personal political

Name:
Location: Sydney, Australia

I have now moved this blog to Typepad: the new address is http://susoz.typepad.com/personal_political/

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

the weekend

It was a hectic weekend. Saturday afternoon was my son's birthday party, held jointly with one of his schoolmates who was born the same week. Sunday was my 30th high school reunion. Both days were very hot, but Sunday was hotter, especially out in Sydney's western suburbs where I went to school.

I am still thinking over the reunion. It was a relatively small gathering - 20 women, out of the 120 in our year. One of them I had seen six months ago. Nearly all the others I had not set eyes on since we left school. We wore name tags - we needed them. Although some women looked vaguely familiar, it wasn't until I looked at their tag that I realised who they were. Even then, not everyone was familiar. One hundred and twenty is a big class - clearly not an intimate group. Some girls I barely knew then, let alone now.

When I first walked in I was horrified - who were these frumpy, dumpy middle aged women? No doubt they were thinking the same of me.

Actually, a few women looked sensational. Staying slender is a big help in the ageing process.

Someone who I hardly have any memories of - in fact, I have no memories of her at all - told me how she remembered how much I liked Bob Dylan. (True.) Someone else, who left school at 16, recalled visiting my home (I have no memory of this), playing records by The Monkees and The Beatles and waging a 'war' between ourselves as to which group was better. (Unfortunately I was on the side of The Monkees.)

It's odd to feature in other people's memories like this when I have wiped them out of mine.

No one mentioned husbands (at least, not in my hearing), which I suspect was out of sensitivity to the fact that some people are now divorced. Divorced! Unthinkable to us Catholic schoolgirls in 1974.

However, quite a few photos of children were passed around - teenagers and even adult children. A couple of women are grandmothers already. But apparently I don't have the youngest child - someone knew someone else who didn't attend whose youngest is a toddler. Someone else, who wanted to be a nun while we were at school, has ended up with 12 children (a different form of matyrdom). I wanted to know what happened to our classmate who was the oldest of 12 kids and who swore she herself would never have any. No one knew what had become of her. One girl, whose name I didn't even recognise, was said to have died of breast cancer. Later I was wondering, what would the mortality stats for 120 women in their late 40s be? Is one death by now the statistical norm? My mother's friends started dying from gynaecological cancers in their 50s.

I had thought that what divided me from my past - and possibly from these schoolmates - was my sexuality and rejection of the 'conventional lifestyle' (although my lifestyle these days is pretty conventional). I was unprepared for the realisation that socioeconomic class/status had been a big divide at school - and continues to be. This is what caught me off guard and what I am still reflecting on. I'll need to write more about this later.







Monday, November 29, 2004

scandal

I like a good sexual/political scandal and this one has the best ingredients. Such scandals intrigue me because of how revealing they are of the hypocrisy of just about everyone involved and the way they indicate just how much is probably hidden from our view. Senior Labour politician has affair with rightwing publisher just months after she gets married (for the second time). He possibly fathers one or both of her two babies. Wronged husband (who had a vasectomy reversal that may or may not have worked)declares that he has forgiven her. Sheesh.

I don't see why these people bother getting married in the first place. Why don't they just declare a belief in 'free love' and get on with it.

Friday, November 26, 2004

who's wally?

My son is in love with the Where's Wally? books. I don't know why. I find the drawings ugly and have very little patience for searching for any of the characters in them. I was thinking his fascination for such intricate adventure drawings was 'a boy thing', but a woman friend of mine tells me that she likes them and so does her daughter - and her son. But in the US, where my friend lives, they are called Where's Waldo? instead. Why is this so? Martin Handford, the author/illustrator, is English, but you can see that the American websites about the series Americanise the author - or at least, carefully don't mention his real geographical origins (though I reckon his Englishness is evident in his childhood love for toy soldiers).

[In the US, they re-voice both Bob the Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine, presumably because American children mustn't be allowed to realise that anything good comes from anywhere else in the world. The thought of Bob and Thomas with American accents is almost too much to bear. I always liked Neil Morrisey, who voices the original Bob, in Men Behaving Badly and especially as Maisy Mouse.]

In England, and Australia, a 'wally' is a bit of a nerd or everyman. My American friend says 'waldo' has no such connotations. So this re-naming is a mystery to us.

Doing some web research on this, I discovered this article which offers one account of the origins of the phrase 'where's Wally?' I'm willing to believe it. But it still doesn't solve the Waldo mystery.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

bikes and scooters

I think I've gone and replicated something from my own childhood with my son. I can't tell if it's coincidence or not...

I grew up in a house which was on a busy road and the side of a steep hill. We had a large flat carport where we used to ride our trikes and scooters. My father refused to buy us bicycles when we got older (say 10) because there was too much traffic. I resented him for that (probably unfairly). However, I did love my scooter, which I rode all around the neighbourhood.

The first bike I ever rode belonged to one of my cousins, who lived way out west on a sheep and wheat farm. My twin cousins, four years younger than me, had proper bicycles. I can still remember the wonderful sensation of gliding across the red earth.

It wasn't until after I left school and moved into the somewhat flatter inner city that I got my first bicycle. I've only had about three bikes in total - the one I ride now is 24 years old! Cycling has been one of the loves of my life. When I moved to London in my 20s, my only luggage was my bicycle and pannier bags. I moved house a few months later with all my worldly possessions on that bike.

When I had a child I was keen to welcome him into the world of bicycles. I bought a child seat for my bike when he was a toddler and cycled him to preschool. He got his own first bike for his third birthday, one with training wheels of course. He could ride it around in our small sloping patio garden within days, standing up to pedal uphill.

But here things began to go awry. We live in a hilly area. The nearest level bike track is a 20 minute walk/ride or five minute car-drive away. We didn't make it to that track very often. So Olle rode the bike along footpaths and took it to other kids' birthday parties, but as he grew bigger, the bike got less and less use.

As a bicycle purist, I wanted the training wheels to come off as soon as possible. (The man at the bike shop had told me they should only stay on for a few weeks.) Yet it was almost two years before I took them off. Olle did manage to ride a little way without them on that first day. Then ... months passed without us ever having the time or opportunity to get it out for a proper ride. By this time he was beginning to outgrow the bike, which was meant to be the right size for only two years. (As with all things for little children, when you buy it, two years seems like an eternity. Two years later, that time has gone in a flash and you're wondering if you got your money's worth.)

For the past year, I've been vaguely thinking of buying him a new bike for either his birthday or Christmas. We even went to the bike shop recently and tried some out - in order to get our money's worth this time, I decided we'd skip the next size and fast forward to a really big bike, so it would last longer.

Meanwhile, some friends whose kids are now teenagers passed on a rusty old scooter, with broken brake cables. Olle loved it. We do a lot of walking, with our two dogs, and he began to ride the scooter every time we went out for a walk. At the bottom of hills, he'd have to jump off to 'brake'.

With his birthday rapidly approaching, it finally crystallised for me that a new bike could be a complete waste of money - something that would have to be transported by car to a safe flat riding area. But scooters were a different proposition. They could be used every day. I suggested to Olle that his birthday gift could be getting the brake cables fixed on his old scooter. He agreed.

We tok it down to the bike shop and the repair man immediately told me that the solid back tyre was so worn that the scooter was dangerous. Plus the brake repair would be $50. He said it would be better to buy a new scooter.

We went upstairs to look at some that were on special. They were big enough that I could see one lasting at least another four years. I put a deposit on the only blue one (he chose blue over black and red) and we went home to think it through. I felt slightly guilty at the prospect of spending money on a shiny new scooter when we'd been given a perfectly useable scooter (and one with sentimental associations)... except that it wasn't safe and Olle was getting to the point of being able to use the hand brakes - and needing to use them.

Two days later we went back and got the shiny new scooter (seen here in its pink version). We even bought a small lock, as it seems an eminently stealable scooter. (It is a rare item, in these days of the ludicrous razor scooter.)

Olle is thrilled (especially with the lock). He takes it out even when we're just walking the dogs around the block.

I know that he'll go through phases of not using it much. But it will last him for years and he can walk out the front door and ride it immediately. And it fits in our small car and doesn't need a special rack for transportation.

In retrospect, I think bicycles for little kids are a con. Little kids should ride tricycles, not bikes with training wheels. Most of them leave the training wheels on, which defeats the purpose of a two-wheeler.

Perhaps Olle will beg for a bike for some reason when he's eight or nine - perhaps not. The roads are so dangerous, steep and curved and crowded where we live that riding on them is out of the question. Even the footpaths are narrow and steep. So waiting until he's old enough to be a safe rider and not just a 'special events' rider seems the best way to go. Just as it was for me. And I am glad he has a scooter like the one I had as a child.


donna mulhearn

Another Catholic woman, Donna Mulhearn, returned to Iraq this week. It's a cliche to wonder if she is brave or foolhardy, but wonder I do. And I'm not sure what to think of her journey being inspired by her christianity ... ironic, to say the least. Here is an account of her arrival in Baghdad:

The corkscrew, the 'red zone' and the certified terrorists

I’m naming it the ‘Baghdad corkscrew’. I reckon crowds would fork out at least $10 a go at Luna Park for a ride like this. Spiralling downward in a small plane at a rapid rate, almost vertical, through a sea of brown dust towards a war zone.

What a ride! Welcome to Baghdad!

So it was with a queasy stomach that I arrived into a very cold, occupied capital.

It was a surreal experience to share the corkscrew plane with a variety of well-dressed businessmen and heavily weaponed mercenaries. Very few people visiting Iraq these days aren’t there to make a buck, very few.

I got a few raised eyebrows answering the most commonly asked question from the suits: ‘No, I won’t be staying in the Green Zone’, I replied politely.

“Well why on earth are you here?” I could see their confused eyes ask silently.

I put on my disguise on the footpath outside the main terminal of Baghdad airport using the windows as a mirror. Long black dress/coat thingy, matching black head scarf with maroon trimming (very stylish) black wrist covers, red gloves, dark sunglasses. Yes, that’s it. I got a few nods of approval from locals as I completed the transformation.

The only give-away: my chunky, brown, dusty hiking boots sticking out of the bottom of the dress. I always wear my hiking boots when I fly because they are so heavy and send my luggage weight sky-high. But today they did not suit my outfit which obviously required a stylish pair of black shoes, so common with the ever-stylish Iraqi woman. Oh well, I would just hope my feet did not attract attention.

I hopped on a shuttle bus and headed towards the military checkpoint which connected the heavily fortified airport area with the rest of Baghdad. The signs upon leaving the compound were ominous: “You are entering a red zone, have weapons loaded and ready at all times.”

My God, what is this place - the red zone - that deserved such serious military offensive action?

What is it? Simply the rest of Baghdad.

The town, the neighbourhoods, the streets, the schools. The parts where ordinary people live. Those ones who, understandably, aren’t amused at having their country occupied by strange, foreign people.

The red zone is any part of Iraq which is not a US military compound. It seems the whole country is threatening to the occupiers who came to bring ‘freedom’.

When I arrived at the military checkpoint about 15 kilometres from the actual airport, my disguise caused confusion. As I approached some official looking Iraqi people for instructions I could hear them chatter under their breath: “Is she an Iraqi woman?” Yay! I was thrilled to hear my disguise was working….but a moment later my heart sank as another replied, “No, I think she is American.”

At this point, I had to intervene. “I am not American,” I said with a smile, my accent giving away the fact that I was not Iraqi either.

“I am,” a tall sharp-faced US mercenary said to me slinging his terminator machine gun over his over-sized armoured chest in a move that clearly said “I’m in charge.” His logo told me he worked for Global, an international security company contracted to provide a private army in Iraq.

“I am definitely not American.” I repeated to the curious crowd. He knew exactly what I meant.

My lift had not arrived, so I hung out in the tent where security staff conducted body searches of people entering the airport. I needed to hide from the freezing cold wind.

I asked an Asian mercenary if I could use his phone to call my friend. He handed it over, with the proviso: ‘please be quick, I don’t have much money’. I turned my face so he could not see my raised eyebrows at his poor $1000 a day salary!

As I found a corner in the tent to sit, the ‘I am American’ mercenary felt to warn me about my chosen posse.

“We call this the dirty side of the checkpoint,” he explained.

“This is the side where weapons and bombs could appear at any moment…

“On the other side, they’re actually allowed to have them,” he added.

I couldn’t help myself respond…

“Oh, I see, so they are legal terrorists and any others are the illegal terrorists?”

“Yes, exactly,” he said. “The ones in the uniforms are the certified terrorists.”

I was surprised and impressed by his matter-of-fact assessment of the situation.

I looked around the tent where there was a cheerful group of Iraqi workers ready to offer me a seat and a place out of the cold.

I’ll stay on the dirty side with the potential, illegal terrorists, I decided.

I asked Mr America what the problem was that closed the airport for three hours earlier, causing our plane to circle in the air for an extra hour.

“Dunno,” he said, “there’s a problem here every day.”

“Here” being the precise place at the checkpoint where the suicide bombers explode their cars.

“Here” being the place I spent the next three hours.

I conversed with the group and they cheered and laughed at my Arabic…

And I was stoked when one woman going to the airport presented her bag to me for inspection, thinking I was an Iraqi security worker. But I was disappointed when I saw others point at what was obviously a foreigner dressed up. But on the whole they were impressed with the effort.

I also noted several unsolicited offers by the Iraqi staff – on a tenth of the wages of the mercenaries - to use their phones to call my friends. Some were so worried about me waiting in the cold, they offered me to go home to their place.

But that was not necessary. I eventually headed off onto Airport Road, also known as the ‘highway of death’, considered the most dangerous route in Iraq.

I made it to the hotel without incident where I now sit in front of a heater feeling a little disbelief that I am finally back in Baghdad. Hang on, the lights just went out. The generator has begun to hum and a low flying chopper swoops overheard. I’m definitely back in Baghdad!

Your pilgrim
Donna

PS: Thanks to all for helping me to have a safe and uneventful drive from the airport.
PPS: “War is the terrorism of the rich”.

religion and politics

Tucked away in the online part of the SMH I found a parliamentary speech by Julia Irwin about the influence of right wing Christians on contemporary politics. You would never know, from reading the rest of the media, that things like this are being said in our political debating chamber. But thank goodness they are.
[Though personally I find it hard to understand how someone like Julia Irwin can continue to call herself a Catholic and yet not attend church every week and not agree with church policy on, for example, contraception. I mean, I don't understand why she doesn't just leave the church. I guess she must have some primal religious belief and the church acts as a kind of community for her. It didn't for me. I was able to find other communal focal points in my life and so I left the church with not a backwards glance.]

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

apologies

After the Sorry site, comes the apologies accepted site.

Monday, November 22, 2004

oldest man

The world's oldest man, who was born in the same year as my grandfather but lived 30 years longer than him, has died.

journalists

We cannot possibly be getting anything like the full picture of what's going on in Iraq, given the atrocious conditions for journalists, as described by Hannah Allam:

Treacherous roads and kidnapping squads restrict travel. "Embedding" with the military or going with Iraqi government officials is the safest way to leave the capital. Our ability to uncover and tell the truth about Iraq - good and bad - has suffered terribly. At least 36 journalists have been killed covering this war. Everyone seems to know someone who's been taken hostage.

and Harry Jaffe:
The odds of running into a hostile situation in Iraq have become so great that reporters rarely venture from their hotels unless they are traveling with a military unit or with their own armed escort.

Friday, November 19, 2004

the boy luck club

The actress from the Joy Luck Club writes about why she wanted to have a second son. She writes extremely honestly about her relationship with her mother. Fascinating.

fallujah again

Here's confirmation that Australian personnel were directly involved in planning the attack on Fallujah. And here's more very difficult reading about the state of devastation in that city.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

queer eye 2

Lushlife made an interesting comment on my Queer Eye post:

I remember when my son announced that he thought he was gay ... and he told me that it was about boys who liked boys. I tried to explain the feelings had to be stronger than those feelings he was having now in terms of preferring the company of boys as friends over girls and that this didn't necessarily amount to being gay. I said that if he were gay he would want to live with and marry another boy - then I felt guilty because I didn't want to present marriage as the only serious relationship a person could have. In the end I decided to say that really now isn't the time for him to think about whether he is gay or not and to just enjoy being a boy who liked playing with his friends.

Five year old boys (and presumably five year old girls, going in the other direction) do prefer the company of other boys. I recently bought my son a new t-shirt with a picture of a cowboy and the words 'Howdy partner'. He had avoided wearing it and when I asked him why, he said he did not want a girl partner. I explained that cowboys say 'Howdy partner" to other cowboys. Oh, that's okay then! He's been wearing it ever since.
It's interesting for me to trace the evolution of his awareness of adult partnering and parenting arrangements. Since babyhood he had spent a lot of time with other kids in our lesbian mothers group. We also have some very close het friends with three kids who are now teenagers, who we see at least weekly. Co-parent and I each have sisters with kids in (unmarried) heterosexual relationships - his cousins. Because singleness is now so prevalent, he has grown up with many neighbours and friends who live alone (usually people aged 50+) and also has an uncle who is single (and gay - but the boy doesn't know that yet).
It wasn't until he went to preschool aged three that I saw the realisation that most other kids have a "Dad" hit him. Although he had spent time with many children and their fathers, these men, our friends, tended to be referred to by first name. So he knew "John" but did not think of John as Elle's Dad. But in the preschool environment, the other three year olds simply referred to their dads as Dad. Suddenly he was in a universe of 'mums and dads'. I noticed that he very quickly began to refer to us as "my parents" which I thought was a rather clever linguistic tactic to avoid drawing attention to himself as unusual. (He also at times refers to us as "my mums" - although he only calls one of us Mum.)
At Mardi Gras time the year he was four, it occured to me that he didn't completely realise what his friends in rainbow kids had in common - they all had two mums. (Actually, some of them only have one mum.) As far as he was concerned, they were just his friends and Zac's parents Anne and Julie were just Zac's parents Anne and Julie. This was his normality (and Zac's normality). So I pointed out that the rainbow kids all had two mums - and that even though Indy only has one mum, Jan, if Jan fell in love with someone, she would probably have a girlfriend, not a boyfriend. (Recently one of the rainbow mums has set up house with a man ... that's more explaining to do (or not - children just take this in their stride.))
On the other front, when he was four we had gay next-door neighbours who often used to mind another little boy for the day. So my Olle would go in there to play and the two boys could be found late in the day sitting in Pete and Dave's bed watching videos. So that year his normality expanded to include Pete and Dave sharing a bedroom and loving each other. (Unfortunately Pete and Dave seperated amicably shortly afterwards when one moved to another city for work. So Pete has now moved into the category of people who live on their own and are not married, a category I sometimes draw his attention to.)
When he was four, he also encountered for the first time kids at preschool whose parents had "split up". He told us that one boy's father now lives in America because "he was mean to his mum".
Last summer we spent a weekend with (het) friends and their two kids. One day Olle and Maggie had been playing in a room together for some time when Ol came running to me: "Can Maggie and I have sex?" No, I told him straightaway (though I was almost too stunned to answer), only grown ups have sex. A few minutes later they both came to me and Olle asked the same question, with Maggie hovering in the background. I repeated what I'd said. Olle turned to her in relief and said "See, my mum says we can't".
I discussed this with Maggie's mother, who told me she had already talked about sex with her just-five daughter. I, the libertarian lesbian, was slightly shocked. We had never mentioned sex to our child. Discussion of his conception had remained on the level of "sperm meets egg" (in no specific location).
This year, a five year old girl we know, G, started to declare that she wanted to marry my son. At social gatherings with this group of friends, all the girls would chase him around giggling and demanding he kiss his would-be bride. He hated this. "I am never going to get married" he would tell me. Never a great fan of marriage myself, I sympathised with this point of view. So we would have discussions about the many options that would be available to him as a grown-up - to live on his own, to share a house with friends, to have a girlfriend or a boyfriend.
After a couple such conversations, in which he mostly repeated his hostility towards G's plan to marry him, it occured to me that discussing adult household options was completely beside the point. G of course doesn't want to marry him. She's just saying she likes him (though I wish she could find a less stereotypical way to express that). Olle's anger and, yes, fear of her marriage fixation stemmed, I realised, from him not wanting to have to consider partnering with anyone else except us. He just wants to be a five year old boy who lives in his house and has us as his parents. He doesn't want to think about how he'll live when he's grown up and he doesn't want to dream about getting married. As long as all the adults around him carry on the adult component of their lives out of his view, it is completely inconsequential to him who they sleep with (and he still has no idea about sex of any description.)
I still don't know how to explain to him that gay men have better taste in clothes and furnishings than straight men, but I think I can safely leave that till he asks.

back pages

On its first birthday, Christopher Sheil has decided to close down his blog, Back Pages.

Like a lot of readers (thousands of them in fact), I'll miss it. Not just for Chris's posts on (mostly) Australian political shenanigans, but for the intense, crazy and often hilarious comments threads, especially those which ran (and ran) during the election. My first reaction was to think 'oh, but where am I going to find that bunch of people again?' Of course many of them have their own blogs, which I look in on from time to time, but it won't be the same.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

fallujah continues

I am ashamed that I haven't been following, except in a cursory sense, events in Fallujah. I have noticed that it is all proclaimed an easy military victory for the US (deja vu - we'll be reading that again in another year's time) and has largely been off the front pages for the past few days (Jeff Shaw's blood samples are so much more important...)
Fortunately David Tiley is giving Fallujah and its people their due.

At one point, he looked out and saw a cousin in the street who had been wounded. "I could not do anything for him, I could not move," Dr Ghanim said. "He died. There was no mercy."


No mercy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

abortion

Well, the abortion debate which some people thought we had to have seems to have been closed down. It would have been fascinating to have been a fly on the wall in the PM's office as he discussed this with various members of his party - women and Catholics (I don't know if there are any Catholic women Liberal MPs - if so, they haven't been prominent in media reports.)

The best piece I read on all this was this one by Julie Robotham, which points out that possibly "at least one in four Australian women at some time aborts a foetus" - which tallies with my own personal observations. I haven't myself had an abortion but a lot of women I know have had one or more and as Robotham points out, most of them have also had children, usually, in the case of women I know, years afterward. No one I know goes through abortion lightly but neither does it necessarily make them emotional wrecks forever, as the pro-life brigade wants to assert.

Coincidentally, today I came across this fascinating blog which is apparently written by two doctors at an abortion clinic somewhere in the USA. The emphasis on God and religion is not something you would encounter to the same degree at clinics in this country, which is thankfully not wracked by the same degree of religious torment as the US.

Monday, November 15, 2004

usa: the future?

Immanual Wallerstein's latest reflection on the US after the re-election of Bush is very sobering reading. He analyses Bush's three core constituencies - the Christian right, big business and the militarists - and what each will seek from the second term.

The Christian right is basically concerned about issues internal to the US. They have concentrated their fire on two current questions: gay marriage and abortion. ...
But this is only the beginning of the Christian right agenda. They wish to undo the entire liberalization of mores that has been one of the marks of the twentieth century, not only in the US but also in Europe and much of the rest of the world. In the United States, were they to get their way on gay marriage and abortion, they would next work on banning contraception, making homosexual sex illegal, limiting or even ending divorce and for some of them forcing women out of the workforce and maybe even the vote. Another part of their agenda is pushing the clock back on racism and reestablishing the United States as a country socially and politically dominated by white Protestants. They would begin by ending all forms of affirmative action and proceed from there to immigration issues and then perhaps to voting rights. This would undo the entire social evolution of the United States since the beginning of the twentieth century.


This may be the agenda of an extremist group, but Wallerstein points out that this group controls many structures of right wing Christianity (especially southern Baptists) and is powerful within the Republican Party.

It seems almost inconceivable that such ideas could prevail again, but when you think about it, is is within living memory (not mine, but my parents' generation) that nearly all of the above was the norm, supported by legal and governmental authority. Things have changed dramatically and speedily in the past fifty years - it's not impossible that there could be a big change back again, although it would result in enormous social struggle and upheaval.

Of course, all of that is in the USA. Australia is a different kettle of fish, although here we have our own issues with rightwing Christians - Catholic, in this case.

queer eye

I have to confess we have let our little boy come down in his pjs recently to watch Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. I don't know how it started, but he's hooked. [His other 'adult' tv viewing is Strictly Dancing, an end-of-the-week treat. At first I didn't much care for SD and the dancing is not always as good as it should be, but now I'm hooked too.]
He makes us laugh when he refers to "Queer Eye" as a program about "those straight guys". Co-parent corrects him and tells him it's about "gay guys".
Yesterday we were out driving when his little voice announced "When I'm grow up I'm going to be the gay guy in Australia". Narrowly avoiding a major accident, I enquired "And what would you do then?"
"I would improve people's lives by making their rooms beautiful and buying them nice clothes".

Friday, November 12, 2004

blog comments

When I started this blog, I fully intended to reply to each and every comment, either within the comments threads or in a new blog item. I wanted this to be as interactive as possible.
But I have to admit that I don't.
When I get comments from people I know (or at least, people I know via email), I usually email them privately in response (or I intend to do this - sometimes my inbox gets too full and life takes over).
But Blogger is frustrating - commenters who don't have their own Blogger account sign in as Anonymous. So I often have no way of contacting them, no email address or even a name. In those cases (I'm thinking of a woman who wrote a long comment after the Australian election) I really should respond here in the blog, but admit I haven't been as diligent about this as I'd hoped to be.
I have a friend who is a computer programmer - (at least, I think that's her job description - she programs websites) - who has an online interactive diary (which she wrote the software for) in which reader's comments are displayed next to the diarist's own entries. So the discussion is much more interactive and egalitarian.
But that's more of a diary than a blog and I have come to like the blog form in many ways. The personal part of this blog is not really a diary.
I should look into Moveable Type. I read several blogs in that software and the comments seem to be easier to manage.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

web of influence

Also sent to me by an e-pal, but a much less strange essay, this one is all about the political blogosphere.

narco news

The Internet is a wondrous thing. An American e-pal sent me an essay called Power: Building It Without Taking It, that leans heavily on the Zapatista strategy of not trying to seize state power, but rather, of replacing it by strengthening the positions of civil society outside of and over the state.

The desire to conquer the state maintains the illusion that the state is the foundation of sovereignty and autonomy, the authors reflect. But in the networked world of global capital, the state is merely a node in a web of power, woven between the banks, stock exchanges, corporate headquarters, and multilateral institutions.

For example, in seeking a better journalism, do we merely want a column of our own in the New York Times or our own half-hour on a major TV network? Or do we create a more compelling newspaper, even if only online, that answers to different motives and principles than the money-driven mission of media that is dependent on advertising dollars?

Or, take the drug war: Many reformers are obsessed with the laws against drug use and the use of state power that ruins millions of lives through its prohibitionist policies. And yet what of the private sector ruination of the lives of peaceful pot smokers through, for example, compulsory urine tests and loss of livelihood for those who don¹t comply? Not all the threats come from the state, nor can the state protect us from all drug prohibitions.

The obsession with the state detours us from creating the world and community we desire.


This essay was on a site I've never come across before, the Narco News Bulletin - a more than odd title. This turns out to be a website reporting on 'the drug war and democracy' in Latin America. Curiouser and curiouser. They are funded by the Fund for Authentic Journalism. There were some interesting snippets on the site but it also made me a bit nervous ... I can't exactly say why.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

consumer kids

When your grandfather was a baby, he probably slept in a simple cradle - or even a dresser drawer - by his parents' bed. The most entertainment he could expect was his mother's occasional rattle waving. When you were born, your parents turned your bedroom into a baby palace with crib mirrors, mobiles, gyms, and matching sheets, comforters, and bumpers. Music from Baby Genius Series, maybe "Bedtime Beethoven" or "Breakfast with Bach" (just $4.99 per disc on the company's Web site), played on your nursery CD player during your early morning diaper change, where you can also watch your changing table mobile with the Disney characters on it. In your baby carriage, wearing your Tommy Hilfiger jeans, you watch your stroller bar with the Winnie the Pooh characters. At naptime, mom turns on the audio soother, so you can listen to the relaxing sound of rainfall, and watch your crib mobile with the Finding Nemo fish on it. Though you probably don't know the URL yet, you may have your own Web site with dozens of pictures of your first days. By the time you are a few months old, you are living the life of baby bountiful with more stuff, more entertainment, more stimulating fun than Walt Disney ever dreamed possible.

And it builds up from there. By the time you become a teenager your cluttered bedroom has become an archaeological site whose many layers yield up the forgotten must-have fads of your short life: Jurassic Park plastic dinosaurs, Pokémon cards, Beanie Babies, Hip Hop Barbies, X-men action figures, Harry Potter books, Spiderman PJs, Gap boxer shorts, Hello Kitty lipsticks, Britney Spears CDs, apricot mango lip gloss, bead kits for making jewelry, Limited Too lava lamps, shin guards, cleats, ski goggles, bike helmets, ballet shoes, Gameboy games - and a few empty piggy banks. More than likely, inside your bedroom, you have your own television and perhaps a VCR - this is in addition to DVD players in the family room and in Mom's Ford Explorer, so that you don't need to suffer a second of boredom on the way to Grandma's house.


This is from an article about kids in the USA, but some of it is familiar to me, when I look at my own kid and the other children we know. Being a thoughtful parent these days means being a vigilante against consumerism. And increasingly, a vigilante against other parents' consumerism for their own or for my kids.

We were in an Australian Geographic shop the other day and I realised that my son already owned a lot of the objects on sale - mostly given to him for his fifth birthday last year. We are classic older parents of an only child, which doesn't necessarily mean that we shower him with toys, but it does mean that we have lots of older childless friends, plus friends whose adult children have not (yet?) procreated. So he is a substitute child and grandchild for a lot of people. I don't begrduge their interest in him or their generosity and he always gets 'quality', educational gifts. And I think, so far (knock on wood) he is relatively unmaterialistic. He watches no commercial tv, virtually never goes shopping (because we don't) and spends a great deal of time outdoors - he isn't a car kid. Where the other kindergarteners bring toys as their "news", Olle has a purist mother (aka me) who insists that he takes 'educational' news each week - books, photos, musical instruments from Vietnam, that sort of thing. A great many of the items that came in the front door went straight out to St Vinnies again, without him even noticing.

But he does have a Tommy Hilfigger t-shirt (sent by godmother extraordinaire from the USA, natch). He did have the Winnie the Pooh pram string. I confess that we even had the 'Baby Einstein' video.

However, he also reads the real (not Disney) Winnie stories and the AA Milne poems and listens to many stories on tape.

Sometimes I feel as if all my efforts are like a rearguard action in a war I can't possibly win. Still, I'll keep resisting - he's only just heard about Gameboys but certainly won't be getting one for the forseeable future. He's never been to McDonalds and ditto about the forseeable future...

domestic help

I've had friends who've done aid work in Thailand and Laos and had domestic help to look after their kids and house. It's an uncomfortable reality (uncomfortable for me, at least - I don't think I could do it, though I have stayed in a house where the 'maid' cum nanny did all the housework and cared for the one year old).
This article is by a man who tries to make a connection with the Afghani woman who looks after his daughter in Paklistan where her mother is an aid worker. He makes a bit too neat of a comnection at the end - but at least he tries for a connection.

rescue an american

Some Canadians have had a good idea - marry an American liberal and provide them with an escape from Bushland. I passed this on to my colleacgue, who has dual Australian/Canadian citizenship - even better.

fallujah

While Australian former SAS commanders, the Governor-General, Major-General Michael Jeffery, and the Australian Christian Lobby's executive chairman, Brigadier Jim Wallace, moralise about abortions and gay marriages, Australia's military ally is about to destroy a living city and its families.

Tony Kevin declares the assault against Fallujah to have all the makings of a war crime and likens it to the Wehrmacht in Warsaw in 1944 and the Russian Army in Grozny in 1999.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

home alone

Two articles on children caught my eye today. This one is about the new generation of only children in China. Are they all obese 'lttle emperors'? Doesn't seem that way, in Shanghai at least, but they do seem to be under enormous stress to succeed academically, in order to look after their extended older relatives.

My only child will have to cope all by himself with two ageing parents (that's if we survive into old age) and perhaps an ageing childless uncle as well, probably in an era of little or no pension. I'd be fibbing if I said it hadn't crossed my mind that a highly paid occupation would help him in that task. It's crossed my mind ... but not been translated into anything other than mild sorrow that he might face that prospect.

I came from a big family with a mother who did not work outside the home. My father, the sole income earner, managed to send us all to Catholic schools, pay for extras like piano lessons, support us through university and still bequeath us a reasonable sum of money after he died. With just one child, and two working parents, we wouldn't have a hope in hell of sending him to a private school and he'll be lucky if we leave him enough money to take a brief holiday in Coffs Harbour after we're gone. So has the world changed. (Of course, my parents never spent any money on restaurants or flights, overseas holidays, therapy or a large mortgage.)

Anyway, at least academia suggests that as a child of lesbian parents, our boy will be 'socioemotionally' okay.

I knew that already.

In fact, I'm quite happy to read that "boys in father-absent families showed more feminine but no less masculine characteristics of gender role behaviour." (And I think that's observable in my boy's case.)

When they say that "Mothers raising their child without a father reported more severe disputes with their child than did mothers in father-present families" they don't make it clear if this is the single (het) mothers studied or the lesbian mothers. I'd bet it was the single mothers. I already see this at work in the single mother households that I know and I can well understand why that is - the relationship between mother and child is so much more intense without another adult to defuse things.

more on voting

Before computerised voting appears in this country, we'll probably have to deal with the renewed push to make voting non-compulsory. As is blindingly obvious from reading any analysis of the US vote, non-compulsory voting brings with it multiple opportunities for exclusion and discrimination. It changes the entire focus of election campaigns away from policies and towards the basic push to 'get out the vote'. Voting becomes a sheer numbers game - and those with the most money and resources tend to win that game.

In Australia, for example, who would bother enabling remote aborigines to vote if voting wasn't compulsory?

and another...

Another couple of articles (on someone's blog) which discuss the possibility of the US election being rigged. As the blogger says,

I believe it is only responsible journalistic practice to point out what 'some people say.'

more on the US vote

And another voice which claims that Kerry actually won.
This rings true to me (but then, I am a verifiably loony lefty).

vote rigging?

Was the computerised US vote hacked into? Some people think so. And they aren't just far left conspiracy theorists. All I'll say is that I'm very glad we still vote by pencil and paper in Australia and any move towards computerised voting should be strongly resisted.

tv be gone

San Francisco electrical engineer Mitch Altman has come up with the nifty object, TV-B-Gone, a plastic $14.99 keychain fob that "turns off virtually any television!" TV-B-Gone quickly spits out roughly 200 infrared codes and, within customary remote-control range, turns off most televisions in a few seconds.
"Restaurants and the Laundromat, those are the big ones for me," Mr. Altman told the New York Times. "Whether TV is on or off is a choice, and I would love for it to be a conscious choice," he said. "All over the place, TV's very often are just on, and no one put a lot of thought into whether to put it on or not. And then people don't really have a choice of turning it off. TV-B-Gone is about giving people that choice."

I need one for the lunchroom at work.

Monday, November 08, 2004

post-election spam

My American e-pals have been busy forwarding all sorts of post-election humour and analysis. I don't have room or time to re-post them all here. This one by Mark Morford, written when it was still not completely clear that Kerry would lose, was one of the earliest and most tragi-comedical (if that's a word):

And this election, it might be all be very amusing, in a Mel Gibsony,
blood-drenched hamburger-of-Christ sorta way, were it not so sad and
dangerous. It might all be tolerable and cute, in a violence-engorged,
sexist, video-gamey sorta way, were it not so lopsided and wrong.


Some friends who know I blog sent me this, so I'll post it here:

To the citizens of the world: PLEASE FORWARD NATIONALLY AND INTERNATIONALLY

America is not united.

We, one half of the American people, are shocked and angered by the re-election of George W. Bush as our president. We are immensely disappointed. Yet our resolve remains steadfast.

This is a new day. Our half of America - we who oppose Bush -- has woken up. We now know that we have more in common with many other citizens of the globe than with the other half of our country who cast votes for Bush. We realize now that we are unified with others across the planet in a worldwide battle for thoughtfulness, critical thinking, human rights, and protection of our common planetary resources. We are clear now that the other half of our nation supports an American brand of fundamentalism, which preaches a gospel of fear and hate founded on ignorance. This gospel disregards the humanity of innocent citizens of other nations; it marginalizes the poor and preaches intolerance for the "different" within our own nation.

America is not united.

This is a new day for our half of America. We have realized that the other half of our country is not guided by reason. The other half knew Bush lied to us about Iraq. They knew that Bush has burdened our economy with insurmountable debt. They knew that Bush's party intimidated voters. They knew that Bush is destroying our environment. They knew that Bush might lead us into other unprovoked and endless wars. Still they voted for Bush. Exiting the polls, they explained that Bush stood for "moral values," that he is "a man of God."

But half of America voted against him.
World citizens: know that America is not united.

Our nation was founded upon principles of reason, not fundamentalist ideology. We have reached a turning point. We are alienated from many of our fellow Americans. We are citizens of the world. Understand that we have put our souls into the defeat of Bush - and remember us as we continue to strive to create a better America. Our half of America will not rest until reason and humanity prevail.
Jose Miguel Trevejo
jmtrevejo@yahoo.com

Friday, November 05, 2004

baghdad girl

The girl blogger in Baghdad has some amusing 'Hallmark' ditties for the US electorate. I especially like (not) this one:
Cheer up...
Your son was too young for Afghanistan.
And it's still a bit early for Iran-
But there's plenty of time for Syria...
And he'll definitely serve in North Korea!

Thursday, November 04, 2004

the us election

What is there to say that hasn't already been said?

Actually, I'm not feeling too bad, as I defended myself pretty successfully from feeling optimistic. So I didn't have far to fall. This British article is amusing - because of the time difference, most Brits went to bed Tuesday night before a victor had emerged, when it looked like Kerry had a chance of winning. They woke up Wednesday morning to the realisation that he had not. My good friend in London did that, although she hadn't at any point thought Kerry would win. She rang me last night to commiserate, although actually neither of us was especially gloomy. I have been trying to stay centred in my own life, though I slept fitfully last night. As I put Olle to bed yesterday, I couldn't help but think of those melting polar icecaps and wonder what sort of world he will live in 2050.

blumenthal

The full implications sink in.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

more religion

Two American (non-Christian) mothers I know have reported that their children were given Christian leaflets as part of trick or treating.

I went to the names-of-the-dead reading at St Mary's cathedral. There were only about 50 people there. A woman in religious vestments was one of the officiates. Because of the religious overtones, I thought about what it meant to me to listen to the names of the dead, who I think of as completely dead and gone. Those who are religious would see this as a prayerful occasion, perhaps a time to pray for their souls. I saw it as a public recognition of the value of each human life, a value which is important - or should be - to the living. Hearing names read out made me think about the process of naming a baby, thinking about what name they will carry through life. No mother wants to go through that joyful process of naming a baby, to have that name read out as part of the war dead.

I went to the reading with a close friend of mine who is also an ex-Catholic non-religious. (I'm not sure whether I can describe her as an atheist - probably.) I asked her what she thought of my response to the invitation to a christening. She said she thought it could be interpreted as either provocative or honest. I think it was a bit of both.

She said it reminded her of being invited to weddings as a gay person who cannot legally get married and who wouldn't if she could, anyway. Even if you wouldn't get married yourself, you can go along and feel happy and supportive for friends or family who are getting married, because it means something to them. I guess I could have seen the christening in that way. I have participated in Jewish ceremonies with a close friend of mine. Yet somehow this christening felt different to me. I couldn't have happily attended it. Sure, I'm glad that they have a support system in their church and get something out of it. But I can't honestly say that I want to validate their embrace of christianity by attending an affirmation of that.

A few days before all this came up, I was sitting on a bus thinking about how calm I feel about being a non-believer. There is nothing tortured about my status as an atheist. I do often think about the 'meaning of life', especially now that I'm a mother. Perhaps that's part of the legacy of having been raised a Catholic, I don't know. Intellectually, I don't think there is any 'meaning' to life in general, though of course we all find and create meanings in our own lives and as a connected humanity. I suspect that if humans were able to be assured of long healthy lives, then the need for religion would subside. I can envisage accepting the inevitability of death more gracefully the older I get. The concept of a natural life cycle is more and more meaningful to me, especially having lost one parent too young and seen the other parent reach old age.

Monday, November 01, 2004

religion

Speaking of getting away, I was raised and educated as a Catholic but left that behind when I left school. It is a matter of surprise to me that religion has such a high profile these days.
Most people I know closely are not affiliated with any religion although some of my dearest friends surprise me by saying they believe in God and/or an afterlife. I don't.
I have had a few friends along the way who were/are committedly religious - a few gay Anglicans (who all became disenchanted) and a close friend now who is an active member of her reform synagogue.
Some people we have got to know this year are recent Christian converts. You wouldn't guess this from looking at them or their kids ;-)
We were at a party last week and I was chatting to J, when he invited me to come along to their entire family's christening at a beach this weekend.
My reply: "Well, sorry, we can't come, one because I am not at all religious and two, because we have friends from Melbourne coming up for the weekend."
We talked about the 'not-religious' part. I told him, "You know what they say, once a Catholic, always a committed atheist". He said "You know what they say about atheists, by saying there's no god, they still have a relationship with God". Oh puh-leeze.
He then appeared rather miffed that I had told him I wouldn't come on the basis of not being religious - he thought I should just have said we had guests and leave it at that.

I'm not sure what to think of that. I thought that by being honest with him (honesty is a Christian virtue, isn't it?)I was indicating that we are friends and I don't need to make polite white lies. I admit there was an element of covert aggression, though.

Should I have just politely lied?

school friends

I am still working on organising my high school reunion. I spoke today to a classmate who I haven't seen or spoken to since we finished school. She seemed to have quite a few current contacts from the class. She mentioned someone who I had been good friends with in the middle years of high school, who got married two years after finishing. I went to her wedding and that's the last time I saw her. Well, apparently she is now divorced and has three adult sons. Yikes! It's so weird that other people my age have adult children and even grandchildren and I have a kindergartener. It's also quite weird to me that so many others from my school apparently still live in the general vicinity they grew up in. I moved as far away as I could possibly get and feel as if I have led about three different lives since those very long ago years. Even though these days I'm much more integrated, in the sense that I don't shun my own past and origins (I'm helping organise the reunion, after all), I'm glad to have 'got away'. (I'll be glad to go back, too, but just for the day.)

who's afraid?

I was in a solicitor's office today and heard one secretary say to the other, "You know what was really scary about that Osama bin Laden tape? He mentioned Australia".
It depends who wins in the US tomorrow as to how high my own fear factor will be rising. If it's Bush, we may all have to get along to this forum on Manufacturing Fear.

rudd slams howard...

Hear hear. Thank goodness Kevin Rudd doesn't believe what you can read in the press about the Labor Party being dead. Someone has to say this kind of thing, if only so that some of us can keep our self esteem.

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