Monday, June 25, 2018

Pens down

Today is a day I thought would never come.

When I started my Bachelor of Social Science degree, my first, at the University of Newcastle back in 2013, I knew it wasn't going to be easy studying with a small child; but I was determined to make something of myself. I didn't want to work in call centres forever. I wanted to do some good in the world.

I had no idea what was to come. Since those first exciting lectures, I have moved from Newcastle to Sydney (switching to the University of Sydney) to the Central Coast and back to Sydney. My marriage ended and I've had a bunch of housing instability and other issues. And through (almost) all of it, I kept at my studies. There were times I was exhausted physically and emotionally from long commutes and passing up time with my child to get assignments done and poverty and just wanting to give up and go work in a shop, but I knew I had to keep going.

And along the way the familiar sandstone - and hideous 1960s buildings - of the University of Sydney became a second home to me. Sometimes, even a first home. It was my anchor, my refuge. Who cares what else is going on? Come here, and study. I adored my classes.

I think I might miss it.

Because today is a day I could barely imagine during all the years I had to screw my courage to the sippy cup, and keep going. I took my last exam. That's it - I'm done. I've completed all the requirements of my degree.

It may not be the degree I initially wanted, but it's still a degree from the University of Sydney, something that seemed the stuff of fairy tales when I was a teenager doing miserably average at a run down comprehensive high school in regional NSW. If it was achieved in hellish circumstances, well then I can appreciate it more.

I recently found a box of old diaries. An entry I made just before I turned 30 set out my goals for the next decade. Life didn't turn out how I planned then, but I can tick one item off the list: get a degree by age 40. Now I have done it. (Next - a PhD by 50). Pens down. Or as I prefer, from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyáma: Tamam Shud. It is finished.

And now I need to get a job. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

ABC bias and other urban legends

The Coalition government would like to privatise the ABC. Of course they would, because they can't see the value in anything you can't turn a profit from, especially not one that allows the unwashed masses access to better investigative journalism, local news, drama, comedy, arts and music than they can enjoy on any of the free commercial networks. Selling the ABC has been on their wet dream list for years, as was confirmed on the weekend, when the Liberal party federal council meeting voted overwhelmingly in favour of the sale. I mean, they'd hand the public broadcaster over to Rupert Murdoch in exchange for keeping what copper wire they could rip out of ABC HQ at Ultimo, if they thought they could get away with it.

But they know selling the ABC would be up there with dismantling Medicare as something they yearn to do but would be too deeply publicly unpopular to contemplate, prompting Communications Minister Mitch Fifield to sanctimoniously declare:

Which might be a little more plausible if there weren't scores of instances of government ministers and advisers stating publicly that the ABC should be privatised, including from Senator Fifield himself. Although it was fun for the rest of the day to see the LNP hacks rushing to defend the Senator by declaring that the Coalition will never, ever sell the beloved public institution that is the stinking pile of biased crap at the ABC.

Ah, that old clanger. ABC bias. The running commentary from those who want to sell off the ABC that it is a complete lefty/Labor/Greens love in, which successive LNP governments are powerless to rectify. I mean, I can see their point. I was watching Gardening Australia last week, and the segment was supposedly about winter garden maintenance but Costa wouldn't shut up about raising corporate tax rates. Those opposed to the ABC are convinced there's a left wing bias, but they seem uncertain just what that bias is.

I asked on Twitter for specific examples of bias, but no one mentioned any. In all the commentary on the privatisation vote, I saw many mentions of ABC bias, but never any specific examples other than allusions to the ABC accepting the scientific consensus on climate change. Which is something, huh? If the ABC was biased, you'd think they'd be able, heck eager, to provide evidence of this. Lefty types on Twitter frequently raise allegations that 7.30 host Leigh Sales is harder on Bill Shorten in interviews than when she speaks to Malcolm Turnbull, which, whether or not you agree with it, is at least a specific example of bias. But online commenters wanting to sell the ABC couldn't name any bias at all. Some of them, in fact, were so completely convinced of ABC bias they haven't been able to bring themselves to watch in many, many years, judging from one outraged non viewer convinced Tony Jones is both biased and blond.

But they've got nothing in the way of proof. It doesn't faze them, though. No matter how many IPA members appear running the neocon line on The Drum, no matter how many Liberal politicians and supporters are featured on Q and A, no matter if interviews with government figures are soft balled, no matter even that quantitative studies show the ABC has, if anything, a slight right wing slant; the side that proclaims itself to be on the side of cool headed facts over emotions, of "reals before feels", are relying on what they just know deep down to tell themselves the ABC is biased, in the place of any actual evidence. ABC bias is like the story you saw on Facebook about the friend of a friend of a friend's child who was kidnapped at a shopping centre, taken into the toilets to have their head shaved, and was about to be bundled into a getaway car when police swooped, warning no one to speak of this for fear of causing a panic (can you believe, in this day and age with all the resources we have at our disposal, people still fall for this shit). It's a myth, and urban legend, tale spread by those who don't know any better and pushed by those who profit from the lie.

Although Andrew Bolt did propose a test of ABC bias: see if any of its presenters believe it should be sold off. That none will say so, apparently, is proof the ABC if biased. And if the ABC drowns, we'll know it wasn't a witch.

Friday, June 15, 2018

This is what happens when you reach out and get help

With the recent, much publicised suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, social media was flooded with messages urging anyone suffering depression or thoughts of self harm to reach out...get help. I know people mean well. But what help is there?

I've been hesitant to write this post, but what the hell, let's go all in. This is what happens when you reach out. If you call a suicide hotline - always promoted as the best option despite dubious proof of efficacy - or tell any sort of health or counselling professional that you are having thoughts of self harm, they are legally required to report it. Me, I was too tired to hide from my psychiatrist my utter despair. So they call 000, or the relevant emergency number. Ambulance officers arrive, and under the Mental Health Act 2007 here in NSW, are legally authorised to detain you if they believe you are mentally ill or mentally disturbed ("no, I'm not mentally disturbed, I'm having a completely justified reaction to the shit heap my life has become").

The ambulance officers will then take you to hospital. If you're "lucky", you might go straight to the mental health unit. Me? It was a weekday, mid morning, and the newly opened mental health unit did not have beds available. So. Usually, you'll have to go sit in emergency. I hadn't taken anything, physically I was fine, I just felt like an utter wreck. And there you have to sit, with an ambo to babysit you, surrounded by suspected heart attacks and falls and babies with suspected meningococcal. At some stage it was decided it was easier to knock me out, so they put me in a bed and put benzodiazepines in me, which I willingly took - believe me, I'm much happier unconscious. So that was a blurry six hours. A psychiatrist came to talk to me. I saw her report when I left hospital. She wrote in the notes that I look older than my stated age. Well thanks, that just made me feel fucking fantastic. Do they do that for heart attack victims?

After a prolonged time, and still semi sedated, I was moved to the mental health unit. They confiscate and catalogue all your possessions. Again, do they do this with heart attack victims? Go through their bags and take their squeez bacon? Mental health patients can't be trusted with their stuff, apparently. I mean, I can kind of understand; they told me phones are taken because people will call 000 and report they've been kidnapped. But all my books were on my phone. They told me I could read the books belonging to the unit. Jodi Picoult. I shudder. I asked for a bible. The didn't have any but the chaplain visits once a week. That's very helpful. I wasn't allowed to leave that day.

Look, apart from the comment about my age, which I'll let slide, the staff were all very nice. But it was still pretty gross and dehumanising. Some of the other patients were glad of the opportunity to connect with social workers and support, but I was tired and wanted to go home.

Then the next morning, I saw the psych team. I put on my cheerful face. Yes I'm feeling much better. Actually, I wasn't feeling any better, and miserable from being in hospital. But I put on the happy face and was able to go home.

That's all there is to offer. If you reach out, and tell someone you're contemplating self harm or ending your life, this is what will happen to you.

So, imagine feeling like you want to end your life, then being put through the demeaning, dehumanising process of a psychiatric hold. I want to be very clear on this: it is not working. It is not working. When you reach out and get help, the help system there is is broken. It might psychically stop a person from committing suicide whilst they are in the psych unit, but it is such an awful experience that person will lie, say they are fine, to get out as fast as they can. The NSW Coroner's website alone lists scores of inquiries into people who were recently discharged from psych units then took their own lives. The way we "help"  doing is making things worse.

There's a lot of misunderstanding about suicide, a lot of emphasis on the individual rather than a sick and broken society. The suicides of the rich and well connected prove it can happen to anyone. And this is true, but suicide is more likely to happen to the disadvantaged, the poor, the abused, the unemployed, LGTBI people. We don't hear about it as much, that's all. The photogenic girl from a caring family who commits suicide seemingly from nowhere gets the media attention, but it's the young person without the loving family and support network that is more at risk. 

For some people, mental illness and suicide ideation comes out of the blue, for no reason. But for many others, it's a reaction to abuse, chronic pain, isolation, poverty, unemployment. These suicides on the fringes of society are not the ones we know and mourn, but their lives matter.

We need to move away from a mindset that removes depression from its societal context and puts the emphasis on the individual to get help. We need to look at the problems in society that are causing all this pain - and the relentless push to be happy that further isolates those who are suffering; this is a great post about the toxic culture of happiness. A bit of research into the use of psychotropic drugs would be good, too. Because as things stand, if my mind gets filled with the black sludge of misery again, I won't be reaching out for help. There isn't any.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Baby boomers: change the system or end up in the terrible nursing homes you deserve

I think I may have mentioned this, but I don't like neoliberalism.

That's okay, because most other people don't like it either. They just don't know it. But the ideology which has spread like a cancer through society for forty years - the ideology of maximising profit at all costs, cutting regulation, firing staff, user pays, and the hell with the values of compassion and decency that just get in the way of making money - they hate it. You can see it in the complaints about the terrible toll neoliberalism has racked on our society - everything from self checkouts, telcos sending jobs offshore so you speak to someone overseas who tells you your service won't be fixed for 6 weeks and can't conceive why that's a problem; TAFE unattainable and unaffordable, people with serious disabilities forced to look for work they cannot do, then they hate it.

The Liberal party and to a slightly lesser extent Labor party believe that government should "get out of the way" and let business do its thing, as free from regulation, and taxation, as possible. Therein lies job creation. But corporations pursuing profit above all won't employ a single person they don't have to, and often rather fewer people than that, as you'd know if you shopped retail or called your phone company lately. Government bureaucracies, similarly driven by KPIs and the relentless drive for efficiency, are little better.

And if anyone objects, says this is unregulated neoliberal capitalism and it's time to reign it in, oh the howls of protest from those in power. You want socialism! You want us to be Venezuela!

But a free market system that puts human services in the hands of barely regulated, for profit corporations, terrible nursing homes are the inevitable, and symbolic, result.

Nursing homes really epitomise what free market capitalism has become. The government has shifted human services to the private sector. Privately run nursing homes, free of regulation and heart, can stack elderly and dying people like firewood with a minimum of staff and count the profits coming in, hailed as successful business people driving the economy, and meanwhile it's the poor schlub who left a substandard school early, can't get a place at TAFE, and has lost heart after months of futile job searching who is called a parasite.  

Nursing homes are increasingly owned by foreign conglomerates. Research shows nursing homes owned by group capital consistently perform worse than non profit facilities across all measures of patient care. If you spend your lifetime voting for neoliberal economic policies, then a for profit nursing home is where you’re going to end up. Choice is not going to provide much comfort when the general standard is terrible. When you have media exposure like the Four Corners episode, people are outraged for a bit, then everything continues on as normal, because it's the underlying system that is terrible. The Baby Boomers are starting to go into nursing homes; by 2030 - that's 12 years away, think how recent 2006 seems by comparison - there will be half a million of them. And if we don't act now to make some pretty fundamental changes to our political and economic systems, these shitty nursing homes are what they all have to look forward to. We've already seen this in for profit care of at risk kids.

What do we value most as a society? What values do we vote for? If that's unregulated, profit driven capitalism, then as a society we're all headed for profit driven nursing homes that employ as few staff as possible, serve the cheapest possible food, skimp on medical necessities, and leave us to rot in our filth. There are high rates of depression and suicide in nursing home residents.

It's extremely stressful not only for the patients, but the families, the overworked staff. There are no minimum patient to nurse ratios and the complaints process basically consists of receiving a complaint, asking the nursing home did they do anything wrong, and when the nursing home writes back to say they didn't do anything wrong, closing the case (now where have I heard that before?)

But hey, when we die from that bedsore that festered after we were left in one position for 18 hours, at least our loved ones can show they cared with a hideously overpriced funeral! This is harsh, but it's the truth. These are hard conversations to have. It's hard for us to admit that we've lost sight of what's fair and decent in the last 40 years, and it will be even harder to turn things around. But Baby Boomers need to ask themselves what happens when they can no longer manage all the caravanning and being a grey nomad, when spending their kids' inheritance gets really old and so do they. As a society, we all need to shift our values, stop putting profits above people, and vote accordingly.

Because if we live by the profit motive, we'll die by the profit motive. 

Monday, June 04, 2018

The weird psychology of Barnaby Joyce and the Right

Oh, for a skilled political journalist to have handled the Channel 7 interview with former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and his former staffer turned partner Vicki Campion last night. Then maybe we would have had some answers to the questions that really matter - or at least had those questions asked in the first place. Because the real issues here aren't who fell in love with whom, or even what was said in the public confrontation between Joyce, Campion and Barnaby's ex wife Natalie. The questions that needed to be asked - relating to the integrity of our democracy - were ones like "why was a special role in Matt Canavan's office created for Vikki Campion once news of the affair began to circulate around Canberra?" and "Barnaby, considering that it was your fault voters in New England were forced to a byelection because you couldn't get your citizenship sorted out, was it ethical for you to then pretend everything was okay at home when you knew at that stage that the pregnancy was going to cost you your role as Deputy PM?"

In case you've not seen enough already. Source: Channel 7

Instead, what we got was something in the ball park between fluff piece and the full on car crash that was the Four Corners expose of Kathy Jackson and Michael Lawler (which I admit I watched 3 or 4 times). This was more of a minor prang than a write off, as crashes go. But what struck me as the strangest thing was a little softball piece tucked in towards the end, after the yucky stuff was out of the way, as 7 journalist Alex Cullen asked the proud new dad how he'd feel if his son wanted to enter politics. If that's what he wanted to do, I'd try to get on board, Barnaby said. But what if baby Sebastian wanted to join the Greens, Cullen asked? Barnaby Joyce shook his head. He'd wonder where he went wrong as a father for such a ghastly thing to happen.

And that might be completely understandable for this homespun, "country bred", conservative politician. Except for the fact that earlier in the interview, we'd seen Campion and Joyce describe how, early in Campion's pregnancy, figures from the National party had approached Campion and told her she had to abort the pregnancy, or "they're gonna come after you". Barnaby Joyce then described these National party politicians, whom he still sits in parliament with, as the scum of the Earth.

In other words, it was people from his own, conservative side of politics who had threatened his vulnerable, pregnant partner. And yet instead of distancing himself from these people, vowing off the National party after core members of it cause his family so much pain, Barnaby remains part of the party, worried he'd have gone wrong if his son wanted to join...the Greens. I don't get. Why would you side with the people who hurt you against the ones who wished you no harm? Why would you not be able to see that the way these National party figures behave in the lives of those around them is symbolic of the ideology they have for the country you claim to care about? Barnaby Joyce is just on the edge of awareness here, so he's screwing his eyes shut, sticking his fingers in his ears and singing to himself at the top of his lungs.

But he's not the first right wing politician to stubbornly take the ideological side of those who have caused them pain. Witness Pauline Hanson last week on Sky News, crying that fellow One Nation Senator Brian Burston had stabbed her in the back in a disagreement over company tax and his potential defection to the Shooters party. It's hardly first time Hanson has been let down by those on her ideological side, either. She's had a running feud for many years with her One Nation co-founder David Oldfield, slinging insults, allegations and innuendo. Conservative "hard man" Tony Abbott led the drive to have Hanson imprisoned on corruption charges in 2003. Right wing muck rag the Daily Telegraph got very mucky indeed in 2009 when they published a front page exclusive of nude photos of Hanson that, it turned out, weren't actually pictures of Ms Hanson at all.

And yet Hanson has never quite twigged that the nastiness she's received from the Right is emblematic of a bigger problem; that the Right is nasty. It's the ideology of ends justify the means, screw you I've got mine, survival of the fittest, and to hell with facts or's the exact opposite of an ideology that would help the struggling Australians that she claims to care so much about. Now I doubt Pauline Hanson can even spell ideology, but despite the fact that it has been adherents of the right who have hurt her over and over again, she keeps lining up for more. She's best friends with Cory Bernardi; inviting Tony Abbott to help flog her latest ghost written "book"; continuing to believe and share the lies of the conservative gutter press despite falling victim herself. Her sworn enemies are the Labor party, and especially, the Greens, who have harmed her not at all.

It's an odd psychological trait of the right, to be loving your oppressors and hating the oppressed, or at least those who, whilst they may be on the other side of politics, have done you no harm. Maybe it's just part of the tribalism of modern politics; yes, these people have lied about me, lied to me, taken advantage of me, threatened my family, thrown me in jail, they're shits, but they're our shits, conservative shits. Maybe we can take solace that whilst the right hates and screws over the electorate, they hate and screw over themselves much more. 

And Barnaby Joyce? Look, I'm not sure the Greens would be rushing to welcome you right now (he's been rightly criticised for saying his six week son caused all the problems, as if none of the extra marital affair, lies to electorate and whiff of corruption would have been a problem if he hadn't knocked his girlfriend up). But for God's sake, get out of the Nationals.

Friday, June 01, 2018

No, regrets!

I used to hate Mayim Bialik. Well, hate's a strong word. But I wasn't too fond of her, what with the whole presenting herself as a neurological natural parenting guru whilst having a bris ceremony for each of her of her sons. I'm still not on board with that but with the videos she's been posting lately, I kind of wish she was my best friend. Like when she posted this video about hating, or at least envying, the people who say they have no regrets. Cause she has a tonne, and she shared a few.

Mayim encouraged her viewers to share their regrets. And I could get on board with this cause Lordy, do I have regrets. Traveling is an exhausting and expensive affair for me cause of all this baggage I carry around. So here are some of my regrets. I'm not going to list them all, cause we'd be here all day and a lot of it's way too personal, but here's a taste of the car crash of emotions I call my life:

  • I regret not calling out a coworker for the appallingly racist email she sent, which I immediately and furiously deleted, on Sorry Day. 

  • I regret all the drunk dialing. Obviously. 

  • I regret pursuing a business degree I didn't want instead of the dreams of acting and writing I did want when I was young.

  • I regret all the times I didn't speak up for myself, all the times I thought oh well, maybe if I'm nice, the adversary in this situation will be nice to me. 

  • I regret not saving money in my twenties. But I was insanely depressed, so...(a lot of my regrets have caveats regarding depression). 

  • But, and this one has no excuses, I regret the time, at age 27 and on the verge of buying an apartment in Newcastle, I thought "I might give life in Sydney a try and buy property later". But no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, or that property prices would more than double since then. 

  • I regret all the concerts and festivals I missed out on in my youth because I didn't have friends who were interested, and not realising I could just go anyway, on my own.

  • In fact I regret so many of the things I didn't do. I was raised with not doing things as default mode, and it was kind of a pattern I stuck with for too long, thinking everything was too hard and nice to think about but not actually do. So I regret all the times I thought about study, or trips, or events, but did nothing about it. My ex husband cured me of this habit and I'm forever grateful for that.

  • I regret leaving the moulded ceiling fixture I so loved in my first adult house behind.

  • I regret all the books I never read cause I was scared to try anything new.

  • So no, I don't live without regrets. In fact I kind of think that to live without regrets means living without learning, or shame, or growth. (And I'm very familiar with both learning and shame). There's some growth there too, and not just in my waistline; I will now absolutely speak up for myself, complain, demand to see the manager, no more do I just give in. And I try to speak up when I see racism or bigotry. I'm now about to finish (last two weeks!) a degree I love that will give me, I hope, lots of opportunity to write about social justice and the things I care about. And you best believe I just do things now, when depression and money permits, even if that's just taking a ridiculously long trip on public transport to a model railway exhibit in some suburb you've never heard of. And if they throw in a sausage sizzle, I might go twice.

    What about you? What are your regrets?