30 December 2012
Greetings from my much neglected blog. I don't know why I've left it so long. I think up ideas for posts, but then BabyG knocks a lamp over, or Xander throws up on the carpet, or the fish does that creepy upside down swimming thing, or DH points out I'm 26 hours late for work, and I turn to religion as I always do at moments of crisis, if by religion you mean "God, I need a drink".

But it is not too late for me to change my ways! Oh, I've made all sorts of vows for 2013. I will exercise more, spend less, be less annoying, more patient, more helpful, less illegal. And yes - I have set myself the goal of at least 15 blog posts a month. With such a quota, I'm going to have to mine pretty deep for material, so next time you observe current events and think "I wonder what a fat, prematurely middle aged leftie woman with bicep tattoos and a hangover thinks of this", rest assured I will be there, with a post that misses the point entirely.

Happy new year.

The Santa Question

18 November 2012
After wishing fervently that Christmas would just go away during my single years, I do quite like it now. Maybe I even like it a little too much, overcompensating with my enthusiasm (when I saw this inflatable Santa on a train for sale, my only question was would one be enough, until DH told me in no uncertain terms that for the sake of our marriage, one would be too many). We're not Christians, but it's a cultural thing to us; the chance to relax after a long year, spend time with family, gorge yourself on food, get into arguments with family and wear shoes with sand in them.

But of course, it's BabyG that really makes Christmas special for me. Last year, he was just a bald, red lump that existed solely to eat and excrete, and I was too gobsmacked by the realities of new motherhood to feel anything other than exhaustion, but this year he's up and moving, he's fun, I can't wait to see him get into the presents under the tree. However, there lies my dilemma. Where do I say the presents came from? What do we do about Santa?

For most kids, Santa is a bit of harmless fun, adding to the magic of Christmas and easily discarded at an early age. I wasn't like most kids, though. I have, as I've mentioned, at least strong Asperger tendencies, and take people pretty damn literally when I sometimes shouldn't. Bad combination for fairies and make believe. At any rate, when my mother finally realised that a ridiculously advanced age, I was never going to cotton on about Santa and let me in on the truth, I was stunned. Stunned. My brain struggled with this paradigm shift, my universe spun on it's axis. No Santa? Everything I knew was untrue? My parents had been...lying to me, all these years? You'd think I would have cottoned on after noticing Santa had suspiciously similar handwriting to my mother, but no. Who was I to trust ever again?

So there's my problem. I didn't vow on the spot to never do this to my children - then and for the fifteen years that followed, I didn't plan to have any children - and now I find myself with a child and not knowing whether to let him in on Santa or not. Sure, it's a lovely part of the magic of Christmas, and every kid needs a little magic in their childhood; but the part where I have to, essentially, lie to my child for several years. I hope BabyG wouldn't react as strongly as I did - he's showing no signs of sharing his mother's traits, loving hugs and people like he does - but who can say for sure? I'm not angry with my parents about this, I'm just not sure if it's something I want to repeat. On the other hand, I don't want BabyG to ever feel left out. All (or most) of the other kids at daycare/preschool/kindy will have Santa, and he won't, and he'll either be sad, or angry and deciding to let the other kids in on the secret. (And what a popular child he'd be then),.

So do we raise BabyG with Santa or not? He's still only fifteen months,  so we don't have to make a decision yet, but next year we definitely will. I don't know what to do.

Yes, I Will Call You Out, Melissa George

12 November 2012
Social media is aflame this morning over the matter of one Melissa George. The former teen Home and Away star, who has spent much of the past decade living and working overseas, is being excoriated and defended in turns following an incident on morning TV last week, where Ms George bemoaned people referring to her teen soap star status in the 1990s. It must be bloody annoying to have it mentioned in every interview, sure. She's done other things. Time to move on. Ok, she comes across as kind of entitled and rude, sneering at the small minded Australians she left behind - an attittude seen in many expats - when she says "I just need them all to be quiet. If they have nothing intelligent to say, please don't speak to me any more. I'd rather be having a croissant and a little espresso in Paris or walking my French bulldog in New York City". But that's her right. The Australian media can be an irritating pack of noids sometimes.

But it's her comments regarding the damage done where she starts to lose my sympathy. Ms George has decided she no longer wants to visit Sydney, that it's all too traumatic.  "[T]he stress that this has created in me is not worthy of my health... I just get too upset coming home.''

Really? She is stressed to the point of causing damage to her health because people mention her old job? She can't stand being in Sydney in case the media mentions she was Angel? I threw up in my mouth a little. No Ms George, what is traumatic is returning to the town where you were sexually assaulted. It's upsetting to have to drive past the hospital where your baby was stillborn. It is disgusting to be haunted by memories of major trauma in a place. I'm assuming Ms George has had tragedy and sadness in her life - pretty much no one gets past the age of 30 without having something seriously shitty happen to them, or a loved one - so it's astonishing that she could show so little empathy or perspective.

And you know what? As irritating as it is to get asked all these questions, that's life. If I snapped at someone who asked me stupid questions at work, I'd get the sack, or at least some sort of written warning, no matter how "understandable" it may be that I lost patience. You've just gotta suck this stuff up. The world is full of idiots, and sadly you can't deal with them by telling them to stop being stupid. Anyway, I'm sure there are many people today thinking that if Ms George hates Australia so much, then not to let the door hit her backside on the way out. Not me. I think she should be welcome back here, and everyone forbidden to mention Home and Away on pain of torture. Ms George has done plenty of other stellar work to reflect on. Let's have a couple of years of media attention to the artistic legacy of her role in Sugar and Spice. 

Shaming Kids

13 October 2012
It's been a running theme in society since the time of Plato that the current generation of kids are spoiled, decadent, out of control. Well, maybe, but there's one thing that hasn't changed; that some adults think it's okay to shame kids.

Getting the bus to work this week, a kid of around ten, dressed in a primary school uniform, boarded the bus without his bus pass. Okay, he probably should have mentioned this to the driver, but he was probably too shy to do so. Anyway, after the kid sat down, the driver pulled the bus over and roared "Get down here!" No one moved. The driver got out of his seat and stood in the aisle. "You - with the skateboard. Get down here!" The poor kid walked up to the driver, who shouted "Where does it say that this bus is free?!"
"I forgot my pass" stammered the poor boy.
"That's no excuse! You ask for permission to board or pay! You don't just get on! Now SIT DOWN".

And the poor kid did sit, and promptly burst into tears. Luckily there was a schoolfriend of his on the bus, with his mother, who attempted to comfort the boy. Me? I'm not so good at the comforting business, but I did take the driver's card number, and have sent in an official complaint.

Why is this sort of thing apparently okay? I have seen dozens, heck hundreds, of old age pensioners board the bus with expired tickets. Occasionally a driver will gently say something, but in the vast majority of cases they let it go, and the senior boards without incident, or paying. Probably the sensible course of action. You can't possibly imagine a driver yelling at a pensioner who tried to board without paying, so why is it okay to publicly berate and shame a child for doing so?

I hope the kid got to school, played with his friends,  and forgot all about it, but I'm not so sure. I still remember an incident in year seven where I stood up slightly too early at a school assembly. That was all. I was called on to the stage and berated in front of the whole school for my ten seconds lapse in attention. I've never forgotten the shame and humiliation. And for what? Some deep seated belief that children represent original sin and need to be tamed? Because some adults are jerks who like to show they've got power over kids? I just don't get why it's okay.

The Real Story Behind the Jones Backlash

04 October 2012
The public reaction to the cruel, stupid comments made by Alan Jones at the Sydney University Liberal party fundraiser has been astonishing; the most successful social media campaign in Australian history; over 100,000 signatures (more than Jones's audience figures some morning), over 60 major companies pulling their advertising from Jones's program and his station 2GB, constant discussion on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere.

The right, scrambling to find meaning in all this, have decided it is all part of some left wing plot to destroy Jones, and have rushed to defend him. The comments were made in jest, at a private function. He's said he was sorry. What more do we want from him? Paul Sheehan, the most coherent of the right wing columnists, ties it all together nicely in today's SMH. He describes, host of the largest petition to dump Jones, as "orchestrating a campaign" to destroy Jones (neglecting to mention there is also a petition on to keep Alan Jones "because he tells the truth" with, as of this writing, a whopping 67 signatories), and sees a sinister network of influence at play. He writes, "When you have all Jones' traditional enemies, the Labor Party, the Greens, the ABC, Fairfax Media, GetUp!, and now and more than 100,000 people, all baying for the professional blood of one man, the scale and disproportion of the fury begins to create blowback. Most Australians do not like a brawl involving 100,000 people against one."

100,000 left wing enemies of Jones, baying for his blood. That's what the right think this is about. They are way, way off the mark.

What the backlash of Jones really means is this: Yes, we took offence at Jones's comments. Yes, it does in fact go deeper than that. Hundreds of thousands of Australians have snapped, had enough - not because they are part of a left wing conspiracy, but because they are fed up, disgusted with the level of personal abuse leveled at politicians in this country - much of which is aimed at the Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who whether you agree with her politics or not (and many of those condemning Jones don't agree) does not deserve the death threats, obscene cartoons and insults to her dead family that are her lot on a daily basis. So no this isn't an isolated case regarding Jones's remark, but it was when our collective patience snapped, decent people said enough is enough, and it's time to stand up and end this culture of nastiness. If it is Alan Jones who has to bear the brunt of our wrath, well, he is the one who has orchestrated much of this tone of violence, disrespect and disdain (and has been doing so for years); as a leader in his field, he's emblematic of the culture; if he's such a great political influence, surely it cuts both ways. He's a big boy, he can take it, and I'm sure he's crying all the way to the bank. Such is the man's ego that anyway, he's taking it all as a sign of jealousy. Homophobic slurs and death threats against Jones are to be condemned, but it's time for all sides of the media and politics to take this campaign seriously; we're here, we're decent people, and we're angry. Don't get used to it - change things.

Selective Schools The Magic Button?

01 October 2012
I was recently moved to read a twitter friend's account of her experiences with her ten year old son, a sensitive, intelligent boy who was being bullied at school. They worried what to do, met with the principal, eventually made the difficult decision to move their son to a new school. One point that struck a dark note with me is their prior hope that they and their son would be able to wait it out until he got to high school, or specifically a selective high school, where he would be amongst children like himself and the bullying would stop. The reason this caught in my throat was I experienced the worst bullying of my life at a selective high school. I'm dismayed at the perception that bullying doesn't go on at selective schools, and that they're the answer for intelligent, bullied kids.

In my case it made festering problems worse. I arrived at selective high school age 11, young for my cohort, and with the manifestations of Asperger's Syndrome that would not be identified for another almost 20 years. In addition, there were problems at home, and I was, basically, an awkward, oversensitive, emotional wreck. It was hoped that after a friendless primary school experience, selective school would be where I "found my place". But even at a selective school, kids are still kids. They can immediately spot the outsider, the weak one. In this case I became the target, and the target of kids who had not only the streak of nastiness that bullies can show, but the intelligence to make their attacks all the more personal, insightful and vicious. The things I did "wrong" - from wearing an official school hat (I quite liked them) to reading the encyclopedia at lunch time - made me a target for physical and emotional bullying that has left me with scars to this day.

But no one would believe such things could go on. Smart kids were good kids, right? For me it was a dreadful time. My academic performance suffered, inevitably. Therein lies another issue with selective schools - someone has to be at the bottom of the academic rankings. Kids with a history of academic achievement, who would be the star pupil at a comprehensive high school, find themselves at the bottom of the pile with all the disincentive and damage to self esteem that entails. For some it is a spur to work harder; others never recover. Some of my former classmates are human rights barristers, TV personalities, academics, surgeons. Others have disappeared into the same pit of despair I languished in for much of my life.

As for my education though, by the end of Year Nine, I'd had enough and refused to go back; the school, with me marked as a trouble maker and failure, wasn't so keen to have me around either, so by everyone's agreement, I transferred to a comprehensive high school, repeated Year Nine, got heavily involved in drama and debating (it had a good performing arts program), and did well academically, and my teachers liked me, and if there was any bullying I was older and smarter and able to handle it.

I'm not a fan of the selective school system. I know it works well for some children, but it drains resources from comprehensive schools, and can have a terrible effect on the kids who go there who don't do so well there. I don't know what I'll do if BabyG wants to go to a selective school. And they're not the magic cure for bullying. If only something was.

We Need To Talk About Creeps

27 September 2012
It's such a familiar scene.

 You've had a torturous day at work; you can't believe it's not actually a full moon, because the crazies are out in force, thought at least they provide a diversion from the customers with the IQ of a mitten. The networks were slow, the air conditioning was on the fritz, and you've a splitting headache. After nine hours you finally make your way out of the office with a glazed expression and collapse gratefully into your bus seat, looking only to lose yourself in the pulpy trash escapist novel you've been saving for this purpose until you can get home and tip fermented beverages down your throat. You open it up and have barely read two sentences when a voice interrupts.
"Good book?"
"I'm sorry?" you say, not sure where the voice is coming from or if it is directed at you.
"Is it a good book?" asks the guy seated in front of you. You barely notice what he looks like. You don't care. You've been talking to strangers non stop all day, and now you're tired, and you don't want to talk to another stranger; you just want to be left alone.
"Um, I guess, I haven't had a chance to read much yet", you reply, hoping he gets the message, but he doesn't.
"So, what do you do?"
"Um, I'm a customer service rep". You mutter fast with your head down, trying to be as dull as possible, hoping he'll just leave you alone.
"You want to go out with me sometime?". Yep, that's come up within thirty seconds.
"Look, I'm sure you're nice, but I don't really want to talk, I just want to read my book".

And you're left shaken and upset. Everyone on  the bus heard. They don't know where to look. You've done nothing to deserve this. A bad day just got worse. Meanwhile the offender gets off at the next stop, looking for his next target.

How many times did this, or something similar, happen to me when I was younger? Dozens? Hundreds possibly, considering I traveled on public transport every day and (yes) did enjoy going to pubs and clubs.  Sometimes it was this bad. Sometimes it was just ridiculous, like the guy who called me a "lezzo" because I replied in the negative to his invitation, given to a random stranger on a train platform, to go home with him. Sometimes it was frightening. Sometimes it was disgusting, like the unseen man in the crowd of millions at the Rocks for New Years Eve 1999 who stuck his hand between my legs and was then gone before I fully realised what had happened, leaving me filled with a directionless fury. It happens to every woman, and I don't think the majority of decent men in our society appreciate the pervasive threat women face everywhere they go from the few creeps who walk amongst them.

As we all hope for a positive outcome in the disappearance of Jill Meagher, one good thing that may come out of this horrible event is to get people to talk about these creepy encounters...and to take them seriously. In the aftermath of Ms Meagher's disappearance, several women have bravely come forward to report being approached by creepy men in the vicinity. A line being tossed around is "why did none of these women report anything before?". But really - why would they have?

I never reported any of the incidents I was subjected to. It never crossed my mind. Even if it had, what would have been the police reaction - "so, you're upset because someone tried to talk to you?". Easy, for police and society, to pass it off as harmless. Easy to ignore it happening around you. Easy to gloss over the harassment and fear women feel when they go out in public, just for being women. Well maybe now we can talk about it, admit that it's annoying and frustrating and upsetting and dangerous. Maybe we will encourage people to speak up, say no when they see it happening around them.

I'm not saying women can't be sexually aggressive - anyone who's ever seen a hen's night party at a strip club can attest to that. But how many men have feared sexual harassment from a stranger whilst waiting to get the train home from uni - at 2pm? We need to talk about this, what it means for us all. Maybe it would be a small first step towards no longer blaming the victim.

The Next Chapter

26 September 2012
Well, after four hellish months of applications, I've finally gotten a job. Hellish is little exaggeration - I applied for over 100 jobs in that time, none of them outlandishly beyond my qualifications and experience. In the vast majority of cases, I received a form email of rejection ("the quality of applications was very high...except for yours, so no") or heard nothing back at all. About fifteen times though, I was invited in for an interview. Gah. So you get your suit dry cleaned, iron your shirt, pack spare stockings, do your hair, nails, and make up, Google map search the location, turn up, sit awkwardly in reception staring in to middle distance, then are invited in to face interviewers who, rather than discussing your skills and work history, want to play with the recruiters' toy of choice these days - behavioural questions. How I came to loathe these. Incident - action - outcome, you'd try to remember as you gave your response, but the slightest deviation from the formula and it was all over. So you'd go home and wait for the phone call of doom - I could tell the outcome from the interviewer's tone as they said Hello, without having to wait for the "unfortunately on this occasion you have not been successful. Also can you help us settle a debate we've been having in the office - what is that peculiar odour of yours?" - or else hear nothing back at all and know you've missed out. Now, I know it's a recruiters market. I know there are a lot of applicants. But if someone reads your ad, customises their resume, answers your selection criteria, sends the lot off, completes your telephone interview, then takes a stressful half-day to prepare and come in for an interview, AT LEAST TAKE 90 SECONDS TO SEND THEM A FUCKING EMAIL letting them know how it went. One job I applied for was as a youth worker with a very well respected charity. I had to prepare a workshop presentation for young people. I spent hours working on the damn thing, but felt really pleased with how it went when I presented it for the selection panel. They seemed like lovely people. But after all that effort, I never heard back, and yes I'm still angry.

Still though, in the end I have gotten a job. It's...well, there's no shame in honest work. It's in an office, and the hours are good, and I can't ask for much more than that (and in Newcastle, if you can't drive, you really can't ask for more than that - it is impossible to find work in either advertising or community services without a car and licence). It'll give me a chance to sort out my long term goals, anyway. But I'm wary. Being unexpectedly retrenched is a little like having your house robbed, I imagine - you never feel quite safe again, the security you once took for granted replaced by a fear that one day, any day, the manager will call you in to their office and apologetically explain that they will have to let you go. There's nothing I can do to prevent it; I'll just have to live with it, and yearn for the days of lifetime employment.

So the next chapter of our family's life begins. I'll become the primary breadwinner, and DH will take over the role of stay at home dad for the time being, whilst we sort out babysitters and childcare (the childcare crisis is real, and nationwide - I really wish the successive governments who pressed our wombs into duty for the sake of the nation had made a little more provision for the care and education of those children down the track. Nationalise the childcare sector already!). This will be interesting. I don't have much time for the stupid battle of the sexes, men are clueless idiots when it comes to household tasks rubbish, but it remains that for most of the four years we've been together, I've done most of the domestic management. And I'm a bit of a control freak ("DH, don't sweep like that! You're just dabbing the broom on the floor. Put some shoulder into it!"). He's fabulous with BabyG, but the housework...we'll have to see. I'll have to restrain myself from coming home from my first day of work then checking to see what's been done. Then there's the constant comments. I've been told more than a few times how lucky I am that DH looks after BabyG so much, and that I'm lucky he's willing to stay home with him. No, if we won lotto and no one had to work, we'd be lucky. This is just our reality - after moving cities, we can't find childcare, and I have the harder time being home all day, so I'm going off to work. Will I get resentful, though? Will I, deep down, think of the money I earn for the family as really being "mine"? I don't know, I've never been in this situation before. It will be a learning experience for us all, a chance to grow as a person. At least all the growing I've done as a person in the last few years is a better excuse for the weight gain than potatoes in sour cream, wine and cookies.

Breastfeeding - A Case for Middle Ground

14 September 2012
So BabyG recently turned one, and I achieved a milestone I never thought I'd reach - one year of breastfeeding. I never thought we'd make it, and according to conventional wisdom, we shouldn't have. We've broken every rule in the "how to establish successful breastfeeding" book. BabyG had a little formula in hospital when my milk didn't come in and he was dehydrated (astonishingly, there are mothers who would prefer, if their milk was slow to come in and their child was dehydrated, an IV drip to formula); I regularly pumped breastmilk which he was given in a bottle so I could get out for a few hours from the time he was three weeks old; and most damningly of all, at six months and at the end of my rope with exhaustion and PND, I decided to start comp feeding with formula, only doing one or two breastfeeds a day, figuring "if he weans...what the heck, we've had a decent run". Well, now that BabyG is one, we've stopped the formula according to feeding guidelines for a child his age...and he's still enjoying breastfeeding. In fact, without the formula he's having a few more feeds a day. None of this has done him any harm. He's never had more than a slight runny nose, he's slightly ahead on his milestones, formula has failed to damage him in any of the ways reputed.

So why am I telling you all this? As I've said, I've gone against all the conventional wisdom on breastfeeding - and without doing so, I doubt very much I would have stuck with it at all. The conventional wisdom advocates an all-or-nothing approach. Turn to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, or a lactation consultant, or the breastfeeding section of most parenting forums, and you will receive the same advice - any formula will cause lasting damage to the baby's gut bacteria; bottles and dummies will cause nipple confusion and breast refusal; pumping and giving expressed milk interrupts the establishment of feeding; and, most damagingly of all, that breastfeeding is a natural art practiced by all mammals until lost to us in modern society - almost any woman can breastfeed successfully as long as she has enough support and just wants it enough, does all the right things, tries hard enough. (And surely any loving mother would be willing to try hard enough?). Interestingly on the idea of breastfeeding being something instinctive and natural that only modern women have lost the knack of, in hospital as I desperately tried to feed BabyG I wondered aloud why I was struggling when female mammals do it automatically. The midwife replied that it's not always easy or natural, and in the wild, lots of baby animals die because their mothers can't feed them. And in the pre-formula days, without a wet nurse or family member who could breastfeed, so did a lot of human babies.

Anyway, faced with such a rigid and exhausting list of rules, it's no wonder so many mothers give up and decide to drop breastfeeding all together. It's one thing to know in advance of having children that you'll not have time to yourself for years, quite another to have been stuck in the house for weeks and feel unable to leave the baby with your partner for a couple of hours whilst you go to the gym or get your haircut. Let alone to feel your body is no longer your own (coming off the back of a possibly difficult pregnancy) or even come to secretly resent your child for the constant demands on your body and soul. And it's even harder when you hear of the mothers who smugly boast they breastfed their child on demand until 26 months and if you loved yours, surely you could do it too. So they give up, and turn to full time formula feeding in a fit of guilt and resentment. All of the choices I made - early EBM, comp feeding - I could find no information on, no support, only a sense that I was doing a terrible thing for my baby but I had to for my mental health. It turned out, however, that what I was doing wasn't so bad for him at all.

Surely we can find a middle ground. It doesn't have to be all or nothing. Health authorities promote exclusive breastfeeding till six months as the golden standard, and it is - we can all agree that breastmilk is the better nutritional option for babies than formula. But surely any breastmilk is better than none? In the current climate of the dos and do-nots pitted against each other, considering that the majority of women want to breastfeed, surely it is better to create a climate that supports women to achieve a level of breastfeeding they feel comfortable with, rather than pursuing the all-or-nothing mantra? As I've written previously, the current guidelines aren't working in terms of increasing breastfeeding rates, and the usual reaction of doing more of the same is not a helpful one. Women and babies (and their stressed, supportive partners and family members) deserve more practical, real world support than this. I can't be the only one who's broken the rules and breastfed to tell the tale. It can be done.

The Shitkansen Crisis

03 September 2012

What's the only thing worse than riding the Shitkansen? Not riding it, at least when there's a shitkanhitsthefansen like yesterday. Yep,  it was one of the worst delays to affect the Newcastle line in years...and we were right in the middle of it, returning from Sydney after a long weekend of celebrations for my mother-in-law's birthday with exhaustion, many bags, and an overhyped BabyG. We had collapsed into our seats at Central, knowing that in three short hours (hehe) we would be home. Little did we know. Everything seemed fine as we thrummed along quietly, BabyG even dozing off in his Ergo, when an announcement came on just north of Sydney saying there was an overhead wiring problem at Gosford, and the train would be terminating at Cowan with everyone switching to buses. I may have said a swear. I definitely said three more swears after that.

So we reached Cowan, where the train just sat idle for fifteen minutes or so, before the driver announced that the platforms at Cowan were too short and we were heading back to Berowra. (It soon became clear the drivers had little more information than we were given). At Berowra, we were told to get off and wait for buses. So we did, our full train joining the several trainloads of people already waiting (well over a thousand by the end, I'd guess). So we waited, and waited, and waited; fresh trains of people kept arriving and adding to the crowds. There was no shade, nowhere to sit, and no buses. Occasionally an empty bus would sail by without stopping; we began to suspect they were phantom buses, one rogue driving being an asshole driving past and getting everyone all excited. I checked twitter, and was slightly bemused to find that I seemed to be a source of information, rather than being able to get any from any official channels. After well over an hour of waiting, word came through that the train on the platform was, in fact, going to Gosford. We boarded the standing-room-only train which seemed to be an all-stations train (bad), but was a "Newcastle service" (good - we didn't know if the line had reopened or not, it might be a slow train but it would get home eventually). However, as we approached Gosford station, it was announced the train was terminating at Gosford after all; they hoped eventually they could rustle up some buses for the thousands of people descending on the station. Well, at that point we bailed. We took our next-door-neighbours (who when they die, if there is such a place, will go straight to heaven) up on their exceedingly generous offer to drive the three hour round trip and pick us up, and spent the waiting time not-uncomfortably in the leagues club - not the sort of place I'd normally attend you understand, but there are few places to take a one year old in Gosford on a Sunday night.

And that was that, but I found the media silence on the issue a bit odd - when there's a major breakdown on the Shitkansen's sister road, the F3, there are outraged drivers on the news and calls for the transport minister's head on a pike. Today nothing, until the lovely Carol Duncan of ABC Newcastle spoke with Tony Eid, manager of Railcorp Operations. The conversation was not reassuring. No reason was given for the breakdown in communications that led to being detrained at Berowra. Even worse, we were told that although Railcorp got in touch with over thirty coach companies, they were only able to source twelve buses when they needed at least fifty. Now, we all know things can go wrong - in this case, an earlier train somehow became tangled in the wires and they needed to cut the power to free it. But surely there's some sort of contingency plan, some deal with bus operators that doesn't involve having to cross fingers and do a ring around? Mr Eid claimed, erroneously, that there were delays of "up to two hours". Well, we were delayed two hours just getting to Gosford - only halfway there. If we'd had to wait for the bus to Wyong then a possible train to Newcastle, god knows how long it would have taken - seven, eight hours I've heard from other passengers. And that was the thing about info, too - we had to rely on other passengers. Twitter, probably one of the best sources for breaking info we have, was great for staying in touch with other passengers and folks back home, but the transport info centre didn't update their status for over six hours at the height of the crisis. It needs to be remedied. An SMS alert service would be useful as well. I wouldn't use it - I only take the shitkansen once or twice a month at the moment and wouldn't want to be beeped every time something's up - but I can see why it might be useful for others.

That's my gripping account of the Great Shitkansen Crisis of 2012, anyway. See you next time something goes wrong.

So, You're Cutting Benefits For Nurses

30 August 2012
An Open Letter to NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell

So, yesterday I read that you're cutting penalty rates for aged care nurses, including holiday loading and penalties for shift work (which would make nurses the only permanent workers in Australia not entitled to holiday leave loading). Budget cuts have to be made somewhere, I understand, and why not nurses? The rationale behind keeping unemployment benefits well below the poverty line is that if they were higher; people would be comfortable staying on them and have no incentive to look for work. Maybe you have a similar rationale here; that by keeping nurse pay rates low, you weed out all those greedy nurses only in it for the money and are left with the caring ones who really want to be there. They should be glad to lose their benefits for the good of the state, glad they don't have a job like yours so difficult it was deserving of a salary of $333, 860 in the last financial year.

What a lovely, rewarding job being an aged care nurse must be anyway - draping crocheted rugs over the shoulders of sweet little old ladies, making them cups of tea, providing our senior citizens with care and respect as their lives draw to a close. Well, I can assure you that the care and respect are there, in spades. But you can have no idea what being an aged care nurse is really like. I do, because my husband is one. His reality is, many of the patients he deals with have dementia. It must be terrifying for them. They are not placid and compliant. Not knowing what is going on, they lash out. Imagine trying to clean up after a 70kg woman who has soiled herself and believes, in her mental confusion, that you are trying to rape her. So she kicks and screams and tries to bite. My husband has come home over the years with bruises (grip marks on his arms are particularly common) and scratches and even bite marks - with the disease risks that entails. Imagine walking into a room full of elderly people watching TV - and having one of them fling faeces at you. Pretty horrible, isn't it? This is the reality of aged care workers. It's a tough, tough job, and it's only going to get worse as the population ages and funding is unlikely to keep pace.

In Western society, due to our lifestyles and housing designs, we are largely unable to care for our elderly within our own families. So we outsource the work to the aged care sector. These people are absolutely vital to our society. They care for our elders when we can't, they face the reality of ageing so we don't have to. They deserve all the support we can give them, and you want to cut their meagre benefits. I'm speechless at the pettiness of it all. I really don't know what else to say. No doubt you'll rationalise this decision by saying you're helping to create jobs, by reducing the expenses of the owners of aged care facilities. I'm sure you'll argue that the state budget is stressed, and I guess it is. But please, Mr O'Farrell, don't cut the benefits of the people doing one of the hardest jobs there can be. Please pick on someone else.

Feminism, Choices and Support

26 August 2012
There seems to be a belief running through mainstream feminism that as women, we're honour bound to support other women in the choices they make - no matter what those choices may be. If a woman wants to be a stay at home mum, or put her kids in childcare at six weeks to run an international corporation, or dance nude on stage whilst strangers leer, we need to support those as choices those women have freely made. Well, fine. What I'm struggling with is the notion that feminists should support all the choices that women make - even if those choices are harmful to other women.

Recently there appeared a story about the Anglican church introducing a new wedding vow in which brides would be asked to submit to their husbands. I believe, as a feminist, that by standing up in public and maintaining such codified gender roles, women who take such vows let down all women. I was criticised for this; apparently it's expressing the view that feminism requires women to make choices that the feminists approve of. That's not what it's about at all. Feminism supports a woman's right to make choices, sure. But at the end of the day we're fighting for equality, here. If women make choices that hurt other women, I for one can't support that. Otherwise where does it end? Bettina Arndt writes columns that at best make light of sexual harassment and at worst, perpetuate the notion that sometimes, men have good excuses for rape. But she's a woman who makes the choice to write these columns, am I bound to support her out of some sense of sisterhood? (Hell no, I think she's a vile human being and a disgrace to women everywhere).

Feminism isn't about dictating choices, but in this case, women getting married are standing up in public and saying they believe their husbands have authority over them; not because of intelligence or wisdom or for any other reason than that the sperm with the Y chromosome won. They may be a small section of society, but they're still putting out there that women are lesser beings.

I can't think of any other cause which is expected to defend the rights of those who seek to harm it. I don't deny for a second that women have a right to submit to their husbands. It doesn't mean I have to like it, support it, or think differently than that they're harming us all. It's not "militant feminism" to disagree with Bettina Arndt about sexual assault, or with Ann Coulter's view that women should be denied the right to vote. 

I'm a bit sick of it all, frankly. Feminists have fought and died for the rights of women to be equal to the rights of men. Now feminists are being denigrated for not standing up for women who claim women are not the equal of men. I want to throw up, I want to cry, I want to apologise to each and everyone of the women who came before me who endured hunger strikes, imprisonment, osctracism, career curtailment, abuse, all so women today could complain feminism is unnecessary, unsupportive, won't even let women declare themselves subordinate to their husbands. 

Meet Tony Abbott

20 August 2012
Meet Tony Abbott, the leader of the federal opposition. He's a true Australian bloke. A battler with a mortgage. Family man. Bit of a rough tongue sometimes, tendency to open mouth, insert foot, but hey, nobody's perfect, right? At least, so runs the narrative in the mainstream media. The truth is very different, far darker - and, too often ignored.

The Battler
Abbott is portrayed as an ordinary working guy, struggling to make ends meet like any working Australian. The truth is he's from a background of privilege unknown and inaccessible to most Australians. He attended St Ignatius' College at Riverview, where the annual fees for Year Twelve students are well over $20,000; whilst studying a law degree at the University of Sydney (paying no fees to do so at the time, thanks to the educational reforms of the Whitlam government) he lived at St Johns College. Now, not to overgeneralise here, but I've met men who attend the residential colleges at the University of Sydney; their attitudes towards tradies from western Sydney are the opposite of warm empathy. The old residential colleges are the proving grounds of the old money elite, and they hold your average working stiff in sneering contempt. Yes, John Howard worked his way up from a modest background and public education. But Tony Abbott was raised with the powerful and privileged. GPS schools, residing in a university college, and the Rhodes scholarship that followed, are simply beyond the reach of the vast majority of Australians.

So that's his upbringing, but what has he made of himself? Well, after leaving training for the priesthood ages nearly thirty - and never experiencing the grind of establishing a career path - he briefly ran a concrete plant (oh, so a tiny bit of "battler"), then worked as a journalist. Most tellingly for our narrative, in 1994 he was elected Federal Member for Warringah - thus earning an MP's salary, at a base rate of $190,000 a year (in 2012 terms). He became a Minister in 1998, with a subsequent pay increase; this reverted back when his LNP lost the Federal election in 2007. But the fact remains that for the past 18 years, Tony Abbott has been drawing a salary at least three times that of the average Australian wage earner. Why is he "battling"? Which brings us to...

A Mortgage Holder
So Tony Abbott still has a mortgage after 18 years in parliament, huh? It turns out that in 2007, after losing his ministerial salary, he was forced to take out a second mortgage (which he then failed to declare under parliamentary rules) to cover his expenses. That's looking more like a poor money manager than an ordinary mortgage holder.

True Australian Bloke
Very few "battlers" turn up to court to defend themselves on indecent assault charges with a QC in tow. But then how many people find themselves on indecent assault charges? For what it's worth, the charges, from 1977, were dismissed, but the numerous allegations of Abbott as a sexist, racist, homophobic thug remain. Abbott, we are told by his biographer, was raised to believe that he was special and taught to fight, and brought this attitude to student politics - monstering his opponents through bullying, offensive remarks, and in one case allegations he urinated on protesters at Sydney Uni demonstrating against lack of childcare for single mothers.

A Family Man
The point is often made that Tony Abbott couldn't possibly be misogynistic because he has a wife and three daughters, which seems akin to saying that slave owners in the American south couldn't possibly be racist. Perhaps he's an attentive and caring father; and for the sake of those young women I hope so. But what sort of a world does he want them to grow up in? As a Catholic and a Monarchist, he believes that his daughters, as women and Australians, should not be the leader of either his religion or his nation. What about their relationships? On an episode of Q&A in 2010 - so after he became Opposition Leader; we're not talking about ancient history here - Abbott stated "I think there does need to be give and take on both sides, and this idea that sex is kind of a woman’s right to absolutely withhold, just as the idea that sex is a man’s right to demand I think they are both they both need to be moderated, so to speak”.

Really, Mr Abbott? Really? You are making the case that there are circumstances where a woman does not have the right to withhold sex? Which ones? When is, in effect, rape okay with you?

For more of the wit and wisdom of Tony Abbott, there's a truly terrifying collection of quotes here. And that's not even the all of it - there's his persistence in referring to "illegals" when he must know, as a lawyer, that there is no such thing in law; his relentless talking down of the economy; his endorsement of the obscene personal attacks on the Prime Minister. Yet whilst Ms Gillard is forced to defend herself against the allegations of conspiracy nuts and rumour disproved long ago, Abbott is given a free ride by the media, who help maintain they myths and misconceptions. It's a bizarre and depressing state of affairs, and one wonders if Abbott's will ever get the attention they deserve.

Back at the Train Model Expo

18 August 2012
Eight years after my previous attendance, today I headed off to the Our Town Model Expo, with the hope of taking some photos of the train sets and delighting you all with a witty yet affectionate skewering of the foibles of model train collectors.

But I can't do it. I mean, I went. But within sixty seconds, my eyes glazed over, my mind transported to another plain, and I was in a happy little railfan coma, lulled by the soothing sounds of model trains clacking over the rails..."AspergersSyndromeAspergersSyndromeAspergersSyndromeAspergersSyndrome"

Does this look like a woman who is in her right mind?

I abandoned my son and husband, no more in control of my actions than a puppy romping happily towards not fresh newspapers to widdle on, but DVDs of steam train rides from the 1960s, books about the politics of line closures, model cars showing livery changes throughout time. Although (as you can probably tell) I'm taking on a more rotund appearance in my premature middle age, I still dress like an anxious teenager who collects Hello Kitty whilst reading Sylvia Plath, so it's amusing to see the expressions on the faces of the mostly elderly men who run these things, who think someone who looks like me couldn't possibly be a rail fan. If I'm with DH, they'll assume he's the one who's interested, and direct questions and comments to him.

All the fun expensive things

Speaking of DH, I must say I am in awe of the man, who puts up with his wife's many, many odd tendencies and obsessions, happily wheeling our son around a crowded exhibition hall whilst I spend money on train paraphernalia. It's usually the wives who are sitting in the cafe looking bored during these things; DH sits, not bored, but entertaining BabyG, just happy that I'm happy. It's a rare thing. may have noticed that we have a new domain name. That's because no one could spell or pronounce the old one and everyone thought it was some tribute to, or copy of, Mamamia. Now with my spiffy new easy to remember blog name, there's no excuse not to visit lots.

Labor vs The Greens

15 August 2012
In a sad day for Australia, today federal parliament voted to resume offshore processing of asylum seekers, returning to the worst of the inhumane Howard-era treatment of refugees. I've posted before on this issue, so you can imagine my dismay and anger that we are to go back to paying impoverished Pacific nations to lock up indefinitely those desperate souls who, within their legal rights, attempt to come here to escape persecution. But there's a new aspect to my anger. I've heard and read several remarks from ALP supporters that this is all the Greens' fault; that if the Greens had "compromised" by agreeing to the previous proposal to house asylum seekers in Malaysia(!), reopening the processing centres in Nauru would never have been necessary. "Enjoy letting asylum seekers drown while you protect your ideology", runs the tone of some of the nastier remarks I've seen.

Excuse me? The sentiment is born of anger, and is so very wrong. It should not have to come down to a choice between "letting asylum seekers drown", and locking them up indefinitely. According to the ALP, the Greens had a duty to accept whatever reactive, inhumane, illegal asylum seeker policy was put to them, in order to defeat the LNP. But why should they? Labor could have compromised - to have actually stood up for what they claim to believe in; for what they were voted in to do (if we as a nation wanted to continue with offshore processing, we wouldn't have voted out the government that introduced it). Gillard could have stood up to the racists and reactionaries, called out the shockjocks and the LNP on their lies about "illegals" who are "swamping Australia". She could have lived up to our international obligations, and adopted a fair, humane policy of onshore processing in open centres. But no, she took the easy way out, caving to those who will never be happy with the ALP anyway (there seems to be something pathological about the Gillard government desperately courting the favour of those who hate them) and returning to the reactionary days of families exiled to Pacific outposts, doomed to live for years behind razor wire, then sent back to their homelands to face death due to shifting political climates.

But I wonder if some of the anger is brought about by the shame Labor supporters feel at the actions of their own party. Labor likes to paint itself as the party of "progressive pragmatism". It's all well and good for the Greens' to have lofty ideals, the line runs, but we're the ones who can actually get things done. But from here it looks like what they do is simply caving in. If Gillard had presented a humane response to asylum seekers that respected their rights under international law, the Greens would have agreed to it; and Tony Abbott would have been left the loser, without the numbers to defeat it. Instead, Gillard caved to the racists and shock jocks. What do Labor take a stand on? The NT intervention? Same sex marriage? Not only does Gillard oppose it, she is addressing the annual conference of the homophobia front group the Australian Christian Lobby (who lobby on one issue only: the danger to society posed by same sex marriage).

"Stopping the boats" through offshore processing does not save refugees lives. It means the asylum seekers very well end up staying in their own countries, and dying their from the persecution they were fleeing; if they don't end up rotting alive for years in detention centres if they make the trip after all. But at least then it will all happen out of sight of the ALP; allowing those who support the party of cowardice-not-compromise to sleep at night. They hate the Greens for actually being what they believe themselves to be - principled and progressive. If they worked together, they'd be a force for good to be reckoned with; but the jealousy has destroyed the chance. Don't blame the Greens for offshore processing. The ALP have only to blame themselves.

Watching the Olympics

12 August 2012
Although I wasn't planning on doing so, I've watched a whole bunch of the recent Olympics. What can I tell you, except getting back into the workforce is taking a little longer than planned. Yes I know the whole thing is a shameless marketing exercise, imposes insane restrictions and long term costs on the residents of the host city, is an environmental nightmare and plays politics. But I'm still a sucker for the uncertainty of competition, the pageantry, the history. Oh, yes, the history:
  • The first modern Olympics were held in 1859, but they weren't acknowledged until the IOC got involved in 1896.
  • The spirit of amateurism, long a cherished Games ethos (though recently abandoned) was rooted in the notion of the aristocratic gentleman athlete who had the time and funds to pursue his hobby.
  • The first torch relay was held in 1936 as a means of the new government promoting National Socialism throughout Germany.
  • The first athlete to fail an Olympic drug test was a Swedish pentathlete, who was stripped of his bronze medal in 1968 for use of that famously sports-enhancing drug, alcohol.
  • 1964 was the first Games to be televised live internationally. Previously, tapes had to be flown overseas for viewing, a policy Channel 9 paid tribute to in their delayed London 2012 coverage.
  • Hitler nearly missed the 1936 opening ceremony due to his shocking piles, and spent the entire thing in considerable discomfort. 

  •  (All right, I made the last one up). But the Olympics are pretty weird. Consider the sports featured. The world's most popular sport, football, is featured along with tennis, but both are also-ran competitions of little import on the world stage. Bowling, cricket and netball are not featured at all (and who wouldn't want to see a cricket competition made up of five day tests played in a round-robin format). The sports that are featured tend to lean heavily towards those enjoyed by the, shall we say, more affluent. There's no bowling, but sailing and equestrian events feature heavily (please stop me if you've ever met anyone - anyone at all - who participates in dressage; my stepfather gamely sat through the horses doing their little dances, waiting for the warm-up to end and competition to start, only to be told that that is dressage). "Walking" is a sport, but it resembles no walking any normal person without a nasty case of crabs has ever done. Then there's rowing, and canoeing. God knows why sticking both ends of your oars in the water and once, and sticking them in one at a time, should be separate sports. And what happens if a young athlete shows promise in both disciplines? Do they lie awake at night tearfully contemplating the choice they have to make, the vastly different paths their lives take? What do they do? Plus they have the option to stick the oar in on one side only whilst up on one knee. I've no idea how anyone ever makes a commitment with so many options. I do love rhythmic gymnastics, but let's face it, dancing with things shouldn't be a "sport" whilst roller derby isn't; let alone dancing in water. Beating someone into unconsciousness would also seem to be against the supposed spirit of peace and harmony.

    Anyway, the whole thing's coming to an end now, and the Australian team will soon head home to the various breakfast television interviews or recriminations, depending on performance. There's been much discussion in particular on the lack of expected medals from the Australian swim team. Several swimmers have been heard to remark they don't know what went wrong. I would have thought it was fairly obvious that what went wrong was they didn't swim fast enough, which leads me to hope one day basic physics will be included as an Olympic event.

    Cover the Coal Trains!

    08 August 2012
    One of the reasons I moved my family out of Sydney was for our health. I love the inner west, but the houses are usually damp, and old, and prone to mould. DH has asthma, and I was worried BabyG would develop it too; our flat had terrible mould and I worried about the effects of us breathing it in.

    So we moved north, and took a lot of lung-cleansing walks near the beach, but we all maintained our persistent coughs and I couldn't understand why. Until that is, I read the Newcastle Herald's investigation into the effects of breathing coal dust. Our new house is less than 500 metres from the main rail line to the Hunter river coal loaders that service the world's biggest coal port. I'd moved my family into danger, and I had no idea.

    Packed coal train on the line near our house

    Very fine coal dust particles are inhaled deep into the lung, increasing the risk of asthma and long term respiratory complications. Recognising this, coal transported by road in required by law to be covered. There's no such requirement for coal trains, and thousands of people in the Hunter are at risk due to the huge quantities of coal hauled daily through the region. So, what I'm asking you to do right now is please take a few seconds to sign the petition asking the NSW government and coal companies to require coal carried by rail in NSW to be covered. Thanks - hopefully we can make this happen.

    The Joy of Gardening

    05 August 2012
    When I was a kid, we lived in flats and I never felt grass under my feet. Then when I was ten, we moved to Newcastle and had a garden for the first time. I hated it. Specifically, I hated the yard work I was expected to do. I hated spending my weekends weeding and lugging pavers when other girls were playing netball and going to the movies. I hated being dirty and sweaty and hated being outside. And as soon as I was old enough to dictate how I spent my time, I renounced yardwork forever. From now on I wouldn't pull a weed if Gallery Serpentine made gardening gloves.

    But as I passed my 30th birthday, something changed in me. It wasn't just the perky butt collapsing like a circus tent in a storm, or my newly developed fondness for ABC local radio. I wanted a garden. Sure, it would be nice after years of living in flats to not have to battle for communal washing lines and to be able to sit in the sun when reading a book on Sunday afternoon, but the truth was I also wanted to plant stuff. I wanted to plant my own herbs and veggies, imbuing all my cooking with a delicious taste of smug: "damn right we eat locally grown! You can't get more local than your own backyard!".

    I had to wait a little while, what with career stuff, family stuff, and the arrival of BabyG, but three months ago we finally made it out of our one bedroom inner city flat and into our own house. After being so cramped, having three bedrooms and a huge backyard was like winning lotto. In fact our yard is ridiculously huge, over forty metres from the house to the fence. There's fruit trees and a cubby house and all sorts of things I'm only yet discovering; I've had gardens before, but this seems more like a property. Right away I was keen to get going on my kitchen garden, but something was standing in the way. Specifically a tree, with lavish overhang covering the intended garden beds, and which would need heavy pruning. Remembering my childhood chores, I put it off and put it off, until the day came when I was lent a pair of secateurs and just had to dive in.

    I had a blast. Really. It occurred to me that I finally had permission to destroy stuff! I lopped and lopped and carted massive branches (me, who doesn't carry anything and hates breaking a nail), drunk on the power of affecting creation, exclaiming at one point "I feel so alive!" I was hooked, hopelessly and forever, on gardening.

    What I started with
    So my next step was to prepare the long-overgrown garden beds for planting. I cleared away rubbish and debris, then after researching how to prepare the soil, decided on lasagna gardening. If you want to try lasagna gardening, here's what you do. Read a how to guide on the process, think to yourself "gosh that sounds so easy and natural and wonderful", and tweet your discovery smugly. Then devote every spare minute over the next few weeks to the lasagna garden, tending to it as you would a problem child, as you realise it's not bloody easy at all and you'd have been better off just digging up the weeds and buying topsoil.

    It started off easily enough, with a layer off egg cartons:

    And I proudly surveyed my handiwork to that point. Then the problems started. You're supposed to build layers of the lasagna, to a depth of two feet. I added layers:

    and layers:

    and layers:

    Do you know how deep two feet of garden material actually is? Deeper than you could ever imagine in your worst nightmares. Getting hold of layers to add became an obsession. I traversed the backyard on bended knee gathering grass, both green and dried; watched in dismay as a week's worth of kitchen scraps barely covered one half; hand-shredded a copy of the Newcastle Yellow Pages; and lamented no longer living in Sydney to avail myself of copies of MX (although spreading cow manure over Jeff Corbett's headshot from the Newcastle Herald helped alleviate some of my guilt at "cheating" by adding a layer of cow manure). I've been at this now for three weeks, and I can't see any sign that any of it is breaking down. It just sits there not doing anything except emitting a vague smell, and could therefore more reasonably be called the "me in my early twenties" garden.

    Today I finally decided enough was enough. I've added twelve layers now, and it's finally starting to build up a reasonable thickness. The irony of this is, our natural soil is excellent, dark and rich and nearly black, and I could conceivably have used some of it on the garden beds. But I'm stubbornly determined to do it my way. I'll let you know in a few weeks' time whether it seems to be breaking down into the promised rich, fluffy soil, or whether I give up in frustration and head to Bunnings for topsoil, cursing wasted time I could have spent drinking instead.

    The Right Wingers' Dictionary

    02 August 2012
    Decipher the ramblings of the frothing right with this handy reference.

    Your argument makes no sense: I don't understand your argument

    Fool: My favourite insult, got me a caning when I called my teacher a fool in 1948

    Fuckwit: My other insult, for when I'm really getting mad

    You're blocked: I've lost the argument

    Tony Abbott is a great man: He'd beat the crap out of me in a fist fight, anyway

    Unaustralian: Something I don't like

    Political Correctness gone mad: I resent having to keep my bigotry to myself

    I've nothing against gays but they shouldn't be allowed to get married: I've at least one thing against gays, anyway

    Same sex marriage destroys tradition/is bad for children: I will ignore all social, cultural, historical and empirical evidence to find excuses to cover my homophobia

    Illegal boat arrivals: I believe in other things that don't exist too, like the tooth fairy

    Queue jumpers: they should go to their local Australian embassy and request asylum in an orderly fashion. They can do that, right?

    Stop the boats!: To be honest, I really don't care what happens to these people

    We didn't vote for this: I have no idea how representative democracy works

    Election now!: And every other time things happen I don't like

    The left-wing ABC: the conservative politicians and commentators who constantly appear on the ABC say it's left wing and they should know since they spend so much time there

    Latte sipping: Despite the fact that I visit Gloria Jeans on a regular basis myself, I somehow think choice of coffee is symbolic of the avant garde.

    Chardonnay swilling: Now I'm really caught in the 1990s. Maybe I need a more up-to-date insult. Tapas-eating, perhaps?

    Gillard lied: I'll wilfully ignore the difference between lying and being required to change positions

    Gillard is sneaky: She must be to out-negotiate Abbott, or he would be Prime Minister right now

    Evidence: Akerman/Bolt/Jones said it so it must be true

    Australia is a Christian nation: full of devout Christians like myself who haven't opened a Bible or set foot in a church in years, and only mark the box on the census cause atheists are, you know, weird

    The Greens/Labor Alliance: They worked together so well on asylum seekers, the ETS, same sex marriage, and...well, I'm still convinced they're in alliance, anyway

    Socialist: I'd hate to lose Medicare, free education, middle class welfare, or the basic safety net which keeps society in some sort of order and crime down to a dull roar; the rest of the socialist schemes can go though

    Gina Reinhart/Clive Palmer/Ziggy Forrest is a great Australian: Billionaires really understand what it's like to be a wage earner, thank goodness they're on our side against greedy, out of touch politicians

    Class warfare: We must stand up for rich people against greedy, out of touch politicians

    This is the worst government in history: Yes I really am this spoilt and stupid

    Night Time Violence? Blame Alan Jones

    21 July 2012
    As the world reels from yet another gun massacre in the US, many Australians are expressing their relief that apart from rare horrific exceptions, such tragedies don't happen here. Whether it's because of our gun laws - the stricter gun laws enacted in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre are about the only thing I'll give credit to John Howard for - or some other factor, we don't face random shootings in public places on a regular basis, and for that we can all be grateful.

    It's hard to say that it's because we have a less violent culture than the US. With the funeral yesterday for Thomas Kelly, killed in a senseless act of unprovoked violence on his first visit to Kings Cross, there has been much discussion of alcohol- and drug- fuelled violence. Our streets aren't safe at night, the narrative runs; because of slack policing/an oversupply of venues serving alcohol/kids these days having no respect for authority, there's an epidemic of brawls, assaults and vandalism that springs forth every time the sun goes down.

    And I'm sure all these factors play their part (I particularly like the latter, and may be the only lefty in Australia to toy with support for national service), but let's not ignore who is really to blame here.

    Alan Jones.

    Yep, him. Photo courtesy SMH.

    Alan Jones, perhaps the most prominent of Australia's right-wing shock jocks, claims enormous influence despite his tiny audience; and one of the things he is influencing is a culture of violence. This is the man who helped incite the Cronulla riots with his endorsement of "Leb and Wog bashing day", to quote the words the man himself used on air; the man who said the Prime Minister and the Greens leader should be thrown in a sack and drowned; the man who just this week laughed heartily when one of his brainless callers opined that Ms Gillard's mother should have been slapped when her daughter was born. This man, who shapes community opinion, is spreading a message that working class white people are hard done by, and that violence is a fair tool to use to get what you want. Can we be surprised if his listeners - many of whom aren't so well educated - take the message on board, and out on to the streets? Let's be aware of whom the real enemy is here.

    Fair's Fair In School Funding

    18 July 2012
    Conservatives claim to believe in equality. I'm sure they honestly think they do; it's just that they seem a little confused about what "equality" actually means. To them, it means literally providing the same opportunities to everyone. Take the issue of school funding.

    Conservatives see nothing wrong with the government giving money to already wealthy private schools (not all private schools are wealthy, but the wealthy schools get their share of the booty). To them, the government providing annual funding of, say, $20,000 per student - whether that student attends The Kings School or Walgett Primary - is completely fair and equitable, because everyone's getting the same. It's so far from the truth.

    The idea of equity is to redress the balance. Within reason, all kids should have the same opportunities to do well at school. The problem with funding every school child at the same level is that some kids start life at a huge disadvantage; they need more - more funding, more time, more support - to even begin to reach the same level. Where parents can't provide this, we as a society have to step in.

    In most cases, a child who attends a private school - or even a primary school in a higher socio-economic area, where parental fundraising and involvement are valued - is at a huge advantage. They have parents who care enough about their education to pay for it, or at least help with homework, read books to their child, take them on outings, role model positive behaviours in going to work. For many disadvantaged children, they have none of those things. They might be growing up in a house where no one works; a house without books; a house without enough to eat. Think this only happens in a few rare circumstances?

    The point is often made that parents who send their kids to private school are often not rich and shouldn't be penalised for spending their own money on a better education. But it's not penalising anyone to give a bit more to those who started out with less. No one has to send their children to private school. Some make the choice to do so because of religion, but most do so because private schools are better resourced. DH and I aren't rich and if we continue with our current careers, never will be. But BabyG has begun his life with a lot of privilege; the privilege of a white skin, the advantage of university educated parents, a house full of books, museum trips, outings. And we are planning on sending him to a private school. I believe the public education system needs to be far better resourced; but until it is, I'm not making my child a martyr to my ideals. He'll have wonderful opportunities; language immersion, science labs, medieval sword fighting is offered as a school sport.

    Five minutes walk away from our intended school is a youth centre which does wonderful work with the area's children (inner city Sydney has areas of wealth and disadvantage in sometimes uneasy proximity). There are kids who attend who come from families where no one has worked in three generations; kids told at six years old if they don't shoplift the food, they'll get no tea tonight; kids told to stop wasting time at that bloody school anyway.

    So. If the government is handing out this hypothetical $20,000 per head, who needs it more - their school or ours? Our school fees already cover the teachers and buildings. Our kids arrive at school usually already able to read and with homework help at home so they need less intensive classroom support. What should we spend our increased funding on - new grand piano for the orchestra perhaps? More swords?

    Or perhaps they should take our share of the money and give it to the disadvantaged school. Hire an extra teacher's aide to help kids from families where no one can read. Extra books for the library cause they don't have any at home. Hiring the best teachers who can inspire a passion for education that will change these kids' lives. Hiring youth workers to work at schools to identify potential behavioural problems before they escalate, and put families in touch with support services. I think I want them to have our $20,000 instead.

    We often bemoan families with generational unemployment, but the conservative approach is to remove benefits from the long term unemployed. By then it's often too late. We need to do more, start earlier, by redressing inequality from early childhood. Giving the same to every child fails to acknowledge that there are some kids who start life with a hell of a lot less, and they need to be given more, to even approach a sense of fair. It's much cheaper to provide services when a child is in primary school than to lock them up as an adult. Wouldn't we all prefer that the kid from the disadvantaged home was given the opportunity to grow up to repair cars rather than breaking in to them?

    What's equal is not always what's fair. Failure to acknowledge this is letting us down as a nation, and it's a failure of social justice.

    Novocastrians: Just A Little Bit Different

    05 July 2012
    Let me just say right now, I love living in Newcastle. Love love love it. I love getting anywhere in twenty minutes, love walking from Nobbys to Newcastle beach, love the lack of pretension, love the awesome community I've slipped into. That said, there are some things I've noticed about Novocastrians and there ways that are just a little...different. I didn't really notice when I lived here before - it was just how things were, I knew nothing else - but after five years in inner Sydney, the cultural differences stand out, and they can be a little jarring.

    Mind Your Ps and Qs
    In Sydney, with thousands of people wanting to be everywhere at once, queuing is grudgingly accepted as a fact of life. Not here. Unused to it, Novocastrians can't, don't, won't queue up for anything. Witness three people approaching an ATM at once. Rather than forming a queue based on rough order of arrival, people will approach, stop at an oblique angle to the machine, and stare at a fixed spot in middle distance until the thing becomes available, then the "alpha" of the waitees will surge forth to use it. At a supermarket with two rows of self-check machines, rather than a single queue, people formed vague huddles, dissolving into some tension and anger whenever a checkout became available. These people would be eaten alive at Wynyard Station.

    Sorry, We're Closed
    In the inner city, due to high rents restaurants are more or less forced to be open upwards of ten hours a day to try to cover the rent. It's nice, though, to be able to get a bowl of noodles at 3pm. So it was with some shock my first week back to enter a cafe at 2:15pm and be told they couldn't give me any food and they were closing soon anyway. Ah yes. Here in Newcastle we like our beer cold, our team winning, and our retail establishments closed. I know it's unrealistic to expect to be able to get a haircut at 7pm on a Sunday, but it's still a jolt to remember that pretty much any business outside of a major shopping centre is closed all or nearly all weekend, let alone to reacquaint yourself with that delightful custom of restaurants and cafes closing between 2pm and 5:30pm. DH in particular is struggling, weeping bitter tears for all the poor souls unable to obtain coffee and a panini mid-afternoon. But it gets worse. Having completed a hike around the Bathers Way (a little slice of heaven on earth, but tiring), we hankered after some French toast at a recently opened French themed cafe. It was 11:45am, and they told us they were closed at that time, but reopened in fifteen minutes for lunch. Shutting in the afternoon is one thing, but closing between breakfast and lunch? Far canal. The concept of all day breakfast is one that is yet to catch on as much as it should too.

    On The Bus
    Newcastle has absolutely zero culture of public transport use. Public transport is seen as a last resort for the indigent and hopeless; in my previous time here, I was standing at the bus stop in Charlestown dressed nicely for work (I didn't make a habit of it, but big boss was coming up from Melbourne) and a suited man asked me if I'd lost my licence too. Job ads routinely specify a driver's licence is required whether or not the position actually requires it; it's seen that if you don't have a car, there's something wrong with you. I have acquaintances who boast they haven't set foot on public transport since they got their provisional licence; knew a couple who lived within the fare-free zone but would drive to the beach, then bitch about finding and paying for parking. It's a little depressing. People sometimes defend this by saying "but public transport is much better in Sydney". Is it true, though? When we lived in Marrickville, our transport options were 1. Walk twenty minutes to the station (and it was uphill on the way there and uphill on the way back...there was a crest in the middle) or 2. Risk the notorious 423, which, whilst being due every 15 minutes, would often see you waiting for 50, then three would turn up at once; I used to wonder if it had ever occurred that all the 423s ended up clumped in a single convoy of buses traversing the inner west. It's true I often feel a little unsafe on public transport, largely because the only people believed to use it are in fact the only people to use it; it was nice on a recent trip back to be on a train at 11am with people who didn't look like they'd benefit from swift institutionalisation. But from here, there are buses into town every ten minutes or so on weekdays; and one of the buses is a celebrity. The options are there; people just refuse to use them.

    There's more too - Novocastrians' astonishing parochialism, the food (that was a very nice salad roll, but it was not a banh mi), the facts that everyone smokes, and I'm told changing lanes also escapes people - but I'll leave it for today. It's lunch time, and I need to go get something to eat before everything closes.

    Newcastle - A Walk Through The East End

    12 June 2012

    I discover that my tastes have changed in the years I was in Sydney. I'm rather less interested in pubs than I once was, and more interested in parks. Also, I've a taste for heritage and architecture I lacked in my feckless twenties. All this means is, there's parts of Newcastle I've never really explored before - and I'm having great fun doing so now. Today I headed to the East End (please click on pics to enlarge).

    Customs House Hotel

    Quirky bench

    Laneway houses

    Foreshore park, once a railway goods yard. The shed has been preserved, the turning circle reclaimed.
    Heaven for a rail fan!

    This is what actual damage done by tree roots looks like. NCC?

    Playground reflecting the area's rail heritage

    A swing for children who use a wheelchair - what a wonderful idea

    I wish Felipe's was a real thing; then Newcastle really would be hipster central

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