Friday, 15 February 2013

Plastic bags are good for the environment:

Remember the olden days – metal garbage bins filled with unmentionable and very smelly rubbish – food scraps, meat, fish, vegetable – and sometimes worse. If left for very long, there would be maggots starting to appear, and always – blowflies circling the bin, looking for entry.
Then along came plastic bags, free with the groceries, and food started being enclosed in plastic bags as a routine. Smells vastly reduced, and no more breeding of blowflies. You may not have noticed, but there are far fewer flies around than there used to be. (Though in South Australia there are still a lot – they’ve banned the giving away of plastic bags in South Australia.)

But you cry  – they are bad for the environment. They kill fish, do not decompose, are around forever,  take up too much space in landfill…

So, one by one.

Killing fish.  We kill far, far more ourselves, both to eat and others that get caught as a by product of the catch. I don’t know how many fish are so stupid as to eat plastic bags,  but like most other animals, fish are more intelligent than they are given credit for. Certainly do not throw plastic bags into the sea – or any other rubbish. But they are an infinitesimal proportion of the rubbish that goes into oceans. The problem has been vastly exaggerated.

They do not decompose?  Maybe twenty years ago they were slow to decompose, but this nonsense about them lasting 10,000 years or whatever... Well, really!  These days you’re lucky sometimes to get your groceries home without the plastic bag falling to bits. And so many have holes in them so that they cannot be re-used. Plastic bags are one of the most useful things around  -  for holding groceries, for storing things, for containing rubbish, especially smelly rubbish – think of not just meat or fish scraps, but babies’ nappies, women’s sanitary pads, old people’s incontinence pants, sick people’s stoma bags…   We are told to use paper instead, maybe old newspapers.  Maybe those who tell us this have not noticed that wet newspapers fall to bits?

They take up space in a landfill.  Well, yes, they do – enclosing lots of other rubbish. I bet those who work at a tip are grateful for plastic bags – the work would be a lot more horrible without them.

No. The fuss about plastic bags is just a way of pretending to care for the environment while never tackling any of the actual problems. Most things we do to 'save the planet' are either futile or worse, have the opposite effect.

Example:  Take the older cars off the roads. They give off more ‘greenhouse gases’ and use more petrol.  But:  Making a single new car sends out more greenhouse gases and uses more resources than the tiny amount of difference between the running costs of a new car as opposed to an old car.   Balance sheet – better to keep the old car.

Example:  Make the old-fashioned light globes impossible to obtain, therefore forcing people to buy the new ones that are supposedly more energy efficient. But: the old light globes were very efficient. Even in rooms where they were used all the time, they lasted years, and accounted for a very small proportion of electricity used by a household. And the new ones  have problems – they take a while to be bright enough, meaning that in places like toilets and bathrooms where you need the light for only a short time, it is not efficient.
More seriously, they are a safety hazard. The new ones can’t be used with dimmer switches, touch lamps or sensor lights.  (I have heard that there are new varieties though now.)  I have seen smoke issuing from a light with a dimmer switch when a new light bulb was put in, but then luckily the bulb blew, too soon for it to start a fire. But if even one house fire was started like this, the smoke put into the atmosphere would exceed the emissions supposedly reduced by the switch.  There have been a lot of  fires in recent years blamed on ‘electrical problems.’ It is a few years since the old-fashioned light globes became unobtainable, just about the time when some of them finally blow. (They usually lasted between 3 and 20 years, depending on what room they were in and how much used.)  So how many of these ‘electrical problems’ are caused by using the new light bulbs with an  older fitting that is unsuited to it. As far as I know, there have never been any warnings about this.
One more thing – a lot of light fittings simply would not accommodate the new globes, meaning that people had to buy new light fittings – which had to be manufactured, using various resources, and then moved to where they were needed, using trucks or ships or trains, all of which require power. 
Balance sheet -  very much on the negative side.

Water savings. 
Water is a finite resource, they tell us. Use it wisely. But actually – water goes around and around. It gets evaporated, it condenses and returns purified as rain. I learned that in primary school. Could we be making a mistake trying too hard to conserve water? 

Example:  closing over bore-drains.  Open bore drains for irrigation used to ‘lose’ a lot of water to evaporation. They were also a resource for wild animals and birds. They are being closed over, so no more evaporation and no more watering points for the animals. Swimming pools are supposed to be covered, watering of gardens and laws strictly limited, all to reduce ‘losses’ from evaporation. Could it be contributing to reduced rainfall?  I do not have the answers, I have not done the studies, but maybe it’s time to at least ask the question.   

There are other ways that trying to reduce water use has a poor effect:

Example: dual flush toilets. I don’t know about every dual flush toilet, but I am far from impressed with ours. It was a few years ago now that we needed new toilets, and it’s the only type they seem to sell these days. They are inefficient, Too often, two or even three flushes are required to do the job, which uses more water than a single efficient flush. 
Example:  Not always flushing:  There was a new saying put about last drought - ‘If  it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down.’  Think of the smell, think of the yellow stains, requiring more powerful chemical to make your toilet clean again, - it's poor on the balance sheet for that alone.  But also, it is apt to cause problems with the sewer pipes -  if there is not enough water to sufficiently flush the pipes, then there will be blockages which require more power and more water just to clear the blockage and flush the pipes.   
Example: Save water by collecting water in the kitchen sink. We saved water that way and put it on the garden – until we noticed how the water pipes were beginning to smell. ‘Environmental flows’ are needed for water and sewer pipes as much as they are needed for rivers. 
Example: Save water by having a bucket in your shower to try and collect some of the wasted water.  I tried this once, didn’t collect much, and nearly tripped over the dammed thing. Never again. A few days later, a surgeon was on the news advising against it. Just one old person with a broken hip because of it, would use more water than was ever saved with this practice. Good intentions maybe, but risky and ineffective.

A few things utterly futile:

People want to do the right thing, but seize on things that are useless.  ‘Earth Hour.’  For one hour in the year, switch off lights.  It started in Australia and has spread overseas. I don’t know how many robberies are timed for ‘Earth Hour’ or how many people are hurt knocking over things in the dark, but in any case, how could anyone think that turning off the lights for an hour could have any effect when for every other hour, things are so very lit up. I saw an image of an American city not long ago, and it appeared that every square yard for every building was illuminated. Not that is wastage on a ground scale. 

So what can we do for the environment if whatever we try is either futile or has the opposite effect?

The root problems that we encounter are from two causes:

The first is that all countries are driven by the Economics theory that growth is good. It appears that economists do not believe that there could be any such thing as stability. So every year, GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has to be higher than the previous year. Every year, profits of every business should go up. Every year, people need to buy more things whether or not they are needed, spend more money, upgrade their mobile phone, their car, have a bigger house… When ‘consumer confidence’ drops, and spending is reduced, it is spoken of as a real concern. The economy, as it is at the moment, depends on everything being more and bigger and even more – every year.
And every year, there should be more people to drive more growth and give us a healthy economy. And this, of course, is the big, big, BIG problem that we have to cope with. There are too many of us – too many people needing electricity, too many people needing shelter and water and food. We need to develop a new theory of economics that does not depend on constant growth, and we need to convince people, especially religious leaders, that zero population growth, as was pushed fifty years ago, is essential. If it had been adopted then, we might have been getting closer to a stable population now.


In third world countries and in first world countries, surely it is better to have two children you can rear properly than to have ten that you rear in poverty.

 There are too many people, and this is the cause of every single environmental problem that we have.

We can keep trying. Wind power's good, certainly better than the disastrous 'Hydraulic Fracturing' or 'Fracking' that is used to extract coal seam gas.

The story of a modern-day eunuch - fiction

The Shuki Series -
      the continuing story of Shuki Bolkiah - modern day eunuch.

'Not a Man' was first in this series -

From boy of the slums to Oxford Graduate. This is the story of Shuki Bolkiah, modern day eunuch.

"Not a Man' is set in an unnamed country of Arabia. Shuki is aged ten, and a 'bed-boy.' His master wants his beautiful boy to stay beautiful, so arranges for him to have 'a small operation.' This traumatic event changed forever the life of a clever, determined boy.

Shuki learns to manipulate his master. He learns to read and write, he gets his master into the habit of giving him large sums of money, and he makes friends with the master's sons.

Shuki becomes more beautiful with every passing year. His master becomes more possessive, more jealous, and Shuki is guarded. When his master takes him to England, he escapes and starts a new life with the money he's saved. He is fifteen.

By Elle "Elle" - Amazon Verified Purchase
This review is from: Not a Man: The Story of Shuki Bolkiah: 1 (Paperback)
Not a Man is as much an exploration of the consequences of unimaginable beauty as it is a story of unimaginable horror. Set against a vivid international backdrop that veers towards fantasy but never so far as to be unbelievable, it tells of Shuki, a beautiful young boy castrated as a child on the orders of his master to keep him that way.
The characterisation is superb, no one is completely good nor evil, and Shuki himself is stoic, tenacious, intelligent and at times downright Machiavellian, but never a victim and importantly, never unlikeable.A unique premise handled with both confidence and compassion. I would recommend this.
Review by: Lorraine Cobcroft on July 04, 2012 :
Outstanding for its originality and depth, M.A. McRae’s Not a Man is an amazing work that will transport you to a foreign world. It will let you experience a lifestyle and culture that is most likely vastly different from any with which you are familiar.
This is not a story for the faint-hearted. If you read to escape to a fantasy world where heroes are gallant, heroines are beautiful and spoiled, and endings are always happy, you may not enjoy it. If you are reluctant to face the reality of man’s inhumanity to man, or to recognize that some people enjoy sex in a way that others regard as perverted, it may shock and distress. If you struggle to recognize that those whose beliefs, moral standards and lifestyles many in our civilization abhor are, nevertheless, real people capable of kindness, compassion and love, it may enlighten you, but also disturb you.
I began reading Not a Man feeling more than a little uncomfortable. I expected to be repulsed by the story of Shuki, a boy taken from the slums and castrated before his tenth birthday. The idea of reading about men taking bed-boys and having anal sex didn’t appeal. I knew it happened, but I preferred not to be confronted with it. But I promised the author I would read it, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the story fascinating and educational, as well as enjoyable.
I recognized immediately I began reading that M. A. McRae was no ordinary writer. She has the ability to draw the reader into the story – to bring her characters and settings to life in the readers’ mind. She has a knack of portraying characters a reader may want to despise for their unpalatable behaviour in a way that compels you to understand and forgive their foibles and admire their better qualities. The people she describes are a product of their culture. We may not approve of aspects of their lifestyle, but we are drawn to understand how they came to be what they are and to appreciate and applaud their efforts to be empathetic and charitable.
I wanted to hate Hassanel: a man who could arrange the castration of a child for his sexual pleasure. I wanted to find him vile and repulsive in every way. But I got to know a man for whom this conduct was an acceptable part of the culture in which he had been raised and educated, but who had the capacity to genuinely care for Shuki and want to protect him.
Shuki found his way into my heart. The little boy from the slums who so feared a return to abject poverty that he would agree to an operation he feared, believing he could arrange his escape before it was done, used his charm and guile to secure his own future and to help his suffering family. When he was brutally raped and his best friend—who came to his aid—was killed, I confess I cried. It amazes me now to realize that I liked and admired Ben, and Elei too. These were men who used a boy for sex, so it astonishes me that I could find them anything but repulsive in the extreme. But M.A. McRae introduced me to human beings – good, kind, caring people who succumbed to temptation to perform acts, in private, that gave them pleasure and that certain cultures do not regard as abhorrent.
This book is confronting, but M.A. McRae handles sex scenes tactfully and with respect for readers. Her characters grow and learn, gradually realizing the illogical cruelty of customs such as casting women out as punishment for being victims of a man’s criminal act and the dreadful long-term consequences of castration. We experience the pain and suffering of a eunuch. We share his fears. We grieve with him over his inability to experience sexual pleasure and to anticipate marriage and fatherhood. At the same time, however, we are shown the unique beauty and gentleness that results from castration before puberty. We are helped to recognize the compelling attraction some men feel to a beautiful eunuch. Their behaviour may disturb us, but we are unable to resist the urge to sympathize.
Not a Man is not light reading. It’s a heavy-weight and gut-wrenching tale that will alter your perspective on sensitive issues and your view of the culture and lifestyle it describes.
This is an impressive and memorable work by an author with impressive talent, and one I recommend to readers with confidence that it may shock, but it will never disappoint.

Second in the series is 'The King's Favourite.'

           It was the greatest scandal that Oxford University had ever known. The culprits were the scions of the rich and famous, even of Royalty. The trials went on for years, and the story of the modern day eunuch spread, his beauty and desirability extolled. Shuki Bolkiah was unaware of the full extent of his notoriety, though he knew not to show his face in England, not for fear of unwanted advances, but because reporters were such a problem. He now lives in his own remote home, overlooked by his beloved mountains, and protected by the Daoud family of Naelahin. He has his family, his studies, and is respected. He has come a very long way from his origins.

          Feroz was viewed as a puppet king. Just sixteen, yet he is the all-powerful monarch of a country in Arabia. When an important and complex trade deal hangs in the balance, his Chief Councillor bargains an extra concession to keep his young king happy. Added to the details of the enormous payment promised was the reference to ‘other considerations.’ Shuki’s freedom is traded away by his own country. At the age of twenty-six, he is in the position of a bed-boy again.

          As he told his stepson years later, “Sometimes things happen, and the only choice you have is to accept it, and learn to make a life anyway.” Shuki has no choice, and he makes his life anew in a country not his own. As he’d risen from the position of replaceable bed-boy when he was a child, now he has to do it all over again.

Review by: Debbie Bennett on Sep. 08, 2012 : star star star star star
The continuing story of Shuki, a modern-day eunuch. Sold by his own country to be a slave to young king Feroz, Shuki never forgets his childhood "family" and yet finds contentment and even love in the strangest of circumstances.

This sequel to Not A Man is again rich in characters and detail, dragging you into middle-eastern culture with all five senses. It positively reeks of authenticity, with hints of the world political events of the late 20th century anchoring the story. Yet again McRae doesn't shirk from the day-to-day details of Shuki's life - from political adviser to the king and all the court intrigue that entails - to the king's sexual preferences and his obsession with Shuki.

'A powerful and addictive read that kept me up late for two nights.

and 'Magical! Still the power of shuki's character leading the reader from page to page. It's not possible to recreate the impact of the first work, it never is, but this still has a powerful attraction in it's own right. It displays all the other attributes of the first book and will mesmerise all that open the first page.'

And Now:  'To Love and To Protect:'

A story of life and of love.
Shuki is home, and enjoying being home. He loves his wives and he loves his children. And Elei. Elei is his chosen love, not Feroz. He may have grown to love King Feroz, but he never took the place of Elei.
To the Daouds, he is someone special, theirs to love and to protect, as their father, the Old Master Hassanel, laid down in his will.
To Shuki, the Daouds’ home is his home, though he does not regard himself as belonging to anyone - or maybe to Elei, as Elei belongs to him.
He is fond of Hasquitri’s children, the girls and the boys. The girls, at fourteen, are of marriageable age, and are closely chaperoned, protected. They are still permitted to ride when suitably escorted, and Shuki makes a point of riding with them. Alone among the men, he knows what it is to suffer under too much protection.
The boys have a full life, learning about their father’s businesses, travelling, enjoying the hunting and the shooting and the riding. But when young Zahu becomes aware of just exactly what he is, the relationship becomes a lot more complicated.

These books are available on most online booksellers including Smashwords and Amazon.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Basic Hygiene and blowing out the candles.

Basic Hygiene

In Australia at the moment, there is a bit of a row going on because childcare centres have been ordered to not allow a child to blow out the candles of a birthday cake that is then to be shared around. 

I didn’t think about the custom when I was small myself, but now…    It is a horrible custom, especially as small children have a strong tendency to blow rather wet!  Imagine a beautifully decorated and so-tempting cake that looks absolutely delicious  – and then some three-year-old blows out the candles - simultaneously spitting all over it.  No thanks!  When my children were small, they either had individual cupcakes with a candle on each, or just a written ‘four’ or ‘five’ or whatever.  They don’t appear to have suffered for the deprivation. (If you think they might, just toss an extra couple of lollies on the icing as decoration. I’m sure that will console them.)

But basic manners of food hygiene seem to be being forgotten these days. Look at all those cooking shows. Masterchef, where the judges take a spoon each and eat from the same dish. Sometimes a dozen contestants doing the same thing.  There must be a colossal wastage of food on these shows – surely they can afford a serve each of whatever is to be sampled!  And you see the cooks preparing the dishes – they seldom seem to wash their hands or hesitate to handle the food with their hands when surely, a spoon would do.

The rules that were instilled into me as a child. They are common sense. Food handlers should not ignore them.

1.      Wash your hands before eating.  Surely that’s basic.
2.      Wash your hands before doing any food preparation. Basic. If you go to the toilet or handle anything not clean, then wash them again.
3.      Do not eat food from the same bowl as other people, or drink from the same glass, or lick from the same ice-cream. You are only sharing germs. This has not changed in the last ten years, no matter what you see on TV.
4.      Do not lick the spoon and put it back in the stew unless it is for yourself alone. Do not drink from the milk carton that is to be shared. Maybe a more modern rule should be not to share a joint. If you have to be so stupid as to smoke a joint, then you should have one each.

We are all exposed to various germs as we go about our day, but that does not mean that I want yours.  Do not offer me food that has not been hygienically prepared, and if your child has just blown out the candles of his birthday cake, sorry – I don’t want any.

Ian MacKender liked to boast that Penwinnard Boys’ Home was the best facility of its type in all of the UK, and perhaps the world. But whatever he could do, the best he could do, his boys still longed for true family.

Young Sid very much wants a new mum and dad, and is willing to put a great deal of effort into finding one. He is  goodlooking enough, ‘passable,’  as he is told, but as he says rather too often, ‘You gotta have manners.’ 

Available from various online selling sites including: