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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Smokescreens of hypocrisy

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In Parliament yesterday the Dishonorable Member for the Seat of Bilgebucket made his first policy speech after being elevated to the position of Minister for Health.

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Mr Speaker, I intend today to address two related issues which come within the responsibility of my portfolio.

Firstly the matter of multinational tobacco companies.

As you know, this government is legislating the compulsory
plain-packaging of cigarettes.

Tobacco companies have responded with aggressive advertising campaigns opposing these laws.

It beggars belief that they are suddenly claiming to be worried about the reduced amounts of tobacco excise tax that the Government will receive under the new laws.
They are, I suspect, having great difficulty confronting their own imminent and overdue mortality.

Tobacco companies are surplus to the requirements of Australia in the twenty-first century.

The initiatives that I am about to announce today will permanently remove these companies from Australia’s commercial landscape unless they accept the lifeline that I will throw to them at the end of this address to the House.

I also acknowledge that the Government must cease all pretence of occupying any sort of moral high ground in the light of all the revenue it has previously welcomed from tobacco sales.

All that is going to come to an end.

Today.

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Australia has one of the most generous free health care systems in the world Mr Speaker. It will, however, become financially unsustainable beyond the year 2020 in it’s present format, partially because patients are taking the system for granted and not assuming adequate responsibility for their own health in terms of lifestyle choices.

The following initiatives are in no way intended as a personal attack on those Members in this House or Australians who have made the individual choice to smoke tobacco.
Indeed, part of this new Act will put a smile on their faces, as it supports the right of individuals to smoke within their own airspace at an affordable price.

Effective today, the growing of tobacco plants will be deregulated and decriminalised and the unfettered trade of tobacco products will be permitted free of all excise charges and Government taxes with the exception of the 10% GST.

Unfortunately Mr Speaker, this new freedom will be counter-balanced by new responsibilities.

In order to reduce the unnecessary burden that smoking-related illnesses impose upon Australia’s taxpayer-funded health system, all smokers seeking treatment at public health facilities will be sent to the back of the queue unless they have been paying the appropriate taxation surcharge under the “Schedule of Personal Mischief.”

Inebriates suffering alcohol-induced trauma will also be sent there after being temporarily bandaged-up to staunch the unsightly flow of blood onto emergency room floors, unless they too have been paying the even higher surcharge applicable to them because of the increased likelihood that they will cause physical harm to other people.

Getting a skinfull of booze and drugs on weekends is NOT Australia’s National Sport, Mr Speaker, and being sewn-up and put together again by our overworked and frequently abused ambulance officers, doctors and nurses will no longer be tolerated as an automatic right of citizenship to be paid for by taxpayers.

Emergency treatment “at cost” will continue to be available from Private Hospitals and medical centres, for those who are either unwilling to modify their own behaviour or pre-pay the applicable surcharges.

And finally, a lifeline for tobacco companies.

My Government will give them preferential consideration if they wish to immediately redirect the focus of their commercial activities to building and operating private hospitals and health clinics.

It is forecast that patient demand for these services will rapidly escalate as all the unrestricted freeloading is phased out of public health facilities, thus ensuring lucrative financial returns for investors in private medical facilities.

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At a hastily convened press conference later in the day the Minister was asked about the probability of his now being nominated for several Benevolence and Humanity Awards next Australia Day.  

He emphatically stated that “I have no interest in awards and will of course refuse to accept them on the grounds of humility.”

Later that evening after having been feted for several hours by Ministerial colleagues at the Parliamentary Press Club Bar this statement was amended to;  
I will refhuuuse to accept intercoursh awards on the hulimity grounds.”

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Just over a decade ago multinational tobacco companies decided to increase their profits by choosing to buy imported ingredients instead of Australian-grown leaf.
Mareeba was once the tobacco-growing capital of Australia.
Here are some reminders of an industry which no longer exists.

Tobacco kiln 1932-2002

Tobacco curing barn 1932-2002

International Harvester tobacco planting tractor 1952-2002

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Distant Minds performing Pink Floyd

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I enjoy watching music videos on television, and occasionally taking time out to reflect on how they have evolved over the past thirty years with changing technology.

The very first video I ever saw was brunette-turned-blonde Deborah Harry in the early eighties miming and sexily sauntering her way along the street behind a truck-mounted camera.  The vision was apparently more memorable than the song, the title of which I have long forgotten.

Few men of my generation will forget Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible” with his entourage of identically dressed chicks disinterestedly shuffling and wiggling their minor assets, Salt n Pepa with “Push it” vigorously pushing and heaving all of their much more substantial assets in ways I had never previously thought possible,  Billy Joel pumping out “We didn’t start the Fire” to a mesmerising backdrop of historical newsreel footage, or Cher, dressed in almost nothing, nasally “Turning back time” whilst straddling an enormous gun barrel on a U.S. navy vessel.  I, for one, will admit to never paying much attention to the lyrics.

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Computer technology has changed forever the way music videos are created.

Mike is an occasional commenter on this blog and friend of mine in real life.  He is a gifted computer programmer and technician, musician, and photographer, who is very generous when it comes to sharing his knowledge with those of us who know little about these subjects.

For many months now, Mike has been spending his spare time, often late into the night, compiling the following video clip to post on Youtube.

Distant Minds is not your ordinary band.

You see, Mike fronts the band whose other members come from the United States, Costa Rica, Mexico and Brazil.

They discovered their common interest on an internet forum and none of them has ever met any other band member in person.

They all share a love of Pink Floyd music so each one sent Mike a video of themselves playing their particular instrument’s part of the song “Comfortably Numb”.

I have no idea how he managed to electronically stitch everything together to produce such a seamless and professional video clip, but the final product is a credit to him and the other members of Distant Minds.

I wish them well.

This  is a short trailer showing snippets of the original contributions from band members, and the following is the completed project.

Salaen and the rooster

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Village elders in Papua New Guinea were often unable to read or write, but many were gifted orators and storytellers.

The following story is based on one told to me at Finschhafen in 1974 in the lingua franca Melanesian Tok Pisin.

It is a tale that brought tears to my eyes.

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Salaen was a New Guinea village man who had proudly inherited the traditional craft of house-building from his ancestors.
His small one-roomed hut, like all of the others in the hamlet, was constructed almost entirely from bamboo except for the wooden stumps and bearers which supported it three feet off the ground.

The roof was made of stitched-up bamboo leaf thatch, the walls from flattened bamboo stems woven into flat panels, and the floor  fabricated from long lengths of large-diameter bamboo hammered out into flat sheets and laid with the smooth side facing upwards.

The underneath surface remained rough and in parts razor sharp…..after all, bamboo slivers could be used to slice meat if metal knives were unavailable.

One of the advantages of bamboo flooring, especially from Mrs Salaen’s point of view, was that as the bamboo dried there were numerous cracks which appeared in the floor.  These were useful for sweeping dust through, or after cooking taro and vegetables on the central hearth fire she could simply pour the excess water from the saucepan onto the ground through the slits in the floor.

The family chickens eagerly gathered under the house at cooking time each day waiting for the small morsels of food which seemed to always miraculously appear like manna from their heaven above.

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Salaen was also a traditional man with his simple choice of clothing. He possessed only a single garment. One colourful laplap which was fastened around his waist to cover the lower half of his body.

Mr and Mrs Salaen, in true Melanesian style, often had their little house full of relatives and friends at meal times where they would all sit in a circle on the floor around the fire.

It was at one of these gatherings that Salaen gained considerable notoriety, but almost lost something a lot more important to him in the process.

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It was a very hot evening on the tropical coast, and, made even more uncomfortable by his proximity to the roaring fire, Salaen gradually eased the laplap higher up his legs for ventilation and cooling purposes.

In a regrettable moment of miscalculation he raised it too high and one testicle fell out and down through a narrow slit in the bamboo floor.

For half an hour he casually attempted to release it without flinching or drawing attention to himself, but no matter how hard or scientifically he tried, the errant ball refused to rejoin it’s twin on top of the floor.
Every time he tried a different manouvre the sharp bamboo lascerated and bruised it even more until it was twice it’s normal size and the colour of an over-ripe plum.

He tried with great subtlety to prise the hole wider with his fingers, but the floor would not budge in any direction because six other people were sitting on the same length of bamboo.

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The sudden appearance of three twitching fingers under the floorboards caught the attention of Roger the rooster who had been waiting patiently under the house for scraps of food to appear.
He had seen fingers before and knew them to be inedible, but in his state of hunger the dangling object accompanying the fingers certainly appeared to offer several gastronomic possibilities.

He sprang up and pecked it gently. Nothing. It just kept hanging there.  Then he took a flying leap and took a sizeable nip out of the side of it with his beak.  Still nothing, but he thought that it moved a little and made a strange grunting noise when he did it, but no matter how often he flew up and grabbed hold of it in his beak he just could not release it from whatever mysterious force held it in place under the floor.

Even when, in a final concerted effort, he launched himself skywards and latched onto it with such force that his entire body dangled precariously from it for at least ten seconds the damned thing still refused to come loose.

Unbeknown to Roger however, the forces of the universe were at this very moment conspiring against him.

Salaen had smuggled a length of firewood kindling from his side of the hearth and wedged it into the bamboo floor, widening the hole sufficiently to allow the complete retraction of all his equipment.

Ashen-faced, he excused himself from the gathering and hobbled to the door where he grabbed his recently sharpened machete which was kept on a shelf above it.

He limped silently down the steps and crept under the house.

Roger was still there, gazing upwards at the crack in the floor.

Wondering.

What sort of merciless Chicken God would giveth and then taketh away?

Roger never even saw it coming.

RIP. Roger. 1972-74

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History #110; The Renaissance……an underview

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This is the final debacle  Tutorial in the current semester of “History according to GOF”, but before we begin I have some Bucketing housework to do.

“Comments” have been switched on again.

1. Turning them off was a really stupid idea.
2. Presbyterian guilt is a pointless commodity.
3. I’ll steal another Telstra repeater-station solar panel if I have to,
in order to support my blogging habit.  They won’t mind.
After all it’s just another form of communication.

Let us now grab our fishing poles and reel-in some facts and phenomena before tagging them with irreverence and releasing them back into the vast ocean of historical bias and uncertainty for the benefit of future generations.

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Sibongelay Makebo was a very peculiar old woman.

With extraordinarily big feet and a withered shapeless torso she resembled, when silhouetted sideways against the setting African sun, a wrinkly and perished old Wellington boot with a woolly sock sticking out the top.

She lived in a kraal just outside the boundary of the Kruger National Park in the Transvaal Province, and had remained unmarried because of her lifelong proclivity towards behaving in an erratic and deranged manner.

On several occasions the most wise and experienced shamans in South Africa had journeyed across the plains to her village but each time they failed to exorcise whatever ailed Sibongelay.

Indeed they gave up all hope on 19th September 1962 when she stole a three-pronged pitchfork from the communal millet granary.
Sibongelay then sneaked stealthily out onto the savannah before jamming the fork with all of her might into the rump of Rupert the recumbent rhinoceros who had been daydreaming about a threesome with a couple of sexy endangered white rhinos who had been eyeing him seductively from under a nearby copse of thorny trees.

Rupert’s blood-curdling shriek of agony and astonishment sent all the neighbouring herds of wildebeeste, giraffe and elephant into an immediate stampede for higher ground.

When questioned later about the wisdom of what she had just done Sibongelay replied “I just wanted to see what would happen”.
It is little wonder therefore that all the men in the village had always steered clear of her.

Especially whilst all the pitchforks were not kept under lock and key.

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So what on earth does this story have to do with The Renaissance?

Not much at all really.  That’s the down-side of cheap education.

Sibongelay was perhaps shaped a little bit like Italy, and Italy was the country originally responsible for sticking it’s transformative pitchfork of sophistication into several of it’s culturally lethargic and dormant European neighbours during the period of history now known as The Renaissance.

The Renaissance period represents the transition between Medieval and Modern History.

During the two hundred years beginning in the early 14th century, Europe experienced an unprecedented rebirth of culture, trade and exploration, astronomy, concern for artistic beauty and man’s destiny on Earth.

1. Philosophy

Petrarch

Francesco Petrarch (1304-74) was born in Arezzo but travelled widely throughout Europe and eventually settled in Milan, then Venice.
Petrarch was highly respected and earned the title of the world’s first great Humanist, although he always acknowledged the role the ancient Greek philosophers had played in educating the Romans.

Humanism dared to challenge the traditional power and dominance of the Church in secular matters at a time when the Pope ruled the entire city of Rome.

Humanism was adopted by many scholars throughout Europe.
Dutchman Desiderius Erasmus, Chaucer in England and Frenchman Rabelais all regularly poked fun at man’s earthly follies.

2. The Arts

Saint Peters Basilica

Architecture, painting and sculpture flourished with the works of Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Leonardo DaVinci and many others.

In the view of the puritan movement however, it was also a time when artistic decency was being  swamped by the incoming tide of vulgarity.

When Mrs Doris Stubbs, self-appointed moral adjudicator for the Borough of East London (and wife of “Shorty” Stubbs a sixth-generation ferret-fancier) first laid eyes on the Statue of David she reeled in horror and exclaimed to her friend, the dowager Lady Penelope Horsewhistle  ” Good Lord Penny dear don’t look down!    Let us come back again tomorrow, and the day after, just to check whether they’ve covered the poor boy up with a toga or a sprig of fig leaves.”

Statue of David

3. Literature

The invention of Guttenberg’s press with movable type enabled widespread production and distribution of classical and religious literature, along with a smattering of pornography which was peddled by filthy little vendors wearing gabardine overcoats who hid in the shadows of various Gothic structures including the flying buttresses of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

Cathedral of Notre Dame

Lady Penelope, having married into a family of distinguished respectability, was quite unaware of the existence of these sordid publications until Doris Stubbs revealed “When I was making Reverend Tristram’s bed last month, a dog-eared copy of Debbie Does Don Quixote dropped out from under his mattress right on top of my naked ankle.  
I immediately scurried home and collapsed into my bed for a week with the most awful case of the vapors. It’s a wonder I didn’t catch something a lot more horrid and sinister”

4. Surgery

Andreas Vesalius (1514 – 64), a lecturer at the University of Padua insisted that surgery should in future be performed by “men skilled in anatomy, and not by ordinary barbers” as was the tradition up until that time.

Doris Stubbs had no opinion at all on this matter until much later when she needed to have an ugly and irritating mole removed from “in the general vicinity of my inner thigh.”

The barber won the contract much to Lady Penny’s surprise.

“If you’re paying someone to dig the garden bed, my dear Penelope,
it makes sense if he can also mow the lawn while he’s at it.”

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The sixteenth century saw The Renaissance come to an end.

The period retains relevance to modern society in that it seriously explored and encouraged the potential of humans to be beautiful, creative, noble and independent.

Four qualities that, I am happy to report, all the wise and discerning readers of  The Bucket  possess in great abundance.

I thank you for your attendance during this semester.

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The elusive Arkie Poive

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I was mentored by some extraordinarily devoted and conscientious young Australian Patrol Officers (kiaps and didimen) during my early years in New Guinea working on various rural development projects.

No doubt, as with any Government occupation, there were some under-performers , but I never came across any of them.
Without exception all those I knew who worked at the “sharp end” of services to people in remote areas worked their hearts out planning and building roads, bridges, schools, airstrips, medical aid posts and agricultural extension centres.

Success often depended upon “making do” with whatever scarce resources could be scrounged from around these tiny outposts which were only linked to the outside world by a weekly “Government Charter” Cessna aircraft which delivered mail and essential supplies.

Kiaps and didimen became masters of improvisation by necessity.

If steel cable was unavailable to build suspension bridges or “flying fox” ropeways then fencing wire was used instead.
If cement supply was limited, half of the volume of a concrete floor or wall could be composed of embedded empty beer bottles.
(Please refer “essential supplies” above.)

One kiap even got so fed up with bureaucratic lassitude that he bought his own private bulldozer to build the roads he had surveyed.

Bureaucracies around the world are not renowned for financial flexibility. New Guinea was no exception. The Treasury allocated chunks of Government money to specific purposes called “votes”.

If money was allocated to us on the “casual wages” vote, then it had to be spent for that purpose and no other.

Diversion of funds from one purpose to another was strictly forbidden unless prior approval had been gained after lodging an Application on the appropriate Form in carbon-papered quadruplicate, followed with lengthy assessment by an entire ‘uselessness’ of senior Departmental bureaucrats arse-polishing leather chairs in the capital city Port Moresby.

Meanwhile, the $100 emergency repair job you wanted to do to fix the village water supply had to be held in abeyance.

Kiaps and didimen were consequently forced into becoming adept at accounting ingenuity.

Most outposts used “casual wages” money to employ gangs of men to “mow” the station and airstrip using lengths of sharpened flat steel called sarifs…..the fit young men swinging them parallel to the ground to cut the grass.

One Kiap during the 1960’s whose identity should probably remain shrouded in the mists of time decided to add an imaginary labourer to his gang to facilitate an emergency accounting diversion.

He selected the name “Arkie Poive” because in the world of Melanesian Treasury scrutiny it was less likely to attract attention than a labourer called “Jerry Lee Lewis” or “Howard Hughes”.

Over a period of time ( labourer’s remuneration was $10 per week)
Arkie Poive’s wages repaired the water supply, and provided a tank to store water at the small bush-material hospital.  Arkie’s wages also generously provided sufficient funds for two waterwheels to drive communal coffee pulping machines as well as some components for a hydroelectric lighting project which lit up 20 village houses for the first time.

Arkie Poive was indeed a very generous man.

The word of his success and usefulness soon spread far and wide among the Government field workers in New Guinea, and in no time at all there were probably more than a hundred “Arkie Poives” on the books, working their pioneering hearts out for the benefit of their country.

The only evidence of Arkie Poive’s omnipresent existence during the twentieth century remains buried in the monthly financial returns we all religiously sent to Treasury Head Office in Port Moresby at the time.

Arkie Poive has never been given sufficient credit for the significant part he played in Papua New Guinea’s rural development.

Until now.

Bilge soup #3

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1. Into a stock of Perspective,

If you look very closely, slightly left of the top of the Sydney Harbour bridge you can just pick out two separate walking-tour groups. (appoximately 12 people in each)

According to my neighbour Saint Martin of FOT who recently made the climb, up to 800 people per day do the journey….a 3 hour return trip which costs around $200.

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2.  Add a generous dollop of Astonishment,

One of the perks for Australians who live to 100 years of age is a personal letter of congratulations from the Queen of our British Commonwealth, along with similar felicitations from the Prime Minister of Australia.

If, however, you have spent a century of service and devotion to the Roman Catholic Church and would like some token recognition from the Pope, then you are fresh out of luck……unless……

unless you hand over the prescribed “Fee for Service” in advance.

Now as the Pope  is (apparently) the earthly representative of God……….does this mean that God, despite all of his/her rather wonderful, glorious, omnipotent benevolence also occasionally lapsed into utterly shabby moments of callous money-grubbing avarice?

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3.   Then stir-in half a brain’s conclusion mixed with a pinch of salt.

A recent little gem of research (here)  implores us to believe that living at higher altitudes facilitates immediate weight loss, and acts as a deterrent to future weight gain.

In the past I have occasionally attempted to demolish some dumb and stupid scientific conclusions which failed the test of common sense.

All my boxes of credibility however are ticked with this one.

After all, has anyone ever seen a really fat person on the top of Mt.
Everest?

Despite this compelling piece of evidence, I’d still like to dust off
    The Bucket’s

AWARD

.

.

.

.

.

.

and present it to the authors.

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4.  Finally, season to taste with some fiscal understanding.

“Taxation is the removal of the most number of feathers
from the goose with the least amount of squarking “

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5.  Now please settle back and enjoy thirty one seconds of exquisite musicianship.

Wildlife in the garden

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These are all Mrs GOF’s photographs.

Over the course of a year we have around 40 species of birds which visit our garden, many of which feed on the grain and fruit that we provide for them in limited quantity.

This year several other unusual and normally shy birds and animals have arrived because Cyclone Yasi caused their natural food supply to be interrupted.

For the first time in 30 years we have Rifle Birds, and also the marsupial Musky Rat Kangaroos which bunny-hop around the lawn every morning and afternoon.
They are the smallest of all Australia’s kangaroos and normally live on the floor of the tropical rainforest where their diet comprises fruit and invertebrates.

Dragonfly or some other sort of bubbidge

Male Rifle Bird

Female Rifle Bird

Musky Rat Kangaroo

Cassowary in the neighbour's garden