Thursday, January 22, 2015

Dead toddler in the back seat

In the rising tide of sympathy for the Whanganui mother who thought she'd delivered her toddler to Day Care but actually forgot her in the back seat of the car there are some who are already judging her competence as a mother.

I've just had a harrowing half-hour reading Gene Weingarten's Pulitzer Prize-winning article in the Washington Post in 2009. Gene researched many of the 15-25 of such baby-in-the-backseat-deaths that occur every year in the USA and contrasted how they were handled in different jurisdictions. He obviously spent a huge amount of time and travel getting inside the awful experiences of the people concerned. Of course, my medication prompts easy tears but the account of these terrible situations and their implications just overwhelmed me.

Weingarten also explored expert a wide range of opinion: Ever forgotten your cellphone? asked one: well, then - you can also forget your baby...  Carrying children in the back seat, supposedly to make them safer? - also  makes them more liable to be overlooked... There's a fascinating analysis of how our human brains do so many tasks at different levels that we are more likely to forget quite important things... And James Reason's Swiss Cheese Model should ring bells for everyone who ever does more than one thing at a time.

The article's punchline just broke me up. One or two of the local commentators should perhaps read it. This is a time for compassion, not judgment.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Fit to drive?

I have a sneaking sympathy for those who have been insisting that issuing speeding tickets for very small infringements of the 50kmh limit on quiet city streets was not likely to have much impact on the road toll. My impression, after a considerable amount of time on the open road recently, is that drivers are moving more responsibly these holidays. But the Minister of Police is right to review the muddle-headed way in which the holiday policy was implemented. There are a lot of other factors in road safety than merely speed and we may have reached the point where even harsher application of a sensible law may make it silly.

"Now which side of the road?"
I have less sympathy for those who would make every overseas visitor sit a driving test before venturing onto our roads. Undoubtedly there is a problem. Last week we had a chat to one overseas driver who had been holding up a dozen vehicles at 65 kph. She claimed that no one could pass her, even on an open, clear road, because there wasn’t a passing lane. Maybe a short introduction to the fundamentals of driving on other than US Interstates could have helped her before she drove off in a rental vehicle.

But if we are to introduce some kind of test for rental car drivers in this country, it would be reasonable that other countries require the same of us when we visit them. Our trip to the USA in 1983 would have been very different if Bev and I had been required to pass some kind of test the sixteen times we hired rental cars on our Trip of a Lifetime.

Also, there are other groups who are less well known to be at risk to themselves and others. Perhaps we should have a test for Seniors like me, who got their driving licences sixty years ago and haven’t had to answer a question on the Road Code ever since. Or for Under-20s who may have passed the theory test but whose skill is not always as great as their confidence. Or for any other groups of drivers who are likely to contribute more than their share to the road toll. 

Perhaps what we need is a brief on-line refresher and a short-answer test that any driver should be able to pass on demand by an authorised person. Failure could certainly raise questions about hiring a rental car. Building such a test into the present mutual recognition of drivers’ licences among many nations might ease a problem for other countries as well as our own.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Sunday After Christmas

We've had a great four days back in Paihia. We checked on our former property and picked up the last of the odds and ends we left behind nearly a year ago. Tenant Gary has the house looking spotless but we can accept it is now his place rather than ours - we have made the break with Paihia. A little sadly, we realised that even the sudden death of a local friend and colleague on Boxing Day did not have the impact on us that it would have before we moved.

On Christmas Sunday we led the congregation through quite a few carols as we explored the Church Leaders’ Statement on the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Christian Gospel in this country. Bev read the statement, phrase by phrase. I commented on each and tried to draw comparisons with “the story” of the “first Christmas” and its relevance for a different age.

I guess the highlight for us all was the three minute video clip from the children of St Paul’s church in Auckland. It illustrated so well the difference between “the story” and “The Story”.  Well, it did for me, anyway. If the congregation really grasped “the message” inherent in “the message” that wasn’t immediately apparent. And any failure would have been due to the density of my thought rather than their hearing. But, like the traditional carols, the video not only tickled our funny-bones but warmed our hearts. I think deep spoke to deep. Every reader of this blog should take four minutes to view The Christmas Story.

Now we are in 2015 with reasonable hope for time to do some interesting and worthwhile things. What we do and how we live will be the true measure of The Story.

Oh, yes, we sang te hari nui, not te hara nui (See 22 Dec)

Sunday Before Christmas

I had to cross my fingers behind my back a good deal in church the Sunday before Christmas as we sang our way through the traditional Christmas carols. They are so full of concepts that no longer true for me. My integrity is challenged in singing them. But perhaps crossing my fingers behind my back makes it OK to sing them.

Of course it was mainly for the children that we acted out yet again the Christmas stories. Today’s service was entertainingly devised with symbolic Christmas presents brought forward for each element of the service. There was a lot of involvement of the congregation. Our curiosity was aroused as each parcel was unwrapped. And there were some whole-hearted laughs: after all, introducing the “Quirinius census” with an Inland Revenue Tax Return form was good for more than a bit of a giggle. And I can tell you the whole thing was a lot better than our recent Village Christmas service themed around a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

It’s OK to tell children stories that the adults understand are not “true”. There are usually elements of fantasy that are clues to help adults recognise fact from fiction. People can put imaginary quotation marks around these clues. But in the Christian stories the elements of fantasy or impossibility aren’t seen in that way by most people. Because they are found in the Bible, they seem to have become tests of our faith. Their acceptance has become a measure of our orthodoxy. No matter how improbable, unhistoric, or theologically unacceptable they seem, the fantasy elements of the Christian story have taken over the story.

I have no problem with re-presenting the story for the children at Christmas. But, let it be story. And when there are adults present let us be open and clear about what is most likely to be mythic. Maybe all we needed for the handful of progressives in the congregation this morning were one or two simple phrases. We could have been told that, “Of course, not all of us believe all these things actually took place like this... We’re telling a story that was created by simpler minds in a world of different truth… and so on”.  Such comment was not there in this service. But perhaps I was the only person in 50 who felt a bit alienated because of it…

And what shall I say in ten days when I am invited to conduct the Christmas service in our former parish? How will I re-tell the story?