28 January 2013

A Funny Thing Happened On The 100 Bus

I've achieved very little in my long pointless life , but I can proudly state I was one of the very first followers of Newcastle twitter celebrity, The 100 Bus. It's a wild and crazy ride, both on road and off. The bus takes one from my old stomping ground of Charlestown, via the university and some of Newcastle's shall we say, less salubrious suburbs, and on into town. Meanwhile on twitter, the bus keeps us all entertained with insights on life, music and the perennial Newcastle twitter game, Who Is The Bus? (Except we know now. Or do we? I can't think about it without getting a headache).

Anyway, unlike most of the bus's coterie of fan girls, I actually catch the thing regularly, if slightly less often now thanks to my beloved bicycle Zorah. And...I've seen things, man. The 100 bus visits some, well, interesting areas and attracts some interesting passengers. Here are a few of the things I've witnessed on The 100 Bus:

  • Bus driver always looking slightly startled when I request a full fare ticket, as if amazed anyone with a full time job would actually catch it.

  • Upon being told he couldn't bring his long neck of beer of the bus, man who made us all wait whilst he drank the whole thing in one go at the bus stop (very glad I was getting off at the next stop).

  • Seeing eight people simultaneously take their cigarettes down from behind their ears in a beautifully coordinated ballet as we arrived at Jesmond.

  • More bogan baby names than you can shake a first response at. Of course I only hear these and am unenlightened as to spelling, but I am still confident there live in Newcastle children named Destinee, Dakoda, Maxin and Pippee.

  • Man reaching from behind putting his arm down the side of my seat and sliding his hand along my leg.

  • Woman who boarded, refused to pay fare as she was only going a few stops, and absolutely refused to move (can't say I was entirely devoid of sympathy).

  • A lot of smoking.

  • A lot of relationship abuse.

  • A lot of women young enough to be my daughters with their own prams.

  • Mullets a-gogo.

  • Not on the bus itself, but whilst waiting, was asked when the next bus was due. I asked which bus and he said he didn't know. I asked where he was going and he said it didn't matter.

  • Driver aggressively told by rat-tail wearing young man to wait at stop for several minutes for his rat tail wearing young friends.

  • Baby-wearing man carrying 4 50 litre storage bins.

    They're all part of the rich tapestry, I suppose (though I could have done without the groping). One day, eventually all these suburbs will be gentrified - maybe not Jesmond - and such adventures will be lost to history. In the meantime, I've to head off to town, and with the incessant rain making everyone a bit crazy, I'm sure I'll see some colourful folk today.
  • 24 January 2013

    It Shouldn't Be This Hard To Get Into Uni

    Well, I've been offered a place in social science at the University of Newcastle. Yay! Don't congratulate me yet, though. Congratulate me when I graduate.

    Actually, scratch that. Congratulate me when I am finally able to accept my offer. I bloody deserve it. This simple task, which should have taken seconds, has required every spare moment of my time over the past few weeks. I don't want to hear anyone complain about big corporations. Forget it. Imagine a massive telco had vigorous jungle sex with a massive bank. (Go on, visualise it. I'll wait). Then imagine this corporate nookie produced a massive hybrid corporation with slow processes, poorly coordinated systems, and staffed entirely with people sacked from the public service for being just a bit dozy.

    Now imagine that but worse, and that's what it has been like dealing with the University of Newcastle.
    Monday night I logged onto the uni website as instructed, thinking accepting my offer would be as simple as hitting the submit button. But when I did so, I got an error message stating "your email address must contain the characters . and @". That's funny I thought, I'm sure it did. But I checked it again...and again. I tried a different email address. No dice. Same error. I gave up in frustration and vowed to call IT in the morning.
    Tuesday morning, on the phone to IT. I followed all their instructions. I tried logging in using Firefox and Chrome. I waited on hold. Eventually the IT guy told me that he'd never seen this problem before, but he'd look into it and email me to let me know how it turned out.

    Wednesday morning, no email. I call general admissions and explain the problem. I get transferred a bit. Everyone is very nice, but they've never seen this problem before. Eventually I give them permission to accept the offer on my behalf. Okay, they say, they'll email me when that's done.

    I'm trying to fit all this in with full time work, I might add, and by now I've spent several hours on the computer and on the phone with it. Thursday, no email, so I ask DH to call on my behalf. They can't help him, they say. Acceptance needs to be done online. That not working? Send them an email.

    The thing that's grating a bit here is after I applied to the University of Newcastle, way back in September, they started mailing me. A lot. A glossy brochure thanking me for applying. A circular on their great services. An annual calendar. A reminder to look out for my acceptance. A notification on info day. All shiny and helpful. It was like accepting an invitation to a colleague's barbecue, and them thanking you profusely. No worries, you say, looking forward to it. But then they continue to seek you out every day in the lead up to the barbecue, more and more enthusiastically, until finally you start to feel so creeped out you don't want to go at all.

    So I'm a more than a little cross that the uni can throw all this money on PR that will end up in the recycling bin, and can't spend a little bit more on systems and staff in enrollments. It's now past the deadline for acceptance. It's past the deadline to change my preferences to study at another university, a path I now dearly wish I could take. I've no idea if I'll be studying this year, or if I applied to uni and all I got was this lousy blog post.

    21 January 2013

    Why Breastfeeding Is A Feminist Issue.

    I thought I was done with breastfeeding. I certainly thought I was done posting about it. But it's been all over the media in recent days, following the comments of a rather witless breakfast TV host that he doesn't mind public breastfeeding, as long as it's done discreetly. The inevitable backlash followed, along with the usual suspects rolling out to state they agree. Breastfeeding is okay and all, just as long as they don't have to see it. Some people are surprised there are still these pockets of resistance in the community, but I'm not. "A lot of people still feel this way, you can't expect them to change overnight" (as if that would excuse racism?). Now I fed BabyG on city circle trains at rush hour, queueing for lunch at the fish markets at Easter, wherever he was hungry. And I never encountered any dirty looks or stares, possibly due to the fierce "go ahead...say something. I dare you" look in my eyes. I was actually hoping for a confrontation but it never came. I actually had more grief about breastfeeding from other mothers declaring how it should be done, than the public at large. But I'm not surprised there are those who find public breastfeeding a bit icky. Because breastfeeding is a feminist issue, and we aren't there yet.

    There is I think a certain subset of the community who still believes, at least subconsciously, that the primary role of women is to serve and pleasure men; that women's bodies are for sexual pleasure. A breastfeeding woman - or for that matter a visibly pregnant woman - is saying with her body, no, I am not for your pleasure right now, I am doing something else, I'm off limits. The frequent (and reasonable) point is made that if public breastfeeding offends you, why can't you look away? The unreasonable answer is that they resent having to look away, they feel entitled to ogle any breast they like, and seeing boobs used for so non-sexual a purpose makes them feel cheated, deprived of what's theirs. It also taps into the old belief that pregnancy and child rearing are "women's business", to be hidden away where they can't make anyone uncomfortable.

    A woman breastfeeding in public is providing nourishment to her child. But she's also saying my body is not free for your consumption, I'll make my choices and I won't be hidden away. And until that message is understood by all, breastfeeding remains a feminist issue.

    20 January 2013

    Where I Accidentally Have A Right-Wing Thought

    As it seems that we will not, praise be, be moving house this year, DH and I have decided to move some furniture around. This means moving the fish tank, which means requiring a power board with extension cord. As I'm not so great with heavy lifting, I decided I'll take Baby G in his pram to the local shopping centre to pick one up whilst DH gets the moving done...until, that is, I realised this simple expedition would cost $7.20 in bus fare. Reflecting that if I was on the single parents pension the trip would cost $2.50, and if I were unemployed $3.60, I found myself thinking "goddamn it, they're always trying to punish working saps for trying to get ahead".

    I was instantly seized with guilt and shame. A right-wing thought! Where had that come from? Was this the beginning of a slippery slope to listening to talk back radio and blaming boat people for the nation's economic woes? I know, of course I know, that equality doesn't mean giving everyone the same; it means attempting to redress the disadvantage many people start out with, so everyone can end up with the same opportunity. I know providing cheaper fares to others doesn't hurt me in any way. I know that the social safety net was there for us when we needed it; now we don't, and we're lucky, and I don't actually wish I was a single parent, or that I was unemployed.

    That said, I think we can all agree that $7.20 to travel 3km to the local shops is too damn expensive.

    18 January 2013

    Why Would An Atheist Oppose Euthanasia?

    Meet Marc. He's an atheist. He's worked as a registered nurse in palliative care. He's a bleeding heart lefty who's volunteered on Greens election campaigns. And he's also my Dear Husband (DH) and father of BabyG.

    And, unlike perhaps 90% of atheists, he's opposed to euthanasia. Why on Earth would someone who has worked with the dying, who has no religious beliefs holding sway, be opposed to voluntary euthanasia on request? I don't agree with his views, but sat down for a chat, hoping to understand.

    "To begin with, voluntary euthanasia would fundamentally change the way medicine is practiced in society. Western medicine operates on the Law Of Primary Intent: that there are two primary intentions to the actions medical practitioners carry out; to treat disease and to increase comfort. Sometimes in trying to treat disease you decrease someone's comfort, such as through heart surgery or chemotherapy, which treat the disease but cause the patient discomfort. It's a balancing act, but this is what we do. In palliative care, we can no longer treat the disease, so our focus is purely on easing the patient's discomfort. If you are carrying out actions as a medical practitioner where the intent is not to treat disease or increase comfort, but to end life, that adds a new element to treatment, to the practice of medicine as it has always been known"

    "I'm extremely uncomfortable with the idea of society introducing legally mandated killing in any form. It unleashes consequences we can't imagine. Look at societies in the past where euthanasia was allowed. Is that the kind of ethos we want? Also, who would have the final right to decide who can access euthanasia programs? It would be doctors. Look at rates of medical negligence today. Can we imagine things wouldn't go wrong with a euthanasia program? Who would write the legislation? How would it be administered? What safeguards would there be?"

    Whilst I intended to let Marc speak for himself, I decided to invoke Godwin's law at this point. Okay, I said, euthanasia opponents frequently cite Nazi Germany as an example of what happens when euthanasia is allowed. What about modern examples such as Oregon and the Netherlands, where voluntary euthanasia has been legalised and society has remained intact?

    "True, but those are relatively small scale programs. The fact that they have had small take up numbers points to where we should be taking this - that the focus on euthanasia is diverting attention from developing better methods of palliative care, better treatments, better pain relief for the dying - for both physical and mental pain. Depression in the terminally ill is I believe under-acknowledged and inadequately researched. If we were able to provide these better methods of treating mental and physical suffering in the dying, then I believe any perceived 'need' for euthanasia would be taken care of".

    That's all well and good for a 78 year old cancer patient with perhaps six months to live, but I raised the example of a previously active 48 year old injured in a motorcycle accident who is now only able to move by blinking eyelids, fed by tube, breathing on a respirator, and facing possibly twenty years of this before an eventual death from infection. If this person, with the support of their family, wishes to access voluntary euthanasia, what gives you the right to oppose it? How does it affect you?

    "Well it does affect me, as a person, as a medical professional, and as a member of society. For a start, as I said there are two primary intents in medical practice. I did not enter the medical profession to help people die. Even if it is others who volunteer to carry out euthanasia, I did not become a nurse to be a part of something that helps people to die. I also don't want to be part of a society that legalises a machinery of death. I don't want to see where that may take us."

    "Whenever you give people incredible power, things will go wrong. You give the police guns and tasers, sometimes innocent people die. It's the same in medical settings. People are dying unnecessarily right now in medical settings because of mistakes by medical professionals. Do we want to enable the explicit right to decide life and death?"

    If you've any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments and he'll do his best to answer. Thanks. 

    15 January 2013

    The Joy of Gardening: Redux

    Last August I posted about my efforts to start a lasagna garden. At the time, it wasn't going so well, and I was on the verge of giving up. Where was my fluffy, light soil? Would I ever be able to grow veggies? The answer was unequivocally yes. A few weeks after I posted, the tediously-built layers  had broken down sufficiently to allow for planting. So I gathered up seeds and seedlings, and got started with the planting. I have rarely been so proud as when I was done:

    And we're off!
    BabyG does a little dance for good luck

    Every day I rushed out to tend my veggie garden, and it came along nicely. I don't know if I could have achieved the same results from traditional gardening, but the lasagna garden just took off. After a few weeks I noticed the garden was full of the gardener's best friend - worms. I had created a healthy, live garden! There were a few hiccups, like when I wondered why the flourishing crop of oregano I'd grown from seeds had no fragrance, and I realised it was actually a weed:

    Not oregano



    Generally though, everything flourished. By around early December, the rocket was flowering and had to be thinned. I'd finally achieved what I'd always wanted - a kitchen garden, and we could add big handfuls of herbs to all our cooking and enjoy fresh leafy greens that hadn't come out of a bag.




    Then things started going nuts. Summer heat and my zealous watering produced plants that went feral. Basil leaves the size of playing cards. Lettuces that grew three foot tall and toppled over under their own weight. I think the bok choy reached sentience. Whilst all this was going on, I was finding my feet in my new job and watering aside, didn't spend much time on the garden. I knew it had all gotten out of hand when I realised there was a three foot tall tomato plant in there that had self-seeded from the compost. And I hadn't even noticed. The thing was fruiting! It was time to start again. I lopped, weeded, ripped up, trimmed and mulched. All ready for the autumn planting. I've got the bug. I've got it so bad in fact today I've started on a second lasagna garden. In fact, I'm having minor fantasies about throwing in corporate life and becoming an organic farmer. Now to convince DH...

    14 January 2013

    Why Climate Change Deniers Are Worse Than Paedophiles

    It's been impossible to escape the climate change debate in Australia in recent weeks. We've been suffering through an unprecedented heatwave, and everyone's talking about the damn weather. Yep, Australia is a hot country; always has been. But this is like something never seen before - more hot days, higher temperatures, heat spells that go on for longer. Records are being broken. Twenty years ago, climate scientists began to predict what would happen if we didn't change our ways, and now the predictions are coming true. Unless of course you're a climate change denier. These people cling to their beliefs with religious fervour. Climate change is all a hoax, perpetrated by the massive power and funding of big science. Coal and oil producers are helpless in the face of the might of the scientific community to counter the slanderous threats to their industry. There's a lot of money to be made in jumping on the global warming bandwagon, so of course everyone is; nothing more to it than that. Which is odd, really, because climate change deniers tend to be the kind of people who think Gina Rinehart is a great person. Surely, if there was unprecedented financial opportunity in spreading the myth of global warming, she and the other mining barons would leap on board?

    Isaac Asimov once wrote "Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'" Never do we see this illustrated so clearly as in the views of climate change deniers, who believe the whole body of scientific literature on global climate patterns can be countered by their recollections of hot days in their youth. The shameful thing is that the MSM gives these views credence. The 7pm news bulletin on Australia's public broadcaster, the ABC, recently ran a story about the heatwave and climate change; along with scientists, it features the opining of a 60-year resident of Alice Springs who thought there wasn't much to this climate change business because - wait for it - he remembered a really bad heatwave in the 1950s. Presumably this is the ABC's idea of balance, and I await the next story on child protection to feature an interview with a paedophile, to give both sides of the story (and I await the comment "blogger compares climate change deniers to paedophiles").


    Of course, I wouldn't do that. Actually, they're worse. They want us all dead. The heat alone kills more Australians each year than the road toll, and that's to say nothing of deaths from bushfires and the "once a century" floods that now happen every couple of years. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, pun intended - we haven't even begun to really see the effects of rising sea levels. Climate change deniers also tend to be the kind of people who fear "illegal immigrants swamping Australia". You think we have a problem now? Wait till the Pacific Islands start becoming uninhabitable from rising sea levels. Where are their citizens going to go? Hmm...here.


    Maybe I should feel sorry for these people. Maybe they're in denial because the truth is too frightening to face. Maybe they're just simple, good-hearted folk who believe the lies they've been told on climate change. Maybe I should understand that the modern world is scary and confusing, and this is all too much to...hell, no. I don't feel sorry for them. I think they're engaging in a form of mass manslaughter, if you will, and their selfish inability to learn and change will destroy the planet, and I hope they all pass on soon, and that they don't do too much damage before they go
    .

    11 January 2013

    Motivation

    They're everywhere. Reposted on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Embroidered on cushions and wall hangings in every gift stand in every newsagent you see. Emblazoned on magnets stuck to the fridges of people you really didn't think were into that kind of thing. I'm talking about those twee motivational sayings. You've seen them. Misattributed "quotes", conveniently tagged with "anonymous", or simply without attribution at all, there they are in all their saccharine glory, intended to give us all a little lift in our busy, complicated modern lives:

    "It is never too late to be that which you might have been"

    "Never be afraid to be your true self"

    "Life is a gift, be grateful for every moment"

    "Never ever ever give up"

    Back when I lived in Summer Hill, Sydney's capital of the twee little shop filled with lovely little overpriced things, one of the cutesy little emporiums had a blackboard outside where the owner (I assumed) would daily chalk up a fresh one of these stupid sayings. I was so often tempted to bring a piece of chalk and add my own coda. "Never give up on your dreams" - "So if you dream of ten year old boys, go for it!". I've been described many times as too cynical but am I the only one who finds these little sayings by turns insulting, nauseating, and pointless?  Imagine telling someone mourning a loss that they should be grateful for every moment. Or worse - they might actually motivate someone. A penniless young artist in early 20th century Europe considering just ending it all, when he passes a shop with a window display with a wall hanging saying "Never, never, never give up". So he draws strength, finally writes that book he's always been meaning to, and goes on to invade Czechoslovakia and slaughter millions of innocent people.

    I've a somewhat irrational hatred for these things, along with pod coffee and people who say ATM machine (actually not all that irrational - I mean seriously, who spends $350 on a machine that lets them drink stale coffee that's been sitting on a pod on a shelf for a year?). The popularity of these sayings, with their down-home earthiness, is conversley symptomatic of our disposable, throw away, one-liner, rush to make everything simple modern culture (just like pod coffee machines! Okay, I'll stop now).  Look at what passes for political commentary these days. No need to actually study policy or do any research - just listen to the soundbites, choose a nickname and go from there. This upcoming election won't be decided on ALP or LNP policy - it will be Toxic Tony versus Juliar. Likewise, why bother taking the time to put in the hard work, time, and introspection needed for real personal growth - even worry is sometimes necessary, despite what the slogans say - when you can slap a motivational quote fashioned to look like a tram destination board up on the wall?

    09 January 2013

    Breastfeeding - The End of the Road

    BabyG started daycare yesterday. As DH fretted about facing the days without his little friend, I was completely fine. It didn't bother me at all. It was just a step forward in his life, another milestone to be marked off...until that is, I bought some labels to sew in BabyG's clothes. And there, in the haberdashery section of Big W, it hit me. "Oh my god", I thought, "he needs labels in his clothes because he's starting his life without us!". It begins, I thought, first daycare, then school, and then he'll start going out with friends and learn to drive and go overseas and move out. Our baby! (Freaking out over major life events in retail establishments seems to be a habit of mine. I had a panic attack over my upcoming wedding in the Salvation Army store in Marrickville. "This wasn't supposed to happen", I thought as I struggled for air, "I was supposed to OD at 26, not get married and have kids").

    In our hearts though, we knew BabyG would be fine, and he was. He's such a feisty, fearless kid it's hard to really worry, and sure enough, once he was in the door he was off at a great pace, running around meeting people and playing with the toys, wiggling free when we tried to hug him goodbye. No tears all day, we were told at pick up. We all knew he was ready for this. As an only kid, it's time he learnt to socialise a bit. He gets bored at home. It's time to put away the baby things, and BabyG has lead the way, taking this time to wean himself.

    It's been coming for a while. For the last two months or so BabyG would only take a feed every couple of days, and that under sufferance, when I pulled him on to my lap, or if he woke in the night. And for the last two weeks or so - nothing. He won't take a feed at all. If I offer, he laughs, shakes his head, will even pull my top up to cover the bosom whilst giving it a "there, there, sorry, but it's over" pat. He's as affectionate as ever - he particularly loves sitting on my lap, just because he likes to be there - but he don't want no breastfeed. He's done, and I'm glad he chose it this way himself. The only part of our breastfeeding journey which was easy and natural was the end. I've written here previously about our huge difficulties breastfeeding, and that given our time over, I'm not sure I'd do it again.

    But we made it to sixteen months, and I'm happy and grateful we had that; I'm not as suffused by warm maternal glow as the media would like to portray mothers, especially long(ish) term breastfeeders. It was lovely to have that bond, and once I made the decision at around six months to just keep going with this thing and see how long it lasts, I did wonder how it would end. We broke every rule in the "how to establish successful breastfeeding" book; BabyG had formula in hospital, and I expressed feeds so I could go out for a bit when he was three weeks old, and we comp fed from 6-12 months, and he had a dummy...and without any of those things, I doubt we would have made it this long. Wisdom also goes that kids don't wean themselves before age two by choice. Nonsense. I can assure you this is completely BabyG's choice, and I'm not pregnant, and haven't done anything differently to affect the milk, and offered, and he refused.

    I wondered how it would feel when it ended. Slightly nostalgic - the TTC/pregnancy/birth/breastfeeding part of my life is over. But we are ready, really - I'm ready to move on to the next stage of my life, getting my career on track; and so is he, ready to be a big boy, not a baby anymore. He'll always be our baby, of course; but not one that needs or wants bosom anymore.

    06 January 2013

    Who Do You Boycott?

    I fell in love today. Like all great romances, it began unexpectedly, suddenly, completely; I was wandering aimlessly through David Jones, not a store I frequent, when I passed the Alannah Hill display, and saw a cardigan. A frilly, polka-dotted, fabulously frou-frou cardigan, at 50% off, which whilst making it still more expensive than I like to spend on my clothes, placed the thing from ridiculous into possible. I still had doubts about blowing so much money on something for myself though, and as I am incapable of making a decision without getting social media in on it, I took my dilemma to Twitter. Should I get the cardigan or not? Most people said go for it, but one reply said she wouldn't buy anything from Alannah Hill, on principle; following Ms Hill's ill-conceived remarks, following accusations against then-David Jones CEO Mark McInnes of sexual harassment, that she wished McInnes had sexually harassed her. I was mindful of it, and not particularly comfortable. I wasn't entirely sure, though, that buying and wearing the cardigan was sending a message that I believe sexual harassment is okay. I did get to thinking about boycotts, though, and whether as individual consumers there's any point.

    I try to be an ethically concious shopper. I'm not as vigilant as I should be. Sometimes it's easy to have a direct impact - I don't buy cage eggs, so we know that the chickens are not directly suffering for our scrambled. Other times, things get a little more abstract. The Nestlé boycott has been going on for over thirty years, and has so far failed to have much impact - you can say to yourself "well, even if my purchasing decisions don't make a difference, at least I know the company isn't getting any of my money". But then you think of all the other crappy companies out there...you can't boycott everyone who deals with everyone...and next thing you know, you're eating a KitKat and it tastes like guilt. 

    Part of it's lazy. I do the boycotts which are easy for me. I boycott anyone that has anything to do with gambling, but as I'm not interested in the things people gamble on (well, apart from the election, but would you really) that doesn't require much sacrifice from me. And I won't read any NewsLtd paper. Won't even take them if they are free, won't look at a copy left on the train. But again, since I'd rather read BabyG's dirty nappies than the Daily Telegraph - and they are less full of crap - not a hardship. But there's when it gets tricky. According to the Ethical Shopping Guide, Coca-Cola have sold toxic waste as fertiliser in India, been responsible for human rights abuses in Colombia, and failed to take action to prevent deaths whilst working in Darfur. Pretty shocking stuff, right? I should boycott Coca-Cola and all their products. But all their products includes most bottled drinks and post mix, as well as tinned fruit and jam. Saving the world is all well and good, but no one wants to be thirsty do they?

    That's what it comes down to, really. I don't take action on boycotts like I should, and then I feel spoilt, lazy, part of the problem. So what about you, readers? Do you boycott companies on ethical grounds? Shop at will with a clear conscience? Or are you caught in a murky middle ground like me?

    04 January 2013

    The Numbers Are The Numbers

    They say all art comes from suffering. And there's no suffering like listening to Liberal and National party politicians speak. In the tradition of Make The Pie Higher, I humbly present this simple poem compiled entirely of quotes from the LNP.

    ~~~

    What the housewives of Australia need to understand,
    The numbers are the numbers.
    These people are not fit to government the economy,
    It’s by no means the main task of government.

    Why not ask electricity consumers to pay more
    We are prepared to have an ETS.
    Climate change is absolute crap.
    That's the fluffy stuff that sits in the ceiling.

    There are even some creepy people out there,
    People like to admire the athletes for their physiques,
    That is a very reasonable thing.
    Tony Abbott was more than happy to keep them going.

    I think I have reasonable good people skills.
    Just because a person is sick doesn't mean that he is pure of heart.
    Jesus didn't say yes to everyone,
    We can’t abolish poverty.

    I can't promise that I won't continue to embarrass people,
    We are not going to make promises that we cannot keep,
    It would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate.
    Gillard won’t lie down and die! Gillard won’t lie down and die!

    02 January 2013

    On The Dole

    Jenny Macklin triggered off a wave of debate yesterday, with her ill-conceived (and later denied) comments that she could in fact, survive living on $35 a day Newstart allowance. The debate has however, taken a strange turn. Many ALP supporters have lined up to support Macklin. "Well of course Newstart allowance is low", runs the consensus, "it's only meant to be a temporary measure whilst you look for other work, not to support you for the rest of your life". They, along with the LNP supporters whinging about dole bludgers - apparently Gillard and Swan have wrecked the economy whilst somehow sustaining a vibrant job market - seem oblivious to the reality of the job market these days.

    As I posted when I finally found work, it's a tough job market out there right now. Really tough. With two professional qualifications, seven years experience in advertising and a year in community service, I applied for over a hundred jobs - willing to do filing, make coffee, anything - before I secured employment. I was desperate to work, and sure I only saw Newstart as temporary; trouble is, in those four months I was job seeking, we did not pay temporary rent, temporary bills, temporary grocery prices or transport costs. now, Newstart should not enable one to live a comfortable life. But can we raise it a little bit so it does not mean such grinding poverty? At least peg it to cost of living increases? You'd think so, but those who would describe themselves as social democrats are, to my amazement, opposed.

    One thing unites those opposed to an increase in unemployment benefits, the smug belief that it can never happen to them. Everyone cites the unemployed individual they know who smokes cones all day, is always turning up with a new tattoo, and cheerfully admits they never want to work. They pass him on his front porch having the first beer of the day as they head to work and think, sure as hell they don't want him getting any more money. They don't face the reality that one day, they could in fact get to work and be told that the company has been bought out and the branch is closing. Or their job is being sent to an overseas call centre. Or the manager made a bad investment. Or the same government austerity that keeps dole payments low has seen their job go as well. The shock, the "now what" feeling - they think it can't happen to them. They're good people and work hard. Unemployment only happens to lazy, bad people - the undeserving poor. That's why someone who isn't working because of a bad back should receive more money than someone who isn't working because of a bad management decision. 

    Or they briefly imagine what it would be like to be unemployed and think "it won't last long. These unemployed people, they're too fussy. Job snobs. I'll do anything". What they don't realise is these unskilled jobs are the hardest to get, because everyone has the same idea; anyone can apply for them, so everyone does. The reality can mean months of casual work, short term positions, relying on Newstart in between - and not appearing on the unemployment figures in between. We have a "skills shortage". Check that word "skills". Unskilled jobs are harder to come by. And it's damn hard to acquire those skills amidst the brutal, grinding poverty of the dole. The idea seems to be thrown around that we have to keep unemployment benefits low as an incentive to look for work. By whom? Is there any evidence of this? Any studies that show $50 a week, say, is all that stands between "genuine" job seekers and the long term, and contented, unemployed? If that were the case, then logically raising Newstart would lead to a rise in wages - because employers would need to offer higher wages to compete with a more comfortable life on the dole.

    Or maybe those who genuinely want to work will still want to work if the dole was slightly higher, and will face less humiliation and misery whilst they do so. Maybe the long term unemployed by choice will face the same issues they always have; no one seems to be very interested in doing anything to address structural, generational unemployment, beyond the current blame the victim mentality of keeping Newstart allowance so much lower than other government payments. Maybe we can start earlier, with school funding. Or disincentives to move jobs offshore, or banning companies from delivering CEO bonuses in the same financial year as mass layoffs. If we try all that, and it doesn't fix things, then let's agree to keep benefits so low. Because right now, insisting benefits have to be kept low to encourage job seekers seems like a poor excuse to kick people while they're down.  

    01 January 2013

    Where Angels Fear To Tread

    "Ho hum", I thought as midnight approached on my fourth NYE in a row spent at home in front of the TV, "another year". Then I remembered it's an election year, and I tore all around the room in a fit of excitement like Mr Bean on Christmas morning.

    I don't know what to tell you. I'd been up since 5am. I was full of wine. I'd lost all sense. Reality hit this morning when I woke up, realised it's an election year, had a think about just what sort of an election it's going to be, and fell in a sobbing puddle on the floor.

    Make no mistake, this year is going to get nasty. Really nasty. Tony "born to rule" Abbott has never recovered from losing the 2010 election; he offered to sell his own arse; in an act of patriotism they don't receive enough credit for, Mssrs Oakeshott and Windsor told them they didn't want it, and he went grudgingly to the opposition benches, where he has spent the last two and a half years smarting, and scheming. I can't bring myself to elaborate  on the entire catalogue of treachery, but just look at the most recent example, the Ashby affair, where following a federal court judgment finding that there was, after all, a conspiracy involving LNP staffers and a former minister, Mal Brough, to bring down the government - to say nothing of the potential involvement of Pyne, Hockey and possibly Abbott himself - Abbott's reaction? "Get over it". He hasn't answered a single question about what he knew or - and we all want to know this - who the hell is paying James Ashby's legal bills. No big deal, says Abbott. Either he has no idea what his ministers get up to, or he was personally involved in sedition. Never mind, let's forget about that and move on to $5000 the Prime Minister received from her boyfriend back in 1995 (and did she ever consider getting a Rachel at the time?).

    I'm often amused when trolls on twitter assume that, because I'm against the LNP, I must be a Labor supporter. I'm most pointedly not, and I find the idea there's some Labor-Greens alliance kind of ridiculous. Just today, in the latest act of dog-whistling, Labor has booted 100,000 single parents off parenting payment and onto Newstart allowance once their youngest kid turns 8. Fair enough, you say, no one needs to be at home all day when their youngest kid turns 8? Except we're not talking all day here. These changes will have a devastating effect on the many single parents who work part time, trying to fit work around the paltry day and after school care options we have in Australia; they'll suddenly find their payments used to supplement the money they earn working drastically reduced. So they can either struggle with full time work that can be outright hostile to working parents, in some cases having to abandon studies which would benefit themselves, their families and the nation in the long run - or they can accept the reduced income and just go without. Either way it's the kids who suffer. Of course, family tax benefit that applies to partnered parents continues till the youngest child is 16. Happy New Year, love the ALP.

    But despite this, I sincerely and desperately hope the ALP wins the federal election. Three years of Abbott smirking at us every time you turn on the TV would be...a lot like what we have at the moment. He has to go. Close to home, I've started to notice Liberal party volunteers campaigning for their candidate for the Federal seat of Newcastle at community events. Newcastle was a safe Labor seat for generations, and the Liberal party put as much enthusiasm into their candidates' local campaigns as I put into office Christmas parties. But following the 2011 NSW state election, where several local seats were astonishingly won by Liberal candidates for the first time in their history (upon being told on election night that the Liberal party had won the state seat of Charlestown, Gladys Berejiklian's jaw dropped open), the Liberals thing they can win this. They believe a Liberal party candidate can win the seat of Newcastle, and they're giving it everything they've got. I can't let that happen and I won't let that happen and I can't let that happen. I've not put much effort into elections in the last couple years beyond sticking out a coreflute, but this year I'm fairly going to throw myself into it. I'm not sure exactly how - I just didn't gel with the Newcastle Greens as well as I did in Marrickville, and am not sure if I should just spruik for the ALP if it would mean having to defend policies I don't agree with - but I'm going to try.

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