AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 6:54 PM ----- BODY:

Exciting announcement

Well, exciting to me, anyway. Another blogbaby? No! The Cast Iron Balcony is moving. Barista, who utterly rawks, has arranged for the Balcony to move next door on the dox.media2.org domain. Big hugs and kisses to David, to Sam Da Silva and mySpinach.org and brunny.com. Big smoocheroonies to my darling on-site graphic designer who put together the graphic featuring my elegant, italianate Victorian.. Well... what do you reckon? Go on, have a look. Thanks again all you good people.

-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 3:59 PM ----- BODY:

The contemplation of my terrestrial appearance disrupts my internal accordion

Claire of Loobylu blogged about Moomins a while back, proof positive that her winning Aussie Blogger status is well deserved. I remarked then that I always wanted to be Snufkin as a kid, but I’ve ended up as Moominmamma. Kip of Long Story, Short Pier has discovered a charming “What kind of Moomin are you” quiz, which is from Russia and is charmingly translated by Babelfish, “I will repair hair-do, will tint cilia. Suddenly precisely today to me will arrive flying prince on the white cloud? It is necessary to be in the form!!” It seems I’m not Moominmamma, I'm the Muskrat. Hmmm. Well, I suppose I do have Muskratty qualities. “You know many clever words and them you frequently use.” That’s pretty close. However, “Those surrounding consider you philosopher and they relate to you with the respect.” Oh, I wish! In the words of the Babelfish, “Disgrace, in this agitated family eternally something occurs!” 4 ondatras! !
You know many clever words and them you frequently use. Those surrounding consider you philosopher and they relate to you with the respect.
Who you in the Mumi- portion?

Click here to find out who You in the Mumi-Portion.

-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 1:01 PM ----- BODY:

Easter Recipe

Why is it, they cry, that people mock fundamentalist Christians so much? Especially the American kind? You know, the kind that loves Heartwarming Motivational Sayings and bad poetry. Well, sometimes they have a bit of a taste bypass. That's my opinion, for what it's worth. They go in for the badly designed website, with animated gifs, cute little animals and (in this case) Laura Ashley-type motifs. And as for the content-- let's just say it can get a little weird and scary sometimes. Get the kids together - you'll have to threaten them a bit in this case, but hell, it's a religious festival!-- and try this fab cookie recipe. You could click here for the original, but you'll have more fun reading Caz's fisking of it on The Spin Starts Here. She is a very, very bad girl. Myself, I'm immersing myself in the true meaning of the Easter experience: It's actually an ancient festival of chocolate. Have a happy Easter break, everyone.

...Easter Sunday update: Well, in the words of another fine Kaz (Cooke), some Christians just render satire redundant. Via the Bitter Shack of Resentment.

-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 6:54 PM ----- BODY:

Where's Spiny Norman when you need him?

The gangsters of Melbourne have been having something of a killing spree lately. Killing each other, that is. There is even a special Task Force out on them called Purana, which the radio meeja takes great delight in pronouncing "piranha". None of us are perfectly consistent: I may be a bleeding heart pinko most of the time but I, too, have an inner right wing-ness. It is hard to feel any sympathy at all for these characters and the temptation is to think "There goes another one! You Bewdy!" and perhaps award a mental Darwin Award. Callousness is a two edged sword and something that there's too much of these days, both in the blogosphere and the world at large. It's to be resisted. Justice can be counter intuitive. Once you say it's OK for one idiot to blow another away because the other lowlife blew his brudda away and anyway they're less human than the rest of us, then you're heading for Rwanda or Northern Ireland. And you'll be no better than Ronnie Reagan. Remember that 80s joke? Reagan says, "Hmmm, you say there's a new disease, it's always fatal, and it affects homosexuals, prostitutes and injecting drug users?... And the problem is...?" However. One good excuse for ridiculing our homegrown Dougs and Dinsdales is that we need to stop portraying gangstas as cool. The Meeja pretend not to do it, but they can't help themselves. I guess it's too easy for a journalist on a deadline to whack in some Hollywood imagery to help a piece along. On the way to work the day after Lewis Moran's death I saw a Herald Sun poster: GANGLAND KING DIES. Terrific! The Hun, usually of the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" persuasion, promotes this sad man to King status. This wasn't on the online version, but we did have "Drama plays like a movie". A couple of weeks ago in the Australian, the wife of one of the gangstas had a bit of a grumble about it. Sorry, can't find the link. Her opinion, that a group of younger wannabes at Andrew "Benji" Veniamin's funeral, standing around in dark suits and black sunglasses, were pathetic and up themselves, reflected the views of many of us out here in the, ahem, wider community. She also mentioned, revealingly, that Veniamin was full of valium and on his way to his mum's to get his washing done when he was killed. Think on that, you young boys. Is that glamour? Is that excitement? Valium, the drug of choice of bored Tennis mums in the 60s, and in the boot of the Merc, instead of another wasted gangsta, a load of smelly washing. Boys, organised crime isn't glamorous; it's boring. Gangsters are not people to admire; they're clueless. 'Benji' wasn't shot down in an exciting, Bonnie and Clyde-type scenario; he was sitting in a restaurant with a mouthful of Fettucine Carbonara*, on his way to his mum's to get his washing done. As a crusty old feminist, sorry, I can't resist a final poke: If he had simply learned to bung a load of washing in the machine and turn the knob, instead of being a knob, he might still be alive today. *Embellishment alert: I do not know what type of pasta Veniamin was actually eating. It may have been Matricciana.

-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 10:22 PM ----- BODY:

Brendan, Brendan, Brendan. He's a funny lad, isn't he?

Gummo Trotsky has made the point that the Minister for Education, Science and Training isn't too good with his numbers, but from a short burst from Question time heard on the radio the other day, he's not very strong on English Comprehension either. For those new to this riveting item, Nelson was going in full bore, and I use that word advisedly, against Ironbark Latham. He told the anguished story of a family from Green Valley-- Ironbark's own home suburb, Mr Speaker!
Dr NELSON—So a family in Green Valley writes to the Leader of the Opposition—and has two children. The first wants to do economics at Sydney University and the family is concerned about the possibility that the student might pay back $20,000 through the tax system once they have had their university education and in the first year will earn at least $37,000—and the Leader of the Opposition says, ‘Get the member for Jagajaga out there. We have to campaign against this. There’s no way we want people training to be lawyers and doctors and economists paying any more for their education whilst the taxpayer is paying for three-quarters of it.’ For the brother of the student from Green Valley though who wants to go to the South West Institute of TAFE to do electrical engineering, a 188 per cent increase in fees that have to be paid up-front with a family credit card and an interest rate of 16 per cent—and what does the Leader of the Opposition do? Not a word. He says, ‘Go and see the member for Macarthur if you want something done about that.’ The situation is so desperate for these families— Mr McMullan interjecting— The SPEAKER—I warn the member for McMillan. Dr NELSON—that the president of the TAFE teachers’ federation and the president of the Australian Education Union has come to see me to say, ‘No-one will support us.’ They are getting no support whatsoever from the Labor Party to stand up for poor struggling families who cannot get their kids into TAFE throughout Australia. There is a 300 per cent increase in TAFE fees in New South Wales, 25 per cent in Victoria— and what do I hear from the Labor Party on that? Nothing—50 per cent in the state of South Australia, and the Labor Party has nothing to say. You might think you are driving a social justice truck—
When IronBark pointed out that Brendan had made this family up out of his own head, Nelson airily tried to make out he hadn't tried to pass the anecdote off as real.
Dr Nelson—Mr Speaker, to make it perfectly clear to the House, and to be fair to the Leader of the Opposition: this is the situation that would currently exist if a family in Green Valley were trying to get assistance from the Leader of the Opposition. (My bold)
But his original remark hadn't any of those hallmarks -- would, were, if-- of a hypothetical. Don't want to put you all to sleep, but let's just recap the bit about Latham--
...and what does the Leader of the Opposition do? Not a word. He says, ‘Go and see the member for Macarthur if you want something done about that.’
Now I'm only an ordinary punter but when I was hearing that session of Question Time driving along in the car (and subsequently checked it in Hansard, which is where the quoted bits are directly from) he sounded as if he was talking about something Ironbark had actually done, not something he might have done. "He says...", not "he would say". I have two options. One, I can believe Nelson is embellishing the truth and expecting to get away with it. Two, I can believe Nelson has a poor understanding of simple grammatical rules to distinguish real and hypothetical events. (I suppose there is a third option, that it was intended in some spirit of PoMo irony, but I don't think so somehow.) And this is our Feral Minister for Education, Science and Training? Do you see me laughing?

-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 7:36 PM ----- BODY:

Who’s this leftie?

A lovely old man died the other day. People who live in Victoria won’t be in any doubt as to who he was, but if you’re from another State or country, it might be fun to wonder who or what he might be. According to the tenor of political thinking in Australia in 2004, what end of the political spectrum might he have come from? (Identifying words and sentences have been snipped):
"..." was the epitome of an era in which politics seemed more enlightened and gentlemanly. His interests were the arts, gardens and fountains rather than the crass art of scoring political points. "..." single-handedly transformed the political landscape in Victoria. He reinvented politics… and shifted the political goalposts into more modern and progressive times. …He once said … "We will be less materialistic and more interested in things of the spirit. All other development and growth is negated if we destroy the surroundings in which we live." Some of his attitudes were shaped by the protests and student uprisings of the unsettled 1960s… He was one of the first politicians to understand and promote feminism and environmentalism. "There was a definite surge and I was able to share that...," he recalled in an interview. "...." is best remembered for founding the Environment Protection Authority and establishing a commission that led to an increase in the number of national parks and forest reserves. …he was also treasurer and minister for the arts, a portfolio he established. He more than once indicated his dislike for the divisive nature of today's politics. …He proved that governments can reform and advance community life without the need for adversarial politics or what he called "personal vilification and guttersniping".
The Plain People of Australia (Any resemblance to posters on 9msn discussion groups, writers for crikey.com.au or callers on Talkback is entirely coincidental): “Well, this is obviously some Green or Democrat member of the latte-sipping elite class. Obviously a member of that dreadful Baby Boomer generation, as his pandering to the wimminists and eco-crazies makes clear. Unable to cut it in the Real World of adversarial politics – can’t have been a real man, like Mark Latham or Tony Abbott. I mean, if you don’t like the heat, get out of Parliament! And the portfolio for the Yartz, typical Democrat or Green, a nest of socialists sucking on the Public Tit. Definitely some crazed socialist lefty.”
…the community's respect for him grew because of the public stands he took on issues such as support for the ABC against budget cuts, decriminalising marijuana, together with increasing drug and rehabilitation programs, supporting heroin injecting rooms, and campaigning against the dropping of tariff barriers. He was the first …. to speak in favour of republicanism.
The Plain People of Australia: Well, there you go. What did I tell you? The guy was just a complete trendoid and a Bleeding Heart. What he needs is a good dose of Liberal politics. These lefties are such losers!
He was a classics scholar and read Homer, Virgil and Greek and Roman history, finding them useful later in life.
The Plain People of Australia: One word- Ivory tower. He can’t have lasted long in government with that impractical kind of education. Where’s the Spreadsheets 101?
Former Labor premier Joan Kirner once commented: "He was a “…” with integrity and is a “…” with integrity." Last year he joined Mrs Kirner in calling on the federal and state governments to stop bickering and proclaim Point Nepean a national park. Former federal Labor minister Barry Jones said “…” was compassionate, courageous and deeply intelligent.
The Plain People of Australia: well, we rest our case. Obviously Labor left, if not Democrat or Green Fairies-at-the-bottom of the garden Chardonnay wimminist bloody Joan Kirner hahahaha and Barry Jones, what a joke, we don’t understand his ideas so we just reckon he’s an elitist! They’re all elitists, and this guy is obviously some leftie loser. Kids these days should be made to join the army.
He fought as a "Rat of Tobruk", survived the battle for El Alamein, fought in the jungles of New Guinea and took part in the Normandy landings. He accumulated 66 months of wartime service and was mentioned in dispatches from New Guinea.
The Plain People of Australia: OK, so he isn’t some Baby boomer or Gen X-er, but definitely some Labor Socialist or Democrat or Greeny bloody trendy.
Politicians from both sides last night paid tribute to one of Victoria's longest serving [Liberal] premiers, Sir Rupert "Dick" Hamer, who died yesterday, aged 87. Sir Rupert, a progressive Liberal credited with modernising his party and Victorian politics during nine years as premier, died in his sleep at his Kew home. A former Rat of Tobruk who fought in some of the great battles of World War II, Sir Rupert entered Parliament in 1958, became a minister in 1962 and succeeded Sir Henry Bolte as premier in 1972. He never lost an election before retiring in 1981.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, to see how politics and politicians have changed. Quotations taken from here, here and here.

-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 6:14 PM ----- BODY:

Stories from the end of the tether

My sister and brother in law have a profoundly disabled boy. He was a cheeky, elfin little baby, who wouldn't feed. He just didn't seem to want to suck. Even a bottle was a chore for him. Then he started missing developmental milestones. Everything seemed to point to Cerebral Palsy, but he was finally diagnosed with Angelmans Syndrome. If CP Sucks, as the T shirt says, Angelmans sucks even more if that is possible. You're stuck in toddlerhood. Gus is now a big, strong, happy... thirteen year old toddler. He is still in nappies. He may always be. So, what happens to him when his parents get really old? An article by John Elder in the Age today, which I am not linking to because it's not available yet on the web version at time of writing, is a wake up call about the stretched state of disabled care in the state of Victoria, and probably in every State of Australia.
Families "forced to lie" for disabled aid John Elder Services for the disabled are on the point of disintegration, with more than 3000 Victorian families waiting for supported residential accommodation for their children, according to disability advocacy groups. ...The register has become a joke because exhausted families, on the point of breaking down, need to 'sell' their situation as one of crisis - which often means portraying their relationship with their disabled children as abusive or at risk of turning abusive - just to get an "urgent" ranking on the list. "You have to humiliate yourself to get heard," says Jenni Sewell of PINARC, a Ballarat disability service with 500 people on its books. ...We have parents in their 60s and 70s caring for children in their 40s and early 50s. You're talking about grown children who need their nappies changed..."
So, how far will Australian parents have to go to demonstrate imminent family breakdown and even possible child abuse in order to get accommodation or treatment for their child? How about asking a court to declare them unfit parents and make their autistic child a Ward of State? Of course, that is in the Great Template for market economics, the US. (Via Wampum and Body and Soul.)

-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 1:11 PM ----- BODY:

I feel sick.

I was hoping against hope this wouldn’t happen. Iron Mark has taken sides with the brutal, corrupt government of Tasmania, Gunns Ltd and Clearfell logging. Mark Latham has spent the last two days in Tasmania, one with the Tasmanian timber industry and one with Bob Brown, and I have had a doomy feeling in the pit of my stomach all along, knowing that Mark is a right-wing Labor Machine whose rhetoric depends on being seen to be for an idealized notion of the Battling Working class, which is disingenuously portrayed as being at incompatible with any form of environmentalism – not dissimilar from John Howard’s Battlers. I thought the outcome would probably be unsatisfactory, but he has come down squarely on the side of the chainsaw gang. He’s made the right decision for today’s Zeitgeist, ingratiated himself with the Hard Men of the Labor party, and kept himself a small target for the Liberals on this issue. However, the short term focus on “jobs, jobs, jobs” (never mind how damaging the industry or how insecure and poorly paid those jobs are) is the mantra for our times, and that’s what he’s pushing. But does clearfell logging in Tasmania really provide so many jobs? You will see further on a claim by a Tasmanian pollie that 10,000 jobs would be lost if it was stopped, but Kate Carnell, the paid spin doctor for the woodchip industry, only claims 5430 (see second quote below). The Hobart Mercury described a “10000-plus crowd” demonstrating in Hobart on Latham’s first day there (another anti-logging demonstration was estimated at 15,000.) That makes it sound as if clearfell is supporting a lot of people, but the paper did use the disclaimer “..and supporters”. Here’s the situation in early 2003, from the organization Lawyers for Forests:
Since woodchip export quotas were abolished in November 1997 by the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement, with a resulting huge increase in the volume harvested, employment in forestry has fallen from 6558 to 3440, or 47%, with only about 700 people now reported to be employed in the main activity of native forest logging. Wages and conditions in the industry have also fallen sharply with the concentration of corporate control. A number of economic studies, such as that released recently by economists Marsden Jacobs Associates, and earlier ones by KPMG and the Victorian Auditor-General, have concluded that Australian native forest logging, when properly costed, is economically indefensible from the public perspective. Amazingly, no cost/benefit analysis has ever been conducted on Tasmanian forestry, by orders of magnitude the most intensive and wasteful in the country…” (5/01/2003)
OK, that’s the lawyers and accountants – not generally known as an airy-fairy greenie bunch. Here’s what the Timber Workers for native forests have to say (from Richard Flanagan’s article in the Bulletin, The Rape of Tasmania, December 2003:
…(L)ogging old-growth brings little wealth and few jobs to struggling, impoverished rural communities. According to Graham Green, of Timber Workers for Forests, in 1980 there were 205 registered sawmills employing 3000 Tasmanians – today there are less than 40 sawmills employing 1350 people. Under Gunns' tendering system, many contractors are squeezed hard, and a large proportion of their income goes on servicing debt for the heavy machinery necessary for their work. While the industry boasts of its wealth creation, such wealth is concentrated in one company, Gunns, and while it makes its profits primarily in Tasmania, the great majority of Gunns' shares are owned by mainland institutions. It has been estimated that less than 15% of Gunns' profits remain in the island, where the largest individual shareholder is John Gay himself. Tasmania itself remains the poorest state, with the highest levels of unemployment, and 36% of its population dependent on government welfare. You're unlikely to see Mercedes in Maydena, or Saabs in Geeveston. Perhaps, predictably, one of the last defences seized on by politicians on six-figure salaries is that they stand solidly with the working class in this battle. Paul Lennon's routine claim that 10,000 jobs are at stake if old-growth logging is ended exaggerates figures by including the great majority of forestry workers employed not in old-growth logging, but in softwood logging and milling, in plantation maintenance and regrowth logging, and in making paper out of imported pulp. Such assertions avoid the truth: jobs are disappearing in old-growth logging not because of conservationists, but because of mechanisation. The Hampshire woodchip mill near Burnie – the biggest in the southern hemisphere – employs just 12 people. A recent report in The Australian Financial Review revealed the Tasmanian industry in its entirety had shed more than 1200 jobs since 1997. Like Lennon's previously expansive claims – of, for example, eco-vandalism in the southern forests in 2002 (no proof ever produced); or that ending old-growth logging in Western Australia had left more than 4000 people unemployed (categorically refuted by the West Australian government) – I have seen no evidence for the figure of 10,000 jobs. It is double the number (5430 people) that even allies such as the head of the National Association of Forest Industries, Kate Carnell, claim for the entire Tasmanian industry, and triple the general industry figure (3200) given in the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data. Old-growth logging – as separate from the rest of the much larger forestry industry – is estimated by Timber Workers for Forests to employ only 320 people.
Hear that, Mark? “one of the last defences seized on by politicians on six-figure salaries is that they stand solidly with the working class in this battle.” Does that sound familiar? But it’s an illusion. And the sad, sad part of it is that you politicians will play out your games over the death of something that would be so precious to future generations. Let’s take Kate Carnell’s estimate of 5,430 jobs instead of the Timber Workers’, although personally I know who I’d believe. Then let’s take the millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money away from Gunns Limited, and use that money to buy them all out. Now. I feel sick.
-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 11:59 AM ----- BODY:

The AA Word

How would you feel being a teacher in the school system today? How would you feel, especially, being a female teacher? Not very good, I think. Teachers were on strike last Tuesday -- they have poor pay, no proper career structure, a crippling workload during term time, and the requirement to prepare or self-educate in the "holiday" period, while others criticise them in the newspaper Letters page for having "too many holidays". Here's another question. What's one of the most hated concepts for the conservative, right-wing and antifeminist camps? One that they have been sneering at for years? Over there at the back-- Jones Minor? That's right, Affirmative Action. (Take that gum out of your mouth, Snodgrass, or you're staying in after class.) When the concept of AA is applied to women and ethnic minorities, it has been consistently unpopular. It has even had limited popularity among feminists, due to the pervasive feeling that if someone has come up through the ranks due to AA, their competence will always be questioned. But that's slight compared to the ridicule AA is held in by conservatives. I was driving home from work the other day, and was depressed to hear a pundit on the "boring as batshit" RN declaiming on "the feminisation of the teaching profession, which has caused serious problems for the education system..." (Since it's a quote from the car radio, it's not verbatim, of course.) I tried to find the source, but couldn't. Maybe it was this guy:
"The feminisation of education continues to be a major hindrance to boys' advancement, despite the best intentions of teachers, male and female." "...treating them the same in feminised education systems favours girls and frustrates boys..." "In some places, 20% of all boys are medicated to suppress their maleness with which a feminised education system has little patience." "...feminise education to the point where boys have to choose between succeeding in school or succeeding as a male..." (My bold)
And so on, and so on. Feminised, feminised. The whole education system is in trouble because it's too feminised. And (page 4) it's all to do with the feminists in the Education department. If you read the whole document, you can see he's trying, in his way, to be even handed. But the tone is depressing. These people don't really like us very much, do they? Because women have come to "dominate" a profession (numerically, not in power terms, since men form a larger proportion of principals and high level bureaucrats), it's all a kind of plot. He makes it clear there are more women teachers than men not because men are avoiding a job with a poor pay scale and career path, but because of political plotting. He doesn't actually use the word "femocrat" but that's what he implies. Do I oppose using new techniques to teach boys? No. It's the constant references to women as a sort of cancer in the system that saddens me. Poor bloody women teachers. You can work back all the evenings you want doing Parents' nights and kids' discos; you can give up weekends for sports and school fetes; you can spend unlimited out of hours time on committees, fundraising and other volunteer work. You can stay up at night and in the holidays marking and doing preparation. But you are unfortunately female, and therefore, you are Part Of the Problem. For at least a generation to come, you will never appear as worthwhile as any male teacher working alongside you. Your femaleness dictates that the parlous situation of education - particularly Public education - is All Your Fault. Last year, four "rogue traders" and three senior executives were sacked from the National Australia Bank after losing $360 million in unauthorised currency trading. A survey of top Australian companies by the equal opportunity agency EOWA in 2003 found the National Bank was one of the three top 10 listed companies which had no women senior executive. Much newsprint has been used up by this story, but while the words "corporate cowboy" was bandied about, we didn't hear any government ministers saying that our Banking and Finance system is too masculinised and that we need to get some free scholarships for women to do MBAs and move into the corporate boardrooms. Just the old double standard again. But the culmination is the government's unequivocal, knee-jerk, unhesitating, in-principle adoption of Affirmative action for men in the education system makes you reel. Here's Margo Kingston's take on it:
Ah, the Zeitgeist! Everywhere you look the rules change before your eyes as new patterns seem to emerge then mutate. I'm still getting my head around John Howard ditching a long and entrenched Liberal tradition against affirmative action - quotas if you will - to allow discrimination in favour of men to go to teachers college. Opposition to quotas - reverse discrimination - is embedded in the US Republican and Australian Liberal-Conservative core principles. Equal rights, it's called. When I get a chance I'll have a look at the affirmative action debates at the time the Sex Discrimination act was introduced to STOP discrimination in the workplace, in education, and in the provision of services on the basis of gender. Howard's planned overthrow of the Act also flies in the face of the One Nation catchcry so gleefully appropriated by Howard - treat everyone the same, no special benefits. In effect, the government is allowing the Church to pay men more than women for the same job, instead of lifting pay for everyone or improving conditions for all.
Which brings me back to the strike last Tuesday. It was about not only raising teachers' salaries to a level commensurate with their professional skill, but improving their career path so that a skilled teacher is not stuck at a low rate of pay until retirement if she stays in the classroom. It is pointing out the obvious that if this was seriously addressed, more men might choose a career as a classroom teacher. If this isn't done, men will take the free scholarships, work for a token period in the classroom, then escape to a higher paid administrative position as they do now. Here's an opinion from a male education student, Andrew Eaton, who seems to be a dead-set sweetheart and would be an asset in any classroom:
Although Mr Eaton believes male teachers offer balance, positive values to younger boys and an important way for them to connect with learning, he considers the quality of the teacher, regardless of gender, and the health of the education system to be more significant issues. And when it comes to the mooted men-only scholarships, Mr Eaton said a passion for children and their education should motivate prospective teachers, not money. "If you're conscripted into teaching because of the money, you'll probably end up baling out in five years rather than being there 20 years down the track," he said. For Josephine Ryan, primary teaching co-ordinator at the university, the debate about a need for more male teachers is part of a wider dialogue about how society values men. "Historically teaching hasn't been seen as a high-prestige job for a man," she said. "It hasn't been seen as a sign of male success and teaching has been seen as a suitable job for a woman because of their perceived nurturing role."
Before this post gets too long and you, gentle reader, fall asleep, I'd like to throw in a list of possible reasons that boys are not choosing classroom teaching as a career as opposed to a sinister feminist plot by Maggie Smith lookalike femocrats in the cobwebby halls of the Hogwarts Education department:
-Low pay and absence of a proper career path unless you leave the classroom for administration -A pathological nationwide obsession with male sport -Near deification of male sportsmen, while our top scientists, artists and writers are virtually unknown -The concept of the "University of Hard Knocks" -The rise and rise of computer games, movies and TV shows pitched at boys, focussing on meaningless violence or X-treme this or that, coupled with an image of reading as Girly -The portrayal of "brainy boys" in kids' cartoons and movies -- the skinny little thing with big, round glasses. -A pervasive sexism left over from the last century which dictates that if something is Girly it's less worthwhile -Our economic rationalist society which pays socially useful jobs at a pittance while over-rewarding corporate CEOs, share traders and property developers. -The pervasive underfunding of public education, creating a situation where Superman would probably have a problem teaching a class.
If free teaching scholarships become law, I would hope that conservatives, antifeminists and the Liberal government would come clean and apologise for opposing affirmative action for women and ethnic minorities, since it only took them a nanosecond to come over to the concept once they thought people like them might be affected.
-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 5:40 PM ----- BODY:

The Gourds must be Crazy

Let this be a warning to you all not to turn your back on your vegie gardens at this time of the year. One of our outlaws has one, and as she's holidaying in New Zealand her sister's boyfriend decided to go over to her house and check on the garden. He arrived at our front door with the following: A butternut pumpkin about half as big again as an AFL football. A Zucchini bigger than the pumpkin. A Queensland Blue pumpkin (mercifully normal size). And A yellow button squash the size of a canteloupe. Cliched as it is, I couldn't help but think of the obligatory John Wyndham Reference. Please! Before it's too late... Check your gardens!
-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 1:42 PM ----- BODY:

Axing RN

When I was at home with my two babies, now 7 and 12, the big world sometimes seemed very far away. For number two, it was 12 months' maternity leave (Hooray!), with number one, I was out of the workforce and struggled for years to get back in. In both cases we'd just moved to new suburbs too and yada yada. It is not uncommon in those situations to feel a little isolated and starved for intellectual stimulation and enrichment. People who have been "downsized" would have a similar experience. It was then that Radio National became a necessary part of my daily routine. Academics, journalists, authors and performers from all around the world would inform me of their thoughts and writings. It didn't matter that I couldn't afford books and subscriptions and was constantly baby wrangling; RN was hands-free. It brought you ideas and world events with grown-up analysis instead of cretinous talkback and shock jocks. It gave you music, plays, and interviews with artists and writers. Here's a quote from a front page article from the AGE this Sunday, which I couldn't find on the Web for some reason, therefore no link:
Plan to axe ABC Radio National Peter Wilmoth, 7 March 20041 The axing of ABC Radio National has been considered by management to save money according to a senior ABC executive. The manager told the Sunday AGE the idea was first floated last year and is "almost certain" to be revisited by management in budget talks in the next two months. The option of axing the network, [Yes, the whole network!] was floated last year by Sue Howard, the director of ABC radio, and was part of a draft options paper which went as far as the ABC's director of business services, David Pendleton. ........The next few monthly meetings of the ABC executive will be dominated by budget discussions. "It will almost certainly be looked at again" said the manager, who declined to be named. "Sue never liked it, she has very little regard for it." Ms Howard is known to hold the view that the service is dull. "If you want boring as bat shit, go listen to Radio National," she is known to have told colleagues in her division.
Is there a soul so dead you'd find Ockham's Razor, The Night Air, the Deep End, Asia Pacific or Books and Writing boring as bat shit? or does she think the general population doesn't deserve serious entertainment? Terry Laidler is quoted as saying that if any such thing is seriously considered, "it would be final confirmation that the ABC board had lost touch with its audience and had absolutely no understanding of its charter." Well, they've definitely lost touch with me. There'll be hammering noises in the shed this week as Mum nails together and paints her protest signs, just in case. Hands off.
Update, 9 March: If you're as incensed as I am, Sue Howard's email address is howard.sue@abc.net.au
-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 8:11 PM ----- BODY:

Webdiary's back and so are the hacks

It's good to see Margo Kingston's Webdiaryback from hiatus. However, it's a bit of a yawn to see the predictable commentary start up again. Our conservative newspaper opinion writers are an eccentric lot to say the least. Piers Akerman, Bettina "Men need more prostitutes" 'Agony' Arndt, Miranda ""Trees a threat to Civilisation" Devine, Colostomy Lugs, Pearson et al. On the web we enjoy offerings from Stephen Mayne, who is a nice guy and has a perfect right in a free society to dress up in a giant green foam suit to attend board meetings. Margo, unlike the people above -- except for Mayne-- allows other people to publish essays on Web Diary whose political stance is different from her own; sometimes diametrically opposed. There's the regular John Wojdylo (I had to go and have a lie down after spelling that), and the new guy Noel Hadjimichael, as well as Harry Heidelberg and David Davis who are Liberal moderates. Tim Blair, Professor Bunyip, Piers Akerman, wouldn't do that. Yet it is Margo who they all point out as somehow unbalanced. Say wha....? Not to put too fine a point on it, the children at Crikey.com.au and the right wing bloggers are fond of saying she's off her tree. Now look at the above list in para 3 and I am sure you will agree that conservative political pundits and journalists are rarely 100% normal. And I didn't even mention Imre and P.P.McGuinness. To one particular blogger-- yes you, Professor; --We are not all stupid. "Pushing the frontiers of journalism, which until now has nominally restricted its efforts to the reporting and analysis of actual events". This was in response to Margo's story of her emails to Col Rubenstein. The point of the story was that Margo was attempting to get a yes-or-no answer - much as writers to MPs are now encouraged to write one-question letters in order to deflect the usual PR form letter. You can see from the published emails that Rubenstein never gave her a definitive answer. There doesn't seem to be any confusion on WebDiary between journalism and opinion writing; it's firmly in the latter camp. You ignore the many instances where Margo actually publishes, on WebDiary, pieces which lambast her point of view, and her responses are measured and fair. --"If subjects of stories found the coverage of their activities annoying, their discomfort was regarded as collateral damage." Pretty cheeky, given what you dish out. --Your constant references to Margo give me a strong impression that you're jealous - her "little corner" of the SMH; wish it was you, eh? How galling it must be to you to have to be content with your corner of the blogosphere. You'll infer from this that I'm not one of those people that think you are actually Imre Saluzinsky. My reason -- let's give credit where it's due -- is that when you are not having a bitch-fest, but writing slapstick stuff about the family, you make me laugh. I.S. has his own newspaper column, but his feeble attempts at "humour" have never, to my knowledge, made anyone laugh. Therefore, my guess is that you're a frustrated wannabe opinion writer, like all bloggers, but in your case you let it get too personal. --What's with the photo of Margo, linked with the words "She is (a sad case)." The photo is question is of a woman at work, angular, early 40s perhaps, not smiling, no make up!!!not posing for the photo. What a sad case! And what a terrible journalist. She hasn't even had bloody collagen injections, the hussy! I have an idea; Why don't you post a link to a photo of yourself? Surely if not having supermodel looks is bad for your writing ability, we should scrutinise your bodaciousness or lack of it. We'd hate to think that you, with your high standards of physical comeliness for others, might secretly be a bit of a bush pig. Come on. I dare ya.
-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 2:20 PM ----- BODY:

Pond scum, sorry, Pond Fish

The Aussie PM and cabinet are full of bad ideas - we're used to that. However, it's a particularly exquisite torture when they take a quite good idea and make it their own. The idea that not all kids are suited to a tertiary education, and shouldn't be shoehorned into getting one to no good purpose, is a good one, particularly in a context where there is a bit of an apprentice shortage and some industries will be experiencing a skills crisis in the near future. (Those older workers can't keep going forever, Pete!) I'm afraid if all the youngsters at the lower end of the class study Spreadsheets, Marketing and Managerial Jargon 101-120 we will have a terrible glut of young cheap suits with nothing to manage, that is, if no-one is actually making or building anything. Even for the white collar contingent, some tertiary courses are pretty useless if people need a mind-numbing "vocational" course to get an entry level job, where 40 years ago they could have started training with an employer for the same result. My darling started life as a typesetting apprentice before he was seduced by the wacky world of graphic design. However, Brendan Nelson, in the way of Liberal politicians, takes this idea and distorts it some new-age Caste system. In the process he manages to exonerate himself and his government from students missing out on tertiary places; pour blame on, of all people, careers counsellors (how many of us are in the jobs we're in because the careers counsellor told us to, for god's sake?) and profoundly insult anyone who doesn't go to university while pretending to encourage them. Beauty, Brendan. Brilliant stuff. Here's journalist Margaret Simons' take on what he has said recently:
Nelson has been talking lately about the life cycle of the salmon. It is the transcendent moment that interests him - when the fish swims upstream and leaps waterfalls. Some young people, he says, are like salmon. They want to struggle and excel. Others just want to find a quiet pond. He has been using the salmon image to try to quell one of the remaining hot issues in his education portfolio - the fact that demand for university places outstrips supply. People who are pond fish, he says, should not expect or be pressured to go to university. "We shouldn't try to make young people into what they are not." Nelson himself is a salmon.
(But of course!) How's that for an incentive for an intelligent young person to go and look for an apprenticeship? (If you think it's OK for all plumbers, electricians, etc to be stupid or illiterate, I guess we part company here.) On the one hand, Nelson blames careers advisors and educators for supposedly pushing kids towards uni when they're not suited. On the other, he refers to the non-tertiary crowd as Pond Fish. Terriffic! How complimentary! At least it's a rung up from Pond Scum. But not much. So who was the one discouraging young people from going for apprenticeships, again? The article in question, together with another AGE article on narcissism in politics, has convinced me that Brendan fits the Narcissist Politician mould very well. "Asked to name his weaknesses, one of his oldest political mentors suggests narcissism." (From the Margaret Simons article, again.) It's not that he's alone in this (Iron Mark and most of both sides of the Houses of Parliament are equally guilty, and we all have our narcissist traits), but while Brendan is wielding a heavy influence on our kids' futures, his own world view seems unbearably self centred and unexamined, and that's scary. Let's take a look at his own life history in the light of his "Pond fish and Salmon" theory:
Nelson was there [school] thanks to personal and family determination. "His father simply wouldn't take no for an answer," the present principal, Father Greg O'Kelly, remembers. "Brendan ended up getting in even though we were full." Nelson, in turn, was pushing his father. He was floundering at the local high school, failing physics and chemistry and challenged in maths. "I thought if I can't meet these academic challenges, what is there for me in life?" he says. At first his results remained ordinary. But in year 12 he changed his topics to reflect his strengths - English and economics - and did more than well enough. But still he was lost. "I was constantly wondering, what am I going to do?" At university he enrolled in economics, dropped out, and sold soft furnishings for a year. He considered the police force and the Jesuit priesthood before deciding, as a last resort, to become a doctor, which he was only able to do because the new Flinders Medical Centre in Adelaide had an innovative entry program that did not rely on science results.
Now, if Brendan had used himself as an example of the kid who's sitting with the Careers counsellor, what would he have told himself? His early performance at school marked him out pretty much as a Pond Fish, don't you think? If he had applied his own standards, he would have gone for an apprenticeship. However, he persisted and persisted until he got into med school. It can be argued that his sheer persistence puts him in the Salmon category, but his less than brilliant school career would seem to put him irredeemably in the pond weed, sorry, Pond Fish. (His categories, remember, not mine.) I'm just relieved he went into politics before I could become one of this maths and science-challenged doctor's victims, sorry, patients. You'd think that Brendan's workingclass background would have stopped him going all the way down the path of privatising education and awarding university places to students with lower entry scores who can pay full fees. But that's one of the narcissistic traits of the politician type. Like Margaret Thatcher, he "knows" he's "special" and his children and family must be special by association, so the idea of an educational caste system holds no fears for him. Draconian social engineering systems will apply to others, not to him. We will more and more find ourselves in a two tier educational system where it is financial purchasing power, rather than intellectual ability, that will determine the quality of education available; as a workingclass boy, he should remember that his Dad probably couldn't have bought him a place at University. On the contrary, he benefited from the pinko socialist government subsidied university system he inherited from the dreaded Whitlam. But Nelson knows that on his salary, he can always buy a place for his children. Do you think the underperforming youth of East Malvern and Toorak will be gently redirected away from the tertiary system in this way? One thinks not, but then one is rather a nasty, suspicious person. It seems more likely to me that he is talking about the uppity youth of poorer people, whose offspring would only whinge and delay having families because of the HECS system Brendan didn't have to pay. Turning from the typical Big-L Liberal inconsistency of Nelson's position, is the downturn in apprenticeships a result of the evil School Counsellors and parents turning children away from being a chippie or a sparky? Or might it be a combination of factors, such as the closure of TAFE and other technical colleges, withdrawal of funding for pre-apprenticeship TAFE courses, and privatisation of government utilities such as the SEC (and the use of outsourced labour from labour hire companies). Above all, employers need to star employing more apprentices. One fascinating tidbit from the Simons article is that
when he came to public life Nelson was a member of the Labor Party, like his strongly unionist father before him. But according to what he says now, he was voting Liberal at the same time. He says he has voted Liberal in every election since 1987, although he joined the Labor Party in 1988 and did not leave it until early 1992.
Now, tell me, you people who know more about Party politics... Is this behaviour... normal? With all the damage neoliberal ideologues have done to this country, you think I'd be grateful for an Education minister who is a completely principle-free zone. No, actually it quite scares me. What idiocies will this guy's eccentric world view throw up next?

-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 9:42 PM ----- BODY:

Oh goody, the new Tampa

A little while ago, on one of John Quiggin's Open Mike days, I suggested that in the riot in Redfern, John Howard had his new wedge issue for the coming election. Perhaps I was right, as it now seems. Prime Minister John Howard has suggested that the Redfern riot was partly the result of a policy of treating the indigenous community differently to the rest of Australia.
Mr Howard said the riot arose from a combination of factors including a "total breakdown in family authority within Aboriginal communities". "I think they sometimes arise from a policy perhaps of treating different groups in the community differently," he told 3AW. "The solution very much lies in treating everybody equally and as part of the mainstream as far as law enforcement is concerned."
Or in the words of one Paul Kelly
We got special treatment, special treatment We got very special treatment.
Hmmm. Does this mean that rampaging yuppie puppies will now have to endure the same incarceration rate as Aboriginal youth, for instance? Will koori life expectancy and access to medical services equal that of the rest of us? Do you think that's what he meant? Quick grab: In the Stating the Bleedin' Obvious department, after Peter Costello's pronouncements on staying in the workforce longer (and let's face it, poor old Peter will have to stay a bit longer himself as his life goals seem to be stymied for the moment), Radio National's PM came out with a segment titled "Age Discrimination a problem in the workforce". Seen those scrolling newsbars on CNNNN? ""Foul-breathed dog's bark worse than its bite." "Quick brown Fox jumps over Lazy Dog." Life imitates art. I'm off to the beach.
-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 8:53 PM ----- BODY:

The Cook, the Feministe, the Blogger, and her baby

I am truly sorry about that title. Really. Lots of ideas for blog posts, but too much work to do. I have made time, as you must too, to spend awhile in Hungry Tiger, a must-read for people who love food andwriting (via Barista). Here's a taste:
Corn! Our objective is to eat sufficient corn on the cob that we are actually able to contemplate eating it some other way. Later in the season. when we have had this meal enough times, we will have corn pudding and succotash and corn fritters and corn chowder. When I was in Italy, I was given pizza with fresh corn and arugula, and it was shockingly good. But for now, we are happy to eat the same meal over and over again: corn on the cob, tomato salad, bread, and raita. The raita is a component introduced to me by my dear friend A., and now we never go without. Raita is simple to make. Our version goes like this: Get some yogurt (full fat, ideally) and some cucumbers, if you feel like cucumbers would be nice today. Put some yogurt in a bowl, chop up the cucumbers and add them to the yogurt. Pull out a ladle with a metal bowl. Into the bottom of the ladle put a dollop of olive oil or ghee, and a big fat pinch of mustard seeds, coriander seeds, and cumin, plus a smaller pinch of tumeric. Turn on a front burner, and hold the ladle above the burner, swirling the oil around. When the mustard seeds start to pop. pour the oil and spices into your yogurt. Stir it all up and add salt to taste. It is cooling and savory, and best when a little runs into everything else.
MMmmmmmmm. Following links from heaven knows where, I came across a good few paragraphs on why we're still discouraged from using the f-word, by Feministe, which has some good links in it, notably to this article by Catherine Redfern. But if you're just looking for a bit of fun, thismight be the go (Via Echidne of the Snakes). (Music alert, if you need to turn the sound down, so as not to disturb, oh I don't know, perhaps sleeping babies?!) Jeanne D'Arc at Body and Soul is a blogger who everyone must visit every so often. She has written a killer post on "What we see, and what we can't", taking the subject of eyesight and using it to flesh out a wonderful essay. The comments are very interesting as well. Segueing into the subject of how we are seen, she refers to a now-famous New York Times article on Caroline Payne, whose lack of teeth have kept her on the lowest rung of wage earners. it's about the "constellation of events" which can trap people in the economic underclass. Last, but definitely not least, Gianna's had her baby boy! I wonder what his name will be? Welcome to the world, blog baby.
-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 6:39 PM ----- BODY:

Barbeque stopper

Damn it! Gianna's beaten me to this post (which conjures images of a sorta pregnant racehorse), with a double whammy - I was going to post on workplace, family and gender issues, with special reference to why I don't trust Mark Latham. Somebody confine that woman before she gazumphs me again! Here's a basic, fundamental, cornerstone, how-many-adjectives-can-she-fit in a sentence tenet of my world view: the "modern" workplace and work rhythms are really a leftover from the 19th and early 20th centuries. When applying gender politics to work, some people-- or most people perhaps-- seem to see feminism as the attempt to give women the right to move into those workplaces on the same terms and conditions that have always applied to men (except that in the late 20th century, the hours worked have been ramped up). And this is just not 21st century thinking. One central feature of the old 19th-20th century workplace was the assumption of a woman working at home, support staff if you will to the office/factory/site/hospital worker. Of course, in the early days of the industrial revolution women worked in the Satanic Mills and down Pit, without proper childcare, but in those days there was less pretence of caring about the lives of the lower orders. Since the fundamental premise of women looking after children and the home has been much slower to change than education and work opportunity, this has meant a less than level playing field for working women and working men, with the result that many mothers drop out of the workforce, while other women drop out of motherhood - which isn't really an improvement on the first half of the 20th century. It also leads to gloating comments from the Agony Arndts of this world that feminism has "failed", when in fact it is our creaking industrial / commercial system that has failed to keep pace. So, that cornerstone thing is that gender equality doesn't just mean educating girls and giving them a shot at working in the unreconstructed workplace. It means altering the way things are done both in the home and the workplace. It means looking at the way work and the economy are run, and changing them to benefit people rather than trying to shoehorn people into roles that benefit the economy - which is, after all, just a social construct. It means both women and men need to change the way they work and how they live. To me, it follows inevitably from this that gender roles need to change not just for women, but for men, and it is time work-and family policies start aiming for both Mums and Dads and stop assuming that family friendly work is a "womens issue". I want to see more press releases referring to "parental leave", not "maternity leave". I want to see more men like my boss who are in management positions and who actually take advantage of these things. I already know men who are working from home and taking the primary responsibility for children; It's a happening thang in my suburb. That's why Catherine Lumby is a woman after my own heart. She completely gets it:
Next month my partner returns to full-time paid work after four years looking after our two small boys. ...We certainly weren't trying to be different. My husband is no SNAG. He likes his cricket frequent, his supermodels scantily clad and his meat rare. We just didn't think it mattered which one of us stayed at home. If we were to take present debates about child care personally, though, we'd have to conclude we are freaks of nature. In article after article, experts, politicians and commentators all assume that it's only women who are faced with the Hobson's choice of caring for children or following their career instincts. .....If both men and women saw staying at home with young children as a legitimate part of working life, you can bet your organic cotton socks that corporate culture would change overnight. The stuff women struggle to justify - part-time work, flexible working hours and career gaps - would be seen as mainstream issues.
Our current government doesn't listen to Catherine Lumby. They listen to Catherine Hakim. She kind of half gets it, but in a way that gives policymakers the idea that our default position should be for women to stay home. Perhaps I’m being unfair to her because her ideas have come to us through our Liberal politicians, a grimy filter indeed. They love Catherine Hakim and her "adaptive women" (who are constructed as longing for the home, begrudging their work hours). I can't go for a week without some reference to the bloody woman from JH or Kevin Andrews. Why should we accept Government By Catherine Hakim? I don't remember voting for her! So, one is cautiously pleased when one sees Mark Latham coming out with phrases like "rebuilding male identity". At last, someone appears to see Lumby's point. But as you may have wearily noted, I just can't help being suspicious of the guy, and I'm not alone. Gianna:
Sadly, my feelings on Mark Latham are not much more positive. Despite being happy that under his leadership, the Labor Party has a greater chance of winning than under his predecessors, at a personal level I find him cold and similarly blokey--the main difference is, if I bumped into him in the street, he would probably make a convincing show of pretending to listen, consistent with Labor's image as being more 'caring-sharing' than the Liberal party.
My sediments exactly; I'm aware of Mark's Thatcherite past, and his utterances in the last month or two look very much like a clever-clever repackaging, to my jaded eyes. Here's some of his form, as described by Anne Summers in The End of Equality, published 2003:
"Indeed there exists a hostility to womens' interests in sections of the ALP that is best articulated by the outspoken MHR from New South Wales, Mark Latham. Latham was promoted to shadow Treasurer and leader of opposition business in the House in the July 2003 reshuffle and is now a force to be reckoned with in the parliamentary party. This makes his views even more disturbing. He claims: "Feminists identify primarily with the gender politics of affirmative action, while most people - male and female - want a society based on merit and equal opportunity'. Latham provides no evidence for this claim and it is one that in my view is utterly spurious. Feminism is about equality for women and men. On Latham's argument that should make 'most people' feminists. ....Latham also insists the reason Keating lost the 1996 election was 'a feeling in the electorate that we were addressing social issues more through identity politics than socio-economic need.' By this he means that the so-called feminists who supposedly imposed quotas and lack of diversity onto the Labor party were responsible for the electoral loss. As I argued in chapter 6 precisely the opposite was the case: in 1996 Labor received only 34 per cent of women's votes, not because Labor promised affirmative action - it didn't - but because women were totally and utterly ignored by the party in government. Many Labor women are very distressed by the fact that the party that once championed womens' rights now sees these policies as sectional and unnecessary."
That was only in 2003. So, has Mark seen the light? Has he really had some kind of epiphany on gender issues, or has he just realised that following the old agenda is an electoral turnoff, and he's after our votes - and if he gets them, will he still respect us in the morning? To use a phrase from the Bad Old Days.
-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 6:36 PM ----- BODY:

Tough Dove

Hey, the story had a happy ending. We came home, we had dinner. It was still light because of daylight saving, so I thought I'd go back to the bushes on the corner of Somerville and Hyde street and see if the dove was still there. I was hoping it had died quickly and mercifully of the shock reaction I was sure it would have after such a massive impact. If not, it would be sure to be in such a debilitated state, I wanted it dispatched in a humane way rather than used as a football by someone's darling pussy cat (Sorry, cat bloggers.) Grabbing a shoebox and the little boy, I returned to the scene and immediately saw the pretty, gormless little Symbol of World Peace in the locked doorway of Beaurepaires Tyres, looking quite calm and not dragging any wing or limbs. He (?) was either too dumb or too tame to escape being caught and plonked into the shoebox. We took him to the Lort Smith animal hospital in North Melbourne, where they took him in, pronounced him OK, and said they'd give him to a pigeon fancier once he'd recuperated in a nice quiet cage. Disclaimer: I am not overly sentimental about animals. I am aware that non-native pigeons and doves are pests and if 100% of them were painlessly put to death today, I wouldn't argue for a second. But I don't like watching prolonged suffering - hell, I don't like it for humans, either-and domesticated beasties are rendered helpless once they're in the wrong place, so we owe them a helping hand when they're in trouble, if we can. And this bird's sheer resilience was inspiring somehow, even though an almost total absence of brain could also explain it...
-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 5:50 PM ----- BODY:

Whining lefty tree-hugger is going to bring you down once more

Get married on Valentine's day, didja? How very ROMANTIC. Especially the white doves you paid some wretch to release on the day. Somewhere in the western suburbs of Melbourne. I understand it's supposed to be "for luck". Unfortunately, one of your wedding party didn't make it home. My daughter has been on my case lately for still eating meat, so I've copped many lectures. I'm still doing it. But the animals we use, abuse and toss aside are not just the ones we eat. Sorry, I'm upset. It's been a shitafa day and I'm driving home along Hyde st, Yarraville, when I see a white bird flapping in a hedge. Now normally I wouldn't give a pigeon the time of day, but I know this isn't a wild bird and it's in trouble. So I stop the car, not really thinking I can catch the thing, but I think I should at least make the effort. I get as far as the hedge, which is at the corner of Somerville and Hyde - two big nasty streets with trucks and commuters hooning up and down. The bird is nowhere to be seen, and I'm turning to leave when I hear this big PAF! sound, like the 4WD which has just reached the lights has run into somebody's big fat labrador, but unbelievably, this enormous collision sound has been the 4WD clipping the white dove, who is now disoriented-ly waddling around the centre line. There are pure white feathers on the road. And also unbelievably, the poor, pure-white, hopelessly romantic little sod still believes it has a prayer and is gamely making for the other side, to the Beaurepaires' Tyres. I stand irresolutely at the lights ("Get a grip, woman, for heaven's sake. It's a #### pigeon") and the dove actually makes it to the other side. I decide it'll be too shocked to run, so I cross at the lights and start following it around. It's an amazing little thing. After that huge impact, it's still walking, one wing is carried lower than the other (must be broken) and it's adamant that it's doing this on its own, thank you very much. I leave it in the bushes, thinking it'll probably die a merciful death from sheer shock, as birds do. I hope so. Otherwise it'll be a sitting duck for some cat tonight. Yes it's just a #### pigeon, but Western culture has made it into some kind of symbol of love and tenderness, so I thought I'd just borrow the little guy as a symbol of our complete and utter disregard of nonhuman critters. Yeah, very romantic.
-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 7:09 PM ----- BODY:

What not to wear

Here are some of the clothes the AGE fashion supplement, which came out today, says I should buy. Teeny tiny leather sandals for a mere $850. Cashmere sweater $439. Wool singlet $455, worn underneath(!) silk camisole, $370; Wool skirt (an absolute shocker), $517; Canvas hat $226!!!!,silk scarf $465!!!! A cotton/satin jacket and skirt, which will set me back $3,430 if I want both pieces. Wool trousers - now there's something relatively useful, but $445. Another suit, black, total $1,460. Hey, I'm so rich I can spend $455 on something to wear underneath something. Humph.
-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 7:23 PM ----- BODY:

Get out the Bullshit detector

The AGE opinion page wouldn't be complete without a press release from one of the right wing think tanks, like the Institute of Public Affairs or the Centre for Independent Studies. Jennifer Marohasy of the IPA bemoans the ideological dishonesty of the conservation movement worldwide - Conservationists just aren't dispassionate truth seekers, like them.
(Snip glowing account of Bjorn Lomborg's environmental theories): That this proposition was greeted with hostility and outrage by many high-profile environmentalists is illustrative of the extent to which they - while claiming concern about various problems - are in fact committed to the continued existence of the problems.
That's right, environmentalists are actually working in secret to perpetuate environmental problems, to keep themselves in a job. And I thought lefties were supposed to be wacky conspiracy theorists?
Societies that tolerate the unencumbered pursuit of knowledge are rare. Often religion and ideology dictate the cultural and political landscape, thus constraining scientific research and its reporting.
Jennifer and the IPA, you see, are completely pure in their motives. (From herIPA biog):
Dr Jennifer Marohasy joined the IPA on 1 July 2003 as Director of the newly formed Environment Unit. The Unit has been established to provide market-based, science-driven solutions to environmental problems.
Market-based and science-driven? And these two are always in agreement, right? As to the body of Marohasy's article, as she actually has scientific credentials in biology / botany, I can only say her statements show a masterly command of the selective statement. Who else could say that "remnant vegetation" covers 81% of Queensland? And "Forest cover", which is "increasing", presumably leaves out old-growth, which is not. I think she's talking about Pinus Radiata. Good for timber, but not for habitat. Another IPA member's biog states, piously,
Gary heads the IPA's Non-Government Organisation Project. This project will focus on the need for greater transparency and accountability of the NGOs sector. The IPA's position is that, like any market, there should be open competition among interest groups, and open discussion about the role of these often private organisations which play a public role, sometimes with public funds, usually with corporate and private donations.
As opposed, don't you see, to the chaps at the IPA:
...(W)e ensure that our funding base is wide and diverse. Unlike some other institutions, we do not accept government funding, nor are we beholden to, or the mouthpiece for, any particular section of the community or any particular economic activity or group. Our annual budget---of about $1 million---is obtained from more than 2,000 individuals, corporations and foundations. No single source accounts for more than 7 per cent and no sector accounts for more than 15 per cent of total funds.
Gosh, that is so different from those other, bad NGOs. (Of course, like the CIS on their website, they won't tell you who the "corporations and foundations" are.) And the fact that all the publications advertised on the site are pushing the same neoliberal dry economic agenda is a complete coincidence. You may say it's not fair, but when I see "Institute of Public Affairs" or "Centre for Independent Studies" next to a byline in the AGE, I give it about the same respect I would a paid advertisement. And I get my bullshit detector out. Meanwhile, Tim, over at Road to Surfdom, is equally annoyed by the Australian's lovable maverick. Wow, he really does hate the Labouring Classes, doesn't he? I wonder if he meant to let the "I may be to the right of Genghis Khan but I'm a loveable crusty old rogue" mask slip so much?

-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 6:37 PM ----- BODY:

FTA again

Barista gives the lowdown on the Australia-US free trade agreement, which is now in the can. He's found reason to be cheerful in the wording of the Åudiovisual content:
DFAT website: The Government has protected our right to ensure local content on Australian media, and retains the capacity to regulate new and emerging media, including digital and interactive TV. The agreement ensures that there can be Australian voices and stories on audiovisual and broadcasting services, now and in the future.
I had a look at the aspects of the policy which I blogged about recently. Here's a weirdly named category called Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures; Sounds a bit 19th Century, doesn't it. This gives me
Both countries have reaffirmed that decisions on matters affecting quarantine and food safety will be based on science. The agreement preserves the rights of both countries to protect animal, plant and human health and life in their respective territories. Australia's regulatory systems, risk assessment and policy development processes are not affected, and the AUSFTA does not compromise Australia's quarantine regime.
I like the fact that they use the actual words "based on science". But my faith in some "science" commissioned by big corporations is a bit lacking. I'd like to know more about what "science" they're going to run with. Anyway, at least it's better than "based on sheer market forces", although if the corporations commission their own research, that's how it'll end up anyway. "Environment and Labour" (Hooray! Some rebellious PR flak has struck a blow for non-US spelling!)
* The Parties have agreed not to fail to enforce their own environmental and labour laws in a manner affecting trade between the Parties. * Both Parties retain the right to establish their own domestic environmental and labour standards, and to adapt or modify their own laws. Under US trade promotion authority, environment and labour are considered non-commercial issues. The obligations of the Parties therefore differ in significant respects to other issues treated in the agreed text of the AUSFTA. The key obligation of each of the Parties is to not fail to enforce effectively its own environmental and labour laws, through a sustained or recurring course of action, in a manner affecting trade between the Parties. These are the only provisions of the environment and labour chapters to which dispute settlement provisions in the FTA will apply. The Parties recognise that each Party retains the right to exercise discretion with respect to investigatory, prosecutorial, regulatory and compliance matters, and to make decisions regarding the allocation of resources to enforcement with respect to other environmental matters determined to have higher priorities. The agreed text recognises the importance and value of cooperation and consultation on environmental and labour issues. No changes to Australian environment or labour laws or regulations will be required.
So far, so good! What this means is, our people have been intelligent enough to get it in writing that the FTA doesn't override Australian sovereignty, and if Exxon finds oil under Steve Irwin's koala sanctuary he can tell them to go and boil their collective heads in oil. Will this lead to a conservationist's paradise? Well, as long as some Aussie corporations are just as bad as the US ones, then no. But at least we're no worse off than before. Come to think of it, it's a pity we didn't include a No-US-Spelling clause in the agreement. I haven't had time to wade through the whole thing, so I'll be interested to read what other people have to say.
-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 9:58 PM ----- BODY:

Read this if you live in Perth

Rob Corr has put out an All Bloggers bulletin; It Will be Done, oh great one. It looks like a great day out in a good cause. An equally Boss Blogger called Rob has a good story about the same subject.
-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 9:43 PM ----- BODY:

Bloody ferals

I'd like to say a great, big cast-iron-balcony thankyou to those brave people who sit in, under and among trees. That is, the people who have organised and participated in the Thomson blockade(Victoria), the Ellery Blockade(Victoria), and the Styx Valley tree sit (Tasmania). Come on down! No, that's a poor choice of words, at least for the Styx and Ellery crew. Take a bow! These people, and their support staff in the Wilderness Society and other NGOs, deserve an accolade to themselves because they are always a cheap target for people who do not understand what they are doing, or don't want to understand. Such a big deal is made of the dreadlocked ferals appearance aspect, as if that were the point. (You try living in East Gippsland with the mud and leeches for months on end and then show me what you look like.) Some of them might have dreadlocks. Yes. Many do not. My point is this. I care very much about Australia's tiny remnant of oldgrowth Forest cover, and particularly the cool temperate rainforest of South Eastern Australia, because that is the forest I live near to as well as its high conservation value. But my life as a fulltime employee and parent doesn't allow time out to sit in a tree, or a forest camp, for months. Further, I don't have the courage to forego my job and superannuation and join a reviled group of unpopular people in the bush. In addition to that, I am too much of a coward to expose myself to the constant barrage of criticisms and insults that the "greenies" get from the locals - and that's just the start, then there is the possibility of violence, personal attacks and police arrests. I'm too much of a wimp to even sport a conservation bumper sticker in Orbost, just in case I break down in logging country (cue a few popping banjo notes). At the end of a few days in the wilderness, people like me come home to our comfy houses and have a hot shower. The volunteers, on the other hand, remain there for weeks or months, braving mud, rain, wind (some high above ground in tree sits) and some of the charming locals. The Styx tree sitters even have a blog - and you can read about life 65 metres up, where even going to the toilet is a technological marvel.
November 19, 2003 The million dollar question answered Now, lots of people have been asking the all-important question about how one goes to the toilet 65 metres up a tree. Iím sure everyone can imagine. Let's just say it involves a chest harness, two points of contact, a bucket, and preferably no wind. It isn't as big a deal as everyone seems to make out. - Felicity Posted at 02:45 PM
These campaigns haven't registered as much as a blip in the media (as far as my frenzied attempts to keep up with various media can tell-- corrections welcome). Those of you who might not give a toss about the aesthetic or spiritual value of oldgrowth forests, or who think that global warming is just a load of old cobblers, might also pause to think about the role of these forests in the water table of Australia's south east (for non Australians, that means for quite a big chunk of the population). Here in melbourne, we use water from sources such as the Eildon and Thomson reservoirs, which fill with water from the surrounding Central Highlands.
Logging is presently taking place in five of Melbourne's water catchments, which provide Melbourne with up to 40% of its drinking water. Logging leads to a drastic decline in water yield and it takes 150 years for water yields to reach pre-logged status. Escaped regeneration burns result in further reductions in water yield. Post logging burns are resulting in forests becoming dryer over time. Damp understorey species are being lost and the dry exposed soil is favouring the regeneration of drier species. Logging roads contribute to large sediment loads in Catchment Rivers. For every hectare of roading 90 tonnes of sediment enters Catchment Rivers on an annual basis. (Wilderness Society, 7 October 2003)
Think of a cool temperate rainforest, with its deep topsoil and thick ground cover, as a gigantic spongy filter. Water comes down to our reservoirs through that filter. It also comes down to rivers, which are kept clean and healthy (and full of fish). Now imagine water coming down without that filter, but instead, via muddy and burnt mountainsides. Now it's filthy red and murky, instead of fresh. Replanting forests, while a Good Thing in some respects, is far inferior to keeping the old growth in place - regrowth is dry, differently constituted and more likely to burn than the old, wetter forest, and the young trees need more of the water themselves to grow. On top of that, where has all that nice thick topsoil gone?...That's right. Here in Melbourne, we are so complacent about water that we wash our cars and water our gardens with drinking quality water. We moan about water restrictions due to the drought, but we ain't seen nuthin' yet if we continue to log our water catchments. This is quite apart from the greenhouse and economic benefits of retaining forests. So this is just to say I'm grateful. If my children's children can still visit Goolengook or the Styx, or drink fresh water straight from the tap, it'll be down to people like them. Thanks, again.
-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 7:57 PM ----- BODY:

Blogroll update

Goodbye Smart Remarks, I'll miss you. Hello Sedgwick and Kick and Scream.
-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 4:13 PM ----- BODY:

Goodbye, Janet

The angel has left the table.
-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 10:58 AM ----- BODY:

Memo to Steve Irwin.

No, this isn't about young Bob and the crocodile. (Phew, eh?!) No, I'd like to have a word with you about the ad you did for the Federal Government's Customs Service. Not the payment, I hasten to add. I know you gave it to the koala sanctuary, which I'll come back to later. I know you have the greatest relationship with our PM (I'm not sure who plays the eagle and who plays the budgerigar - I admit this had me a bit puzzled, but then the rules are different at your ethereal social level.) Next time you score an invite to a barbie at the Lodge, mate, I wonder if you'd have a bit of a word in his ear about this Free Trade Agreement he's about to sign with his mate George? You see Steve, as the mouthpiece for Customs you did a fabulous job explaining how our boys and girls in Customs are defending our borders against diseases, pests, fungi and other nasties. In the case of these tiny terrorists it's really necessary to decide who comes here and the manner in which they come. We know all about rabbits, Pattersons Curse, cane toads, SARS and all the rest of those unwelcome guests which got under the radar. Remember how a couple of years ago, New Zealand and Canada wanted to sell us apples and salmon? You'll remember we had to say no to that because of the risk of fire blight to our apples and pears, and new bacteria and parasitic diseases to our fish. With the FTA we won't have that right any more. Under a NAFTA-type agreement, which is what John has in mind, US corporations can sue the pants off us - pardon the french, Steve - if they lose money due to any regulation we might whack on the environment, or labour relations and things like that. Crikey! You'd better hope Exxon never find oil under your Koala sanctuary mate, because there will be nothing you can do about it. We'll no longer have to the right to preserve any part of our environment or our threatened species (and I include TV actors in that category, mate), if it threatens an investor's profit. If some corporation wants to pollute the river your crocs live in, it'll be tough bikkies. And if a US corporation wants to import fruit or salmon or deer or any other dead-or-alive critter, well, there won't be much the Customs service can do about it as the corporations put pressure on the Government to make transport faster and regulations less restrictive. As "an Australian who's out there, who's achieving conservation, probably greater than any other Australian currently", in your own words (and so modest too!) I'm sure you will see the need to warn our PM- and go back on TV as fast as you can to tell people about the way in which a Free Trade Agreement will make a mockery of this wonderful Customs service of ours. I just hope it's not too late. [This contains some recycled links from an older blog post.]
-------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 9:38 PM ----- BODY:

More grumbling about education

The Balcony, still in grumpy mode from the last post, wondering just what the "values" are that John Howard sees in a private school education?
Personal economic advancement at all costs? The activities of our wealthier class seem to amply demonstrate that the foot on the neck of the competitor is not only perfectly OK but shows you are possessed of the right stuff. The 4WDs at the school gate, while not the sole preserve of private school parents, symbolise the "positional good": In the highway accident that is Federal education policy, our children will be protected, and yours will die. Lurks, perks and rorts? Buggering fellow students with wooden implements (made at school, in woodwork class)? Telling lies really, really well? Avoiding the consequences of your actions? Heroin chic? As a bit player in the wonderful world of Melbourne's 80s music scene, I noticed many of the injecting drug users were from the best schools. Some very well known, others not. (A friend was heard to mention a comment he'd heard from a Malvern matron in a bank queue about some friends of his. "the xxx girls -- hopeless junkies, the lot of them.") These days we have party drugs and Chapel street instead, but I imagine things haven't changed much. Which brings us to Binge drinking and vandalism? Corporal punishment? Spying on your own family?
And if they're so inculcated with Values by the time they leave school, how come they need to be spied on anyway? OK, OK. I'll lay off the private schools now, except to say that I hope I've demonstrated that not all our social ills come from the Great Unwashed (referred to, revealingly, as "outsiders" in the Spy Kids article above.) Private school teachers, the principal of St Michaels Grammar school, and even the occasional Christian school teacher have come out against John Howard's remarks, and good on them. As a letter writer in the SMH pointed out today, Howard is just employing the Three D's (Distract, Divide and Demonise) as he always does when he wants to Divert (that's another D) attention away from something unflattering to the government. And what might that be, I wonder?
Update, Jan 28: Yes, things are now looking broken again in the Comments department. I'll try to fix it when I have time.
Update #2: Here goes nothing: -------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 12:50 PM ----- BODY:

This is a test

Either comments will be enabled, or this blog will be broken. (Crosses fingers) -------- AUTHOR: Helen DATE: 8:42 PM ----- BODY:

Don't get me started

Grrrrr! Rowr!! My mood today hasn't been improved by the morning newspaper and radio. Like Barista, who also deals with other matters, my blood pressure was raised by the news of the first-round University place offers, in which the new system kicked in, and 22,000 prospective students missed out there is a new double standard: ENTER score for HECS funded positions and another for full feeing places. (e.g., 97 for HECs peasants and 87.55 for the rich and thick, for Arts/Science places at Melbourne University. My blood boiled when I heard:
PETA DONALD: Seventeen-year-old Gabby Czarnuta from Melbourne was offered law at Deakin university and while she's happy, it wasn't her first choice. That was Arts Law at Melbourne University, and she would have qualified for a full-fee paying position. GABBY CZARNUTA: It's just a bit annoying because I know that people that have the money to pay the full fees have gotten a lower enter than me and I've worked every single day of my VC and school life as well, like, so hard.
O.K, relatively rich and thick. 87.5 is still a respectable score. But that doesn't detract from the point. This is entrance to university on the basis of wealth, not of merit. I thought most of our neoliberal politicians and corporate rulers were supposed to believe in meritocracy? At the same time Howard, not content with throwing a few more million dollars at the private school system, went on record bagging the Government school system.
"People are looking increasingly to send their kids to independent schools for a combination of reasons. For some of them, it's to do with the values-driven thing; they feel that government schools have become too politically correct and too values-neutral."
This is the system he and his government are supposed to be in charge of. To use their own managerialist jargon, they're supposed to feel "ownership" of it. It is obvious why State schools are underfunded and struggling when the PM can be so contemptuous of them. As a parent, the government's mantra of "choice" is meaningless to me. School fees of around $10,000 per child per year (in Melbourne) for two children? Not possible for us. I know the pundits always say there are legions of taxi drivers out there who manage to "sacrifice" to send their kids to private schools, and if the rest of us would cease our wickedly spending ways we could too, but take it from me-- as a non-smoking moderate social drinker who who sees approximately two live plays a year and whose work clothes hover between chainstore tragic and sheer embarassment, and who is relying on her 1991 Nova to last at least 7 more years, there is not $10000-20000 worth of fat to trim in this family. And the fees are only the beginning-- then you'd start on the uniform, the ski trips, the China excursions, etc. so that little Tarquin isn't socially ostracised. Some choice. And then we get the pleasure of seeing the little Tarquins beat my child for a place at University with an ENTER score of 87.55 to her 96.5. Oh, and our taxes are helping to pay for it! I'm having a Marge Simpson moment. Grrrrrrrrr.
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