How can you not like what I like?

At an intellectual level I’ve always known that being an individual entails being different to others, at least in some respects. And yet…despite age, and enough life experience to sink a ship, I keep expecting others to like what I like. In other words, I keep expecting them to be like me.

Every time I write about a book I’ve loved, or a glorious vista, or a piece of music that moved my soul, I expect that you will feel the same way. And I’m rarely wrong. The individuals who gravitate to this blog and become friends are, by and large, like me. Thanks to the power of social media, you are my kindred spirits. ๐Ÿ™‚

By definition, a kindred spirit is someone like oneself, and on social media it happens when people are drawn to each other via shared interests. Think iron filings to a magnet. The degree to which we ‘stick’ depends upon the number of interests we share.

This filtering process happens in the real world too, but at a much slower rate because we can only physically interact with a small number of people at a time – family, friends, neighbours, colleagues at work etc. Plus there is no guarantee that the people we do meet will be sympatico.

And right there is one of the most wonderful and dangerous aspects of social media – the ability to consistently give us what we want.

Why? Because most of us want to belong. We want to be with people who make us feel warm and fuzzy and good about ourselves.

This is how social media bubbles form. But feeling good about ourselves involves a value judgement about what ‘good’ actually means. Even if you never consciously question your own likes and dislikes, you recognize them in others and automatically judge them to be ‘good’.

And I’m no different. I believe I’m a good person, so I can’t help believing that people who share my values are good people too.

But if we are the good people, what of the others? What of those who don’t share our values? Are they the bad people?

My head says “Of course not!” My heart says “Maybe”.

Every time I log in to Twitter and read a comment distorting some fact or praising something I consider to be ‘evil’, the anger says “Bad person, bad, bad!”

And then the shame sets in because I know that person isn’t bad. I know that if I got to know them through some other area of life, I’d probably think they were okay.

How do I know that? Because I’ve lived it. Many years ago when I lived in a shared student house, there was a girl there with a very abrasive personality. I didn’t like her one little bit. Then one day, to my shame, I discovered that the abrasiveness was just a facade to protect the sad person underneath.

More recently, I’ve discovered that many of the right wing panelists on The Drum [see footnote 1 at the end of this article] aren’t right wing about all topics. In fact, I’ve often caught myself marvelling that someone with those political affiliations could be so open to, for example, action on climate change, or same sex marriage or some other supposedly left wing issue.

I’m a left wing progressive, but I don’t intend to turn this post into some kind of pseudo political rant. Instead, I want to hammer home the fact that expectations based on social media bubbles are dangerous.

We humans are hardwired to generalise. It’s a powerful mental shortcut that allows us to make snap decisions based on just a few facts. This ability would have been a real survival mechanism back in the days of the woolly mammoth. These days? Not so much because thinking in generalities often substitutes for thinking, period.

Sadly, social media bubbles reinforce those generalities just when we should be questioning everything, starting with our own assumptions. We need facts, and we need to call out untruths, but we need to do so with courtesy because that ‘other’ person is more like us than not.

In years to come, people will look back on this era of social media and shake their heads at how bad the ‘wild wild west’ really was before it was tamed. In that yet-to-be-realised future, individual privacy will be protected by law, anonymity will not be allowed, and social media companies will face the full force of the law if they’re found to have manipulated their users.

But we’re not there yet.

cheers

Meeks

Footnote 1 : The Drum is a current affairs show on Australian TV. It’s part of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation [ABC] and funded by taxpayers. As such, its charter requires that it be unbiased. That’s why the panelists on The Drum are chosen to be inclusive, and represent as many interest groups as possible, including people of both the left and right political persuasion.


ATO – 'Business Activity'

This is a quick update about one of the myTax questions that I mentioned in this post. It was one of the questions I ‘guessed’.

The question occurs in the section under PSI, or Personal Services Income, and asks for the:

‘Number of business activities’

Nowhere on the ATO website is there a definition of what ‘business activity’ actually means. Thanks to the very knowledgeable and patient lady I spoke to this morning, I can now tell you that for Sole Traders, the question refers to the number of people/companies you have worked for.

So, for example, if you work for ten different people/companies during the course of a financial year, the number of ‘business activities’ to report is…tah dah…10!

You’re welcome. ๐Ÿ™‚

Meeks


Review – ATO's myTax

Is there such a thing as minus one? -grinds teeth-

In a nutshell, the ATO [Australian Taxation Office] website functioned quite well, and by that I mean the way the computer side of things worked. If you are familiar with the general workings of a complex website, you should be able to follow the logic fairly well. The problems arise from the content, in particular the terminology.

Any teacher will tell you that the single biggest hurdle to learning is new terminology. Not only does the student have to learn new terms specific to the subject matter, they often have to learn new meanings for familiar words and phrases used to describe very unfamiliar concepts.

The best software programs deal with the problem of terminology by having context sensitive lookups. For example, if a question is about ‘Sole Traders’, there will be a little [?] at the end that can be clicked. Clicking that lookup displays a short definition of the term.

Lookups are a great idea…if they’re executed properly, and that’s where assumptions come in. Experts have so much knowledge of their areas that they cannot put themselves in the shoes of someone who knows nothing. So many basic terms do not have lookups because… “It’s obvious, isn’t it?”

Duh no, it isn’t obvious. Not unless you’re a tax accountant.

I’m not a tax accountant. That’s why it took me well over two hours to lodge a couple of years’ worth of returns. The first was relatively easy because I was doing it as a normal person. The second was much harder because I was doing it as a ‘Sole Trader’. Basically, Sole Traders are people who work for themselves with a company name and an ABN [Australian Business Number]. Casual tutors like me often work as Sole Traders.

But all Sole Traders are not equal. Working out what variety of Sole Trader I was involved yet more terms I didn’t understand. I used every lookup, accessed Help, tried the so-called online chat help [basically just an algorithm] and even tried DuckduckGo. Despite all that, however, some of my answers were the better of two bad choices. In other words, pretty much guess work.

Surely there’s a better way?

Yes, there is. It’s called paying for a professional tax accountant.

Decades ago when I could afford the money, I actually had a tax accountant. These days I have to DIY and hope for the best.

I can’t be the only person having issues with the ATO’s myTax software because there is a real live group of volunteers who have been trained to ‘help’ with myTax! Whether they just help with the website side of things or the actual tax side I don’t know. What I do know is that myTax is a major disincentive to retirees thinking of working for themselves.

One exhausted retiree signing off.

Meeks

p.s. While I’m in a venting mood, here’s one for the Guttenberg developers – it’s really annoying when you go back to edit a paragraph and the floating toolbar covers up part of what you’ve written. This seems to happen when the paragraph is at the top of the screen area:


Amazing Mr Fox

I’m hosting an un-christmas tomorrow so busy cleaning and cooking, but all work and no play is boring, right? So I did a quick jigsaw puzzle of a fox. Note the eyes:

Slit pupils

Those slit pupils sent me off on a search of the internet where I discovered that fox vision allows them to hunt at dawn and dusk…much like cats. But foxes are related to dogs and wolves. What gives?

The similarities between foxes and cats doesn’t end there. You can find a host of fascinating facts in the article below:

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/59739/14-fascinating-facts-about-foxes

One of those facts is illustrated in the following video:

Amazing Mr Fox!

Okay, well play time is over, got floors to mop… -sigh-… Enjoy your weekend. I’ll have food pics tomorrow ๐Ÿ™‚

Cheers

Meeks


Ad Hominen…add who??

Ad Hominen is a form of argument that occurs a lot on Twitter. This is the long winded definition:

Ad hominem (Latin for “to the person”),[1] … typically refers to a fallacious argumentative strategy whereby genuine discussion of the topic at hand is avoided by instead attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, …, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.[

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem

I prefer the much shorter one: intimidation.

Too strong? Think about it. Why do people argue in the first place? To win. So if you can make your opponent back down, or back off, you will have won the argument…right?

Wrong. The argument has not been won. The argument has not been addressed at all. It’s still there. All you have achieved is to scare your opponent off by attacking them personally.

Isn’t this precisely what happens when a woman is sexually harassed but remains silent because she fears for her job if she speaks up?

Isn’t this precisely what happens when people in an organisation witness wrong doing but don’t speak up for fear of ruining their careers, or even ending up in jail as ‘whistleblowers’?

Intimidation can take many forms, but at its heart it is the need to win at any cost. Correction, the need to appear to win at any cost because intimidation doesn’t actually change things. It doesn’t solve any problems. It doesn’t persuade. It doesn’t change hearts and minds. It simply sends them underground where they fester.

In my head I see a weedy little guy shouted down by a big, burly guy. Mr Weed slinks away in humiliation, but in the privacy of his own mind he knows he’s right. And so the anger builds. The next time he sees the big, burly guy, he’s got a gun in his pocket. Bang. Take that. And so it goes.

I grew up respecting facts and logic, courtesy and genuine debate. To me, name calling was the last resort of a loser. I guess I really have become an old dinosaur because these days, name calling has become the first resort of many people on Twitter.

I shouldn’t be surprised. Western democracy is in trouble, people are becoming more and more polarised, and we all feel as if we’re not being listened to, or even heard. But intimidation only escalates the problem.

Intimidation also has the capacity to turn potential allies into foes. I discovered that yesterday on Twitter. I thought I was having a polite discussion with someone I follow when The Pack descended and launched a personal attack against me for daring to disagree with something. I became angry at the form of the attack and any sympathy I may have had for their cause went flying out the window.

The people carrying out this attack belong to one of Australia’s smaller political parties. I’ll simply call it party X because the followers of the bigger ones are no better.

I’ve never voted for party X, but I actually agree with some of their principles. But not all, and that was the problem.

“O con noi o contro di noi”โ€”You’re either with us or against us. [Benito Mussolini]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You%27re_either_with_us,_or_against_us

Group think demands that there be no dissent, or else. As a result of yesterday’s ‘or else’, any chance party X had of winning my vote in the future is gone. That is the flip side of intimidation.

As an individual, my vote counts for very little. But there are a lot of people like me. We may not subscribe to the ‘group think’ of a particular party, but we do care about significant issues. We are potential allies in the fight for those issues, so using intimidation tactics against us is the equivalent of cutting your nose off to spite your face.

If we are to have any chance of saving the world, and ourselves, we have to start treating everyone with respect.

cheers

Meeks

p.s. this post was written using Guttenberg for the first time.


Ageism

I met a man today. I was strolling around my garden with Mogi, and my first coffee of the day, when he came to read my gas meter.

On the way out, the Gas Man made a smiling comment about Mogi, my pint-sized chihuahua cross, and we got to talking about dogs:

Be sure to get my good side

A lot of conversations start with dogs in Warrandyte. The Gas Man has two Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

One thing led to another, and I soon discovered that the Gas Man spends most of his working life walking the hills of Warrandyte, checking meters. I’ve walked some of those hills, and they are bloody steep.

I must have looked utterly horrified, because the Gas Man quickly explained that there were very few places where he could [safely] park his car, so in between parking spots he had to walk. On really hot days he’s ‘allowed’ to start at six am so he can finish by about 1pm.

I looked at the Gas Man and saw someone in his mid fifties, with a weathered face and a bit of a paunch. He was cheerful and well-spoken, but he looked older than me, and I’m 66.

“You haven’t considered a career change?” I asked.

The answer shocked me. No, he hadn’t considered getting another job because he knew that if he left this one, he’d never work again. Ageism.

The Gas Man is doing the kind of job men twenty years younger would hate. What’s worse, he’s going to have to keep walking the hills of Warrandyte until his body fails, or the company decides he’s not efficient enough any more. I can guess what happens after that because it happened to me too. You apply for NewStart to ‘tide you over’, but no one wants to employ you, so you scrape along until you finally qualify for the pension.

Why does no one want to employ you?

I’ve thought about this a lot. I imagine that in physical type jobs, older workers are seen as less ‘strong’, or perhaps even as a liability – e.g. what happens if they have a heart attack on the job? Given how many physical type jobs are already automated, why employ an older person when there are hundreds of younger ones available?

White collar workers are in a slightly different boat. We may have experience and skills, but will we be able to learn the new technology? More importantly, will we expect to be paid commensurate with our skills and experience? And what happens if we get sick? The statistics show that older people fall prey to all sorts of debilitating illnesses. Better to hire someone with lower dollar expectations and a longer [working] life expectancy.

And then there’s the perception that older workers will retire soon so why bother training them up?

I’m not saying that I have had personal experience of these scenarios. I haven’t. Most of my experience is of silence. You send off your CV and nothing comes back. You ring up a few places to inquire if they received your CV, and there’s a kind of embarrassed ‘oh, we’ve got you on file’. That translates to, ‘yes, we probably got it and binned it straight away’. I have very good qualifications, but the earliest ones date back to the 1970’s. You can’t hide that.

No one admits to ageism because it’s ‘illegal’ to discriminate against someone based on age, but it does happen. More importantly, the bar to employment is getting lower all the time. I shudder to think what will happen when the workers of the ‘gig’ economy become too old to maintain that frenetic pace. Age may be ‘just a number’, but it’s a very important number.

When the Gas Man went on his way, I finished my coffee and dragged out the lawn mower. If he can walk up and down our hills, rain or shine, five days a week, I can do a bit more mowing, even if I my bones do creak a bit. Motivation can come from unexpected sources.

Have a great day, my friends,

-hugs-

Meeks

 


Cat-flix?

Finished my burning off and did two hours of mowing this morning so…I deserve this:

And yes, it’s another jigsaw puzzle. ๐Ÿ™‚

cheers

Meeks


A review of ‘The Memory Tree’, by Jennifer Scoullar

I write quite a bit about the dangers of the Australian bush, but there’s a reason we all continue to live in it. That reason is love. I keep rediscovering that reason in the writing of Jennifer Scoullar, a horse-mad Aussie who lives on a property right smack dab in the middle of the bush.

You want to get a feel for what rural Australia, and Australians, are like? Read The Memory Tree. This is the review I left on Amazon:

 

 

Jennifer Scoullar is known as a writer of Australian rural romances, but ‘The Memory Tree’ is something more, it’s a love story that begins where the ‘happy ever after’ ends.

Penny and Matt are married and united in their desire to help save Tasmanian Devils from the terrible cancer that’s decimating their populations in Tasmania. But they both have insecurities, especially Matt whose relationship with his Father has been fiery for years. So when Penny decides to learn the finer points of taxidermy from Matt’s father, she decides to keep it a secret. Just to keep the peace.

And then Matt accidentally kills an animal on the way home one night, a very special animal. For reasons that become apparent as the story unfolds, he can’t tell Penny, and guilt starts to drive a wedge between them. When American geneticist, Sarah, arrives to map the genome of the Devils, the tense situation between husband and wife becomes a whole lot worse.

One of my favourite lines in the entire book is this: ‘Matt froze, but apparently Sarah’s vision wasn’t based on movement.” To me, that line encapsulates Scoullar’s writing perfectly: understated, funny, sharp, intensely vivid. [For those few readers who have never seen Jurassic Park, the deadly T-Rex tracks its victims by movement]

And yet, while Sarah turns out to be a bit of a man-eater when it comes to her love-life, she is utterly dedicated to her work and not a two dimensional villain. In fact, there is not a single character in the entire story that’s two dimensional. Even those with just a walk on part seem to move in 3D, and that capacity to make characters come alive extends to every creature in the book, including the ones with fur and feathers.

The thing that kept me reading long past the point where I should have stopped, however, was the question mark that hung over the story. How could Matt extricate himself from the whopping big hole he’d dug? How could he save the animals he loved without totally betraying Penny and his own integrity? How could a marriage survive so many secrets and lies?

I was prepared for the ending to go either way, so long as there was a resolution that felt /real/. I was not disappointed.

For my money, The Memory Tree is simply the best thing Jennifer Scoullar has ever written, and I hope she continues to write love stories about the bush and the living creatures that inhabit it, no matter how many legs they have.

Very highly recommended.‘

https://www.amazon.com/Memory-Tree-Tasmanian-Tales-Book-ebook/dp/B07TTM6R72/ref=sr_1_4?crid=19FYZIUYCTVLA&keywords=the+memory+tree&qid=1573765382&s=digital-text&sprefix=the+memory+tree%2Caps%2C384&sr=1-4

cheers

Meeks


The Land of Far Beyond

It’s been a stressful couple of days. The perfect time to get lost in something uplifting. This is the completed jigsaw puzzle of an unknown locale.

https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=33a636422b4c&pieces=24

As soon as the last piece went in, I knew it was how I’d imagined some of the vistas in a childhood favourite called ‘The Land of Far Beyond.’

Enjoy. ๐Ÿ™‚

Meeks


A Bushfire A.B.C

I wasn’t going to write a bushfire post this year [2019] because I thought there was no need, not with the devastating fires in NSW and QLD to focus everyone’s thoughts. But I’ve just been on Twitter and seen some of the misconceptions about bushfires.

So…here are some basics:

Fire needs just two things to burn: fuel and oxygen. However the size of that fire depends on many things:

  • Dry fuel – makes a fire burn harder and faster. Fuel is made of up dry grass, leaves, small twigs and fallen branches that build up on the ground over time.
  • Low humidity – i.e. moisture in the air and soil – makes a fire burn harder and faster.
  • Strong winds – provide the oxygen to make a fire burn harder and faster. They also transport embers ahead of the main fire.
  • Embers – land on dry fuel and start spot fires.
  • Spot fires act like pre-ignition for the main fire.

So far, these conditions could apply to any fire, in any country of the world. In Australia though, things are a little different. As well as all of the above, we also have to contend with native vegetation that evolved with fire. Some native plants developed ways to keep the species going after a fire. In fact, the seeds of many of our natives need fire to germinate.

In a nutshell, most Australian natives evolved to burn. This includes gum trees [eucalypts].

  • Gum leaves contain eucalyptus oils.
  • When these oils heat up enough, they turn into a volatile gas.
  • Add a spark and this gas goes ‘boom’. It’s an accelerant – like throwing petrol onto a camp fire.
  • Lightning strikes from ‘dry storms’ provide the spark that starts hundreds of fires every year.

So let’s look at a couple of what-ifs. Let’s say a lightning strike starts a fire. If the humidity is high and the fuel is wet – e.g. winter – the fire doesn’t go very far.

But this is what happens in summer:

  • Lightning [or human stupidity via an angle grinder creating a spark, an over-heated car starting to burn, a camp-fire left unattended, blah blah blah] starts a fire in grassland.
  • The grass fire spreads into scrub land.
  • The scrub land fire spreads into native forest.
  • The scrub at the base of the gum trees burns hotter and hotter.
  • The eucalyptus oil in the gum leaves heats up.
  • The volatile oil in the gum leaves becomes a gas and suddenly the whole tree is on fire.
  • As more and more trees burn, and the wind pushes the embers and superheated air ahead of it, the conditions for a ‘crown fire’ emerge.

A crown fire is when the fire jumps from tree top to tree top. This is a fire that nothing can stop – no amount of water bombers, no amount of fire fighters, no amount of chemical retardants. In fact, water bombers can’t even get near this kind of fire because it creates its own weather, crazy weather that makes flying virtually impossible.

In 2009, south eastern Australia was in the grip of the Millenium drought and an El Nino weather event. For those who don’t know, during an El Nino period, south eastern Australia goes through an extended ‘dry’ spell with much less rain than normal.

In February 2009, an extended heatwave of 40+ degree temperatures, extremely low humidity, high fuel loads and a ferocious north wind [bringing even more heat from the Centre] combined to create Black Saturday, the worst bushfire event in modern Australian history. 173 people died.

Now, ten short years later, NSW is likely to have another perfect storm of fire conditions…tomorrow…at the very beginning of summer…with the worst of the fire season still to come.

I’ll be honest, I’m scared. Conditions here in Victoria are cool and wet, for now, but the worst is yet to come. How will Warrandyte fare once the grass browns off and the damp fuel load turns into dry kindling? And even if we squeak through this fire season, what about next year and the one after that?

Some years ago I attend a Climate Change rally in Melbourne, and one of the speakers [from the CFA*] said something I’ll never forget. He said words to the effect that there are no climate change deniers at the end of a fire hose.

Climate Change is not causing bushfires, it’s making them bigger and more frequent. Exactly as the climate scientists predict.

Climate Change is also extending the length of the fire season. When I was a kid, January and February were the bad months. In years to come, fire season may extend from the beginning of Spring [September] through to the end of Autumn [May].

Three people have died in NSW already. How many more have to die before we stop ‘praying’ and start doing something useful?

I hope with all my heart that the legacy of Black Saturday means that Victorians remember how helpless we all felt, and act accordingly. We’ve been there. We know. The only thing we can control, even a little, is the fuel load. Reducing the fuel load won’t stop a fire from starting, and it won’t stop a fire from spreading, but it may reduce the severity of that fire by stopping it from becoming a crown fire. Harm reduction. The life it saves could be your own.

And Warrandyte? If you haven’t cleared your block yet, what the effing hell are you waiting for? NSW and QLD may be the canaries in the coal mine this year, but make no mistake, we’re in that bloody coal mine too.

To EllaD and the GO in Taylors Arms – stay safe.

Meeks

*CFA – Country Fire Authority, the volunteer fire fighting organisation in Victoria.

 

 


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