Monday, December 3, 2012

Book review: “Working with Bitches: Identify the Eight Types of Office Mean Girls and Rise Above Workplace Nastiness” by Meredith Fuller

US edition available 2013!

If you've never worked with a bitch, it's hard to understand the anguish it can bring day after long day, week after long week. It's almost impossible to imagine the impact it can have on every aspect of your life; sleeping can be disrupted while you churn over the day, eating can be problematic and leisure time eroded with the ongoing distress of belittling, malicious and downright nasty behaviour. Frustration, self doubt, anger, confusion and exhaustion are words commonly used to attempt to describe the experience.

"Working with Bitches" isn't a pop psychology book. It's solidly grounded in theory, knowledge and the experience of working with a diverse range of clients over many years. Meredith Fuller is a loved and respected Melbourne psychologist who interviewed a wide range of women for the stories selected, to shed light on different kinds of bitchy behaviour.

The stories give a sense of the personal challenges many women face in working with bitches. They are a glimpse into a wide range of unhealthy workplace dynamics - some are harrowing and you wonder how anyone gets away with such appalling behaviour. All the stories are very readable, and I found myself identifying behaviours I'd seen in different workplaces in a new and helpful way.

Not only are the behaviours named and clearly identified, but the possible effect of the behaviour on the target is outlined, along with an explanation of why the bitch may behave in a particular way. Equally helpful are realistic suggestions for dealing with the challenging boss or co-worker and practical strategies are presented in a series of 'what to do' lists.

Throughout the book are reminders that not all nasty, mean behaviour is bitchy, even though it may appear that way. There could well be other causes, and in addition there may be a need at some stage for deep self reflection as well.

The second part of the book delves more deeply into psychological issues and I found I needed to concentrate more carefully. The possible role of fear and archetypes are discussed as well as different communication styles: for instance a preference for either using the head (Thinking) or heart (Feeling) can lead to difficulty with communication.

Age related issues are also discussed, with the possibility for difference and misunderstandings explained helpfully.

Whilst "Working with Bitches" has been written by a woman, for women who are working with bitches, I'll certainly buy a copy for my son. I believe it'll give him an insight into behaviours that may otherwise have been perplexing or even have gone unnoticed. The sections on communication styles, learning to say no, managing workplace stress, and strategies for deciding whether to stay or leave an unsatisfactory workplace are equally as relevant to him and other men as they are to women in the workforce.

Disclaimer: Meredith Fuller was one of my psychology lecturers when I was at college some 25+ years ago. She was inspirational, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. We came into contact again a couple of years back when we were facilitating Myers Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) workshops with university students. Meredith has included some of my workplace experiences in the book, however I receive no freebies or financial gain from book sales. 

My personal interest in, and professional experience of supporting targets of workplace bullying and bitchiness goes back many years.  I am pleased to celebrate Meredith Fuller's hard work and enthusiasm which have led to the publication of this excellent, helpful and readable book.

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Teaching's a crap job."


"I've done that crap job in Japan. People couldn't pay me enough to do that again. Besides I'm wanting a real job with a good future." This blanket statement appeared in response to a post on G+ where I've found most people are thoughtful with their comments.

If there's one way to get a whole profession offside, that's it. Dismiss every job even remotely associated with teaching as "crap" and with no future. Ouch. 

Needless to say, it was tempting to retaliate in kind, but I resisted the impulse and let my thoughts settle. What did I really think? Why did I feel so insulted?

This person didn't know I was a teacher, so presumably hadn't deliberately set out to be hurtful. But she also hadn't made any effort to assess her attitude or explore what she disliked about the position she'd held in Japan. 

I had thought of offering a few suggestions: questions she could ponder, people she could talk to, articles to read, perhaps some books. But after that rude statement, I didn't feel particularly generous. 

I replied as follows: 

“You may not have realised that by dismissing teaching as a 'crap" job and stating that it's a job with no real future, you're insulting every one of us who has devoted our lives to improving outcomes for students.

Students come in all varieties - they could be disability students, adults returning to study, migrants, special education children, crusty old blokes who need some workplace training, university students and a massive range of other people who need and seek skills from teachers. Are they really all 'crap' jobs with no future?

Without teachers in one form or another, essential skills couldn't be passed on to future generations as efficiently - think of bakers, pharmacists  doctors, nurses, aged care workers, road workers, engineers to name a few. 

The effect of hearing my profession dismissed rudely and thoughtlessly as a "crap" job with no future hurts.

You may have meant to say the position you had at a specific location in Japan didn't suit you or your personality. That would have been valid, honest, understandable and shown a courteous respect for others who have enjoyed a fulfilling career teaching in one form or another.”

In hindsight, there are things I could have added or discarded. Rearranging the paragraphs would have been good. However, I doubt it would have made any difference, the writer of the flippant statement didn't return. Some people have little desire in gaining self awareness and no interest in thinking about how their words and actions affect others.  

I wonder how many others have had their career described as a "crap job"? What do you say? How does it make you feel? Do you try to explain the positives or not bother at all?

You might have been working in the field for 30+years; moved from area to area adding to your enjoyment as you shed the aspects you dislike and focus more on those which compliment your interests, strengths and values.

I’ve written about my love of working with adults and those with learning difficulties in Learning Difficulties in Adults.  I've also discussed some of the challenges of working with adults who’ve become redundant in Redundancy Hurts. I've drabbled about teaching and students during the A - Z April blogging challenge - quite a few of the drabbles are included in this list.

The benefits of my teacher training course have stood the test of time and I’ve enjoyed many challenging roles as well as struggled though a few jobs that didn't suit me.

Whilst I now work mainly in as a career counsellor in private practice, I bring the skills of a teacher with me. The word ‘teacher’ doesn’t define me or my career, but it’s part of who I am and has provided me with rich insights and opportunities.

As a study skills teacher I’ve worked with young people as well as adults. It’s been at various times challenging, rewarding, stressful, infuriating and fulfilling. As I discovered gaps in my skillset, I upgraded and refined my skills: career counselling, learning difficulties, Acceptance Commitment Therapy and further courses in counselling.

Each of these courses has been taught by a teacher. On the whole they were keen, motivated and motivating professionals, encouraging their students to see, acknowledge and build on their strengths. To dismiss the profession globally as crap does a deep disservice to the dedicated people who help others improve their self esteem and job opportunities and even reach their potential. To imply that teaching is a job of lesser value is insulting to teachers and students worldwide.

If the person who made the above remark chooses to retrain, I wonder who they think will present the course? Will they be grateful for the opportunity to learn something new or build on an existing skillset? Will the course open up job prospects, provide entertainment in the form of a hobby, dance or exercise class or help her learn to cope with loss or bereavement?

By using the word "crap" a whole conversations has been closed down.  The opportunity to share, support and learn has gone. 

So while teaching might not suit everyone as a rewarding career it should be a valued and valuable profession. It's far more than a job and it can have a good future.

Who teaches circus skills?
Who passes on the knowledge of mosaic, how to train animals,
make The Big Top, costumes or railways?
Words are powerful, they have the ability to close down or open up dialogue. Which do you choose?

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Friday, November 9, 2012

The Great Barrier Reef. Beautiful one day, an open sewer the next?

India expects to use coal imported from their Australian mines to power some of their planned 455 coal-fuelled power plants. For this to happen it's expected that The Great Barrier Reef will have even more coal terminals built along its fragile, stressed reef to fill massive tankers which will then be manoeuvred through the treacherous channels between the reefs then around the world.

What could possibly go wrong?

The 350.org India co-ordinator Chaitanya Kumar said "what we now need in India is a dramatic shift in policy that puts sustainable and clean energy access as a priority."

Link here to a petition to share concerns that ...
Indian companies GVK and Adani are proposing a series of mega-mines in Australia’s Galilee Basin to fuel their coal power expansion plans. GVK has just received approval for its controversial “Alpha Coal Project” that includes a massive new coal terminal right in the middle in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Adani Group has plans to build what would be, by far, Australia’s biggest coal mine, along with another massive coal export terminal at Abbot Point and nearby Dudgeon Point.
It's not that India is tardy in investing in sustainable alternative energy. In fact they could show countries such as Australia how to use solar panels to prevent evaporation from irrigation channels as can be seen in the photo from Gujurat.
(photo sourced from the web)
A friend recently said to me, surely the coal industry filters their waste water carefully before releasing it back into the environment, and especially when it's near the Great Barrier Reef?

A recent email from Greenpeace gives the following information that would make my friend's toenails curl in horror (my bold):

"There are 250,000 million litres of polluted water sitting in coal mine pits in the Bowen Basin – that’s the equivalent of 100,000 Olympic swimming pools. Some of this water has been there for two years. Instead of treating the water to remove harmful toxins, the coal industry has spent the last two years lobbying for permission to release their polluted water into Queensland’s waterways.

These waterways feed into the Fitzroy River downstream to graziers, towns, the city of Rockhampton and eventually, the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Last week, Premier Campbell Newman told Queensland Parliament “the government will not do anything to in any way degrade the feed water coming down the Fitzroy for their water supply.”

That same day, Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney introduced new legislation that allows that to happen.

The Deputy Premier is proposing to create new provisions within the Environment Protection Act that would enable the coal companies to pollute our waterways.

We need to show the Premier that legislation permitting our environment, including the Great Barrier Reef, to be polluted is not acceptable. Send him this message today urging him to pull the Deputy Premier into line and to defend our drinking water and the Reef from the coal industry. 

This new legislation will give companies the opportunity to ask for permission to release their toxic water into Queensland rivers, beyond the standards and guidelines set for safe drinking water and agriculture at short notice and without public review. 

Please tell Premier Newman we need protection for our waterways and our precious Great Barrier Reef from the coal industry."


Link here to petition to let the Queensland government that allowing rampant pollution along the world Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef is completely unacceptable.

Given that Australia is considered to be the driest inhabited continent on earth, the interior has one of the lowest rainfalls in the world, and around 3/4 of the land is arid or semi arid, it seems insane (perhaps criminal is a more fitting word) to allow coal mining companies to pollute our fragile and precious waterways.
fish with lesions - picture from link
Pollution in waters outside Gladstone affects fish, the fishing industry, tourism and many locally owned and operated local businesses. Lesions in fish are common, which makes them unsuitable for sale. More information here and here.

This issue affects more than Queensland and their government which seems to be in a state of dribbling, salivating lust about squandering finite fossil fuels to overseas countries. Whether we like it or not, we're all connected. Foolish, shortsighted decisions made in Australia affect people in far off lands, India included. Our governments - all our governments and policy makers - need to have a basic grasp of environmental cause and effect to ensure that our world remains relatively inhabitable.

Politicians, no matter where they are have the ability to push in a direction that ensures shortsighted decisions aren't made. How they choose can have devastating consequences for humankind.

Unfortunately, in Australia the motto often seems to be 
"Dig it, drill it, sell it off and stuff the future" 

Perhaps our politicians need to receive training in "How to say no" to the fossil fuel companies.

Another post on The Great Barrier Reef and the devastation that Australia is allowing (encouraging?) to happen in this beautiful area.

And for a short video added 13 November 2012, showing the official line compared to what's happening on the ground https://www.getup.org.au/campaigns/mining/gladstone/watch-this-video-now
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Friday, November 2, 2012

Redundancy hurts

I’ve heard some fabulous stories about people who’ve been made redundant: The vision of an older man, skipping between desks while stressed workmates hunch over mounds of paperwork, shouting “Yes! I’m leaving! I’m out of here!” is one I won’t forget in a while!

For many people, however, the reality of redundancy is very different.

Teachers and academics who have loved their workplace and invested years of time and energy to improving outcomes for students, and who are living through the erosion of a once proud institution, suffer.

The pain of redundancy applies equally to many other career people who’ve dedicated their lives to a particular sector, whether they be health care or emergency workers, government employees, or blokes in the steel or motor industries.

They’ve often seen the writing on the wall, and are aware that things are changing, long before jobs begin to go in a structured formal way. Budget cuts, departments being amalgamated, a sense that the story isn’t being told in an open and honest way, create a sense of unease that is hard to shake.

There can be a deep sorrow for the loss of all you’ve worked for, which can’t be eradicated by being told to “look for another job”. This hasn’t been just a job. It’s been a career, an integral part of your life for years – that isn’t something caring, dedicated employees shake off with a single outplacement session.

Our identities are often shaped around our worklife. Our work leads to getting up at a particular time, our commute, where and with whom we have lunch, what we discuss, argue about; the banter and camarederie. The loss of the familiarity and routine and in particular the loss of colleagues can result in grief. This needs to be acknowledged, not dismissed by the outplacement service provider.

Some employees find that their shaken world view has been ignored or overlooked by outplacement services designed to “Sit them down, tell them what they need to know, check the resume, give some job hunting tips, and get them out ready for the next one.” Whilst that might be satisfactory for some, there are others who exit that type of interview shattered. I’ve seen tough blokes, as well as strong women, desolate and weeping after such an experience. This type of interview is nothing like an in-depth career counselling session and it would be better for all if it wasn't presented as such.

The sterile interview experienced by too many redundant workers, is functional, regimented, routine and leaves them without hope, feeling that somehow they are to blame for not being ready to move on immediately.

When there’s significant change, we can experience confusion about our role and identity. Self-esteem can be deeply shaken. Questions emerge which may never have been thought about before: Who will I become? What is important? Who do I want to be? What do I value? How do I want to contribute in the future?

“Sometimes our history limits our imaginations”. 
We may need help to see opportunities, rather than believing that what we’ve worked at, is all we can ever do. Not everyone has the luxury to take time off to ponder these issues. However putting aside time to let your brain go into free fall without pressuring yourself with “I have to decide by…” or “I’ve got to start applying for new jobs immediately”, “I’m only trained to do this, I can’t do anything else” can allow you to be open to unexpected, interesting and new ways of thinking about the issue.

It really is time well spent.

..........
If you or someone you know has come out of an outplacement interview which has been less than satisfactory, please encourage them to seek assistance and support elsewhere - not all services are the same. If the service is provided by the exiting company, please let HR know it wasn't suitable. They're paying good money for these services, and our employees who are being made redundant deserve an appropriate level of support. Feeling shattered, useless and unheard should not be part of the deal.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween poison


Does it strike anyone else
as completely insane 
that Australia sends large, ungainly ships laden with coal
through the beautiful, fragile, world heritage Great Barrier Reef 
all the way to China and India 
so that this finite resource can power dirty factories, 
employing people in appalling conditions
to make
tatty plastic products.












Returning - using more fossil fuels -
for a "festival" with no relevance in our culture?

Where children pound on doors demanding sweets,
and the tawdry, mass produced crap
ends up in landfill
and waterways and oceans,
where marine creatures will choke
or be poisoned by minute, disintegrating plastic particles. 
Plastic pellets found in a few minutes on a beach
in Port Phillip Bay. Victoria.



















a Drabble is a story told in 100 words.  No more. No less.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"We'll soon be sending our children to China to be educated"

That's a comment I never thought I'd hear from a staunchly patriotic Aussie bloke.

It was uttered with anger after hearing of the latest exodus of teachers from the TAFE colleges in Victoria, and sadly seems to hold a grain of potential.

Watching (thankfully from afar), the decimation of the once proud TAFE system has been painful in the extreme. A death by a thousand cuts, slow, piece by shameful piece, and horribly, horribly stressful for staff and students alike.

It's been like watching a visionary pioneer family who have been highly regarded and respected in their community. Who have provided jobs and hope to those in need but who have fallen on hard times. One family member now holds sway.

The powerful older brother has distracted his trusting family and is selling off their assets to shore up their crumbling fortune. He'd been entrusted to safeguard the family treasures, invest wisely, but instead has decided the quick way to maintain a veneer of credibility is to systematically and steadily sell off the family heirlooms, right down to the silverware and cutlery. It's easier after all, than facing the fact that he's mismanaged their inheritance. He'll take the money and run as soon as possible.

This brutalizing of communities reeks of frantic desperation. The repeated mantra that this is a sound decision, fools only those who want to be fooled. The TAFE sector is described in the TAFE Directors blog as being in "continuing crisis" (link here)

There is no wisdom in selling education to the highest bidder. That's not in our best interests or in the interests of our children and grandchildren. Our students aren't a commodity, no matter what spin is put on that fact. Our government should safeguard our children's future - protect, nurture and celebrate the teachers and institutions who help them find a meaningful role, to enable them to contribute to a vibrant, equitable and caring society.

This wanton destruction is being conducted without discussion, without consultation, and in complete disregard to the pleas from councils and community groups throughout the state. The response is callous, sneering contempt for those who can see the damage that is being done.

The Australian Skills Quality Authority "detailed that after almost 850 RTO* audits in its first 13 months of operations, some 25% of RTOs were blocked from various activities, warned or deregistered." So, here we have a sector which was travelling relatively well in the form of TAFE colleges, being sold out to private providers - some of whom are exceedingly ill equipped and disinterested in maintaining even a semblance of adequate standards. *(Registered Training Organisation)

Overseeing the operation of private colleges comes at a price over and above poor training and qualifications being granted to students who haven't seen the inside of a classroom.

Unfortunately, it's the taxpayer who is (understandably) being kept in the dark. It's estimated that the costs of the Australian Skills Quality Authority and the bodies who regulate the sector have exceeded $500million - that's on top of the $180million for the 11 industry skills councils.

That's an obscene amount of money to waste. The system worked, and on the whole it worked well. We now have a shambles of disconnected, poor and substandard courses and "graduates" who have qualifications on paper only, being let loose on the public.

Some "graduates" who can afford it, have chosen to retrain at a TAFE, but this comes at considerable cost both financially and in time. Some are working. How confident are you feeling when you're receiving treatment, hiring a tradie or seeing people handling food? Was their training thorough? Had their organization passed muster, or did it slip through the system?

The result of this debacle, of course, will be an increase in disengaged, disgruntled and at times downright angry citizens. We're already seeing this with marginalised groups. The government treats us like gullible fools who are somehow incapable of seeing the stupidity of their actions.

But an action that stinks, still stinks, no matter what offensive cloying perfume is sprayed around.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Advertorial: Oz celebrates new era of franchises!

Sometimes you wake up with a thought, sparked by a recent news story about local politics and the possibilities cascade joyously. You can see the cover captions which inspired this post here
To clarify for international readers, this is a very tongue in cheek look at one of our politicians - aka the leader of the opposition, who is trying to improve his image and appeal to women. He regularly comes across as a pugnacious misogynist and recently the women in his family rallied around telling us that really he's very sensitive.


Within months of its launch, the New Franchise #sensitivetony, has become a sensation, making a splash across all states and territories of our wonderful nation.

#sensitivetony, reportedly owned by Big Mal, provides door to door, blue ribbon, household services to the domestic market.

You may have seen the friendly, fuel efficient little vans pootling around the suburbs with their fetching logo and tasteful colour scheme. Attractive in the extreme, these have been seen popping up everywhere, dashing hither and thither … some say a bit like an over-excited flea.

All applicants to represent the #sensitivetony franchise are put through a rigorous selection proceedure. Some high profile media identities have been refused a position even though they are desperate to improve their overall community standing after reportedly falling out with some segments of their formerly one-eyed market. Their strident, dismissive and arrogant attitude towards women and divisive and insensitive cultural comments are decidedly at odds with the values of the eco-friendly, ethical, warm hearted franchise.

Whilst #sensitivetonys aren’t selected for their looks (no eye candy here ladies!) they are expected to be able to hold intelligent conversations on a range of social issues with the most discerning of householders.

Unfortunately the occasional #sensitivetony has blundered publicly and exhibited a lacklustre performance, potentially tainting the reputation of the franchise. This occurred due to the initial scarcity of #sensitivetonys and early teething problems, resulting in awkward attempts at covering up by those with closest involvement to the humiliating episode. (In the interests of public awareness and "buyer beware" this is shared here.)

#sensitivetony plugged on bravely despite the very public prime-time gaff, however he was required to undertake remedial training in how to "Comprehend and Discuss Complex Issues". This module has now become a core competency for all #sensitivetonys, with a pass grade of 90% being the minimum standard acceptable.
The range of services offered by the franchise is comprehensive. They include, but are not restricted to: cleaning those hard to reach places such as ceiling fans and light-fittings, turning and flipping heavy mattresses, shifting and vacuuming under awkward furniture and installing energy saving devices - all as a standard service!
#sensitivetonys regularly show their warm and fuzzy side and will evict hunstman spiders from behind paintings and curtains, and relocate them into the garden gently and humanely. The more distressing catching and removal of mice is an optional extra.

Sustainability is the catchphrase of this franchise! 
All cleaning products used are environmentally friendly. Where palm oil is an ingredient, it’s sourced from rigorously vetted, sustainable plantations. This is a service you can trust!

Some families are fortunate to have a #sensitivetony at their beck and call, and whilst they rarely brag publicly they’re quietly proud to have him around. For the rest of us, however, we’re able to share the love, thanks to Big Mal’s new #sensitivetony home help service.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Learning difficulties in adults.


This is a re-write of a post from 2010.

I often think about all the inspiring, creative, intelligent and above all courageous people I've had the privilege of working with over the years.

There were the street kids, with drug and alcohol issues, the kids and adults with learning difficulties, the kids (now men and women with their own children) who'd been expelled from school the instant schools could get rid of them, and who were returning to study, absolutely terrified of suffering in the system again, the mums returning to study after being at home for years and feeling they'd lost their inner being - didn't know who they were any more, the young teenage mums unsure about how they'd be accepted.  Successful men who felt like failures.

I'm going to share the story about my involvement with Ricky, who has given me permission to use his real name. I wish I had a 'before' and 'after' picture of him to share. You'll see why soon.

Ricky consulted me in my role as study skills teacher at a post secondary college, located in the city of Dandenong which has a mix of over 150 different nationalities, many of them refugees proudly wearing their traditional dress around campus. He'd been advised to seek help as he was struggling hopelessly with the written aspects of the course he'd hesitantly enrolled in to improve his job prospects. 

Facing his fears
I'm not a particularly threatening looking person, I'm short and have been described as approachable, warm and "motherly". But Ricky was terrified. Terrified of me, terrified of the situation he'd got himself into, terrified I'd laugh at him and his difficulties. Terrified of being in such a foreign environment - in a library in an educational facility. But he came along anyway. Courage? You bet!

I've never seen anyone shaking with fear before, but shake Ricky did. It was clearly visible from a distance. I'm sure if he'd been a bony kind of person I'd have heard them clattering.

Why was Ricky in such a state? Here was a mature man, lovingly married, deeply involved in his church, steadily employed, kind and compassionate. Over the few months we worked together he shared some of his story.

He was "a failure", "hopeless", "useless", "a loser". He'd been told from a very young age that he'd never make anything of himself. These words were used on a little kid by both his parents and teachers.

Who says "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?" Wrong, wrong, wrong. Cruel words, vicious words, undermining words, can affect people for life, can suck hope from them for ever. Words are powerful, and need to be used with respect for the power they have.

"When did you get lost?"
I asked him when he'd begun losing his way at school. It's a question I often ask, and regularly the answer is grade one or two.

"Grade one" was Ricky's answer.

Can you imagine what that's like? Not understanding what's going on in class, seeing your mates doing things you can't, being bewildered, confused, perplexed, week after week, month after month, year after seemingly endless year. Constantly feeling stupid and ashamed when you find the courage to ask, yet again, if the teacher could please repeat an instruction or explanation. Heaven help the child with an irritable, impatient teacher - they naturally give up asking for help. No wonder these kids feel like failures. 

So there I was with Ricky in that first session. His first 'confession' - "I've never been in a library" (apart from walking through one to meet with me). "Easy peasy" I say, "let's discover this one now!" And so it went from there, exploring, discovering, celebrating. It was exciting!

And as happens when working with an enthusiastic student, the learning went both ways. I was humbled by his tenacity, in awe of his dedication to learning, and grateful that we'd been assigned to each other. In short, I was privileged to have met and worked with such a student.

Oh, and you may ask: if Ricky was such a good student, why hadn't he managed at school?

Learning difficulties
Ricky had an undiagnosed learning difficulty. He has an unusual hearing loss, he's not deaf as such, but hears sounds differently (auditory processing disorder or APD). In addition, he is dyslexic. He wasn't (and isn't) dumb. He just couldn't follow what was happening in class the same way as other kids - he needed a different teaching style.

And the before and after picture? From a quivering mess on that first meeting to our final session; confident, assured, walking tall, and proud of his ability to present a report for his course and workplace.

Ricky was a man with courage to face his worst fears and overcome them. There are many other Ricky's out there, men and women whose lives can be turned around, who feel like failures and discover they aren't. The discovery that they can learn and be productive members of society affects their immediate families and can change the course of their family history. The debilitating and costly affects of stress and depression can be offset as these students realise their worth.  Our communities benefit, as does our society as a whole. It's a small investment with a massive payoff.

Update
This is one of the outstanding programmes which I'm told will be severely curtailed due to the vicious funding cuts to the TAFE sector by the Victorian Baillieu government. For less than $2000 (the approximate cost of my sessional work with Ricky) a student who had low self esteem, had no idea how to write a report and little possibility of advancing in his workplace was transformed to a confident, able and desirable employee. It's not that I was brilliant, I'm not.

It's simply taking time and working from where the student is and translating knowledge into a form that they understand. It's being a mediator, a gate opener. It's being caring, respectful and trusting in their ability to learn.

People who are at the bottom of the ladder, who have challenges that often simply require one on one assistance for a few hours a week for a couple of months to achieve remarkable success, are again relegated to the scrap heap in the name of cost cutting and efficiency.

The doors are firmly closing on many people, and education seems to be increasingly only for those with the understanding of how to access it, and the financial ability to afford the steeply rising fees.

This destruction is being carefully packaged and slickly presented in the name of progress. And the people of Victoria are meant to go along with the pretence that the removal of courses and services is an improvement.


Are there adults in your life with leaning difficulties? How do they manage? Were they supported adequately at school, at work?

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Intimidate with soggy spaghetti or go for the jugular?

It's strange, I don't consider myself to be particularly interested in politics, but the recent shenanigans by the Victorian and Queensland state governments and the federal opposition have irritated me no end. I'm not committed to either of the major parties, but am appalled at the lacklustre interest they seem to take in acknowledging the advice from an earlier Prime Minister to represent the people of our country fairly and to act with humility and without self-interest. (See photo at the end for quote.) Whether they're currently holding power, or hoping to be elected, the words are an important guide for appropriate behaviour.

I've written about the damage the local policies are having on jobs and local communities in Victoria. I've talked about my frustration with the lack of policies and commitment to strategies to adapt to climate change, arguably the biggest social and environmental challenge to face human beings ever.

However that almost, but not quite, fades into the background with the latest jaw dropping inanities uttered by the leader of the opposition last week on national TV.

Link to 7:30 interview with Leigh Sales.

The leader of the opposition is reported to be paid $342,250 per annum, and for that sum, I'd expect him to be prepared about the topic he's about to be interviewed on. It's what I'd expect of a secondary student, a graduate or an employee. Actually, it's not about the money; whether he's paid or not, I'd expect him to have read the report he's about to be interviewed on, prepared to discuss it in an intelligent, articulate, rational manner.

That Tony Abbott saw fit to utter incorrect, insistent, repetitive, dogmatic pronouncements about a recently released BHP report, yet hadn't had the courtesy or professionalism to even open it and read and digest the contents is arrogant in the extreme. The interview is embarrassing and cringeworthy and would make an excellent teaching tool for how not to present yourself if you expect to look remotely credible.

Leigh Sales, the interviewer, asks questions with growing incredulity, yet she remains professional, polite and courteous. She is clearly astounded by Tony Abbott's obvious ignorance: "But hang on, no, no, you haven't read their statements today, but you're commenting about what they've announced today and how the Federal Government's to blame for that."

Perhaps Mr Abbott has become so used to providing "spectacle and conflict" that's he's become complacent, and thinks that doing some honest research and quoting accurately is beneath him, or perhaps it's a tedious irrelevancy.

He and his party may be surprised to know that many Australians are genuinely interested in his party's plans for our country if they win the next election. How will they address climate change, sea level rise, water shortages, food insecurity? How will they line these challenges up with economic responsibility and sustainability? These issues will affect us all. They will require intelligent, considered, calm, rational, wise leadership, not ignorant, dismissive, contemptuous, superficial rhetoric.

If Tony Abbott can't be bothered to read a report which he knows he will be interviewed about, how can he possible be considered by his party as suitable to represent Australia on the world stage with any confidence? There, he'd be expected to answer curly, possibly insightful questioning from people with no interest in protecting him or being as mild and gentle as Leigh Sales was.

In relation to refusing to seriously answer questions about the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Tim Dunlop of The Drum says "Mr Abbott is not being judged on his ability to run a government, but on his ability to manipulate the media coverage by refusing to address a central question about a major policy." This is seen as admirable by some in the media.

Lack of knowledge and the ability to avoid answering serious questions is being encouraged and rewarded! For goodness sake, that's disgusting and it's time our reporters as a group lifted their act. Go for the jugular! Continue asking insightful questions and expect them to be answered appropriately, let us see when they're avoided. Australia and Australians are worth it! Aggressive sound bites are no substitute for thoughtful policy. Spare our country if this shameful embarrassment of a leader of the opposition continues in the role...and even more so if the opposition wins the next election. What is their vision for the future? We can hear their passion to destroy the current government, but that's not balanced by sharing thoughtful, wise policies.

And if the men and (very few) women of the Liberal Party consider Abbott's sound bites adequate to show his fitness to lead and possibly represent our country - what does their choice say about them?
Photo from a wall in Old Government House - Canberra. 
"May those who enter this open door govern with justice, reason and equal favour to all. May they do so in humility and without self-interest. May they think and act nationally. May they speak with the voice of those who sent them here - the voice of the people." 9 May 1927
Stanley Melbourne Bruce, Prime Minister, 1923 - 29


Leigh Sales has since been called a bit of a cow for the interview. In my opinion, the apology that followed appeared half hearted and disingenuous. (Link to the interview here)

But to recap, here's the question asked of by Liberal party strategist Grahame Morris regarding the Abbott interview:  "Were you surprised that he [Tony Abbott] didn't handle that better?"

... and Morris's reply "Well, Leigh can be a real cow sometimes".

Over on G+ I said that Morris's eventual apology is condescending, offhand and dismissive, using words like ... "poor sensitive little souls", and "silly".

A commenter replied that he thought the public reaction was a bit over the top. I disagree. To me, it comes across as a ploy to deflect attention from the fact that Leigh Sales asked a question that exposed Abbott's lack of preparedness for the interview, and his willingness to express incorrect ideas as fact.

The term cow can be used is a derogatory way to belittle or dismiss the woman it describes and to undermine her credibility. It's never used to show respect for someone asking appropriate questions.

By responding in this way, Morris avoided answering the important question "were you surprised that he didn't handle that better?" Of course a simple answer could have been damning. The unspoken answer clearly wasn't supportive of Abbott or Morris would have said so loud and clear.


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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Big bangs, smoke and fun @ National Science Week 2012

Ya gotta love science!

Not only for the spectacular drama and big bangs, but for the delicate finesse of artistic creativity, researching our environments to ascertain their health, delving into cancer cells and DNA, learning from the stars, or working out how many people particular regions can sustain. I don't pretend to understand it all, but I love that there are people working in all these (and more) areas to better understand the complexities of our world and beyond.

National Science Week is a celebration of science, and the opening today in Brisbane's Queen Street Mall went off with a dramatic bang! Students, researchers and assorted scientists were scattered around the mall sharing insights and enthusiasm.

Garbage bins are usually pretty boring things, but today one was put to good use when liquid nitrogen was carefully poured in a drink bottle and put in a container inside a wheelie bin. The lid was quickly shut and the presenters scampered to a safe distance. An ear popping explosion was the result, with copious amounts of smoke, a wildly rocking bin and hugely smiling emos who'd been watching with feigned disinterest from the sidelines. Not bad at all!

I learnt that listening to the bush is not only delightful, but a valid way to ascertain the health (or otherwise) of environments. Scientists record the sounds, remove the extraneous "noise" then analyse the results. By doing this, (which is a rather complex business) it's possible to discover such things as the infiltration of cane toads to the west and south of the country (seriously not good for native animals of any size), the range and health of particular communities of animals, birds or frogs and how the populations are coping with assorted environmental factors.  

You can listen to some of the sounds of the Australian bush and learn a bit more at www.bush.fm
I love staring at the night sky, looking at the depth and range of colours, scanning for meteors, waving at the International Space Station and looking for satellites. Others become animated and enthusiastic when in the vicinity of telescopes of varying sizes. I heard oohs and aahs as people of all ages concentrated to look at sunspots and held my breath, hoping that no one would trip over the tripods that looked far too insecure to allow the bumbling public near.
Dr Jennifer  Loy seemed to be fielding quite a few questions along the lines of "Where can I get one of those?" and  "That looks like a great course" as she demonstrated a small tabletop 3D printer. I'd heard and seen some uses for 3D printers, but I'd never seen them used for jewellery and other elegant work. The lamp shade was exquisite and the jewellery would be fun to wear. As for more practical uses, glasses frames came to mind, and I expect a clever person could compete well with the outrageously priced stock in many spectacle stores.

Starting a conversation with anyone who is passionate about their particular field of interest can be a fraught business. Are they going to be interesting? Are you going to, for instance, have to resort to chewing your leg off to get away from a tediously boring, long winded, excruciatingly painful, bore? Thankfully, no dramatic, messy newsworthy stories were evident today. In fact, quite the opposite. At times I wondered if the scientists and presenters found the enthusiasm of the public a bit, well, enthusiastic to be honest. Wide eyed wonder, and lots of questions seemed par for the course.

I'm looking forward to having time to explore the Carrying Capacity Dashboard which "is an online application that estimates the resources needed to support a human population" given particular lifestyle choices. You can explore what happens when there are changes in such things as diet, energy usage, agricultural techniques and recycling practices. Adapting our lifestyles has a dramatic effect on the estimated number of people that different areas in Australia can carry sustainably. Given what I learnt today, it's clear some areas are already well beyond their ability to be sustainable.

Australia faces huge challenges with our changing climate. We already have divisive and competing land use demands - farming versus mining, agriculture versus housing development subdivisions.

Communities and states are at loggerheads about fair and equitable use of water - should it be used for farming, irrigation, mining? How much for manufacturing? Which areas get how much? Who decides? What proportion should be left in the environment for healthy rivers and groundwater? What about contaminants? How do we rationalise the use of this impermanent, precious natural resource?

It's vital that our policy makers address these issues with a deep understanding of the ramifications of their decisions and not make decisions as a knee-jerk response or for short term electoral gains or to satisfy the most strident lobbyists. Carrying Capacity Dashboard is, I suspect, going to provoke a lot of discussion, and hopefully some deep reflection on the sort of society we hope to become.

National Science Week is just beginning! To find out what's on near you, go to http://www.scienceweek.net.au/ it's not just big bangs to entertain the kid in us all, there's also challenging, entertaining, creative, welcoming sessions around the country for people from all walks of life.







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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Koyaanisqatsi: A Life Out of Balance with Philip Glass and the Philip Glass Ensemble

WOW!

One word sums up the extraordinary experience of a live performance of Philip Glass and the Philip Glass Ensemble performing the score to accompany the Godfrey Reggio film Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance.
In hindsight, foolish not to have purchased tickets for the trilogy, but financial caution seemed wise beforehand. Now my response is along the lines of "An opportunity wasted". But a commitment to 3 evenings getting to Melbourne seemed a big ask when I booked. Next time, I'll throw caution to the winds and revel in the visual and auditory feast of the films and music.

I read that this film has become a cult classic, but looking round at the audience I see people of all ages and ethnicity. Students in their school uniforms, older men who would have been called beatniks once upon a time, surfies with dreads, wealthy looking highbrow gentry, people decked out in splendid attire and those in jeans and hoodies, even a few hippies. There's no evident "type", yet there is a common bond - it seems everyone knows and loves the film and music.


There's so much in Koyaanisqatsi; wonder, delight, surprise, and an overwhelming sense of 'What have we done, what have we become?'. To explain the film is difficult at best, and a confusing impossibility at worst.


The simplest description comes from the Arts Centre blurb:
The first in the trilogy caused a sensation when released and is now a cult classic. Reggio's film is a simple but searing vision of an urban society moving at a frenetic pace, detached from the natural environment and overwhelmed by technology, in images at once stark and beautiful, assaulting and hypnotizing.
Striated mountains stretching from horizon to horizon, would take millions upon millions of years to form, layer upon layer representing thousands of years of sediment, silt, dust, life and death. Millions of years of erosion; water, wind, rain and geologic upheaval have presented us with exquisite, almost intricate, achingly beautiful formations. It's easy to be lost in awe.

Acres of impossibly uniform paintbox coloured flowers seem at odds with the natural beauty, yet they're beguiling - how is it possible to have them all the same?

Ghostly stock exchange employees - I smile wryly, not much has changed there! Yet other careers have gone, devoured by technology.

Clouds, clearly showing rain shadows. Brilliant for teaching aspects of geography, weather and climate.

The impossibly deep voice intoning "Koyaanisqatsi" weaves throughout, slow paced, measured, authoritative. A commanding presence. A statement. A question ... asking the audience to confront the images, and not shy from them.

WOW!

Images are still swirling through my brain. Sausages being extruded from chutes, but are they sausages ... or people on escalators ... or frenetically funnelled cars on freeways - (how unutterably wrong that word sounds - 'free' - clearly the single occupants aren't free, no more than the sausages are free). I suffer from vertigo and these speeding scenes don't feel good.

Watching the musicians. Taking delight in their skill and ability to synchronise beautifully with the film. I feel privileged to experience their utter professionalism, and am grateful that there are those who devote their lives to transporting us lesser mortals on an emotional journey of joy, questioning and wonder through their skill.

The pace changes, and whilst this film was created 30 years ago, the fiery tumbling spacecraft reminds me of the more recent shuttle disaster, of suffering, unimaginable pain, fear, death. Slowly, gracefully, arcing through the sky. Transfixed. By golly this is powerful stuff.

Crumbling buildings, cracked glass, decay. Tanks. Explosions. The pointlessness of dominance, of power and might. Spiralling out of control. Destruction. Dust to dust. Oblivion.

Yet ... on stage the musicians create. The singers, one female, two extra males, are poised, attentive, giving of themselves, sharing the power of their gifts. Intense concentration. Beautiful!

The words being sung are Hopi sayings. They weave, rising and falling, meshing with the music, now departing, lone, alone, they whisper, flutter hesitant, but gain momentum and with growing insistence move assertively across the landscape. They command. Demand we listen.

And stop.

I want to stand and cheer ... but that wouldn't be right. There's more.

This feast, both visual and auditory is mesmerising. The music departs from the visuals, meets, meshes, and they depart again. It is wonderful. Nonverbal communication at its best!

How much has changed in the years since this film was released. How much is the same. How much is worse. Our frenetic mindless movement towards self destruction doesn't seem to have changed. Yet, experiences like this give me hope. We can be so utterly, movingly, creatively, powerfully brilliant. It'd be sad to see these aspects of humankind go to waste.

 
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Friday, July 27, 2012

A changed perspective on fossil fuel companies.

In the past, I’ve looked at the manic search for, and voracious lust over new finds of fossil fuels as if the companies were drug dealers, eager to feed our addiction and with cynical disregard for the consequences. Unfussed whether the prey lives or dies, the pusher is disdainful, possibly contemptuous about the addict's weakness – there’ll always be new markets to feed.

Company as addict?
However this morning I idly wondered what happens if you look at fossil fuel companies as the drug addict, instead of the dealer/pusher. Locked into a spiral of habit and dependence, and not knowing quite how to change. Not having the courage, nor the will, nor the need.

When we’re feeling guilty about our behaviour (even if only in a very small way), or if we're demonised, we can become defensive, abrupt and lash out at any critics. We justify the unjustifiable. We see this with addicts of various persuasions. It also seems to fit the behaviour of some companies.


Us versus them scenarios (such as fossil fuel companies versus environmentalists) aren’t particularly helpful and tend to paint people simplistically and without the nuances and complexities that are more real. When we're polarised we're less able to find common ground. When we’re in a corner, with our back against the wall, we’ll fight. That’s normal and to be expected, not only of people, but I suspect, companies too. But it's not helpful. Not helpful for us. Not helpful for our future.

If it's too good to be true, it's too good to be true
Imagine for a moment that the fossil fuel companies and their entourages have unleashed the equivalent of a destructive genie from a bottle. After a 100 or so years, they’ve discovered that what appeared at first to be an extraordinarily welcome product, of the “WOW, look what we can do with this, it’s too good to be true!” variety, has now been found to be too good to be true. This wonder product is part of a package that has morphed into something truly sinister and frightening. A poisoned chalice if you will.

But they didn't know, they're disbelieving and don't want to know that the amazing wonder product could be harmful. Like a drug addict, they seem to be stuck in a pattern of behaviour and dependence that has been habituated over the years.  Change is hard. But demand and support for change is necessary. (Of course it would have been incredibly sensible to become energy companies with a broad product base years ago, rather than relying completely on fossil fuels, but that opens up a different set of issues.) 

Profit with no responsibility for waste
With profits of $375 Million per day, it'd be good to know these companies were paying a fair price to dump their waste the same as everyone else. "Alone among businesses, the fossil-fuel industry is allowed to dump its main waste, carbon dioxide, for free. Nobody else gets that break - if you own a restaurant, you have to pay someone to cart away your trash, since piling it in the street would breed rats." (Global Warming's Terrifying New Math)

Fossil fuel companies appear shifty, arrogant, brutish, uncaring and aggressive when presented with the destructive results of their product. Unlike the child who is called to account for poor behaviour, or the drug addict who realises their life will come to an abrupt end if they continue their chosen path, they've collectively and consistently avoided responsibility - and got away with it. They don't know any other reality ... yet.

To get an idea of where the profits go, Climate Progress is a good place to start. "The entire oil and gas industry spent on average $400,000 each day lobbying senators and representatives to weaken public health safeguards and keep big oil tax breaks, totaling nearly $150 million." (my bold)

A community response?
Perhaps we, as individuals and communities, have a collective interest in supporting change, because no one else seems willing to take up the challenge. I find it impossible to imagine that all fossil fuel companies and their hundreds of thousands of individual employees, their families, friends and communities are proud of what they’ve unleashed. But they haven't spoken out. When will they?

Many employees must feel uncomfortable with the outcome of repeated carelessness; oil spills, unbelievable environmental damage, cruel disregard for native populations. At what stage will these people say “No more”? At what stage will subscribers to superannuation and other funds, both individually and collectively, demand their fund managers act with integrity and invest the funds with a view to a sustainable future?

As Bill McKibben says in Global Warming's Terrifying New Math
international moral outrage and pressure might just help begin a new movement to force change on an industry unwilling to change itself. Movements rarely have predictable outcomes. But any campaign that weakens the fossil-fuel industry's political standing clearly increases the chances of retiring its special breaks. Consider President Obama's signal achievement in the climate fight, the large increase he won in mileage requirements for cars. Scientists, environmentalists and engineers had advocated such policies for decades, but until Detroit came under severe financial pressure, it was politically powerful enough to fend them off. If people come to understand the cold, mathematical truth – that the fossil-fuel industry is systematically undermining the planet's physical systems – it might weaken it enough to matter politically. Exxon and their ilk might drop their opposition to a fee-and-dividend solution; they might even decide to become true energy companies, this time for real. 

Photos D.Abbott. SA
Let's hope change happens soon, because the alternative isn't encouraging.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Some days Google just cracks me up!

or, Finding Humour in Little Things.

I'm bemused by the advertisement Google has placed above this latest example of thick headedness by the Queensland LNP (the political party in power up there).

The representative of the good people of Noosa, a man named Richard Pearson, has "attacked the "false prophets who would poison the minds of our children in our schools". (link here)

Strong words to describe tertiary educated science teachers, and hardly the sort of comment to warm the cockles of your heart if you're a normal, decent, hard working teacher who loves your subject and enjoys your chosen career. 

It's also extremely discouraging for students who love science, to hear a political representative undermine their teachers by calling for mainstream climate science to be cut from the state's school curriculum.

It's just what we don't need; politicians choosing what to be included and excluded from the curriculum. Can you imagine where this would lead? Books being printed to present the views of one group of politicians and the vested interests who support them financially, then when they're voted out, the whole curriculum being changed, new books printed, videos made, retraining undertaken. 

It's certainly not an economical or sensible way to invest our meagre educational resources. When this kind of thing happens in other countries we're often critical and sometimes outraged. But perhaps Mr Pearson or the people who voted to remove a valid part of the curriculum, haven't considered where this kind of manipulation could lead.

However, back to the rather black humour here and the advertisement in question. It's in blue (or turquoise if you're 'into' colour).



If you are experiencing stress in your life, please seek help from your health-care professional or local professional organisation such as: 
http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/
http://www.mensline.org.au/
http://www.lifeline.org.au/

And a last comment. Let's support our students and their teachers by celebrating their achievements. As a society we face many challenges, not least regarding our changing climate and the massive implications of that. Undermining those who devote their lives to educating our future leaders at the expense of common sense and forethought isn't helpful for any of us.
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Thursday, July 12, 2012

YAAAY!! I've inherited some money!!!!!

Not just some money, but EUR 8,650,000.00 or in case I don't understand the figures that's Eight Million, Six Hundred & Fifty Thousand Euros Only! (Note the caps and bold!!) What a kind lawyer to tell me in  figures and words how much I've inherited and all I have to do is give him my banking details. Too easy!

Happy dance! I'm rich! Wheeeeeeeee :D

Not so fast you say? But surely this is all legit. I mean, this very official, personalised letter arrived by snail mail with a real stamp! All the way from Portugal to Australia. (Nods head very wisely - that makes it super important - I know about these things - it's very different to the phone, email, or mobile phone scams - isn't it. Nod, nod, nod.)  It's possible I had relatives there. Poor things to have died in a car Accident so far from home. (Oh gosh another random capital letter.)

Look, 100% risk free! Yippee doo!

But what's this ... I don't like this bit half way down the last paragraph. Bar. Gordon C. Clemenza wants to share MY inheritance 50% for him and 50% for me. That doesn't seem right. They were my relatives!

Do you think his name really is Barrister? Anyhow, Barrister Gordon C. Clemenza has asked me to "be kind", and I am. I'm very kindly sharing this scam in the hope that it reminds people to be wary and never give banking details to anyone even if someone says they're from your bank or even if it appears to be from a marginally respectable sounding possible lawyer type person.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

P. PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This post is for the letter P in my series on workplace bullying for the 2011 A-Z Blogging Challenge. This is a repost of the original.

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can be described as:
an invisible injury occurring as a result of major traumatic experiences, including violence, harassment, assault, rape, accident, fire, explosion, disaster, or witnessing such events.
(from bullyonline) 
PTSD is a natural emotional reaction to a shocking and disturbing experience which has overwhelmed one's ability to cope. It causes significant impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.

There is growing awareness and acceptance that PTSD can also result from an accumulation of many small, individually non-life-threatening incidents such as being exposed to prolonged and relentlessly abusive bullying. To differentiate, the term "Complex PTSD" is generally used.

The feelings and emotions resulting from serial bullying which are similar to those of PTSD include:
  • Avoid discussing or thinking about the events
  • Avoid going places that remind the person of the trauma
  • Chronic gloominess
  • Concentration is shot, often confused
  • Catatonic. Some people experience an inability to get out of bed (this is very different to laziness)
  • Distress at being asked to recall the events or being around people discussing bullying
  • Detached, as if watching others from behind a screen
  • Exhaustion which is not relieved by sleep
  • Flashbacks may be common, with frequent distressing recollections of the events
  • Flight or fight response is on constant alert
  • General disinterest in life
  • Guilty for being weak
  • Hyper-vigilant
  • Irritable
  • Loss of libido
  • Nervy
  • Pacing the house at all hours of the night
  • Recurrent nightmares - adds to sleep deprivation 
  • Snappy
  • Startles easily and frequently
  • Sleep is disrupted constantly, may have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep
  • Unable to find meaning or fun in life
  • Vomiting or nausea at mention or discussion of the event
East side Gallery. Berlin. 2009.
Here's some information about stress and Recovery from Bullying - learning new patterns of behaviour after having been bullied and Another Step in recovery from bullying, The Making of Happiness (more tips to assist recovery from bullying).

Here tomorrow: Q. Qualities we instill in our children (which make it easier for them to be bullied)

There are many outstanding resources on line. A couple I find useful are Bullying. No way! an Australian resource for teachers and students, and a UK site Bully On Line

Minding the Workplace by David Yamada is regularly updated with interesting and useful articles and research, and eBossWatch on facebook links to articles about workplace bullying from around the world.

This is in no way an exhaustive list, and each country will no doubt have equally good or more relevant websites. If you're being bullied please seek advice from a professional health care practitioner experienced in this area. 

Over at jumpingaground I'm spending the month Drabbling using alliteration, often with an environmental theme.
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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The illusion of stability

Call me a bit of an old fashioned, stick in the mud, grumpy pants if you will. That's fine. Maybe last night's earthquake (measured at 5.2 near the epicentre) was going to happen anyway, after all there are fault lines looking a bit like scattered pick-up-stix throughout Victoria. Earthquakes happen here and we expect a tremor occasionally.


Fault lines in Victoria. The area to the East of Melbourne is Gippsland.
But what is different from when I was a child growing up atop Selwyn's Fault, is that exploration for, and extraction of, oil and gas didn't use a technique known as fracking, which isn't as benign as it's somewhat amusing name would suggest.

A local exploration company is quoted as saying that "the fracking process presented minimal risk to the area" (around Gippsland) and "There's been hundreds and hundreds of fracks in Australia for over 25 years without environmental harm from one incidence of fracking", (link) however, the process is acknowledge to have set off earth tremors in other parts of the world (link). This statement about safety is at odds with other reports. (See Quit Coal).

There is evidence that "fracking can trigger earthquakes, [yet in Britain] experts said there was a "very low" chance that it could spark one large enough to cause any significant damage". I sound like a nit picking old fusspot, but that comment doesn't fill me with confidence either. Not at all. The word "significant" is telling. It implies that if someone deems damage from a human induced earth tremor is "insignificant" that's perfectly normal and acceptable. (my emphasis)
Last night, I wasn't on top of the epicentre. The son of a close friend was, and apparently there was damage to his home. I guess that will be deemed insignificant, and assumed to be from natural causes. After all it's hard to prove cause and effect. Particularly as "Australia is not as geologically stable as many think. Despite popular belief, Australia is a geologically active continent with moving fault-lines, regular seismic activity, and a long history of mountain making" (link) The area around Korumburra in Gippsland where last night's epicenter occurred is active.

Call me a kill-joy if you will, but wouldn't it therefore be really, really sensible NOT to poke and prod at the fault lines near Korumburra by forcing all sorts of chemicals and liquids deep into the earth at high velocity to explode the rock? (Information on fracking here and more on Human Induced Earthquakes here

There's evidence of contaminated water supplies, unusable pastures and farmland and other negatives after fracking has occurred; all of which have been deemed acceptable to the powers that be.  But it seems that we're way out of our depth (excuse the pun). We simply don't really know what we're unleashing when we allow fracking to occur. 

To me it's like prodding and poking at a sleeping giant just to see how much irritation it will tolerate before retaliating, possible in a manner way beyond our widest imagination.

FFS, last night was scary - un-nerving and unsettling. My mud-brick home groaned and shuddered, the windows, paintings, glassware and china rattled as the ground shook with a deep, low grumbling sound. I now understand (in a very small way) the description I've heard of feeling motion sick during an earthquake. It was over in about 10 or so seconds. They were an unnaturally   l   o   o   o   o   n   g    10 seconds. My hands were shaking for some time afterwards as I watched the standard lamp sway to a graceful, thankfully upright, stop.

We could put an end to this kind of exploration. We could invest in a variety of safe, clean, sustainable renewables with known positives and negatives. We should be cautious about waking our sleeping giant.
Fracking image from QuitCoal
We have a choice, but will we choose wisely and responsibly?



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