspects of a situation which is already complex and often difficult to comprehend. Even while recognising the complexity of  the problems involved any adult or child with a disability should still be held to have the same communication rights as any other person in a Complex Humanitarian Emergency.
These rights include the following:
           (1)   The right to be informed at the same time as others in the group
           (2)   The right to the same information as others in the group
           (3)   The right to be heard when there is a need to inform others of an issue which affects their welfare
           (4)   The right to be consulted when there is a need for a decision to be made which affects their welfare
            (5)   The right, where necessary, to an appropriate level and type of communication assistance.
Reynolds (2002) suggests that “(i)n a serious crisis, all affected people take in information differently, process information differently and act on information differently”. Despite this, as indicated earlier,  information in a Complex Humanitarian Emergency may only be given in one form, usually verbal, and without requests for others to be aware of the need to pass accurate information on immediately. It is recognised that it may be very difficult, sometimes impossible, to provide information in multiple formats.
Where that is the case officials and aid agencies must take responsibility for asking others to take responsibility for providing whatever access to information that they can.
There can be no unnecessary delays to handing out information. In an emergency situation delays can be dangerous and cost lives. Hurd (2005) found five unaccompanied children, two with disabilities, had not received any food or water for three days because they had not been informed it was available but had to be collected from a reception point. By then the condition of the two children with disabilities was critical. (F. Hurd, personal communication, January 11, 2005) Rehman (2005) found that failure to inform a group of intellectually disabled adults about the unsafe state of a building which appeared superficially safe resulted in the deaths of three people when the building, in which they were sheltering, later collapsed. Other adults had been warned away from the building. (N. Rehman, personal communication,  October 31, 2005).
Delays can also cause people to lose any chance of access to essential goods and services. Lawrence (2005) found that after the South East Asian Tsunami, while seriously injured people were being transported out of some areas,  people with disabilities were being left behind and transport they may have used was being given to people without disabilities who had the capacity to walk to another location, (J. Lawrence, personal communication, March 19, 2005).
Children, and more especially unaccompanied children and children with disabilities, also have the right to information. They may already have seen and observed a great deal. Children with disabilities are no less likely to have observed that there has been an event leading to an emergency.  While so many children were lost in the tsunami it was found that a number of children with disabilities survived because they were in more distant locations which were not as badly damaged. Lawrence (2005) talked to 18 children in one location and found they were generally not informed about what had happened and, if they were, the information was either inadequate or grossly inaccurate. (J. Lawrence, personal communication, March 19, 2005; personal communication, March 23, 2005). Unaccompanied children and children with disabilities need accurate information even more than most children and just as much as any adult. Although some will be unable to make decisions because of their age or because of mental incompetence other children will need accurate facts with which to protect themselves, such as where to find sources of food and shelter. (C. Makambe, personal communication, November 2, 1999) They may also need to make decisions about their future, perhaps about whether to remain in or leave a location. (A. Mufwene, personal communication, March 9, 2000).
What can be done about all these problems?
There appears to be a need to develop a number of simple communication tools for chldren with disabilities and unaccompanied children which will assist them to provide essential information about themselves.  The Wong Pain Scale for Children is a simple array of 6 faces ranging from a smile for “no hurt” to tears for “hurts worst”. It is a simple and effective device used to help children describe their level of pain. (6) .
It has been suggested that a similar array could be developed to discover what type of family unit a child has been living in. (R Wilson-Taylor, personal communication, January 22, 1992)
There is also the need to explore more thoroughly the possible use of visual symbols.
Pictorial symbols providing choice may be useful. (A. Mufwene, personal communication, March 9, 2000) . While pictorial symbols have limitations they may lead to the use of a more extensive symbol system such as the Blissymbol system. (7)
Any system or tool which is to be used however will require the training of those delivering aid. Depending on the system or tool being used training could range from information sessions  to several days. It is suggested that aid organisations need to cooperate to develop their knowledge about low technology resources and the way in they can be used to assist in communicating with the victims of Complex Humanitarian Emergencies. While identifying photographs can be taken and medical information recorded in many, often very sophisticated ways, it is still essential to be able give and receive information of other kinds. Only when this type of communication aid has been thoroughly explored,  and then developed as far as possible, will the level of risk to those most at risk, especially children with disabilities, be reduced. The cost of developing and providing such low technology responses is low and the potential benefit very high indeed.
 (1)An excellent source of general information about communication in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies is to be found at
(2) 05-12-06. all,html Groce found that “while all children are at significant risk of being victims of violence, disabled children have significantly increased risk because of stigma, negative traditional beliefs and ignorance. Lack of social support, limited opportunities for education, employment or participation in the community further isolate disabled children and their families, leading to increased levels of stress and hardship. Disabled children are often targeted by abusers who find them easy victims.”
(3) See e.g. where the problem is recognised with a single sentence in paragraph seven on “Registration, Tracking and Monitoring” which reads, “This information may be difficult to obtain, especially where a child is non verbal either because of age, disability or trauma.”
(4) Gunn, C (2005) The Communication Needs of People with Disabilities: Unpublished study for the Communication Project Group.
(5) It may also be worth noting here that asking the head of the family to acknowledge the receipt of goods by signing, or making their mark, on a pictorial receipt reduced the level of corruption and reassured those adults unable to read through lack of education or disability that they were receiving the supplies to which they were entitled. (H. Pedersen, personal communication, January 18, 2005; personal communication, June 30, 2005)
(6) Reynolds, B., Hunter Galdo, J., & Sokler, L (2002)  Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication. Atlanta : Center for Disease Control and Prevention cited in Crisis, Emergency and Risk Communication p.4
(7) These may be seen at
(8) The link to the most extensive list of references to Blissymbolics on the internet is to be found at Blissymbols have been successfully used as the common communication system at a permanent reception“camp” for children in Africa since 1984.
(9) Groups considered to be at particular risk are the very young, the frail elderly, women and girls. See e.g. Lindsey, C (2001) Women facing war: ICRC Study on the impact of Armed Conflict on Women, ICRC Geneva