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I've lived and learned for quite a number of years. I don't stop learning. A CPA and IT professional transitioning to a new career in health and well-being.

Where are my (and your) taxes going?

While I was at Births, Deaths and Marriages I was stunned at the state of the waiting area. The seats were filthy. A friend asked “Did someone die or give birth on those seats?” when I shared the photo. Another along similar lines: “The right chair is for births, left chair for deaths. I’d hate to see the chair that’s used for marriages…”. Perhaps slightly flippant comments, but seriously, it is hard to understand how anything else could have made these seats quite this filthy. I noticed there seems to be a replacement program in progress as some seats are now plastic.

I then happened to find myself in Melbourne Central Station. Looking, as it happens, for a public bathroom. When I finally found one, the floor was filthy. Had nature not been demanding I obey, I would have found another convenience. Trust me, the photo is not nearly as bad as the reality.

Lack of cleanliness

We know the numbers of public servants employed per capita has drastically reduced over the years. Anyone who calls Centrelink knows not being placed on hold is an impossible dream. Yet The Sydney Morning Herald shares with us today that our federal government gave permission for Australia Post to keep the CEO’s $5.6 million salary a secret. Not technically a public servant, but such action is indicative of their perspective. Perhaps if we employed more taxpaying public servants at more realistic wages than $5.6 million per annum, we might have lower unemployment figures, have a phone answered at Centrelink and even, perhaps, we might have CLEAN facilities.

We all seem to pay a lot of tax (unless we are mining companies) to fund public services. Yet our hospitals are strapped for cash, TAFE is being killed off and the private education replacement isn’t working too well (the RTO I’m enrolled with has just gone into Administration, among others). I’m sure TAFE could have educated me for less than the $18,500 the course cost.

ROGUE operators drained billions of dollars in public funds through the vocational education system after a failed attempt to open the sector to the free market.

 

Source: https://www.sunshinecoastdaily.com.au/news/how-most-vulnerable-were-used-to-rort-billions/3144955/

I know a few dirty seats and a dirty floor are not the worst things happening in Australia right now. However, they are very coal face indicators of a downhill trend.

As a taxpayer, I have simple expectations. I expect universal health, education, law enforcement, public transport and roads, environmental protection and various other services such as driver registration, births deaths and marriages and so on. Oh, and a decent NBN.

So far in the last twelve months I’ve broken a wheel (not just a flat tyre, broke the whole wheel) on the A10 and my car nearly fell into a huge pothole on the Westgate/M80 interchange. My RTO has gone into administration, I see our government risking destruction of our already fragile environment. I’m still on ADSL of some variety. I’m just one little person. Then I can’t find a clean seat to sit on.

Where are my taxes going?

Related:

It’s the economy, Stupid.

Would you give your bank statements to Births, Deaths & Marriages?

For reasons of privacy, I don’t like giving my bank statements to the government – but I’ve just been required to do exactly that.

After four marriages the time had come: I’m reverting to my birth name. While most people married and divorced within Victoria would have no problem reverting to their birth name, I am sure many other women in Victoria fall into my category: getting married overseas causes issues.

It starts when you get married overseas. While Australia recognises overseas marriages for most legal purposes, an overseas marriage certificate is not recognised for legally changing one’s name. For that (in Victoria at least), a Change of Name is required. Once you have had one Change of Name, you can forever thereafter only change your name by applying for another Change of Name.

To apply for a Change of Name at Births, Deaths and Marriages you must provide proof you have lived in Victoria for the preceding twelve months. There are four ways you can prove this, as shown in the above photo.

I had been living with my daughter and her husband for ten of the twelve months. Therefore I have no utility accounts covering the period. I did not have a lease agreement with my daughter (although Centrelink accepted a rent certificate from her). I was not enrolled in a Victorian tertiary institution (I was enrolled at an RTO). That left me with only one option – providing twelve months bank statements showing Victorian transactions.

When I objected on the grounds of not only privacy but also security (Births, Deaths and Marriages now has all the information required to impersonate me on the phone to the bank) I was told everything was strictly confidential as they are a government registry. Excuse my concern, but in my experience that doesn’t absolutely guarantee security. One just needs to look at the Trump leaks at the moment for evidence of that.

I also asked why a statutory declaration from my daughter was not acceptable. After all, Centrelink had no issue with accepting the situation. “Centrelink and us operate differently“, I was told.

So, much against my better judgement, I handed over twelve months worth of bank statements.

I can understand a car registration not being acceptable as proof I have been living here. After all, yes, I could live in NSW but own a car in Victoria which I let a family member drive. I’m not sure why my mobile phone records would not be acceptable, but then again do I want them knowing who I have called any more than I want them to have my purchasing history? We are required by law to change our address with VicRoads within fourteen days of moving, so I am not sure why my licence was not acceptable proof.

My situation is, I admit, rather unique. However I can’t help but feel this is yet another example of “big brother” being just a little too brotherly. There are other ways to prove I’ve been living in Victoria: payslips from employers, Centrelink communications to me in Victoria, licence (as noted above), medical bills from Victorian providers, a statutory declaration.

This whole situation made me feel decidedly uncomfortable. I am seriously considering closing that bank account and opening a new one. For security purposes.

The Births, Deaths and Marriages staff were lovely. They don’t write the policies, they just have to follow them.

The United and Ununited States of America 2030

Way back in 2016, when Donald Trump won his first election, I had sworn never to return to the USA while he was at the helm. I was 61 then, now I’m 74. The age when we attend more funerals than weddings, birthdays and christenings combined. So, it recently came to pass that I wanted very much to attend a dear friend’s funeral. In Mississippi.

Now, in 2030, we don’t know much about the USA. You see, by the time the 2020 election happened, many people were no longer allowed to vote. If a person was unemployed (and there were a LOT of unemployed by 2020), they could not vote. If a person was female, they could not vote. If a person had not been born in the USA, they could not vote. If they were a known LGBTIQ person, they could not vote. Trump was elected again. That was the last election in the USA. Trump, now 83, continued to tweet every morning but everyone except his fans ignored him.

By 2018 California was no longer part of the USA. Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Illinois, Connecticut, Rhode, Island, Vermont and New Jersey had all left the federation by 2021. They were now, if you like, the Ununited States of America. Yet to form a new nation formally, negotiations were ongoing. It was a bit like the Europe of old. Most of the military had aligned with the Ununited States, something that had apparently infuriated Trump because he could no longer threaten to invade other nations. Canada and several of the other Ununited States had built walls. Mexico had built a wall along the Texas/Mexico border, but California and Mexico enjoyed a mutually profitable and politically stable relationship.

I landed in Los Angeles as I always had in the past, to then be interrogated at the USA/California border before continuing my journey into the unknown. Although as an Australian, I could still get a visa waiver for California, the USA demanded to interview every non-citizen at the border. As there were no longer embassies around the world (except in Russia) it was impossible to be interviewed in Sydney or Melbourne prior to travel. Travellers were advised to allow a minimum of five hours for the interrogation.

The alternative of flying into Dallas Fort Worth, Texas was risky. If I got refused a visitor visa in California, I could just go back to my hotel. If I was refused a visitor visa on arrival in Dallas Forth Worth, I’d be incarcerated overnight then put on a return flight. While the chances of my being incarcerated were slim, I hoped, I did have a vocal anti-Trump history – if they found it. My phone was a disposable and I had a little old lady Facebook profile for just this sort of thing. Better not to take the risk.

California didn’t look much different than it had done when I had last visited in September 2016. The airport was just as busy as ever, although security was a little tighter. This, I was told, was to manage the never-ending stream of refugees from the USA. Trump, it seemed, had no problem with people leaving – if they weren’t with the program, they could go. The problem, of course, was California and the other Ununited States just didn’t have the capacity. What had started as a trickle had become a deluge in recent years.

I stayed overnight in LA. The hotel was luxurious without being ostentatious, the service was good, the staff were happy.

The next day I had a contact drive me around. I saw little evidence of homelessness or unemployment. California was a hive of activity. There was not a gun in sight except for the police. I read the local papers and watched the news channels. The crime rate was significantly lower than the peak in 2018, just prior to California leaving the federation.

Then came the time to go to the airport to fly into Trump territory. The queues were short – no-one was going in unless they had to. The five hours involved questioning and the immigration agents delving through the travellers’ phones, iPads, cameras, social media, emails and extended family connections. A lengthy questionnaire was required to be responded to in person. I almost expected to be blood tested. Finally, travellers were fingerprinted and x-rayed. I mean really x-rayed. On a table. At least this obviated the need for an internal examination. At 74 I wasn’t too keen on that idea.

There were plenty of empty seats on the plane. I popped up the armrests after take-off and slept much of the way. The plane wasn’t clean, the toilets smelt, there were not enough cabin attendants. The arrival lounge was grim. The one thing I noticed was no-one was smiling. I mean no-one. There was almost a suspicion of anyone getting off the plane, a “Why would you come here?” expression on peoples’ faces. It was very disconcerting.

In my taxi to the hotel I noticed an odd gender imbalance. There were old white men by the score, many fewer young men of any ethnicity and very few young women. I asked the taxi driver, “Where are all the women?” He scowled. In a deep southern drawl, he told me the women leave. They marry out, mostly to Chinese and Indian men (two countries with a historical shortage of women), he spat. His language was not quite as polite as I have relayed.

The people and the place looked poor, like a third world country. I’ve been to third world countries, I recognised the look, the smell, the facial expressions. The buildings were neglected, the roads badly needed repair, many of the traffic lights no longer worked. Businesses were boarded up.

What children there were (given the shortage of women) didn’t seem to be in school, but roaming the streets aimlessly. Homelessness seemed to be rife – and I was in the better part of town.

The hotel was reasonably clean, but everything was old. It was as if nothing had been replaced or refurbished for fifteen years. The food was passable, the service was sullen.
If I had to sum up the atmosphere in one word, it would be despair. No-one seemed to be happy. Everyone seemed to be living hand to mouth.

The television was obviously tightly controlled. As was the internet and print media (yes, it still existed). The news was strictly local and all wonderfully good. Trump’s policies were working, people were happy, wasn’t it terrific. Trump was the best President the world had ever seen. There might have been 1% happy, the faces I was looking at were certainly not.

I had been going to stay a few days, spend time with people I knew. I couldn’t, the place was too depressing. As soon as I had paid my respects at the funeral, I left. I spent those days in California.

I have never been so glad to reach Australian soil as I was today.

Authoritarian regimes: Zimbabwe, Venezuela, next the USA

It is no secret I had grave concerns about the suitability of Donald J Trump. Now I’m having trouble sleeping at night. I’d like to pull together several articles I read today. Each paints a concerning picture in its own right. Together, they almost spell Armageddon. I’ve always been concerned about not what is happening today, but where it is leading. This is not just some small country having a few political issues. This is one of most powerful countries in the world – the outcome affects us all, especially other democracies. We’ve already seen our own government embrace Trump’s immigration bans.

The first is an article by Jennifer Wilson on this site, Trump’s Chief Strategist: I want to bring everything crashing down.

The relationship between Donald Trump and Steve Bannon is an unholy alliance, in which the shared goal is the destruction of institutions, and the undermining of the authority of traditional agents of governance and administration in the US.

There is a Twitter hashtag of #PresidentBannon indicating he is seen as the power behind the throne. He may have more difficulty than he thinks, trying to use Trump for his own agenda, as we shall see later in this article. That aside, he is a nasty piece of work with a lot of power as Wilson evidences.

The second article, How to Build an Autocracy, is written by David Frum, who was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush during 2001–02. Not exactly, one suspects, a man wearing a democratic button.

First Frum paints the future.

The business community learned its lesson early. “You work for me, you don’t criticize me,” the president was reported to have told one major federal contractor, after knocking billions off his company’s stock-market valuation with an angry tweet. Wise business leaders take care to credit Trump’s personal leadership for any good news, and to avoid saying anything that might displease the president or his family.

The media have grown noticeably more friendly to Trump as well. The proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner was delayed for more than a year, during which Time Warner’s CNN unit worked ever harder to meet Trump’s definition of fairness. Under the agreement that settled the Department of Justice’s antitrust complaint against Amazon, the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has divested himself of The Washington Post. The paper’s new owner—an investor group based in Slovakia—has closed the printed edition and refocused the paper on municipal politics and lifestyle coverage.

Then he goes on to look at the global situation, citing a “democratic recession” – democracies are in decline.

The exercise of political power is different today than it was then—but perhaps not so different as we might imagine. Larry Diamond, a sociologist at Stanford, has described the past decade as a period of “democratic recession.” Worldwide, the number of democratic states has diminished. Within many of the remaining democracies, the quality of governance has deteriorated.

What has happened in Hungary since 2010 offers an example—and a blueprint for would-be strongmen. Hungary is a member state of the European Union and a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights. It has elections and uncensored internet. Yet Hungary is ceasing to be a free country.

He then looks at Trump’s relationship with the congressional Republicans.

Trump has scant interest in congressional Republicans’ ideas, does not share their ideology, and cares little for their fate. He can—and would—break faith with them in an instant to further his own interests. Yet here they are, on the verge of achieving everything they have hoped to achieve for years, if not decades. They owe this chance solely to Trump’s ability to deliver a crucial margin of votes in a handful of states—Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—which has provided a party that cannot win the national popular vote a fleeting opportunity to act as a decisive national majority. The greatest risk to all their projects and plans is the very same X factor that gave them their opportunity: Donald Trump, and his famously erratic personality. What excites Trump is his approval rating, his wealth, his power. The day could come when those ends would be better served by jettisoning the institutional Republican Party in favor of an ad hoc populist coalition, joining nationalism to generous social spending—a mix that’s worked well for authoritarians in places like Poland. Who doubts Trump would do it? Not Paul Ryan. Not Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. For the first time since the administration of John Tyler in the 1840s, a majority in Congress must worry about their president defecting from them rather than the other way around.

It is a long article, but well worth reading in full.

Jane Caro has written The Virtual Reformation. Caro looks at why we are where we are.

Social researcher Hugh Mackay has dubbed our times an ‘Age of Anxiety’. All the old certainties have been turned upside down and the only thing that we are told we can rely on is an ever-increasing pace of change.

To a jittery population that is cold comfort. In our existential dread we thrash about for people to blame: the left, the right, Muslims, refugees, feminists, believers, unbelievers, terrorists and that reliable old omnibus – political correctness. The one thing we all agree on is that the future looks alarming and unpredictable. We are, we believe, in uncharted waters.

But perhaps that is not so. Perhaps human beings have been through something like this before.

Final words of warning from Andrés Miguel Rondón, In Venezuela, we couldn’t stop Chávez. Don’t make the same mistakes we did.

The recipe for populism is universal. Find a wound common to many, find someone to blame for it, and make up a good story to tell. Mix it all together. Tell the wounded you know how they feel. That you found the bad guys. Label them: the minorities, the politicians, the businessmen. Caricature them. As vermin, evil masterminds, haters and losers, you name it. Then paint yourself as the savior. Capture the people’s imagination. Forget about policies and plans, just enrapture them with a tale. One that starts with anger and ends in vengeance. A vengeance they can participate in.

That’s how it becomes a movement. There’s something soothing in all that anger. Populism is built on the irresistible allure of simplicity. The narcotic of the simple answer to an intractable question. The problem is now made simple.

If we look at all those threads, we can see the interweaving. For days I had been thinking of Mugabe and seeing Trump as the Western version. Then I read about Chávez.

As Frum highlights in his article, it is not now we need to worry about – it is in four, five, six years time. Unless we stop it now. Unless the American people stop it NOW.

There is a another article which is the match that will light the flames: in these days of fake news, however, I am wary. While the article is reported in many places, I can’t find it on a mainstream website such as Washington Post – but then, does that mean anything these days?

John D. Gartner, a practicing psychotherapist who taught psychiatric residents at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, minces as few words as the president in his professional assessment of Trump.

“Donald Trump is dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president,” says Gartner, author of “In Search of Bill Clinton: A Psychological Biography.” Trump, Gartner says, has “malignant narcissism,” which is different from narcissistic personality disorder and which is incurable.

Source: usnews.com

The diagnosis is particularly worrying due to the behaviours of the patient. Behaviours that benefit only themselves – at any cost. Yes, Gartner broke his professional code to speak out, because he believes people need to know.

Robert Kuttner writes in The Huffington Post of The Inevitability Of Impeachment.

Only with his lunatic effort to selectively ban refugees (but not from terrorist-sending countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt where Trump has business interests) has Trump discovered that the American system has courts. It has courts. Imagine that.

The more unhinged he becomes, the less will conservative judges be the toadies to ordinary Republican policies that they too often have been. Anybody want to wager that the Supreme Court will be Trump’s whore?

In the past week, Republicans from Mitch McConnell on down have tripped over each other rejecting his view of Putin. They have ridiculed his screwball claim of massive voter fraud.

I believe this was written BEFORE the President fired his acting attorney general. I’m waiting for him to try to fire a judge, which he is not empowered to do.

We have every reason to be concerned. We also need to heed the lessons available to us and ensure this doesn’t happen in Australia.

Customer Service is dead, at least at Optus

Customer Service is now Customer Obfuscation. I moved residence very early in January. During the week prior to the move I rang Optus to organise an internet connection. The internet is vital to my work and my study. I was told 18 days and that no technician would need to come to my home. I thought 18 days was an inordinately long time to wait for an internet connection in this day and age but I was sort of stuck – my mobile is with Optus: about the cheapest I could get was by bundling internet with my mobile. Apparently the delay is due to Telstra needing to do something technical in a box outside the premises. Why that takes so long is also beyond me.

Optus use Toll to deliver the modem. There was a saga with that as well, but I will not go into the details today – suffice to say it was added stress.

I called when I had not seen or heard of any modem, or any internet account details. I was assured I would have internet “after 7 pm tonight, just wait until 7 pm”. That’s lovely, I said, but I do not have a modem yet.That was on Thursday, January 19. I finally received my modem, left at the door unattended, on Friday, January 20. There was no internet, however. I called again, only to be advised that a technician needed to come out to connect the premises.

You may remember I was specifically told by Sales this would not be necessary. Of course this couldn’t happen on a Friday evening – no after hours availability. I demanded to speak to a supervisor and that was initially refused. This is important, because it is almost impossible to lodge a complaint with Optus – but more on that later. By the time I did speak to one I was quite stressed. This saga had gone on long enough and in my view Optus should have been bending over backwards to keep the customer satisfied. I was rather cross I’d been told no install technician was needed, only to discover at the last minute that one was indeed required.

That, I was told, was the fault of Sales. I should ring them and given them feedback, it was suggested. No, I countered, you call them and give the feedback. The next bit stunned me. The supervisor advised Support could not call Sales to provide feedback. What? Optus is a telecommunications company but can’t “telecommunicate” internally? No because the phones are for the customers, I was told. I can understand the Level 1 technicians not being able to call Sales, but a supervisor should be able to.

All this time Optus were gleefully charging me $10 a gigabyte for tethering my devices to my mobile data – thankfully that weekend a very kind neighbour allowed me to connect to her wi-fi.

On Saturday I tried contacting Optus via their Twitter account, rather than ring the Support number again. Eventually, after lengthy discussions, I booked a technician for Tuesday afternoon, January 24. I was specifically told the technician needed the whole half day – as it turns out he needs all of ten minutes. I had really wanted to go to another provider by this stage, but it seemed as if I was so close now: I couldn’t face starting the whole process with a different provider. Oddly, Optus sold me ADSL2+ whereas the Telstra website advises cable is available for my address. I haven’t followed up that apparent anomaly either.

The technician told me he had just learnt a trick a few days prior – when the user goes to the default router URL 192.268.0.1 for the first time, the user needs to log in. The default username at initial connection is john_citizen@optusnet.com.au.

Optus

Silly me, I expected a proper username from Optus. “No”, said the technician, “just leave it as it is and type in password as the password, all lower case. I only learnt that the other day – then it will bring everything down the line for you.”

I have a reasonable amount of IT experience and this sounded very odd to me, but OK, whatever. I just wanted the internet. It worked. For about two hours. I’ve since reasoned that john_citizen is probably a test username for troubleshooting purposes by technicians, set to time out after a specified period – my guess from my experience is about two hours.

So I call Support. I go through the whole Level 1 troubleshooting script including a factory reset of the modem. At one stage I was transferred out of Optus to a third party service (but was not told it was an outside provider) that wanted to charge me $90 to “fix” my computer, then transferred back to Optus when the external party decided it was definitely an Optus issue (by now there was a red light on the modem, you see). Back through the menu and recorded messages, again. I may well have confused the issue as I had tried setting up a Home Group at the exact time that the internet dropped out so initially I thought that MAY have been the problem. Far from it, as it turns out, but Support should have been able to determine that without transferring me out.

After about an hour I happened to mention the install technician had signed me in as john_citizen. What were my login details, the technician asked. No-one had given me any. 1 hour, 14 minutes and 29 seconds after my initial call, I had a username of my own and a temporary password that lasts 7 days. We tried unsuccessfully to log me into the Optus site that would allow me to change the temporary password to a permanent password, but I kept getting the error “Oops! Your account is not active. Please call Customer Care”. The technician I was speaking to could not fix that problem (he didn’t have the required access rights), but promised he would get the issue fixed and get back to me Wednesday evening. He tried, but my phone did not ring once – I got about five voicemail messages all at once delivered at nearly 10 pm. The Optus mobile service clearly wasn’t working very well either that day. In one message he left a “direct” number for me, but in the confusion with so many messages, I deleted the wrong one – the one with the number. So I waited hoping he would try again perhaps on Friday (Thursday was Australia Day). No further contact.

I really loathe calling the Support number. Once I get through the menu system to the option I need, I then have to listen to a recorded message that says something along the lines of ” Do you know that most broadband issues can be resolved by turning your modem off for 3 seconds then turning it back on. If that has solved your problem and you no longer need to speak to us, you may hang up now.” That message plays THREE times before you actually get a place in the queue. THREE TIMES! I wonder how many people actually hang up and never get through! Customer Obfuscation! So I waited, hoping for the call.

My temporary password was scheduled to run out tomorrow, so by today I decided I’d better get it resolved. I tried Twitter again. Notice it says “LIVE SERVICE” below.

Below is part of our conversation. Note the Optus representative clearly states “we are not a live chat service”. So the web site says it is but the operator says it isn’t?

Note also what is stated about the optuszoo link: “is our old self service and is only used for a small number …” Not according to the Support technicians – that is exactly where they take you to attempt to change the internet password. Customer Obfuscation!

I bit the bullet and called the Support number. Held on through the menu and the dreaded “switch off your modem” message THREE times. Explained the whole story yet again. The Support technician tested a few things, took control of my PC, then decided I needed to speak to Customer Service. On hold again. Customer Service painstakingly explain the “My Account” is different to the modem/internet login. Yes, I know this, however the only place I can change my internet password, according to the technicians, is from the Member Services area (which, if you remember, I was told on Twitter isn’t used any more). Customer Service did make some changes to my My Account, then I went to Member Services.

Surprise, surprise!!! The username showing there is the username from my OLD internet service, disconnected in February 2016. The internet username attached to this new service was nowhere to be found. The Customer Service representative tried to take control of my PC by couldn’t, then advised me she could not solve the problem, it was a problem for the Technical Support team and so I was transferred back. Different person, of course, so explain the whole thing all over again. Control of my PC taken over again. Finally, after I waited for ages for this technician to speak to her manager, it was decided an IT ticket needed to be raised. This phone call was 1 hour, 23 minutes and 55 seconds.

The above time totals nearly three and a half hours of my time. That doesn’t include the initial time to buy the service in the first place, the time taken for the conversations on Twitter and Optus Live Chat or the calls to Toll re the modem delivery.

Trying to complain to Optus is impossible. When a customer such as myself finally finds the complaint page, the number is the same number as everything else and as far as I could tell there was no Complaints menu option!

I’d tried asking for a supervisor once before – wasn’t going that route again. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman was my only option.

Each individual front line staff member did their best. It is not the front line staff I have a problem with. Optus really need to improve their systems, processes and procedures. I am a customer paying for a service, yet Optus seem to think they are doing me a favour by letting me spend my money on their service.

Once I have logged a problem, I want to be able to talk to the ONE person until such time as my issue is resolved. I don’t want to be transferred endlessly within and outside of Optus. I don’t want to spend hours of my time going in circles and being told contradictory information by different people. My time costs as much money as anyone else’s!

Sady, it isn’t just Optus. This is just one example of terrible customer service. I am sure readers can all share their own experiences in the comments.

Why is it so hard to provide decent customer service? Why do we all put up with the bad service?

Edited to add: While my medical conditions are not the responsibility of Optus, I am under medical instructions to reduce stress. Situations such as described here are extremely stressful and did result in a flare, so a day of considerable pain. I am sure I am not the only one in our community with similar issues.

Makeup: ego boost or psychological trap?

I wear makeup. Sometimes. Other times I don’t. I have no passionate desire to rise at 4 am in the morning, as a friend told me some women do, in order to ensure I am “presentable” to leave the house. Today my attention was drawn to an article about makeup by Carly Findlay-Morrow, an appearance activist I hold in high regard.

The article was “Today I hid outside the office, too embarrassed to go to work. All because of my face.” While yes, the article is not a major exposé of world corruption, there are observations by the author I found interesting. (Emphasis added)

My fear of walking into an office (with many women who do not wear make up, mind you) without a mask on, sounds absurd. On the surface, it seems completely irrational.

But it is not completely unusual or unjustified. Ever since I was a teenager I’ve understood very clearly that my value is contingent upon my appearance. Just about everything in my world tells me that, from Instagram, to advertising, to the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show which is just around the corner. Interestingly, work is one of the only places that doesn’t.

I think many women feel a disconnect between what they believe and what they do. We resent the discourses that underpin so many of our mundane daily routines. We can feel like hypocrites.

This was the bit that really concerned me:

And when I do finish my make up every morning, I don’t leave the house feeling ‘beautiful’. I feel adequate. Just.

I’m going to give Jessie Stephens the benefit of the doubt: I read this as she is expressing her reality, not writing click-bait.

Hillary Clinton, perfectly painted and coiffured for the duration of the presidential campaign, is now appearing with very little makeup. I detect foundation and blush and a fairly neutral lipstick, but little else, in the images on that report. Alicia Keys walked away from makeup in May this year, saying:

This was the harsh, judgmental world of entertainment and my biggest test yet. I started, more than ever, to become a chameleon. Never fully being who I was, but constantly changing so all the “they’s” would accept me.

Ah yes, the “they’s”. The powerful ones, those who make decisions about your life. I know those “they’s”, only too well.

Here is my conundrum. I’ve always believed in equality. I’ve also always said I saw no need to burn my bra (the catch-cry of my youth) in order to be equal. Equality isn’t about sameness. I don’t for a minute think I have to wear a suit and tie, flat shoes and no makeup in order to earn equal pay for equal work. The sad truth is Jessica is right when she says “I’ve understood very clearly that my value is contingent upon my appearance”. That is the message we see in every TV ad, on every billboard, screaming from the glossy magazine covers of our society. It becomes our everyday “truth” even, if we know it to be false. The disconnect between what we do and what we believe that Jessica cites.

Even in writing what could be considered a cathartic admission of her own vulnerability to society’s subliminal message, she illustrated her makeup free visage with a meme image – which I am sure bears no resemblance to the real Jessica. The proportions are just all wrong, even if the eyebrows look similar (her assessment). In other words, her personal assessment of feeling “adequate” with makeup on runs very deep. Logic would suggest another way of saying the same thing is this: without makeup Jessica feels inadequate. It is that specific aspect that worries me. It is my impression Jessica hasn’t been through the rigors of childbirth yet, something that tends to strip us of any illusions about looking adequate! Makeup itself doesn’t create feelings of insecurity – those come from within – however in conjunction with society’s “standards”, makeup could certainly heighten those fears we all have as teenagers. In some cases, those insecurities become entrenched rather than thrown off with maturity.

When I was at high school, makeup was banned. Now I see girls in Year 6 wearing makeup. Some of it caked on thicker than icing on an apple shortcake. Why? They are young and beautiful, not a wrinkle to be seen. But they don’t think so. Allowing them to wear makeup before they have developed a sense of who they are may not be the wisest choice we make.

Body image is also a problem for young men, there is no doubting that. I am concentrating on girls because girls have this shield they can employ: makeup.

If a young woman can’t feel adequate without makeup, without a shield, how can she feel adequate to defend her rights? Adequate to recognise gaslighting if she is subjected to it? Adequate to defend her right to vote for whom she pleases against the will of a patriarchal father, boyfriend or husband?

How can she feel equal?

Yet despite all this, I still don’t want to throw out my makeup. I like my makeup and I make no apology for that. This is one topic on which I do agree with Julie Bishop.

“I don’t think we should apologise for our femininity. I don’t think we should apologise for our interest in fashion,” Ms Bishop, 60, told Stellar magazine.

“I have always loved fashion and beautiful clothes and magazines and all of that.

“That doesn’t mean I can’t have a serious career and hold deeply complex, serious conversations about world events with people. To suggest you can’t do both is insulting.

“If you are confident, if you are relaxed in your own skin, don’t let them define you. Don’t let other people define you.”

Source: ABC

There is the time factor. Back on October I made the following post on Facebook. OK, yes, I know, I did everything including the nails – the actual makeup time was a whole 10 minutes. Even so, it does illustrate the amount of time women can spend on presentation.

Makeup effort

I’ve never been one for fake eyelashes (I tried once, too fiddly), can’t for the life of me work out the whole contouring thing and more often than not stick with mascara, eyebrows and lipstick. I’ve recently found eye makeup primer – wonderful invention.

Makeup (and hair) does make a difference. I’m no photographer, nor do I have the software to magically splice and rejoin images professionally – I’ve tried to get these as close as possible. As much as I dislike (age deterioration is my excuse) posting photos of myself au naturel, I feel it is unfair to use anyone else! I’ve also deliberately taken the sans makeup photo on a day when my hair is decidedly flat – it makes the comparison more stark – although the eyebrows (Jessica, I feel you) always need assistance!

 

I have no less intellect, no less ability to make my own decisions on my own terms without makeup. I don’t feel less adequate, just less “dressed up”. I certainly feel less dressed up. Men dress up too: smart suit, good shirt: I’m not sure if men have the same feelings of inadequacy when dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.

Will I go to my next job interview with a naked face? No, I won’t. I’ll conform to society’s expectations, I need a job. Just like Alicia conformed for so long. Part of me is ashamed of that (having just written this article), part of me doesn’t care. Because like Julie Bishop, I’m comfortable in my own skin. Besides, I like makeup.

I’ve broken all the rules: I’ve put makeup on in the car, on the train, on aeroplanes, after I’ve got to work, before going out for lunch. Whenever I managed to fit it in. I’ve never been one who reserved an hour to do my makeup in the morning.

How do we encourage girls and young women to be comfortable in their own skin? Not to feel “just adequate” if they have their makeup on, but to have confidence in themselves with or without makeup. How do we do this? In the face of messages such as those sent by Trump, “Look at her, I don’t think so“, the battle just got harder.

This isn’t about makeup: makeup is just the fall-guy here. It is about building self-esteem and confidence in the women of tomorrow.

The day I realised I belong to THAT generation

That generation – the one populated with a surplus, it seems, of angry, aging, white men attempting to cling to a sense of long-past-its-use-by-date supremacy. Even after the Trump election victory in the USA I somehow still thought of such men as “the older generation”. Not, to be honest, that I consciously thought about it – it just seemed that way.

I read many of the published letters of daughters to their Dads/parents expressing their concern over the parents’ voting choice. Even though I knew these daughters were young enough to be my daughters, somehow I still saw their fathers as not my generation. I did not see the same number of letters to mothers – which surprised me, given the percentage of white women (that actually voted) that voted for Trump. I did see an interesting analysis; it still doesn’t help me understand that particular demographic.

It wasn’t until I had a conversation with a man I’ve known for many years that the reality of my generation was brought home to me. In response to something I said, he kindly suggested I read a column in that day’s Herald Sun. The sub-text proposed I would be enlightened – or have my views “corrected”. On the basis of “keep your friends close, your enemies closer” I do sometimes find myself reading the tabloid and always end up in a grumpy mood. In this case I chose not to subject myself to such an irritation.

Driving to school later that day, I was still puzzling why the conversation had taken the turn it had. The light dawned. Then an even bigger light blazed through my consciousness. HE IS YOUNGER THAN I AM. Oh my God, I thought to myself, these men are MY generation!

I have enough men of my generation as followers on Facebook and Twitter to know not all men of my generation fall into this category. Thankfully, otherwise I’d be rather distraught. Perhaps their existence has cushioned me from the reality. Men of the other variety don’t follow me – or I them. I was interacting with like minds, not seeing the wider picture. I also know there are many men of younger generations who are caught up in the ideology of regaining white male supremacy but I do think hope the ratio is lower. It is men of my generation and slightly younger that are in power: they worry me more.

As a society, we have made important progress in challenging men’s illegitimate authority in the past century. But the Trump campaign made it painfully obvious that men’s sexual exploitation of women, possible only in a society in which men believe themselves to be naturally dominant over women, remains deeply entrenched. The ease with which so many men embraced Trump’s celebration of sexual exploitation, and so many women were willing to excuse it, is evidence of the strength of patriarchal values and norms.

Source: ABC

The above article was written about the USA, clearly, but how applicable is the content to Australia? More so than I would have thought, despite the evidence of Abbott’s behaviour (and others of his ilk). Those are men I don’t know personally: somewhere in my sub-conscious I still viewed them as, well, rather odd. Not the norm. That was too scary. It wasn’t until someone I knew, someone of my own generation and cultural background, led me to my light bulb moment.

How, at my age, could I think all these patriarchal types were an older generation? I suspect it comes from my father. I recall my mother disagreeing with my father involving me in what my mother saw as “male stuff” on the farm. I drove tractors, worked in the shearing shed, delivered lambs, marked lambs (for city readers, marking is removing tails and testicles) and gave mouth-to-nose resuscitation to a calf. I never remember seeing my mother on a horse. I have a faint recollection of her steering (not driving, steering) a tractor once. I suppose I grew up more as a boy than a girl, per “traditional” roles. My father never treated me as if I was “the fairer sex” so why would men younger than my father treat women differently? Not just treat women differently, but minorities as well. My father, if he was still alive, would be 95. So men like Trump, only 25 years junior, I could still sub-consciously put in that “soon they’ll all be gone” category.

I can’t put men my own age in the “soon they’ll all be gone” category, for that means I have to include myself and I’m not planning on “going soon”. What I failed to acknowledge was Trump’s age in relation to my own. Selective reasoning on my part.

We have generations to still battle this societal problem. Fathers of my generation are still influencing their children and grandchildren, male and female. It is going to be tough being a parent in the USA for the next few years: yet is Australia really all that different? Just less “out there” perhaps, at least in relation to sexism although racism is particularly rampant at this time.

Now, as the reality of a Trump presidency sets in, concerned parents face a new slew of questions about raising their children in a time of collective change and uncertainty ― not to mention bad behavior being modeled by our highest elected official. Seventy-five percent of Americans with kids under the age of 18 say Trump is not a good role model for children, according to a HuffPost/YouGov poll.

With kids being more exposed to arguments from adults around them and in the media, it’s important to teach them how to disagree and have their own opinions without attacking or undermining those who hold different views.

Source: Huffington Post – Advice From Psychologists On Raising Kids Well In Trump’s America

Now I have to adjust to being a member of THAT generation. I don’t like it already.

The Truth – Where Did It Go?

Do you consider yourself a truthful person? I do. Over the last decade I have come to wonder if truth is something from a bygone era. In business and in our personal lives, truth is something society either glosses over or flat out ignores.

A business example to start with. At a project review meeting an item (a functional requirement of a system) was flagged by the Programme Manager as “Needs Improvement”. It didn’t need improvement, a state which implies some work has been done, hours spent already – and hours equates to investment dollars.The item in question had not been started, it did not exist. No hours, no dollars invested. Zip,

Imagine for a moment you are a senior executive scanning the project status report. You see all items have been started, therefore understand from the report that the project is on time, on budget, in scope. However, if you scanned a report with items flagged as “not commenced”, it is reasonable to think your understanding of the status of the project might be rather different.

The picture painted by the language is a lie. The truth is at best glossed over, at worst ignored. If widespread within an organisation, such practices can have catastrophic affects. A family member recently described a situation where middle management were “fudging figures”: based on those reported figures a decision was made to cut the staff of a particular department. After the resultant loss of customers and the flow-on from those losses, the organisation is now trying to repair the damage. In the meant time it has lost customers that likely won’t return, suffered a hit to the bottom line, lost staff who likely will not return, therefore face recruitment and training costs to restaff appropriately. Costly exercise.

There is a web site I’ve always found rather amusing, MBA Jargon Watch. Australians used to joke about how Americans took 25 words to say something we Aussies would say in ten (or less). MBA Jargon Watch always reassured me we had escaped such obfuscation in our straight-to-the-point world.

One of my favourites:

best of breed (n. and adj.)
The finest specimen or example to be found in a particular industry or market. Like Papillons preening for the judges, companies position themselves as best-of-breed. In truth, however, few ever make it through the qualifiers.

Yet it seems we have indeed adopted the convoluted way of ensuring we don’t say anything directly. Sometimes I read business reports and have to read some parts of it two or three times before I come to the conclusion absolutely nothing is being said at all, let alone anything remotely truthful.

Many years ago a friend expressed the concern to me that “the truth is brutal”.  Yes, I agree, it most certainly can be. Telling someone a loved one has been killed in a car accident or telling a spouse the marriage is over: both of these truths are indeed unpleasant and harsh to the recipient.  They are also unavoidable truths.

In the worlds of politics and business the unavoidable is often avoided until the very last minute when it is often too late. In business, depending on how senior the perpetrator is, he or she may be pushed out quietly encouraged to leave and later pop up in another senior position somewhere else, ready to repeat the crime.

In politics it seems to be open slather, as the Trump campaign has so clearly shown us. There are a multitude of reputable articles providing evidence of his blatant lies throughout the campaign. Here’s one from The Washington Post. Not only has he lied, voters believe him.

Closer to home, we have politicians refusing to be truthful. To quote John Lord

”In the concoction, the recipe that is called leadership there are many ingredients. None more important than integrity, positiveness and the ability to trust and delegate. But it is truth that glues it altogether to create character.”

Yes, truth. That seemingly elusive, indefinable mode of communication that requires nothing more than, well, a little integrity. Politicians cherry pick facts to sell a policy, often ignoring brutal other aspects of the situation. Manus Island and Nauru spring to mind. Oh such a wonderful solution, we’ve stopped the boats. We also are inflicting incredible torture on the people we have incarcerated. That little fact is conveniently ignored.

I was always a tough mother. I refused to write “the dog ate his homework/the computer crashed/Daddy had a flat tyre” notes (unless any of those events actually happened) to excuse incomplete homework. Why? Two reasons: first, I wanted my children to learn to take responsibility for their actions and secondly, I didn’t want them learning to lie. Oh, yes, I took flak for that: “All the other mothers do it for their kids!” Not this mother, sorry. Kids start lying to avoid punishment. We need to reward truth. At home and in the workplace.

What has happened to the truth? Are adults actually too afraid of “getting into trouble”? They’d rather see other people get into trouble by losing jobs as a result of their “misdemeanor” adjusting of management reports? Do politicians think that lying for no other reason that to garner votes, then subsequently back peddle is OK? Rhetorical question alert there, obviously.

This isn’t the whole story. It isn’t just about telling the truth, but also about accepting the truth. I read an interesting article which I found quite concerning. The dark rigidity of fundamentalist rural America: a view from the inside. It is a long article, but well worth the time.

Gays being allowed to marry are a threat. Blacks protesting the killing of their unarmed friends and family are a threat. Hispanics doing the cheap labor on their farms are somehow viewed a threat. The black president is a threat. Two billion Muslims are a threat. The Chinese are a threat. Women wanting to be autonomous are a threat. The college educated are a threat. Godless scientists are a threat. Everyone who isn’t just like them has been sold to them as a threat and they’ve bought it hook, line, and grifting sinker. Since there are no self-regulating mechanisms in their belief systems, these threats only grow over time. Since facts and reality don’t matter, nothing you say to them will alter their beliefs. “President Obama was born in Kenya, is a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood who hates white Americans and is going to take away their guns.” I feel ridiculous even writing this, it is so absurd, but it is gospel across large swaths of rural America. Are rural, Christian, white Americans scared? You’re damn right they are. Are their fears rational and justified? Hell no. The problem isn’t understanding their fears. The problem is how to assuage fears based on lies in closed-off fundamentalist belief systems that don’t have the necessary tools for properly evaluating the fears.

A column in the New York Times also caught my eye. You can’t always back peddle out of stuff you said, I’m afraid, even if you are the President-elect.

No, Mr. Trump, we will not all just get along. For as long as a threat to the state is the head of state, all citizens of good faith and national fidelity — and certainly this columnist — have an absolute obligation to meet you and your agenda with resistance at every turn.

The world would be a better place if we were all truthful. The figures aren’t good this month, we didn’t reach the project milestone, I didn’t do my homework because I spent too much time playing video games, I’m only standing for President to make a lot of money, I think Dutton‘s a cretin (well, OK, maybe that last is a stretch, but at least demote the man). I will say this about Pauling Hanson – at least we know where she stands, even if we don’t like it.

Without the truth we all live in a fantasy land. That fantasy land is getting crazier by the day.

Is there a prescription drug shortage we don’t know about?

I’m on drugs. The legal kind. Earlier this year one of my specialists suggested to me I fill my prescription whether I needed a refill or not as there was a nationwide shortage of the drug. In Australia? Yes. So I dutifully filled my prescription. Doing so required a number of visits to local pharmacies, but one had a small supply left. The next time I needed a repeat, I was given a substitute drug. I didn’t think too much of all this at the time, but my experience then shows this is not now a new problem.

Last week I needed two drug prescriptions refilled. Pharmacy 1 – no supply of either. Pharmacy 2 – no supply of either but could order Drug A in for collection the next day from another pharmacy. Pharmacy 3 – no supply of either. Pharmacy 4 – had Drug A (so I kept that in mind in case Pharmacy 2’s order failed) and was able to substitute Drug B for me with another brand, something Pharmacy 3 had specifically told me they could not do without another prescription.

So I eventually got both drugs but it took two days, four pharmacies and a substitute drug. Not to mention the time and the travel costs involved. Yes, I could have called around, but I was already out of the house, so just kept going. Had no local pharmacy been able to supply, I’d have gone home and hit the phone.

Tell me again, I do live in a rich western country, don’t I?

When I returned to Pharmacy 2 the following day to collect Drug A, I asked why were these shortages occurring. The pharmacist told me it is because the government has lowered the prices they will pay the pharmaceutical companies to the point there is no profit in selling the drugs to Australia. Consequently they send their production to countries where sales are more profitable. If demand is higher elsewhere, Australia misses out.There is no profit in drugs for the pharmacy either, I was told. That explains why pharmacies are selling so much other “stuff” these days.

The pharmacist pointed to several heavily laden shelves. “Diabetes drugs”, I was told. Ordered in bulk to protect the health of their regular diabetes patients, because the pharmacy expects a drug shortage.

I don’t understand how the system works. Maybe I should, but I don’t – and I suggest the majority of the population don’t know the finer details. We get a prescription, we go get it filled, we take the drugs. We cringe if it is something not on the PBS. That’s about all of the process most of us delve into. I did read the following on the PBS website, titled “Setting an approved ex-manufacturer price for new or extended listings“. At that point I decided I wasn’t the woman for the job.

Price negotiations with the responsible person for new or changed listings are undertaken by the Pricing Section on behalf of the Minister, following a positive PBAC recommendation.  A Cost Information (PB11b) form is required to be submitted by the responsible person as part of the initial application to the PBAC.

 

After a price has been negotiated, the responsible person is requested to submit a Request for Approved Ex-manufacturer Price (PB11a) form in order to formalise the price offer.  The responsible person is then notified by email when the Minister has formally agreed to the negotiated price.

Who pays for the drugs? The government or the pharmacies? Do the pharmacies act as distribution centres? I thought the PBS provided subsidies: perhaps I am wrong. I’m not sure I want to understand. What I do know is that as a patient prescribed medication by my medical specialists, I expect to be able to get that medication without the risk of politically induced shortages – or pharmaceutical company avarice. I don’t begrudge the companies achieving a profit, businesses running at a loss don’t stay in business for very long. Greed is not good, despite Gordon Gekko‘s beliefs – or the current competition on Melbourne’s Gold 103.4 radio station.

The first time I experienced a shortage with Drug A, I asked the specialist was there an alternative. He said yes, there was, but the side effects were pretty undesirable (my words, not his) and he’d prefer to avoid prescribing it.

I think of all the chronic condition patients in this country and wonder what the future holds.

In 2007-08, around 15% of people in the 0-24 age group reported having either asthma, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression or high blood pressure.

We read about the horrific medical costs in the USA and watch the Australian government undermine universal health.

I only questioned one pharmacist but what I heard was enough to cause concern and I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the speaker. Is there a mainstream investigative journalist who will take up the challenge to find out the truth? Do readers have similar experiences to share?

Will women lose the right to vote?

Impossible, you say? Women could never lose the right to vote, you say? I am reasonably concerned there will be an attempt to stop women voting in the USA during the next four years and if that happens in the USA . . .

I first felt my gut wrench when, back in October, #RepealThe19th  was trending. Essentially, if only men voted, Trump would win. Back then, the counter argument was if only women voted, the result would be very different. No-one expected Trump to actually win: if reports post-election are to be believed even Trump did not expect to win. Then the election happened and 53% of white women voted for Trump. Admittedly, only about 55% of Americans exercised their right to vote, a shocking statistic, but not a topic for consideration in this article. How many white women didn’t vote at all?

It is of concern there seems to be some difficulty voting in the USA at the best of times: long queues at polling booths, arguments over keeping booths open to accommodate the numbers – and yet this was nearly the lowest voter turnout in two decades. Surely a nation that can spend billions on wars can afford a billion or two to ensure every eligible citizen can actually vote.

Aside from the practicalities of the election process, what we have seen since the result has been some very frightening behaviours. Neo-nazis running rampant, misogynists feeling they now have the right to attack women in public, bigots leaving notes on people’s cars telling then to go back to Africa. All of a sudden the KKK is almost an acceptable institution again.

It isn’t so much Trump personally I am worried about, it is his “Sieg Heil” followers. Trump will no doubt merely become (or is already) a pawn in a carefully orchestrated return to white male supremacy.

White male supremacy requires the removal of the rights of over 50% of the population – women. Yes, women are more than 50% of the population of voting age. Once women are suitably put back in their place, it isn’t much of a stretch to take away the rights of black Americans, LBGTI people, anyone not born in the USA: in fact anyone that is not a white male born in the USA. Look at who Trump is surrounding himself with – or being told to surround himself with: some very inhumane characters. Many of whom would prefer that women were put in their place.

Read very carefully many of the beliefs expressed by many of the men surrounding Trump. Some are totally weird – not just strange or old-fashioned – weird.

Women in the Middle East are fighting for the right to drive and vote, women in Turkey are fighting a law absolving men of statutory rape if the rapist marries the victim. If you think these neanderthal white men running rampant in the USA aren’t cut from a similar cloth, I suggest you take off the rose-coloured glasses. Try this “rape activist” from the good ol’ US of A.

There are even women in the USA who suggest/believe women shouldn’t have the vote – Anne Coulter, for one. Great way to make a lot of money, of course, for her.

Now this lot are in power. Will your daughters retain the right to vote?

 

What it is REALLY like to be unemployed

Unemployed. If there has been any day in my 61.5 years of life when I’ve felt it is all just too much, yesterday was that day. Today is not much better. While sharing the pain I feel publicly may further hinder my employment prospects (is that even possible?) I share in the hope my experience may help others know they are not alone and may, just may, encourage some employers and recruitment agents to rethink their approach to candidates. The government also needs to walk a mile in my shoes, then tell me I can get a job and they can safely cut the Newstart Allowance. And yes, Grace Collier, I am training to start my own business – if I can hold my body together. Holding my body together costs money.

Where to start? Some background for context, perhaps. I was diagnosed late 2014/early 2015 with autoimmune (AI) conditions. Nothing I can’t manage, providing I can AFFORD to manage them. In my experience, AI conditions can take a lot of time and money to manage to the point where I look and feel normal (photo supplied as evidence). With a couple of exceptions: I can no longer sit for hours without moving, like a good little accountant should. I have to move reasonably often.

In June 2015 I was made redundant. In September 2015 I secured a new job which lasted a massively long six weeks. It seemed to boil down to the fact I refused to get my hair cut short, but I was called at home and told not to go back in, by “mutual agreement”. It was indeed mutual, as I found it a very toxic environment and had already contacted the recruitment agency with my concerns. The agency had encouraged me to “hold on until January”, which I had tried to do.

Having been made redundant in June then effectively fired (for the first time in my working life) in October, I wasn’t feeling very good psychologically. Off to the psychologist who was my saviour and the GP for anxiety medication.

AI needs time to manage properly, so a senior management role is no longer an option for me. Given the medical situation Centrelink have me in the disability support stream of job seekers to provide additional employment assistance – but most of that assistance seems only to kick in AFTER I secure a job, such as they can provide a sit-stand desk. In all the time I’ve been with this Job Search Provider, I have been referred for ONE interview! ONE! The Job Search Provider network seems, to me, to be more about meeting the contractual compliance obligation paperwork to “earn” their revenue (funded by the taxpayer) than actually finding work for the unemployed. That is an analysis for another day. When I ended up in tears one day I was told to go and get a medical certificate to exempt me from job hunting. I was in tears because I DON’T HAVE A JOB! Getting a medical certificate to stop me looking for a job wasn’t going to improve the situation!

I started studying a Diploma of Fitness Coaching with the objective of setting up my own business providing training to people like myself who need exercise for pain control/management. I understand what it is like to not be able to move first thing in the morning and I know the benefits exercise has provided me. My doctors (of whom I have a battalion) all support my business plan. Getting the qualification, however has proven difficult. Registered training organisations (RTOs) seem to me to be of a similar ilk in many instances to the Job Search Provider network. I need 120 hours of practical placement and within that be able to train five people for about six weeks to complete a final assignment. That is just one complication: we were told on enrollment we would be able to work after six months of the twelve month course (obviously an attractive proposition to an unemployed person). Well, yes, if we can find someone to employ us without insurance. I’m a CPA – am I likely to do that? Anyway, really, a minor problem. I just don’t need people like Grace Collier telling me to “start my own business” – I’m trying, but I’d like to stay alive in the meantime.

I am under the care of four specialists: endocrinologist, rheumatologist, dermatologist and gastroenterologist. Then there is my GP (who thankfully bulk-bills), my physiotherapist and massage therapist. Luckily these days I see the specialists less frequently than I used to: every three or six months, but they are not cheap. Yes, Medicare covers some of the cost, but the patient still has to pay up-front. No, I am not going the public health system route with chronic conditions unless I absolutely have to, because I need this team of specialists to provide continuity of care, not be seeing a different one of each specialty each visit. The specialists’ visits vary between $120 and $180 a visit. Then I am to have three skin biopsies next month – that’s not cheap either. At one stage I was having endoscopies every six months: private patient with health insurance I may soon have to give up. Not to mention the travel costs to see all these health professionals.

Then there is the cost of the prescriptions: because I have a pension card (thanks Centrelink, I really needed to be reminded you think I am a hopeless case too old for a Health Care Card) these are reduced to $5.20, but the other supplements, like fish oil, glucosamine, Vitamin D, magnesium etc are not. I get a Pharmaceutical Allowance of $3.10 a week.

Are you stressed out so far just reading this? Actually, NONE of that is too bad. With exercise I am rebuilding my muscle strength (working on hip adductor strength at the moment for the physically inclined among you) and keep the pain away almost 100% of the time. Until my stress levels get too high and cause a flare.

Job hunting is the most stressful thing in my life. Ever. Worse than the suicides of my parents or my four divorces. The four divorces? That’s why I am not independently wealthy at my age, which is what people like Scott Morrison no doubt expect. Pity I’m not a famous film star – they always seem to stay rich after divorces. I digress.

Let me share some examples that stand out in my mind. One major hospital interviewed me for a job I really was very keen on. They didn’t employ me, but subsequently interviewed one of my ex-staff for the same position and asked her about me. They did tell me to keep applying for other jobs at the hospital. So I did. Never got one. In the end you dread being the resume the HR staff member looks at and goes “oh, no, not her AGAIN!” and automatically throws your resume in the reject pile. So I don’t apply to that organisation any more.

The government department that sends you an email stating you were “in this instance rated non-competitive” and then sends you a follow-up email of how to break the government job application code/secret.

The private, family owned company who did a phone interview with me for forty minutes and invited me to a job interview the next day for which I had to take a day off work from my then eight week contract position (so lost a day’s pay)  – and never got back to me to tell me I didn’t have the job, despite promising to contact me the following week. They ALWAYS promise to be in touch tomorrow, by the end of the week, next week….. they lie. If recruiters actually interview an applicant, surely they can have the common courtesy to notify the applicant of the outcome?

The state government authority that wrote to tell me a job I had applied for had been withdrawn. When I saw it advertised again a fortnight later I wrote and asked if I could submit another application. Oh yes, was the response, “but please note the criteria includes specific knowledge of our INTERNAL computer system”. Then why advertise externally? Policy requirements, yes, I know. Easy to circumvent by framing the selection criteria in such a way only an internal applicant will qualify.

The sporting body that sends you an email with a subject line of “Not this time around…”. I accept that if you haven’t been unemployed for twelve months, the subject line might not bother you. When it is just another in a long line of rejections, the impact is harsh.

The legal firm that promises second round interviews will be held in two weeks time and unsuccessful applicants will be notified with feedback. Dead silence.

Over time, the rejections become just too damaging to the soul. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger? No, I’m sorry, not always true. As a very wise psychologist once said to me, the reality is more like water dripping on a stone – eventually the stone wears away. There comes times when you just can’t bear another rejection. Hiding under the doona with digital dragons is less soul-destroying than applying for yet another job you won’t get.

Then there is Centrelink demanding a certain number of job applications per week. Just to meet the KPIs. It doesn’t matter if the jobs are suitable, just anything to meet the numbers. Naturally, this results in more rejections which heightens the stress levels.

Network, they say. So you do. You contact people you have worked with in the past via the professional version of Facebook. Dead silence. That is depressing, because you think you had a good working relationship with many of those people – but that was in many cases years ago – perhaps they no longer even remember you, although you remember them. Thank you to the few that did respond, I appreciate it.

Younger people tell me today’s recruitment environment requires that applicants follow-up as it shows interest to the recruiter. In my day that was frowned upon, just was not done. So while I do it, it goes against every fibre of my upbringing. More stress.

Other advice I am given – change my resume. Basically, turn it into a lie. I can’t do that, I can’t lie about who I am – I don’t want to work for people to whom I have to pretend I’m something I’m not. I am a CPA, I have skills and experience which, while I may not be able to work 100% as a desk jockey any more, I can still use. My brain still works, damn it. Also another thing that wasn’t done when I was growing up.

When I was in my twenties, if you got the job you were most likely offered the job at the end of the interview. Yes, I know the competition is greater today, I know unemployment is higher – all those logical points don’t reduce the stress of being unemployed.

I’ve joked no-one wants to employ their mothers. Hiring managers are predominantly mid-thirties to mid-forties. And woe-betide you if you want a less senior role for medical reasons. These days people want carbon copies of the previous incumbent of a position, nothing more, nothing less. If an applicant doesn’t fit the mould: rejection. The knowledge that in most cases the recruiter only has time to read the first three lines of any application, if that, isn’t comforting.

I’m scared. Scared I will never get a job, scared I won’t be able to pay my medical bills and will therefore not be able to keep my AI conditions controlled. Scared I’ll never have my own private space again. Yes, I don’t even have my own space. Thanks to the generosity of my wonderful daughter and her equally wonderful husband, I have a roof over my head – but it costs me $120 a month to have my stuff in storage. I am 61, I want my own space! I feel I am interrupting their lives and it makes me cringe inside. I’ve been independent since I was 15 years old – this is an adjustment I am not dealing with well at all. More stress. There is no-where I could rent for less than the Newstart Allowance of $264.35 a week and still pay for food, utilities and medical care.

There is a known relationship between stress and AI conditions. The doctors say over and over “reduce the stress in your life”. Yesterday was a day when the stress boiled over and the pain had flared. The physiotherapist sent me home to lay on a heat pack and I woke this morning with a very sore back. She also strongly suggested I revisit my psychologist and was concerned I hadn’t had a massage (money considerations). I went to the psychologist’s office and made an appointment. As I got back in my car, a gust of wind slammed the car door into the side of my head. I burst into tears for the umpteenth time that day, I came home (missing class), lay on the heat pack and took a Serepax – the first I’ve taken in months. Physiotherapist suggests I touch base with my rheumatologist….. in other words, she is suggesting I have a condition flare. First in over six months.

How do I REALLY feel? As if life has no point any more. No-one needs me, no-one wants me. I have no social life: a social life is expensive and I have no idea how much longer I have to survive on what little money I do have. I feel I am a burden to my daughter. If this is what the next twenty years is going to be like then please stop the planet, I want to get off. There are days when I ask myself why am I bothering to fight back? Why push my body through the bench press and leg press? Why bother taking all these damn medicines and supplements? Just why in the hell bother at all?

Once I can’t afford to maintain my health, then I will be unemployable and end up on the Disability Pension. Hopefully, in my specific case my studies will prevent that, but on a daily basis it can be hard to see past just today. Not everyone in my sort of situation has the option to develop a new career and I do worry about the chances of business success at my age. But 68 year-old Hillary Clinton ran for President of the United States, so there is hope.

The lack of physical contact with anyone other than my physiotherapist or massage therapist grows more stressful each passing day.

Other unemployed have different sets of problems: mortgages, children to feed, car loans to pay. The emotional feelings, the stress, the sheer degradation of it all, is the same.

RUOK? No, I’m not OK. Not that anyone ever asks. We are just numbers – the great unwashed of unemployed. Past our prime, not valuable any more. A burden on society, our government keeps telling us. Malcolm Turnbull, do you have ANY idea what it is like to be told in the news cycle nearly every single day what you and your government ministers think about us?

I’ll bounce back, I always do. But not everyone can, not everyone does.

NB: I have deliberately not tried to “take the emotion out” of this article. If it is to serve any purpose, the emotion needs to be there. It is why I have written it today, a day when I feel absolutely NOT OK.

I also want to add that while I have criticised the Job Provider Network and RTOs in this article, I want to make it clear in both those systems there are some wonderfully caring people and in the latter some terrific teachers. It is the system I’m railing against, not the front line staff. Centrelink staff have always also been very nice to me.

 

 

Let’s Talk About Sex

Growing up, I was taught there were three things one didn’t discuss in polite company: sex, religion and politics. Religion and politics can lead to heated arguments – just look at several countries around the world at the moment with very volatile political environments. As a respite from the politics, let’s talk about sex, baby.

Edit October 24, 2016: Judging by the comments below, it seems I may did have made clear my main argument, so I’ll be blunt. I’m hypothesising lack of sexual compatibility can result in love dying in a relationship. Lack of compatibility can be the result of lack of knowledge, lack of skill, lack of similar desires/needs and the societal repression of female sexuality. I specifically avoided the use of the word “love” in order to retain focus. There is no question that love + sex can and should be, well, mind-blowing!

My focus is the social repression of female sexuality and the lack of training/skill development generally. Sometimes I read articles that make my blood boil. I read one such article yesterday. Apparently, in 2016, it is still OK to send completely different messages to our young people.

He spoke to the girls about sex — and how they shouldn’t have it — in a mandatory assembly, during the school day, attended by all 350 female students. But he spoke to the boys about “dating tips” in a voluntary, after-school assembly attended by only 25 male students.

….

In response to a question, Henning explained that guys are sexual so the species won’t die out, while girls have a low sex drive so the planet will not get overpopulated.

Let’s look at some of our society’s “standards”. Young men are encouraged to “sow their wild oats” but girls are to be virgins when they walk down the aisle. A male fellow student of mine, a father in his mid-thirties, has completely different ideas about the allowable dating lives of his sons and daughters. Years ago my son ranted and raved at me for allowing my daughter’s boyfriend to stay over. “But”, I countered, “you are sleeping with your girlfriend!” His response? “That’s different.” How? That girlfriend was someone’s daughter! How did he develop that double standard? From society. Both son and daughter were adults by this stage.

Who, exactly, are these young men supposed to sowing their wild oats with? Each other? Because us women are all so busy protecting our virginity, after all – or at least not bedding too many partners….. We have sex education in some societies and some schools, but even then it focuses on the mechanics of how the male and female bodies work. I distinctly remember my own daughter coming home from school after sex education at about age seven or eight. The conversation went like this.

M: “Mum, we had sex ed today”.

Me: ” That’s good, dear.”

M: “Yes, but I’m confused.”

Me: “Why?”

M: “Well, we learnt the sperm comes from the man and the egg from the woman and together that makes a baby, but they didn’t tell us how the sperm and the egg meet.”

On the basis if a child is old enough to ask a question, they are old enough for an answer, I proceeded to explain, in the simplest terms I could, how the sperm and the egg meet. Her reaction? “Oh, Mum, that’s disgusting, they pee with that!” As she is now 37 and very happily married, I guess she has moved past her initial horror. I did explain the function of the prostate to her at the time! (Conversation shared with permission)

About 20 years prior I had also had sex ed at school. Not much had changed, I thought.

At no point in time do we instruct our young people how to have a good sexual relationship, how to make love well, how to enjoy sex. No, we are still too busy encouraging young men to sow their wild oats and women to refrain from being sluts. Not as blatantly as in the 1950s perhaps, but generally that undercurrent is still there, loud and clear. It is OK for males to enjoy sex, but not women. Yet we have no hesitation in draping scantily clad women over anything and everything to sell “stuff” – more mixed messages. An amusing look at that cultural proclivity can be found at The Huffington Post, “If Men Posed Like Motorcycle Babes“.

Many readers will be familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

maslow

We teach our children how to cook, we toilet train them, we teach them to get enough sleep and drink enough water. Breathing and homeostasis really take care of themselves. But sex, the other basic physiological need? No, we ignore that. Heaven forbid we should actually provide any guidance to our young people on one of the most important aspects of their adult life.

Not only that, but society is effectively still repressing female sexuality. We still have double standards, we still have a culture that will blame rape victims for the way they dressed or because they were drunk which effectively is nothing more than excusing the rapist and buying into the very rubbish the lecturer cited above spouted: women have a low sex drive and men have a high sex drive. How about society considers some people have a low sex drive and some people have a high sex drive irrespective of gender. I can think of examples of all four situations I have known during my life.

I applaud the efforts to eradicate the rape culture we still seem to be saddled with and the efforts to hold rapists accountable for their actions irrespective of a woman’s dress. What I don’t see is society teaching young people how to be good lovers. Many young men get much of their “guidance” from porn movies, much more readily available today than pre-internet. Maybe they’d be better having a decent conversation with their father. Some do, but many don’t.

”In my private practice I had a 16-year-old girl who came in and said her 18-year-old boyfriend told her her vagina didn’t look like the images he saw on the internet.

Source: The Age

That’s a great start to a sexual relationship, don’t you think? That is an interesting article worth reading in full, even though a few years old now.

Teenagers are always usually highly embarrassed if their parents try to talk about sex, but isn’t that society’s fault? If we treated sex no differently to teaching young people how to cook or eat a balanced diet or get enough sleep, perhaps our young people would be better equipped to enter the adult world and find sexually compatible partners.

It has long been cited that when relationships start to breakdown, the sex stops. While I am not a psychologist, I’ve often wondered what comes first here, the chicken or the egg? Is it always the case other relationship dynamics fail first, or is it that the sexual compatibility isn’t there and that triggers other issues in the relationship? Could sex be the glue that may keep a relationship together? Remember, we are talking about a basic physiological need, according to Maslow. He didn’t publish gender specific hierarchies, however the following observation is noted:

Although Maslow (1970) did study self-actualized females, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Mother Teresa, they comprised a small proportion of his sample. This makes it difficult to generalize his theory to females and individuals from lower social classes or different ethnicity. Thus questioning the population validity of Maslow’s findings.

Source: Simply Psychology

There are other aspects of Maslow’s theory open to question, outlined in the above article.

I am not the only one who has wondered.

Can sex kill a marriage? Absolutely. Problems in the bedroom can lead to deep dissatisfaction. A marital sex problem is like a canary in a coal mine — a warning alarm that danger lies ahead.

Source: The Huffington Post

One reason the author of the above article didn’t cite was simply lack of skill or sexual incompatibility (although Reason 6. comes close to the latter). Incompatibility can (not always) result from lack of skill, I suggest.

Think back to the very first time you had sex – did you really have any idea what you were doing, apart from the mechanics of the act? Feel free to share in the comments! We learnt as we went along. I may not recall the stats correctly but I have a recollection of reading, in my dim, dark, youthful past, that some 60% of women (at the time, it has improved) did not achieve orgasm. While it may be that some women are physiologically unable to reach orgasm, maybe with a little, oh, EDUCATION it might be possible for many more. Recently our modern imaging technologies have provided a much better understanding of the female clitoris. Bit bigger than many people think, huh?

clitoris

Image source: Company handout.

The Guardian has a good article covering the details, “This is a 3D model of a clitoris – and the start of a sexual revolution“. The French will use this 3D model in sex education. Good. That’s a start.

There is a wealth of material out there to assist people, yet even so, many people don’t seek any guidance until after they’ve experienced a failed relationship or they blame other aspects for the relationship breakdown. Young people are unlikely to read a sex text book before they embark on a sexual relationship because we have created a society that finds such things embarrassing.

Individuals in a relationship can certainly learn from each other, but what if neither knows?

Incompatibility is a completely different issue. We are all different. Like different things, high, low, medium sex drive, morning versus night people, missionary versus the Kamasutra. Although certainly compromise is possible as in any aspect of life, if compromise has to be such that one person is no longer being fulfilled or enjoying the sex, this is likely to lead to relationship problems. If we didn’t send our young people out into the world with the belief that “it will be alright on the night” and everything will naturally fall into place, perhaps they could make more informed choices.

Sex requires energy. If the female in the relationship is working full-time, picking kids up from childcare, preparing dinner, doing the dishes, helping with homework and folding washing while the male catches up with the latest sport and news on TV, guess what? Said female is not going to have the energy for sex, irrespective of how much she may want it or need it or desire it. Suddenly it will become yet another task for the day and most likely just one task too many. None of us, male or female, have inexhaustible energy stores. It isn’t just the sexual skills we need in relationships, it is the knowledge around sex: ensuring the timing and environment is conducive is just one important aspect.

Imagine if we stopped treating sex as some great secret. Imagine if we actually treated sex as the normal part of life that it actually is, if we stopped preaching that females are somehow less sexual that males. Perhaps we could reduce the divorce rate. Perhaps we would eradicate or minimise the rape culture. Perhaps we would stop the victim blaming. Perhaps everyone could have a better sex life! The transition may take a generation or two, but surely it is time.

We won’t know unless we try.

Interestingly, some time after I published this article, I came across an article in The Guardian which discusses this very topic with an historical perspective. I found it very interesting: so might you! The Story of Sex: from Apes to Robots is a book written by a French academic.

 

 

Men, women . . . and Trump

The media, social, mainstream and everything in between, have been flooded with justifications, discussions, jibes, insults and everything in between over the proven (by his own words and voice) predatory behaviour of Trump towards women. There are a string of labels attached and debate over the legal definition. I’ve no idea what “skeezing” means, but I can guess: the latest release is a video of Trump “skeezing” on a 10 year-old-girl.

slug-648206_1920

The NSW parliament have labelled Trump “a revolting slug” unfit for public office. I almost agree, although I think slugs are being insulted by the comparison. I won’t insult the many fine men I have known in my life by calling Trump a man – he isn’t a man. Of the male gender he may be, a man he is not.

My concern is not actually with Trump himself – he will get taken care of in due course, I hope. My concern is the fact Trump is not alone.

As unscientific as the numbers may be, a Trump supporter issued forecasts that allege if women did not have the vote, Trump would win the election. Within a very short space of time Twitter was awash with #repealthe19th. The Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote.

The Nineteenth Amendment is identical to the Fifteenth Amendment, except that the Nineteenth prohibits the denial of suffrage because of sex and the Fifteenth because of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”

Then we have the right-wing pastor Dave Daubenmire terrified of a woman becoming the President because according to him the “immorality of a sinful man” is not as bad as breaking the biblical principle that “when a woman rules over a man …. it’s a sign of the judgement of the Lord”. May I suggest to Dear Dave that perhaps that’s precisely what IS going to happen, because his Lord has judged men like Trump are not fit to rule and when the Lord sees other men supporting Trump, the Lord has decided enough is enough.

More than 3,000 sexual assault survivors have taken out an ad pleading with the Republicans to dump Trump. Author Kelly Oxford took to Twitter encouraging women to share their sexual assault stories. Over a million women answered her call. I read some of those tweets. Girls being groped on public transport at ages as young as nine and ten. For a million women to have been sexually assaulted, there have to have been a fair number of perpetrators. One man alone does not manage that many assaults.

I’ve been pleased to see athletes come out saying the sort of talk Trump claims is “locker room banter” is actually not what constitutes locker room banter in their experience. We need more men to stand up and be counted. To denounce Trump’s behaviour.

When I was young, forty years ago, I believed the genders were equal. It never occurred to me there were men like Trump or the pastor in existence. Then again, I am still stunned over Abbott and his “when they are doing the ironing” nonsense. My initial awakening came during my first management tenure. My female staff asked if they could wear tailored trousers to work. I saw absolutely no reason why not, yet the human resources department ruled only if the women wore a trouser SUIT. Back then, trouser suits were inordinately expensive. It was economically unrealistic to expect my staff to buy trouser suits. I saw nothing wrong with tailored trousers and a nice shirt or (as it was winter) a nice jumper. At the time male staff DID NOT have to wear suits unless they were management. Yes, I won the battle, but the fact the battle even had to be fought opened my eyes a little.

Some time later, at a business women’s networking lunch, a speaker outlined how not so many years before, women had been required to give up work once they married. How had I got to adulthood without knowing any of this stuff, I wondered.

Here we are forty years later and we have a predator running for the most powerful position in the world (some other world leaders might of course dispute the most powerful bit). We have people spouting the Bible and others (or many of the same) wanting women to lose the vote.

This is 2016 – or did I get caught in a time warp?

There is absolutely NO justification in 2016 for Trump’s behaviour. The is absolutely NO justification in 2016 for gender inequality.

In case it has escaped the notice of some members of the male gender, you are only on this planet because a FEMALE gave birth to you. Carried you and protected you in her body for nine months. Fed you from her breasts. How DARE you, those of you who are so inclined, demand that women be second class citizens? How dare you support Trump’s (and those like him) treatment of women? The women who support such nonsense: I have no words at all for you.

Having read as much as I have read over the past few days, I consider myself lucky. I have never been subjected to sexual abuse or assault. The closest I ever came was when I was propositioned by the CEO of the company I worked for many years ago. He assured me he and his wife had an open marriage. I told him I’d believe that when his wife told me, but the answer would still be thanks, but no thanks, I wasn’t interested. I did advise him I did not expect to be fired on Monday for refusing. I wasn’t. End of story. Not all female members of my extended family have been so lucky. While I have seen their pain and know it is real, while I have witnessed the health and psychological aftermath, I can’t feel it myself.

All I can do is say Trump is not a man. A real man doesn’t need to grab women’s parts uninvited. What, I wonder, is the underlying inadequacy of this individual that fuels his behaviour? What then leads him to try to incriminate all other men? His son got in on the act saying it was typical of alpha males. He thinks his father is an alpha male? Heaven forbid! Even his suits fit badly.

New York Magazine has a very informative and detailed article about this, but the take-home message is that before the 1960s there were barely any examples of humans being described as alpha males, the term was restricted to fields like primatology research. Species like chimps and gorillas do have social structures and hierarchies with a dominant individual at the top, typically a male who has achieved that positon via displays of strength and physical prowess. The fact that alpha males exist isn’t disputed, it’s whether humans can actually be such a thing.

Source: The Guardian

An alpha male in the primate world is the pack leader – and pack leaders don’t get that position easily, they have to prove their worth. As leaders and protectors.

Trump refuses to protect 50% of the population, believing that 50% are there for his personal gratification and pleasure.

There are many wonderful men in this world: men who treat women with respect and as equals. May those men flourish and prosper and raise their sons in their image and raise their daughters to have no qualms about placing a knee strategically and forcefully when required.

Don’t anyone come bleating to me about how Islam treats women while the western world even considers making Trump POTUS.

A final word to Dear Pastor Dave. Dave, in all of my life there has been only one man that I ever felt like submitting to and I still have no explanation for that. However, don’t confuse the often inexplicable dynamics of personal relationships on the one hand and how a healthy society should function on the other hand. Oh, and if Hillary wins? Well, I guess your Lord passed judgement.

Edited to Add: I have recalled another incident when I was 15. After my parents passed, I was in a foster home. I asked my foster father to cash a cheque for me. It was a Saturday, before ATMs. He suggested if I sat on the bed with him, he’d give me the money and I didn’t need to give him the cheque. I declined and moved out about a week later. The executor of my father’s will sent me to a psychologist as he didn’t believe me. I still consider myself fortunate – neither incidents involved physical contact of any sort.

If you have regular pathology tests, here is something you should know

A little back story may be appropriate. In February 2015 I looked at Medicare. It was noticeable that pathology services constituted a large percentage of the total services. I doubt the proportion has dropped since. I contribute to that proportion: I have auto-immune conditions. I spend considerable time and money ensuring they are kept under control. Well, as under control as possible. I’m under the care of three specialists and a general practitioner. Every now and then extra specialists get involved, such as a skin specialist or an ophthalmologist. One of these days I’m going to have a medical party for them all.

As we all know, blood tests are very useful to medical professionals. At one stage I was having regular blood tests under Rule 3X due to the risk of possible rather nasty side effects of a drug I was on. As a patient, I don’t know the finer details of Rule 3X, but I do know it allowed me to have regular tests based on the one pathology request. Necessary in many medical situations and very useful.

At one point in time, early in my “what is wrong” phase, I happened to have medical appointments scheduled in the same week with different specialists. The week before the appointments I went into the pathology collection point with two pathology requests. I later received an invoice for one of the tests. At the time, I paid little attention. I knew my gastroenterologist had ordered a non-rebateable test at some point so assumed it was that and just paid it. As you do, in most cases.

Some time later I again had coinciding appointments and again attended the collection point with two pathology requests. All my specialists monitor my thyroid function. I was told if I had the two pathology requests done on the same day, one would not be bulk-billed. Naturally, I asked why not. Surely, I suggested, only one test was needed and then the result could simply be shared. Same blood, same day, same test. Seemed logical to me. More than that, it seemed cost-effective.

The technician was only able to advise those were the directions from head office, but she believed Medicare wouldn’t pay a second rebate on the same day. Neither should Medicare pay two rebates for the same test on the same day, I thought to myself. By this stage I had been made redundant, so time was really not a major issue, however money was, so I went on two different days to have the blood tests.

When I saw one of my specialists, I mentioned the situation to him. He was in such a state of disbelief, he called a contact within the pathology company. The conversation went something like this:

Specialist: Explains what I have described above and asks if this is correct.

Pathology: “How do you know that?”

Specialist: “Because a patient is sitting in my office telling me!”

My explanation was confirmed by the contact. However, if the specialist hand-wrote a lengthy instruction on the pathology request to share the results of duplicated requests, then they (the pathology company) would do it. My specialist, dear caring man that he is, was sure this was because they were caring for the patients, to ensure the right doctors got the right results. Rubbish, I countered, the rebates are their revenue stream. It was a light-bulb moment for the doctor. That, I said, is why I am the accountant and you are the doctor!

For a few months my appointments didn’t coincide so I really didn’t worry about it. Then the week before last, I got hammered. Now I am working and studying and driving a lot. In what little time remains I sleep, exercise – or visit doctors. As it happened, I had all three appointments close together and the way my schedule went that week I had one opportunity to get the blood tests done. Three pathology requests. Thyroid function on all three, plus some other duplicates.

I was warned I would get billed for the thyroid function test TWICE and some others singly. Wouldn’t I prefer to come back tomorrow and the next day? That is, get the three requests done on three consecutive days so all the tests could be bulk-billed. No, I wouldn’t prefer that at all, I simply do not have the time, was my somewhat irritated response. Of course the aforementioned lengthy handwritten share request was not written on any of the forms this time. Not my doctors’ fault, they shouldn’t have to do that in the first place. So I’ll be paying.

I discussed the situation with my other two specialists. One was aware of the practice and our discussions I shall keep confidential. The other crossed some tests off the new form he gave me for my next visit. We are all going to co-ordinate and share a little better!

Without the operational and administrative cost details I can’t be sure, but I propose running the test once and sharing the results would be cheaper than running the test three times and generating an invoice (maybe two invoices) to me. The company may be “protecting” the revenue stream (Medicare rebates) without looking at the impact of actions on gross margin. Of course, it is a fair bet I am billed more than the Medicare rebate. When I receive the invoices I will compare.

I am told not all pathology companies operate this way, something I am going to put to the test in the coming months. After all, like many other patients, I have years ahead of me to investigate this issue! I would be interested to hear of others’ experiences.

Do you think changes should be made to the system? My specialists should not have to have a conference call to check each others’ test plans: imagine if they had to do that for many patients? I should not have to go on three separate days to have my blood tests. I specifically try to get my appointments all on the same day as this minimises disruption to other parts of my life and time off work. Consequently I am trying to have my blood tests in one hit. When it works out: if one condition flares or requires closer monitoring for a period of time, then my plans don’t work out and then the whole duplication of bloods isn’t a problem. At the moment, with everything running smoothly and in what I call “management mode” I can co-ordinate. Many other patients I am sure are in the exact same situation.

The taxpayer should not have to pay rebates for the exact same test to be performed three times on the same day. Nor should the patient.

 

What’s in it for ME? Society’s dilemma

what-e1426943260530Managing change is part of my day job. One of the catch phrases we use these days is “what’s in it for me”. In “selling” change in an organisation we need to show the employees, the board, the management and all other stakeholders “what’s in it for them”. If you don’t believe me, Google “change management what’s in it for me” and you will see plenty of results.

Rhiannon’s masterclass, ‘What’s in it for me?’ … and other change management challenges demonstrated how addressing the people side of change management can increase the probability of business success during periods of significant change. Source: CMC Partnership

What ever happened to what’s in it for you is you get paid and we all keep our jobs? Or what is in it for you is we will engage your firm as a preferred supplier? That might sound a bit harsh, but I’m not looking at industrial or commercial relations here, I’m looking at the me, me, me mentality of much of society. Western society at least. I always love the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems on Twitter. Provides quite a giggle a lot of the time. I often think “what’s in it for me” is distinctly a first world issue, if not a looming problem.

If we only ever do anything because of what is in it for ourselves, don’t we risk becoming a very selfish society? I have no doubt, from my own practical experience, that introducing change into the workplace is more successful if the people involved can see a personal benefit. I am no different when I am asked to change. My immediate question is “While this make my life easier or harder?” If I think the change will make my life harder, my natural inclination will be to resist the change, covertly or overtly, unless I can see a greater good for all in the change.

I’ve talked before about the differences between societies of collectivism and societies of individualism. Western societies are almost exclusively societies of individualism. I considered such individualism in a look at the feminists’ debate.

Geert Hofstede describes these cultural dimensions rather well.

The high side of this dimension, called individualism, can be defined as a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families. Its opposite, collectivism, represents a preference for a tightly-knit framework in society in which individuals can expect their relatives or members of a particular in-group to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. A society’s position on this dimension is reflected in whether people’s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “we.” Source: geert-hofstede.com

There is research that indicates a culture of individualism leads to high growth and more progress because societies of collectivism can be assessed as anti-innovation. I stress this is one perspective, one I perceive as rather negative. Other studies present a more caring, positive picture of collectivism.

Platteau (2000) for example illustrates collective culture in the context of African development. Specifically, he documents that productive individuals are seen with suspicion and are coaxed into sharing their surplus with the community. Collective punishments exist to penalize the rich. They take the form of social ostracism, loss of status, or even violence. Communities have for example frequently used accusations of witchcraft to punish greed and acquisitiveness as well as aspirations to move to other places. Behind these punishments is the fear that the community’s cohesiveness will be undermined and that an individual who proves more successful will leave the village or will not redistribute any surplus food or production. Source: Berkeley

However, individualism gave us the Global Financial Crisis.

If you’ve been blaming reckless men for the collapse of America’s leading investment houses and the plunging markets, you may be on to something. High levels of testosterone are correlated with riskier financial behavior, new research suggests. Source: Scientific American

In a society of collectivism, this individualistic behaviour would have been curbed by the cultural norms.

I am a very firm believer in the rights of the individual. I started writing because I was denied my individual rights. I married a man from a culture of collectivism. In many respects, I live both cultures. I think there are aspects of both that humans need for survival as a species.

Collectivism worked very well in hunter-gatherer days. Collectivism ensures the elderly are cared for. Individualism gives us…..more money? Individualism gives us innovation and progress that we may or may not need as a species, but it also gives us personal greed. It gives us “what’s in it for ME”.

Gary Stamper says:

Collectivism, as a system has many faults, but individualism, which isn’t even a system, but rather the lack of a system, also has many faults. Each, by themselves are partial. The new collectivism, championed by the political left, has emerged as a response to the unbridled individualism of the political right. Source: Collapsing into Consciousness

Gary quotes Gerhard Adam:

“True individualism is not common and in our society is typically marked as being a sociopath.  This is an individual for whom no social connections matter, and there is little ability to empathize with fellow humans.”

Perhaps Gary is correct, the long term solution lies in the concept of “individual collectivism”.

Individual collectivism understands that individuals need to be recognized and acknowledged within the larger social group. In our culture, it is a rare person who is able – or even wants – to act outside some sort of collective, whether its a policeman or fireman, an employee or a business owner, a sports or  corporate team, a local or national culture, a religion or spiritual calling, or a political leaning, or a politician. Even as individuals, we seek like-minded people to associate with, to support and be supported, to share common goals. It is our nature.

And while we claim to abhor “collectives,” we automatically join them, leaving the impression that it’s not really about collectives at all, but rather, the freedom to choose which collective we participate in rather than our objections about collectivism. This doesn’t deny our personal identities or rob us of the choices we make regarding our participation in a collective. Source: Collapsing into Consciousness

Both individualism and collectivism have faults. Both have served a purpose at different stages of human development. Do we need something new? It is at least worth considering.

Looking back to my opening employment related situation, “What’s in it for me” only has worth providing we also consider what’s in it for the organisation that keeps us employed. For without the organisation there is no “what” for me at all. If our social fabric collapses like the global markets did, we will have nothing.

There is nothing so constant in this world as change. Perhaps this is one we need.

This is an edited version of the article originally published on Robyn’s blog.