Monday 29 February 2016

Someone I know has a birthday today

      "I'm having a real birthday tomorrow," she told me yesterday - rather sadly.
Yes, she only gets one every four years. It is a day of mixed emotions for her.
I know of two other people with their birthdays on that date. I don't know what one person does about his birthday. The other celebrates twice - once on the day before and once on the day afterwards "because the real day gets lost somewhere in between". 
But this woman's father took a different view. If her birthday was on the 29th then that was the day it would be celebrated. He was cruelly adamant about that. Throughout her childhood while her siblings had birthdays each year, while her friends had birthdays each year, she had one only every four years. Her father told her it was just her "bad luck" to be born on the 29th and that she had to "put up and shut  up" about it. He did not allow others to celebrate her birthday at any other time either.
It was nasty, petty and harmful. He used it as a means to prevent her from doing all sorts of things.
       "I kept on being told "you're not old enough"," she told me eight years ago - the time I first met her. 
She left home when the law said she was eighteen. Her school leaving results were good but she didn't have the confidence to go to university or the support of her family.  She went to work in the retail trade, the only job she could get. 
It took a long time but she did eventually apply for university as a "mature age" student. She trained as a teacher and she is, from all accounts, a very good one.
She is good enough and popular enough that the Whirlwind's form has arranged a "surprise party" for her today. She is their form teacher. They have arranged for a cake "with ALL the candles" and a card and a book they know she wants to read. The other staff are in on it because they needed a bit of help and I bought the book for  them at their request (paid for promptly).
Ms Whirlwind has promised to tell me "whether she cries or laughs".


Sunday 28 February 2016

"I love you"

Two years ago our family gave the Senior Cat a small, portable DVD player as a Christmas present. I confess it was partly for my benefit. 
The Senior Cat does not watch television. He refuses to watch the news any more. He says he is too old "for all that doom and gloom". Most other programmes drive him mad. 
He is also becoming rather deaf so he wants the sound turned a good deal higher than I find comfortable. This was proving a problem when I had work to finish in the evenings and he wanted to watch a DVD because he still enjoys a good film, or a musical. So, the DVD player was bought. 
He uses it. We bought good ear phones to go with it and he watches happily around once a week. (He is the first to admit he is set in his ways - movies get watched at weekends. He has his own work to do on weeknights.) 
Sometimes he will say to me, "Is there a DVD of X....?"
I will hunt. If there is a copy available at the library I will borrow it - but they are not always in good order. Sometimes he will borrow one from another source. Occasionally he will buy one or someone will give him one.
Recently he wanted to see a documentary and I eventually hunted down a copy on line. While I was doing it I remembered a film he has reminisced about more than once. Was there, I wondered, a copy of that on DVD. There almost certainly would be. I typed in the title. Yes, there was "Those magnificent men in their flying machines".  It would cost me less than five dollars, postage included. I hit the "pay" button rather rapidly.
It arrived on Friday morning. I gave it to him with a casual "here, thought this might be what  you were looking for". He had been out all the afternoon and was too tired to watch it that evening. 
Last night, Saturday, out came the DVD player and soon there were chuckles and then howls of laughter. 
I finished some work and went off to bed before he had finished watching it.
This morning, at my usual place at the breakfast table, I found a little note, "Thank you SO MUCH. It was wonderful. Love, Dad".
I love you too my precious Senior Cat. 

Saturday 27 February 2016

Apparently our SBS is setting up an Arabic

radio station - for 24 hours a day.
Now I probably need to explain to Upoverites that the SBS is our "multicultural" broadcaster. It was set up with the idea that the "ethnic" communities needed to have news broadcasts in their own languages and that the rest of us would benefit from some "diversity".
There are television news services directly from a number of countries as diverse as France, Germany, Turkey, China, and many more. There is an Arabic news service on both television and radio.
SBS Radio provides other news services in more than 70 languages. If you happen to speak one of those languages or you are learning one then SBS is a great resource. 
It is almost certainly a unique resource too. It can be very useful when trying to get information about voting or the census or emergencies to everyone in the community. 
But do we really need a 24hr service in Arabic? Yes, we have had some people from Arabic speaking countries arrive recently but their numbers are still relatively small. If they are going to stay here they surely need to learn English?
There was a very small piece on a news service recently saying that trams in some parts of Melbourne now give announcements in both English and Vietnamese "because our migrants find it hard to learn English". I imagine most people find it hard to learn English but the Vietnamese people I know here speak English, most of them speak extremely good English. One of them shrugged on hearing the news and said, "If they do not want people to learn English then they will do this."
I think the same might be said about the Arabic station. It is perhaps even more of a concern in respect of Arabic because cultural differences sometimes mean that some adult women won't get the opportunity to learn English at all. 
I admit that I find the foreign television news services useful at times. Colleagues who are out and about will alert me that someone is being interviewed and that I might care to watch or there is a different angle to a story which is useful to know about. I can, with the help of the visuals, understand enough in several languages for it to be useful. I couldn't by just listening to the radio. Now if it is like that for me isn't it like that for speakers of other languages? Won't they learn some English by watching broadcasts in English? Or  won't they bother - won't bother because someone decided that instead of for a short time each day there should be something available all day?
Is this "multi-cultural" care package going to divide them from the rest of the community?

Friday 26 February 2016

Political correctness has gone too far

this time - far too far. The state government intends to change a piece of legislation referring to a "pregnant woman" to a "pregnant person".
The Senior Cat, a remarkably "modern" male in his view towards such things as gender equality, exploded. "I don't care if someone does "identify as male" if they are pregnant then they have to biologically female."
I will assume that is still correct. These days with advances in science you can't be too sure of anything but last time I looked it was the still the case. So, why the change?
I don't know how much time this will take up in parliament or how much money it is going to cost but it is money we don't need to spend. It is just pandering to the small lobby of ultra PC "perpeople". (Why use per"son"?) 
Introducing people to other people is an absolute nightmare these days. I dare not use the term "husband" or "wife" and even "partner" is frowned on by some - but you can be in equal trouble for not saying those things. I have even been told off for introducing someone as "X's daughter". (No matter that right through my kittenhood I was "B's granddaughter" and "J's daughter" - and those things still occur although less often than before. I even get "H's sister".)
I was locking the trusty tricycle to the railing at the shopping centre yesterday when I saw a couple I know. They stopped to speak to me. As they did so my nephew came out of the centre. He was taught by the man but had never met his partner. He shook hands with his old teacher and I was about to introduce his partner when she said with a cheerful smile, "And yes, I am his wife, his partner, she who must be obeyed and everything else you can think of."
We all laughed. They have an excellent relationship
 I wish everyone would be like that. It would make life so much simpler.

Thursday 25 February 2016

How do you tackle the supermarket?

I ask for two reasons, one is the rather naughty cartoon in today's paper. It shows a blue half and a pink half. The blue half shows the male passage through the supermarket - straight to the item(s) and then out again. The pink half shows the female dance through all the aisles. The other is the question of whether the approach to supermarket shopping is similar to the way people approach life.
The layout of the supermarket I normally shop in is well known to me. I go shopping with a mental list of the things I need. I grab one of the "small" trolleys and prowl in. I am intent on getting what I need but I observe other items. If there is a "special" on and I judge it worth buying now then I may add it to the trolley as I pass the item.
I can put things in the trolley in an orderly fashion, starting at one end of the supermarket and ending at "frozen" foods/refrigeration at the other. I rarely, almost never, need to back track. I don't go down aisles containing things I don't need that day. At the check out I try be ready, I even try to put items together to make it easier for the checkout person. I try to be ready to pay.
It isn't because I am a particularly well organised individual and I am certainly not a tidy one but supermarkets do that to me. I don't particularly like shopping in a strange one unless the aisles are very clearly marked. (Yes, I know - joke.)
Middle Cat is all over the place in the supermarket. If we go together for any reason I leave her to it. I go and wait outside until she has finished. It can take her some time. There is the strong possibility that she will see someone she knows and they will stop and talk. (I can say hello in passing, even exchange a word or two, but I like to keep prowling on.) She changes her mind about what they will be eating and goes back for something else. (I can change my mind too but not if it involves the effort of prowling back for other ingredients.)
 I don't know what the Senior Cat is like because, if he goes at all, he goes because I am not there to do it. I suspect he has "bewildered male" syndrome in the supermarket. At least he won't be one of those males with a phone firmly clamped to one ear, trying to control a  wild trolley with another hand saying, "Right, I'm in that aisle, on the shelf on the right? No? Oh, that one? Do you want the blue packet or the yellow one?" 
I shift my paws sharply out of the way of such shoppers. They are dangerous.  It does suggest however that some women are well organised in supermarkets.
Some years ago I remember queuing behind a man who had his trolley filled with breakfast cereal and long-life milk, tea and instant coffee. There were a couple of household cleaning items in his trolley.
        "I only come in here twice a year,"  he told me. He lived alone and ate his other meals "out" or used frozen meals supplied by someone else. "I hate it when they move things and I don't know where to find them."
I am with him on that one.  That cartoon was just a little unfair.

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Dancing in the White House

is not something I have ever seen myself as doing but the little video clip of the 106yr old woman doing just that should be viewed again and again. 
Yes, if you want to be cynical, it is a nice piece of advertising for the Obamas and a way of saying, "Hey look, blacks in the White House".  It may look like a bit of "over the top" American soap opera type drama.
It is also a whole lot more than that. It's about fulfilling a dream. 
I know rather a lot of very elderly people. Many of them are very frail. Some of them don't always know who I am - indeed, some never do. Others are still active. There is a woman I know who, at 96, still walks to the shops, to the library, and who volunteers a day each week in the charity shop close to her home. 
       "It keeps me young dear."
She knows about computers too. Hers is all set up with "Skype" so that she can talk to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who live scattered across the country and the world.
Last year she went to New Zealand - to the wedding of a grandchild. 
       "What a lovely excuse for a holiday. I might be a wee bit old for the Milford Track but I am going to see a bit of the country."
She went up in a helicopter while she was there.
       "I've always wanted to do that."
There aren't that many people her age who would be physically fit enough to do what she has done. The Senior Cat could not walk to the shops, even if he lived as close as she does. He can get around the block with his walker. He uses his gopher to go to the shops, to church, to the doctor and so on. I just have to hope he's safe. If I tried to stop him he would feel the loss of independence too much. It has to be his decision, just as it was his decision to stop driving. 
Like my 96yr old friend the Senior Cat has made decisions about what he wants to do and, if he can do those things, he will. It's the way things should be if possible. They both still have dreams, even if the dreams are a little smaller now.
But the 106yr old dancing in the White House was fulfilling a big dream not just for herself but for so many other Americans. It was perhaps the biggest dream of all, the beginning of something even bigger.
I'd like to meet that determined little old lady. Imagine the conversation any of us could have with her. 

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Changing the way we vote for the Senate

may or may not happen. If it gets through it may still be the subject of a High Court challenge.
For those of you in Upover let me explain.
Downunder has both state parliaments and a federal parliament. The Senate is the upper house of the federal parliament. The states have twelve senators each. The territories have two each. There are 76 Senators altogether. They are normally elected on a "half" basis i.e. six at a time in the states and one each in the territories. If there is a "double dissolution" all the places become vacant.
Unlike the House of Representatives - where the candidate with more than 50% of the vote gains the seat - Senators need to get a "quota" - a certain percentage of the votes. When that quota is filled the surplus votes can then pass on to the voter's second choice and so on - until all the vacancies have been filled.
The first problem with this system is that (a) if you want your vote to be counted then you must vote either "above the line" and give your first choice of party the right to decide where to send your preferences or (b) below the line and number every box according to your preferences. Either way your vote will run until all the positions are filled.
The second problem is that the system of preferences/quota have allowed complex behind the scenes arrangements, especially between the minor parties, which have sometimes allowed them to be voted in on a minuscule number of primary votes. In the present Senate there is a Senator from Victoria who obtained 0.05% of the primary vote but went on to win a seat through preference deals. 
It is this sort of scenario which the government wants to try and prevent.
There is a good reason for this. Cross bench Senators can be extremely powerful. Imagine the not impossible scenario of a very close lower house where every vote counted and the government of the day is relying on independents to keep it in government. Then, in the Senate the two major parties having say 36 seats each. There are four "cross-benchers". The government of the day needs the support of three of those cross bench Senators to pass legislation. It makes those Senators very powerful people indeed. They might only have one vote but if they withhold it then the government must "negotiate" if they can.
Do we want to give people with a minuscule primary vote that sort of power? 
The major parties are opposed to "first past the post" and "optional preferential voting" at federal level - although the latter is being tried at state level in the Northern Territory. Combined with a compulsion to attend the ballot box which is effectively seen as a compulsion to vote this encourages the complex preference deals which cause so many problems.
If there is a compulsion to attend the ballot box then there should be an optional preferential voting system. Nobody should be required to vote for more seats than actually have to be filled. If someone wishes to vote for further candidates then so be it but I find the idea that I vote for "A" and my vote ends up being used for "B" whose policies I do not like undemocratic. 

Monday 22 February 2016

Suppression orders are

curious things. They are on the rise again in this state - according to a report in the state newspaper this morning it is by about 50%.
If they actually are on the rise then I am not in the least surprised. It will have little to do with our "right to know" or not to know something and much more to do with the way the media is reporting such things.
It seems news has to be "sensational" in order to sell. "Dozens killed" sounds much more dramatic than "twenty-five". It's "accurate" but it is still misleading.
If I was relying entirely on the media I would believe that a baby born in Australia to refugees was going to be sent back to a refugee camp in Nauru. I would believe that the conditions there are "horrific" and "dangerous" and not fit for anyone. I would believe that the government was prepared to move her by force, that "security guards" were preventing access and more. "Thousands of people" have protested about this. I would believe that her mother is being denied access to her lawyer and more.
The reality is actually very different. For reasons of its own the government does not wish to broadcast them. The situation is a politically delicate one. It can be said however that the reported conditions on Nauru are very different from the actual conditions. The problem is that to acknowledge this does not fit with the agenda of groups like the Refugee Action Coalition or the "LetThemStay" campaigners. The media has also invested a lot in the reporting of this agenda. It's a powerful lobby with some powerful people behind it. 
There was a story reported in the media a couple of days ago about another incident on Nauru. The RAC gave the media a version of events which were designed to garner sympathy for the refugee cause. The official statement about the incident and the report I had about the incident were entirely different from the RAC version. It was the RAC version which was given media attention. 
Some time ago an arrest was reported in the paper. The man "arrested" was not guilty of any offence. His name was similar to that of someone to whom the police wished to speak. The incident did him considerable harm. The media eventually published a tiny correction almost hidden from public view. It was too late by then. The damage to his reputation was done. A single phone call to check would have prevented this but the story was more important than the actual facts.
And of course the problem with the lack of accuracy and the desire, indeed pressure, to sell the news is that we all miss out in the end. Journalists create news rather than report the facts so more suppression orders are created and then journalists have less facts to work with so create more news instead. 
It's a circle that has to be broken or social media will take over instead. I know. I can point the mouse, press a couple of keys and have this all over the globe in a matter of seconds. 

Sunday 21 February 2016

Micro managing is

not the way to go. Please!
I belong to a group which is a mix of teaching and social activity. The teaching is done on a largely informal basis. It involves a craft, the craft of knitting. It involves art, the art of knitting. Yes, knitting is both craft and art. 
For many of the people who belong to the group knitting is a craft. They follow other people's patterns, often to the letter. They often produce lovely, useful garments and objects. One woman knits nothing but soft toys. They are exquisitely made and undoubtedly much loved by the sick children who get them. Another knits nothing but "beanies", those woolly hats often finished with tassels or bobbles. A lot of those go to homeless men. 
Some people knit just for their families or themselves. They often aren't confident that their work is "good enough" to give away.
We have some beginners, people who are still struggling to learn the knit and the purl stitch and to follow a pattern. 
And we have just a few who experiment, who spin and dye their own yarn, and design their own from start to finish. 
And, as librarian for the group, I try to make sure that all these people are catered for.
We have a new person as president. She was a teacher. She is used to handling those in their adolescence. Her own work is of the "follow the pattern" variety. Recently she knitted a series of small items - all the same pattern. They all used six different yarns. She made them from left overs. I admire her for doing it. She had even weighed, measured and labelled each piece of yarn before she started. The pattern simply did not require that. Anything could have been added anywhere and the result would have been much the same.  But - she needs to know that "there will be enough".
And her attention to detail extends to running the group. She means well and she knows that her style is starting to cause real problems. People who have belonged to the group for years, who are used to being trusted to do things when asked, are getting irritated when she stands there and wants to know exactly how something is going to be done - what the plans are.
      "I know," she says, "It's just me but I need to know. I can't work any other way."
I think she does know too but she can't stop herself. It might have been fine for teaching adolescents - although I suspect it stifled them too - but it doesn't work when organising activities for adults. We always have a problem finding enough volunteers and now less people are volunteering.
Yesterday I tried to finish the long task of reorganising the library. I
asked for some volunteers to do some simple tasks. I saw people looking at each other and then several people indicated their willingness to help or go on helping.
I had one woman who is very hesitant to offer help come over to the table where some card envelopes needed to be pasted into the back of books. I told her what we were doing and why - briefly - and said,
      "And H has been doing it so I am sure if you have any questions she can help."
I left them to it. I left other people to their jobs. I went and did mine.
A little later the President came into the tiny cupboard like area we use as a library and asked me,
       "Are they all right out there? Aren't you going to check on what they are doing?"
No. I wasn't. I was going to trust that, as grown ups who had volunteered, they could do the job. They knew where I was. They knew they could come and ask me if they had a query.
And then she said,
      "I don't know how you get people to volunteer so easily." And I know I am going to stop volunteering. 

Saturday 20 February 2016

Harper Lee has died

at the age of 89.
My father gave me "To Kill a Mockingbird" when I was 13. 
     "You will find it interesting," he told me - and I did. 
It wasn't a book I went back to the way I went back to some books. I did see the film some years later - on television. Yes, another interesting interpretation.
Then there was all that fuss about "the second book". I think it might have been better not to publish it. I suspect it is what other people wanted, not what the author wanted. 
I hope she finds some quiet now because it seems she was a private sort of person. 
Authors live in other worlds as well as this one. They have to move between worlds. It's not easy.
Journalists on the other hand are supposed to live in this world. They are supposed to write about the facts, to give the rest of the world information. 
I am more and more of the opinion that they are confused about their role. Do they now believe they are authors in some parallel  universe where things are just ever so slightly different? Do they believe it is their role to create news? Do they believe it is their role to tell people what to believe?
I wonder what Harper Lee would have made of the lead story on a news service last night. It started out with a statement of fact - but the statement of fact was completely wrong and they knew it. The story was very carefully worded. I e-mailed someone I know who works there and had the response, 
      "Yes, I know. It was deliberate."
It was deliberately designed to make people believe something that was not true. It  isn't what was actually said. It was just the headline - because many people do not listen or read any further.
There is a similar story in this morning's paper - about another issue. It has been designed to do maximum damage to a public figure. Go a little further and the story is carefully worded. It doesn't make the accusations implied in the headline but the editor knows that  it will do damage. It doesn't matter that some of those allegations are years old, have been investigated and have been found to be baseless. They are intended to do damage. They are intended to influence people's judgment. 
I wonder whether publishing "the second book" was also designed to damage Harper Lee's reputation - at a point where she could no longer answer back. She was growing deaf and blind. There were questions about her ability to handle her own affairs. Those responsible could claim, "Oh she wanted to publish it" or "She gave permission".
The question has to remain though, "Why wait all those years?"
 Why this desire to damage other people?

Friday 19 February 2016

We used to build ships in Whyalla

but we don't any more. Now they are trying to save the steel works in the same place.
When I was in the primary school I can remember having to learn about "ship building in Whyalla"  and the steel works. We spent two years living in a very remote part of the state and made a number of trips through Whyalla to get to our tiny destination. 
It was a day long journey and we would sometimes stop in Whyalla for petrol. 
Whyalla was where the sealed road ended or began depending on the direction you were travelling in. I can remember the approach. It never rained. The sky was always blue and slightly hazy over the shipyards and the steel works. They rose out of the rusty desert like steel ants. They seemed indestructible. Yes, we were going to go on making steel and building ships forever. (It was the same with sheep. We were going to live off the sheep's back too.)
It didn't happen of course. Whyalla was in decline by the time I left primary school. It was slow at first but then became more rapid. By the time I left school the Japanese had taken over as shipbuilders to the world. Somehow the steelworks survived. They made better steel than some of the steel being brought in from Asia.It was expensive but some people needed it. It is what should have been used for the new hospital in the CBD but the government has chosen cheaper steel from Asia which won't last more than fifty years. 
Now the state government, which has not used the steel, is demanding a bail out for the steel works. They want to "save" three thousand jobs and the flow on to all the other jobs. They say it will be cheaper than having all those people out of work. I don't doubt that is correct. Having almost an entire community out of work would cause massive social problems. 
Whyalla is still the third largest town in the state - after the capital and Mount Gambier in the south. It is bigger than Port Augusta and Port Pirie - the other two towns at the top of the nearby Spencer Gulf. They are also in decline although there are attempts at projects like a tomato farm using treated sea water and solar power.
I wonder what will happen to these places.
Will we "invest" more than a billion in trying to save something that, like the car industry, might not be able to be saved? Will the money just keep the town staggering along for a few more years?
My parents were never likely to be sent there as teachers. (Teachers working for the Education Department could be sent anywhere the department chose to send them.) The Education Department had other plans for my father. 
I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to live in a place like that.  It was different. Everything was run according to union rules. You could sense it when you entered the town. You were strangers. You didn't belong there. People were polite but you knew they didn't expect you to stay.
I haven't been back there since my childhood. I am not likely to go. I can imagine a certain emptiness creeping in from the desert. I can imagine the sense of being slowly suffocated by the loss of jobs. Will there be someone strong enough to fight that?

Thursday 18 February 2016

There is a piece by Andrew Bolt

in this morning's paper. (For those of you in Upover he is a conservative columnist and well known for "stirring the pot".)  I imagine that there will be another slew of anti-Bolt letters tomorrow. These may be even more hostile than usual.
You see Bolt has written a piece in defence of Archbishop George Pell. 
Pell is someone the media loves to hate, a person people love to hate.  It is not that many of these people know him or have even met him. They just hate him. 
Pell has never been found guilty of an offence and yet there are people who loathe him as much as if he were a mass murderer. Claims made about him have been proven false but they persist. It is unlikely they will go away. The media is not about to come down on his side. It would be dangerous for them to do so.
So  when he "refused" (on medical advice) to return to Australia from Rome to give evidence for the third time to a Royal Commission into child sex abuse he was condemned even more. He has been called a "coward" in the media - and much more besides. An ABC programme allowed a "performer", Tim Minchin, to vilify him on air.  "Crowd funding" has raised enough for some people to go to Rome to be there when he gives his evidence. They want him to give it in an "open" court where they can be present while he gives it. 
I can, I hope, understand the anger, frustration, and disappointment of some people but I wonder what good all this is doing. If he was accused of a crime, of giving false evidence, of some wrong doing then he may not have been able to leave Australia in the first place. If the evidence had surfaced later then he would be the subject of an international arrest warrant. 
It is the vague notion that "he must have known" or that he is covering up crimes he was informed of in the confessional which seems to be sufficient for some people. He is guilty until he is found innocent - and probably not even innocent then.
I don't think anything is going to change. Too many people have too much invested in his "guilt". Christianity is not the flavour of the month. He is not a Muslim cleric or a Jewish rabbi.
Those double standards worry me. Whatever people might think of or want to believe of Pell it does not help the victims of abuse to see so much hatred directed against him or against Christianity. 
It doesn't help the rest of society either - unless you have some reason to want our way of life to be eroded in favour of something rather more sinister.

Wednesday 17 February 2016

Will some of you "advocates" please

just shut up! I am getting to the point where I want put my paws over my ears and curl up into a little ball with my eyes tightly closed so that I can ignore you.
I am sorry but I am just fed up with people who keep shouting about how badly people have been treated when it is their own stupidity, laziness, violence, illegal, risk taking acts have caused their problems.
David Hicks is back in the news. Now the UN says  his rights were violated by the Australian government. Maybe they were but people ignore the fact that he went to Afghanistan of his own volition.
Julian Assange is back in the news too.  The UN says his rights are being violated too. Maybe they are but people ignore the fact that he chose to publish the Wikileaks documents.
I had to explain to someone yesterday that I do not go into court as an "advocate". If I go into court my role is to ensure that the person I am there to help understands the proceedings and how they might affect them. I am not there to help them plead innocent or guilty or avoid justice. I am there to ensure they understand the questions being asked and, if they are being asked to respond, that others understand their responses. I am not allowed to do anything else - although I have occasionally been asked to express something that amounts to an opinion. When that happens I choose my words very carefully indeed.
I was asked if I would help someone yesterday. I was told he was "mildly intellectually retarded, illiterate, from a broken home and..." the list went on. I listened. Then I asked a couple of questions because something didn't seem quite right. How old is he? Twenty three? Right. That's not an issue in itself but it did suggest he had some experience of the world and might have some understanding of right and wrong. 
And then I asked the other question, "Has he been in trouble before?"
There was silence at the other end of the phone. Now this is a question I have a right to ask. It is not one a jury has the right to ask but I do have a right to ask because it tells me something about how much someone might know or understand.
Then the silence was broken with a sigh. 
      "He's just been released."
He has a string of offences behind him, dating back to early childhood. He knows his way around the legal system. He was trying out a new member of the legal profession, one who did not know him or his reputation. His case worker was trying the same thing, "advocating" for him. They thought it would be "better" if he went in with someone like me.
In this case the offender will be going back inside. He doesn't need me to "advocate" for him. He needs a sergeant in a boot camp in the desert. 
Between us the lawyer and I explained that his numerous court appearances suggested that he understood the process and that the lawyer could represent him without my help. His case worker can be present instead.


Tuesday 16 February 2016

The right to live in your own home

is slowly being eroded - or so it would seem.
Yesterday I went to see an elderly woman in a nursing home. It is something I try to do on a fairly regular basis because her younger cousin, with whom she used to live, goes every day.
They owned their small house jointly. They each paid half the bills. It was that way for years. Our social security services were told all about this when it became obvious that the older one needed full time nursing care and would need to go into a nursing home. 
They are not man and wife. They are not a same-sex couple. They just happen to have lived together for many years. The older cousin took the younger one when she was just 13. The younger one feels responsible for her as a daughter might feel for a mother. 
There were problems at the time the older one moved into the nursing home.  It was only because of the joint names on the title and the fact that the  younger cousin  had a "carers' allowance" that  the younger one retained the right to live in the house.
Now the law is apparently changing. Social security have advised  her that the older cousin's half share of the house will be considered an "asset". That is not a problem in itself. The problem arises because when that happens the nursing home will claim it. They already take 85% of the pension and other income but now they will be able to claim this. They could insist on it being sold so that they can invest the money and charge an administration fee. It is  of course simply a way of making more money despite it being wrapped in language designed to make people believe it is for the  benefit of the individual in the nursing home.
That it might leave someone else homeless is irrelevant to them. 
This would not happen to a married couple or a same sex couple  but it can happen to parent and child and in relationships like this. 
The younger cousin is distraught. The current tiny house is within walking distance of the nursing home. She can't afford to buy her cousin out. Now in her seventies, no bank would loan her the money even if she could afford to pay off a loan. It would have to be sold.
It would be snapped up by a developer who would bulldoze it, build something fancy and make a hefty profit.  
It is an unintended consequence of a law designed to be "fair". The older cousin is in a parlous state of health and wouldn't understand what is going on but she senses the younger one is upset. 
And, guess what, it makes me upset too. 

Monday 15 February 2016

"The media isn't telling us about

what?" my neighbour said.
She had come over to pick up some peaches and was reaching up to collect one which had fallen into the netting.  Her hand stopped. She looked at me.
       "Hang on, what do you mean? You've got that wrong. They had the doctor from the hospital on the news. He was talking about it."
       "No. That was someone else. He's from another organisation."
       "No. Anyway, you've got it wrong. They are refugees and they should be allowed to stay."
It was no good trying to argue with my neighbour. She has firm opinions about such things.
Yes, the family concerned are being called refugees by the media. They are at the centre of the "LetThemStay" campaign which is demanding people not be sent back to Nauru after they have been brought here for medical treatment. The campaign appears to have the support of the Premier of this state and other states but they are not being supported by Labor colleagues in Canberra. The Premiers are doing what they believe is publicly popular and I imagine that their colleagues in Canberra are happy to have them do it. It means votes at election time later this year. They won't need to act on it if they win. I doubt they will.
But what is really going on? Are the family really refugees or is something else going on?
I asked my neighbour if she knew where the family came from.
     "Somewhere like Iraq or Afghanistan. I don't know which one but one of those."
They actually come from Nepal. 
      "And do you know what religion they are?"
      "Muslim of course!"
They say they are Christians. I told her this.
      "Well they get persecuted too"
Yes, they do. But the tiny Christian minority in Nepal is on the increase. There is no reason to believe that a Christian in Nepal is in grave danger. There is no law against openly being a Christian.  I know Christians in Nepal. They work alongside their Hindu colleagues with no problems.
So, what is going on? Why is this family attempting to claim refugee status? And, more importantly, why isn't the media saying where they come from? It won't "breach their privacy". It is simply inconvenient. It doesn't fit the pro-refugee agenda of the activists or the media. 
Nobody who is genuinely in need of medical treatment or terminally ill is going to be sent back to Nauru. This is scaremongering by the media. It's a deliberate attempt not to alter government policy - because it is a bi-partisan policy - but to undermine the government. It's an election year. The government has been doing quite well in the polls. It doesn't suit the media. 
What the media has apparently not considered is something that alarms me.
It is this. We allow the family currently in the headlines the right to stay because their child was accidentally injured and needed medical treatment in Australia. How many other children are then going to be "accidentally injured" in the hope that their families will be granted the same right to stay? 
There was a considerable amount of self-harming occurring when not just the person doing the self-harming but their families were being brought to Australia. It dropped to almost nothing when just the individual was brought for treatment - and then returned. Deliberate harm was occurring because it was being rewarded.
I don't want children to be deliberately harmed so that adults can come here. I don't want those sort of adults to be rewarded.
Perhaps the answer in this case is, if he has been found not to be a refugee, to return the father to Nauru first?

Sunday 14 February 2016

Doing surgery in a tent in the snow

is not "fun". It's a deadly serious business. 
One of the aid workers I work with sometimes sent me a message this morning to say that the doctor I had written a communication board for some time ago had successfully completed a second major piece of surgery by using it.
It was nice of them to let me know. I don't feel I was doing much to help. I had plenty of help from other people to set the board up. 
It was other people who did the hard work - the dangerous work.
You see the doctor was operating in a tent in the snow. He thinks of it as luxury quarters because this tent has a floor of sorts - wooden pallets covered in plastic that they can wash down. The place is not sterile. They have to keep the flaps open to let some light in. There was some anaesthetic this time - administered by a woman who has a little nursing training under the direction of the doctor.
I don't know anything about anaesthetics but this was apparently not the right sort - just better than nothing at all. It was major, urgent surgery to try and save the life of a woman who told them she is twenty-three. She has four children of her own and she is caring for seven more from her village. They walked for "only nine days" to get to the relative safety of a refugee camp on the border of their warring country. There's no heating and almost no food and there are seventeen people crowded into one tent. That tent is the one to which she must return and try to recover. They consider themselves lucky to have the tent. 
I don't know how to explain this to other people who say, "How can you side with government policy on refugees?" I know they are appalled by my apparent support for it. I try to explain that I don't want to see people locked away. I don't "support" it at all.  My problem is something rather different. People who have shelter and food every day, access to medical services, education, legal aid, and community support are - relatively speaking -  well off. To suggest that these conditions are "appalling" and that the problems people are facing are due solely to those conditions is simply wrong.
The media which is all too happy to report all this is not giving the same emphasis to the truly appalling conditions being faced by some refugees - people who really do have nowhere else to go. 
It would be politically inconvenient. It wouldn't sell.

Saturday 13 February 2016

Lost parcel...yes. lost parcel

A couple of our neighbours are out all day. The postman knows to leave some items with us. The parcel delivery people will leave parcels with us if instructed to do so. I also order things for the elderly who are not computer savvy, some intellectually disabled individuals who live in the community housing about a kilometre away, and the knitting guild I belong to. Occasionally there are even parcels for us. 
       "It's actually for you today," the delivery person will announce cheerfully and I will put my paw print on his little machine and take the parcel.
But parcels go missing too. My brother sent one for my birthday two years ago. It has yet to arrive. A friend in Canada sent a book eight months ago. It has yet to arrive. The Senior Cat ordered a DVD from the neighbouring state. It was meant to be a Christmas present for my BIL. It didn't arrive. We eventually had a message from the company concerned saying it had been returned to them with "not at this address" written on it. There were puzzled looks right around. The address was correct. It had been delivered to a similarly named street and suburb in their state. 
I still wonder what happened to the parcel of yarn that was supposed to be delivered to me when I was at university all those years ago. It never arrived. The company in question claimed it had been sent. They inquired, at least I assume they did. I inquired. That was one cardigan which was never knitted. (It wasn't for me but for one of the staff. She chose something else and I did get that one done.)
There were two parcels of books that were sent from America that never arrived. I have a sneaking suspicion they ended up in South Africa - I mean, let's face it, Africa and Australia are both on the other side of the world.  
Before Christmas last year I ordered some yarn from Latvia. (Yes, I know - yarn...I don't need it. It wasn't for me.) Yesterday there was a plaintive inquiry from the person concerned. Had I forgotten to order it? No. I thought they had it. No. It was going to you. Oh, yes it was. I made inquiries of the company concerned. There was a very prompt response. They checked. No, it had not been delivered. They made a further check with the postal service here. Oh yes. It is supposed to have arrived. I haven't put a paw print on delivery though so they know it hasn't been delivered.
I have to trail up to the post office this morning. I know it won't be there because the post office staff know me. If there was a parcel lying around addressed to me they would have tried to deliver it or informed me. But, I have to do it. I have to get it in writing. I have to send it back to the people concerned. It's all a waste of my time and theirs.
I just wonder what really happens to lost parcels. There must be an awful lot of them out there. Do they sit there all hunched and miserable wondering why nobody loves them? Do they feel angry at being abandoned? Have they just decided they didn't want to live with the new owner? 
I would really like to know what the parcels think. 

Friday 12 February 2016

Sex education in schools

is a tricky subject. I am sure that there will be some curious individuals who will find this page and be ready to rant and rave at me. I'll try not to rant and rave.
There was a Guardian piece on the topic. It was written in response to criticism of a teaching guide called "All of us" put out by the "Safe Schools Coalition". If you want to follow it up put in those  search terms and follow the links to a range of material and opinions.
I am wondering if schools have changed. I went to school with students who were undoubtedly sexually different. I don't remember them coming in for any more teasing, bullying or abuse than anyone else. I came in for at least as much, probably rather more. Being "the head's kid" didn't help in some places. Perhaps students in rural areas take such things on board more easily? Were there students hiding their sexuality? Possibly  -  but in a rural area it would have been hard to hide. 
Even in my boarding school I can't remember the couple of undoubtedly "different" students being ostracised or subjected to bullying and abuse. If other students were hiding their sexuality I was not aware of it and I don't think they would have needed to do it.
All of that was a long time ago. We didn't have sex education lessons at school. Parents were supposed to teach you. My mother tossed a book to me with the words, "Everything you need to know is in there." My paternal grandmother, brought up on a farm, explained some more. (No, the book did not tell me everything I needed to know.) My brother had the same book tossed to him and, I suspect,  a talk or two with our father.
So I suppose I am wondering why it has now become a "problem", a problem so large that it needs special attention in sex education classes in schools - and not just one or two lessons but a whole series of lessons that might well cover a term. Why has it become something that needs to be discussed in great detail? Why does the teaching material require responses to questions about intimate and personal feelings, especially at a time when many young people feel sexually vulnerable?
If we are to teach sex-education in schools - and it seems necessary as parents now apparently expect it from schools rather than themselves - we should talk about a diverse range of relationships.
It should be done in a calm and compassionate way. We should be saying, "Sexual attraction is personal, not political. Your feelings are your affair. It can be complicated. Take your time."
Are we just trying to get them to grow up too fast? 


Thursday 11 February 2016

"Clothes make the man"

- or so it would seem - but only sometimes.
Gillian Philip was, rightly, complaining about the way women who want to eat on their own are treated in restaurants. It seems men who want to eat on their own do face difficulties - but perhaps not as many.
I was reminded though of an incident that occurred some years ago now. One of my occasional roles is to act as "amicus curiae" in court - a person who goes in to sit with someone and assist them through the court proceedings. I  usually tell people I am there in a "communication assistance" role. 
There are standards of dress in court. The people who work there don't wear jeans and t-shirts or paint splattered overalls. There was a time when women did not, under any circumstances, wear trousers in the courtroom. I can remember hearing a judge say to a  barrister who dared to turn up in a bright red suit, "I cannot see you..."
I used to wear a navy blue suit into court. It was about as sober as it is possible to get and it could pass muster from the Magistrates' Court to the Supreme Court and Federal Court and - on one memorable occasion - the High Court. 
It was on that last occasion that I had been invited out to lunch with a very senior member of the legal profession. As it takes me rather longer to get somewhere than most people I, at her suggestion, set out and arrived at the place we were eating at. I went in.I said we had a reservation - in her name.
I was asked to wait outside. I know now I should have insisted on being seated. I didn't. I was too stunned. The third person who was meeting with us arrived at that point and was also too stunned to protest. We stood there looking at one another and then went outside into the chill of a Canberra winter's day. The senior member of the legal profession arrived and, naturally, asked why we were standing there. We told her.
She marched in and came out a minute or so later clearly fuming. We went to another place around the corner. Could they fit three people in? Yes, no problem. 
We ate lunch. We discussed the case we were meeting about. The senior member of the legal profession was calmer when we left... but the incident got around the legal profession. They boycotted the other place. As many of them used it at the time it must have had an impact on the business. The owner grovelled. I was offered a free meal there. 
I declined politely. I was not going to bother to dress up for them.


Wednesday 10 February 2016

Finding the right words

is difficult. Someone I "know" via social networks lost her father very recently. I feel for her.
He was a little older than my own father, the Senior Cat. He was also, like the Senior Cat, a very special person in her life. Now she needs to write a eulogy for him.
Like me her life revolves around words. She's a literary agent - an outstandingly good one by all accounts. It doesn't make writing the eulogy any easier. 
I have participated in the writing of eulogies for members of the family. My brother wrote our mother's eulogy. It was short. She was a "I don't want you to talk about me" sort of person.We agreed on what should go in it. 
When my sister's MIL died they asked me to help. None of them are the sort of people who write anything. The only one of them who reads books is my BIL and he said, "I don't read that sort of thing". So we talked and, eventually, they found the right words.
I wrote one for my uncle because his son couldn't do it. Coming half way across the world for his father's funeral while not well himself was too much for him. My father didn't want to do it either. So, I found the right words - at least people said they were the right words.
I wrote the eulogy for my closest friend. It was like trying to write the eulogy for a sister. I couldn't read it. I knew I would break down. The celebrant read it. I tried to make people laugh because that is what my friend would have wanted. Trying to make people laugh when you want to weep is so hard -  but, somehow, I found the words.
And I wrote the eulogy for another friend, someone I had never met in person. She lived on the other side of the world. We had first "met" in a professional capacity and then, over the years, we became friends. She had never married, lived alone, worked long hours and I sometimes wondered how many friends she had. She knew she was dying and planned her own funeral service. She asked me to write the eulogy. "I don't want to know what you say. Just make it simple and send it to the funeral director."
I didn't want to do that at all. How could I when I had never actually spoken to her. All we had ever exchanged were words via the internet. I knew I was going to miss her desperately but was I the right person to this? Surely not? I protested and the response came back, "Please Cat, I want you to do this."
So, I did it. I found the words. I sent it off. One of her colleagues wrote to me after the very large funeral and was kind enough to say they were the right words and "so like her". 
I wonder about this. It's hard. It's very hard. You weep. You think you can't do it. seems you can find the right words when you love someone.

Tuesday 9 February 2016

I am trying to remain calm but I am angry

- very angry indeed.
There was a report in the media some time ago. It claimed that a five year old had been raped at the detention centre on Nauru. At first it hinted that a local Naruan might be responsible. Then there was a bit of a backtrack and it was "possibly" someone in the refugee camp. There were demands that the child was removed, that all children were removed. Claims were made about how dangerous the refugee camp was, how bad the facilities and food were - and more.
The media loved this. It was headline material. They reported it all in detail. It was presented as fact. Yes, we had to believe this. We had to believe what was being said by a particular member of the Senate  - the one who has made a name for herself saying how dreadful it is to keep people in detention. It caused what appeared to be a groundswell of people opposed to the bi-partisan policy of off-shore processing. Yes, a good thing you might say.

I don't want  people in detention. In particular, I don't want children in detention. But I also don't want to be lied to. And I knew we were being lied to by the media.
It is perhaps particularly difficult for me because my job sometimes gives me access to information other people don't have. It is even more difficult because I can't always share it - even though I would like to do so.  I had heard that the situation on Nauru was not quite as dire as the media was making out. I heard whispers that the story about the alleged rape victim was perhaps not quite accurate. I wasn't allowed to say anything of course - and I didn't know enough to say anything anyway.
Now the media is no longer allowed on Nauru except by invitation and the payment of a hefty visa fee. There are good reasons for that - and they are not the reasons they keep suggesting.  
Today, in a Senate hearing someone finally said that the victim did not exist. There was no five  year old rape victim. Yes, there had been an incident. A boy, more than twice that age had apparently made a complaint about a boy two years older than himself. There had been "skin-to-skin" contact. Yes, it was likely inappropriate behaviour - perhaps the first homosexual fumblings of adolescence? We will never know.
The point of all this however is that the story has done great harm. It has harmed those directly involved. It has, now that it has been found to be a lie, done harm to the cause of refugees. There is, despite the "LetThemStay" campaign, a backlash against asylum seekers. There is a greater readiness to disbelieve their claims - and much more besides.
It also means that the media is no longer welcome in places like Nauru. They can no longer be trusted. They have shown they won't tell an honest, truthful and balanced story. They will concentrate on the negatives, embroider them where possible and, if necessary, fabricate a story. It means people are not being informed - and that the media can go on reporting the "information" given them by people who have other agendas.
But there is another group which has also suffered because of this story - those who have been raped. To learn that someone has fabricated a story about rape for their own political purposes must be devastating for many rape victims.  I am too angry to say more.
I am fuming about this. Perhaps I shouldn't be. I know enough about the media and the way in which it works to know that "truth" is not what matters. It is the "story" which matters. It seems it doesn't matter how much harm that does. It will make a politician, some advocates, and some journalists feel important for a bit.
How can they sleep at night?

Monday 8 February 2016

Apparently it is wrong to ask for help.

Some of you will be aware that I have recently been undertaking a rather large task - that of reorganising the library of  knitting guild.
It is not, as libraries go, that large. It has around five hundred books.
It has still been a big job. All we had before was an out of date list of books. I kept adding to that. I had roughly divided the books into categories - something the previous "librarian"  had not done. She was a lovely person with, as she freely admitted to me, "no library skills". Now she is no longer with us I feel free to do more.
I knew more needed to be done. We have younger members now and they use the library more than the older members. They are also more computer literate, more likely to find information and more likely to ask, "Have we got a book about?"
I know the stock well. I am familiar with the content of the books. It is my job to know these things.
It is also my job to organise the library, a means of finding the information it contains, a borrowing system, the acquisition of new books etc. 
I don't mind doing these things. It is my contribution to the group. If you belong to a  group you should contribute in some way. I can't do "door duty" as other responsibilities mean I can never get there early enough. I can't do kitchen  duty because it means carrying thinks that can be dropped and broken or which leave liquids across the floor.  So, I do the library.
People do door duty in twos. They do kitchen duty in two or more. Several people will put away the chairs and trestle tables.
So, why won't people help with the library? Now I hasten to add that I did get some wonderful help from four people - one of them the man who is the "key-holder" for the hall and who never borrows a book - for a day when we did a lot of the work on reorganising the library.
But I needed a bit more help than that. There was a job I simply couldn't do myself. I changed the borrowing system to make it easier for everyone to know what was in and what was out. It is a little old-fashioned as we don't have the capacity to have a computer based system but it will work. It means writing a card for each book. 
That's around five hundred cards that need to be written.  They need to be written legibly. 
I tried to make it simple. I bought a box of cards. I bought pens. I  printed off the catalogue. 
At the meeting, after talking to the President, I got up and asked for some help. Would some volunteers please take a sheet and help by printing the name of the book on the card? The books can then go in envelopes stuck in the back of the book.
I explained it was a job I could not do myself. I can sign my name but I rarely write anything else. I don't have the necessary manual dexterity to write well. I'd love to be a calligrapher but I'm not and nothing is going to make me into one. 
Yes, I got some volunteers - people who know me well and knew that the request was made of necessity, not laziness.
But someone close by where I was standing muttered, "If you can't do it yourself then don't ask us."
I wondered if I had misheard but it seems not. She complained I couldn't do the job "properly". Did she want to do the job herself? No, she is "too busy". It "just needs someone who can do the job properly". 
I am still not sure what this means  but apparently it is wrong to ask for help. 
My thanks to those who volunteered anyway. I really appreciated it.

Sunday 7 February 2016

I am not sure where to start this

because I know there is a very high probability I will be misunderstood.
Let me make it quite clear from the start that I do not approve of children being kept in immigration detention.
But I have a problem. I also don't approve of children being used as some of these children are being used. They are being used in multiple ways.
Adults use them in an attempt to get asylum. Yes, they do. The argument of course is "why would you put children at risk unless there was a greater danger somewhere else?"
Parents do, rightly, want to get them as far as possible from  those things. I'd want to do it too.
But to put children in harm's way after they have reached a place of safety simply because it is not the place where you want to be? 
For a while the policy of the Australian government was to move not just an injured or ill person from an off-shore detention centre to the mainland but their family with them. The result of that policy was almost predictable. People would self-harm in the hope of being moved and taking their families with them - or they would harm other family members in the hope of the family being moved. It was a perfectly understandable thing to do.  Once the policy was stopped and just the individual was brought then the level of self-harm dropped to almost nothing.
Now new ways have to be found by those looking for entry into Australia and by those who support them. We now have reports of "highly traumatised" children. I don't doubt for a moment that there are highly traumatised children in detention and they most certainly should not be there. I do question some of the means being  used to try and get them out.
There are claims of sexual abuse and bullying and more. On Nauru the claims are that it is the local people who are guilty of these things. There is never any suggestion that there is any trouble among the asylum seekers. 
 Those seeking asylum come from a wide range of backgrounds. In their home countries some of them are fighting one another. I doubt it is all peace and harmony in the centre. 
Yes, some of them are severely traumatised individuals - but does that really excuse all wrongdoing? I think not. Women and children are treated differently in some cultures and some of the men will continue to treat them that way wherever they are. This is not a result of people being in detention. It's a result of where they come from and the undeniable fact that some of those seeking asylum are individuals who are fleeing punishment for crimes committed in their home countries. 
And then there are the drawings we are being shown, drawing allegedly done by children in asylum. Along with those drawings are the pleas for help. More than one highly experienced person has questioned whether all those drawings and pleas come from children. How many have been done without any prompting?
Of course children will draw their experiences, even without being asked to do so. Some of the pictures I have seen and others have seen have however almost certainly not been drawn by children. They have been drawn by adults who are attempting to make them look like drawings from children. Some of the messages have been written by adults. Sometimes some of those messages have been copied by children. 
Again, children are being used. They are being used by "family" and "friends"  and also by advocates. It is all being done with an aim of getting the adults into Australia and then keeping them there.
I don't blame them for an instant. In their circumstances I would probably try the same thing myself.  It still doesn't make it right to use children in this way. It is also wrong to try and garner public sympathy on the basis of lies. 
Perhaps I am just too cynical. Perhaps I am too ready to believe that it would be politically inconvenient for too many people on all sides if the facts were to be reported in a calm and compassionate manner.
I just wish everyone would stop using children. Children are people. Children are younger human  beings. They are not the property of their parents or advocates or governments or anyone else. Treating them that way is doing great harm.

Saturday 6 February 2016

"I've been diagnosed with Alzheimer's,"

the Senior Cat's closest friend told him yesterday.
It did not surprise me. I have been expecting this news. The signs were there some time ago. He would "forget" things. He would go off to do something on their small hills property and come back without having done it. He gets confused over something simple like making a phone call. When he talks to the Senior Cat there are silences - as if he has wandered off into a different place. 
A man who has always been able to use words with great skill he has now lost the ability to tell a joke and sometimes forgets a word.
The Senior Cat has known him for more than sixty years. They taught in the same school early on and then supported each other through their similar careers. 
He is the godfather of my youngest sister. 
Many years ago I babysat every Tuesday evening so that he could go to a lecture and his wife could go to orchestra practice. Like the Senior Cat and many others of that era they had to finish their degrees the hard way - part time and at their own expense. Over the years I have also remained close to them. 
They came here as migrants so their friends are their extended "family".
They live just a little too far away for us to get to them easily. He has stopped driving. His wife only likes to drive locally. They also live outside the closest town. It's time to move and they know it but they can't afford to move to the sort of accommodation they really need - where they would get the support they need. 
It is times like this I would like to be "rich" - rich in the sense that I  had enough disposable income to be able to quietly buy the sort of accommodation they need and anonymously offer them the  chance to move. I'd like to be able to afford the taxi fares so that the Senior Cat could go and visit his friend.
It's not going to happen of course so I will do the next best thing - if his  wife needs to phone me and just talk, I'll try to be there.  And I'll try to listen to her and the Senior Cat as they remember what it was like when the Senior Cat's friend cannot remember.

Friday 5 February 2016

There were three schools in "lockdown"

or evacuation yesterday - the result of "bomb threats".
Similar things have happened in two other states of Downunder in the past week.
When it happens police know that it is almost certainly a  hoax but they can't take the risk. They have to act. 
It's an immense waste of time and resources. It causes immense anxiety for all involved and it's exhausting for staff, students and parents. It is designed to be as disruptive as possible.
It's simple, too simple. It can be done long distance. Someone on the other side of the world can use an untraceable mobile phone and just announce there is a bomb. It costs them very little.
The mother of a child in one of the schools involved asked me, "What do these people get out of it? They can't see what is happening."
No, they can't. I told her I suspect that "these people" are not young idiots out to have fun. They are more likely sophisticated individuals who have planned the attacks rather carefully. Certainly the targets were interesting, one of them was  the "International"  High School, another was the High School in the CBD and another a school attached to one of the universities. They were not random targets.
It's a version of crying "Wolf! Wolf!". Those involved know that nobody will be prepared to take the risk of not investigating, of not taking the maximum precautions. 
It doesn't matter to the people who plan these attacks that they can't see what is going on. That isn't the issue as far as they are concerned. Their purpose is to cause disruption and anxiety. In all likelihood those involved are associated with places where real bomb threats are a daily occurrence. They may not live there but their sympathies may well lie there.
It is going to be very, very difficult to find these people. It is going to be even harder to stop them. They will have passed the baton on to the next person before the authorities reach them.
I would like to find them, lock them inside a building with multiple complex ticking parcels in hard to reach places and put them through the anxiety.
You see, one of the children is already too anxious about going to school because her school in another country was attacked. 

Thursday 4 February 2016

There was a 3:2 decision brought down by the High Court

yesterday dealing with the issue of the right or otherwise of the government to hold asylum-seekers in off-short detention.  That sort of decision won't be considered "strong" but it is significant. 
The decision was in favour of the government holding people in off-shore detention while their claims are being processed - although not "indefinitely". This is interesting in itself because it would seem to fly in the face of media claims about Australia's obligations under international law. 
I have not (yet) read the judgments but rumour has it that even the two dissenting judges did not come out strongly against the policy.
I imagine that all five judges are concerned for the welfare of asylum seekers in places like Nauru and Manus Island. That said, they will still have written their judgments in accordance with the law as they see it. 
And of course refugee advocates are going to criticise the decision. They see it as their role to criticise such decisions. Opinions will also be sought from those who teach the law about such issues. Most of those who teach will choose their words carefully but some of the advocates will be much more forthright. They will use the 3:2 decision as "evidence that some of the High Court is out of touch". They will refuse to acknowledge that the role of the court is not to change the law but to state whether the law is permitted under the Constitution and, if it is, whether it has been correctly applied. 
It is interesting to note however that the response in this morning's press has been muted. It was not made front page news in our state newspaper - even though the most outspoken refugee-advocate-Senator comes from this state.
I am wondering about this. There were some serious allegations made in the media not so long ago. There were serious allegations about abuse and, even worse,  the alleged rape of asylum seekers on Nauru. One case received a lot of media attention. There were some discrepancies in the story but it was taken up with enthusiasm. Nobody seems to know the outcome. Another claim about the rate of rape has no further details available. The Immigration Minister is apparently still waiting for a report to be made to him. Yes, it went to the media but it has apparently not been reported to police or any other official.  If that is so then I find it very odd.
I also find it extremely disturbing. Does it mean that people have so little trust in officials that they won't report the most serious sort of crime? Does it mean they are so afraid of what it might mean for their own safety, their own hopes of asylum, that they won't go to officials? Why on earth do they believe it is safer to go to the media?
Or is there something else going on? I am not, I hope, a believer in conspiracy theories. I do however have first hand experience of media "censorship".  Some years ago now I wrote a "letter to the editor" because a front-page story had left out an important fact in a story - a fact which changed the story altogether. It wasn't printed. One of the staff phoned me and said, "It was a brilliant letter Cat - but we won't be printing it." I asked "Why?" and the response was, "We can't." 
So would someone care to tell me if they "can't" here as well?

Wednesday 3 February 2016

So "more than half of British adults visited

church last year" did they? That's according to a piece in the Guardian - a piece about the government helping to fund the upkeep of churches and other places of worship. Some people think it should be done, that the heritage found in such places is worth saving.
There are people who think otherwise of course - and some of them duly had their say on the Guardian website. I had my say too - because of Dave.
Dave is an atheist - and Dave would be all for preserving such heritage. He's a great believer in history. He's also a great believer in Christianity - but not for religious reasons. Ask Dave and he will tell you that "Christianity has given all of us some great music, great literature, great art and great architecture, much of the law and community sense we live by". 
Is that worthy of our support? If we took out everything that was even remotely related to the Christian tradition I don't think there would be too much past culture left in our Judaeo-Christian society.
I said that on the Guardian website - and, naturally, people argued with me. They tried to say that we would still have these things, that music, art and literature would still exist. It would, according to them, "just be different".  
But, think about it. Someone argued that greater change came with the Age of Enlightenment and that the building of something like the Clifton Suspension Bridge has nothing to do with the Christian tradition. No? I suspect Brunel, Barlow and Hawkshaw studied things like cathedrals and churches as they were learning. At very least they probably went to schools based on a religious tradition. They moved on from that, of course they did - but does it mean that it had no influence at all? I doubt it. Were people like Newton and Gallileo not influenced at all  by Christianity? Of course they were.
As I was thinking about this someone else said to me, "Well it has all stopped now. It hasn't influenced people since the time of Dickens."
Oh - no "Jesus Christ Superstar" then? No John Rutter? No Blake Prize for Religious Verse/Art? No Coventry Cathedral? And has law ceased to be influenced by religion? How could it be when the vast body of legal cases which influence the way today's judgments are made have been made in accordance with the Judaeo-Christian tradition since the time they were written down - first in Latin because that was the language of the church and thus the judiciary? 
Of course other religious traditions have had great influence - and often great influence on Christianity and the cultures which have developed from it. There is good - and bad - in all such things. 
Has the "Communist" tradition brought the same sense of the spiritual to people? I don't know enough about it although I have talked to Russian and Chinese writers who have told me that they have sometimes felt something was missing from their society. Is it that, even if people don't believe in something themselves, they need to live in a society which at least allows other people to believe? 
I suspect it is entirely wrong to suggest that we would still have developed all the great music, art, architecture, literature and the like without at least some people believing in the mystical and the divine.  It need not be Christianity but perhaps it does need to be a "something other than ourselves" belief?
Does it matter if we now lose these things because many people have ceased to believe? Does it matter if we lose these things because there is no money for the upkeep of architecturally worthy buildings and the traditions inside them? Does it matter if we do away with those emotional responses and concentrate "just on reason". I suspect it does. "Who am I?" and "Where did we come from?" are not just reasoned questions. They are emotional questions. In the end isn't it emotion that brings about creativity - however much we might want to believe it is reason? We might just be in danger of losing creativity with it - and so much depends on creativity.

Tuesday 2 February 2016

What if the face in the mirror was not you?

I hope this link will work. It's to a piece by Joanna Cannon - author of "The Trouble With Goats And Sheep" here -:…/my-face-was-torn-open---but-m…/
It took guts to write that piece, real guts. Reading it there and having my belief in what had happened to Jo confirmed was tough on me too. 
Yes, I know what it is like to have people ask, "What's wrong with you?" and "Have you hurt yourself?" and a good many other things beside - not all of them kind or well meant. But at least when I look in the mirror - which tends to be long enough to part my hair in the mornings - I am looking at the image I know as me.
Jo has had to learn to live with a new image of herself. It is extraordinarily difficult to imagine doing that. Our faces are so much part of our personality. They tell  other people - and us  - so much. 
We grow old gradually and thus we change gradually. Somehow most of us learn to accept that - even if the acceptance is something we resent having to do. If someone has a relatively minor injury to the face then they can look in the mirror and still see themselves. The change has not been that great. If they choose to "have a nose job" or some other cosmetic surgery then - hopefully - they are pleased and can accept the change.
But, for Jo, the change was as unintended as it was sudden and dramatic. She had to look in the mirror and come to know that she would never see herself as she once believed herself to be.  I don't know how different she looks now. I have never actually met her in person - although I hope I might one day. 
People will say, "It doesn't matter" and "She must be used to it now" and all manner of similar things. And no, in one way it doesn't matter because of course what counts is the person inside. And yes. she must be (somewhat) used to it - but only in the sense that the face in the mirror has grown more familiar. It doesn't necessarily mean that she sees that face as herself.
So it does matter. I suspect it has made Jo a different sort of  doctor from the one she might have been - indeed, she might not have been a doctor at all had it not been for the experience. Let's forget that "adversity makes you stronger and better" theme though. I doubt Jo wants to hear that - most people I know who have been through some horrendous experience don't want to hear it. 
I suspect she has always cared about people but perhaps she has learned to care about them in a slightly different way because of her own experience. At very least she isn't going to shrug her shoulders and say, "Who knows?" when a patient asks a question.
People matter to her - so the person in the mirror must too and I suspect that learning to live with that person hasn't been and isn't always easy. 
I am looking forward to soon having a copy of her first book. From all I have read I will probably want to devour it in one sitting. Yes, people say it is that good.
And now she is writing another. Keep up the good work Doc! I am proud to "know" you - just a little.

Monday 1 February 2016

I am seeing double

and double double this morning. 
No, don't panic. I think my eyesight is all right. It's just that there are suddenly twins - all over the front page of the paper...and then some more inside.
It's one of those "human interest" stories that caused the problem. There was a "first day at school" story about eight sets of twins starting in one school and six in another. There will be more elsewhere.   IVF technology has given a rise to the number of twins being born - at least here.
I know IVF twins. Their parents went through five cycles of unsuccessful treatment before they were born. There won't be any more children. They can't afford it and there is no chance of them conceiving naturally. Their mother has told me that she  is very glad there were two of them. She doesn't like the idea of an only child and believes they don't learn to share and socialise as easily. There are varying views on that.
The girls are not identical of course but they are clearly sisters. They are being encouraged to be individuals. They have different interests and even different friends at school. They are close but they don't have that unique "twin" sense I have observed in identical twins.
I knew someone who hated being a twin. She was a grown woman when I met her.  The first time I heard her speak she was saying angrily to someone , "Can't you imagine how awful it is to sit down at the breakfast table and look at yourself?" She had nothing to do with her twin.
I baby sat twins for three years through teacher training college. I needed the money but did I earn it! They were naughty little boys who revelled in being identical twins. They did everything together for years. They had their own unique means of communication. They could sit at the table and hold an entire conversation which was completely unintelligible to their parents. Told to talk like everyone else - because they could - they would simply become silent. Years later I asked one of them why they had almost never used their twin language in front of me.
      "We thought you understood it," he told me.  No, I had simply been fascinated by it. I am still fascinated by this strange ability. Not so long in the shopping centre I saw other twin boys of about five signing to one another. I know they are not deaf, their parents are not deaf and I doubt they know anyone who is deaf but they have developed a unique means of communication. Their mother admitted to me, "It drives me mad. I've told them it's rude, like whispering but they still do it. We tried to stop it but that just made it worse." 
They might grow out of it or, more likely, they will learn not to use it in front of other people. I have seen adult twins communicate in their own unique ways.
I can't imagine being a twin. I've tried. I can't imagine being so close to an identical twin that there is some sort of unique language between us, that we seem to know what the other is thinking.
Yes, "seeing double" fascinates me.