Archive for June, 2010

OK, I’ll Believe You…

Look closely at the ditch, then read the story.

This rather bizarre story from China has me wondering. Apparently the couple were riding a motorcycle and they came off and ended up trapped in a drain. OK, I’ll believe you. No, I’m sorry. I can’t swallow that. It takes a greater leap of faith for me than if I were to suddenly become a believer in one of the monotheist religions.

I don’t believe their story and I doubt anyone else does, either. That is, by the way, the handy thing about faith based beliefs, people will take your word for it no matter how weird and illogical the story might be. But when it comes to motorcycle accidents I don’t think so. I admit some strange things happen when people become separated from their motorcycle but this is going a bit too far, methinks.

In the Philippines new legislation has come into force (or soon will) to make it compulsory to wear a helmet that meets a set standard. That standard will be identified via a sticker. At present people wear construction site helmets and virtually anything else vaguely helmet like, but only if they are likely to be caught and fined. Even the motorcycle helmets that look the part wouldn’t pass a Snell test. Of course the helmets are cheap, just like the old saying points out. If you have a two buck head, put it in a two dollar helmet.

Motorcycles are inherently dangerous items. They are not the most stable at the best of times and they have a major flaw compared to cars. With a bike you wrap you around the steel instead of wrapping the steel around you. Having ridden motorcycles in Asia and elsewhere and having had a few bingles in my time, I can attest that gravel beats skin every time. I was fortunate in being professionally trained to ride in the Military Police and that training has stood me in very good stead many times over, all across Australia and Asia and America, even Europe and the UK.

If you have a good foundation then you will always get the benefit of that training and experience. If you cut corners you might save some time and money but it will come back to haunt you. You might not end up in a drain, jammed tight with your pillion passenger but no good will ever come from playing chicken with the Grim Reaper.

How Do You Hotwire A Car?

If, for whatever reason, you had to steal a car, do you know how to do it? Do you know how to break in and hotwire it so you can drive it away? No? Well two 8 year old boys in northern Queensland do. They skipped school, ignoring direction by school staff to return and went joyriding. They stole two cars and drove them around until finally caught by Police.

Because they are under 10 the law deems they are not responsible for their actions. I always thought it was 6 but now it is 10. So no charge, no court appearence, nothing. Pity the poor car owners if any damage was done to their cars and no doubt some would have been. The school says they have suspended the boys for the rest of the term. Oooh! I bet that taught them a lesson!

The lesson would be that you can do as you please and there is nothing the establishment will do about it other than give you time off to get into more mischief and crime. For kids who probably hate school already and have little future anyway, what kind of punishment is suspension? What kind of home life do they have where they can learn how to steal cars? Where they even have the first inkling of ignoring authority and skipping school let alone stealing and driving away two cars? Eight years old!

When I was eight I knew right from wrong. I didn’t know how to drive a car let alone break into one or hotwire it and they were a lot simpler in 1969-70 than they are today. But I knew it was wrong to skip school and it was wrong to steal anything, especially a car. What has happened to society when kids no longer have any respect for anyone or anything? When they simply do as they please and know they are immune to punishment until they turn ten. Then at that age they know the punishment will be a joke and more a badge of honour or rite of passage than anything punitive.

If you hammer the parent and her partner when they are sober and not exercising their restraining orders against each other they will either take it out on the kid or someone else because they are too dumb to work it out as to who is really at fault. And society, read this the government, tells them it is never their fault and they deserve counselling, compensation and everything else the burgeoning social services industry can flog from the taxpayer, just vote for me next election.

I can’t see things changing for the better in the short term and the more PC we get, the more we’re afraid to dissent  just in case someone takes offense… the worse it will become. What if you caught two 8 year olds stealing your car and you tried to stop them? Next thing they have the police and social services around throwing you in gaol for assault, child molestation and whatever else. You will become the heinous criminal.   So first thing, make sure your car is too hard a target and send them looking elsewhere. Next, make sure there are no witnesses when you give them the ‘talking to’ their parent/carer/guardian should have.

A Good Idea At The Time MkII

Two blokes in western Victoria shot each other in the buttocks and legs with an air rifle ‘to see if it would hurt’. Apparently it did and after two days they sought medical help to remove the pellets. The doctors however have elected to leave them in as it would be more damaging to remove them. No surprise the men were drinking when they decided to give this a go. However the Law of Unforeseen Consequences has taken a hand in the matter.

All gunshot injuries must be reported to the police. These include air rifle pellet wounds. As a result the man who owned the air rifle has had it confiscated by the Police and any other firearms he was also licensed to own. If he is charged then he will be found guilty of firearms offences and regardless of the facts, that never looks good on any resume. If he wants to travel overseas, many countries, including our own, ask if you have ever had a criminal record and if yes, what for.

In today’s climate of a terrorist under every head scarf this will no doubt make life difficult for him sooner or later. The connection between guns and alcohol can once again be made and the sum of the equation is Gun + Alcohol = Stupidity in this case. In all too many instances the end result is Tragedy. Having been shot in the finger by an air rifle when I was a teen I can attest to the pain and the fact the wound might bleed profusely. Although it was 33 years ago, I still have the scar to remind me that even air rifles can hurt.

Proof It Is A Cruel, Unfair World #1

OK, now we expect weird things to come out of the United States, especially California but sometimes the cringe factor is great enough for me to feel like making a comment. Here we have this woman, an heiress (which means she did nothing do earn the money other than be genetically fortunate) who dies leaving US$3 million to her dog. She also leaves her mansion and US$27 million to her staff so they can look after the dog for the rest of its life. Methinks it will be a shorter one than the average Chihuahua could expect. Unless the mansion life is so good they keep the poor pooch on a life support machine two decades from now. Meanwhile they still have the twenty seven mill to share.

Along comes the estranged son (why are they always estranged? Is there any family in the US that isn’t dysfunctional?) and he is upset about the measly million mommy left him and will contest the will. He reckons the staff manipulated mommy into making the will she did. Gee, do you think?

My point is that nobody deserves to have thirty million clams to waste on their dog and employees when there are far more deserving causes in the world. Surely just in the next town there would have to be a poor family with a very ill child screaming for money for medical treatment in that country where unless you are employed (with benefits!) or rich for goodness sake don;t get sick. Without money in the world’s richest nation you are a nobody. In fact you are to be feared for the risk you pose to the hard earned dollars of the ones fortunate enough never to have known bad luck or poverty.

Sorry, I love the US, its my favourite vacation destination. I have many American friends who are generous to a fault but overall there is no way I would want to be a part of that society. There were some good ideas at the start but in the past 234 years they have gone off the rails. But it is not ‘Americans’ as such but the fact that the society allowed the free expression of human nature long before others have thrown off the chains of decency and good manners.

We see it more and more in Europe and in the emerging economies of India and China where new money is making massive paradigm shifts in the social psyche. People in China, used to the idea the State will provide find that with the improved material wealth of a capitalist economy comes the insecurity and the have and have not factor multiplied far greater than when it was just the party apparatchiks that enjoyed the perks of good living. The bottom line is we have men going postal and murdering dozens in kindegartens then killing themselves because they can’t cope with change.

The USA had its century, the 20th, Great Britain arguably the 19th. Now China, India, Russia and Brazil among others will have theirs. Whereas these countries were once either lawless or ruled with an iron fist, they will see increased crime as the gap between the haves and the have nots widens, just as it will in the US as more and more people join the have nots. One result of this could be a change in the social order  with people banding together and demanding a fairer distribution of the riches. In some countries this will happen peacefully, in others after much bloodshed. In the interim, we will start to read of behaviour akin to the deceased heiress happening in countries where until recently people still knew (and many still do) the pain of going to bed hungry at night. Every night. Actually there are plenty in the USA tonight who will fall asleep with empty bellies. But not the chihuahua in Florida.

There Are Reasons Why We Have Rules

The recent tragic loss of 10 Australians in a plane crash in west Africa underlines the old rule about not putting all your eggs in the one basket. In this case the ‘eggs’ were the entire board of Sundance Mining. This company is now effectively leaderless for however long and that will affect all the employees, their families and the towns that rely on the mining operations of Sundance. Store owners, teachers, medical providers, bus drivers and council workers servicing mining communities in various ways will all feel the repercussions of this tragedy.

Why did they all fly in the one plane? This is a ‘rule’ that all major and most minor corporations as well as governments and the military adhere to. You spread the risk. In this case the corporate jet used by the big boss was incapable of landing at the airstrip of the mining project in the Congo they were going to see. Apparently the only suitable aircraft available in the Cameroons from where they departed was the CASA 212 that crashed, killing all on board as far as we know at this time. So everybody got on the one plane and the end result is a leaderless corporation and a dozen grief stricken families.

There is also an insurance company or two somewhere that is girding its loins for the massive payouts. No doubt these executives and the plane itself were heavily insured and already some loss adjuster is scrabbling for reasons to deny as many claims as they can. That is afterall what insurance companies really do, take your money and hope they can wriggle away if you ever make a claim.

So once again we have a situation where a decision that might have seemed like a good idea at the time has turned sour. The thing is, despite the fact nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition, it happened. Nobody on that plane expected to end up dead before arriving at their destination either but  sadly that happened. There are reasons why we have rules such as not letting the entire board of a corporation fly in the same aircraft. There are reasons why we impose restrictions and limits on people and they are usually because somewhere in history tragedy has occurred when these limits and restraints are ignored. Not every time, but often enough.

Could You Do It?

A man in the USA attempted to amputate his own arm in order to free himself after being trapped while cleaning a furnace. He smelt dead flesh and feared the poison would no doubt spread, hence the drastic attempt at cutting himself free from the furnace. He was there from Sunday night until Wednesday when finally rescued. Why did it take so long to realise he was missing? He lived alone.

In the case of Aron Ralston in 2003, he had not told anyone of his plans to hike a canyon in Utah. When his arm was trapped by a falling boulder he hung on for five days before he took drastic action. He broke the bones in his forearm with another rock and then cut away the flesh and tendons with a cheap multi-tool. He then had to rappel down a cliff and walk out to his car. On the way he was met by a picknicking family who helped organise his medevac by helicopter. He plans to climb Mount Everest this September.

What will to live these two men have displayed, yet how unnecessary was their suffering? Simply by letting people know where you are going to be, you increase your chances of being missed and ultimately rescued long before chewing your arm off is a viable option. While we might take a trip to the basement to clean the furnace for granted, hiking a canyon in the desert without telling anyone where you are going and when you expect to return is nothing short of stupidity. Period. No matter how courageous Ralston was afterwards, he could have avoided the problem by taking someone with him and also telling people his plans.

So why do people fail to do this? Sometimes it is unintentional. One day I was out for a drive in my Land Rover and on the spur of the moment I took a 5km detour along a track I had travelled before. This time my vehicle became bogged and I was unable to self-recover. I left a note with the vehicle and walked out of the bush, hitched a lift to the nearest phone box and arranged help from my brother in law. If I had been hurt during the adventure I might have lain there for days before being found. I would have been missed within 24 hours but nobody knew where I had gone. It was not far from home and I had no intention of going off the main road at the outset but I had some time on my hands and that track was normally a pleasant interlude. In hindsight perhaps I too were stupid for not telling anyone where I was going or what I was possibly going to do.

I learnt my lesson and later, when I bought a small yacht I would make sure somebody knew I was off sailing that day and roughly where I would be, when I would be due back and so on. When I scuba dived I did the same thing although I was always with a group or at least one buddy.

Some might think it invades their privacy to tell anyone of their plans. Get over it. They are often the strong, silent, independent type. Loners. Losers more like it when things go wrong and they can and do. I like my personal space and quiet moments alone as much as most but I also like company at times. Too much of one or the other isn’t good and that is like everything in life, it has to be balanced. Get yourself in balance and life is not only safer, it is more enjoyable, too. We need to take risks from time to time. If we didn’t then we would remain static, never progressing. But like test pilots and adventurers that die of old age, we need those risks to be calculated.

The Gangs All Here… Well Not Quite

There is a story this week from the UK of a Grandmother (45) forgetting her 11 year old grandson was sleeping in the front room when the house caught fire. She saved her four greyhounds but only remembered her grandson after she was safely outside. So too were her 16 year old son and her 28 year old daughter and mother to the still sleeping lad. Fortunately the Fire Brigade rescued the boy. The media of course beat up the story about how she remembered her dogs but not her grandson and left the tut-tutting to the readers and viewers. Of course we would never do anything like that, would we?

The Single Storey Layout Is What We Have

Afterall, the woman had her first child when she was 17 and she had hers when she was the same age so teenage pregnancy and a love of greyhounds obviously rank the woman in the minds of many. In the USA we would be thinking white trailer trash and here in Oz it is ‘Bogan’ time. Funny how we are quick to all too often judge people by socio-economic steretypes based on a few clues given by an increasingly less professional and skilled cadre of journalists writing our opinions and news for us.

They did have a smoke alarm but the batteries were flat. In New South Wales our Fire Brigade advises we change them on the same day every year. I can’t recall if it is 1 April or 1 August. I would think the former is rather apt. It matters not to me as I change the smoke alarm in our bedroom on my birthday and the ones in the kid’s roms on the birthday of the eldest in each room. The one in the hall is neutralized at present as it is poorly positioned and gives too many false alarms.

The cause of the fire in teh UK that had the granny gathering up the grey hounds was a toaster. The other morning we had a close call with out toaster when it was set to high by one of the toddlers the night before. Somehow they had gotten past the kiddy gate and into the kitchen area and adjusted the knob on the toaster. Next morning the eldest is making her breakfast toast and while the toast smoked and burnt for some time, she did nothing but stand and stare. Then she came and reported this to me. I was on the throne at the time and didn’t realise the severity of the situation as the smoke had not made it to the bedroom smoke alarms.

When I entered the kitchen-living room area the place was so full of thick smoke I had to open every window and door I could, then set an electric fan up in the kitchen to blow the smoke out the nearest window. The toast was charcoal and the heat had smudged the cupboard above the toaster and made the wood of the door very warm tot he touch. Not much longer and the place would have gone up. We have fire extinguishers but far better never to have to use them I feel.

It took an hour for the smoke and smell to leave and it was still hanging around later in the day to some extent. It was one of those accidents that can happen to anyone especially with small kids around and we have two of them under 4. I can appreciate the grandmother forgetting her grandson was staying with her and I also wonder why the media picked on her? No mention of the mother of the boy, her daughter who was also there and fled the flames without her child. The youngest son of the grandmother, a lad of 16 was also there and helped her round up the greyhounds (greyhounds in the house and four of them? The mind boggles) so he could have remembered his nephew was sleeping there that morning.

But a fair apportioning of responsibility is not news, is it? Accepting in critical situations people often act irrationally or in ways that in hindsight, far from the maddening crowd of the moment seem incredulous and even ridiculous. But these things happen and we are all easily distracted at different times by different things. Today I let go of the stroller to help a woman retrieve a dropped baby bottle. I forgot the stroller was on a slope and the brake was not on. I gave no mind to the stroller or my baby in it as my attention was focused on helping the woman retrieve her bottle. As I stepped away from the stroller it could easily have rolled down the slope and over the edge of the nearby stairs and sent my child crashing to the floor five or six steps down. Easily done and in hindsight easily avoided but it happened. I accept it did, am grateful there were no consequences and will learn from the mistake. At least it wasn’t on a railway platform with a train pulling in.

So spare a little compassion for those caught up in these tragic calamitous events and don’t be too quick to judge as one day it could easily be you. 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing.

A Good Idea At The Time MkI

It’s been quite a week in this world. We have had 12 people shot dead in some sleepy English towns for no reason other than they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. In Brussels a judge and court officer were killed by a man with a revolver who had sat in the gallery for the entire proceedings of that family law case.

Meanwhile closer to home there have been several murders and other serious crimes that make you wonder what is the world coming to. Of course it has always been a violent world, ever since the place opened for business a zillion years ago. That is the nature of man and the world we live in.

What has changed is mass communication methods. Whereas once we were limited to how far we could walk to market on a saturday, now we travel the globe in an eyeblink via the internet. We no longer know everybody living in our community and our communities are much. More people means more of everything, good and bad.

But no matter how violent we may be as a species, there is something that really twists my Wa when it comes to obviously dumb things to do. Like sitting in the middle of the road. A man has been killed when he was struck by a ute driven by a young man out in the country. Why was he sitting in the middle of the road? Why did the ute driver not see him in time to avoid him?

No doubt there will be several factors at play that caused the tragedy but the main one surely has to be the decision to sit in the middle of the road. One of those ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ moments. The mind boggles.

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