Saturday, February 29, 2020

Snake Oil: The end of the world

Speaking from within her apartment in Wuhan, a woman said she feels like it is the end of the world. She is in quarantine in a city which is the epicentre of the COVID-19 (corona virus). A city where the infection is spreading rapidly, where hospitals are full, where people are dying, where government officials are welding people's doors shut so they can't leave their apartments. This is Wuhan in Hubei Province, China where the doctor who first raised the alarm about this dangerous new virus was silenced, punished and died five weeks later. The truth about this province and the origin of the virus is as yet unknown.

Here are the latest COVID-19 Coronavirus headlines from Reuters;

- Cases exceed 3,000 in South Korea in largest outbreak outside China
- At least 85,000 global cases are confirmed
- The death toll stands at over 2,900 
- WHO warns risk of global spread ‘very high’
- Qatar, the Netherlands, Monaco, Iceland and Mexico record their first cases
-US citizens urged to avoid non-essential travel to Italy
- Italy places around 50,000 people in quarantine
                                                                                           -Schools in Japan to close amid the outbreak

According to the World Health Organisation, 95% of COVID-19 cases are in China and the majority of these are in Hubei province. That 2900 people have died is a tragedy, but did you know that around 56,000 people die from influenza or flu like illnesses each year? This isn't newsworthy because it happens every year.

The 1918 Spanish flu affected a quarter of the population of the world and killed an estimated 40 to 50 million people. It was the first occurrence of H1N1. The second was the swine flu outbreak in 2009 which the CDC estimates killed between 150,000 and 575,000 people.

Stories about COVID-19 dominate global news services now. Clearly it's a serious health issue and governments, or should I say most governments, are keeping their citizens as informed and as safe as possible. For most people, in most parts of the world there is really no cause for alarm. The virus will be contained. New infections will stop occurring. The death rate will slow to zero. The majority of ill will recover. Travel restrictions will be lifted. Face masks will be easy to purchase. Life will go on. This is not the apocalypse. It's not the end of the world. Even the actual end of the world is not really the end of the world.

Sometimes information makes us feel safe, sometimes it has the opposite effect. Truth is a casualty in times like this. With so much misinformation around. Eventually the truth about COVID-19 will be discovered, but by then the world will have moved on to its next hysteria inducing disaster story.

Friday, February 21, 2020

A Dog's Eye: Choosing your fights

The oft fought battle between governments and individuals under their authority is usually referred to as a contest between David and Goliath. Everyone is familiar with the story of the brave shepherd boy who defeated the giant Philistine of whom the whole Israeli army was fearful.

David's argument in favour of taking on the spear wielding behemoth was that he was insulting God. Many men throughout history have waged wars to uphold God's honour believing they were directed to do so by God himself. The debate about this aspect of an allegedly loving God and his apparent warmongering has been raging for centuries.

The point is there are numerous examples in the Bible of out-numbered armies being victorious. The men who fought these battles drew courage from their faith, and earnestly believed that God wanted them to win and was calling them to fight. Popular modern thought labels such men zealots at best, or extremists at worst. Terrorists are at the very edge of this continuum of fundamentalism.

Leaving aside the issue of war and terrorism, and moving back to the topic of man versus the state, the same principle applies. People of faith like me, live as though God directs our steps. We pray for his leadership in our lives, for strength and solace in times of need, and for wisdom in times of decision making. Our question sometimes boils down to this: do I fight or stand down? Do I take up this cause? Should I do everything I can possibly do to solve this problem? Or do I wait and see what God will do?

On the 7th of December, 2018, my wife and I engaged the services of a lawyer and lodged an application for a sponsored partner visa. It was very expensive (the visa alone cost around $10000) and we could not have done it without the help of my mum. We followed procedure exactly, taking advice from our lawyer and completing each step of the process as required. There were long periods of waiting, but we knew it was going to take at least a year and maybe longer. We were prepared for that, and although at times it was very difficult, we were patient.

We didn't push anything or move outside of what we were instructed to do because we trusted the process and we trusted God. In January 2020, we had completed the application process and were informed by the department of immigration they were now ready to proceed, in other words to grant the visa. As it was an offshore application, my wife and children would need to leave Australia for the visa to be granted. Coinciding with the Tet festival, they travelled to Vietnam for three weeks, during which time we expected the visa to be granted. It wasn't.

I knew something was wrong, and I started to feel uncomfortable about just waiting. Friends were advising me to kick the can by contacting the department or the local federal member of parliament. Initially, I was reluctant to do this because we had only ever followed the process and waited. The question arose: should I continue to simply wait or should I take up the fight?

To cut a long story short, I decided to fight. A representation was made to the department by our federal member on our behalf which resulted in an explanation from a senior migration official, and an apology for the delay. Later that same day, we received another letter from the department saying that my wife and the children should leave Australia so the visa could be granted.

They were in Singapore transiting to Ho Chi Minh city when the visas were granted. It seems as though our intervention forced things along, although we can't be sure. Our very experienced lawyer described the final six weeks or so of the process as very unusual. His opinion on our intervention was that it would be unlikely to succeed but it couldn't hurt to try. I shared his view, but we were wrong.

Obviously, we are ecstatic. Our children can start at school and we can begin to establish some normalcy in our life, whatever that means exactly. We thank and honour God for this victory and for our entire love story which continues to prosper.

Now, however, I am faced with another struggle; this time against the tax department who illegally took tax payments from me, but didn't tell me anything until they had stripped me of around two and half thousand dollars. I've been waiting for the promised refund for over two months now. When I call them I get nowhere. Do I fight them? Or stand and wait?

This David is gearing up for another possible battle with Goliath. Excuse me, please. I'm off to find a few choice stones to do the job.

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Mirror: Lost in Space

Early in the 19th century, Johann David Wyss wrote The Swiss Family Robinson; a novel about a Swiss family of immigrants whose ship, en route to Port Jackson, Australia, goes off course and is shipwrecked in the East Indies. Wyss' purpose for writing the novel was to educate his four sons about family values, good husbandry, the uses of the natural world and self reliance. The family name "Robinson" is not used in the novel, but as it is modeled on Daniel Dafoe's genre birthing Robinson Crusoe, the title is in homage to the 18th century classic.

Fast forward to the mid 20th century when the inspiration flowed on to produce the science fiction series Lost in Space. John and Maureen Robinson, together with their children Judy, Penny and Will get marooned far from Earth. The setting changed, but the story was the same. A family faced with dangerous isolation has to work together to survive. It's a simple and very appealing idea. 1960's television shows were not renowned for sophisticated special effects, but the science (spaceships and aliens etc) only really had a supporting role.

In 1998, a terrible film adaption of Lost in Space was released. The special effects were a significant improvement on the 1960's television show, but it lacked character. Like many high tech films, it sacrificed substance for style.

When a new Lost in Space series was released in 2018 on  Netflix, I was naturally reluctant to watch it. The original TV series may have finished in the year I was born, but I had seen multiple replays and loved it. I ignored Lost in Space until season one had finished. However, it only took a few episodes for me to fall in love all over again. I've just finished watching season 2, and I'm calling it the best show I've seen since Travelers.

Although, differing in a number of ways from the original series, the Lost in Space reboot triumphs where many science fiction shows fail. Whether it's film, TV or books, I'm mostly interested in characters and relationships, and for me Lost in Space nails it. It has a lot of suspense and breathtaking action sequences which are magnificently supported by special effects, but it's really about the Robinson Family and how they grow stronger and closer together through adversity.

This is the connection: relationship. Leaving aside every imaginable variable, at the core of our existence lies the need for healthy relationships. The quality of our lives has a direct correlation to the quality of our relationships. We were designed to be together and we want that interdependence; we want to belong. Many obstacles and challenges must be faced, and pain is inevitable, but to survive, we need each other.

A colleague of mine criticized Lost in Space because it was 'just a drama in space'. Clearly, the show did not meet her expectations, but for me, I thought 'exactly'. That's why I like it. I feel it. I relate to it. No matter if we, (as represented by the Robinsons), find ourselves lost at sea, lost in space, lost in the jungle or the forest or just plain lost -whatever our circumstances; we grow stronger, wiser and better when we work together to overcome.