Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The real cost of gas is paid by others...

People complain about the cost of a tank of gas. Ten percent of Shell's oil comes the Niger Delta and the country earns $10 billion dollars from the sale of oil. BBC NEWS | In pictures: Poisonous gas

Every time I drive past a Shell garage I will have these images transfixed in my mind. After seeing this, I will always drive by, never on to the forecourt. Are there any oil companies with "a clean image"? The people who live in the Delta are being poisoned and their lands are being laid to waste. These are crimes against humanity in a different kind of battle zone. People are being deprived of a simple life because my life necessitates I drive a car. The water they drink, the fish they eat and the air they breathe makes them sick. I feel ashamed.

The geese laid the golden eggs and then moved on...

For a couple of years I have been anxiously following the sagas of the dispossessed in Zimbabwe and now I see that there is a glimmer of hope for those with the capacity to relocate.BBC NEWS | In pictures: Rebuilding

The farmers are moving to Zambia and are being welcomed with open arms. 300 Zimbabwe farmers have moved there so far.

What struck me about this family is the concern they show for the people they left behind, wondering if they are able to feed their families and hoping that they can.

The family have already trained and given livelihoods to 250 Zambians.

"A guy whose wife worked at the president’s office took over our farm and basically we had to get off." I hope the "guy" possesses the necessary farming skills, for the sake of the farm workers he made redundant.

The only problem I have with Doug and Anne Watt is that they are growing tobacco. Another article on the BBC news on the same day was about how smoking reduces life expectancy by ten years. There is more profit in tobacco and they need the money. They are planning the maize fields now.

The tobacco companies want a ten year contract with the Watts to secure a constant supply of a good quality product.

Who would imagine that the tobacco companies would be throwing anybody a lifeline. It really is quite ironic. The Watts deserve this lifeline and I wish them prosperity and success. Their crops are double that of Zimbabwe..... whoever would have believed it.

The Watts were able to take their transferable skills and shovels and get back to work. The notion of transferable skills applies to countries and not just jobs. "We left our farm in Karoi in September 2003" The time frame of nine months to turn their whole lives around and that of 250 Zambians is quite remarkable.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Feeling a little deflated...

Lately I have been concerned with the fuel economy of my 1.8T VW engine. It is down 25%. I had all the "settings" checked and tyres inflated to recommended pressures. The car ran well for a week and now has relapsed into "poor fuel consumption" mode.

This morning I decided to check the tyre pressures again. I went to an Arco gas station and was rather put out to find that the inflation machine was out of order. I then went to the next station and was bewildered to find that the tyre pressure inflation machine didn't have a gauge on it to measure pressure.

I didn't realise that in order to inflate tyres one needs a pen sized gadget which measures pressure. If you don't have one then you can't check the pressures. You can inflate or deflate; you just don't know what the pressures actually are.

I reflected momentarily on the times in the past when I have wanted to check my tyres and I became aware of the number of instances that the air station has been out of order. It seemed more often than not these machines didn't work for one reason or another. Today I realised the lunacy of having machines that don't measure pressure.

Then it struck me that it isn't in the interests of gas stations to maintain these machines to do an accurate job. They are interested in selling the gas for profit. Tyre pressure has a huge effect on the fuel efficiency of the vehicle. The worse the fuel economy the more gas you need.

Given the current gas prices, if you run your vehicle below specified pressures you could be paying an unnecessary extra $5 per week for the average vehicle.

I personally think that gas stations should be fined on the spot for not having a fully working machine. Maintaining the correct tyre pressure isn't just about fuel economy it is about safety too.

Friday, June 11, 2004

"There are no easy solutions. Just simple ones."

No-one is more surprised than I am to have received official termination confirmation of our health policy with KP. I don't intend to write the name to avoid ads for KP courtesy of Google. I think it is fair to say that I am now wary of the fact that blogs are scanned for key words.

The matter of the escalating costs associated with Alzheimer's care should be cause for serious concern for everyone. There has been a 350% increase in the numbers diagnosed with it. If the cost of this illness can potentially bankrupt Medicare what will it do to the families dealing with it now and to those in the future?

Perhaps instead of looking to failed models like Kaiser, Blair and others should consider bottom-up alternatives like the PATMOS clinics.

Monday, June 07, 2004

"Pearls before swine"

It is interesting how writing about serious subjects can affect people differently. How you are affected depends on how emotionally mature you are and whether or not you suffer from mental illness. Words can be like evocative smells. They remind us of our own situations. Maybe neglect, abuse, and a lack of achievement and accomplishment ferment in the warped psyche of some individuals. The realisation of their own loss and lack of opportunity is too much for them and a knee jerk superficial reaction is all they are capable of. Articles are glanced at in the main. Like most things, you get out what you put in. We are the products of our own experiences. Our model of the world is moulded by them.

My observations are that some people are just ill equipped to deal with anything that isn't superficial. Comments made by such individuals are the manifestation of a "dog in a manger" mentality.

Writing stories to share was initially interesting until I realised there is a minority of people out there reading them that have nothing to share except venom and a distasteful sense of their warped perceptions and personalities. I don't care who reads my mind through my words. It is an individual choice. It is the reader's time to spend.

Talking of warped perceptions and personalities, I'm off to watch "The Simpsons" ... good choice or poor choice... ?!

Sunday, June 06, 2004

What's in a name....

Just spent a great weekend at the beach at Manresa camping with friends. I should be more alert on a morning and pay more attention to who is actually who in my family. I made a mistake and called Andrew, Christopher at breakfast.

"Hello, I'm Andrew....." "Oh, so you are" I said. "Oh, I'm tired of names. You can all have numbers today"
Each of the five children were given a number and asked to remember their number. We took turns round the table and the children actually enjoyed acquainting themselves with their new tag. 1,2,3,4 it was all going smoothly until we got to number 5. He said "I'm three and a half" We all collapsed laughing!

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The great "aha"

Bringing up children is actually a lot harder than it appears to people without children. One of the really good things about being a parent is that from day one the challenges of parenthood are delivered in bite-sized morsels. Some times I've been know to use the expression "my plate is full" when describing my responsibility and commitment to my children. The metaphorical plate should actually be described as "almost full". Magically, there is always room for more. I am trying to make a point here and it is this: If you knew what was ahead from the outset, all the little details, well you might just think twice! That would have a devastating effect on the human race. I believe the ability to see beyond the immediate, is removed the moment you give birth. An opaque veil descends. This bizarre behavioural reality has to be genetically encoded for the survival of the species.

Learning is a wonderful thing. Watching other people learn is absolutely fascinating. Which brings me onto the subject of my story.

I'm rather old fashioned when it comes to child rearing. I believe that children have to be taught how to learn and require a skill base that cannot be taken for granted. Two of the basic skills are focus and responsibility. To this end I devised a supervised plan to teach them together.

A couple of months ago we became the proud custodians of Rupert, our adored and precious rabbit. He was named after Rupert in the recent "Survivor" series. We wanted our Bunny Rupert to be a survivor, as Harvey, his predecessor, sadly had not survived. He died of heat stroke out of ignorance on our part. The grief for Harvey has passed but the guilt has not.

In order for Rupert to stay climatically comfortable he needs attention. The scenario is as follows. If he is on the grass at night the sprinklers will soak him. If he is on the steps close to the house in the morning in the selected location, he will over heat and potentially expire. The task for Andrew is to bring Rupert onto the steps at night and move him onto the grass in the morning.

Through these motions Andrew is honing the essential skills to assist him in his lifelong quest for knowledge. For several weeks the first thing he would do on rising would be to move the cage onto the grass to avoid the sun and the last thing he would do before bed would be to move it onto the steps to avoid the sprinklers. Then something quite unexpected happened.

Due to a careless act, we returned home one evening to find Rupert had escaped from his cage. The lock had not been secured and Rupert in our absence, had metamorphosed into Houdini, the great escapologist.

This taste of freedom was so sweet to Rupert, that after seconds of trying to catch him, it was apparent he was addicted to it. Our previously mellow hop-along fellow was uncatchable, using the usual method. However, we were experienced bunny custodians and had learnt a few tricks from Harvey. "Get the towel then!" "OK"

From the moment the capture device appeared, Rupert's extended garden romp was over. The words "Got him!" reverberated round the garden in the moonlight. Punch drunk and exhilarated with freedom, the little fellow collapsed trapped underneath. For a moment Andrew considered the towel. Hadn't it been effective!

I missed the actual moment of "the aha" I would have liked to have seen the visual representation of it. Where were the eyebrows positioned? Did the corners of the mouth give way to a smile or was it just a smirk. I missed it because I wasn't paying enough attention.

The next morning Andrew didn't rush out of bed to attend to his responsibility. I wondered why and glanced out of my bedroom window and onto the steps. The means of capture was now the provider of shade. Rupert was shrouded in a bright orange towel to protect him from the sun. Moving Rupert was not the number one wake-up priority anymore. Andrew was thinking laterally.

What struck me about this was the process." I know I can use it for this, what if I use it for that..." Isn't this how scientific discoveries come about. It really can be that random.

The story is not quite complete. Let us not forget the focus aspect. Why was Rupert moved? There is a difference, after all, between light and heat. Being in the shade doesn't necessarily mean a cooler temperature. When I said "a supervised teaching plan" I meant it.

"So Andrew, what's all this about and what have you learnt?" "Let's get a thermometer" I said. "Was it such a good idea after all?"

There is always something new to learn and a new way to learn it....