Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Those of you who know me

in real life - fortunately for you that number is few and far between - will know that I have no time for political parties. They are, in my not so humble opinion, a waste of space. They do more harm than good.
I also accept that they are a necessary evil if there is to be any sort of order in society.
But the Australian Labor Party is now trying to convince me - and everyone else - that it is going to "change". What is more they are making claims that these changes will allow anyone to join the party.
What, you ask, the ALP is a closed shop? Yep. At present you have to be a union member to join the ALP. Of course if you are a union member you have been paying your dues to the ALP from the beginning of your membership. Your union has seen to that with its compulsory donation to the party coffers. It doesn't matter whether you approve of the donation or not. It happens. Someone from your union, more than one if you are big enough, will attend the state and federal ALP conferences. It is assumed that, as a union member, your loyalties lie with the ALP. The ALP is the union movement. The union movement is the ALP. Simple.
Mr Shorten, currently leader of the Federal Opposition, says he wants to change that. He wants anyone to be able to join the ALP. That sounds very reasonable. It may even happen - sort of.
Perhaps I am just too cynical but I have a feeling that even if the "anyone can join the ALP" move actually gets up then nothing much else will change. There won't be enough non-union members to make a difference to the voting patterns. It will still be union members who become party delegates - indeed that may well be preserved in the rules. It will still be union members who vote at state and federal conferences. Union members will still run the party and the politics. People who are not union members who want to join the ALP will find themselves under pressure to join a union. It is, in effect, a backdoor way of trying to revive the union movement.
It's a smart move by Bill Shorten. He can tell the world he has reformed the ALP. He can say this without having done anything of the sort. He is shouting "change or die" but it means nothing.
Nothing much is going to change.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

So Jonathon Emmett thinks

that female writers, agents and publishers have too much influence over what boys read and it is putting boys off reading does he?
I believe this debate has been flying around the internet for some time now but I only caught up properly with it this morning. (All right I know I should have done it sooner but other things happened.)
I prowled off to have a look at Mr Emmett's own website. Yes, quite a prolific writer for younger children. Yes, a very "politically correct" message. Yes, books like "The Princess and the Pig" are borrowed from libraries. (Question there - who chooses the reading matter for small children in libraries, the child or the adult?) And yes, children probably do enjoy them - and Captain Comet.
But is he right about those who form part of the 51% of humans having too much influence over the other 49%. Absolutely not!
Boys will read books about girls just as girls will read books about boys.
Mr Emmett suggests that boys would prefer to read about pirates, battles, fighting and the like. In doing so he seems to be implying that only males can write about these things. Is that really the case?I doubt it.
Surely he is not also suggesting that boys prefer to read about violence? My experience suggests otherwise. They are also - in my experience - happy to read about the genuinely funny, the fantastic, nature, sport, mysteries, family and friendship and adventure - and many other things as well.
And is there something wrong with a woman writing a book like "Captain Beastlie's Pirate Party"? Does Mr Emmett believe that Lucy Coats is not qualified to write about such wonderful things?
It also seems to me that there are books about boys - even about grown men - in children's literature. Margaret Wild's "Mr Nick's Knitting" is about a man who, shock and horror, knits! It was one of the favourite books in my time in schools - the children requested it over and over again. Yes, written by a woman - but it is about a man doing something that is now generally seen as an occupation for women. 
Move up a few years and one of the great "coming of age" stories to win the Carnegie Medal was "Josh" by Ivan Southall. Josh is very definitely an adolescent male. There are many more books like that out there - read by males and females alike.
What is more Mr Emmett ignores the fact that it is still women who do most of the nurturing of the very young and young. Women still outnumber men in the teaching of young children - both at home and elsewhere. I don't think that is going to change anytime soon - and I am not sure it should.
I don't think I want boys to be given books about fighting, battles and male "violence" just because someone believes that is what boys want to read about. We don't need to encourage that. What we surely need to encourage is the reading of good writing which stimulates their imagination, which adds to their experience of the human condition and makes them more aware of all aspects of life.
I will never get the opportunity to debate this with Mr Emmett but I think he is wrong. There is plenty of "maleness" out there - and male writers still dominate adult literature.
If you are a writer reading this - please tell me what you think!

Monday, 21 April 2014

"Speed cameras save lives"

or so the government would have us believe. Apparently our state's speed cameras managed to earn their maintenance this last year - all $13 million worth. In a state of just over a million people that's not a bad sum.
The other day I was waiting to cross a major road - at the correct point for pedal power - when I noticed something flash. Then I noticed that, since my last pedal along the route, they had installed a tall grey pole with a camera on top. Right.
I have no doubt that the location is designed to collect revenue. Indeed the camera will probably pay for itself within twelve months.
I have never been caught for speeding. It is rather difficult to speed on a tricycle. I know someone who was pulled over on his bicycle and told that he was exceeding the speed limit. He was not fined just "advised" that he was actually going rather quickly. He was going downhill at the time and was merely trying to keep up with the traffic. Most of the cars must have been speeding.
I have no problem with fining those who speed. If you don't exceed the speed limit you won't get fined so it is a sort of voluntary tax if you will.
But people will continue to fill the government coffers - because they speed. Some will fill those coffers more than once. Indeed I know someone several streets from here who has just had his third notice in twelve months. He is furious but it has not changed his driving style. His wife if not sympathetic. She told me, "When he loses enough points to lose his licence I am not going to drive him to work. He can catch the train." Personally I think he should start catching the train now. His style is such he should not be behind the wheel of a car - ever.
The revenue from speed cameras continues to rise and rise. There are demands to raise the speed limit. Those caught often say they are unaware they are speeding, that the limit is too low for modern cars. I watch people hurtling down the major roads as if they were being chased by demons. They need to get somewhere - and they need to do it fast. They need to be there - now. Then they have to brake and wait at the traffic lights or a pedestrian crossing - if they have not run the red lights. They forget that two cars colliding at the 60km speed limit have a combined impact of 120km - and the higher the speed the higher the impact.
Those who speed will often tell you "But I'm a good driver..." and "It's other people who don't know how to drive..." or "People who don't keep up with the traffic flow are the problem..." - even when other people are doing the right thing and, although not keeping up with the traffic flow are sitting on the speed limit.
I don't know if speed cameras save lives but I wish some of the revenue went towards training drivers who speed - but perhaps nothing will stop them except an accident.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Afternoon tea

We have been invited to afternoon tea this afternoon - across the road. Apparently one of the other people who has been invited is a friend of the Senior Cat - someone he has not seen for a number of years. (Yes, the city I live in is a small place - people tend to know each other.)
But, "afternoon tea"? I was given an interesting piece of advice with respect to writing recently. Quoting the advice of someone else she told me, "One of the things he says is to take out all the bits when they have a make/drink tea."
I can see why I was being told that. Does it move the story forward?
But then - you knew there had to be a "but" didn't you? - there are places where having tea (or at least food) works. In Elizabeth Goudge's book, "The little white horse", there is the wonderful description of the afternoon tea Marmaduke creates for Maria to give her guests. It is really not much more than a long list of things that might have appeared at an afternoon tea in Victorian times but somehow it is memorable. There is in fact a considerable emphasis on food throughout the book. Maria's breakfast with the parson is also described as are meals in Moonacre Manor.
And there are meals described in other books. Anne Barrett uses them in "Songberd's Grove." There is a description of the unequally divided omelette - which suggests good natured tension between the two men who eat it.
In "The Lark in the Morn" by Elfrida Vipont we learn that Kit, like many children, eats her jam roly poly by saving for last the piece with the most jam. Later there is a description of her having afternoon tea with her great-aunts - down to the careful warming of the pot and the use of Lapsang Souchong tea. It is a description of another different era. Would a child read it now? Some girls do. It's a curiosity and it does set the atmosphere and creates an even greater contrast between the two aunts who live downstairs and the aunt who has isolated herself upstairs. We never learn what sort of tea the upstairs aunt drinks but somehow we know it will be more robust than the Lapsang Souchong.
In "Pauline" by Margaret Storey, Pauline's stay at home aunt makes "bread buns" - eaten with butter and blackcurrant jam. It's another little glimpse into domesticity which somehow makes for greater tension.
So, although I understand the need in general not to describe the making and drinking of tea (and I know I am guilty of doing it) I also think there is a place for it if it somehow moves the story along or tells us something we need to know about the characters or helps us understand what they are going through. I am not (I hope) going to be guilty of describing those "wafer thin" slices of bread and butter, the cucumber sandwiches and the sponge cake but I do  
want to be able to say that someone like Maria or Kit or Pauline has afternoon tea "because....".   I want to be able to say that the first time Nicholas has breakfast with the cousins he is now going to live with that he is too anxious to help himself to more than one Weet-a-bix and that Michael's mother is so upset she forgets to put the yeast in the bread she is making.
I don't know if it is right or wrong. It feels right to me. But I know someone will disagree and, if it ever reaches the point of someone editing it then I might have to be prepared to throw it out.
But afternoon tea is still a proper occasion sometimes. Today it will be something more than a tea bag dunked up and down in boiling water or a teaspoon of "instant" coffee stirred around until the granules dissolve. Tea or coffee will be drunk with something more than a biscuit from a packet.
There is some hope for us yet - and that might be worth writing about.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Why do people want to climb Mt Everest

or any other mountain? Why do they want to white-water raft, go abseiling, bungy jumping or on treks to the South Pole?
I have no desire to climb Mt Everest - which is probably just as well seeing as how I would have no hope of actually doing so.
But I still puzzle over why people want to do such things when they are (a) unnecessary and (b) dangerous. Twelve more people have just lost their lives on Mt Everest - people who guide other people up the mountain.
It was the mountaineer George Mallory - not Edmund Hillary - who responded to the question of why he wanted to climb Mt Everest with the words, "because it's there". Perhaps that is reason enough. His words have gone down in the quotation books - and history - as reason enough.
Yes, Mt Everest is there. So are a lot of other mountains. A lot of other things are there too. I suppose I am a coward. I don't want to row across the Atlantic or sail across it in a replica of a Viking boat. I don't want to be an astronaut or even try hang gliding. A trip in a hot air balloon? No thankyou. A trip in a helicopter? The only reason for considering that would be if it was going to save my life.
I don't want to fly in a single engine aircraft and I certainly don't want to parachute out of a plane. (I don't even like flying.)
I have no doubt more people in my life will tell me that I don't know what I am missing but I am not, despite my intense desire to see things, a good traveller at the physical level. I suffer from motion sickness. I get sea sick - that does annoy me. I love the sea but I don't want to be tossed around on it. I would rather watch it.
Yesterday I went once more to see my friend in hospital - and I will keep going because she needs visitors. Yesterday she did not want me to go and I stayed much longer than I intended. My sister came with me. We both came away aware that this time next year my friend will almost certainly not be here. She may not even last this winter. She will never travel far again.
But she taught in Papua-New Guinea and China and she has seen something of the world. When people asked her why she went to teach in those places she would tell them that it was a challenge. It was interesting. She wanted something different and more satisfying.
I think that might be another sort of "because it's there". And perhaps that also means the phrase has some meaning for all of us.
What do you think?

Friday, 18 April 2014

The reports that flyers stating "Jews must register"

are being handed out in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine are apparently correct. What is less clear is who is handing out this vile material and what their purpose in doing so is.
Pushilin, the self styled leader of the "separatists", has apparently denied that any such moves are taking place. He has apparently claimed this is the act of those trying to harm the pro-Russian cause. It seems an odd way of trying to harm the pro-Russian cause because Muslims in the region also have concerns. It won't get them on side when they are also worried about their minority status.
I don't read Russian or Ukrainian and I am not going to waste time with a dictionary trying to translate what little I can see sufficiently well to read it. I am prepared to rely on multiple translations and reports to know that this is something that should not be happening.
It doesn't matter if it is a hoax it should not be there. It should never have been written.
I don't care who has written and distributed the material. I feel sickened by it. I feel sickened by it because it is designed to do harm.
I really don't care what people believe as long as they do not try to force others believe it. I don't care what people believe as long as they do not harm other people.
I have no time for people who knock on my door and start trying to tell me what I must believe. I have no time for belief systems which do not respect all people as equals. I have no time for those who threaten those who do not believe as they do or ridicule those who believe something different. I just don't want to know such people. I have friends who are Jewish. I have other friends who are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic and atheist. I wish I could bring them all together in the same room and that we would all condemn the sort of vile message that was distributed in eastern Ukraine.  
I can't do that of course - but I can say I don't support that vile message.


Thursday, 17 April 2014

A three thousand dollar bottle of wine

is surely something most people would remember being given as a gift?  I think I would - well, I know I would because I wouldn't drink it. I don't drink alcohol.
The Premier of New South Wales, Barry O'Farrell, is about to hand in his resignation over a bottle of wine he was given. It was apparently a very special bottle of wine - Grange 1959 if that means anything to you. It means nothing to me.
He could not recall being given it - although a "thankyou" note, handwritten by him, has apparently turned up. It is that note I find that interesting.
Do you keep that sort of correspondence? I don't think I would. There was other documentation which showed the wine had been bought. There was documentation showing a delivery had been made to the Premier's home. So, why keep the note? Did someone just fail to throw it away?
The note delivery documentation does not state what sort of wine was delivered. The note of thanks does not state what sort of wine was received. Was it actually that bottle of wine - or was it something else?
Why was the matter raised at the Independent Commission Against Corruption? There was no evidence of any wrong doing surrounding the gift - or indeed of any wrong doing at all. The Premier has resigned simply because he could not remember receiving the wine and said that in previous evidence. He corrected his evidence, apologised - and then announced that he would be tendering his resignation.
Yes, you could get into conspiracy theories here. I have no idea what the situation actually is. I know nothing about the wine or those involved. I don't want to know.
What I do know is that it pays to be careful. There is, they say, no such thing as a free lunch.
Some years ago the secretary to a very, very senior and well known person phoned and asked me whether I would come to lunch with this person. My immediate reaction was to wonder what this person wanted of me. He didn't know me personally. I thought it was highly unlikely he had even heard of me and I could think of no reason for him to want to speak to me. So, I asked, "What does he want?"
There was silence at the other end of the phone and then a rather huffy sort of reply that the secretary didn't actually know - unusual in itself. I suspect that the huffiness was related to that as well as to my questioning why I might be invited to lunch. She would, she said, get back to me.
Some time later I had another phone call - from the man himself. Most people would have unhesitatingly accepted an invitation to lunch with him and I wondered if I had committed an unforgiveable social sin. But no. He seemed amused.
Instead of going for an expensive lunch somewhere - the sort of thing he would have done for other people - we sat in a tiny private garden outside his office. We ate sandwiches and drank orange juice out of bottles. He asked me a lot of questions, took a lot of notes and shook my hand firmly at the end of it. I know I ended up on a committee because of that meeting.
A year's worth of meetings was a high price to pay for a sandwich and a bottle of orange juice.