Home-Grown Fruit and Stroppy 2019

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Nectarines

Today’s my birthday and therefore the day to announce the winner of this year’s Stroppy. But first I make will make another announcement: Mrs SG and I have harvested our nectarine crop! It amounted to 7.2kg after cutting off the rotten bits. St Bernard’s Market is selling yellow nectarines A$2.99/kg at the moment, giving our crop a retail value of A$21.50. Mrs SG wondered aloud whether that would cover the cost of watering the tree for a year.

I was reminded of an email circulated recently by my old friend Ron Allan. It was a picture of lots of tomatoes with the caption “Growing your own tomatoes is the best way to devote 3 months of your life to saving $2.17.” Well, Ron, even if that’s US$2.17, we did much better than that!

That curtain-raiser is little more than an excuse to display a colourful picture of our nectarines. Now to the main business. The winner of the 2019 Stroppy Award for Meaningless Drivel is … drumroll … the South Australian Academic Health Science and Translation Centre, for this passage from a report to the state government agency SA Health:

“What we can deduce from our work is that it is possible to generate a narrative around the experience of multiple stakeholders, going through a large-scale system change, in ways that both acknowledge the limitations of the data but support the emerging themes from the data, and from other (realist) literature reviews.”

A worthy winner! Thanks are due to Brad Crouch, the Advertiser’s Medical Reporter, who drew this to my attention.

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Asylum for Apostates

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We just got the news that Rahal al-Qunun has been granted asylum in Canada. Indeed, the 18-year-old Saudi woman is already on her way to her new home.

Rahal al-Qunun

Most people applaud her courageous escape from an oppressive regime, under which the renunciation of Islam (apostasy) is punishable by death. One hopes that by her action she will embolden other women to rebel.

One can also feel sympathy for her family, who will surely be condemned for letting this happen while they were on holiday in Kuwait; and for Canadian authorities who will be responsible for protecting Rahal from vengeful attacks by Muslims who consider death a necessary punishment for apostasy.

How likely are such attacks? According to the Independent newspaper there are twelve Muslim-majority countries in which apostasy carries the death penalty. Scholars are divided over this issue. As often happens where religious belief is based on a very old book, texts can be cited to support any point of view; and because the Quran has been supplemented by a body of writings known as the Hadith (meaning ‘tradition’) Islam is especially vulnerable to this phenomenon.

Asia Bibi

But judging by the scale of violent outrage when Asia Bibi, a Christian woman in Pakistan, was acquitted of a charge of blasphemy against Islam, views that most non-Muslims would consider extreme are not necessarily rare. (Blasphemy is a capital offence in Pakistan, but apostasy is not.)

Given that a) most people in the world would rather live in Western Europe, North America, Australia or New Zealand than in their own countries, and b) some of the nastiest countries to live in have Muslim-majority populations, should we not expect a blossoming of apostasy in the expectation that it will confer immediate refugee status and resettlement somewhere nice?

Muslim readers are especially welcome to comment on this post. I claim no theological expertise.

Broadband Down!

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Please imagine the following diary entries being ticker-taped like news flashes. That’ll make the story they tell seem more exciting . . .

Wed 19 Dec
No broadband connection, so no internet and no landline! Never mind, it’ll be back soon. Went to bed.

Thu 20 Dec
Still no internet. Spoke to iiNet call centre in South Africa. Diagnosis: NBN Co* has probably reassigned my connection to someone else – happens all the time. No need for technician visit. All will be well.

Sat 22 Dec
Text message received: “Will someone be at home on Monday between 0800 and 1200?”

Mon 24 Dec
NBN Co contractors come and notice a wire dangling from a pole, and coiled wire hanging from a pole on the other side of the road. Hmm, this calls for a specialist, can’t do it today. Tomorrow? Tomorrow is Christmas Day, sir!

Fri 28 Dec
NBN Co contractors come. Hmm, this will need a special attachment to the pole. That requires a special specialist, can’t do it today.

Wed 2 Dec
An middle-aged man with a weathered look turns up with his young assistant, bits of bent metal, pliers, a hacksaw and a ladder. A specialist. Unfazed by having an inquisitive onlooker he sets to work. Three hours later we’re back online.

Two other wires were down in the same street, so the current theory is that an over-sized vehicle, perhaps connected with a nearby building site, was driven along the street and simply chopped through them.

It occurs to me that with all our relativity and quantum mechanics, with all our light-fast hi-tech whizz-bang technology and machines that go ping!, making things work often comes down to having a bloke up a ladder who knows what he’s doing.

* NBN means Australia’s National Broadband Network, and NBN Co is the state-owned company that is building and operating it. But customers access the network through competing retailers.

Stroppy 2019

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“. . . here will be an old abusing of God’s patience and the king’s English.” The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act I Scene IV

A reminder . . . The next Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Drivel (aka The Stroppy) will be awarded on 17 January 2019. Nominations will close at 2359 UTC/GMT on Sunday 13 January.

The English language is under unrelenting attack from those whose ends are served by ambiguity and the re-purposing of words – and from an army of the ignorant and lazy, it must be said. The word ‘whom’ has all but disappeared. ‘I’ and ‘me’ are becoming interchangeable. ‘Phenomena’ and ‘bacteria’ are following ‘data’ on a slide towards singularity as their parents ‘phenomenon‘ and ‘bacterium’ look on helplessly, aghast at the prospect of their own demise.

The award each January of The Stroppy is an attempt to use public ridicule as a weapon in defence of linguistic rigour. Feel free to join this noble cause by submitting a nomination.

Privatisation

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I was always a reluctant believer in the conventional wisdom of privatising everything that wasn’t nailed down, and much that wasn’t. Some services really should be provided by governments, I thought, especially in cases where:

  • There is a natural monopoly.
  • Access should not be restricted by ability to pay.
  • Private control may confer disproportionate power.

I deplored the rush to privatise utilities, transport infrastructure and a mind-boggling range of government activities including even prisons and aspects of the military.

Land Titles Office, South Australia

The stupidest example to come to my attention recently was the South Australian Land Titles Office in my home state of South Australia. Did the cash-hungry Labour government never pause to wonder why a consortium comprising a commercial bank and a foreign pension fund would be willing to part with A$1.6 billion for the right to run the LTO for 40 years?

Anyway, I have just read a concise and well-documented article by Ross Gittings, economics columnist with Fairfax Media, entitled ‘The Experts Told Us Not To Worry’. I recommend it – if you can find a way to read it without subscribing to the Sydney Morning Herald. He chiefly blames state governments and their supposedly expert advisors, who little dreamt of the depths to which private investors would sink in the pursuit of monopoly profits, or the enormity of the loopholes in the regulatory frameworks conscientiously erected in a vain effort to protect consumers.

Do you have a favourite privatisation horror story to share?

Cobbling in Jerusalem

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Cobbled in Jerusalem
Your shoes will never wear.
In fact with so much use of them
You’ll have them still whene’er
The time is come to meet your God;
Then at that Pearly Gate
St Pete will say, “You’re so well shod!
“Come in – no need to wait!”

Mrs SG and I are in Jerusalem, and yesterday we went into the walled city to poke around, buy some gifts and find a cobbler: a heel had fallen off one of my shoes and I couldn’t find it. At the Jaffa Gate we were accosted by a personable young guide, whom we didn’t hire but who showed us on a map where we could find a sandler who might perhaps cobble on the side.

We found the man – an old, old man – in Jewish Quarter Road, occupying an alcove packed with shoes and boots and a heavy-duty sewing machine. I showed my shoe and he said, “Come back in an hour.”

We did and the shoe was heeled. He’d added a bit of rubber to the other one too, to make them almost the same height. The work was functional rather than elegant, and looked robust. “How much?” I said. He indicated that it was up to me. I made the mistake of saying, “No, no, tell me how much I owe you,” to which he replied, “Fifty shekels.” That’s about US$14. My eyebrows lifted, my eyes widened and my blood ran cold, but what could I do?

Therefore I choose to believe that Jerusalem’s spiritual richness will imbue my shoes with supernatural longevity.

Brickbat for Pegasus (the airline)

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Later this month Mrs SG and I will be flying from Tel Aviv to London on the Turkish airline Pegasus. I’ve flown with them before and they’re OK – except that they’re very mean when it comes to the check-in baggage allowance: 20kg. Not 23kg, but 20kg. This is a nuisance, because from Adelaide to Tel Aviv we’re flying Cathay Pacific which allows 30kg.

So I went to the Pegasus website and found that we could ‘buy’ an extra baggage allowance. If booked at least 7 days in advance it would cost €33 for an extra 20kg bag: €16.50 Israel-Turkey (see screen-shot) + another €16.50 Turkey-UK.

That looked reasonable, so I set about arranging for an extra bag online. Aah, but as soon as I entered our reservation code an algorithm took over and the advertised International Baggage Fare rates were ignored. Suddenly it was going to cost us more than 6 times as much (see 2nd screen-shot, €1 = TL 6.17).

I put the matter to our travel agent, who simply confirmed the higher charge. I called Pegasus’s Israeli call centre and spoke to a lady who did the same and knew nothing of the advertised International Baggage Fare. I called Pegasus’s Turkish call centre and found myself speaking to the same lady.

Finally I asked my travel agent to make a formal complaint to Pegasus about their misleading website. Now I’m shaming Pegasus by the only means at the disposal of a powerless, unvalued, stroppy customer.