Posts Tagged Australia

Anthem

I endured another rendition of Australia’s insipid national anthem, sung prior to the start of last Saturday’s Grand Final, and reflected on the fact that anthems are supposed to be stirring pieces of music, exhorting us all to stand together to defeat the common enemy, or some such jingoistic nonsense. Unfortunately Australia’s anthem encourages somnolence rather than action, a fact that is compounded by its archaic lyrics. “Our home is girt by sea.” Girt by sea? When was the last time anyone ever used the word “girt”? Since it is in the national anthem perhaps we should try and bring it back into the current vernacular? Just in case you are interested my house is girt by forest, while the neighbour’s house is girt by paddocks. I can see a massive “girt” revival on the horizon.

Unfortunately countries that have anthems with stirring tunes tend to have stirring lyrics as well, perhaps a bit too stirring. “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, über alles in der Welt“ translates as „Germany, Germany above all, above all in the world“. And we all know the trouble that caused.

The French aren’t much better:

Aux armes, citoyens,     To arms, citizens,

Formez vos bataillons,  Form your battalions,

Marchons, marchons!    Let’s march, let’s march!

Qu’un sang impur           Let impure blood

Abreuve nos sillons!       Water our furrows!

The Spanish appear to have the ideal solution. No lyrics at all. Admittedly the melody could do with a bit of work but you can stand at that soccer match enjoying the tune, while feeling proud to be Spanish, and girding your loins for the coming battle knowing that you don’t have to rhythmically open and close your mouth in order to mask the embarrassment of not knowing the words to your national anthem.

Dr. F. Bunny

“Better the pride that resides in a citizen of the world

Than the pride that divides when a colourful rag is unfurled”

(Rush, Territories, from the album “Power Windows”).

 

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Connect Me

Melbourne was recently named the most liveable city in the world, based on health care, education, stability, culture, environment and infrastructure (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-08-19/melbourne-worlds-most-liveable-city-for-the-fourth-year-running/5681014). Infrastructure? Obviously one of the things they did not look at was Melbourne’s connectivity to the internet.

My son is currently travelling through South and Central America. Before he left I asked him to send us a text or email every week or so, just to let us know he is alive. He has, in fact, been communicating via Facebook almost every single day because he has free wifi almost everywhere he goes including such technological hotspots like Manaus, Cuzco, Bogota and Quito. He even sent me a message from a bus in the middle of nowhere in Mexico. I could not believe it. The bus had internet?!

Meanwhile, I live on the outskirts of Melbourne, barely ten kilometres from the nearest town, and it is almost impossible for me to get connected. None of our major providers can reach me which, based on the government’s promise that no child shall live without internet, means that I could qualify for a subsidised satellite. Unfortunately I did finally find someone who could provide me with internet because I live on a hill and have line of sight with their transmitting tower. This required an outrageously expensive installation followed by outrageously expensive internet, providing remarkably few gigabytes that is usually too slow to watch the ice hockey and drops out with annoying regularity. Our neighbour, who lives down in the valley, did qualify for the subsidised satellite. The only thing that makes me feel better is that their internet is no better than ours.

In case you are interested, and before the internet drops out again, below is a list of the world’s top ten liveable cities. If you have any interest in technology, avoid all the Australian ones. I have always liked Canada: good skiing, ice hockey, Tim Hortons and a functioning affordable internet.

Dr. F. Bunny

Most liveable cities:

  1. Melbourne, Australia
  2. Vienna, Austria
  3. Vancouver, Canada
  4. Toronto, Canada
  5. Adelaide, Australia
  6. Calgary, Canada
  7. Sydney, Australia
  8. Helsinki, Finland
  9. Perth, Australia
  10. Auckland, New Zealand

As an aside, it has taken me over an hour to get enough functional internet just publish this post.

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Here Puss, Puss, Puss II

I read a recent blog post highlighting the feral cat problem in Hawaii (http://rumpydog.com/2014/08/14/so-hawaii-wants-to-kill-cats/). The post mentioned a paper published in Conservation Biology which indicated that Hawaiian residents preferred euthanasia over trap-neuter-release (TNR) programs when it came to feral cat management (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cobi.12201/abstract;jsessionid=FB4AAB1970A118DB0073E69D40924627.f01t04?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false). This study was criticised as being flawed and its findings erroneous by Vox Felina, a group that supports TNR (http://www.voxfelina.com/2014/08/a-response-to-lohr-and-lepczyk/).

Whether or not the Conservation Biology study is flawed is irrelevant. What the residents of Hawaii prefer in this regard is also irrelevant. The fact remains, feral cats should not be present on Hawaii. They were introduced in the 1800s and have caused untold destruction to the native bird life since then. These species, like the birds of New Zealand, evolved without the presence of predators and are ill equipped to deal with them. Neutered cats kill just as many birds as cats that have not been neutered.

The debate over TNR and euthanasia only occurs because we have an emotional attachment to cats that has evolved over many hundreds of years. No one appears to be advocating TNR programs for the possums of New Zealand, the rabbits of Australia or the brown tree snakes running rampant on Guam. Why the inconsistency? All four groups of animals are feral and cause untold damage to their new environments, environments which will only recover properly if these animals are completely removed. The only way the New Zealanders were able to successfully reintroduce any of their endangered birds to their offshore islands was to remove every last cat.

As well as the predation issue cats also carry toxoplasmosis. This disease is caused by a small parasite that needs cats to complete its life cycle. It causes no disease in cats but has killed alala (Corvus hawaiiensis), nene (Hawaiian goose; Branta sandvicensis), red-footed boobies (Sula sula) and even the endangered Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi). Toxoplasmosis is also a zoonosis, posing health risks for pregnant women and immunocompromised people (http://www.usgs.gov/ecosystems/pierc/files/factsheets/cats.pdf).

Unfortunately as long as there are feral cats running around the Hawaiian Islands, its bird species will be at risk of extinction. No TNR programs will remedy that. The only remedy is to remove the cats from the environment. Anything else is nonsensical.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Island Time

While on holiday I am perfectly happy to take it easy, relax and leave the watch at home. Actually, that is a total lie. I am just as obsessed with punctuality when I am on holidays as when I am at work and countries that do not know how clocks function drive me crazy. To ignore a concept pioneered by the Egyptians over two thousand years ago seems just plain disrespectful. They did it to make life more predictable and less stressful for people, and it works, so why not adopt it?

We returned recently from a week of scuba diving in the Solomon Islands. The resort where we stayed was quite remote from the capital, Honiara. Getting there required a one hour light plane flight followed by a thirty minute boat ride. It was a beautiful, isolated spot with great fish diversity and a few manta rays thrown in for good measure.

Our return flight was due to leave at 11.10 am, plenty of time to make our 3.00 pm connection back to Australia. The day before, we were informed that the flight was now scheduled to depart at 10.00 am. Considering we would now have quite a bit of time to sit around Honiara airport (not one of the more desirable of the world’s airports) we organised for a driver to meet us and show us the sights of the capital.

Next morning, we were informed that the flight was now leaving at 9.30 am. We quickly finished our breakfast, said our farewells and headed for the boat, congratulating ourselves once again on having the foresight to organise that Honiara tour.

There were seven of us leaving the resort and we arrived at the little grass airstrip just after 9.00 am. Check in involved weighing both ourselves and our luggage on what looked like kitchen scales. We then hunted around for a bit of shade, preferably with a breeze, to get out of the heat and humidity and settled down to wait for our flight. Our boredom turned to concern when a rather large school group appeared and also checked in.

The 9.30 am scheduled flight turned up at 10.15 am, a 19 seater twin engine otter. Our concern turned to relief when a chap wearing a yellow T-shirt, inside out, started loading our bags onto the plane, the baggage handler presumably. Our relief turned back to concern when he then refused to let us board, saying the school group would be getting on this plane. We informed him that he had already loaded our bags, so he should really let us get on the plane. Unfortunately he held firm and seemed a bit put out when we insisted that, in that case, he really must take the bags back off the plane. If we were not going to Honiara, neither was our luggage.

About half the school group boarded the plane and we gazed wistfully as it took off and disappeared into the distance. In an attempt to presumably cheer us up our friend with the inside out shirt informed us that another plane would be along around 11.40 am, thirty minutes after our originally scheduled flight.

At 12.15 pm a very small plane landed. The pilot informed us that he could only take five passengers. Fortunately two of our group volunteered to stay behind, avoiding the messy situation of having to club them to death. We loaded our luggage, climbed aboard and noticed with dismay that, no matter how many times the pilot tried, that pesky right engine simply would not start. I thought about offering to spin the propeller for him. Instead, we got out again and offloaded our luggage. The pilot informed us with a cheery smile that we should wait 20 minutes, he would try again and then the engine was bound to start.

Fortunately for us a second otter had just arrived and we raced for it, hoping its engines would be slightly more functional. This plane was able to fit both us and the remainder of the school group and we finally left the little grass airstrip at 1.30 pm, a mere four and a half hours after our arrival.

Although clocks don’t appear to exist in the Solomon Islands electronic communications do, and the pilot was able to radio ahead so that our connection was still sitting on the tarmac when we arrived. After landing we were checked through the domestic terminal, instead of having to cart all our bags to international, which would have been bizarre at the best of times considering our plane touched down right next to the Australia-bound jet.

Safely aboard we departed Honiara thirty minutes behind schedule. This created more anxiety because we had yet another connection to make at the other end. Fortunately it all ended well and we were even upgraded to Business Class for the flight to Australia. We thought this was an attempt by the airlines to make it up to us, but the pilot informed us that the plane had not been loaded properly, with insufficient weight up front, so they wanted us up there to act as ballast.

Thinking back, I wonder if our driver is still waiting at Honiara airport for us.

Dr. F. Bunny

 

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MERS

MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) is the latest disease in nature’s little bag of tricks, which could turn into the next pandemic and solve our population issues for us. It is closely related to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), both belonging to the same virus family. But, while SARS appeared in Asia, MERS first popped up in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Since then all cases have been seen either in the Middle East or in people who have travelled to the Middle East. As of June 2014 we have had 697 cases of which 210 people have died. As usual symptoms have been flu-like.

This is quite a high case fatality rate but, like bird flu, the virus has not raced around the world killing a third of the world’s population because it is not easily transferred from person to person, yet.

Any time one of these new diseases pops up it requires quite a bit of detective work to try and determine where it came from and how it works. It will probably come as no surprise that bats are once again implicated, the virus having been found in Egyptian tomb bats, a name guaranteed to generate sympathy with a nervous public.

Intriguingly the virus has also been found in camels, a situation which has some similarities with Hendra virus in Australia. Hendra virus lives happily in bats, infects horses (and kills them) and then spreads from horses to humans. However, as yet, there are no recorded cases of MERS causing disease in camels (although a number of camels have died in the UAE recently of undetermined cause, so this situation may change) and we have only recently seen the first confirmed case of a human catching the disease from a camel. Most of the other cases have been in people who have had very close contact with other sufferers. Where they caught it originally is still open to speculation.

It makes me think that the practice of veterinary medicine may be more dangerous than first thought. While we are all aware of the wonderful things we can catch from our primate neighbours no one really believed there was anything worth catching from our more distant cousins, like horses. Twenty years ago you would not have thought twice about examining a snuffly horse. Two years ago you would not have thought twice about examining a camel.

Australia has the largest feral camel population in the world, but no human cases of MERS. Preliminary testing of 25 camels has failed to find any evidence of MERS, implying that the Middle East camels may have been infected from the tomb bats or that the virus appeared in Middle East camels after the Australian population was established.

The upshot of all this is that we have absolutely no idea where the next fun plague might be coming from. As I get older and more paranoid I am becoming increasingly more nervous about travelling on crowded trains, planes and buses, full of sneezing and coughing people. And I am starting to think that sport is much more enjoyable when viewed from the comfort of my living room than from one of those packed sporting stadiums. I can see the day coming when I refuse to venture outside without my biohazard suit on.

Paranoia aside, most viruses are transferred between us via the things we touch, such as door handles, coffee cups, pens, etc. The best way to prevent this is by washing your hands frequently, with soap and water. To do it properly, sing the Happy Birthday song through twice while you are soaping up your hands. Oh, and don’t kiss bats, camels or any other non-human life forms. And maybe not even the human life forms.

Dr. F. Bunny

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The Thrill Of It All

“Won’t you help me Mr. Jesus, won’t you tell me if you can? When you see this world we live in, do you still believe in Man?”

(The Thrill Of It All, Black Sabbath, from the album “Sabotage”)

I have now finished Richard Flanagan’s “The Narrow Road to the Deep North”, a thoroughly disturbing and unsettling, albeit excellently written and constructed, book. With a grinding hopelessness, Flanagan describes the atrocities and deprivations endured by Australian POWs at the hands of their Japanese captors, while working on the Thai-Burma railway during World War II. Reading about the astonishing acts of cruelty humans appear to be able to direct towards each other, peaking with accounts of the vivisection of American servicemen while still alive and fully conscious, left me depressed and despairing of the entire collective lot of us.

Obviously this is hardly an isolated case. Having a German heritage, I have spent a lifetime grappling with the fact that members of the same nation that read me bedtime stories, sang me whimsical songs, and developed wonderful Christmas traditions also murdered millions of Jews in some of the most horrible ways imaginable.

Unfortunately it is not something we can shrug off and tell ourselves that it was all in the past. There seems to have been a steady progression from Cambodia to Rwanda to present day Syria to remind us that nothing has really changed, and we are just as barbaric now as we always were. And it is not just “other countries” or “other people” who do these things. Every nation on earth has plenty of blood on its hands. Australians managed to kill enough Aborigines to completely exterminate the Tasmanian race.

And then someone turns around, runs into a burning building and pulls out a complete stranger. Is it possible that the capacity for acts of great courage and sacrifice can only exist because of our capacity for great cruelty? Why should this be so? How can both of these attributes exist within one person? And yet, I have read stories of Nazis who were devoted husbands and fathers.

I have certainly experienced enough firsthand examples of humanity’s amazing ability to display kindness and selfless courage to drag me out of the depths of despair, but I do not think I will ever understand our capacity to inflict pain and presumably derive enjoyment from doing so.

Now I am going to try and find something uplifting to read. Unfortunately positivity does not sell very well.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Turning Japanese

I have just returned from two fantastic weeks in the Land of the Rising Sun. This being my first trip I was struck by the country’s unique ability to embrace both the old and the new. The people were all incredibly friendly, polite, law abiding and helpful. Compared with Australia, Japanese society seemed very structured with a long list of social conventions that regulate people’s daily lives. While this may appear restrictive once I had deciphered the system I found knowing what was expected in various situations to be oddly relaxing. It was probably just my German background enjoying the predictability of it all. The old joke about why the German crossed the road (The little man is green now. It’s allowed) is equally applicable to the Japanese. People formed orderly queues on railway platforms to board the trains, the doors of which always lined up with the carriage numbers marked on the ground. The trains were insanely punctual and reliable. People did not eat in public. Shoes were removed before entering temples, restaurants, homes, castles and sumo rings, which is a very common sense way of not tracking dirt everywhere. If you do decide to visit Japan do not, under any circumstances, wear a pair of lace up hiking boots.

Given that the majority of Japanese claim no personal religion they have presumably decided on their social conventions all by themselves, producing a set of guidelines that work for them. Considering their extremely low crime rate, compared with many devoutly religious countries, it certainly seems to be working for them. Japan does, however, have two major religions and, interestingly, most people profess to follow both.

Shintoism is Japan’s own home grown religion. It has no major prophet and no all-consuming deity. In fact there are eight million deities or spirits as all animate and inanimate objects contain a kami or spiritual essence. It is not necessary to swear allegiance and forsake all others to be Shinto. Anyone who practices Shinto rituals is counted as belonging to the religion. The Japanese have also imported Buddhism and see no contradiction in following both this religion and Shintoism, picking the best bits from each. It is refreshing to see religion working for the people instead of the other way round. Most people celebrate birth events according to the Shinto way but use Buddhist rituals for funeral arrangements. According to what one Japanese person told me the Shinto afterlife is not as appealing as the Buddhist nirvana. There are no Shinto cemeteries. Cremation is a Buddhist ritual. I was told that Shintoists believe the spirit returns to the earth and bodies were either thrown in the river or left on a hillside, presumably for scavengers to dispose of. I can feel myself becoming more Shinto all the time.

As a member of one of the world’s fattest countries it struck me how few overweight Japanese there are. This should come as no surprise as the Japanese consume virtually no bread products and no chocolate. In fact almost none of the places we ate at featured a dessert menu. Dairy products were also all but absent from the diet, which is probably sensible too as we appear to be the only species that drinks the milk of another well into adulthood (apart from my wife’s border collie who used to zip into the milking shed of any farm she visited, in order to clean up the spilled milk). Foods are minimally processed with a strong emphasis on raw foods including fish. I did enjoy my sashimi but I will be worming myself as soon as I get the chance. We cooked many of our restaurant meals ourselves much to my son’s indignation who felt that, as we were having a night out, the least the restaurant staff could do was to cook it for us. We made our own sukiyaki, which featured melt in the mouth Hida beef, that I’m sure was not particularly healthy given the reason for the meat’s flavour and tenderness was its intense marbling. We also concocted our own chankonabe, a stew containing seafood, chicken, vegetables, rice and egg designed to bulk up the sumos, and our own okonomiyaki, a type of savoury pancake filled with whatever takes your fancy. It was also good to see the Japanese making the most of local produce consuming a wide variety of unrecognisable mountain vegetables, as they called them. I found the fern to be quite tasty but I don’t think I will miss the lotus root. Our diet does not seem to be nearly as varied as theirs. All of this no doubt contributes to the fact that the Japanese now have the highest life expectancy in the world.

And the best part? Tips are neither given nor expected. Politeness and good service are an expected part of the culture.

Dr. F. Bunny

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