10 September 2010

Farewell and All That


Well, this is it. I said, once the Federal election was over, I would wrap up my blog - as I've said in posts over the last few months, I've completely lost my mojo and the timing seems right. But now that the time for the last post is here, I'm not quite sure what to say, except for one thing.

Thank you. Thank you to everyone who's ever read a post, come back to see what else I have written, left a comment (supportive or otherwise!), looked at the photos, followed a link, thought about what I have said. Many of you over the years have said that you've enjoyed what I've written, which has meant the world to me. When I look back at my first post, it doesn't feel like all that long since I wrote it, and yet. When I started this blog, I was 24, living alone in Newcastle, and Xander was a kitten. I'm now in my thirties, married, living in Sydney, and Xander is "mature" according to veterinary standards (which puts a slight lump in my throat when I think about it). Over the last seven years, I've had five jobs, lived in four apartments, covered three Federal elections, made tasteless jokes, infringed copyright and tried to incite violence. It's been a great teacher, both of writing and HTML. But nothing lasts forever, and it's definitely time to go. Thanks again, and I hope to see you all at my new project soon (I'll post the link here when it's ready to go).

Where we attempt to wave goodbye.

26 August 2010

The Penultimate


Best laid plans being worth the blank fields they're typed on, I was intending to do a last-ever post here the day after the election, then finally get started on my new blog.

That plan was predicated on the notion that we'd know who had actually won the damn thing by then.

So, I'm going to keep on keeping on here, and wrap up when this whole electoral mess does. May God have mercy on us all.

10 August 2010

Time To Farewell?


Dear readers. I've been running this blog for nearly seven years now. I never thought it would last this long, not in my worst nightmares. And in recent months, I've hardly been posting at all. This is because I think I've pretty much said everything I have to say. I've complained about politics and every day life as much as they can be complained about. The fact that there's a Federal election upon us and I can't bring myself to write about it is a clue. I've already covered two elections, you know? Makeovers aren't helping; this blog has been through nearly as many colours as my hair over the duration.

So, although it will hurt - a lot - I am thinking of letting the Xander and Nico Pod die a natural death. I want to focus on something else, like an idea for a local photography blog I have in mind. I've got nothing left to say and I can't force it anymore. I think some of what I've written over the years was actually pretty good, but whatever mojo I've had is gone now.

But I'm not certain at this stage. I'm not expecting to be begged to reconsider, but I'd be interested to know if anyone really thinks I should keep going. Doing a token post every now and then to make the ten-year mark is one idea. And if the Coalition win the election, I'm sure my anger will help fuel the sort of half-decent posts that came from my rage during the Howard years. But otherwise I'm not sure I can see the point in continuing, like a sad old pop star who could have retired and their peak, but is just embarrassing themselves now. Actually I'm past my peak. I don't want to become the INXS of blogs.

08 August 2010

Once A Socialist


"The man who is not a socialist at 20 has no heart, but the man who is a socialist at 40 has no brain".

We've all heard that quote. I know I have many times, mainly from people who expect I will grow out of my politics, just as they hope I will grow out of being a Goth. I'm afraid that the latter hasn't happened yet, and I'm guessing the former won't either.

As I get older I'm shifting more to the left, and I'm not alone. Last week I went to see Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens, speak at Leichhardt Town Hall (one of the joys of community involvement is spending a lot of time in cold halls eating cake). I expected the audience to be full of dreadlocked student types, but instead the bulk of the crowd was aged between 40 and 60. It could be because students are a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings who didn't want to shell out $15 on a rainy winter night, but I rather think that the more decent people get to look at the world, the more leftist their views become.

The underlying philosophy behind left wing politics is the belief that what happens to other people is as important as what happens to you - the values that Barack Obama spoke of at the 2004 Democratic Convention. The ethos of the conservative, on the other hand, is "Screw you, I've got mine (and I want more)". We see this not just in big business, but in "average families" telling the Daily Telegraph that they will cheerfully switch allegiance to whoever keeps interest rates low, plies them with tax cuts whilst services suffer, and keeps those nasty boat people who are crowding the country away. It's a mindset we can thank John Howard for; part of the shameful legacy he left this country with. But there is another way, a better way. I won't be sopped to by the major parties.

And I don't think capitalism works. Oh, I know it "works" financially, a bit, sometimes. Kind of. But there's more to humanity than that. The idea that the market is the perfect arbiter of value is insane - as I declared to myself when, not long after having been laid off last year, my partner working double shifts as a nurse to support us, I saw a poster advertising that the Chk-chk-boom chick was making a guest appearance at Home nightclub and no doubt, getting more money for showing up than we would see in a month. But the market says that is all fair, right and good.

So yeah, I'm a socialist.

~~~~~~

I'm always upset when I hear of acquaintances having their baby sons circumcised (not as upset as the baby, of course). My feelings about it are so strong that I never quite know what to say, fearing I'll go too far and be labelled a lunatic. But now, if I hear someone is considering the procedure I'll just ask them respectfully to read this, by far the best piece I have read for the case against circumcision. It's respectful, non-hysterical, compassionate and accurate. I'd encourage everyone to read it and pass on what you have learned. Please.

26 July 2010

Where I Briefly, Despairingly, Comment on the Election


Yes it has been a long time since I last posted, certainly in light of there's a Federal election coming up soon. But I've been busy...we were in between computers for a time...and also the whole thing is so depressing it makes me want to flush my own head down the toilet.

Maybe I'm getting cynical in my old age. I've seen quite a few elections now (especially since I took an active interest in the things long before I was old enough to vote), and even though I didn't agree with them on everything, I at least always wanted Labor to win before. But I'm so disgusted by their current shift to the right I can't bring myself to make a 2PP choice at all (God knows, if Turnbull was leading the Liberals right now, is it just possible I may have given my preferences to them? Surely not, but I wonder). Everyone has their own bugbears - here's mine:

Equal Marriage Rights - two unmarried, atheist female ministers (one the PM and the other herself a lesbian) oppose this. Why? Because they find it all a bit icky, or are they just afraid of an electoral backlash? I rather fear the latter. If they are personally opposed to gay marriage, the simple solution for them is to not enter a gay marriage themselves, but don't deny others the right. I'd have thought this would be a no-brainer by now.

Cash For Clunkers - marriage right exasperates me but this one makes me furious. If we're going on about "my taxes", well my taxes have gone towards the war in Iraq, funding baby bonuses for high income earners, and all sorts of other things I haven't been keen on. But that I am contributing to people buying new cars - the environmental benefits of the plan are dubious at best - whilst I've never learnt to drive because cars are killing the planet - well, I'm rapidly filling with rage.

Boat People - we have a new, "leftist" Prime Minister and what is practically the first thing she does? Panders to rednecks on asylum seekers and then tells us we're not allowed to call them rednecks any more. Instead of urging compassion, instead of dispelling the myths, Gillard opens the floor to talk back radio callers spewing venom. Not to mention, and perhaps worst of all, deliberately confusing the issues of asylum seekers and population growth in the public mind - as if the tiny handful of boat people who arrive each year are somehow a threat to the Australian way of life. Oh to see someone in power and stand up and say "boat arrivals are a small problem. We can handle it".

(Here's a statement which could be taken out of context) but I'm not sure the Australian way of life is one that should be protected, not in a country still bearing the scars of the Howard years - primarily selfishness. There's a new Liberal party ad that begins "This election is all about you". Great! Who cares if hospitals are funded if my family isn't sick. Who cares if services are available to help the poor, it's their own damn fault. Focus on my family, my unsustainably huge mortgage, me me me!

Not that anything I or any of the vast number of much better left-wing bloggers say will matter. Labor doesn't care about us. They don't care if we all vote Greens - they assume they'll get our preferences anyway, so why bother keeping us when we're not really lost. What they care about is losing voters to the Liberals; and politicians no longer have the courage to try to change public opinion, they just respond to it like yapping dogs. Our only hope is a Greens balance of power in the Senate, and just maybe one or two Greens seats in the lower house. But generally I'm quite despondent about the whole thing, so unlike the last two elections, I won't be posting a great deal more about this one.

24 June 2010

So We Have a New PM (Or, Labor Eats Its Own)


Remind me never to serve in a Labor government. I'm rather a sensitive sort, and I don't think I could handle the hurt and monumental ingratitude of being dumped by my own party, in my first term, so shortly after being Australia's most popular ever PM. But hey, that's me.

It's a ridiculous situation when looked at that way. The Australian electorate, it must seems, are pretty darn ungrateful. It's not enough that Rudd saved us from the GFC, oh no; at the first thing people are brainwashed into not liking (the mining tax) everyone gets cold feet. It's like walking out of a marriage at the first argument over which in-laws to spend Christmas with. Even that may be understandable (the electorate have pretty short memories, after all) but what's unforgivable is that Labor, instead of standing by Rudd, threw him out on his ass at the first opportunity.

That's what's wrong with non-Conservatives. They care too much about being liked; they spook too easily. Howard never wavered. He sat there grinning as he sent us into Iraq, sent troops to the Northern Territory to tell traumatised communities how to raise their kids, as he sent us to do two-hour shifts thanks to Work Choices. I despise him and what he did to Australia, but dammit he and the Liberals have the courage of their convictions. He stayed the course, with the party's support, till the (very) bitter end.

I had my own problems with Rudd - mostly over social issues. The Apology was great, but what about gay marriage, ending the Intervention, standing up on the asylum seeker issues. But we owe him a debt of gratitude for getting rid of Howard in the first place, and for all that we kept our jobs (this from someone who lost hers). Rudd's press conference this morning was unexpectedly moving. If only he had shown such emotion before, acknowledged he was a human with feelings and flaws, we may not have been in this situation.

As it all built up last night, I hoped Gillard would refuse to run. Realistically she didn't have a choice. She is giving her press conference as we speak, admitting she wasn't elected PM and will not delay the upcoming Federal election. It's a bit of a worry. Abbott and co will argue that Labor couldn't even get through one term intact, how can they be trusted with the ongoing stewardship of the country? It's not an invalid point. I shall not be sending my vote their way, though. It will be interesting to see if this means my local seat really will go to the Greens.

Of course now we have our first female Prime Minister. Yes, that's a good thing but do we have to keep pointing it out? It shouldn't be a factor that decided a vote (God help us if we had Julie Bishop PM, let alone President Palin). It's a shame it happened like this. Labor needs to harden up, frankly. Let's strap ourselves in; it's going to be a long nasty election campaign ahead.

19 June 2010

Where I Apologise


We've been enjoying the World Cup around here lately, but it turns out I'm quite out of touch. I thought Ronaldo was this guy:












But it turns out he's someone else now:

















Who's to know these things? I wish someone would call and tell me. Anyway, to get to my title, unlike in 2006 I am unable to devote my blog to the World Cup or anything else right now. I'm frantically trying to write my portfolio to prove I can be a good youth worker...once that's done, I've so much I'm dying to share with you all but for now, I need to devote what little brain energy I have to the writing I have to do, not the writing I want to do!

06 June 2010

Sunday Arts - Mark Ryden

I do more than just launch half-assed ramblings about how things ought to be. So today I'd like to share with you the work of one of my favourite artists, Mark Ryden.










I just really dig the awesome combination of nursery rhyme cute and creepy. The guy's done more than just this stuff though - he actually designed the album art for Michael Jackson's Dangerous, along with art for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Ringo Starr and Jack Off Jill (so he doesn't have a "type"). For more, I enthusiastically refer you to Mr Ryden's website. Next week - Victoria Frances (who else?!)

03 June 2010

Tenants' Rights, By God!

I'm a big fan of "Modern Guru" in the Good Weekend, where dilemmas of modern manners ("What's the appropriate response if a friend invites you over for an exquisite dinner...then requests $50 a head for the meal?") are explored. 2010 is a confusing, crazy place. We need help. But there was one correspondent recently who made my well-mannered blood boil. She asked was it okay, since her household no longer received delivery of the local paper, for her to help herself to copies from the letter boxes of rented homes? It's not as if those who rent care about the local community.

This was in contrast to the tears of envy I felt when reading of five-year leases in Europe. One third of NSW households are now rented, up from one quarter ten years ago, but there's still a sense that renters are the scum of the Earth. Everyone wants to own their own home, surely; it's the great Australian dream, so the only people who rent must be young or poor.

New changes to tenancy laws have been proposed, the first major changes in twenty years. There's still very little to protect tenants, apart from an increase in the number of days a landlord has to evict a tenant from 60 to 90. There are not the changes we need.

What we need is a new culture when it comes to tenancy. There are many reasons why people choose to rent. As someone who has lived in seperate rental properties for five and seven years respectively, a great start would be long leases, along with the rights to make minor changes to the property. Not all tenants are transient. Long leases, available to tenants who choose to take them up and with fair provisions for rent increases, would benefit everyone - less work for agents, less cost for landlords, more security for tenants. With such a high proportion of tenants in the population, We're not all just renting because we're too poor to buy - as for my family, we think that we can give our children a better life without a mortgage; we may move interstate in the next few years; and what with rising interest rates, the inevitable property crash, or both, you'd have to be an imbecile to contemplate entering the property market right now. (We don't want to be these people - whom I'm sure thought everything would work out for them. I wonder whatever happened to them in the GFC?).

Anyway, we're staying put. And caring deeply about the local community while we're here - more so than most McMansion owners who are to busy struggling with the mortgage to plant trees, volunteer, petition for local services or anything else. I just wish I could paint the bedroom.

01 June 2010

Oh, Israel


Imagine having a friend who has had, let's be frank, a whole heap of shit happen to them in their life. They, for the main, haven't let it overwhelm them. In fact, they've triumphed in spite of the obstacles. They've gone on to achieve amazing things, more so than many others with fewer resources. You're really proud.

But sometimes, just sometimes, what they've suffered gets the better of them. They act out. They behave in a way you find reprehensible. You can sort of understand, you can try to forgive. But when it gets too much, you can only shake their head and hope they'll snap out of it.

So it is with Israel. They've done it again. They're unrepentant...so far. You don't understand. They have problems. You're not always there. They did what they had to do. They're sorry you're upset, but not sorry they did it.

It's nothing new for Israel, as I wrote last year. There's a sense in sections of the international community that Israel is a special case, to whom the normal rules don't apply. Are they? Two wrongs don't make a right. But saying so never gets us anywhere. Australia, unlike NZ and most of Europe, has not criticised the Israeli assault. Maybe the tide is turning; once Israel was seen as a beacon of socialist hope, whom it was fun for lefties to like. Now, well, just because you've been picked on doesn't make lashing out okay. The world will not forget Rachel Corrie (one of the ships in the blockade was named in her honour). Israel, if you are a special case, then we really expect more of you than this.

28 May 2010

Why Christians Are Wrong


Christian cultural commentators seem very alarmed by the rise in prominence of atheism in recent years. Alarmed perhaps inevitably, because it's obvious they have no clue what it's all about.

Christians speak of a rejection of God; in this review of The Rage Against God, Peter Hitchens (brother of Christopher) story of his re-embrace of Christianity after a period of secular humanism, the reviwer writes that Hitchens' generation "...came to see God as a nuisance and religion as an embarrassment." It's not an uncommon sentiment. Christians, seeing their god as an absolute rather than one of many gods that a person can choose to believe in or not, seem to think that atheists believe in God, but have deliberately choosen to ignore him/her/it because it's all too hard.

It's not true. Atheist do not reject God. They don't rage against God. They simply do not believe in any god - they don't reject yours, Christians. But the Christians don't understand this. They think of their god like we think of the sun - "Well, it's just there. No need to believe it will rise tomorrow, it just will." They know their god is there, and if other people can't accept it, well they must be atheist because they don't like God's rules or something.

Of course, Christians are wrong about many things. But boy, they sure missed the mark on this one.

09 May 2010

Ten Things Wrong With The New Liberal Party Ad


So Tony Abbott has kicked off the 2010 election campaign with a nice shiny new campaign ad. He is to be admired, I guess, for packing so many weasel words, mistruths and scare tactics into a mere thirty seconds. Here are just some of the fundamental flaws the seep from every pore of this man's being (it may not be exactly ten - at least I can admit when things aren't quite right).

Strong action to reduce Australia's massive debt - Australia's debt as a percentage of GDP is the lowest in the OECD. What debt we do have is a result of the fiscal stimulus that kept Australia well shielded from harsh effects of the GFC. Kevin Rudd has taken a decisive step to reduce this debt - the tax on mining profits. Tony Abbott and his ilk are jumping up and down screaming about this. Okay Mr Abbott, what measures do you want to take? Would they by any chance involve the slashing of services and untold misery for Australian families - as per the early days of the Howard government perhaps? (You were reducing Labor's debt then, you say - by causing pain to the most vulnerable in our society, rather than raising taxes on business and industry.)


Real Action on Illegal Immigration - a picture says so many words about how wrong Abbott (and Rudd, pandering to fear) is; just look at this thing. For a start, it is NOT illegal to come to Australia seeking asylum. This graphic shows hordes of arrows sweeping onto Australian shores (drawing the connection in the public's mind with boat people, as the arrows all arrive on the north west coast). "We've got to take strong measures now" intones Abbott. Why? By world standards, a tiny number of asylum seekers head for Australia each year. We could afford to do much more, in all senses of the word. The journey here by boat is so uncomfortable and hazardous, only the most desperate and determined would ever attempt it. The vast majority of people in Australia illegally are tourists who have overstayed their visas. (For more on asylum seeker myths, I enthusiastically refer you here).

And please take one more close look at that graphic. Among the points of origin suggested for these terrifying illegal hordes is...Iraq. Iraq? Where, Mr Abbott, your party enthusiastically joined the invasion against the express wishes of the majority of the Australian people? Iraq, where the ongoing war your idol John Howard devotedly supported has caused at least 100,000 civilian deaths? You are now pledging action on asylum seekers from Iraq? Excuse the language, but are you fucking kidding me?

Local Hospital boards - Abbott first floated this proposal at the 2007 Federal election. If it's such a great idea, why not at least try to implement it during the 12 previous years the Liberals were in government? Maybe because it's not such a great idea. If you think "anonymous, faceless bureaucracies" were bad, just wait till your local hospital is run by a locally appointed hospital board, where local business interests and local government power-players are running the show. Do you want the decision of whether your mother should receive experimental cancer surgery in the hands of Jim Bloggs of Jim Bloggs Fine Motors? Welcome to cronyism, nepotism and time wasting. In any case, these local boards cannot be truly independent - where will they get their funding from and who will they be accountable to?

I am a man who believes in getting things done - well physically no one can deny this. Completing an iron man triathlon is an achievement to be admired. Heavy exercise can induce a euphoric state - which in Tony Abbott's case has lead him to make proposals with no connection to reality whatsoever - such as, oh, that poverty cannot be abolished because of base instincts of human nature, that Bernie Banton's attempt to present Abbott with a petition to include a mesothelioma drug on the PBS was a stunt, that homosexuality makes him feel "a little bit threatened" (could Abbott be displaying the new gay stereotype?) that climate change is "absolute crap", that...you just pick your favourite Abbott statement taken out of context/misstatement/off-the-planet nonsense! There are lots to choose from.

Much was made in the press last week of Labor's slump in popularity in the latest Newspoll survey, the Liberals enjoying a gain on a two-party preferred basis. But for all the talk of dissatisfaction with Rudd, Abbott still received a 32% nod as preferred Prime Minister! I don't join with those who think having Abbott as Liberal leader is a blessing that guarantees a Labor victory in this year's election. If the man could get on message, he might do some real damage. At the moment though, he is just amusing, if you can ignore the very dark heart beneath his words.

05 May 2010

Feminsim Goes Again


Last Saturday's Good Weekend was the annual "women's issue". These things have thankfully moved on from the days of glossy fashion spreads and beauty tips - interviews with women in power on the status of women today, and a lengthy article on feminism, specifically women in the workplace. Or more specifically, how women are obstructed from the career fast track in the corporate world.

Can the mainstream media talk about something else please? Yes, it is good to see feminism at least being discussed. And yes, the way that the structure of the corporate/business world prevents women from achieving positions of power is an important issue; I would be bitterly frustrated if I were one of these women. But yet again, feminism risks alienating many women through it's elitism. Most women aren't on a corporate fast track, usually through choice - there are many other fulfilling careers which women pursue than chasing corporate success. Yet these career women are the ones we focus on, possibly because they make more rich, powerful and outrageous copy.

One hears little in the media about the less "sexy" issues affecting women - particularly the millions of women who work in retail or clerical work, or whom rely on government benefits. The Henry tax review recommended several changes to the tax system to reduce the tax rates for women with children who work part time whilst their partners are in full time work - these were ignored, and there's not enough childcare places if they do go back to work.

The inherent sexism and prudery of the Centrelink system isn't spoken of much either. A woman receiving the sole parents benefit who has a partner stay the night more than once or twice is liable to be investigated and have their benefits cut off. It's irrelevant whether said partner contributes financially to the household; you cannot have a partner and receive parenting payment. Centrelink argues that financially, they must assess people as couples; assessing individuals would place too great a burden on the system. There's some truth to this, but the policies also hark back to the days of church based welfare - a woman must be chaste, deserving of her subsistence payments. A hussy with a live-in boyfriend doesn't meet these criteria. Of course these laws apply equally to hetero and homosexual couples of both genders, but women are overwhelmingly the ones disadvantaged as the prime recipients of the sole parent's benefit. Women end up having to choose between greater poverty, and living in fear of being caught - mostly going with the latter. When, whilst briefly unemployed last year, I informed Centrelink my partner had moved in with me, more than one staff member was surprised I would actually admit to this.

Feminism rarely touches these issues - sometimes, sadly, the movement seems so caught up in the rush to be inclusive it overlooks the statistical majority. A correspondent wrote, and I include with permission:

Feminism, as a movement, is having problems because it stopped being about .. feminism.

It's a popular cause - supported by the majority of the sane population. Everyone can get behind equal rights, equal pay, right to vote and all the basic feminist issues.

The problem is the Left Movement latching on and trying to bolt as many transient issues onto the side as possible. Everything from immigration laws to legalization of weed to capital punishment to tax reform.

Worse, the dialog gets drowned in rhetoric. It starts with "Some women are black, so racism is a feminist issue". Inevitability, somebody follows up with "But some men are black too, so it's not a feminist issue". And the stock reply is "Stop being an egocentric man; stop being 'that guy'; etc, etc". At which point anyone who's not invested in all the current activist causes tunes out and walks away.

I think it's less the academic side that loses people and more the activism at all costs - when activists (for example, the Candy Bowers you mentioned) conflagrate the issues, people walk away.

As for the insular nature of the movement, that appears to be by design. When women comment without using the correct jargon, they're told to go away and educate themselves before speaking. When men comment, they're told that they can't hold an opinion on the issue. When transgender persons comment on the issues, they're usually either ignored or asked to stop hijacking the movement.

I would rate feminism as something relevant to everyone, just part of being human. But the feminist movement in Australia in 2010 is really giving me the irrits right now. I've had a look at a few feminist blogs recently, and I just end up feeling depressed and overwhelmed; I don't understand the language and subtleties, but get the feeling that everything I do and say is wrong. Feminism will never get anywhere at this rate, whilst bogged down in a student activist mentality. Maybe we need to start again - a new dialogue, focusing on the big issues, making feminism a mainstream electoral issue. Then we can start analysing gender neutral frameworks. But for now can we get feminism out of the lecture theatres and into the ballot boxes?

16 April 2010

Future Schlock


Recently I imagined how it would be if my eleven year old self could travel through time and visit me to see what life is like in 2010. Frankly I don't think she would be very impressed. The glorious technological future we were promised never arrived.

Consider commercial air travel. With the execption of personal entertainment, air travel hasn't really changed in forty years - the planes are the same, the airports are the same, the delays are the same. (Security screening takes longer). It takes pretty much the same amount of time to fly from Sydney to London now as it did in 1970 when the 747 came into widespread use. Every few years you see a news story about how in five years or so, there will be aircraft that can fly to London in four hours, but nothing ever comes of it (in fact, I think I remember seeing the first of these stories when I was about eleven).

It's not just air travel. Nothing predicted by The Jetsons, or our imaginations, came to pass. We never went back to the moon and now lack the technology to get humans out of the Earth's orbit. Car still drive on roads, using petrol - instead of flying, or a mag-lev system, or any other futuristic delights. Our houses don't have Holly style computers, let alone robot maids (I really want a robot maid!). It now takes longer to travel between Sydney and Newcastle by train than it did in the 1930s. Some of changes that failed to eventuate have been a blessing - we still eat actual food rather than taking nutrition in pill form, and wear clothes instead of silver jumpsuits. and I am eternally grateful that we shower instead of using any sonic cleaning booth system. But still - I think we should lift our game here. It will be embarrassing when time travellers from the past arrive expecting the First Mall of the Moon and all we can offer them is an iPad. (Wasn't time travel supposed to be a reality by now as well?)

12 April 2010

F Club


Over the weekend, I attended the F Conference, the first major feminist conference held in Australia in many years (no one seemed to agree just how many). It was enriching and inspiring. It was also confusing, perplexing and briefly infuriating. I consider myself a feminist but good grief, half the time I had no idea what these people were talking about. The conference seemed to divide between the older, second wave feminists active through the 1960s, 70s and 80s (who received a deserved round of applause in the opening session) and the fresh young feminists leading the charge now. I felt quite out of touch - someone in between age-wise, who considers herself a feminist but has mostly been in the corporate world for the past many years and has done something between very little and bugger all for the feminist movement.

So I spent much of the conference struggling to comprehend the language, the vocabulary, the nuances. There was the usual mix of panels and workshops that these events offer. The panels featured some well-known and not-so-known but fascinating and inspiring speakers, such as Catherine Lumby, Eva Cox, Anne Summers and Larissa Behrendt. In general, I found the ever so slightly older feminists ideas presented in a more accessible way. It was the younger feminists who left me rather bewildered - being so caught in nuance, so fearful of anything they say possibly giving offence to anyone, that left their words with little to offer a mainstream audience. The problem with some of these women is they operate in a closed system. They attend meetings with other feminists; read works by other feminists; then they write papers and blog posts on feminism which are read and commented on by other feminists.

There was some discussion on the weekend of the (ridiculous) idea that feminism is "dead", but I think the problem may not be one of relevance but accessibility. I was thinking of some friends of mine, lovely strong women, who haven't been to university, don't live in inner Sydney, don't read leftist works. Although the changes proposed at the feminist conference, and the work done by feminists past and present, is to their benefit, I'm not sure if they'd see any relevance in discussions of "the patriarchy and gender-neutral frameworks". How can feminism engage with these women? If feminism has an image problem it may well be of elitism rather than irrelevance. There was much anguished discussion of the history of feminism as a white movement, and how that can be remedied in the future. That is vital and all to the good. But feminism also needs to lose its status as an academic movement.

Much is being done to make feminism more inclusive of Indigenous Australians and women from more ethnically diverse backgrounds. The conference opened with a panel discussion of Indigenous women sharing their knowledge and how it applies to feminism. It was informative and inspiring. Sadly it wasn't all so uplifting. One panel featured a woman named Candy Bowers, a self described "Blasian" (Black and Asian) woman who is a poet, comedian, hip hop artist and co-ordinator for the Sydney Theatre company. At first I was really enjoying what she had to say about the lack of ethnic diversity in the Australian arts scene and growing up in Campbelltown. Then she stated "To Indigenous people I respect and admire you; to non-white people I support you; and to white people, I am here to challenge you". I felt my face grow red. How dare she suggest because I, or anyone else, am white, I am somehow complacent, or powerful, or wealthy? For a start I am Irish, and I think the Irish people can say a little something about oppression (my great-grandmother may have been arrested during the 1916 uprising -the family history is fuzzy). But even if I am not claiming any special status - which is often where the problems start - such sweeping assumptions as Ms Bowers made don't help anyone.

The workshops were more enjoyable. There was several mentions at the conference of modern feminism being consumed by the rise of raunch culture, so perhaps as a deliberate decision raunch culture was not a workshop topic. I can't otherwise fault the diversity of workshop topics, from Sex Work, Children's Services and Poverty, along with the more expected topics such as Domestic Violence, Consent, FGM and Plastic Surgery. Among others I attended a wonderful supportive discussion on home birth and birthrape - the unnecessary medicalisation of normal birth. All else being equal, an epidural automatically turns a low-risk into a high-risk birth yet it is presented as safe, and Nicola Roxon has made homebirth in Australia almost impossible to obtain (eerily similar to difficulties obtaining abortion in previous years- you have to go underground and it can be very expensive). I think I'll get involved with this, as well as with the ASU's Fair Pay case - but that is for another post!

Generally though, I left the conference with a sense of being unsure what to do with all this. There were times over the weekend when I felt like I had no voice, although I understand that with 400+ participants it would be fairly impossible to let everyone have a say. There were hopeful messages and things to grow on, but I truly believe feminism the movement (not just feminist principles) needs to reach out to women from all walks of life if it is to capture their passion.

I'll leave you here with some quotes from the weekend. These were scribbled in my notebook on the spot so may not be verbatim, but the spirit is there.

"You can't use one experience to paint the whole story" - Dixie Link Gordon

"Feminism - you think you don't need it, until youneed it; when you bang your head up against the patriarchy" - unrecorded

"Without the ability to be economically independent and control our fertility,we have nothing" - Anne Summers

"A woman is not sad, or lesser, or missing out, if she doesn't have children" - Anne Summers

"While women are excluded from positions of economic power in this country they will be excluded everywhere" - Elizabeth Broderick

"We think if we are nice to the bastards they will let us into their club" - Eva Cox, exhorting feminists not to play nice

"Grassroots work won't change the basic policies that are screwing women" - Eva Cox

and finally...

"When women are taught to have orgasms, they are empowered to change the world" - Pat, an 89 year old feminist.

Who could argue?

06 April 2010

A Thing Of The Past?


Back in 2004, when I heard of the death of Thomas "TJ" Hickey, the young Aboriginal man who died after crashing his bike and being impaled on a fence following a police chase through Redfern, I thought it was just an accident, and anyway why was he running if he hadn't done anything wrong?

I'm ashamed of my ignorance when I look back now. But I thought police racism and brutality were things of the past. I was really, really wrong. There was an outstanding warrant for TJ's arrest at the time of his death, and when he saw a police car in the area, he assumed it was seeking him. (Police later admitted they were in fact chasing him). So he fled. I'm not making any statements as to Mr Hickey's innocence or guilt, for either way he had good reason to run; the continuing harassment of Aboriginal people - especially young men - in inner Sydney.

The general public has no idea; I know I didn't. The allegations here, of police behaviour immediately following TJ's death, are truly horrifying. The stories abound; kids in Glebe threatened with arrest for being on the streets at night, even if they were returning home from visiting their grandmother; a group of fifteen year old girls stopped and searched for drugs three times by three separate police patrols during a short walk to a party in Waterloo; children who have their bicycles confiscated until they can go the the police station with proof their bikes weren't stolen. (It's not just the police, either. One couple successfully settled with the Broadway shopping centre for harassment after they were repeatedly questioned, then followed, by security guards when they were unable to produce proof that the pram they were pushing their baby in was not stolen. How many people carry the receipt for their baby's pram months after purchase?!?).

And of course it doesn't end with mere harassment. Punches are thrown, arrests are made without cause, evidence is planted. So no wonder TJ Hickey had something to fear. As his aunt said after his death, "If you are black and you see the cops, you run". We have a culture in the police that says if a person is black, they're likely up to no good, and an uniformed public who thinks that if the police take action, the Aboriginal person must have done something wrong - thanks to a media which is silent on this issue and right wing commentators who seem to think being Aboriginal today is a ticket to easy street.

Meanwhile, six years after his death and still without the answers she needs, TJ's mother Gail Hickey has lodged a Submission of Communication to the UN's Human Rights Committee seeking a fresh inquiry into the death of her son. She shouldn't have to - it's terribly sad that she cannot trust the Australian justice system for the truth. After all, if the police have nothing to hide, why wouldn't they welcome a full judicial inquiry into the death of TJ Hickey, to finally uncover the truth after all these years?

30 March 2010

Have You Ever Wondered...


Ever wondered who if anyone clicks on spam emails? This graphic gives an interesting snapshot. Of a spambot that sent 35 million emails in 2008...

  • 8 million were received (the rest were bouncebacks or sent to non-existent email addresses).

  • 10,500 people clicked on the link in the email.

  • 28 bought products.

That's a conversion rate of 0.000008% - roughly the same level of success I had in my dating days.

~~~~~

Ever wondered how to get a letter published in the newspaper - particularly News Ltd publications? Try any of these handy templates:

“When is _____ going to do something about _____? This is an outrage and _____ has lost my vote!”

“I’ve never voted ______ before, but after ______ you can be sure I’ll be voting _____ at the next election!”

“Once again _____ has proven that all ______ are _______. When are ordinary _______ going to stand up and do something about this?”

“The recent actions/decision/ruling by _______ is PC gone mad!”

"______ are causing all the problems in this country."

Mention how hardworking you (and hopefully your family) are for bonus points. Use anecdotes in favour of any actual facts. Disparage anyone who has ever set foot on a university campus.

Good luck!

26 March 2010

Trapped In The Noise


It's hard to think of an issue that creates as much division and furore as post-abortion grief (or post-abortion stress syndrome - PASS), nor one that deserves such lack of compassion less.

Recently I was enjoying reading Princesses and Pornstars, Emily Maguire's exploration of modern female culture and how feminism has lost it's way, replaced by meaningless "empowerment" that sees women thinking they gain esteem by pole dancing. I've written about this myself, so the book was really singing to the choir. Until that is, I reached the following passages, which I read with a heavy sigh of familiar disappointment:

"In 2005, Liberal backbencher Danna Vale, calling for a national enquiry into abortion, said that while she believed 'in a woman's right to choice', she worried that women don't understand 'the tragedy of post-abortion depression'. This sounds like she is concerned with women's well-being. If so, she can rest easy: a sizable body of research exists to show that abortion in no more prevalent in women who have had abortions than in the general population. And perhaps one of the reasons there isn't endemic post-abortion depression is that every woman in Australia who requests an abortion receives counselling about her choices and their respective risks."

All you need to know about the debate surrounding PASS is right there. Right-wingers use PASS in an attempt to restrict women's access to abortion; the left and feminists, fearing any such restrictions, hotly deny that such a thing exists. In the middle are a lot of grieving, hurt women who are made to feel like they don't exist.

It's hard to trust Danna Vale's motives in these statements. This is after all the woman who said Australians are in danger of aborting themselves out of existence, leading to a Muslim majority population here. It's hard in fact to trust anyone who speaks out about PASS, because moderates are too scared to do so, for fear of being shouted down by the pro-choice movement. PASS ends up being used as a weapon by those who seek to curtail women's sexual freedom. Sadly, it's these fears that lead some feminists to equal levels of shrill rhetoric. Emily Maguire is just plain wrong in some of her assertions. If levels of depression are no higher in women who have had abortions than the population at large - is that not just to dismiss the pain of those women who suffer from both? There is evidence that women who suffer from pre-existing depression are more likely to suffer post abortion depression.

And the statement that "every woman in Australia who requests an abortion receives counselling about her choices and their respective risks" would be laughable if it wasn't so tragic. Most abortions in Australia are carried out in privately clinics. Abortion is a business to them. The counsellors are there to sell abortions. I hate to put it so bluntly, but it's true. Anecdotal evidence abounds of stories of women who arrived at the clinic unsure what to do, and felt pressured into abortion from the moment they arrived.

As for the depression - whilst it is illegal in this country to coerce someone into intercourse, there are no laws against forcing someone to have an abortion. From the 14 year old girl whose parents force her to have an abortion or they will kick her out, to the married woman whose husband says he will leave if she doesn't abort, these women are trapped and helpless with no legal recourse. We speak of a right to choose - but there is no legal right to not choose an abortion for many women. The grief experienced by a woman forced to abort a pregnancy she wanted is scarcely imaginable.

I really don't want to pick on Ms Maguire here - she has only spoken out on the truth as she sees it. Because the voices of women who are suffering from PASS are unheard, lost in the din from the opposing forces of the abortion war. I would urge her, or anyone else seeking to learn who PASS really means, to read Giving Sorrow Words, which without opinion or politics tells the stories of 18 Australian women who have suffered from PASS. Some underwent recent abortions; for others, their terminations were many years ago. All are deeply moving and would hopefully change thinking on this issue. Also, please read the FAQ here at the PASS site - written with medical advice by women who hve suffered from PASS, it's an objective, factual look at PASS itself and many of this issues that have led to the silence surrounding women with the condition.

For it would be my greatest wish to see feminists take up the cause of PASS; that without restricting a women's right to choose, to give women the right to choose not to abort by making coercing someone to do so illegal. To provide more societal support to mothers so women didn't feel pressured by society to abort if they did not want that. And above all to acknowledge and provide support for those suffering from PASS, so we don't have to suffer in fearful silence anymore.

23 March 2010

Cynical Tuesday


Are there any easy solutions regarding police pursuits?

Of course, we can't just let any speeding crook get away with it and all. But according to this article, 13% of pursuits end in crashes. Over half of fatal pursuits involve stolen cars and traffic offenses. Are these crimes worth risking people's lives for? No one hates a reckless driver more than I, and I don't buy the "these are just scared kids" reasoning. They may not know how to control a car at speed, but they must know that what they are doing is stupid and wrong. But what about others on the roads? Unless police are chasing a prison escapee or suspect fleeing from a serious crime, it's hard to see that police chases are worth it.
~~~~~
So, Google has finally upped and pulled out of China, rather than imposing self-censorship in order to continue operations there with Chinese government approval. Is this Google standing up for what's right, and abandoning the world's largest internet audience on principle?

Or is it that they only had a tiny share of the Chinese search engine market and felt it was more expedient to pull out and protect their reputation in the West, where they reign supreme?

20 March 2010

Pizza Lovers


Whenever I hear someone say something about how they had pizza a week ago, and therefore don't want it that day, I am perplexed. To me, there is no such thing as too much pizza. It's bread, it's melted cheese (usually), it's an ever-changing multitude of toppings. What more could you want in a food? I was always a latent pizza addict, but whilst living in Newcastle my choices were pretty much limited to the major chains. I didn't miss what I'd never had, but my true inner pizza aficionado wasn't awakened till I moved to Sydney, specifically Leichhardt where I fetched up on first moving to the city. On my first night I was introduced to the independent pizza parlour, and the range on offer - prosciutto, chorizo, bocconcini - and the joy of the thin, handspun crust. It was a moment of deep happiness, and as I moved around the inner west I fully explored the range of pizza on offer.

This cost me a fortune. It was time to upgrade to that essential piece of equipment: the pizza stone. If you haven't bought one, run out and do so now. I'll wait. Those electric pizza ovens are merely a pizza stone with a heating element underneath and rather a waste of money, but for the cost of a takeaway pizza a pizza stone will allow you to create endless pizzeria style pizzas at home. For many people, "home made pizza" conjures up images of tinned pineapple, sliced cheese and ham steaks. None of that. After some enjoyable trial and error, I'd now rate my pizzas with some of the best I have tried in Sydney, especially as I have an extra ingredient: the loving hands of someone who truly appreciates the art.

So, to share all I know about making the perfect pizza. Here's the dough recipe we use:
  • In a small jug, combine 1 cup warm water, 8g sachet dried yeast and 1 teaspoon white sugar. Stand in a warm place for 10 minutes until mixture is frothy.

  • Sift 2½ cups plain flour and ½ teaspoon salt into a large bowl. Blend in yeast mixture to form a soft, sticky dough. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface for 5-10 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic.

  • Place dough in a large, oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until dough doubles in size. Knock down dough to remove air. Knead into a smooth ball.
At this stage, you can roll out half the dough to make one pizza - but I usually make a double batch and freeze the dough, divided into four portions each individually wrapped first in baking paper then plastic wrap. Defrosted frozen dough tastes better and bakes into a crisper pizza than fresh dough - and it means a quick dinner if you can just grab a dough ball from the freezer and top it. A word of warning though - take the dough from the freezer about 3-4 hours before required and defrost at room temperature. You cannot defrost the dough in the microwave - it will precook and be useless. Meanwhile, about an hour before cooking, place the pizza stone in the oven and heat to 250°C. Fifteen minutes before cooking, roll out your dough still on it's baking paper (which will go into the oven. It's hard to place pizza directly on the stone - the stone is too hot to touch, pizza is difficult to move, and the dough tends to stick). Use your clean, floured hands to gently stretch it to shape. Just before placing the pizza in the oven, top it. Go nuts here, but can I recommend using the best mozzarella cheese you can afford. Then, it's showtime. Holding the edges of the baking paper taut (having a friend help so you can each hold one side is a good idea), open the oven, slide out the stone on the rack, and place the pizza on the stone as fast as you can - the idea is to avoid losing heat. Cook the pizza for 15 minutes or so - it's done when the edges of the crust are turning golden brown. Now to sample the fruits of your labour! When you divide the pizza, leave any you won't be eating immediately on the stone - the pizza left on the stone will stay hot to the last slice. Sorry this post may have been a little self indulgent but if anyone gives this all a try, please let me know how you get on.

14 March 2010

I Don't Get It

You'd think paid parental leave would be a no-brainer. Surely most people would think it's a good idea to receive at least some financial support whilst giving birth to and caring for new babies?

No. Singles don't want it, which is understandable in a selfish sort of way - why should you keep working to pay for others' failure to remember a condom? Business groups don't want it - it means having to pay for two employees at once, the regular worker on parental leave and also their replacement.

Bizarrely enough though, older people are crying foul here as well. We didn't have parental leave, they moan; we had to raise our kids on one income and bread and dripping so why should today's parents have it any easier? There are a lot of people out there feeling very hard done by.

~~~~~

You'd think smacking would be a no-brainer as well. Surely in this day and age, no decent parent would want to hit their kids? I don't know about the decent part, but there are a lot of people out there who are very passionate about their "right" to hurt and humiliate their children. The cover story in Saturday's Good Weekend was devoted to the issue, and some of the views expressed were rather horrific. David Copeland, a Christian, believes children should be hit because they are innately sinful. Well, whatever, you nut job, maybe you could have a chat to the execrable Claire Davidson, who was threatened with assault charges after her nine year old daughter reported to a school counsellor that she was hit with a wooden spoon.
Davidson describes her daughter as a liar, unruly and headstrong, who acts "oh so sophisticated" and talks back.

Lady, if you dislike your nine year old child that much, the problem is on your end believe me. Get some help now before your daughter becomes a teenager, otherwise what's the next step if she misbehaves? Whipping?

09 March 2010

On Being Retrenched - One Year Later


Approximately 100,000 Australians lost their job during the Global Financial Crisis. I was one of them.
Tomorrow marks a year to the day since I arrived at the office, the one with a great view of Circular Quay where I'd worked as an advertising account exec for just under two years, on an ordinary Tuesday with little more pressing on my mind than wondering what I would have for lunch, and found myself two hours later clutching a cardboard box laden with my possessions, wandering blindly around Wynyard station trying to find a taxi and wondering what the hell just happened?

The GFC never really hit Australia, we have been told. Certainly I never thought it would hit me. I knew job losses were coming but thought, as one of the longer serving members of the team, I would be safe; failing to take into account that I was also one of the best paid. Who knows? Anyway the shock was pretty much total. I managed to keep it together at the office while I was being told...and as I packed my desk, with my head swirling with thoughts such as "how will I pay the rent?" (redundancy payout) and "I bet my new relationship never survives this level of stress" (we were married last month). Finally when I was alone I let all the tears and pain come out.

Nonetheless, I did actually believe I would find another good job pretty soon. It took me some weeks to realise that that wasn't going to happen; there just weren't any jobs like that available. I was cut off, alienated from the life I had proudly created for myself. And I grieved! For so many years I had aspired to a corporate career in the Sydney CBD, and it was all gone so suddenly. Although it wasn't something I especially yearned for during my waking hours, I had a series of dreams whereby the company asked me to come in and offered me my job back. I had equated the life with success, and now it was gone. I wondered, why me? With the recession turning out to be a lot less severe than expected, obviously most people were going to keep their jobs. Why did I have to lose what I worked so hard for? And I had loved my job, and I missed it.

Okay, so my corporate career was over, now where to go? First to Centrelink. In my misspent youth I had many more dealings with that organisation than I would have liked, and when I finally got my life together around age 25 I vowed I would never need anything from them again. Having to walk into the office to claim Newstart was one of the lowest moments I have ever had. I thought I was past all this, really. I hated the thought I might be mistaken for one of "them" - the long term Centrelink clients. I wanted to shout at the others in the queue "I'm not like you people! I used to lunch on corporate accounts and travel on cabcharges! The company sent us jetboating! We were given champagne!". But of course I said nothing. The staff were remarkably kind when they learned I was there through no fault of my own. But the fact remained: I was back on the dole.

I needed a new career. Around this time, the idea of Community Work came up. I was thinking maybe website design, or becoming a librarian? But my (by now) fiancé told me I had a lot to offer. I'd always thought of myself as a rather spoiled, selfish creature but I decided it was time to go for it; devote my life to helping people instead of fleecing them (and being rude about them at Centrelink). So I applied, waited ages, got in to study Youth Work, and that was that.

It really was what I had been looking for, without knowing. I discovered a passion for social justice for young people which had been lying dormant all along, and which I hope to turn into a lifelong career; got to volunteer at the NSW Youth Work conference and hear some inspiring speakers (Eva Cox!) and most of all got to meet and study with some of the loveliest people I've ever met.

So some good comes from everything. If I hadn't been retrenched, I'd probably still be at the same desk doing the same old thing tomorrow, tracing the path of middling corporate jobs until retirement. And contrary to my fears, the loads of extra time I had to spend with my then boyfriend in the early days - and the bonding we shared in comforting one another - brought us closer much faster than otherwise would have happened. I've no doubt we would have gotten married eventually, but we had a unique opportunity at a unique time. It hasn't always been easy - financially it blows, I haven't really bought myself any new clothes in a year, had a brief but unpleasant stint as a housewife, and ended up taking a back-killing job selling Manchester to help pay the bills until I graduate. But overall it turned out to be one of the best things that has happened to me, giving me a career and a husband... so a very heavy cloud had a lovely white gold lining.

EDIT, JUNE 2010: Apparently, about a week after I wrote this post, the company went belly-up. I always resisted the temptation to say anything negative about the company or the people there; turns out I needn't have. Seems kind of mean now, though - the corporate world seems a bit shallow and pointless.

06 March 2010

My Wedding Rules


So, recently I got married, as I believe I may have mentioned once or twice. Those of you who may have read this blog in previous years will know something of my disastrous relationship history, so to get married was a minor miracle in itself.

In order to get married one generally has to have a wedding, and this led to my months of battle with the monster that is the Bridal industry. There's nothing like the mention of a wedding for supplier's eyes to start rolling with dollar signs in the manner of a poker machine. Although I managed to get married without ever setting foot in a bridal shop, I still had to do battle with wedding suppliers, and apparently I did it all wrong.

You have never run into so many rules in your life as when organising a wedding. I've never had much time for the Way Things Should Be Done, though I did actually buy one bridal magazine during the lead up. It really had little of relevance to our wedding, though every newsagent I visited seemed to have sold out of all their copies of Plus Size Goth Bride.

Anyway, Sydney Conformist Wedding was full of rules. Every single section advised the bride-to-be not to risk using friends and relatives for anything - flowers, video, cars - but to hire professionals. This advice I mostly took and it turned out to be a mistake in some cases. There were also timetables on when to book everything. Here I failed completely. Apparently one is meant to book a photographer up to two years in advance; this I found rather tricky as the groom and I hadn't actually met yet two years out. The bulk of our wedding was organised in the final four months, and I was constantly berated for leaving it to the last minute when I rang for quotes. A florist I visited actually told me two weeks wasn't enough time to prepare a bouquet. It wasn't a churchful of flowers I wanted, just a single simple bouquet for myself. Such a request so soon was laughable to the florist, apparently. Maybe they would have grown the flowers specially?

There's something about the mention of the word wedding that sends people a bit crazy. Trying to buy a black veil from ebay, I asked a seller of the exact sort of veils I wanted (marketed as "hen's night veils") if she could send one in time for the wedding. She told me she didn't do wedding veils. Not what I asked, but fine, you don't need my money. The hairdressers berated me for not making a "wedding hair appointment" - I had told them that I wanted my hair styled, but apparently the weddingness of it all required a special kind of appointment. I'd kept quiet because other hairdressers actually refused to see me for a wedding because it was just me, not a bunch of bridesmaids and family. It's as though "wedding" requires a special class of service all it's own. (Don't get me started on the make up artist who assumed I wanted to look tanned, despite me bringing in a photo of Liz Vicious - face only! - to work from).

Most irritating of all was the car. I hired a car to transport my sister and I from home to the venue, only, without mentioning the W word. After all was confirmed I asked could we maybe have a ribbon on the car?

The only way this was possible, I was informed, was to book the car for a two hour wedding package, with carpet, ribbon and champagne. This would cost $350, $200 more than the first quote. I tried in vain to explain I just wanted a ribbon, not the package, but they were adamant - if they weren't fleecing me for the wedding package, the bare minimum was all I was getting (and it was - I should have gone for another car company).

Look, it's hardly one of the great injustices of our society, and I'm aware many brides bring it on themselves through their demanding behaviour. It's hard to see it changing anytime soon - I was a member of a wedding forum in the lead up, and most brides cling to the prevailing wedding fashions like pitbulls. The idea of what a wedding "should" be isn't going to change easily. EDIT: summed up brilliantly here on Things Bogans Like - and it's not just bogans! ALL white, "traditional weddings" are like this!

Okay, you've read the rant, now here's what you came for:



'Cause for all that, it really was pretty awesome.

03 March 2010

Justice Still No Blinder


There's been the predictable outrage over the release of Phillip Choon Tee Lim, who served 18 years of a 24 year sentence for the 1991 murder of Dr Victor Chang. The feeling seems to be that, for killing such a "great bloke", Lim ought never be released.

Notwithstanding that this was a heinous crime, murder is always heinous. The average sentence served for murder in NSW is between 12 and 15 years - several years less than Lim served. The argument in the tabloids and on talkback radio runs that Lim should have been kept in jail, circumstance such as good behaviour aside, because of who his victim was. Barring special circumstances such as the murders of children and police officers in the line of duty, should penalties be harsher depending on the identity of the victim? Are some victims more deserving of our, and the justice system's, sympathy (and wrath) than others?

Imagine if death scene pictures of Anita Cobby were shown on TV. There would be outrage whipped to new levels by the talkback and tabloid set, calls for the resignation of everyone in any way involved. It would be an undignified and unnecessary thing. So why does Viviane Ruiz deserve any differently? Photos of Ms Ruiz's decomposing body were shown on a 2005 episode of Crime Investigation Australia and no one, as far as I can tell, complained or cared. If you've never heard of Viviane Ruiz, that's okay, pretty much no one has. Her name is forgotten by even the few people who ever knew it - in fact she was more famous for having no name at all, making headlines at the time of her murder as a Jane Doe who lay unidentified in the morgue for four months after death.

The difference is that Ms Cobby was a former beauty queen, charity fundraiser, and nurse, whilst Ms Ruiz was a prostitute who worked the streets of Kings Cross. Both were brutally murdered - Ms Cobby by a gang of local men, Ms Ruiz by her drug-addicted boyfriend. Ms Ruiz's killer received a lesser sentence than the members of the gang which killed Ms Cobby, which is usual in "domestic" killings. However, is she less deserving of dignity after death due to her profession? Should Phillip Lim have served a longer jail sentence for killing Victor Chang than if he'd shot a drug dealer in otherwise identical circumstances - a failed extortion attempt?

If the answer to these questions is yes, than we can hardly claim justice is blind. As Richard Ackland wryly puts it here (highly recommended reading on this issue), "Political intervention on the basis of 'community' outrage leads to distortions in what should be the administration of an objective parole process.". True, and also true that we should not have a special category of murder for important people - or less outrage when one young female victim is exploited after death and another is deemed too "good" for such treatment.

01 March 2010

There's Something Fishy Going On Around Here...


Where are all the Scientologists?

Scientology claims to have over 100,000 members in Australia. Where are they? Between myself, my husband and friends I have asked, spread across several cities, having attended several universities and worked for assorted companies and large organisations, one would assume in all that time, if there were 100,000 Scientologists out there, someone would have met one of them. No one has. Maybe because the actual number of Scientologists in Australia, according to the 2006 Census, is more like this:

South Australia - 124
Victoria - 626
New South Wales - 1089
ACT - 51
Queensland - 301
Northern Territory - 8
Western Australia - 284
Tasmania - 25

Total - 2508

(And I sure hope the Scientologists in the NT all get along, or it would be pretty lonely for those on the outer). Even those numbers are an exaggeration; people who list their children's religion as "Scientology" even though young children cannot have any real religious conviction at all.

Curious, recently I picked up a copy of Clear Body, Clear Mind, Scientology's guide to ridding yourself of toxins. I tend to avoid toxins - heck, I've replaced chemical cleansers in our house with a vinegar-and-bicarb regime - but who knows? According to Scientology, the whole damn world is toxic.

Well, the regime is very simple; run half an hour a day, then sit in a sauna for another four and a half hours. If that sounds useless (not to mention dangerous) well it is - as the book itself states, "The Purification program cannot be construed as a recommendation of medical treatment...it is not professed to be physical or medical treatment". It's a spiritual thing, and the book should not occupy the position I found it in, the health care section of my local library. I suppose I should be careful what I say, as I've heard Scientologists can be a bit snippy towards those who speak against them. If there are any Scientologists reading this blog, can I just assure you, no one else does?

~~~~~

Now I'm not one to complain about Big Government (actually, this line of complaint hasn't really taken off in Australia at all). There are many things a government can do better than private companies ever could, let alone if we were all left to our own devices. However it's hard to deny that Australia has too much damn government; the point is often made, but consider this. Singleton Council, in the upper Hunter, placed a large ad in Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald seeking candidates for Directors of Planning and Regulated Services; Assets and Facilities; Organisation Performance; and Business Support. Four roles, each earning salaries drifting into six-figure territory I'll warrant. All this to service a population of 21,500. What the hell do they need a Director of Organisation Performance for? Performance measured against what? If I was a ratepayer in Singleton I'd be planning to storm the next Council meeting with some fairly pointed questions, unless there was something better on TV that night.

21 February 2010

Capital Shitty


The following things happened during our visit to Canberra:

  • Our train to Canberra was stuck at a place called Tarago, NSW, for over an hour due to an obstruction on the tracks (at one stage we were told we would have to get off the train and wait for a road coach).

  • Upon arrival at the hotel, over an hour after check-in time, we had to wait for our room due to a system failure.

  • The air-conditioning in the room was stuck on Arctic, and could not be repaired. The hotel had no spare rooms, despite it being midweek, out of season, and parliament not sitting, so we had to make do with a blow heater, which was full of dust and smelt funny.

  • At least the paintings were good.

  • We waited at a taxi rank in the busiest part of the Canberra CBD for nearly 45 minutes from 4pm. No taxis. It's not that there was a queue for cabs; there were simply no vehicles at all.

  • Having missed our train because of this, and unable to arrange coach travel, we went to the airport. The good folk at Virgin Blue were able to arrange flights to Sydney that evening for us at a not extortionate sum...

  • ...however, our flight was delayed by an hour. DH actually ran into a sympathiser from the taxi rank on the plane. As we took off, we vowed never to return to Canberra.

It's hard not to think that this may be the best sight you'll see in Canberra...

The diminishing sight of the place as you return to Sydney or Melbourne
I've heard normal people describe Canberra as boring, but as a political wonk who enjoys museums and galleries, I was prepared to quite like the place. Upon arrival though, I could see the validity of all the criticism...it's far flung (a cyclist's paradise, with bike racks on every bus, but an appalling nightmare in which to walk, with great whacking distances between everything), expensive, lacking in culture and lacking in decent bars. It's not just a question of it being a smaller place than Sydney. Newcastle is a small city too, but it has an organic feel; DH, not ever a Novocastrian by residence but a frequent visitor, points out you may turn a corner and find yourself at a row of terrace houses, or at a little local shopping area with a dsecent cafe and second hand bookshop, or even an interesting old abandoned warehouse. Canberra has none of that - it just feels sort of plonked. That's the problem with urban development strategies, even for established cities like Sydney. Urban renewal can seem the answer when an area is run down, but compare the Rocks with Darling Harbour. One was planned, the other wasn't. Cities need to evolve organically to be interesting, and that means taking the good with the bad.

01 February 2010

Walk This Way


I've never understood people who would disdain walking 500 meters to their local shops in favour of driving for 15 minutes to walk 500 meters across a featureless carpark to a shopping centre. DF and I walk everywhere, and what we can walk to nearby is the major factor in choosing where we live. (I also don't understand people who state that they have to drive because of poor public transport in their area - did they end up living there by accident?)

Anyway that's why I'm so excited by Walk Score. You can rate the walkability of anywhere to live based on proximity to essential services, as well as those that aren't essential but nice to have nonetheless, like bars. The site isn't perfect - trees make a huge difference to how pleasant a place is to walk around, but trees are difficult to quantify in this sort of project. Of more concern is the grocery store purported to be 120 meters from us not actually exisiting, and a nearby school actually being a driving school, which rather defeats the point. But still, residents of walk-friendly suburbs earn more and weigh less than the average resident of a McMansioned cartrap. It's always nice to have your choices validated.

31 January 2010

Once and for all, proof Piers Akerman is Insane


"[I]n the lead-up to this week’s parliamentary session, the Labor Government, led by Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, has chosen to focus on the sex lives of teenage girls.

The new Opposition leader Tony Abbott has a smorgasbord of issues with which to confront the Rudd Government, which is a master of spin and obfuscation. Like a good editor, Abbott and his team must cut through the verbiage.

It is important he does not get distracted by the frippery with which elements of the media are obsessed, but concentrates on the matters that are important to Australians."

Yes, he actually said this, whilst slamming Kevin Rudd for not mentioning climate change lately (proof Rudd knows he defeated, according to Akerman).

At least Ann Coulter is mildly amusing from rare time to time.