Xander, 2003-2021

Monday, 3 May 2021

On a cold winter's day in 2003, I looked down at the adorable face of the new kitten my best friend had bought me as a birthday present. "I just feel like his name is Xander", I said, not quite knowing where that name had come from. "Wow, I'll have him till I'm nearly forty!", although surely I would never get that old.


We both exceeded expectations. 



Today, Xander passed away peacefully at home, in my arms. Together right until the very end, as I'd always promised.




I couldn't have imagined, in 2003, the journey we'd go on together. We moved from Newcastle to Sydney to Newcastle to Sydney to the Central Coast and back to Sydney (don't ask). Xander got a Dad, then became a big brother. 


"So...we're really keeping this thing, then?"


And then, when things didn't work out, it was just the two of us, again. I would clutch him to my chest and say "at least I've still got you" as he wiggled free.


I'd forgotten what an absolute unit he was.


For almost 18 years, he was by my side. He was my companion, my shadow. I knew just how lucky I was to have him for so long, and for the past 14 months working from home, we were able to have that much more time together.


Obviously, this is a very old photo.

He saved my life.


And so, when I realised his life was getting hard for him, I knew I had to let him go.




I'll never again see his sweet face greeting me when I walk in the door, feel him snuggle next to me on the sofa or have him steal half my dinner right off of the plate. My heart is broken, but pain is the price we pay for love. I would do it all again.


The mice in Valhalla quake in fear at the approach of this mighty hunter.

Tonight, Xander dines with the heroes.




Give your pets a hug for me.

Bradford Exchange has the worst things for sale

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

If you're as old as I am, you may remember in the days of actual magazines made of trees, in the TV guides that came free with the newspapers and the trash mags at the doctor's waiting room, the regular full page ads for the company Bradford Exchange, hawking overpiced themed clocks and commemorative plates. If you've thought about that organisation at all in the intervening years, you may have wondered if there was a place for such a company in the modern world, or if they'd gone out of business. Good heavens, no. Bradford Exchange is still a thing and unhampered by the limits of paid advertising space, they're able to let there young hearts run free, selling the absolute worst overpriced "collectible" shit you can imagine to whoever on Earth is buying it. A sample:  




If your decor philosophy is "too much Elvis is never enough", then you're going to need an Elvis lotion dispenser. An Elvis lotion dispenser that's part of an $80 bathroom set including the "all shook up" tumbler, "wash away the blues" soap holder, and "joyful tears" tissue box holder (tissues not included). Take his hand, indeed.  




They sure love a bit of Elvis at Bradford Exchange, including these canvas sneakers for an eye watering $180. Elvis shoes and they're not blue suede? GTFO.



Cats give us terrifying Dolores Umbridge flashbacks 



Cats are a favourite subject at Bradford Exchange. This resin cat, which might be a cute knick nack to pick up at a discount store so it can gather dust until you throw it out next time you move house, instead costs $79.99.



But collecting cat figurines is relatively normal, sadistic witch educators aside. We now get into the world of hyper-realistic baby dolls; expensive dolls weighted and sculpted to resemble real infants. It's a world that even its afficionados admit is "a little crazy"; the dolls can fetch prices that would buy a new hatchback car and are eagerly snapped up by collectors who name, dress, feed and change their dolls as if they were real infants, documenting their hobby online. I'm not going to psychoanalyse why people do this, but if you're still at the $250 per doll stage of doll fandom, Bradford Exchange has got you.  



But if you're feeling like human dolls have been done already, there's also lifelike baby orangutan dolls, handcrafted in RealTouch® vinyl (does the skin feel like human skin or like an actual orangutan?), able to "breathe" when touched, and with clothes and accessories to be anthropomorphised to your heart's content for the price of a decent donation to protect actual orangutans under threat in the wild. This is, I don't need to say, really fucking disturbing.




Oh, come on. Also, realistic body markings? How can they tell?





This stainless steel Christian dog tag pendant costs $149.95. For comparison of just how expensive this is, this stainless steel dog tag pendant from a Christian retailer costs $49.99. And that's not even looking on eBay. 




If you can afford to drop $150 on a fleece jacket, but want the world to know you haven't lost touch with your RSL-carvery-for-tea-is-a-big-night-out roots, this Fairy Wren jacket is right up your row of pokies. It features in Bradford's Mother's Day gift ideas, and heavens to Morgatroid, no. For Mother's Day, this mother appreciates wine and gift certificates (which I will actually use, otherwise it's like the companies are stealing money from you). 




Well, that didn't take long. I wonder if they had the design of these "commemorative prints" ready to go in advance, just filling in the death date once the Prince croaked. 






If your aesthetic is all about woo meets cultural appropriation, you're going to love the "healing rays" magnetic copper bracelet. And whilst topical application of pulverised copper has some use in wound healing, there are no "healing rays" that radiate off copper jewellery; copper can't be absorbed through the skin and if it could, you'd die of copper poisoning. Copper jewellery is peddled as a folk medicine for arthritis, but a copper bracelet isn't going to do shit


This...looks like a cremation urn. I thought it was. But no, it's a "year of wishes" music box, holding 365 inspiring wishes on pink parchment paper to tell your sweet daughter what you wish for her. With the subliminal message that you wish for her inurnment.





A Newcastle Knights ring, in a suprisingly tasteful design (compare to the AFL rings, which are just hideous) but again incredibly overpriced, and all rather...odd. Team jewellery is available for all AFL and NRL teams, in a range of designs. Please tell me these are manufactured on demand. I cannot bear the thought that somewhere out there, there is a warehouse full of this stuff waiting to be bought.



America has made heroes out of law enforcement types such as Wyatt Earp. In Australia, our legends are on the other side of the law, like Ned Kelly. Mythology has created a legendary hero out of Kelly as a fearless freedom fighter, sticking it to the Squattocracy, demanding they share their wealth and relieving them of it a gunpoint if they didn't do so voluntarily. In reality, Ned Kelly swaggered about brutalising and traumatising the people and communities he attacked, taking hostages, threatening violence, and declaring himself the finest man that ever stood in two shoes; were he alive today, he'd drive an illegally modified car on an expired licence and call himself the Mayor "cause I run this town!". 


Bradford Exchange clearly loves the Kelly myth though, with a wide range of memoriblia, including this replica of the rifle he used to shoot several police in cold blood. And whilst I know many of us are iffy on the police right now, I don't think going about executing them will help any. Ironically, the sort of people who shell out a fortune on Ned Kelly souvenirs are exactly the sort of people who'd decry the wealth distribution ideas Kelly favoured, and have a decidedly dim view of people who protest police brutality. 


  



Ned Kelly fans, in fact, tend to be the sort of people who'd also have a $200, personalised "sons and daughters of the Southern Cross" sign in their houses. And in the unlikely event I was invited into one of their houses and saw this sign, I'd be out of there faster than if I saw a "Live, Laugh, Love" sign.



Speaking of which:



Bradford declares this Live Laugh Love sculpture is a "first", and if they really were the first to peddle live laugh love merchandise, they really should have trademarked the thing; they'd have made a fortune. It's suggested the sculpture pieces can be displayed alone or together, which is unfortunate; if you saw LAUGH standing by itself, you would, and ask your host if they were being ironic, and they'd be confused, then hurt, then angrily declare they don't have time for your toxic vibes.


After all this, I've barely scratched the surface of the puzzlement, the wonder, the priceless insight into the human condition that is the Bradford Exchange collection. I do hope I don't get sued (and if they're tempted, I've got nothing, since I'm a single mother working part time due to disability and most of my spare cash goes on gesso and spray inks with very little resale value). And I have to admit, there's one or two things from the collection I'd like - but won't buy (spent my money on Distress Oxide this fortnight; I love those things). So from now on, if people give me guff about being practically middle aged and spending any of the rest of my money on Funko Pops or Living Dead dolls, I'll remind them it could be worse. I could be into stuff from Bradford Exchange. 

Kathleen Folbigg is a monster who should not be in jail - update 2021

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

This post was originally published in 2015. In light of new developments in the case, I'm republishing this edited and updated version now. 



What could be more devastating to consider, more disturbing to the fundamental principles of humanity - and more likely to incite public anger - than the idea of a mother who kills her children?


There are some events which are so horrific that people, unable to make sense of what has occured, lose sense all together, and lash out in strange and damaging directions. In the case of the Sandy Hook massacre, the deaths of 20 small children were so devastating that some people couldn't comprehend that those children existed at all, and started lashing out at the grieving families, accusing them of being actors milking public sympathy. When terrible crimes occur, you'll frequently see comments on social media that the accused doesn't deserve a trial - upending the fundamental principle of the justice system that everyone gets a trial. A global pandemic hits, and people decide it must be a hoax, that millions of people aren't actually dying. 


And when four infants from one family die of seemingly unknown causes, people are so disturbed by the notion, they rush to assume that it couldn't have been a natural occurrence - that someone must have killed those children deliberately. These bottlenecks of furor occur when terrible events strike the public conciousness too intensely and quickly for people to process, so they rush to blame, to scapegoat, to do anything they can to assure themselves there's a reason for all this and it can't happen to them. 


So when four baby siblings from one family die, the public needs a monster to blame. And who could be more of a monster, more the epitome of everything we fear and despise, than the accused monster Kathleen Folbigg?


But finally now science can point to what her supporters have said all along - that Folbigg was convicted simply for being that monster, the scapegoat for the furious bottleneck of public rage, rather than what the law can prove that she actually did.


Folbigg achieved notoriety in 2003 when she was convicted for the deaths of her four children – Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura – over a ten year period. She was convicted of manslaughter over the death of her first child, Caleb, and murder of the subsequent three children.


The deaths of the earlier children aroused no suspicion and were attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is a diagnosis often made in the absence of evidence of cause of death, when an infant dies unexpectedly in their sleep. It was the death of the fourth child, Laura, which drew Folbigg to the attention of authorities; at 19 months old, she was well past the traditional danger age for SIDS, and had been by all accounts a healthy child. There was much debate as to whether multiple SIDS deaths in one family were statistically improbable, or whether there was a familial risk where one death made subsequent deaths more likely.


But there was no forensic evidence showing the children had been deliberately killed.


With the lack of forensic evidence, a key tool in the conviction of Mrs Folbigg was her personal diaries. The diaries, given by Mrs Folbigg’s husband Craig to police after she left the family home following the death of her fourth child Laura and presented as evidence at trial, appeared to show her admitting guilt for the deaths of her children. The defence argued the diaries showed only her feelings of grief and guilt at the deaths of her children:


With Sarah, all I wanted was her to shut up. And one day she did.


Scared she’ll leave me now. Like Sarah did. I was short tempered and cruel sometimes and she left. With a bit of help.


There is no direct admission in the diaries, however, that Folbigg took any direct action that led to the deaths of her children.


But Folbigg was also on trial as a mother. She didn't cry enough. She wasn't warm. She was said to prefer going to the gym and nightclubs to being with her children. From there it was surely just a short step to murdering them, apparently.


In this, she was compared to Lindy Chamberlain, who was also portrayed as hard and uncaring, not sufficiently emotional following the death of her daughter Azaria. Chamberlain was also othered, cast aside from the mould of accepted motherhood, due to her perceived-as-strange religion of Seventh Day Adventism, for dressing the child in black, and rumours that Azaria’s name meant “sacrifice in the wilderness” – that far from being the doting mother, Chamberlain birthed her daughter to complete some ritualistic killing in the Australian outback.


We now know Lindy Chamberlain was not responsible for the death of her daughter.


Meanwhile, much was made of Folbigg's troubled background, with her father murdering her mother when Folbigg was a toddler, and from that time lived in a succession of foster homes and had difficulty forming attachments - as if a person's parenting skills can be forseen from their behaviour as a child growing up in unfamiliar homes.


Lacking forensic evidence, the prosecutions case relied on the opinion of doctors - who argued that the odds of four children in one family dying of SIDS were so statistically unlikely as to be impossible.


We also now know that SIDS seems to run in families - meaning the death of one child from SIDS makes the deaths of subsequent children more likely. 


The standard for criminal conviction in the Australian legal system is that the prosecution have proven their case "beyond a reasonable doubt". Whether or not Folbigg is guilty, her conviction is unsound. Her guilt was never proven beyond a reasonable doubt. It couldn't be. 


When I first posted about Folbigg's case in 2015, there were calls for her conviction to be reviewed on the basis that the original conviction relied entirely on circumstantial evidence. An inquiry was held in 2019, conducted by the Honorable Reginald Blanch, AM QC, a former chief judge of the District Court. The 2019 inquiry upheld the original conviction, with Mr Blanch finding he did not have any reasonable doubt as to Folbigg's guilt of the offences she was originally convicted of, and that the inquiry merely reinforced her guilt. Blanch stated:


It remains that the only conclusion reasonably open is that somebody intentionally caused harm to the children, and smothering was the obvious method. The evidence pointed to no person other than Ms Folbigg. 

 

The problem with all this is that the 2019 inquiry was essentially a review of the original trial, not a consideration of scientific evidence. Blanch came to the conclusion that if four children from one family had died, the "only reasonable conclusion" was that someone had killed them. Four unexplained deaths in one family is too much of a coincidence, right? 


Which is too ignore the fact that if any of the children had a genetic factor that contributed to their deaths, the very fact that they are related makes it more likely that other children in the same family had the same genetic mutation. 


This should have been considered at the original trial. Even if a exact genetic mutation that killed the children couldn't be pinpointed, the odds that all of them died suddenly and without explanation was not at "astronomical odds" against occurring; it was more likely than not that whatever kink in the genetic cascade that makes us, us, and tragically killed one child would be inherited by that child's siblings as well. That wasn't some huge mystery back in 2003, when Folbigg was originally tried. And hey, things happen to minds and bodies that we can't explain all the time. I have chronic fatigue syndrome, a disease that no one knows what causes it or how to cure it; heck I'm left handed, and no one knows why that is, either. So we don't know. And whilst it may have been supposition to raise the possiblity of a genetic flaw that caused the deaths of the Folbigg children, it's no worse than the supposition that their mother smothered them all, not held against the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. 


This month, we finally saw proof of that genetic flaw presented to support Folbigg's release. 90 respected scientists and medical experts - including two Nobel laureates, two Australians of the Year, a former chief scientist, and the president of the Australian Academy of Science - signed a letter to the NSW Governor requesting Folbigg's immediate pardon and release. Carola Vinuesa, a professor of immunology and genomic medicine at the Australian National University, and her team found a new variant in the CALM2 gene, which Kathleen Folbigg acquired and passed on to her daughters. The findings were published in the journal of the European Society of Cardiology, Europace; Professor Vinuesa and her team found the variants in the CALM2 found in Folbigg and her daughters can cause sudden cardiac death. 


Whilst the Folbigg mutation in CALM2 was a novel discovery, it was noted that it was as severe as other CALM variants, which are known to cause cardiac arrest and sudden death in children - especially if those children are suffering from infections, as Sarah and Laura Folbigg were at the time of their deaths.


What is more, the Folbigg boys, Caleb and Patrick, also had a genetic mutation, a rare variant in BSN linked to fatal early onsets of epilepsy, with more research required.


Oh my God. 


This case is terrifying. On a societal level, it's terrifying that the judicial system can get it so wrong. If Ms Folbigg's conviction is overturned, there could never be compensation enough for taking away 20 years of a person's life, locking a grieving woman in jail for something she didn't so - something that never happened, the murder of four kids who died of natural causes - and turning her into the evil woman, the object of all our nightmares, the woman whose intense personal grief was subsumed to assuage the community howl of pain. 


On a personal level it scares me as well. Because if my emotional reaction to parenting was ever put on public trial, you might as well lock me up beforehand to save time. I'm not someone who shows much emotion in front of others. When something terrible happens, I tend to shut down, have a delayed reaction, howl in private. And when I can't howl anymore, when the tears dry up and the blood vessles in my face have burst from so much crying, I will do anything to take my mind off it. A look at my social media might paint a picture that I'm doing just fine without my child living with me. I have a career, I take solo holidays, I go to shows and art galleries and restaurants, how sad could I be?  


Very, very sad. But I try to keep it inside, put it away, because what can I do? And so when I read of Kathleen Folbigg going to nightclubs and the gym after the death of her children, I can imagine how it was the desperate attempts of a woman who is trying to deal with the worst thing that can ever happen to a person, as if it can be dealt with. And then she was jailed, in a prison full of women who view the child killer they assumed her to be as the worst scum of the Earth.


I'm not sure what more could be needed to, at the very least, release Ms Folbigg whilst the case is reviewed on the weight of science, not circumstantial evidence. There's no longer supposition about a possible genetic mutation causing the deaths of the Folbigg children; they've found the gene variations. Gene variations that cause sudden death in children.

 

I ended my original post by saying that the media and judiciary made Kathleen Folbigg a monster for what they assumed she had done, but she should not be in jail for that. I feel more strongly now, that she must be released immediately. And after that, well, someone needs to account for all the damage done.

Why isn't pay per news a thing?

Tuesday, 16 March 2021


 

It happens all the time. You want to read a story from The New York Times, but you accidentally clicked on yet another story about Andrew Cuomo that you didn't even want to read, and you've run out of free articles for the month. Or you want to read a long form article from a local news source, but you can't read anything at all without a subscription, and while you want to read about how local women have changed a culture of silence and cover ups of sexual assault, you have very little need to pay $15 a month to be kept up to date on the town's political dust ups and traffic snafus. What can you do?


Whilst there are ways around these paywalls, many of us recognise that good journalism costs money, and we want to pay for it, without ending up with nine recurring monthly subscriptions to sources we don't have time to read. Why can't we just pay for the articles we want?


A pay-per-news service doesn't seem to me to be complicated*. A news subscriber goes to the payment site and buys a number of news credits; these could be priced at $1 each, or the equivalent in the user's local currency. Then, when they want to read an article on a news website, the site asks "do you want to read this story? It will cost you X credits." The user clicks yes, the applicable number of credits are deducted from their account, and the news source gets the money, minus a percentage kept by the payment service for the costs of running their servers, paying staff and a new foosball table for the break room. The number of credits per story is set by the news source; perhaps four for several thousand words on a racist massacre in Germany, one for "Florida man loses drunken fist fight with lawn flamingos". 


"But how can an avowed socialist such as yourself suggest such an inherently capitalist thing?". Well after the Revolution, of course, all journalism will be free to read, and the news rooms well paid and well staffed. But in the meantime, news rooms are closing everywhere - 150 in Australia in a single year - and as John Oliver points out here, local news is important:



No subscriptions, no article limits, you just pay for what you want to read. A potential downside, of course, is that it will further drive the emergence of clickbait, journalists encouraged to eschew investigative journalism in favour of tracking down a girl Meghan Markle called a poo breath in Year One to prove what an awful person she is. Journalists may be pressured to drive revenue to their employer by writing the articles that bring in the most views, and money. But I'm sure there's some way around this, and being a journalist under pressure to get page views is probably better than being a journalist who's unemployed. Fewer and fewer journalists are coming through the old system of cadetships and regional news outlets; instead, we see the depressing sight of the media being crowded with the offspring of already established media figures. And this is doing very little to address Australia's problem with lack of media diversity. 


Whilst it's not without its issues, of course, pay per news seems like a pretty simple and easy to implement idea. Of course, if I'm wrong, please feel free to leave a comment. And of course, if you don't want to pay for Rupert Murdoch's latest attempts to stave off the Grim Reaper, you can always access News Ltd articles for free via News Bank, available through your state library. 


* Bearing in mind I don't really understand how crypto currency works, and my nine year old child's attempts to explain just made things worse.

International Women's Day 2021: the bad, the worse, and the WTF

Monday, 8 March 2021

Well, it's International Women's Day*, again. So in honour of the day that began as a communist holiday before being co-opted by the corporate and liberal forces of white feminism, here's a selection of the most rage, or at least cringe, inducing moments from the day.


We kick off the day with this effort from the West Australian. Whilst the headline is actually given as an example of the abuse women at the publication receive and a show of support for its female journalists, you have to read the article to ascertain this. And plenty of people don't read the article, especially when they just see the headline on posters outside newsagent windows or when queing up to buy petrol. Nice idea, terrible execution.




Federal MP Dave Sharma was also off to an early start today, handing out (pink!) flowers to women at a Sydney train station in honour of the occasion. Just what you want on your bleary eyed, crowded Monday commute through the city's train network; a strange man handing you flowers. 



Can you fucking not?




Here's Josh Frydenberg wearing an IWD ribbon on morning TV to let ladies know he's on their side:



This is what Frydenberg had to say last week about his colleage and Attorney-General Christian Porter after he was accused of rape:

"Yesterday you saw an emphatic denial from Christian Porter … in the glare of the nation's media and the glare of the Australian public.
"He's entitled to the presumption of innocence, as any citizen in this country is entitled.
"He has the Prime Minister's support and he has my support."


But Frydenberg has more goodies for us. The government of failed ad man Scott Morrison is here to offer us the only thing it ever offers - an ad campaign.



You know the suburban BBQ where the wife does the inviting, buys the food and grog, makes the salads and desserts, sets the table, and all whilst wrangling the kids hands her husband a plate with the steaks and sausages, which he proceeds to turn on the hotplate whilst drinking a beer then takes all the credit for doing the barbecue whilst his wife cleans up? The Morrison government is like that, but with human rights instead of Coles BBQ snags.  


Sounds about white.

An apparent lack of space for Aboriginal women wasn't the only thing wrong with the IWD march in Melbourne:



There is nothing snarky I can say about this. It's too heartbreaking. 


The refuge Alex Greenwich refers to, Lou's Place, is the only daytime women's refuge in Sydney and receives no government funding. It would be nice if community based support services were funded instead of PR consultants, but in the meantime maybe sling a few bucks their way if you can afford it? 

Of course in Australia, we mark global occasions earlier than the rest of the world, so I'm hoping to update this post with the worst takes from across the planet as they mark the day. In the meantime, here's one we cooked earlier:


Have a rage filled day everyone, then turn that rage into action.

* It's November 19. International Men's Day is November 19.

Love and hate

Monday, 1 March 2021


Trigger warning: sexual assault, medical abuse, suicide

 Despite everything that's happened in my life (and pretty much everyone my age has had something awful happen in their lives), I try to be a forgiving person. To not hold on to resentment, or let bad feelings develop into hatred in the first place.  The saying is true: holding on to resentment is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die. I've seen people eaten alive by that resentment, and how the hatred has poisoned everyone around them, without hurting the object of their hatred in any way.


But what am I to do with the white hot rage I feel today at Scott Morrison? I've never cared for the bloke. He's a smug, slimy git, with a glib turn of phrase, condescending manner, and complete lack of humanity since his turn as immigration minister in the Abbott government. My Facebook memories pop up regularly with various horrible things Morrison said 5, 6, 7 years about the people trying to seek asylum in Australia. Then he became - God help us - Prime Minister, and somehow managed to be worse than Abbott himself. He's like a shapeshifting cipher programmed by an AI scripted from political launch videos, but has now been infected with malware. Former Labor speech writer Don Watson says it best:



All that, we could (reluctantly, angrily) live with. But what to make of Morrison today? On Friday, an historical allegation of rape against a senior member of the Morrison government became public; a letter outlining details of the allegation was sent to several members of Parliament, including the Prime Minister. Over the weekend, Morrison responded to this grave matter with silence; he probably wondered if he could head off to Hawaii again, as he did at the height of the 2019-20 bushfires.  

Today Morrison reacted, with irritation, that he is being bothered by this unseemly business when questioned by reporters. Regarding allegations of the rape of a 16 year old girl by a senior member of the government, Morrison had this to say:

“I had a discussion with the individual, who absolutely rejects the allegations,” Mr Morrison said.


“At this stage there are no matters that require my immediate attention.”


“That is a matter for the police. I’m not the commissioner of police. Allegations of criminal conduct should be dealt with by competent and authorised agencies."

 

Emphasis mine. It's "I don't hold a hose, mate" all over again. This is not my problem, it's got nothing to do with me. I asked the bloke in question, he said he didn't do it, I'm not the police, what more do you want?

It was a disgusting display, even for Morrison, whose regurgitated sludge we are, alas, used to. He's expecting that we'll all just forget that one of his senior ministers has been credibly accused of rape.

Morrison forgets he is not an individual here. He is the leader of the government, and paid $10,000 a week for it to be his business. And that's why I am so angry. It is horrible enough to be violated by an individual. But when you are failed by the institutions that are supposed to be in place to protect you, that's a whole other layer of violation, one that, for me, was so much worse to deal with.

In the late stages of pregnancy with my son, I realised prior experiences would make it too traumatic for me to have a "normal" delivery, so I told the birthing unit staff that I wanted a caesarean section. Instead of being referred to an obstetrician, I was sent to see a mental health nurse, who told me I should have thought of this before if I wanted a c-section, and no I couldn't have one. Then, when my pregnancy went way overdue, I agreed to the induction on the understanding that once it was started, I could go back home to wait it out. After the induction was underway, however, I was told I couldn't leave. I started to panic, as for the next 48 hours I was subject against my will to a series of physical examinations and attempts to further the induction, but he wasn't going anywhere, and finally the c-section was performed.

It was an experience of being held against my will and repeatedly assaulted, under coercion, for 48 hours.

Obviously that's all horrible - and still, nearly ten years later, very difficult to write. But that's not the part that made me furious with our Prime Minister today. What made me so mad is the experience of complaining through the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission. Despite the many hospital staff involved, what I wanted was fairly simple: for the nurse who'd denied me the c-section at the start (which she had no right to do) to be in some way reprimanded, an apology, and to be there when the reprimand was handed down. 

Not knowing the HCCC procedure, I wrote a 2-3 page outline of my experiences in hospital and sent it off, focusing on the nurse at the centre of it and not the numerous other staff who refused to let me leave or speak to an obstetrician (or any sort of counsellor or social worker, I might add, despite my obvious distress). What I thought would happen from there is the HCCC would get in contact with me and conduct some sort of an investigation. Instead, it was many months later when the HCCC informed me that my complaint was being closed; they had put my claims to the hospital and the hospital denied it all. End of story. 

Like Scott Morrison did today, the HCCC took the hospital's word for it, and that was good enough for them. (I was bemused to see that in the refutation to my claims, the nurse involved stated that being rude to patients was "not her usual practice". I don't get why medical staff get to cite their "usual practice" as defence to claims. It's like Lee Harvey Oswald claiming that shooting presidents wasn't his usual practice. Sometimes, we need to be judged by our one offs). 

Reviewing the letter from the HCCC, I noted that the nurse claimed that I'd never asked her for a c-section. This gave me hope that some justice would be done; I had an earlier letter from the hospital where the nurse said I had asked her for a caesarean. I had proof, in writing, that she lied. Well, if subjecting an abuse survivor to a 2 day long traumatic ordeal wasn't considered professional misconduct, surely openly lying to the HCCC would be? I sent the HCCC a copy of the letter in question.

And months later, I got another reply. It didn't matter that the nurse lied. The hospital said they had no case to answer, so case closed.

My heart broke. I failed. The reason why I'd been so passionate about pursuing an official complaint is because I knew this nurse was the chief mental health contact for other vulnerable people birthing at one of NSW's busiest hospitals. I knew I had to do something so this couldn't happen to anyone else, no matter how much pain it caused me. As a last resort, I sent a letter to the NSW Health Minister at the time, Jillian Skinner. Ms Skinner's office got back to me with a copy of the HCCC letter saying my complaint had been closed. The bureaucratic machinery which is theoretically in place to protect the public and ensure good practice failed, and it sent me into a very dark place for a very long time.   

But it's not surprising when you consider the head of the HCCC at the time of my complaint, Kieran Pehm, was the guy who kept his job despite being in charge of the HCCC for years whilst it was ignoring complaints about the "Butcher of Bega", Graham Reeves, later jailed for mutilating women he was operating on. Pehm was also at the helm when the HCCC closed an allegation of child sex abuse because the doctor responsible failed to respond in time; the doctor in question was later jailed.

The memory of all this flooded back today as I watched Scott Morrison deny responsibility for any action in the face of the allegation of sexual assault against one of his ministers. It's not my problem, he said he didn't do it, leave it to the police. But there is little the police can do in this instance. Police in NSW, where the assault was alleged to have taken place, cannot investigate sexual assault without a complainant; the complainant in this case tragically took her own life. The Australian Federal Police wouldn't investigate a sexual assault that took place in NSW, as it is a crime under state based legislation. So whilst the cry of "innocent until proven guilty in a court of law" goes up every time a prominent individual is accused of assault, with only a tiny percentage of assaults ever going to court, the lack of a court judgement does not mean the assault in question never happened

When the machine of the Federal Government - whose primary duty is to protect Australian citizens - fails to step up in this case, we all have a right to be angry. Morrison is using the machinery of the Federal government to protect an alleged rapist - and doing so in his usual slimy, condescending way (when being questioned about the alleged assault, a frustrated Morrison asked if any of the journalists present had questions about the Covid-19 vaccine). 


The Prime Minister should announce that an independent investigation by an eminent former judge will be convened to examine all available materials and decide whether the minister who has been accused is a fit and proper person to be a minister of the Crown.


This way, the accuser has her allegation investigated and the minister has a chance to clear his name. Morrison can’t be reproached for protecting an alleged rapist in his cabinet room. And Australia can’t be condemned for tolerating the possibility that it is allowing a person who has been alleged to have committed a depraved crime to shape its laws and policies at the highest level.

 

I quite agree, but I doubt that will happen. My prediction is that Morrison will continue to dig his heels in, until the Minister against who the allegations have been made is named publicly, and either Peter Dutton or Josh Frydenberg* will try to gather supporters for a leadership challenge - they may be doing the numbers already. But an investigation? What justice can be found? I don't know. Since the hospital incident I've dedicated my career to social justice, thinking maybe i can do some good some place else. I know what an impossible slog it is.

But dear God I'm so sick of seeing the bastards get away with it. But worse, I am absolutely sick of seeing those in power close ranks to protect one of their own. 

* Everyone seems to agree neither of them are the accused party. At any rate, neither of their Wikipedia pages have been in the last few days the subject of extensive revisions as to their whereabouts in 1988.

Book review: Starfish by Patty Dann

Thursday, 25 February 2021

The film Mermaids meant a lot to me in my early teens, as I guess it did to a lot of women of my generation. Teenage films were pretty much dead as a genre between the John Hughes/Molly Ringwald era of the 1980s and the release of Clueless in 1995. The success of Clueless lead to an explosion in the release of teen movies, from sexploitation (American Pie) to horror (Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer) then cheerleaders (Bring It On) and mean girls (one mean girl in Cruel Intentions, then a whole eponymous film of them). By the time Clueless was released, I was way too depressed for anything that looked as blithe as the poster suggested - though I did watch, and love, the film several years later, then many times since. 


But in the early 1990s, it was slim pickings. Mermaids was it. Not that Mermaids, a coming of age story set in a small Massachusetts* town in 1963, is expressly a teen movie; the wonderful performances of Cher and Bob Hoskins make it so much more. But it was a film whose central character was a girl who wasn't blonde or perky or popular, in a delightful turn by Winona Ryder; a girl who read books and had unusual interests and never went to the mall. I loved it, and was too young to grasp the problematic nature of the central plot point - a 15 year old girl who falls in love with a 28 year old man...a man who returns her affections. Yeesh. I loved it enough to hunt down at the library and read the book it was based upon, Mermaids by Patty Dann, which I remember not liking quite as well as the film. Though I've seen the movie several times, I never read the book again.  


By accident, I found out that Ms Dann has written a sequel to Mermaids, Starfish. And although I was wary, remembering that even as an unsophisticated 13 year old I'd been unimpressed by the original tome - and for perspective, in those days I loved reading V.C. Andrews - I decided I did rather want to know became of Charlotte, Kate, Lou and Mrs Flax.


Warning - heavy spoilers to follow, which is to say, total spoilers to follow. 


I was sorry that I bothered. In a word, this was disappointing. In another word... I don't want to be that cruel. I gave the book two stars only because of my echoing fondness of the film Mermaids.


It's now 1991, Charlotte is all grown up at 42 and has returned to Grove to live in her old house and throw a birthday party for her mother, the incomparable Mrs. Flax, whose greater presence would have livened up this novel considerably. Alas, we are stuck with just Charlotte, who has random sex with an (adult) student from her English class she's barely spoken with, which at least gives her a change from her usual routine of constantly driving to outlet malls and wandering around the grounds of the former convent that played such a big role in the first novel, hallucinating that she can still see the nuns. (So much for not going to the mall). Charlotte does finally hear from her long lost father via an aerogramme, and invites him to Mrs Flax's birthday party, seemingly uncaring as to whether her mother would appreciate her party being crashed by her first boyfriend who she hasn't seen in 43 years. This is all about Charlotte. Her solipsism makes you dislike her so much you want things to turn out badly for her (was she this insufferable in the first book? I can't remember). She reminds me of my son when he was 3 and would shout "only I have feelings!". Only Charlotte's feelings count, and Charlotte's feelings must be acted on by Charlotte, immediately.


We are soon joined by Kate, Charlotte's younger sister, who turns up to stay with her 3 year old son (who seems to exhibit signs of global development delay that Charlotte, as a teacher, should recognise but doesn't). Charlotte remembers examples of Kate's wild behaviour, sneaking out at night to see boys, but given the age gap between the sisters and that Charlotte was attending college by 18, Kate's offending behaviour would have started when she was ten.


And you thought Charlotte having sex at 14 with a 30 year old man was bad.


Kate now is still supposed to be "wild". But the worst she seems to do is sleep with men she doesn't know very well - no worse than Charlotte does herself. There's no substance abuse, unless you count Kate's habit of being seized by the uncontrollable desire to go and...work as a nurse in a local emergency room, which she does multiple times in the book. First, don't you need a licence or something to work as a nurse in a different state? Does Kate just show up at the ER saying "please help me! I GOTTA take a temperature and blood pressure. Come on man, I'm dying here"?


Anyway the party happens and oh of course look who it is, Joe Peretti, who Charlotte rudely snubs at the party but later shows up at her house to make amends. Charlotte began a campaign to stop her house being taken by developers and I was looking forward to her taking on the big guys, but that fizzles out. Kate takes off for ERs in pastures anew and leaves Irving behind; Charlotte then again leaves a child unsupervised so she can have spontaneous sex with Joe Peretti, which is exactly what causes her sister's near-death experience in the first book but doesn't stop Charlotte from being so overcome with lust that she leaves her nephew wandering around outside alone so she can sin with Joe on the floor.


 Charlotte's dad finally shows up, and leaves again promptly after an awkward and disinterested visit - the guy who blew off a shotgun marriage at 16 having become a genealogy obsessed English professor. Oh, and Mrs Flax and Lou hook up again after 27 years apart. Will they finally get married after all this time? Who knows, but basically everything is tied up in a neat little package with a bow I sometimes wanted to wrap around Charlotte's neck.


I guess the second star is also due to the fact that Starfish is set the same time period as the film Mermaids came out. I like that kind of wink at the audience. There wasn't much else to like in this clumsy, awkward book with its clichéd situations, stilted prose, and insufferable protagonist. If they ever make a film of this turgid mess, I'll be rushing to get tickets to anything else.


Follow me on Good Reads for more reviews. (Although my reviews, like my posts here, tend to be rather sporadic).


* I spelt Massachusetts right on the fourth try!

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