Saturday, 28 February 2015

I am never going to use homeopathy

or chiropractic or a range of other "alternative" or "complementary" health related items. I know there are people who do. I know they firmly believe in these things. It is even possible that these things do them good - even if it is just because they do believe in them.
My health fund covers these things. I suspect every health fund does. It covers other things I will almost certainly never use either. I don't want that sort of cover but I am forced to pay for it in order to get the cover I do want.
I want my hospital and specialist cover. I want my dental cover. I want optical cover because I recognise I might need it. There are other things I might need which I would be happy to pay cover for but the "alternative" and "complementary" medicines are not among those things. If I ever want to use unproven and even discredited health procedures then I will pay for them in  some other way - or I would if I had a choice.
Our health fund, along with every other health fund is about to raise the fees again - by more than inflation. They have been given permission to do this. They will be making another healthy profit. Even if they did not raise their fees they would make a profit, albeit a smaller profit.  
We are already paying for the health care of those who use tobacco, who drink too heavily, who (ab)use drugs and who are overweight through a preference for fast or junk food. Perhaps we can help those people. 
It is much harder to help anyone who genuinely believes in some of the other alternative and complementary health procedures. I would however like my health fund to give me the right to choose what I wish to be covered for and for me to pay accordingly. If they were lucky then I might opt for more and use less - and it would be better than paying for what I will never use. 

Friday, 27 February 2015

Build a mosque?

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

Thursday, 26 February 2015

I too have lost confidence in

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

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

So Eddie Redmayne

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

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

I banged the back of

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

Monday, 23 February 2015

Australia gave Indonesia

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

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Why are our food

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

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Twitter, twitter...tweet

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

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

Friday, 20 February 2015

The question of whether the census

is worth the money spent on it or whether there are other ways to gather the necessary information to plan for the future.
Remember, the Romans had censuses? There's that famous one that sent Joseph and Mary off to Bethlehem. I suspect that the Romans were more concerned about borders and security than providing services but they did conduct censuses.
We have moved on a long way from there. And yes, I agree that the census is important. But, it only collects a limited amount of information. 
Last year our household was required to participate in an on-line trial designed to see if the census can be conducted electronically. That would save an enormous amount of money. (The last census cost the country about $440m.) I don't know how secure it would be - or how secure census data is at all. How accurate is it? Nobody really knows. There just has to be an assumption that people fill out the form and do it accurately. Yes, those are legal requirements but how many people do not give the correct information. Some don't do it intentionally but others do. It doesn't help.
And I have another problem with the census. It still isn't asking some of the questions it should be asking. The census doesn't ask about the support networks people have. It doesn't ask about how much leisure time people have and how they are using it. That is information which is vital to the mental health of a nation but it isn't being asked. 
It is all very well knowing that "X" number of people live in a household and what their ages are but it doesn't find out whether those people are coping, whether they access services now or will need to do so soon or in the future. Some of those things are unpredictable. But it doesn't ask "Did you meet friends on a social basis this week" or "did you spend time actively engaged in a hobby this week" and "what was that hobby". The questions would, of course, need to be put differently but that sort of information could be immensely valuable. It would tell government something about people living in isolation and whether they are possibly at risk. It would tell them something about networks and whether funding should be directed at something more than the football club. 
Yes, it is expensive to ask questions in the census. There's only so much room but perhaps if these sort of questions were asked people might better understand why the census is important - and how it relates to them. 
Has any one got questions they would like to see asked? 

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The "welfare for the rich"

card is being played again. This time because the "deeming rate" on bank deposits has been lowered again.
I have mixed feelings about this because I suspect that the answer is not the simple one many people think it is. May I explain?
The Senior Cat was a teacher. He spent almost all his career in rural areas. In much of his time as a teacher the profession was not very well paid. He was in a position where he had first to board with families in the places he was posted to and then, when he married, he had to rent accommodation first from a farmer and then in various houses provided by the Education Department. These were the cheapest possible fibro-asbestos board houses it is possible to make. They were flimsy. They were cold in winter and hot in summer.  They are still being used. 
While the Senior Cat was doing this out of necessity - because teachers were required to go where they were sent - his city based counterparts were, if they were sensible, buying their own homes little by little. Most did. Some did not. 
When he eventually returned to the city there was no government accommodation provided. The Senior Cat had to house the family elsewhere. As other teachers were almost finished paying off a mortgage he had, by necessity, to start paying off his brother-in-law for a half interest in the (fortunately) vacant maternal family home. The Senior Cat considers  himself fortunate that the place was available and that his BIL was prepared to wait in order to see his sister housed. 
But now the Senior Cat and his fellow responsible teachers and others who have done the right thing and saved and bought their own accommodation are being asked to subsidise those people who have gone through life spending all their income. These are the people who rely solely on the pension. They need extra help.
I know there are people who have genuinely not been able to save. I know that some of them are in the position of genuinely never having been able to afford to buy their own home. They have had medical expenses or other unforeseen expenses in their lives that have been unavoidable. 
I also know that others have spent their money on their own pleasures. Why bother with money in the bank when you know you are going to get a pension at the other end? Why bother with health insurance or any other form of insurance? Why not buy the caravan and the boat and the more powerful car to tow these things? And so it goes on. Some of them have rented and never owned by choice. 
And now they need more. 
This is the message coming from the social services community. They are saying the deeming rate should not be lowered, that the "wealthy" people who have done the responsible thing and now own their own homes, who have contributed savings to their retirement should now be required to subsidise those who spent it all earlier. It sounds a bit like, "Well, we spent all our pocket money and now we want some of yours as well."
It isn't nearly as simple as that of course but when the argument about "the rich" paying for "the poor" is raised it is sometimes worth thinking about where the money is coming from. The answer is not always what others would have us believe. 
We need to make sure people have enough for the necessities of life - but perhaps we also need to make sure that what people are getting is really a fair share. 


Wednesday, 18 February 2015

"His father used to teach at the university..."

our friends told us. We were out at lunch yesterday at the same tiny place we had visited once before. It really is lovely but I wonder how much longer they can keep going. 
The father of the man had come in to take some photographs to put on a website for them. Yes, they are trying hard but there simply isn't enough space and it is just the two of them. They can't afford to employ anyone to help.
And yes, eventually his father came in. I looked at him but I wasn't sure so I said nothing. He would not have remembered me anyway. He didn't actually teach me. I would have been just one face in a lecture room with about two hundred other students. The teaching, such as it was, was done by the tutors. He might have given ten lectures at most and they didn't stay in my mind. I remembered him more as perhaps being a colleague/almost-friend of another member of staff. I also remembered him as being taller and darker - and younger of course. Well it was a very long time ago. 
And, as I said, I was not quite sure. What was his given name? I knew it was something a little unusual. And then, as he was driving off in his car I remembered the name. I double-checked with the wife when she came out to farewell us. (They know our friends well and we all get a warm greeting and reluctant farewell.) 
"Yes! Why didn't you say something?" the wife said.
"I wasn't sure," I told her.
"You should have asked."
No, we had a little chat in the half which is shop and he didn't know me. He would, no doubt, have been polite and perhaps pretended but it would have made the conversation awkward. As it was we had a pleasant chat. 
Perhaps some relationships are best left that way. 

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

50 Shades of Grey

is a vile book. The subject matter is offensive and deeply disturbing. It is also a badly written book - unless it improves dramatically beyond the chapter I managed to read. I am told it does not improve - that it gets worse.
I am genuinely puzzled that anyone would actually want to write such a book, that it should get published and that people wanted to read it. As for turning it into a film.... Why? What do people see in something that glorifies the sort of thing that any decent-minded person should find repugnant?
I wonder what it does to people who act, direct and produce such movies? It must have an impact on their lives and that impact has to be negative. 
Going to see such a film must surely be a negative experience as well? It is apparently turning into a "box office success". That raises all sorts of questions in my mind about the sort of society we are if that is what people find "entertaining". It isn't - or it shouldn't be. 
If anyone reading this can give me an argument for glorifying an abusive sexual relationship then please do tell me. I can find no reason to do so at all.  
The Senior Cat has reached an age where he refuses to watch the news. He finds it too distressing. He has lived through poverty and wars. He says he doesn't need to see those things now. He will glance at articles in the paper but, if it gets too distressing, he will stop reading. On the rare occasions he watches television he wants it to be a documentary with a pleasanter subject or something funny. I don't blame him. It's better to laugh.

Monday, 16 February 2015

"Come and have a coffee with me?"

I was in the shopping centre when someone asked me this question. I had just pedalled a considerable distance. I was hot. I was tired. I knew the Senior Cat would be worried if I wasn't home soon. I nearly said no - but I didn't.
I like the person who asked me. I like her very much indeed but we rarely get a chance to talk. Both of us lead very busy lives.
So, I rang the Senior Cat. "Nothing wrong but I'll be a little longer. I'm going to have coffee with her."
He agreed it was a good thing.
And so we chatted about nothing in particular and I could see my friend relaxing a bit as we sipped ice cold coffee through straws. I am not particularly fond of coffee. I like perfume far more than I like the taste. I suggested she call in to get some peaches on her way home later in the day. She agreed eagerly and I felt I could repay her for the coffee she had insisted on buying for me.
When I arrived home I found the Senior Cat had a visitor. A friend had come to pick the figs. That needs a ladder. The Senior Cat cannot climb ladders. I cannot climb ladders. Friend can. The fig tree grew up of its own accord behind the garden shed - in the gap between the shed and the fence. It does remarkably well there.  Friend came down with a bucket load and took some home to make jam. What to do with the rest? I had already made some jam.
And so when my friend of the morning arrived for the peaches I gave her enough figs for a little jam as well because in the evening we picked the other figs on the smaller tree in the corner of the front garden - and they will be quite enough for the two of us.
And Computer-Geek arrived with the new laptop. He will come and set it up for me tomorrow. He went home with more peaches.
The Senior Cat sat down to his evening snack and purred, "Isn't it good to have the garden? We can give people things."
I have to agree.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Faith Bandler, a woman I was

proud to call "friend" has died on Friday 13th February 2015. She was 96.
I first met her as a teenager. She was a close friend of another friend. On that first occasion it was at a rather large and noisy event for writers - and neither of us saw ourselves as writers. We were merely waiting for our friend in common. She introduced us and we sat on a seat outside the venue to wait.
My first impression was of a very well dressed woman with a friendly and mischievous smile. So, she wanted to know, how did I happen to know our mutual friend? 
I explained, asked if she was enjoying her stay here. It was the usual sort of chat between two people who don't know one another well. I knew she had been a leader in the push for indigenous Australians to be recognised in the 1967 Referendum. My paternal grandfather, not a particularly political man, had carried on the work of his mother in pushing for the same thing. (No, there isn't a drop of indigenous blood in our family. There was - and is - a strong sense that everyone should be treated equally.) We talked about that. So, that's who I was? Oh yes, she had once met my paternal great-grandmother. She had been quite young at the time. 
I didn't think too much of it. A mere teenager I just accepted it. But, when she left me with our mutual friend, she hugged me. I didn't see her again for several years. 
On the next occasion I was about to go to university abroad and an indigenous friend here phoned me and said, "Come for lunch Cat? Can you make time this week - before you go?"
I made time. Lunch at Rosie's place was never to be missed. And it was certainly not to be missed on that occasion because there was Faith. The two of them were plotting and planning other things but they had both wanted to see me before I left. Hugs, kisses, catch up. It was good.
And so it went on over the years. I saw more of her when I lived interstate. Every time I saw her she was warm and welcoming and would ask about my family. We would talk about her work but we also talked about other things, the sort of things friends talk about. We could laugh together, dream together. We went to meetings and talks together. We ate lunch together. One weekend of wild weather a cousin of the Senior Cat invited her to come with me to an interactive science exhibition because his boys wanted to go. Why not? She tried every exhibit with enthusiasm. A woman who had, of necessity, left school before she could really read or write she managed to write several books in later life.
Faith had faith even when facing criticism from other indigenous people. Her views were perhaps more realistic than theirs and her demands more reasonable.
Faith had hope too, hope for the future. I don't think she ever lost it even when things appeared to be sliding backwards. "If it is right then it will happen," she kept telling me.
Faith had charity too. She did not like a certain politician - a man who was much lauded for his government's "progress" with indigenous affairs. Perhaps she saw him for what he really was. I don't know but I do know she would smile and say, "He's only human I suppose."
I wonder what she would have thought of our present Prime Minister's offer of a state funeral. I suspect her response would be "Don't be ridiculous!"
We lost touch in the last few years. It happens when people grow old - and she was 96 - and you don't live in the same place and the capacity to read and write becomes physically limited. But I know that if I had walked into any room she was in - one filled with people - she would have hugged me, kissed me and introduced me as a friend. 


Saturday, 14 February 2015

Just before the demise of

Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister and leader of the Labor Party he had the rules changed so that all members of the party had some say in the electing the leader. I have no doubt at all that he agitated for this because he has an ego larger than the party itself. He almost certainly believed he was there for the long haul, that Labor was going to win the election again - and again. 
They didn't of course. The government changed. Rudd resigned and the Labor Party elected a new leader. Or did they? 
The new rules give 50% of the vote to the "rank and file" and 50% to the party room. 
The contest was eventually between two men. One was a well known and popular face, Anthony Albanese. The other was Bill Shorten, married to the daughter of the then Governor-General.
Shorten won with 52% of the vote. 
There was surprise expressed at the time and there were some rumblings that all might not have gone according to plan. The day before yesterday there were more rumblings. An internal inquiry found there were questions to answer about missing votes - votes that would have favoured Albanese.  He had been tipped to win.
Curiously this only made the headlines in one newspaper. There was a brief mention on a television news service website. The rest of the media was quiet, very quiet. 
What should have been headline news - and would have been headline news if the same rules applied to the present government - was almost ignored. It was ignored despite other questions about Bill Shorten, including a court case against him which was dismissed for "insufficient evidence" but which a number of knowledgeable people believe might have succeeded.
The reasons are clear. The media has been making much of  the present Prime Minister "losing" the vote in the party room and "losing" the confidence of his party. They have been claiming that the 61for 39 against vote is a shocking result. At the time of the election it was even stronger than that and support for him among party members at local level was at an all time high.
The media however sees it differently.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran

were caught trying to smuggle heroin out of Bali into Australia. Since then they have been tried, along with seven others, in an Indonesian court, found guilty and sentenced to death. They have spent a decade in Kerobokan gaol and the expectation is that they will be executed by the end of this month.
The case has taken up an enormous amount of time and money at the highest levels of government. It has also taken up a lot of media attention.
Even now the Australian Federal Police refuse to acknowledge any error of judgment in giving information to the Indonesian police. It was that information which led to their arrest and the consequent death sentence.
I am opposed to the death penalty. I am opposed because I do not believe murder is right under any circumstances. State sanctioned murder is no more right than any other murder. And there is always the possibility of a mistake even when the evidence seems to be overwhelming. 
In the case of Indonesia there are double standards with respect to the death penalty. The Indonesian government fights hard for any of its own citizens at risk of death in foreign gaols. They have gaoled some of their own citizens guilty of the most atrocious crimes involving the death of many people but they have not demanded the death penalty. Some of those same citizens have even been released at a later date. 
But drugs, they keep saying, are different. I don't doubt for a moment that there are Indonesians at the very top of the drug trade. They are probably untouchable.
Australia gives a considerable amount of foreign aid to Indonesia. There are many people there on or below the poverty line. We have been told for years that it is our duty to assist them. This is despite the fact that Indonesia is a wealthy country, a very wealthy country. The  unfortunate thing is that 95% of that wealth is owned by just 5% of the population and they have no intention of sharing it.
Australians contribute to that wealth by going to holiday in Bali in droves. Many Balinese depend for their pittance of a wage on the tourist industry.
The Indonesian authorities know all this. They also know that Australia is unlikely to cease all foreign aid to the country because that would have trade implications for Australia. They know that Bali is seen as a relatively cheap, exotic foreign destination for many people. They know people will continue to go to Bali even if two Australians are put to death. They will go even if there are more terrorist threats, bombings and other crimes. 
What we really need to do though is stay away from Bali and make further aid conditional on the abolition of the death penalty. I am sure that the rest of a life in Kerobakan prison is punishment enough.  

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The tale of lost things

continues on the other blog. In a slightly spooky way there has now been the discovery of a baseball cap that does not belong there on the floor of their bedroom. To be fair it is possible that will end up belonging to their grandson.
But...we found something in the letter box that did not belong there. It was a parcel containing a DVD that the Senior Cat had sent to Brother Cat on Christmas Eve. 
We had been worrying at the failure of this parcel to arrive. Senior Cat thought he was getting senile and that he had failed to put the proper postcode on the parcel. I ordered another copy of the DVD in late January thinking it was lost for good as it had not been returned to us either. As two other items have gone missing in recent years we had good reason to think it was gone for good.
Yesterday it appeared. Yes, the address was correct. The sticker on the parcel was ringed at the "unclaimed" point.  Unclaimed?
One of the things that had puzzled us was the fact that there had been no card left in the letter box. By law the post man must leave a card in the letter box if there is nobody at home and an item cannot fit in the letter box. Brother Cat had been expecting the DVD or a note in the letter box. (He also believes the DVD should have fitted in the letter box. The box is a reasonable size.) He would have arranged for the parcel to be collected from the Post Office.
I took the parcel into the Senior Cat and we came to the conclusion that no card had been left. What to do about it? Posting anything is getting ridiculously expensive here and we did not feel inclined to pay twice.
So, I prowled up to the Post Office when it opened. The "girls" who work in the Post Office know me. They know the Senior Cat. I told them pleasantly what I thought might have happened. They looked at one another. They looked at the parcel. They agreed with the possible scenario and then they put a "registered" sticker on it so they could track it. They rewrote the label with one of their own and stuck it on. They gave me the tracking number and said, "Now let's see what happens."
The interesting thing now will be whether the second DVD I ordered will be delivered or whether the postie will simply not bother to leave a card in the letter box.
And no, I did not have to pay to have it re-delivered.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

"You've lost it?"

I asked the Senior Cat.
"No, I just put it down somewhere," he told me, "Or it's gone to look for the sheets."
Oh. Right. Well he does have multiple small watering cans because he is no longer allowed to lift anything heavy. I knew any brilliant lime-green item would turn up pretty quickly  unless it had accidentally been tossed into the "green" bin.
It did turn up a bit later in the day - in a perfectly obvious place. 
But I wonder about this "losing" of things.
Someone I know only "virtually" is bemoaning the loss of her i-pad. It has not actually been lost. It has been misplaced. I have no doubt that, at some point, it will turn up - or will it. If her i-pad is anything like the one belonging to the Senior Cat then it would be hard to throw it out in the rubbish. She says that nobody has been in the house so human "villainy" - as she puts it - seems unlikely.  So, where is it.
A couple of years ago I put a plastic box of buttons away out of reach of small children. The box itself was one of those with compartments. It is designed for storing things like beads or other small objects and I had the buttons - all for specific projects - stored in the individual compartments. I did not want very small children swallowing the buttons or even just mixing them up again. So, away it went. 
And I couldn't find it. It was not where I had put it - even the Senior Cat agreed I had put it where I thought it was. We had discussed where to put it and he had watched me do it. Months went by, more than a year. I came to the conclusion the box was lost. I had bought more buttons for several projects. Other projects had gone button- less. I mourned the loss of my pewter buttons with the thistles on them and the buttons the Senior Cat had made for his cardigan. (He made more but....)
And then, one morning, I was shifting a pile of cookery books belonging to my mother intending to take them to the charity shop and... yes, the button box. How it got there is still a mystery. The cookery books had not been touched for years - or so I thought. I did not put the buttons there. The Senior Cat did not do it. Someone must have  shifted the box when they were prowling through the shelves. I don't suppose we will ever find out.
And there is one mystery we have never solved. Not long after my parents moved into this house my mother bought two sets of sheets. They were delivered along with another item. I remember seeing them. Middle Cat remembers seeing them. And they disappeared. We have never found them. I pulled everything out of the linen press. We had several boxes stored in the ceiling at that time. The Senior Cat was young enough and agile enough to go and look. He brought everything down and we looked. We pulled boxes out of his workshop and the garden shed. We emptied all the cupboards and drawers. We never found the sheets.  
I do have my own theory about the sheets - that my mother passed them over to Junior Cat who was desperately short of household goods at the time - but she always denied it. She may genuinely have forgotten in her worry about Junior Cat at the time. It is the only possible explanation. They were too big to be accidentally thrown into the rubbish - and nobody except family had been there when they disappeared. 
But now, when we can't find something, we say, "It's gone to look for the sheets."

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

I have a rather long

letter, first off the rank, in the paper this morning. I imagine it is going to upset a few people - including some of the regular columnists. I named two and I could have named more. Perhaps I should have named more.
I am, quite simply, fed up with what has become a vicious campaign to try and remove an elected Prime Minister. Oh yes, the media has done it before. They have done it recently. We had the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd debacle and that ended in tears for the Labor party. Why the media did it I am not sure - I suspect it had something to do with internal dissension and the intense dislike of Rudd within his own party. He was known as a bully. When it became clear that his replacement wasn't going to win another election the media perhaps thought that Rudd's popularity with the electorate (who clearly didn't know him like his colleagues) would allow Labor to win.
The same is not true this time round. The current PM is not detested or even disliked by his colleagues. Some of them may be frustrated or irritated by his style at times but, apart from the man who would be leader, they support him. And, interestingly, that man did not put his hand up. He is probably biding his time but he could have put his hand up and would have won - although probably only by a narrow margin. He probably believes he can win by a bigger margin later.  Perhaps he can. He will not make a good Prime Minister but he may be able to win another election - if the media decides that is what they want.
But, as someone else pointed out this morning, the media is playing a dangerous game. There is a great deal of press freedom in Australia. For all the grumbles about censorship the journalists and the columnists can get away with saying almost anything. As long as it isn't actually libellous they will probably get away with it. In the past few days that line has come, at very least, close to being crossed if not actually crossed.
The media is now in the awkward position of having failed to have the PM removed at a time of their choosing. They don't want to fail so they will be watching every move. They will criticise everything they think they can get away with and yes, in the end, they will almost certainly succeed.
The problem with all of this is that it is not democracy. When enough politicians realise this then the media may find itself under review and possibly restraint. If that happens then the rest of us lose as well.

Monday, 9 February 2015

As I write this the Federal MPs on the

government benches in Canberra are arriving to vote on a "spill motion". If it succeeds positions will be declared vacant, elections will be held and we will almost certainly have a new Prime Minister by the end of the morning. 
I blame the media for that. People know their politicians through the media. It is the media which decides what the public is told and how they are told it. The government can put out as many press releases as it likes but the media will put its own spin on those releases.
And the media is also increasingly responsible for something else - encouraging a culture of expectation. About half of Downunder's population depends on some form of government handout. There is an increasing expectation that "the government will pay" or that "we pay our taxes so we should get..." It is an attitude which is encouraged by the media. They make headlines out of the "increased cost of child care" and the "proposed GP co-payment". It is usually accompanied by a "rich should pay for the poor" mantra and how "big business doesn't pay enough tax". There is rarely any discussion of why so many children are now in child care, whether this is a good thing or even really necessary. We all used to pay to go to the doctor once - and many still do - but it is now assumed that some people who could pay should not have to pay "because we have the Medicare levy". People also complain about the cost of education. They somehow believe that, if their child goes to a state school, then education should be completely "free" because their taxes pay for it. They argue private schools should not receive any government assistance. In arguing this they forget that if everyone used child care or went to visit the doctor without paying or sent their children to a state school then taxes would have to rise dramatically to pay for such things. Those who care for their children at home (or get grandparents to do it gratis), pay for a visit to the doctor and pay school fees are subsidising others. Argue that of course and there is the response "but they can afford it". Can they? And, simply because they can, is it right to expect them to go on doing so when others on the same income don't?
I once worked in a school in a "poor" area. Many of the fathers worked along the docks or in manual labour. Even without overtime they many were actually paid more than the teachers. They had better cars. They had boats (it was a heavily maritime area) and some had caravans. They went away on holidays. The children would talk about their fathers taking them to the football and going to the pub. I suspect most of them had almost no money in the bank. Teachers had a compulsory superannuation scheme -  and these workers had none. These parents are now grandparents. They are on the pension and have all the benefits that go with it. Retired teachers are on superannuation with none of those benefits. The pensioners are actually financially better off but they still see those with superannuation as privileged.
Something went wrong somewhere and any government which tries to fix it is almost doomed to failure. If, as people expect, "Banker" Malcolm takes over from "Brother" Tony then I suspect he is doomed to failure as well. The media simply won't let him succeed.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

One of thirteen children?

Helen Fitzgerald has an article in the Guardian about being one of 13 children and growing up in Australia in the 70's.
From her description I don't think I would want to be one of 13 children. I most certainly would not want to be one of twenty.
I once visited a family with twenty children. Before you all panic I need to point out that a widow had married a widower and families of 9 and 11 had come together. The house was run on timetables and rosters. It had to be. I imagine that a house with 13 children would have to be run in a similar fashion if chaos was not to ensue. 
I have a distant cousin who has six children and I know other families with six and one with eight. It's simply too many. (I will also add that all these families come from "fundamentalist Christian" backgrounds and are home-schooled.)
I know there are people who will read this and say "What's wrong with having six or eight children if you can afford it?"
It's simply irresponsible in my book. The world's population cannot increase indefinitely.
My brother has two children. One of my sisters has two children. My other sister has chosen dogs over children.
Yes, I am one of four. It was an average size family when I was born. A quarter of a century after my siblings were born they decided it was responsible to do no more than replace themselves.
I know there are worries in this country, and even more in Japan, that declining birth rates mean there will not be enough young people to support the ageing population.  And yes, it will be a problem.
I am the one who cared for both my parents. I still look after the Senior Cat. It's the way things worked out. He would need to live in some sort of aged care accommodation if one of us could not care for him. He'd hate it - in fact I doubt he would be alive. At the present he is still active even if it takes him "forever" to get up and eat breakfast and water his garden and do a little light woodwork. I am aware that the time is approaching when he will not be safe on his beloved gopher and that will isolate him as he can no longer use public transport.  And yes, there are times when his post-prandial afternoon cat-nap is longer than others - and I creep in to make sure he is still breathing.
I am learning that my work can be done at other times. We prowled off out to lunch with Middle-Cat on his birthday and spent an hour in a bookshop. I had to go on working well into the evening to catch up but it didn't matter. One day I am not going to need to arrange my day like that.
Having a lot of children doesn't necessarily mean that they will be there for you in old age. My brother and one of my sisters live in other states. They are in contact each week. Middle-Cat lives not far away and is good at helping with medical appointments and occasionally taking the Senior Cat off somewhere they both want to go. But I know many other elderly and old people who simply have nobody close to hand. Their children are living interstate or even abroad or even just in another part of the state. I know someone who had seven children - and none of them live here.
I don't think having a large family is the answer - it's whether your family is there. It's being there that counts.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Journalism in Australia

hit a new low yesterday. It tends to be pretty dismal at the best of times. There are claims made about "left" and "right" and "pro" and "anti", about the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), the Fairfax and Murdoch controlled papers and more. I believe it would be fair to say that the media leans left - although not quite as far as some people would like to believe. Like other things views on that are coloured by individual political leanings.
With respect to politics I like to think of myself as a cat sitting on a fence post and annoying the hell out of the dogs on both sides. It's the only way to survive politics Downunder.
We have a national newspaper "The Australian" (Murdoch stable). I am not sure how it survives although the standard of journalism in that is generally better than the state focussed newspapers. Our state newspaper tends to read a bit like the old "News of the World" at times and also belongs to the Murdoch stable.
I also get a couple of professional news feeds. I don't read them all the time but if a major emergency occurs then I need to know what is going on because it could involve work for me.
And then there are sites like Twitter - and there lies yesterday's problem. Professional journalists use Twitter and that is fine. It's their job to inform people - and that is what they should be doing. They should be informing people. It is not a journalist's role to make news. It is a journalist's role report it and, if they are also have a regular column, to comment on it.
It is not a journalist's role to make gloating, sarcastic comments. It is not a regular columnist's role to make gloating, sarcastic comments either.  There were journalists and columnists making both of those yesterday - over the almost certain demise of the Prime Minister. They have been agitating for his removal ever since he took office, indeed since before that.  No, they don't like him. He wasn't their choice of PM. They have made sure other people don't like him either. Oh yes they had plenty to say about the previous two Prime Ministers as well but the comments yesterday reached a new low. Made about any other individual than a politician these remarks would have amounted to libel. They were designed as the definition goes to "bring someone into hatred, ridicule or contempt".
One individual in particular stepped beyond the bounds of fair comment - even fair comment about a politician he loves to hate. That is going too far.
The danger, which apparently journalists refuse to recognise, is that such behaviour could end up leaving everyone less able to comment. Do we really want restrictions on the media that see people thrown in gaol and news sites shut down?

Friday, 6 February 2015

Change the time zone!

Change the time zone! Should I say that again? Change the time zone!
It is an issue which has been debated in this state many times over the years. It has been raised no less than eight times in the past thirty or so.
Business, or so we are told, is agitating for the state to "fall in line with the eastern states" because the half hour between us and them is expensive, confusing and awkward.
What utter rubbish! Business is, or should be, done on a global basis. Business should be able to work in multiple time zones.
I work in multiple time zones. I frequently need to calculate what time it is anywhere from Amsterdam to Ulan Bator, from London to Santiago or from Doha to Washington - and everywhere in between. Yes, I often need to do something outside "normal office-hours". I don't have "normal office-hours". It is part of my job.
If an ordinary business with multiple employees cannot cope with a half hour time difference then there is something very wrong. Do businesses in the central time zone of Downunder only do business with those in the eastern time zone? Of course they don't.
The time zone is actually already out of step with the rest of the world. The sensible thing would be to go back half an hour and place it in the same zone as a country like Japan. It would then be closer to the entire Asian area - the area we are told the country is and should be concentrating on for business purposes.
But of course everyone knows why the issue has come up again now. It's because the government needs us to concentrate on anything but the economy, anything but the fact the state is bankrupt and that they have wasted millions of dollars. Why, for example, did they spend $47m doing up the emergency department in a hospital only to then say they are going to close it? And, they mean close it. That part of the hospital will simply sit empty - as will the other emergency departments they want to close.
Middle Cat has a friend who is an anaesthetist. When her friend's contract at a public hospital came to an end she reapplied. She didn't get the position. Nobody did. The position no longer exists. Surgery lists have been cancelled because there is no anaesthetist available.
I have a friend who needs hip replacements. It has reached the point where she can walk no more than a few metres. She has been waiting almost six years for surgery although, at barely fifty, she has been assessed as "urgent".
But never mind the government is still spending millions on entertaining the population. We've just had the Tour Down Under and now there is the Clipsal car race. Soon it will be time for the Festival of Arts (now an annual rather than a biennial event). 
Perhaps I can eat cake at Writers' Week?

Thursday, 5 February 2015

I would not like to be

the Prime Minister of Downunder right now. He is getting it from all sides. He is not popular.
He has never been popular with the media. They have been agitating for his removal from the time he entered politics. That was rather a long time ago. Since then he has been re-elected more than once by his own electorate. Presumably they do see something in him.
He was once the Health Minister in another time and I had dealings with him then. People tend not to believe me when I tell them that, as Health Ministers go, he was easy to work with. He actually listened. He took advice. If something was possible and within policy guidelines then he would see it was done. Yes, he was also autocratic and sometimes impatient. He was not always wildly diplomatic. But, things got done. It may have helped that I knew one of his colleagues rather well and she smoothed the path but I still needed to work with him. I also knew, perhaps better than most, that what people wanted wasn't always possible. Politics is about the possible - and that is not always what people want.
The present Prime Minister took the top job from a man I neither like or trust, Malcolm Turnbull. Both are former Rhodes' Scholars. While never actually a member of the "other" party Turnbull has been courted by  the Australian Labor Party and his views are more in keeping with those of the ALP.  He also has strong business links with senior members of the ALP.  
Turnbull lost the leadership of the  Coalition when he tried to get the party to accept a major ALP policy - the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. The present PM challenged him and won - by one vote. Some of those who voted for him were undoubtedly mindful of their own positions.
Turnbull deserved to lose but he has never accepted the decision of his colleagues. Neither has the media.
I suspect that, in the end, Turnbull and the media will have their way. People I know who work as journalists have told me that the media does not intend to give up on efforts to oust the Prime Minister. "We can make or break a Prime Minister. It doesn't how matter how good he is."
Yes, they can and they will if they can. They have done it before.
In the middle of all this we have a serious problem. We have a democratically elected government which is not being permitted to govern. The policies they want to put in place are being described as "unfair" - unfair because they are not the socialist policies of the Opposition. I love the sound of socialist policies which say that there should be more equality, that people should have fairness in the workplace, that childcare should be provided to all who need it and that everyone should be able to own their own home.
I also know that the reality is that we cannot afford to do these things without lowering the standard of living for all. That's not going to happen.
So perhaps the next best thing is to be rid of the debt and the need to pay $110m a day (and rising) in interest on debts alone. Then we can spend that money on those who need it most.
That's not going to happen. I suppose people will now tell me I don't understand economics. No, I don't but it doesn't stop me wanting to believe in Utopia - and wishing they would let the government get on with the business of governing instead of trying to prevent an implosion brought on by external detonators.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

I am absolutely fuming,

indeed angrier than I was when I first heard it might happen.
We have a hospital in this state which was built to serve the needs of men and women who were injured in war.  It has served that purpose well.
I know the place well. I have been in and out of it hundreds of time visiting mostly elderly war veterans. They have been well cared for there. The staff who work there have usually been aware of the special psychological needs of some of their patients.
Middle Cat worked there for some years - in the physiotherapy department. She is also aware of the very special needs some of her patients had.
Over the years there have been fewer veterans but the hospital has also taken over specialist care for older patients with mental health needs and end-of-life care in an excellent hospice. It also has a pulmonary unit which serves people with long term needs and an artificial limb centre which serves most of the southern half of the state.
The place is a warren of wards, some of them old and others new. A new building went up last year. It was supposed to be a specialist centre.
Yesterday the state government announced that they were, as rumours had been having it, going to close the place. There has, rightly, been an outcry over this. There has already been a petition to the government to keep it open. Medical staff I know are appalled by the decision. There is nowhere else for some of the essential services the hospital provides. Other places which provide something similar are already over loaded. There are waiting lists.
This decision has been made by a government which spent millions of dollars rebuilding oval facilities which could and should have been paid for by those who use the oval. It is a decision made by a government which spent millions more building a footbridge over a river rather than telling people to walk a hundred metres more over another bridge. It is a decision made by a government which has recently sold off a valuable parcel of land at a greatly reduced price.  The money saved on all those things could have renovated and rebuilt a hospital that was doing an essential service.
I would not like to be our local member of parliament. He happens to be the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. He is already in strife because he switched his allegiance - for his own benefit - without consulting the electorate. He will now have to face the fury of many more.
That hospital was - and should still be - an essential service. It is time government recognised that there are more important things than watching sport.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

"What's the sun made of?"

I heard the question behind me. Father and four year old daughter were having a conversation while Mother was trying to find trousers the right size for Father. (I was buying work trousers for the Senior Cat. The others were in a disgraceful state.)
Mother and I looked at one another and then she said softly, "She's always asking questions like that."
We agreed it was a good thing and I took the Senior Cat's trousers off the rack and went off wondering if the child would go on asking questions like that. I hope she will. She obviously had parents who care about her because the father's answer was, "I don't know but we can go to the library on the way home and find out."
It was a good answer.
I wonder how many other parents would have answered that way? As I was retelling this to a neighbour she said, "It's tempting to make up an answer sometimes." Ouch!
I don't think I have ever been guilty of that. I hope not. I didn't ever do it when I was teaching, even when faced with the prospect of trying to explain something to a child with very limited experience of the world.
I remember when one of the children I was teaching really discovered grass for the first time. She would have been about nine years of age. She had been wheeled in her wheelchair across grass of course, wheeled across it many times. She had seen it and she "knew" what it was but she had never touched it or tasted it or felt it against her skin.
We took her out of her wheelchair that day because it needed a repair. The workshop engineer had come to get it while we were outside. We put her on the mat and, somehow, she managed to roll over onto the grass. One of the staff went to put her back on the mat when I said, "Leave her for a moment. Dannie..."
She looked at me and smiled and, with the effort it took her to say anything at all, she told me "Grass tickles!"
I took some blades of grass back into the classroom and borrowed a magnifying glass from the main office of the institution. We looked at the grass under the magnifying glass. Yes, she was interested but one of the boys wanted to know more. He couldn't speak but I could sense his disappointment when the magnifying glass had to be put away. 
"Want to know some more Peter?" I asked. He looked quickly at the ceiling, his way of saying "Yes".
He had to wait of course. He had to wait for everything. He was an intelligent child in a classroom full of children with all sorts of serious intellectual and physical disabilities. At last I was able to get back to him. What did he want to know? We went through the tortuous process of question and answer, the limited words on his communication board - in the days before any electronic device. He wanted to know why grass was green. We looked at the library shelf and, thankfully, there was a simple science text there with an explanation in pictures that at seven years of age and limited experience he could understand. I only had a few minutes to spend with him but I left the book open on his wheelchair tray so that he could go on looking at it.
I sent a note home in his "day book" to his brother that night. His brother was only eleven but he was the one who had to read notes because his parents didn't read English. There was a note in Peter's bag next morning, "We'll do an experiment like I did at school."
And they did. Peter brought it to school to show me. I am forever grateful to his brother for the time he spent teaching Peter what I did not have time to teach - and the Greek I had no chance of teaching.
I wonder if Peter would have asked me, "What's the sun made of?"
I wonder how I would have answered. I wish now I had taken the time to teach Peter the Greek myths and legends of his ancestors. I didn't.
But, we did find out why the grass was green.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Peter Greste is a

lucky man. It may not seem like that at first glance. Indeed 400 days in an Egyptian prison was undoubtedly one of those "hell on earth" experiences that the rest of us have no desire to go through.  But, he is still a lucky man. He could still be there. He could have died there. He could have been left there for another 40 years.
Greste will have some idea, but only some, of the delicate diplomatic work that eventually released him. It will have been very delicate indeed - right from the first very cautious approach until the plane landed in a foreign country and he was on foreign soil and not likely to be re-arrested and returned to prison.
There are some, perhaps even many, in Egypt who did not want him to be granted his freedom. Many Egyptians saw his reporting as supporting terrorism - not, as he would have it, reporting the overthrow of a democratically elected regime.
Friends in Egypt have told me that many people were disturbed by the tone of the Al Jazeera reports. There were serious questions raised about the conduct of the previous election and the violence which went with it. They have more concerns about the present regime too. 
What they are aware of however is that Egypt cannot afford to have a strict Islamic regime. Their economy depends on tourism and tourists will not go in the same numbers. Many young people are simply too well educated to go along with the restrictions which would be imposed by a strict Islamic regime and Sharia law. There would be even more dissent than there is now. Closing Egypt's borders would be well nigh impossible. Close the Suez? Shut down the Nile? Patrol the Mediterranean coastline? Have vastly increased numbers trying to reach Europe? I think not.
I wonder what the media will have managed to learn from the Greste case? My guess is that it will be very little - if anything at all. Greste and his family will thank the government (and undoubtedly be genuinely grateful) but the media will simply say "more could have been done to secure his release much earlier". The media, simply because it suits them, will try to suggest that the government did less than it could have. Given a chance the political opposition will give no more than a grudging backhanded  acknowledgment - and only because they know they might one day be in a similar position.
The media will continue to tell a story in the manner which creates the most "news" because the ability to "sell" the story depends on creating the news rather than reporting it.
Greste will write a book. It will probably be a "best-seller" but whether it will be fact or fiction is another story.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

The Moscow Library

apparently went up in flames overnight....reports here Downunder are still sketchy but it seems that, at very least, massive damage has occurred.
There were more than ten million books in that library - along with a massive amount of other valuable information in the form of national and international papers from parliament and international organisations. The Slavic languages content was massive.
Imagine the entire holdings of the British Library, the Library of Congress or the French National Library going up in flames and you have some idea of the loss.
It scares me. It makes me realise how fragile our hold on the past is - and, because of that, how fragile our future is. We need the past. Without the past we cannot have the future.
The news about the Moscow Library made me think all over again about other libraries. All libraries are different but all libraries are important. We can't just discard them. We can't just discard the information in them.
I was talking with someone yesterday. She was telling me that there is renewed talk at the school her children attend. They are debating whether to "get rid of the library books". They "need the space for computers". My reaction would be the reverse "get rid of the computers" because they "need the space for library books". 
I asked my acquaintance, "How many of the kids own a laptop?" The answer was a shrug and "Most of them and those who don't can borrow one from the school".
And they need space for computers? I think not.
The Senior Cat can use the internet. He was prowling through there last night looking for another humane solution to the problem with the family of fruit rats who have invaded us from next door where the garden is a mess. There were some ideas there - and then he remembered that "somewhere in a book..." and he went through his gardening shelves and pulled one out and compared it with what he had found on the internet. I suspect that some of his day will be spent trying to construct something to catch the rats. He will use the book. Yes, he could use his i-pad but I suspect he will be happier with the book in the dust and dirt of the shed.
The notion that we don't need libraries, that any information we need can be obtained from the internet, that we don't need to read books but can read a screen instead seems wrong to me. A book, a real paper book is a different experience.  I still prefer to work with books around me. I detest scrolling backwards and forwards. In my job I might be using four or five dictionaries all at the same time. They will be foreign language dictionaries or specialist dictionaries for medical personnel, engineers or architects. I can keep pages marked with endless slips of paper and I can go to them instantly. I can have four or more open at the same time without the need to go backwards and forwards. I can hold a book - or even hug it when it gives me the answer I was searching for.
If people take away libraries from us they are stealing from us. They are stealing our past and our future. If they do that to children then they are guilty of child abuse.
It has to stop.