Bracing for the big one

The map is uncannily similar to today’s: a spray of black dots showing the recorded sightings of a foul grey haze spreading across Europe, from Helsinki to Naples, from Heligoland to Majorca, and reaching eventually to Aleppo and Damascus – all of it caused by clouds of ash from an immense volcano erupting far across the sea in Iceland.But this was a map made from data collected in 1783. The volcano was called Laki, it erupted for eight dismal months without cease, ruined crops, lowered temperatures and drastically altered the weather. It killed 9000 people, drenched European forests in acid rain, caused skin lesions in children and the deaths of millions of cattle. And, by one account, it was a contributing factor (because of the hunger-inducing famines) to the outbreak six years later of the French revolution.Great volcanoes have a habit of prompting profound changes to the world – much greater in extent than the most savage of earthquakes and tsunamis, even though the immediate lethality of the latter is invariably much more cruel. Though ground-shaking events are generally fairly local in extent, their potential for killing can be terrific: 250,000 died after the Tangshan earthquake in China in 1975 and a similar number died in the Indian ocean tsunami of 2004. Volcanoes seem by contrast relatively benign: the accumulated total number of deaths in all of the great volcanoes of the past 300 years has probably not exceeded a quarter of a million: the total number of casualties from a hundred of the biggest recent eruptions has been no more than those from a single giant earthquake.But there is a significant difference. Earthquakes, once done, are done. Volcanoes, however, often trigger long-term and long-distance ill-effects, which generally far outweigh their immediate rain of death and destruction. Emanations of particles from the tiniest pinprick in the Earth’s crust, once lifted high into the skies by an explosive eruption, can wind themselves sinuously and menacingly around the planet, and leave all kinds of devastation in their train. They can disrupt and pollute and poison; they can darken skies and cause devastating changes in the weather; they can bring about the abrupt end to the existence of entire populations of animals and people.Earthquakes and tsunamis have never been known to cause extinctions but volcanoes and asteroid collisions have done so repeatedly – and since the Earth is still peppered with scores of thousands of volcanoes ever yearning to erupt, they and the dramatic long-term effects of their eruptions are in fact far more frequent, far more decisive, and far greater than those that are triggered by any other natural phenomenon on the planet.It is worth remembering that ours is a world essentially made from and by volcanoes. They are creatures that will continue to do their business over the aeons, quite careless of the fate of the myriad varieties of life that teems beneath them and on their flanks. Including, of course, ours.There is perhaps no better recent example of the havoc that a big eruption can cause than that which followed the explosive destruction of Mount Toba, in northern Sumatra, 72,000-74,000 years ago (which, in geological time, is very recent indeed). The relics of this mountain today are no more than a very large and beautiful lake, 100 kilometres long and 800 metres deep – the caldera left behind by what is by most reckonings the largest volcanic explosion known to have occurred on the planet in the past 25 million years.On the widely used volcanic explosivity index (VEI), Toba is thought to have been an eight – meaning that in the unusually flamboyant official language of vulcanology it was a super-plinian type eruption with mega-colossal characteristics (Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull is by contrast listed as a strombolian type, with its characteristic regarded as merely gentle, and having a probable VEI rating of just two).About 2800 cubic kilometres of rock were instantly vaporised by the super-eruptive blast of Toba, all of which was hurled scores of thousands of metres into the air. This is what did the lasting damage, just as Iceland’s high-altitude rock-dust did in Europe. But while we merely suffered a large number of inconvenienced people and a weakening of the balance sheets of some airlines, the effect on the post-Toban world was catastrophic: as a result of the thick ash clouds the world’s ambient temperature plummeted, perhaps by as much as 5 degrees – and the cooling and the howling wave of deforestation and deaths of billions of animals and plants caused a sudden culling of the human population of the time, reducing it to maybe as few as 5000 people, perhaps 1000 breeding pairs. Many anthropologists believe that the event caused a sudden evolutionary bottleneck, with genetic implications that linger to this day. Put more crudely, humanity was nearly wiped out by Toba, and only by the merest hair’s breadth did our ancestors of 72,000 years ago manage to cling on and bequeath to us our existence.Mercifully, from humanity’s point of view, there have been very few Tobas known in history. They are probably so large that they reach the upper limit of the kind of eruptions that can physically occur on Earth – one VEI-8 event occurs only every 100,000 years or so. Yet of those known to have occurred, two have taken place in Britain (mainly because Britain has such a vast variety of geology, with almost every age of rock known in the world found somewhere between Cape Wrath and Dover). They are comfortingly ancient: both – the volcano that created Scafell in the Lake District, and the other that gave us Glen Coe in the Western Highlands – took place more than 400 million years ago.But others of the 47 known VEI-8 volcanoes are more alarmingly recent. Taupo in New Zealand erupted with mega-colossal force some 22,500 years ago. The newer of the great eruptions that helped form the mountains of today’s Yellowstone National Park in the United States took place just 640,000 years ago, and all the current signs – from such phenomena as the rhythmic slow rising and falling of the bed of the Yellowstone River, as if some giant creature is breathing far below – suggest another eruption is coming soon. When it does, it will be an American Armageddon: all of the north and west of the continent, from Vancouver to Oklahoma City, will be rendered uninhabitable, buried under scores of metres of ash. (I mentioned this once in a talk to a group of lunching ladies in Kansas City, soothing their apparent disquiet by adding that by ”soon” I was speaking in geologic time, and that meant about 250,000 years, by which time all humankind would be extinct. A woman in the front row exploded with a choleric and incredulous rage: ”What?” she said. ”Even Americans will be extinct?”)Ratcheting down the scale a couple of notches, to the only slightly less gigantic eruptions that are classified as VEI-7 and VEI-6, and a host of more familiar eruptions come into view. These include Santorini, the Aegean volcano whose destruction around 4000 years ago may have triggered the collapse of the Minoan civilisation; Laki, the 1783 Icelandic volcano mentioned above, and which most obviously parallels today’s events at Eyjafjallajokull; the Javan volcano of Krakatoa, which erupted so infamously in August 1883; and the rather more profoundly world-affecting eruption of 1815, also in the Dutch East Indies, of the huge stratovolcano on Sumbawa Island, known as Tambora. Each of these had massive effects, and all were global in their extent.Tambora is the most notorious, not least because it was so immense: almost 170 cubic kilometres of pulverised Sumbawan rock were hurled into the sky, which darkened, cooled and polluted a world that, unlike in Toba’s day, was already well populated and widely civilised. The consequences ranged from the dire – a lowering of temperature that caused frosts in Italy in June and snows in the US in July, and the failure of crops in immense swathes across Europe and the Americas – to the ludicrous: Irish migrants, promised better weather in New England, found it on landing to be every bit as grim as the Connemara and Cork they had left, and so either went home, or pressed on in hope to California.Krakatoa’s immediate aftermath was dominated initially by dramatic physical effects – a series of tsunamis that were measured as far away as Portland Bill and Biarritz, a detonation that was clearly heard (like naval gunfire, said the local police officer) 5000 kilometres away on Rodriguez Island, and a year’s worth of awe-inspiring evening beauty as the sky lit up with dazzling colours.There was an important legacy to Krakatoa’s eruption not shared by the other giant volcanoes of the time. Close mapping of the spread of the 1883 sunsets showed them girdling the Earth in a curious set of spirals, the stratospheric aerosols evidently being borne around the world on high-altitude winds that no one at the time knew existed. An atmospheric scientist in Hawaii mapped them and decided to call the air current the equatorial smoke stream. It later became, more elegantly and economically, the jet stream. There has to be some irony that the jet stream that drove this month’s Icelandic dust so dangerously over Britain and mainland Europe is a phenomenon that was first discovered as a direct consequence of the study of Krakatoa.And yet, of all the consequences of the truly great volcanoes of the past, the phenomenon of mass extinctions of life must surely be the most profound and world-changing of all. Between two and five major extinction events occur in the world every million years or so. Humans have not been privileged to observe one of them – hardly surprisingly, since they would probably occur so slowly as to be barely noticeable. However, with painstaking care, palaeontological evidence is being amassed to link sudden and catastrophic changes in world climate, changes that promote such extinction crises, with the known major eruptions of the past, and with what are known as flood basalt events (such as those that have been triggered specifically in the past by eruptions of Eyjafjallajokull and her neighbouring volcano in Iceland, Katla, which is itself well overdue for an eruption). It is a study that opens up a fascinating speculative possibility.For what if the kind of event that we have seen this month, and which caused such commercial inconvenience, is in fact not just a minor volcanic hiccup, but the beginning of an event that causes in time a mass extinction of some form of earthbound life? And, since we know from the history books that the massive eruption of Santorini once had the power to destroy one proud part of human society, what if the extinction we might be beginning to see turns out to be what will one day surely occur, and that is the extinction of us?Guardian News & MediaSimon Winchester is a journalist and author of Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded.
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America’s gaping hole: thousands queue up for free medical care

LOS ANGELES: They began arriving before dawn on a cold, misty morning, people of all ages lining up by the hundreds, some in wheelchairs, others hobbling on crutches, many of them missing teeth, all of them seeking the same thing: free medical care.It was a scene that could have been playing out in a Third World country or perhaps some place like post-hurricane New Orleans. But it was unfolding in Los Angeles on Tuesday, and the hundreds who showed up were mainly working people without health insurance.Kenny Gillett, 47, a welder, had not seen a doctor for two years, since losing his job and insurance when his employer went broke.Adriana Valenzuela, a self-employed and uninsured beautician, brought an eight-year-old son with a mouthful of cavities. Frank Carodine, 57, in a wheelchair, said he had lost parts of both legs to diabetes, which was now ravaging his right eye. He needed glasses. ”I’ve got coverage for my diabetes, I go to a clinic, but it doesn’t cover eye exams,” he said.Outside in the cold, several hundred people, some balancing toddlers on their hips, waited for their turn to enter the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Inside were hundreds of volunteer doctors, dentists, acupuncturists, chiropractors and other professionals, all brought together by a Tennessee non-profit group, Remote Area Medical.On this first day of the seven-day clinic, Maria Shriver, the wife of the Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, visited and said she was humbled by the scope of the volunteer effort.”What you’re seeing is a lot of Middle America here,” said RAM’s flamboyant founder, Stan Brock. ”Healthcare in this country is a privilege of the well-to-do and the well-insured.” At last year’s clinic 6000 were treated. More were expected this time.Jesse Serna, 51, a disabled warehouse worker, was waiting to get an aching tooth fixed.Referring to national healthcare reform, he said: ”We need it badly. We send people overseas when there’s a disaster. This is a disaster right here.”Associated Press, Los Angeles Times
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India accuses one of its diplomats of spying for Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The Indian government has accused one of its own diplomats of handing secrets to Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence agency.The Indian Foreign Office said on Tuesday that Madhuri Gupta, 53, a second secretary at its high commission in Islamabad, had been charged with espionage.Ms Gupta, who had worked in the press and information section for three years, was arrested on Friday after being called back to New Delhi on the pretext of discussing a regional summit in Bhutan this week. She was charged in court on Monday.”We have reasons to believe an official in the Indian high commission in Pakistan has been passing information to Pakistani intelligence officials,” said Vishnu Prakash, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs. ”The official is co-operating with our investigations and inquiries.”The Press Trust of India reported that the head of India’s intelligence agency research and analysis wing in Islamabad was also under investigation.Indian officials did not elaborate on the nature of the secrets allegedly stolen by the junior diplomat. But the revelation is a big embarrassment for India’s diplomatic service on the eve of the Bhutan summit, where peace talks between the nuclear-armed rivals are high on the agenda.The arrest was not expected to derail a meeting between Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, due to take place today. But it may dampen expectations of a resumption of peace talks, which collapsed after the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which more than 170 people were killed.India blames Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group with historical ties to the ISI, for the atrocity, accusing ”state elements” of orchestrating the carnage.The two countries, which have fought three wars, have a history of skulduggery and periodically engage in tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats, usually at times of political or military tension.But it is rare for a diplomat to be accused of spying and analysts were divided on the political significance. Some felt it was unlikely to damage relations because the accused is an Indian national; others saw it as an ominous sign for an early resumption of peace talks.Guardian News & Media
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Do parents make children religious? Heaven wonders

FINALLY, some good news for Catholic spin doctors: hopeful children with warm but firm parents are more likely to develop religious values, according to a study by Wollongong University psychologists.The study examines the nexus between parenting styles, child development and religiosity and shows that the better the parenting, the more positive religious values the child holds.Researchers questioned 784 year 7 students in Catholic schools about their perceptions of parents’ behaviour, then divided the ”parenting styles” into three groups – authoritarian, authoritative and permissive.Three years later, they revisited the teenagers in year 10 and gave them questionnaires assessing their religious beliefs. The teens were asked to rate the extent to which they adhered to the guiding principles: ”Being saved from your sins and at peace with God”; ”Being at one with God or the universe”; and ”Following your religious faith conscientiously”.Teenagers whose parents fell into the ”authoritative” category – where parents set firm boundaries but enforce them lovingly – were most likely to adhere strongly to the religious values.Psychologists have long quibbled over the effect religion has on child development. Freud saw God as the ultimate father-figure and believed religious people were immature because they had failed to emotionally detach from Him. Religion was a fantasy to be destroyed before a person could mature psychologically.Jung thought religious experience was an offshoot of the collective unconscious (a concept about as mystical as religion itself). Turn-of-the-century Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler believed our ideas about God spoke volumes about how we saw the world. According to his theories, God helped us compensate for our own imperfections and insecurities.Professor Patrick Heaven, co-author of the The Wollongong Youth Study with Joseph Ciarrochi and Dr Peter Leeson, does not go so far as to say that God is good for children.But the research also showed a correlation between a characteristic psychologists call ”trait hope” – which combines hopefulness and optimism with resilience following setbacks – and religiosity.”These three things appear to be related – authoritative parents, hope in children and their adherence to religious values,” Professor Heaven says.Sociologist of religion Alec Pemberton says that ”in a way authoritative parenting is modelling what we like to think of as God”.Churches may be quick to exploit the research but it is unclear whether religion makes a harder-working, better-adjusted child, or whether such children are attracted to religion.”It doesn’t get to the nub of causality,” Professor Heaven says. ”We’re now looking at what comes first.”
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Driver reaches out to victims’ family

IT WAS the sunset over the mountains from Kabul that Ronald Frederick Jaray remembered when he sat down to write a letter to the relatives of five members of an Afghan family killed in the car crash he caused.Mr Jaray’s handwritten letter, seen by the Herald, was delivered by police to the Reza-e family on Thursday, the day before the 68-year-old faced Picton Local Court to ask for mercy.The retired school teacher, who has pleaded guilty to one count of negligent driving causing death, apologised but did not ask for forgiveness.”Please understand I am an ordinary, honest, caring person who is and always will be deeply distressed by what has happened,” he wrote.”I cannot undo what has been done. Rarely do small errors have such huge consequences and why this happened to you, who have had more than your share of suffering, is beyond comprehension.”The Picton resident sat quietly in court yesterday morning while his barrister, Shane McAnulty, argued it was his client’s ”momentary inattention” that caused a ”slight touching” of the Reza-e’s Toyota Camry as he attempted to change lanes early on December 6 on Picton Road near Wilton.”The complicating factor was that at the speed of 100km/h everything is magnified tenfold,” Mr McAnulty told the court.He said his client should be placed under a good behaviour bond, rather than be sent to jail.The Reza-e’s car fishtailed and spun onto the other side of the road, where it was struck by a water tanker.Abdul Wali Mohamad Qasim, 41, his wife Sharifa Reza-e, 24, their 14-week-old son Erfan and two female cousins, Kobra Reza-e, 50, and Habibah Reza-e, 40, were killed instantly.”I have no way of feeling or understanding the grief you must feel,” Mr Jaray wrote to their relatives. ”I wake each morning feeling confused, sad and concerned, which is not even a fraction of your feelings.”He said he had visited their homeland of Afghanistan – which the Reza-e family fled after losing relatives in the conflict there – in the early 1970s when it was ”unusually peaceful and beautiful”.”Watching the sunset over the mountains from Kabul, while listening to the call to prayer, is a very fond memory,” Mr Jaray wrote.Fawzia Reza-e, whose three cousins were killed in the crash in December, said she cried when she received the letter this week.”It made me more sad,” she said.The brother of the female victims, Najib Reza-e, was granted a temporary visa after he came to Australia for their funeral. But his wife and five children were still in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur waiting to join him, Fawzia Reza-e said.”I want the immigration (department) to help Najib, do something about him and his family,” she said.Mr Jaray is expected to be sentenced by magistrate Robert Walker at Picton Court on May 24.
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‘Disgusted’ accomplice describes kidnap, mutilation

IF HE did not go along with a plan to kidnap and lock a man in a toolbox before cutting his body into pieces, Sean Laurence Waygood feared he would be killed. However, seven years later he felt no danger in inviting the alleged architect of the plan to his wedding, a court has heard.Waygood has pleaded guilty to offences including the kidnapping of Terry Falconer and being an accessory after the fact to his murder. He also pleaded guilty to conspiring to murder Felix Lyle, an alleged member of the Rebels outlaw motorcycle gang and the subsequent shooting of another man, in what he describes as a case of mistaken identity.Waygood told a District Court sentencing hearing yesterday that in each offence he had acted on the instructions of a man he knew as ”Steve”, who was involved in criminal activity and had lent him and a friend $100,000.Steve’s real name cannot be disclosed for legal reasons.Falconer’s family wept as Waygood detailed how for $15,000, he posed as a police officer and helped to kidnap Falconer when he was on work release from Silverwater jail in November 2001.Falconer had been ”in a pretty bad way” after being rendered unconscious and then locked in the toolbox during the drive between Ingleburn and Turramurra, Waygood said. ”He was sweating profusely, he was red … I said, ‘Don’t you think we should let him out?”’ Waygood said.He told the court Steve became agitated by this. ”He put his hand on his piece and said, Are you f—in’ with us or what? He screamed it out with rage and put his hand on his gun as though he was about to draw it.”Asked by prosecutor Roger Kimball why he did not use skills he learnt as a green beret in the army to overpower Steve, he replied: ”Say if I did get away, how long was it going to be before my girlfriend was … murdered or worse, abducted or tortured?”Falconer was dead by the time they arrived at a property in Girvan on the mid-north coast. Steve removed Falconer’s teeth and smashed them on the floor with a hammer. Waygood, Steve and another man then dismembered the body, the court heard.Waygood conceded Steve was not the only ”criminal” at his wedding in 2008. Having testified against Steve and others arrested by Strike Force Tuno, he will have his sentence reduced.He apologised to his victims and their families, telling them he was ”disgusted” with himself but ”can’t take back what I have done”.
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More means misery – abundant choices give abundant chances to brood

REMEMBER the bad old days when children went to the local school, Telstra provided your telephone, and the state provided the electricity?Now that we are bombarded with choice in every area of our lives, are we any happier?Visiting professor of psychology, Barry Schwartz, believes too much choice makes for misery. And the most miserable are the most diligent shoppers, those determined to get the very best deal.”The more comparison shopping you do, the more carefully you evaluate the options, the more likely it is that whatever you choose will leave you feeling dissatisfied,” said Professor Schwartz, of Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania.Professor Schwartz will be in Sydney for the two-day Happiness and Its Causes conference, beginning Wednesday, that brings together international speakers including Edward de Bono, Naomi Wolf and Robert Thurman.His now-famous study involving thousands of people shines a light on why abundant choice has produced no gains in well-being in affluent societies. It suggests the more options people have, the more likely some will experience disappointment with their choice, and this response extends beyond frocks and fridges to choice of job or life partner.”You have a wonderful partner but you think ‘is this the best person on earth for me?’ You keep looking over your shoulder. This is not a recipe for a satisfied life,” he said.Professor Schwartz and colleagues composed a set of statements to identify people he calls ”maximisers”, those who always aim to make the best possible choice, and those he calls ”satisficers”, who aim for ”good enough.”People fell along a continuum but the study found the greatest maximisers were the least happy with the fruits of their search.Despite exerting enormous time and effort reading labels and checking consumer magazines, the maximisers got less satisfaction from their purchases than people who considered fewer options and were content with ”good enough”.The maximisers were more prone to experiencing regret after a purchase.Professor Schwartz said maximisers felt sorrow about the opportunities they had forgone, and quickly got used to their purchases, so that the experience of having made a superior choice soon began to feel flat.Maximisers turned out to be less happy with life in general, less optimistic and more depressed compared to people who subscribed to the ”good enough” philosophy.Professor Schwartz said a further study of university graduates showed maximisers secured better jobs and higher pay than the ”good enough” brigade but on every measure felt worse about the job search and the job, and their life in general. ”It’s the price people pay when they are out to get the best,” he said.Having witnessed the angst his daughter endured in selecting a school for her child, Professor Schwartz considers the new emphasis on school choice a ”disaster”.”She tortured herself; whichever school she chose she had to give up something attractive in another,” he said. ”And after the decision, she continued hand-wringing.”He said some choice was essential because people needed to feel in control of their lives but the mistake had been to assume ”the more the better”.As a way out of the paradox of choice, Professor Schwartz recommends people outsource to their friends. ”I have a vision of a community of friends where someone is the expert on consumer electronics, another is the expert on restaurants, another on computers,” he said.ROAD TO RECOVERY Visit no more than two stores when clothes shoppingLearn to accept ”good enough”Don’t worry about what you’re missingDon’t expect too much
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It’s shaping up to be a great year for Grange

DRINKERS of fine wine will be spared the pain inflicted on cigarette smokers in tomorrow’s Henry review. In fact they’re likely to find Australia’s most expensive drop more than $100 a bottle cheaper. But drinkers of cask wine are in for a shock.A move towards a single flat volumetric tax on alcohol is set to cut the price of a $620 bottle of Grange by $133 while adding $20 to the price of a four-litre cask.The dramatic change is one of many driven by the Henry review’s pursuit of simplicity and fairness at the cost of shaking things up. Its recommendations would also increase the salary bills of charities who would no longer be able to offer their employees untaxed fringe benefits, subject many more businesses to payroll tax, cut tax on savings accounts, boost superannuation tax for high-income earners and cut family payments for older children in order to boost them for preschoolers.The review finds that while beer is sensibly taxed per unit of alcohol, wine is taxed by price with rebates for small producers. This means expensive bottles are very heavily taxed, some bottles attract no alcohol tax and cask wine is taxed at just 5 cents per standard drink.The proposed flat tax set at the packaged full-strength beer rate of 39 cents per standard drink would push up the price of a four-litre cask from $15 to $35, according to calculations by the Australian Hotels Association, while taking $6 off the price of a $54 cabernet sauvignon.A middy of draft beer would climb 28 cents while $9 would be sliced off the price of a $43 bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label whisky. Alcopops, recently subject to a tax increase, would come down in price.In recognition of the disruption the change would cause, it is likely to be phased in over a number of years.Bank accounts will benefit more quickly from another attempt at simplicity. The review has found that the real effective tax rate on interest earned in bank accounts approaches 50 per cent for a middle earner on the 31.5 per cent rate. By contrast the real effective tax on earnings from shares is around 10 per cent, and minus 30 per cent if they are bought with borrowed money. The effective real tax rate on superannuation approaches minus 40 per cent.In order to even things up and also encourage saving, the review will cut the rate of tax on bank interest while sharply increasing tax on superannuation for high income earners. At present one third of super tax concessions go to Australians earning more than $180,000. Australians earning less than $35,000 get next to nothing.The review flatly rejects pleas from the superannuation industry to lift compulsory contributions but endorses a separate small compulsory levy to fund a national disability insurance scheme. It recommends measures to encourage so-called ”longevity insurance” under which super payouts are turned into guaranteed lifetime fortnightly payments.Insurance itself should become free of all taxes other than the GST the review proposes. It believes high stamp duties discourage the poorest people most in need of insurance from using it.Stamp duty will remain on real estate transactions. In return the family home will remain exempt from capital gains tax. But capital gains arrangements for rental properties face a shake up.The showcase for the simplicity the review has in mind will be the one-click or optional tax return. People will no longer need to complete paperwork or provide the Tax Office with information. The number of different welfare benefits would shrink and family benefits would be reconfigured to pay the most in the preschool years when high childcare costs mean expenses are their highest. The new arrangements would be directed to getting people off disability benefits and in to work.Businesses will face an extension of payroll tax rather than its abolition as many had hoped. The review finds the tax is a good one and that most of its problems come from exemptions and different rates in different states.
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Rape of woman in skinny jeans ‘not possible’

CAN a woman wearing skinny jeans be raped? Or are they so tight they can be taken off only with her consent?These are some of the questions a jury asked before acquitting a Sydney man of sexual assault.Nicholas Eugenio Gonzalez was accused of raping the 24-year-old as she consoled him about breaking up with one of her friends.The jury of six men and six women heard Mr Gonzalez, 23, had allegedly pushed the woman on to his bed, ripping off her size six skinny jeans and underpants before the attack.In his defence, Mr Gonzalez, a navy cook, said the sex was consensual.During the trial the jury sent a note to the judge asking for more information about ”how exactly Nick took off her jeans”.”I doubt those kind of jeans can be removed without any sort of collaboration,” the note read.Courts in Italy and Korea have also grappled with the skinny jeans issue.In 2008 a Seoul court overturned the seven-year sentence of a man convicted of raping a woman wearing skinny jeans.In the same year an Italian court upheld a rape conviction, ruling that “jeans cannot be compared to any type of chastity belt”.The woman had told the Sydney District Court she and Mr Gonzalez had met for drinks in April 2008 before going to his Surry Hills house to listen to music.She said they had gone upstairs to his room so he could play his drums. He had pushed her on to the bed, placing his torso on top of her.”I struggled to try to get up for a while and … then he undid my jeans and … he pulled them off,” she said. The woman alleged he then raped her.Under cross-examination from defence counsel Paul Hogan, the woman said she weighed 42 kilograms and did not find it hard to squeeze in and out of her jeans.”I’m suggesting it’s difficult for skinny jeans to be taken off by someone else unless the wearer’s assisting, collaborating, consenting,” Mr Hogan said. ”I would disagree,” she replied.The chairwoman of the National Association of Services Against Sexual Assault, Veronica Wensing, said a woman’s outfit should not be an issue in alleged rapes. ”Any piece of clothing can be removed with force.”
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Everyday heroes pay the ultimate price when the siren stops

THEY are there to rescue us in our hours of greatest need. Day after day, paramedics pull mangled bodies from car smashes, crawl under fallen buildings and fend off attacks by drunks. They witness unspeakable trauma, some for decades, but when they collapse emotionally the ambulance service too often fails them.One paramedic commits suicide each year in the state, on average, yet the ambulance service often refuses to accept battle fatigue is significant, in some cases blaming their personal lives instead.Their suicide rate – one in 3500 – is almost three times higher than the general community’s one in 10,000.Friends, family and former colleagues of nine paramedics who killed themselves between 1998 and 2008 have given disturbing accounts of how work pressure either contributed to or caused severe depression.As the final report of the 2008 parliamentary inquiry into the service was tabled yesterday, paramedics say the service is still failing to take responsibility for their mental health.The report shows the service has made considerable progress on paper but has far to go in creating a healthy work environment, the inquiry committee chairwoman, Robyn Parker, said.”It is concerning that 18 months after our initial report we are still made aware of a number of officers who are in a perilous mental health situation, clearly work related and clearly not resolved,” Ms Parker said.Coronial figures show that from July 2000 to January 2010, nine paramedics committed suicide. The Herald has identified two other suicides, in 1998 and 1999.”A variety of factors appear to have contributed to their decision to end their lives, including financial difficulties, relationship breakdowns, drug and other health issues,” an ambulance spokesman said.The service has no formal process for collecting data on suicides.The service’s chief executive, Greg Rochford, said the organisation has ”worked very hard to create an atmosphere that is caring” and strongly denied any suggestion it did not properly acknowledge workplace stress.”[But] we’re certainly not going to accept the claim that this is the cause or the main cause of a tragedy like suicide. It’s just too complex for that.”Mr Rochford said there had been significant reform in the past year to improve support for mental illness.Susie O’Brien, the partner of a Newcastle paramedic, Bernie Briggs, who killed himself in 2007, said his death was ”definitely work related” and his brother Dean Briggs said ”burnout” was a factor.Lifeline 131 114
Nanjing Night Net

Backpackers to take over school tests

THE Education Department is preparing to send in emergency strike breakers, including backpackers, after NSW teachers decided to ignore an Industrial Relations Commission order to lift their ban on supervising national literacy and numeracy tests.Schools in inner Sydney and the north shore will be hit the hardest, warned the NSW Director-General of Education, Michael Coutts-Trotter. One in five schools in those areas could be left without teaching cover.Principals or teachers who obstructed the tests faced disciplinary action, including the sack, he said.Recruitment agencies have put out a call to ”anyone”, including backpackers with working holiday visas, to supervise the NAPLAN tests for an hourly rate of $19.11 for about five hours a day.Applicants for the 2000 jobs would need to pass a police check which can take up to six days to process.Invitations to help supervise the tests have also been sent to 8000 School Certificate and Higher School Certificate markers.”The phone has been running hot,” Mr Coutts-Trotter said.The department said it had received 2500 positive responses to a text message sent to casual teachers asking them to also help supervise the tests on May 11, 12 and 13.Mr Coutts-Trotter told the Herald he was confident that 85 per cent of schools in the state would deliver the NAPLAN tests with either their own or outside staff.NSW has up to $1 billion in government funding tied to the national test data, which will be used to guide how money is distributed to the most disadvantaged schools. A reward payment of $94 million is at risk if the state government fails to deliver test results for all schools.Principals and teachers who actively tried to sabotage the tests would be subject to disciplinary action, including sacking in the most serious cases.Mr Coutts-Trotter said he would contact school principals to ensure they understood their professional responsibilities as public servants.”The question to school leaders is will you meet your responsibilities under the Teaching Services Act. It would be a very serious breach of professional and moral responsibility if you were to actively obstruct a child getting the assessment. Some people could react in a way that could trigger disciplinary action,” he said.”It is extremely unlikely [any teacher would be sacked] given what I know of their professionalism.”The department would next week identify alternative test sites for children from schools that refused to deliver them.Mr Coutts-Trotter said it was ”outrageous” that the NSW Teachers Federation had resorted to ”intimidation” on its website which urges casual teachers to reject the department’s offer to supervise the tests.”You should be aware that if you accept the [department’s] offer, you may quickly find yourself in a hostile environment,” the site says.The president of the Teachers Federation, Bob Lipscombe, said the federation ”remains committed to the national moratorium on NAPLAN 2010”, despite a contrary order by the Industrial Relations Commission yesterday. He described plans to recruit backpackers as ”disgraceful” and ”desperation on the part of the department”.The national teacher ban on NAPLAN tests is a protest against the use of results to rank schools on the federal government’s My School website. The site has been used to create league tables.”Teachers will only support NAPLAN when the government takes action to protect students from damaging league tables,” Mr Lipscombe said.The NSW Education Minister, Verity Firth, said: ”We are absolutely determined to do everything we can to make sure these tests proceed. It is not fair that only public schools will miss out.”
Nanjing Night Net

Anguish starts after the sirens stop

It is one of the toughest jobs in the country – an adrenalin-charged ride through what is often the worst of human experiences. But the state’s ambulance service, after countless suicides and attempted suicides by staff, 11 parliamentary and internal inquiries over a decade and 96 complaints to the corruption watchdog, has yet to acknowledge the impact of years of neglect on its traumatised workforce.Paul* is haunted by the screams of distressed children. After 32 years in the ambulance service witnessing unspeakable sadness, the sobs of the young ones who lost their siblings in a house fire a few years ago jolt him from his slumber at night. The raw howling still rings in his ears.”When you hear it, it haunts you forever and you know that everything is futile,” he says. ”The shriek … that helpless plea, that last expiring of breath.”The nagging thought of whether more could have been done – another crew sent sooner, perhaps – tears at his psyche. ”No one ever offered me any counselling. We just went on to another job,” he says. ”I relive it every day that I see a house fire.”Paul does not wish to use his real name because, like so many of his former colleagues, he has been medically retired and is awaiting the outcome of a claim for post-traumatic stress disorder.A parliamentary inquiry in 2008, the 11th inquiry into the Ambulance Service of NSW since 2001, heard shocking evidence of distress among its officers.”There is a view that the level of suicide in the service is indicative of a highly dysfunctional working environment in which management fail to offer their employees adequate support,” the inquiry’s final report says.A review earlier this year of the service’s progress since says many officers are still ”teetering on the brink”.It received more than 10 submissions from people who admitted to having suicidal thoughts or had attempted suicide as a result of their experiences in the service. They suffered burnout, drug and alcohol abuse and family breakdown.During a three-month investigation, the Herald has contacted family, friends and former colleagues of nine officers who have committed suicide over the past 12 years and asked them whether they felt job stress was a contributing factor in their deaths. Almost all say it was.Yet the ambulance service is adamant the job is not to blame, shunting the responsibility onto the officers’ personal lives.Paul’s life on the road with the ambulance service brought him to countless tragic scenes, including the Savoy Hotel fire in Kings Cross on Christmas Day 1975, which killed 15 people. He recalls a woman trying to walk to an ambulance, ”but her feet were like cheese”.Some scenes were war-like, such as the rookie nurse who walked into a helicopter blade and lost half her face – she lived until she arrived at hospital. ”There was no mouth or nose or teeth or eyes … how do you put a resuscitation mask on when there’s no face?” he says. ”You’re on an adrenalin rush to get there and then you’re on another adrenalin rush to get them to hospital and then you finally get to bed and you start to have flashbacks.”But it was not the sickening accidents, 15-hour shifts or stress of working in one-man crews that finally broke him. It was the bureaucratic stonewalling when he and others raised serious concerns about patient care, bullying and harassment and favouritism.IT IS NOT only the Ambulance Service that comes in for criticism from among its ranks. The union that represents its workers is also under pressure.The Emergency Medical Service Protection Association is a breakaway group of about 750 paramedics that feels unsupported by the executive of the Health Services Union. It says the ambulance service has simply ”lost touch”.”To say that the issues and injuries that paramedics deal with on a day-to-day basis do not affect them is ludicrous,” the association says.”The fact that the ambulance service doesn’t monitor the mental health of their officers by keeping accurate statistics on suicides and attempts only highlights their inability to make such a statement.”Despite the serious concerns raised by his members, the secretary of the Health Services Union, Michael Williamson, did not want to discuss the issue. After several requests, his media adviser responded by email.”Stress levels among some paramedics is very high … some people who work in life and death situations daily like paramedics feel that it impacts on their mental health,” it said. “The NSW Ambulance Service could do a better job of assisting people who are having personal or work related problems.”The chief executive officer of the ambulance service, Greg Rochford, has been publicly criticised by the union for what it sees as a failure to improve the culture and its poor grievance handling processes, despite back-to-back inquiries by Parliament and the service itself.Adding to its woes, the service is under the control of NSW Health, an already troubled bureaucracy that has had six health ministers over the past decade, making it almost impossible for paramedics to keep their issue on the political agenda.The problem is so out of hand that paramedics, feeling unable to get any traction with the service, their union or the government, have turned to the Independent Commission Against Corruption in desperation. Of the 96 complaints about the ambulance service it received between 2001 and 2007, 53 related to the behaviour of supervisors and managers.Management is unsympathetic about job-related trauma, officers are reluctant to ask for help and when they are physically or mentally injured, they are cast aside, paramedics say.Jason Hodder, the husband of paramedic Christine Hodder, who hanged herself in 2005 after years of bullying at Cowra station, says the service has never apologised for ignoring her written pleas for help. He remains deeply concerned for others still in the service.”When these guys crash they need to be picked up and looked after and not just wiped away,” he says.A Health Services Union representative of 20 years, Peter Rumball, says he knows of several officers who have killed themselves or tried to.”In one word, it’s abysmal the way they deal with the officers who either attempted suicide or what happens when they do suicide,” he says.He says the service’s claim that suicides among its troops are not at all work-related is ”total garbage”.”You can’t have people like us doing the job that we do and seeing the things we see without it having some effect.”The figure of nine suicides in the past 10 years was an underestimate, Rumball says.”They would have no record of the people who have done it post retirement, resignation or being pensioned off with psychological injury,” he said.The NSW Police Force has been forced by courts over the past decade to shell out millions of dollars for psychological stress claims but to date there have been very few cases against the ambulance service.The Herald understands that in only one of the nine ambulance service cases – that of Bruce Nihill – did anyone sue for damages.Mr Nihill’s then wife, Yvonne, who was left behind with three children, says she was paid a substantial sum in an out-of-court settlement.After years of bullying by colleagues, Mr Nihill shot himself dead in 2001 in northern NSW. He left this note: ”It’s all gone now. I’m wasting my life til I die. I sold my soul on the 27th March, 1995 [when it is believed that he started with the ambulance service] and now I’m paying for it.”Yvonne says: ”I believed they were the cause of my husband’s death.”THERE IS no national data on suicide by occupation, and research on the effects of post traumatic stress disorder on paramedics is limited.But internal surveys by the NSW ambulance service paint a bleak picture, with the most recent available, from 2007, showing 75 per cent of ambulance officers say they are overworked and four out of five believe the service does not deal adequately with stress.Internationally, the picture is just as bleak. In Britain, a Healthcare Commission annual staff survey in 2007 found that 34 per cent of ambulance workers had suffered work-related stress. And the Emergency Medicine Journal published a British study in 2004 that found 22 per cent had post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety and one in 10 had depression.Greg Chilvers, the director of the research and resource centre for the NSW Police Association, says there are about seven or eight police suicides each year – about one in every 2000 officers – a much higher rate than the ambulance service of one in 3500.The police force also had a long way to go in dealing with illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder and, as with the ambulance service, it had no mandatory or automatic counselling process, except for police officers working in high-risk areas such as homicide, he says.Retired district inspector Peter Chance says the situation does not appear to have improved much since he was the commander for the Strathfield Plaza massacre in 1991, in which Wade Frankum, armed with a knife and a rifle, killed seven people and himself. Chance says he was refused a debrief request and his officers were immediately sent on to another job.Chance, medically retired in 1994 after 25 years, saw a psychologist for two years for depression – an illness he mostly attributes to the unrelenting, traumatic nature of the job and feeling unappreciated by a ”callous” management.”You can’t expect people to do the job at 100 per cent efficiency if they’re tired, stressed out or emotionally depleted,” Chance says.”It’s like soldiers with battle fatigue. We hid in a bottle, or on the end of a needle for too long to get through each day.”ALMOST all of us will at one time call on the ambulance service for help, and we will no doubt be in our greatest hour of need. But where is the help for those risking their lives every day, driving at high speed on the wrong side of the road, crawling under trains to retrieve bodies and being assaulted by drug-affected patients?It is a ”social contract”, says Professor Sandy McFarlane, an expert in post-traumatic stress disorder.”If we want these people to risk their lives looking after us we need to accept responsibility for them, too,” says McFarlane, also the head of the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Military and Veterans Health. He believes it is unlikely that a paramedic would not be in some way affected by their job.”I think it’s intriguing why the ambulance service takes that perspective. One would presume that it’s a defensive position because of the potential legal liability.”McFarlane says paramedics are at a higher risk of getting post-traumatic stress disorder, which inevitably affect a person’s home life and relationships.Dr Carlo Caponecchia, a psychologist specialising in work-related stress and a lecturer in the School of Risk and Safety Sciences at the University of NSW says: ”Suicides and attempted suicides [are] an ongoing problem and still the ambulance service deals very poorly with helping people who have attempted suicides.”How do you know how bad the problem is if you don’t even collect the statistics? It’s a difficult one, isn’t it? To collect that kind of data is almost to say that it’s work-related.”Chaplain Glen Renton, who has been a volunteer counsellor with the ambulance service for the past eight years and gets called out at least once a week, says he has ”been involved with quite a number of staff that we’ve had to take up to hospital in regard to suicide and attempted suicide”.He says the problems are both personal and job-related. ”I actually find the situations that they’ve been in with their personal lives far outweigh what they’re dealing with in their work lives.””The instances that I’ve been involved in, the staff have been supportive of the paramedics. They have bent over backwards,” he says.However, while counselling is recommended for those attending a child death, a prolonged rescue, suicides and the death of a colleague, it is not mandatory.Meanwhile, paramedics spend years fighting the service for workers’ compensation for work-related stress. One paramedic who was with the service for nearly 20 years has spent the past year fighting to have her claim for post-traumatic stress disorder recognised – it eventually was – but she was without pay for half that time.She recalls the week that tipped her over the edge. It started with a young man who had crashed into a pole, ripping off half his head, and was followed the next morning by a motorbike accident that left the rider with his head between the back wheels of a semi-trailer.”It was right in front of a busload of kids and they were hysterical,” she says.”Then there was a man that I pulled out of a river who’d had been there for 24 hours and the crabs had been eating him. Then there was a seven-month-old baby that was hanging in its cot. I was a single officer response. It was a whole series of really bad jobs,” she says.A manager told her to ”toughen up”.”I still struggle every day. I’m fine all during the day but at night, I still have nightmares … I still wake up shivering or wake up in a sweat and that’s why it is so frustrating that they disputed my claim,” she says.Two of her former colleagues have committed suicide and several have attempted suicide, including an officer who took an overdose this year and spent several days in a psychiatric unit of a hospital.THE Ambulance Service of NSW says it does not keep data on how many workers’ compensation claims were made last financial year or their rate of success. According to its annual reports, 26 claims were made for ”mental stress” in 2007-08.Rochford told the Herald he had been working hard to build an ”open and supportive” organisation that encourages paramedics who are struggling to seek help.”I am the first to acknowledge we need to do more and there are areas we need to improve, and we are not going to give up on that.”His words will be cold comfort to the officers who struggle daily with the stress, and the families of those already lost.* Not his real [email protected]南京夜网.auLifeline 131 114
Nanjing Night Net

Killer’s gold-plated farewell may end gangland war

AFTER the funeral and the burial the undignified work began. No one was there to see it. The ceremonies were over, the spotlight turned off.Carl Williams’s $30,000 bronze and 14-carat-gold coffin, imported from the United States, had been put in the ground. Cream roses had been thrown, his drawn former wife Roberta Williams peeling petals and fluttering them in one by one. The ashes of his mother and his brother were lowered in. Two white doves were released by his godson and daughter Dhakota and white balloons released. Holy water was scattered. Prayers said. ”Our brother, Carl, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, the Lord bless him.”There were perhaps 30 people at his graveside at 2pm yesterday at Melbourne’s Keilor Cemetery. The funeral had already been held in Essendon; Roberta, her children, Williams’s ailing father George and their security guards travelled between the two places by black stretch Hummer.”Do not count his deeds against him,” said priest Joe Caddy at the graveside. ”May he rest in peace.” The small crowd then filed away. There was no more to say, no more to see.The very end of Melbourne’s most notorious modern gangster – and perhaps with him the gangland war – had come. Williams, 37, was bashed to death in prison two weeks ago while serving 35 years for three murders.His funeral was held at St Theresa’s Catholic Church in Essendon where his mother, Barb, had been mourned, his daughter Dhakota was christened and two of his gangland rivals, both Morans, were laid to rest.Up to 150 people attended Williams’s funeral. It was estimated there were more onlookers and media outside the church than mourners inside.Police guarded the church yesterday in case of trouble. Their first patrol was at 5.50am, but trouble didn’t come, except for a brief sideshow involving a woman impersonating gangland matriarch Judy Moran carrying an urn towards the church. Police intervened.Inside, Father Bill Attard told the mourners ”Carl Williams matters”. Father Attard is a psychologist and Catholic theologian as well as a suburban priest and according to biblical parables, he said, Williams could be viewed as a lost sheep but also as a leper who could be embraced.Roberta Williams and her daughters ran the service. Her son Tye – in prison – was not allowed to attend. Dhakota, 9, read: ”I love my dad a lot and you know what? He loves me.”This was the theme of the funeral: a family man. A slideshow showed pictures of him cuddling the children. Songs played included Simply the Best by Tina Turner, and Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s One Sweet Day. No mention was made of drug empires and killings and weapons, nor were the words ”underworld”, ”gangland” nor ”war” uttered.Roberta Williams herself thanked him – ”Carlos” – for giving her confidence after an abusive childhood. ”You taught me to stand proud and never look down,” she said. ” ‘Lift your head, Bert’ you’d say, and ‘remember, no one’s better than you. Keep your eyes focused straight ahead, be proud, keep going.”’Williams’s eight pallbearers struggled under the weight of the coffin as they carried it from the church to the Mercedes hearse outside.With Jared Lynch
Nanjing Night Net