Friday, 27 November 2015

The front line of an emergency

situation is not a place I would care to find myself in. I hear too much about what is going on without that.
When the disaster is much closer to home then there may be no escaping it. I consider myself very fortunate that we live in the suburbs and not in the relative isolation of the current bushfire emergency. The extreme isolation of some rural areas would be even worse.
But yesterday I found myself doing somebody else's turn on the emergency roster of a small group I belong to. It was set up for a number of people with special needs if they should find themselves alone in a situation where they need urgent help. All of them have problems which would make it difficult for them to let the authorities understand what they are trying to tell them. My role, like the others on the roster, is to act as an intermediary and help them communicate. I have done this a number of times in medical and legal situations.
And there was a call yesterday. I got a message from a young man who is, we think, brain damaged.  He doesn't speak. He cannot read or write. Nobody is too sure how much he understands. He is physically able but he doesn't drive a car because he sometimes has seizures. He lives with his father on a small property and the two of them have little contact with other people. He communicates with signs or a small range of pictures.
The message I got was in pictures - just before the power went out.
It read "house water up Dad no". I took that, correctly, to read he had turned the sprinkler system on around their home but that his father wasn't there. I tried to send a message back and couldn't but wasted no time in trying again. I sent the message on to the person I knew who needed it. Result. They sent one of the crews further along the road and picked him up.
His father, a man of almost as few words as his son, left me a message this morning, "Thanks. A safe. House okay."
It's enough. 
I'll probably never know how close the fire got to the house but it made me wonder how close it was and how frightened A was. He was obviously calm enough to turn their sprinkler system on and then think he might need to leave. 
If I hadn't been around then someone else would have taken that message. A could have gone direct to the emergency services but it would have wasted time while he tried to get his message across. It was faster to do it through someone else. It's just about speed and ensuring that the message is understood. He was perhaps fortunate that the power was still on up until moments after he sent the message. 
I wonder what he would have done if the message had not got through. Would he have taken the risk of trying to drive their truck? He knows how to do it but he knows he shouldn't in case he has a seizure.
I would like to know what goes on in the mind of this young man - he's in his twenties. How does he process information? How does he make a decision about what and how he wants to communicate? Does it come automatically as it does for so many of us? I doubt that. But those five words were an extraordinarily economical way of getting a very complex message across. I admire him.
Most of us use too many words. 

Thursday, 26 November 2015

A "catastrophic" fire day

was declared yesterday. 
There were several large fires in this state. Two of them are now under control, the third is still dangerous.
All fire is dangerous of course but the third had a front of 41km at its height. It was moving too rapidly for fire crews to get in front of it. It travelled around 50km in four hours. There were seventeen aircraft working on it and sixty-eight ground units. Late yesterday they brought in two much bigger aircraft from another state and some interstate fire crews are coming to relieve the exhausted crews here.
At present the perimeter of the fire is around 210km. They hope to keep it contained inside that today.
The reason the fire could travel so quickly was not just the windy conditions (60-65km and hour with gusts of up to 90km) but the fact that most of the area is farm land and fire can travel incredibly rapidly across now mostly dry pasture. There is an enormous difference between dry and wet pasture  - one farmer said his crop of green lucerne slowed the fire to the point where he was able to save his home but at least sixteen houses have been lost.
For many people there would be nothing they could do - except get out while they could. Schools were closed, a child care centre was evacuated to a police station in the northern suburbs of the city. School children had to be taken to other safe places.
All of this has happened very close to where I was born and where I spent the first few years of my life. I have a memory of a fire very close to the little town at that time. I still remember the heat, the smoke and my grandfather, who had come to take us to safety, gripping the steering wheel of the car and peering forward through the foggy haze of smoke, a damp handkerchief over his nose so he could breathe. I remember the damp of a face washer over my face and being told to keep it over my brother's face.
My parents, travelling in our tiny car behind him, had to stop at one point to get more water from the house of a stranger - water which probably saved the life of Middle Cat who was then my tiny baby sister. The woman at the house was getting ready to leave too but she ran for a bucket of water and Middle Cat was put in it to cool her down and help her breathe again. When we reached Gawler, then a rural town, my grandfather stopped and I could see his white shirt was pink where the dye had come out of the seat of the car. (Back then car seats were leather and thus dyed different colours.)
My grandmother had a sister in law living in Gawler and we were given copious quantities of water at her home before driving towards the beach side suburb my grandparents lived in. 
That fire bypassed the town we lived in. This fire did not quite reach it. 
The Senior Cat came out this morning and his first words were not his usual ones but, "What's the news like?"
He will see a picture in the paper this morning of a man he once taught, a man whose son has lost everything despite their best efforts. It is the price some people pay for living in rural Downunder. They will pick up the pieces and start again - with some help from the rest of us. 

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Turkey's Erdogan is part of the

problem, not part of the solution  - at least, at present.
In order for Erdogan to stay in power he has to keep the religious conservatives happy. It is why he has been moving toward an increasingly conservative religious rather than a secular state. 
He also needs to keep the Kurds suppressed in order to maintain control.Any failure to do that and he will be seen as weak. He has enemies who will be prepared to move in rapidly.
The election results earlier this year were unexpected.Erdogan and his party misjudged the mood of the electorate.  Erdogan could not afford to allow the Kurds a real voice in parliament. The "trouble" leading to the second election was deliberately orchestrated - and the outcome of the second election just what was expected by everyone. Erdogan was back in control.
This is the man who wants Turkey to become part of  the European Union. It would be politically very convenient for Turkey, especially if the country became part of the Schengen zone - that region of Europe which allows for free passage between the citizens of countries who have signed up to it. Even if Turkey did become a member of the EU it is very very unlikely the other Schengen zone countries would agree - but Turkey would like it to happen. So would much of the Middle East. Such a move would make it much easier to move vast numbers of people from neighbouring countries into Europe.
Erdogan is as dangerous as Putin. Downing a Russian fighter plane was foolish in the extreme but it will make Erdogan appear strong at home. What it will do to Turkey's European Union aspirations and relations is yet to be seen. Right now though I suspect Erdogan is more concerned about staying in power.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

So the ABC's presenter Kerry O'Brien

is "moving on to other things" is he? 
For Upoverites I must explain, Kerry O'Brien has been a fixture at the ABC (the Downunder equivalent of the BBC) for many years. He presented Lateline and went on to be the editor of the 7:30 Report and has been hosting Four Corners since 2011. He's seventy. 
I doubt he is ready to "retire". He wields too much influence for that - six Walkley Awards tend to give people influence. His other major media contribution has been political commentary and interviewing at election time. He used to be Press Secretary to a former Prime Minister - the late Gough Whitlam.
O'Brien, like a number of other ABC journalists - think of people like Maxine McKew and Leigh Sales - makes no secret of his left wing sympathies. One of his parting acts has been to help ensure the downfall of the previous Prime Minister.
He is generally viewed as an outstandingly good journalist. Perhaps he is. I have never met him but I have little difficulty in imagining the sort of reception I would get. I doubt he would bother to say more than "hello" - if that.
There are journalists who use other people to further their own careers, who see themselves as the teller of the story and see their own actions as being important. They use "facts" to try and influence people. They don't mind ignoring, twisting, abusing and otherwise mangling facts in order to make something sound sensational. "Selling" and "acting" a story is important to them. They are out to mix with the main players.
There are other journalists who see the story as important and the way they tell it as important too. They will try to use the facts in ways which will help people understand the implications as well as the reality of what is going on. They see every person they meet as a potential story.
The former journalists usually go far. The latter don't get far - although some of them may end up writing scholarly books.
I think I prefer the latter sort of journalist. I learn more from them. I won't regret the departure of Kerry O'Brien. I am just wondering who will replace him. I suspect it will be more of the same.

Monday, 23 November 2015

What on earth is wrong with reading

non-fiction as a child?
I have been pondering this ever since Nicola Morgan wrote about it on her blog and on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Needless to say Nicola sees nothing wrong in reading non-fiction!
I read non-fiction as a child. I read a lot of non-fiction as a child. I read anything that came my way. Some of it was probably quite unsuitable. 
I remember a book my parents had. It was called "Heredity and you" and it explained, among other things, why brown eyed parents could not have a blue eyed child - or was it the other way around? I can't remember now. I read the entire book. I doubt I understood it all. It was an adult book and I was around eight or nine at the time.
My brother and I used to get non-fiction books in those wonderful packs from the Country Lending Service. I remember learning a great deal of history that way. (It was just as well because, due to the peculiarities of the rural education system, I only studied Australian history until I was fourteen.) I also remember many science books - and trying some of the "experiments" in the books that described such things. My brother and I made "telephones" and "parachutes" and kites and all sorts of other things from reading non-fiction. 
There was a series of books about composers which had small pieces of music in them. Before we had music lessons (music theory in my case but piano for my brother) we tried to learn to read the music and find it in our parents' record collection.
We still have Eve Pownall's "The Australia Book".
I was in our local library a couple of days ago. There on the "new books" shelf was a book I recognised. Someone else was just reaching out for it with a delighted squeal, "I remember this!"
The next minute she was sitting on the floor with two children reading Miroslav Sasek's "This is London". The were a number of these books, London, Paris, New York - and one about Australia. I know we got one in one of the CLS packs. It was pretty new at the time - and now, half a century later, it has been reprinted. It is still a good book.
Of course good non-fiction can excite the imagination. Of course it can make us dream and empathise. Will someone please tell me why anyone would want to stop a child from reading non-fiction?

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Conversation with a friend

is important,very important. I discovered this yet again yesterday.
I was planning on doing something else yesterday afternoon. It was the day we have our social gathering at the knitting guild. It's a chance to sit, knit, talk. You can find out what other people are knitting and so on - or that is what most people do.
I usually use at least some - if not most - of the time to do my work as librarian. Books get returned to the shelves, minor repairs get done, new books get processed. I find information for people. I sort out knitting problems and so on. It is all part of being the librarian. I do the job because I am not much of a house elf. I am no good at carrying cups of tea or shifting the tables back to their storage space. I can never get there on time to be on door duty. 
In the New Year we are about to embark on something I have been planning for some time - a new borrowing system for the library. The other system was not designed by me. I have never liked it. This one should be much simpler and easier for everyone. It won't be a computer based system. We haven't the money for that and I don't have the skills to set it up. It will still be easier to keep track of who has borrowed what under the new plan.
Yesterday I planned on doing several things at the library shelves. I didn't. An hour before I left home I had a phone call. 
"Cat, I have a problem. Could I possibly come around and see you this afternoon?"
"What's the problem?" I asked. I am not sure why I said this. I could have said, "I'm going out."  I didn't. Something prompted me to ask first - something in the tone of voice? 
The person asking the question is a very good friend indeed. I knew it would not be an idle question.
She explained briefly. It was a practical issue but an important one. She needs to get a job done so that it can be sent off.
I know her well enough that I could say, 
"I was going to guild. I'll just do what I need to do there and then I'll come to see you."
I gave her an approximate time of arrival. There was a sigh of relief at the other end of the phone. 
I did go to guild. I did not do what I planned. That was not my fault. Something has gone missing in my absence. I left other people hunting for it.
I went off to see my friend instead. I heard her run to the front door. I was bear hugged. We sorted the problem. We talked. We drank tea. We talked some more. 
The conversation was good. My friend looked much more relaxed. It was a problem for two people to work at together. 
This time last year I was still adjusting to the loss of my closest friend. Yesterday I knew, for the first time since then, that I have another friend I feel completely comfortable with - the sort of person I will happily change my plans so as to be able to help.
It is important to have the sort of friend you can exchange a bear hug with.


Saturday, 21 November 2015

I don't yet know what Peter van Onselen

is going to say in his column today but there was an exchange between him and someone who tweets as "LaborFAIL" yesterday. 
Now I know you can't have a serious discussion in bursts of 140 characters but it seemed to me that neither of them was acknowledging the complexity of the issues surrounding "refugees as terrorists". 
Peter says he has read up on the issue and that his column in "The Australian" today has been written following on that. I'll get around to reading it when I get the paper.
In the meantime I would like to say that we don't know what the situation is with respect to terrorists posing as refugees.
Do they exist? Yes, of course they do. It would be naive and extremely foolish to suggest that they don't. ISIS/Daesh, or whatever else you care to call them, have claimed they do. While they are quick to claim responsibility for all sorts of things this is the sort of claim which should be taken seriously. The reason? It does maximum harm with no effort at all.
A claim like this makes every person asking for refugee status be viewed with suspicion. It doesn't matter whether you are young or old, parent or child, fit or sick you are going to be viewed with suspicion. I'll give you an example.
There was a young girl interviewed several times on our SBS recently. She was in a wheelchair and came from one of the most dangerous parts of Syria. Her command of English was interesting. It was competent and fluent. She told the interviewer she had taught herself English by watching television. She had not been to school. She is obviously highly intelligent and eager to learn. Her outlook was positive and determined and she was, with the help of her sister, attempting to join her brother in Germany. (Yes, she did get there.) 
But what happened? People around me made comments like, "Someone taught her English. She's probably a spy" and "When she gets there the miracle will occur and she will get up and walk" and...well, you can imagine the sorts of comments which were made. They should have known better but they still made those sort of comments.
They were made about a girl who can be physically examined and whose story can be checked in a number of ways but many people will still believe she isn't genuine. It's how ISIS wants people to behave. They want us to view all refugees with suspicion. 
And it is that sort of attitude that can breed the "home-grown" terrorist. These are the people who have been brought up in Paris or  London or Sydney and who have had all the "advantages" of a western style education. They "become radicalised". They are are seen as "misfits". They are being carefully groomed - and groomed so subtly it is often hard to discover what is happening until it is too late.
Our "politically correct", "multicultural", "human rights", and "equal opportunity", "let's accept everyone who claims to be a refugee" approach is equally bound to fail. I know. It sounds good. It makes us seem like nice, decent people when we say that sort of thing but it isn't a realistic approach either. 
You see, refugees have to be housed and fed and educated and employed - and that is just a start. They also have to helped to assimilate. If we really want them to be part of our country then we have to have expectations of them - big expectations. These are the sort of expectations it is difficult - and sometimes impossible - for them to meet. They have to accept our values, our way of life and our laws. It doesn't matter if they speak Babel at home they have to speak our language when they are at work, at school, and in the community. They have to accept that women don't walk down the street covered from head to toe in black and that young girls do learn to swim in a country where a lot of time is spent at the beach. They have to accept that marriages are not arranged and that girls have careers and that boys choose their own careers - not the one their fathers choose for them. They have to accept that our laws and our courts are what apply - not their version of the law. They have to accept a great deal more as well. They don't have to celebrate Christmas or Easter or Halloween or any other festival but they - and those who advocate for them - have to accept that we do. Calling Christmas something different or, worse, banning it - as a local child care centre did for fear of offending some - is not the answer.  
Yes, it is hard enough for someone who has chosen to migrate and is eager to assimilate. It is much harder for a refugee who has already lost everything. There is a natural tendency to want to cling. to the familiar and to keep reminding oneself of "home". Anything which might seem to allow a refugee, or the children of refugees, to cling to the past can seem desirable if you feel you don't fit in. It is a short journey from there to radicalisation, and from there to illegal acts.  
My sister's husband's parents came from Cyprus - as migrants. They wanted to come. It wasn't always easy. There are things their children do that are "very Greek" - but they don't flaunt those things in public. The girls don't wear black on marriage - not even their mother did that here. I asked her about it once. She shrugged and said, "Not here - in Cyprus, different." Her English was not good but her attitude was the sort that made them successful migrants.
It is much harder to be a refugee. I know refugees here who are law abiding, hard working citizens. They have made the effort to learn English and do all the right things. It has not been easy for them. And they still want to go home. If things were different in their home countries they would go back in a heartbeat.
I sympathise but I still don't believe that we can afford  the luxury of allowing them the right to things like a different legal system, a different language in the community, and different, more restricted ideas about respect and freedom for individuals. Allowing people to isolate themselves, encouraging them to do it through the process we call "multi-culturalism", making excuses for them is going to cause harm. 
No, we don't want everyone to be the same but if we allow and encourage them to be too different then we will have migrants and refugees who become terrorists.