Monday, August 31, 2009

I Hope He's Joking.

On television James Murdoch on the subject of government interference in the media, specifically the BBC. Go here for a report of the speech.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


1. My small but feisty Cavalier King Charles spaniel last night went out to attend to some needs and started barking furiously. On the fence was a large brown owl, bigger than her. She wasn't having any nonsense though and kept creeping forward while the owl tried to stare her down. It decided the odds were too much when it realised we had come out too and lazily flapped off. Dog was as highly impressed with herself as she is when she deals with her mortal enemies, the ravens. I suspect the owl was one of the tawny frogmouths that nest a few streets away. We often hear their mournful 'morepork' cry.

2. Pisces has recently had a pterygium removed from his eye and is suffering post operative discomfort, not the least of which is the antibiotic ointment which has to be applied four times a day. He has long eyelashes - which were inherited by Sagittarius much to Virgo's annoyance. She got my much less lush version and considers it most unfair that the males of the family have the better lashes - and actually getting the ointment in contact with the eye is, to put it mildly, challenging. We are not having fun!

3. We are still pursuing the elusive leak in our front wall and still have bare concrete floors because we can't lay the new flooring until it's been dealt with. Given our overnight temperatures have been down to 2.5 degrees Centigrade again - we are not having fun.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Reminder

My Clarion South mate, Peter Ball - the author of Horn published by Twelfth Planet Press in case you missed an earlier blog - has posted a timely warning on his blog about the need to back up the work on your computer. After reading it you won't ever think 'Oh well I can do it tomorrow' again. I'm off to buy an external hard drive.

Friday, August 28, 2009

More Awesomeness

This time it's my Clarion South mate, Christopher Green, whose story Father's Kill is in this edition of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Chris also has a blog Open Water/Open Air where he has made some insightful entries recently on what it means to be a writer and how you get from aspiring to selling. Have a look. You won't see his legendary boots - you had to be at Clarion South for that - but you will see a writer hard at work with something worthwhile to say.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sexual Assault.

I've just been watching The 7:30 Report and I am still furious - not I hasten to add at the program which handled a sensitive subject with tact and balance. The subject was the handling of sexual assault accusations involving footballers.

I'm not making any comment on specific cases. That's a matter for the police and State prosecutors but let's make this clear for anyone who doesn't get it that any sexual act which does not include informed consent whether committed on a woman or man is sexual assault. Rape. Informed consent means someone is not unconscious or under the influence of drugs or alcohol to an extent that affects their ability to refuse. It includes the right to say no even at a late stage. It also means that no matter what the social status or occupation of a person they have the right to refuse and that right has to be respected. It doesn't matter if the victim is a prostitute, a bus driver or a nun, whether she or he agreed to have sex with someone else before or whether he or she changed their mind after initially agreeing. It's still sexual assault. It's still rape if they do not consent.

I'm spelling this out because a certain percentage of people (mostly men) don't seem to get that this is not 'the boys having a bit of fun'. I wonder how they would feel if it had been their sisters, wives or girlfriends treated with such disrespect. I suspect they'd be thinking my girl wouldn't put herself in that position but I'm pretty sure these other women didn't intend to make themselves vulnerable either.

In many of the cases that have been reported the victim's character is blackened and even if the case is proven there's a lingering suggestion that maybe she's pulling a fast one. She's got a few bruises? Well she likes it rough. Why anyone would accept that I don't know. If someone gives a man a black eye no-one says 'Oh he likes it', do they?

What it comes down to is she - or he - may well have made foolish decisions but does being foolish excuse someone assaulting you? I was once told by a gang rape victim that although she had had too much to drink it didn't give a group of men the right to attack her. She was right.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It Makes You Wonder

how they came up with it.

The State Government has demanded that all State Government Departments institute a cost cutting exercise and lop 3% from their expenditure. There's no question there will inevitably be waste in the public service as there is in any large institution, particularly one which is frequently rearranged into different configurations when a new government or new minister comes along with all the costs that implies. That is certainly undesirable whether it is in the public or private sector but I do not believe that the majority of public servants are any more profligate than anyone else. After all it's partly their own money they are spending. They are taxpayers after all.

The Government assures us that this universal cut will not impact on front line operations. I'm sorry but I find that hard to believe.
A couple of examples -
Given that we already have a Health system struggling desperately to keep up with demand - and seriously overcrowded if the AMA claim (as reported in The West Australian in their submission to the Lower House committee investigating future hospital needs is correct)- that there are now only five more hospital beds available in public hospitals than there were in 1990 when in the same period the State's population has increased by approximately a third - there is no fat to be cut from the Health Department. In fact those figures look like a serious need for more spending.
Then there are the recent decisions to cut large numbers of vehicles from both the police and FESA fleets. Will police and fire officers be able actually to do their jobs in these circumstances? If so, how? Will we have to go back to police on bicycles and fires being left to burn themselves out? Just saying front line services will not be affected won't make it so.

I could go on but while there are Departments that may well have fat and need to adjust expenditure, there are also those that need every cent they have been allotted (and perhaps need even more) and may no longer be able to provide vital services when needed. In my opinion the Treasurer would have been better advised to require a review of all Departments so he could actually see where - and if - waste was occurring and have it dealt with it appropriately.

Going in and demanding a 3% cut is like going into a street where there are thirty households. Some houses are occupied by one person, some by two, more by three, another group has four, another five and a handful has six or seven. The costs of running each household will be very different. Some are young families, some are retired, some accommodate extended families. All have different incomes and different outgoings. Some have illnesses and harsh medical expenses, others are young and fit. In one house there is a musically talented child with the cost of lessons to be found - and so it goes along the street. Then they are told every household has to cut their expenditure by 3%. How is that fair? A 3% cut to one family will be nothing. To another it will mean going hungry. This in effect what the government is doing. We have Departments that are chronically underfunded who are expected to make the same cuts as the more affluent ones. The thing is that when that happens we - the taxpayers - are the ones who go 'hungry' so we wait for far too long for medical treatment and minor crimes get pushed to the end of the list because there isn't enough manpower available.

I'm not suggesting we shouldn't keep careful control of how the government spends our money on our behalf. It's not easy and I certainly wouldn't like to have to do it but I do believe universal cuts without some consideration for the circumstances are simply inappropriate.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yet Another Piece of Awesomeness from Clarion South 2007

My Clarion South 2007 mate, Ben Francisco, has a story in Realms of Fantasy's October edition. It's Tio Gilberto and the Twenty Seven Ghosts, and I first read it at Clarion South. It's one of those stories that touches the heart and won't be easily forgotten. If you get a chance buy the magazine. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Parallel Importation Discussions

I have to confess that I am more than a little disturbed by the proposal to lift import restrictions on books. It sounds superficially appealing as books will supposedly be cheaper but there is a downside which is, I suspect, that a repeal may well lead to a flood of overseas books swamping the Australian market with obvious implications for small press publishers and authors in particular. I don't pretend to be an expert but the Australian Society of Authors, the Australian Horror Writers Association and a number of individual writers are to my knowledge all lobbying against it and I'm sure there are others.
If you want to know more I suggest you go to Satima's blogspot where she has details of what is proposed and a helpful list of links to other websites by people involved in the book business.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

In this morning's The West Australian newspaper there is an article on a woman in Malaysia who has been sentenced to six strokes with a rattan cane by a sharia court for drinking alcohol which breaches sharia law. She will be the first woman to be caned in a Malaysian jail. Amnesty International has urged authorities to revoke the sentence and abolish the practice. The woman is described as a model and a mother of two and says she is prepared to accept the punishment. She will be caned in jail next week.

What disturbs me is that the Islamic authorities describe caning as education not punishment. I trained as a secondary school teacher in the days when the cane - a much thinner version than that used in Malaysian judicial punishment - was still used in schools. On one occasion I was working in the deputy principal's office when a boy was sent for punishment. I did not actually see the blows struck but I will never forget the sound of the cane and the boy's white face as he walked out past me. After that I never sent another child to the office.

In my experience with few exceptions the same group regularly caused trouble and there was little improvement in their behaviour whatever punishment was applied whether they were girls (who did not get caned) or boys (who did). In fact "getting the cuts" was often seen as a badge of honour among the boys. This group of young people had problems of many kinds that needed to be dealt with and for the most part were not, either by society or the school. Caning did not educate them because it did not deal with those problems. Indeed, I suspect, it may have increasingly brutalised them.

Caning does not educate people. It punishes them, and if that's why it is used at least be honest about it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Right to Choose.

I have been following the case of Christian Rossiter (an Australian man currently living in a Perth nursing home after an accident left him a quadriplegic and having to be fed through a tube into his stomach). He has been asking carers at the nursing home not to feed for months. He feels his life, with no prospect of improvement, is intolerable and wanted the right to have his request not to been tube fed respected. He is well aware of what that would mean. The nursing home has continued feeding him despite his having the right under the law to refuse medical treatment. Today the Western Australian Supreme Court granted him that right saying he was of sound mind and had the right to refuse nutrition and hydration.

This is such a sad case and I am glad Mr Rossiter can now make his own decisions about his medical treatment. Let us be clear about this. It is legal to refuse medical treatment. If I am of sound mind and refuse to take medication and further down the track I die as a consequence that is no-one's business but mine. It is not the business of a nursing home, a right to life group or anyone else.

I'm not at all sure how I would respond in a situation like this - who can without experiencing it - but if I did make that decision it would be considered and a deliberate choice and I would expect my wishes to be respected. After all I would not be asking for someone to give me a lethal injection, strangle me or cut my throat. I would, in fact be asking for nature to be left to take its course. If the only way I can take in food is by artificial means then I am interfering in the course of nature. I may well think that is desirable and want to hang on to my life and that is fine. I would be making a deliberate decision to avail myself of all the medical options. On the other hand I may think it was not desirable and, knowing the end result would be to die sooner, I may opt out of the treatment which is disrupting the natural course of things. If I made that choice and death was the result so be it. In medical matters just because we can do something doesn't mean it is desirable that we should and the patient's informed consent should be an absolute requirement to any treatment.

One of the things that has disturbed most about this situation is the number of people who see Mr Rossiter's rights as less important than their own beliefs. I'm not going to talk about this from either side of the religious debate. I don't care if you are a religious person or an atheist or anywhere in between. Right now I'm fairly unimpressed with them all. With due respect to all those who have sought to influence the outcome of this case however fervent your belief that you are right it is just that - your belief. I respect your right to hold a belief and to practise whatever faith that is but in return I expect you to permit others to hold whatever belief they have and live by its tenets as long as it doesn't harm others.

At least part of the problem with the issue is that the term of voluntary euthanasia implies giving someone the authority to kill another. We need another more appropriate and less emotive way to describe a situation like this. Mr Rossiter was seeking the right to die naturally. He did not ask someone to kill him. Any responsibility is his and no-one should have the right to deny him the choice.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Of "Tender Morsels".

This is not a real review, just a personal view of the book.

I read Margo Lanagan's novel Tender Morsels shortly after it first came out last year. I was simply blown away by it. It is going to be one of those powerful novels that I come back to over and over. The language is so exquisitely wrought, whether it is one of the horrific scenes (of which there are a number so be prepared but don't let them put you off. This is not gratuitous violence) or the sweet description of two unlikely lovers, that it coils inside you so you live the experiences with the characters. This can be confronting but Tender Morsels is in the tradition of stories like those collected by the Brothers Grimm before they were sanitised into froth and the darkness removed and so is often dark and challenging reading.

What confuses me is the outcry from some sources about the gritty reality of the writing. I've read reviews where it's described in ways that would make you think it is a blow by blow description of the terrible events that befall some of the characters. Where this comes from I do not understand. This is not a book with explicit descriptions of rape, incest or other sexual activity. We are left in no doubt as to what has happened but we do not actually have the mechanics given. The language used is so rich and skilfully worked that the reader is drawn into the experience and our imagination fills in the details. So effective is this that there were times when I had to stop reading for a while because it was too much to bear (no pun intended).

Much of the controversy has been because it is marketed as YA. Do I think this is a book for pre-teens? No. It deals with issues that most would not be able to identify with or understand. On the other hand, teens of both sexes have to learn about a world that is often not safe and where violence of all kinds does happen. More to the point they know it. Unless they are completely insulated from society - no news broadcasts, no television, no peers to talk to, no contact outside their own home - they know these things happen. We may prefer to think they don't and want to protect them but the real world is not a fluffy fairy tale and Tender Morsels involves the good and the bad that happens in the real world.

There is no happily ever after romantic ending in Tender Morsels and it is not a comfortable read but it is an eminently satisfying one. I recommend this novel highly. I am not surprised it received a Prinz Honor Award this year.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Love is...

a cat not normally a lap cat who comes and climbs on your lap, reaches up and gives you a kitten kiss and then climbs up to rest on your shoulder the way he used to when he was a tiny kitten, purring all the time as he reaches over periodically to give you another kiss on the cheek. Not all that comfortable for either of us but sweet.

More Clarion South Goodies

Sadly they're not mine.

First Christopher Green's story A Hundreth Name is up at Abyss & Apex. Why don't you drop over there and try it for yourself. As with anything Chris writes it is worth reading.

Then there's Laura E. Goodin, who, creative person that she is, between writing plays, stories and much else, has set up Outlandish Voices, podcasts showcasing writers from the Wollongong area. The first three stories are by Richard Harland, Robert Hood and Cat Sparks and you'll find them here.

It's been a pretty messy year for me and mine so far and as a result I think I might have missed mentioning that Peter M. Ball's novella Horn published by Twelfth Planet Press is also out in the wide world.

I do try to keep up with all my Clarion South mates but I have a horrible feeling that sometimes I miss one. If I have missed you it wasn't intentional so let me know if you had something published and I'll add you to the ever growing honour roll.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Football...

has just finished and the Eagles showed they can still play football. That was a exciting match and the win was well deserved.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

What do we really see?

If you watch a cat or dog (or any other creature for that matter) you can't help noticing how aware they are of where they are and what's happening around them. Even pampered, indoor pets respond to sounds, sights and smells. They may not do anything about it but ears prick, noses twitch and they focus on whatever disturbed them until they are told or work out that no danger threatens.

So what has happened to those instincts in humans. Granted we live in cities for the most part where there is little unfamiliar. We tend to follow the same routes and routines to the point that most of us have at some time found ourselves where we were going without any real memory of how we got there.

It seems to me that we are either losing these basic instincts or cutting ourselves off from the world in which we live. I'm not suggesting we should all go out hunting game to revive our awareness or live in a hut in the bush. Nor should we become hyper sensitive to the point that we are afraid to go anywhere or do anything. What I do think is that we should try to experience the world in which we live to the fullest extent we can. It's a pretty amazing place and along the way we might actually, by learning from what is happening around us, make ourselves safer.

What started this train of thought was something quite unimportant. Last Thursday Virgo and her partner headed off on their travels beginning in South America. Pisces and I were standing in the airport terminal waiting for them to check in. Before I go any further I should tell you that we are both passionate AFL - Australian Rules football - supporters. There are two teams in Western Australia - the Eagles and the Dockers - and the Dockers have a uniform which is largely a very rich, deep - and one would think unmissable - purple.

So we're standing chatting, watching Virgo progress along the check in line, when two young purple clad Dockers players come out of the check in and walk past us. After this a camera crew from a local television channel sets up about four metres away from us and are joined by a newspaper photographer. Two minutes later three Dockers go by, then two more, and another five, then the coach. Then a second camera crew arrives.

At this point I ask, "Where are the Dockers playing this weekend?"

Pisces asks, "Why?"

I say, "Because they are here. Didn't you notice them?"

Pisces does a double take and realises for the first time that we are pretty much surrounded by players, support staff and cameras.

By the way the Dockers match is on television at this minute and they look as though they're in for another drubbing. Not that I can crow. I'll be surprised if the Eagles do any better tomorrow - but I can still hope in spite of everything, can't I.