30 August 2013

Thoughts (of very little worth) On Syria

I'm sitting in a courtyard on the University of Newcastle's main campus. It's a gorgeous day, unseasonably warm. This early, there are few students in the deck chairs and lounges strewn about the place. The sun is streaming through the trees that ring the campus. It's about as peaceful a scene as one could imagine, and I'm feeling pretty peaceful too; I've got a lecture on I'm looking forward to, then off to buy party supplies for BabyG's birthday; he's turning two, and presumably will need to be known as BoyG soon.

Then, idly following links, I see this video from the BBC of the aftermath of an incendiary bombing in Syria, and nothing is peaceful at all.

I've been against Western military intervention in Syria. I couldn't see how bombing Syria could not add to the misery of its citizens, who have misery enough to bear. But you know what else they don't need? The opinions of a Western bleeding heart do-gooder who thinks she knows better than them what they should have.

The Syrian people are begging for help. They say the world has forgotten them. We have not forgotten, but if we stand idly by we may as well have. Growing up I always wondered, if the world knew the "killing fields" of Cambodia were happening, why did no one stop it? But then there was the genocide in Rwanda; the world watched and did nothing. Now it is happening again. We have to act, get rid of that asshole Asad, string him up by his testicles, yes I'm against the death penalty but he is targeting schools in bombing raids ferchrissake. The horror of chemical weapons is one thing, but the kids he's killing with conventional bombs dropped on their schools are just as dead. We need to listen to Syria now.

20 August 2013

My Reply To Jaimie Abbott

Dear Ms Abbott,

I'm sure you're looking forward to the upcoming election, where you are running as the Liberal candidate for Newcastle. I am too. For then, whether you win or lose, we can start to put you behind us. You're everywhere in this election campaign - billboards, coreflutes, at every damn community event, in shopping centres which aren't even in your electorate. I can't fault you for effort - if all you have to do is want it, you'd have the election in the bag. You even tried cozying up to The Greens in an attempt to get the preference deal that was the only way you can win, telling their candidate how much you two have in common - unfortunately or otherwise, they were too polite to tell you to go piss up a rope. I wonder how your rusted-on, Greens-loathing supporters would feel about that? So much for principles - I guess Tony Abbott isn't the only one who would sell his arse to get elected. It all came to naught anyhow when Mr Abbott announced the Liberals will preference the Greens below Labor in the House of Representatives, ruling out any chance of a preference deal for you and with it any chance of taking the seat. Who'dve thunk Newcastle lefties would have any reason to be grateful to Tony Abbott?

The thing is though, you just don't know when to quit. Despite that I have returned every piece of election material you have sent me to sender, yesterday I received another form letter, imploring me to vote for you. I don't know how you got my details. Now, I've read that the reason you entered the electoral race is that you're really angry about being lied to. Well so am I! And as you're apparently not too keen on interacting directly with those who question you, I've taken the liberty of correcting some of the errors in your recent mail out.

Dear M/s Sikamikanico,

I'm not sure what's going on here - the failure to get even a basic salutation right. I'm assuming form letters are sent using a database program incorporating drop-down boxes for salutations, so is it that you can't bring yourself to use a term which you believe indicates a woman living in sin? Do you believe me to be a manuscript? But this is a minor quibble so I'll move swiftly along.

The last thing we need is a government in crisis.

You mean a government with ministers conspiring to bring down the government, who can't even supply costed economic policies two and a half weeks out from the election?

As your Liberal candidate I get the chance to speak to many local people. The strong message I get from them is how difficult their lives have become as they struggle to get through tough financial times.

Really? Because I saw you handing out leaflets in the Hunter Street mall a couple weeks ago, and most people were telling you to sod off. Whatever I'll say about Novocastrians, they aren't whingers. Just about everyone knows we are living in a peaceful beautiful place and how damn lucky we are; how the economy is doing well and even though things could be a bit better financially for some of us - job stability would be nice, let alone an increase in Newstart but it's nothing your party seems to care two tiny mouse droppings about - I don't know anyone who is complaining that they're struggling. Anyway, we can remember back to the greatest calamity to affect employment in Newcastle - the closure of BHP. That happened under a Liberal government. What else would we have to look forward to if you lot got back in?

Five pillar economy

Who says Australia has nothing to gain from Islam? We are directed to your website to see the five pillars - manufacturing, agriculture, mining, education and "advanced services". It's all rather light on detail though, apart from constant promises to repeal the carbon and mining taxes. I'm not sure how the Liberals aim to revivify Australia's moribund manufacturing industry and still remain internationally competitive without cutting wages. Education is listed as a priority, but only in terms of "exporting education", not funding it. And there's the inevitable promise to cut red tape, the stuff that stops cranes from toppling over and walls collapsing.

Abolish the carbon tax

I can tell this one's really important because it alone of your points is in bold. Now, I hate to run the "you don't have kids so you don't understand" line but yeah, well, you don't. It doesn't make much difference to you if the planet ends up uninhabitable due to catastrophic climate change - the science is in, even if you refuse to acknowledge it - but it does to those of us with kids, who plan and hope for a future for our children, and their kids and grandkids. Of course we're bloody "alarmists" about climate change; we're alarmed that there may not be a future in a world destroyed. And we know Australia needs to do it's part, in the form of carbon pricing, to try to slow the spread of global warming. It's been in for over a year, and we can see that it hasn't led to roast lamb costing $100, or wiped out the town of Whyalla, as you lot were grimly predicting. But you're still running the obfuscation/furphy/lie that Australia has the world's biggest carbon tax. You know it's not true. We know it's not true. But still you peddle this rubbish.

Deliver better roads and services and Improve health services

Again, no specific details other than restoring the private health insurance rebate, worsening Australia's two tier health divide. Meanwhile, "more roads" is the only promise the Liberals seem to make on infrastructure, including congestion in major cities and desperate need for rail upgrades. Building more roads to deal with congestion is like letting out your belt to deal with obesity.

Deliver more support and funds for local schools

Yep, Gonski is a great idea. Pity it wasn't your idea and Tony Abbott vigorously opposed it until he sensed the mood of the electorate. At least with his stunning fitness levels, the backflips come easily for him.

Get the Budget under control and pay back debt

We've heard lots about how you're cutting this and that tax (whilst bizarrely keeping the carbon tax compensation) but that's about it. Come on. We've been hearing demands from the Coalition for an election for three years; now, with a mere 18 days to go, no specific budget forecasts, no costings, no detail, nothing. All the Coalition have to do economically, if elected, is run the economy into the ground and blame Labor. And that is what will happen.

So, that's your mail out. We'll say nothing of your claims of heroism and national service in Afghanistan (you were a journalist), or the, ahem, airbrushing of your head shot on the campaign materials. More worrying is you don't say anything specific of your plans for Newcastle, either. You implore people to vote for you as "Labor believes that they can take this seat for granted. They think they can just pocket your vote and once again fail to deliver" (wrong actually, I'm not voting Labor either), but well, we've tried voting Liberal at the state level to see if it would get things done; that hasn't worked out too well. Soon the election will be held, and then you'll go away, and maybe I'll wonder why I bothered with this post; but right now you're everywhere, reminding me how much I hate being lied to.

Update: The day after posting this I received yet another addressed mail out from Ms Abbott. It lacked a reply paid envelope to return to sender, so I thought "well, I'll just have to go to her office to deliver it in person"; possibly with a friend wielding a hidden camera. But then I remembered I've got three essays and a toddler's birthday party in the next two weeks, thought "screw it", and poured a drink, remembering we're now down to two weeks till Ms Abbott - please cow - goes away. 

15 August 2013

The Lament of an Aspie Mama

It was the moment I knew I needed help.

Baby G was engaged in one of his favourite activities...pulling DVDs off the shelf, taking the discs out of their cases and tossing them around. Typical toddler behaviour, and I should have reacted by firmly telling him we don't pull the DVDs down, and then finding some other activity as a distraction. But I didn't. Instead I was crouched on the floor with the palms of my hands pressed to the side of my head, making a strange sort of wailing noise, when DH found us. "What's going on out here?" he asked.

"He's pulling out the DVDs, and I can't stop him, and...I don't understand why he's doing this" I replied in some minor anguish. And there it was; the moment when parenting and autism collided for me. I got through the small baby stage with its disruption of routine and unpredictability; I breastfed for 16 months despite that I'm not always too keen on being touched. I could do this, I thought, and gave little thought to how autism would affect my parenting at all.

But now we have an (almost) two year old. A running, jumping, chatty, irrational little creature, no longer a baby, not yet quite a boy. Baby G is a sweet, cuddly, friendly little guy who is still yet to throw a full-blown tantrum. But he is a tornado of activity, constantly on the move, curiosity never satisfied. A typical kid his age, basically - and neurotypical, too, from what I can tell; showing no signs of ASD (I'm watching carefully for any early indications, so far so NT). It's everything I can't stand - things are never where I left them, constant mess, noise and movement, someone with an independent will of their own whose motives I can't guess and can't ask to be explained.

A good mother, runs the cultural trope, is patient, understanding, generous...everything that runs counter to your typical Aspie; orderly, unable to cope with sensory stimuli, needing a pattern and reasoning for everything...and prone to outbursts when it all gets too much. And of all the stages of parenting, toddlerhood possibly challenges us the most, but we have to find our path to being good parents anyway. And I'm still not sure how to do that. So I've gone looking for answers, and what I've found is not encouraging. There seem to be few studies done on parents with autism, and what research there is points to "significant problems due to the core neuro-cognitive clinical features of autism". Problems can include the parent shutting down in the face of toxic stimuli or withdrawing from the situation; being unable to discern your child's feelings, and being unable to understand the child's motivations and thoughts. Everything that comes together when your son is hurling DVDs around the lounge room, and there have been times, when DH isn't around, that I have gone into another room and cried, or screamed and shouted myself.

And I know it's not good for Baby G and I want to know what to do. I wanted a nice shiny self-help book that will tell me how to cope with situations I'm dreading in the years ahead, like kids birthday parties and parent teacher interviews. Or I wish I could make this go away. I don't want to have significant problems with my parenting.

I don't want to bring Baby G to a friend's birthday party at a play centre and be thought of as the weird mother who wouldn't talk to anyone.

I don't want him to have to tell a school friend he can't have anyone at the house cause his mother isn't..you know...like other Mums.

I don't want him to bring his first girlfriend or boyfriend home and have them in tears because I inadvertently said something hurtful.

I've always heard people say they can't relax when I'm around. I want him to be able to have his friends over without making everyone uncomfortable.

As the years go on, and the current increases in children being diagnosed with autism see these children grow up and become parents themselves, I'm sure the literature will increase and with it, the awareness. Whilst I'm pouring out my worries here, in real life I don't often tell people about this, because they often don't really know much about it - thinking it's something to do with being unfriendly and needing matching socks - or because I just want to be normal. I don't always want to be seen as someone weird, even though I am, and most of the time I'm okay with it. But I want to be a normal parent, a good parent. I don't want to be Baby G's weird nasty mother. We're famously resistant to change, but I'm willing to try; and if anyone else has faced the same situation, I'd love to hear from you.

13 August 2013

The Most Important Election Issue No One's Talking About

From the "just when you thought people couldn't get any worse" files, yesterday I stumbled across an article about a woman pompously declaring that as none of the parties running for election had addressed her most crucial issue - health - to her satisfaction, she would be placing an informal vote at the upcoming election, handing in a blank ballot paper. She wouldn't give any party her vote because in her view, none of them deserved it. Goodness me. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised; considering the Liberal party have for years run the election slogan "It's about you", it was inevitable that we would see people treating voting not as a right and duty, but an activity to be completed only for their own pleasure.

As ever I'm looking forward to voting myself, even though I haven't heard any of the parties put forward any policies addressing what I consider to be the most vital issue - job security. Oh, they say it's important and promise to cut this tax or enact that program. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about an end to the outsourcing and casualisation of the Australian workforce that means that pretty much no one has job security. Why is no one talking about this? It's possibly the biggest problem facing our nation at the moment. Why do we get so worked up at the thought of mining jobs being lost, but shrug when jobs are lost in telecommunications, banking, or any other industry that can outsource to offices in the Philippines or India? Why do we not care about workers left behind, hired as subcontractors or casuals with no leave entitlements or security, who can find themselves unemployed on an hour's notice?

Funnily enough, it's conservatives who are the biggest defenders of this. People who would drool with rage at the thought of environmental concerns resulting in loss of logging jobs are quick to justify the economic rationalism of offshoring and casualisation. Major companies sending profit-making departments overseas are "hampered by red tape"; having employees with years of service in full time hours employed as casuals just gives "flexibility". It's just the way the world is now. Profit above all else. Get with the times or get out.

Conservatives yearn for the "family values" and social stability of the 1950s but fail to acknowledge the economic structure which underpinned that society - high taxes, tarrifs, and full employment. When that is gone, and the stability is lost, they are quick to blame anything else for society's ills. But it's not political correctness that destroyed society, nor feminism. It's economic rationalism. And under modern society's profit above all motive, the work ethic we claim to admire is not rewarded. Conservatives push the message that they're all about opportunity - a system where if you work hard and take control of your own path, you will be rewarded. Economic rationalism makes that a lie. You can work hard, do the right thing, and still end up losing your job because too much profit is barely enough. Someone in India can do it for $4 an hour. Or you develop a serious illness and get no sick pay because, despite having been in your role for three years, you're a casual. And when that happens conservatives have gouged out the social services that decent, hard working people weren't supposed to need in their fabulous system of rewarding opportunity.

I've come down pretty hard on conservatives in this post, but frankly the ALP are no better. I haven't heard anything. It's not just a problem that affects retail workers and call centre operators (and I bet very few of the people who complain about Indian call centre operators have given much thought to the poor Australian sap who lost that job, let alone written to their MP about it). Nor is it a matter of having to "stay competitive". I recently finished a stint with a very large Australian company when our department was transferred to subcontractors in India - even though the division was making money. They were making a profit, but too much profit was barely enough. And the company didn't have to worry about paying myself or anyone else out, as we were employed as casuals through a "recruitment service company". People have lost their jobs who'd worked there for years, supporting families, but classified as "casuals" even though we were all on full time hours. Flexibility? Choice? Forget it. There's only one beneficiary from a system like that.

Look, I'm aware there are other huge issues facing this nation. But I'm in my mid-thirties and I've now been retrenched twice. I have to face that I may never have job security in my life, and I hate that. How could I ever feel confident to take on a mortgage, or afford activities for BabyG, knowing at any time it could all be snatched away? And there must be millions of others in the same situation. Can't we do something about this? It may be impossible to shove the economic rationalism genie back in the bottle, but can we, say, look at legal limits on the proportion of employees a company can outsource overseas without incurring higher taxes? Or a limit on the amount of time an employee can be hired as a "casual" without being offered a permanent role if they choose? No wonder people are stressed and worried. We hear so much about "rising costs of living", but never anything about the confidence that comes with knowing you'll be able to meet those costs. So much nostalgia is misplaced but when I hear of the tax rates and job security of the 1950s, well, it's the one time I'd say I'm an old fashioned lady.

12 August 2013

Why Not Vote Greens?

Since the release of the ABC's Vote Compass, where people can see how their political beliefs align with the positions of the parties running for the upcoming Federal Election, I've been seeing a common refrain on Twitter from those posting their results: "Funnily enough, I'm most closely aligned with the Greens - but I never vote Greens, only Labor." I've seen this sentiment before, and wondered why. Why do good, progressive, lefty people refuse to vote for the one parliamentary party that actually has consistent progressive policies? I think I've worked it out - it's a matter of perception and a misplaced pragmatism. Unfortunately neither do much good for the progressive cause in Australia, but that's what we've got.

Many in Labor, many of their voters - and not a few of their opponents - see Labor as a left wing, progressive party. Compared to the Coalition, they sure are. But given the societal shift to the right of recent generations, the Labor party is, at best, a Centrist organisation; extending offshore processing of asylum seekers, holding to a paltry 5% target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, forcing single parents onto unemployment benefits, having had six years to legislate for marriage equality and failing to do so until finally sensing the national mood and promising to do so if re-elected...the depressing list goes on. But its easy to ignore all this, if you choose, and focus on the tone, the words; politics is all about spin after all, and the spin from the Labor party is we care. We're the party of activism, of care and concern for your fellow human being, of making sure what everyone has access to the same quality of education, of health care. It doesn't matter that they continue with the inequitable system of schools funding that sees million-dollar grants to elite private schools, or maintain the system of private health insurance rebates that have created a two-tier healthcare system in Australia; what matters is that they mean well.

There's more to it than that though. Many Labor voters are well aware of Labor's failings, but vote for them anyway, stating "The Greens will never win government, they couldn't run the nation; at least the Labor party can get things done." There's some truth, I guess, to saying that as things stand it is very hard to imagine the Greens forming government in the next decade or so. But voting for Labor only sends them the message of support for them to disparage the Greens, continue with their unjust and unfair policies. Voting for Labor isn't working to help change them from within; it's telling them they're okay to continue on as they are. My fondest wish for Australian politics would be to see a strong, united left that stands up for progressive principles - things like abortion, workplace rights and marriage equality that surveys show are supported by most voters but don't register with the major parties -  isn't cowed by the Murdoch press, and balances pragmatism and progressive values not in a vain attempt to appease talkback radio callers, but for the economic and social good of the nation. (Okay, my fondest wish would be a peaceful socialist revolution, but I'm being pragmatic here).

How can the Greens win over these progressive-but-vote-Labor people? What can we do? We have to be realistic. We need to get our message out, about the policies we believe in. We have to make it clear we will work with the government. And we have to try to remove the stigma that still hangs over the Greens. I do wear my Greens shirt when out and about with my family, a tiny gesture showing Greens are normal people with jobs, families, kids; we worry about housing costs and grocery prices too, we're not all living in the inner city. This close to the election, that's what we can do. We can't beat people over the heads with chai lattes; but we need to get people seeing that if they care about progressive principles, vote Green - preference the ALP - tell the ALP and the nation that these are the things so many voters care about and they need to tailor policies to us, not expect us to compromise our values for them.

05 August 2013

The Politics of the Shitkansen

Newcastle has been a Labor party stronghold pretty much forever - and people have been blaming all Newcastle's problems on this for about as long. "Sydney/Canberra takes us for granted, does nothing for Newcastle, because they know we'll always vote Labor. We need to kick them out to get anything done here!", so ran the thinking. Well, since the last NSW election, we've finally gotten the chance to put the theory to the test. For the first time the state electorate of Newcastle voted in a Liberal party representative, Tim Owen. And have things changed in Newcastle - the state issues of schools, hospitals, transport? Like fun they have, and nothing illustrates this better than the pitiful state of our rail link to Sydney, the notorious Shitkansen. Look. Don't we deserve better than this? Filthy carriages thirty years old, appalling toilets, no food or beverages available; all that could be borne, I guess, if the train didn't take up to three hours to travel the 165 odd kilometres between Sydney and Newcastle. And that's when it manages to complete a journey with no delays.

I've written fairly extensively on the Shitkansen's woes, and having invoked the wrath of the Shitkansen gods, I seem to have a curse placed on my head whenever I travel. Something always happens to screw up the trip. I've been "delayed indefinitely" for dead bodies and police operations; delayed at Gosford for hours on end with a tired cranky one year old after a train got tangled in the wires. I actually finished that post with "see you next time something goes wrong", and sure enough; on Saturday, heading to Sydney to see my aunt, uncle and cousin for the first time since 1995, my train was delayed because of emergency track repairs...then someone threw a rock at a window and we had to wait for the police...then finally at Gosford (always at flipping Gosford), someone stood too close to the edge of the platform and was sucked under the train as it pulled in. We were all ordered off the train and on to an all stops service, and got in ninety minutes late. Again.

What has changed in the two and a half years since the change of state government? Nothing at all. Now, there's not a lot they can do about the emergencies (although as the delay last year showed, the contingency plans when something goes wrong leave a lot to be decided). But why, for the love of god, is the train so bloody slow? High speed rail is touted as a solution, and it will be wonderful if it ever gets built, but we need and deserve faster trains now. There are things that can be done. Run a couple of down XPTs in the AM and back up in the evening, run a breakfast buffet, no stops between Morisset and Hornsby, charge maybe $25 each way; I guarantee you it would be successful. Even the V-sets that currently work the route can travel up to 160km/hr; whilst the track isn't up for that, I'm sure there's great stretches of the journey where the train can go much faster. Run more express services, with fewer stops (there is absolutely no reason why a train from Newcastle needs to stop at Epping and Eastwood, say, or even Wyee or Woy Woy). These are all things that could happen now, or soon, but neither Tim Owen nor the state government seems interested in doing any of them.

Buoyed by Owen's success, the Liberal candidate for Newcastle in the upcoming federal election, Jamie Abbott, is throwing her all behind an embarrassingly fervent saturation marketing campaign. The woman and her campaign volunteers are everywhere, at every event and in every shopping centre (including ones not even in the electorate) in the lead up to the election. But I don't know anyone planning to vote for her. The few I've heard say anything about it, though, parrot the same line "Labor has neglected Newcastle for too long - we need to kick them out to get our voice heard!". Really? That hasn't worked out too well so far, has it. No one who travels by Shitkansen would want to vote Liberal.