Tuesday, 24 May 2022

We have a flag in this country

and it is a flag we should fight to keep. There are plenty of people who would like to see it changed, for  it to become "more representative" or "less divisive" or more or less something else.

The reality is that it is a flag which represents both our past and our future and we need to be reminded of both. It is the one flag which should be used in many places. There is the "Union Jack" in one corner and the "Southern Cross" stars across the other and they should be respected. 

Like it or not we were not a nation until 1901 - Federation. For all the arguments to the contrary the indigenous people of this country were not a nation. They did not travel from west to east or east to west, north to south or south to north in order to form one people. There was no national government. At most there was only limited contact with adjacent tribal groupings. Languages were so diverse they were not understood outside relatively small geographical areas. There are many other arguments against indigenous or "first nation" statehood. We first came together under the Union Jack, as a British colony. The Southern Cross was added later. It's important but it is only part of the story. There are many other things which contributed towards making our flag. This is our national flag. It is supposed to take precedence over all other flags when other flags of this country are flying.

We also have an "Aboriginal" flag. It was first used in 1971 and was finally given an official acknowledgment in 1995. There is also a Torres Strait Island flag - in use since 1992. 

The new government has already breached the accepted protocol on the flying of the flags.It has also made clear its intention to make some other divisive moves under the guise of "accepting" and "uniting" us. Perhaps the intention therefore is to try an persuade us that the national flag is no longer there to unite us but to divide us?

National flags are often items of great pride. There are huge flags - like the one on top of Parliament House in our national capital - and small flags. I remember waving one when Queen Elizabeth came to visit and I was a mere kitten. Almost everyone had one. Later I learned to hoist, lower and fold a flag as part of my Guiding training. We saluted the flag every Friday through primary school. We were taught about the structure and meaning of it.

It concerns me now that, instead of doing those things, the "Aboriginal" flag or the "rainbow" flag or some other flag may get flown  - as if these things take precedence over nationhood. Suggesting that all indigenous people were and are "one" is not correct. I know some who are strongly opposed to the flag which is supposed to represent them. They see it as something which marks them apart from the rest of the country when they want to be part of it - even when they acknowledge that other people feel differently. A male same-sex couple I know well are absolutely opposed to any suggestion that a "rainbow" flag should ever be flown. My own view is that, if they must be flown, neither of these flags should ever take precedence over the national flag - and that is in keeping with the law.  It seems the new government is prepared to flout that law in the name of some sort of pseudo "inclusive" gesture.

I know other people will feel differently, very differently. Much is made of our "multi-cultural" and "diverse" society - all thoroughly acceptable as long as you are not seen as one of the unacceptable persons of "WASP" (white, Anglo Saxon Protestant)  heritage. 

But whatever our backgrounds (and mine is very definitely Scots WASP) we should be able to come together under a flag which acknowledges our past as a nation and the future that is possible only because of it.


Monday, 23 May 2022

Renewable energy and the things we need

in the modern world may not be compatible. 

I like the idea of renewable energy. The idea of having some sort of seemingly endless source of power by harnessing the sun or the wind is seemingly full of possibilities. But how realistic is it really?

I know there is so much discussion about this out there that you are probably yawning and saying , "Really Cat! Write about something more interesting or I won't bother with you again."

Right. What about these things - cement, steel, plastics and ammonia?

 I read an article recently by one Vaclav Smil. He talked about these things. He made a simple point. We use more and more of those things every year - and they all require fossil fuels to produce and use. His argument is that we can't cease using fossil fuels while we continue to use these things. We need to use these things in order to feed and house the people on the planet. This is a reality of the modern world.

There are some solar panels on the roof of this house and on other houses in this street. It is that sort of neighbourhood. People have tried to do what they considered to be the right thing. At one point the Senior Cat even considered adding more solar panels. Then he did a little more research and decided against it. As always he discussed it with me. "The benefit is not there," he told me.

And it isn't. Why? Solar panels have to be made - and that requires far more energy than people realise. Presently they also need to be transported - more energy. They do not last forever.  At present there is no way of recycling them and this is becoming an issue. It will be a major issue in just a few short years. They will take up far more space and be the potential cause of much more environmental harm than a container of nuclear "waste" which would take up far less space and provide far more power over a longer period. What is more nuclear power doesn't depend on the wind, the sun or the water. 

We need cement and steel to build the places people live and work in. We need ammonia for the crops which feed them. All of those things take power to produce. 

It seems to me we may need to start considering ways to reduce our energy needs not ways to increase the amount of energy we use. We need to reduce the world's population. A global "replace yourselves" policy would help. Some people will never have children so population would reduce. Yes, there would be a need to take into account the needs of an aging population but increasing the population to take care of them is not the answer. China's "one child" policy was a mistake - something they have recognised - but for couples to have two children and no more? Is that reasonable? 

And we need to put much more time and money into the research and development of nuclear power. The idea that it is dangerous, that it cannot be clean and green, has to be overcome. Those opposed to the use of nuclear power still seem to be ready to embrace the idea of the benefits of modern nuclear medicine.

If we start to do these things could we then reduce our dependence on artificially produced ammonia - the fertiliser which helps to feed so much of the world's population? Let's be realistic we are not going to grow enough food by "organic" means - but we could reduce the amount of fertiliser needed if we reduced the population, ate more food which was grown locally and which was in season.

I know it is all much more complex than that.  It would require massive changes to our lifestyles. Therein lies the problem - all those "climate change" experts want to find "other ways" to reduce emissions. The reality is that it starts with us...and most of us are not prepared to do all it would take.

Sunday, 22 May 2022

Compulsory preferential voting

has to go.

Downunder is about to get a government which was the first choice of less than a third of voters. No doubt the "winners" will be claiming this is how "democracy" works under our voting system. 

The reality is different. For both the state election and the federal election I was called in to help people with disabilities vote. Some of these people cannot read or write, others can but don't understand the voting process, others have a partial understanding, and so on. Whether all of them should be required to vote is another issue.

What confused almost all of them is the "how" of voting. Some of them knew "who" they wanted to put first on the ballot paper. As to "why" they should choose another and another until all the boxes had been marked on the green paper was beyond them.

"But I only want that one!" and "I don't want anyone else" were common bewildered statements. I tried to explain but some votes went into the envelopes with the person effectively disenfranchised because they would not make any further decisions. This is the outcome of having to mark every box on the ballot paper in order of preference.

Inevitably this was a topic of discussion with other people too. I have found out that other people also object to having to mark every box on the ballot paper.

"Tell me why I should help to get any other bastard over the line," someone told me.

Another told me, "How can I preference anyone else when I think even my first choice is barely worthy of my vote?"

Yes, we have a problem. Preferences may have some merit - although not in quite the way we handle them. Compulsory preferences are a different thing altogether. What can happen - and does happen - is that a person with fewer first preference votes can end up being elected. They get in on preferences - compulsory preferences.  They would have lost were it not for those compulsory preferences. 

Compulsory preferential voting allows for a manipulation of the system. There are a range of "independent" and "minor party" candidates in play. They have the support of the major parties - and indirect funding from them. They may be "one issue" people or "popular issues" people. They will subtly "encourage" you to vote for a major party.

All major parties do this. It only pays them to do it because of the compulsory nature of preferential voting. Without that there would be no need. 

The ideas that this is somehow "democratic" or "encourages diversity" need to be hit on the head - and hit hard. This is how we now have a government that is the first choice of less than a third of the country. Yes, we can argue that the second, third, fourth etc preferences are ours and ours alone, that nobody can tell us how to vote. That is not the problem. The problem is being required to vote for those choices when we may find their policies abhorrent - and then find they get in on those preferences. It is time to acknowledge that and change the way we vote.   

Saturday, 21 May 2022

Gender neutral bathrooms

or the "removal of doors" in a toilet block at one of our northern suburbs high schools is the latest piece of idiocy in the "gender debate". The cubicles still have doors but the facilities are now wide open to public scrutiny.

There has, rightly, been a backlash. It is an area which has more than its fair share of social problems. The move will not make things "safer" for those using the facilities. Students will always find a way around that. What it has done is make it more difficult for some students to actually use the facilities at all.

This was reported in the paper this morning but  I actually learned about it several days ago. A friend who is closely associated with the school in question told me about the way in which several girls from minority ethnic backgrounds had approached her. They are distressed by the action. For them using any public facilities is something they find difficult. Using something wide open to public view is a step too far.

"They are trying to hold on until they get home," my friend informed me.

I didn't bother to ask about the urinals for the boys. The girls were her concern - and mine. Too many of them come from backgrounds where these things are not mentioned to others, even at home.

This is a step too far, much too far. This is not some sort of "gender equality" issue. It has nothing to do with "equality".  If you need to provide for "transgender" students then provide a much smaller "unisex" facility they can use discreetly.  They may actually feel much more comfortable about that because how many genuinely transgender students feel any need to flaunt their sexuality? The answer to that question is apparently very few. It may be just as difficult, if not more difficult, for them to use  "equal" facilities.  Yes, we are talking about catering for the 0.0005% of the population who have an overwhelming desire to "change". 

Using public facilities is difficult enough for most people, even when the facilities are single sex. What we do there is something the vast majority of women keep private even within their own homes. It is why men rarely speak to another in such facilities.

Why the vocal minority has been allowed to dictate to the majority in this matter is something which genuinely disturbs me. 

Friday, 20 May 2022

Working from home is

not as easy or as desirable as some people seem to think.

There is an article in this morning's paper about the reluctance of some workers to return to the office. In that article is the suggestion that some people are pulling their weight and others are not.

My guess is that many people would not be pulling their weight. They will be doing the minimum required. 

I can hear howls of indignation now. How can I possibly know this?

Well, I have worked from home for more than thirty years. I am over the legal retiring age now and I am not doing as much as I once did but I am still working. I know how tough it is to work from home.

Working from home requires discipline. It requires real discipline. I have a number of friends who work from home. One of them goes into her office on a regular basis. If she is not going into the office then she starts work at her computer at the time she would leave the house. By then she is dressed as if going to work. She has had breakfast and fed her cat and done everything else she would need to do apart from pack her lunch box. If the kitchen is a short distance away she sees no point in doing that. She is disciplined in a way that very few people are or ever will be.

Another friend has her studio at the end of her garden. She walks down the garden path to the studio at the same time each day. Once there, unless there is something that urgently needs her attention, she remains there and works. "By walking down the path I tell myself I am going to work. If I don't work then I don't eat." This is a powerful motivator for someone who is self-employed. Again, she is disciplined.

Before the advent of the internet and the resources now available I used to spend a day a week at the university. I tutored students and I used the library resources there.  I did the same in the local library. Even doing that was not easy. "Oh, you're here in the library? I was wondering if..."  Students would interrupt too, even outside tutorial times. 

When my mother became ill I spent more time at home. Email became available. I could do much more at home by using that - even on the old "dial up, download, do and dial up again to send" regime. Now the computer is on from the time I get up until I turn it off and head for what is usually a well-earned sleep. The internet means I do not need to travel far but it has meant I am more available and need to be more disciplined. 

I tried to make a routine. I had to tell people "no, I am working. I am not available". That has lost me some friendships. People think they understand but they don't. I can answer the door with a pile of papers and three dictionaries in my paws and people still think I have time to drop everything. Even now I would find being able to say, "I start work at 9am and finish at 6pm" a luxury. Instead I have to start and finish when international time differences allow. That requires a different sort of discipline from my studio owning friend.

Work has to take priority even now. I am sufficiently "retired" that I can try and plan ahead to take a day off. I can make medical appointments more easily. But, if there is work to be done, I still need to do it. This morning it was a chilly 5'C when I climbed out of bed and it was just on 5am. By 5:30am I was in a Zoom meeting with someone in another country. All I wanted to do when it was finished was go back to a nice warm bed for another snooze. I didn't. If I had done that then there would have been no blog post and I would not be ready for the meeting I now need to pedal off  to attend.  

But, if you are working from home today, please stop reading this and go back to work.


Thursday, 19 May 2022

And you are not entitled to this information either

There is a case before the Supreme Court of our capital territory which should be of concern to all of us. I won't go into the details. Put simply a solicitor is asking for a great many government agency documents of a highly sensitive nature so as to contest the legality of an alleged spy operation. He is asking for them so as to defend himself against certain alleged illegal acts. 

He is claiming he is entitled to contest the legality of those acts, that there are legal limits on the way the our national security agency operates,  on our foreign relations and national economic "well- being"

His application has been refused. One ground for this has been that it is unnecessary for the government to prove the legality of the actions of their agents beyond a reasonable doubt in order to prosecute the person in question. It is all very complicated and, even though I had to study some criminal law and evidence at law school I am sure that I would get lost in the finer details and arguments being presented to the court. It may well be that more matters relating to this case will end up in the High Court - at least some matters have already gone there. Very little of what is going on in the Supreme Court has been made public - and with good reason.

I don't envy the judge presiding over the case. It will be full of all sorts of such matters.

The case was brought to my attention again yesterday. Someone I know sent me a link to some information about it - information in the public domain - and asked me what I thought about it. Should this person be permitted to let the public know if he thought an illegal act had occurred?

In the course of my work I have had to sign many documents which have prevented, and still prevent, me from saying anything about the matters I have been involved in. There have been times when I have thought, "How absolutely ridiculous not being able to talk about that" or "Why on earth don't they want people to know about that?" At the same time I have kept my mouth firmly shut. I have never been asked to do anything illegal or harmful - just the opposite. I am however conscious that there are people who risk their lives to minimise potential harm to others.

"Spying" is not any sort of James Bond scenario. It never was. It is even less likely now. It was,and still is, intelligence gathering - finding out what other people plan to do and how they plan to do it. When necessary plans might then be put in place to alter something or even sabotage something. Yes, of course it is done for the benefit of those doing the spying but it can also be done for the benefit of others as well - often ordinary citizens. It means catching the bombers before the bomb goes off, the shooter before s/he shoots. 

It also means recruiting people to tell  you these things, sometimes without realising they are doing it. It means taking risks and going in to situations where, if caught, there  is not going to be much anyone else can do to help. 

Some years ago a critical water supply in a remote place was at risk. This was discovered because someone else was somewhere he had no right to be at a time he said he was somewhere else. People went in to secure the site. One of them was caught - and lost his life. Nobody has ever been charged with his murder. It won't happen.  This is the nature of "spy work" and its consequences. Do we charge the informant - who saved the water supply and thus the lives of many people - for what amounts to trespass and the death of another man? 

The work of our "spies" may not be as straightforward as people would like.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

No you may not have that information

and we have every right to deny you access to it.

Right at the moment there is a rather heated discussion going on about the release of the "costings" for the election promises being made. The present government has released theirs but the would-be government has refused to release theirs - yet. They are saying people can wait.

They are also saying people can not only wait but they might not get all the information they want. "All you need to know is who is going to have the bigger deficit" is what they are telling us. 

Really? I suspect most thinking people will want to know where the money is coming to pay for the promises being made, especially some of the more outlandish promises.

"Oh, we will tax "the rich" more," doesn't quite cut it with me. I am not rich. I am actually poor. I still don't see "the rich" as an endless source of money. 

Many "rich" people - even "the bastards we love to hate" and "those who have minimised their tax" have actually worked extremely hard to get to "rich". Along the way they have employed other people - people who have not had to take the risk of losing everything - and taken on responsibilities most of us would run from. I don't want to suggest they are perfect - far from it. Many of them have done some very dodgy things and "sailed close to the wind" more than once. But these are the people who help to provide employment so that other people can pay their taxes and get the services they need. 

Take too much from these people and they will simply pack up and go somewhere else. It's a balancing act. 

I have already voted of course. The estimated size of the deficit is not something I wanted to know. What I wanted to know (and found out) was what the policies of each party are, who would benefit most, and how they intended to pay for them. With that information in hand and information about the candidates I made a decision. I did a similar thing for the state election - and I now have a list on the freezer door to see how many of their "promises" they are able to keep. (It won't be many.) I'll do the same thing with whoever wins on Saturday.

But we do have a right to that information. It helps people make an informed and responsible choice. Refusing to provide it on the grounds that another government didn't do it until tomorrow is not an excuse. There were other reasons why it did not happen on that other occasion. This is more to do with trying to prevent scrutiny because the "promises" being made cannot be kept. Most people know and expect that. It is the nature of politics. 

What worries me is those less informed people who want to believe they are going to get something for nothing, something "the rich" will simply "give" them.