EPIC view of the Earth.

 

suzuki quote planet

Photo above was released by NASA recently. It was taken by a NASA EPIC (Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera) aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft on July 6th, 2015. The photo shows the Earth, lit by the Sun, from a distance of one million miles. The EPIC will be taking daily photos of the Earth.

New post in three days. Hope you are well :-)

Stella Mag Blog.

A few of my posts so far up on the Stella Mag blog:

Jennifer Food Show

Café Niugini

Jennifer Baing-Waiko has channelled her passion for preserving traditional food systems knowledge into a fantastic new show ‘Cafe Niugini’.

Julia tatu

Reviving & Protecting Melanesian Tattoo

Julia Mage’au Gray reflects on the joys & challenges of reviving & protecting traditional tattoo designs in a globalised world.

Ella Mask

Afrobetty Mask Making Workshops

PNG-Australian artist & educator Ella Benore Rowe invites you to explore identity & healing through her mask making workshops.

Mothers Day post

Giving life to those who give life

Childbirth death is still alarmingly high in PNG. Today we look at one way we can improve maternal care for our mothers.

Grace Dlabik

Grace Dlabik & The Social Studio

As Managing Director of GiDi Creative, Papua New Guinean-Austrian entrepreneur Grace Dlabik is using her talents for social good.

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Read these and other interesting posts on the Stella Mag blog HERE. Subscribe to the print magazine HERE. It’s really, really good :-)

I will post some substantial essays here on ‘Just the Messenger‘ soon. Nothing much to report right now: writing, screenwriting, learning and living simply, as usual.

I hope you are well.

‘Giving life to those who give life: Mothers of PNG’

Happy Mothers Day to all the great mamas out there :-)

New blog post up over at Stella Magazine on one simple but seemingly effective way to help reduce the number of childbirth related deaths in Papua New Guinea.

And how you can support efforts to do just that.

John Oliver highlights how you can exercise your power to choose better

John Oliver rips garment industry

HERE is a brilliant clip of the latest edition of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. In it, John breaks down just how the business of cheap mass fashion works – why it’s cheap. why it’s profitable, how they get the masses (mostly women) to keep buying the stuff, and why all of this is so gross and damaging. This show is so darn quotable!

Watch the entertaining clip in its entirety… and consider the possibility of taking responsibility for the apparel purchasing choices you make.  You can stop supporting child labour and virtual slavery via supporting hugely profitable, ethically bankrupt apparel companies – and instead support ethical companies and efforts to compel bad ones to change their business practices. You can live well (and dress well) without buying their stuff.

A lot of insane, dreadful and potentially world-ruining things happen on this planet everyday – issues so big and beyond our control. I am continuously heartbroken by it all. But in the face of this, it’s good to remember the things we DO have control over. Where and how we choose to spend our money is one of them.

Please choose wisely, and kindly.

DONATING TO RELIEF EFFORTS IN NEPAL, VANUATU & PACIFIC ISLANDS

Speaking of choosing kindly, you can donate to life saving relief efforts in Nepal (following the devastating April 25th 7.8-magnitude earthquake) and Pacific Island nations including Vanuatu  (following the March category five Tropical Cyclone Pam).

Here is how you can help out Nepal:

Nepal earthquake: How you can help

Here is how you can help out Vanuatu, Pacific Islands affected by Cyclone Pam:

ABC Appeals – Australia is #withVanuatu

 

 

Previous related posts:

‘Fashion Victims': Hideously Unethical Outsourcing in Clothing Industry

Fashion Month, ethical, local design: special event!

Equal access in store: big retailer in violation of Disabilities Act

Live simply.

“Dating in a wheelchair: Your problem, not mine”

WWW.PHOTOGRAPHYBYALEXANDER.COM

ANNE THOMAS.  WWW.PHOTOGRAPHYBYALEXANDER.COM

I almost never read articles about dating as I don’t find them particular helpful, interesting or applicable to my own life. So many articles on dating discuss trends in online dating I have zero interest in, or discuss the “science” of game – offering grotesque or just plain dodgy advice on how to up your chances of landing a mate or securing a shag (and these aren’t just articles targeting men). No relationship I have ever embarked upon has ever started with “game”, or even effort, so those discussions repel me. The cynicism of it all… repels me.

But THIS article is actually pretty damn amazing.

Now 57, Anne Thomas was 18 when she became paralysed from the chest down – in the midst of an era of eugenics and widespread human rights abuses of disabled people. In this deeply honest piece, she discusses her experience of navigating her sexual and romantic life – and life in general – in the face of a fairly fucked up world that discouraged (and in many ways, continues to discourage) her from acknowledging or satiating a fundamental part of her humanity – the need for intimacy.

Dating in a wheelchair: Your problem, not mine

This article is an educational read for non-disabled people who want to enlighten themselves about diverse experiences.

Though Anne’s life is radically different from mine, I relate to many aspects of her experience – having to overcome ingrained fear of physical difference, coming to terms with your body, allowing others to know that body, dealing with stupid and rude questions about being disabled (sometimes from members of the medical profession), coming up against physical barriers, finding love but then experiencing social barriers (like unsupportive friends, family), unwanted attention from creeps/people who want to treat you badly… it goes on, and on.

I know of people who are transgender and gay who can relate to these experiences too. It is the experience of having a body and/or sexual orientation that is severely stigmatised by society, and trying to find the courage to live fully and openly in spite of it. In describing specific events in her own life, Anne touched on so many universal elements of that experience of stigma, and I just have to tip my hat to her for this refreshingly frank article.

Seriously. I relate to this passage so hard – about the tension of being physically vulnerable, exposed, completely engaged, but wanting to protect your emotions too:

“The man invited me for a drink. The only way out of the building for me was a metal wheelchair lift. I cringed as it clanged and banged on the way down. I felt like the Goddess of Thunder (not in a good way). Side by side, we made it to the sidewalk. It was hard for me to push the chair because of the cross slope for rain run off, but I didn’t want to ask for help and appear weak or needy. We talked until two in the morning and he never asked me anything about my disability. He didn’t see it, and it felt as if I’d known him forever. And yet years of rejection stopped me from showing him how much I liked him.”

“Sometimes You’re A Caterpillar” – on mutual understanding & privilege.

Two YouTube-rs I enjoy have teamed up to produce this fantastic, gentle, adorable animated short on understanding and privilege.

Written by chescaleighShe also has a website, it’s here.

Animated by Kat Blaque. She also has a tumblr, it’s here.

Cover story in Issue 13 of Stella & Entrepreneurs at CPAF

Hey look at this – the first post of the year! Hope you are well :-)

Just writing, screenwriting and working in (arts) communications & publishing this year – which affords me time to tinker with organic and simple living (really my main hobby, other than ‘Whatsapp’-ing with my enormous family in PNG) and to prioritise nurturing my health. I am also now considering pursuing a gender research opportunity – specifically, I am considering whether I can bring something of worth to this particular task.

Anyway. Just wanted to share a couple of things to kick off this blogging thing for 2015.

‘SISTERS FOR WEST PAPUA’ IN ISSUE 13 STELLA – ON SALE NOW!

As mentioned late last year, I wrote a 6-page feature article on Nattali Rize, Petra Rumwaropen and Lea Rumwaropen for the latest Entertainment‘ issue of Stella Magazine (it’s the cover story for this issue) – which features fantastic articles on some amazing talent coming out of the Pacific! Here are some words from the Editor:

“If we’ve learnt anything from this issue, it’s that we love to entertain. And with the region brimming with so much talent, we are excited to share the stories of some of the most flexible, resilient and inspiring entertainers of 2014.

In this issue, meet the artists who’ve established unique voices in Australia, New York City, Israel, Fiji, and Tahiti. Working in music, film, literature, fashion, and dance, these artists share an interest, not in fame and fortune, but for social reform and social justice.

As much as we like to be a source of positive media for the Pacific Islands, injustice and exploitation is an ongoing challenge for us as we strive to decolonise our lands and our minds.

With our Pacific Youth being anything but pacified, we are excited to announce the launch of the Stella Pacific Writing Prize, a chance to make some noise about something you care about.”

There is also within this issue a little contributor profile on me, in which I admit to enjoying Katy Perry. If all this doesn’t convince you to SUBSCRIBE TO THE MAGAZINE BY CLICKING HERE, I don’t know what will.

Check out the strong cover for Issue 13 HERE.

CONTEMPORARY PACIFIC ARTS FESTIVAL 2015: ‘OCEANIA NOW’

The Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival (CPAF) this year will be held from 9-11th April 2015, with workshops being run during March and visual arts exhibitions running until May!

CPAF 2015 will explore the spiritual, physical, cultural and political dimensions of contemporary Pacific identity – situated in the present, the medium between honouring the past and authoring the future. Oceania Now. A space of pure potentiality and agency.

Stay tuned to the CPAF site for updates and ticketing information for workshops and the Symposium. This years festival will include:

5 different Art and Creative Workshops. Including Pacific Photobook Project, Bilum Weaving with Vicki Kinai, Pacific Bling Weaving Workshops, Pacific Fashion Runway Workshop, and Hula Fitness Workshops.

Community Day. Featuring a FREE concert headlined by Radical Son, Children’s Area (a creative village for children and young people with workshops and activities running throughout the day), face painting with artist Ella Benore Rowe, the Craft and Weaving Tent (with Sounds of Polynesia), Interactive Art with Naup Waup (Naup will create work and display his own creations, as well as cultural artefacts from Papua New Guinea), and the Pasifika Fashion Parade featuring participants from the two day Pacific Fashion Runway workshop. There will also be a marketplace with stalls selling a variety of goods.

Traditional Tattooing with Julia Megeau Gray. She’ll be an artist in residence over the three days of CPAF (including Community Day) to demonstrate live tattooing. Julia will be working on individual pieces, and will be available to work on people at FCAC on the 9-11 April.

Woodcarving demonstration with Fono McCarthy. This carver and multi-disciplinary Samoan artist will create an 8ft free standing responsive sculptural work made of native wood titled ‘Gafa Fa’avae’ over 3 days of the CPAF festivities – the work will be completed during the CPAF Community Day.

‘Resonance’ Exhibition. Curated by Chuck Feesago, and featuring work by Naup Waup, Cecilia Kavara Verran, Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Kirsten Lyttle, Chantal Fraser, Chuck Feesago, Leuli Eshraghi, Anna Crawley, Eric Bridgeman.

‘Construction Piece Scores’ ExhibitionCPAF Artist in Residence Ann Fuata will collaboratively develop a work based on ancient intercontinental ocean floor highways that are thought to stretch across the entire Pacific Ocean.

Fiafia Bar – The Festival Bar. 6pm-10pm for the three days of the festival. Step into the Fiafia Festival Bar and witness a Pacific collision of island culture, dance, song, circus and all flavours of contemporary entertainment.

CPAF Symposium. 9-10th April. 25 speakers, 6 chair persons, the PK-CPAF presenters and our keynote speaker Ema Tavola will be progressing a lively and focused discussion on issues relevant to contemporary Pacific arts practice in both an Australian and international context.

We’ve just released the Symposium line-up HERE and HERE.

I’m looking forward to seeing Stella Magazine Editor Amanda Donigi chair the panel ‘Entrepreneurialism in Pacific Arts’.

A two-day pass or one-day passes are available. To book your place in the audience, CLICK HERE.

Stay tuned to the CPAF website and CPAF Symposium website for further announcements, booking information, and the full festival program (yet to be released).

“Climbing the secret staircase.”

I recently watched Jonathan Haidt’s 2012 TED talk called ‘Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence‘ – have a look:

In it, he talks about how seeking transcendence is a part of being human:

“Most people long to overcome pettiness, and become part of something larger. And this explains the extraordinary resonance of this simple metaphor, conjured up nearly 400 years ago: no man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

And it reminded me of these words I wrote on the “My Philosophy” page of this blog in 2010:

“There are many who are already transcending the old divisions of the past and shackles of tradition, forging new identities based not on gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or political factions, but, instead, rooted in a higher awareness and understanding of themselves as unique and powerful individuals that are part of a greater interconnected whole.”

The words on that page remain true for me. I wrote about the necessity of moving “past tribal dependency towards individualised awareness”. But this does not mean that I think one has to renounce all “tribal” loyalties. And if what Haidt contends in the video above is correct, for most people this is actually impossible to do. Even individualists “circle” around a sacred value, a sacred cause… liberty.

In contrast to the pure individualism I was into in my mid 20s, today, I nourish my roots to place and my kin/group in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. I am concerned about the conservation of our traditional lands and healthy development. But I also know that the safety and well-being of my kin is deeply and inextricably connected with the well-being of us as individuals, the well-being and survival of all of humanity, and the health of the ecosystems that sustain us. This – these linked concerns – are the highest priority. And they are linked to my love and concern for the country in which I was raised and am grateful to live, Australia.

So here is my broad contention: we face multiple global threats as a species. Given this, it is the people pursuing a form of self-transcendence that allows them to perceive beyond loyalties to tribes (subcultures, cultures, nations, religions, ideologies, “people like them”) who will lead the way to safety. This is because their self-transcendence will enable them to fully comprehend that our survival depends upon a global consciousness, the ability to see how our localised realities and concerns do connect to one shared human destiny.

They will lead the way – and are leading the way – by being able to speak to and mobilise their tribes, their groups, to safeguard humanity’s common destiny, and in turn the destiny of their group. They will lead (the individuals in) their groups to progress towards more holistic, healthier ways of living and working together. And they will mobilise (the individuals in) their groups to connect with, cooperate with, and care for others who are doing the same. I have discussed such leaders in the past. In posts to come, I will discuss more.

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.

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?

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.

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.

On Pop Feminism.

This is an interesting critique of what the author describes as “pop feminism” – from Claire Lehmann, whose writing (when I come across it) I always find thought provoking:

clairelehmann.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/bad-feminism/

It’s interesting to read this essay now, particular the passage: “Pop feminist articles are generally put together wholly from second-hand material – stories about studies – not the studies themselves. Not only is this bad feminist critique; it is bad journalism.”

Perhaps this only applies to feminists when they attempt to disagree with studies, or put forth an argument the author does not agree with, as I recall Lehmann tweeted support for Mia Freedman’s editorial on the link between girls drinking and girls being sexually assaulted – a piece that caused a stir on social media late last year.

Much like the pop feminist article Lehmann generally characterises in her essay, Freedman’s editorial linked to another op ed as evidence for her position. That other op ed does refer to a reputable cross-sectional, US Web-based survey conducted on college students about their experiences of sexual assault on campus, and their consumption of alcohol.

But for Australia-based evidence, Freedman’s editorial presented stats that pertain to the perpetrators of physical assault as if they were stats relating to victims of sexual assault:

“Victims of sexual assault were more likely to believe alcohol and/or any other substance contributed to the most recent incident they experienced if the offender was a friend (76%). This was significantly higher than the overall proportion of victims of physical assault who believed alcohol and/or any other substance contributed to their most recent incident (59%).”

This quote, in the editorial, is not contained in the document linked to in it – which is actually this Australian Institute Of Criminology document. The passage does appear almost verbatim in this ABS report called ‘Contribution Of Alcohol And/Or Any Other Substance To Assault’, under the heading ‘CHARACTERISTICS OF THE OFFENDER’. Only, instead of “victims of sexual assault” it says “victims of physical assault.”

And the first paragraph in the report is this: “Research has indicated that the consumption of alcohol is associated with acts of violence, although there is no clear relationship between the level of alcohol consumed and the likelihood of becoming either a victim or perpetrator of violence (AIC 2000).”

I am not taking a shot at Lehmann here – I appreciate the clarity of her writing. What I take from this is rather a note to myself that when we are reading an article putting forth a position that we are partial to, we should probably consciously attempt to apply the same standard of analysis to it, as we would to an article putting forth a position we are hostile to (or written by an author we are not particular fond of. In Lehmann’s case this is undoubtably Daily Life columnist Clementine Ford).

On a related note, this here is a great essay from Lehmann published in the SMH last December – about hyperbolic opinion pieces and the creation (or worsening) of division. Here’s a taste: “Reinforcing bitterness between groups of people by invoking indignant outrage may be a good business strategy for online news outlets but it is terrible for encouraging the social cohesion required to address problems facing the community as a whole.”

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P.S. My criticism of that sexual assault piece is about the way Freedman presented her evidence in that editorial, as a journalist – I certainly don’t think binge drinking is benign. As someone with a disability I often wonder how healthy people can do that shit to their bodies.

P.P.S. I heard Clementine Ford speak once about writing online, and she admitted that often the pieces that get the most traffic are not the ones that are carefully researched and nuanced, but the ones that are most incendiary, or take the firmest stance in one particular direction. Of course, it’s a thing.

P.P.P.S I’ve read things written by Freedman and by Ford before that I have enjoyed. Any critique here from me does not equal blanket “hate”.

One love, people :-) How cool is it to have so many influential women writers to discuss on International Women’s Day?

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 ;-)

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

“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.

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Subscribe here for your chance to WIN!

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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.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

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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 !

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

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. 

‘Haus Krai 2015 & The Leniata Legacy’

From The Leniata Legacy ‘STOP’ photo campaign.

 

New Stella Mag post up on Haus Krai 2015 & The Leniata Legacy – the movement to end violence against women in PNG, through Advocacy, Awareness, Education, Charity, and Empowerment. Events have taken place today with more scheduled for tomorrow in PNG, Australia and the U.S.

Have a read HERE.

I’m simple.

Simple lady

Via Charter for Compassion.

Retro Post: Your Plastic, Fantastic Brain!

Dr Norman Doidge is going to be on ABC’s Q&A program on Monday night – so I thought I’d re-post this piece I published here in early 2011. It’s about research into ‘neuroplasticity’ and Norman’s book, ‘The Brain That Changes Itself’. (Side note: it gave me a weird feeling to go back and read this previous post. Like reading an old letter, or a diary entry.) I’ve actually been thinking about this book a lot lately – due to a story project I am working on.

 

Your Plastic, Fantastic Brain!

Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculptor of his own brain”

Santiago Ramon y Cajal

One day, back in 2009, whilst trying to corral a spider into a cup for humane removal (geez, the things I remember) I was listening to a radio interview with Dr Norman Doidge. Doidge, I discovered, is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, medical researcher, and author of the book The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science. The interview was fascinating – so fascinating, in fact, that this laymen immediately went out and purchased Dr Doidge’s book.

The Brain That Changes Itself recounts, in lucid language, remarkable stories of healing and transformation from pioneers at the forefront of brain science, in the area called neuroplasticity.Neuroplasticity is essentially the ability of our brains to change themselves. Neuro comes from the word neuron, the nerve cells in our brains and nervous system. Plastic means changeable, malleable… modifiable. The discovery of neuroplasticity, although still not accepted by some neuroscientists, sparked a scientific revolution in the 20th century: major breakthroughs have and are being made in the treatment of various disorders and disabilities, of both the physical and psychological kind. The real value of neuroplasticity comes from the idea that everything starts in the mind. As stated in the ‘Philosophy’ section of this blog, I have a passionate interest in this idea.

To understand how revolutionary the discovery of the plasticity of the brain is, we need to consider the history that preceded it. For 400 years, since René Descartes first postulated that the brain was a complex machine, the prevailing consensus regarding the human brain in Western science was that the brain indeed operated like a machine: that it was unchanging, fixed, with different “compartments” existing to perform specific functions. This idea, still adhered to by some scientists, is calledLocalizationism.

According to this idea, if a brain “compartment” were to fail, then the function that that compartment served would be irreparably lost. It was believed that, after childhood, the brain changed only oncemore, when it began its process of decline – a process assumed to be inevitable. And it was believed that damaged brain cells in childhood could never be replaced, and that people born with mental or intellectual impairments would be burdened with the same level of impairment for life. A fatalistic attitude towards the lot of people with mental and intellectual impairments reigned for many centuries – rehabilitation was often seen as impossible, not worth pursuing. The idea that the brain (and, subsequently, the body) could be improved through exercises was considered fanciful. Neuron manipulation was the stuff of science fiction.

But the neuroplastic revolution would change all of that. In the late 1960s to early 1970s, a band of brilliant, awesomely ballsy scientists made a series of discoveries that would challenge the status quo of localizationism. What they discovered was that the brain is not machinelike, hardwired to perform in a particular manner. Rather, the human brain continuously changes and reorganises itself. It changes its structure with each activity it performs. Furthermore, it changes to perfect its circuits over time, so that it is better suited to the tasks it performs. And in some instances, if certain ‘parts’ fail, other ‘parts’ may take over to perform the ‘lost’ function – and can be trained to do so.

This discovery was so important, for what it has meant for the rehabilitation of millions of people around the world afflicted with impairments, who may have previously been institutionalized, or just not given help. Having lived with stroke victims during their rehabilitation, I have seen the benefits of “brain training” that stimulates a person’s own brains ability to change and compensate for damage. The discovery of neuroplasticity also heralded a new era of innovation that continues today – new treatments of a variety of disorders and conditions, bridging the gap between science fiction and science fact. Treatments that work with the brains own ability to adapt and change itself.

In his book, Doidge describes some of these innovations, and uses the stories of various patients and their pioneering doctors and brain scientists to explain how neuroplasticity works and is being utilized – often in conjunction with technology – to rehabilitate people with conditions previously deemed incurable. Take the first story in the book, for example. Cheryl was a woman whose vestibular apparatus (i.e. the balance system, the sensory organ that allows us all to have balance at all times) wasobliterated after a post-operative infection in 1997. For many years after, she lived with the almostunbearable sensation of falling, that, apart from being physically crippling, causing her to lose her job and prior life, destroyed her emotional health. She was unable to stand, anxious, afraid and alone, in the knowledge that the condition would be permanent.

Cheryl’s lot changed when she met Dr Bach-Y-Rita, one of those rare scientific geniuses and early pioneers of neuroplastic research. In 1969, Europe’s science journal Nature published an article about a vibrating chair Bach-Y-Rita invented that enabled people who had been blind from birth to see (I’d describe how it works here, but that would take too long. Read the book for that.) Essentially the chair was a tactile vision device. Rather than receiving visual information through their eyes, the blind people received the information through their skin. One sense was used to replace another. This is able to happen due to neuroplasticity. Dr Bach-Y-Rita had discovered that we see with our brains, not our eyes. In fact, we perceive and sense everything with our brains.

This discovery and subsequent work led many years later to Bach-Y-Rita devising the contraption that would liberate Cheryl from her nightmare condition. Cheryl’s saving grace was a helmet – a hat with an accelerometer in it, hooked up to a computer, that sent signals to a plastic strip placed on her tongue – balance signals that would replicate the balance system that Cheryl had lost. The invention was successful far beyond what they had expected. For not only was Cheryl able to balance and “be normal” when she had the helmet on, but for a period of time after it had been removed! And with each session with the helmet on (they increased the session times gradually) the length of time she was “normal” after a treatment increased also. It appeared her brain was being trained to balance itself – despite the physical balance apparatus in her inner ear still being damaged, her brain was finding and forging a new way to perform that task. Remarkably, after a year of treatment, she didn’t need to use the helmet at all – she was essentially cured.

As well as physical conditions, there is great potential for neuroplastic treatments to be used to correct and treat psychosomatic disorders, and there is a chapter on this as well. Doidge’s appendices, in which he speculates about the relationship between neuroplasticity, culture, and progress, were particular fascinating to me too. After reading the book I had a hundred more questions about the relationship between brain plasticity and perception, hypocrisy, ideolology, religion, spirituality, et cetera. I intend to explore these questions further in future posts.

(post continues here.)

’20 inspiring black women who have changed Australia’

To mark this year’s International Women’s Day (which is tomorrow), NITV has put together a list of 20 trailblazing Indigenous women who have changed Australia. I highly recommend having a look at the list HERE. The influence of these women extends from 1812 to today.

A warning that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should exercise caution when viewing the article, as it contains names and photographs of deceased persons.

The first woman on the list … every time I read about her story, it haunts me (her photograph reminds me of many relatives who have passed on – which only serves to strengthen that feeling). Good to see filmmaker Rachel Perkins on the list.

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