Sunday 30 June 2013

There is no tradition of

communal singing in Australia - or not that I know of. 
I occasionally visit elderly people in aged care establishments where there is an attempt to get them to "sing-along" to old songs accompanied by bad piano playing or an ancient tape player. There will be tattered sheets printed with the words for "A bicycle built for two" and "My old man..." and wavering voices will endeavour to join in. If I ever reach that great age preserve me from that sort of "entertainment".
Do people sing at football matches? I don't think so. Many Australians do not even know the words to our dirge like national anthem, "Advance Australia Fair". I cannot blame them. It sounds awful. 
There are other places where, presumably, people sing. My maternal grandfather was the member of two male voice choirs, one of which still has a very fine reputation. There are school choirs - the Whirlwind sings in hers. There used to be a music festival for schools and I can remember the disappointment of some children when they were not chosen - although I suspect it had more to do with not being chosen to perform on stage at the Town Hall than being willing to do the work involved.. 
There is still a "do it yourself" Messiah each year somewhere in the city - usually led by one of the small groups of singers who get together for the sheer pleasure of singing or the singers from something like an opera group.
Oh yes, there is singing in Australia and I have no doubt that much of it is good - and much of it is terrible.
There is also singing in church and synagogue.  Did I hear you groan? Most Australians do not attend any religious service on a regular basis - but they will go for the "hatched, matched and dispatched" ceremonies. Hymns will be sung. Often the same hymns are used over and over again at such services. Yes, they may be appropriate - but I suspect they are also chosen because people know the tunes and consider that they are "right" for the occasion. 
But, pass a church on a Sunday and hear the halting singing of an unfamiliar hymn chosen because the priest, pastor, minister or preacher has chosen something for the words and nobody (not even the organist) knows the tune. Even with the benefit of familiarity the singing will often be flat, flatter, flattest. 
My paternal grandfather knew his hymns. He was, among many other things, an elder in his Presbyterian church. He could play the violin. Ask him for the accompaniment to a hymn and he would tune up and proceed. There were hymns I suspect he loved with a passion - "All people that on earth do dwell..." and "Guide me Thou O Great Redeemer..." were just two of them. Their tunes, played all stops out on an organ, are surely capable of binding singers together. Most people will know it as a hymn sung on great occasions in the Church of England...royal funerals and royal weddings in particular.
Someone I know slightly commented recently that she felt like walking into a church and singing the last one loudly. I don't know whether she can sing in tune or not but I rather wish she could do it. Perhaps people would join in. 
Does it really matter whether you believe the actual sentiments you are singing? The words of hymns are often rather odd. They are often contorted to fit the tune. Ask people about the words and they could probably tell you very little. Ask them about the music though and they might well be able to hum or sing the tune. I mentioned her desire to sing the hymn to my friend in Zambia and she sent this, 
"Niongoze, Bwana Mungu, ni msafiri chini...." It is the first line of  "Guide me Thou O Great Redeemer..." in Swahili...and, nun though she is, her point was that although most people would not understand the words they would understand the music - because music really is universal. 
Isn't it time we started singing? (Especially when a friend of my sister spent hours fixing the problem which would not allow me to start up my computer.)

Saturday 29 June 2013

Normal service will be resumed

Normal service will be resumed when I have a major computer problem fixed - just don't ask....updates apparently cause computers to become very ill

Friday 28 June 2013

The next question to be answered is

"When will the election be held?"
The previous Prime Minister had set the date at September 14th. She did that some months back - apparently giving away one of the "advantages" of being able to surprise her opponents. The "new" Prime Minister does not need to stay with that date - and has already indicated he will not.
His response in parliament to a question about a possible election date was as follows, "As the honourable gentleman  knows the timing of the election is governed by the Australian Constitution. It is worth taking a look at that document, as it is the law which governs all Australians. I draw his attention to facts which are material to the consideration of the government. I will therefore go through these issues with my cabinet colleagues and the Leader of the Opposition can be assured, there's going to be an election. It will be held consistent with the Constitution..."
And so he went on. Naturally he failed to answer the question. The Leader of the Opposition would not have expected him to answer the question but all Mr Rudd needed to say was, "I cannot answer that question yet. I will answer it when I have met with my cabinet colleagues."
Mr Rudd does not answer questions if he can avoid it. He is a master of "polly-speak". I doubt there is a politician to rival him anywhere in the world.
And there is an added problem right now. Mr Rudd can actually do very little. He cannot make changes to anything which requires the approval of parliament. This is because he would require the support of the "independents" to do that. He does not have an absolute majority. 
What he does have, when he gets it together, is a cabinet which has lost some of Labor's most experienced politicians. Some were intending to retire anyway. Others chose to go when he was re-elected by the caucus. Some may have lost their seats anyway but others may have retained theirs. Still others, who are putting their hands up for re-election, are saying they cannot work with him. 
It is hardly a ringing endorsement. He is a "Prime Minister" in caretaker mode. 
I suspect however that he already has his diary organised so he can go to the G20 summit and dates pencilled in for potential trips to Indonesia, China and the United States. 
There has been a surge of support for him in the polls - for now. He will probably go to an earlier election to try and capitalise on that but it does not bode well for the future. 
He has not changed. Nothing has changed. It just seems to have changed - and that may be enough for many. 

Thursday 27 June 2013

Last night the Australian Prime Minister

was removed in what is best described as a very bloody revenge attack. It was not a coup. She brought it on herself.
Although there will be people who say otherwise the attack had absolutely nothing to do with her being a woman. The Prime Minister was not ousted because she was a woman. She was ousted because the man she knifed has been plotting revenge ever since she knifed him. 
Kevin Rudd was so unpopular with his party and his electorate that Labor was in danger of losing the election. Julia Gillard tapped him on the shoulder and told him he had to go. She was his deputy at the time.
All that happened with a swiftness that took many people by surprise - and Labor was returned to power with (but only with) the assistance of the "independents". Windsor and Oakeshott went against the wishes of their own electorates and, post election, supported the Labor minority. They have remained loyal to Gillard throughout - always claiming, particularly in the case of Windsor, that their support was to her personally and not to Labor. Such claims are of course nonsense but they were politically useful to both Gillard and those supporting her.
Gillard has laid claim to "reforms" in workplace relations - although some would say she was merely doing what the unions required of her. Certainly union power has been strengthened under her. School halls, the national disability insurance scheme, the national broadband network and the Fair Work Act have all come in under her watch.
So has the carbon tax - something she promised not to introduce at the time of the election. It is a promise she never intended to keep. She introduced it almost immediately the election was over and got it passed by offering massive sweeteners to the "independents". 
She kept insisting, as did her Treasurer, that there would be a surplus in 2013 - even as the major economists said it could not happen. 
At times she made major announcements without reference to her own party and - worse - without reference to the governments of other countries. Her plan for a centre for asylum seekers in East Timor was one such plan. Later she failed to get support for an exchange of asylum seekers with Malaysia.
Her poor judgment showed in her support for Craig Thomson. That continued far too long - and only because she needed his vote to retain power. That did not go down well with the electorate either.
Her cynical removal of Speaker Harry Jenkins - one of the best and most popular Speakers with both sides of politics - in order to install Peter Slipper and thus shore up her own support was another example of her poor judgment. Although people understood why it was being done relegating Jenkins to the back bench was not a popular move. It might have allowed her to retain power but it did not go down well with the electorate. 
Her now infamous "misogyny" speech was widely misreported and was in fact given in support of the insupportable. She was supporting Slipper when he had been accused of sending lewd messages. Despite her support he resigned later that day. It was the only thing he could do. The media, being what it is, chose to concentrate only on the portion of her speech which accused the Leader of the Opposition of behaving badly towards women. It was an accusation she was not prepared to repeat it outside parliament.  She knew she would not need to. The media would do it for her. 
As Prime Minister Julia Gillard began with more support from her colleagues than Kevin Rudd now has. She also had the support of the media - both because she was a woman and because they saw her as a saviour of the Labor party and, ultimately, the government. 
The idea that she has been ousted because she was a woman is simply not correct. She was ousted because of the way she first obtained the job - by backstabbing the then Prime Minister - and then because of a series of tactical errors, a refusal to listen to advice and a growing unpopularity in the electorate over policy. 
Ultimately she tried to play the gender card - and it did not work.
What happens next is anyone's guess. Parliament has a day to run. It is likely that the Leader of the Opposition will not mount a challenge. 
If Kevin Rudd loses then it is likely that he will be the most hated man in politics. 

Wednesday 26 June 2013

The front page headline

in the state newspaper today reads, "Drip feed justice". I am beginning to think it should read "Drip feed news". 
Why? A little further on in the paper the editor, one David Penberthy, attempts to justify the need for people to pay for news.
I actually agree with him. We do need to pay for news. It costs money to gather the news. Journalists have, like the rest of us, a need for sustenance and shelter. In order to obtain those things they need to be paid for what they do. 
That is not the problem. What is a problem is that every morning from Monday to Saturday I collect two papers from our front lawn. I tear open the plastic wrap which is supposed to keep them clean and dry. I discard the wrap in the recycling and then I proceed to discard the pieces of the papers we do not read. 
The Senior Cat and I are probably unusual. We do not read the "sports" sections. We do not read the "real estate" section. We do not read the "cars" section. We do not read the "situations vacant".  Other people presumably must or they would not print these things. Nevertheless there are many people I know who do not. Printing these things for everyone is a waste of newsprint, ink - and ultimately the trees from which the newsprint it made. I wish there was a way in which one could choose not to get these sections of the paper and save the newsprint at least.
But what would be left? I sometimes think there would be very little. All too often our state newspaper has what amounts to gossip or perhaps "human interest" on the front page. We don't have a "page three" picture any more but often what has replaced it is no better. All too often it is not "news".
The international news is relegated to the rear-centre of our state newspaper. It is clearly considered to be of little or no importance compared with stories about footballers, drugs in sport, house renovations gone wrong, someone's employment prospects or dismissal and minor (rather than major) road accidents. Of course the people who appear as "news" on the front pages believe their own stories are important - and they are important to them. They are simply not really important to the rest of us. We should be much more concerned about the direction the G8 summit has taken - something which was barely mentioned. 
We finally have a "yes" and a "no" case article for the upcoming referendum on federal funding for local government but it follows the "Letters to the Editor" page - twenty something pages into the paper. Most readers will simply not get that far - and they will go vote on the issue ill-informed because both the government and media have chosen to keep it that way.
While there are individual journalists who try to present actual news in an intelligible manner there are many more who are intent on presenting what they believe we should know. Getting their point of view across has become more important than the news itself. These people are not columnists who are there to write opinion pieces. They are supposedly there to present facts in a way which can be understood. All too often this does not happen. The language may be subtle but it will undermine a public figure or poke fun at another.  They will say "it is alleged" and "sources say...". Brought before the courts they hide behind the assumed right to "keep their sources confidential".
 Are some of them even unaware of what they are doing? They must be. 
If we are paying for news then we surely have the right to news and not just gossip or opinion?

Tuesday 25 June 2013

There is a picture of our

Prime Minister today - on the front page of our national newspaper. There is nothing unusual about that. Prime Ministers often appear on front pages. Some people would say they appear on front pages far too often.
This picture however is a little unusual. The Prime Minister is knitting. She is reportedly making a toy kangaroo for the "royal baby".  (I happen to think all babies are "royal" but that is beside the point.)
So there is our Prime Minister sitting on a chair with knitting needles and yarn. She is surrounded by more knitting needles and more yarn and a dog...presumably her dog. It is a "cavoodle" - a breed unknown to me but presumably a "something-poodle" cross. The picture is all too obviously "posed" but nevertheless the Prime Minister can knit. 
There are plenty of "film stars" who could or can knit Katherine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren were apparently very keen. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Meryl Streep are apparently keen knitters - even teaching others on movie sets. Even movie directors knit - George Lucas of "Star Wars" fame is apparently handy with the knitting needles. I don't know whether it is true that Russell Crowe can knit.
I believe Winston Churchill knew how to knit - but then many men of his generation were taught in school. Albert Einstein could knit too. Eleanor Roosevelt inspired many men as well as women to take up knitting. 
Of course the former Bishop of Leicester, Richard Rutt, wrote "A history of handknitting". Did he ever wear that knitted mitre hat?
Angela Merkel can knit - although when she gets time is beyond me.  Madeline Albright apparently knits too - and perhaps has more time these days. 
In books Miss Silver and Miss Marple knit...and, of course, Madame Defarge. Trust Dickens to turn the cosy domestic picture of someone knitting on its head!
And then yes, what was I talking about? Our Prime Minister...knitting. I hope that little kangaroo is going well and the new baby actually does get it. Getting knitted toys to look professional is very difficult and some of those patterns can be hard to follow. I sent a kangaroo pattern to someone in the United States. That was some years ago now. She still wants to knit it - or so she says - but she keeps on putting it off. It is apparently the idea of having to put the entire thing together and stuff it evenly and well that is bothering her. It can be done. There is a picture to prove it - unless the picture is a fake. It might be but it looks real enough.
Oh yes, the Prime Minister is knitting?  Well, that may be a good thing. Knitting is soothing and calming - when it goes well - but this may be Purl-gate.

Monday 24 June 2013

I am beginning to detest

mobile communication devices even more than I did before. Can someone please explain to me why anyone needs to be constantly attached to a "mobile phone" as if it was some sort of umbilical cord?
The Senior Cat may by 90 but he is not stupid. He is still alert. He is still wary, as he has been all his life, of traffic. 
He had a near miss yesterday as he came home from church on his gopher. Someone was "texting" a message and seated behind the wheel of a travelling car at the same time. I say "seated" because they were most definitely not driving the vehicle. They were not in control of it.
You cannot use a mobile communication device and drive at the same time. It is simply not safe. The law recognises this - although it does not go far enough in my view and should totally outlaw the use of such devices in vehicles which are moving in traffic. People managed without them once. They can manage without them again. 
The Senior Cat was where he should have been. He was on a footpath. He was travelling at the speed he should have been travelling - a walking pace. He was watching the traffic coming out of driveways - as he should have been. 
The culprit was on the roadway - and veered off onto the footpath ahead of the Senior Cat. The Senior Cat had to come to a sudden halt. The culprit, according to the Senior Cat, merely returned to the roadway and continued on. Unfortunately the Senior Cat did not have a chance to get the number of the vehicle - and, even if he had, there would have been little that could have been done. 
Doing something can be dangerous. Someone else I know was, as a pedestrian, waiting to cross at lights. They used their own device to photograph someone turning on a red arrow with a phone in one hand and a drink in the other. The vehicle did an illegal u-turn and they had their phone snatched.
The daughter of a neighbour had an accident recently. Fortunately no other vehicle was involved and nobody was hurt. The first question she was asked was "were you using your phone?" It was just as well for her that she could say no. Her phone was where it should have been - in her bag in the boot of the car - and a witness to the accident had retrieved it for her. 
What is so urgent about the vast majority of messages that they cannot wait? Is "CU5" really necessary? Are any of the many other similar messages really necessary? Apparently someone died sending a "smiley face" - what does that really say about them and their relationships with other people.
I could have lost the Senior Cat because someone was doing a similar thing. The Senior Cat could just as easily lose me because of that sort of selfish behaviour. Any of us could lose anybody we love.  
How can you really say you love someone if you are driving in a manner which amounts to having your eyes closed?

Sunday 23 June 2013

There was an extraordinary editorial

in "The Age" yesterday calling for the Prime Minister to resign. 
It is not the first time  - and it will not be the last - that a Prime Minister has been called on to resign. 
What made this extraordinary however was the fact that "The Age" is an unashamedly left wing paper and the Prime Minister is the leader of a left wing government. They were in effect asking one of their own to resign. 
The odd thing is that it is becoming increasingly clear that nothing will change if she does - nothing with respect to government policy that is. There will be no time for a new leader to put a new team and new policies in place. 
Those calling for the Prime Minister to resign are assuming what one  senior and experienced journalist called "a seamless transition" from one leader to another. It will not work like that.
If the former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, is returned then he comes with a busload of problems. It is not simply that he is not liked by many of those with whom he would have to work. He is also the architect of some of the policies that the electorate is angry about. 
There are politicians who have said outright they will not work with him. If they were to do so that will be used against them during the election campaign. 
The current Opposition has so much negative material about him from members of his own party they do not need any of their own.
If they handle that well then his present popularity would drop again - to a level where Labor would lose the election. 
Yes, the present opinion polls are based on present popularity - not on potential popularity in twelve weeks time. In our peculiar "compulsory" voting system - i.e compulsory attendance at the ballot box - there are many more people to keep happy than just the rusted on voters for one side or the other. 
Of course that assumes that the election date remains the same. There could be an earlier election to try and capitalise on the upsurge in the leader's popularity. It is still unlikely that it would work. It might lead to another hung parliament but it would take a much stronger leader to hold another one together. It may lead to a much smaller electoral loss with some of the old faces being returned instead of an array of "one-term wonders". Would that work? It may or it may not. They would still need a strong and popular leader to win at the next election. 
I do not know what will happen but I am fairly certain of one thing. If there is a switch they will of course lose the present Prime Minister. She may, despite statements to the contrary, leave parliament if she loses the election and her leadership but retains her seat. If "Mr Popularity" takes her place it is likely to be for just long enough to try and save electoral annihilation. He will then be deposed by someone who will be presumed to be able to pull the unruly mob together and make them work as a team. If he is deposed like that he will, once again, undermine the unity of the party.
It might be better to stick with the incumbent and concentrate on policies rather than people. I doubt anyone will listen to that. 

Saturday 22 June 2013

"Leadershiip" speculation is

still rife in Canberra. The Prime Minister is refusing to go. The would-be Prime Minister is (at present) refusing to challenge. (Whether he has the numbers to do so is anyone's guess but they must have been growing.)
The media is stirring up trouble - columnists like Mike Carlton in the Sydney Morning Herald are trying to demand change. Others are being a little more cautious - and rightly so. It is the media's role to report the news - not create it. That however is something the media in this country has long since forgotten.
There has been further comment about how a change of leadership this close to an election might raise some constitutional issues. There would be no issues of course except that this is a "hung" parliament. 
So we have four more sitting days left in Parliament. There is still a chance that there could be a change of leadership but what will happen is anyone's guess at the present time.
The one thing however that is not really being discussed in all this is the actual issue of leadership. The media is seemingly fixated on getting a return to Rudd. The once the most unpopular Prime Minister is now seen as "the grass is greener on the other side of the fence" Mr Popularity. It is unlikely he has changed so much that he would make a good Prime Minister although he might make an autocratic one if he could pull a team together. It is likely however that some MPs in his party would simply refuse to work with him. They do not see him as leadership material.
The media is similarly stirring up trouble on the other side. They would like to see a return to Turnbull, a man they see as being much closer to the centre. They have made it their business to constantly and consistently ridicule the present Opposition leader for such things as participating in charitable and physical activities. His religious allegiance is criticised as getting in the way of his politics although the Prime Minister's atheism has barely raised an eyebrow. Even his strong support for Australia's indigenous people has been reported in a backhanded manner. The result, as intended, has been that the Opposition leader is not popular either. 
What good all this does I am not sure. Very little. Everyone makes mistakes but turning minor mistakes and stumbles into hanging offences simply to try and remove someone from office is not a good look.  On both sides there has been too much invasion of privacy - and even political leaders have the right to some personal privacy. They also have the right not to be criticised or lampooned for their charitable activities or religious beliefs. 
The Dalai Lama is currently in Australia. He was talking to 5000 people at our Convention Centre yesterday. He was diplomatic about such awkward topics as politicians and refugees. He made everyone laugh and he handed out the same sort of advice that I suspect the new Pope would also offer in the same circumstances. It was advice about the importance of respecting/loving one another. I suspect that might be one major reason why they command respect. If we respect each other there will surely simply be things that cannot go wrong?

Friday 21 June 2013

Do you remember

those fat "colouring in" books? You know the sort of thing I mean I am sure. They were usually at least a half an inch thick ( I am allowed to use an Imperial measurement in this context) with large pages of the thinnest and cheapest sort of newsprint. 
There were simple (and often badly drawn) pictures and "connect the dots" pages. Sometimes there would be simple puzzles or words to fill in. 
You would usually be given the book by a doting grandparent or an harassed parent and you would use your school crayons or pencils to "colour in and make sure you stay inside the lines". 
I never spent much time on such things. I would rather have been reading a book or writing a story. 
We sometimes - but not often - had pages to colour in at school too. They seem to have them much more frequently now. Our colouring in pages at school were made on an old "spirit" duplicator. The printing on the page was purple. Later there were black and white pages printed on a "Gestetner" - the brand of printer - which had a drum roller. I spent hours turning that roller when we printed things like the end of year school magazine. We thought it was amazing that you could even print those fuzzy photographs with barely recognisable people.
But, back to the colouring in can still buy them and I doubt they have been updated that much. You can also buy much more sophisticated colouring in books. They are not something I would want to do but there must be a good many people, adults as well as children, who like that sort of thing because there are books of mandalas, geometric designs, folk art, old masters and modern art, doodles, paisleys, prints, flowers, castles, cathedrals, cottages, famours buildings, landscapes and other things. Some of them are even on very good quality paper with the idea that they will be framed or laminated - or just kept. The potential for printing them must be almost endless and there are "professional" tips for doing the "colouring in". 
I gave one to someone I know who has a limited life expectancy. She has very little energy to do anything. I gave her one earlier and she has taken her time over it. The pages could be torn out along the perforated lines. Her "colouring in" is artistic. She has arranged to have them laminated so that her family can use them as place mats. Her teenage daughter will have them as permanent reminder of her mother.
And yesterday I bought another one. I am going to give this one to her as well. I doubt she will live to finish it but it is an exquisite thing drawn by a Johanna Basford. It is called "Secret Garden". The cover is a clue to the contents but only a clue. Inside there are the most delicate and detailed black and white line drawings. Yes, it is a garden - although a fanciful one. There are tiny animals and birds hidden in among the complexities - ten owls in a tree anyone? I am reminded of Elizabethan embroidery designs but the drawings are much more complex than that. I know it is the sort of thing that will delight her and appeal to her still present desire to do the most detailed work - because she can.
It is also a reminder that life is rich and complex and, even if she leaves us before she finishes colouring inside the lines, she will have coloured our lives as well. 

Thursday 20 June 2013

There have been two attempted abductions

in our local area within the last week. A man using a fake taxi has attempted to lure children in by claiming their parents have had an accident and he has been sent to get them. 
Fortunately both children had the good sense to run back into their schools and report the incident. Their schools, the police and the media have made certain that people have been made aware of the incidents.
That is a good thing. The bad thing is that even those few parents who were prepared to allow their children to walk home from school are now finding other ways of getting them from school.
After-school hours care is also crowded. There are long waiting lists for places.  
One of the childhood rites of passage for my generation was "being old enough to be trusted to walk home from school on your own". Even I was allowed to ride my tricycle to and from school when we lived in the city. When we moved to the country we always lived next door to the school.
I have been trying to remember when my generation started moving around alone. My father says that he was only taken to school for the first few weeks. After that he insisted on going alone. The school, the same one I attended in the city, was about a half a mile away. For me it was over a mile. In both cases there was a railway line and more than one wide road to cross - without traffic lights. 
Of course the traffic was not nearly as heavy. Not everyone owned a car and those who did would not have used them for picking children up from school. The assumption was that you walked or you rode your bike to school. 
From memory, and my father agrees with me, I was expected to go to and from school alone when I left the "infant" section and started in the "primary". I had "skipped" a year so I must have been barely six. Other children would have been seven. When my brother began school the following year I was, once again, expected to go to and from school with my mother because she was escorting him. I objected strongly. Eventually my father said I was to go alone. I would pedal past my mother and ignore her, my brother and my sister in the pusher. I was much too grown up to talk to them.
I can remember just one "near miss" - reported to my parents - but the driver was apparently at fault. I was on the footpath and he mounted the pavement after a visit to a local hotel. Fortunately he was travelling slowly enough that I stopped in time. I don't know what happened to him but I was given a thrashing by my mother before the circumstances were made fully known to her. I suppose the incident had frightened her. She did not apologise to me.
Nobody ever approached me with an invitation to get in their car. I do not remember even hearing of such invitations. We just knew not to talk to strangers and not to go with strangers or accept their sweets. 
After school and at weekends children roamed. There were adults there somewhere in the background but they went about their business and we went about ours. We did not have "play dates" or "sleepovers". We did "messages" for our mothers and on the way home we visited the horses which pulled the bread van and the milk float. 
The change must have been gradual. We noticed it when we returned to the city. My youngest sister was just starting at secondary school. By then it was considered that she was "old enough" to travel alone - but only just. 
My brother and sisters say they are glad they grew up in the country and could roam freely. I think I was fortunate to have grown up at a time when it was still possible. I think we managed to learn a great deal by being left alone. 
I just wonder how the next generation of children are going to manage their children - and hope they don't get abducted because they have never been able to learn through being left alone. 

Wednesday 19 June 2013

The Constitutional implications

of a change in Prime Minister at this point in Federal politics are not something I know a great deal about but one of the regular readers of this blog left me an e-mail yesterday and asked, "Can they really change the Prime Minister now so close to an election?"
The answer to that is, "They could try."
It is getting more difficult. For those of you who are interested I will try to explain from my limited knowledge of Australian Constitutional Law - and hope that my old law professor, Leslie Zines, does not have a red pen ready. 
I think I am correct in saying that the Prime Minister yesterday attended the last official Caucus meeting before the election. If a move was going to be made then that would have been one obvious place to make it. 
There were several ways to do it. She could have resigned - very unlikely. Kevin Rudd (the chief contender) could have challenged - very unlikely. There could have been a sort of petition by at least a third of the Caucus. Apparently that did not happen. They may think they did not have the necessary support.
The other suggestion has been that a move will be made after Thursday of next week. That will mean after that the final Question Time before the election is over. 
It could be done but there is a problem. The government depends on the vote of "independents". The opposition - rightly - would almost certainly want to insist on the support of the independents being tested on the floor of the house. That would mean an extra sitting of parliament - at huge expense if members had already left Canberra. They could decide not to do that but either way they would have more ammunition for the election if there was a change of leadership.
My sources in Canberra say that there has not been any frenetic level of activity between members of the government and the independents so it is possible they are not being lobbied about a potential change of leadership. Even if the independents were to indicate they supported a late change in leadership - and at least one has always insisted that his arrangement is with the present Prime Minister and not the alternative - then there could still be an approach to the Governor-General if a move was made after Thursday week. 
There are at least three possibilities for the Governor-General. One would be to accept the decision made by the Caucus. Another would be to consider that the government no longer had a majority and ask the opposition to form government. Another would be to call for an earlier election. 
I suspect she would, at very least, have to seek the advice of the High Court. There are at least two reasons for this. One is that she would be facing an unprecedented situation that would need expert legal opinion. The other is that her son-in-law is the current Minister for Workplace Relations and she would need to be particularly careful to be seen to be acting on the independent advice of the court. 
Will there be a no-confidence motion in parliament? Probably not. The opposition will just delay as much legislation as possible - and there is an unprecedented amount to get through.  As some of that legislation is being put forward in an effort to sabotage the plans of what, if the polls are correct, will be a change of government that is probably not unreasonable. 
The next ten days may be very interesting but I have no idea what the answer to that question is. It might be that the run has been left a little late or that those looking for change are willing to provoke a constitutional "crisis". 

Tuesday 18 June 2013

There was an accident

last week. It occurred on a street I use on my way home from the local library. As I turned into the street I could see a fire engine blocking the street, an ambulance with lights flashing and police cars at the far end of the street. 
I could also see the usual crowd gathering. A second ambulance turned into the street behind me. This one did not have lights flashing or the siren on.  I waited until it had passed me and then turned around. I made my way home by a different route.
Later someone asked me what had happened there. I said I did not know.
         "But, didn't you go and look?"
No, I did not go and look. I saw no reason to go and look. I had no desire to look. It is not the sort of thing I want to look at. 
My reaction has always been the same with accidents. If other people are handling the situation and I can do nothing to help then I move on. It is not my business and I believe I should get out of the way and stay out of the way.
Clearly other people feel differently.
It made me wonder about something else though. Recently, there have been several very nasty racist incidents on public transport.  Some of them have been reported in the media - even filmed on mobile devices and put up for all to see. People have not intervened. They have simply let it happen.
Then there was what appears to have been a very public instanced of domestic violence between Nigella Lawson and her husband in a very exclusive London restaurant.  Nobody intervened there either.
I imagine the patrons thought it was a job for the staff and the staff were not willing to risk their jobs - and everyone thought it was none of their business.
Now I happen to think that the accident really is none of my business. Other people were dealing with it. I have helped other people when my help was needed. It was my business then. 
It would be my business on public transport. Racists are cowards and need to be condemned. I hope I would have the courage to speak up if a racist incident occurred when I was travelling. I would be betraying my friends who come from other cultures and backgrounds if I did not make it clear that the behaviour was unacceptable.
And the domestic violence? I can remember years ago being in a supermarket when a man, who clearly should have been on a diet, threw several packets of chocolate covered biscuits in a trolley and shouted at his wife that he was going to have them whether she liked it or not. I can remember staring at him. He shouted at me as well, what was I doing staring at him like that?
I looked back and said,
      "I think you are behaving like a two year old."
He stormed off down the aisle. I am not sure it did any good. Although his wife did thank me for saying it someone else told me I should not have got involved. 
And I think that might be the problem. It seems, in the eyes of many, to be acceptable to stand and gawk but it is not acceptable to get involved. It is seen as "interfering in other people's business" but discrimination, racism, sexism and domestic violence are everyone's business - are they not? 

Monday 17 June 2013

"Opinion polls" are

slippery things - and political opinion polls are more slippery than most.
I was once asked to give my opinion for a well known opinion poll service. I declined. I also told the interviewer the reason I was declining was that there was no category in the responses for "declined to answer".  She was a little puzzled by that.
"Well of course some people don't answer,"she told me. I pointed out that this skewed the results. All that "random sampling" counts for nothing if enough people refuse to answer. 
More responsible polling will now include an "undecided" category - presumably where the "declined to answer" answers go. It is still not  satisfactory but it is, I suppose, a little better.
Politicians will tell you they ignore opinion polls. Our Prime Minister has been ignoring them very assiduously of late - or so she would have us believe. There is apparently yet another one today where her support has dipped again. Tomorrow is likely to be crunch time. There will be a Caucus meeting. The leadership issue will come up. The party is divided. It may unite under a new leader to save some seats - although that may not be enough to save the government. The best they could hope for, according to others, is another hung parliament. That would not be a good outcome. 
What is more, as I said a short while ago, they would not keep the man the media keeps touting as the alternative. If he takes on the position and they lose government he will lose his position. If he manages to get in with a hung parliament then they will oust him soon after simply because their grip will not be strong enough and he will not be able to unite the warring factions. 
Yes, they may choose to win a battle knowing that they will still lose the war but it may not be wise. It may be better to lose some of those who have been there too long, who believe their seats are a right rather than a responsibility. Others may well regain them at the next election, gain them from the "one term wonders" who will just creep over the line. 
But all this is really beside the point. What worries me is that so many Australians seem to be unaware of the fact that they do not elect the Prime Minister. The party in power elects the Prime Minister. Theoretically the Prime Minister does not even need to be a member of parliament. They could vote in a drover's dog if they so chose. In practice of course the Prime Minister is a member of parliament. It works better that way - or it should. 
It would be much better, and much more responsible, if the media spent less time asking about "preferred Prime Minister" status and more time asking and informing people about policy. It is not going to happen though.
Personalities are much more powerful than policies in media debate. 

Sunday 16 June 2013

Loud advertising

irritates me. I suspect it irritates many people I know. My own family is curiously immune to the "come on, buy this" spiel of sellers. If we want (and more likely need) to buy something then we will set about searching for information. 
A "two for one" deal is of no value to us unless we need two of something - and what does "fifty percent off" really mean? (And why is it apparently being sold at that price?) I suppose other people must feel differently. 
There is clever advertising. I recognise that. I can even admire the art and the psychology involved in the construction of some advertisements. I also know they can be very expensive to make. They probably add an unreasonable amount to the cost of the product or service - and there is probably very little that can be done about it.
My brother in law moved to another job recently. The firm he works for endeavours to get advertising more closely aligned with what buyers are searching for. I do not understand the ins and outs of the technology involved but he says that using it can bring in money. I imagine that matters a great deal.
But there is another sort of advertising I am finding increasingly annoying...self-advertising on social network sites.  Yes, the other sorts of advertising irritate me too but social networks depend on it for their running costs and their survival. Presumably the firms and services who advertise there believe it is worth their while or they would not do it.
I know writers like to let people know they have a new book out. Fair enough too. I would if I reached those giddy heights. But going on and on about it will put me off buying the book and reading it.
All that has been said elsewhere.
What really irritated me recently was "advertising" on Twitter by a man who claims to offer a service for men. The problem is that he was endeavouring to use the name of a very prominent politician by pretending to target his message at that individual. The message was presumably some sort of paid-for advertising because it was repeated over and over again for a short period. It has now disappeared. 
It was an inappropriate use of the politician's name and account. No politician should be used in that way - or agree to used in that way. Linking your own name to that of a high profile person in order to sell yourself is the worst sort of  self-advertising. I doubt it will increase his business by much. I hope it doesn't. It does not deserve to. 

Saturday 15 June 2013

For those of you who live in

other parts of the world I may first need to explain that our Prime Minister was subjected to some vile questions by a "shock-jock" - one of those so-called "radio personalities" who make their living by making controversial comments and asking controversial questions. 
I do not know much about that sort of thing. I do not listen to that sort of radio - or indeed listen to radio at all - by choice. I occasionally hear it in the background in the local supermarket or some other shop but usually manage to tune it out.
But, a lot of people do listen to it. The people who make their living out of it are often highly influential - and well paid. And it is their task to be controversial so that people will listen - and thus listen to the advertising which pays for them to be on air.
It should therefore come as little surprise that one of these individuals should question the Prime Minister in a controversial fashion. He asked the Prime Minister whether her partner was "gay". The interview has since been repeated, more than once, by other sections of the media. 
The question was, at best, highly inappropriate. I thought it was vile. I am no fan of the Prime Minister but I do not believe anyone should be subjected to questions about their sexual relationships.
The Prime Minister's reaction was to try and laugh it off. Her embarrassment was clear. 
Her relationship with her partner is rather different. They are not married. A lot of people are not married to their partners. It rarely causes comment now - except for someone in the position of the Prime Minister. 
She is the Prime Minister and trained as a lawyer. He is a hairdresser. Many people see that as a little odd too. Perhaps it is a role reversal they do not feel comfortable with. I don't know. Perhaps the "First Bloke" - as he is sometimes called - is more of an intellectual than people know about.  I don't know about that either.
They don't have children. Some people choose not to have children. My mother's brother married an utterly delightful woman eighteen years younger than himself. They chose not to have children because of his age. It was their business, not ours.
I wonder whether it is a combination of these things plus the undoubted unpopularity of the Prime Minister that has caused people to question the nature of her relationship with her partner? Or was it a deliberate bit of theatre designed to try and boost support for her by getting some of the sympathy vote? (Let's wait and see whether the sacked "shock-jock" is reinstated and what the next opinion poll has to say? Perhaps - or perhaps not.)
I think the Prime Minister could have handled the question quite differently. I wish she had said,
"That question is inappropriate and offensive and I decline to answer it."
If the interviewer had persisted she could then have said, "If you ask any further questions like that this interview will be terminated."
And then terminated the interview if the interviewer did persist. 
Most people, even if they disliked her, would have respected the Prime Minister for doing that. 
I would like to see radically different standards for interviewing all politicians of all persuasions. It might result in fewer and duller headlines but it might give people an opportunity think about policy rather than personalities. People may actually vote according to policy rather than personalities.
Is it too cynical of me to suggest that the Prime Minister is using the media just as much as the media is using her?

Friday 14 June 2013

It seems that ties are now a political

statement - or so our Prime Minister would have us believe. She has been talking in derogatory terms about "men in blue ties". 
Of course she means those men in the Opposition. Unfortunately for her however her Deputy frequently sports a blue tie - as do some other members of her team. 
The Senior Cat has a view about ties. He calls them "useless articles of male attire". He rarely wears one now. He still owns a number. He has a tie with his clan crest, a tie in his clan tartan, his university tie and a sober tie for formal occasions. There are a number of others there as well but they are unlikely ever to be worn again. He objects to wearing the others unless he absolutely must although he once wore one to work each day - along with a suit. 
My brother also wears a suit and tie to work. Like my father he owns a clan tie, a clan tartan tie, his university tie and - for work - some sober ties. 
My brother-in-law - not descended from the Scots - wears sober ties to work and refuses to wear them on any other occasion except the most formal of formal. My sister preserves one "good" one for him.
I remember my first boss - a psychologist in the Department of Education. He wore handknitted ties. They were made for him by a fellow psychologist. One was bright red, another grass green. He had several in different shades of brown. They were all, I think, made to the same pattern. The yarns were different.
One of my lecturers in law school had a tie with red stripes. He would pace up and down the lecture theatre and occasionally flick the tie over his shoulder. It was an unconscious gesture. He tried to stop doing it when told about it but, somehow, it interrupted the flow. Another wore the most amazing collection of ties. They were works of art in silk painted by his partner. One of them was bright pink with flowers never seen in nature. He must have liked it because he wore it often. 
I know too that ties can be ridiculously expensive and that they can come in different shapes and colours and that they can be made out of almost any sort of cloth. There are silk ties, cotton ties, linen ties, woollen ties, tweed ties, striped, checked, spotted, floral and patterned ties. Ties can tell those in the know where someone has been to school, or university, or the company or club they belong to. I know little of these things. 
I occasionally observe the ties of other men. They are often dull or disgraceful - and sometimes both dull and disgraceful. I am not sure why they bother to wear them.
However I suppose ties do tell you something about the men who wear them. Right at the moment though I cannot think of anyone I personally know who wears one of the pale blue ties the Prime Minister was so derogatory about. 
I am not sure just what that says about each of us.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Our Prime Minister is

playing the gender card - and it does not become her.
She is not popular with the electorate - or with her own party. There are, as I have said, leadership rumblings even with an election date currently set at September 14th. 
But playing the gender card is a very different thing. This is the Prime Minister whose "misogyny" speech went viral. That it was actually taken out of context and made in support of someone whose behaviour was insupportable was beside the point for many people. Our Prime Minister was temporarily seen as a wonderful advocate for women everywhere - and still is by some.
There is a problem with this.  She is playing games. Her own record shows that she has not always been the great supporter of women she is now pretending to be. In the highly factional party she belongs to she chose to support a male candidate over a female candidate in the pre-selection shenanigans in a "safe" seat.  Her party has made life much more difficult for all single mothers and for carers - most of whom are female. I could go on. (And no, I am not suggesting the other parties are perfect - far from it.)
But our Prime Minister has been using the line that the Opposition Leader is "anti-female" for too long now. Apart from the fact that it is not true - he has a female deputy, a female chief of staff and other females surrounding him by his own choice - she is choosing to misrepresent something else.
Abortion in Australia is an issue largely for the states. They make most of the decisions in relation to abortion. Our federal government makes decisions about which drugs should come into the country. When the Opposition Leader was Health Minister in a previous government he did not, on advice from the authority that decides on whether drugs can be imported and used, allow the importation of an abortion drug. The advice was given to him on medical grounds. The drug was not considered "safe". His decision was made on that advice and on those grounds. It had nothing to do with his personal beliefs but our present Prime Minister continues to ignore that fact. She has used, and continues to use, it as a "fact" that he is opposed to a woman's right to choose. 
Now she is making blatant demands that women vote for her because she is a woman. "Women for Gillard" is even more offensive than her remarks about the Opposition leader. She is in effect telling half the voting population to ignore everything apart from the fact she is a woman and to vote for her on those grounds.
She is ignoring the fact that there are other women politicians (and their number is gradually increasing) and that not all of them are of the same political persuasion. (The leader of the Greens is a woman and we have had more than one female state Premier.) She is asking women to leave decision making at the door. 
Asking women to vote for her and her party on gender grounds actually demeans the men in her own party as well but she apparently does not see it this way. 
I do not intend to leave my critical faculties at the door of the polling booth. I will, as always, make my decision on the basis of policies about the things which matter to me.
I hope there are many other women who will do the same.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

The Senior Cat is a

"worry wart". I know of nobody else - not even myself - who worries as much as he does. 
My two godchildren and their mother have been to visit this last weekend. There was a holiday on Monday and, because of school holidays in Singapore (where they live) they were here on Tuesday as well. 
My sister and I took them up to the wildlife reserve in the hills behind us. It is a marvellous place for children. They can feed the animals (all native animals) and pat most of them. The Senior Cat was anxious about that. We wouldn't let my godson get bitten or scratched by anything would we? He worried until we returned safely.
Yesterday they came for lunch before going off to the airport and their flight home. He worried about the taxi taking them to the airport on time. (It arrived in plenty of time.)
The Senior Cat also taught my godson a couple of "magic tricks". One involves the use of a small steel disc. Much fun was had. Late last evening the Senior Cat found a microscopic cut on his hand. He rushed into me. What if it was from a sharp edge on the disc? He wanted to ring their mother immediately. By then it would have been very late indeed. I said "NO!" very firmly and sent him to bed.
He was up at the crack of dawn (for him) wanting to ring them. I said it was much too early to call them. They would still be asleep. I also said I had (a) had an e-mail to say they had arrived safely and (b) that young godson had already shown his grandparents the tricks without coming to any harm.
He is now prowling like a caged lion waiting for it to be late enough to call them because he is still worried.
The fact that I have already sent an e-mail and asked his mother to re-check the disc is beside the point. "But she might not have read your e-mail!" 
He will have to speak to her himself. Nothing I can do or say will stop him unnecessarily worrying. 
I am seriously glad he is no longer responsible for an entire school of children! 

Tuesday 11 June 2013

There were two deaths

announced by name in yesterday's papers. One was on page three of our national newspaper. The other was tucked away in the international news pages of our state newspaper. There were also further reports about yet more drownings of asylum seekers.
I imagine that the Australian government, while saying all the expected things, breathed a sigh of relief at the death of Christopher Pearson. They would have all but ignored the death of Iain Banks. After all, he was "only a writer" as someone put it to me. Only? 
The last deaths, the drowning of more boat arrivals will have added yet more fuel to the asylum seeker "debate".
Christopher Pearson was a literary man. He was a columnist for the Australian. He could be as witty as he could be serious. He wrote well. He made no secret of his conservative leanings or his Catholicism. Even when people disliked what he had to say most respected him. He could be the voice of quiet reason in a noisy debate - and that sometimes made him unpopular. He will be a loss to journalism and political writing - something even one of his arch enemies was prepared to acknowledge.
Iain Banks was not "only a writer". He was an author of some amazing books like "The Crow Road" and "The Steep Ascent to Garbadale". His politics were as far to the left as Pearson's were to the right but I believe they once met, agreed to disagree, and respected one another.  Banks will be an enormous loss to literature in general and Scottish literature in particular. He will also be a loss to the movement for greater Scottish independence and to the "collective conscience" - those writers well enough known to influence public opinion through their creative works.
Both men died too early. Modern medicine could not save them.
The death of the boat arrivals is something entirely different. It is something which could have been avoided and should have been avoided. 
There are widely varying opinions on what can and should be done about boat arrivals. What is very clear however is that the current Australian government policies encourage rather than deter people from attempting to come to Australia in this way.
Some people argue that all those who endeavour to come to Australia this way are desperate refugees. Others say they are not.
Some ask why people do not come by more acceptable routes and seek asylum when they arrive. Others say they cannot do this and are coming by the only means they can.
What people believe is shaped very much by their personal beliefs and by newspaper reports. It is rarely shaped by first hand knowledge, access to official reports and interviews.
Unlike Christopher Pearson and Iain Banks the names of those who drowned this time will not appear in the paper. We will never know who was lost or what we might have lost in their passing. Their families may never know they have gone. They may suspect it but will never be able to prove it. They may prefer to go on believing that the high-spirited young man in trouble with the law at home has arrived safely at made a go of it here. 
Whatever they believe it matters to them and it should matter to us too. 

Monday 10 June 2013

Fostering children

hard work, very hard work. I know a couple who have done it for years. They are quiet, hardworking, devout without making an issue of it. 
They have done long term foster care and short term foster care. Some of the children have been disabled - which is how I came to know them - some of them have been disabled with behaviour issues and some of them have had behaviour issues. 
They have handled it all and given the children in their care all they possibly could. They have not, as some people believe, "done it for the money". It has cost them more than the department which handles those things has ever been prepared to pay them. The husband still goes to work but the wife has always been a full time carer. I admire them and, I think, so do most people.
Better than that though is the fact that many of the children who have been cared for by them still regard them as "Mum and Dad". Not all of them have been a success story of course but many of them have. They have grown up, married, had kids of their own and taken them back to "Mum and Dad".
They are going to a wedding this weekend, one of "theirs" who qualified as an accountant earlier this year. He's got a good steady job and he's marrying a girl who is a nurse. I've met them both and I think it is a relationship which will work well. "Mum and Dad" do too. 
But there was a moment last weekend when they thought they might not get to the wedding. "Dad" was on his way home from work when someone opened a car door in the path of his bicycle without looking to see what was coming. "Dad" ended up in hospital with three cracked ribs, a broken collarbone and a badly sprained wrist. He had a night in hospital. 
It was a very nasty incident - and a very good one.
One of "their kids" picked him up from the hospital. Another came around and mowed the lawn. Two more arrived together with a DVD he could "watch with the kids". 
And then one of "their kids" - the one who had caused them years of anxiety and who had been in all sorts of trouble and that they thought was their biggest failure turned up. 
"My heart sank" his "Mum" admitted, "I wondered what had happened now because we hadn't heard from him in three years."
But no, he had turned up because he had heard about the accident and he wanted to be sure that "Dad" all right. Was it really three years since he had been in touch? It didn't seem like that. He had gone "up north". Yes, he had a job and it "paid pretty good".
He had flown down from the middle of Australia for the long weekend - just to make sure "Dad" was all right. He drove them to the wedding.  

Sunday 9 June 2013

The news that Nelson Mandela

is back in hospital should come as no surprise to anyone. He is after all an old man. He was born in 1918. That he has, given his life history, managed to live this long is remarkable. 
Yes, since 1990 he has had much better medical care than many South Africans can dream of even now. I doubt anyone would deny he also has also managed to earn the right to such care - and that he would want the same for everyone else in South Africa.
International Literacy Year was a fact when I was finally able to write a letter to Mr Mandela (as he then was). I did not expect a reply but the poet Judith Wright suggested I should write to him. He was, she gently pointed out, someone I would have approached for support if it had been possible.
Yes, I would have approached him. He would have been a powerful voice in support of literacy. He would have been a powerful voice in support of something even more important - the right to a means of communication. 
Not everyone I know agrees that such a right exists but I firmly believe that everyone has the right to a means of communication. It is, to me, as basic a right as things like food and shelter. If we deny people the right to a means of communication we deny them human dignity. 
The right to a means of communication is not the same as a right to communicate. That is something different. There are legal limits on what people can say - and rightly so. There are laws about libel and racial vilification - and rightly so. 
But we should all have the ability to communicate something. For some people, those with profound intellectual and physical disabilities, there may be serious obstacles when trying to communicate. It is then up to the rest of us to try and accommodate them when we can. 
There are other people who choose not to communicate much. They are perhaps just naturally quiet. They may simply not be interested in saying much. 
Some of us - and I have no doubt this includes me - have too much to say. If we have that sort of capacity to communicate then we also have a responsibility to use it wisely and well. Not all of us do. I have no doubt that I infuriate people at times. No, I do not set out to do it deliberately.
I wrote a letter to Mr Mandela. I did not expect a reply. I did not ask for one. I told him I was sure he was aware of International Literacy Year and gave him some names of people in South Africa who were supporting it. If, I suggested, he was interested he could talk to them about it if he happened to meet them. 
It was not quite the sort of letter I had written to so many other people seeking their support. Here was a man released from prison, a man with so many other things to do.
Some weeks later there was an answer. It said all the expected things. It was of course written by one of his aides but, underneath the typing, there were a few words in his own handwriting.
I wish I had kept that letter. It was shredded along with several thousand other letters. I simply did not have the means to keep them in a tiny single room in a university hall of residence but I can remember what he told me.. 
"Don't stop now", he told me, "because you have really only just begun".   He was right - and I wanted to say it before he goes. 

Saturday 8 June 2013

The Senior Cat prowled

off to the hardware store yesterday. He "escaped" while I was doing essential chores in other places. 
I was home by the time he returned. He had, as he always does, left a note on the kitchen table telling me where he had gone. He is very good about that. He worries that I might worry - and I would now given his advanced years. 
But...but... I looked at him when he arrived home. He was wearing his oldest pair of work trousers...the pair with the frayed hems and the "air-conditioning" in one knee, the pair decorated with glue and paint stains. He has two new pairs, bought by me and taken up by the lovely neighbour across the road in return for mending a chair for her. 
He was also wearing "the jumper" - a striped garment which was once a pullover of some distinction. I think I have spoken about it before. It was made by my mother. I have replaced the cuffs twice and mended it in a number of places. I warned him the last time I tried to wash it that it was time he stopped wearing it. I really cannot patch it, darn it or knit new cuffs again. It is a garment that should never ever be seen outside the shed these days. It was, once again, far from clean. I know why he loves it. I sympathise but there is not much I can do about the state it is in. I sometimes wonder if I would feel the same way about a similar garment if my mother had made one for me. She never did. 
I looked at him as he stood there like a small boy caught out doing mischief.
"You didn't go dressed like that?" I asked.
"Yes, why not? It was only the hardware store. You should see the way some of the men are dressed."
"That," I tell him, "Is not the point."
I really doubt that anyone looked quite like he did. I took it from him last night. I have washed it. The first lot of water was dark brown. The Senior Cat would say "good honest dirt brown". Perhaps. It took three lots of rinse water. I wonder that it did not fall to pieces. 
I have put it out to dry.

I have also begun collecting odds and ends from the stash and elsewhere. It is time to make another such garment. I know what will happen. The Senior Cat will say it is "too good to use in the shed" - just as he says the old one is "too good to throw out". 

Friday 7 June 2013

There was a very interesting

conversation going on in the library yesterday. I was prowling through some books in the stacks (yes, we still have some books) when I overheard two people talking politics. 
They were being quiet but I recognised both voices. I also happen to know they are both staunch supporters of the current government. They belong to "the party", go to meetings etc. One of them once stood for pre-selection and was the losing candidate at the election which followed.
They were discussing the latest internal polling figures.
"We can still turn them around...."
They then went on to discuss local tactics and who would be doing what. None of it came as any surprise. I could not help hearing what was being said and I was not the only person listening. If they had wanted the conversation to be private then they should have been talking somewhere else. The weather was fine enough. They could have gone outside.
Despite crying poor the party still has money to play with for this election - and the added support of the union movement. We are already getting what amounts to election material in our letter boxes. The election is not until September 14th but the present government is using government funds to "inform" people about programmes and policies. It is electioneering of course - and all sides of politics do as much of it as they can get away with. Incumbency allows it. 
They also intend to do what they did last time - send out material critical of the opposition candidates without actually stating it comes from them. (Yes, that is legal - just. All you need to do is state it comes from X person with an address - and do it in the smallest possible font.) It is all part of political game playing - and all sides will do it. Politics is not a nice game.
Eventually they got on to the topic of the present Prime Minister. She is not popular. The previous Prime Minister is currently more popular than she is. He was ousted on the grounds that he would not be able to win the previous election. At the time his approval rating was higher than hers is now. If popularity is the grounds for dumping a Prime Minister then yes, she should probably go. The media is, once again, claiming that there are demands for her to go - but saying that the party says she has to step aside and allow the previous one to take her place. He could. It would probably cause a lift in the polls - it might not win the election outright but the result would almost certainly be much closer. 
The two having the conversation were well aware of this.
"We need to put him back in until after the election."
"Good move - although it wouldn't be popular."
"Doesn't matter..."
It does matter. Australians do not vote for their Prime Minister although many of them still believe they do. They still vote according to the person they believe is going to lead the country. 
The idea that you might return a man to the top job simply for the short term tactic of trying to win an election and then dump him just goes to show how very dirty the political game is.
They say we get the government we deserve - but does anyone deserve this?

Thursday 6 June 2013

When I returned for the first time to the

city which is presently my home there were three yarn shops within easy reach - by that I mean within a couple of miles. Two were specialist shops and the other was half yarn and half haberdashery.
Further afield there were, from memory, at least nine other places that sold yarn in a way which would satisfy a serious knitter. 
There were also sections in department stores, indeed some of the department stores had their own "labels" of yarn. There were "wool banks" where the yarn would be set aside and people could buy balls of yarn as they were ready to knit them. 
People still knitted "TV" patterns. They were usually plainer patterns  which required little concentration. 
Much of the wool sold was grown and processed in Australia. Some of the cheaper yarn was not the best quality but the slightly more expensive yarn tended to be excellent. Cared for properly it lasted for years. I know. I still have one garment made back then. It was a long time ago.
There were a couple of specialised places which imported yarn - exotic French and Italian yarn and "proper" sock yarn from England. My paternal grandmother only used a certain brand of English sock yarn for my grandfather's socks. It was lovely stuff - and wore like steel.
I had time to consider all this yesterday as I went to the last remaining shop in this area. It is the half yarn and half haberdashery shop. It is still there - just. The owners want to retire and they are trying to sell the business. There have, the woman told me this yesterday, been "a few nibbles" - but that is all. They may be lucky but retail is slow. Serious knitters have other sources these day - mostly the internet and mail order.  The owners know this. They stock good but basic yarns with just a little of the more exotic sorts thrown in. They know they cannot compete with the big, untidy store that sells all sorts of craft items, kitchenware, manchester etc. The untidy store sells cheap yarn sourced from China and Turkey. There is very little yarn spun in Australia any more. Some I would not use but some is excellent. The best yarn tends to be expensive compared with importing yarn of a similar quality. 
I mentioned my musings to the Senior Cat over lunch. He agreed. He has seen the same thing happen in the woodworking area. Specialist tool shops and timber merchants have gone too - although not quite as dramatically. All the same cheap furniture is imported instead of using a skilled cabinet maker. 
Friends who knit and live in other countries seem to think the same problem exists there and perhaps it does - to a lesser degree. I know what one of the problems is here - our weather does not demand heavy woollen garments, mittens, scarves, gloves, hats and the like. Most people now own cars. They go from one air-conditioned space to another via an air-conditioned car. They do not need knitted woollens. 
So I wonder if we will keep the last local "yarn shop" and what will happen when the woman who runs the only other yarn shop left decides she too has had enough. I am reminded that some months ago that woman said to me at another event, "Come and see me in the shop." I have yet to do it. Perhaps I should. I don't need yarn but perhaps I should buy some just to make sure the shop is there when I need it. 

Wednesday 5 June 2013

There is a retired Reader in

Mathematics who lives just a short distance away from us. For some years we were on a "nodding" sort of acquaintance - the sort of acknowledgement you give someone if you see them frequently enough. 
Eventually we met properly at a funeral. Since then we have had the occasional conversation and sometimes said something to one another about the teaching of maths.
Maths was not my favourite subject at school. I could do it but I did not find it fascinating in the way I found English or History fascinating. I managed to do the essential Basic Statistics at university but I was also fortunate enough to work in a research unit which employed a full time statistician. I could consult him when I had a problem. What he taught me and what the retired Reader has confirmed is that statistics are to be treated with caution, extreme caution.
Today there is yet another call in the two papers we get for Maths to be made compulsory until the end of school. We are, it is stated, in danger of falling behind the US, Asia and Western Europe. That is a fairly large slice of the world. 
Those calling for Maths to be made compulsory also want to see at least one science subject made compulsory. (Fine, I did two - and they were not exciting.) 
It all sounds very reasonable. I would even agree that Maths and Science are a very important, even vital, part of education. However, there is something that puzzles me. This is not the first time such things have been said. There have also been regular demands for all Australian students to be compelled to learn an Asian language. Nowhere has there been any serious demand for schools to teach what are sometimes called "Arts" and "Classics". If anything school students are actually discouraged from doing English Literature, History, Latin, Ancient Greek etc. The "best and brightest" students are expected to head into science - whether they have an interest in it or not. They are told that "an arts degree won't lead to a job". There is some truth in that statement. 
Arts faculties at universities are also even more underfunded than science faculties. They are considered "less important". They do not bring in those all important research funds. 
Yesterday I read a piece in the Guardian. In it the outgoing Children's Laureate, Julia Donaldson, criticised the media for their lack of interest in and support for children's literature. It was a fair criticism too. Children's books account for about a quarter of all book sales but get nothing like that amount of attention. Not nearly enough is being done to tell people that children's literature is important...and that good literature for children is also something for adults.
Somewhere along the line we are missing something important. Science needs the arts. Scientists need to have language skills. They need imagination so they can go on asking, "Why?" and "What if?" and "How?" It is the sort of imagination which can only come with reading books, good books. No amount of films, games, posters and the like can substitute for a good book where the reader uses his or her imagination to gather in the words which have been written and make them their own.
Please, can we hear it for reading as well as maths and science?

Tuesday 4 June 2013

There was a very small

human on the loose yesterday. Small humans should not be travelling on their own. The idea terrifies me. It terrifies me with good reason. 
There was an accident in this state on Sunday. A car hit a two year old who had darted out into the street and the two year old did not survive. What the family and the driver of the car are going through is something I cannot even begin to comprehend. 
I had to go to the bank yesterday. I can travel home one of two ways. As I did not need to do anything else I chose the quieter, back street route. Pedalling along one of those back streets I saw two people from one of those religious organisations canvassing the street. You know the sort of people I mean. They were carrying their literature in an obvious and open fashion. I avoid such people. They have been asked not to call on us. I don't mind what other people believe as long as they do not attempt to convert me or otherwise attempt to impose their belief system on me. These people do. They prey on the grieving - something they tried with us. They irritate, perhaps even anger, me. I suppose I am not very tolerant. 
Yesterday however they made me not merely angry but furious. They went into a property on a suburban street. The place has a child proof lock on a high gate. The rest of the "fence" is a thick hedge. No child should be able to get out - unless someone leaves the gate open. They did. 
They must have gone to the front door and knocked and waited without observing what was going on behind them. I admit there was a tree in the way which would have partially blocked their view. Nevertheless they left the gate open - the gate with the child proof lock. 
The small human escaped. It only takes the blink of an eye.  I found him wandering along the street. He is only sixteen months old. Old enough to walk and to want to explore.  He is not old enough to be left unattended except in a safe area. His own garden has - I was shown it later - been carefully childproofed. 
But there he was in the street. I stopped. He stopped. We looked at one another. I looked around. There was no adult human in sight.
I pedalled up to him - and I grabbed just before he decided to wander off the footpath and into the road.
He was not terribly pleased about it so I offered a ride in my tricycle basket. (The rear basket is just large enough.) Holding him firmly with one hand and the handlebar firmly with the other I wheeled him back along the street looking for a likely house...the toys scattered across the driveway were a pretty fair indication. The canvassing couple had moved on. The gate had still not been shut properly. 
I entered the yard and shut the gate firmly and then banged as hard as I could on the front door. A shout from around the back told me,
"Go away! I'm not interested in your religion!"
"I'm not them - I think I have your child. He was out in the street," I called out.
There was a scream, running footsteps. A young woman appeared. 
"I think they left the gate open....or did not shut it properly..."
She took no notice of me. She went running down the street and - let fly. The only wonder to me is that she did not swear at them. She did as they say "tear strips" off them. They backed away but did not deny it - or apologise. 
She came back to me, still fuming and shaking. She showed me the garden. The small human should have been safe - except for that gate left open. 
"I thought it was them. I saw them coming up the street earlier and I never answer the door to those people. I was putting the clothes on the line. He went up the driveway."
I thought she was going to start crying but she gave me hug instead.
"Thankyou so much."
She followed me to the front gate and held him while I went out. I shut the gate again very firmly so that the childproof lock was secure. She was still thanking me again as I started to pedal off. 
I still feel shaken this morning. Goodness' knows how the mother feels. 
It puzzles me that you can apparently be so intent on saving souls that you cannot keep a small human safe. 

Monday 3 June 2013

There is yet another piece about

"discrimination" in the paper this morning. This time there are claims that an airline discriminated against a young woman with cerebral palsy and a hearing loss. Apparently she uses a wheelchair and was intending to fly alone from a capital city to a regional area to visit family.
I have no problem with that. There is no reason why she should not fly alone. The flight is direct. It is short. There was no need to change planes.
The airline did have a problem though. They said that the passenger could not understand their instructions. They also said that not being able to communicate with her was a safety issue.
Now of course airlines do fly with people they are not able to communicate with. They do it all the time. People get on a plane and they do not speak the same language as the pilot or the cabin crew. It is not usually considered a problem so long as the passenger can, in an emergency situation, look after their own personal needs and safety. 
But not being able to communicate with a person who is unable to look after their own personal needs and safety does involve a risk both to that person - and also to those around them.  The airline would be acutely aware of this. The airline is responsible for the safety of all passengers, not just the one who needs a great deal of assistance.  
I do not know the finer details of this case. I do not know how or how well the passenger with the disability could communicate. Could she understand verbal instructions given to all passengers at the same time? Could she respond to a direct question or instruction? Can she read?
I suspect that what was needed here was advance planning and information in accordance with her capacity to communicate. The passenger should perhaps have been taught about the emergency instructions beforehand. Perhaps they should then have been given to her on boarding in a form she could understand. That might have been in very simple words or in pictures. She should have had a similar means of communication with her so that the cabin crew could understand her without the need for signs or any form of electronic communication that might break down. 
Both sides would need training. It might even be necessary for them to meet beforehand.
Not  being able to communicate when things go wrong is - and I do not exaggerate here - terrifying. It is a situation I would not wish on anyone and yet it happens over and over again every day all over the world. 
There was no need for it to happen in this case. It was a matter of forward planning. It is a responsibility that the person with the disability and/or their family or carers have to take on. At the same time special communication needs are something the wider community needs to know a great deal more about. 
Before the airline staff are condemned for their actions perhaps it would be wise to consider how else the situation might have been handled. What might have happened if the two sides had communicated beforehand?