2011 - My Year in Review, In Photos

31 December 2011
Being a news junkie, I've always loved those "Year in Review" shows the networks wheel out about now. This year's batch should be especially entertaining. It was a hell of a year for the world. And for me personally - what with all the moving and new jobs and babies and politics. Rather than bore you all with 1500 words about it all, here is my photographic year in review.

The Silly News Season

22 December 2011
According to the fluorescent yellow banner on Channel 9 news, there's an "Asylum Seeker Crisis". Paying close attention so I know exactly how much to panic, I realise we've hit that time of year - the silly news season, where news room editors scramble to find any dross they can to fill the 24 hour news cycle over the Christmas period.

Reflections on Almost Four Months of Parenthood

19 December 2011
When I was pregnant, I was so obsessed with reading about all the physical manifestations of the condition that I rather failed to pay enough attention to how things might be once Baby G was actually here. I laboured (pun intended; this was the only labour I experienced) under several misapprehensions, thinking I would finally figure out this problems of motherhood stuff that has plagued women for century. Now, I just want to laugh at my pregnant self and say "let me know how you that goes." 

Outpost - Cockatoo Island

17 December 2011
In recent years, I've become a big fan of street art, so I was thrilled to hear about Outpost, a massive street art exhibit held at one of my favourite places, Cockatoo Island. Unfortunately I only heard about the thing three days before it closed - multiple visits would have been rewarding, especially without a young baby in tow - but I was fortunate enough to get along on a gorgeous Sydney spring afternoon, ferry strikes notwithstanding, and enjoyed it immensely; everywhere you turned was something new and exciting to see. Although not doing much justice to the show, here's a few pictures from Outpost I hope you enjoy as much as I enjoyed taking them.

A Letter from the Aspies to the World

14 December 2011
Please understand that Asperger's Syndrome does not simply mean "anti-social". It's a lot more complicated than that, a form of high-functioning autism usually involving difficulties in social interaction and repetitive behaviour. Here are some things we'd like you to take into consideration when interacting with us - yes, we would like consideration, even if you sometimes feel you don't get it from us.

Please don't draw attention to my "stimming", or self stimulation. I might be fiddling with my tie, or the hem of my skirt; twirling a piece of paper in my fingers; or flicking my fingers near my eyes. I might not even be aware I'm doing it and if you ask me what I'm doing or why, I'll be embarrassed.

Please don't make jokes where you know it's a joke and I don't - otherwise known as pulling my leg and/or having me on. I often can't tell it's a joke. It doesn't mean I'm less intelligent than you, just that I can't judge your facial and verbal cues. But it is incredibly frustrating and upsetting for me.

About that "anti-social" thing. It's true that I usually prefer my own company. Often though I would like to talk to you, I'm just maybe not sure what about or how. You might not understand my interest in plane engine numbers, but I really don't get why you would care what I'm having for lunch, either. I like to talk, just not the small variety.

At the other end of the scale, please don't think I don't care about the really important stuff you've got going on in your life  (death in the family/divorce/lost job) because I haven't said anything. Often I really want to let you know I do care, but fear coming across the wrong way, so I remain silent. I know sometimes I have the capacity to make people feel worse, and I really don't want to do that to you.

Please don't think I'm avoiding eye contact because I'm rude, or not paying attention. It's just really hard for me. Anyway in a lot of cultures avoiding eye contact is a sign of respect, so think of it that way!

Please don't tell me to "get a life" if you find out I'm really into classifying rocks, or trainspotting, or whatever. This is my life. You don't get why I read Railway Digest, I don't get why you read New Weekly. (Kim Kardashian is a noted expert in extinct Indo-European languages, right?). Who's to say which set of interests are more valid? Except we all know, it's mine.

It's Not What You're Thinking

11 December 2011
Disappointing as it was this week to hear of Father Chris Riley's support for Clubs Australia's fight against poker machine reform (I'm sure Father Riley, a man of unimpeachable moral character, was in no way swayed by any large donations made to his cause from such an organisation), it was truly disgusting, though not at all surprising, to hear of the plans of Sydney's newly-renamed Star Casino to increase revenue. According to the SMH the casino plans to target low income migrants seeking to acquire the good life through gambling, offering shuttle buses and promotions to lure in gamblers from low income areas with high migrant populations (and just how likely are recent immigrants to be able to access counselling services vaunted by clubs as the solution to problem gambling, hmm?). Clubs in the geographic areas targeted for busing are particularly peeved. Bankstown Sports Club, mentioned in the article, claims that unlike the greed of The Star, they plough their profits back into the community (true to a point - 24% of their profits went to "Sports, Welfare and Youth Club expenses" in "furtherance of the club's objectives" in the 2009/2010 financial year according to their financial report.

If what you're thinking from all this is that gambling institutions are rather unscrupulous and loose with the truth then heavens, no. Just ask them, they'll tell you. According to The Star themselves, they're not actually planning to fleece newly arrived immigrants with poor English skills and little social supports out of the paltry amount of money they have. No, all that was just the plans of the evil consulting company which wrote the report that The Star commissioned! I'm sure we will see Star management in the media repudiating such repugnant ideas soon.

Also from the "you've got me all wrong" department is NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell who has announced a lifting on the uranium exploration ban in NSW. We shouldn't jump to any conclusions about Australia commencing uranium sales to India, or NSW wanting to get in on the action to prop up our pissweak economy. The decision has nothing to do with mining. We just need to see what's out there! I'm sure if large quantities of readily extractable uranium are found, the government will allow the traditional owners of the land where the uranium is found to decide what happens to it. We just wanted to know where the uranium was is all. In this spirit, I suggested to Mr O'Farrell that we go looking for bunyips, but he hasn't gotten back to me yet.

So it's in this spirit that I ask you to ignore the massive quantities of alcohol I've purchased recently. Don't jump to any conclusions. It's not that after not drinking for a year, and with Christmas coming up, I've got a little crazy at the intoxicating - in so many ways - prospect of drinking. It's for cooking. And sharing, in case we make any friends and any of them pop over for Christmas drinks. It's not what you're thinking.

The Truth About Babies

07 December 2011
The opportunity to raise and nurture a child, to be alongside them and gently guide them as they introduce themselves to the world, develop, and grow, is a magical and sacred experience that reminds us all what life is really about.

I'm still bored off my tits being home every day with Baby G, though.

I Am Not Mia Freedman

04 December 2011
Dang. There I was thinking my blog title was so original and esoteric - but I keep being asked if this whole thing is a homage to Mia Freedman. Well, no.
Ms Freedman's blog Mama Mia is a pun on her name (and the ABBA song), where she reflects on modern motherhood and society to her many fans - and detractors. She is the former editor of Australian Cosmo and it rather shows in her writing style. I don't dislike the blog, but I'm not a fan either, and have only visited once or twice. The thing never crossed my consciousness when naming this here blog you're reading now.

Mamaenima has a slightly more complicated naming history. When I decided I wanted a new blog, rather than updating my old one to become the Xander and Nico and DH and Ruby and Gloom and Baby-to-be Pod (which would now be the Xander and Nico and DH and Ruby and Gloom Pod featuring Baby G), I needed a snazzy title to distinguish it from the thousands of other essentially similar mediocre blogs out there. Maybe it was the pregnancy hormones, but I meshed the title of Tool's 1996 album Ænima (itself a combination of words), with mama. So we had life force, enemas and motherhood in one title. I was quite taken with myself.

I didn't initially intend to be a "Mummy blogger" (what the hell is that, anyway?). Certainly I hoped through keeping up my involvement in politics and other interests, to have something else to talk about. But then I'd see my twitter stream full of complaints about being woken at 8am on a Sunday, feel tempted to reply "just wait till you have kids!" and catch myself. I will not be that person - the smug know it all parent. Who's to say those twitter tweeps will have kids or want them? Who's to say having kids is such a great or laudable thing anyway? I went into this with open eyes and whilst I may complain to other parents, I'm refuse to bang on to my childless acquaintances about what an awesome sacrifice I'm making for the good of humanity, hoping to remember how it felt to be on the other side. Sure I hope Baby G grows up to be a thoughtful, fully realised young man with a dedication to social justice, but he could end up being a bit of a pompous ass. We don't know, so it's a bit early for me to claim I'm doing the world any favours by raising him (but if it turns out to be justified, I'll waste absolutely no time in doing so!). I'll try to stick to the politics, but a few motherhood things might slip in there too, which is okay.

An Old Man Wins Me Over On Same Sex Marriage

03 December 2011
A sort-of historic day! (Partial) victory! A great moment for trying to have a bet each way...well it is the Labor party we're talking about here, who have today agreed at their national conference to change their official party policy to support of same sex marriage, and to allow a conscience vote in Parliament on the issue. The ALP doesn't normally allow independent voting - MPs must stick to the party line even, as John Faulkner pointed out, on votes to go to war - so for them to not require a vote on party lines here is very disappointing. In order for the issue to pass, it will require the Liberal party to allow a conscience vote, and then for enough Coalition MPs to vote in favour of the amendment to the Marriage Act. It could go either way. It's sobering to remember that due to John Howard's mean-spirited amendments to the Marriage Act, same sex marriage is not just not legal in Australia, it is expressly outlawed. Icky, isn't it? Some are calling for a referendum on same sex marriage. I don't agree. I just don't see why it should be up to anyone else to decide whom an adult acting of free will can marry. We cannot possibly claim we have equality of the sexes in Australia as long as your sex determines your choice of marriage partner. This is a fundamental human rights issue. Just get on with it.
Well, so I thought. But then I saw this letter, from Norm of Forestville, in today's Sydney Morning Herald:

Marriage has been convened over the centuries of civilisation to legally formalise the union between male and female, and provide protection of the rights of any off-spring that result from the union. I don't have a problem with gay people that want some legal recognition of their relationship. I would have thought a civil union contract would suffice, and I cannot see why they are insisting on the right to marry. Maybe I'm just getting old.

And I got to thinking. Norm is right. Marriage is designed to set out the roles and relationships between the sexes. It is designed to elevate the children of the marriage relationship. It is traditional. It's time we abolished it immediately.

If marriage hasn't evolved past the traditional roles of men and women, if we haven't evolved past the notion of legitimate and illegitimate children, then it hasn't evolved fast enough to keep up with society; it's a useless pretence we must be rid of. Traditional marriage - a man and a woman who is his legal property? The abhorrent notion that children are somehow more worthy dependent on the marital status of their parents? We don't need that. I'm going to ask DH for a divorce. Yes I still love him and hope and believe we will be together for the rest of our lives. But we should have followed the lead of some friends who are refusing to get married as long as same sex marriage remains illegal. Which - now that we are abolishing the outdated institution of marriage - means neither they, nor anyone else, can ever get married at all.

You've completely won me over, Norm. Cheers.

The World's Best Hotel

01 December 2011
Caring for a small baby is a wondrous, magical experience that gives you lots and lots of time to watch an awful lot of crappy TV. Lately I've been passing the hours on the couch with BabyG by watching travel shows. Gosh those shows manage to make every place they go look glossy and appealing. Apart from anywhere with water, I'm particularly taken with the hotels - the ultra luxurious, beautifully equipped World's Best Hotels that send the imagination into a spin.

But somehow all of these are lacking something. I'm thinking of what, to me, would be the world's best hotel. Facilities would be clean and functional, but that's it. It's not why you're there. In the hotel of my (literal) dreams, all the rooms are thoroughly soundproofed. There are world class blackout screens. Fresh white sheets and a pillow menu (I can't be the only one who finds pillows in hotels too damn thick). Check out time is 10am - that's the earliest you're allowed to check out, and no one is allowed to roam the corridors before then. There are no room service trolleys or housekeepers outside your door, no one shoving faxes under your door at 3am, no false alarms requiring you to evacuate three hours before you need to get up for your flight (I seem to have suffered a disproportionate number of those in hotels around the world during my travelling life).

You're here for one thing, and one thing only. Sleep. This hotel does all it can to ensure whomever requires it can have an atmosphere conducive to the best night's sleep possible. I've been lucky enough to stay in some amazing hotels - including a couple on the list - but even in the most ritzy of hotels, there's still light from the skyline, tour groups in the hall checking out at 5:30am, or a laughing couple throwing their shoes at the door*. My dream hotel can't offer any guarantees, but with dark, silent rooms, quiet corridors, blocking mobile and data reception to the rooms for those who just can't help themselves, and an absence of disturbances, they'll do all they can to ensure a good night's sleep for those who just can't get it any other way. Heck - it would even have a doctor on staff to prescribe a little something of the benzodiazepine variety for those who felt they needed it (a reputable doctor, so the place doesn't go all Conrad Murray and have to shut down).

Well, that's my idea of the perfect hotel, anyway. I think I might be just a little sleep obsessed lately...

* This may or may not have been DH and I on our wedding night. We're sorry.

How Can You Say You Love Australia If You Don't Know How It Works?

19 November 2011
Yesterday saw the horrific fire at the Quakers Hill nursing home which has so far claimed the lives of five people. It was extremely hard to watch the news footage of the terrified, confused elderly residents who had lost their home, possessions and friends, struggling to comprehend what had happened to them. There certainly was a lot of graphic vision - evidently the TV news crews thought a compassionate telling of the story required them to shove cameras in the faces of the fire victims as they were loaded into ambulances, and I sure hope people are at least demanded to explain themselves for stripping these vulnerable people of their dignity at a time when they have precious little else left.

At any rate, overnight a suspect has been charged with arson. It is difficult to comprehend that such horror could have been the result of a deliberate act, but people are reminding each other that we must not rush to judge, that the slow wheels of the legal system need to turn, that justice must take its course.

I'm kidding, of course. The internet hordes are baying for blood. There are the usual calls to bring back capital punishment, with several commentators offering to take care of the offender themselves involving hot things and sharp things. The possibility that the defendant will plead mental illness is raised, with comments such as "He will claim he was mentally ill and get away with it. (my apologies to those out there living with mental illness) but too many people claim that they are sick and get away with it". We even ventured into the realms of fantasy, with one commentator opining that "you dont deserve a trial if you think its ok to murder innocent elderly people." As with comments regarding politics ("I didn't vote for Julia Gillard/a carbon tax! Bring on an election now!"), I'm no longer surprised but merely saddened that there are so many adults walking the streets of our society, so blissfully ignorant of how that society actually works.

Of course in Australia, we have a representative democracy. We elect politicians to make decisions for us, and no one voted for or against the carbon tax. Gillard did say she wouldn't bring in a carbon tax in a government she led. Her error was not one of delusion but omission - she left out the word "majority" before government. Left without a majority, she needed to introduce a carbon tax proposal in order to form a minority government. Those red-faced harpies calling 2GB to complain about the unfairness of it all can't quite grasp this nuance; that we don't have elections "for" anything, and that referenda are only held to change the Constitution, not on individual laws. They invoke the spectre of 1998 as the "GST election" - John Howard took the GST to the people and won, making it a legitimate decision - when it wasn't and he didn't. In their misunderstanding, they call for fresh elections/referenda on everything from same sex marriage (like it's anyone else's business who gay people marry) to whether we should process asylum seekers offshore or really, really far offshore. The principle of representative democracy and the process by which bills become law are unknown to these people.

It's the same with the legal system. Precepts such as the right to a fair trial and innocent until proven guilty are misunderstood and thrown aside in the rush to judgement. The notion that a trial is not deserved shows a belief that is a privilege to be earned for lack of guilt, not the right of all people to assess their guilt. The concept of mental illness is beyond them - some sort of made-up thing used by criminals to get away with their crimes. Does it matter that people have these erroneous beliefs? Of course! These are adults who vote in elections and serve on juries; they nominally control a system they barely comprehend. They would, I bet, all call themselves "proud Aussies", be proud of Australia's "freedom", not understanding that freedom confers the right to a fair trial and that the public deciding every issue which crosses the parliamentary floor is not democracy, but mob rule.

When it works well, democracy is the best system we have, but for it to work, we need an educated citizenry. Parliamentary democracy and a free judicial system can't function if large chunks of the population have no idea how they work. So what is the answer, high school civics classes? Well, they'd be a start. But even loving the details of our system as I do, I can see that civics classes have the potential to be the week's most boring subject in an already crowded curriculum; besides, such classes would be no help to everyone who's already helping to run the country, through their votes and jury service, even if they don't know how.

Let's make civics a national TV event. Let's gather up Eddie Maguire, Bert Newton, the cast of Packed To The Rafters, and Jessica Mauboy to sing the big opening number, to host Take Back Australia!, a TV spectacular with great production values, shiny graphics, and a gentle attempt to explain how the legislative, executive and judicial framework of Australia actually functions. There could be an iPhone app, quizzes with cash prizes and cutaways to members of the Australian cricket team and whoever won whatever televised talent quest the twisted mind of Simon Fuller has disgorged upon us this year. If you're groaning at the thought of watching such a spectacle, that's okay; you're excused from watching. If all this sounds heinous to you, chances are you know this stuff already.

White Whining

16 November 2011
The latest mock outrage making its way 'round the internet is the term "white whine". If one is in a privileged position - and on a global scale, having internet access and white skin is a position of privilege - than any complaints about the trivial matters of life are labelled as a white whine. Sure, most of these complaints are trivial. But does that mean we're not allowed to have them? 

Why Retail Is Dying

02 November 2011
Yesterday, I was attempting to purchase a breastfeeding bra when the sales assistant approached me and said "You look lost".

"No, I'm not", I replied. "I'm simply trying to buy an attractive, yet supportive and comfortable feeding bra, something I would imagine there would be some demand for, and as stunning as it may be to you, the perplexed, dismayed look on my face is not one of astonishment at the breadth and complexity of your product range, therefore requiring the expertise and mastery of one such as yourself to gently guide me through it. It is sheer fucking frustration at your mediocre little range of maternity bras in this, purportedly Australia's largest lingerie retailer; annoyance that all you can offer are a few dull, unsupportive bras in a choice of beige or black only, and in a completely inadequate range of sizes - I'd make an educated guess that at least 40% women require a bra larger that what you have on offer. I guess stocking a decent range of maternity bras would reduce the amount of floor space available to sell your french maid and naughty nurse costumes. Sure, maternity bras aren't as sexy as the outfits you flog to fake-tanned twenty year olds to titillate their gormless boyfriends with the perpetuation of female stereotypes, but given that I would hope many women would spend at least as much time breastfeeding as following the advice of Cosmo articles on how to excite your man, then providing a decent maternity lingerie range would make sense form a business point of view, even if it did detract somewhat from your desired "naughty", hip young image. And given all this, I find it frankly condescending and a little rude that you act like the problem is on my end, not yours."

Well, that's what I should have said. Instead I said "Sorry, you don't have what I'm after", and walked out. Damn.

Occupy Sydney: Why The Doubters Are Wrong

27 October 2011
There's nothing worse than finding yourself on the same side of an issue as one of the right wing bile spewers you normally despise - certainly during the Bill Henson controversy was mortified to find myself agreeing with Miranda Devine. I guess safety in numbers would help, at least for many lefty types I know who have come out against the Occupy Sydney/Melbourne/Australia protests. It must be hard being on the same side as John Howard's stunt double Gerald Henderson, who applies his right wing touch to the protests. We'd expect that from the conservative chorus. But why are so many normally open minded progressive types in agreement?

It's a partial agreement, to be fair. "I support the Occupy Wall Street protests" the line from the sneering hipsters runs, "But not Occupy Australian City. What have they got to complain about?" However, they've completely missed the point of the thing. One popular post doing the rounds (on Tumblr, no less) sums up why they just don't get it.

Yes, Australia has come through the GFC largely unscathed. But not completely. Around 100,000 Australians lost their jobs as a direct result of the economic downturn (I was one of them) - not huge numbers, but if you were one of them, it kinda rankles when people act like you don't exist. Unemployment overall is low, so most of those people, apparently, found other jobs (although Australia suffers from gross under reporting in unemployment statistics) but the effects of the GFC will be felt for years to come as we pay off the budget deficit acquired to stave off the worst of the economic woes. The system which allowed the GFC to happen is still very much in place.

And we are vulnerable to it in Australia; we're part of the global economy. The decisions made in corporate boardrooms around the world very much affect us here. The protests are global, too. One of the dumbest criticisms of the protests has been "the Australian economy isn't like the U.S. economy". Well for a start the global Occupy movement started in Madrid - Occupy Wall Street came later - and second it's about showing solidarity, and Australia is very much at the whims of the global system of capitalism. We still have a system where CEOs can receive obscene bonuses whilst laying off staff and cutting costs to the detriment of service and safety; we still have a system that is reliant on personal over corporate taxation for the backbone of federal revenue. Services which were once provided by the government are now outsourced. We are going down the path of two-tier health and education systems. Yes Australia has it better than many other countries, but for how much longer if we keep sitting back and letting it get worse?

Perhaps the most amusing, or offensive, comment from the anti-Occupy brigade is "wouldn't it be great if those participating in the Occupy protests did volunteer work instead." Aside from the irony of smug hipsters sitting in coffee shops tapping on their iPads telling those who actually get off their butts and do something that they should be doing something else instead, it's just plain wrong. Volunteer work is something we should all be doing. But it's grassroots stuff. There's that hackneyed old saying "give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he'll eat for a lifetime." It's true here. Volunteering does nothing to address the long term problems of social inequality. It's the ordinary people cleaning up the messes which have arisen through the actions of the powerful - closing mental hospitals, underfunding disability services. We need the short term help of volunteers. We also need to fix the problems which require them. So do both. But don't attack those who choose to protest by declaring what else they should be doing, whilst you do nothing at all.

Rather than declaring what's wrong with the protests, or quibbling every detail of their sometimes blurred agenda, we should be supporting them in recognition that the current system needs to change. Maybe the alternatives aren't perfect, but is capitalism?

The Greens - I'm With The Brand

20 October 2011
You'd think someone of my political persuasion, being a Greens member and all, would be a nature lover. Nope. I can't stand nature. I'm a lady out of the concrete canyons. I hate dirt, trees, fresh air, and being away from wifi. And nature hates me back - look at all the dangerous things that happen to people woh go out in nature. There's an awful lot of weather out there, and you can get lost, and aren't "natural" disasters the worst sort? That said, I'm a pretty peaceful sort of person, so I wish no particular ill upon nature; I just think the best place for humans is in medium-density housing in the city, leaving nature well alone.

So I'm not a tree hugger, whatever the hell that is supposed to mean. I understand the need for a pristine natural environment, but it's not one of my main passions. And whilst I'm well aware that environmental protection is the Greens' raison d'etre, I was nonetheless surprised to read that, according to the SMH, the Greens brand is outdated and they need to remarked themselves to appeal to a new demographic on social justice issues. Really? It's not like the Greens are doing too badly. Leaving aside the untrue line that the Greens are actually running the country (that'd be nice!), they're doing pretty well in the polling at the moment, and getting some good work done in parliament, with nine senators and Australia's best-looking parliamentarian, Adam Bandt (although he would have faced some stiff competition from the lovely and vivacious Helen Coonan).

So is the Greens' image really that of sandal-wearing hippies? I began voting for the Greens, and later joined the party, because of their policies on social justice issues. Labor and Liberal were largely indistinguishable on many of the issues - asylum seekers, same sex marriage, welfare, education - and believing that the measure of a society is how we treat the worst-off of us, I could no longer in good conscience keep supporting the Labor party. I'm not alone; it has been lamented that Labor is losing a generation of talent to the Greens, so it seems that even if the Greens are perceived as crusty dreadlocked types chained to trees, there is more than that attracting the 1.4 million Australians who gave the Greens there first preference at the 2010 federal election.

Does it really matter that "Greens" has become a pejorative term on talkback radio, a synonym for socialism, government control, do gooders and bleeding hearts? I'm proud to be "insulted" by talkback radio callers and News Ltd columnists; the bile spewing from the right may actually be doing some good. Would rebranding the Greens do any good anyway? The Country Party became the National Party, but without a significant change of party they've not exactly set alight inner urban electorates.
Besides, Greens parties an international movement, thanks in part to Bob Brown. The Australian Greens would be nuts to distance themselves from it. No, the Greens should stay proud to stay exactly the way they are.

The Day of Unrest - Occupy Sydney

16 October 2011
Apparently I'm part of the 99%. It's not often in my life I'm in the majority - I'm a socialist, after all, which can be a kind of lonely position. Seems though that all over the world, people are waking up to the gross economic injustice which has arisen as a result of free market capitalism, and they want to do something about it. The protest movement which began with The Indignants Movement in Madrid, and spawned Occupy Wall Street, is spreading across the globe, and yesterday it was Sydney's turn, as part of the global day of action. There have been plenty of knockers, and it's true that crowds were modest, but you have to start somewhere. I wonder how many of those sneering at the protest now would turn up if it continues and grows? In any case, I wanted to add my support, and have BabyG see something important even if he doesn't know it yet, so we went along for the afternoon.

Was a little slow to kick off.

It was a lovely day for it, anyway.

Looking west on Martin Place; the Channel 7 studios are in the right background.

The banners mounted over Martin Place at the moment seem very appropriate.

There were so few people holding sings that those who had them were in great demand for photos.

The ostensible organisers. I was rather alarmed at the age of some of them - these kids haven't even started to be screwed over by capitalism yet.

The protest in Australia were a fraction of the size of other nations. The GFC hasn't really touched us here - the unemployment rate in Australia is a quarter that of Spain, for instance, and we've had no austerity measures, so we just haven't developed the intense anger of other nations who've watched their economies turn to crud. Also, let's face it, Australia has a pretty poor tradition of political protest. We're to damn laid back sometimes. What exactly do the protesters hope to achieve? In some ways that isn't important. What is important is they have something to say, and they get to say it, and they have hope someone will listen. It's that hope I want to pass on to my son, to stand up and be counted.

The Man for the Job

08 October 2011
Bidding farewell to DH, who was off for a job interview, he asked if I had any tips. "Mention you have a wife and baby", I told him, "It makes you look good".

It sure does - if you're a man. Sexism is still alive and well in Australia, at least in the field of recruitment. A married man with young children is seen as responsible, caring, unlikely to quit in a hurry or goof off as he keeps a roof over his family's head. A married woman with small kids? Forget it, obviously the job won't be her main focus. She'll need to leave early, won't do overtime, take lots of time off cause her kids are sick, and will probably resign soon to have another baby anyway.

Late last year, in a fit of despair over the state of the world, or at least thinking I was too damn sensitive for this youth work business, I made a brief and unsuccessful attempt to get back into advertising. Now, it could be that I'd been out of the industry for over a year, or that I don't interview particularly well. But I can't shake the feeling that at least part of the reason for my failure was due to being a married woman in my thirties. "Great skill set", I was told more than once in the sorry-but conversations post interview, "but we just don't think you'd fit into the team". Probably true; I put in a good effort at the office, but come quitting time I like to head home, not keep up with the work-hard play-hard twenty something AEs hitting the bars with the boss and clients. But dammit, I was good at advertising if not socialising, and it would have been nice to be given the chance to try. The stereotype is way off the mark in our family, anyway - our hope is that I will work full time whilst DH assumes most of the care of Baby G.

There's ageism as well as sexism going on, and it's pretty much impossible to legislate against. One anecdotal tale proves nothing of course, although recruiters I've spoken to agree these stereotypes of family roles are definitely a factor in hiring women over a certain age, that certain age being about 28 (there's no statistics on it though - really, who'd admit to it in a quantifiable fashion?). I've abandoned a corporate career and moved into the not-for-profit sector, where this is much less of a problem. I recently read in the SMH female readers' tales from the 1970s of being unable to withdraw the money they had earned from their own bank accounts, or access a tubal ligation, without their husbands' permission, and thought thank god we don't live in those days. But we really haven't come as far as one would hope.

Reflections on the First Month of Parenthood

02 October 2011
So BabyG is now one month old. It's been the longest and the quickest month of my life, quite startlingly unlike anything I could have imagined.

I thought I knew crazy hanging around engineering students, but I'd never had someone throw up on my breasts before. I thought I knew frustrating dealing with advertising clients who insisted on using seven different fonts in one ad, but I hadn't yet had to change nappies three times in ten minutes - or seven times in two hours. I coped well as a youth worker with several teenagers, but discovered it's different with a newborn - your shift doesn't end. And there are the days when you realise it's 1pm, I'm still in my pajamas, and I've just eaten a cornetto, because it is full of sugar and can be eaten with one hand. How did it come to this?

For all that though, it's really not as bad as I was expecting. At the end of the book Up The Duff, the character whose imaginary pregnancy diary we've been following reflects on early parenthood. She makes it seem a horror show of epic proportions - not knowing if it's day or night, no sleep whatsoever, being unable to shower or eat or do anything much at all except sob and wait for your kid to start school. It hasn't been like that for me. The first few weeks were bloody tough it's true, but that was more about my physical state after the c-section and broken rib, rather than the baby. When other mothers speak of how little sleep they're getting, I only smile and remain silent, knowing that if I confessed how much sleep BabyG gets, they'd beat me to death with bottles of frozen EBM. The house hasn't gotten particularly messy. There are no piles of laundry. I fear we're doing it wrong.

I've learned not to turn to books for guidance. Parenting books are, well, rather bossy. There's two opposing schools of thought - the first that you must have your baby adhering to a strict routine or the manipulative little mite will have you getting up at night to them in high school; the other that you must not let your baby cry unattended at any time or they will grow up to suffer major depression, always get picked last for sports teams and never find true love. The verbal sparring between the adherents of each philosophy will, I fear, form the storyline for a series of Underbelly in years to come.

We've decided to go with a see-what-happens-and-go-with-the-flow approach. The days have formed their own sort of routine. We do get out a bit, but it's easier just to stay home a lot of the time when you have a baby who still breastfeeds for hours on end (that said, my first public breastfeed was in the pub - go hard or go home I say). I've had my run ins with Foxtel, but they've been a lifesaver in recent weeks. I've read a lot of forums but haven't touched most of the parenting books. Maybe I should write one of my own, but I don't know how I ended up with a newborn who sleeps through at night. Pure bloody luck. I couldn't write a book any time soon. Sleep aside, I still have pretty shocking baby brain and it's taken ages to write this post. Parenting always changes though, I've learned that already, so maybe in a year or two, I'll be ready to scribe all this. Just one problem - DH is already saying he wants another one.

We Are All Troy Davis

22 September 2011
First morning in ages that BabyG has napped, allowing me to shower at a decent hour and get on with things, and I can't stop watching coverage of the now-delayed pending execution of Troy Davis. It brings back memories of the 2005 execution (scroll down) of Australian man Van Tuong Nguyen - the sickening helpless feeling of waste, pointlessness and the horror of the state committing murder. Whilst the death penalty is never justified, the difference in that case was that Van Nguyen was guilty of the crime he was executed for, although he did not deserve to die for it. Troy Davis is innocent, almost certainly, with no physical evidence linking him to the crime, and one of the two witnesses who testified against him who hasn't retracted their testimony looking like a very credible suspect for the crime Davis was convicted of.

You don't even have to be against the death penalty itself to oppose this execution. The death penalty itself is horrific enough, its mundane details and practicalities chilling - the condemned prisoner is not only kept on suicide watch, so as not to deprive the state its revenge, but actually given a check up by a doctor to ensure they are fit for execution ("no, you'll have to live, you're to sick to kill"). But even if you believe the death penalty is warranted, say, for someone who kills a child, it is quite another thing to execute someone when there is so much doubt in the case. Troy Davis should not be saved in and of himself because he recanted, found Jesus, does good work in jail; but because it seems sure that he simply did not commit the crime he may die for.

The family of Mark McPhail, the murdered off-duty police officer whom Davis is convicted of killing, would doubtless say they are the real victims here. The are convinced of Davis' guilt, and adamant the execution should proceed. I feel very sorry for them, but it's hard to understand their faith in Davis' conviction. When you have been so greatly wronged, so grieved, humans have a natural urge to seek what they see as justice, to right the wrong in the natural order of things. For McPhail's family to concede that Davis is not guilty would leave them with no focus for their pain; they must think the execution will give them some closure. They are sadly wrong. A man - let alone an innocent man - does not need to die to prove the extent of their suffering. If this execution goes ahead, and they later have doubts - if later there is another conviction, more evidence, proof - what then? Then they become the victims of one murder and to an extent, the accomplices to another.

As I write, it's 150 minutes past Davis' scheduled execution time. A delay has been issued whilst the U.S. Supreme court considers an appeal. It seems that Davis could still be executed at any time - the live coverage is continuing. We just don't know what's going on right now, reports are that Davis is on the gurney now, awaiting the word. I think I'm going to be sick. How can anyone i the world think this is okay?

EDIT: of course as we all now know Davis was executed later that day.  I'll just add this:
"What then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal's deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared. For there to be an equivalence, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal, who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him, and who from that moment onward had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life." - Albert Camus "Reflections on the Guillotine" 1957.

When All Is Said and Done

13 September 2011
Proving that no nightmare scenario lasts forever (although god knows, it felt like the Howard era would do so), on 1 September we fnally had our beautiful son BabyG. Which considering he was due on the 20 August, clearly meant things took a little longer than planned. Plans went out the window anyhow, as my original wish for a waterbirth was scrapped and I ended up having every intervention imaginable to try to extract my little guy, finally resorting to a c-section when all else failed...and even then, he had to be plied out with forceps. Using the emergency exit proved to be for the best when to everyone's surprise, he weighed in at four-and-a-half kilos. I don't know how. I avoided all the foods you're supposed to avoid and swallowed bucketsful of prenatal vitamins but my fruit and vegetable intake was sometimes neglected in my insane desire for chocolate milk (which makes me feel a little ill now I think of it; my lifelong loathing of milky drinks returned as soon as I gave birth). I didn't have diabetes. DH and I are tallish but not huge. I didn't even look all that big and have no idea where he was hiding. Somehow, I just baked a really big baby...although he still seems tiny and fragile to us.

Posting has been a bit thin on the ground whilst DH and I get our baby legs. We keep feeling like we're playing Mum and Dad, and the real grown ups will be along shortly to take care of things (this is an especially appealing notion at 3am). As for Xander, he's coping as well as can be expected for a senior cat who has never met a child before ("that thing you brought home is crying again"). Everything they said about having a baby is true, yet no one warned me about any of this. The feeling of peace having him in my arms, or the panic of that dreadful night when I was unable to feed him and he had no wet nappies for twenty hours. I know that this baby business is of very little interest to anyone else though (certainly I can feel my 29yo, chainsmoking, avowed-childless self being bored rigid by it), so I'll keep it short until BabyG and I sort ourselves out and I'm able to get a grasp on world affairs again. Though let me guess...Tony Abbott is still whinging, right?


26 August 2011
"Are you ready for the baby?", I'm forever being asked. Well of course I am. I've bought several presents for Xander so he has something to distract him from the new baby; we've planned and made careful changes so Xander's routine has the absolute minimum of interruption; asked visitors coming to see the baby to make a fuss of Xander, so he doesn't get too jealous. No baby was ever coming to a more well-prepared house. When I tell people this though they usually mutter "weirdo" under their breaths and shuffle away. I don't get it. Is there such a thing as being too prepared?

I guess there is. I'm now a week overdue, in a society which doesn't seem to allow for that occurrence. We like to control everything in our lives these days, and a baby that doesn't show up by it's due date is seen to be, you know, a little bit hippy, a little odd. As Eddy told Saffy, at term with her own child in Absolutely Fabulous, "No one goes to forty weeks. Pay extra, get the express delivery". Why suffer through the very late, very uncomfortable weeks of pregnancy? Get a (these days) straightforward elective caesarean at 39 weeks and have done with it.

I'd like to say that I'm overdue because of a determination not to rush my child, to let nature take it's course, to refuse to live my life according to a socially acceptable timetable. At least, that's what I would have said before I was pregnant. A couple of years back I fell in with a crowd of hardened home birthers, who convinced me that everything the medical establishment do to pregnant women is a giant scheme to make money from unnecessary interventions. No way was I going to fall for that, I thought smugly as I organised my planned waterbirth. I was going to 43 weeks if need be! My kid would set their own timetable for entry into the world and doctors could shove it!

That was before the anaemia; the symphis pubis dysfunction (aka pelvic instability) which made it impossible for me who would normally cover over 5km a day to walk more than a few hundred metres at a time; the carpal tunnel syndrome which has left me without much feel in or use of my hands. Then there's the usual, boring stuff - the sleeplessness, reflux, inability to sit comfortably, the fact I haven't had prawns or wine since last year. So I would kill for some intervention now, but of course it's too late to hire an obstetrician on three days' notice. I've got to tough this out.

It's hard killing time when I can't go anywhere and I can't hold a pencil and I can't string a coherent thought together. Baby brain may be an anti-feminist lie, but any scan of my brain at the moment would look like this:

For I can assure you, the world is such a source of irritation at the moment it is not to be borne. Let's see...I ordered a cot net from a website last week and was assured it would be delivered Wednesday. They call me on Thursday to inform me they no longer stock the product. Why did it take a week to tell me? Yet another trip out I'm going to have to make. I don't expect special consideration in public just for being knocked up, but I do think it would be nice if people could at least try to stop ramming into my stomach. My husband keeps asking what I want. If I knew that, I could get it myself. I can barely follow any of the columnists in the SMH. My attempt to read the whole Harry Potter series stalled at The Chamber of Secrets, when I kept wondering why Harry and Draco Malfoy couldn't just get on.

Lest anyone think I'm giving birth in a goat pond with Enya music playing, I am actually getting medical care from a team of midwives. And they keep assuring me this is all completely normal; the average first baby born naturally arrives eight days after their due date. Really? You wouldn't know it from popular culture. Pregnancy books switch to motherhood mode at 41 weeks. All the pregnancy apps on my iPhone have stopped updating apart from incessant reminders to purchase their babyhood options (or worse - they have a cute little graphic saying "baby should be here by now!"). Before my encounter with the homebirthers, I'd never heard of babies being late, and thought it was a weird and risky thing. It's a common perception - certainly everyone I know feels the same way, and is worriedly calling looking for updates. (As if they'd call asking if the baby was born yet and we'd reply "Dammit, I knew there was something we meant to tell you". Just kidding everyone; we do appreciate that you care.).

The nesting instinct hasn't kicked in either, though I have had the urge to dye my hair. Our freezer lacks a supply of casseroles ready for cactus hour, but I am sporting a fetching head of Manic Panic red. And yes, I was first assured it was okay from a medical point of view, as birth defects aren't exactly a concern at this stage unless an already-grown foot drops off, or something. My hair required bleaching first, then to settle for a couple of days before being dyed, and if you want to attract attention let me suggest waddling around forty weeks pregnant with crunchy orange-and-yellow hair; Lady Gaga would weep with envy. My hair does look rather smashing now, though I wonder if in years to come my kid will look at their mother in their baby photos and think it's normal for mothers to have vividly coloured hair and drawings on their skin, and those who don't are the weird ones. Gosh I hope so.

Can We Add Right Wing Nuts to the DSM?

23 August 2011
Watching the Convoy Of No Confidence roll into Canberra this week - very quickly, considering the tiny size of the protest - one thinks that these people are nuts. They're not sure what they want, there's no coherent narrative, other than demands for an election which should apparently be a referendum of the grab bag of issues they're screeching about. To call these protesters nuts seems a throwaway line, but I've been observing the state of the hysterical right in this country lately, and wondering...is there some form of collective mental illness going on here? All contact with rational thought seems to have been lost. Consider these symptoms:

Delusions - the right are determined to believe things that are demonstrably untrue; like that the country is being run by Labor in close alliance with the Greens. How I wish this were the case. And how far it is from being true. Does the Malaysian solution sound like something Bob Brown thought up? How about 5% emissions reductions targets, maintaining troops in Afghanistan, the ban on same-sex marriage...nope, not Greens policies. If the Greens are running the country, they're doing so in an odd roundabout kind of way that completely contradicts everything they stand for.

Black and White Thinking - you'll never hear a right-winger say "you may have a point there, but I still hold my original belief based on...". No, that would be logical and fair. The right never concede anything. They refuse to admit any Labor or Greens initiative is ever worthwhile, or that the Liberal party ever makes mistakes. There are no nuances. One side is all good and the other side is all bad. But completely good or bad isn't the behaviour of people, but silent movie stereotypes. I'll admit John Howard performed well on the gun control issue. Tony Abbott encourages volunteerism through his own examples. You'd never see such concessions from the right. It's all heroes and villains.

Lack of Empathy - live animal exports? Mistreatment at Indonesian abattoirs? Not important. Animals are for meat, they say; the service of humans. Better that thousands of cattle suffer than a few cattle ranchers have to find alternative livelihoods. Even if you enjoy steak and sleep well at night, their lack of compassion can still shock. The plight of desperate people who have fled war zones and risked their lives to come here on rickety overcrowded boats seeking asylum is dismissed; those people are illegals, queue jumpers, and if they are locked up for years, transferred to countries with terrible human rights records, or drown on the way, well they should have thought of that before they came here.

Catastrophising - This is the worst government we've ever had. Australia has lost its way. We're in terrible shape. The cost of living has spiralled out of control, we've never been so badly off, no wonder crime is out of control and we're all poor and terrified. It doesn't matter that we came through the GFC largely unscathed, that CPI is not spiralling anywhere and all types of violent crime are down - Australia is rooned and Joolyar rooned it. If by any chance things aren't so bad, well that's thanks to John Howard setting us up so well.

Faulty Logic - once it would have been a pretty serious thing to make death threats against members of parliament. Not anymore. One of the country's most prominent shock jocks declares that the Prime Minister and the leader of the Greens should be drowned in sacks. Joe Hockey listens to an attendee at a town hall meeting declare that he wants to shoot the federal cabinet, and responds not that he understands but violence isn't acceptable, but just that he understands. He understands, you see, because people are angry. When the right are angry, it's apparently okay to threaten to carry on like violent psychopaths.

Taken together, I'm not sure if it's enough to be classified as a mental illness. But it's not a pretty picture. The first step in getting help is admitting you've got a problem, but as we've seen that's beyond the capabilities of those on the shrieking far right. They'll never admit they're wrong. We could ignore them, but they are having a ridiculously disproportionate influence on the political narrative - ordinary people are coming to share their distorted beliefs. What can we do? I fear we may be in real trouble here.

Whatever You Say

19 August 2011
It's been a week of the very direst stupidity in Australian politics. In just one day, we had the sight of carbon tax protesters standing on the lawn outside our freely elected Parliament House, demanding an election as they refuse to accept the result of the last one, all the while proclaiming "Democracy is Dead". Meanwhile inside the august building Barnaby Joyce was proclaiming to an anti-same sex marriage gathering that legalising gay marriage would imperil his daughters: "We know that the best protection for those girls is that they get themselves into a secure relationship with a loving husband, and I want that to happen for them. I don't want any legislator to take that right away from me." He didn't say what they needed protection from - a future as ageing spinsters if their pool of potential husbands doesn't include closeted gay men, perhaps? Nor did he eludicate just what rights a father should have in relation to the marriages of his adult daughters, but in a free society in Australia it's generally accepted to be very little "right" at all. I'm sure Mr Joyce's daughters are very nice young women, and I feel sorry for them suffering such embarrassment. There seems to be a running theme here of conservative politicians regarding their daughters as possessions to be guarded.

Miranda Devine wasn't in Canberra for all this - too far from Manly - but she was adding to the national stupidity index nonetheless. Last weekend, she churned out a nasty little piece denigrating same sex parenthood, airily linking the London riots to single mothers. When she got the reaction she was no doubt hoping for, she threw her hands in the air in the manner of a toddler caught doing something naughty and proclaimed "what?" Her twitter stream was something to see. At first she seemed bewildered by all the nasty lefties picking on her li'l old column, but by the time she posted her follow up later in the week she'd figured it all out; the backlash was part of the conspiracy to silence free speech in this country. And to destroy the institution of marriage, of course.

Conservatives love to trumpet their "right to free speech" whenever they say something bigoted, of course, even as they argue against a bill of rights for Australia. It gives them something to do when they're not demanding an election over the carbon tax - we have to have an election, they say, as polls show most people are against the tax. Undemocratic not to. Although polls show most people are in favour of gay marriage, and a bill of rights, and can we get some consistency here?

Let's just put everything to a poll. We'll take conservatives at their word. Make Tony Abbott happy (although I doubt the man ever would truly stop whinging). If they want what they erroneously believe to be "democracy", we'll give it to them and screw the expense. Nothing gets done or banned without a poll. Let's start with same sex marriage, live animal exports and a bill of rights - all issues where despite their best efforts, the right can't seem to get mainstream Australia on board with their opinion. Then we can move on to carbon tax, the war in Afghanistan and offshore processing of asylum seekers. Why not? Conservatives don't understand representative democracy anyway so let's trash it and replace it with mob rule. Maybe then they'll be happy.

The New "Right To Life"

09 August 2011
Amidst all the doom and gloom this morning, some nice news for a change; Federal Finance Minister Penny Wong and her partner, Sophie Allouache, are expecting their first child (surely showing some confidence in the economy). Whilst it's no one's damn business how any child is conceived, unless the parents choose to say so, in this case Ms Wong has; thanking the IVF clinic and donor who have helped the couple to achieve their pregnancy.

Well, most people would think it lovely news anyway. But I'm sure talkback radio and the Murdoch press are soon to go into overdrive (edit: they already have) about the whole thing - two women having a baby together? Oh how icky, how unnatural. The more enlightened of them won't directly say such things, though - they'll dress it up in concern for the child. Such views aren't rare; take this piece from social activist Maggie Millar published in the Fairfax press last week. In writing that "Recent talk about the rights of gay and infertile couples, and some single women, to 'donor' conception and adoption emphasises adult entitlements at the expense of infants", Ms Millar confuses legal access to donor sperm and eggs with the horrific trade in human foetuses and live children. The heartbreaking trade in humans is something no one can condone, but Ms Millar and others like her apply the same moral standard to children conceived using donor eggs and sperm in this country. The rights of these children, Ms Millar declares, are overridden by the rights of the adults who wish to access donor reproductive technology.

It's a complicated legal issue, but not one that is helped by simplistic "won't somebody think of the children?" pleas. To quote again from the article, "According to Australian ethicist Professor Margaret Somerville, no procedure should be embarked upon unless we can be absolutely certain that children conceived by various medical interventions will approve of what was done to them as infants when they reach adulthood." Normally I agree that no medical intervention should take place unless it is to the benefit of the child (I've written extensively over the years of my horror of circumcision). But in this case, lack of intervention wouldn't result in a different outcome for the child - but no child at all. Should we weigh up whether every child will deem their existence worthwhile before deciding if they should be born? I think many people deep down can't quite shake the idea that the souls of unborn children are floating around, ready to attach themselves to live babies; in this case, we are condemning these kids to a less-than-perfect family situation, and if things had just been a bit different, they could have gone to a loving house with a Mum, Dad and huge mortgage in the suburbs.

But it's simply the case that without such reproductive technology, they would never have been born; without the particular combination of DNA their existence, such as it may be, would not have commenced. It is heartbreaking to read the stories of young adults, frustrated in attempts to learn of their genetic heritage, feeling rejected by their biological parents. But when Ms Millar writes "To force any human being to forfeit their own reality...in order that someone else can live out their dream of parenthood is highly questionable", she fails to realise that for many of these children, without donor reproductive technology there simply would be no reality. They would never have existed.

So what is the answer here? We have to balance the rights of the young people using donor technologies, with yes the rights of adults to access the technology...and an acknowledgement that for most people in this country, being born is better than the alternative. Should young people be born at all cots? Of course not, otherwise we'd be going down the uncomfortable path of banning abortions. But on the other hand, children born through natural conception also do not get a say in whether they feel their existence has been worthwhile - and nor do we have social commentators huffing about whether they really should have been born. Is this all a smokescreen for saying not only that if you're not lucky enough to be straight and fertile you don't deserve to have kids, but that some children - the offspring of the fertile and monogamous - have more of a right to life than others? God I hope not, but it's hard to escape that conclusion.

The Quest For Better Blogging and a Born Baby

07 August 2011
I love reading the words of bloggers who turn the trials of everyday life into whimsy; their families' everyday lives writ large as meaningful warm humour. I wish I had that knack. You'd think it would be easy. DH and I both resemble huge nerds, though without the technical skill; DH is very witty; we're gestating a new life form, have a cat who is so crazy attached to me he hurls himself at the door if I dare try for some privacy in the bathroom, and have a goldfish with dysthymia and another with anger management issues. You'd think the comedy would write itself.

Sadly for my purposes, no one is funny on cue. When I look to my household in need of inspiration, everyone acts like I've just told them there'll be no more grocery shopping till all the leftovers are gone. I sit down next to DH with a notebook, but all he says his "stop...bloody...staring at me! Go find something to do" (as if I can go jogging or put up shelves at this stage). Xander refuses to be cute to order. And goldfish have their reputation for a reason. I think I'm dragging everyone down.

Have you ever been heading on your way out the door at a party only to think "what the hell...one more drink" and head back for more? That's what my unborn child has done. After several weeks of being engaged - locked, loaded and ready for birth, head burrowed down in the exit tunnel - Pinky has apparently decided it wants a last look around, bounced up, and is taking a tour all around the abdomen, harpooning organs on the way.

There are some situations in life when everyone has advice (if you've ever wanted "suggestions", try announcing at the office you've got insomnia). An overdue or stubborn baby is one of these. Normally I hate unsolicited advice, but by now I'm willing to try anything. I watch TV with my butt in the air and chin on the coffee table. I've spent a fortune on homeopathic remedies (and normally I disdain bottled water). I've had sex with a curry. I've no idea if any of this stuff will work. How do you measure it? According to one study I read, acupuncture is 88% effective for inducing labour in term pregnancies - what does that mean? The other 12% of women never have their babies at all? However, I'm determined to get this baby out of me by hook or by crook, without involving a scalpel if possible, so I'm going to keep trying all the bizarre methods to be found on Google. Eel tea - I never thought my life would come to this.

UPDATE: After my latest midwife appointment, things are actually worse. Pinky is "free", meaning if it was any less ready to be born it would be coming out of my ears. So I've resorted to more serious natural induction methods. Though I'm not sure waving a teddy between my legs and cooing "come on darling" will help...

Debunking Facebook Statuses, #1

02 August 2011
Sadly, one of the many things idiots often lack is originality. They love copying Facebook statuses complaining about the state of the world, but rarely take the time to check the accuracy of what they've posted. Many of the bordering-on-offensive copied statuses they post are loosely based on American statistics twisted by right wingers; a "Washington" gets replaced by "Canberra" and then it's reposted in all it's inaccurate glory. Take this gem:

"They sent my census form back! Again!!! In response to the question: "Do you have any dependents?"
I replied - "2 million illegal immigrants, 1 million crack heads, 1 million unemployable people, 1/2 million people in over 100 prisons, half of Afghanistan and 535 politicians in Canberra.
Apparently, this was NOT an acceptable answer. Re-post if you agree.

How wrong are these "facts" for Australia? In the first of what may become a regular series, let me count the ways:

2 million illegal immigrants
In 2009, Australia received around 2750 unauthorised arrivals by boat (source). There were another 15,800 visa over stayers (source).

1 million crack heads
One in twenty people are crack addicts?! Well they must not live in inner Sydney; I've never seen them. Truth is an estimated 1.3% of people have used cocaine - at all - in the past twelve months; crack cocaine is "rarely seen in Australia" (source).

1 million unemployable people
In June 2011 there were 589,100 registered unemployed people in Australia (source). Most unemployed people are on benefits for a period of less than six months before finding employment.

1/2 million people in over 100 prisons
In 2009, the Australian prison population was 29,300 (source).

[H]alf of Afghanistan
Over the last ten years Australia has provided $700 million in civilian aid to Afghanistan (source). Given to half the population, that's about $4.69 per person, per year. Not really enough to cover the "you break it, you bought it" policy of the good guests I hope we've been in their country.

535 politicians in Canberra
There are 150 members of the House of Representatives and 76 Senators in the Australian Federal Parliament in Canberra (source). This one's my favourite because it's so easy to quantify; there are 535 members of the U.S. Congress. (What? You didn't know that off the top of your head?)

And lastly of course, Census night isn't until the 9th of August, so of course the form would be sent back if it was filled in now, but if one has accepted all the above statements as a work of latter-day genius I doubt they're quibbling over these semantics. It's been fun debunking all this; I'm sure I'll get a chance to do it again soon (what's that status doing the rounds about drug testing...).

The Unholy Babble

01 August 2011
It makes a change from hearing about the carbon tax, but it seems like religion is everywhere in politics and the media these days. Whether it's religious education classes in public schools, same sex marriage, or marking "no religion" on the census, religion is exerting an influence on the public debate far out of proportion to the level of devotion seen in the populace. Our atheist Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is vehemently against gay marriage, which means she is either pandering to the Christian lobby, or she finds the whole thing, you know, a bit icky - I'm not sure which is more distasteful. Meanwhile, Fred Nile - elected to the NSW Upper House in 2007 with a vote of 4.4%, in our strange electoral system - threatened the NSW government that unless they banned ethics classes in schools (public schools!) in favour of religious education, he would withdraw support for their IR reforms. With the Australian census coming up, atheists have been campaigning to have people tick no religion on the census. It doesn't seem to make much sense to call yourself an Anglican say, just because your mother was, if you haven't opened a bible or set foot in a church in years. What it does do is allow the likes of Abbott and Akerman to claim Australia is a majority Christian nation. Seems an odd thing to say. Whilst religious belief is hard to quantify, less than 50% of Australian funerals are now held in churches. If you can't be bothered getting to church even when you're dead - you can lie down and everything! - it would seem your faith isn't that strong.

Why do we accept our politicians believing things which are demonstrably untrue? Abbott, Gillard et al make ridiculous claims about asylum seekers, climate change, what is tasteful humour, and they are eventually, hopefully, called out on it. But we accept a politician's right to believe religious nonsense. Not only believe it, but to let it inform their policies and decisions. Even in the case of atheist Gillard, she allows the religious views of others to sway her attitudes to such things as same-sex marriage which are otherwise only the business of the couple who wish to get married. If this is really a secular country, we shouldn't allow things to be run this way.

What I'm proposing is that people of religious faith should not be allowed to hold political office unless they undertake that their religious views will never affect their political decisions. It's one thing for people to believe that the world was literally created in seven days, but should that be an influence on our national discourse? This isn't restricting freedom of religion - people unable to divorce their personal religious beliefs from their political stance are free to live their lives as private citizens. But those who strongly believe in a deity that informs their views - well, that's very sweet but I don't want them running the country.

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