Monday, December 31, 2012

Sexual Assault in India

I am so angry at the moment. The death of a young woman following a gang rape in India is so tragic, so unnecessary, I am almost shaking with rage. More than that, I am afraid because I have someone close to me visiting India right now and I truly fear for her safety.

What possesses any man to think he a) has the right to sexually assault someone who was sitting on a bus with her boyfriend and b) to join in with his friends in torturing her, causing her so much damage that she dies?

All I can think of is total disrespect for another human being. I'm not Indian and I live in a country where rape is treated as a serious crime. I'm eternally grateful that I have never experienced such a serious assault - although I, like many other women, have experienced inappropriate sexual behaviour, some of it shockingly invasive and very frghtening - but I do know women who have been raped and how much damage it does. And, scarily, in the news reports from India there has been so much victim shaming going on I feel physically sickened. When women go out to protest peacefully the police response should not be water cannon and truncheons.

As a non-Indian I can't speak first hand about what happens there but this woman has lived there and what she and others have say paints an alarming picture of what is supposed to be a modern, civilised country.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

I've been following US online comedy The Lizzie Bennet Diaries since soon after it started and I have to say it's completely addictive. This is Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice given a thoroughly modern twist in the form of a vlog - and my uninvited spell checker just changed that to blog. You'd think that it would be at least that up to date with current technology, wouldn't you? But back to the subject. In a series of videos Lizzie, her sisters, Jane and Lydia, and best friend, Charlotte, share their experiences as Lizzie's mother tries to find wealthy husbands for her very twenty first century daughters. It is clever and very funny, all the more so if you know Pride and Prejudice. 

After a while, wild child, Lydia, decides that instead of just continuing to crash Lizzie's videos, she'll start up her own vlog. It's even better if you can watch this along with Lizzie's which you can on the website. There's much more here too as others also get into the act.

I'd recommend setting aside some time before you settle down to watch and starting from the beginning. If you're like everyone else I've talked to about it you'll be glued to the screen for quite a while. I suspect Jane Austen would have approved.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Season's Greetings

Wishing all my readers all the best for the festive season and a New Year that brings you all you could wish for.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Carols By Candlelight

This is a uniquely Australian Christmas tradition held in all major cities - and many smaller centres as well.

Although there has been group carol singing for centuries all over the world the idea of holding carol singing for the public at a central place originated in Melbourne in Victoria. The idea came from a radio announcer, Norman Banks, who aimed to get people together to join in singing favourite Christmas carols. The first Carols by Candlelight were held in Melbourne in 1938. The idea spread and now Carols by Candlelight (or in places where there is a high fire hazard by torchlight) take place across the country usually on the last weekend before Christmas or on Christmas Eve.

For those lucky enough to experience it there's no question that there is something very special about sitting out on the grass on a warm summer's night with candles flickering in their holders and lighting the faces of the crowd as they join in traditional carols and other Christmas songs along with the singers and massed choirs.

The two biggest events are Carols by Candlelight in Melbourne (sponsored by Channel Nine) and Carols in the Domain in Sydney (sponsored by Channel Seven) both of which are telecast by their sponsors. To me, the downside of this sponsorship is that there is a lot of promotion of shows on the channels and that makes for a somewhat commercial feel. Still most people see that as a small price or even actively enjoy it so I guess I'm out of step there.

We don't always get to the carols - those in Perth are held on the weekend before Christmas - but we have our own tradition associated with them. Every Christmas Eve Pisces settles in with Carols By Candlelight from Melbourne on the television while he makes the fruit salad from Christmas dinner. Combining the traditional celebratory carols of Christmas with the pleasure of preparing food to share with loved ones is not a bad way to acknowledge both the religious and social aspects of Christmas, in my opinion.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

School Shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut

I've been avoiding reading about the dreadful mass murders in the US until today. Now I have and it is truly heartbreaking - so many little children dead and such stories of heroism as teachers sought to protect them and their schoolmates. I find it hard to comprehend how anyone could do such a thing - but then I never thought anyone would murder innocent and inoffensive people sitting enjoying a meal in a cafe at Port Arthur in Tasmania or teens at a holiday camp in Norway either. I guess most of us feel like that. The twisted few are aberrations but what damage they cause.

My heart goes out to all those who have lost someone dear to them or have the horrific task of dealing with the aftermath.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Pageant Girls

There are certain television programs I watch from the US that disturb me on a regular basis - and I'm not talking about the fictional ones although the preoccupation with violence in many of them is often problematic. What I'm talking about are those about children's beauty pageants. They are documentaries  of a sort and I admit I watch them with my head shaking as I wonder just how deluded some people are and how low they can go - and that, of course, is the fascination. For every sensible parent whose child obviously loves performing and is doing so in an age appropriate way there are dozens of others with little girls made up like adults, dressed in skimpy outfits and performing gyrating dance moves that seem more appropriate to a strip show.

During the interview segments the parents - mostly mothers but with a smattering of fathers - nearly all say that they're there because their child loves it and if the child ever loses interest they will walk away. Unfortunately their behaviour often belies that. Many of the girls are bullied into practising, they are pushed on to the stage even if they are ill, laced into outfits that are painfully uncomfortable and the pressure put on them to perform perfectly is horrendous. Children as young as four are expected to perform flawlessly and, when they don't, not only are they marked down by the judges, they are berated by their parents.

Then there are the girls who are spoiled and bratty and often talented. They perform well on stage but their love of being centre stage carries on off-stage too. "Oh," their parents say fondly, and as if it's a good thing, "she's such a diva," as little Gracie-Suellen, Sirinitee, Ebiny or Ever Lily throws yet another tantrum. Well, no. She is being indulged and not learning how to succeed in the real world. It's notable in the parent provided bio that many of these girls, even the four and five year olds, apparently - and unbelievably - aspire to be Miss USA or Miss Universe.

The delusions of some of the parents is hard to believe. One woman left a recent pageant convinced her child had not won because the judges had only picked blue-eyed blondes and there were no dark-haired girls in the competition. In her opinion the whole thing was obviously rigged - except one of the major winners had dark hair and maybe her daughter was marked down because they were so extremely late at one point she arrived after the section finished and that meant she lost points. Then there was the mother who was so offended that her daughter didn't win - as she thought wrongly having not bothered to pay attention to the instructions - that she threw a massive tantrum, broke her daughter's prize and walked out.

I'm quite sure that many of these children are there for no other reason than their parents's desire for them to be there. There have been interviews with mothers who bluntly state that they wanted their child to be in pageants before they were even born. Obviously these children never had an option. They do interview segments with the children as well as following them around with the camera and it comes over very clearly that, apart from the few highly competitive girls, that much of pageant day is anything but fun for them.

So why do I watch when in my opinion there is an unhealthy preoccupation with physical beauty (and it shows in the comments some of the girls make in their interviews) and the children are often being treated in ways I find disturbing?

Well I think it's as I said above. I'm fascinated by how low these parents can go. I equate it to watching a train wreck. You know it's going to end in tears but somehow you can't look away.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Flash mobbing

For no reason except I found them uplifting I share this and this.
Edit: I forgot to acknowledge Dorathy and Keira for pointing me to these.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sexism Excused Because It's Historical Fantasy.

Right? Well, no. The usual answer to anyone who questions this perceived wisdom is that historical times were sexist and the authors who follow this pattern are just being accurate. Instead it's more that men wrote history and so we get men's view of history. Oddly, there have always been many women who refused to accept their place as defined in these traditional histories but they are still regarded as unusual. A few examples who spring to mind are Jean of Arc, a successful general, Elizabeth I of England who ruled in her own right from 1558-1603, Isabella I of Jerusalem, also a queen regnant from 1170-1205 and these are only a few women prominent in political matters. I haven't even started on the scholars, scientists, authors and artists.

 Tansy Rayner Roberts posted about this here a few days ago and this has now been reposted here at where there has been much discussion on the subject. The comments make interesting reading. As an historian Rayner Roberts has a useful perspective and particular interest in this area and she has now posted a list of all her posts connected to the subject and on feminism generally here. If you missed them the first time around, and whether you are interested in feminism or not, I think they are worth a look.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Mr Blobby on The Big Fat Quiz of the 90's

For absolutely no reason other than I needed a good laugh and thought you might like one too via The Bloggess this.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Voluntary Euthanasia

This is a controversial subject I know and it tends to provoke knee jerk responses but I think it deserves to be considered rationally - and, more often than not, it isn't.

There's been a heated discussion going on in Australia on the subject for some years. For some the prospect that someone might believe they have good reasons for wanting to end their life is always over-ruled by the belief that human life is sacred and must run its course. For others there is a real fear that eugenics might rear its ugly head again with those deemed of no use to society or a drain on it being killed. They talk about life being devalued and people - usually elderly people for some reason because apparently all elderly people are confused, suffering from dementia and/or easily manipulated - being talked into ending their lives.  Finally there's the question of who would actually perform this act.

These are largely straw man arguments. It's called voluntary for a reason. No-one is suggesting that anyone other than the person wishing to die would make the decision and, while it would be wise to ensure that the person seeking death was mentally competent and not just suffering from a temporary mental illness or had been pressured into it, in the end the decision would be that person's alone. Given this eugenics could never have a part in it. The hardest part would be in how it would be carried out. It would hardly be fair to ask a doctor who has sworn a solemn oath to preserve life to actively kill another person. This is why there would have to be a mechanism which permitted the person to take their own life and protecting anyone who helped them procure the drugs or whatever else they required.

Two things started me thinking about this now. The first was the recent documentary with Sir Terry Prachett on the subject, the second was a court case where a man, who killed his severely disabled wife at her request as part of murder suicide pact, was found guilty of murder and, while out on bail before being sentenced, killed himself.

In Sir Terry  Prachett's case, he has been diagnosed with a form of Alzheimer's disease. It's progressive and eventually will take away his mental capacity. Anyone who has watched a loved one disappear into dementia will understand why he, an articulate, intelligent man, does not want to travel this path.

If you haven't seen it first hand you might think it's a slow fading with forgetfulness and confusion followed at its worst into being comatose. It is not. It is a terrible disease. Its sufferers do forget things like words or put things in the wrong place like a kettle into the fridge and it embarrasses and humiliates them - but that is in the early stages. Later the hallucinations begin, then the lack of understanding of what is happening around them that leaves them terrified. Imagine you are an old woman in a nursing home and a male carer has the job of showering you or taking you to the toilet. How would you feel when this man starts taking off your clothes and you have no idea who he is or why he is doing it? (Please note I am in no way criticising the male carer. He is no doubt professional and doing his job. The problem is that his patient can't understand this.) Then people you don't know come in and kiss you on the lips or hug you. It is frightening because you don't remember that this man is your husband or that woman is your daughter. It's no better if you are a man. It's just that the experiences are different.

Having watched a family member suffer in this way I can understand exactly why Sir Terry is investigating the possibilities. In the documentary, because even helping him to procure the necessary drugs would be a criminal offence in the UK, he went to Dignitas in Switzerland to see how their system works. It's not cheap and so is not open to many. They were permitted to film a death and while it was very sad to watch, it was done with great dignity. The person has to be assessed by a doctor for mental competence and has to be capable of actually taking the drugs by themselves which means, of course, the decision has to be made earlier than perhaps some might like. The problem is that under UK law anyone helping a severely disabled person to get to Switzerland could be considered as aiding a suicide. I have no idea what choice Sir Terry Pratchett will make but I could see that this is an option I might consider in his situation.

The case of the old man, who killed his wife at her request and has now himself suicided, highlights the difficulty of the present laws. I have to wonder if something like the Dignitas solution is more appropriate. It is a personal choice, there is no pressure to do this (in fact in the medical interview the doctor was at pains to do nothing to encourage it) and maybe we have no right to force people to live on in agony whether it is mental or physical. There is a lot of talk about how medicine can make suffering manageable but for some managed pain means still being in pain and the side effects are sometimes almost as bad.

Having seen people die very slowly in pain, I can't help wondering if we need to accept that, as long as the person is mentally competent, they have a right to decide how much they can bear and not place obstacles in their way. I am not saying that doctors or government officials or family members or anyone else should make this decision or carry it out. I'm saying that if someone makes this decision with valid grounds like those on the Pratchett documentary, they should be allowed this option and maybe we should make it accessible so they can die in their own homes with certainty and dignity instead of forcing them to go across the world.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Dragon House video

I found this extraordinary video on John Scalzi's blog, Whatever. I'm in awe of these dancers. Their  grace and flexibility is amazing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thoughts on the 7 Up Series

I was watching the introduction to Michael Apted's 56 Up a few days ago and in a clip from 7 Up, the first documentary in the ITV series, one of the seven year olds was describing what had happened to him. I don't remember the exact words but he said something like "And then everything flew up in the air and landed on top of me".

What a wonderful description and it speaks to us as I'm sure we've all gone through similar periods in our lives. This is, I think, what is so special about this series. It gives us a snapshot into someone else's life every seven years. I've been fascinated by the series and what the participants have shared with us, the viewing audience, for nearly fifty years. We've seen them grow, mature and change and, in this, they reflect us all.

56 Up is in some ways the most interesting one of the series so far because several of the participants talk about the effect the program itself has had on them and their lives. It never occurred to me that we, the viewers, would expect to have shared every aspect of their lives, rather that we are just being given a glimpse into where they are at this point. Inevitably it must include some background but, equally, there would be much we are not told. In other words, I don't feel I know them any more than I know any other passing acquaintance met up with infrequently.

As well we are dealing with a filmed documentary and this inevitably involves editing and a "story" so, for example, when we see location shots it's obvious that a camera man has not followed someone around for a week and then given us the raw footage. For a start that would involve us sitting watching a documentary lasting a week. These are samples - and inevitably they are the more interesting parts of that time. While I'm sure watching someone brushing their teeth could be riveting with the right creative editing that's not of much interest in a documentary of this sort.

So it was a great surprise to me to find out that apparently this is not how many others view the participants or the series. Because of the honesty of their answers some viewers feel a very personal attachment to particular participants. They write to them, email them, approach them in the street, project their feelings onto them and at times, instead of being appreciative of their honesty, they criticise them, sometimes very harshly. In 56 Up several of them talk about this and it is very illuminating as to how they feel about it and how they have and are dealing with it.

For what it is I think the 7 Up series has done a remarkable job in providing an insight to British society over a lengthy time. It has flaws - the gender and ethnic imbalance among others - but generally it shows what can be done by a good documentary maker whose aim is not sensationalism (of the sort we see too often in so-called reality television) but to inform. I hope we will get to see another in this series.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Laugh, Go On, You Know You Want To.

I was feeling rather low this morning - a painful twisted knee made for interrupted sleep - so I looked in on The Bloggess who always makes me laugh and found this link. It's so bad it's good. And then there was this.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance Day

For the last week there have been newspaper articles about World War I (or the Great War as it was known until World War II dwarfed even that horrendous loss of life, maiming and destruction in the earlier conflict). I wonder how many people flick over the pages or really grasp how devastating World War I was.

A whole generation of young men was decimated. War was still seen as something of an adventure when it started. Young men often rushed to sign up in case they missed out. After all it was all going to be over by Christmas.

Except it wasn't. It dragged on, horrific battle after horrific battle, in a war unlike any before, a war when the machines of war moved well beyond relatively simple weapons like guns, however big they may have been. Tanks, armoured vehicles and aircraft all entered the service of the military in this war, not to mention monstrous flame throwers and the unspeakable use of poisonous gasses. To the men trapped in their trenches on the front line it must have been hell on earth. Of those who survived and came back many were profoundly damaged and not only physically and, inevitably, this affected the next generation.

Finally, after five hellish years, an Armistice was declared. It took effect at 11:00 AM on November 11 and it was decided that it should be made a perpetual day of remembrance of the fallen. As a mark of respect, everyone was asked to stop whatever they were doing every year at 11:00 AM on November 11 and to remember those who died. In my family that was my great uncle, Captain Horace Chamberlain King MC who died of wounds in France on April 7, 1918. He was twenty two.

The symbol of Remembrance Day is a red poppy. Mine is on my front door and at 11:00 AM I will stop and remember Horrie and all the others who have died in war. I hope you will too.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Rape and Its Consequences

During one year I had three friends come to me and tell me about their rapes. The circumstance were all quite different but the result was the same - shame, fear and on-going and long lasting consequences. The one obvious similarity with all three was that it was not just about sexual gratification (if it was that at all). It was about power and control. Those who ended up having abortions (only recently made legal and still with a stigma attached to them) then had to deal with the on-going guilt and trauma from having made the only decision they could.

These women were fortunate in that they were living in a country that recognised sexual assault could be life-shattering and had put in place non-judgemental ways to help the victimised survive. Sadly, none of their rapists were ever punished. Why? Because these rapes were never reported to the police. The rapists had too much power over their targets. They feared ostracism, disbelief and slut shaming. If you hadn't gone out with him this would never have happened. You had been drinking. Your dress was too short or too tight. You must have encouraged him. You were alone with him. What did you expect? These women were respectively a victim of date rape in a relative's house, a gang rape at a party and incest but they still felt these societal pressures and feared their judgement.

I've met other rape survivors since then who have shared their stories with me. They are all horrific. It doesn't matter if the victim is beaten to a pulp, unconscious or is terrified into submission, the result is similar - long-lasting emotional and, all too often, physical damage.

Because rape can lead to pregnancy inevitably the issue of abortion comes up. First a disclaimer: the only circumstances in which I could see myself agreeing to an abortion are rape, if my life was threatened by the pregnancy or if the foetus had died or was non-viable but that is for me. No-one else. It's not for me to judge or enforce my views on anyone else.

Having said that, a zygote is not a person - nor is a blastocyst - and any woman who chooses to abort has every right to do so. To suggest that anyone decides on an abortion without considerable thought is simply ridiculous. While you or I may not agree with their reasons does not mean they have not thought about it. They have and they have made their choice and I, for one, see no reason to judge them nor to have the government or anyone else do so.

But the pro-lifers cry, it's a baby. Well, no. It isn't. It's a non-viable collection of cells and it remains non-viable for months. The specious argument that the 'life' the woman is carrying has rights over hers is appalling. Quite apart from having to carry a constant reminder of the attack with her, pregnancy is not a risk-free process. Even if we discount all the discomforts of pregnancy (they are many and varied but endured willingly if the child is wanted - although after seven months with my head in the toilet I was beginning to wonder) there are so many things that can go wrong from minor to life-threatening. Women still die in child-birth and to decide to abort is not an unreasonable response.

What made me think about this was a blog post by US author, John Scalzi. In his Fan Letter to Certain Conservative Politicians (and writing from the point of view of the rapist) he addresses the reality of rape and its consequences. Scalzi's post and the comments that follow are shocking and triggering for rape and sexual assault victims but they are also compelling. I recommend it and, because he keeps such a tight rein on moderating comments, don't be afraid to venture there either - but be warned some of the shared experiences are heart-wrenching. The discussion is US focussed but much of what is said is relevant to other countries. He has also written a follow up post explaining how the post came about in this form.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Malala Yousafzai - a Heroine For Our Times

On October 9 this year Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl from the Swat Valley who had recently turned fifteen, was travelling home from school in a school bus which was stopped by Taliban gunmen.  They singled her out and shot her twice, once in the head and once in the neck. Miraculously she was not killed but her injuries were severe and she was rushed to hospital in a critical condition. After a decompressive craniectomy to relieve pressure from swelling in the brain and clinging to life in an induced coma, on October 15 she was air-lifted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham in the UK for further treatment and rehabilitation. She is showing signs of improvement and, although the full after effects of her injuries won't be fully clear for up to a year, she seems to be recovering well.

And what were the terrible crimes for which the Taliban decided a schoolgirl should be executed? She, with the support and encouragement of her father, had been campaigning for girls to be allowed to be educated. She started as a twelve year old, writing a blog for the BBC about life in the Swat Valley and the effect the Taliban were having there, in particular, on the closure of girls' schools. Brave and intelligent, she had become more and more prominent as she fought for the right to an education. The Taliban have tried to justify their action on the basis of religion but there has been a massive outcry from Islamic leaders denying that neither it nor many other Taliban claims are truly based on Islam.

The truth is the Taliban are religious fundamentalists and, no matter what their faith, such people are potentially dangerous. They know they are right and, in their view, that permits or, more accurately, demands that they enforce their beliefs on everyone else. It's not a matter of "This is what I believe and I think you're wrong so I will try to educate you to my way of thinking." for fundamentalists. For them it's "You must believe in what I believe and, if you don't, I will force you to. "

Scary stuff. I'm sure Malala and her family knew there were risks and it speaks volumes that she and they refused to let themselves be beaten down. The Taliban may have lost more than they gained by this action. I hope so. We should all salute a brave girl for fighting for her rights.

Best wishes, Malala. You are an inspiration and a true role model.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia Speaks Out on Sexism and Misogygny

I've been watching the speech given by Julia Gillard in the Federal Parliament again in the light of the what has been said about it in the media since. As she spoke it gave me an extraordinary feeling to see at last someone giving vent to feelings about issues that have been bothering me for some considerable time.

I'm old enough to have been required - as an adult woman with a permanent and well paid job - to have a guarantor before I could borrow money from a bank. I have been employed in work places where the senior position was always occupied by a man, often a man with fewer qualifications and less ability than the women working under him, and where women were not permitted to apply. In several of these situations the man in question did little or nothing while the women under him did all the work unacknowledged.  (In one case a supervisor spent almost all his time for a year working on his Master's thesis while his female underlings did all the work.) I have been questioned by potential employers as a young, married woman as to whether I intended to children. I wanted to study law but, while I could have completed my degree, at the time I would not have been able to practise because no law practices would accept a woman as an articled clerk (The only exception to this was if you had the good fortune to be part of a family of lawyers with their own practice. At the time there was only one woman lawyer practising in my home city which shows how rare this was.) I could tell you more but I'm sure you get the gist.

Some of the most egregious abuses may be gone but that doesn't mean there are not battles still to be fought and, I hope, won. It seems to me too that that there has been more sexism and misogyny creeping in over the past few years. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because younger women haven't had the sort of experiences my generation had. Maybe they think that they have achieved equality and that it will stay that way. It would be nice if that was true. Maybe they don't realise that the only way to retain rights is to continually scrutinise what is happening in government and in society and make their opinions known so they don't bother. I hope they realise before it is too late. I would hate to think the world the next generation of young women inherit is one where these hard won rights are slowly eroded until they are lost forever.

That's one of the reasons why it was so gratifying to see Julia Gillard bring these issues of misogyny and sexism into the open. As a woman she must be aware that whenever we call people on this sort of behaviour we're told we're too sensitive or to get a sense of humour so it was risky but I'm delighted that she did it. Ever since she became Prime Minister she has been under attack about things which have nothing to do with her ability or lack of it. She is criticised for being unmarried and living with her partner. She is criticised for her dress sense, even her body shape. She is criticised for having no children. Her voice is criticised. Reporters call her by her first name instead by her title. In my memory I cannot remember any male Prime Minister being criticised for any of these things or treated so disrespectfully. It seems an inescapable fact that this disrespect is purely because she is a woman. By all means talk about the things the government has got wrong but judge them on what those things are and  not the gender of the leader of that government.

The attacks on the Prime Minister are not the only places where sexism and misogyny raise their heads - and for the record, I do know what misogyny means and I'm sure the Prime Minister does too. Those who are waving dictionaries around saying "It's all wrong. Misogyny is a hatred of women and insert name of choice is married or works with women so they can't be misogynists" don't get it. These people may not outright hate all women but they act and talk as if they do. To my mind if you denigrate, insult and belittle the female gender in a way that is directly related to the fact that they are women you are behaving like a misogynist. As Julia Gillard said in her speech the answer is to change the behaviour.

This does not mean there isn't sexism at work too and when I saw what the predominately male political and other commentators had to say about the Prime Minister's speech the next day I was astounded. It was as if I had entered an alternative universe where this exposé had never taken place. All the parts that had resonated with me so loudly were being written off as unimportant as if these things are not obvious to the majority of women every day of their lives. It's interesting too that the speech had by last evening over 1,500,000 hits on the internet and belatedly some of the commentary is becoming more unbiased now it is obvious it has struck a chord not only here but overseas as well.

The strongest part of Julia Gillard's speech for me was that she quoted actual instances which showed the sexism and misogynistic behaviour she was complaining about. Anyone who follows politics could come up with more examples - I certainly could - but these are quite enough to be going on with. It's simple enough to discredit generalisations but facts on the public record are less easy to ignore.

I think there are things this government could have handled better but this ... this was gold and if it results in a change in the behaviour of public figures - and even better their thinking - it will have done its job.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Words Can Hurt

In all the fuss about inappropriate comments going on at the moment, along with with those critical and demanding action - various kinds, some of which is reasonable and some not - there is a scattering of those whose comments, letters to the editor etc can be summarised as "They're only words. Get over it.". 

The thing is words are powerful. They can inspire, they can harm, they can teach and they can destroy. This is why we should be careful about our words. Just look at the demagogues who preach that another religion, another race, another belief system is wrong and then look at what can result from it. Do you think the Nazi death camps would have happened if Hitler had not been such a charismatic speaker? I doubt it. Somehow his words wound their way into the psyche of people who were so convinced that they were right they managed to take over a whole country and from there attempt to take over a continent. What about the men who destroyed the twin towers in New York, those who committed the Bali bombings or the bombings that took place in London in 2005? Words were what made these things happen. Words full of hate that sounded to these folk as reasonable excuses to justify what they did. There could have been other words used, ones that might have resolved the situation without blood shed but they were not heard. They were shouted down and drowned out - by loud voices and the words they used.

Over and over we hear name calling and labelling and it doesn't seem much. But increment by increment it worms its way into people's thoughts and, if they don't think and analyse what they hear, it becomes accepted as truth - and from those originally apparently nothing words real harm can come.

This is why we have racial vilification laws, why we teach our children in kindergarten not to say hurtful things and why we have laws about verbal bullying and harassment.

Words can be dangerous and they can be healing but never doubt that they have power and the harm that can be done by them can be incalculable.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Wise Words from Peter M. Ball

Peter is one of my Clarion South mates and a wonderfully gifted writer. He's been answering questions on writing on his blog recently. His latest post is called Everything I Know About Writing in 1069 Words or Less and all I can say is that it is the best summary of how to plot I've read in a long time. Apparently I'm not the only one who feels like this. Angela Slatter has linked to it on her blog too saying she intends to print it out and put it above her desk. I'll be doing the same.

While you're visiting his blog have a delve around. There's a lot more of interest too.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Real Life

Actually I'm not going to talk about that. Things are a bit depressing around here for a number of reasons, all pretty much out of my control - and I'm not just talking about the endless doom and gloom of the on-going world economic crisis and the drought which is afflicting much of the Earth and much else. Somehow all this seems to have wormed into our psyches over the past year or so weighing us all down.

It shows in all sorts of ways. People cut back on their spending and that means jobs and businesses go. The endless array of advertising of cut price sales is pervasive. It all builds up in our minds, increment by increment. I suspect the world was easier to live in when we didn't have such fast mass communication. Back then we would hear about a drought in Africa - one we could do nothing about - when it was nearly over or when nations rattled sabres at one another or a civil war broke out - the bulk of the fighting would have been finished before we knew about it. Now the TV news and other news media is full of images of death and destruction or "experts" telling us what these images mean. We have twenty four hour news channels for goodness sake and because they don't cover the uplifting and heart-warming we get the horrors played over and over again.

When the bombings occurred in London in 2005 Virgo and her friends were travelling in the UK and as far as I knew were in London. I was desperate to know what was going on when I couldn't contact them. As it turned out they had gone to Ireland for a few days and got back to the hostel where they were staying - in Tavistock Square not far from where the bus was bombed - that evening. Anxious for any snippet of news I made the mistake of leaving the TV on. The same horrific images were repeated in a loop, over and over again, for the best part of a day. Why? Yes, not everyone would have seen the first coverage. Yes, there would have been others like me out there who wanted or needed to know what was happening. But why not update hourly? A summary with any new information that had come out would have been much more useful to those of us who had a genuine need to know what was happening.

It seems to me that there's a perceived need for all headline news to be dramatic. It has to tug at the heart or shock in some way and if that isn't happening it's a failure. That's why the riots in Sydney dominated the news last week, why we see ever more horrific images from Syria and why the riots in Pakistan came ahead of other news items. It's why the headlines about the various financial crises fix on what has gone wrong, what will go wrong - even if no-one really knows what that might be.

In a similar albeit smaller scale there have been several shark attack related deaths around our coast. They are terrible things but now people are running scared. There are calls for culls and fenced beaches and every time the hysteria dies down it gets stoked again. The more it's built up the more afraid people become and fear does not make for good decisions.

Let's see more balance in news reporting. All these things are important but they are only part of what is happening around the world. Let's see more of the good news and the other events that shape our lives and society.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Female or Woman?

 Over on Hoyden About Town there was a fascinating discussion recently about the use of the term female when referring to women. In her post Tigtog has used photo montages to show exactly what each term actually means and why it is both incorrect and inappropriate to use female instead of woman. The comment stream is also worth reading as it extends the discussion to the inappropriate use of the term girl - the Olympics and Paralympics were rife with it - and how it infantilises and dehumanises adult women. I don't know about the rest of you but I really dislike being called "a female", almost as much as I hate being greeted by a doctor (and there have been far too many over the years and all male) who says, "And how's Mum?" as a way to start a consultation.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

2012 Aurealis Awards Entries

Below taken from Tehani Croft Wessely's blog a reminder that, although entries for the 2012 Aurealis Awards close in December, the earlier they are in the better.

Reminder: Aurealis Awards entries

                                                                                          Feel free to share!

2012 Aurealis Awards – Enter now
The Aurealis Awards are open for entry, with the end of the entry period starting to loom.
The Aurealis Awards, Australia’s premier awards for speculative fiction, are for works of speculative fiction written by an Australian citizen or permanent resident, published for the first time between 1 January 2012 and 31 December 2012.
Categories include novels, short stories, YA, and illustrated works.
Entering work in the Aurealis Awards is easy and free.
All you need to do is go to our website and fill in the online form. We’ll then send you details of where to send your work for judging.
But hurry! Entries close midnight 23 December 2012. Why are we asking for entries now? All our judges are volunteers, and by encouraging early entry, we ensure that all works are given fair consideration. Works received very late in the reading period may only have a short time to be considered (shortlists are released early in 2013), and some categories have very heavy reading loads. We appreciate your support in ensuring all entries can receive the attention they deserve by entering early!
Nominations for the Peter McNamara Convenors’ Award for Excellence also close on 31 December 2012. This award is for achievement in speculative fiction or related areas. It may take into account a body of work over a number of years; it can also be for a work of non-fiction, artwork, electronic or multimedia work, film or TV released in 2012 that brings credit or attention to the speculative fiction genres.
Finalists will be announced in March 2013 with winners presented at a special awards evening in Sydney in May 2013.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Mr Frog Went A-courting

I've talked before about the different frogs that live in our garden. While we sometimes see them sunning themselves by the pond we mostly become aware of them when they start wooing. This usually begins in the early evening in spring and summer. Eventually we end up with the ponds full of wriggling black tadpoles that gradually turn into adult frogs. Where most of them end up from there I don't know. They must move on because the actual number of resident frogs seems to stay the same.

Well that's how it normally goes but this year things are different. We have one very confused or  lovelorn - or maybe both - froggie making his presence felt. For the last two weeks all day - but not at night when you'd expect it -  he has been borrrupping away very loudly. I don't know quite what he expects to happen. At  this time of the year all sensible lady frogs spend their days tucked up in their burrows or under a lily pad. They're getting their beauty sleep, ready for when the boys break out in song and entice them to mate in a few weeks time. I wish him luck. I think he needs it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

KSP Minicon

The 2012 KSP Minicon is coming. With panels, a Kaffeeklatsch program, a book launch, author readings and books for sale plus a chance to mingle with local authors this is a highlight for readers and writers of speculative fiction of all kinds. I've been to the previous three Minicons and they were great fun. The details are below.

The 2012 KSP Speculative Fiction Writers Group Minicon

Panellists include :
Local Writers: Lee Battersby, Amelia Beamer, Hal Colebatch, Cathy Cupitt, Stephen Dedman, Joanna Fay, Satima Flavell, Sonia Helbig, Elaine Kemp, Pete Kempshall, David Kitson, Martin Livings, Dave Luckett, Juliet Marillier, Ian Nichols, Anthony Panegyres, Carol Ryles, Guy Salvidge, JB Thomas. 

When: Sunday, 9 September, 2012  9.30am-4.30pm

Where: Katherine's Place, Old York Road, Greenmount (Turn into the first driveway after you turn in from the highway and park at the back)

Cost: $15, or $10 if you book in advance. Leave a comment at if you want to do this.

Lunch: A decent meal and tea and coffee will be available for a gold coin donation or you can BYO - there are no eateries in the vicinity.

Discussion Panels: Meeting Room

10:00 Breaking the Rules
“Look, that's why there's rules, understand? So that you think before you break 'em.” - Terry Pratchett
Sometimes the 'rules of writing' need to be broken. But what are they and how and when do you get away with breaking them? And what do you need to be aware of before you do? All the best writers are renowned for breaking rules and new writers are crucified for it, yet there are times when we all need to cross that line.
Lee Battersby
Sonia Helbig
Martin Livings
Anthony Panegyres
Guy Salvidge 

11:00 Is the Internet the New Slush Pile
Google the question: “is the internet the new slush pile?” and the wisdom of the masses will tell you that since mid 2011, there has been a grass-roots change in the world of publishing. The inference given in hundreds of articles unearthed by such a search is that you should no longer submit to slush piles while trying to get noticed. There's a new wave of authors who publish their material directly to the Internet in the hope that their book will attract the attention of publishers and agents. But what does this method of gaining attention achieve and will it replace the tradition of slush pile Monday's? For that matter, with so many new writers self-publishing, is there a need to be picked up at all? Or is it a path to self-destruction of the writer's rights?
Stephen Dedman
David Kitson 
Dave Luckett
Ian Nichols 

12:00 Lunch 

Book Launch, The Corpse Rat King by award winning author Lee Battersby (Angry Robot Books)

Lee Battersby is the author of the novels The Corpse-Rat King (Angry Robot, 2012) and Marching Dead (Angry Robot, 2013) as well as over 70 stories in Australia, the US and Europe, with appearances in markets as Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, Year’s Best Australian SF & F, and Writers of the Future. A collection of his work, entitled Through Soft Air has been published by Prime Books. He’s taught at Clarion South and developed and delivered a six-week Writing the SF Short Story course for the Australian Writers Marketplace. His work has been praised for its consistent attention to voice and narrative muscle, and has resulted in a number of awards including the Aurealis, Australian Shadows and Australia SF ‘Ditmar’ gongs.

He lives in Western Australia, with his wife, writer Lyn Battersby and an increasingly weird mob of kids. He is sadly obsessed with Lego, Nottingham Forest football club, dinosaurs, the Goon Show and Daleks. He’s been a stand-up comic, tennis coach, cartoonist, poet, and tax officer in previous times, and he currently works as the Arts Co-ordinator for a local council, where he gets to play with artists all day. All in all, life is pretty good.

For more about Lee see: 

1:00 Critting and Crowd-Sourced Editing
Should writers have their manuscripts criticised by a broad audience of their fellow writers? What value does it add to your work? Can you lose your ideas by letting others see your manuscript before the editor does? How about crowd-sourcing of editing? Is it possible to let others perform the work for you while reading early revisions of your manuscript? And how do you even take advantage of such services? Should they be avoided completely?

Amelia Beamer
Satima Flavell 
Pete Kempshall
Juliet Marillier
Anthony Panegyres

2:00 Building Characters without Cardboard
In online reviews, a common complaint against many recent authors, especially those who choose to self-publish, is that their characters seem two-dimensional or otherwise lack depth. So what does the aspiring author need to consider in their writing so that their characters seem more real to the reader? And how do they achieve it? Are characters planned or imagined? And what are the pitfalls that many new writer, and even experienced ones, fall into? And how do you write convincing characters from the other gender?

Lee Battersby
Martin Livings
Juliet Marillier
Carol Ryles
JB Thomas

3:00 Has Erotica Become Just another Mainstream Sub-Genre
With Fifty Shades of Grey now the fastest selling book ever, it's difficult to ignore the part that erotica has played in this series’ success. Writers thinking of including sexually explicit content in their novels are often confused by the terms ‘erotica’ and ‘pornography’. How should a modern writer approach this situation? How to avoid mistakes? Should erotica feature in a serious novel at all?

Amelia Beamer
Cathy Cupitt
Stephen Dedman
Elaine Kemp

Kaffeeklatsch Schedule (Library)

1PM – 1:30PM Joanna Fay: Publishing with a small press overseas
Joanna’s Daughter of Hope, the first novel in her epic fantasy sequence The Siaris Quartet, has recently been published as an e-book by Musa Publishing, a relatively new e-press in the USA. From the comfort of her lounge room in the Perth hills, Joanna has taken an intensive 'high learning curve' this year on the road to publication, while coming to grips with both the potential and pitfalls of online promotion.
2PM - 2:30PM David Kitson: Self Publishing – A complete end to end guide for anyone planning on doing it themselves
David’s self-published novel, Turing Evolved, broke into the top 20 Science Fiction book list on and is now rated at four-and-a-half stars with one hundred and fifty customer reviews. Learn about David’s experiences with editing, uploading, customer feedback and eventual contact and representation by a literary agent.

3PM – 3:30PM Juliet Marillier: Theme to be announced
Juliet is a New Zealand-born writer who now lives in WA. Her historical fantasy novels for adult and young adult readers include the popular Sevenwaters series and the Bridei Chronicles. Juliet’s books have won many awards including the American Library Association’s Alex Award, the Prix Imaginales and the Aurealis Award. Her lifelong love of folklore, fairy tales and mythology is a major influence on her writing. Juliet has two books out this year: Shadowfell, first instalment in a fantasy series for young adults (available now) and adult fantasy Flame of Sevenwaters, to be published in November.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

I'm a great fan of Juliet Marillier's writing. She has never disappointed me so I've been hanging out for this book. Last week I got it in my hot little hands. Actually they were cold since it's winter but sometimes a cliche is fun.

But back to Shadowfell. I had read some very positive reviews which made me even more enthusiastic. So I struggled up to my local Dymocks book store at about 5:30 last Thursday afternoon - walking is something of a problem at the moment but let's not go into that - and found it among the new releases. I started reading in the car while waiting for Pisces, continued on through dinner and until midnight (when I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer) and finished it during breakfast. It was that good.

In a world where magic and any contact with the Good Folk is banned fifteen year old Neryn with her ability to see the Good Folk is in continual danger. Trust is just as dangerous and, as she travels to try to find a sanctuary she only knows from rumour, she finds herself having to make hard decisions. Along the way she meets Flint, a mysterious young man. Not sure whether he is to be trusted, Neryn travels with him but nothing is ever as it seems in this land as she soon discovers.

Neryn  is a well-rounded, believable character and those she meets along the way such as the mysterious Flint and the Good Folk like Sage are just as well-drawn. Shadowfell - what a great title - is being marketed as Young Adult but it is certainly very readable for any lover of fantasy. The best part is that there is a sequel underway and I, for one, can hardly wait to find out what happens next.

 As you can no doubt guess, I recommend this book highly.

Juliet Marillier's website is here.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

KSP Mini Con 2012

I've just received the provisional program for the 4th KSP Mini Con 2012. It's certainly impressive and it's happening on Sunday, September 9. There are some fascinating and useful panel topics and Kaffeeklatsches with local authors and editors planned - more when all the details are confirmed. As well, local author, Lee Battersby, will be launching his new novel, The Corpse-Rat King. 

It's an opportunity to meet up with like minded speculative fiction writers, professional and amateur, and readers. Lunch is available - and, from experience, I can say that even problems like the power going off all day does not stop people having a great day. I'll put the full program up as soon as it's out.

It's at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre, 11 Old York Road, Greenmount.  If you're a reader or a writer of speculative fiction and you want a fun day, put it in your diary.

For up to date information go to the KSP Mini Con Facebook page  or the KSP Mini Con blog.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Vale Caroline John and Mary Tamm

I've been a great fan of Dr Who ever since it started so I was saddened to read of the passing of these two very talented women especially after the passing of Elisabeth Sladen just over a year ago.

Caroline John played Dr Liz Shaw in 1970 opposite one of my favourite Doctors, Jon Pertwee. (The Pertwee link is a bit effusive but it has some interesting information about his career.) What I loved about Liz Shaw was that she was a highly qualified scientist whose function was much more than to be a damsel in distress who screamed a lot. Very much the Doctor's intellectual equal, she was also a member of Unit, the military unit set up to deal with unexplained events. I was very sorry she was written out after a relatively short time.

Mary Tamm played the Timelord, Romana, opposite Tom Baker before Romana regenerated and Mary Tamm was replaced by Lalla Ward. Romana was another intelligent, feisty, female companion. Beautiful, cool and very much in control, Mary Tamm's Romana didn't let the Doctor get away with doing whatever he wanted, something he was/is very fond of doing. She was another companion I was sorry to see go.

Both Caroline John and Mary Tamm went on to successful careers post Dr Who. They will be missed.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Our Animal Family

A rush of paws, a frightened yelp and a very worried little dog is standing near the middle of the family room while an initially self satisfied but now looking a little guilty Puss is strolling casually around on the opposite side of the room pretending nothing happened. He apparently jumped over her and scared the wits out of her. Poor wee dog. She's gone over to him now and they're rubbing noses so all is forgiven.

Puss does not like having his photo taken.

Little dog, on the other hand, poses sweetly as soon as a camera appears.
And posing

And posing

And if you don't notice her immediately, she stands in front of you and the camera. I'm not sure what she thinks is happening but she just has to be part of it

It's interesting how the two rub along. Doggie is a worrier, Puss is ( as a result of his traumatic kittenhood) very nervous but because he has been brought up with her since then he has adopted a lot of doggish behaviour so rubbing noses and sniffing each other are very much part of the way he lives his life. As well, one of his favourite games is fetch. Just like the dog he brings things to be thrown and then brings them back. It doesn't stop him playing cat games, of course. Chasing lights and shadows and ambushing are very popular too as is teasing the dog.

For the most part they get on well. They remind me of a bossy older sister who wants everything done correctly and a naughty little brother who likes to push her buttons and sometimes oversteps the boundaries.

Given how traumatised Puss was when he came to us his occasional misdemeanours are forgivable. He's turned into a good natured, affectionate cat within the family although he is still terrified of strangers and a loud noise will send him under the nearest bed for several hours.

What prompted this post was a letter to the editor in our local paper where a woman had written a lengthy diatribe about how cats and dogs should not be let into the house because they carry diseases. It was full of inflamatory statements, most of which were incorrect. Personally, I feel sorry for her - and even more for any dog or cat she ever owns. She will never know the joy of being greeted by a creature who loves you unconditionally, who sees you as the most important person in the world. I wouldn't miss out on that for anything.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Olympic Overload

So this may verge on heresy in Australia but the Olympic Games have not even started yet and I'm getting fed up with them already. Before you all jump on me I like watching the Games, I like to see talented sportspeople competing and I've already signed up for pay TV for the duration. What's annoying me is the coverage where athletes of all sports are being interviewed and are telling us about how they are driven and they work hard and that's how they get to represent their country. The implication is that anyone who made the effort could achieve greatness - and that, my friends, is hogwash. Even an athlete successful in one field would not necessarily succeed in another no matter how hard they tried.

The truth is that while we could probably all improve our fitness by regular exercise, successful sportsmen and women are actually physically different than the rest of us. That they build on that is a tribute to them but without that characteristic predisposing them they would not become successful. As a reality check just look at any sport and you'll see that all the competitors have a similar build and body shape. For example you won't see a female gymnast with a chunky, over muscled build so a young woman who desperately wants to be a gymnast and doesn't conform to the body shape will never succeed no matter how hard she works. You won't see a man who is 5ft 2 inches playing basket ball either or a very big busted woman in athletics or swimming.

So let's stop this nonsense about how it's all down to the work and accept that we are looking at people who have a unique physical quality, that they do work hard to capitalise on that quality and their performance is a pleasure to watch without everyone else having to be told that the reason they can't do it is because they don't work hard enough.

*Ducking* for cover.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Western Cultural Imperialism Bingo Card

I've a post about about this going up on the Egoboo WA blog but it's so important I'm linking to it here as well.

Aliette de Bodard and others have put together The Western Cultural Imperialism Bingo Card to draw attention to some of the less sensitive views about non-Western cultures on the internet. As a Franco-Vietnamese born in the US Aliette de Bodard is in an ideal position to see both sides. I cringed at some of the statements because I've heard them said and not only on the internet.

As I belong to a family of varied and mixed ethnicities it really strikes home to me. I'd strongly recommend reading the comments too - not something I'd always recommend on the internet having been burned by reading outrageous and offensive comments too often - because this time there are useful explanations of the statements on the card.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I'm in Awe.

This link to Bookshelf Porn came via The Bloggess. These are people after my own heart. I have plans for bookshelves. Oh, do I have plans for bookshelves. Just got to convince Pisces. It'll be a piece of cake. How can he resist?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Just Whiling Away Some Time

and letting you all know I have been working. There are words on the page, there has been editing and there will be more. Yes, indeed.

And, thanks to my friend, Adrian, there is distraction - in a good way. A few days ago I was telling a friend how, although I was once a fluent German speaker and a considerably less fluent French speaker, as the years have gone by, with little opportunity to practise either language, my ability has declined to barely there. I pondered about trying to revitalise my knowledge of at least one language other than English but decided it would probably be too hard.

Then, in a moment of pure serendipity, Adrian announced he was learning French online free via a website called Duolingo. He sent me an invitation and I signed up. I'm really enjoying myself. They also offer German and Spanish with plans for other languages in the future but for the moment I'll settle for trying to acquire at least enough French to cover the basics - and not making the owl cry. You'll have to sign up to find out what that means.

Au revoir, mes amis.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Stormy Weather

It's been a bit exciting around here lately. Last Thursday a cold weather tornado - not to be confused with those we see from the US, these are much smaller in width although they are extremely destructive - tore through parts of Perth leaving unroofed houses, downed trees and other damage in its wake. Then a winter storm, the equivalent in intensity of a Category 2 Tropical Cyclone - cyclones are known as hurricanes or typhoons in other areas - hit the south west of the state including Perth on Sunday. More trees down, houses roofless, signs torn down and, just to add a little, power lines down leaving 170,000 homes without power and many will be without power for up to a week or more.

You'd think that would be enough, wouldn't you, but no. We're expecting another storm front of similar intensity this evening. So I've just been doing a check to make sure we have everything we need if the power goes out here - and, actually we have. With several oil or kerosene (that's paraffin for those who live in the UK, South East Asia and South Africa) lamps, including a Aladdin table lamp which gives a bright and clean light and must now be around 70-80 years old, and enough lamp oil to last for a week or so, ample supplies of candles and matches, a gas camping stove and a gas lamp, a gas boosted solar hot water system and gas heating for the house, all we lack is some kind of refrigeration and this time of year it doesn't matter all that much - although I would not be happy if we lost the contents of our large - and tightly packed - deep freeze.

Now all we have to hope is that the roof stays on. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Of Elephants and Consequences

Yesterday I watched a documentary on African elephants. This wasn't your usual nature documentary. It concerned elephants acting in violent ways towards people or animals and revolved around why this might be happening and what to do about about it. Three different groups of elephants were involved. One group was killing cows, another killing rhinos and the third was attacking humans. In all cases the behaviour was odd. Elephant society is very complex with the young staying with their mothers for years but also cared for by the rest of the family which consists of related females. The females are absorbed into the herd while the young bulls leave at adolescence to join bachelor pods or live alone as adults. There is considerable evidence that elephants have extraordinary memory and learning ability and that those attacked or orphaned suffer great psychological trauma.

Those attacking humans were in Uganda where, during the seventies, the dictator, Idi Amin, had turned on tribes which opposed him. While his soldiers systematically slaughtered older males of the tribes, they also killed huge numbers of elephants for ivory and meat.  This disrupted society, both human and elephants, with the young of both witnessing the killing of family and they were left badly traumatised. It has been reported that when elephants in this area kill humans they often spend considerable time pulling clothes off the the body, touching it and spending hours near the body, covering it with dirt, leaves and twigs. Why they do this is not known but one suggestion is that these rituals, which are very similar to those they perform when one of their own number dies,  might indicate that they realise they have made a mistake. According to a psychiatrist taking part in this documentary many of these elephants are showing signs similar to those of post traumatic stress disorder. They are irritable, angry, isolate themselves, show signs of depression and have nightmares (this has been observed in elephant orphanages) and these are all symptoms of PSD.

In the case of those killing cows there was ongoing friction with the cattle owners, the Masai. When the adjoining wild life park was declared, the local Masai were removed from their traditional lands and have responded by hunting in the park and elephants were high on their list of those to kill. In the days before ivory was a banned substance they were a source of money and meat. Even now if they leave the park they are likely to be hunted. Elephants, which were young when the park was established, are now adults and again, while we can't know for sure what an elephant is thinking, the suggestion is that maybe they are smart enough to realise that the cows are valuable to the Masai and so make a perfect target to get revenge. It might seem a stretch to believe this but the more we find out about elephants the more it seems that we have underestimated their intelligence. Maybe we have underestimated their emotions as well.

The rhino killing elephants were different again. They lived in Kruger National Park where all the elephants are well documented, from external appearance to their foot prints. So when dead rhino started turning up it was easy to discover that the elephants doing the killing were adolescent males in musth (when adult males are in breeding season) but these elephants were too young to breed. When they investigated further they discovered some very bizarre behaviour among these young bulls. They were making sexual advances to the rhinos, which, not surprisingly, were rejecting them. They were then gored.

These youngsters had originally been removed from other parks years before as part of culls to keep elephant numbers under control. Because the technology for moving large animals was not then available, the mothers had been shot and the young elephants kept tethered to the bodies which were being butchered for meat. They were then relocated to an area where there were few mature elephants. The psychological trauma they experienced must have been horrific by any standard and they were left to mature without role models. It turned out that these young bulls had extremely high testosterone levels and the solution proposed was to relocate some mature bulls to the area - possible now the technology for transporting large animals was available. It was highly successful. The testosterone levels in the young bulls dropped and their behaviour changed back to that relatively normal for their age, much to the relief of the rhinos no doubt.

I'm making no statement as to the way elephant emotions work but I can say from my own experience that abused animals can and do suffer for years as a result of their experiences. The animals I live with are usually rescue animals and they have all come with their own issues. I currently live with a much loved cat who has been with our family for three years since he was quite young. Unfortunately, before he came to us he was badly treated. As a result he is very nervous and terrified of men outside the family, not to mention the outdoor world in general. It took nearly a year before he would let Pisces touch him and even now any sudden movement sends him off to hide under the bed for hours. I can't put myself inside his mind but even without doing that it's easy to see he has been mentally - and probably emotionally - scarred by his experiences. If that is the case for a cat, how much more likely is it that, without anthropomorphising in any way, a creature we know to have an exceptional memory, problem solving ability and to show intensely strong familial bonds like an elephant is likely to be equally scarred by their past.

Maybe it's time we looked more carefully at our interactions with other creatures. With the exception of the Ugandan elephants, what was done to both elephants and humans began with the best of intentions.
Unfortunately, good intentions aren't enough and both are suffering the consequences.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Is Productivity and Efficiency The Be-all and End-all?

And the title is not just an attempt to explain why I've been missing from the blog front for a while. There have been many reasons for that. Among them is that I've been battling a particularly bad flare up of arthritis. As well my on-going battle with tendon tears around my hip has been causing all sorts of problems - and that's quite apart from the time devoured by doctor visits. Then - just because it could - a virus caught me when I managed to go out socially for the first time in two weeks and deposited me, none too gently, in bed for four days. Today is the first day I've been up at all. So far I've lasted for three hours and bed is starting to look very inviting again.

But back to the subject. Yet again the media has been full of demands for greater efficiency and higher productivity. Several banks have laid off more staff as has Qantas and we're told it's all to do with efficiency and productivity. It's not only in private enterprise. The Federal Opposition is convinced that efficiencies can be achieved in the dwindling public service. I'm by no means convinced. We had occasion to contact a major government department this week. It took a twenty minute wait to get through to an automated answering service that hung up on us because we didn't have a log in number. That we needed the answer to a question and so didn't need a log in number was beyond the automated answering service. That's efficient? It certainly saved the department time but not us. And we all know how long it can take waiting on hold listening to ear worm music for private companies - you know the ones we keep in business. And I won't even go to the situation in places like hospitals where efficiency for its own sake is potentially dangerous.

There's another issue too which doesn't ever seem to be mentioned. By demanding ever higher productivity - and therefore less leisure to those creating this productivity - there is less time for people to spend - and, that I would have thought, would be the object of producing anything.

So I had already been thinking about the issues when - thanks to my friend Michael - I came across this NY Times article Let's Be Less Productive by Tim Jackson. He makes the point that by pursuing productivity and efficiency without factoring other things we put full employment at risk. It's an interesting and provocative read written by a professor of sustainable development.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Aurealis Award Winners 2011

The winners of the Aurealis Awards 2011were announced last night and it's exciting to see so many Western Australians featuring. They are for:

Young Adult Short Story:  Nation of the Night by Sue Isles  published in Nightsiders story collection (Twelfth Planet Press). The author and publisher are both Western Australian. This is a book I can highly recommend having just finished it. Sue Isles has created a believable post apocalyptic world where, having rejected evacuation to the wetter eastern seaboard cities, a stubborn group of individuals hang on to their home land despite it being devastated by climate change.

Collection: Bluegrass Symphony by South Australian Lisa L. Hannett and published by Western Australian publisher Ticonderoga Publications.

Horror Short Story: The Short Go: a Future in Eight Seconds by Lisa L. Hannett in Bluegrass Symphony (Ticonderoga Publications)

Fantasy Short Story: Fruit of the Pipal Tree by Thoraiya Dyer in After the Rain (FableCroft Publishing). At the time this anthology was published Fablecroft Publishing was WA based.

Peter McNamara Convenor's Award: Galactic Suburbia podcast: Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce and Tansy Rayner Roberts, (producer). Alisa Krasnostein founded Twelfth Planet Press in Western Australia.

It's also heartening to see that all the short fiction awards were published by small independent presses.

The complete list of winners can be found here.

Congratulations to all.