Sunday, 29 November 2015

A day on the lake - Part Two!


Hi everyone,

Posting an update on the rescue boat course yesterday.  Sorry it's taken a while: I was dead tired last night and today I spent a large whack of time revising with the road crash rescue manual.  Is SES taking over my life a bit?  Probably.  And I'm good with that.

Anyway, yesterday I was able to head over to the course a bit later than one normally would - herein one of the perks of it being based at the Tatura unit.  The morning session was initially theory based - what to do in the event of a capsize or a man overboard situation, or a fire on board.  Then, over to Waranga Basin.  This started out with the water search exercise - moving the two boats in line while scanning for 'debris' of a capsized fishing boat.  I was kind of pleased how much of the mapping and navigation training I'd retained.  I think it's fair to say, though, that hanging over all of us was the knowledge that later we'd all be going into the lake for capsize and casualty handling drills.

Well, this stage rolled around.  The task was to roll over a small tinny, and with two other crew members to right it and then for one of us to bale it while the others supported the bow and the stern while treading water.  Baling it was harder than it looked: just as you felt you were making headway, a gunwale would dip below the water and it filled right up again!

That's me in the boat - bale dammit bale!
Image from here

On the plus side, the lake wasn't actually freezing: just a little on the chilly side.  Happily lightweight uniforms dry quickly, and when we went in for lunch the sun was out so clothing could be dried pretty well.

My friends Maddie and Ross, drying out at lunch

I had one particular insight when it was my turn to be the casualty recovered from the water.  When you're scooped aboard on the stokes-litter, it's remarkable how helpless you feel.  You can't do much to help move yourself.  I was kind of struck by how reassuring it was, even then, to see above me the focussed 'game faces' of the two people lifting me out.  If a person were actually being rescued I can only imagine that feeling multiplied a couple of times over

The final assessment was quite straightforward: navigate across the lake and recover two barrels and bring them back, while also transporting a dummy casualty for part of the trip.  We all managed pretty well at that.  After we recovered the boats, we went back to the unit for the theory assessment which went smoothly.  I'm double happy to report that we all qualified!  Not gonna lie, I feel great about this.  It's great to have a skill that two years ago I'd neve have thought I'd possess!  I can tell you I gave the trainers raves in the course review.

Scanning my emails this morning, I had a decent reminder about why this sort of thing is important.  The flooding in Texas seems to be particularly bad and making life difficult for the good people of Dallas.

Flooding homes damage
Image from here

At the risk of being a bore, it's worth reiterating the guidance the State Emergency Service gives about floods, which can be boiled down to -
  • Stay Informed – monitor local conditions and be aware of the situation
  • Never drive, walk or ride through floodwater
  • Floodwater is toxic – never play or swim in floodwater
  • If you are likely to become isolated, make sure that you have enough food, water, medication and pet food, and be aware that you may need to live without power, water and sewerage
  • Raise belongings by placing them on tables, beds and benches, or move them to higher ground
  • Block toilets, household drains, sinks and plugs to stop sewerage backflow
In addition, the International Civil Defence Organization advises that -
  • Switch off electricity, gas and central heating.
  • Implement the measures planned for the immediate protection of people and the environment (if possible untie and set free animals from stables and other such buildings).
  • Do not cross flooded areas on foot or in a vehicle. If necessary secure yourself by holding onto ropes or cables.
  • Collaborate with public safety bodies and the services helping the homeless.
Image from here

The rest of the weekend has been good for me.  As I said above, I've been doing some road crash rescue revision today, and I also got out for a gentle run - my first in almost a fortnight.  Felt good I can tell you.  I'm really feeling positive for the week ahead.

Hope your weekends are or have been good.  And if you're reading this in Texas, I hope your feet are dry!

Friday, 27 November 2015

Cakes, ducks and blood pressure

Hi everyone,
Updating the blog again.  I was just dead tired last night.  Sorry!
It's been a busy couple of days.  Work has been keeping me well occupied, including on some genuinely interesting jobs, which is a massive bonus.  Although I was a bit disappointed at work by this:

Why was I disappointed by this, you ask?  Because it was a bake sale. Normally bake sales are a good thing: aside from being a source of goodies, the money raised usually goes to the Lower Bullamakanka Football-Netball Club, or the Bandywallop East Fire Brigade, or the Woop Woop Red Cross Auxiliary.  What was this one to support?  One of the business' departments wants money to buy decorations to support its entry in the corporation's Christmas decoration competition.
The colossal tragedy of Syria is being played out this festive season.  The world seems richer than ever in human misery.  Virtually any number of humanitarian causes need donations.  To do 'fundraising' for as trifling a thing as a corporate Christmas decoration competition seems shameful.
Here endeth the Ebenezer Scrooge moment.  Thursday was otherwise good.  SES training took the form of a major cleanup and working bee at the shed, which now looks a lot more spruced up and tidy than it did before.  I have to say, there was much hilarity when a pager message came in for an "animal emergency": there were two ducks and fifteen ducklings on the footpath opposite the lake in Shepparton.  I think the caller was worried they'd try and walk across the road and get run over.  This was not an unreasonable concern, but somehow we're not allowed to fire up the lights and the sirens and drive under emergency vehicle conditions for wandering waterfowl!  Maddie, who was duty officer, managed a straight face and called the member of the public who reported it, thanked them and explained that it was really something for the City Ranger to attend to and gave the number.  I'm pretty sure there's no course SES offers for dealing with duck related emergencies!
Ducks: not normally a source of public emergenciesImage from here
Today was another day where I kept my shoulder to the wheel pretty effectively, although I headed out at lunch to deliver to the opp shop some things that were considered surplus to requirements while cleaning out the unit (old ring binders, things like that).  The old boy had asked me to come back to the farm while there was still daylight so we could load the stock-crate onto the truck.  I was back here by 6pm, but oddly neither he nor mum were here.  They didn't get back till a bit after seven.  Troublingly, mum had had a spike in her blood pressure and so he'd taken her into town to see the doctor.  It seems she'd been worrying about a few things and then she saw the measurements go up and it all kind of fed on itself.  I've stressed that if she's here alone and feels funny, the ambulance service is there for a reason, and I think she gets that.  Not so sure about the old boy though.  He volunteered to cook dinner tonight.  Notwithstanding circulatory alarm bells, dinner consisted of fried potatoes, fried tomatoes, fried bacon and fried steak-pieces.  I really really need to cook more for the parental units!
Not much more to add.  Tomorrow is the last part of the rescue boat course, and Sunday, God willing, I'll have a good long skype with the girls and maybe get a run in.  Hoping it all works out!
More soon.  Hope you're all doing well.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

UPDATED: Have I got a deal for you!

Further Update (13 January 2016) I can confirm that the diary and the book on zombies have now been claimed and are on their way to Wisconsin!  However, in their place I'm now able to offer a (somewhat battered) copy of ...

Image from here

If you're a true-crime buff, this is certainly a book I can recommend!

Update (21 Dec 2015) - The challenge continues!  I was able to give blood the other evening, but I've decided to let the challenge roll until all books are claimed: so far they're all still up for grabs.  As a bonus, the first to claim also gets the 2016 Blood Donor diary thrown in too.

Have a great Christmas people!

I just received the annoying news that I won't be able to donate blood for the next three weeks (a person I've been in contact with has come down with shingles and the blood bank wants to know if I've picked it up).  But I thought: if life gives you lemons, see if anyone you know has a bottle of vodka and some ice.  Since I'm on the sidelines, I have an offer to make.
I have a copy of each of these books to give away
  The World's Most Infamous Murders 
The World's Greatest Crimes of Passion
Images from here, here and here.

To claim one of them, you need to be one of the first three people to either

(a) make a blood/plasma/platelet donation; or

Image from here

(b) join the Red Cross in your country.


Image from here

Books will be mailed.  Offer is open till 14 December when I'm out of quarantine or until all 3 books are claimed.

And ... go!

Statues and volunteering

Hi everyone,

Catch-up post while I have a moment.  Herein the problem with actually being busy during the day: almost to tired to write anything in the evening!

It's been a reasonably intense couple of days.  Monday I finished off collating and redacting the subpoena documents that I've mentioned previously.  It was a tedious job and frankly I was glad to be rid of it.  The finish of the job, though, had the perk of driving down to Bendigo Magistrates Court to deliver the material to the court registry there.

The Court is in the same cluster of late-Victorian buildings as the City offices.  I rather liked the design of the lamps in the area outside of it, where the bulb is supported by the design of a gryphon.  It was the first time in well over a year that I'd set foot in a courthouse, which was rather a strange feeling.  I found I could identify the intense look of the lawyers much more than I think I would have done before.  And somehow I found that there was a tension that seemed to hang in the air that I'd been aware of before but not really noticed as much.  Standing there, once again I thought that I couldn't see myself going back to legal practice.

The documents delivered, I took a little time to stretch my legs before driving back to Tatura.  The area around the Bendigo court can best be described as 'stately'.  There's a monument to the soldiers from the area who served in the South African War, and so naturally I photographed that. 

There were also a couple of statues of long-dead local worthies, and a rather run-down looking statue of Queen Victoria.

I drove back to Tatura, dropped off the company's car, and then drove out to the farm.

Monday evening at about 10:45pm my pager went off to advise of a bad road accident the far-northern end of my SES unit's area.  I was the duty officer, so I acknowledged the page and sent out a message asking all available members to respond.  The farm was a solid hour from the scene, so I had to advise that I couldn't respond, and in any case about 25 minutes after the initial message a standdown was sent out from the crew leader on scene: tragically, the accident was a fatality and further crewmembers couldn't add value.  I hope the crew that attended is faring OK: it's the second bad accident in less than a week.  In truth, I felt a bit guilty about not attending.  The unit are my closest friends, and I hate the thought of them having bad experiences without me being there to at least share the burden.

On a related note, I've been looking at more emergency jobs that are coming up.  I looked at the recruitment campaign for police custody officers that Victoria Police are currently running.  It'd be interesting work, but the nearest postings are a solid couple of hours from here, so they're not really an option.  I also made a phone call yesterday about quasi-volunteer work as an Ambulance Community Officer which looks intriguing too.  We'll see.  I even started looking at whether foreigners can apply to the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary or the Solomon Islands Police Force until the little voice in my head told me that I might perhaps be getting carried away!
RSIPF.png  Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary logo.jpg
Images from here and here

The volunteering theme continued yesterday evening at the legal centre.  It was a reasonably standard night: a messy family law matter and two collisions between uninsured motorists.  I'll keep volunteering there, but I'm less and less convinced that what we do has any real value.  With matters like the family law case last night, by the time people come to seek legal advice (especially from a free legal centre), the problems are so advanced that the help we can give feels a little like offering suncream lotion to treat third-degree burns.

At the moment at work I'm wading through the backlog that built up while I was attending to the document redaction.  I can tell you it feels good to be busy again.

More later - I have a couple of good posts in mind.

Hope your days are going well!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Road Crash Rescue course - day 2 of 4

Hi everyone,

Day two of the road crash course!

As with yesterday, I kicked the day off by driving to Murchison to meet the rest of the team from Tatura; we went as a group from there to Seymour.  Today was very much a practical day, with most of the time spent with hands on tools.  We stabilised and re-stabilised the vehicles we were working on repeatedly, and also had cause to do some glass management as well.

The bulk of the day, though, was spent with the Holmatro spreaders and shears, crushing and cutting our way into cars with the objective of bring able to get people out of them.  We'd all done a certain amount of road crash rescue training with our units, so using the tools wasn't new to us, but it's always an awkward thing to do.  I'm pleased to report, though, that each of our groups was starting to get pretty swift and effective as the day wore on.

I have to say, I'm full of respect for the training team.  This is the sort of high risk, very technical course which would involve a lot of planning, and they're doing it with a very large number of candidates - I think there were about 26 of us.  They've clearly put a massive amount of effort into making it all happen.  I hope we've justified it!

I had one insight this afternoon, when we'd been working hard for multiple sessions and most of us were sweating freely inside our overalls.  I remembered a scene in Reno 911 where firefighters' passion for working out was made fun of.  As I lifted the spreaders for the umpteenth time, I was starting to think of the physical strength required to do the work effectively.  If I want to be good at it, I should probably put a bit more focus on weights.

Comparing notes on the drive back from Seymour, pretty well everyone from the Tatura unit had found it a pretty satisfying weekend - even the fellow who accidentally dropped a dry chemical fire extinguisher causing it to empty its contents over everyone within 20 metres(!).  All of us are looking forward to tackling the next weekend of it.

Not much more to add for the moment.  This week I need to get on top of the rescue boat course material, and I'll try and circulate some road crash material to the rest of the team from today as well.

Hope your Sundays are going great!

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Road Crash Rescue course - day 1 of 4

Hi everyone,

It's been a good day here in my world. As I mentioned yesterday, this was day one of the road crash rescue course.

I was on the move reasonably early and met the rest of the Tatura attendees at Murchison.  I left my car there and we drove on down to Seymour together.  We're more-or-less working through the stages of a road accident rescue, so the morning covered hazard identification at scenes and also vehicle stabilization.  One of the hazards they really drill into us is airbags.  As much as they increase the safety of people in collisions, undeployed airbags can be lethal for rescuers: because of the speed with which they inflate, if they deploy accidentally they become a kind of a bomb.  If you're working in front of one, the experience will be like getting hit with a sledgehammer, only much much harder.

Because the tools we use tend to be produced by specialist companies, the same entities produce a certain amount of training material as well.  I had to smile a little at the video produced to go along with Stab-Fast stabilization devices: the demonstrations were done by a German fire-fighting team, and I had to wonder if that was why the background music seemed to have been done by Kraftwerk!  This, if you're interested, is the video -

Stabfast Stabiliisation
Image from here

After lunch we moved on to glass management.  We've done this quite a bit with the unit, although we got a good object lesson by being shown two tempered glass windscreens get broken in the open air - one covered in Packexe film and one not.  The first held together as a single (flexible) sheet.  The second quite literally exploded into a cloud of glass shards.  I found cutting through laminated windscreens to be an interesting experience: I'm undecided whether the speed and power of a reciprocating saw is worth the extra noise and alarm to a casualty.  It might be interesting to volunteer as a casualty in training one night to get a feel for the mechanical saw as against the hand saw.

Working with glass, naturally, meant wearing a P2 mask.  Note to self: if the situation's dangerous enough for you to want to put one on your own face, probably make sure the casualty and the paramedics are wearing them too!

The day finished out with a session on casualty handling, which I think everyone did pretty well: it's a standard part of training for general rescue, and fits with the first aid training we all do.  The group I was part of managed to shift a pretend-casualty out of a roof-flapped vehicle in 90 seconds flat, which I thought was pretty good.

One thing that really did stick with me through the day was this PSA on texting and driving from the UK.  I know I'm a terrible driver, but frankly I think we need to work on everyone (including me) getting better.  No matter how good the response from police, fire, ambulance and rescue services, once the accident has happened, all you're doing is trying to achieve the least-worst outcome.

We're back down to Seymour tomorrow for the second day of the course, which I'm looking forward to quite a bit.  Nothing feels better than learning more about something you love, except getting to do it with your best friends.

Hope your weekends are starting out well!

Friday, 20 November 2015

Oceania has ALWAYS been at war with Eastasia!

Hi everyone,

Sorry I haven't posted in a full week.  The simple truth is that about this time last week I started having all sorts of gastrointestinal woe.  For a couple of days I was struggling to retain any nutrients from food at all, and sleeping very badly, so I was tired all the time and really not able to focus my mind on blogging at all.

Last weekend I'd said I'd go to Flinders to cut the thistles there by hand.  I can tell you the trip down in the truck with an unhappy stomach (among other body parts) was no pleasure.  I'm sad to say that I was only able to cut about a third of the paddock before I had to throw in the towel: the simple truth is I felt utterly exhausted and sick.

The Sunday of the weekend wasn't great fun either.  The old boy wanted to take back a skeletal trailer down there he says he wants to do up, as well as some other bits of scrap metal he thinks he may want.  One of the piles of scrap he wanted sorted was one I know I've shifted three or four times before and said so fairly wearily.  This prompted a shouted argument that probably went too far on both sides.  I was angry with myself afterwards for failing to have the self control to just keep my mouth shut.

The week at work has been rather 'samey'.  The Corporation has been served with a subpoena for various documents in a dispute between two of our contractors.  My job for 4 days this week has been to redact about 700 pages of accounting records to remove references to anyone other than the parties, so as not to disclose bank account details, commercial-in-confidence items, matters protected by privacy etc etc.  I can tell you that after a few days of wielding a blacking-out pen, white blocking-out stickers and stickytaping blank paper onto pages to be copied, I began to have a new perspective on Winston Smith's life.  I suspect that after a few weeks working for the Ministry of Truth, most people would have stopped caring at all whether or not Oceania was in fact at war with Eastasia, or whether it had in fact always been at war with Eastasia.

This weekend should be a good one: I'm off to Seymour for the first half of the Road Crash Rescue course.  About five of us from the Tatura unit are going, and the course is being taught by Kris the trainer, who is the guru of road crash extrication.  He's off to a job in the Netherlands shortly, so it's an incredible last opportunity to learn from the master.  It'll be a big couple of weekends - the other half of the boat course next weekend, then the other half of the road crash course after that.  The more I learn about rescue the more addictive it becomes, so I'm kind of in hog-heaven!

These images have not much to do with anything, except that this is an old style first
aid kit we have at the unit, with our long-ago name on it.  I thought it was kind of cool!

Not much more to add for now.  Not sure what sorts of chances to take photos there'll be this weekend but I'll give you updates as best I can.

Hope your weeks are coming to a good close!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Storms and a Scorpion

Hi everyone,

A quick catchup post during a lull at work.  It's been a kind of bits and pieces week so far.

I recall my last post was on Tuesday afternoon.  Later that day I managed to get out for a run here in town.  I've written before that Tatura is a pretty good place to run in especially if you're going for speed.  This time I went to the south east side of town, and stumbled on a running track beside Dhurringile Road.  It was the sort of afternoon that made me think of (wouldn't you know it?) Thibodaux, La: warm, humid and wonderful.

I wish I wasn't so in love with a stage of my life that's gone.  My good friend Donna is right: you need to put fresh memories in place of old ones.  Anyway, I'd love to get out for another run this evening before SES training tonight.  Not sure it'll happen though: We've been under a storm warning all day and the radar suggests some weather could indeed be heading our way.


Which, I suppose, is a point in common with my girls, as the internet tells me that Louisiana has been getting some weather too.

Work has been frustrating: I'm stuck in a constant pattern of almost nothing to do and killing time for big blocks of the day.  Being tasked with photocopying a couple of wads of documents yesterday was kind of a final straw.  Not just because it's a poor use of a couple of university degrees and a first-class brain, but because that was (I'm not joking) the most challenging thing I'd been asked to do all day.  I've spent a big whack of today looking for other jobs.

I'm sure you can guess how today has been.  I've just been handled a filing job for some of the loose bits of paper in my boss' office, with the bonus of ensuring that by putting these bits and pieces on file I don't create any duplication.  This, kiddies, is what we call a 'make work job'.  It makes literally no difference whether it's done well, or badly, or at all.

Image from here

Two interesting health-and-safety moments in the last few days.  I was kind of struck by the safety sign on a Powercor switchbox near work: the image of a person surrounded by a jagged red line certainly conveys a message!

The other moment was this morning.  I'd been feeling a bit guilty at not having removed some of the cobwebs around the house at the farm.  I feel less guilty seeing that they caught a scorpion this morning.  Seeing one of those nastly little critters caught makes it easy to leave a few arachnids undisturbed!

No more for now.  We just had a belt of weather go through; the weather radar says that's the lot unless it re-forms.  If any of you hear of any jobs going, let me know.

USS Philadelphia, HMS Hydra, and the Pax Atlantica

I posted a thought-bubble on GooglePlus last night about whether the Barbary Wars and the foundation of the West Africa Squadron should be seen as part of a broader trend of their era to establish the rule of law in the Atlantic.  I've thought about this further and would like to suggest an even bigger idea: that many of the conflicts of the long nineteenth century were in large part about establishing the rule of law.  Because this law was fundamentally western, it created a global Pax Atlantica which looked very similar to, but not identical with, the age of empires.

The general idea

The first conflict which I think we can confidently say was part of the creation of the Pax Atlantica were the United States' First and Second Barbary Wars.  I will be intrigued to read Brian Kilmeade's recent book on the subject, but the essential idea is straightforward: The north African Barbary states had a policy of tolerating and encouraging acts of piracy and ransom against European and American shipping.  This became intolerable to the recently independent American states, which in two wars dispatched (among others) the warship USS Philadelphia to assert freedom of navigation in that region.

USS Philadelphia
USS Philadelphia
Image from here

As I mentioned in the thought-bubble, in between the Barbary Wars Britain established the West Africa Squadron with the objective of abolishing the African slave trade.  In effect, an entire area of commerce which involved a particularly arbitrary type of imprisonment and cruelty was suppressed.  Slavery itself would not be abolished in the British Empire for another twenty-five years.  However, some idea of the importance attached to the mission can be had from the deployment to the West African fleet of a fast, modern warship like HMS Hydra.

HMS Hecate (1839) aground in 1861.jpg
HMS Hecate, a Hydra-class vesselImage from here

The same idea can be seen at work in the Opium War between Britain and China of 1839-1842.  In today's world, it would be hard to argue with a straight face that British hands - seeking to sell drugs into China - were clean.  On the other hand, the seizure by Chinese officials of  over 1200 tons of opium without compensation was at least at the boundaries of legality.  In this light, the war for improved rights of trade and commerce reflected a legal order that was already becoming received wisdom.

When everybody was right

With its combination of good reasons and dirty hands on both sides, the Opium War was a kind of prelude to the much larger tragedy of the American Civil War where both sides could claim to be upholding the rule of law.  We don't need to get into the ancient debate over whether slavery was the sole cause of the war (1): it's sufficient for the present discussion that one accepts it was at least a relevant factor.  What's important is that Southern slaveholders could legitimately claim that slavery was sanctioned by law and the use of force by the north to abolish slavery broke that law (2).  The converse was also true.  The Union could make a non-absurd argument that secession was simply unlawful (3).  I have seen one contemporary document that described the conflict as "the war for the union".  For better or worse, both sides sought to uphold the rule of law, manifested in the property and labour law and constitutional law.

Image from here
Long shadows

This trend reached its summit in 1914, at the end of the long nineteenth century.  For the British Empire at least, the First World War was a conflict for the rule of law.  The United Kingdom's stated reason for entering the war was the defence of Belgian neutrality: in 1839 Germany signed the Treaty of London creating the Kingdom of Belgium, with that Kingdom recognised as remaining a neutral power.  It was that promise of neutrality which the German Empire intended to violate by executing the Schlieffen Plan in order to inflict a rapid defeat on France.  Britain's acceptance of this as a cause for war declared that it was willing to shed blood to maintain the rule of international law.  Its willingness to endure horrendous bloodshed in this cause was a demonstration that the rule would not be violated with impunity.

Perhaps one reason the Great War seems so meaningless today is because the rule of law between nations is more-or-less taken for granted: the sovereign power of making war that President Hussein sought to exercise with the annexation of Kuwait in 1990 the Persian Gulf War.  A long-running dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica over the location of their border has lead not to a call to arms or a gallant defence of the Fatherland, but to proceedings in the International Court of Justice.  And the 'addled' wars of the nineteenth century are not easy to imagine, or justify.  The War of 1812, for instance, stemmed from Britain's assertion that American seamen could be impressed into the Royal Navy, and the Unites State's assertion a right of conquest over Canada.  France's conquest of Algeria, too, resulted less from policy and more from poor diplomacy and poor decisions on all sides.

Hercule - French flagship in the conquest of AlgeriaImage from here

I don't think any writer who wanted to be taken seriously could regard the period between 1789 and 1914 with unqualified admiration, at least as far as the diplomacy and war-making was concerned.  As ever, there were mixed motives, cruelty, vanity and greed.  But the idea that even nations and sovereigns are bound by laws, and that those laws will be upheld, lay at the heart of the Pax Atlantica.


(1) Interestingly,  even impeccably conservative historians consider that the war was fundamentally about the preservation (or otherwise) of slavery: L. Schweikart and M. Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States (2004) at 294.
(2) Id. at 289; Arthur Rizer, ‘Abraham Lincoln: Slavery Hunter’ (2015) 19(2) The Young Lawyer 17.
(3) The argument is set out in the post-war judgment of Texas v White, 74 US 700 (1869).