Personal responsibility & compassion – finding a balance.

Whilst visiting the International Aids Conference’s Global Village back in July, I was given a pamphlet advising media about correct and incorrect language to use when discussing and reporting on issues related to HIV/AIDS. Prepared by AFAO, the pamphlet contains a great checklist to help communicators avoid using terms that are derogatory, or that perpetuate myths or stereotypes about HIV. These were some of its suggestions:

USE person living with HIV; DON’T use HIV sufferer”.

USE street-based sex worker; DON’T use street walker.”

USE person who uses drugs; DON’T use junkie, drug addict.”

USE affected communities; DON’T use high risk group.”

USE children with HIV; DON’T use innocent victims.”

Innocent victims. Such an odd term. The AFAO caution against using it, as its use contributes to the stigma around and discrimination against people living with HIV. Let us, for the sake of the discussion in this post, entertain the notion that such a category does exist. If there is such a class, what are we to refer to other victims as … “guilty victims”?

These binary judgments sound ridiculous, and arguably are. Nonetheless, a significant percentage of the world’s population believe in the existence of such categories. Implicit within the terms above is the perception that some victims of – well, anything, really – have taken some action or done something wrong, to deserve (or at least facilitate) whatever it is that has happened (or is happening) to them.

From this point of view, the predicaments people experience in life are a consequence of the choices they make and actions they take. In the case of HIV, adults who contract it from voluntary unprotected sex with someone likely living with the virus, are said to have brought it upon themselves. A child who contracts HIV from their parent, in contrast, is absolved of any “guilt” in the creation of their life predicament – they had no choice. They are innocent.

You might expect someone to the right of the political spectrum to endorse such a karmic view of the world – one in which adults are responsible, and reap what they sow. Not too long ago, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who studies the intuitive foundations of morality, conducted a study in which Americans were asked questions to ascertain their moral values. Over 350,000 people were surveyed, and the sample group were asked to endorse or reject the following two statements, among others:

1) “Compassion is the most important virtue.”

2) “The world would be a better place if we let unsuccessful people fail and suffer the consequences.”

Haidt’s research found that conservatives endorsed both statements mildly, and equally. It is a predictable finding. People who lean right tend to emphasise the idea of “personal responsibility”. Beyond cleaning up the fallout of ones own errors, this seems to involve encouraging (sometimes forcing) people into what could be described as conservative lifestyles. Setting aside religion-based notions of propriety and worthiness, these lifestyles are seen to afford the individual a measure of protection against all manner of undesirable things.

In contrast, the response of liberals to those same statements above was stronger – the liberals in the sample group strongly endorsed the compassion statement, and strongly rejected the failure statement. They wanted compassion to be the foundational virtue of their society (evidence of bleeding hearts). Haidt said the liberals surveyed were more likely to give people further chances – and more likely to endorse the idea that mercy is better than revenge.

Of course, many liberals also espouse notions of moral “personal responsibility” and “natural” karmic law. I recall dissident feminist Camille Paglia’s (controversial) assertion that the AIDS crisis that killed so many gay men in the 1980s, was directly connected to out-of-balance promiscuous excesses – although she attached no moral judgment to this assertion. In contrast, sex positive advice columnist/activist Dan Savage scolded some men in his community living with HIV, for endangering the lives of others through what he saw as wilfully irresponsible behaviour.

It is easy to see how both the “karmic” and “compassion” perspectives could be wrong – and how they could be right. On the one hand, many of us have a choice as to how we live our lives – we can mitigate risks to ourselves, and others, through these choices. Whilst apportioning blame to HIV-positive people is both cruel and unconstructive, providing people with resources, reliable information, and encouraging everyone (through incentives and disincentives) to responsibly self-care can be empowering for both individuals and communities.

On the other hand, we are inherently flawed beings; we make mistakes. We must navigate complex environments with familial, social, cultural, economic, legal, political and psychological pressures, using whatever knowledge and resources we’ve been able to accumulate at any point in time. We have different levels of access to information, different life experiences, different temperaments and abilities, different inner and outer struggles. We are not always able to foresee the consequences of the choices we make. A large number of us do not have many choices at all.

This is why it is important to balance an understanding of personality responsibility with an understanding of – and compassion for – the complexity of the human experience. We are all frequently victims of human frailty, both our own and others. Simultaneously, we contend with larger social forces in an unconscious world that powerfully shape our behaviour. Given this volatile, uneven and unfair world we all have been born into, compassion seems to be the only reasonable response.

Strolling around the International Aids Conference Global Village, visiting information stalls from over 30 countries representing all demographics affected by HIV, I was once again reminded of the necessity of that compassion – and just how (unnecessarily) complicated the world we have created is. How societies shame people living with the virus, whilst enacting policies and enforcing social mores that unintentionally raise the likelihood of high-risk behaviour, and prevent people from seeking, or even having access to, medical care.

In  many societies today, the tension between a conservative “karmic” view of those affected by HIV, and those advocating a “compassion” response – with a greater emphasis on removing the burden and barrier of stigma – rages on. Stigmatisation inevitably accompanies the conservative view of morality, of cause and effect. Not only does this adversely affect HIV-positive people – babies, children, teenagers, adults, the elderly – but the stigmatisation can actually put a society as a whole at risk.

Consider the advent of “AIDS denialism” in South Africa, famously propagated by its former president Thabo Mbeki, under the influence of maverick (pseudo) scientists. The country faces hugely complex problems surrounding containment/treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Whilst sexuality is very much a part of being human, our species historically has had a profoundly tortured relationship with its own – in many cultures and religious traditions, sexuality has been stigmatised, and attributed to mankind’s lower “animal” nature. Such notions accompanied Christian-European settlement of South Africa.

Adding to this deep, toxic shaming of a basic human impulse, Black South Africans contended with a history of racist characterisation regarding their sexual behaviour – they were regarded by many whites as rampantly promiscuous, and thus less moral or worthy. In a country where these interrelated, shame-inducing bad ideas about sexuality and race were long embedded, the susceptibility of some towards wanting to believe that a disease spreading quickly in a majority black population was not transmitted through sexual contact, was foreseeable.

The consequences, sadly, were utterly devastating. By the late 1990s, Thabo Mbeki had started to question the scientific consensus on AIDS, that the syndrome is caused by a viral infection that can be treated (not cured) with life saving/extending medical drugs. In 2000, Mbeki publicly rejected that consensus, declaring AIDS was not brought about by a virus, but by the collapse of the immune system – which he said was caused by poverty, bad nourishment and general ill-health. Alleviation of poverty was thus the answer – not expensive medications.

The ensuing policies enacted by his government were responsible for the avoidable deaths of more than a third of a million people, according to Pride Chigwedere and colleagues from the Harvard school of public health in Boston. They estimated that more than 330,000 people died unnecessarily over the period 2000-2005, and that 35,000 HIV-positive babies were born who could have been protected from the virus. Culturally embedded stigma, shame, and denial thus contributed significantly to the massive spread of HIV not just at a community level, but also at the highest, legislative level.

There is clearly much to be said for taking responsibility for ones actions – for enacting policies that encourage people to do so, and guide social behaviour in order to protect both individuals and a whole population. But the unfortunate example of South Africa under Mbeki shows that rigid moral judgments – particularly when unexamined – coupled with a denial of human nature, can cause as much needless suffering, if not more, than individual poor choices. In that case, moral judgments (and the fear of them) actually prevented policies that would have facilitated healthier behaviour and saved lives.

And so, when it comes to assisting people living with HIV, a virus that does not discriminate, morality-based notions of “innocent” and “guilty” victimhood are entirely redundant and unhelpful. But we do need to get the balance right. Coming up with policies that encourage and empower people to make wise choices in regards to their lives and health, whilst working zealously to eliminate stigma as something that is both inhumane and dangerous for society as a whole, is the middle way forward.

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Yes, that was another epic absence from here. I meant to post this back in July but, ya know, life.

Everything wrong with Brandis’ proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.

This is a follow up to my previous March post on the exposure draft of changes to racial vilification protections contained in the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (RDA). Please accept my apology for the delay – I have been on sabbatical. Polls indicate that a majority of Australians are in favour of leaving the RDA as it is. The public consultation process ended on 30 April 2014. We sent 5,500 submissions to Attorney-General George Brandis about his proposed changes – which, if enacted, would repeal Sections 18 B, C, D and E, and widen (to an obscene degree) the exemptions under 18D. Public comment of a “racial” nature would no longer be required to be made “reasonably” and in “good faith”.

Brandis’ exposure draft, released on 25 March 2014, can be read here. As expected, the brief document is boldly regressive, containing changes that would effectively render the anti-vilification powers of the Racial Discrimination Act useless.

These are the 3 main ways that Brandis (The Abbott Government) is proposing to ruin the Act:

1. Brandis wants to redefine what vilification means in the Act – the current meaning, “conduct causing offence, insult, humiliation or intimidation” – will be replaced by “conduct that is reasonably likely to vilify [which means incite hatred] or to intimidate”.

Make no mistake – this is not an improvement.

It defines racial vilification to mean ONLY incitement to hatred, which is unprecedented, as even state and territory laws dealing with racial vilification include other conduct – like serious contempt, severe ridicule and revulsion – in their definitions. Simon Rice (Professor of Law, Director of Law Reform and Social Justice at Australian National University) explains here that Brandis is relying on a “spurious distinction” – that Section 18C, in its current form, does not prohibit racial vilification:

“Brandis chooses to define racial vilification only as ‘incitement to racial hatred’, so he is able to say that the current definition is not in fact ‘vilification’. This trivialises the protection that the current racial vilification provisions have offered for almost 20 years, and supports his misleading claim that: There is no law of the Commonwealth of Australia that prohibits racial vilification.”

Rice goes on: “By addressing only incitement to racial hatred, Brandis is winding back the vilification prohibition to cover a single – and increasingly rare – type of behaviour: the crude, public rantings of a racist. He fails to recognise, or maybe even comprehend, the pervasive, casual racism in Australian society that Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane has identified.”

It is also worth emphasising here that the kind of vilification Brandis does not seem to want to acknowledge – offence, insult, humiliation or intimidation always precedes and bolsters the kind of vilification that involves incitement to racial hatred and physical harm. I guess this is why Rice says the change to this section is more concerned with maintaining public order, than preventing harm.

Moreover, the State and Territory racial vilification laws – which already use the “incitement” test – have been criticised for being too difficult to prove. The proposed changes to the RDA will make “incitement” even harder to prove, given the wording. The Human Rights Law Centre states that “Taken together, these changes would substantially wind back the scope of the existing protection given by section 18C.”

Rice advises that legislators genuinely concerned about prohibiting incitement to racial hatred – as Brandis claims to be – would do well to turn their attention to “criminal provisions elsewhere in Australia, and Australia’s continuing failure to honour its international treaty obligation to criminalise racial vilification.”

2. Currently, whether something is deemed ‘racial vilification’ is assessed from the perspective of a reasonable person to whom conduct is directed. Brandis wants to change this to the perspective of “an ordinary reasonable member of the Australian community”, and specifically “not by the standards of any particular group within the Australian community”.

It is not clear as to who an “ordinary reasonable member of the Australian community” is.

Moreover, the specification of “not by the standards of any particular group within the Australian community”, is very telling. As Waleed Ali noted in this controversially titled (but excellent) op ed, “That’s code. It means, not by the standard of whatever racial minority is being vilified. Not the ordinary reasonable wog, gook or sand nigger; the ordinary reasonable Australian.”

I am with Ali (not something I say often) when he argues that this attempt to repeal the RDA is springing forth from a particular mythology about the way race relations works in this country – and on whose terms. He notes the exposure draft “trades on all the assumptions about race that you’re likely to hold if, in your experience, racism is just something that other people complain about.”

Simon Rice argues that “no member of the […] majority – politicians, policymakers, opinion writers – can understand what it is to have one’s life defined by one’s difference. When ‘free speech’ characterises that difference as a deficiency – a sign of inferiority – offence is a real sense that is qualitatively different from any idea of offence that we in the majority can have.”

There is a genuine difference in lived reality here – the lived reality of racial difference. It is difficult for someone who has not had that experience, day in and day out, to comprehend what it is like to exist in a world where others are responding to your physical appearance, your accent, your cultural dress and markers, and the people you love (i.e. family) who share these traits (and who are outnumbered significantly by people who don’t look like you do), in a negative, hostile, harmful way.

Not having this kind of insight – insight that can have intersections with socio-economic class, too, as people from “minority” backgrounds insulated from severe discrimination by money can be just as sightless – produces a kind of “blindness” to disadvantage and, yes, to what can reasonably be called vilification by those who actually experience it.

And there is an historical context to all of this, in which (all) racial comments are made. An extensive, brutal, and well-documented history of racial persecution and discrimination across the Western world, and in Australia, towards everyone who isn’t white. And, in particular, towards Aboriginal People, who statistically still endure the inter-generational effects of violent colonisation and ongoing racism.

It is no coincidence that the case that sparked this push for the watering down of the RDA involved a group of Aboriginal People suing a very influential, well connected, white columnist. And as Fergal Davis pointed out: “There is a context when the privileged seek to deny the Stolen Generations by implying that being light skinned makes someone less Aboriginal. That context can mean that a seemingly inoffensive phrase is, in fact, offensive.”

In other words, if you’re unlikely to ever experience racial discrimination, if you are not experiencing racial discrimination now, and if the ethnic group you are a part of has historically not experienced racial discrimination and stigmatisation (and the deprivation, exploitation, and violence that follows), you are not in the best position to judge whether or not something is vilifying, harmful, and intimidating.

This is why switching from the perspective of the violated, to the majority – which is what the vague “ordinary reasonable member of the Australian community” is likely to mean in practice – is so problematic. And it is why the Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson’s comment to Fairfax, that the proposed repeal would restore ”equality” to discrimination laws, is completely wrong. It won’t restore ”equality”. It will destroy it, as it does not acknowledge that very real difference in lived experience – which the current Act does, and admirably has, for 20 years.

Lastly, switching to the perspective of the majority population, the amorphous “mainstream”, might actually perpetuate the phenomenon of unconscious racism. As Marcia Langton noted in her submission: “it could allow normative racism to be the standard by which allegations of racial or ethnic vilification are judged. Many Australians are simply not aware of when they are being racist.”

3. Brandis wants to include an exemption in Section 18D, that would make vilifying or intimidating public conduct done “in the course of participating in the public discussion” acceptable. There is no qualification to this exception, which is extraordinary, as every other vilification law in Australia limits exceptions to conduct thusly – that conduct must be done “reasonably and in good faith”.

The “in the course of public discussion” exemption is so broad that it renders the section useless as a law against racial vilification – which is the whole point of the law.

The exemption states that vilification “does not apply to words, sounds, images or writing spoken, broadcast, published or otherwise communicated in the course of participating in the public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter.” Translation: pretty much ALL public racial vilification is OK. The Human Rights Law Centre notes in their extensive submission:“Most public racial vilification is likely to be covered by the exemption – even if it incites racial hatred or causes racial humiliation or fear of physical harm on the grounds of race.”

But this, to me, is the most egregious part of the entire amendment proposal: the removal of the requirement that the accused acted “reasonably or in good faith”.

It was also the most predictable part of the exposure draft, as columnist Andrew Bolt was unable to rely on the current section 18D free speech exemptions because the court found he did not act “reasonably or in good faith”. Instead, the court found his articles contained multiple errors of material fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language.

The Human Rights Law Centre submission refers to one example extracted from the court decision:

Mr Bolt said of Wayne and Graham Atkinson that they were “Aboriginal because their Indian great-grandfather married a part-Aboriginal woman” (1A-33). In the second article Mr Bolt wrote of Graham Atkinson that “his right to call himself Aboriginal rests on little more than the fact that his Indian great-grandfather married a part-Aboriginal woman” (A2-28). The facts given by Mr Bolt and the comment made upon them are grossly incorrect. The Atkinsons’ parents are both Aboriginal as are all four of their grandparents and all of their great grandparents other than one who is the Indian great grandfather that Mr Bolt referred to in the article.

They went on to observe that:

“The court in the Bolt case made it very clear that it’s not unlawful to publish articles that deal with racial identity or challenge the genuineness of someone’s racial identity. If Mr Bolt had been accurate in writing about the light-skinned Aboriginals he discussed in his articles, or even if he had taken reasonable steps to be accurate about them [emphasis mine] (such as contacting them), it is far more likely that his articles would have been protected by the section 18D free speech exemptions.”

Stipulating a legal requirement that a remark on someone’s race, or a discussion of a matter that involves race, must be done “reasonably or in good faith”, is just good sense, given historical precedent – centuries of people distributing false information about individuals and groups with the most sinister of intentions (do some reading on any genocide, ethnically motivated atrocities or thuggery, to find numerous examples of such poisonous public communication).

That Brandis and his supporters want this legal requirement removed says a lot – none of it good, yet none of it surprising. They might claim, still, that this push to amend the act is all about restoring free speech. But, as the decision in the Bolt case made clear, and as The Human Rights Law Centre noted above, “it’s not unlawful to publish articles that deal with racial identity or challenge the genuineness of someone’s racial identity”. Which brings me to my final point…

The bogus “restoring free speech” argument: how the RDA already supports freedom of speech.

We have free speech when it comes to race in Australia.

We really do. After 20 years of the sections of the Act in question being operational, the laws have been considered in less than 100 finalised court cases. The Human Rights Law Centre states in their submission to the Attorney-General that “An analysis of these cases shows that the laws have been applied sensibly by the courts and are operating reasonably effectively. In particular, courts have stated that to be unlawful under section 18C, the conduct must have ‘profound and serious effects, not to be likened to mere slights’.”

They go on: “Further, courts have also stated that the conduct must be assessed against an objective standard, judged from the perspective of a hypothetical reasonable or ordinary person from the relevant racial group. Courts have said that extreme, atypical or intolerant reactions are not relevant. Even if someone is personally offended or insulted by conduct, there won’t be a breach of racial vilification laws unless the conduct meets the objective standard.”

In other words, it is already quite difficult to be found to have violated this Act. And a major study of Australian hate speech laws – recently conducted by Katharine Gelber, Professor of Politics at University of Queensland, and Luke McNamara, Professor of Law at University of Wollongong – provides further evidence of this.

In fact, in this joint article published in The Conversation, Gelber and McNamara assert that “Australia’s version of hate speech legislation places a heavy enforcement burden on the people it is meant to help. Perhaps this is the price to be paid for balancing free speech rights and the right not to be vilified, but it means that legal protection is unevenly distributed across the communities who experience racism and other forms of prejudice.”

They make it clear that Australia does not have a ‘Big Brother’ situation: “It is down to victims to ‘enforce’ the law, and this is no easy task. Some complainants turn to hate speech laws in desperation because all other efforts have failed to stop a neighbour from subjecting them to appalling public racist abuse and no other legal redress is available.”

So. Not only does the Racial Discrimination Act in its current form place NO heavy restrictions on public debate or free speech, but minorities who experience vilification carry the enormous burden of trying to pursue justice under the Act – an extremely difficult pursuit they may not have the time, resources, expertise, patience or confidence to follow through.

“Complainants who do decide to proceed are not motivated by self-interest or greed”, Gelber and McNamara stress. “Jeremy Jones never received a cent in relation to any of the cases he pursued under the Racial Discrimination Act to confront and condemn serious anti-Semitism.” Their research showed up little evidence of an overzealous approach to taking legal action on behalf of complainants.

Finally, in regards to free speech – Gelber and McNamara’s 20-year study of media content revealed zero evidence that the Act has had any ‘chilling effect’ on free speech and debate in the media in that time period. “While some of the crudest edges have been knocked off the language used in media commentary”, they write, “Australians seem as willing as ever to express robust views about a broad range of issues from Indigenous land rights, to gay marriage, to immigration and refugees.”

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The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Australia is a party to, protects both freedom of opinion and freedom of expression – whilst stipulating that the exercise of the right to freedom of expression may be subject to restrictions, in certain circumstances. In essence, it must be balanced against other rights.

The Racial Discrimination Act already gets that balance right. Referring (rather ironically) to one of Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson’s heroes, Professor of Law Simon Rice urges us to remember philosopher John Stuart Mill’s classical liberal “harm principle”: that those who enjoy freedom of expression must assess the limits on that freedom by an awareness of the harm that can be caused by it.

The Act, as it stands, embodies this idea. Gelber and McNamara’s study showed that The Racial Discrimination Act has permitted freedom of speech whilst codifying standards of behaviour and providing some basic protections – recourse for when a violation has occurred – for vulnerable people in our community. This further supports the view that Brandis’ proposed changes to the Act are regressive and wholly unnecessary.

I’m going to let award-winning writer, poet & commentator Siv Parker have the last word:

“The nature of the debate in my corner of social media revolves around dismay that a small handful of peoples’ definition of freedom of speech may incapacitate another person’s entire existence. What is freedom, if it simply means the liberty to rip apart the social fabric of our country?”

.

Links (in order of appearance):

1. Vetuna, P, ‘Brandis’ fight for the right to SPREAD FALSEHOODS to further bigoted agendas – S18C repeal’, in Just the Messenger blog, 27 March 2014,

http://paulinevetuna.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/brandis-fight-for-the-right-to-spread-falsehoods-to-further-bigoted-agendas-s18c-repeal/

2. ‘Overwhelming majority reject change to racial vilification law’, in Australian Human Rights Commission website, 14 April 2014,

http://www.humanrights.gov.au/news/stories/overwhelming-majority-reject-change-racial-vilification-law

3. ‘FREEDOM OF SPEECH (REPEAL OF S. 18C) BILL 2014 Attachment A’, in Attorney General’s Department website, March 2014,

http://www.ag.gov.au/Consultations/Documents/Attachment%20A.pdf

4. Rice, S, ‘Race act changes are what you get when you champion bigotry’, in The Conversation, 26 March 2014,

https://theconversation.com/race-act-changes-are-what-you-get-when-you-champion-bigotry-24782

5. ‘Racism a challenge for all of us, says new Race Discrimination Commissioner’, in Australian Human Rights Commission website, 19 August 2013,

https://www.humanrights.gov.au/news/stories/racism-challenge-all-us-says-new-race-discrimination-commissioner

6. ‘Information Paper on proposed changes to Australia’s racial vilification laws’, in Human Rights Law Centre website, April 2014,

http://hrlc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/InformationPaperRacialVilificationLawsApril2014_B.pdf

7. Ali, W, ‘Brandis’ race hate laws are whiter than white’, in The Age website, 27 March 2014,

http://m.theage.com.au/comment/brandis-race-hate-laws-are-whiter-than-white-20140327-35lv7.html

8. Davis, F, ‘I used to believe I had the right to be a bigot. But reason prevailed’, in The Guardian, 31 March 2014,

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/31/i-used-to-believe-i-had-the-right-to-be-a-bigot-but-reason-prevailed?CMP=twt_gu

9. Hall, B, ‘Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson says race hate laws are bizarre, unequal’, in The Age website, 30 March 2014,

http://m.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/human-rights-commissioner-tim-wilson-says-race-hate-laws-are-bizarre-unequal-20140329-35qeb.html

10. Langton, M, ‘Our race act has had a civilising effect: leave it be’, in The Australian website, 8 May 2014,

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/opinion/our-race-act-has-had-a-civilising-effect-leave-it-be/story-e6frgd0x-1226909389549

11. Gelber, K, & McNamara, L, ‘Explainer: how do Australia’s laws on hate speech work in practice?’, in The Conversation, 9 May 2014,

http://theconversation.com/explainer-how-do-australias-laws-on-hate-speech-work-in-practice-26105

12. Parker, S, ”Repealing the race hate laws isn’t ‘freedom’ to Indigenous people’, in The Guardian, 27 March 2014,

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/27/rracial-discrimination-act-18c-bolt-laws?CMP=twt_gu

Transcending the (modular) mind.

“What would it feel like if there were no one in control? And I think the answer to that question is that it would sort of feel like what it is to be human”

- Kurzban on ‘All in The Mind’, ABC Radio National, 6/11/2010.

Not being in control has been a constant theme in my life.

More recently, it is what compelled me to take an impromptu blogging sabbatical back in March (er, sorry about that). Not that I was out of control. But life has a way of forcing me – in dramatically messed up ways – to pass through certain doors of awareness in order to progress, step-by-step, to what I intuit is some metaphorical plateau of illumination.

I am not complaining. I have been told by people with deep insights in this area that I am “evolving quickly” – and for this, I am grateful. Part of this progress has been realising that my life process does, and will likely always, involve sudden stops, followed by periods of emptiness, during which my only desire is to isolate, rest – followed by some spectacular realisation or enlightenment.

Much of this has to do with the fact that I am an INFJ – the bulk of my “thinking” happens outside of my ‘conscious’ awareness, and I often use intuition, before logic, to ascertain what is what, in a given situation. The reason for this is simple and frustrating – I can function in no other way. This is just how it is, for me. I have no control over that. It is what it is.

So I navigate life with this inner sense, refined by logic and reason. And this means that I sometimes make decisions, or create things, or pursue a course of action that I know will yield a particular result that needs to occur. But here is the kicker – I do not know the specifics of what that result will be. Nor do I know when what I create will reveal it’s purpose to me – I only know I need to play my part. All will be revealed later.

Crazy, right? Yet I have consistently found this to be true for me – especially this year. Pictures in my head converted to pictures on my wall, revealing their meaning to me weeks and months later with startling literal clarity. Things have been falling apart and falling away all around me, and yet the inner vision is somehow becoming clearer. Twelve things written as a list on a piece of paper, many years ago, now revealed to me.

I know now the broad outline of the story, my little story – I just need to play my part. But the specifics of each scene are always improvised. I’m only in control of my reactions and responses, moment to moment. I perceive I am here merely to perform a function – something else is in control. This notion, of being a mere conduit for “something else”, some higher force – whole, holistic, clear-sighted, loving – to emerge through, is central to many spiritual teachings.

And it is probably the part of pursuing such teachings that juvenile seekers (egos seduced by the popular new-agey selling point of being able to be tiny masters of the universe, magically in control of and conjuring their lives like magicians) find the hardest to understand or even accept as a thing. Not being in control, being a servant or tool, is not as sexy as being a man-god, is it?

But the notion that we are just performing a collection of functions, necessary from an evolutionary perspective, and driven by an evolutionary impulse, is likely just as true in terms of the physical mind. In the physical mind, however, the multitude of different functions our “selves” perform – particularly when that “self” is disconnected from any higher consciousness – leads to contradictions, self-delusion, hypocrisy, dualities.

The evolutionary psychologist Robert Kurzban contends that our minds are, in fact, “modular”, rather than something unitary. This means that human minds have different components – each of these components are functionally specialized. An analogy Kurzban has used is that our minds are like smart phones – they have different applications, or modules, that perform different functions.

Evolutionary analysis focuses on the notion of function – if something exists, it is (or has) served some kind of evolutionary purpose. Thus, a mind module exists because it is fulfilling a particular function. This function, in physical terms, is to contribute to the reproductive success of the individual. The thing about these modular functions, though, is that sometimes the outcome of those functions – and the functions themselves – seem to contradict each other.

One problematic outcome of this conflict, is rank hypocrisy. Think of the politician, who knows that in order to win votes, he must take a firm moral stand on a particular issue – for example, the sanctity of marriage, including his own. His political success app knows this is necessary, and he may even believe his own moralising. But this politician has another app – one that compels him to chase skirt of reproductive age like a son-of-a-bitch.

A bit of a conflict there, I think it is safe to say. The hypothetical politician is pursuing self-interest in both cases – both things individually provide worldly benefits to him, but they also contradict each other (and any exposure of this contradiction to the community, is arguably a reproductive liability). Kurzban has been careful to emphasise, though, that he does not see the modular view as obviating responsibility for ones actions.

It merely explains a lot of dodgy, harmful, and hurtful human behaviour. But we are still responsible for that behaviour. Keeping this in mind, note that the modular view inherently points to something that many, many people find quite disturbing – the idea that we are not in control of our minds, in a bigger sense. Natasha Mitchell asked Kurzban about this back in 2010, when he was a guest on ABC Radio National’s “All In The Mind” (one of my faves).

The philosopher Jerry Fodor had said that “If there is a community of computers in my head there had also better be somebody in charge, and by God that had better be me”. When reminded of this quote, Kurzban said:

“there’s this really powerful intuition that there’s someone in your head that’s sort of in charge: the I, the me, what Freud would have called the ego or something like that. And my view would be that that’s just an illusion, that we just feel as though there’s this unitary eye in there, but in fact we’re just this network of lots of different systems. And that idea is somehow frightening, and yet it explains a lot of these sorts of inconsistencies.”

The ego – just an illusion. He continued:

“So when Jerry wants there to be someone in control, my view of that is that well what if there’s not? What would it feel like if there were no one in control? And I think the answer to that question is that it would sort of feel like what it is to be human, to feel conflicted and to feel like there’s a different sort of system in charge depending on if I’m hungry or not, and what situation I’m in, what my recent past has been and so on. So I think that whereas there’s this really strong intuition of selfhood, the modular view suggests that maybe that’s not necessarily going to turn out to be right.”

In contrast to Fodor, I feel pretty comfortable with not being in control – all the more so because “reproductive success” is no longer of any interest to me. It is a different kind of evolution I am after.

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Thank you for understanding my need to take a break from blogging. I will post the follow up to my last post – ‘Brandis’ fight for the right to SPREAD FALSEHOODS to further bigoted agendas – S18C repeal’ – tomorrow :-) Such a pretty day today, isn’t it?

Brandis’ fight for the right to SPREAD FALSEHOODS to further bigoted agendas – S18C repeal

Below is an excerpt from the interview Attorney General George Brandis did with Emma Alberici on Lateline on Tuesday night (25/3/2014). Earlier in the week, Brandis had made headlines with his “people have the right to be bigots, you know” comment. The comment was made in the context of the debate surrounding his proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, which holds the number 1 spot on his to do list.

Clarifying his position, The Lateline interview features a frank and hideous admission from Brandis – Senator Brandis believes people should have the right TO SPREAD UNTRUTHS to further a bigoted political agendaIn fact, the only situation he identifies, where he thinks spreading falsehoods is NOT okay, is in the context of trade or commerce. Here we have the “values” of the Abbott Government, revealed.

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EMMA ALBERICI: The central issue in the Bolt judgment was not whether Mr Bolt’s articles were an expression of opinion, but whether the factual allegations on which that opinion was based were accurate. The judge concluded that the case was not about freedom of opinion, it was about freedom to spread untruths. Are you saying that freedom should exist?

 

SENATOR GEORGE BRANDIS: Yes, I am. Not in all circumstances. For example, in trade or commerce the competition and consumer act by Section 52, says one can’t make misleading or deceptive comments, engage in misleading or deceptive conduct in trade or commerce.

 

EMMA ALBERICI: But specifically here just so we don’t confuse matters too much, we’re specifically here talking about the Racial Discrimination Act?

 

SENATOR GEORGE BRANDIS: That’s right. But the reason I gave that example is there are certain areas of policy where there are good reasons why the utterance of falsehood should be against the laws such as…

 

EMMA ALBERICI: But not, for instance, holocaust denial.

 

SENATOR GEORGE BRANDIS: Such as where people transact business in trade or commerce. But here in the Bolt case, what we’re talking about is the making of a comment or the utterance of a view about a political question. Now, just think what the implications of that are, Emma. If you can be prohibited from expressing your political opinion about something, merely because you make an error in your argument, what a gross invasion of the capacity of everyday Australians to express their opinions that would be if you could be taken to court merely for saying something that was factually wrong.

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Yes, Brandis. God forbid we create a legal penalty to deter or punish people who SPREAD LIES TO FURTHER HARMFUL POLITICAL AGENDAS. What is this – Nazi Germany?

This is the first post I have written about the current Australian Government. The Attorney General is, quite simply, wrong.

Next post: The Proposed Racial Discrimination Law changes, in depth.

P.S. There have been some people, like Ben Collins at Business Insider, who argued after the “bigot” rights comment, that this was not all Brandis said that day in the Senate. Of course this is true – but nothing else he has said since, has mitigated the nature of that comment. Certainly not after what he said above.

Next up, I’ll be examining whether or not “the law will be in a better position to deal with incitement to racial hatred” with the changes the Abbott Government has proposed, as Brandis asserted in the Senate.

The system we uphold.

Does anyone know who illustrated this picture?

powerless & powerful

‘PM Tony Abbott rules out reinstating Knights and Dames in Oz’

Given that the article linked by Samantha is currently not available on The Daily Telegraph online, I thought I’d just share a link to it that still works – “PM Tony Abbott rules out reinstating Knights and Dames in Oz” is archived online HERE (thanks to tweeter @frogworth for the link).

But did Abbott really rule it out? Or did Samantha just read into that? Abbott said “I don’t think New Zealand is a relevant model here. The problem is they just basically converted there [sic] ACs into knighthoods. I just don’t think that’s realistic in this country” and “I don’t mind having Knights and Dames around. We’ve thankfully still got a few.”

In this article in The Adelaide Advertiser, Samantha Maiden scoffed at the people who (as it happens, rightly) thought Abbott supported the return of Medieval titles:

From time to time, there’s always someone who is convinced that the Prime Minister supports a cockamamie idea – the reinstatement of Knights and Dames in Australia’s regal honours for example – because he smiled politely instead of piping up: “No, that sounds like a spectacularly dumb idea and you’ve got to be bloody joking”.

Yet, here we are.

New post on proposed Racial Discrimination Act changes soon.

Vegan Life: physical health, ethical mind, spiritual integrity.

I’m writing this post for anyone who believes in compassion, justice, kindnessmercy, and peace. For anyone who loves the taste of a steak, a chicken wing, a slice of lamb roast, of bacon with eggs. And for anyone who is vegetarian but can’t quite walk away from extra cheese or a big bowl of ice-cream. 

If you are one of these people – as I am, and as is the speaker below – the following presentation is for you:

Let me preface this by saying I am 100% for non-violent activism and ADVOCACY for peaceful change and freedom in democratic societies (such as this). In societies where our human rights are basically protected, and we have the freedom to choose what we consume. I have chosen to post the engaging talk above, given by activist Gary Yourofsky, for this reason alone: in this presentation, he has made an excellent, peaceful case for peace. There are no appeals for money, for political sponsorship, for membership in any organisation, for vandalism or destruction of any kind.

The mass meat and dairy industries exist because mankind believes it is okay to enslave and exploit animals. Part of the reason we do not question this idea, is that the majority of us do not see how they are abused for our pleasure. In the presentation, Gary shows us the real, hidden horror of slaughterhouses – “houses of slaughter”. He illuminates the hypocrisy of a society that knows the exploitation of other bodies is wrong, but deems “okay” a global industry that relies on the rape/forced impregnation of cows, the tearing away of baby animals from their mothers to be killed, the torture and eventual slaughter of 10 billion land animals a year – animals that we created to die, never to know freedom – because we desire the taste of their flesh and bodily secretions.

Myths are busted about meat eating and health, as Gary highlights all the ways a plant-based diet is not only natural for us, but HEALTHIER for us. And Gary admits that he too loves the taste of meat and dairy – for 25 years, he ate meat, eggs and dairy. He wore animal skins. But as an adult, with an ethical mind, and ability to see and know first hand the injustice of an industry that literally feeds off the suffering of living beings, he made a conscious choice. It is a choice that any one of us in the West who have a roof over our head, an income, and the capacity to choose between different products or to eat at a restaurant - can make.

The thing is, do we want to? Can we be bothered to make the effort to become acquainted with a whole new world of food, and change? There are ways to make the transition easier. For those hooked on the flavour, alternatives to meat and dairy that deliver the taste and texture of these addictive products are becoming more readily available. And whilst nearly 870 million poor souls of the 7.1 billion people in the world were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012, we in the West have abundant access to nutritious fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and all the glorious foods that emerge organically from the Earth. Meanwhile, we create millions of land animals a year for the sole purpose of killing them, and direct one third of the world’s grain harvest to feed them for this purpose.

The case for veganism is compelling, and once you look, open your eyes to the suffering of these innocent creatures, it becomes very difficult to choose anything else. Perhaps this is why we shy away from doing so.

It all comes down to EMPATHY – those of us who know how essential HUMAN RIGHTS are know that we must first examine an issue from the point of view of the powerless, of the victim. Gary says, go further: “I want you to use some empathy right now. And when I say empathy what I’m saying is place yourself in the position of animals and start to view this issue from the animals point of view. From the victims point of view. When you examine any form of injustice, whether humans are victims or animals are victims, please remember the victims point of view. If you are not the victim, don’t examine it entirely from your point of view, because when you’re not the victim, it becomes pretty easy to rationalise and excuse cruelty, injustice, inequality, slavery, and even murder.”

And just as Gary breaks down the ethical case and physical benefits of a vegan lifestyle, Kathy Freston has explained*, for those of us committed to a spiritual path, why the vegan lifestyle is also essential to spiritual integrity: “Spiritual integrity – that’s what conscious eating is. Because remember spiritual principles are compassion, mercy, empathy, kindness, alleviating suffering, all of those things. So if we are going to adhere to spiritual principles, if we think about what an animal goes through, in being raised for our steak dinner or our chicken lunch, and how they get slaughtered, it is so deeply heartbreaking. So if we’re going to be conscious in our lives, it means to be awake.”

“I’m not saying ‘don’t eat that stuff’, but open your eyes to it, think about it. And I think what happens, because most people have a really good heart, that when we open our eyes to that stuff and are aware of it, we’re just not going to want it.” Kathy encourages people to lean into conscious lifestyle changes – by eliminating animal products one by one, giving ourselves time to adjust to life without cow milk, or life without chicken, or life without leather shoes. evolution rather than revolution. If you’re wondering, this is the path I have been on to transition to a vegetarian and eventually vegan lifestyle. Kathy believes that for those who set an intention to live an increasingly conscious life, change happens when it is supposed to happen. I am finding this to be true in my own life.

*in conversation with Oprah Winfrey, 2008.

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This post is dedicated to my beautiful niece Michelle, who at 16 has made the decision to align her eating habits with her values. I am so impressed, inspired by, and proud of her.

Writing for courage.

Anne Frank quote

“Her poignant account of the greatest evil imaginable revealed a gifted writer and profound thinker who humanised the inhumane”, writes onthisdeity.com. Anne Frank. One of my eternal heroes. She is believed to have died in early March, 1945, along with her sister Margot Frank, whilst imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Get a copy of her diary, read excerpts of her diary, read about her, watch, and never forget.

Under the Red Dress Project

“Your scars aren’t ugly. They mean you’re alive.”

Beth Whaanga, 32, cancer fighter, Under the Red Dress Project

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This campaign went viral last month, but in case you missed it:

http://www.underthereddress.com

The health promotion photographic campaign has been conceived by Beth Whaanga, a Brisbane based Registered Nurse and Criminologist, and her friend, Commercial Photographer Nadia Mascot. Beth is a mother of four, married for ten years to Maui Whaanga. After being diagnosed with early stages breast cancer and the BCRA2 gene mutation, she decided with her friend Nadia to collaborate on this piece of health promotion.

The pair staged a photo shoot that resulted in six, beautiful and striking photographs: in the first, Beth is wearing one of her favourite red dresses, a picture of glamour and youth. In the photographs that follow, Beth’s mostly naked body is revealed – bearing the very real and permanant marks of the fight for survival. Tram flap breast reconstruction scars. Total bilateral mastectomy scars. Bellorac drain scar. Total hysterectomy scar. Melanoma lumpectomy scar. Navel reconstruction. Ongoing hair loss.

Many have found the images to be too confronting – 103 “friends” unfriended Beth on Facebook when she published them. Some even said that the images were pornographic. I cannot fathom this kind of “thinking”.

Perhaps the images are confronting. And perhaps this is because we do not see real, scarred bodies on a regular basis. Obviously, in our daily interactions, we do not see the full extent of each others bodies. And in our media, we see 2-hr-daily-workout-session bodies, seemingly untouched by sickness, accident, abuse, birth defects. Even in the most prominent cancer campaigns, it is unusual to see the real scars of cancer surgery depicted.

In fearlessly revealing these scars, Beth and the Under the Red Dress Project are seeking to make a statement – read some wonderful words explaining the vision of the campaign HERE. You can also find them on Facebook HERE.

*****

I do think the images are powerful, and empowering. On a personal note, I would love to have the cahones to just be able to publicly bare my scars as Beth has. It is a great campaign, and like thousands of others I look forward to seeing it grow. Below is an interview Beth and her husband Maui did with TVNZ. She explains why it was important to show the scars of her battle against cancer, without shame or fear, amongst an ocean of awareness ribbon campaigns:

ESSENTIAL viewing for contemporary peace: 12 Years A Slave

There’s a good reason this film won Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay at the 86th Academy Awards, as well as the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Lupita Nyong’o, and a Best Actor nomination for Chiwetel Ejiofor:

 

12 Years A Slave is a devastating portrayal of the story of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), an adaptation of his 1853 memoir ‘Twelve Years a Slave’.  Northup was a New York State-born free African American man, an accomplished violinist and farmer, a husband and father, who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery.

Other cast members include Adepero Oduye, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Liza J. Bennett, Brad Pitt, and Paul Dano. This motion picture was directed by the brilliant Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) from an adapted screenplay written with John Ridley, and shot by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt – who worked with McQueen on Hunger and Shame. It was produced by Plan B, Brad Pitt’s production company.

*****

I cannot quite put into words the power of this movie. The story will stay with me forever. So I will just say this: 12 Years A Slave is not merely an historical picture. It is much more than a biographical drama, more than a faithful adaptation of an autobiographical novel. And it is much, much more than an unflinching look at one of the ugliest manifestations of human evil in known history.

Yes, this film is all of those things, and for this I feel grateful to all who made it a reality. But let us not make the mistake of resting in the anaesthetising assumption that that warped consciousness – such that would lead a human to think it not only okay, but justifiable, to torture, own, or exploit another being – is essentially dead in the developed world. It is not.

I see this film as having contemporary parallels. For 12 Years A Slave highlights one of the most disturbing and insidious aspects of the human mind – the ability to desensitise ourselves from the suffering of others, in favour of our own comfort, pleasure, wealth, aesthetic preferences.

Perhaps unintentionally, the film is rich in metaphors for the justifications we in the modern, supposedly “enlightened” and civilised world make for purchasing products, supporting governments, hoarding wealth or simply turning away from the suffering of others, in favour of base and corrupt self-interest.

One such example: A slave owners wife, Mrs Ford, who is disturbed by the anguished wailing of a Mother (who happens to be a slave, Eliza) for her children, a young boy and little girl, taken from her and sold to other slave owners. “I cannot have that kind of depression about”, she whispers. The grieving Mother is removed, permanently.

Out of sight, out of mind… the oppressor’s comfort is conserved. The victim’s pain and vocal suffering was disturbing the comfortable, civilised peace. The victim’s pain – not the evil, vile acts that caused her pain – was seen as the problem.  (Mrs Ford had earlier, for a brief moment, entertained sympathy for Eliza’s plight, before telling Eliza it would be okay, as she would soon forget her children).

So then. What is evil?

Evil is not just abject cruelty and extreme violence. It has been said that evil thrives when good men do nothing. Evil also thrives when those perpetrating and supporting evil indirectly, fail to see – or wilfully refuse to see – how their actions (or inactions) are part of that evil.

When we allow our governments to torture, mistreat, imprison. When we punish people for fighting for their freedom. When we simply turn away from the suffering of others. We are Mrs Ford. We are the person who claims to be compassionate, to be good, whilst simultaneously supporting systems literally sanctioning the harm of others.

When you see this film – and you must – think about the hidden cruelty and inhumanity built into our global economic system today. Think about how we tell people fighting to merely be free that they should be less “angry”, and consider them less worthy of sympathy when they have the audacity to show the desperate emotions that come with the struggle to survive.

Think about how easily and happily we remain ignorant of the suffering that may have gone into almost everything we consume. Slavery is not dead, and nor is the moral blindness that enabled it. It is incumbent upon everyone who truly believes in freedom – and I hope that you do, as I do – to open our eyes.

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“The last word: everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live. This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup. I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery. And the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today.” – Steve McQueen, Director, 12 Years A Slave.

Inspired change on International Women’s Day.

It’s International Women’s Day (IWD) today – read the backstory here. This year’s theme is ‘INSPIRING CHANGE’. The official page for this day implores us: “So make a difference, think globally and act locally !! Make everyday International Women’s Day. Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.” 

I’m currently making tea and about to tune in this morning to Brekkie With Kulja Coulston And Sara Savage (Producer Elizabeth McCarthy) on 102.7FM RRR at 7-10am. This broadcast is a part of ‘Girls to the Mic’,  a 24-hour IWD presentation of radio made by women from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia’s Digital Radio Project and Community Radio Network (the first time this has been done here). Here’s some info on what the Brekkie broadcast will entail – I’m looking forward to it :-)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what women, lucky enough to be able to spend time and money on anything other than the essentials (and have multiple choices in regards to where we purchase those essentials from), can do daily to ensure that we are not contributing negatively to the well being of women and girls, and positively contributing towards a more peaceful, humane and equitable world for everyone.

Seriously. What is something we can do daily? And what do we all currently do daily that impacts not only on our own bodies/wellbeing/life situations, but the bodies/wellbeing/life situations of others? Perhaps people we will never know or meet? Women? Children? Men? Families? And animals and the Earth too?

The answer is obvious. We CONSUME. We spend money. We buy stuff. Food and household products, transportation products, beauty products, entertainment products. We buy products of necessity and products of vanity. We buy products to help us get from A to B and products for sheer pleasure. We buy products to enlighten ourselves, and products to distract ourselves.

We buy things for our families, other loved ones, and for us. Occasionally, we might buy things to assist people we don’t actually know, or have a personal connection with. Whatever we choose to direct our money towards, we make these decisions, daily – and these decisions, collectively, are shaping the planet we live on.

Numerous articles published in the last few years have described the phenomenal “purchasing power” of the developed world’s women – at least women, in the US. In one example, The National Times cites a study that said women spend more than 70 per cent of consumer dollars worldwide. Other articles challenge these figures – like this one in the Wall Street Journal.  But whether women control most of it, or half of it, middle class (and above) women do spend a lot.

As a woman living in the West, just another bozo on the bus who has the ability to spend a small amount of money on non-essential products if I so choose, and who claims to value principles such as universal compassion, mercy, justice and empathy, I fully realise that an absolutely essential component of holding these principles is actually living them.

Part of living them, is ensuring that the consumer decisions I make on a daily basis (or every other day, rather), are in line with the values that compel me to take note of something like International Women’s Day. This includes opening my eyes to where the products I use are coming from. It means making choices that support businesses that treat their employees with dignity, and the earth with respect.

And it’s tough. It is impossible to live in this society and be “pure”. I am obviously using a computer right now, a computer I need to work, stay connected with community,  and survive. My computer has enabled me to learn about the world, make a living, seek specialised medical advice, receive and offer comfort from and to loved ones, and connect with opportunities that have directly improved the quality of my life situation.

But there is a good chance that this computer was made by ill-treated workers under duress in a factory overseas, out of non-biodegradable materials created with the help of thousands of metric tons of carbon emissions, and resource extraction methods that may well have caused environmental damage. The world humans have created is messy, and cruel.

Still … there are choices I can make, about what I consume, and it is my responsibility to make them. I can join collective efforts to try to force corporations who make these products to behave ethically. I can choose to investigate where the products I do purchase come from, and alter my choices depending on what information I find. I can think about the way animals are treated, and whether I am okay with supporting industries that exploit and torture them.

I’ve started a spin-off blog, Live Simply, to kind of document my own gradual shift towards – as much as is humanly possible (given my disability and media-related profession) – a lifestyle based on conscious consumer choices, that are in line with the humane and holistic principles I firmly believe are essential to the survival of our messy, crazy, wonderful human race and, to the esoteric minded, our evolution.

Remember the words of MLK: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” This is as true in relation to our economic system as it is to ecosystems. Everything is interconnected. So the CHANGE I’m inspired to make this International Women’s Day – or recommit to – is to live, and consume, increasingly consciously.

CONSCIOUSITY. Coming soon.

Sign up, stay in the loop:

http://consciousity.tv/

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The best dreams happen when you’re awake…….

Conscious city

 

ASCENSION MAGAZINE. Accepting submissions until May 1st.

ascension mag the logo

Ascension Magazine is Australia’s First Indigenous & Ethnic Women’s Lifestyle Magazine. It’s first edition is scheduled for release October 2014.

Ascension Magazine’s mission is to cultivate thought provoking content that leads to meaningful change. Ascension Magazine strives to offer a choice of lifestyle to its readers that incites adventure and exploration of life’s many treasures; beauty, culture and creativity. It’s desire is for Indigenous and Ethnic women to love, appreciate and relish the gift of life.

Ascension’s first edition The Colour of Beauty is a written and visual celebration of Australia’s culturally diverse women.

The magazine is seeking contributors and advertisers from now until THURSDAY 1 MAY 2014. Sponsors and supporters are always welcomed. Ascension is accepting articles, short stories, poems, photography, look books, illustrations, art and advertisements that align with this groundbreaking publication’s philosophy: Aspire, Inspire, Desire.

Prior to sending your submission please refer to Ascension Magazine’s Media Kit via www.ascensionmag.com or by clicking on the image below. [opens pdf]

Ascension Contact:

E: info@ascensionmag.com
W: www.ascensionmag.com

Ascension Mag media kit

Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival 2014

 CPAF_Landscape2

Annual Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival returns to Footscray Community Arts Centre in March 2014.

Presented in partnership with Footscray Community Arts Centre and CPAF, the Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival is a multi-disciplinary showcase of the creative talents of the Australian contemporary Pacific arts community. Throughout the month of March, creative workshops and exhibitions are being held across various Melbourne locations, with the two-day main festival event and Symposium taking place at the Footscray Community Arts Centre (FCAC). All are invited to experience the distinct stories and art of the Pacific diaspora in Melbourne.

MAIN EVENTS

SYMPOSIUM
When:
21 March,  9:00am – 5:30pm   Where: FCAC Basement Theatre
The Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival Symposium will bring together creative practitioners, community elders, academics and arts industry professionals whose work engages with the contemporary Pacific. Confirmed speakers include: Ruth McDougall, Dion Peita, Lisa Hilli, Latai Taumoepeau, Michael Kisombo, JD Mittman, Yvonne Carrillo‐Huffman, Lea Rumwaropen, Taloi Havini, Thelma Thomas, David Siliga Setoga, Mandy Treagus, Keren Ruki, Julia Mageau Gray, Angela Tiatia, Salote Tawale.

FESTIVAL OPENING
When: 21 March, 6:00pm-9:00pm   Where: FCAC Roslyn Smorgon Gallery
Opening night will feature stirring performances from multi-disciplinary artist SistaNative (Seini Taumoepeau), contemporary Maori Dance troupe Toi Haka, and Samoan Dance troupe Tama Tatau, and the opening of art exhibitions Out of Sequence, Rize Of The Morning Star Photographic Exhibition, Bung Long Paia Ples and the Pasifika Youth Exhibition. Hospitality will be provided by the West Papuan community.

COMMUNITY DAY
When:
22 March from 11.00am   Where: FCAC
The Community Day will feature creative workshops for all ages, market and food stalls. Following a Pacific Welcome Ceremony, a performance stage by the Maribyrnong River will be the site for a FREE CONCERT featuring:

  • Rize of the Morning Star
  • Te Hononga O Nga Iwi
  • Nuholani and Mother of Pearl performers
  • Lisa Fa’alafi
  • Cocoa Jackson Lane
  • Tama Tatau
  • SistaNative (Emcee)

The extensive creative workshops program will include Niuean Weaving, Maori Weaving, Log Drumming, Oration, Hula, Ukelele, Print Making, Headdress Making and children’s activities. There will also be a Reading Room and Photo Booth open to the public.

WORKSHOPS

BILUM MAKING

When:  three Tuesdays - 4, 11 & 18 March, 6:00pm-9:00pm   Where: FCAC Jack Kennedy Room

Master Bilum Weaver Vicki Kinai will deliver a series of three workshops over February/March that have been developed by Vicki to teach the ancient technique of Bilums. Over the course of the workshops participants will learn how to roll their own rope and construct their very own Bilum!! Vicki Kinai is a Melbourne-based Fibre Artist, Melanesian Languages and Cultural Trainer, Exhibitor, Performer and Teacher. She hails from the village of Pitwa, located Southeast of Mt. Hagen town in Papua New Guinea. BOOK HERE.

MOTHER OF PEARL

When: four Tuesdays – 25 February, 4, 11 & 18 March, 6:00pm-9:00pm   Where:  FCAC Basement Theatre

‘Mother of Pearl ’ is an inter-generational dance and weaving project for Pacific daughters of all ages. A safe, fun and engaging space for women and their daughters to gather, learn and exchange cultural knowledges. Learn a dance routine and how to weave your own costumes with Pacific workshop facilitators Fipe Keanu (Dance), Tiffany Le Nevez (Dance) and Kui Taukilo (Weaver). Hard core laughter and mega fun is guaranteed!. Drawing on the strengths of Pacific oral traditions ‘Mother of Pearl’ is designed to bring together mamas and daughters, including mothers with daughters of Pacific heritage, in a shared and uplifting learning space. The workshops will culminate in a short performance alongside Tahitian/Hawaiian Dance Troupe ‘Nuholani‘ as part of the Contemporary Pacific Arts Festivals’ Community Day event Saturday 22nd March. BOOK HERE.

PACIFIC ART YOUTH WORKSHOPS

When:  two Tuesdays – 25 February, 11 March, 6:00pm-9:00pm   Where: FCAC Artlife Studio

CPAF are offering a series of Pacific youth-focused workshops that will be delivered throughout February and March. Participants will learn about the cultural significance of traditional Pacific motifs and how contemporary artists draw on their heritage and will be encouraged to create works that will be displayed as part of the Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival at Footscray Community Arts Centre. Workshops will be targeted at young people with Pacific Islander heritage and will engage participants in processes that blend popular contemporary art techniques including stenciling, paste-up street art, mask & headdress making and print making. All workshops will be delivered by artists of Pacific Islander heritage who bring their expertise and cultural knowledge to provide opportunities for participants to include culturally specific motifs and design into their final product. BOOK HERE.

SATELLITE EVENTS

FONOFALE [meeting house]

When: 12 March, 6.30-8.30pm Where: Wyndham Art Gallery, 177 Watton St, Werribee.

This Solo Exhibition by Fono McCarthy will consist of an installation of lightweight vessels [or barges] made from wood that gives a sense of flight, float and travel, they reference a symbol of activating the VA [space] representing the core principle in which these barges activate and transport knowledge. Special Performance by Grace Vanilau. More information HERE.

A CIRCLE TO WEAVE IN

When: 27 March, 6.30-830pm Where: Blak Dot Gallery, 413 Lygon St, East Brunswick.

Curated by Grace Vanilau and Jacob Tolo – ‘A Circle to Weave In’ (ACTWI)- brings together 3 highly respected Pacific weavers (using traditional and contemporary techniques) and a Pacific multi-media artist in a cross-disciplinary exploration of traditional craft and digital experimentation. Several workshops, held at Blak Dot gallery, leading up to the exhibition will be open to all wishing to learn traditional weaving. More information HERE.

LEI MAKING WORKSHOPS 

When: two Saturdays – 8 & 15 March Where: Blak Dot Gallery, 413 Lygon St, East Brunswick.

Lei making carries not only a blessing and tangible beauty, but also represents the giving of time and love as each one is hand-woven with care. Four Weaving Facilitators of Pacific heritage will offer participants the opportunity to learn 4 different adaptations of Lei’s, drawing on traditional Pacific weaving techniques. Workshop participants are welcome to contribute to a Lei wall installation as part of ‘A Circle to Weave In’ exhibition. The launch will be on the 27th March 2014. BOOK HERE.

PACIFIC PATTERN AND PORTRAITURE

When: three Saturdays – 1, 8 & 15 March Where: SIGNAL, Flinders Walk, Melbourne.

A FREE visual arts project for young Melbourne Pacific Islanders aged between 13-21 years. Participants will learn skills in stencil, visual art, camera operation and photoshop with Pacific Islander Artists. @ Signal, Flinders Walk, Northbank, Melbourne VIC 3001. Behind Flinders St Station towards Sandridge Bridge. BOOK HERE.

The Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival 2014 is supported by Arts Victoria, Victorian Multicultural Commission, Maribyrnong City Council, Blak Dot Gallery, Signal, City of Melbourne, Rize of the Morning Star, Victoria Maori Wardens, and Copyright Agency Limited Cultural Fund. 

For the full Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival program – including workshops, visual art exhibitions, satellite events and bookings, please visit:

http://footscrayarts.com/calendar/contemporary-pacific-arts-festival-2014/

The prime directive of consciousness: The health of the WHOLE.

This:

“In other words, most of the work that needs to be done is work to make the lower (and foundational) waves more healthy in their own terms. The major reforms do not involve how to get a handful of boomers into second tier, but how to feed the starving millions at the most basic waves; how to house the homeless millions at the simplest of levels; how to bring health care to the millions who do not possess it. An integral vision is one of the least pressing issues on the face of the planet.”

 

“I believe that the real revolutions facing today’s world involve, not glorious collective move into transpersonal domains, but the simple, fundamental changes that can be brought to the magic, mythic and rational waves of existence.

 

“All of those waves have important tasks and functions; all of them are taken up and included in subsequent waves; none of them can be bypassed; and none of them can be demeaned without grave consequences to self and society. The health of the entire spiral is the prime directive, not preferential treatment for any one level.” 

– From ‘A Theory of Everything’ by Ken Wilber

 

 

Consciousness is not cutting yourself off from the suffering of others.

Consciousness is choosing not to participate in, support, contribute to the suffering of other bodies, and beings.

Consciousness is global concern, compassion, justice, mercy, empathic understanding.

Consciousness is not being a dick ;-)

Takes me to another place…

A piece of music from Nils Frahm.

Music starts at 1:32 secs. It takes me there.

Live Simply posts 27-01-2014

New posts up on my Conscious Living blog, Live Simply:

Bathroom Detox: Knowing Your Ingredients.

DIY Activism, Food And Health

Look down

Look up

Live simply.

Australia.

A brief, late post from a very, very tired lady. I hope you had a good day today.

Here in Australia, it was Australia Day, the country’s official day of celebration of nationhood. January the 26th is the day in 1788 when the First Fleet of British settlers arrived on Australian shores. Because of this, many Aboriginal people regard this day as “Invasion Day” or Survival Day. I am sympathetic to the term Survival Day, and the sentiment behind it. I would support changing the date of celebration, although that is highly unlikely in the forseeable future.

Nonetheless, I am immensely grateful to be a citizen of Australia. For my entire life, this has been my home. Modern Australia is an evolving and beautiful country, with many generous and kind people. Perhaps my favourite part of the day’s official celebrations is seeing the Australia Day honours, as these honours often reflect a diversity of thought and background – and character – that I am glad exists alongside, ahem, the rougher edged elements here.

What is not so honourable is the broad scale ignorance of what actually happened from 1788and the extent of the violent, repugnant subjugation of Indigenous people here, perpetrated by the European colonizers. Racism towards Indigenous people still stains the soul of this nation. Ignorance, and denial, of the Indigenous resistance to colonization prevails. Ignorance of Indigenous culture and cultural groups is also pretty thin – how many people, I wonder, would be familiar with this map? [click to enlarge]:

indigi_map

Map of Aboriginal Australia, via ABC Online: http://www.abc.net.au/indigenous/map/images/indigi_map.png

The failure to fully acknowledge the darker aspects of the Australian psyche and modern Australian history is just that – a failureIt is unfortunate that many don’t want to acknowledge what can be called, in spiritual terms, Australia’s “shadow”.

Australia doesn’t want to think of itself as *that*.

Yet, full recognition of that shadow is essential to healing what are deep wounds that Indigenous Australia has carried the burden of. Wounds that, it seems, non-Indigenous Australians have enjoyed the privilege of willfully ignoring or being ignorant of. Recognising what we love about this beautiful country today, and, in particular, celebrating the best of its character, is wonderful. But good character also means acknowledging wrongdoing in the past, promoting healing, and genuine respect for our diverse Indigenous population.

Full acknowledgement of past (and the legacies of that past still thriving today, as frequent incidences of racism and statistical disparities indicate), and embracing a positive today, and future, are not antithetical. A genuinely positive future is, in fact, dependent upon such an acknowledgment.

I envision a day where the celebration of one’s country does not involve the white-washing, sanctioning, or denial of the wrongs of history. An Australian Unity Day that acknowledges all facets of who we are.

~~~

Here is a piece published in The Guardian, written by Nakkiah Lui, that sheds some light on Australia’s shadow:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/26/australia-day-is-a-time-for-mourning-not-celebration 

Here is a piece on some tangible reasons to thoroughly love modern Australia:

http://www.theage.com.au/comment/put-away-the-flags-and-enjoy-your-country-on-australia-day-20140125-31fm4.html

And here – Australia Day Honours List. People honoured for positively affecting the lives of those around them:

http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2014-01-26/australia-day-honours-list/5212474

2014: Heaven in the Suburbs.

Warm 2014 Greetings!

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas/New Year break.

I have been away from here for a while. I had intended to publish several posts late last year before going on “break”, but, to be perfectly honest, I was so exhausted and mentally tapped out by early December, that I had to cut straight to the “doing bugger all” part of my year.

Now rejuvenated (sort of), I am busy getting organised, cleaning my living space (a never-ending task), visioning, doing interviews, researching, writing, article writing and screenwriting. It is going well. For Just the Messenger this year, I want to focus on conscious analysis of media, socio-political issues and  environmental issues.

Because I’ll be writing a spin-off blog about conscious living/lifestyle choices… more on that soon. I’m working on a family/historical project which I will document at this other address. And I got a haircut! And made changes to the appearance of this blog! And updated the ‘About this Blog’ page! Little things make me happy.

And it’s all about the little things, innit? Little goals everyday that help you achieve the big goals, bit by bit. If I have one new years resolution, it is to live in calm and focus on what needs to be done, today.

So, that’s what’s up. I’m awake. And I hope that consciousness will be reflected in the posts I will write here during 2014. Starting…this Sunday.

For now, here is a song I love. This is my jam.

“Dear Father Christmas”

My Mum found this the other day – a letter I wrote to Father Christmas at the age of 5. I have always insisted that I never believed in Santa, so this was amusing proof to the contrary. Equally amusing – I cut out a catalogue photo of the item I desired, and, seemingly concerned about Santa’s budget, advised him the item was on sale at KMart :-)

I also promised “to be good forever”. A promise I suspect was broken about fifteen minutes after this letter was written ;-)

LETTER TO FATHER CHRISTMAS

Issue 8 of Stella Magazine on sale now!

HOT OF THE PRESS:  current issue of Stella MagazineList of stockists here.

Online subscriptions available for residents in PNG, Australia, New Zealand, Asia/Pacific and the Rest of the World.

Subscribe here for your chance to WIN!

And stay in the loop by liking Stella Magazine on Facebook here.

Working on some new articles and projects! Evolution continues in 2014 :-)

New Just the Messenger posts on Mandela, Deep Sea Mining, changes to the Racial Discrimination Laws and Violence Against Women coming up. As well as long overdue instalments of ethical consumption, bathroom detox, and conscious living. Stay tuned.

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Legacy.

Two month ago, a fellow left a comment on this blog and tweeted me some words of critique and encouragement I genuinely appreciated.

His name was Father Kevin Lee – a former Catholic Priest who gained a public profile after he admitted to having secretly married a woman, love of his life, Josefina. For this “sin”, he was dismissed from the priesthood of his church. He also blew the whistle on what he called the widespread covering up of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, and argued strongly for the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse.

It was reported on Sunday that the 50-year-old Kevin Lee had died, claimed by Typhoon Haiyan whilst swimming in the Philippines. This was confirmed by further reports yesterday. Kevin is survived by his wife Josefina and 2-month old daughter, Michelle, whom he wrote about lovingly  on his blog. His last post is titled, If I had not broken my vows, Michelle Lucilla Lee would not exist. It is a lovely reflection on the complexity of “morality”.

Roughly two weeks ago a young family friend, William, died suddenly. He is survived by his partner and 3 month-old son Liam. Whilst all family grieve in these circumstances, I feel especially sorry for the little ones left behind, and the parent who must now raise them without the other. People leave a legacy when their physical lives come to an end, and nobody’s is perfect.

With William, despite his troubles in life, he did leave a legacy of generosity and friendship, good deeds done in private, without fanfare. Part of Kevin’s legacy was lending his voice and testimony towards the cause of reform of the church he still believed in, and the cause of justice for victims of a heinous crime. Here is a clip of Father Kevin Lee’s 2012 interview on Lateline, discussing this.

But it can’t hurt to think about what you want to leave behind… not in terms of a song, but in terms of a legacy. And not necessarily a material legacy, but perhaps an emotional legacy, an energetic legacy… that you affected someone or something in a positive way… that you mattered to somebody.”

From my previous post, Seven Songs to Leave Behind’

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DONATE TO THE TYPHOON RELIEF: Red Cross Philippines

Follow up: basic research, & the art of the *indirect* strawman argument

I meant to post this ages ago but WordPress ‘schedule’ tech error, then life distractions, oh dear. A word of WARNING: this post discusses, and links to posts, about the crime of sexual assault.

So back on the 23/10 I took a spontaneous detour to write about how the OpEd Mia Freedman wrote (in which she argued in favour of advising young women to drink less in order to reduce their chances of being sexually assaulted) presented stats that pertain to the perpetrators of physical assault as if they were stats relating to victims of sexual assault (it’s all in that post – scroll down to “Inaccurate & Irresponsible Use Of Statistics”).

This was the biggest problem with the article. It is not unreasonable to expect editorial writers (and writers in general) to not misrepresent data in order to back up their opinions – no matter what the publication. Just because Mia will occasionally dedicate an OpEd to seriously attacking a Kim Kardashian ‘selfie’, doesn’t mean the public can’t expect some standards. Any media platform that reaches a lot of people can and should be called out if they peddle falsehoods – either deliberately or accidentally.

Following the “sexual assault and alcohol” topic, Mia wrote an editorial that insinuated the mainstream media, The Greens, and a number of diversity organisations were “silent” in the aftermath of an anti-Semetic attack in Bondi (which is inaccurate, and ironic, given the attack was not reported by MamaMia in their own round-up of Saturday news). She even suggested that if the victims were Muslim they would have received more coverage. Was this just click-bait or sincere(ly misguided)?

MamaMia had to publish a correction regarding the Greens, who in fact had spoken up about the attack, and many people pointed out that the story was prominent all over media. The site Jews Downunder documented some of this (the author of whom left a comment quite disgusted with Mia’s post/site and its moderation of comments). The Referral also documented some of this, and the diversity orgs that did speak up to condemn the attack. Clearly, a quick fact-checking exercise could have been helpful there.

As it would have with the alcohol and sexual assault piece. A quick google search could have helped locate a University of Wollongong study useful to Mia’s argument. I believe this study is the one Susie O’Brien was referring to in her OpEd on the same thing. The study’s focus is completely on sexually “risky” behaviour of a sample group of women under the influence of alcohol at an Australian University. Looking at gathering data to help inform women how they can use their agency to best protect their interests.

And the report says “This research is needed because public health intervention programs aimed at reducing alcohol consumption and associated risk behaviours generally focus on predominantly male oriented behaviours such as speeding and drink driving (Keane 2009).” (Perhaps they’ll be investigating the sexually risky behaviours of young males too, down the track? Assuming the women aren’t having sex only amongst themselves).

So. There really is no excuse for obfuscating data – I think it is widely understood now that binge drinking is a serious public health and safety issue for women and men (and minors), for numerous reasons. Everyone needs to wise up about it, and research is suggesting sexual health education too needs to address the role of alcohol in affecting choices that can be harmful to ones own health/well being.

The Opposing Arguments…

Mia did cite a US study that found alcohol to be present in a substantial number of sexual assaults of undergraduates in that country. But it is worth noting that another study, “The Role of Rape Myth Acceptance in the Social Norms Regarding Sexual Behavior Among College Students”, found that, in a sample group with a majority of females, 41% believed that a woman who was raped while drunk was responsible, whilst men had higher rape myth acceptance. The less sexual knowledge the men had, the more they accepted the rape myths.

This is one of the reasons the feminists Mia indirectly criticised in her piece want the focus of public discourse about sexual assault to be on the perpetrators of this crime and combating rape myths, as opposed to “female responsibility”. For despite efforts to reinforce the message that it is never the victims fault, some victim blaming persists. Which is why focusing predominantly on what potential victims should do to make themselves safer will continue to draw fierce criticism.

As for the response to the (needlessly personal) Twitter storm. I like to observe how public figures handle media stoushes and controversy in general, so it was interesting to see how Mia responded to the broad spectrum of critical responses she received over the piece. She wrote a follow up editorial, in which she asserts “I don’t want to make this about me”, but that is in fact a piece solely about the more insane things said about her on social media.

In it, she reproduces a series of the most inflammatory, unreasonable and outlandish statements (it is not stated precisely where these statements were made) and comprehensively responds to each of them – kicking their butts, so to speak. Which is, as it happens, a great way to make your own position seem sane and sensible in comparison. On many people, this is an effective method of persuasion. An ironic response to strawman arguments that is itself a kind of indirect strawman – pick out the stupidest arguments against your position, then rebut them (easily – and thus “win” the argument).

After the nasty Twitter hate-fest that occurred, I don’t fault her for doing this at all. When people talk shit at/about you, it is natural to want to serve it back to them. And Mia does have her share of “haters” (as does every opinionated person in the media, regardless of their politics). I just wish Mia had, instead, used her significant platform to respond to, and maybe even counter, some of the serious, civil and sensible critiques of – and concerns raised about – her OpEd.

But, unlike the obviously crazy statements she reproduced to rebut, she doesn’t mention what these critiques are. Here are just some of them:

1) Georgia Dent’s editorial, on Womens Agenda.

2) Maddy Grace’s feminist response addresses the Herald Sun’s Susie O’Brien and Mia – ‘How to avoid rape according to Emily Yoffe, Mia Freedman, Susie O’Brien et al’. (Note: Susie defended Mia. Unlike Mia though, she has  made remarks about a 14 year-old victim to the effect of “she chose to be there”. This upset quite a few people, because the victim was denied justice due to her perceived culpability in the disgusting violation of her body).

3) This post claims to cover some of the anti-rape education campaigns that do work in making “our daughters” safer. Quote: “as campaigns in Canada and Scotland have shown in recent years, there are information campaigns that actually do make a difference in lowering the rate of sexual assault on people who are drunk, and they do it by using messages targeting potential rapists rather than potential victims”.

4) Karen Pickering tweeted this very personal 2012 post she wrote to explain her involvement in SlutWalk, which illustrates the emotional and psychological complexity of being a victim of this crime – particularly when the victim believes there are things they could have done to avoid it. Many of the emotional and angry responses to Mia’s piece relate to concerns about this complexity.

5) And THIS article from Amy Gray, about the Victorian Liberal Government’s proposed overhaul of rape law in the state,  touches on another reason some people were so against Mia’s argument. It has to do with concerns about how public conversations, and public approval of certain views, can potentially reinforce the prejudices of future jurors and law makers – as well as further discourage victims from reporting crimes.

The Australian Institute of Criminology paper “Juror attitudes and biases in sexual assault cases” articulates this difficulty:
“two recent studies […] show that juror judgements in rape trials are influenced more by the attitudes, beliefs and biases about rape which jurors bring with them into the courtroom than by the objective facts presented, and that stereotypical beliefs about rape and victims of it still exist within the community.”

Note that Table 1, “Community beliefs about rape (percent)”, suggests that a majority of both men and women do not think sexual assault can be excused if the victim is heavily affected by alcohol. Good. However, the paper also discusses how alcohol consumption by both alleged victim and perpetrator adds an extra dimension of ambiguity and difficulty in achieving anything resembling justice in the courts.

You can probably guess why that is.

All of the above are things Mia could have responded to, to advance the real, civil discussion she wanted to have about the topic she chose to raise on her very successful platform. Mia has the ability to guide that discussion by putting forth well researched, civil arguments and engaging/responding to other civil arguments (and flatly ignoring the purveyors of nutbag statements like “you’re a rapist sympathiser”).

It wouldn’t take that much longer to prepare, but given how serious the issue it, it’s probably worth taking some extra time anyway. If Mia decides to write about this again in future, doing so with a careful consideration of the context she is launching her opinion into (highlighted by all the pages I link to above), might help her make her argument. Or, she can write something else inflammatory, controversial, hastily put together, and still get heaps of traffic on site.

What approach one takes depends on what the real end goal is, I guess.

RETRO POST: The Divided Brain – Iain McGilchrist | Dr Jill Bolte Taylor

Okay… another re-post! I’ll have some new ones up very soon… until then, this was my 105th blog post, first published 29/11/11. [I really MUST emphasise that the reference to left and right "hemispheres" of the brain, used below, serves as metaphor only.]

“It is my suggestion to you that in the history of Western Culture, things started, in the 6th century B.C in the Augustan Era, the 15th/16th century in Europe, with a wonderful balance of these hemispheres. but in each case it drifted further to the left hemispheres point of view.”

Iain McGilchrist 

This is a quite remarkable and fascinating RSAnimate lecture excerpt from renowned psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist, in which he explains how our ‘divided brain’ has profoundly altered human behaviour, politics, culture and society. Taken from a lecture given by Iain McGilchrist as part of the RSA’s free public events programme. To view the full lecture, go to  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbUHxC4wiWk  Thankyou anonymous for sending this to me. You’ve succeeded in making my morning.

What I really appreciate about this clip is that Mr McGilchrist touches on the links between brain function and the metaphor of right and left brain thinking, the lack of balance between the two, and the correlation between brain function and the problems of democracy and modern life. The link between brain function, perception and politics is a key area of interest for me.

McGilchrist makes clear what those of us interested in brain function know already: that for both imagination and reason, you need both hemispheres. He gives a clearer summation of what we can described metaphorically as left brain and right brain functions:

The left hemisphere, dependent on denotative language and abstraction, yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known, fixed, static, isolated, de-contextualised, explicit, general in nature, but ultimately lifeless.

The right hemisphere, by contrast, yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate living beings within the context of the lived world, but in the nature of things never fully graspable, never perfectly known. And to this world, it exists, a certain relationship.

He goes on to describe these two hemispheres as “two worlds” that we combine in different ways all the time. We need to rely on certain things to manipulate the world (left), but for a broad understanding of it we need to use the right hemisphere. We need both. Problems arise when we deny one of them, when we embrace the “values” of one to the detriment of the other. Ideally, they should be in balance.

Make no mistake: McGilchrist is passionate about both language and reason. But he also appreciates the value of ‘right brain’ perceptions. The clip ends with an Einstein quote I’d never heard before:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

If I had a dinner party, and I could invite anyone from history……

~~

To continue on a theme, I recently discovered Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor (years after the rest of the world did). She is a Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist who experienced a severe hemorrhage in the left hemisphere of her brain in 1996, and remained aware the whole time. So, as a neuroanatomist, she got to observe, with utter fascination, what it is to be totally inside the “right brain”. Her perceptions gained during that time are incredible. I just borrowed a copy of her book, My Stroke of Insight.

This a short, sharp, sweet interview:

She articulates more detailed descriptions in this interview with Charlie Rose. I could not stop giggling at the lost/skeptical expression on his face. But Bolte Taylor’s presentation style is crystal clear and engaging:

http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/10580

AN EXCHANGE OF UNPLEASANTRIES – Samantha Maiden vs David Donovan.

Let me preface what I am about to write with an assertion that I have respect and admiration for both DAVID DONOVAN [Journalist and managing editor of Independent Australia - a progressive journal I am thankful exists] and SAMANTHA MAIDEN [National Political Editor Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Herald Sun, Sunday Mail (Qld & SA), Sunday Times, Sunday Tasmanian & (a personal fave of hers) Sunday Territorian]. I also follow both on Twitter, and value their media contributions. The following is an analysis of how the bias of individuals can often stifle genuine communication – particularly when one, both (or all) parties go into a conversation with strong preconceptions about who the other party is. These two, evidently, have strong opinions about each other.

Yesterday evening, I was magazine reading after a lazy fish n’ chips dinner and intermittently checking twitter when I witnessed – in real time – an exchange between David and Samantha. It all started with this innocuous (I think) tweet from David:

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I think it’s safe to say David doesn’t like Abbott. Also true: writers and journalists ask questions. David was asking Twitter a question.  Nothing heinously untoward here. Samantha responded very quickly with an innocuous answer/correction (to both David and Van Badham – probably because Samantha saw David’s tweet via Van’s profile?):

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David responded:

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The link he tweeted was THIS transcript of a story by Sara Everingham for ABC Local Radio’s ‘PM’ program. It contains within it these words spoken by Sara: “He also promised that if the Coalition wins the election he’ll spend his first week as prime minister with the Yolngu people in north-east Arnhem Land.”

I don’t know the full story of the history of communication between these two, but I strongly suspect after that second tweet that Samantha got (understandably) irritated with the insinuation within it – although she kept a lid on it for a while longer. Her responses to those two tweets:

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Okay. Reasonable, right? David responded, by noting the lines within Sara’s report, which make the assertion that David’s original question was about:

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Having made the point that that was not a direct quote but the reporter’s assertion, Samantha is obviously talking about widely reported official campaign and policy promises. So she is correct in her assertion that Abbott’s widely reported official campaign promises included a promise to spend 1 week a year there. All the reports I recall hearing/reading reported this – I must have missed Sara’s PM report.

David responded:

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And after that, Samantha seemingly went a little cray, arguing that the ABC PM story itself did not state that Abbott would spend his first week as Prime Minister with that particular Arnhem Land community (even though it did – that may have been an error, but Sara did report that in the transcript. It is true though that a direct quote from Abbott is not played in the report – he is never heard saying “in my first week…”):

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Really, Samantha? All David asked was whether this was true or not. You provided him with some information. He responded by providing a link to an ABC radio report that states – erroneously or not – that Abbott said to the community that he would spend his first week there. You countered by reasserting this was false and that that particular “promise” was just speculative twitter hokum. The fact that it was reported by the national broadcaster once, is enough to warrant a simple informal question on Twitter though, surely?

David responded:

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The link he tweeted was to THIS. Turns out, David grew up alongside Indigenous Australians in Central Queensland during the 1970s and 1980s. The article is about his experiences growing up there.

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Independent Australia does campaign for Indigenous people.

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That is just plainly wrong. Obviously. I’ll chalk it down to Samantha (perhaps) being offended by David’s insinuation she leapt to the defence of Abbott. Or she doesn’t like/respect David and his work, and has a particular perception of who he is, and what motivated that initial question (she said as much – in an earlier tweet she suggested he was peddling an “urban myth”). Most likely, a combination.

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Samantha is a good journalist, but this is an unedifying spectacle now. For real. The conversation continued:

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The PM program should have corrected that record, if it was incorrect. PM Abbott probably doesn’t even know about it.

And then Samantha accused David of being a lazy journo.

I believe this is what is called “escalation”.

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I don’t recall ever hearing Abbott was going to spend the first week there – then again, I don’t think I listened to Sara’s report. Furthermore it is hard to say whether or not many votes cast in the election were influenced specifically by that “1 week a year” pledge – but, let us continue:

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Look. There is ALOT of poorly researched crackpot conspiracy shit being peddled across all social media, by the far left and far right. But this was not a conspiracy theory. It was a question. “Bungled sentence” in Sara’s report it may have been, but the best way to find out if it was, is to ask. Right?

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Then another lady named Heather provided another online document that mentions the ‘first week of Prime Ministership’ “promise” too:

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Samantha handled that with, er, coolheaded aplomb…

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She is a little ticked off, I think it’s fair to say. This is the document she was describing. It’s not a transcript, she’s right about that. It is a Garma Festival media release titled “Key Points of Tony Abbott’s Garma Speech on Indigenous Affairs”. But it contains the phrase: “…he undertook to spend the first week after he is elected in the Yolgnu community if that would be acceptable to the community.”

Heather then asked Samantha: “So you’re saying the #Garma Festival are publishing something that’s not true on their website?” Samantha:

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I thought that a condescending thing to assume, so offered another condescending assumption in the other direction:

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Because thanks to David’s tweet question, someone DID tweet a link to the video footage online! TWITTER CAN BE AWESOME THIS WAY! Ask, and you shall receive……

Before that happened though, someone else tweeted this to them both (Van Badham still being cc’d on all of this, LOL):

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Samantha still wasn’t having a bar of it:

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So then the online video footage surfaced, and was reviewed by both parties and everyone else watching this conversation. The video is HERE– relevant part, 21.20-21.50. Samantha’s response?

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What do you think about the video? Could what Abbott said about “first week” be construed as a promise? Or, as Samantha asserted afterwards on Twitter, a spur of the moment open question said to get a reaction from his audience?

Frankly I think that: 1) this was not an official campaign promise; and so 2) it is the opinion of the Yolgnu community itself that matters here. Were they expecting him there first week? If they were, breaking that “agreement” really does suck. But let us still remember that there are numerous other pressing issues to be criticising and scrutinising this government for already. And the most important thing will be whether or not he delivers the positive, “Real Change” he pledged to remote Indigenous communities – and how that change is delivered. Please media, investigate that. From all angles.

Getting back to my original assertion now. Samantha Maiden is a good journalist. But David’s initial question was fine, based on the fact that he had heard a report on the national broadcaster that stated Abbott had made some sort of promise to spend his first week as Prime Minister with the Yolngu people.

As you can imagine, things went nowhere after the post-video comments, but what both David and Samantha were tweeting to others – about each other – revealed more about how preconceptions and bias (which we all suffer from) were affecting their perception during (and probably just prior to) this exchange.

Samantha to other:

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 David to other:

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For the record, David Donovan is not an “inner city hipster” and nor were any of the people who joined in on the conversation and supported David’s POV. He is a passionate and engaged political observer, a journalist with strong convictions and a social conscience. 

And, for the record, yes, Samantha works for News Limited, owned by Lucifer Rupert Murdoch, but Samantha has already critiqued the dearth of females in Abbott’s ministry, has begun questioning aspects of “operation sovereign borders” and as a result has been told by some LNP trolls supporters that media #silence is quite appropriate right now: see evidence here (this is tremendous)

Also note there were many other tweets from both David and Samantha – essentially saying the same thing – as they responded to other people joining in the conversation. I’ve given you the gist of what was said to demonstrate a fairly common mistake we humans make in political conversations: letting our preconceptions and egos derail what could otherwise be civil exchanges.

We’re funny like that.

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Post script: My intent in writing this post is not to demonise anyone. Only to look at the way we communicate – and fail to communicate – when we are not aware of our biases.

Why is that important to be aware of? Because our biases will likely influence what questions we think are relevant to even ask and pursue answers to. All the more important to be aware of, when you are an investigative journalist.

HARD KNOCKS ACADEMY.

“[I] am a fully rounded human being with a degree from the university of life, a diploma from the school of hard knocks, and three gold stars from the kindergarten of getting the shit kicked out of me.”

Captain Edmund Blackadder

Been busy. Back soon.

“Keep Calm”

Heeding recently given good advice by converting it into my current desktop background….

Keep calm & go with the flow desktop

Election 2013: choice between ‘bad’ or ‘worse’?

So. The policy “debate” of how best to deal with the issue of Asylum Seekers attempting to come to Australia by boat continues… continues to inflame, provoke, disgust, and draw out the best and worst in this country’s soul, and in its elected representatives. I will publish a post soon (when less exhausted/distracted) comparing the policies of the two major parties, and the Greens, on this issue (and thereafter, a few other important issues we talk less about, because of the “hot button” nature of this one. Who else is tired of this shit???).

For now, I will just share here 3 opinion pieces I read yesterday.

First 2 are expressing both dismay at the Rudd led ALP’s radical policy lurch regarding asylum seekers (people often labelled by the likes of Bob Carr as “economic migrants”), but also acknowledging (conceding) that Abbott led LIB/NAT’s ongoing policy and rhetoric regarding asylum seekers (people frequently referred to by the likes of Scott Morrison as “illegal arrivals”) to be worse. In fact, LIB/NAT’s are worse on a number of issues. So despite currently dealing with my total repulsion towards recent policy developments involving my country of birth, I can appreciate the perspectives, and being reminded of the bigger picture here. The bigger, sadder picture.

Article 1: Voting for Kevin Rudd makes me sick, but here’s why I’ll do it anyway

The choice for ethical Australians presents not as between good and bad, but between bad and worse. There are two ways forward through this moral molasses. By Van Badham on The Guardian

Article 2: Defend the Bad against the Worse

By Julian Burnside

The 3rd article has been published on the Drum -

Article 3: Spend your $2.49 wisely this election

Under Australia’s electoral system it can be frustratingly difficult to deny either of the two major parties your vote, but it is possible to deny them your money, writes Greg Jericho.

Exerpt:

Does our first preference matter?

Well yes, actually. Not only can your first preference have an impact in an electoral sense, but it also serves to send a quite powerful message to the two main parties when you put someone else as Number 1. And the reason this message is powerful is because it affects their bottom line.

In the coming election, each first preference vote is worth $2.49 (or to be precise, 248.8 cents). To get this funding a party or person must poll over 4 per cent of the vote in any division (or State in the case of the Senate). So this doesn’t mean every vote of theCoke in the Bubblers Party gets them $2.49 – unless of course they poll over 4 per cent, which is pretty unlikely. Indeed at the 2010 election only 59 per cent of candidates reached the threshold, in 2007 it was 54 per cent.

Does this funding matter to the major parties though? Well at the 2010 election, the ALP all up received $21.2 million, the Liberal and National Parties combined received $23.58 million, and the Greens got $7.2 million.

So yes, it matters.”

Thinking about education.

Verity Firth – current CEO of the Australian Public Education Foundation – is certainly an engaging, convincing speaker. This is a brief clip of her at the 2013 Public Education Foundation awards:

I went to a public pre-school, primary school, and secondary school in the early 2000s. In secondary school, I experienced none of the wonderful boons of ‘community’ and quality Verity describes in the video above. A large part of that was due to personal, specific circumstances: acute physical and mental health issues (without adequate support or treatment) – causing prolonged absences, extreme anxiety and depression, poor concentration, and a general feeling of being unsafe at school. All this had a detrimental effect on the education I received in those crucial secondary years. I am keenly aware of how important mental health, and familial, cultural and professional support is, for a student – and how the absence of such things can be a profound handicap in life.

Layering and exacerbating those “unique” circumstances, there were also environmental factors that impacted the public education I received, and set it quite apart from the wonderful utopia Verity describes: the schools I attended weren’t terribly ethnically diverse. The (too) high population secondary school I attended was comprised of mostly Anglo and Asian kids, with a good deal of visible self-segregation going on. I had a few truly great teachers, who fostered within me a belief in my own ability to learn, and inspired me to do so. But I also had quite a few stooges. So many examples of poor role-modelling… but I’ll just give you a taste. It is no revelation that some teachers, like people in general, aren’t so great.

There was the legal studies teacher seemingly obsessed with talking about race, and his much younger foreign wife. Another teacher who liked to hold the class back and release kids in groups according to eye or hair colour, for her own pleasure. Another teacher who repeatedly turned a blind eye to bad behaviour – who even said and did nothing whilst an Asian student trying to give a presentation was verbally abused by a group of Anglo-Australian boys (they hurled racist and sexist comments at her the entire time she was speaking, in a tiny classroom. Man heard, did nothing). Another teacher who showed up extremely late to most of the classes – just in time to give us a condensed lecture on the Australian political system. Really nice guy, but… distracted much? He had two important full-time jobs at the school, and perhaps that wasn’t a good idea.

Leaving school was thus a relief, but also a terrible let down. I started off in life a curious, conscientious child and eager student, hungry to learn. I left school a cynical, dejected, maladjusted teenager, with a phobia of institutionalised educational settings, and actual classrooms. Rather than saying goodbye to a “community”, leaving my compulsory years behind felt like fleeing Alcatraz, or the end of some horrible ordeal. I do think I am an unusually sensitive person. But I also think a lot of the support that I needed, and did not receive, during those years, are forms of support most – if not all – students need in order to really thrive in their studies* [see note below].

BASIC support such as:

  • A personally, physically and culturally safe and respectful learning environment – certainly one in which a student is not subjected to abuse or humiliation by other students or, perhaps more importantly, the teachers. How best to foster this environment is the great question.
  • Support for health and wellbeing, of mind and body: advice towards and the provision of healthy food; forms of exercise able to be undertaken by the student (i.e. disabilities being taken into consideration – would have been nice to have had that, rather than having to constantly explain that my inability to run in P.E was not caused by laziness); mental health education and support services, the promotion of a school culture in which stigma is combated.
  • Smaller classes, so students can have more one-to-one time with a teacher. Holy jeebus. I know for certain I would have fared better with that.
  • Early detection and support for learning disabilities – matching kids with the modes of learning that work for them best, with an approach focusing on strengths, not deficits.

Some other forms of support are not and cannot be the responsibility of the school to provide, but they certainly make a big difference (and I list these here not as a criticism of my upbringing, merely as an informed observation of things that are helpful):

  • Coming from a family or cultural background with an academic and/or reading culture.
  • Parent(s) or Guardian(s) who are truly engaged with their child’s development and education – not just when things go wrong. Perhaps even involved in that “school community” Verity alludes to. I cannot remember exactly how many parent-teacher interviews were attended, but I believe that number is close to three. And school functions? In high school, none – but to be fair, I avoided them too ;-)
  • Parent(s) or Guardian(s) who understand the realities, the real contemporary challenges, their children are facing, and who are able to provide guidance. Or, in lieu of that capacity, have an understanding of where to go to in order to get that help/support. School? Social Worker? GP? Community Centre? Community Group? Church/Religious Group? Sexual Health or Family Planning Centre? Etc.
  • Parent(s) or Guardian(s) who themselves have support to be safe and well. Who have support emotionally, socially, physically and financially.
  • A healthy, open and communicative home environment.
  • A healthy lifestyle outside of school… a balanced life. Other self-esteem building interests, and time to pursue them.

Verity Firth evidently was lucky enough to receive a start in life, and a public school education, that gave her a fantastic foundation for lifelong learning and success – one that allowed her to develop her innate talents, talents that she is now putting to tremendous use in the world. From her descriptions, her child is now lucky enough to be receiving a public school education of equal quality, and that is inspiring and encouraging to hear. Wouldn’t it be great to know that, no matter where the public school is they are attending, a child is going to receive the basic support they need to be the best student – and human being – they can be?

There will always be differences and “inequalities”, because we are all individuals, we all have different circumstances, and different backgrounds. What I would like to see (what I think most supporters of public education would like to see) would be a public system comprised of schools equipped with all the resources and high quality staff they need, in order to foster the kind of learning environment their particular kids need, in order to thrive.

A good time to re-visit where elected representatives, the major parties, minor parties and independents stand in regards to public education, I think. What with an election happening and all……

*Note: many of these things are addressed by some public schools today, and were probably addressed by some other public schools at the time – I am merely stating they were absent from my experience. Take my epic failure as a cautionary tale.

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I haven’t forgotten about instalments 3 & 4 of ‘Fashion Victims”: clothing industry outsourcing & ethical consumption. Just working on some articles and other work at the moment. Aforementioned posts, and more, to come. I hope you are well :-)

I also just discovered I may be eligible to acquire assistive technology software. Super excited – would make me that much more productive and I am elated at the prospect! Has made my year! I don’t know why it never occurred to me before to investigate this. Long way to go still before driving is possible but I do fine without that. Being able to “type” faster, however? For someone who writes, absolutely essential. Tech empowered Disability for the win.

Issue 6 of Stella Magazine on sale now!

HOT OF THE PRESS:  current issue of Stella Magazine. Props to the publishing team, once again!

Dayleen Sania is owning that cover!

List of stockists here.

Online subscriptions available for residents in PNG, Australia, New Zealand, Asia/Pacific and the Rest of the World.

Subscribe here for your chance to WIN!

And stay in the loop by liking Stella Magazine on Facebook here.

stella-6-cover-issue_400_526_c1_center_center_0_0

Monday reminder:

Imagintion tool

[I think it's fine to do both, though ;-) Just gotta get the balance right... something I must constantly work on.]

Celebrate the Life.

Beautiful, loving, young Rachael – I know you are at peace now.

So I feel for your family and your dearest at this, most difficult of times, and hope for all the comfort and wisdom they need in the present, and into the future.

 

Weep not for me though I am gone into that gentle night.


Grieve if you will, but not for long upon my soul’s sweet flight.

I am at peace; my soul’s at rest there is no need for tears.


For with your love I was so blessed for all those many years.

There is no pain; I suffer not, the fear now all is gone.


Put now these things out of your thoughts, in your memory I live on.

Remember not my fight for breath, remember not the strife.

Please do not dwell upon my death, but celebrate my life.

(author unknown)

 

The life force – all we have, and are.

Yours was, is, warmth personified.

Fond, fond memories xo

“When you’re a member of the dominant culture…”

Hiya :-)

New post(s) coming soon – had hoped to get around to posting a couple on Mon & Tues, but time got away from me. Just thought I’d post this little nugget for now – a very clear thought on sexism in Australian politics (actually could apply to any “dominant culture”):

I haven’t seen many episodes of the program, but did see this one, in which Annabel Crabb chats to Craig Emerson over a meal in a lovely outdoor setting, whilst both try to act comfortable and normal. Actually, it looked rather like a date – but that’s only because Crabb is absurdly charming and Emerson makes amazing eye contact with people when he’s talking to them.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the show at first (the promos put me right off), however, I do like seeing politicians in a rather different context, talking politics and policy – just not on Q&A. I loathe the bickering and bullshit that occurs when you put opposing politicians together – especially in front of a big audience who will clap every 3 minutes and say “oooh”, or “noooo” intermittently. Terribly distracting. Cornering them one-by-one in a kitchen and talking informally over laksa is more my cup of tea.

So, hat tip Crabb.

I will endeavour to watch more episodes. My only request is that you bring back the wild woman curls! Your curls are far too defined now for my liking.

(You had my favourite coiffure on telly! I’m devastated!)

Namaste.

my soul recognises your soul

I honour the love, light, beauty

truth and kindness within you

because it is also within me

in sharing these things

there is no distance and

no difference between us

we are the same,

we are one

namaste

The heart broke :-)

I just remembered – the other day I heard the following Mike White anecdote about his HBO show Enlightened, that made me smile.

In Season 1 of the series, there is an episode titled ‘The Weekend’, in which Amy Jellicoe tries to orchestrate a peaceful weekend away in nature with her junkie ex-husband, Levi. She takes him on a kayaking trip to a place that holds significance for them, their collective history – a history filled with both joyful, and deeply painful, memories… memories of losses incurred, wounds they inflicted upon each other.

In the course of the episode, Amy comes to terms with the reality of who Levi is in the present, and comes to a place of acceptance of their painful past, in order to let it go.  In voiceover at the end of the episode, the following monologue plays:

“You can try to escape the story of your life but you can’t. It happened. The baby died. The dog died. The heart broke. I knew you when you were young. I know your heart broke too. I will know you when we are both old and maybe wise. I hope wise. I know you now, your story. Mine isn’t the one that I would have chosen in the beginning, but I’ll take it. It is my story. It’s only mine, and it’s not over. There’s time. There is time. There is so much time…”

Trust me when I say it is a gorgeous episode and moving monologue in context – every word of it counts. But when HBO executives viewed the episode, one exec said to Mike, “God, the voiceover at the end of that episode just makes me want to kill myself!” And he really wanted three lines to be taken out: The baby died. The dog died. The heart broke.”

Mike, of course, didn’t want to take them out, having spent so much time carefully crafting that script. He took the feedback, but, instead of excising them, had T-Shirts printed with those three lines, and sent them out to HBO execs, with an earnest plea for them to not make him take out those lines! 

 Tshirt

They still, however, wanted him to take them out. So he just didn’t. Instead, he told HBO he would take out the lines, then at the last minute told the head of post-production to leave the lines in. And at the official premier of the series, that particular episode was one of the episodes chosen to be screened. During that event, Mike sat behind the guy who had told him to take out the lines.

At the end of the episode’s screening, that guy turned to him and said, “The end of that show kills me everytime – I love it! You did such a good job with that episode!” all moved and oblivious to the fact that Mike didn’t, in fact, cut the lines… because in context the lines are fucking good. And, acknowledging sadness and loss is actually OKAY – an emotionally mature and thoughtful audience will be able to handle it.

The moral of the story?

  1. A good writer with a mission knows what they are doing. Leave them alone.
  2. If you are such a writer, trust your instincts.
  3. I appreciate post-breakdown Mike White on a deep level.
  4. Heartbreak can make you smile.

I want that t-shirt :-)

Julia Gillard.

Yes, of course, I believe strongly that we need to FOCUS on the present and Election 2013!

I just want to take a moment to post a few articles written about Australia’s 27th (and first female) Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Ms Gillard was my local Member of Parliament. I’ll admit to having voted for her for as long as I have resided in this electorate (I am not an ALP supporter as much as I am a non Liberal/degenerative-conservatism person).

As frustrated as I have been at some of the decisions she and especially the ALP have made, and some of the positions she personally took (eg. inconsistent “cultural traditionalist” statements against marriage equality, a general step to the right), I never regretted that decision (mainly because of the woeful alternative).

But I remain in awe of her incredible composure under attack, her commitment to public service, and grounded yet dignified bearing. An undoubtedly intelligent, accomplished, tough but flawed Woman, who copped a lot of disgraceful shit from the embarrassing degenerate elements of the Australian media and the Australian populace.

And Ms Gillard has rightly expressed pride in her role in, amongst other things, the passing of legislation to implement DisabilityCare, to aid public education, and in the commencement of the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in institutional settings. Obviously the things she wants to be remembered for.

On Julia Gillard’s political legacy – SBS World News:

http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1782896/Julia-Gillards-rise-and-fall

A post-spill piece on Gillard’s accomplishments, and failings, via The Guardian:

http://m.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/26/julia-gillard-where-go-wrong

A good & extensive piece published back in April on Independent Australia site:

http://www.independentaustralia.net/2013/politics/a-fair-go-for-prime-minister-julia-gillard/

And… the last word from Gillard, via ABC Online. A dignified and gracious outro:

http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2013/s3790474.htm

That is all.

Who knows – might get a photo with Gillard at a sausage sizzle in Lalor soon ;-)

‘Fashion Victims’: Rana Plaza and the response from Business.

In THIS post last week, I outlined and posted a link to the Four Corners program story ‘Fashion Victims’, on the horrific Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh on 24 April 2013.

As you are probably aware, the issue of exploitative labour practices in the apparel industry is not new. What this devastating collapse did was once again point the spotlight on unethical outsourcing in the fashion industry – and place well earned pressure on Western retailers to be more accountable in regards to the treatment and safety of the real life people who make their business operations and profits possible.

Following the Rana Plaza collapse, a few Australian retailers announced plans to sign on to the Accord on Factory and Building Safety in Bangladesh – initially signed in May this year. This is a five-year legally binding agreement between international labour organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and retailers in the textile industry, to maintain minimum safety standards in the Bangladesh textile industry.

Other than safety auditing practices, signed-on retailers must provide enough money for Bangladesh manufacturers to maintain safe buildings, and to continue to support the textile industry there even with higher costs. All this necessitates cooperation with the International Labour Organization, and the government of Bangladesh. You can read the accord HERE.

The big Australian retailers who have expressed “intent to sign on”, or similar:

KMart (announced 7 June 2013)

Big W (announced 7 June 2013)

Forever New (11 June 2013 to 4 Corners, said they had “put steps in place to join the international Bangladesh Fire & Safety Accord”)

Target (20 June 2013)

Coles told Four Corners it only had one small order remaining for their Mix clothing range, and that after that was complete, it had “no further plans” to source from Bangladesh. It said that, if that plan changed, Coles would “be prepared to sign the Bangladesh Safety Accord.” Globally, big retailers that signed on to the Accord include the Cotton On Group and Benetton (Benetton order sheets were found in the Rana Plaza rubble).

As for MANGO (whose dishonest response to the disaster is documented in the Four Corners story), they signed on too, but not before coming out with this garbage: “It would have been impossible to detect the structural defects of the collapsed building. Mango would not have been able to ascertain the owners had built three more storeys than is permitted”.

It is generally understood that retailers have been drawn to outsource to Bangladesh because of how cheap labour is there. But I wonder – is that even a good business strategy?

BAD LABOUR TREATMENT = BAD FOR BUSINESS

Back in April, AMP Capital were advising investors that they did not see transferring sourcing to Bangladesh, in many cases, as a sustainable strategy, and instead advised that building sustainable supply chains with long-term relationships with suppliers would be the more successful long term strategy. Why? A few reasons. One is that, due to increasingly consciousness amongst consumers (in an already weak consumer market) about the social and environmental impacts of their buying habits, the exposure of exploitation of workers can lead to brand damage and, hence, revenue loss.

Beyond that, exploitation, from a purely financial perspective, has a very poor risk/reward ratio. For example, underpaid labour can lead to poor productivity, high factory worker turnover, industrial action, supply chain disruptions and product quality issues in the short term. In the long term, wages that don’t cover the basic living expenses of workers, other than being cruel and disgusting, are just not sustainable. Moreover, an aggressive focus on profit puts pressure on suppliers, which in turn often leads to more sweatshop issues and subcontracting – which threatens to produce even more quality and sweatshop risks.

Businesses also take into account infrastructure issues of the countries they source from (of which Bangladesh has many, like reliable energy supply and transport issues). These can result in production disruptions and longer lead times. Simply relocating to a country because it has low labour costs isn’t such a good idea if, say, a large proportion of the input materials have to be imported from some other country. There are so many other costs and risks that erode the profit margin for these guys – the total cost of goods sold and moving production around to take advantage of lower labour costs might not produce great returns after all.

YOUR POWER IS YOUR CHOICE: MAKING IT ETHICAL.

The way retailers decide which sourcing strategies to pursue is, of course, economically complex – albeit simply motivated (PROFIT). I think it is, however, important for consumers to be aware, at a basic level, of how retailers they may purchase from are doing business – who they source from, what kind of auditing practices they are complying with, etc. That is something I think we can all get a basic grasp of.

As a humble consumer, what I am interested in these days is doing business with retailers and clothing companies who are making ethical garment sourcing a key part/priority of their long-term practice – as ethical consumption gradually becomes part of my own long-term practice. Personally I have no qualms with overseas outsourcing, but I want to know that every effort is being made to ensure that production Workers are being paid adequately, and are carrying out their work in safe working conditions.

In my next two posts on this issue, I’ll investigate how one becomes an ethical consumer, options for ethical consumption, and the activists and organisations who are uncovering and advocating for the fair treatment of workers in the garment industry internationally.

 ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

 I listen to this song about once a fortnight (still. Album just soothes me). I had forgotten, until yesterday, that Radiohead made a video clip for it for MTV’s EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) Campaign. The story is depicted in split screen: one side depicting a day in the life of a young child from an affluent, developed area; the other showing the day in the life of a child being forced to work in a sweatshop:

 

‘Fashion Victims': Hideously Unethical Outsourcing in Clothing Industry

MNG Desire Consume Die

“It’s price, price, price, price, price and profit”.

European buyer

 

A STORY FOR ANYONE, EVERYONE, WHO BUYS CLOTHING IN THE WEST.

Last night, ABC’s Four Corners program finally aired the story ‘Fashion Victims’. If you’ve been reading the world news since April 24th, you would have seen/read something about the human, legal, social, political and commercial fallout from the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh.

The collapse of Rana Plaza – an unsafe (and possibly illegally 8-story) commercial building that included clothing factories  – killed and maimed thousands of people already struggling to live amidst poverty, and drew the world’s attention to the shocking conditions workers in that country’s clothing industry are forced to endure.

What’s worse… their lives, and Western profit, are interconnected. Lax labour laws and the lowest wages in the world have attracted apparel companies (including Australian companies) in recent years (like Benetton, Mango, Forever New, Rivers, Cotton On, Coles, KMart, and Target). Companies who have evidently had (until recent scrutiny) little regard for the safety or fair treatment of the workers working in the potential death traps/factories they outsource to across Bangladesh. Many under abusive “supervision”.

Retailers are also accused of contributing to unsafe conditions by paying Bangladesh factory owners so little that ensuring factories are safe becomes a cost they need or want to cut. Meanwhile, families of those lost still grieve, and the now disabled (thus, unable to work) victims of this hideous disaster remain uncompensated, facing an even more difficult future. How the feck will they support themselves, and their families, now?

Just one of the many reasons why ethical, conscious consumption matters.

In the interests of becoming more conscious, You can watch the full story here, on ABC iView:

Four Corners ‘Fashion Victims’

The story will also be replayed tonight on ABC1 at 11.35 pm.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

More on this story, responses from the companies, anti-sweatshop activism & the issue at large coming soon-ish, in future posts. Time strapped right now – so much to write about, so little time.

Magic happens

This is a screen capture from a TV show episode (clue: JazzHate) and still my current MacBook desktop picture :-) Because sometimes you just need an explicit visual reminder…

Magic happens

… to ignore ;P

The Community Reading Room!

The Community Reading Room at Colour Box Studio is open for just three more days!

Conceived, designed, run by the fabulous Torika Bolatagici. Such an amazing pop-up space she’s created… books, culture, ideas, music, tea…

Informed and inspired by the collection of artist reference material at the Stuart Hall Library (Institute of Visual in London) and other art archives, (Asia Art Archive, ‘Ulu’ulu, Austalian Centre for Asia Pacific Art), Torika has presented a prototype for the seed that she hopes will eventually grow into a community reading room located here in Melbourne. The collection has hosted a range of published resources specialising in visual arts culture and cultural identity – with a special focus on contemporary work from Oceania and other established and emerging diasporic communities in Australia.

Not only will the archive create a repository of research material and artist folders, but the space will also host a regular reading group and workshop and lectures for artists and researchers whose work engages with contemporary international visual culture.

I stopped by on Monday and got snapped on Instagram “reading” (eating cookies, staying warm):

Pauline Vetuna - Copyright T Bolatagici 2013

Copyright T Bolatagici 2013

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Wearing a between-hair-washes beehive, yo – but still embracing the Fro, most of the time. I’m not on Instagram… will probably set up one for this blog eventually. Then I’ll have to get some kind of life so I have things to take pictures of !

Healthy Parents, & Healthy Children, for a Healthy Earth.

Douglass quote

I think the biggest ‘privilege’ one can have in this world would have to be: having grown up in a functional, loving family environment, with an enlightened, loving, and self-actualising parent figure or figures (& siblings). Forget about money & material abundance. A HEALTHY, HARMONIOUS home is the mother of all boons. 

I’ve had many conversations over the last week with various people, conversations that once again put inherited damage, and childhood & familial dysfunction, at the forefront of my mind. Conversations with people who are still, as adults, dealing with the painful consequences of neglectful, damaged or actively abusive “caregivers”. People who, in their formative years, were not given the psychological foundation and emotional vocabulary they needed to become healthy, productive, self-caring adults. Because their parents lacked those things, but never sought to rectify that within themselves. Often, because they didn’t know they needed to, or how.

Their parents were physically and emotionally abusive. Or their parents, through ignorance or laziness, failed to give the appropriate attention or care, at various points in their lives. And now these kids are adults, trying to make changes or, sadly, not trying at all. Because they’ve given up on themselves, on life. Because they don’t have the inner resources to pull themselves forward. They may be trying to form long-term relationships, but repeatedly getting themselves into terrible ones. Or, worse – they are incapable of forming relationships at all. And maybe they are causing pain, and creating damage, too.

I’ve seen it before. I am seeing it now. And it makes me angry, and sad. Sad that some people choose to bring children into this world, then have the gall to resent them for existing. I’m frustrated that there are people who have children knowing they lack the resources – emotional, psychological, material, spiritual – to provide a safe and healthy environment for those children, to be present for them. There are some who bring kids into this world because there is an idea that doing such a thing is inherently unselfish – but a common reason for having a child is so that the parent can feel or have that experience for themselves. Feel more fulfilled.

No doubt that impetus can and often does result in the creation of a loving family. I am not talking about that. Rather, what I am seeing right now is the consequence of the more selfish choice of some individuals to have a child they never fully committed to caring for. And I realise that their choice to do such a thing, now that those neglected, unguided children are (wounded) adults, affects not just their offspring, or even their families… it has consequences for every person who comes into contact with the now grown children they failed to support into healthy adulthood.

One thing is clear: having a child is not just about the parents, or even the family. One’s choice to parent, and how to parent, will absolutely affect the whole community.

With this in mind, if you are interested in bringing a child into this world or raising one, please, please do one thing: HEAL YOURSELF FIRST. And continuously. Never stop trying to grow.

Get therapy. Self-actualise. Make sure you are physically, socially and mentally as healthy and whole and stable as you can be, so you can at least model healthy behaviour for your kids. Don’t have a child to heal yourself – that’s not your child’s  – any child’s – job. Please don’t have a child to heal a relationship. Don’t have a child to fill some fantasy quota and don’t have a child to satisfy other people’s expectations. And when you are caring for a child, please remember: you are caring for someone who will one day be an adult. And if all goes well, this adult will create more love than pain in the world.

If all goes well.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Not strictly related to this post, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I do not want biological children of my own. I’ve actually felt this way for a very long time, but the events of the past week have really cemented my joyful resolve. Naturally maternal, I have a strong affinity with kids (the BEST people :-) ) and if I reach a point in life where I’m in a position to adopt, I might.

But, I’ve felt the stress, insecurity, and damage that comes from the painful social-emotional health of caregivers and an unbalanced environment. I cannot bear the thought of choosing to create a child highly likely to have a replication of that experience.

I wonder, is that selfish? Because I know that there are still people who think that the choice to not have children is.

Yet there are so many good people on this Earth who’s best contribution to it will never be in creating offspring. But they WILL contribute: they will be of service, they will be creative, they will help, and make some kind of difference. They will not feel that something is missing because for them, nothing is. I’m choosing to be one of them.

Transforming is becoming.

“As soon as the love relationship does not lead me to me, as soon as I in a love relationship do not lead another person to himself, this love, even if it seems to be the most secure and ecstatic attachment I have ever experienced, is not true love. For real love is dedicated to continually becoming.”

Leo Buscaglia

Be/become who you are…

And let me be/become wholly, authentically, who I am.

Simple :-)

Top 10 Sexist Moments in Politics (and the problem at large)

There is no difference between being sexist, and being a dumbshit. Fact.

That is not to downplay the seriousness of an incident of sexism, verbal or otherwise – absolutely not. Sexist attitudes – and attitudes that seriously demean the worth of women, human beings, in general – have very serious and dangerous consequences for communities, even in supposedly “enlightened” Western nations.  The piece linked at the end of this post is about just that.

I point out there is no difference between being sexist, and being a dumbshit, not to downplay the seriousness of an incident of sexism. Only to say that, if a person has problems with seeing or dealing with a woman, any woman, without commenting on or framing that experience – and/or that woman’s inherent worth – in terms of her level of physical or sexual appeal to them, her conformity (or lack thereof) to what they see as appropriate gender roles or traits, or how masculine (or emasculated) they feel because of the characteristics she possesses, they have an embarrassing deficiency at the moment.

The good news: it is CURABLE! With a little courageous self-reflection and neuroplastic training, they can overcome. None of us have to wallow in stupidity… there is hope. We can grow up. We can evolve.

With this in mind, and as a reminder of what not to do, I present here the Top 10 Sexist Moments in politics, as compiled by Emine Saner for The Guardian – we can read her full piece online HERE.

Below, I’ve listed them in terms of offending comments (although to fully appreciate the level of idiocy and offensiveness involved in these specific incidences, you need to read the full piece and context of each. And remember: these are comments about actual Public Officials, who happen to be female, made mostly by other Public Officials or influential commentators who are male). Behold:

  1. “Calm down. dear”
  2. “You are more beautiful than intelligent”
  3. “[she is] a nobody, a tea girl”
  4. she wore that dress “so we wouldn’t listen to what she was saying”
  5. “A good wife doesn’t disagree with her master in public and a good little girl doesn’t lie about why she quit politics.”
  6. “I am so happy to answer a question by a beauty queen”
  7. “she has no femininity” … “venomous swish of the skirt”
  8. “When a lady says no, she means maybe, when she says maybe, she means yes, and if she says yes, she’s not a lady.”
  9. “Will this country want to watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?”
  10. “Anyone who has chosen to remain deliberately barren … they’ve got no idea about what life’s about”

Re: number 10 – someone really needs to tell that to Oprah.

Out of the mouths of world LEADERS, yo. Chew on that for a bit.

Then take a moment to ponder what might be some of the real world consequences of collective attitudes towards women, and, in particular, the markers we (consciously or not) use to decide whether or not a person, or group of people, are of equal (or greater) worth, and deserving of our great concern (or just plain empathy). If someone we don’t really value, for whatever reason, does not receive equal justice within our “justice” system, that won’t ever really affect us, right?

Right?

Hmmm. Consider this:

http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-opinion/how-did-we-let-adrian-bayley-happen-20130613-2o67f.html

You are EQUAL: Valuing your Contribution (in $$)

Hello, Happy Friday! :-)

Firstly, I want to apologise for the last blog not posting properly, and thanks Drew for the tip off. A title with no actual post underneath. Not sure what happened, but the post is there now. Read it HERE.

Secondly, HERE is a post that did the rounds on social media today. People who know who she is, usually have a strong opinion about Catherine Deveny. Whatever you may think of her, I am in awe of THIS email conversation she had and, in particular, her response to a request to be an UNPAID Professional Speaker/contributor in a Corporation sponosored/contrived debate – a debate orchestrated to essentially promote that corporation’s brand and product.

Have a read of the email conversation, including the fair-minded response from the corporation’s rep, HERE.

Great to see that Catherine’s criticism and valid objections to this patronising request were seemingly taken on board, and, hopefully, relayed back to the representative’s cashed up client. From what I’ve seen, seems like quite a few people will be using Catherine’s response as a kind of template to respond to these sorts of requests in future.

That’s all for now. New post very soon. Hope you are well :-)

Just one question. Why would I work for a multinational chemical company for free?”

- Deveny

 

Tiny problems, Pariah-sized problems: a study of two debut films.

Recently I randomly watched two films from two filmmakers – films that were essentially the debut feature films of both. I was surprised, given how little I knew about them before I viewed them, at the parallels I saw between them, given the protagonists of each find themselves in very different life circumstances. The first I watched was Tiny Furniture (2010), the debut feature by Lena Dunham. The second film was Pariah (2011), the debut feature from Dee Rees. I appreciated both movies.

TINY FURNITURE (2010).

Tiny Furniture is about Aura (played by Dunham), a recent college graduate and newly single/heart-broken girl who has returned to New York City, to temporarily live with her artist mother Siri and teenage sister Nadine (played by Dunham’s real life mother and sister) – with the intention of eventually moving out and into an apartment with her college friend Frankie (who is yet to arrive). Aura’s busy working mother, a photographer who incorporates tiny furniture sets in her art, is, well, busy, and ambitious sibling Nadine antagonistic – both have established a clear routine and rhythm in the house that Aura can’t seem to synch up with.

On her first night back in Siri’s home, Aura accidentally finds Siri’s college diary, and begins reading it – discovering some strange parallels to her own life and personality. Reading aloud from the book is something she continues to do throughout this film, which follows Aura’s post-collegiate lull, lethargy, and pitiful attempts at picking up. Below this rather boring and mundane filmic landscape, however, Aura is essentially trying to figure out what to do with herself in life. Her forays into her mother’s post-college diary seem motivated by a mixture of lurid curiosity and a desire to find some sense of direction, by examining what her (fabulous) mother had thought and done at the same age (particularly as they are so similar).

Siri is very successful, and Aura very privileged – the house they live in (Dunham’s parents real home) is a spacious and chic loft, and Aura seemingly is still being supported financially by her. Despite this, Aura is floundering. Having just completed a degree in Film Studies, she is not so certain she wants to be a filmmaker, after a dispiriting stint as a documentary film professor’s research assistant. She has also just parted ways with her first boyfriend – a male feminist she dated for two years – as he had to return home to a different city to “build a shrine to his ancestors out of dying tree”.  Aura is a little lost, and a little sad – she has no idea what she is qualified to do, is somewhat thrown by the different dynamic that exists in the household now, and sinks quickly into a state of utterly useless apathy.

You might be thinking: “First World Problems.” I wasn’t bothered at all by that particular aspect of this film, as I didn’t feel at any point that the filmmaker was asking the audience to feel sorry for this protagonist. She is simply presented as a clearly flawed, somewhat immature and, at this point in her life, clueless individual – and the characters around her are just as flawed (thus, feel very real). Aura is captured being nice and being spoilt, being bored and being desperate, being affectionate and being a brat. But she’s not a villain, or a hero, or any kind of role model – just a person, who’s a little lost in her head at this particular time.

Making her way through the mundane landscape of this film (and her head), Aura makes some frankly silly choices. She takes a very low paying job as a day hostess (not bad in itself, but seeking work related to her degree may have been useful). On the rebound after the departure of her college boyfriend, Aura tries to court the attention of two men she can’t seem to tell have little interest in her, Jed and Keith. She offers the homeless out-of-towner Jed a place to stay while her mother and sister are away, and prescription pills to Keith, which she scores from her equally privileged/equally lost “best friend” Charlotte. Only one of these results in Aura actually getting laid, in one of the most depressing sex/post sex scenes ever.

This is by no means a (completely) serious movie – I found it funny and sharply satirical in places. I also appreciate Dunham’s lack of vanity, and ability to poke fun at her own emotional neediness, desire for attention and imperfection. This is something she has obviously carried over to her HBO show Girls, and I’m somewhat in awe of her ability to  fully go into some very unflattering places (there is a scene in this film where she references her own college YouTube video, which features Dunham in a bikini, in which friend Charlotte reads out some actual scathing comments left underneath it. I laughed out loud).

Also carried over to Girls were the actors Jemima Kirke and Alex Karpovsky, who play Charlotte and Jed respectively. Kirke is particularly good here – Charlotte is obviously the precursor to Jessa on Girls, however, this Charlotte character is less pissy, less mean, funnier, and a rather lonely figure. Karpovsky, who plays Ray on Girls, plays an unlikeable homeless hipster very convincingly! But in terms of fully going into some very unflattering places, there is a fight scene between Aura and Nadine that is cutting crazily close to the bone. The fact that Dunham wrote the lines in this scene for her sister to say to her, blows my mind. Here’s a SPOILER:

Tiny Furniture Nadine outburst

In summation, Tiny Furniture isn’t a likeable film about likeable people, but it is a well-constructed and very honest film, better than most I’ve seen in this particular genre (Mumblecore. The filmmaker doesn’t consider it to be of this genre, but it shares a few conventions). To me, it’s a snapshot of a surreal period where this character is caught between college and “real” life (or one place of certainty and another). And, stripping away the specificity of her circumstances, that floundering feeling is something I can definitely relate to.

As I mentioned earlier, Aura repeatedly reads from her mother’s post college journal throughout the film. The connection and similarity between mother and daughter is subtly hinted at throughout. Via the journal, Aura discovers mistakes that her mother made that she seems to be emulating in her own life. But Siri, a successful photographer, is also looked up to by Aura. She realises she wants to be as successful as Siri is within the art world… she just doesn’t quite know where yet, or how to get there. (How poetic then that this is the story/statement that kick-started Dunham’s career, that “created the way” to her ‘Girls’ success). 

I appreciated this aspect of Tiny Furniture - the relationship between Aura and Siri. Aura and Nadine are lucky to have such a strong and positive female role model around. In my own life, I continue to search for and find those role models. And, given my own interest in (and ongoing struggle with) inherited traits from parents, positive and negative, Aura consciously considering and choosing what she wanted to emulate – and NOT emulate – really resonated with me.

 

Which brings me to the next film!

 

PARIAH (2011).

Dee Rees also draws on her own life in Pariah, transposing her real experience of coming out to her family as a lesbian onto a 17 year old girl, Alike – played by the very talented Adepero Oduye (whom I recognised from a Season One episode of Louie!). Alike is a straight-A student, and a budding poet and writer. She is also a virgin, coming into her identity as a somewhat butch lesbian – encouraged and accepted by her older best friend Laura, an out and proud lesbian who encourages Alike to try and pick up girls at a recently opened gay night club they hang out at.

Alike changes between “femme” clothing and the male clothing she feels comfortable in, in-between home and school – to assuage her homophobic and already suspicious mother Audrey (Kim Wayans). Alike’s younger sister Sharonda clearly knows, but has no qualms, with her sister’s orientation, and Alike is close to her father, Arthur (Charles Parnell). But her mother’s unhappiness and bigotry, her father’s marital infidelity, his encouragement (through awful denial) of Alike’s ‘closet’ status, and the thick dysfunctional atmosphere of hostility between these parents, make Alike’s environment extremely (and so unnecessarily) stifling. If Aura in Tiny Furniture has all the freedom to be herself but no direction or drive yet, Alike in Pariah has limited freedom to be herself, but plenty of drive to progress in life and just be who she is.

And, while Aura has the kind of mother she can discuss her sexual life with in detail (which she does in the film), Alike’s mother Audrey is isolated, dogmatic and emotionally tortured – because of this, she is incredibly dangerous to Alike, both emotionally and physically. Stuck in a loveless marriage with Alike’s father, Audrey is isolated and desperately unhappy. She seems to want to salvage the relationship, but Arthur is clearly having an affair. He rebuffs all Audrey’s attempts at communication and connection, simply refusing to engage with her in any way, but at the same time will not leave or end the marriage.

Some of the hostility Audrey shows Alike is connected to the hostility she feels for Alike’s father, and she grills both father and daughter similarly about their movements outside the house. What Rees (and all the actors) capture so brilliantly, with so few words, is this familial tension and dysfunction – all the characters and the interactions between them are extremely realistic, sadly familiar. Like Tiny Furniture, Pariah’s story and world are small but focused – what occurs within these stories is an inner change or realisation within the female protagonists. However, this change is more clearly articulated in Pariah.

Just as Siri disapproved of Aura’s friend Charlotte in Tiny Furniture, Audrey heartily disapproves of Alike’s friendship with Laura. In an attempt to sever that friendship, Audrey forces Alike to spend time with the “straight” daughter of a friend of hers from church – Bina. Unbeknownst to Audrey, Bina is at the very least interested in experimenting sexually, and the initially forced association between Alike and Bina quickly morphs into something else. This new relationship exposes Laura’s vulnerability and feelings for Alike, and places pressure on their friendship. But Bina isn’t necessarily interested in becoming a fixture in Alike’s life.

By the end of this film, Alike is forced from the stifling cocoon that is her parents home and the proverbial closet she has thus far been forced to stay in, despite internally being at ease with her sexual and gender identity. This metaphorphosis is called out literally through the poetry that Alike writes and recites to a teacher throughout the film (the poetry uses the butterfly motif). The awful pressures around Alike force her to make a firm choice about which direction to go in next, and thankfully, she has the inner strength to make that choice. She tells her father, as he tries to convince her to return to the (awful) family home after a violent outburst from Audrey: “I’m not running; I’m choosing.”

I really liked this movie. I liked that it captured a specific character that I had never seen on film – “coming out” stories are not new these days, but an African American young woman in this situation is something I personally had never seen represented on film before. And yet, what I liked even more about Pariah was that the story captured something truly universal, at the same time. The desire to just be who you are in peace, without abuse or judgement, is something that gets me choked up every darn time I watch or read a story like this.

If only we lived in a world where every individual could do just that. 

Pearl: Film Premiere! May 24 2013

This is happening tomorrow night – congrats Lisa Hilli, George Siosi Samuels and the talented YOUTH who created this film!

Story Weavers, Youthworx Media and Signal invite you to the premiere of

‘PEARL’

A short film written and directed by Australian Pacific Islander youth. 

 

Earlier this year a group of young Melbournites from Pacific backgrounds came together with filmmakers as part of the ‘Story Weavers’ project. We spent our time exploring film craft and the experience of being young, urban and Pacific Islander. The result is ‘Pearl’, a beautiful short film written, directed and filmed by the collective and incorporating everyone’s idea of how it is to be a young Pacific person living in Australia NOW!  

It’s the story of Dinah, a young Islander woman struggling with her grandmother’s death and the demands that her family place on her. She escapes down to the railway tracks where she spends her days. Trains pass by, mates pass by, cops pass by. Will life pass Dinah by?

 Join us for a good Islander feed to celebrate the launch of ‘PEARL’ and contemporary pacific culture! Entry by donation/koha.

 

Friday May 24

6:30pm for 7pm start

SIGNAL

Flinders Walk, Northbank, Melbourne CBD

(Behind Flinders St Station towards Sandridge Bridge)

 

Story Weavers is a project of Youthworx Media and SIGNAL. This is a satellite event of the Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival held at Footscray Community Arts Centre  in partnership with the Big Island Collective 2013.

Pearls_Flyer3

Pacific Stories screening reschedule + 2 Fresh 2 Furious!

Hello :-)

Pacific Stories has been postponed due to legitimate technical difficulties – I kid you not! Last week I posted briefly about the acquisition of Pacific Stories by NITV. The short films were to be aired tonight circa 10pm, however, due to last minute technical difficulties with the master material for the series, NITV have had to postpone until they can get replacement material. Oy vey. So, if you were planning to watch that, you can watch the below random selection of short films instead.

The first is called 2 Fresh 2 Furious. If you are anything like me, you will be familiar with NPR show ‘Fresh Air’ and it’s long time low key host Terry Gross. And, if you are anything like me, you would love to know what Ms Gross looks like, and how she spends her day. Well, fellow freaks – wonder no more! Comedian Mike Birbiglia made this film a couple of years ago to reveal just that.

The second film is one I posted here back in 2011. How to be alone is a film beautifully shot, edited and hand animated by Andrea Dorfman. I think it is sweet.

This next short film, Jorge (in two clips below) was made in 1998, written and directed by Joel Hopkins. It stars Tunde Adepimbe, who I do not like, before he co-founded band TV On The Radio, who I previously liked. I have a lot of sympathy for the shy & quiet types of this world, so I like this film, about a shy man named Jorge, and his stifled connection with a lovely, non-shy coworker. I first saw it on a program called Eat Carpet that was on SBS, really late at night, back when I was in high school. I was loaded up on medication after one of my frequent episodes of illness, depressed, pretty drowsy… but Tunde’s beautiful face and this tortured character ‘Jorge’ absolutely captured my attention. And warmed my heart.

I remember loving the quietness of it, and noticing how that accentuated the character – Jorge is the type of guy who would be totally overwhelmed by too much sensory information. Really dig the black and white, too (obviously looks better in HD rather than a degraded YouTube clip, but you get the idea).

This next clip (cut into 4 parts) isn’t a short film, but a program about a filmmaker I like … and it is hilarious, even if you know nothing about the filmmaker (if you have the same sense of humour. If not, you will likely think me stranger than you already do, and I apologise in advance). Aki Kaurismäki is a Finnish screenwriter/director. Watch as he is interviewed by a very young Jonathan Ross, at one point while Ross is sitting on a bicycle (for some reason).

Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 |

And now, back to the warm Pacific! In 2012, a group of young people from Honiara, Solomon Islands came together to attend filmmaking workshops led by filmmakers Amie Batalibasi (AUS/SOLOMON IS) & Lisa Hilli (AUS/PNG) and produced by Adriel Tahisi (HON) and Samantha Cooper (AUS). They wrote, directed and filmed the short narrative film called Wea Nao Mi? (Where Am I?). This film was premiered at the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

Pacific Stories NITV Premier on May 13th!

Hello again.

Back in 2011, I wrote HERE about the premier of a film project I was fortunate to be a part of called Pacific Stories. Produced by Amie Batalibasi and Lia Pa’apa’a, auspiced by Multicultural Arts Victoria and funded by the Australian Council for the Arts, 8 filmmakers with varying levels of experience made short films exploring our experiences of identity as (mostly) Melanesian Pacific Islanders in Melbourne. Personally, it was a very important learning experience. Before the DVD compilation received a G-classification last year, I wrote HERE about clearing the last copies of the unclassified DVD.

Now, the Pacific Stories films are going to be screened on NITV, at 10:15 pm on Monday the 13th of May, 2013. They will then be on rotation over the next 3 years. Huge THANKYOU to the work of Amie and Lia. They conceived and drove this project, and I will be eternally grateful to them for that.  

We are all so pleased! NITV programming is absolutely fantastic, it is national, and the network only screens 5% non-Indigenous Australian content – so it is a privilege to be included.

Here is some more official info on Pacific Stories:

Eight Australian Pacific Islanders share their stories about the challenges of negotiating Islander culture, language and identity in an Australian context. With cultural backgrounds from across the pacific (and the Torres Strait), these filmmakers explore the struggle to keep family connections strong, stories from the spiritual world, celebrate Oceanic art, and contemplate the meaning of age old traditional practices in our contemporary world.

Australian/ Solomon Islander documentary filmmaker Amie Batalibasi and Samoan/ Native American Community Arts practitioner Lia Pa’apa’a facilitated the project over 7 month period and produced all eight short films.

Representatives from the islands of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and the Torres Strait Islands participated in the project and were involved in discussions around issues facing Australian Pacific Islanders and also filmmaking workshops – to create scripts for their own short films. The series of films that were created are of an extremely high caliber.

One film, entitled “Kome Kalana – My Bubu ” is about Warrie Kome, a young Papua New Guinean man who grew up in a small village on the central coast of PNG. It is a very personal portrayal of his Bubu’s story and how it’s connected to his story. Kome Kalana is an honest and raw narrative about his grandmother and how her unique culture shaped him and allowed him the freedom to discover and to be the man that his is today – now creating his own culture and identity living in Australia. Paia Juste-Constant (Motu Kekeni/Papua New Guinean/ Australian) wrote and directed the film called Reva Reva. She says, “Reva Reva” speaks of my connection to my grandmothers and their full body tattoos. This beautiful canvas is far greater than a staining of the skin, more than a pattern of ink”. Other films written and directed by Ranu James, Leilani Gibson, John Harvey, Pauline Vetuna, Lisa Hilli & Venina Kaloumaira are also a part of the series.

The films as a series of works allows the viewers to get a better understanding of the complexity of Pacific urban identity and what it means growing up in Australia.  Pacific Stories takes the viewer on a journey through the Pacific through the eyes of it’s children, who growing up in the urban metropolis of Melbourne, Australia have to negotiate their identity and culture away from their homelands

The films will premiere on NITV at 10:15pm on 13 May 2013.

~

Alright. Time for me to get it together and finish some scripts, I reckon…

Girl Enlightened. Part 2.

In the post Girl Enlightened’, I mentioned I was about to watch the second seasons of the HBO shows Girls and Enlightened (at one point they were paired on the HBO schedule, so fitting I should watch them together). Having since watched both those seasons, over two posts this week I will discuss them – starting with Girls (I’m writing relentlessly and dealing with an anxiety issue at the moment, so I find thinking about characters, stories, and story worlds rather helpful to the process).

Whilst I only liked the first season of this show, I loved the second season, impressed at how many issues and themes it manages to explore in 10 episodes – issues that resonated really strongly. Season 2 of Girls is generally darker, which is appropriate as these characters age. It is funnier, which is never a bad thing (often it’s tiny throwaway lines buried in monologues that crack me up – Adam in A.A., mentioning how he showed Hannah how to use soap, for example. I choked on my Milo whilst watching that).

And, as is the case with second seasons, we get to know all the characters more intimately. Their flaws are as terrible and real as ever (written by someone I think genuinely loves these characters, flaws and all) and I like that – season 2 depicts with clarity the difficulty of personal change and growth in individuals and relationships. We see characters repeating mistakes and regressing, which is true to life for most – if not all –  of us. But I’m not going to recap everything that happened in the season.

Instead, below are some things that got under my skin, positively and negatively, that the writers deserve major props for – seriously inspiring. This season did what the first one didn’t – it both moved me and made me reflect on my history of relationships in a deep way. I connected to every single character. And I always appreciate when a story does more than just entertain or distract me from the business of living. The greatest stories always do.

MARNIE: IMAGE IS EVERYTHING.

There are things that I really like about Marnie – she won me over back in the season one finale, as she started to loosen up and took the high road with Elijah and Charlie (classy). But one thing that really gets under my skin negatively is Marnie’s attraction to glamour, glaringly apparent and desperate this season. Marnie lost interest in Charlie for a number of reasons, but a minor one was that he didn’t match the image of what a “Man” should be in her messed up mind (whereas Booth Jonathan, inexplicably, did). Season one introduced us to this particular flaw – remember when she told then boyfriend Charlie that he should be able to “go about his business, piss me off and not give a fuck! It’s what men do.”

In season 2, Marnie’s masturbation fantasy comes true when she starts having (spectacularly funny) sex with the “brilliant” artist Booth, assuming thereafter that she is his girlfriend. This is soon followed by crushing humiliation, when she discovers Booth does not consider her to be his girlfriend at all, merely an employee. The Booth storyline is seriously inspired – it tells us so much about both the characters in only a handful of interactions. And, as big an asshole as he was, Booth Jonathan was completely right about Marnie’s insincere attraction to him – she liked his image and lifestyle, not him as a person. Even she admitted that she fell in love with “the idea of you”.

Marnie’s re-attraction to Charlie only after her discovery of his winning success is thus all the more nauseating to me. I felt bad for her after she lost her job at the gallery (although Ray’s quip to her that “I think the world has the 3 curators it actually needs” made me chortle – and I’ve been a curator!). I loved her attempt to view her hostess job in the best possible light, and accept that humbling experience with as much grace and positivity as possible – Marnie’s best qualities, I think. If the singing thing doesn’t work out this girl should be working in public relations. But her re-emergence in Charlie’s world – setting aside their important history and his feelings for her – is just terrible.

It reminded me of the big fight Marnie had with Hannah at the end of the first season, when equally flawed Hannah said to her, “What do you want besides like a boyfriend with a luxury rental? Seriously, that’s where your priorities are. You have always been this way, and now it is worse”. Marnie may actually love Charlie – her realisation/confession after brunch was sincere, no doubt. But her motivation for reconnecting to begin with was tainted. I can’t imagine where their relationship is going to go in Season 3, but, given that Christopher Abbott (the actor who plays Charlie) has fled the show, it can’t be good (side note: Abbott guest starred in Season 2 of Enlightened. Playing a cocaine enthusiast! See my next ‘Girl Enlightened’ post for more on that).

SHOSHANNA AND RAY: THE ODD COUPLE.

Shoshanna’s relationship with Ray enabled me to empathise with her (and Ray) as a character a lot more, given the scenario of older partner/cynical partner is very familiar to a younger version of me (as familiar as the dynamic between Hannah and Adam in season 1).  The words she used to break up with Ray would have hurt him tremendously, and that was horrible to watch. Yet those same words speak to a level of self-awareness on Shoshanna’s part that I wish I had had earlier: “I can’t be surrounded by your negativity while I’m trying to grow into a fully formed human.” Weird to hear a character articulate that, but she’s absolutely right. Shosh is the youngest, just as flawed as the other girls (see cheating with the sexy doorman incident). But her breaking up with Ray is more of an initiation into adulthood than the relatively insignificant act of losing her virginity.

Maybe some of her complaints about Ray are superficial (not wanting to spend $4 on a taco is not a deal-breaker, yo). However, feeling emotionally and mentally drained with someone certainly is. Shoshanna’s learning where her boundaries are. For that reason, I loved this storyline. I’ve read a couple of comments that praise Ray for being such a great boyfriend (written by 30-yr-old + men I noted, unsurprised), and she certainly brings out his often-suppressed better nature. But, he is not a good match for Shosh, and he really does have issues. Ray is negative about everything (often in a very funny way, but that energy would suck to live with 24/7). He is rude to everyone including his supposed best friend Charlie – because deep down he is insecure, hates himself, and feels like a loser (see end of great episode “Boys” – written by Murray Miller).

In response to Shoshanna’s break up speech, in which she says she can no longer handle his “black soul” (ouch), Ray attacks her back and exclaims there is a “difference between negativity and critical thinking!”. But I don’t think that Ray actually knows what that difference is. Despite being 33, and intellectually sophisticated (at least, by his own estimation), he is one of the least self-aware characters in the show. And Adam called him out correctly during their fight on Staten Island: “You don’t know shit about love!”, he tells Ray. And how could he? Ray doesn’t even love himself.

(Funny too how Adam also says to Ray, “You’re just babies holding hands!” – given that when Shoshanna partially confesses about the doorman incident, she says she held the doorman’s hand. Ray feels safe with her because he sees her as innocent and inexperienced. I wonder if he could actually handle being with a complicated, sophisticated woman of his own age. One as hypercritical as he is).

HANNAH: WRITER’S BLOCK, MENTAL ILLNESS, & THE NATURE OF LOVE.

Oh my gawd, Hannah. I grew to love her in season 2 – that is in stark contrast to season 1, in which I found her infuriating. I laughed a lot at her this time, but of course she has more seriously ugly moments – her treatment of recovering junkie Laird (probably the kindest soul in this particular TV universe) was grossly inconsiderate, and although it had to be done (given how toxic things had become between them) the way she ended things with Adam was a mess. She even managed to make me side 100% with a Republican (her short-lived boyfriend at the beginning of the season, Sandy). Hannah turned on Sandy because he disliked her writing, but cites his politics as the problem – even though she really didn’t give a shit until he criticised her essay!

That being said, Hannah is more vulnerable in season 2. This vulnerability is exposed after Jessa goes AWOL – Hannah’s mental illness issues and her unravelling fear made me go from infuriated to genuinely sad for her. Close to the bone. The way Lena Dunham portrayed the illness symptoms made me think she (the human behind the character) had actually experienced that dysfunction (which I see she has, according to Google). It is such an honest depiction that I couldn’t help but be moved, and whatever criticism she copped for that storyline (and how shitty Hannah is to her parents), it is truthful. I’m thoroughly impressed at Dunham for going there. She made me want to wrap Hannah in a blanket, give her a hug, and tell her (albeit hilarious) publisher/editor/boss to back the eff off.

As for the season’s finale: whether ironically romantic or not, what I did appreciate was how it completely subverted my expectations of a deeply disturbing ending – who could have seen that coming? I like the Natalia character, and Adam and Hannah should probably stay the hell away from each other and pair with people more stable than they are. That being said, it was still profoundly moving, for one important reason: when Hannah was at her lowest – chopped up hair, alone, ill and frightened, hiding under a bed cover – he didn’t turn away. He came through for her, and it is that realness and strength that I really get about this aloof, unconventional creature – as crazy as he can be, he truly loves her, flaws and all. That ending, OTT as it was, said more about his character than hers.

So why does he love her? On Staten Island, when Adam found himself in the odd position of defending the girl he understandably wanted to purge from his brain forever, he said of her, “Everyone’s a difficult person. She was accepting of my brand of difficult.” For all her flaws – and lord knows she has many – I think this accepting nature is one of Hannah’s genuine positive qualities, rather than the more often cited traits of “wit” and “quirkiness” attributed to her even by Ray (traits which, by the way, have absolutely nothing to do with actual character, and more to do with personality. Of course, there is a difference).

But, do Adam and Hannah have a better grasp of love than the other characters in Girls? I don’t know. Unlike Natalia, Hannah didn’t care how dark his apartment was – being an oddball herself, she seemed to be able to embrace his dark side and kooky interests without asking for him to change at all. Her only requests were extremely basic and related to how he treated her. However, that may have been due to her own damage – in the episode ‘One Man’s Trash’ (a confounding detour which may or may not have been a dream), she tells the handsome doctor of her perception that she needed to take in all experiences in order to learn from them, so that she could help others with her learned insights. But, that this perception had led her to both invite and put up with some pretty fucked up and painful things. “Something’s broken inside of me”, she tearfully admits.

Hannah’s acceptance and courting of all experiences can therefore be extremely harmful to herself. Some of the experiences she accepted with Adam, she may have accepted because of this same inner brokenness. If Hannah was a real-life person, it would be better for her to try and understand what that brokenness is, and how to take care of herself, either solo or with someone healthier for her than him. Natalia obviously doesn’t have Hannah’s wounds – she is very clear with Adam about what she does and does not want, in bed and beyond. She obviously wants a conventional relationship, and to help him fulfil that role for her (see her reaction to his apartment and her offer to help him get “organised”… right before the disturbing ‘on all fours’ encounter* – an encounter she hates, but evidently forgives, whilst making it clear to him she is not cool with his darker sexual proclivities).

Hannah, meanwhile, doesn’t really know what she wants yet, or even who she is. She’s still just a girl (I say empathically, not condescendingly). I can’t imagine what will happen to her, or who she will become, in season 3.

Which is why I can’t wait to see it.

*Interesting to note that right before the “on all fours” incident, Natalia tells Adam that his apartment is “darker than you are”. My gosh, what a depressing end to an episode of television, but brilliantly directed and written by Dunham (with executive producer Jenni Konner). Dunham never wastes a sex scene – hers actually tell the audience a great deal about the characters and their relationships, which I appreciate. 

Issue 11 of Stella Magazine on sale now!

It’s been a while since I posted on Stella Magazine – publication went on hiatus for personal reasons, but publishing has resumed and Issue 11 is on sale now – covergirl is Naomi Bukalidi!

List of stockists here.

Online subscriptions are available for residents in PNG, Australia, New Zealand, Asia/Pacific and the Rest of the World.

Subscribe here for your chance to WIN.

And stay in the loop by liking Stella Magazine on Facebook here.

Previous issue’s cover – Issue 10:

STELLA ISSUE 10

Housekeeping.

I am going to the International Aids Conference today – will post on that in a few days. In the meantime, here is a gratuitous screen cap of some subtle cosmetic changes I have made to this blog:

Just the Messenger blog 2014

Playing the long game.

A little video reminder for all unassuming autodidacts focused on elevated creativity, and the unsteady life that comes with such an obsession: play the long game.

Coincidently, I stumbled upon this video essay from Delve just before my 30th birthday (it has two parts – they aren’t long).

I quite liked it – although I would never call someone a “loser” – let alone DaVinci.

It’s all about the process, after all… remember that. This is how you will stay true to your centre.

The Long Game Part 1

The Long Game Part 2

 

Wishing you the freest of minds :-)

This is wonderful… Little Yogis in PNG.

From Spark* International‘s tweet stream:

Would you look at that photo :-)

BifnRVgCEAAnndF.jpg-large

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