Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Mum dealt more with us as we got older and perhaps ...no not perhaps..until we got harder work... but all of us remember that specia time we had as little kids following Dad around the big yard.
I was 15 and I remember thinking how lucky we all were compared to some families whose parents fought all the time, or who were cruel and hard to the kids.
We were lucky because, hard work or not, Dad and Mum seemed to be reasonably content and there was laughter in our house.
Its funny because the hat Dad wore, was the only one I ever saw on him and had belonged to our Gradnfather.
The dress mum wore she seemed to have for years and years, and even the car came down to us after Grandfather died in 1963.
Nothing was wasted. Nothing was expected but that maybe the life of us kids might be a bit better and we were encouraged to do well at school...some did, some didn't...thats how it is.
Things weren't perfect. He liked a beer or three, but only saw him affected a few times in all my childhood and then he was a happy tippler. There was not much keeping the wolf from the door, and we realised that as kids which made it easier for them because you knew not to ask for things that your parents could not afford. To do so it was understood was to make them feel bad...and we just didn't do that. Kids do have a duty to try and understand how their parents feel. These days it all centres on how the kids feel.
Three days before he died, I got up early with him about 5am and asked would he like to listen to something I had written... he and I had been a bit prickly in the months before because I was 15! And there was nothing I didn't know or want to do.
But that morning...something passed between us which has stayed with me all my life. I am older than he was when he died now. But I remember so clearly the large grey-blue eyes looking at me as if I had written the best poerty ever written and I went off feeling so much better about us.
So down there in the mud my back turned to him...dilligently tying up the tomato plants "Make sure you tie the string around the stake three times so they don't slip down...then tie the plant to the stake..." .."Of course, that was what I was going to do". Then Silence...
I turned around and there he was with his eyes rolled almost completely iout of sight... and him close to unconsciousness...Super Low BP..his can get so low ordinarily that the machine won't pick it up... but I seem to know what to do...maybe its easier than tying up tomato plants. I got him back (tilt the chair back and feet up... we women are sure multi taskers when needed... I could have still tfinished off the tomato plants with my other hand but just couldn't quite reach.
This happened over and over till at last he gave in and realised he'd have to just tilt the chair back (it does that electronically) and stay there.
It was lovely to see him laying back out in the fresh air even if he was asleep...and watching a big old rain cloud come closer and closer. In younger days I might have been tempted to wait till the first sprinkles woke him up, but just did not have the heart for it today. Also it might ruin the control box and its a hard push without power.
Tomorrow maybe 3hrs and a few more "outside" jobs noticed By Mr Gardner.
He's sleeping the sleep of the justifiable exhausted right now, and we are pretty happy little vegemites that he is beginning the return to uprightsyness...
Me, well I have a pile of accounts and a bloody BAS (GST) statement to get in today which won't happen...and I will be finishing off those tomato plants with the other hand Of course.
They are huge plants almost the full length of the tomato stake and you know they got that way with not one ounce of attention... I wonder what will happen now they are being "looked after".
We (Don and I ) may both be Celts but there is a vast difference between your Scots and Irish Celts... but maybe it is that difference which makes it work out for some of us.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
She was Anne Lilburne and had two sons called James and John Neilan from her first marriage then four more children Thomas, Patrick Francis and a baby girl (McGoldrick).
I know the two eldest sons came out to Australia before 1850 as indentured servants as did the rest of the family in the 1850's. They were relatively lucky as the man they were indentured to also came from the same area in Ireland...a William Keyes and appeared to bring out quite a few of the families McGoldrick, most of who worked at Bengalla near Muswellbrook NSW Australia. I understand that for the times he was relatively easy going, but it would have been hard coming out here with no understanding of the seasons.
It was better than starvation in Ireland. But it must have been heartwrenching leaving parents who would never be seen again... how they coped with that emotionally is beyond my comprehension.
This lady buried her 2 yr old daughter at sea. I realise many died young in those days but the loss is not easier because of this. Perhaps the love is greater because of the tenuousness of life and the lack of the many "distractions" of modern life we have.
I look at this tiny woman and understand what came after her, all the babies born, the eyeshine and laughter and all the life! All because this little scrap survived and lived till at least middle age (I don't have her date of death.)
All of us who exist today only exist because of the courage of those who survived. Not all were the nicest or best people ever, but without them the "we" who we are would not exist.
Sometimes I am blown away by all of this.
Saturday, February 25, 2006
He felt like one of us... At the time this was taken he had just recovered from the first of many strokes. He had just retired from farming and weeks later had a massive stroke.
This uncle could dance the feet off anyone who was game to dance with him at the local bush dances and did this right up until he had his stroke at about 75.
He had the biggest feet... which squashed many a toe... and the longest arms ever...was about 6'5' in his prime.
He could tell the tallest yarns and recite poems verbatim , pages length. He loved loved loved music as did all of our Flanagan side.
He loved music, scotch and smokes (which my dad smuggled to him after the stroke). I loved him totally never fearing his ridicule nor his judgement. I only hope that when I grow this old I will have the sense to be as wise as he was and as kind to the children who may know me.
Friday, February 24, 2006
It is clear to most Australians that we are becoming a nation weighed down by bureaucracy, government information services, call centers and paper shufflers. The result of the billions of dollars spent in these areas, is that little of the money we are told is provided for Carer Respite, Home Care, Community Nursing, actually gets through to the people who need it the most.
If you succeed to wake up a politician about a real issue of social justice or human rights, the first thing that they want to do is have an inquiry. Expensive adds are placed and submissions are called for. Then a committee has to be appointed. The committee needs an airconditioned place to meet in. They need stenographers, computers, and phones. The have to have access to catering of some sort. Months down the track, a report is released with much fanfare.
Those of us needing to access basic human rights, such as home based respite, home care; whatever, naively get copies of the reports which invariably say that we have a case, that things must be changed and that more money must be allocated. Hearts sink from past experience when as time passes, nothing changes for those at the coalface. There is no decent or adequate home based respite for the elderly looking after brain damaged adult children, nor any human right to sleep at night for those looking after those with chronic illnesses, but there is always money spent.
The Government, Federal and State are big on providing multi-levelled layers of Information servers, who after ringing a swag of 13 numbers direct you, often back to where you started. Then they let you know that there actually are no services available, because there is not enough money and there are so many needy people, but that they are very sorry and fully understand your position.
It seems to many of us that what qualifies as “needy people” are the Conference organisers, the Facilitators, the Social Workers, the useless Call centers, the editors of Government backed ‘Carer’ magazines; a seemingly endless list. This is what leaches the system dry before it comes anywhere near the actual people we are told it is put in place for.
So what to do about this shameful state of affairs. You can’t work from the inside to change things, because you are then powerless, and this happens to many who honestly seek to change things. Submissions, surveys, meeting or writing to your MP is worse than useless because it steals your precious time and usually results in an “acknowledgment” possibly but not always followed up with letters form Minister’s secretaires which do not address the actual issues raised. Like many I know this from experience, so this is not anecdotal
It is a fact that the bureaucrats have set up an infallible system that protects all levels of bureaucracy from any real changes, questions and accountability. It is also a fact that the bureaucracy is self-replicating, so that any irritation or questioning of its existence, sends it into a flurry of internal activity, which only calms down when yet another level of bureaucracy has been created, to absorb the irritation or question.
It appears that Australian Government is unable to control the monster it has created, and the monster is growing more ravenous, more out of control, and more stupid and self-serving.
And that word “self serving” is the key. As the cogs in the wheel each clock off from their various Centerlink, CarerLink, whatever other bloody link, they sincerely believe they did a good days work. They have created more surveys to fill out; more reports to be read; more useless letters of acknowledgment and placation; all ‘gently but firmly’ worded in the language that only they can understand. I don’t feel that we are meant to neither understand nor make sense, because when you do finally nut the terminology used by the bureaucrats in place, it is actually nonsense.
And just in case we are feeling low, there is a special sort of bureaucrat, called the Editor, of whatever Government funded publication we have subscribed to in a vain effort to keep up with the bag loads of Legalisation, and rules we are governed with, and for which they have lobbied so hard. A construct that they spare no amount of glossy paper and coloured print to remind us of, just in case we should start wondering what they are actually there for and how much they are costing. Along with these reminders of their dedication, are the endless editorials telling us all what wonderful people we are to endure; how much we are worth to society; how stressful and sad our lives must be and how much they really care about each and every one of us.
And do you know the really tragic thing? We believe all of their lies some of us never wake up, and that is the betrayal. Those of us who wake up become increasingly disgusted, and in our little spare time begin to contact others who are of like mind. We start to write letters first of query, then of disbelief and then of anger. We realise that nothing we say will ever penetrate the teflon coating of any of the Members of Parliament, nor of the various people between us and treasury.
I believe that this is how it is meant to be, was set up to be, and it is only when you start to test the system set in place which syphons off millions of Australian Taxpayers dollars, but which pretends, even to itself, that it is all there for our benefit, it is only then that you realise the sinking reality of how things really are.
I don’t know what the solution is. Even suggesting a solution bears the very real danger of someone setting up a committee, another arm of officialdom, complete with money wasting accoutrements.
Somehow, the money allocated specifically for those who care for loved ones (as opposed to those who are paid carers and who go home) at home for long periods, must be made available to them directly, and cut out the incredible waste and useless levels of so called ‘information’ providers. This must be in the form of regular payments for in home respite, at least six monthly breaks, and for other things only Carers know about, such as retirement homes where parents are able to be with disabled children, and not have to face separation as their own health worsens.
We are the ones who know and we are asked too often what is needed. But what is needed is never delivered. Those of us, full time Carers save the Government at least $400 a day, and depending on the level of care, this would escalate. Yet here we are out here in the community, hidden. We are the gold and glue which holds our society at a certain level of civilisation but the level of human rights we experience in this ‘generous’ country is anything but the treatment we deserve. We are given scraps, no hope and no say. We have no ‘career advancement’ to look forward to, no reason to dream. And we work hard and long hours constantly being responsible, being on call, and being able.
There are no basic human rights for us. No sixty hour week, much less a forty hour one. For most of us we are on call, or on active duty, one hundred and sixty eight hours a week, all year round, for years on end. There is no union. No workers compensation for injuries received on the ‘job’. There is no Superannuation, no holiday pay, and most of us go for years, decades like this. If our time of ‘Caring’ comes to an end generally through the death of someone we love more dearly than life itself, we emerge only qualified to clean toilets or wash floors, as nothing of out vast knowledge is valued by the ‘system’. How we survive is our own business. Most of us pace ourselves. After time it appears to others, heading off to gyms, to the movies wherever, that we appear not to want to take part in these activities – hard for them to understand. But our spare time is too precious to us to waste with others, and the experience of just being one, on call to nobody is sweet to us and we know what this is about. It is an internal thing seldom spoken about, because what is the point? But we all know what this state of affairs is.
But as a seeming contradiction it is not just the workload, but it is mental isolation, which continues even in company. We know what this means. When we have time out, we do not really want company. Most of us just like to wander, not speaking just looking about, with no one needing us to look at this or to participate in any way shape of form. We know about this.
The NSW and National Carers Associations do not ‘know’ about this. Their knowledge is second hand, and I would query how many full time and current long-term carers they have on their boards. I think that one of the big problems is their total lack of accountability, and their political correctness. It is very hard for you to question people who are supposed to be working so hard for the good of carers.
The NSW Carers Association and the National Carers Association need to be held accountable. Like many, for all the time I have been a paid up member, apart from the “Kit” and a mug one Christmas, (I know who the real mugs are) they have not produced one single thing I can say has eased my lot which has personally improved temporarily due to my husband being more stable. It was almost unbearable at times and I feel I came very close to a breakdown. What would happen then? I doubt the lot of other carers has been practically improved by them although they talk a lot about what they achieve. Where are the results?
Its not just in the area of GST and petrol prices and other very important areas that the people are throwing up their hands in frustration. If the Coalition and Labour do not hurriedly address areas such as the issue of the millions allocated for respite etc not getting through to the carers, because the triple levels of bureaucracy eat up all the funding first, then they will find a very angry electorate at the next Federal Election.
Carers need to be spoken with, especially those non-metropolitan based. They are the only ones who can voice their concerns. It is an insult to us to appoint others to speak on our behalf. Unfortunately many of us are unable to travel, due to our roles and the fact we cannot get away from home without financial disadvantage, and worry as to the care of our loved one when we are away. This is very important to consider.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
We blink out,
one by one…
quietly aquiesing to our personal horror
in the isolation and silence of each mind.
A horror no less real than that
of Holocaust mothers undressing their beloved children,
with dignity and calmness,
before leading them in to die.
The families’ of babies and children,
young girls and boys, mothers and fathers
and the wild and vast family extensions we should have
all round us, warming us, coocooning us,
are blinking out, one by one, quietly.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
This photo was taken in 1889 and I have posted it because it is of the same two people in the previous post. They are brother and sister. They are almost in the same "attitude" as the later photo. Its strange to see the faces of these two dear little children taken so long ago, and remember the people that they were. They never had their own children, but she mothered many children, and he as this photo shows and the later one never lost the little divil" that was in him...she sure had her work cut out for her keeping him on the straight and narrow.
Its funny to look at people who were born so long before you were and know how important they were to you, and how easy it would have been to love them...as Charlie says "We are them they are us" or something like that.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
The eyes looked back at me. They were my eyes, and they were everywhere. Sitting on the dusty floor of my old aunty's back room, in the stillness of a late summer afternoon, she told me stories. As she did, she passed me the old brittle photos, one after another. A seemingly endless procession of faces, all looking vaguely like each other. Hands held a certain way, the heads on one side, the dry straight faces, held still for the photographer. Family after family, she told me the stories.
Was it just this one afternoon, or were there many that have all blended in to one? I remember this one afternoon. I remember the stillness and the heat and the feeling of the dust on my hands and knees. I still smell the smell of that wonderful room, with its towers of old English Women's Weekly’s, and catalogues of farming supplies.
But it was the eyes that are still with me. My own. In every generation it seemed there were those who wore my face. As I grow older I become more like those photos. I have no doubt that my own face and eyes, waved away the sons and daughters who took the coffin ships to Ellis Island, never to know whether they were still living, or if they even made it off the boats. I know that my own eyes, looked after the children as they made their way down as many roads as they could, to survive the famine years. I know that those whose face I wear, made it off the boats, well some must have anyway. But as well as knowing this I know with a great sadness, that those mothers and fathers would have said goodbye forever, and it would have been like dying, except that they weren't dead. But then they could be. It would have been the not knowing, which would have broken the hearts, and made the lips get thinner and more set.
Sometimes my day is like this -
From the opening of my eyes, till they close at night,
I feel assailed by constant demands.
They hit me like tiny hard pebbles of ...nothingness.
When one has hit me - distracting me -
another is thrown.
Each assailant intent on only their wants and demands.
It doesn’t seem to matter how well I perform,
how much I do next day.
Of if I don’t seem to achieve much
its not my lack of trying -
On these days all I seem to hear
is what I forgot to do; forgot to remember.
These days are unreal and I try to quickly forget them
Somedays my day is like this -
The sun rises on my soul and sheds its light on all the world.
The dew hangs in crystal drops on a land refreshed.
I am breathing in the love of all the flowers.
I am given a cloak of the sun’s creation -
it sweeps my feet with coolness
and keeps my shoulders warm.
I am given a crystal to hold in my hands up high
to the lights in the morning joy.
I am given a flute to put to my lips (and I can actually play it).
I am given music and hear the song of life.
I am given a sun crown to put on my head.
It draws down the wisdom of my god -
the God of all creation...
And I remember these days - they are the real ones.
Middle child ‘87
Saturday, February 18, 2006
She was a lovely red Kelpie...different from Thorn but still red and a Kelpie... she had obviously been abused previously to us having her... but that was a long time ago... babies born, changes happening...all of that...and for me Don still sits on that step looking out at me in his uncompromising manner......
Video of the newscast
VIDEO/TRANSCRIPT: Is a Harvard professor hiding a link between fluoride and cancer? - FOX25 News (Boston MA), February 14, 2006
- EPA unions call for moratorium on fluoride in drinking water - Associated Press, August 31, 2005
- Father of son who died from osteosarcoma speaks out - CBS4 Boston, December 2, 2005
- Fluoridation, Cancer: Did Researchers Ask The Right Questions? - Wall Street Journal, July 22, 2005
- Did Harvard study downplay risk of fluoride? - The Associated Press, July 13, 2005
- Professor at Harvard is being investigated - Washington Post, July 13, 2005
- Dental School Begins Investigation of Prof - Harvard Crimson, July 1, 2005
- Harvard Fluoride Findings Misrepresented? - Environmental Working Group, June 28, 2005
Fox 25 NewsBoston, Massachusetts
February 14, 2006
Harvard Professor: Hiding a Link?
FOX ANCHOR 1: Fluoride in water is supposed to fight tooth decay but could it also cause cancer? It's a controversial question.
FOX ANCHOR 2: Now Harvard University is actually caught up in the debate with serious allegations that an ivy league professor may be covering up the truth. Fox Undercover's Mike Beaudet is investigating the possible link between fluoride and cancer.
REPORTER: Questions about the safety of fluoride in drinking water are not new, but now the debate has shifted to Harvard University where a professor and his doctoral student are at odds over research - research that could show a link between fluoride in drinking water and bone cancer in boys. The professor doesn't think there's a connection but his opinion is under scrutiny since he's also a paid consultant for the toothpaste industry.
REPORTER: Dr. Chester Douglass, a Harvard University big shot - he's chairman of the department of Oral Health Policy and Epidimiology at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and he's at the center of a fluoride debate: the question of whether fluoride in drinking water can cause cancer. Specifically, osteosarcoma in boys.
[Scene of Douglass walking to his car with envelope in his hand.]
REPORTER: Hi Dr. Douglass, Mike Beaudet with Fox 25. We wanted to talk to you about the fluoride controversy.
DOUGLASS: I just was talking to the lawyers about the Freedom of Information, so we're going to give all our studies to them.
REPORTER: Dr. Douglass spoke publicly about the controversy for the first time to Fox Undercover. Is there a cover-up here?
DOUGLASS: This report [showing envelope] from Harvard Medical School will answer that question.
REPORTER: The dispute erupted last year when the Washington-based Environmental Working Group raised serious allegations, accusing Dr. Douglass of possibly covering up the link between fluoridated water and cancer.
KEN COOK: The question is very simple. Did he represent the research correctly or did he not.
REPORTER: Ken Cook is Environmental Working Group's president. He points to a thesis done by one of Dr. Douglass' own students. Dr. Elise Bassin found " ...for males less than 20 years old, fluoride level in drinking water during growth is associated with an increased risk of osteosarcoma..." But according to Cook, Dr. Douglass dismissed any link when he presented this report to the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences.
COOK: Dr. Bassin's study found some very compelling evidence that there's a risk of bone cancer from fluoridation in water. And the presentation of her research suggested the opposite - that there was no evidence.
REPORTER: The Environmental Working Group has raised concerns about Dr. Douglass's close ties to toothpaste giant Colgate, pointing to his job as Editor-in-Chief of the Colgate Oral Care Report. Fox Undercover has learned Dr. Douglass has also worked as a consultant for Colgate for the last ten years. The company has paid him tens of thousands of dollars.
REPORTER: Do you suspect that Dr. Douglass is trying to protect the toothpaste industry.
COOK: Obviously, if he's got a financial interest working at least in part for a company that is making fluoridated toothpaste, one would be concerned, one would be aware of that potential conflict of interest.
REPORTER: Dr. Douglass insists that he's done nothing wrong. "You've got to admit, working for Colgate, it smells a little fishy."
DOUGLASS: I don't, I don't think so. I looked at, I looked at the 200 articles that we've written for them, only 12, only about 11 or 12 of them were on fluoride.
REPORTER: You wouldn't cover up something because you have a financial interest in Colgate?
DOUGLASS: No. There was never a chance to cover up anything. This report will speak directly to the issue of whether there's any evidence of trying to cover something up.
REPORTER: That report is from Harvard Medical School which is investigating the controversy. Dr. Douglass says the report is still in draft form and would not show it to us.
As for Dr. Bassin's thesis which showed a link between fluoridated water and cancer in boys.
DOUGLASS: She did a good job. She had a good group of people advising her and it's a nice analysis. There's nothing wrong with that analysis. The question is, it's a subgroup. Is it true when you look at the whole study? That's the question.
REPORTER: Not for the Environmental Working Group which says the subgroup of young men should be looked at closely since they're more likely to develop this type of cancer.
REPORTER: So why weren't Dr. Bassin's findings included in that Final Report from Dr. Douglass to the government?
DOUGLASS: They got a final report. The truth is, it wasn't the final report. I mean, if you want to get your facts correct, that wasn't the real final report. It was a draft.
REPORTER: Do you think there is a link between fluoride and bone cancer?
DOUGLASS: In the whole study, my best guess is I don't think we're going to see an association.
TONY VALLENTINE: It seems like somebody was trying to cover up or alter the findings or keep it quiet.
REPORTER: Tony Vallentine is watching the controversy closely. It's personal. His son Seth died 20 years ago after a painful battle with osteosarcoma.
VALLENTINE: This is a picture of Seth and his younger brother Zachary just before we found out that he had the bone cancer. He was as healthy as any normal American kid.
REPORTER: Seth grew up in Dedham, 1 of 137 communities in Massachusetts that adds fluoride to the water. Vallentine says he wants to know more about any connection between fluoridated water and cancer.
What do you think about this possible link?
VALLENTINE: When I first heard that I was, I was kind of shocked because I knew that we used the Dedham water and I knew there was fluoride in it.
REPORTER: Vallentine says that even the suggestion of a link is disturbing.
VALLENTINE: I don't think one kid's life is worth having a mouth full of pearly white teeth.
REPORTER: Dr. Bassin declined to be interviewed, but she's standing by her work and tells FOX Undercover a paper based on her thesis will soon be published in the journal Cancer Causes and Control.
Dr. Douglass says his full study on the possible link between fluoridated water and cancer should come out later this year. A Harvard spokesman tells us its investigation is ongoing, but added the University does not believe there is any conflict with Dr. Douglass working for Colgate. This as the Federal Government begins its own investigation.
I'm Mike Beaudet for FOX Undercover
Friday, February 17, 2006
They were Thomas Spencer and Mary Ann Stark...from the proddie side of our Irish ancestry (Dad's side).
When they came out on "The China" it was noted that Thomas was literate, but strangely became a Shepherd upon his arrival...
There was a bit of mystery about him and although I have his death certificate with all details on it he omits his parents. We think he may have married someone unsuitable, or run afoul of the Fam. Sounds like my kinda guy.
HIs obituary says that he was known for his kindness and gentle nature which was an odd thing to put in an obituary in those days.
All the men on dad's side seemed to have this nature and luckily we all had the benefit of that as kids.
It is odd to imagine them way back then going into the door of this little church before lurching out into the great unknown and six month sea trip with no coming back should they fail.
Just makes me think and appreciate the fact that they did come out. That they survuved and not only survived but passed on their love and kindness down through the generations to follow.
A great gift.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
It was just so beautiful and such a beautiful day when it was taken I just felt like posting it because it goves me such a nice feeling. Melissa (the blonde who is not a blonde one) is about 5'9" and Alison is about 5'1" but have noticed thant in many photos they lean in toeah other so they look about the same size.
I just hope life is kind to them.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
What on earth do they want all that useless information for? (see below) Nicki's secret codes written within the writing blog might be what they are after...but think it could be Charlie's red socks that have got them worried.
[TIA by any other name is still TIA. And PROMIS is still PROMIS. These systems are scary, yes. Orwellian, yes. But they will never live up to the mad dreams and the faith their creators have in them. -- MCR]
US plans massive data sweep
Little-known data-collection system could troll news, blogs, even e-mails. Will it go too far?
By Mark Clayton Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)
The US government is developing a massive computer system that can collect huge amounts of data and, by linking far-flung information from blogs and e-mail to government records and intelligence reports, search for patterns of terrorist activity.
The system - parts of which are operational, parts of which are still under development - is already credited with helping to foil some plots. It is the federal government's latest attempt to use broad data-collection and powerful analysis in the fight against terrorism. But by delving deeply into the digital minutiae of American life, the program is also raising concerns that the government is intruding too deeply into citizens' privacy.
"We don't realize that, as we live our lives and make little choices, like buying groceries, buying on Amazon, Googling, we're leaving traces everywhere," says Lee Tien, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "We have an attitude that no one will connect all those dots. But these programs are about connecting those dots - analyzing and aggregating them - in a way that we haven't thought about. It's one of the underlying fundamental issues we have yet to come to grips with."
The core of this effort is a little-known system called Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE). Only a few public documents mention it. ADVISE is a research and development program within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), part of its three-year-old "Threat and Vulnerability, Testing and Assessment" portfolio. The TVTA received nearly $50 million in federal funding this year.
DHS officials are circumspect when talking about ADVISE. "I've heard of it," says Peter Sand, director of privacy technology. "I don't know the actual status right now. But if it's a system that's been discussed, then it's something we're involved in at some level."
Data-mining is a key technology
A major part of ADVISE involves data-mining - or "dataveillance," as some call it. It means sifting through data to look for patterns. If a supermarket finds that customers who buy cider also tend to buy fresh-baked bread, it might group the two together. To prevent fraud, credit-card issuers use data-mining to look for patterns of suspicious activity.
What sets ADVISE apart is its scope. It would collect a vast array of corporate and public online information - from financial records to CNN news stories - and cross-reference it against US intelligence and law-enforcement records. The system would then store it as "entities" - linked data about people, places, things, organizations, and events, according to a report summarizing a 2004 DHS conference in Alexandria, Va. The storage requirements alone are huge - enough to retain information about 1 quadrillion entities, the report estimated. If each entity were a penny, they would collectively form a cube a half-mile high - roughly double the height of the Empire State Building.
But ADVISE and related DHS technologies aim to do much more, according to Joseph Kielman, manager of the TVTA portfolio. The key is not merely to identify terrorists, or sift for key words, but to identify critical patterns in data that illumine their motives and intentions, he wrote in a presentation at a November conference in Richland, Wash.
For example: Is a burst of Internet traffic between a few people the plotting of terrorists, or just bloggers arguing? ADVISE algorithms would try to determine that before flagging the data pattern for a human analyst's review.
At least a few pieces of ADVISE are already operational. Consider Starlight, which along with other "visualization" software tools can give human analysts a graphical view of data. Viewing data in this way could reveal patterns not obvious in text or number form. Understanding the relationships among people, organizations, places, and things - using social-behavior analysis and other techniques - is essential to going beyond mere data-mining to comprehensive "knowledge discovery in databases," Dr. Kielman wrote in his November report. He declined to be interviewed for this article.
One data program has foiled terrorists
Starlight has already helped foil some terror plots, says Jim Thomas, one of its developers and director of the government's new National Visualization Analytics Center in Richland, Wash. He can't elaborate because the cases are classified, he adds. But "there's no question that the technology we've invented here at the lab has been used to protect our freedoms - and that's pretty cool."
As envisioned, ADVISE and its analytical tools would be used by other agencies to look for terrorists. "All federal, state, local and private-sector security entities will be able to share and collaborate in real time with distributed data warehouses that will provide full support for analysis and action" for the ADVISE system, says the 2004 workshop report.
A program in the shadows
Yet the scope of ADVISE - its stage of development, cost, and most other details - is so obscure that critics say it poses a major privacy challenge.
"We just don't know enough about this technology, how it works, or what it is used for," says Marcia Hofmann of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. "It matters to a lot of people that these programs and software exist. We don't really know to what extent the government is mining personal data."
Even congressmen with direct oversight of DHS, who favor data mining, say they don't know enough about the program.
"I am not fully briefed on ADVISE," wrote Rep. Curt Weldon (R) of Pennsylvania, vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, in an e-mail. "I'll get briefed this week."
Privacy concerns have torpedoed federal data-mining efforts in the past. In 2002, news reports revealed that the Defense Department was working on Total Information Awareness, a project aimed at collecting and sifting vast amounts of personal and government data for clues to terrorism. An uproar caused Congress to cancel the TIA program a year later.
Echoes of a past controversial plan
ADVISE "looks very much like TIA," Mr. Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes in an e-mail. "There's the same emphasis on broad collection and pattern analysis."
But Mr. Sand, the DHS official, emphasizes that privacy protection would be built-in. "Before a system leaves the department there's been a privacy review.... That's our focus."
Some computer scientists support the concepts behind ADVISE.
"This sort of technology does protect against a real threat," says Jeffrey Ullman, professor emeritus of computer science at Stanford University. "If a computer suspects me of being a terrorist, but just says maybe an analyst should look at it ... well, that's no big deal. This is the type of thing we need to be willing to do, to give up a certain amount of privacy."
Others are less sure.
"It isn't a bad idea, but you have to do it in a way that demonstrates its utility - and with provable privacy protection," says Latanya Sweeney, founder of the Data Privacy Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University. But since speaking on privacy at the 2004 DHS workshop, she now doubts the department is building privacy into ADVISE. "At this point, ADVISE has no funding for privacy technology."
She cites a recent request for proposal by the Office of Naval Research on behalf of DHS. Although it doesn't mention ADVISE by name, the proposal outlines data-technology research that meshes closely with technology cited in ADVISE documents.
Neither the proposal - nor any other she has seen - provides any funding for provable privacy technology, she adds.
Some in Congress push for more oversight of federal data-mining
Amid the furor over electronic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, Congress may be poised to expand its scrutiny of government efforts to "mine" public data for hints of terrorist activity.
"One element of the NSA's domestic spying program that has gotten too little attention is the government's reportedly widespread use of data-mining technology to analyze the communications of ordinary Americans," said Sen. Russell Feingold (D) of Wisconsin in a Jan. 23 statement.
Senator Feingold is among a handful of congressmen who have in the past sponsored legislation - unsuccessfully - to require federal agencies to report on data-mining programs and how they maintain privacy.
Without oversight and accountability, critics say, even well-intentioned counterterrorism programs could experience mission creep, having their purview expanded to include non- terrorists - or even political opponents or groups. "The development of this type of data-mining technology has serious implications for the future of personal privacy," says Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.
Even congressional supporters of the effort want more information about data-mining efforts.
"There has to be more and better congressional oversight," says Rep. Curt Weldon (R) of Pennsylvania and vice chairman of the House committee overseeing the Department of Homeland Security. "But there can't be oversight till Congress understands what data-mining is. There needs to be a broad look at this because they [intelligence agencies] are obviously seeing the value of this."
Data-mining - the systematic, often automated gleaning of insights from databases - is seen "increasingly as a useful tool" to help detect terrorist threats, the General Accountability Office reported in 2004. Of the nearly 200 federal data-mining efforts the GAO counted, at least 14 were acknowledged to focus on counterterrorism.
While privacy laws do place some restriction on government use of private data - such as medical records - they don't prevent intelligence agencies from buying information from commercial data collectors. Congress has done little so far to regulate the practice or even require basic notification from agencies, privacy experts say.
Indeed, even data that look anonymous aren't necessarily so. For example: With name and Social Security number stripped from their files, 87 percent of Americans can be identified simply by knowing their date of birth, gender, and five-digit Zip code, according to research by Latanya Sweeney, a data-privacy researcher at Carnegie Mellon University.
In a separate 2004 report to Congress, the GAO cited eight issues that need to be addressed to provide adequate privacy barriers amid federal data-mining. Top among them was establishing oversight boards for such programs.
Some antiterror efforts die - others just change names
November 2002 - The New York Times identifies a counterterrorism program called Total Information Awareness.
September 2003 - After terminating TIA on privacy grounds, Congress shuts down its successor, Terrorism Information Awareness, for the same reasons.
Department of Homeland Security
February 2003 - The department's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announces it's replacing its 1990s-era Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS I).
July 2004 - TSA cancels CAPPS II because of privacy concerns.
August 2004 - TSA says it will begin testing a similar system - Secure Flight - with built-in privacy features.
July 2005 - Government auditors charge that Secure Flight is violating privacy laws by holding information on 43,000 people not suspected of terrorism.
Monday, February 13, 2006
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Talk about the joy of the occasion... this one "Atilla of the hens" terrorised my childhood... but now I love her to death. It was for my own benefit that she clobbered me regularly...she says.
I just love this shot...everyone in it seems to be on a different planet.
Reports have it that those little green plastic cups were replenished generously to aid the return of feeling to her toes, fingers and nose.
Friday, February 10, 2006
Its softly raining now - in a silent time.
No cars, no voices, no TV or radio -
the phone is silent and I am by myself.
The earth has rolled away from the sun,
its dark outside.
I can hear Jedda dog scratching on the verandah.
I can hear the cicadas and crickets noise in the dark green.
I can hear the clock ticking away imaginary hours -
but still the silence is all around me.
I can see in my mind’s eye, my husband in bed asleep.
I can see my two daughters giggling as they lie in bed.
I can see the sun and planets whirling around the milky way.
But still I am here - lump like, thick - dense;
hunched over the bench I am at.
I am sure outside, above the clouds
the sky is like black velvet.
I am sure the closer to the sky I get, the larger it is.
I am sure that as small as I am,
I am larger than the earth... (figure it!)
But still I yearn for coffee, or chocolate or a new dress.
What a crazy mixed up half asleep thing I am.
God of the Universe, but microbe in the cosmos.
God of Eternity, but short lived as a butterfly.
God of my own destiny, but slavelike, easily led...
Still I know the difference...still I yearn for truth.
Around me now, pencils, pens, drawings and screwed up bits of paper.
Around me dirty cups, charcoal capsules for wind;
Around me flowers, books read and unread; pillows on the floor -
I stand tall inside myself,
caretaker of my body and earth.
But still ...
What a crazy thing I am ... ha!
Only on earth - such a contradiction.
Middle Child 1992
Thursday, February 09, 2006
We hope and pray the youngest sister makes a speedy return to Australian shores before the rot really sets in with her kids.
I guess its not just your ancestry which affects you...like a genetic race memory (Jung) but also the influence of the land you grew to adulthood in.
Lots of people from Europe/ the British Isles find the open spaces threatening. But still its beautiful.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
But how would you like to have this lot praying at your funeral?