personal political

Location: Sydney, Australia

I have now moved this blog to Typepad: the new address is

Friday, October 29, 2004

daisy chain by the sea

We usually visit the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition at Bondi - haven't been so far this year, but now that I've finished the dissertation I can actually make plans for such frivolous outings. This year there's a daisy chain by a girl whose father is the Remo of the Remo general store that used to stand on a major intersection on Oxford Street - my co-parent used to complain about how cutesie that store was, while regularly buying cute items from it. (We still have some of the old t-shirts and in fact, some of the new t-shirts since the store reappeared in a much smaller version in Bondi Beach.) I think the daisy chain looks like a similarly cutesie concept which in practice is irresistible.

next Tuesday

I had a long talk last night with my best friend in London. She's an American but left that country 40 years ago. She and her elder son have voted in the presidential election (for John Kerry), but because of an odd US law, they had to vote from the last address she lived at when she resided in the US. That was in Greenwich Village, NYC. So their vote won't count for much (it's solidly Democrat).
She told me of two other Americans she's heard of who didn't receive their absentee ballots in time and so they are flying to the US to vote next week (from Europe). She also heard of one couple who were due to come to Europe and delayed leaving the US until next Wednesday so they could stay and vote.
From all this, we can guess that the percentage of Democrat voters will be much higher this time. However, the Bush evangelicals will also be out in force.
My friend is convinced Bush is going to sweep back in.
We talked about how hard it is to not succumb to the free-floating anxiety which is just around, ready to settle on us in any unguarded moment.
Media critic and academic Jay Rosen seems to be feeling some of it, as he indicates in this blog entry.
This report on the separate realities of Bush and Kerry supporters gives a clue as to why some of us feel so anxious - if so many Americans are willing to live in the land of denial and put their faith in ... well, faith, what are the rest of us to do?
Ignoring them is not an option when they pursue such aggressive policies all over the world and when they are unilaterally responsible for so much of the trend towards global warming which none of us and especially not our children will be able to ignore.

Thursday, October 28, 2004


I once interviewed Nigella Lawson for a tv program in the early 90s. This was before she became mega-famous. She was undoubtedly the most beautiful person I've ever met. [Hanif Kureishi was extremely charismatic and attractive, but not beautiful in the same way...]

We happened to buy 'How to Eat' around the time baby Olle began eating solids. There is a long section at the back about feeding children, which really influenced me. Nigella is a proponent of the 'let them eat smoked salmon' school of motherhood. Encourage your children to enjoy good food, the same good food that you think is good food. Don't give them 'children's' crap. This fitted in well with my outlook and reluctance to buy or cook anything twice ie he had to eat pretty much the same as we ate - and we eat lovely food.

So off he goes to school with his smoked salmon and ricotta rolls, with lemon juice of course. Why should smoked salmon be seen as anything qualitatively different to ham, which it's assumed children will readily eat.

He is thrilled this week because I caved in (in a fit of post-dissertation elation) and bought some organic 'Orangutang-O's' at the macrobiotic shop, which are essntially organic cereal loops with a lot of raw sugar on them. Hilariously, while in the shop we ran into a man we know with his two little boys and they immediately saw the Orangutang O's and told us they were "unhealthy" - so they had obviously been through the same discussion about why not to buy them as we have in the past....

I feel very fond of Nigella, even though her father was the Thatcherite equivalent of Peter Costello. Here is a recent interview with her.


The cat that lives alone is a happy cat, according to veterinary research into feline stress in Britain.
But the next best thing to living alone is living with a cat-relative, I reckon.
I'm onto my second pair of related cats. For 17 years I had Stevie Smith and her son Bill, an odd pair of furry pyjama-case pussy cats who flew from Brixton in London to a sunny life in Sydney and lived happily ever after ... until they both died within three weeks of each other almost three years ago.
I immediately, after the first had died, went and got a new kitten from a cat rescue vet. I'd felt an intense urge to get a new young animal in the face of old age and death. When the mother cat died soon after her son (in a classic case of 'giving up'), we went back to the vet and found that our kitten's sister was still there, waiting for a home. Of course we took her.
So now we have a brother-sister pair.
In the long ago days when we only had two cats, the house was silent but the cats were a constant visual source of quiet amusement and aesthetic pleasure. Then we got a dog and focus shifted, although the cats stood their ground and insisted on sharing the hearth with the dog.
Then we got a baby and I'm afraid the cats were semi-banished to the outdoors, especially as the by-this-time 14 year old mother cat had taken to weeing in the house.
So they got far less laptime than ever before, probably at the time they needed it most. Well, only the female cat needed and wanted it, the boy remained a scaredy cat till the day he died, shy and timid and a lover of hot tin roofs.
The two new kittens came into a household with a three year old child and a dog and we went away to England for a chunk of their kittenhood ... so they developed into cats almost unnoticed by me. They live on the periphery of the household, especially since we got a second dog.
That dog, Dirty Harry, has status anxiety and tries to reinforce his position above the cats by harassing them when he thinks he can get away with it. Typically, the female cat stands her ground, but the boy cat is nervous and runs away, with Harry snapping at his heels. That Harry [insert eye-roll here]!
The other day I was looking out at the garden and saw a beautiful large black and white butterfly. Then I saw the boy cat, sitting still. I barely had time to think 'I'll go and shoo that cat away before he notices the butterfly' when he leapt vertically four feet in the air, with his body a straight line, and caught the butterfly in his mouth.
Oh. This is why my Greens-member brother always scowls at mention of our cats.
I do religiously bring them inside each night. Now I'm thinking of belling them, not that I think that does much good, but it would be something, especially in relation to birds. As far as I know he has only ever killed two baby birds (at the same time) which I think he stole from a nest.
There is a huge literature about cats which I will not attempt to add to, but what I will say here is that although cats do not like living with stranger cats, they enjoy the company of their kin. My two cats spend a lot of time together, lying together, licking each other, watching each other. It's nice to have a pair.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

sydney - naming the iraq dead

Naming the dead in Iraq, a global ceremony on November 2, the 'day of the dead' or 'all souls' day
Tuesday, Nov 2, 12 noon - 1 pm
St Mary's Cathedral Square, Sydney
MC: Rev Dr Ann Wansbrough
There will be a display of the names of those killed since March 20, 2003 until October 19, 2004 in Iraq - civilians and Coalition soldiers.
The tally is: Iraqi civilians - 37,000. Coalition soldiers - 1246; Iraqi military - 30,000. We have the full names of 2737 Iraqi civilians killed and the names of all Coalition soldiers killed. As many of these names as possible will be read.
Please join the event if possible.

The Sydney Peace & Justice Coalition will be one of the first groups in the world that day to Name the Dead in Iraq.
Check the global event through the Stop The War Coalition UK.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

walk to work day

Friday November 5 is national walk to work day.
Speaking of physical locomotion, I haven't ridden my bike since I had the flu a month ago. I was wiped out for about two weeks afterwards and feeling too distracted in the past two weeks. I'm hoping to get back on it tomorrow.
Does it count if I ride to work on the walk-to-work day?

parents of soldiers

Absolutely gut wrenching account by a mother (the same age as me) whose son is an American solider in Iraq. And here are some letters in response, which are equally harrowing. I used to wonder how I'd feel if my son grew up to be voluntarily in the military. Then it occured to me (when I met a mother whose teenager had become one..) that it could be equally awful if he became an evangelical Christian. Then there would be the other hell - conscription.
[Read these letters and think about the 'relaxed and comfortable' Australian electorate voting Howard, Downer and Hill back into power - makes me want to spit at someone (which I assure you is very unlike me.)

normal service resumes

I'm back. I finished the thesis. I sent it off this morning. I'm still in a state of near-hysteria and twitching brain, having stared at a computer screen non-stop (it feels non-stop) for the past 12 days. I've only had a few hours sleep each night for the past few days, partly because it now gets dazzlingly light at about 5am each morning.
But it's finished.
When I collect my thoughts (or have some thoughts that aren't academicspeak), I aim to try and renew this blog, probably move to Movable Type. Meanwhile, I'll post a few links to things which have come in while I was otherwise engaged.

Friday, October 15, 2004


The election result made me feel all at sea. I don't think anyone, including John Howard, expected a swing to the conservatives. I've been thinking about why this result has made me feel especially depressed - and scared. I lived in England for the 1991 election, when we hoped that Labour would finally win, Thatcher having been thrown out by her own party. Instead, the grey man, John Major, won. Poor likeable Neil Kinnock was defeated. It was enough to fill the left with despair.

But at least there was a swing to Labour.

And at least in Britain then there was a strongly progressive cultural movement - there was plenty of alternative media, oppositional music, socialist council bastions (no matter how crazy some of them were), feminist and gay movements which were on the front foot.

Australia 2004 doesn't feel like that. Sure this is a prosperous time and most people benefit from that, me included. But in a lot of other ways I feel vulnerable. Vulnerable to being dismissed as a loony leftwing lesbian. Vulnerable to having my son exposed to so much crass commercialism and purely acquisitive values. I've overheard children of about 10 discuss house prices in the affluent part of Sydney where we live. I don't want the subject of property prices to even cross my child's mind until he's left school. I don't want him to grow up with a dog-eat-dog mentality nor to be a loser if he's a thinker rather than an aggressive competitor and taker.

A couple of weeks ago we were walking home from school and he suddenly stopped and said, "Have you got 5c for that man?" I had not even noticed that we'd passed a homeless man begging on the street, but Olle had and wanted to return and give him some money. I was proud of him - not that I think such charity solves deep seated social problems, but at least my kid, who is being raised with no religion, has developed compassion for people who are clearly in a bad way.

If the election has done anything, it's strengthened my resolve to keep on parenting according to values which emphasise the social connectedness of all people, our interdependence as humans in a world which greed is too-rapidly damaging, a sense of openness and generosity to other people, rather than suspicion, fear and rivalry. This is the least I can do.

iraq iraq and more iraq

I've been in correspondence with American friends who are despondent about Howard's victory and the message it sends about Iraq. And Howard himself has been out there sending a completely un-mandated message - that the "overwhelming majority" of Australians "very strongly" support keeping troops in Iraq until "the job is done". What the job is, is never specified. What being "done" is, is never specified.

Australians might think they can ignore Iraq now - they won't get away with it. It will come back to bite us, as we are in fact in the 'coalition of the willing' for the long haul, and the Americans are in Iraq for the long haul, in fact they are in the process of building 14 permanent bases in that country.

As a reminder of what was ignored by half the Australian population last weekend, have a laugh - or cry - at this.


Paul van Reyk has tried to capture some of the emotions swirling around (at least among we 'inner-city elites') since the election.

their sad(dam) obsession

Brennan Houlihan videoed speakers at the Republican Party Convention in the NYC and then edited together all the references to Saddam Hussein.

Everything was as they said it. There were no repeated clips either. They really said those things that many times. In fact, there were even more instances of these words that I didn't use because the camera had cut away to audience reactions. My video was limited to the prime time speakers: Bush, Cheney, Laura Bush, Pataki, Giuliani, Miller, McCain, and Schwarzenegger. Bin Laden was mentioned ONE time by Gov. Pataki, but that was it.

Propaganda, anyone?

soldier writers

Two very different projects encourage US soldiers returning from Iraq to write about their experiences: one is under the auspices of Michael Moore, the other under the auspices of the US Department of Defence and Boeing Corporation. Take your pick.

return to vietnam

After my recent holiday in Vietnam, I was especially interested to read this account by an American man who made a documentary film there in 1972 and finally returned this year.


The final killing of Ken Bigley in Iraq made me especially sad. Here's a discussion thread about how to try and understand hostage-taking in Iraq. "A vile reaction to a vile invasion"?

dear american...

Letters between an Iraqi woman engineer and blogger, a mother as well, and an ex-US marine who fought in the first Gulf War.

fear itself

Here, fear of an interest rate rise determined the election outcome. What an oh-so-suburban, oh-so-down-under-and-remote fear!

The US election is about other fears.

Listening to the two candidates debate the issues, it is clear that they are talking to pervasive fears about the future. What Bush underlines is fear of an enemy. And he justifies everything he does as the way to respond to that enemy. What Kerry underlines is fear of decline. He argues that Bush has diminished the status and power of the United States in the world by his incompetence in foreign policy, by "fighting the wrong war at the wrong time and the wrong place." He argues that U.S. jobs are disappearing, especially for those in manufacturing, pointing out that Bush is the first president in seventy years (that is, since the 1929 depression) during whose term of office jobs have actually decreased. He argues that Americans need to fear for their pensions and that Bush's proposals on social security will make matters still worse. And he argues that Bush's fiscal irresponsibility endangers the country's solvency and the future standard of living of the children of America.

To all of this, Bush responds by saying that he is optimistic about the "march of freedom throughout the world." But having said that, he returns immediately to the theme that the U.S. is in great danger, a danger whose solution lies primarily in U.S. hands, and that Kerry will be weak in facing the dangers.

So, it's fear, fear, fear. With so much smoke, is there fire? The last time the American people were so afraid was during the depression that started in 1929. And when Franklin Roosevelt was elected president, he famously said in his inaugural address in 1933: "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."


My readership is dwindling, as I write fewer posts. I write fewer posts because I'm writing my MA thesis. Another nine days of thesis-writing lie ahead of me before the deadline and probably after today I won't blog for another 10 days. Will anyone still be reading by then ;-) Dear readers, do come back after October 26! Meanwhile, I offer some reading to tide you over.

Monday, October 11, 2004


Into the Blogosphere, a collection of academic articles about this activity.

the library books

The last term of the school year began today.

Last night at bedtime, after I had turned out the light, I heard a soft whimpering noise. Olle was crying. I asked what it was about. "You haven't posted the books and I'm going to get into trouble" was the plaintive reply.

He hadn't mentioned the books for the past two weeks, but knowing he would be going back to school triggered his anxiety again.

The books have been sitting in our hallway in a padded envelope. This morning he reminded me twice not to forget about them. With his voice breaking he said "I just can't keep my mind off those books". Oh my dear sweet little person.

I carried the books to school and went into the classroom where his teacher was hanging out before the bell. I told her about Olle's anxiety. She was perplexed, as it's not unusual for some kids not to return library books for months at a time. The librarian is part-time and was not at work today, so she took the envelope and will give it to him. Hopefully she will also chat to Olle about it and reassure him that he isn't in any trouble.

Where does his fear and guilty conscience come from? I'm not clear. I suspect he did overhear the librarian telling another child that he should bring books back sooner. The idea of being "in trouble" obviously deeply upsets and scares him - is this because he so much wants to please or be liked? He's such a 'good' child that he is never in trouble at home, so he hasn't got much experience of it. Is it something particular about the librarian, a man in charge of books, which are Olle's favourite things? Maybe the idea of this librarian being cross at him is too much for Olle to bear. I'm just not sure.

post election

Words almost fail me. Australia has voted John Howard in for a fourth three-year term. There was a small but significant swing to the conservatives, enough to probably cement them in place for another six years, because the swing needed to get them out is too much for any opposition party to achieve in one election. [For any international readers who don't understand the Australian political and electoral system, you can read about it somewhere here.]
I've lived through a large number of conservative election victories, both in Australia and Britain, and I can't remember feeling this bad. I have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I feel like accosting strangers on the bus and asking if and why they voted for them. So far everyone I've seen post-election has shared my point of view, though I didn't necessarily know they would. Walking to school this morning, we ran into the early childhood nurse who was so supportive to me when Olle was a new baby - she asked how I was and I said 'in a post-election funk'. She immediately started ranting about the selfishness of people who vote for a government on the basis of selfish materialism. On the beach yesterday morning for Nippers (junior surf life saving), I mentioned the election to some of the other parents and received a similar response.

What is it that's making me feel so terrible? It's not just that the Liberals campaigned on one big lie. Not just that it was a lie, but that it was a smokescreen, a distraction. They hardly discussed any other issue.

Howard's victory speech was nothing more than a string of cliches, vacuous in the extreme. It was almost empty of content. Yet he has plans.

So Australia has voted for denial. Not only have people decided to ignore all the lies and deceptions of the past few years, they have decided to shut their eyes to the future. No contemplation of what "seeing the job through" in Iraq actually means. No contemplation of what not signing the Kyoto Protocol will mean for all of us. No contemplation of what the destruction of the Tasmanian forests will mean in 20, 30 years time. No thought about what aligning ourselves so strongly with the Bush/Cheney agenda could mean, if they get re-elected in November.

Our journey down the road to a US-style unregulated system of healthcare, education, the media, is about to escalate.

I dread it, especially on behalf of my child.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

something I read today

Probably only of interest to parents of young children or babies, although fear, denial, and control are universal issues in human relationships.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

the news continues to be bad

One of the things which will be most galling if John Howard wins this election (among many many galling things) is that it will look like a vote of confidence in having Australian troops in Iraq. I say 'look like' as I actually don't think most people will equate their vote for Howard with a vote for occupation of Iraq. But it will be.
Reports like this don't make the light of day in the Australian press and the deaths of 30+ children in Baghdad last week barely made it into the news for a couple of hours.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

not happy john

Walking home from the park after a long walk with the two dogs, I noticed that irritating mosquito-sound of a skywriter at work. Looking up, I saw a very big N in the deep blue cloudless Sydney sky. We walked another block and passed a couple pushing a stroller who were looking up and smiling to each other. I looked too. It now said NOT H. I instantly knew what the finished words would be: NOT HAPPY JOHN, which is the title of a book by journalist Margo Kingston, as well as the title of a blog and a campaign against John Howard.

I could forgive the sound of the aeroplane for the sight of that statement so large over central Sydney.

This time next week we'll know just how many people are unhappy enough with John Howard to vote against him. Despite my intention of saving my anxiety for election night, I've found it hard not to get wound up during the campaign. The polls have been on a rollercoaster - the suspense is awful.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to write my MA dissertation while still not fully recovered from the flu. I'll be very pleased when November arrives.

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