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!

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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