A miscellany

My Molong Express page 10 — 16 May, 2019

The lies and selective truths infesting the airwaves and muddying up the newspapers are becoming a bit overwhelming, so I thought I might give the politics a bit of a miss this week. Except for something I recently stumbled across. What follows is only a brief excerpt from an article in National Geographic (NG),that venerable US publication that has been almost a household name since the 19th century. Published in April this year, it looks at the cost of global warming and, in light of our current PM’s ardent desire to be enlightened on the subject, I thought I’d slip the relevant paragraph in. The article refers to the latest findings on warming in the Arctic regions, adds them to what has been estimated as the global cost of the challenge Earth is facing and claims that:

“The $25 to $70 trillion cost of Arctic warming adds four to six percent to the total cost of climate change—which is estimated to reach $1,390 trillion by the year 2300 if emissions cuts are not better than the Paris Agreement. However, the costs of the current business-as-usual path could be more than $2,000 trillion.”

Using the lower estimate, and if my maths is right, that’s about $4.5 trillion a year if we start now. In 2016, the world’s entire GDP was about $76 trillion. I’ll leave it there, but if you’d like to know more, here’s the link to the story: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/04/arctic-climate-change-feedback-loops-cost-trillions/

And now the Namoi

According to the latest scientific reports, the Namoi has now joined the list of threatened rivers in the Murray Darling Basin: “at tipping point” was one description used. Once again, the gross lack of oversight – not to mention foresight – on the part of regulators and legislators has been brought to light. And until real changes are made, until truly independent, science-based, expert bodies are appointed to manage the ecosystems vital to our survival, it will not change. The key word here is manage, not advise. Since when have politicians listened to advice they didn’t want to hear?

No matter how many dams we build, how many aquifers we tap, how many rivers we divert, there will never be enough water. Governments, individual politicians, their corporate backers and good old human greed will see to that. Some day, someone will come up with a scheme to grow roses in the Simpson Desert and will convince a political party that it is vital to the national interest that he do so. The politicians will commission a feasibility study into the damming of the Finke River, and a committee of rural economists will claim that if the scheme doesn’t go ahead, 200 Queensland jobs will be at risk. Back to square one.

Far-fetched? Well not so long ago, a mega-rich American (with no experience in viticulture) planted grapes at Nundroo, in the country abutting the Nullarbor. Now Nundroo gets its water from bores by means of windmill power, using the old-fashioned, traditional type of windmill. Not much forward thinking there. I was through there not so long ago and didn’t see any evidence of a burgeoning wine industry.

If you don’t want to read the linked article, here’s an excerpt:

Case, 72, formed a trust to buy a 50,000-acre spread in South Australia and planted the 10-acre test plot earlier this year. Next, he wants to add some Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The first crop won’t come until 2005, but he is betting that the resulting wine (which he expects to sell for $25 a bottle) will outshine other Australian Cabernets and give Napa a run for its money.

“The Australians don’t know what they’re doing,” sniffed Case. “Their Cabernets are wimpy. I hired some viticulture consultants, and they just wanted to treat the vineyard like they do in McLaren Vale. I hate McLaren Vale Cabernet.”

Case has no prior experience growing grapes or making wine. He is a chemical engineer with four degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds more than 20 patents, and his current big project is to get a catalytic fusion plant working. That’s right, cold fusion. His process involves converting heavy water to helium using palladium and carbon as catalysts.

Note: I’m searching for more up-to-date information on this proposal to put at risk more of Australia’s scarce and fragile natural resources.

Why we used to have proofreaders and copy editors

We all make mistakes, of course we do, but increasingly we are being bombarded with news stories, political handouts and company public-relations releases that make absolutely no sense. They are written in such a way as to obfuscate or at best appear intelligent, educated and well-read, leading to the stripping of any real meaning from the reporting of even the most serious events. This piece I wrote for the USA’s LiketheDew springs to mind:

Writing in Kentucky News Review, Lu-Ann Farrar said that “Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University had told the Detroit Free Press that paramilitary troups are being used more often in police situations.”

Now right there I’m puzzled. What’s a police situation, a job with the service? And do paramilitary services have entertainment units, even misspelled ones? She goes on:

“A Detroit imam, Luqman Ameen Abdullah, was arrested and shot by an elite FBI Hostage Rescue Team.” Arrested and shot? In that order? By a rescue team? She continued: “Abdullah is the first time a religious leader has been killed by government forces since…”

Abdullah is the first time? Wouldn’t “Abdullah’s is the first death of a religious leader at the hands of…” have been a little less confusing? Then Ms Farrar quotes the professor: “We’ve seen…real serious problems with various SWAT tragedies…Real problems arise when it’s misapplied to the wrong circumstances.” Pardon me; could you repeat that, please, professor? Doesn’t writing an article about something this serious warrant a little care?

This sort of stuff crops up all the time these days, and yet just five minutes work by someone could have made the story more readable. Of course, there’s the old Golden Rule to take into account: “Never proofread your own work”. Why? Because you understand what you have written but a reader may not – and there is also a tendency to overlook your own literals, which is trade jargon for spelling mistakes; technically speaking, typos are very different things.

I’ll never forget my chagrin when, on receiving the first edition of a book I’d written (and proofread/copy edited) from the printer, I opened to the Introduction: the first thing to hit my eye was a spelling error. I’d ignored the golden rule I’d always preached to writers whose work I copy edited.

I wonder if, given the chance, the ABC Breakfast News anchor MJ Rowland, would like to do a retake of his part in the “promo” for ABCTV’s election night broadcast, the part in which he says “…you can almost hear the audible sigh”.

Of course you should always review your own work, making improvements and correcting errors where you find them. But if it’s something written for general consumption, then get someone else to cast an eye over it before you send it “out there”.

A long-held passion

I’ve kept pigeons of one sort or another off and on since I was about 13. Even in my most nomadic years, if I looked like being in one spot for more than a couple of months, I’d put together a small flock to keep my hand in.

Why? Because I like them, I suppose is the best I can offer in this brief introduction to that passion. People keep them for all sorts of reasons: some are hooked on racing them, others like to show them, still others enjoy the high-flying or aerobatic varieties. Me, I’ve always liked tumblers, aerial acrobats that do flips of various sorts while in flight. But I also like pigeons for the romance associated with them, the images they conjure up. They were domesticated long before the horse was tamed in Europe and were being bred for special attributes at least contemporarily with ancient Mesopotamia – famous in antiquity for its white ‘doves’. (In the strictest sense, the words ‘dove’ and ‘pigeon’ are interchangeable, the former coming to us from the Germanic languages, the latter from Latin via Old French. These days, however, dove is used mainly to describe the smaller members of its large tribe – except by poets who prefer it over pigeon on every occasion.)

Pigeons figure in the myths and legends of many of the ancient civilisations. To the Hebrews, they were an acceptable sacrifice to their god. The pigeon informed Noah that the waters were subsiding, a story common to all the Abrahamic religions, and the pigeon is still symbolic of the Holy Sprit to Christians.

They were carried with the caravans that plied the Silk Road and traded along the way. The ancient cities of Bokhara, Lahore, Damascus, Istanbul, Iskenderun and others are commemorated in the names of pigeons that first came to the West from them, sometimes carried among the chattels of returning crusaders.

Pigeons are bred in bewildering variety: for their voices; for their speed, endurance and ability to navigate over hundreds of miles; for their plumage; their aerobatic abilities; their colours, and yet they all share many common traits. They are intelligent and affectionate to their keepers, whom they recognise by their facial characteristics, and feral pigeons will remember for years the face of someone who once fed them. Darwin kept pigeons and they helped shape his thinking on evolution.

I once produced and edited the magazines of Australia’s National Pigeon Association and its US counterpart, and was commissioned by Ivy Press (UK) to write the text of a small coffee-table book titled Beautiful Pigeons. These days I keep Iranian Highflyers, an ancient breed of Persian origin, bred for its ability to fly for an extended time at great height, occasionally performing elegant backward somersaults.

If you’d like to learn a little more about what Andrew D Blechman called “the world’s most reviled and revered bird”, please ask me. If not, then forgive us pigeon keepers our passion – it takes all sorts, as my Grandmother would say.

A Jacobin pigeon, one of the more extreme of the feather breeds, with its hood trimmed for the breeding season. One of Queen Victoria’s favourite breeds, the Jacobin was once known as the Cyprus pigeon, having been brought to that island by Crusaders, who had headquarters there. From Cyprus it was introduced to Europe by Crusaders returning home.

It’d be funny if…

We all make mistakes, of course we do, but increasingly we are being bombarded with news stories, political handouts and company PR releases that make absolutely no sense. I was feeling pretty outraged last night about the biased report that the ABC’s 7.30 did on the kerfuffle surrounding Adani Coal’s attempt to dig the world’s biggest hole in Queensland, and that got me thinking about the way in which attempts to obfuscate – or at best appear intelligent, educated and well-read –  are leading to the stripping of any real meaning from the reporting of even the most serious events. This piece I wrote for the USA’s LiketheDew sprang to mind.

Writing in Kentucky News ReviewLu-Ann Farrar said that Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University…now let’s just hold it there for a second while I try to work out where to start. To make things a bit clearer, I’ll italicise Lu-Ann’s words, at least the ones I think are hers.

Got that? Ms Farrar wrote that  the professor  told the Detroit Free Press that paramilitary troups [sic.] are being used more often in police situations. Now right there I’m puzzled. What’s a police situation, a job with the service? And do paramilitary services have entertainment units, even misspelled ones? She goes on: A Detroit imam, Luqman Ameen Abdullah, was arrested and shot by an elite FBI Hostage Rescue Team. Arrested and shot? In that order? By a rescue team? She went on: Abdullah is the first time a religious leader has been killed by government forces since…Abdullah is the first time? Wouldn’t “Abdullah’s is the first death of a religious leader at the hands of…” have been a little less confusing?

Then Ms Farrar quotes the professor: “We’ve seen…real serious problems with various SWAT tragedies…Real problems arise when it’s misapplied to the wrong circumstances.”

Doesn’t writing an article about something this serious warrant a little care?

I had intended to hand my virtual “Newnglish” award to a writer whose copy I edit, for the descriptive gem “the most rainy day of the year”,  but she was well and truly outclassed.

How I found that there can indeed be liberation in work

I HATED SCHOOL – absolutely hated it – and almost from my very first day there couldn’t wait to get out. There were lots of reasons for my loathing and I’ll be first to admit that as my school years crawled by a lot of the things I hated were magnified by my own pig-headedness, but a lot weren’t; they were irritants engendered by a system still operating in the past and geared to deal only with privilege, the status quo and blind acceptance. I’ll also concede that I started my academic non-career at a bad time. Early on many of the teachers were probably dragged out of retirement to fill gaps left by those who were away fighting the war. These servicemen and women then returned to teaching no doubt finding it difficult to cope with a world far removed from the one they had known since 1939 – maybe since 1929. All that aside, I still hated it.

Bernie Jamieson aged around 21. She remains among my pantheon of major heroes.
Bernie Jamieson aged around 21. She remains among my pantheon of major heroes.

On my very first day I was involved in a Disturbing Incident (more of that another time) but it was literacy that was the real wellspring of my bitter gall. Yes, literacy. You see, I could read tolerably well by the time I was four and more than tolerably well by age five. I’m not sure how, I think I taught myself by linking words to pictures in books being read to me, but I can still vividly remember the day the penny dropped. I was being taken out for a walk by Mum’s younger friend and one of my pantheon of major heroes, Bernie Jamieson, who at the time would have been around 16 or 17, give or take. Mum worked on the metropolitan buses as a connie – bus conductress, i.e. ticket seller – during the war and Bernie and my equally young Aunt Tina baby sat me after school, and at weekends if Mum was working and Nana needed a break. Bernie had a beautiful mind, and as she pushed me around in my stroller or walked at a pace befitting my short legs we would make up stories based on the names of the streets we travelled. “Violet Grove was a shy, reclusive girl who longed for great adventures,” I can still hear her saying as we turned into the little street bearing the name of that imaginary pale beauty. Then one day – I wasn’t much more than three – I pointed to the street sign above us and said: “This must be where Robinson Crusoe lived.” Bernie didn’t bat an eyelid: “It is little known, but in his declining years, Robinson Crusoe kept a house in Shenton Park, in the street that now bears his name.” We were, indeed, in Robinson Street. It was, I realised years later, A Huge Mistake.

Why? The upshot of it all was that when I got to the Reading Primer stage at school, it all came crashing down. Come my turn at reading aloud and I opened my book and began: “Sam, can you see the ball? Rover (or Spot, I can’t remember, but it was a half-pie border collie-looking thing) can see the ball.” And on I went at my usual storytelling speed, reading for punctuation and all as I’d been taught when reciting poems at home. I’d only got to the bottom of the page when the pedagogue spoke: “Sit down, Francis, no-one likes a showoff.” I was crushed.

Doubly so. Not only had I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do – despite the stupid storyline – but she had called me by the wrong name. I was Frank, registered as such in Official Government Documents and one of a long line of Frankish-eyed men in the Clan Hwfa, and not Francis. By the time I was a teenager, I swore to refuse to have anything more to do with any girl who asked me “Were you christened Frank or Francis?” It was a vow I didn’t keep, but back to my tale – that was that for primary school, and it went downhill from there on in. Salvation came just a few months shy of my fifteenth birthday, in the form of a classified ad in the West Australian:

APPRENTICE HAND COMPOSITOR
Position available in Fremantle at small jobbing printer.
Apply to Mr R. Wade at
Fremantle Printing Company Pty Ltd
cnr Cliff and Phillimore Sts.

Next day, and without a word to anyone, I went into Fremantle instead of to school in West Perth. Cocky as a bantam rooster, I fronted up to the office counter in what is now a heritage-listed building and asked to speak to Mr R Wade. Ron, as I later knew him, sat me down in the tiny front office, asked me a few questions then, to my delight said: “You’ve got the job. When can you start?”

indentures

“One o’clock this arvo,” I promptly replied, and then overrode protests that there was no need, that I could start Monday – it was a Thursday – or in two weeks or whenever; but I was insistent, here was my chance at liberation. I was going to take it. Now! I caught the train back to West Perth and, as I’d expected, was grabbed by the headmaster. “Why are you late, Povah?”

“I’ve got a job and I’m startin’ terday. I need a letter sayin’ I’ve left school.”

“I’ll do it and glad to. You’ll never amount to anything, Povah, you’ll be a nothing all your life.”

“She’ll be right,” I replied. Failure I might be, but I was after all an Australian.

An eternity of long hours later and I was back in Fremantle to begin work as a probationary pre-apprentice. I got home a couple of hours late that day and was immediately bailed up by Mum: “Where have you been? What have you been up to.”

“I’ve been at work.” “Work? Work? What do you mean work?” and I told her.

And that’s how I became a hand compositor. I’ll tell you about the job and the people I knew another time, but I still get a thrill when I recall how proud I was to be a Probationary Apprentice beginning his six-year journey as an Indentured Apprentice on the way to becoming a Tradesman Hand Compositor and still later a Journeyman. Years later, Ron – who’d been a navigator in Lancaster bombers in wartime – told me he was so flabbergasted by my cocksuredness and the fact that I’d fronted up on my own and full of confidence (the ad had been running for a few days before I saw it and several other applicants had arrived with parents) that he’d had “no choice”.

The headmaster was right, of course. But I’ve had a better life than he ever did I’ll bet.

Kentucky memories, III

Blessings heavily disguised

Blessed

After two-and-a-bit years here in the US, I’m still trying to get my head around interviewees on teevee news clips being blessed. You know the sort of thing: there’s a close-up of ‘Shaken Resident’ who saw – or thinks he did – a meteor landing in the next county where it demolished a derelict tobacco barn. “I’m feelin’ blessed,” says SHAKEN RESIDENT, “that I warn’t standin’ in that thar barn when whutivver you said it wuz hit ‘er.” College basketball stars and their coaches are blessed almost every time they’re interviewed: “Well I know we got beat 55 to nil, but we’re blessed that the team bus wasn’t in an auto wreck on the way to the game, otherwise it might’ve been a lot worse. Yessir, a lot worse.”

Okay, that’s here in the US and I’m a great believer in everyone on earth being allowed their own accent and idiom without suffering ridicule or condemnation but strike me pink, there was worse yet to come.

A week or so ago, I’m running the official editorial eye and <Track Changes> over a piece about a camel-trekking adventurer for the Australian magazine that still retains me when, spare me days, the writer tells me he’s been ”blessed by all the people” he met along the way. Was he in Australia’s central deserts I wondered, or time-travelling in the Negev around the time of John the Baptist and those other hallucinating, malnourished ascetics? Or did he, I speculated, watch too much teevee – the commercial networks in Oz being fond of hanging on the coat-tails of their US counterparts.

Is this a relatively new expression? I don’t recall coming across it in the American literature I’ve read or in taped interviews with the musicians I admire. ‘Well, I’m blessed’ as an expression of mild astonishment and ‘I haven’t heard a blessed word from her in years’ to show genteel exasperation have been around for yonks in Australia, and I suspect the US also. Artists, too, have always been blessed with a talent, but it seems to me that implying you’ve been the recipient of beneficial interference from your deity because a meteor didn’t defy the laws of nature and deviate from its course to squash you flat as a tack is stretching it just a teensy bit. Isn’t it?

Or has the Zorro of organized Christianity’s Reicht Wing, the Sin-finder General, now decided that to claim something as just sheer good luck is, like Darwin’s finches, a blasphemy?