29 January, 2013

Get out of the bloody way!

Barely a day goes by without Tony Abbott pulling some kind of stunt at a photo opportunity.  So instead of constructive policy announcements, a tame media receives a steady stream of vision of Tony Abbott pulling on a hi-vis jacket, hard hat or hair net and proceeding to make a goose of himself trying to drive a forklift, use a nail gun, gut a fish or whatever they happen to do at the latest workplace that has allowed him to darken their doorstep.

If the businesses he visits are prepared to wear the loss of productivity involved in hosting Abbott’s media circus, then that’s their own lookout.  It becomes something else entirely when the scene of Abbott’s posing is a disaster area.

Photo: The Courier-Mail

The most recent and talked-about of Abbott’s publicity stunts have involved Abbott fighting bushfires and yesterday, filling sandbags for the Queensland floods.  I am even prepared to give Abbott a pass on the fire fighting.  He is, after all, a volunteer RFS fire fighter so for once, he would actually have had some training in what he was being filmed doing.  There have been accusations that Abbott left as soon as they were finished filming but I won’t comment on that until it’s been debunked or confirmed.  What I will say is that if you’re going to volunteer to help out in an emergency, that’s wonderful.  If you bring a camera crew with you, then I begin to question your motives.  When Abbott’s cronies start talking about what a top bloke he is for fighting bushfires while Julia Gillard was off… I don’t know, being the prime minister or something, I would take that as confirmation of my initial suspicions.

The sandbagging though has to rank as the worst of Abbott’s stunts.  As with all his other photo ops, he didn’t just show up on his own.  There was his entourage and the ever-present camera crews.  Getting Abbott and all his photographers in there would have meant getting in the way of several other people who were actually there to do a job.  That is indefensible when there are rapidly rising flood waters and time is clearly of the essence.  He was also wearing a business shirt and dress shoes which doesn’t imply he was there for a hard day’s work.

Sometimes, the most helpful thing you can do is keep out of the way while people do their job.  There were dozens of people there doing some pretty urgent work.  The last thing they needed was to have a politician getting underfoot saying, “Ooh! Ooh! Let me have a go!”  It makes me despair that there will actually be people who think this was Abbott chipping in when he was clearly more hindrance than help.  By pushing in and holding things up, Tony Abbott showed that he cares more about his own political vanity than he does about helping in a time of crisis.

The next time you want to help out, Tony, get out of the bloody way and let people get on with their work.

03 January, 2013


The "fiscal cliff" will become another debt ceiling - a meaningless limit that will be deferred, delayed and extended ad nauseum, invoked only when one or other party finds it politically beneficial to do so.

02 January, 2013

A white Christmas

Greetings from Perryville.

Unless we are related by marriage, then there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Perryville, which is fair enough because you probably have no reason to have. Perryville is a rural town in Arkansas, about 45 minutes’ drive from Little Rock. Although it’s small enough to list the exact population on the sign at the town’s entry (1458, if memory serves), it is the largest town in Perry County and presumably serves quite a few outlying areas.  We are here for Christmas because dearest’s mother has family here. I was looking forward to coming here if only for the fact that the town has almost no tourist value. You don’t come here unless you mean to. Therefore, what you see when you visit is a real community going about its business.

From the middle of last week, there was talk of the likelihood of snow here for Christmas. I had only seen snow once before when we visited dearest’s older brother in Kansas early last year, but the snow was already there. I had never seen snow falling before. By the time we got to Arkansas, all the weather reports were talking about the possibility of snow for Christmas day. US weather reports are generally more detailed than Australia’s anyway and there are all kinds of practical reasons for tracking snow but I suspect Christmas meant an additional layer of interest. The local station was showing three disagreeing projections which predicted anywhere between 1 to 3 and 10 to 12 inches. It was getting to the point where I was wondering where Nate Silver was when we needed him.

For Christmas day, we were due to go to dearest’s uncle’s house in Benton for a family Christmas dinner. Dinner had already been moved forward from 6pm to 2pm on account of the weather and by the time we were all up, it was decided that we would make the 1-hour drive as soon as possible before the roads go too dangerous.

However, once we got out to the cars, my brother in law noted that what had looked like large drops of dew on the cars were actually frozen solid and the same applied to the moisture on the road. It was soon decided that it would be too nerve-wracking, if not outright dangerous, to make the drive.

It wasn’t more than fifteen minutes after that decision that sleet began to fall, further vindicating the decision to stay put. It was my first experience of sleet too. It struck me as a slightly more polite hail, where “polite” means not quite as noisy. As we watched the sleet, it gradually became snow, which continued to fall steadily for the rest of the day and into the evening. If we had been able to make it to Benton safely, we would not have been able to get back.

Dearest regarded this as an object lesson in being careful what you wish for. She had hoped that we might be able to share a white Christmas but wasn’t expecting us to get snowed in for a couple of days. Personally, I didn’t mind at all. While it’s a pity we didn’t get to see the uncles, aunts and cousins, I enjoyed improvising Christmas with seasonal television, hot buttered Os and a Christmas dinner of scrambled eggs on waffles. It just took our wintery Christmas to the next level.

So far, I have just about adjusted to the time difference and the season, but the one thing that I haven’t properly acclimatised to is the fact that it’s not daylight saving here. I am used to the sun setting at about 9 o’clock on Christmas night, so 7pm felt like about 10pm to me. Later in the evening, as the snow cover got heavier, we began to lose tv signal and there were several power brown-outs. These were very mild inconveniences but enough for us to make plans for if the power went out completely and remind us that despite being awfully pretty, there’s a whole lot of disadvantage, danger and hard work that comes with snow. Indeed, my father’s only experience of snow was building a television transmitter at the top of a mountain in the dead of winter. It was such a miserable experience for him that the idea of people enjoying snow in any way simply does not compute for him.

We woke to a picture-postcard white blanket. Our own measurements put the fall at 17 inches. We are still snowed in. Perryville is not used to this kind of snowfall, so the highways have been ploughed but the back streets (which is just about everything else here) have not. In fact, it’s being said that this is the most snow the area has ever seen. The local weather had to add an extra colour on the map to indicate blizzard warnings for north-east Arkansas, which had never been needed before.
If you listen to The Weather Channel, then this was Winter Storm Euclid, but you shouldn't listen to The Weather Channel because they're full of shit.  Their idea of naming anything below tropical storms is ridiculous and cheapens official naming.  Before long, we'll be up to A Spot of Drizzle Fernando or Morning Fog Genevieve.

Our plans to meet cousins in Little Rock for beer and pizza tonight will have to be postponed if not cancelled and we will be here at least one night longer than we had planned to be. Again, these are minor inconveniences. The uncle who we were to spend Christmas day with has been without power all day and also had a tree fall through his garage roof. Mercifully there was no injury to people or cars, but another aunt who lives ten miles out of town was without power until this afternoon so in the scheme of things, we have it easy.

The temperature is above freezing now and the snow is slowly melting, but we will not move until the roads are clearer. One thing I noticed on the way over here is that both on the highways and in the towns, there is nothing to stop you driving into a ditch. On roads that would have cables, Armco, or at least white posts around them in Australia, if you go past the rumble strips (which are carved out of the asphalt, rather than painted on), then you’re on your own. In fact, behind the house last night, a pickup truck got stuck in a drain since the snow cover forced the driver to take a guess at where the road was and unfortunately guessed wrong.

As much as I’ve enjoyed this Christmas adventure, I think I would be advising caution to anyone hoping for a white Christmas.  I have nothing but respect for those who have to deal with this kind of weather on a regular basis.

Mid-afternoon, Christmas day

Early morning, Boxing day