Monday, February 22, 2010

The Power of Television

Charlie has worn glasses since he was 14 months old. Just recently he's started objecting to wearing them - not violently, just whinging occasionally. Since I have enough battlegrounds with Charlie at the moment, I've not been making a big deal of him wearing them at home.

He was watching a cartoon with a character with glasses today, and suddenly jumped up and announced he was going upstairs to get his glasses.

Is there anything TV can't do?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gender based ethical standards

I've often claimed that society expects less of boys and men - phrases such as "He's only a boy" are heard a lot, especially among mothers and grandmothers. But of course, I don't do that. I treat my boys the same as my daughter. Obviously.

I was just watching one of those obnoxious Nestle ads where they talk about how they are saving the world with their processed foods. It was the second one I've seen, but this one had an extra hit - the person speaking on behalf of Nestle was a woman. I was instinctively more disgusted by a woman's lack of integrity (as perceived by me) than by that of a man. Damn I hate being confronted by my own prejudice. I'll remember to be equally disgusted by men, and stop accepting it as some sort of inevitability as a result of looking like a bloke.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When I grow up, I wanna be....

I started a page, because, you know, I don't have enough to do online, and today I was asked what jobs I thought my kids would have, based on who they are right now.

I was discussing this at the dinner table, which led to discussion of what the kids think they want to do when they grow up. Ben has told me recently that he wants to have two jobs, he wants to be a scientist and an inventor. He's explained that he wants to learn about the problems and invent things to solve them. I can endorse that, and I suspect academia might work well for Ben.

I asked Charlie what he wanted to be when he grows up, and he told me he wants to be a tall mummy. When I explained that he can be a daddy, not a mummy, he was quite happy with that, and said he would be a tall daddy. I asked him if he would be looking after the kids, and after going slightly cross-eyed, he asked if only mummies could do belly dancing. I explained that daddies can also do belly dancing, and he said "Ok, I'll be a tall daddy who goes belly dancing and leaves the kids at home." Some time later he came back and told me he also wants to be a train driver.

I'm loving this image of a tall, train driving, belly dancing father.

Elissa hasn't got much past echoing her brothers, so she told be she was going to be a mummy and go belly dancing. Then she asked if she could go belly dancing next week. I explained she needed to be a bit bigger, but that she could come belly dancing when she's big enough. She beamed.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Drugs are bad, mkay?

"It's like any drug, like ecstasy and MDMA, that are perceived to be soft drugs because they're not injected," he said.

"They are manufactured using chemicals. They are mixed using all sorts of different materials that can cause harm or death.

This is from an ABC news article about a drug that has become popular in the UK recently. They refer to it as Miaow, but I think it's the same drug that was discussed on Hack on Triple J a week or two ago. On Hack, they discussed the fact that it is perceived as a safe drug because it's legal in the UK - it's used in horticulture or some such.

I remember learning about how incredibly dangerous all drugs were when I was at school. I also remember knowing that the "They are manufactured using chemicals"-type arguments were utter bullshit. Water is a chemical for chrissakes, as is paracetamol, and don't even think about what goes into Coke. This kind of infantilisation of the public is counter productive.

All illegal drugs are dangerous. For a number of them, the main danger is a direct result of them being illegal. If they were legal and regulated, the risks would be well within the tolerated risks of lots of other things that are legal in our society. For others. they are inherently dangerous due to a high risk of addiction. Some also have acutely toxic effects on your body. When will The Powers That Be stop spouting the rubbish at the top of this post, and start honestly assessing the risks of various drugs?

I remember being told that LSD was addictive and various other bullshit stuff. I didn't believe that LSD had any risks at all. Then, years ago, I heard a show on Triple J's Friday morning drug show (which sadly is no more) where people talked about some of the long term consequences they had experienced from LSD. If we had been told at school that it's an often safe drug, but randomly causes long term side effects, I might have believed them. I never used it anyway, but if someone had handed it to me in my teens or early twenties, I'd not have believed there was any risk at all. Honest conversations about drugs help people assess the cost/benefit ratio to using them. Scare mongering leads people to believe that all risks are overstated, and to discount the risks altogether.

It's extraordinarily difficult to believe that drugs are illegal for our own safety, when the authorities will not discuss them honestly.

Lost and Found

Does anyone who knows me in the real world recognise this hat? I went in search of Elissa's cane chair, and when I eventually found it in the cubby house, this was underneath it.

It's not likely to be someone's Sunday best, but if its owner would like it back, it's here and has been washed after its ordeal in the debris of the corner of the cubby house.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

5 minute mug cake

At the request of the lovely Wildly Parenthetical (a screen name of which I have always been jealous), I am reproducing here, utterly without permission, a recipe given to me this evening at Belly Dancing. (If you know the source, please let me know, I will credit - or remove if required.)

4 tbsp flour
4 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp cocoa
1 egg
3 tbsp milk
3 tbsp oil
3 tbsp chocolate chips (optional)
a small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug

Mix dry ingredients in coffee mug well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Add milk and oil and mix well. Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract and mix again.

Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 min at 1000W (high). The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed!

Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired. EAT.

I suspect you might have worked out that last step yourself.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Defending terrorists

There's been a kerfuffle this week about the Government spending $10 million on defending convicted terrorists. The gist of the complaint is that the people in question didn't qualify for Legal Aid, and even if they did, the defense they got involved QCs and was way over and above what Legal Aid would have been able to provide.

So there's a big hoo-har about spending tax-payer money on criminals blah blah blah. I can't help thinking they've missed the point. The question is not whether the criminals deserved this defense, the question is why the Government felt the need to provide it. Terrorism is an international issue, and combatting it is fraught with risks of persecution and loss of personal freedom. It is important for a Labor Government to be seen to be only convicting people who represent a genuine threat. This alone, however, doesn't really explain why they felt they needed to provide literally the best defense money can buy.

I am now going to move into wild speculation - could it be that the Government has little faith in the AFP to bring just cases against people? They haven't exactly had a good track record, and rather than face another humiliation, the Government may have decided to pay someone else to keep the AFP in check.

I have no evidence for this, but if I was on the Senate Estimates Committee, that's the question I'd be asking - who was the Government protecting from whom, and why?

Monday, February 08, 2010

The ****-ist battleground

It feels to me that since I started reading feminist blogs, I have read about 347,741 arguments about whether this thing is really sexist, racist, whatever-ist, or whether it is a defensible reflection of reality/different in our culture/actually about something else or whatever. The enormous range of things that have been accused of being ****-ist is enough to make a person feel that simply being white, male, able - a member of the locally dominant group - is ****-ist. It's easy to fall back on "PC gone mad". But I can't settle comfortably on any position in these arguments.

I'm going to use the KFC ad as my example - I think it's a perfect symptom of the problem. If you missed the kerfuffle over this, you can check out one of the conversations here. It had all the elements wrapped up in one. The initial outcry was based on a culturally specific racist meme. People in the US were horrified that a white man was offering black people fried chicken. People in Australia said "huh?". Racism is a global phenomenon, but its expression can be highly localised. Simple practicality says that we can't avoid all possible expressions of racism, and context matters.

However, that's not the only problem with the KFC ad. The other problem was depicting a white man surrounded by black people and looking decidedly uncomfortable. Furthermore, he needed to, and did, shut them all up. Again, in this particular case, context matters. This as was in a series of people being surrounded by "others" (the other team, non-cricket fans - definitely not all race-based "others"), and essentially getting their own way with a bucket of KFC.

The problem with this line of reasoning, which I think is entirely valid, is that it can be made in so, so many cases. You end up with the world being ****-ist, but nothing in particular within it is. I guess this is where people who declare that there is no ****-ism find their conclusions. So how to resolve it?

I think there is value in shifting blame. If we see ****-ism as embedded in the structure of our culture, then when something resonates with that ****-ism, like the white dude surrounded by black dudes, it's a reflection of our culture and not the racist heart of the maker. The makers of the KFC ad should have responded with "We forgot just how much racism is built into our society, we'll try to counter better next time." There needs to be positive action to overcome that structural inequality, and it's everyone's responsibility to do so. The only reason for shifting the blame is psychological - people are more willing to recognise that they failed to do something positive than that they have done something negative.

It's important to see that "failing to do something positive" still has a very real negative impact on people. I'm not minimising the inherent inequalities, just looking at how we can get more people to engage in overcoming them - and hopefully stopping the "is it ****-ist or isn't it?" argument. It's not about intent, it's about whether you've challenged the ****-ist structure or reinforced it.

One other thing - this post is about all the things that we, as people who don't hold ****-ist core beliefs, do that cause harm. It's not about the people who actually believe that white, male, able etc is inherently better. In my world, the former are a much larger group, and get very defensive if they think they are being portrayed as the latter. And by "they", I mean "I", too.

So what have you done to challenge the biased structure, and when have you inadvertently reinforced it?

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Elissa the Songstress

Today is the best day to me
I had a poo today
One day, two days
Poo today
If only I had a musical bone in my body, I might be able to vaguely relate the tune.

DUFC Number 21

The 21st DUFC is up at Rayedish's Place.

Go and have some tea with her and get into it. !

Friday, February 05, 2010

Odds and ends

Dinner conversation:

Me: [To Elissa] See, when we ask nicely it makes everyone happier.

Elissa: [Nods (satisfyingly) enthusiastically]

Charlie: Yes, even me.


After asking Ben to remove his sheets so I can put clean ones on for much longer than I am prepared to admit in public, he chose tonight to finally do it. Tonight, after the shittest day I've had in ages, when I'm completely exhausted and pissed off, he decides to take the sheets off and I have to change his sheets and Charlie's.


Elissa is 95% toilet trained. She's wearing undies every day, just having some issues working out when those poos are actually coming - we either spend 45 minutes on and off the toilet waiting for it, or there's half an accident which finishes in the toilet. She's definitely trying - we tend to get a day of each, as she tries to get it right. We've also had 4 dry night time nappies.


Charlie made this train at pre-school today. For some reason I am quite taken with it. Possibly because it is more obviously a steam train than anything I could make. Besides, if I blog it, I'll feel less guilty when it ends up in the recycling bin.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Today I am grateful for Freecycle - which has relieved my house of a number of no longer needed but still good items and made a similar number of people happy. Not to mention the sheer amazement regarding the 4 lads who turned up and extricated my sofa bed from the top floor of our house (down one flight of stairs, then over the balcony to the back yard), and then carried it home 4km and 3 suburbs away. Students today, where's their beer drinking, lazy attitude?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Gendered Friendships

Continuing the tradition of bouncing off other people's posts, this one was inspired by Chally's post, "The importance of women's friendships" of a few weeks back. It got me thinking about the roles men and women have played in my life, as these things do.

It was a challenging sort of thinking, too. When I considered all of the most difficult times in my life, the times when someone made the difference between getting through and sinking in my own despair, it was very often a bloke who did it. On the other hand, when I consider my closest friends in the whole wide world, women dominate.

It wasn't entirely obvious to me how to reconcile these two facts. Many of the blokes in question are no longer in my life, or are not especially close (except for the one I married, of course), while my female friends have been friends for long enough that we don't often discuss how long it is any more. Also, I don't think I've really been the one to help many of my female friends through their catastrophes either. What's wrong with me?

I think I might have some inkling. I've been brought up to be strong and independent. Real women don't go to pieces when things go to shit, they just get on and deal. Asking for help is a sign of weakness. Offering help is implying weakness in the other person. So I don't ask for help, and I don't offer it. I often don't even accept it when it's offered. We're all women, we can all deal, we can all cope. Except we can't. None of us. We all need help. I just don't know how to ask, how to offer or how to accept an an offer.

Men, however, are brought up to understand that women are helpless and hopeless and need their help. So they don't offer help, they just saunter in and provide it.

I don't know if my experience has any general application to other women, and I'm not saying my parents created this. But I do think that women, in general, are less inclined to Knight-In-Shining-Armour-Complex than men, and are therefore less likely to force assistance upon me. I wonder, if there'd been no men to rush in, would I have crashed or burned, or might I have been forced to learn to ask for help?

I've started to work on this help thing from a practical stance since Ben started school. I've been trying to ask and offer help more, but I still feel clumsy and anxious whenever I try. And it really wasn't until I started thinking about my friends and their gender divide that I realised this isn't just a practical problem, it's probably impacted on all my friendships all my life.

I don't mean to say that this has fundamentally defined all my friendships, and there are lots of other things that have been critical factors in any given situation, but I can't help seeing this overall pattern. What say you? Is this a weird confluence of all the things that shaped me when young, or are there others out there with I'm-An-Island-Complex?

All this is not to say I can't actually help. If someone asks for help, I'm all over it. Pathologically so. But that's another story.

Monday, February 01, 2010

A family Sunday

Yesterday, at the suggestion of my lovely Enjo seller, we took the kids to Petersham Bowling Club. As it happens, there is a bus that runs from the bottom of the hill we live on to the end of the street the PBC is on. Since Charlie is something of a public transport addict, we figured this was a win-win. On the way to the bus stop, the kids demonstrated the aspects of childrearing that allow children to make it to adulthood.

I swear this was not in any way staged. It followed on from Charlie and Elissa both telling me, spontaneously (OK, Elissa was copying, but still) that they were very excited.

Even the 10 minute wait for the bus didn't dampen spirits.

That is excited for Charlie.

The PBC itself was a great way to round out a weekend. The kids are allowed to run around (barefoot) on the unused bowling greens, and we sat outside, had a beer and watched them. I think it may become a regular event. Ben and Charlie both told me that they wanted to stay there for the rest of their lives.