30 September 2009

Child Protection - Let's Think Again



NSW has just banned smoking in cars with child passengers, several years after smoking was banned in pubs. That should tell you everything about the importance we place on children's safety - at least at the hands of their parents.
The Department of Community Services (DOCS) mandatory reporting line, where those dealing with children on a professional basis are required to report suspicions of abuse, receives over 1,000 calls a day. To deal with this, rather than hiring more workers, mandatory reporting has been changed from "children at risk of harm" to "children at serious risk of harm". Can we try a third way? Can we make it clear to parents that they have to stop abusing their children?

Government intervention is never resented so much as when it involves one's own family. Even the UN Declaration of Human Rights declares that "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children." We live in an age of strict safety standards and child protection laws for every other aspect of a child's life, yet parents have the right to do more or less anything they want to their children. Parents are only rarely prosecuted for the horrible or risky things they do to their children - it never seems to cross anyone's mind; witness this father being posthumously recommended for a bravery award when he should rather have been charged with manslaughter had he lived. As I said, a health professional or teacher who witnesses signs of abuse on a child is legally required to report it - a parent has no such requirement to report if their partner is abusing their child.

It's often said "the majority of parents want the best for their kids". True as far as it goes, but a lot of those parents think dangerous or just plain bad things are okay. They drink regularly in front of their kids, put them in the car and drive on the Pacific Highway, feed them Happy Meals, smack them, leave them unattended infront of space heaters and take them fishing on jetties at night. All legal,and all these parents would no doubt then sue if their child, say, broke their wrist at school. Maybe it's time we told parents they need to look after their chilren, too. By law if need be. Starting by actually prosecuting parents each and every time they abuse their children is a good start in a community mind shift.

25 September 2009

News of the Friday Follies


In jubillant mood today because of the end of my first term at TAFE, I bring you the unawaited return of the Friday follies. This week: Follies in the news.

  • A robot computer to mark English essays. What happens when the artificial intelligence is greater than the actual intelligence in the essays?

  • Lily Allen quits music over illegal file sharing? Let's see how long this lasts... (I hope she changes her mind, I like her stuff. I own a copy of It's Not Me, It's You on CD. You cannot rip the tracks to MP3s, forcing you to either buy her music twice, or use illegal sites in order to listen to "22" on the bus to work. May want to rethink that policy, Ms Allen?)

  • Fox News attacks Obama's safe schools Czar (their term) as a radical, calling him unsafe for schools. Fox thinks children should remain safe to express their homophobia.

  • Just how far will one man go to avoid paying for an ambulance? (Seventy kilometres).

  • Of all the reasons a nation migght have to ban Family Guy, Venezuela picked pot smoking? (C'mon, Chavez. You used to be cool).

  • Finally, and it's just a coincidence that this came straight after the pot topic. Next time you're wearing a new outfit you feel especially smart in, just remember, so did Brynne Gordon.

    Just make sure you have a wizened old Gollum next to you to complete the look...
  • 22 September 2009

    What's Wrong With Marriage? What's Wrong With Weddings!


    I'm getting married because I'm needy, insecure, and have abandonment issues. There, I said it.

    This article in the SMH created quite a bit of controversy. The writer, Catherine Deveny, labels weddings and marriage as antiquated, conservative traditions, "the reinforcement of unrealistic expectations, outdated gender stereotypes and proof we're still being sucked in to happily-ever-after endings. It's also a scathing indictment of our lack of cultural maturity and spiritual imagination. And proof we're emotionally medieval." Well, okay. Marriage is Ms Deveny's bugbear, I understand. I've got mine - circumcision and people who drive cars, and I'll happily see everyone who practices either slowly put to death. Marriage though? Well it doesn't really hurt anyone, as long as two parties go into it equally and willingly. I used to hold similar views to Ms Deveny, and in a way still do. I'm not going to use my personal situation to prove her wrong - a particularly right-wing arguing technique that, for example, turns every parent into an expert on the behaviour of paedophiles.

    So I don't have a bugbear about marriage, but I do have one for weddings. "Every bride" spends months dreaming of, and planning, her big day. She plans all the little touches that will make it reflect her and her husband. So why does every bridal couple these days look like they've been churned out of a factory?


    These are actual wedding photos of real couples, printed in Australian newspapers in 2009



    I've not been to many weddings, but just one would suffice. Living in the city, every weekend you see couples having their wedding photos taken, and each couple is staggeringly the same as the last. We recently caught a ferry across the harbour from Milson's Point (Luna Park) to Circular Quay. There were seperate couples taking photos at either end of the journey; if not for the fact that it was possible to view both parties at once from the boat, I'd have been convinced it was one couple who teleported over the water.

    Brides: try a blue dress occasionally. Seriously, you might as well all have a big Moonie wedding together. Anyway, the more "modern" you look now, the more you'll wonder "What was I thinking?!?" when you look back over your wedding photos in twenty years time. (If you've lost your wedding photos by then, just about anyone else's will suffice).

    15 September 2009

    Die, Badman, Die!


    There can be few issues in our society which whip people to the same level of frenzy as paedophilia. We're reminded of this every time Dennis Ferguson does anything at all.

    Okay, Ferguson is a horrible sort. He's been convicted of ghastly crimes.
    However, the issue now is that it's come out that Ferguson, freed after serving his prison terms, has been living in Ryde, in north west Sydney, for the past few weeks. The residents are not happy, and as continually happens with Ferguson, they've vowed not to rest until he leaves their suburb. As usual, all rational thought has gone, long before Ferguson will.

    One resident has described the neighbourhood as being "like a candy shop", for Ferguson. It's as if paedophilia was some sort of virus; merely having a paedophile nearby is enough to infect all the local children. Even Hetty Johnson, head of child sexual abuse support group Bravehearts, has come out saying paedophiles just don't work that way: "This man has only been dangerous to families that he befriends, so just don't befriend him and don't let your children befriend him, and you'll be as safe as you can be I guess".

    Where the hell is Ferguson supposed to go? There's much made of the fact that his new flat is near a primary school. Most people in built up areas would live within a kilometre of a primary school. Ryde has been described as a "family neighbourhood" - how many neighbourhoods have no children living or visitng? I think what people really want here is revealed in this comment by local resident "Sean" - "He doesn't deserve to live in society - he deserves to be outcast for the rest of his life. His relaxation as an elderly gentleman is over - he needs to start serving the community in the right way and that's by disappearing". Or, as another young woman living nearby put it, "I'm sixteen years old and I'm terrified" she said (of what?!?). "I just want him to die".

    Well at least someone came out and said it. They don't want Ferguson anywhere - they just want him to commit suicide.

    Everyone who wants Ferguson gone, as usual in these situations, is a pains to emphasise that they have children (usually of the "small" variety). A TV news reporter actually said that "none of Ferguson's supporters actually has children", as though having children made you an expert on the behaviour of paedophiles. DF and I plan to have children in the next few years. How would I feel if Ferguson moved in to our street? Not really comfortable, but knowing that I wouldn't be leaving my children alone with strangers anyway - especially since the chances are we'd be living near child sex offenders wherever we were.

    Meanwhile, it looks like the NSW government, for all it's bluster, can't actually legally move Ferguson. Residents in Ryde say they may have been more understanding if they'd been told in advance Ferguson was coming. But as long as the media whips up these ridiculous moral panics, that was never going to happen.

    11 September 2009

    Friday Grab Bag


    Jockeys have gone on strike over new rules which restrict them to using padded whips, and also limit the number of times per race they can beat the horse. They're not happy. Racing figures have claimed that whips don't actually hurt the horse (then what's the point?) and that whipping is actually for the horse's benefit: "Whipping is just to encourage a horse at the peak of it's fitness to perform it's best". Oh yes, I'm sure the horses love it. In fact, why not whip Usain Bolt to see if he can run a bit faster? No one should be allowed to race, train or attend horse races until they have submitted to being hit with a horsewhip to see for themselves how much it hurts. (Alcohol consumption, and the numbing effects of such, on race day notwithstanding. Actually, living near a racecourse and seeing the behaviour of some racegoers, a whipping is just what they need regardless).

    ~~~~~

    A 19 year old woman In Queensland has been charged with procuring a miscarriage after taking the abortion drugs Milofian and Misoprostol at her home. It is still technically illegal to procure an abortion in Queensland - as well as here in NSW. Keep an eye on this one - whichever way it goes, the consequences will be far-reaching. It does look like the Bligh Labor government in Qld is moving to at least place chemical abortion on the same legal footing as surgical abortion, possibly as a result of this case. If only they'd just decriminalise abortion and have done with it.

    ~~~~~

    Whoa! Heavy stuff for a Friday. On a lighter note, literally. In a fit of turning-30 inspired pique a couple of months back, I decided to bleach my hair and dye it dark pink. It turned out... well, it's been an interesting experience. I bleached my hair way more times than was necessary and completely killed it (hint: can I recommend against doing this a few months out from your own wedding? I'm probably going to have to wear a wig for the occasion, my hair is that fried). On the other hand, if you want people to think you're younger than you are, I highly recommend it. I've been mistaken for a teenager so many times lately, at least until the observer gets close enough to see the crows feet and look of defeat. But overall, there have been fewer reactions than I expected. It seems to affect women at either ends of the age spectrum - old women give me death stares, while little girls are invariably fascinated (you can see them working up the courage to ask their mothers is they can have pink hair, too).

    But the regrowth has come marching in and so have the bills. It's time for me to get a job and that means dyeing my hair a "normal" colour again. It will be nice to look like a thirty year old, almost married woman who can wear pearls without looking ridiculous, but on the other hand I'll miss wearing a tracksuit and still being able to look interesting.

    08 September 2009

    When Love Dies


    It's always gruelling to watch the sad, slow death of a loved one. I'm dealing with the trauma at the moment - the sad demise of my beloved Sichuan chicken.

    The Dixon House food court in Sydney's Chinatown isn't much to look at. It was almost, but not quite, enough to put me off on my first visit, but I was hungry, and decided to order the Sichuan chicken from Joy Luck Cuisine. I'd only ever had Sichuan Chicken from a packet mix before, and thought I'd see what it was like cooked fresh.

    Well, I was stunned. I simply could not believe I'd lived more than a quarter of a century without this delight in my life. A huge, sizzling platter piled with tender breast chicken meat and onion in the most devine spicy sauce you can imagine, for a mere $7.50 (it went up to $8.90 over time). I wanted to weep with pleasure. (In fact it was so spicy I did weep a little). At the time, I was new to Sydney and homesick for Newcastle, but this dish on its own made living here worthwhile.

    In the years that followed, I'd go to Dixon House for my Sichuan chicken at least once a fortnight. The lady who ran the stall long since stopped warning me it was a very spicy dish. I tried other Sichuan chickens, but they were pale imitations of perfection. Over time, I think I brought everyone I knew who lived in Sydney along with me to share the joy. It was the perfect pick-me-up, hangover cure, indulgence, cheap lunch and feast. I wanted to ask them to cater my wedding. Joy Luck was by far the best of the stalls in the food court and always had a long wait on the weekend, but it was worth it for that chicken. Sometimes, I'd vaugely worry that they would shut down, but figured the place was too popular and anywaty, surely nothing that bad could happen to me?

    The end, when it came, was gradual. It took me a couple of visits to realise the lady who ran it (and worked there taking orders 72 hours a week) wasn't just away, but that there'd been a change of ownership. Nonetheless, I continued to order the chicken. The lure of the sauce was too strong. Strange vegetables began appearing. I don't like many vegetables; it's what puts me off most Asian food, and one of the reasons I liked this chicken dish so much. Then the sauce acquired a funny , smoky taste. Okay, I figured, part of love is accepting the good with the bad. I even tried to be forgiving when mushrooms were added to the mix. Now, I like mushrooms about as much as I like Piers Akerman - they're both damp, icky and raised on bull shit - but I was willing to push them out of the way as I ate. DF begged me to let go. I couldn't.

    But then came the final insult. The breast meat chicken was tossed in favour of mystery brown meat. I gagged. I cried. I left my dish mostly full and knew it was over.

    What does one do when everything you hoped for is gone? There's been a grieving process. But I think I'm ready to love again. I need a dish to live for. One that will get me out of bed, cheer me up, keep me satiated. I'm looking. There was some initial promise from the duck and rice at BBQ King, but it didn't work out. Things are going well with the pork larb at Crocodile Thai, but it's early days. We'll see how we go.

    05 September 2009

    Never Before Seen Outtakes!


    In deciding to post every day, I've had to think of things to post about. Most ideas seem to be sound, but not quite weighty enough to sustain a whole post. Here are some Xander and Nico posts that never quite made it:

  • It was Legacy day this week. Schoolkids swarming the city to sell Legacy badges - 16 years ago, I was one of them. It's a noble idea, Legacy; to support the families of deceased veterans. But how many deceased veterans are there these days? There have been less than 20 Australian soldiers killed in combat in the past 20 years. And most of those men had partners with their own careers. We've already gotten rid of the widow's pension. Maybe it's time to admit that Legacy is a cause who's time has passed.

  • Would those people who whinge about the extra benefits Aboriginal people receive want to be Aboriginal themselves? Would they, for that matter, tell Holocuast victims to "get over it"? (The answers are probably no and yes).

  • There is a new call for Australia to join every other civilised nation and adopt a bill of rights. As usual the right, led by John Howard, have come out against it. "Decisions on human rights should be made by elected politicians", they say, "not unelected judges". That would mark the first time conservatives have ever shown respect for politicians, then...

    Thanks for dropping by for my late blogging revival.
  • 03 September 2009

    Why The Sex Diaries are a BOBS


    Oh dear, and I didn't want to think about it at all. More and more salacious details of the affairs of former NSW Health Minister John Della Bosca have been revealed in the Daily Telegraph. (No wait, that headline refers to something else. Two affairs! I can barely find energy for one engagement. Anyway, according to blogger Sam de Brito, it was never about the sex; Della Bosca just wanted to be wanted. Maybe he's one of the poor dears whining their penises off in The Sex Diaries.

    I'm a few months late here, but I recently read Bettina Arndt's tome of marital woe, in which ordinary Australian couples relate how differing sex drives are damaging their relationships. Or as Ardnt puts it, "different libidos [are] creating a generation of men who were "miserable, angry and really disappointed" that their need for sex was "being totally disregarded in their relationship". Man after man in this book complains that they don't get all the sex they would like.

    A need? A NEED?!? Not from the men I know, but there's an underlying assumption from the men in this book that they somehow require or are entitled to sex. No. You need food, water and sleep. You don't NEED sex any more that you need a new DVD player. And if you do, the answer is attached to your wrist.

    Arndt doesn't take this into account. Nor does she look at why all these women are rejecting their husbands' advances, or what can be done to fix any related relationship problems. Instead, she blames it all on the "fragile female libido". Solution? In order to meet their husbands' "needs", women should have sex even when they're not in the mood, to make their men happy.

    Well this has generated the expected amount of controversy, which Ardnt has dealt with by twisting the debate along ideological lines. With Miranda Devine on her side, Ardnt accuses those who oppose the idea of being "feminists", apparently of the old man-hating, hairy legged variety. There's no justification for women denying sex (according to Devine, women and men do about the same amount of work per week - I'm just an amateur but that seems way off to me). But heed this: "Arndt is not suggesting women have sex against their will, but to heed new research that shows they may still enjoy sex even if they didn't crave it in the first place." Last time I checked, doing something you didn't want to do, for whatever reason, is against your will (that's why you get paid to go to work when you'd rather sleep in). These women are advocating marital rape.

    The whining from the men in question has to be read to be believed. I wonder if Belinda Neal - as unpleasant as she apparently is - had to listen to twenty years of such plaints from John. But the real issue here is these women of the right, who come out swinging on the side of some fairly unpleasant men. They must need something to write about; they surely haven't come up with a workable solution everyone can live with.

    02 September 2009

    Smack Addicts


    There are many people I'll never understand. People who enjoyed the single "All Summer Long." People who leave the gherkins on Big Macs. Men who wear shorts with socks. Women who wear otherwise elegant outfits with thongs.

    And the people who think it is their right, or even somehow helpful, to "physically discipline" their children.

    Society pretends to be deeply concerned with the welfare of children. But really, in terms of attitudes to child abuse, we're at the stage now that we were with domestic violence thirty years ago - that it's a family matter, a parent's right, that we shouldn't get involved.

    It baffles logic that if an older child hits a younger one, this is "bullying", but if an adult hits a child, this is acceptable. And only if that adult is the child's parent - if smacking is such an effective form of discipline, why is it only parents - not babysitters, teachers, childcare workers, other family members, or anyone else looking after the child - who are allowed to carry smacking out?

    Smacking is rarely perfomed in a thoughtful, considered way. Most smacking is performed by a stressed parent lashing out in the heat of the moment. Not having children yet myself, I can't understand that stress and can't guarantee I'll never smack myself and regret it straight away. But that's the difference - I know it's not okay, and I sincerely hope I never actually smack my kids.

    Most "right to smack"ers say "I was smacked, and I turned out okay." Well, if you think it's okay for you in turn to hit a child, then no you didn't turn out okay. Smacking is horribly demeaning to a child - and threats are even worse. Children acquire discipline through respect for their parents, not fear. Many people I know who were smacked have never learnt resepct for authority (as opposed to fear of authority) and have learnt, not to do well, but rather to not get caught. My fiancé wasn't smakced as a child, and I can tell you he's far more respectful and less illegal than I am.

    Smacking sends the message that might is right. As a civilised society, we should ban this barbaric relic of a bullying past. Smacking will still go on - but we need to stand up and say, it's not okay anymore.

    01 September 2009

    Shopping for Introverts


    In a perfect world, I'd never eat at McDonalds again. I loathe everything they stand for. Same with any anonymous commerical enterprise.

    But in this world, I'm shopping at chain stores like there's no tomorrow. Why? Because I'm shy.

    I love the idea of supporting independent businesses. But when I walk into a tiny shop and the sales assistant wants to be my new BFF, I'm tempted to run away. There's no easy solution to this for timid people - except to patronise massive, uncaring corporations because by not caring about you, they leave you alone. I'm not altogether sure that small business owners realise the, effect they have when, for instance, you linger a moment at a cafe blackboard and they come running over, squawking "Can I help you?" It's pretty offputting to the shy. Small clothes shops are even worse. "I just came in for a look. Yes it's a lovely day and I'm feeling fine, but following me around making irrelevant comments won't persuade me to buy your overpiced ugly ass trousers".

    So I'm afraid I'll keep doing my shopping where no one wants to know my name.