Whipping up a dust storm in D

dust-storm
Dust storm obscures Sydney Opera House, September 2009. Image by Janet Kavanagh, NSW Maritime, CC

While innocently vacuuming never-ending dust this week, I accidently sucked up the D harmonica which was lying on the coffee table. Said harmonica emitted a plaintive sound, closely resembling the wheezy noise of a piper warming up (think, You’re the Voice, Eric Burden’s Sky Pilot and that AC/DC song about it being a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll).

Alarmed (these little blues harps cost $45 a piece), I managed to grab one end before it disappeared into the dusty bowels of the 10-year-old Wertheim. After a short struggle and a discordant approximation of the intro to Blowin’ in the Wind, I freed the harmonica and continued on my merry way.

Most household tasks have fallen my way since She Who is Ambidextrous (SWIA) broke a bone in her wrist, although to be serious, using the vacuum cleaner has always been one of my chores. This machine has seen better days, but it still does the job. The broken hose is securely held together with gaffer tape and a pair of chopsticks. A while ago I priced a replacement hose at a vacuum cleaner shop (I could have bought a budget-level machine for the same money). The enterprising young lad managed to side-track me to a really up-market vacuum cleaner which, I discovered after a 20-minute spiel, cost $1,799.

“I could buy a 20-year-old Toyota Corolla for that sort of money,” I said, “Nice try, kid.

I went out of the shop happily humming ‘I love my Toyota Corolla, aha hah,’* having spent no money at all. Instead I went to one of those big red and green barns and bought a roll of gaffer tape.

Maybe 36 years ago (or more), I succumbed to a sales pitch when a colleague sent his uncle around to sell me a vacuum cleaner. I had been telling this colleague how the old machine was seriously incapable of sucking up not only dust but hair and dander from a Golden Retriever.

So Uncle Harry called around, to demonstrate the superior dust sucking power of a top of the line Electrolux, in the days when top quality appliances were manufactured here and sold door-to-door with a five or even 10-year warranty.

I bought the Electrolux on time payment, because that was the only way to finance such an extravagant purchase in those impecunious times.

I’ve earned a few million (sic. Ed.) dollars since then and that old machine refuses to die. It’s now the ‘downstairs’ vacuum cleaner, although I’ve been known to use it upstairs when (as is a common problem), temporarily unable to source the right-size dust bags.

“That old thing still does the job,” said She Who Told Me in Week 3, “I Don’t Vacuum”. (My Dr. said I shouldn’t vacuum- bad for the back. Ed.)

A while back, when the tiler had finished laying tiles in our downstairs rooms I (without thinking), took the Electrolux out and started sucking up tile dust. It was the smell that alerted me – smoke pouring out the top of the machine. The bag was chockers. I let the Electrolux cool down, put in a new bag and what do you know, it continued on untrammelled, a glass half full version of the Millennial expression, “This sucks”.

I’m completely sure no manufacturer today could produce a vacuum cleaner (or any appliance), that would last 36 years and more.

This line of thinking led me to research robotic vacuum cleaners, which can be bought for as little as $129 or as much as a 20-year-old Toyota Corolla. Choice magazine generally gave all models the thumbs down when marking them on the capacity to extract dust from carpet.

The intelligent vacuum cleaner does a pretty good job on hard floors, although why you’d prefer a round model over a square one (to get into those nasty little corners that harbour ancient dust), is a mystery.

The perplexing thing is this: where does dust come from and why does it settle again after one pass with a vacuum cleaner? As Quentin Crisp said in The Naked Civil Servant: “There is no need to do any housework at all.After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.”

Dust mites and chronic allergies

I will acknowledge to being a little bit fussy about vacuuming, ever since the allergist did the pin prick tests to show I was hyper-allergic to dust mites. On first discovering this in the 1990s, we hired a heavy duty industrial vacuum cleaner and paid an agile friend to clean the crawl space in the attic of our 60-year-old house. After the fourth big black garbage bag was passed down the ladder to the respirator-wearing assistant, our friend declared that was one job he was never doing again.

It’s not too hard to find out the answer to the question, where does dust come from? Science Daily surmises, not so surprisingly, that most house dust comes from outside. The scientists developed a computer model that could track distribution of contaminated soil and airborne particulates into residences. They found that over 60% of house dust originates outdoors. The study by the American Chemical Society found that contaminants like lead and arsenic can find their way into homes via airborne dust.

Researchers David Layton and Paloma Beamer found that household dust included dead skin shed by people, fibres from carpets and upholstered furniture and tracked-in soil and airborne particles blown in from outdoors.

The 2009 report mentioned above came out in the same year a 500 km wide dust storm the colour of Donald Trump’s complexion swept across New South Wales and Queensland. The Australian capital, Canberra, experienced the dust storm on September 22 and a day later it reached Sydney and Brisbane. Thousands of tons of dirt and soil lifted in the dust storm were dumped in Sydney Harbour and the Tasman Sea. Ah yes, you remember that.

Random dust storms aside, the real culprit feared by those suffering from asthma and hay fever is the dust mite. Scientists agree that dust mites thrive among the aforementioned dead skin discarded by humans and pets. The dustier your mattress and pillows are, the worse the problem gets. As this fascinating but skin-crawling article says, there could be between 100,000 and one million dead dust mites (and mite dung) lurking in your bed. Ugh!

What you need to do, every time you change the sheets, is to strip the bed, hang the bedding out in the sun then attach the nifty little mattress cleaner that may or may not have come with your vacuum and give the mattress a good flogging, so to speak.

Or you could buy a robot vacuum cleaner and instruct it to spend all afternoon roaming around on the bed:

As Hal said in 2001 A Space Odyssey: “I’m sorry (Bob), I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

*(a reference to Tiffany Eckhardt’s love song to her Toyota Corolla)  

FOMM back pages/related reading:


 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple as ABC – a public radio/TV licence

 

ABC-Budget-Cuts
Chart: ABC annual report 2016-2017

At first glance, Treasurer Scott Morrison’s plan to slash $83.7 million from the ABC operating budget seems mean-spirited. At second glance, when he tells reporters ‘everyone has to live within their means’, it still seems mean-spirited.

The Budget proposal comes at a critical time for the ABC, which has been dealing with cumulative cuts of $254 million since 2014.

The Federal Treasurer, having painted the picture large, sent a hospital pass to Finance Minister Mathias Cormann to handle the outrage. Mr Cormann defended the decision to freeze indexation for three years (which amounts to $83.7 million), saying that all taxpayer-funded organisations have to find efficiencies.

The national broadcaster has been tightening its belt so much there is no room left for another notch. Managing director Michelle Guthrie sent an email to all staff saying as much, which she amplified in a press release. Ms Guthrie said the impact of the decision could not be absorbed by efficiency measures alone, as the ABC had already achieved significant productivity gains in response to past budget cuts.

She referred to Budget measures starting in 2014 with a 20% cut to the operating budget. The ABC was told to slash $254 million from its operating budget within five years. The broadcaster began to make cuts which were expected to save $207 million in 2015.

Jobs were lost, through natural attrition or redundancy, and the ABC also started reviewing its property portfolio and transmission network. As I have written previously, there was a general hubbub of protestation about this, circa November 2014.

“Petitioners were petitioning, GetUp was getting up, the ABC Friends group was lobbying and raising funds. They should have seen it coming,” I wrote.

A graph in the ABC’s latest annual report (above) shows how its operational budget has waxed and waned, dropping 28% from 1985-1986 to 2017-2018. As the graph indicates, the ABC has weathered some very lean years, particularly 1997-1998, under John Howard and Peter Costello.

The ABC annual report says 2017–18 was the third year to reflect previously announced Government-funding reductions. As part of the ABC/SBS Additional Efficiency Savings measure, there was a year on year increase of $7.7 million in the cut to the ABC’s base funding, bringing the total decrease in base funding to $55.2 million per annum.

This week Ms Guthrie said the ABC was continuing to implement various savings initiatives to address funding cuts, comprising efficiency savings in support functions and transmission (to cover the previously budgeted reduction of $12.5 million required in 2018–19).

Back to the drawing board, then.

Ms Guthrie said the decision came at a critical time for the ABC, as it starts triennial funding negotiations with the Government.

“The ABC is now more important than ever, given the impact of overseas players in the local media industry and the critical role the ABC plays as Australia’s most trusted source of news, analysis and investigative journalism.”

There is also a risk that the Enhanced Newsgathering initiative will not be renewed (at a cost of $43 million). The ABC acknowledges a decision on this funding is yet to be made by the Government. Considering the hullabaloo that followed economic reporter Emma Alberici’s analysis of the government’s plan to cut corporate tax rates, these financial constraints must be seen as ideological and punitive.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the ABC was “one of the pet hates of the Liberal Party”, and it’s hard to disagree.

“Because the ABC occasionally asks questions of the government they’re going to wind back $83 million,” he told the ABC.

But Finance Minister Mathias Cormann says the ABC will still receive $3.2 billion over those three years.

“This is effectively equivalent to the efficiency dividend that applies to nearly all other government taxpayer-funded organisations,” he added.

One of the early victims of successive budget cuts was the ABC Fact Check Unit, which was closed down in May 2016. ABC news director Gaven Morris said at the time “Unfortunately, having a standalone unit is no longer viable in the current climate.”

In March 2017, however, the unit was revived as a joint venture between RMIT University and the ABC. The unit’s brief, as it was before, is to ‘test and adjudicate on the accuracy of claims made by politicians, public figures, advocacy groups and institutions engaged in public debate’.

Which governments taxed us the most?

You may have seen an infographic on social media which the Fact Check Unit verified. It shows which governments taxed us the most, spanning the years between Whitlam and Turnbull. Tax as a percentage of GDP peaked in the Howard years at 23.5%. The Whitlam years averaged 19.4%. The Abbott/Turnbull years thus far average 21.7%. Interestingly, the turbulent years of Rudd/Gillard/Rudd averaged 20.9%.

So isn’t it satisfying to publish information like that and know it has been fact-checked and found to be factual? In this era where fake news and what I’d call ‘sponsored news’ leaves us with a skewed perspective, it is refreshing to see the ABC has found a new way to maintain standards.

There were some moments in the Federal Budget one could choose to laud; tax cuts, better reverse mortgage opportunities for pensioners and more funding for the homeless, albeit dependent on State contributions. But there was no respite for people on NewStart and no real plan to address housing affordability.

And, as the Climate Council pointed out, there was nothing at all in the Budget to address climate change – the words were not even mentioned.

For perspective, take a moment to think about the Federal Treasurer’s $50 million plan to redevelop the Meeting Place Precinct in Botany Bay (including a $3 million statue of Captain James Cook). Yes, it’s in Mr Morrison’s electorate, but surely that’s a side issue, Leigh?

If I may revisit an idea from Simple as ABC in 2014, the budgetary travails of the ABC and the ideology motivating it could simply be avoided. All it would take is an annual public radio/TV licence; $35 per household per year would (now) raise about $300 million. If the government of the day would guarantee indexed funding of $1 billion a year, the ABC could plan, rebuild and restore quality for the long-term.

Let’s be reminded that we all paid a radio licence from 1920 and continued doing so until colour TV was introduced in the early 1970s. Not every household in Australia would be happy about paying this licence fee. Some would see it as subsidising those dangerous lefties and bleeding hearts at the ABC and SBS.

But something radical needs to happen, to arrest the decline in quality (e.g. ABC online), restore transmission to remote areas (try getting an ABC station on your car radio when travelling in country areas-Ed.) and ensure money can be found for important investigations.

Every week since 1961 the award-winning Four Corners has continued to unearth important stories. Investigative journalism is an expensive business which requires reliable funding and a relatively free hand.

If we want more important stories like the live sheep export scandal, the solution is simple as ABC: We need to consistently fund the national broadcaster and guarantee its editorial independence.

Further reading: Mr Denmore thinks the media should boycott the Budget Lockup:

http://bobwords.com.au/simple-abc/

http://bobwords.com.au/simple-abc-part-2/

 

Falls a risk for over-65s

risk-falls-over-65s
Elderly couple out for a stroll – falls and the over-65s photo courtesy pixabay.com

You may know this statistic about falls among older people, but it is shocking all the same to learn that 74% of people who were hospitalised after a fall had broken their hips. Head injuries were the next most serious (22%) with limb fractures further down the list.

About a third of all Australians in the 65+ age group will have a fall each year, but most are not serious. About 10% of people in this cohort who suffer a fall end up with a serious injury.

An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reports states that about 100,000 people aged 65 and over were admitted to hospital after falls in 2012-2013. While that is a few years ago, the statistics are part of a 10-year study done at the time, so are representative. Discuss, as people say when posting something contentious on social media.

The falls could be as relatively minor as the tumble I took down our steep terraced acreage recently, which resulted only in bad language and a few minor scrapes. I few years ago I had a rather more serious fall – a broken rib and a bruised thigh – what rugby league commentators scoffingly dismiss as a ‘cork’. I was carrying two folding chairs in each hand while walking down the stairs. Did I mention it was raining and the soles of my shoes were wet? Duh!

Which brings me to She Who Is Ambidextrous (SWIA), who has taken the lead (2-1) in the Domestic Falls Stakes. Excuse me for making light of a poor but not overly serious situation.

SWIA had what’s known in the medical business as a FOOSH (Fall on Outstretched Hand). She sustained the injury as a result of tripping down some stone steps in the front garden.

As a young friend who rather more seriously injured his arm last year said when hearing this news, “At least it wasn’t a PAFO.”  (let me know if you can’t figure it out..)

Yes, it seems we are now in that age group who are more prone to falls, and, having fallen, are more likely to suffer an injury with a longer and sometimes problematic recovery time. Moreover, the fallout from falls can have psychological ramifications, making people less sure of themselves and reluctant to do ‘normal’ things which might result in falls.

It can happen to anyone, anytime.

The AIHW statistics quoted above include the telling observation that 72% of falls occur in the home or residential aged care facilities.

Stay on your feet – join an exercise class

Several Australian states have started a “Stay on Your Feet” campaign, which makes sense when you consider that in Queensland alone, falls cost the state more than $100 million a year.

Most people aged 60 and older are quite aware of the risk involved in taking a tumble and many attend exercise classes designed to shore up core strength and improve balance. So in many ways SWIA’s fall last week is a bit ironic as she is dutiful about attending exercise classes and daily doing what I never do (a morning stretch routine).

One of my regular readers says the thing he likes about the weekly read is that it so often addresses issues affecting ‘our’ age group (he means the over-60s).

So this is for you, mate. Core strength is the overall fitness and flexibility of the core muscles that help us keep our balance, sit down, stand up, lie down, kneel and squat. If your core strength is suspect (like me, down on one knee to get a dish out of the bottom cupboard), you will be found out using your hand/s for support.

Try these tests (and absolve me of all responsibility if you fall in a heap).

Sit on a hard-backed chair for 10 minutes. Now get up without using your arms for leverage. Do the same thing from a sofa, recliner or armchair.

As Billy Connolly says: “Ye know how auld you are by how long it takes to get out of a beanbag.”

The other trick is to stand on one leg for as long as you are able to hold the position, say 30 seconds (no hand support). Now try the other leg. Notice the difference?

The real test is how successful you are at putting on your underpants while standing.

Some people make provisions as they age by retrofitting their homes in some way, for example putting grab bars in the bathroom and toilet. Some even have ramps built to avoid going up and down steps or stairs. People aged 70 and over who live alone are often encouraged to wear a device which they can use to call for help.

Scientists in Australia, the US, UK and Europe are working to develop devices which can prevent falls by predicting the likelihood of a person having a fall. The University of Missouri is collating data from sensors built in to the walls of homes were aged pensioners live. The university’s researchers found that even small changes can predict if an elderly person is about to suffer a dangerous fall.

The risk quadruples if walking speed slows; for example when walking speed decreases by 5.1cm per second, the person has an 86% chance of toppling within three weeks, compared to just a 20% chance with no change. A drop in stride length of 7.6cm predicted a 51% chance of tripping within three weeks. Scientists elsewhere have developed wearable devices which can measure a person’s gait and ability to perform tasks like sitting down and standing up again. These can also reliably predict the likelihood of a pending fall. Scientists are finding these various devices helpful in predicting falls among people who have an illness which affects gait (Parkinson’s Disease, MS, joint pain (arthritis), spinal cord compression injuries and peripheral neuropathy, often associated with diabetes.

If all else fails, there are a range of alert buttons one can wear and press if in need of help. The help buttons trigger a monitoring station which will investigate and, if necessary, dispatch an ambulance.

The main risk of hurting yourself is if you are elderly and live alone, especially in a big, impersonal city. Chances are you could lie on the floor a long time before anyone discovered what had happened to you. I was reminded about this scenario when watching a new TV reality show, Ambulance, which is an inside look at London’s ambulance service. In the first episode, a man in his 90s has fallen to the floor and can’t get up. It’s been three hours and ambulances keep getting diverted to more urgent situations. To add to his woes, an ambulance is about to pull up at his front door when they get sent to help a woman who says she is having a miscarriage. Turns out to be a serial hoaxer

Good thing we live in a small community, where the first responders attending SWIA were prompt, thorough and cheerful. Medical staff at Maleny Soldiers Memorial Hospital were also very thorough, leaving nothing to chance.

Now you’ll have to excuse me, SWIA needs me to tie her shoelaces, take the lid off the pickle jar, and adjust the recliner… (and explain that the title of this article does not, of course, refer to said SWIA. Ed)

Today marks FOMM’s fourth anniversary. Congratulate me, make suggestions, or send gratuities!

Related reading, FOMM back pages

WWI Pacifists, Conchies and Rejects

WWI-Rejects-Conchies
WWI Rejects, Montville Memorial Gates, photo by Bob Wilson

Amidst the salvo of Anzac Day stories, the people least often talked about are those who did not take part in WWI,  either because of a Christian or moral objection, for practical reasons, or because the armed forces rejected them. According to the Australian War Memorial, 33% of men volunteering for the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) in 1914 were rejected on medical/fitness grounds. Enlistment standards were gradually relaxed in ensuing years, allowing many of the rejected men to enlist. Key among these changes was to reduce the minimum height of a recruit from five foot six to five feet.

The World War I rejects don’t get much press at all: the blokes with poor eyesight, bad teeth, flat feet, hernias or some  other physical ailment or disability which ruled them out for active service. But once rejected, they often had to bear the same stigma as the despised ‘Conchies’ or ‘CO’s’ – our unique slang for conscientious objectors. In Australia, CO numbers were estimated at less than one in 30.

Globally, there were around 16,000 conscientious objectors during World War I and their numbers swelled to 60,000 or more in World War II. During the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands sought deferment of the call-up or, in the case of American objectors, fled across the border to Canada.

Despite the early fervour to enlist for World War I, the country on the whole rejected the notion of conscription. PM Billy Hughes took the issue to a plebiscite twice during WWI and each time narrowly lost.

Meanwhile in tiny New Zealand (1914 population 1.1 million), the government simply passed a law and conscripted young men for the war effort. And as at least one controversial account claims, they took a very dim view of men who refused to fight on religious or ethical grounds.

Archibald Baxter, father of New Zealand’s late poet laureate James K Baxter, was one such staunch CO – an absolutist to the last.

His autobiography ‘We Will Not Cease’ makes for startling reading as it sets out the cruelty inflicted by his own countrymen on those who refused to fight. Baxter’s son wrote a poem with the searing lines:

When I was only semen in a gland

Or less than that, my father hung

From a torture post at Mud Farm

Because he would not kill.” (Pig Island Letters, Oxford U.P.1966).

Baxter Jnr’s poem, which describes his father’s ‘blackened thumbs’ refers to Field Punishment No 1, also the name of a 2014 New Zealand television movie. CO’s were hung up on poles (on the front line), in faux crucifixion pose, in the hope they would somehow recant.

Baxter never did.

The mistreatment of conscientious objectors in New Zealand has come to public attention in recent years, first through a public exhibit, and later by an opera, ‘War Hero,’ based on Archibald Baxter’s book.

Meanwhile back in Australia, for those who desperately wanted to enlist, particularly for World War 1, being found unfit to serve was a cruel blow that caused many men to become social outcasts. Unless employed in some clearly supportable on-land war effort, when these seemingly able-bodied men of a certain age were seen out and about, they were often subject to much derision.

The nearby hinterland hamlet of Montville holds a unique place in World War I history, as explained in a Canberra Times feature by Chris Sheedy, commissioned by the Canberra campus of UNSW.

The Montville War Memorial lists the local men who served with the AIF, but also the ‘Rejects’, the men who wanted to serve, but were classified as unfit.

Sheedy writes that in the celebrations of the homecomings of soldiers during and after WWI, most communities around Australia ignored those who didn’t serve.

“In fact, many shunned the ‘shirkers’ and were divided into segments of those whose family members had served and those who had not.”

The authorities must have foreseen this by developing badges for those who volunteered but were deemed ineligible to enlist, or honourably discharged because of age, injury or illness.

Sheedy notes that many men chose not to volunteer for practical reasons – they had a family to support or a farm or business to run.

Professor Jeffrey Grey from UNSW Canberra cites Robert Menzies as a prominent person who chose not to volunteer. Menzies had two brothers who went to war but the siblings agreed that Robert (a lawyer), would stay because he was more likely to provide for his parents in their old age.

Australian folk singer John Thompson, who has researched and written songs about WWI, describes it as a time when there was indeed a mood in the country among young, single people to ‘do your bit’. Thompson developed a song about Maud Butler, a teenage girl who so wanted to do her bit she dressed up as a soldier and stowed away on a ship. She got caught, but later made several other attempts to enlist.

As Thompson explains in the introduction to the song, Maud scrounged up the various pieces of an army uniform. “But she couldn’t get the (tan) boots and that’s what eventually led to her being discovered.”

Maud climbed arm over arm up an anchor rope to stow away aboard an Australian troop carrier. Historian Victoria Haskins, who researched the story, recounts how Maud gave interviews a few days after her return to Melbourne on Christmas Day, 1915.

Maud told local media that she “had a terrible desire to help in some way, but I was only a girl… I decided to do something for myself.”

While there may have been an initial wave of patriotism and a naïve yen to support the British Empire, volunteer numbers dropped in the latter years of the war.

The Australian War Museum estimates that 420,000 Australians enlisted in WWI, approximately 38.7% of the male population aged between 18 and 44. So despite the enormous peer pressure on young men to enlist, 61.3% of enlistment-age men did not join the war effort, for whatever reason.

Enlistments peaked at 165,912 in 1915 and declined in the ensuing years to just 45,101 in 1917 and 28,883 in 1918, the year the war ended.

Most of the literature about Australia’s involvement in WWI emphasises the 420,000 who enlisted, rather than the 665,000 or so who did not.

Given that a majority of men aged 18 to 44 either did not volunteer or were rejected by the AIF, it seems absurd to perpetuate the myth of the shirker. Those who stayed behind because of family loyalties, businesses, careers, or simply because they felt it wasn’t their fight, did not deserve to be ignored or worse, handed a white feather in the street or have one left in their mailbox. It is shocking to recall that a formal Order of The White Feather was formed to encourage women to pressure family and friends into enlisting.

As the AWM comments: “Some criticised the practice, arguing that ‘idiotic young women were using white feathers to get rid of boyfriends of whom they were tired.’ ”

It wouldn’t work today.

FOMM back pages