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Congratulations, you have raised being terrible at your job to the level of performance art Jun. 12th, 2014 @ 01:03 pm
"David Cameron's spokesman said on Wednesday it was up to consumers whether they choose to eat prawns that had been produced through the work of slaves."

Okay. That's bad policy, but it's not the spokesman's fault.

However.

"He could not say whether Cameron himself would be happy to eat prawns where slavery had been used in their production."

Seriously?

There is a correct answer to that question if you are a spokesman, and that answer is: "No, of course not." (Especially if you are a spokesman for someone whose family made a fortune out of being compensated for forfeiture of slaves when slavery was abolished.) Even if you haven't asked him, even if you don't actually know, even if you think, privately, that David Cameron would consider the knowledge that slavery was in the supply chain of his seafood to add a delicious piquancy to the flavour, the answer you give the press immediately is no.
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How the Australian Labor Party could win the next election May. 22nd, 2013 @ 11:27 am
1) Keep all poll and focus group results away from Julia Gillard. Tell her that she's not allowed to say anything in range of a microphone unless she means it.

2) File all suggestions from the NSW Right in the shredder.

3) Reinstate Kevin Rudd as Foreign Minister.

4) Respond to the Coalition entirely through the medium of "quotations from Hansard that make Tony Abbott or other notable figures in that Party look evil, hypocritical, stupid or all of the above".

5) Try not to let them replace their Chief Whip. A blatantly lying, spectacularly stupid (in that he lies about things that he wrote down in correspondence with the ALP's Chief Whip, which, you know, MIGHT THEN GET OUT), petty nasty jerk like that is definitely to Labor's advantage.

Also, seriously. Lying to try and get out of looking like an arse is one thing, but you're just going to look like a bigger arse if there exists written evidence of your arsiness in the possession of the people who will get the most possible advantage out of showing the entire country that you are, in fact, an arse.

(For non-Australian/non-news-following readers: The Opposition Chief Whip refused to allow a pair so that an ALP parliamentarian could go be with her sick child. When criticised for this, he claimed he didn't know it was her child who was sick... despite having referred to the MP's sick child in the letter to the Government Whip in which he refused the pair. Naturally, the Government Whip's reaction was to publish that correspondence, because why on earth would you not.)

ahahaha no. May. 13th, 2013 @ 10:42 am
Sooo, GetUp sent out an e-mail with a list of small would-be political parties trying to register.

One of them is the Australian Sovereignty Party:

Stand for "no carbon tax", "no personal income tax", and "no GST"; "no more wide open borders", and "no treaties without referendums," among other policies.

... no. Just no.

First of all, the carbon tax is a good thing. I agree that the GST isn't good, but I'm not sold on the removal of income tax until you declare that you plan to replace it with. (Besides, I like a progressive income tax, tbh.)

However.

We don't have wide open borders, except, perhaps, in a purely literal sense, and I don't think walling off the entire coastline of this continent is realistic, a good idea, or in any way not moronic. Our borders aren't wide open, and never will be.

Even if the world reverts to a pre-WWI era state where passports aren't a thing and international migration is largely unregulated - unlikely - Australian border controls will still exist, because even if you don't have to deal with Immigration, you will have to deal with AQIS. The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service does vital work in entirely non-political ways. (You can tell, in part, by the way that there are what amounts to Customs checks even on domestic travel between the mainland and Tasmania. In the same way that Australia needs to protect its ecosystem from hazards from other countries, Tasmania needs to protect itself from some hazards that have reached the mainland but not the smaller island. Our airports have sniffer dogs trained to find fruit.)

But the truly, amazingly stupid part is no treaties without referendums [sic]. Seriously? Seriously?

In the first decade of this century, Australia signed 347 treaties, meaning it averaged, approximately, three treaties a month.

Holding a national referendum three times a month MIGHT CAUSE SOME PROBLEMS, since voting in a national referendum is mandatory. If we ditched mandatory voting for this, voter turnout would become laughable, and that's assuming that the AEC managed to keep running the damn things successfully at all, when they were having to bust out the entire apparatus practically every week, and all the schools and libraries and suchlike venues where elections tend to happen might start to object just a little bit.

Never mind the other ways this is stupid, it's just not even slightly practical.

I try to be an informed and thoughtful voter, personally, but to take a treaty largely at random, I don't think I have an opinion on the Agreement Establishing the Terms of Reference of the International Jute Study Group, 2001. I also don't really want to consider how to deal with Agreement by Exchange of Notes between the Government of Australia and the Government of the United States of America to Amend and Extend the Agreement on Cooperation in Defence Logistics Support (CDLSA) of 4 November 1989 getting voted down.

It's Amateur Hour at the US State Department Apr. 12th, 2013 @ 12:43 pm
US officials travelling with Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington wanted Beijing to evoke "a sense of urgency" in its talks with Pyongyang. - source.

I hope those dudes get demoted and transferred to the Paperwork Filing Department. Do they want a war?

China has already been making definite moves to shut down North Korea's current attack of bellicose stupidity. This will make it harder for them to do that. Because if China is perceived to be doing something because the US says so, then they look weak, and lose face. If North Korea thinks China is telling them to cut this crap out because the US says so, then North Korea is more likely to ignore them and tout their resistance to "US imperialism". At which point China loses a *lot* of face.

Now, if China succeeds in pulling North Korea back, there'll be some American officials (and politicians) all ready to take credit for it, and everyone knows that, and China loses face.

It is beyond stupid to make it harder for people to do the thing you want them to do that they were already doing, which this does. Face is always important in diplomacy - national pride is a touchy, touchy thing at the best of times.

When you're dealing with countries whose culture includes centuries of tradition of face being the only thing that really matters, then you must, at all times, pay attention to the implications of what you say regarding whether you put them at risk of losing face.

Seriously. I don't know who those US officials are, but they need to be dropped from any kind of diplomatic service ever, because letting statements like that reach the press suggests they have the delicate touch appropriate to approaching neurosurgery with an axe.
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South Korea apparently does not fail at blame assignment Apr. 11th, 2013 @ 07:38 am
Not helping, Yokohama: Accidentally tweeting that North Korea has fired a missile. Seriously?

Meanwhile, these interview excerpts with Kim Hyun-hee, the former spy who bombed a South Korean passenger plane in 1987, is a good reminder of both how horrifyingly evil the North Korean government is, and how terribly, tragically innocent the North Korean people are.

At first, Kim says she refused to give in to her interrogators, but it was not until they took her driving through the streets of Seoul that she realised all the lies she had been fed by the North Korean regime.

"I saw how modern it was," she said.

"I listened to how the agents around me spoke so freely. This contradicted everything I'd been told in North Korea. I realised then I'd taken innocent lives and I expected to be given the death sentence."


She was, but she was pardoned, ruled a victim of brainwashing.

"I once heard a story that a defector saw my family in a concentration camp about 15 years ago," she said.

"But to this day I have no idea what happened to my family."

She believes the latest sabre-rattling from North Korea is all an effort for the untested leader, Kim Jong-un, to play the tough guy in front of his domestic audience.

"Kim Jong-un is too young and too inexperienced," she said.

"He's struggling to gain complete control over the military and to win their loyalty.

"That's why he's doing so many visits to military bases, to firm up support."

She says the effects of the regime and what it compelled her to do will haunt her for the rest of her life.

"I regret what I did and am repentant. I feel I should not hide the truth to the family members of those who died," she said.

"It is my duty to tell them what happened."


In a way, I admire the strength it takes to acknowledge wrongdoing on that scale, and live with it. Historically, the general course of action for people who have done something that terrible, and subsequently realised how wrong their action was, has been suicide. Instead, it seems that Kim Hyun-hee has spent a quarter of a century acknowledging her crime, owning her guilt, and accepting it as a burden she must carry, to live as a witness to the circumstances of such a terrible, terrible event.

It's nice that some things are predictable Apr. 9th, 2013 @ 07:54 am
Kaesong is closing, but...

"No-one should be allowed to throw a region, even the whole world, into chaos for selfish gains," Chinese president Xi Jinping told the Bo'ao Asia Forum in southern China on Sunday.

Although he did not mention North Korea by name, Mr Xi's remarks were taken as a clear warning to Pyongyang, which is hugely dependent on China's economic and diplomatic support.


Things that could be predicted: China being seriously irritated by North Korea's current bout of Braggadocio Fever. Use of the word "chaos" (assuming accurate translation, obvs) is promising, because China is the best bet for reining in North Korea, and chaos is very much a thing China Does Not Want.

It's China. China wants stability and order. China always wants stability and order; China does not want a new Korean War just outside its borders, or a sudden mass influx of refugees across its borders, or nuclear weapons going off anywhere near it. All these things are disruptive to order and stability.

So. I am waving my mind-pompoms for China managing to get North Korea to calm the fuck down.
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For the first time in my life, I want my country to start acting muscular. Feb. 16th, 2013 @ 12:46 pm
Malaysia has detained an Australian Senator under armed guard.

My best guess is that this is perhaps aimed at intimidating Anwar Ibrahim, a sort of "oh you have foreign friends, well we won't let them in" thing, but it's a pretty bushleague way to go about it, because it's an unprecedented act of international aggression.

Because, seriously. Detaining a Senator under armed guard.

This is not something that we should let happen.

Things I want to happen now:

- Since the reason Xenophon has been deemed a "security risk" can only be that he's critical of the anti-democratic everything the Malaysian government does, and the reason for the now-cancelled visit was a low-profile mission to talk to a few people about how the forthcoming Malaysian elections were likely to be run, I want Australia - and our allies, including you, USA - agitating for United Nations intervention in the election.

- And by agitating I mean insisting. I mean that Australia should demand an apology from the Malaysian government, and demand the Malaysian government accept international administration of their elections. I think we should insist on an electoral police action, like we did in East Timor, sending in the army to ensure that Malaysia gets free and fair elections, if UN observers that we demand Malaysia accept see *anything* suspect at all.

Seriously. Wars have happened over less than this. And while I don't normally advocate getting all pushy and aggressive in international relations, the scale of oh no you better didn't involved in the detention by armed guards of a serving Senator is beyond the expression by mere words. This is a mobilise your active military and start positioning them in "training exercises" scale of national offence.

How America dodged a fascist uprising, part one: the Alien Other, and its absence Feb. 7th, 2013 @ 11:23 am
Despite the histrionic claims in right-wing tantrums, now, or left-wing tantrums, circa the Bush era, the United States of America is not now, and has not yet ever been, a fascist state, and it's not becoming one.

But, in the last few years, it's come amazingly close to following the historical precedents for one. Actual fascist states have only happened a few times, and while no two fascisms are identical (being that fascism is characterised by ultra-nationalism, and no two nations are identical), there are general categories of circumstances that make them a possibility.

In no particular order (seriously, this is not in order of importance at all, because I'm basically thinking into a DW update window), I shall endeavour to go through them, starting with:

The Alien Within (Usually Jews)
In which I explain anti-Jewish sentiment as part of fascism. )

In summary: a people who are not like us, but are among us, and they are harmful to society, zomg!



[1] Fascism, as a term, was coined by Mussolini. However, the Alliance Francaise, despite predating Mussolini's rise by decades, qualifies as a fascist movement if anything does, not least because a lot of Mussolini's philosophy was inspired or taken directly from the writings of the idealogue behind the AF.


Why This Didn't Happen In America

Well, the Jews wouldn't work, because for a bunch of reasons, some of them sensible, some of them kind of insane (e.g. "Israel is a prerequisite for the Rapture"), the American far-right is hard-line Zionist. And you can't really make a coherent anti-Semitic narrative without also going anti-Zionist, so even the most ardent anti-Semites on the American right have to be kind of covert about it.

Communists lost their power as a serious threat with the collapse of the USSR. Some American right-wingers have picked up a narrative that places "the gays" in that category, but the problem with gay people as an ideological hate fixture is that people will, inevitably, have gay family members, or meet people who are "one of us" and then find out that they're also gay, and basically, gay isn't an ethnic group.

A number of right-wing groups and politicians have made something of an attempt with Latinos, and, in localised areas, have succeeded to a terrifying degree. (See: Sheriff Arpaio, who I had a piece about posted on Shakesville before I broke up with Shakesville hard enough that it just took me ten minutes of going through my tags for old posts to remember what the site was even called.)

However, while localised fascism has absolutely taken hold in parts of America, this hasn't worked on a widespread basis. I think the reason is basically geography. America is huge, and immigration is a progression. You can't make the anti-immigrant fervour take hold in the same way in Ohio or Wyoming, because the immigrants aren't a presence there, certainly not sufficient to make people flip out. At the same time, in states like Texas, there are too many *legal* Mexican and Central American immigrants for an overwhelming consensus of hate. There are too many people for whom they *aren't* Other.

Mostly. You still have, you know, Arizona.

Oh, my. (Say it like George Takei.) Nov. 9th, 2012 @ 06:54 am
Apparently some American Republicans were talking about moving to Australia after Obama's victory.

Because we're exactly what they're looking for. A nation with strict gun control laws, universal health care, entrenched social welfare programs, and an established tradition of paying for government expenses via tax revenue, and an unmarried woman atheist head of government. (Not to mention a monarchy-based head of state.)

Pro tip: If Hurricane Sandy had been Cyclone Sandy and hit Australia, the costs of dealing with the disaster would likely be met by an additional levy on the wealthy via the tax system, because that's how we generally handle government expenses that the existing tax code doesn't cover.

Seriously, though. Show up to a political rally with an assault rifle here, and you are, I assure you, guaranteed to be arrested as soon as the tactical response group get there to arrest you at the point of about twenty assault rifles of their own, in full body armour, possibly with air support. Because, Republicans, I can assure you, you are not going to get legal access to an assault rifle in this country, and you sure as shit are not going to get away without prison time for taking one to a crowded location.

I'm not sure Republicans could handle our gun control laws alone, let alone living with all our socialism. In Australia, air rifles and paintball guns are Category A weapons, requiring a license, for which you must have a "Genuine Reason".

Elections (as a concept): There are ways in which they Should Be Done Nov. 7th, 2012 @ 10:41 am
(As an aside: I really haven't been posting much, as well as failing utterly at keeping up with my reading list. I can tell in part because my new computer is a good few weeks old now, at least, and I still didn't have a bookmark for the Dreamwidth update page.)

So, I've been following the US election closely-ish, because American politics have an impact on my own country. In retrospect, we, as a planetary community, shouldn't have let America become the only superpower, and we shouldn't have let their economy become as connected to everyone else's as it is... but at the time, how could we know that? America used to be non-interventionist in matters outside its own borders very much to a fault, and after the Great Depression, their economy was well-regulated. There was no way we could have anticipated the modern Republican Party, we just couldn't.

And yet, the wingnuts of the so-called GOP (and why is it called that, seriously? It's the younger of the two main parties in American politics. WTF, America?) are the biggest current threat to my country's economy.

Still, along the way I've noticed a few things that are just, regardless of your political affiliation, objectively wrong about how some countries run elections.

Bipartisan Election Officiation

No. Just no. Do you know what the bodies that organise and run your actual elections should be? Non-partisan. Partisan politics has no place, at all, in the mechanics of the electoral process.

Voting Machines

The idea of voting machines still confuses me, frankly, because what is this, I don't even, especially when it comes to the existence of voting machines that don't leave a paper trail at all. Voting machines that can "need recalibration" because they miscount votes, voting machines that can just be hacked to lie outright - do you even care about your election being fair, at that point?

Ballots should be cast on paper. Paper ballots should then be counted by people. With other people watching. If you have multiple questions being decided, you have a separate slip of paper for each question, colour-coded, and then you sort each stack by how people voted, and it's not that difficult. And that way, if anyone is unsure about the accuracy of the vote count, you know what you can do? Count them again!

And you avoid the sub-issue, which is:

Privately-Owned Voting Machines

Words can not express my shock and confusion when someone mentioned to me that Mitt Romney's son was, via Bain Capital, buying voting machines in swing states.

How could such a thing even be possible? Something which is a part of the very important process by which your government is selected should not only be unable to be owned by someone with partisan interest in the result, it shouldn't be able to be privately owned BY ANYONE. The infrastructure of your elections should be owned by your NON-PARTISAN electoral commission-type body.

Voting on a Weekday

If you are going to hold your election on a weekday, it should be a public holiday. Voting should be something *everyone* can find time to do.

And finally...

A Personal, Less Objectively True Opinion

If you didn't vote in your country's election, and you could have, don't you dare express any kind of complaint about the government. Shut up until you've voted, because if you didn't vote, you didn't do your most basic, most elementary civic duty. Which means civic society owes you nothing. You blew off your chance to participate in governance, and therefore you ditched your right to object to how that governance proceeds. If you could have voted and didn't, just sit there and take it, whatever happens, because you sat there and let it happen, so just. shut. up.

On Julia Gillard Oct. 21st, 2012 @ 12:54 pm
I was tremendously proud of her recent, much-remarked-upon speech on the topic of misogyny.

(I was irritated by the people - where by people I mean Liberals* and by Liberals I don't necessarily mean people - accusing her of "defending a misogynist" in the speech, since she very, very specifically didn't do that. The only argument she made that could be construed as "defending" Peter Slipper, as opposed to attacking Tony Abbott, was that the matter under discussion is currently before the courts, and that, this not being an entirely new topic, after all, the court proceedings be allowed to run to completion before Parliamentary decisions be undertaken. In my view, it's actually a cogent point.)

However, two points, one shallow, one not, remain for me:

1) I am glad that, in a video that was watched around the world, Prime Minister Gillard was wearing a nice blue jacket, not her horrible, horrible red one that clashes with her hair. (Julia, you're what, fifty? You are old enough to know that your hair will clash with almost any shade of red. In general I don't think criticism on the basis of your clothing is valid, but trust me, I would be just as thoroughly critical of a man with your hair colour wearing a bright red jacket.)

2) Just about everything wrong with Julia Gillard's policies, political career, and government would be absolutely fine if only she would undertake to give a firm, clear fuck off to any person or policy emerging from the NSW Right.

Testaments to character Jul. 11th, 2012 @ 12:44 pm
It's perhaps unfortunate that we so rarely see politicians reacting to truly surprising events. It's definitely unfortunate that political campaigning tends to involve so much time spent blowing up every trivial detail into something of allegedly vast magnitude, because doing so drowns out the issues that actually do matter.

Last week, on the live discussion progrm Q&A, one of the panellists, Simon Sheikh, who heads GetUp and is therefore a perennial irritant to pretty much all politicians, collapsed. He's epileptic, and had been fighting flu for a few weeks while still working harder, it turns out, than was advisable for his health; he had a minor seizure, apparently, and definitely passed out, faceplanting on the desk with an audible thud.

The reactions of the two politicians on the panel were notable.

Sophie Mirabella (LIB), who was sitting next to him, recoiled, giving him a horrified look, and stayed leaning away until Sheikh had regained consciousness and been escorted off the stage by crew-type people. When he makes a slight noise, she pulls further away, and shuffles the papers in front of her slightly further away as well. She puts a hand on his shoulder and helps push him up, but that's still moving him further away from her.

Greg Combet (ALP), who was on the other side of the panel and was mid-sentence at the time, said something like: "I don't know what Simon is doing. Is he okay? I think Simon's not okay..."

At that point, the crew members were starting to converge, and the presenter said, "Simon is not okay." At which point Combet stood and went around to where Sheikh was being pulled up to a sitting position. Combet's voice is just audible, as this is happening, saying: "Oh, no." When Sheikh becomes responsive, if a bit waxen, Combet is asking if he's okay. (One of the crew, who clearly knows more about him, can be heard asking if he had a seizure. Sheikh acknowledges a bit glassily that he passed out, and is escorted at that point from the stage. (He was looked after very well, he said later, until the ambulance came to take him to hospital.)

Combet hovers by Sheikh's chair for a moment after Sheikh is taken away, watching a bit anxiously. As Tony Jones starts regaining control of the situation, telling everyone to sit down and leading in for further questions, Combet can be heard saying "Dear oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear." And then he sits down but looks rattled and concerned.

Now, I'm not a huge fan of Combet. He's had a number of policies I profoundly disagree with, and I say this without malice, but he is arguably the dullest speaker currently in Federal Parliament. This man could tell you that you'd won the lottery and also been made the ruler of your own small but wealthy nation, while congratulating you on the birth of your child and finish on a recitation of the band of brothers speech from Henry V, and you would realise around the point of and hold their manhood cheap, your attention caught by the childish entertainment value of "manhood", that you had totally tuned out and missed every word he droned. He lacks charisma so profoundly that if he ever shook hands with someone like Bill Clinton or Robert Downey, Jr., it would produce a reaction that would risk catastrophic damage to the personalities of everyone within a hundred-mile radius. (It's been theorised that this is how Victoria happened.)

However, I would trust him infinitely more than I would Mirabella. I now, until further notice, am convinced that he's not a bad man, just misguided in some of his policies. Whereas Sophie Mirabella is perpetuating the apparent trend that conservative politicians are basically horrible people.

There are more examples of character-demonstrating issues regarding politicians, but I still have the Maybe-Actual-Flu Death Cold of Doom and am out of stamina. Must go collapse.
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The State of Health Care Jan. 21st, 2012 @ 08:43 am
Yay, SOPA/PIPA are dead for now! That's awesome.

Imagine how much better life in America could be if the good people of the country could be stirred to speak up this way about trivial issues like health care reform, as well as vital matters like internet access?

I'm not saying that SOPA/PIPA weren't important, by the way. But America's current health care "system" is literally killing people, and metaphorically killing the American economy in very real ways.

I'm not going to go into details about that, but what I am going to do is talk about my recent experiences with the Australian health care system, and invite Americans to compare this tale with their own experiences and expectations in the USA.

On the 27th of December, I slipped on the stairs and, it turns out, broke my leg in three places.

We went off to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, I think the biggest emergency (and teaching) hospital in the city. (The other major one is Royal Perth; there are smaller hospitals dotted around the suburbs, of course, but those are the big ones. (Charlie's is the one nearest our house.))

We arrived at the emergency room at around 8:30 or 9am, I think. There were one or two people in the waiting room, but after a brief interview at the triage window, I was taken inside for examination, having been designated Fast Track.

Fast Track means your case is not critical, but *is* simple; when there's a free spot, you're taken to another room, inside, where doctors treat you promptly. From the times I've been there, usually everyone in Fast Track has some kind of painful, yet not life-threatening injury. If your case is likely to be more complex, you go to Observation, where there are many more doctors, and many more beds, and they're going to work out what exactly is up and how to treat it. (If you've arrived with a broken bone, or anything similar, there is a well-established protocol for how they're going to treat it.)

There's a big poster in the waiting room about their targets: the designated performance target for the Emergency Department is to have 85% of patients either admitted to the hospital or discharged from Emergency within four hours of arrival. Underneath, they write in how they're doing; when last I saw the board, they were at something like 76% overall, with 96% of patients who weren't admitted to hospital being released within four hours.

So. If you turn up at the busiest emergency room in the city, if your problem doesn't require hospitalisation, you've got a 96% chance of getting to leave inside four hours. If you do require admission, you've still got a 76% chance of being out of Emergency and in the hospital proper within those four hours, even taking into account time they may spend observing you and whatnot to make that decision.

Note that this does not mean that, if you require serious medical care, you are denied it - it just means that if it's not something that can be treated quickly and turfed out, the patient should be admitted to the hospital proper.

This is what happened to me. X-rays of my leg showed that I had snapped both my tibia and fibula just above the ankle joint, and the fibula again just below the knee. This qualified my injury as an "unstable fracture", which would require surgery to treat. A visit from the orthopaedic registrar followed. The ortho reg explained the surgery to me, and I signed some paper formally acknowledging my informed consent to the process, and I was wheeled out of Emergency to the fifth floor.

Sadly, I didn't get a private room - the hospital was under a fair amount of pressure for beds, as the private hospitals to which many private patients might have been transferred were all largely closed for the Christmas holidays.

Still, I was put into a room, a Jones Pillow was fetched to hold my ankle well elevated, and there I was in hospital.

It was three days before I had surgery - an ORIF procedure can't be done before the swelling has gone down, because you need enough loose skin to be able to close the incisions again. During those three days I was given gluten-free food that was really quite edible, and a steady supply of pain relief medication from friendly and pleasant nurses.

While I was waiting, I had a visit from a lovely woman from Occupational Therapy. She was there to discuss my equipment needs - what I'd require to be able to go home, and live my life safely. Around Thursday, I think it was, someone from OT went to my house to survey the situation - measuring distances, herself hopping from toilet to sink to couch, and suchlike, to calculate how exhausting it would be and what would be necessary in a given day.

Several of the people who passed through stays in my room were from outside the city - they'd been injured in deeply rural areas, and flown to Perth for treatment.

On the Friday I had surgery. I was wheeled to the OR's anteroom. Surgeons came over to introduce themselves, then the anaesthetists - two qualified doctors and a bashful-looking student. A few minutes later, I was taken into the OR itself, where more people introduced themselves - nurses, from the surgical an anaesthetic teams, mostly, giving me a sense of who this crowd of strangers was.

There were friendly, reassuring comments at my visible nervousness, people warmly telling me that it was okay, they did this every day, they knew this was strange and scary for me but it was totally normal for them, I'd be fine.

And then I was put under, and I woke up back in my room on the fifth floor.

Back there, the nurses supplied me with more painkillers, through the initial phase of post-surgical pain, than I would have thought possible. I had slow-release oxycodone, quick-release oxycodone, paracetemol, ibuprofen, and some tablets that I don't know what they were that you put under your tongue and wait to dissolve. They taste horrible, but they take effect really quickly, and are on a separate cooldown from the rest.

Thanks to this raft of medication, I was almost never in very much pain at all. Most of the time my freshly-drilled-into bones were a faint, easily-ignored ache in the distance.

On Sunday, it was decided by the doctors that I could go home. But, as the woman from hospital administration who came to see me explained, the physiotherapists and Occupational Therapy were refusing to sign off on my discharge.

"Yes, they talked to me about that yesterday," I said. "They want to make sure I'll be safe. They're coming later this morning to make sure I have the equipment for home, and the physio is going to be making sure I'm able to move around like I need to."

And so they did. The OT and physio brought a mobile wooden platform, so that I could, with assistance and supervision in the hospital setting, practice using a walking frame to hop up a low step - because there is a low step to be navigated in order to enter my house. Once I'd managed that properly, they assembled the equipment I was being assigned to take home with me.

This included:

- a seat with rails and so on to go over the toilet
- a shower chair
- a walking frame

The only thing they weren't supplying was a wheelchair. The hospital only provides those if you can't move without one at all, because they don't really have enough to do otherwise.

After that, all that was left was to wait for my medication bag. This was a plastic bag the size of a small pillow, containing a sharps container, thirty Clexane needles, and boxes of my anti-inflammatories and various painkillers.

Once that arrived, I was officially discharged. An orderly came to wheel me down to the hospital doors, while Dean, who had come to collect me, pushed the trolley loaded with the equipment and my bags, and so on.

A couple of days later a letter arrived, giving me the date of my next appointment at the orthopaedic clinic. I went to that, and got my stitches removed and a shiny new cast applied. In a few weeks I go back again, and get the temporary screw removed.

All of which amounts to a really quite excellent standard of care, I'm sure you'll agree. But would it bankrupt me? How much did I pay for all of that, you might wonder?

The answer: Absolutely nothing.

Not a cent. I was not presented with a bill, in person or by mail. Not even for the bag of medications to take away with me. No-one asked for anything except my name, my date of birth and my Medicare number.

And if you're American, don't be mistaken about what it means to have Medicare here. Medicare is not some special subset of care for old people, or poor people, or whatever it is there. In Australia, everyone has Medicare. Everyone. If you are a citizen or permanent resident of this country, you have Medicare. (If you're a tourist, the emergency room will take care of you anyway, by the way.)

How is it funded? Easily enough - when additional money was needed to pay for Medicare costs, the government introduced the Medicare Levy, which is paid alongside income tax, but is separate, because the Medicare Levy is only paid at all once you get above a certain income threshold. Effectively, the wealthy, who can afford and often have private health insurance, subsidise health care for the poor.

When this was introduced, the general reaction of the Australian population amounted to: "... That's fair."

The fact that the Australian government has a vested interest in health care costs has a raft of added advantages. Various medications that are sometimes necessary for people's survival, but which are very expensive, are subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme; there are drugs which cost thousands of dollars a month, but which Australian patients will pay perhaps thirty dollars a month for - or less, if they have a pension or low-income Health Care Card. (Most of my meds are covered by the PBS; now that I'm on a pension, they're three or four dollars a month, where before they were over thirty.)

So if, for example, you're unemployed, the government further subsidises any health care costs you may be incurring.

Meanwhile, Medicare has a heavy market power with which to negotiate drug prices with the companies that manufacture them, which helps keep the costs down in the first place.

As of the latest statistics I can find, as a percentage of GDP, Australia spends 9.5% to America's 14.6%. Per capita, we also spend much less money in straight dollar costs. And our costs aren't rising as fast.

Why I will never vote for Tony Abbott Oct. 24th, 2011 @ 12:29 pm
Watching last Thursday's Drum: Despite consensus, including from the Defence Force, that attempting to turn back boats carrying asylum seekers is dangerous, for the asylum seekers and for Australian force personnel, the Mad Monk wants to stick with that as their policy.

The Navy won't be happy, regardless; the Australian Navy exists to 1) defend our country and 2) rescue people in maritime distress off our coastlines. (We don't have a Coast Guard; if it's too far out for Surf Life Savers, it's up to the Navy.)

Meanwhile, CHOGM is happening in my city from next week. I should find a schedule of public events, see if I can go take some photos. Last time the Queen was in Perth I didn't have a decent camera, now I do...

In which the problem is demonstrated Oct. 17th, 2011 @ 10:00 am
So, I'm watching yesterday's episode of Insiders.

At one point, discussing the usage (and the "KISS OF DEATH" headline) of the photo of Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd kissing each other on the cheek after the carbon "tax" legislation passed, Piers Akerman made the astonishing comment: "Given that we're all laughing and joking about this leadership stoush, can't we admit that there clearly is one?" (I may be paraphrasing slightly.)

To which I say: Are you kidding me?

"The media and pundits keep saying that there's a leadership challenge, even though no-one in the ALP has said so. But given that we, as pundits, are talking about it, doesn't that mean it's definitely happening?"

No. No, it doesn't.

This came after he infuriated me by suggesting that Australia shouldn't be tackling carbon emissions because any solution to the climate change issue has to be global.

I hate to break it to Jabba the Pundit (seriously, the resemblance is uncanny - I'm not down on people being overweight, but the slug-like appearance is generally only apparent on slug-like people), but the Australian government has no authority over the rest of the world or over global responses to climate change. Our best option, as something like, per capita, the worst polluter in the world, is to lead by example. To do our part.

So shut up.

Hypocrisy and free speech, etc Oct. 9th, 2011 @ 08:18 am
This is one of the better comments on the Andrew-Bolt-is-a-racist-but-zomg-FREE-SPEECH thing I've seen yet, because in no small part it makes the point that the whole thing was not about free speech. And that freedom of speech is not an absolute, and shouldn't be, and no-one sane thinks it should be.

The question about "freedom of speech" is not about whether it should be limited - it should. The question is about where those limits are placed.

Note to Americans, before you reply to tell me about how I clearly favour Orwellian dictatorship or how America the Beautiful totally doesn't limit freedom of speech: Yes, it bloody does. To use the age-old example, your laws regarding freedom of speech do not give you freedom to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. America's legal provisions limiting freedom of speech are woefully inadequate, but they're there.

(Man, those first two amendments to the U.S. Constitution are terrible. "So, we're going to have a country in which there's no legal way to limit hate speech or gun ownership? There is NO POSSIBLE WAY this could go wrong. I'm sure that it's just coincidence that approximately 16% of our heads of state get murdered in office, as of 9/10/11.")
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The reality discontinuity of the right Oct. 4th, 2011 @ 12:55 pm
So, on last night's Q&A, right-wing columnist Greg Sheridan insistently dismissed as "bullshit" the idea that George W. Bush had said that God told him to invade Iraq, against both the promise to send him the original source from Mona Eltahawy and the concerted agreement as to no-really-he-said-that from Jon Ronson.

I'm wondering, now: how much reality do right-wing idealogues just not recognise? Reality, after all, has a left-wing bias.
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The right-wing appropriation of conservatism Sep. 15th, 2011 @ 11:46 am
Something occurred to me the other day: By rights, I should be able, without giving people serious misapprehensions about my political leanings and opinions, to call myself a left-wing conservative. A left-wing conservative Christian, even.

Because really, that would or should be a pretty accurate summation of my political leanings. I am left-wing on many major issues - I'm pro-science, pro-environment, pro-choice, anti-racism, and I think that the correct reaction to problems with crime should include serious efforts to understand and correct the fundamental societal ills that lead to crime. I think more of the prison system should be like Yetta Dhinnakal Correctional Centre - relatively petty crime is a symptom of other problems, and you need to treat those problems.

I'm also in favour of government regulation of commerce and industry, socialised medicine, and welfare.

This, in American-style political parlance, makes me a liberal.

However, I am also deeply, profoundly conservative by nature. I don't like change. I object to change, pretty much universally, where change is not clearly, demonstrably needed. For example, I am a constitutional monarchist; I am thoroughly hostile to the idea of Australia becoming a republic. Constitutional monarchy has worked sufficiently well for us so far that I see no need to change, especially when the world's premier example of republican government, the USA, is a hellscape of political paralysis.

The reason why I'm so damn progressive on social issues is that they're areas where change is necessary.

And yet, the very concept of conservatism has been taken over by the people who don't even want the status quo, so much as they want to bring about comprehensive change - it's just that they want to change things to the advantage of a privileged minority, rather than in an attempt to bring about broader social improvement.

Desiring the amplification of social injustice doesn't make you more conservative than wanting to increase social justice - but the people who wave the "conservative" banner want exactly that.

It's infuriating not just because of the appropriation of "conservative", of course - the appropriation of "Christian" tempts me to incandescent rage, because of the degree to which it is wrong. Really, Muslim and Christian people of this world have so very much in common, including the outright betrayal of people who claim to be our co-religionists.

Consider this about Islam: the Koran forbids activities like fasting (even during Ramadan) when unwell or pregnant, fasting past the requirements of Ramadan, and other activities which will harm one's health, as a demonstration of piety. This is the degree to which Islam is not about martyrdom.

When Mohammedan conquest was sweeping the known world, it is worth noting that the Muslim armies were so bound by their faith that they were required to feed surrendered opposing forces - which was not precisely common behaviour of conquerors of the era.

Jihadist terrorists are betraying Islam utterly.

Meanwhile, so-called Christians are defiling the word of Jesus in the name of hatred every day. In all likelihood you've heard discussion of this before, and you may well have heard it from me, so for today I will hope that this passage will suffice to make my point (I don't have quotations from the Koran to hand, because, I confess, I do know the Bible better).

For Jesus said (Matthew 5):

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

While the specific Aramaic term of contempt is no longer current, I'm pretty sure Jesus was just using it as an example. The hatefulness spewed by people who claim to be Christians is so ridiculously, utterly anti-Christian.

Oh, actually, I'll throw this one in too:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Public displays of "righteousness" sicken me.

I am a Christian; my love is given to Jesus. But this is a question of faith, not knowledge, and so I cannot condemn people whose faith has taken them along a different path from mine. I have no problem with people who adhere to religions other than mine, or no religion at all.

What disgusts me is hypocrisy. If you murder in the name of the Prophet Mohammed, if you preach hatred in the name of Jesus - or vice versa, not least because Jesus is still viewed, in Islam, as a prophet of the Lord and therefore some of this stuff counts for Muslims too regardless and Jesus was also really not in favour of the whole murder thing - then, and only then, will I loathe you for religious reasons.

The one time I've ever been deeply, truly, and profoundly offended as a Christian remains the time the Daily Show featured some Tea Party types, one of whom wore a holster with a crucifix in it. I like to think I'm able to be pretty live-and-let-live about my faith, but desecrating a representation of Christ our Lord that hard is kind of angering to me.

The Pitch Aug. 19th, 2011 @ 08:38 am
The head of the agency in charge of federal elections says it's time to modernize Canada's elections, including testing online voting and ending a ban on publishing early election results.

Because that could never result in fraud, oh wait. Paper ballots are NOT THAT HARD.

I have a rough idea for a generic commercial that the UK pro-AV campaign should have used, and that groups trying to counter this should use.

VO: Australia.

Shots of Australiana - beaches, kangaroos, etc. Throw in the Opera House, why not.

VO: The Land Down Under. Founded as a prison colony for the petty criminals of Britain.

Shots embodying the best negative stereotypes about my country. Throw in crap from the Cronulla race riots if you have to.

VO: In Australia, everyone votes. It's illegal not to.

Perhaps a shot of a really stupid-looking Aussie, with a stamp saying "This person votes" or something.

VO: They use preferential voting. On paper.



VO: It runs smoothly, every time.

Clip of Antony Green showing an election results thing - something shiny.

VO: They've been doing it like that for eighty years.

Old shots of election coverage from decades past.

VO: So vote [no to AV/yes to online ballots/etc]. Because Australians?

Something really stupid. Preferably involving a really drunk Australian.

VO: Australians are better than you. Every single one of them.
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The problem with Julia Gillard. May. 5th, 2011 @ 10:07 am
Watching the news: a piece on upcoming welfare reform plans, in which the government is planning to run a trial program of pushing teenage parents into work or educational programs. My opinion on this is reserved until I know more about it; in general terms I'm quite strongly in favour of the apparent current government approach to the long-term unemployed, which is: "Well, if they're long-term unemployed in the current economy, they obviously don't have useful employable skills, so we need to provide educational opportunities to give them those skills."

Given that there's currently an apparent push to welfare reform despite the fact that, according to economists, we effectively have full employment at the moment, I'm in favour of a pro-education approach.

Anyway, that's not the point, really.

The thing that struck me was a shot of Julia Gillard, our Prime Minister, being offered a baby to interact with. You see the baby in front of her, being held up. Camera flashes start going off to the side.

Julia Gillard cups her hand by the baby's face, shielding its eyes from the flashes.

It's a strangely tender moment. There's a perceptiveness there, a caring about the baby as a tiny person rather than a political prop.

Julia Gillard, at heart, is someone who cares.

I honestly believe that she has the potential to be one of Australia's greatest ever Prime Ministers, but I seriously doubt that's going to happen. The problem with her as a leader is that she'll be doing well in a given area, but then, it seems, she'll be influenced by the shadowy, factional power blocs in the ALP and seem fake and weak again - giving fodder along the way to the Liberal Party.

It's so frustrating. The current leader of the Liberal Party is Tony "the Mad Monk" Abbott, a man who has been widely loathed across the country since before I was old enough to vote, I think. We hated him when he was the Health Minister under John Howard, he continues to be creepy, offensive, and unpleasant... and yet the Liberal Party is doing shockingly well.

If the Liberal Party is beind led by Tony Abbott and yet is not polling in single digits, every other party is failing itself, failing Australia, and failing the world.
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