Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The real War on Terror

Immediately after 11 September 2001, the talk of a ‘war on terrorism’ started. It didn’t take long for this to be abbreviated by both politicians and the media to a “war on terror”. And I started loudly whinging about it. Maybe it is just semantics, but to me, terror is an emotion. How can you have a war on terror? I even have a bit of a problem with a war on ‘terrorism’, since terrorism is not a movement or even an ideology which you might be able to fight in an organised way. Strictly speaking it is a method, employed by desperate or despicable people in service of many different ideologies. (Dictionary definiton: the use of terrorising methods, especially the use of violence to achieve political ends.) Of course I know that it is being used as shorthand to represent groups associated with the Taliban and Al-Quaeda. Heh. I reckon I would make a really grouchy journalist.

In response to my whinging, Kam came up with this gem:

War On Terror
In the latest event of the United States of America’s “War On Terror”, President George W. Bush has moved his campaign to its next rational step. Satisfied with the bombardment and general obliteration of Afghanistan plus the vaporisation of the Taliban in light of the September 11 disaster, his attentions have turned to the famed Master of Terror; Stephen King.

King’s last whereabouts was his mountain home in Bangor, Maine. A small armada of U.S. troops and weaponry is currently in place a mere four hundred miles away in the State of New York, prepared to strike. “The choice was so obvious for a base of terrorist operations, really we should have pounced on it before.” President Bush declared with arms flailing from his side like a muppet, “Damn it we should’ve just been prepared. Today we correct that mistake and pay the Axis Hotel of Mr King a little visit.”

Critics of the whole War On Terror campaign feel that maybe the next logical step is to go from Al Qaeda to Iraq and then maybe Northern Ireland, rather than this massive leap of the illogical. Doctor Professor Mabootoo believes that with Maine right on the Canadian border there is a very different agenda, “With Quebec less than a hundred miles away from Maine, then it’s just a little down the road to Ottawa. What we have here is the first steps to a full scale invasion.”

Bush has answered denigration with casual disregard, “I have suffered the slings and arrows of many supporters of evil. I will not be deterred. I have promised the people of this great nation, nay – the world – that we, the greatest nation under the REAL God’s graces, shall eradicate terror and its upholders.” The President raved on, “It has come to me that Doctor Professor has flat out accused me of being a terrorist myself. While it is true that we have lived in mortal fear of our Northern neighbours for hundreds of years with their beady eyes, flapping flip top heads and rampant homosexuality… but in no way would we ever consider joining the Taliban.”

In a further address President Bush revealed conclusive proof that after the U.S. government gave Afghanistan 62.5 million dollars to help eradicate their drug problem so they could build up their military movement with little to no distractions, Osama bin Laden suddenly had the money to travel. Travel he did coming to America in search of one of his favourite authors, Mr Stephen King. Armed with only his first edition copies of Cujo and Christine for signing, he apparently had a little tea party with one Saddam Hussein at the King residence. “We have the facts. Anyone who wants to believe Mabootoo’s shenanigans and lies about me might as well be playing quarterback for team Satan!”

So the hunt is now on for Mr King. Already a combined effort by the CIA and FBI is underway to decode and decipher his 60 plus books. “Who knows what other devious plots this repugnant, evil mastermind has in store for us?” Bush declared, waving his copy of Rose Madder, “I’m doing my part and I expect every God/Arab/box-cutter fearing American to do the same.”

Stephen King offered only a brief statement from whereabouts unknown. “At least the sales of my books have gone through the roof… Take that Koontz, ya bastard!”

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Greg! The Stop Sign!!

There's a spelling mistake that I've been seeing all over the place lately. It's bothering me almost as much as the rampant apostrophe abuse EVERYWHERE.

Every second person seems to be using 'breaks' instead of 'brakes' for the things that slow down and stop your car or bike. I guess I can see how it might seem appropriate - they 'break' your speed maybe?

The internet is a very efficient vehicle for spreading incorrect spellings. (And, come to think of it, all sorts of incorrect things.) It allows anyone to publish material very easily, without any editing. A great deal of internet content is the equivalent of someone scribbling down a few thoughts, without even checking it over themselves. (Like this blog sometimes) But the result can still look like a reasonably authoritative published document. (Maybe not so much this blog!) So common mistakes look plausible and people who don't have the most confident or consistent spelling learn from reading incorrect examples.

Just one of those necessary evils, I guess. I am the last person you'll hear wanting to get rid of the internet - what would I do when I want to know something but don't want to get off my butt, or make a phone call (ew!), and certainly don't want to get the answer less than instantly?

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Top of the world, ma!

Finally! After leaving you all hanging for so long, here is the rest of the story. The first part is here

Once fully kitted out and briefly trained, the first thing we had to do was brave an array of curious glances to walk along the road to get to the bridge, wondering if we looked kind of cool and intrepid, or just ridiculous. We stopped and entered a doorway, seeming to go back into the same building we had just come out of, a bit further down the street.

It was good to be back inside, away from prying eyes. We climbed some stairs and quickly emerged onto the catwalks running under the roadway, before the bridge actually reaches the water. I suddenly realised we were already quite high above the ground. Then came what turned out to be the trickiest part of the whole climb, a series of four ladders (almost vertical) of 20-ish rather closely placed steps each. We had all been paying attention back in the preparation phase, so only one person climbed a single ladder at a time. I was second last in line and Dad was last, and since we were all ‘clipped on’ the group was forced to keep the same order for the whole climb. So the whole time we felt like the ones everyone was waiting for!

As I started on the first ladder, I couldn’t help asking "Is this a good time to mention my fear of the ocean?" which got a nervous laugh from Dad. Somewhere on the second ladder a feeling washed over me that this actually might be quite scary. I wondered why the forms that we signed earlier hadn’t asked: “do you have occasional nightmares of enormous tidal waves?” The wind seemed strong even though we were partially sheltered, and I assumed it would be worse up at the top. But I stomped heavily on my fear, and lightly on the steps. By the time I got onto the third ladder I was feeling fine, though still wondering what else was to come.

As it turned out, the rest of it was pretty easy. There were a couple of very brief tight and/or low spaces, nothing that posed any of the group much difficulty, and there was nice foam padding on all the bits that heads (for the most part, taller than mine) might bump into. There were also some narrow catwalks where you could see the road or the water below. At all times there were railings on both sides of the path, and the cable that we were all tethered to continued around the whole route.

Without a doubt, the main event was climbing over the arch itself. This was not at all physically demanding, especially since we stopped at several points for a bit of commentary while taking in the views, and also for several group and individual photos. You can't take your own camera, and this is for genuine safety reasons, but I'm sure it also doesn't hurt the company's profits when it comes to selling their photos. We got one group photo each as part of the climb price. Unfortunately Dad and I both looked a bit dodgey in that one so we bought two others on CD for about $25.

The gentle pace couldn’t really be varied, because there were always several groups behind and ahead of us. I would very much have preferred to be up there with a few less people around everywhere you looked. The process of climbing the arch was just a series of steps at a gentle angle, forming a generous wide path, with railings on both sides. Since it wasn't very windy after all, it was quite easy to climb this without even holding on, though I did mostly keep one hand on the railing. I suppose you could maybe lose your balance and trip, but you you'd have to work pretty hard at it to actually fall off the bridge.

The Bridgeclimb route doesn’t go all the way over the bridge: it only goes to halfway, then crosses over at the middle, where the NSW and Australian flags are, and heads back on the other side. The distance travelled is equivalent to fully crossing the bridge and coming down the other side.

At the end we were told we had climbed a total of fourteen-hundred-and-something steps in all (yes, we were told the exact number but I forgot). The guide made a big deal of waiting to tell us this after we had finished all the steps, including the normal inside-the-building ones, and after a group that went past us on their way up were out of earshot. The highest point we reached was 134 metres above sea level. And it almost goes without saying that the view from up there was spectacular. You can see quite a long way, including a bit of Manly, and the big stadium at Homebush. Definitely a unique way to see Sydney.

It’s something I always thought would be fun to do, but I might never have gotten around to it if it wasn’t for Dad getting a voucher as a birthday present. And it was a lovely way to spend some time with Dad, we felt like we had achieved something really cool. We rewarded ourselves with beer and pizza. Who am I kidding, I would have had beer and pizza anyway, but it felt particularly deserved.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

A bleeding failure!

Late last year an email came around at work, saying that the Red Cross were looking for more blood donors, and that one of the regularly scheduled minibuses would be taking a group from the Department soon. I decided it was time to give it a go.

I'm usually ok with needles so I wasn't too worried. I marked 'no' to most of the questions on the enormous questionnaire, and everyone female in the room got a giggle out of 'In the last 12 months have you had male-to-male sex?' Uh, no. The next step was an interview, including blood pressure and haemoglobin tests.

They had no trouble getting the needle into a vein on my arm, and the blood started flowing. I sat there squeezing the little rubber ball and trying not to move. I tried to read a novel at the same time but that required too much coordination. The nurse kept coming over and frowning at the machine. It was placed so I couldn't see the display, but it emerged that the blood wasn't flowing fast enough.

According to the red cross website “The donation process generally takes between 7 and 10 minutes and you usually donate 470 ml of blood.”

The maximum time you're allowed to keep going is 15 minutes, and it soon became apparent that despite various attempts to jiggle the needle or change the angle of my arm, my donation was going nowhere near 470ml.

When the nurse took the needle out she said that a clot had formed and that was probably why the flow had all but stopped. She also said my veins might be small; I might just be a "slow bleeder". I was a bit disappointed with this because they didn't get enough for an actual donation, but was reassured that they had enough for the tests they have to do to register me as a donor. I was told to drink a lot of water next time.

A few months later I tried again. I drank an extreme amount of water that morning, and did not have any caffeine. During the interview I was given a keyring to 'celebrate' my second donation. It has my blood type on the back, A+. Which makes me fairly common but not the most common.

Unfortunately, the second donation didn't go an awful lot better than the first. Again the blood flowed a bit slowly, so about one third of the way through, I was given a heat pack for my arm. That seemed to speed up the flow a bit, but it was still not enough. I was quite despondent about it so they reassured me that my puny donation could still be used for some blood products. They suggested that next time I should ask for the heat pack as soon as I get there.

I missed the next bus trip from work, but on Monday some one from the blood bank called me to ask if I could come in soon, so I made an appointment for today.

Well. I avoided coffee and tea. Once again I drank a lot of juice and water. I told the nurse of my previous problems and she checked both of my arms for the best looking vein. I sat with a heat pack on my arm for some time before she put the needle in, and when she did, blood spurted everywhere!

This seemed to be a good sign, But, by about nine minutes, they only had 200ml. The initially slow flow had become sluggish-to-none. Apparently, once the flow slows down, clotting tends to occur and then it’s all over.

As before, the nurse was very kind, and did not make me feel like I had wasted her time. She suggested that perhaps I should stop trying to donate. I had already concluded that it was to be third time lucky or not at all. She did say I should consider trying again in a couple of years, because “things can change, veins can change”, but I think she was just trying to soften the blow. She put a note on the file so that they wouldn’t call and hassle me to donate again. Afterwards I was having a drink before leaving and one of the staff asked me to fill in a form to join the 'frequent donor's club' - you get a travel clock, red of course, if you donate three times in a year. I miserably had to explain that I wouldn't be coming back.

I am really disappointed. It’s such an amazing thing that you can give half a litre of blood with little or no ill-effects, and provide something that is essential to modern medicine. The best I can do is say to anyone reading this that it's worth a try. It is not painful, and doesn’t take very long. All the staff members I encountered at the blood bank (at The Canberra Hospital) were truly very kind and encouraging, and they go to some effort to make donors feel genuinely appreciated. And although I didn’t try them, I’m told they make great milkshakes for after your donation.

Friday, May 07, 2004

A few thoughts on the Passion of the Christ

Kam and I went to see the Passion a few weeks ago. When we were deciding which movie to see I discovered that even though when it first came out I had said I wanted to see it, I sort of didn't want to see it any more, feeling like it wouldn't really be a 'movie'. But in fact I ended up being glad that I saw it. I don't think it would be much use to people who don't already know the story in some detail, though. I thought it was fascinating in parts, I was very interested (with my historian hat on) in the power
relationships between the Romans and the Jews, not so straightforward;
though the way Herod was shown was a bit of a joke. I was mystified by some
of the appearances of the devil - in particular the appearance during the scourging may have been more at home in a David Lynch film! I would accuse Mel of trying to grab attention with the tried and tested combo of gore and a bit of the supernatural; but to be honest I think he was just reflecting his medieval conception of his religion... I suspect he did not make it with an Oscar in mind, nor box office. I could be totally wrong though.

The flashback with Jesus making the table really didn't work - we thought maybe if they had left out Mary's punchline 'it'll never catch on' they might just have gotten away with it. But the time could have been used better to show Jesus' character - this scene was trying to show some character, (or maybe light relief) but it was not based on the bible, and more importantly, also not consistent with all
the preachy flashbacks, where he was very dull.

Essentially the movie was the 'stations of the cross' come to life, and should be enormously useful for churches and christians as a tool to appreciate and focus on the suffering of Christ for all our sins. It will not be so useful as an evangelistic tool, however! I would think it would be fairly impenetrable for non-Christians.

Charity close to home

My friend Michelle has a four year old son called Aaron. In November he amazingly survived an attack of meningococcal disease, but ended up having his feet and some fingertips amputated due to damage from the disease. They are not a wealthy family, and there will be enormous expenses, including new prosthetics and wheelchairs as he grows, sports equipment, etc, for a long time to come. A trust fund has been set up for donations and fundraising. More details of Aaron's story can be found on his website.