Monday, January 15, 2007

Resource envy -- what the Greenies have in mind for us all

They have managed to create water-scarcity (and thus water envy) by their constant opposition to new dams. In Victoria they even went one further -- by persuading the State government to pour already-dammed water down the Snowy river as an "environmental" flow. Now if only they could make OTHER resources scarce by their ceaseless agitation. Their "Greenhouse" nonsense COULD make electricity scarce. How they would enjoy that!

Margaret Norriss is living in fear. The retired teacher is so scared of the emergence of water vigilantes that she doesn't dare hose her front garden, even though she has been using a rainwater tank for the past nine years. "The whole thing is turning the community against one another," Ms Norriss told The Sunday Age. "It's becoming like Big Brother and I'm starting to feel very uncomfortable." Although the State Government will not reveal until next month the number of calls it has received to the new Dob in a Water Cheat line, it restricted to a trickle water to three households for breaches committed between 2003 and 2006.

Like an increasing number of Melburnians, Ms Norriss is terrified of being wrongly accused of breaking the new water restrictions. Terrified at the thought of a knock on the door from the "water police". She has hung a sign on her front fence declaring only non-town water is in use. But that hasn't stopped the abuse and glares of people as they slow to pass her Northcote home. "Sometimes human nature is wonderful and people pull together in the most amazing ways, but I believe we are moving into a situation where people are getting quite nasty, and I'm really starting to get paranoid," Ms Norriss said.

She is not alone. Garden envy is rife and threatening to spill over to open hostility as the State Government asks the community to anonymously "dob in a water cheat". While Melburnians bemoan the death of historic elm trees lining the Yarra and despair over the state of their yards, a drive around suburban back streets reveals a vast array of thriving gardens, complete with lush, green lawns.

For those adhering to the new restrictions and using grey, rain or bore water to maintain their treasured gardens, the only defence from the prying eyes of neighbours is the signs that are springing up in front yards from the leafy, expansive homes of Toorak to the workers' cottages of Thornbury and Williamstown. Even Deputy Premier and Water Minister John Thwaites, who is also Minister for Communities, has recognised the problem and suggested that people hang home-made signs in their yards. Monash University academic David Dunstan fears the growing hysteria about water is threatening our sense of community as "neighbour is pitted against neighbour". "I think it is most unhealthy and potentially dangerous," he said, adding that neighbourhood trust and goodwill was being replaced with "a climate of suspicion".

Last week, The Sunday Age highlighted the emerging culture of "dobbing" and sparked a number of debates on talkback radio. Many listeners confessed that they were spying on their neighbours' water usage. "The Government is encouraging neighbour to spy on neighbour and dob them in," Dr Dunstan said. "Rather than appealing directly to people to save water, they are now saying your neighbour is your policeman and we will provide the stick to support them." He goes so far as to liken the situation to the rise of fascism in pre-war Germany and Stalinist Eastern Europe, where people could not even trust their family. "Nobody felt safe because they could be visited at 4 o'clock in the morning. It's an extreme example, but these were the means by which totalitarian societies kept their population in fear."

Four years ago, Len Williams and his wife built a new front fence at their Surrey Hills home and planted roses, gardenias and camellias. Just before Christmas, he rigged up his own recycling system of pipes, garbage bins and filters to re-use the grey water from the kitchen and bathroom. "I don't want to lose the plants," he said. "The money I spent in setting the water system up is nothing compared to what the replacement cost of the plants would be." His wife told the neighbours they were using grey water, but Mr Williams said it was still necessary to make a sign to hang on the front fence. "It's not only neighbours; a lot of people walk past and I don't want people to think that we are breaking the water restrictions by watering what appears to be on the wrong day," he explained. Like Ms Norriss, Mr Williams said he feared the "knock on the door" following a misguided complaint.

Still, others like former National Australia Bank boss Frank Cicutto and his wife, Christine, told The Sunday Age they installed the sign in their yard to encourage others to use recycled or tank water. The couple's spokeswoman said Mrs Cicutto, who was raised in the country, was very concerned about the water shortage and had insisted on the installation of rainwater tanks when the $8 million Canterbury mansion was built.

LJ Ryan and her husband have recently laid turf at their new Toorak home, and although they qualify for an exception to the restrictions, she said they felt compelled to let people know they were only using tank water. While they were primarily driven by the desire to encourage others to use non-town water on their gardens, Mrs Ryan conceded that there was also a fear of being wrongly reported to the authorities. "We were concerned about what the neighbours think, because you don't want to be seen to be flouting the restrictions," she said.


Year 12 English students study SMS, podcasts


Show and tell is one assessment task suggested for Year 12 English students in South Australian schools by the state's curriculum board. Changes to the state's English curriculum this year also include the study of SMS, podcasts, graphic novels and song lyrics. Teaching resources authorised by the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia for assessing students in the English Studies course, which is the literature course, include ideas for "non-text-based" activities. "Choose three objects which are of significance to you, and explain their importance in your life," the document says. Other activities suggested include giving demonstrations of packing a picnic basket, reading astrology charts, making a cake, giving a facial or grooming a dog.

English Studies is based on the critical study of texts, while English Communications is a broader study of the power and role of language in society. From this year, as part of their study of personal communications, English Communications students in Year 12 will have the opportunity to study text messages, along with family gatherings, letters and telephone calls. Other forms of communication studied under the various topics include talkback radio, junk mail, press releases, chat rooms, online shopping and podcasts.

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop yesterday lamented the studying of text messages in lieu of time-tested classics such as Shakespeare, particularly in states such as South Australia and Queensland that do not have English as a compulsory subject for all school students. Ms Bishop said that as part of the development of a national curriculum framework in English, she would like to see Shakespeare included as a compulsory text. "I strongly encourage state education authorities to include Shakespeare and other classics in their curriculum," she said. "An appreciation of the best literature available should be an essential part of schooling. I would encourage state education authorities to aim higher, for higher standards."

Ms Bishop described the study of text messages in Year 12 as illogical, and said most students would know more about it than their teachers. "By replacing the teaching of the classics with courses that encourage them to text, are you encouraging students to take the easy path? It's not challenging or stretching students." Ms Bishop said the introduction of national literacy tests from 2008 would include assessment of spelling, grammar and punctuation not currently tested in state-based assessments. "The difficulty is not having students learn how to send text messages, but having them speak correct English."

Jury Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Adelaide, Penny Boumelha, welcomed the idea of English being compulsory for school students. Professor Boumelha said that teaching students how to write text messages was of little value in an English course. In the curriculum document, text messages form part of the communication study. A spokesperson for the assessment board was unavailable yesterday.


Flesh-destroying ulcer infection reaches NSW

The first case of a flesh-eating ulcer infection in New South Wales has been reported, prompting warnings for doctors to watch out for the disease. The Bairnsdale ulcer, which kills human skin cells, fat and blood vessels, was first diagnosed in Australia in 1948, on the Victorian coast. Infection rates in the state have more than doubled in the past three years, with 61 people diagnosed in 2006, and cases have also been declared in Queensland and the Northern Territory. Now NSW has recorded its first case - a 42-year-old man who developed the condition after sea-kayaking near the town of Eden in the state's far south.

The ulcer is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium ulcerans, which is found naturally in the environment. It is not known how humans become infected with the disease, which is common in Africa, but it is believed to be transmitted by mosquitoes. A scab on the kayaker's ankle developed into a gaping wound which grew over five months before he was admitted to a Melbourne hospital last January to have the lesion excised.

Officially declaring the case in the latest Medical Journal of Australia, infectious diseases experts said it was the "first strong evidence" the disease had spread into NSW. "Australian primary care clinicians need to be aware that the ulcer may occur in NSW to ensure early diagnosis and treatment," wrote Paul Johnson from Austin Health in Melbourne.

The finding came as Australian plastic surgeons, GPs, physicians and public health experts set down new guidelines recommending people use insect repellent and wear protective clothing while in disease hotspots. Professor Johnson and his team also advised colleagues confronted with large ulcers to use both antibiotics and surgery. Other new research published in the journal suggests that in a quarter of cases the disease will still spread after surgery if antibiotics aren't used.


A government aged-care hospital at work

Melbourne is at the moment in the middle of one of their notoriously hot summers. But no airconditioning or other coooling for you if you are old and poor and sick there

Airconditioning, lights and radios have been switched off and windows locked with curtains drawn to slash power use at Melbourne's biggest rehab and aged-care hospital. The bans at the 400-resident Kingston Centre were introduced on January 4, as the outside temperature rose to 39C [102 degrees F], a Sunday Herald Sun investigation has revealed.

Kettles, toasters and microwaves also have been unplugged at the sprawling, dilapidated century-old Cheltenham hospital while patients and elderly residents sweltered in the dark. And tougher restrictions -- yet to be triggered under the power-saving regimen -- will see all non-clinical computers switched off, laundry and machinery operation scaled back, out-patients' service closed and at-risk residents sent home or to other facilities. A plan to replace hot meals with sandwiches has been mooted, prompting fears that patients who have difficulty swallowing could be at risk of choking. Staff have told how they found it difficult to find door locks with their keys in the darkness. And patients reportedly stumbled and almost fell in the gloom.

The draconian regimen was exposed after the Sunday Herald Sun saw a directive from centre bosses to department and ward managers, which was sent on January 4, ordering "Stage 1" actions. The directive read: "All managers, please note we are currently at 80 per cent usage of power on site due to the hot weather . . . " Southern Health spokesman Kim Minett confirmed restrictions, but said there were limits to how much electricity use the old building could cope with


No comments: