25 November 2013

A user friendly ramble on economic rationalism

Doing the household finances with DH, and realising that there was too much Christmas coming for our slender budget, we discussed how we were going to fix this. "Well", I said, "there's plenty of opportunity in this society for someone who's not afraid of a bit of hard work". And we both had a good laugh over that.

The thing is with society, we're always hearing how it's broken down. To scroll through a Facebook news feed or listen to a taxi driver, children are running out of control, young people are binge drinking, the economy is a mess, there's no respect and crime is rampant. And who or what is the culprit? Variously feminism, permissive parenting, asylum seekers, the Greens (who manage to be both irrelevant and control the country at the same time...). Well if society is going to hell in a Kardashian handbag, we never hear of blame being assigned to the real culprit - economic rationalism.

Economic rationalism - the notion that corporations and government alike must be run to maximise short term profits above all else - has destroyed society devastatingly and simply, by destroying the basic social contract - that if you work hard and are a good person, good things will happen to you. The basic premise of capitalism for the average working Joe (or Jose, or Johanna) was that by working diligently and budgeting carefully, you'd be able to make slow but steady progress up the career ladder, buy a home, raise a family, pay for school fees and holidays and sports, make a comfortable life for yourself.

In an economy dominated by economic rationalism, this is no longer the case. The idea of job security is gone; at any moment, no matter how hard you work or how well your department is doing, you can be called in to a meeting, told your position or division is no longer needed, that it's being sent offshore, replaced with a machine. And even though customers might hate it, and service levels and safety fall, and in the long term profitability of the company suffer, the efficiency boffins who made the decision won't be around to see it; short term profits will rise, and they'll be rewarded with their next contract. Meanwhile you, you poor sap,  are forced to look for work in am economy that's saturated with this mindset of economic rationalism. Employees of three years service on casual contracts that can see them dismissed for any reason at all with one hour's notice. Fear and lack of certainty. Stretches of unemployment, with unemployment insurance to pay the bills if you were lucky (and whilst you were working, few insurers would have touched you if you were a casual), or Newstart Allowance if you're not.

No such thing as choosing a career in public service for safety, either. Witness the thousands of nursing and teaching graduates forced into years of casual employment because budgetary restraints prevent them from gaining the permanent roles they need to build their professional skills and personal lives. Children dying because there aren't enough community services workers to return the calls reporting signs of abuse. Schemes, departments, programs axed because they are not "efficient", human services be damned.

And it affects the housing market too. In the drive to maximise profit, investors have so saturated the housing market that is almost impossible for first home buyers to join the market, especially if employed as a casual or on contract, preventing them from getting a home loan. So we huge numbers of people in insecure employment and insecure housing. No wonder they are angry.

They choose the wrong targets for their rage. It's fair to say that in a rationalised economy, opportunities for working class, more poorly educated men are particularly limited; the men know this, and there's a branch of the men's rights movement dedicated to blaming feminism for this. But it's economic rationalism. We get mad at the offshore call centre employees with semi-coherent English for taking Australian jobs, but it's an Australian CEO who made the decision to cut a huge chunk of their Australian workers. We blame bleeding heart do-gooders who won't let us smack our kids for kids running wild, when it is still legal to smack, and as many parents do as ever, and kids aren't idiots and pick up on their parents' anxieties and they are scared and worried too and scared and worried kids are more likely to act out.

Of course the people who stand to profit from this ethos-of-profit above all else don't want you to think about it, don't want you to question it. So they use their newspapers and TV hosts to whip up fear of asylum seekers, creating the impression that boat people are stealing jobs; they demonise the Greens for questioning the profit motive and not taking donations from corporations; they have all but destroyed the union movement, knowing that workers united was their greatest threat; they respond to any questioning of the doctrine of unrestrained capitalism by proclaiming "socialism!", socialism being such a slur at to shut down all questioning immediately.

It wasn't always thus. In the early days of the Australian Liberal Party under Menzies - much idealised by modern conservatives - social as well as economic liberals were welcome in the party; nation building was seen as a lofty goal, tax rates were high and no one wet themselves with fear that high taxes would cause everyone to quit work and go on the dole. If only it had remained thus. But economic rationalism took over - championed by Labor under Hawke and Keating, as well as the Liberals - and now we have timid, parsimonious governments that have left us with third rate, run down infrastructure. Can you imagine the Sydney Opera House, for example, being built under economic rationalism? It would never, ever happen. Editorials in the Daily Telegraph and callers to 2GB would bristle with anger. "Why should I have to pay for some inner city elites to watch opera?" We'd have the Opera Hut and the Sydney Harbour Punt. People are surprised that 44 years after the moon landing, we've never attempted anything so ambitious again and couldn't even go back to the moon now if we wanted. I'm not. Economic rationalism first came in in the early 1970s, right as the space program would have been making progress. Space exploration is insanely expensive, and sure it might have huge long term benefits for society, but where's the instant profit? Of course it was a bust.

As it is, the new Coalition government have quickly moved to curtail the building of the national broadband network, forcing the nation to run a 21st Century economy on a decayed century old copper phone network. "Who is going to pay for it?", they ask their critics.

I'd like to know who is going to pay for all that we lose. We've lost the very foundations western society was built on - hard work, family, achievement - with all that entails. And yet we are still being sold a lie, that the economic rationalist brand of capitalism is fair, and rewards hard work, and if you fall behind you only have yourself to blame. Dissent, be it Occupy Wall Street Protesters or columns in the Guardian - is quickly shut down, dismissed, vilified as the views of a lunatic fringe who want us all to live in communal mud huts. Well I don't (the thought of living communally breaks me out in a cold sweat). I'd just like to know that if I get a job, the company can't dismiss me as long as I'm working hard and the division is turning a profit. I'd like to see corporations and mining companies put up or shut up when they say higher taxes will force them to leave Australia (the corporations are already leaving...and maybe Gina Rineheart plans to bury her bauxite sin another country so she can mine it there). I'd like to see restraints on destroying farmland that has been in families for generations, and sacred to the Indigenous inhabitants for milennia more, to create mines with a working life of seven years. I'd like to not be faced with a choice of waiting years for surgery or paying thousands to get it done right away, when I need the surgery before I can work to earn that money. I'd like to see all this without giving up home WiFi, and I'm sure there is a way as an economy and a society we can do it. It may not be perfect but anything has to be better than the lie we are being fed now.

20 November 2013

An Open Letter to Tony Abbott About This Unpleasant Business With Indonesia

Dear Tony,

We all know nothing solves international diplomatic fall outs like an open letter, so I'm writing you one now. I'm taking time from studying for my political science exam, but I don't think my lecturer would mind. He likes you. At any rate, he's a big fan of your idol and mentor, John Howard. I came to university greatly looking forward to all the brainwashing I'd receive from leftist academics, but there hasn't been any; the lecturer has taken a decidedly pro-Howard stance. But I digress.

We've been caught spying on Indonesia. Oh dear. Spying is a bit like masturbation; everyone does it but it's frightfully embarrassing when you get caught. The thing to do here is for you to rock up to Jakarta, cap in hand, and do a little humble grovelling to the Indonesian government. We're so, so sorry. We didn't mean to spy on you and we never thought you'd find out and the Australian government doesn't even read the reports from our intelligence agencies - that we got into Iraq is proof of that.

You won't though. You're claiming that all this happened on former PM Kevin Rudd's watch, and it's nothing to do with you. Now your side of politics is famously reluctant to apologise for anything you don't feel personally responsible for, so this is not without precedent. Here's the thing though - with you pouting and saying "No fair. Was Rudd's fault. No fair. Not saying sorry" - the Indonesians don't care. Really. You are our Prime Minister, you have been elected to (god help us) represent us. Indonesia doesn't care about our domestic political stoushes. Australia spied on them, you're head of the Australian government, ergo you, yes you, need to say sorry.

So why won't you? Why do you risk our most important international relationship for the sake of appeasing the Murdoch-reading crowd? Do you think you might lose their support? For it's pretty clear from here there's nothing you can do to make them love you less - not supporting paedophiles, not personally profiting from charity bike rides, not locking suicidal four year olds behind razor wire, nothing. You crap in their faces and they cry "more, more!". And I can assure you there's very little you could do by now to make the rest of us love you less, either. So you may as well apologise. It may even win you some brownie points - your breathless fans will simply blame the ABC, Fairfax, the left and the Greens. We can keep sending our cattle to be slaughtered and our brainless kids to be executed. And when Peta tucks you into bed tonight, you can sleep well.

08 November 2013

Still Good Advice: Wear Sunscreen

I first heard "Advice to the Class of 1997" when I was in the class of 1997 myself. The writer Mary Schmich lamented that the advice would be wasted on the young. As it was intended advice for a college graduating class, and I was only graduating high school, it was especially wasted on me. I thought it was a beautiful piece. But it expressed ideals, stages of life I was yet to experience, let alone long for. And now, half a lifetime later, I can still admire the beauty of this piece. I am nostalgic for the girl - young woman - I was - and so much I want to tell her. I understand this poem so much more, having been through so much in the past 16 years, I feel I barely know that child.

And yet I also know that a later me, 57 years old or 75, is looking at the me of today and thinking she was young and naive really, and thought she knew all the ways of the world when she didn't have a clue.

Either way, whether you're 17 or 35 or 59 or 81, this has a lot of good things to say. And wear sunscreen.

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone.

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don't follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don't mess too much with your hair or by the time you're 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

03 November 2013

A Story of Birth Trauma, PTSD and Other Fun Stuff

Trigger warning: contains discussion of abuse, medical procedures and birth trauma.


So, I've shared a lot with my readers...from the year long quest to conceive Baby G, through to my dreams about pornographers. Probably I over share. But now I'm going to tell you a very personal story I've not shared even with people I know...a tale of medical incompetence and the not-so-delightful lead up to the birth of Baby G. And I'm telling you this because I want to add my voice to the brave women who say birth trauma is real, it does matter, and because what happened to me should never happen to anyone, if I have to shout a bit to make sure that happens.

When I was pregnant with BabyG back in 2011, we were still living in inner Sydney, so I booked in to go through the birth centre at an inner city hospital. I have had some very bad experiences at the hands of doctors, so I thought the most natural birth safely possible was the best, least traumatic way to go. We had a doula, and I practiced breathing exercises and visualisation, and took natural birthing drops, which I didn't even believe in but thought I'd try...you get the idea. Also in preparation for making the gory parts of the birth as smooth as possible (are you still with me? This is where it starts getting nasty) at 38 weeks I hopped in the shower to try perineal stretching. Very gently to start with.

The second I tried it, my blood ran cold; I nearly fainted and threw up at the same time. I was horrified. It instantly brought flashbacks to a disturbing incident when I was young; I came out of the shower sobbing. There was no way - no way in hell - I could have a vaginal birth. The stretching was so horrible, I feel sick even now thinking about it. Fuck the birth centre. No one - no doctor or midwife - was touching my hoo hah. Pass the scalpel.

So the next day, I reported to my regular appointment at the birth centre, and explained the situation. Sorry guys, you've been great, but I can't do a natural birth. So they referred me to the clinical nurse consultant, and I went through the whole situation. I've been abused; preparing for a natural birth has triggered flashbacks, I can't face a vaginal birth and I want a c-section.

She said no.

Can you believe that? I can't, still. I've spent the last five years in the community sector, advocating for people. I'm at a loss, shocked, by how someone could lack the basic human compassion to allow an assault victim to have a c-section on request. She was really, really rude actually - told me I should have thought of this before, that if I wanted an obstetrician I'd have to go privately because it was too late now. If I knew then, what I know now, I'd have made a massive scene, demanded to speak to someone, anyone else - but I  didn't.  I meekly said that's fine, I understand. Be nice. Don't give anyone any reason to not like you. And I went home and cried and cried.

As it happened, BabyG went overdue. Really overdue. By day 10, I was overwrought with anxiety - about the birth, about the baby, as another overdue baby a couple of months before had not had a good outcome, and the precious little angel was born asleep. I was terrified, and would have gotten G out with a garden fork if I had to, and I stupidly agreed to an induction. Into hospital we went on Tuesday, 30 August. They shoved cervadil up me, which was fairly fucking horrid. I had been told in advance that once the cervadil was in, I could go home until contractions started. Oh no, I was told now. You can't leave. At all. Not allowed to walk up the street to get my head together. I was already starting to lose it, but they gave me a valium and off I went to sleep in the hope labour would start and this would all be over.

Wednesday morning. No labour. Nothing has happened. No dilation - he wasn't even engaged. Okay, said the midwife with her hand rammed up me (sticking her finger in my urethra on the way in) - the next step is to put a balloon catheter in your cervix.

Everybody out of the goddamn pool, I said. I'd had enough being nice. I'm not proceeding with the induction. Get him out now - I want a c-section, if you won't give me one I'll go home and freebirth. And by the way, being in the hospital in pretty fucking upsetting, considering I'm not even in labour can I just walk up the street and get some food? They told me they'd get back to me. Do you know how long they made me wait? Thirty fucking hours. Thirty hours of me crying, begging for the c-section, not allowed to leave, and having midwives continually giving me cervical sweeps "to see if anything is happening" and pressuring me to go on with the induction.

Finally on Thursday afternoon - 48 hours after arriving at hospital - they gave me the c-section, and BabyG was born. And whoops, no one picked up on that he was 4.5kg with a 40cm head, which should have qualified me for a c-section if I wanted in the first place.

I've lived with this for two years now, and I'm still angry. I'm angry at what I've missed out on - my one experience of birth, and it's just such a horrible, horrible memory. I'm angry that it has taken such a toll on bonding with G. I'm angry at the effect it's had on my marriage. I'm angry at the lack of agency, the disempowerment. Being treated like an object, a piece of meat. I'm angry it was all so damn unnecessary. I'm so angry and I don't know what to do with it. I've complained to the hospital, which was semi-helpful, I guess - but they said I "slipped through the cracks" in the system. No I didn't. It was that damn nurse's cruelty and complacency that allowed this to happen - and you know what? Apparently she didn't even have the authority to refuse or allow a c-section and should have referred me to the head obstetrician. Why didn't you ask to speak to an obstetrician when the nurse said no, the hospital asked? Um, cause I don't know your chain of command. And what about the 30 hours I waited? I was asking everyone by then.

I've also lodged a complaint with the Health Care Complaints Commission; that's still going through the process. I've thought about suing, I haven't decided yet. I've seen a counsellor for PTSD, but I've never been a great fan of counselling; it doesn't work so well for me. I'm on anti-depressants. I've recently started going to the gym and that's nice, but it won't take the need for the medication away. Where to from here? We are almost certainly not having any more kids - a drawback of starting your family after 30 is not having oodles of time to think about it - so the prospect of a "healing birth" is out. Anyway we're looking at moving back to Sydney, back into the catchment of that hospital. Give birth there again? I'd rather burn the place down. Even passing a bus on George St, with the hospital on it's destination board, is upsetting.

So there's my birth trauma story. I was chewed up and spit out by the public hospital system, and I know I should be grateful I have a healthy kid and I gave birth in a safe modern hospital but fuck it, I don't think availing yourself of those services should mean you have to put up with whatever non-compassionate, incompetent treatment they mete out. And I'm furious whenever I hear wails about the c-section rate being too high - I suffered weeks of psychological hell, and 48 hours of physical hell, because a public hospital wanted to keep it's section rate down. I've changed. I no longer meekly accept things to not make waves; I scream, I shout. I'm not a nice person anymore. I used to think I was, but now I'm a furious old boiler who will always speak up. And if what I've said here makes someone think they're not alone it's been worth the pain it's taken to write it down.