13. Take it with a grain of salt
Messages with coded support or veiled threats constantly bombarded my brain. They came in many forms and from unknown sources. Many emails, disguised as spam, fell in this category. One of the most persistent came from a Washington-based business group, who kept sending invitations for seminars, even after I had told them I am from Australia. At one stage I perceived that I may be attending one of these before Christmas.
Even before my USA trip in March I had an exchange of emails with this group. I felt they had my wellbeing on their minds. Originally it had been my intention to visit this organisation back in April 03, but I changed to California at the last moment. (See ‘More in number’, Ch. 64). One person’s surname, amongst the other’s I noted in their regular emails, was Steele. I deciphered this to read: see+el+cross.
I learned the lesson to take all information with a grain of salt. If I stayed close to God, I believed to be walking in HIS will, wherever and whenever. There was much work to be done to complete my mission at home in Australia. I was very active phoning talk-back radio or commenting on issues by sending emails.
I happened to be listening to my small transistor in the middle of the night. A story about space exploration by a team of scientists in French Guyana (= a n & a guy?) made my suspicion-antenna go up. I could not resist, got out of bed, started my computer and sent the following email to the BBC in London.
Just listening to your News Service here in Adelaide at 3.15 am. I'd like to congratulate the team from French Guyana that after 4 years they are finally able to explore the corners of the Solar System.
If it takes the ‘smart one’ 18 months to reach the moon, how long will it take to reach the outer walls?
Anyway, I wonder if you could ask them, when they arrive back, if the walls are wallpapered or painted. My wife Isobel loves painting. Usually when I go away, she does a few rooms in the house, she's incredible. It would be such a shame, if the walls where wallpapered, because she needs me to help pull the old one off before painting. And I like travelling rather than renovating.
Dieter Rolf Fischer
PS. I have a ticket to go to the moon. This would be a great opportunity for an escape with a difference! These French Guyanaian guys have a lot of go. Would they give me a lift?
Above news report had called the space probe “the smart one”. This smelled “fishy” enough, but to use the phase “the outer walls” of a solar system, sounded just too far fetched (if you pardon the pun).
Another article in the Sunday Mail, 16/11/03 reported Richard Carlton (L-car on [the] cross?), a well-known TV journalist, had cancelled an overseas trip at the last moment to undergo a second heart operation. The first one had been guaranteed for 10 years and he had gotten almost five extra years out of it.
The date of the report (it included a photograph of the patient, his wife and a nurse) and the page number (16) were identical. The real funny phrase in the short piece of writing was – ‘a photograph had been taken to see blood flowing’. Carlton’s surname and his wife’s comment about her husband needing a “tune-up”, pointed to possible clever play on words. I wondered was the report a fabrication or at least an attempt at satire with parts of truth mixed in?
The previous day’s (15/11/03) Advertiser Newspaper, in an article highlighting the trade of smuggling of wildlife, had printed statements that were impossible to be accurate. The latter part of my correspondence referred to this faux pas.
On Nov. 18th I personally dropped the following letter into Tynte St, North Adelaide, the address of Channel Nine and a copy to the Advertiser newspaper.
Richard Carlton’s heart
In the past some people have assumed that journo’s don’t have a heart. Depite many fishy stories in the papers lately, I believe Sixty Minutes reporter Richard Carlton has one. It was proven in the Adelaide Sunday Mail’s report about Mr. Carlton’s aborted Manila departure. He must have a very sensitive heart to detect an arterial blockage as well as a sharp brain to consult a doctor straight away.
Luckily, all was well until the operation four days later. Nine hours on the operating table is a long maintenance session. And always ready with a camera to take a picture, I do that too. One never knows when history is being made.
Ashame Mr. Carlton didn’t go for maintenance before the warranty ran out. A 50 year-old man in LA told me recently he had been given a use-by date by his doctor. Poor guy; let’s hope nothing happens to him in the meantime or he will have to renew his life insurance on the given date.
A man like the late Victor Chang is irreplaceable. To find an heir good enough must have been hard. I’m glad it was passed to John Brereton and not Laurie. (He’s a politician, another breed who only finds out they have a heart after having a photo taken of the blood flow).
Another story in Saturday’s ‘tiser was a real eye-opener. The global trade of wildlife is supposedly worth 228 bn a year, or 10 % of all trade - some statement to swallow!! It was reported someone with a passion for Aussie wildlife is supposed to have stuffed 240 animals into suitcases to smuggle abroad. How dumb do these reporters think the readers are? If you love wildlife, you leave it where it is, not stuff it into a suitcase. Too much thinking perhaps on my part. Happens all the time and it gets me into hot water at times.
I look forward to next years 60-Minutes report on by-pass surgery. May I suggest research into brain-by-pass surgery, so eventually I can just read something and not feel compelled to make a song & dance or a poem about it.
One thing we learned in mathematics at school was to think about the result of a calculation in a broad sense. The headline, boldly printed, figure of 228 stood out immediately in the article. But that wildlife is 10 percent of all trade I knew would not be possible. (On this very day of writing this page (13/12/03) the number 228 is again printed in bold type on the front page of the Advertiser Newspaper, the amount of extra tax revenue our Government had collected).
As I was watching TV’s Sunrise one morning, a thought how to best describe a journalist came to me. I emailed the program, hinting in the PS that they had not answered a query I had pending:
We all know the reputation and uselessness of a tax collector. But what about journos? Sometimes they think, if they had a sickie there would be no news. I would class them as follows:
There are three types of people in the world. Those that make things happen, those that watch things happen and those that say: "What happened?" How better to describe a journo than a person who comes upon a scene and asks: "What happened?"
Isobel, my wife, would make a great journo.
Dieter Rolf Fischer
PS I am looking to hearing from you. If unsure what about, just ask me: What happened?
The date November 1st 2003 was a perfect number combination (1/11/2003) for action. Would it be on my part or someone else’s? Reading the newspaper that day, but not searching for anything, I saw an advertisement, which struck me as fake in an instant. The word Recall stood out from the ad and on closer examination, certain facts did not add up; just the company’s name NCS (see n’s) clicked. The ad said that Salmonella, to my knowledge potentially fatal bacteria, was suspected. For the recall to be only voluntary, would be highly negligent and did not make sense.
NCS’s alfalfa sprouts, according to the advertisement, were supposedly grown in Natural Spring Water. How could I let my chance for some fun go begging? I mailed the following letter on one of my driving school letterheads. My funny brain cells ran wild for a few minutes:
N C S
Coffs Harbour NSW 2450
Dear N C Sprouts,
On Saturday 1/11/03 night we had our annual survive the planet party at my place. All my learner drivers, who survived their first year of driving, were invited to my place to celebrate being alive. Mind you, half turned up in wheelchairs or artificial limbs, but still, when you consider the road toll in our state, just to be upright after experiencing our roads on p-plates, is a miracle.
What better product to serve, than NCS Sprouts and Organic Salad from Coffs Harbour. However, when I read about the recall in Saturdays kaper I was faced with a dilemma - disappoint my clients (with cheap caviar, crabmeat or other seafood) or take a risk serving your delicacies. Since your ad said voluntary recall I decided to take the risk. I am glad, it saves you hundreds of dollars in a refund.
Everyone raved on about the sandwiches with your product as the main course. (Has anyone told you how great they taste when served with sliced Banana?) Since I have not heard anything of anyone dying after my party, I think the Solomonela outbreak must be confined to North Sprout Wales. Why worry about a small problem like Salmanella? A few years ago we had a smallgoods contamination. It was serious. I had to go a month without my Saltami.
I am sure the expiry date of your 150 g punnets was 4/11/03. I am very careful with expiry dates. Last year I nearly served up Red Bourbon whose expiry date had passed years ago. One of the guests noticed it (he had just eaten one of those sandwiches!!) and alerted us.
Please let me know, if your product will be available for next year’s Driving Plus P-Plate Year-One Survivor Celebration Party. (I think I ought to register it as a political movement - road safety as its main policy). If not, please advise so I shop around for an alternative to entice my clients to this annual gala event. I may have to grow my own sprouts. Our Murray River water would be an ideal growing environment.
Thank you for your excellent product and I look forward to next year - hopefully more NCS Alfalfa and, God willing, less clients in wheelchairs.
It was interesting to discover that one of my favourite foods by placing a T in the middle would make such an interesting word, Sal t ami! I also wrapped the serious subject of road safety into humour, hoping the relevant authorities would be taking notice.
My outspokenness gained me an increasing reputation as a religious larrikin, if it’s possible to be called that. I was challenging all kinds of media releases. There were more safety recalls similar to the one above. A company in Melbourne was “voluntarily” recalling another food product, a Greek Dip. The company’s name, the address, street and suburb, as well as the four 7’s in the phone number caught my eye initially.
The way the ad was written and the fact that it was again a voluntary recall, made me think. Either there was a problem or there wasn’t. Sentences like: “The company is working with Health authorities on the problem” to me read like wishy washy bureaucratic jargon.
I phoned the company’s Melbourne phone number to let them know that someone is thinking. A girl named Nicky answered. That figured. I tried to ask some intelligent questions and at the same time I knew I was “taking the Mickey out of them” in a humorous way.
A similar advertisement appeared in the Advertiser a few weeks later at the end of November 03. It was again a food product from a Melbourne based company manufacturing Mexican Dip. The postcode 3153 did the trick. It was reported that the product in question contained an undeclared peanut protein. What was that supposed to mean? A sentence further down, however, was good advice to everyone: “Consumers concerned about their health should consult their doctor”. The name of the company contact I spoke to was Andrew. (I long ago had transformed Andrew into: “re; victory, victory [for a] n & d).
Why I had this urge to make contact with these companies that recalled products, I don’t know. Was it because when I saw something that I did not fit into my sphere of understanding, I wanted to make a noise about it? Or did I seriously have a sense of discernment of what is truth and what is not? But why would companies really invent a recall, which costs both in terms of dollars and in reputation?
I’m sure I didn’t read the newspaper any differently to other average citizens. I first scanned the headlines and tried to make sense of it. At the same time I decided if and how much of the finer details I wanted to read. Short articles therefore are more likely to be read in full. When anything about an article struck a cord or was very vague in detail, or didn’t make sense, I wondered if it really was true.
A typical example: A woman and her son fell 4 metres out of the second storey window of a flat above a group of shops. Both were unhurt. The street was mentioned – Spit Road, Mosman. (In the early 1970’s I lived on this main road for more than a year). To survive unhurt after falling 4 metres is a miracle. How old was the son? How come they did not get hurt? The item deserved more detailed reporting, if it really happened.
One serious car crash had my doubting nature tested almost to the limit. A lady and two children were supposedly killed in a car crash near Kaniba in Victoria. The report was very brief, despite involving three deaths. One young girl from the same family survived the tragedy. She was supposedly flown to Adelaide’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital for treatment.
The woman was allegedly doing a U-Turn in the middle of the night, when struck by an approaching semi-trailer. She was towing a horse float at the time and was moving residence from Fishermen’s Bay in South Australia (not in the post code book) to Bendigo, two hours north of Melbourne. Her husband had already moved there. ‘Kaniba’ does not exist. The location where it had occurred is called Kaniva. How can a major newspaper get this detail so wrong?
Out of curiosity I visited the Woman’s and Children’s Hospital and asked at the reception desk how the surviving girl was doing. (I could not understand why they had not transferred her to Melbourne, since her father lived near there). I asked what her name was, since the Adelaide newspaper had not given a name. For privacy reasons they could not give it to me. Later, after searching online and finding a name, I emailed the Melbourne Age newspaper feedback line (slightly edited):
On Friday afternoon (3.10.03) I went into the Adelaide Women's and Children Hospital to find out the name of the girl injured in the Kaniva road tragedy. They would not give it to me. All I wanted is to pray for her, not at her bedside, but at home.
Your online article enlightened me. Her name is Ladd Destiny. The article didn't mention anything about her father in Bendigo. One would imagine that he also is in Adelaide at his daughter's bedside.
May I ask your religious affairs writer, how he or she would best pray for Destiny?
Dieter Rolf Fischer
PS I wrote a road safety book. The chapter on U-Turns is the most comprehensive on any one subject. One would think that a simple U-Turn is just that - simple.
Did I really believe that road crashes would be reported that did not happen? That people died when in fact these people may not even exist? How absurd! Yet, later in the year 2003 I would actually attend a funeral of a motor cycle crash victim. At the same time I had serious doubts about the truth of events.
On the morning of this funeral I heard myself say to a parishioner of the church I had bumped into: “This afternoon I’m going to a funeral where there is no body in the coffin.” I could hardly believe myself the words I was saying. As events unfolded, however, it appeared as if I happened to have stumbled upon another mystery. Why did I take everything with a grain of salt?
Why did the why questions never stop?