29 October 2013

Sexual Assault and Alcohol: It's Not Common Sense, It's Not True, and It's Not Helping

Blogger and "media personality" Mia Freedman was making waves at her blog again this week and as much as I dislike responding, I kind of felt I had to. See, she's said that when her daughter is old, enough, she'll advise her to reduce her alcohol consumption in order to avoid the risk of sexual assault. Now, I'm not suggesting that Ms Freedman courts controversy just to get page views, heavens no, but in this case she seems to have seen the controversy coming. This isn't victim blaming, she insists, it's just common sense to tell women how to reduce their risk of sexual assault. Well, maybe it would be good advice - if any of it were true.

The statistics Ms Freedman cites actually show that females' risk of sexual assault peaks between the ages of 10-14 - an age which girls are highly unlikely to be binge drinking. The AMA information paper on risky drinking shows that drinking actually increases throughout the lifespan - as the risk of sexual assault goes down. Lacking evidence on a general correlation, is there any evidence of links in individual assaults? To quote Ms Freedman:

“Victims of sexual assault were more likely to believe alcohol and/or any other substance contributed to the most recent incident they experienced if the offender was a friend (76%). This was significantly higher than the overall proportion of victims of physical assault who believed alcohol and/or any other substance contributed to their most recent incident (59%)." 

Hang on a minute. Let's read that again. So we're not saying that the victim was drinking, merely that alcohol contributed to the assault? It's got nothing to do with whether the victim was drinking or not; what is true is that crimes are far more likely to be committed by people who've been drinking.

Are women responsible for not only their own drinking behaviour but the behaviour of those around them? Because let's be honest, anything that's labelled common sense is a value judgement, and the "common sense" advice given to women to reduce their risk of sexual assault - don't travel late at night, stick to well-lit paths, don't drink to excess - sounds suspiciously like the advice given on how to be a "good girl" in the 1950s. If a woman defies the notions of subservient femininity to venture into the dangerous masculine domain of the night, she has to expect that bad things will happen to her. Are we really saying that the temptation for men to rape is so strong that it's up to women to police and guard it? It's hard not to draw an uneasy comparison between Mia Freedman and Sheik al-Hilaly, he of the uncovered meat. When Mia Freedman writes ‘teaching girls how to reduce their risk of sexual assault is not the same as victim blaming’, she ignores that it is still placing responsibility for the prevention into the hands of the victim. It’s corollary is that if you had the information available that would have enabled you to reduce the risk of assault, ignored it, and were assaulted, at least some of the blame must fall to you for failing to heed the advice.

And there's another very good reason for coming to recognise these "common sense safety tips" are rubbish  - they don't work. The same tired advice has been handed out for the last several decades, and it has done nothing at all to reduce the proportion of women who report being sexually assaulted in their lifetime. In fact this "advice" is worse than useless - it actually has a deterrent effect on women reporting sexual assault, fearing being asked why they didn't follow this "common sense" advice. Why were you walking back from the train station at night? Why didn't you call for a taxi? If you were just watching movies together, why did you have so much to drink you fell asleep on his sofa? Don't you think this might just be partly your own stupid fault?

It's very easy to have an idealistic view of the world - that you can't stop rapists from raping, so just follow these common sense tips to help stay safe. But they don't work. They're not helping - as well as discouraging victims from reporting assaults to police, it also perpetuates myths about sexual assault amongst the readers these clickbait articles bring in. And all this victim blaming - whether you want to call it that or not - is taking time we should be spending talking about sexual ethics, education, and ways to reduce sexual assault that might actually work.

19 October 2013

Fires, Politics and The Right Time To Discuss Climate Change

Terrible, horrible, very sad week as monstrous bushfires swept eastern NSW. The worst damage occurred in the Blue Mountains - hundreds of homes lost there, it seems, the emotional damage incalculable - and there were also dreadful fires ringing Newcastle. We're in a heavily built up area of inner Newcastle with no bushfire danger, but only a short distance to the north and south fires were threatening places I've known most of my life - Nords Wharf where I lived as a child for a few months; Caves Beach, our go-to beach in high school; at one stage fire came close to the fuel tanks at Newcastle airport. The sky was thick with smoke, the sun a creepy red, and we all spent a restless, worried night following Twitter for news of friends who were being evacuated.

And the one thought we all had was "my God, if the bushfires are like this in October, what the hell are they going to be like by February?". For we don't have fires like this in NSW in October, halfway through spring. We simply haven't had the horrific combination of a warm dry winter, high winds and 30 degree plus temperatures that have seen these kinds of fires before. Everyone thought grimly, this is climate change, up close and personal, this is what it does and we can't deny it any more. Australia's only Greens federal lower house MP and my second sexiest politician (after the delightful and effervescent Helen Coonan, of course), Adam Bandt, posted this quite reasonable observation on Twitter:


And brought a slew of criticism from the opportunistic right, declaring that it was "opportunistic" to politicise the fires this way. Mr Bandt has been in politics long enough to foresee such a reaction, so it was a gutsy thing to say. The results of climate change were all around us, yet newly minted PM Tony Abbott is planning to make us the only nation to repeal carbon pricing, because along with 6% of the population and 3% of climate scientists, he believes climate change is "crap". So Abbott's plan to remove us from international efforts to combat climate change is putting us at risk. Blame the Greens for politicising the fires? I blame those who have made climate change a political issue in the first place. It shouldn't be. The future of the planet is at stake here, but the right would rather score points to differentiate themselves from the left, than take steps to secure a future for their grandchildren (this, from the side of politics who say they represent "family values").

When is the right time to discuss the causes of the fires, anyway? How long after a tragic road accident before it's okay to discuss the state of the road? Climate change deniers dismiss the most terrible climate change predictions as "scaremongering", then when the most terrible things happen, they say now is not the time to talk about it. They'd rather wait till months down the track when everyone is lulled back into a sense f security. Or they blame anything else - including The Greens for banning backburning. Here is the Greens official policy on hazard reduction, taken from the NSW Greens website:

[S]trategically planned hazard reduction, including controlled burning, where and when climatic conditions allow it to be done safely and where it is consistent with maintaining the ecosystem.

If anyone says Greens policy is to ban backburning, they are lying. We have always had bush fires in Australia. We always will. But this is a horrific new reality in Australia - 30 degree plus temperatures for six or more months a year is not something we've seen before in eastern NSW. And this will lead to more, more intense and destructive fires. To pretend otherwise is dangerous nonsense, and the hysterical reaction of climate change deniers when fires and climate change are linked brings to mind the gun lobby inv the U.S. following the all too frequent gun massacres there. Obfuscation, denial, counter claim - but soul searching, thought, responsibility - never.

I'm proud of Adam Bandt for saying what he said, proud to be Greens (more now than ever after seeing new Labor leader Bill Shorten join the "now is not the time to discuss this" chorus). We need to talk about this now and I'm proud to be on the right side of this battle.

14 October 2013

50 Arguments Disproving Climate Change

1. Someone who believes in global warming lives in a waterfront house. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

2. Someone who believes in global warming drives a large car. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

3. Someone who believes in global warming flies a bunch of places. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

4. Scientists have been wrong before. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

5. There were hot days and storms when I was a kid. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

6. There have always been storms and bushfires. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

7. Greenies just want us all to go back to living in huts. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

8. Scientists are lying to get grant money. They can get far more money lying to please socialist governments than they could from telling the truth for fossil fuel producers. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

9. Plants need carbon dioxide. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

10. Carbon dioxide is harmless to humans. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

11. Someone said the Earth has been cooling since 1998. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

12. I don't trust the UN. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

13.  There was a guy on talkback radio this morning talking about how climate change is a lie. He was very funny and nice. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

14. Climate change is caused by complex orbital effects/volcanism/tectonics/major landslips (especially undersea events)/biological activity. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

15. The Earth has gone through many climate cycles. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

16. Man does not control the climate, God does. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

17. Scientists have all been to university and universities are full of socialist brainwashing. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

18. Scientists have all been to university but you can't get real world experience out of books. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

19. There was a cold winter this year in Europe/Russia/The U.S. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

20. We can't even predict the weather tomorrow. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

21. In the 1970s they said we were going to have global cooling. It didn't happen. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

22. No one believed Galileo when he said the Earth was round. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

23. Fear mongering over climate change makes people scared. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

24. Global warming is now called climate change. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

25. There is lots of carbon dioxide in the oceans. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

26. Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide vary over time. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

27. Someone who believes in climate change is worth a lot of money. They made that money spreading a lie. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

28. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

29. Warmer temperatures would be quite nice. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

30. Fear of rising sea levels has pushed the value of my house down. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

31. Temperature measures are provided by the Bureau of Meteorology. The Bureau of Meteorology is owned by the government. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

32. Thermometres in the past were unreliable. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

33. Scientists have to lie about global warming or they won't get employment. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

34. People who speak out against AGW are victims of censorship and bullying. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

35. Gillard said there would be no carbon tax. I didn't like Julia Gillard. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

36. People like going to holiday destinations with warmer weather. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

37. We have had ice ages in the past and might have another one. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

38. The UN is a powerless, corrupt organisation. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

39. The leader of the Labor party once demanded a hot pie. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

40. Climate change is a hoax cooked up between greenies and the banks to gain control of the world. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

41. Peer reviewed papers don't mean anything; the scientists all share the same group think. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

42. The climate isn't changing. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

43. Well, maybe the climate is changing but there's no evidence humans are causing it. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

44. Okay, the climate may be changing and humans may be responsible, but only a little bit. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

45. And hey, who wouldn't like it to be a bit warmer? Therefore, AGW isn't true.

46. It's warmer now than in the past but people are living longer than ever. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

47. There's a Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change. It sounds very official and important and they say climate change is a lie. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

48. There was that Climategate scandal. What I heard is it proved climate scientists make stuff up. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

49. Climate policy is an attempt to undermine Australia's sovereignty. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

50. I don't want it to be true. I really hope it isn't. Therefore, AGW isn't true.

In writing this post, I did some reading on climate change sceptic sites such as The Galileo Movement and Watts Up With That. It's amazing how they can use thousands and thousands of words to endlessly repeat the same three "facts" - that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, that the planet has been cooling since 1998, and there is a global conspiracy between banks, governments, socialists and scientists (and what an odd combination that is; as a socialist, I don't find myself wanting to get into conspiracies with banks very often) to spread the myth of climate change. Other than that, they're all over the shop - claiming there's no evidence of warming then two paragraphs later, saying there is warming but hey, we're all healthier and happier with the warm weather, right? The more ridiculous and outrageous statements here are taken directly from their twitter streams and websites. Yes, even the one about the pie.  

09 October 2013

Chris Brown and Unwilling Victims

Serial douche Chris Brown has recently revealed he lost his virginity age 8, and has been the recipient of sympathy from some unlikely quarters. Feminist writers who previously disdained him for his perpetration of relationship abuse have come out to say that he was raped, that he was a victim here, no wonder he carries on like such a tool considering such a horrid thing happened to him as a child. (It's worth pointing out that the girl he had sex with was 14 or 15, according to his story - how would our views change if she had been 8 years old herself?) Now, it goes without saying no 8 year old should be having sex. But Chris Brown does not see himself as a victim. He describes it as a normal experience where he grew up, good preparation for later on. It's pretty icky stuff to read. And it could well be a false face of bravado slapped on to cover up deep hurt; if so, my very deepest empathy to Mr Brown and I hope he can get help to deal with what he's been through. But. But what if it isn't? What if he is not sorry, doesn't regret what happened, looks on it as just another thing that happened when he was growing up, he's kind of proud of it? Do we need him to reject what has happened to him, in order to reinforce our views of what is right and wrong in the world? Is forcing victimhood status on someone who rejects it not just another form of violation?

Several years ago I watched a 60 Minutes interview with a student, I'll call A, who began a sexual relationship with a first-year teacher, whom I'll call B, two months prior to A's 16th birthday. B was at that stage in their early twenties. By the time of the interview, A was around 19 and the couple had broken up, but remained friendly. Liz Hayes was running the interview and prodding A for the emotional breakdown, which she wasn't getting. "You are a victim of child sexual abuse", Ms Hayes said, to which A laughed "No I'm not". Ms Hayes continued undaunted, "B is a paedophile. You are a victim of a paedophile". A said not, that everything was consensual and hadn't harmed them in any way. So how could A coming to the realisation that they are in fact a victim of a paedophile (as if B has a particular sexual interest in children, rather than just this young person a few years younger than themselves) be beneficial for A?

If Chris Brown broke down in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, say, or Barbara Walters, about how this has been a traumatic experience that has shaped his whole view of the world, but he's getting help now, and he has a lot to work through, but he finally realised he's a victim of child sex abuse - is that to make us feel better, or him? There is a cultural divide between male and female victims of child sex abuse it's true, but is insisting to a victim that doesn't see themselves as one - male or female - actually helping them? (I can attest that something vaguely similar this happened to me in my early teens, and the grown ups found out, and their horrified reactions caused me a lot more trauma than anything that physically happened to me).

I don't know. We need to let young men, and women, who have been sexually abused know that what happened to them was wrong, and not okay, and we care and want to help. But is forcing someone who rejects victimhood to see themselves as a victim about helping them, or our views of ourselves? The law is pretty damn unhelpful here, too - witness the insane spectre of 13 year olds being charged with distributing child pornography for sending nude selfies - the child being themselves. Do we need Chris Brown to collapse in a sobbing heap over his abuse? In the article I linked to above, the writer states "thinking of oneself as a victim isn't a prerequisite for an act of abuse to be harmful in ways that might not fully manifest until well into adulthood". Of course not. But is thinking of oneself as a victim a prerequisite for going forward with a meaningful life?

07 October 2013

Libertarians Can Kiss My Patootie, But Let's Get Rid of Compulsory Voting

Compulsory voting. We're one of only ten countries in the world to have it, and you either love it or you hate it. Traditionally, the left has triumphed compulsory voting as ensuring franchise for all, whilst libertarians decry compulsory voting as a contradictory attack on their freedoms. Now, I'm yet to meet a libertarian I wouldn't happily give a kilo of sand and a hammer to pound it in with, but if we're to address the decline in our democracy, compulsory voting has to go.

The biggest argument in favour of compulsory voting is that it allows everyone to have a say. But it doesn't really. Most elections come down to a few thousand undecided voters in a handful of marginal seats. Undecided voters, who tend to be less educated and less engaged in the political process, are now calling the shots. Politicians ignore the major issues to chase after the concerns of those who care the least. No wonder our electoral coverage is dire, no wonder political discourse is dumbed down. Compulsory voting is why we can't have nice things. Can we end this now please?

Compulsory voting makes politicians complacent in safe seats and pander to desperate populism in marginal seats. Why is it so important to involve people in elections who just don't want to get involved? Instead of fighting for the votes of people who don't care, let politicians work for the votes of the people who do care. There's the inevitable argument that the end of compulsory voting would leave the system open to abuse - particularly people being kicked off the electoral rolls. But the system is open to abuse now. On election day, I witnessed several young people arriving at the polling booths confessing that they didn't know how to vote, only to be handed a how to vote card by a particular party's volunteers and told "here, it's easy, just follow this".

Or worse. We all saw the frenzy of hysteria the Murdoch press whipped itself into in the lead up to the recent election (and doesn't that editorial seem a bit ridiculous now). Would they have bothered if they knew a lot of their target audience wouldn't bother showing up? More to the point, would their lies have had such effect? I've never seen anything like the number of voters lamenting that they voted Liberal, given Abbott's abysmal performance less than a month in to the job. "All the signs were there, how could you not know?" we ask. They shrug sheepishly. They believed the Murdoch press. These are people who trusted the word of a man who taps dead children's phones. Wouldn't it have been better if they never voted at all? Yes, countries without compulsory voting have vile partisan media as well - but they're preaching to the converted, not convincing the confused.

We should all be grateful for the right to vote in safety and freedom. But we should also be grateful for the right to live in safety in freedom, and some people are so ungrateful their attitude to those who drown trying to reach this freedom is "serves you right". We can't force people to care. It's a lot easier to make someone scared and angry than enlightened and compassionate, and these voters are ripe for manipulation. So let them go. Put democracy back in the hands of those of us who care, and it will save us a lot of time convincing people not to draw dicks on their ballot papers.

06 October 2013

Cooking Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce

Because I'm very peculiar, I regularly peruse the recent deaths on Wikipedia, and last week I learned of the passing of Italian cookery writer Marcella Hazan, widely credited as the godmother of Italian cookery. I'd not heard of her prior to her passing, but apparently she was a stickler for purity and traditional techniques - and the apex of this was her tomato-butter sauce. Bloggers raved about it, stating every cook should know this dish and if you did, you'd be a convert to her ways forever. So I knew I had to try it, and hunted down a recipe. For a start, there are only four ingredients. As someone who likes to add lots and lots of different spices to food - I think my spaghetti bolognaise must run to about 43 ingredients, including lemon juice, liquid smoke, nutmeg, and two kinds of chilli - this idea took some getting used to.

Yep, that's it.

Anyway, here's the recipe. I've converted it to metric cause I'm always thinking of how I can make your life easier.

Classic Tomato Butter Sauce 

2 400g tins of whole tomatoes in juice
75g butter
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan, place over a medium heat and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Remove and discard onion before serving stirred through pasta.

Simple, sì? 

So I left it to do it's thing. The house filled with a lovely tomato smell. I did notice the onion fell apart in cooking, and I had to fish the pieces out. Anyway, after 45 minutes of simmering...ta-dah, it was done.


I don't take good photos of food

To be honest, at first I found it quite...bland, like tomato soup. After a couple of forkfulls it began to grow on me; there was a definite rich silkiness to the sauce. But yeah, I don't know if I've destroyed my tastebuds through years of overeager Tabasco consumption, but I did find it a bit flat and tasteless and probably wouldn't make it again. Maybe I did it wrong? (One blogger did say this sauce left "no room for mistakes to hide"). Worcestershire sauce may not be the most traditional Italian ingredient, but I like some in my tomato based sauces just the same.

02 October 2013

"I Don't Need Feminism": The Women of A Voice for Men

Yikes. Apparently there's a mob doing the rounds known as "A Voice for Men" who have been plastering stickers across Melbourne, proclaiming their men's rights agenda - that domestic violence is a feminist conspiracy, false rape allegations are a feminist tool to keep men scared, that the feminist agenda is nothing more that a vast plot of hatred and misandry to destroy men. They see that feminism is a broad movement with a diverse range of views and use that division to drive a wedge, presenting feminism conversely as a unified, cult-like movement that brooks no dissent from it's extremist creed.

So there are men who hate women. We knew that. But what's really bizarre is seeing women, young women, who have benefited the most from the gains of feminism so far and have the most to gain from the battles we have yet to win - standing up on the side of the men's rights movement; that feminists hate men, but they sure don't, and they don't need no feminism, they'll make it on their own. The website of a Voice for Men has a women's section, where a string of You Tube videos and essays feature women explaining what a terrible thing feminism is and how they want no part of it. There was also recently a Twitter hashtag #idontneedfeminism, which lasted as long as it took feminists to hijack the thing (and I was one who enthusiastically joined in).

On what basis do these women reject feminism? It's one thing to be anti-feminist because you believe a woman's place is in the home, birthing babies. That's not what these women stand, though; they want to forge careers and lives for themselves; but hey, we're all equal under the law now right? Feminism just wants supremacy for men. Here's the thing, though. If you reject the notion of patriarchy, of male privilege, then you are left with a single explanation for lower pay, lower political representation, lower levels of representation in the media, in business, in academia; that women are simply not as good. Just as white supremacists personally prove through their actions and behaviour, that there is no inherent supremacy in the white race, so the women who proclaim they "don't need feminism", through their arrogance and specious reasoning, present a side of womanhood that seems to prove "well, maybe women aren't as good". And I hate that.

 One of the central tenets of the men's rights movement is fathers' rights; that in custody disputes, men often end up with an unfairly restricted access to, and custody of, their children. They seem blissfully ignorant of that it was feminism in the first place that allowed for the notion that a father should be intimately involved in the care and nurturing of his children, rather than just coming home from work, tossing a toddler in the air till they got dizzy, then retiring to an easy chair for the evening whilst his wife attended to the children.

It's true that for a lot of men in lower socio-economic brackets, their choices in life are limited, their cultural capital diminished. But it's not women keeping them down. When they hear feminists point out the proportion of CEOs or MPs who are men, they think "yes but those are other men". Feminism is an easy target for their woes, since it's so much  more frustrating and complicated to critically examine the economic system which has led to ever-increasing inequality in our society. Blame feminism for what's keeping you down. So I can see why it appeals to men (and it gives them a change from blaming Labor/the Greens/lefties/the ABC). But what about the women? One of the writer's on A Voice for Men asks other women considering affilitating themselves "Are you in a relationship with a man who has been dragged through the family court by a bitter ex? Or have you come to worry that your son is doing poorly at school or is opting out of society, and you are trying to understand? Or has your brother been falsely accused of rape or domestic violence?" Excuse me, but how does blaming feminism fix any of those things? Why be more concerned with the tiny amount of men falsely accused of rape, than the horrifying number of women who are raped? (or do you honestly believe most or all of the women who claim they are raped are part of a massive feminist conspiracy? Are you mad they had a party and didn't invite you?) Do you feel safe walking down the street in your city at night, alone?

The ironic thing here is that anti-feminist women often proclaim they want to celebrate the femininity that feminism wants to destroy (just ask this feminist who has a single pair of pants for yard work and apart from that doesn't wear shorts or trousers...ever). But these women strike me as hating their own femaleness, and other women. They're the kind who, if they caught their partner cheating, would forgive him and attack her. They've an anger that goes back to Eve tempting Adam to eat the apple - women are always responsible for the downfall of a good man. I hope the men's rights movement is just a passing thing. As the mother of a son, I'm deeply concerned with unequal outcomes in boys' education, but bashing feminism does absolutely nothing to fix that.