Sunday, July 29, 2007

Rave: Big ups to the Randomnymity support crew -- we made it!

WOOOOOOHOOOOOOOO!!!!!

Thank you to all the people who helped me through this: All the sponsors, all the people who shared animal stories with me, anyone who IMed me, emailed me, commented, phoned, or otherwise held my hand through the night, everyone who suggested a topic even if I didn't use it (Jos, I was an idiot and closed our convo when you left). Thanks to The Partner for giving up Sunday with me, and especially thanks to Satchmo for the motivation (and the mouse wars that kept me awake).And now, since I have to be at work in fewer than 12 hours, I am going follow Satchmo's lead, and be 'in ur dreams, catchin ur zees'.

Rave: This isn't a namby pamby mumbo jumbo blog (7 Periods With Mr. Gormsby)

One night last year The Partner and I happened to be in on a Friday night, and we happened to have the TV on Channel 1 when one of the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life came on TV, completely unexpectedly. We were hooked from that moment on.

7 Periods With Mr. Gormsby is a saga in 7 episodes about a highly dysfunctional, low-income boys school with weak leadership, a lot of pretend new-ageyness, and (even more frightening) some teachers who believe the new age crap. The relief teacher for the naughty class has just fled back to India after the local troublemaker drew a cartoon of her fellating a cow; enter Mr. Gormsby, an ex-army ex-India-brigade schoolteacher who is famous for using the cane on a student teacher, and whose ideas haven't changed since the 1940s. He has no tolerance for any of this "Maori mumbo jumbo mummy didn't breastfeed me until I was six personal instrospection nonsense".

In a political environment where political correctness has long since trumped real correctness, the screenplay for Gormsby was a breath of fresh air -- nothing is sacred, and yet unlike South Park, everything is nonetheless treated with respect. Gormsby's character is offset by the good-natured but trouble-making Hohepa, and despite their backgrounds the two somehow see eye to eye. Gormsby doesn't go over so well with the rest of the staff, though, but the rest of the staff can't even get their act together with each other.

There are two series of the show, and it is well worth getting both, because this is one storyline that can cope with the extra seven episodes.

My favourite of all the scenes, though, is the human relationships spelling test. Think: "Abortion. Abortion. This classroom is an abortion. Buggery. Buggery. Since Pissant has been principal, this school has gone to buggery".

Rave: Complaints choirs and Dave

Dave is going to think I am sucking up by writing this, but he'd be wrong, because he should know by now that I don't have the energy or th inclination to suck up to anybody. Dave is one of my supervisors from NZ, and he's a pretty cool guy. He can play the piano, though he would never admit it to you, and he's incredibly smart. He's also a great person to have on your team when you are doing any research, because he is interested in everything, and he will send whatever you're also interested in to you.

But Dave and I have similar tastes in music, books, and humour, so Dave sends me things that will amuse me, too (while I was living in NZ he would lend me stuff). Not too long ago, Dave sent me a link to the Helsinki Complaints Choir, which is one of a series of choirs bitching about what is wrong in their locality. Of them all, I like the Helsinki on best. Listening to 'depressed' Finns whinge about their life might not sound like much fun, but this shows that really they aren't depressed they are just Quiet. These people can really sing, and they have a great time sending themselves up, while also making political commentary. Be aware, though, that you may come out of this with the Nokia tune firmly implanted in your head.

Reflections: MySpace vs. Facebook (part 4)

So what do I like? I have Facebook, Bebo, Orkut, MySpace, and Friendster (though I think I only ever logged into Friendster once). I even tried Second Life, but I don't do well in 3D environments, and Second Life is a shitty 3D environment. Orkut was interesting when it first came out, but you couldn't do anything there. I feel much the same way about Bebo. MySpace annoys me something awful; I personally find it garish, hard to use, and not especially interesting, but my only friends on it are bands, so I am likely not a representative user. Facebook is my favourite of all of them; I find it easy to use, I have connected with people I know and care about in a novel way, and the iLike music challenge has filled many an empty minute.

Which is better/safer/more appropriate for That depends on what the blank is, and what you want to use it for. From a usability perspective, Facebook is better. From a customisability perspective, MySpace is better. From a safety perspective, neither is better, because online safety, like offline safety, comes from knowing the risks.

Which one will people be using in ten years time? Almost certainly neither, at least not in their present forms.

Reflections: MySpace vs. Facebook (part 3)

The other reasons I can see for using Facebook are almost opposite, and many of them have swayed me to be more interested in Facebook than MySpace. I like not being able to decorate my profile, because I am lazy and would prefer not to have to, for example, and I am from mainstream western culture, so I find the colours appealing. There are a couple of other reasons why people might (in my view) use Facebook over MySpace that boyd didn't cover:
  • Applications: the Music quiz, smileys, movie tracker, book thing and food fight are fun, and not available on MySpace. This could also be a draw to technically savvy users who want to create their own applications, though in my experience the control exerted by Facebook central is likely to be a discouragement to an extreme technically minded audience (because programmers have a tendency to be somewhat anarchic)
  • Privacy control is much simpler to use, and more finely grained in Facebook than in MySpace, which has a certain appeal to those who rather than using their SN for fame are using it for communication and entertainment. This group of people don't want the world to see their profile; it is for them and for their friends (though to be fair, the TOS are equally disturbing for MySpace and Facebook; neither afford much privacy at all from the companies that own them).

Reflections: MySpace vs. Facebook (part 2)

Reasons I can see for choosing MySpace over Facebook (or indeed having both) include:
  • The bandwagon -- many bands are on MySpace (indeed, many do not bother to have webpages anymore) and it provides a forum for fans to interact with bands
  • The ability to personalise the look of your MySpace page using HTML is a draw, I would guess, for those with artistic flair, and those with technical skills (and to a certain extent these groups will be boyd's 'subaltern' teens)
  • Cultural usability: There are studies, such as Elke Duncker's work on cultural aspects of usability, that show that different cultures find different colours and layouts appealing. Given what I know of Duncker's work, the appeal of MySpace to certain cultural groups is that they will be able to make it fit their cultural preferences for colour (whereas Facebook uses colours that are accepted by mainstream western culture).
  • Reputation: MySpace has a reputation for being badass, not helped by the furore over 'predators' and the like*. If you wanna be a badass, you use MySpace. This point is sublty different to boyd's; she makes the point that there are teens who use MySpace because they are already somehow different; my point is now that MySpace has this reputation, and will attract some kids because of it.
* boyd comments on this, too. I know what she is saying, that it is extremely unlikely that your kid will be one of the rare ones who is a target as a result of his or her MySpace use, and that there are other more realistic situations to watch out for. Fair enough. However, I can also understand the panic, because if it is your kid who gets attacked by a MySpace predator, well, all the reassurances in the world that it was unlikely aren't going to make you feel better.

Reflections: MySpace vs. Facebook

I read with interest danah boyd's essay about MySpace and Facebook, and how different groups use them differently in the states, and I figure she has it pretty right, at least in terms of generalisations that can be made about US teenagers (and hey, after all, the report was not supposed to be cut and dried; it was ideas, not facts and the fact that the media has gone so nuts over it suggests that they need to educate themselves to recognise a journal article when they see one -- and not see them where they don't exist). She has done the research on this, and far be it from me to speak to the contrary.

What I would like to talk about is the other reasons I can see for things being the way they are, than purely as a result of class which is not, of course, to say that danah didn't also recognise these), and reflect on my own personal experiences with both services.

Rave: 'The Italian Place'

It's always a good idea to have a cafe or food place where you are known and looked after; in my old city that was Scott's. Here it is 'The Italian Place', which is really called SupaBar, but serves Italian food and is run by Italians. The food is excellent, and they have tailored their awesome chilli hot chocolate to the taste of my co-workers and I. When we don't go in for a while, they notice we are not there, when we are there, our food is discounted. And it isn't just us, they look after all their regulars without making the place unwelcoming to newcomers. In summer they give us icy drinks, and in the winter we get double serves of hot chocolate.

This week, they had a little birthday party, and we went along to show our support by buying a drink from them. They filled our glasses to the brim and would not let us pay for them, after earlier in the week not allowing us to pay properly for our meals because my wonderful soup was 'experimental'. I dunno how they are making any money, but I hope they are because it is a novelty to have any good food on campus, much less food this good.

Rant: Cats are not owned, and they do not need collars

You may have noticed from his pictures, that Satchmo has acquired a collar since arriving in Australia. This is because if he goes outside (and we are not 100% sure we can prevent him), the council insist that they be able to tell immediately that he is owned by someone, and that we have paid them the necessary dues to have an indoor-only cat that makes not one iota of difference to their operations.

Satchmo is neutered; he is also microchipped--I am a very responsible pet owner (anyone who says they cannot afford to neuter cannot afford to own the animal in question--neutering is cheap compared to most other veterinary care). If he were outside, and if he were misbehaving, it would be very straightforward to tell he belonged to someone, and who that someone was.

Nonetheless, Satchmo has a red collar that will identify him to council staff as 'owned' (I can tell you how he would feel about the idea that we own him, and it isn't complimentary, I can assure you). Realistically, though, to be sure Satchmo is 'owned', in the event he was seen without a collar, the council would have to trap him and scan him -- because like all responsible pet owners, his collar will break away if he gets it caught on anything, which given he loves to climb is fairly likely.

No matter how you look at it the collar is dangerous, unlikely to be useful, and potentially cruel.

Rave: Ten songs about love (part 3)

  • Dilana, Wonderfool--Partly just because I like the neologism, partly because it's Dilana, partly because I know what that feels like. (Sorry, no ling for this one, BMG are aggressive)
  • Captain Tractor, Frozen Puck to the Head--Love at first sight, adversity, and a happy ending, in other words a proper love song -- except it's about ordinary people, told Canadian style.
  • The Killers, When You Were Young--Another song about love in a twisted landscape, but this one incorporates religion and made it into the top 100.
  • Placebo, Drag--Because it has the best line of any of them--'I've just gotta get off my chest that I think you're divine'. Because it's Placebo. Because I never thought they would live long enough to write a song like this.

These songs are the ones I am thinking of now, and I am a bit addled. I am tempted to go to 13 just so I can include Commercial for Levi, Hard to Concentrate, and Hungry, but it would end up being 20 songs, and I don't want you to get all soppied out in here.

Rave: Ten songs about love (part 2)

  • Eppu Normaali, Joka Päivä ja Joka Ikinen Yö--Because my hat is off to anyone who will drink poison for an unrequited love, and sound cheerful about it. I'm not sure it's healthy, but at least the guy recognises his shyness is his own fault.
  • INXS, Afterglow--Because this song manages to be sad and triumphant all at the same time, and thinking the love was worth the loss is pretty damn special.
  • Foo Fighters, Everlong--Dark, adolescent, and creepy, and the way everyone should feel this way at least once.

Rave: Ten best songs about love

I'm not one to believe that love is uncomplicated or bubblegummy; and so lovesongs about uncomplicated affairs of boy meets girl and lives happily ever after either bore me to tears, or make me want to pour acid in my ears. The best love songs are not love songs per se, but songs about love. In no particular order, and without being definitive, here are ten of my favourites:
  • Zen Cafe, Todella Kaunis-- This song is the only Finnish song I know that even might be happy (it is ambiguous at best). This song celebrates uniqueness as beautiful and spontaneity as wise, and everytime I hear it I want to dance or sing or do something, all the while wondering whether the narrator is really getting what he wants.
  • Cat Stevens, Father and Son--Fraught relationships between parents and children who love each other are all too common, and this song captures it better than any other song I know. he contrast between the quiet melody and the tense, unhappy words only make this song all the more poignant.
  • Eve 6, Friend of Mine-- (not the original video). Friends like this are rare and precious, and I have been blessed with many of them. This is a song to live up to.

Rant: Body image, society, and disease (part 3)

Not only do I not know what to believe, but my food choices are limited due to ongoing illness, and it is hard to eat the "right" things. On top of that, my relationship with food is completely warped by not being able to eat for months, and then having compulsive eating as a med side effect for a year.

So what do I do? I have made the decision to work hard, and try to get back to my pre-illness size and shape. I regularly lift weights, I work out, and insofar as is possible, I try to eat sanely (though not during the blogathon, because some things are just too hard -- I can't think clearly enough to change my clothes, let alone my food choices, at this point). And I am finally at a point where I am doing it for me, not for society, for a doctor, for a partner or friend. And society, frankly, can go and get fucked.

This approach will get me so far, you know, and it is something I can live with. But, dammit, I am scared. One day I want to have kids, and how in the hell I am going to give them sane body image messages, I don't know. I hope by then society is ready to help me out, some organisations at least seem to be starting now.

Rant: Body image, society, and disease (part 2)

In this twisted situation where it seems every woman on the planet is either too fat or too thin, women are rebelling in different ways. The pro-ana movement is girls trying to take control of their body image by taking control of their weight, the fat rant tells society where to get off (and yet is done by a woman who, to me at least, looks healthy rather than fat).

The body image issue is of great personal significance, because with the illness I have, I have been both very thin, and very fat. While I was thin, I was very ill, and while I was fat, I was very affected by side effects, but much healthier. I was told by society that I looked much better ill than healthy. To this day, five years after the fact, I still do not like the way I look, and I am still aggressively working to change it -- and I don't even know what I am "supposed" to look like.

Recently this topic came up among people with the same illness I suffer from, and responses ranged from "you look great, what are you worrying about" to "be grateful you can eat". At my present weight I have been told by a medical professional that I would ideally be 10-20lbs lighter than I am. My perception of my own body has been so warped by rapid changes and society's images that I now no longer know who to believe.

continued in next post

Rant: Body image, society, and disease

We live in strange times. There is an obesity epidemic, and eating disorders are more prevalent than ever before. Women, in particular, bear the brunt of increasingly unrealistic social expectations about their bodies, where they must be thin and strong, and the average model is increasingly small compared to the average woman.

Models are suppsoed to be thin because "clothes hang better" on very thin women, but their thinness has a negative impact on the health and well being of women who see them, and average sized models don't, and yet average sized (or heaven forfend even plus sized) models are treated as a curiosity, and it is considered news when runway shows ban models that are too thin.

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Reflections: Why I love animals but am not a vegan.

I am an animal lover. As you know if you are following this blog, I have one cat. I also hope to get another cat soon, in part for the wellbeing of my existing cat; when I get my second cat it will be a shelter kitty. I don't eat pork since I found out that pigs, a favourite animal of mine, are often factory farmed in small crates, despite their intelligence and social nature. A couple of years ago I gave up eating any red meat for health reasons, and I will never go back to it, even if I can. I buy free range eggs, and (where available) poultry, and I eat at least three vegetarian main meals a week.

Nonetheless, there are people who would tell you that because I eat eggs, honey, dairy, poultry and fish I am inhumane. Maybe they are right, maybe I can't justify my position, but here is the argument I will use to try:

I need more protein and less fibre than the average bear because of my health situation. I try to eat beans and nuts as much as possible, but they are risky kinds of fibre for me; dairy, eggs, lean poultry and fish are much safer in terms of retaining my health. If my health goes downhill, I am almost certain to require medical treatment that has been tested on animals, and in some cases made out of animals. Peta would probably argue that I should be a vegan and refuse this treatment, but if I were to do so I would die of malnutrition and bowel perforation almost for sure. Is it unethical to eat humanely treated animals and their products to I continue to live?

Reflections: Walking the social tightrope in another country (part 2)

So clearly, neither country is perfect, but The Partner and I have chosen Australia for now -- it will be a few years, I'm thinking. We like it here, a lot, but it is interesting living in a country that is historically such a sibling rival. We get teased about our accents, and we get called sheepshaggers (though that really is the Aussies, not us), and we are expected to give a shit about the rugby (apart from seeing embarrassing drunken fans here, I don't).

On the flipside, it is pretty damn hard to have an opinion about anything in either country (and particularly about any differences between them) without being offensive, when you are a guest and there is a well established rivalry. I don't mind this, I am well aware that I am a guest here, and that I owe loyalty to New Zealand, and courtesy to Australia, but I am an opinionated person, and when questioned I will respond. Take it as read, though, that I consider the higher quality of living, the better pay, the better healthcare, the wider range of cultural events and the better weather enough--I am still here, after all. Where I criticise when provoked, the criticism is well thought out, and not a kneejerk reaction to things not being like at home. It is only a criticism of that one issue, though, I love your country and am grateful for the opportunities it has provided me.

Reflections: Walking the social tightrope in another country

I am one of the net migration of 650 Kiwis a week to the 'lucky country', a move that was once famously described by David Lange as "improving the average IQ of both countries". This is the fifth country I have lived in, so I have a little experience living in other cultures, but this is the first place I have deliberately and explicitly chosen.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love New Zealand, it is where I grew up, and it will always be 'home', but when there are few opportunities in specialised IT roles, large student loan debts, high taxes on upper middle income earners, and the feeling that because you are not a sportsperson, you are unappreciated, well, I think you will find a lot of people like me will leave. And that is before we even start talking about the fundamentally broken healthcare system, the bad weather, and the fact that often the only place you can see a good show/concert/play is Auckland, a monstrosity of a city with no public transport.

Having said, that, though, Australia is not perfect either. Their elected leader has somehow got them involved in a war no-one agrees with, and he has refused to sign the Kyoto protocol because of the breaks given to third world countries. There are major issues with water here, and pretty soon many industries (like rice and dairy) are going to come to a crunch point. And frankly, the sports thing is even worse here than at home.

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Rave: I like doing this charity thing, because I got pancakes

If that was breakfast, I've had it. Staying up all night seemed like a perfectly good reason to break out our pancake mix, which makes beautiful pancakes, and is made in Australia, but which can only be bought in New Zealand. My partner had no problems breaking out the gold dust for me thismorning, and he even made the pancakes. He's given up a day of doing stuff with me for the weekend for this blogathon, so this is my note of appreciation to him.

My waistline is not going to thank me for this, I can just tell.

Rave: I love Hanna Pakarinen, a.k.a YouTube rocks (part 2)

Now, I don't get exposed to a lot of new music here in Aussie, partly because I don't have a car and don't have any other radio either. It doesn't actually matter, because by the time I left New Zealand, I was thoroughly sick of the samey shit the radio was playing anyway; it seems you get a choice of hip-hop or emo whining and that's it.

This has changed my approach to checking out new music, though, and so with Hanna I did what I always do: I went straight to YouTube. There I found a number of covers from the idol show, and her original audition tape (for what it is worth, the Finnish Idol stuff seems less hip-hop heavy and crap than the American stuff, the Kiwi stuff, and the Aussie stuff). That stuff wasn't the real gold, though. The real gold was finding her original work, like Fearless, Stronger Without You, Go Go, and Kiss of Life. There was a lot of other stuff too, most of it softer and slower -- also good, but those are my favourites. From checking all this out, I know I like her, I know she has great stage presence, and I know she writes her own music.

Youtube let me get a glimpse to see that I definitely wanted to invest cash in this artist -- all for nothing but time and keystrokes. Because of that, I am going to follow up with a local music store, who can stock her work because there is demand from people like me who have gone on the internet and found they like Hanna -- often in ways the music companies would idiotically and quite cheerfully shut down.

Hanna is cool. And so is Youtube, for letting me learn enough about her that my next stop is the music store (right after I swing by Dilana's website to tell her to check Hanna out).

Rave: I love Hanna Pakarinen, a.k.a YouTube rocks

Forgive me if this post sounds a little odd. Hanna Pakarinen is Finnish, and that means some my thoughts about her are in Finnish, which sounds a little strange translated.

Hanna Pakarinen, on paper, should be bloody awful. She is the winner of a Finnish Idol contest, and she was an entrant in the Eurovision song contest; these two things do not usually imply talent or credibility on their own, much less together!

Eurovision was shown on TV here, and we watched most of the acts (after Lordi winning last year, I was really curious to see what would be on offer this year). I can only remember four or five acts, and a number of those I remember because they were terrible (notably the English entry). I remember the Bulgarian entry because performance was cool, and the woman in it was hot, but Hanna grabbed me right away.

Her song Leave Me Alone is well in the vein of Finnish not-really-happy pop (I do not know of a single Finnish pop song that is entirely happy -- and when I discussed it with some Finnish workmates, and Finnish family a few years ago). Even better, she sounds uncannily like rockchick and superstar Dilana.

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Rant: Does Australia really say no to violence against women? (part 2)

A second example of how Australia does not say no to violence against women is this study. Basically, it says that in a survey of Australians, many of them including women (let it not be said that this post is a rant against men) believe a guy should get off lighter for raping a woman if she is drunk or provocatively dressed. Some of this attitude is what the ads are trying to address, but nonetheless, the Australian public is not yet saying "no".

A third example is this bloke, who normally inspires me to faith in the Australian male, but who had sex with a prostitute who wasn't really up for it because it is better than being celibate. Now, I am not a prude, and I don't believe that all sex needs to be within the confines of a relationship, but I do believe paying someone who clearly isn't interested for sex muddies the waters of consent considerably. To believe that sex is something you should be able to pay for to me equates rather uncomfortably with disrespect for women as whole beings, and is a form of violence against women -- and here we see it being portrayed as normal bloke stuff.

My final example of how Australia fails to say no to violence against women is the Werribee DVD case. Seven young men sexually assaulted a developmentally delayed young woman, set her hair on fire, and made a DVD of it, which they sold at school. Sounds pretty horrific, and like a court case should be cut and dried, right? Well, they pleaded guilty for sure, but it looks as though they will avoid jail. In a country that says no to violence against women, the perpetrators of this kind of violence are locked up, and the key is thrown away.

While I commend ... whoever it is who wants to change things here (and indeed anywhere in the world), running ads that say "Australia says no" doesn't change things, and in fact can make it harder for women who are victims of violence, because after all "Australia says no". The ads are a good start, but they need to be backed up by AFL player bans, real rape sentences, and a massive attitude shift. Having said that, Australia is doing something, which is more than can be said for many countries.

Rant: Does Australia really say no to violence against women? (part 2)

My first argument against whether Australia says no to violence against women focuses on a national sport, that is particularly popular in Melbourne. So far as I can tell, it is a weird form of rugby played on a round field, but I refuse to have anything further to do with it, because I refuse to support a sport where the players are downright badly behaved. Now I know this isn't a phenomenon restricted to Aussie rules, American footballers in particular are known for their callous attitudes towards women, and NZ rugby has its own scandal. Nonetheless, in the time that I have been here, there have been numerous incidences of AFL players committing violent acts against women and other members of society, and most of them are till on the field. If Australia (or NZ, or the US) really said no to violence against women, these guys would never play again.

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Rant: Does Australia really say no to violence against women?

Recently a series of pretty unrealistic television ads began showing here in Australia. They are shown from the perspectives of both women victims of violence, and 'everyday bloke' perpetrators, who "don't hit [their] girlfriend[s], they just shove them around a bit". The campaign was based on the tagline that "Australia says no to violence against women". Now, to be fair, I don't really think anywhere in the world truly says no to violence against women, except maybe some of the Nordic countries, and even they have issues like wide pay disparities.

Nonetheless, Australia is the country for which I have data, and Australia is the one running the tawdry ads, so Australia is the place I am going to comment on.

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Rave: That's what I like in a student (part 2)

I respect these guys not because they were the best at computing (some of them really weren't), not because they had a passion for my subject (they didn't), and not because they were the best and brightest (though this may well have been true). I respect them because even though my subject pissed them off, they didn't try to cheat, lie or weasel their way out of it; instead they did the work. It's like that line from The Life of David Gale
"Berlin, I will give you an A for the course if you will only...just...study"

These guys did study, and they respected me, and used me well as a teaching resource. If the egos majoring in computing were half as dedicated, respectful, and downright decent as these guys, the IT world would be a better place. I shook one of their hands at the end of the semester; I never got the chance with the others. Guys, you know who you are, and my hat is off to you.

Rave: That's what I like in a student

As some of you may (hah! like anyone is reading this) know, I taught computer science for a long time, as a university tutor. I had a lot of terrible students; students that were rude, foulmouthed, whiny, even one that grabbed my ass. I had a student who complained when they scraped through an assignment to code a compression algorithm with a passing grade; never mind that their program made everything bigger. I had one student discuss her private life with me at length while we were walking past open office doors (and there was nothing she told me that I wanted or needed to know). I was heartbroken by students who were really good, but couldn't be bothered doing the work.

I'm not talking about those students today, though. There were quite a few students I loved, who made me laugh, and who kept my tutorials lively, but I don't want to talk about them either. Today I want to talk about the students I respected, in particular one group of young men I had in my classes in the last semester I taught. They were a group of engineering students, and while there were some slackers, a few of them were wonderful.

These guys were completing a requirement for their degree, and had no real interest in computing at all. In fact, in some cases, programming downright pissed them off. They had the heaviest workloads of any of my first year students, but they showed up to class, treated me with respect, and did the work. One time, when I caught one of them doing something he shouldn't be, I reamed him out for it and expected belligerence in return. Instead, he thanked me for drawing attention to his behaviour. When it came to the final assignment of the course, they were busier than anyone else taking the course, at least as far as their university work. Nonetheless, they worked right up to the last minute, and they did the work themselves, and none of them blew the assignment off.

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Rave: BodyJam makes most women hot (part 2)

I guess the phenomenon is best summed up by a conversation Belinda had with a guy using the sports hall before her class one day, which she later related to me:
" Hey, oh, um, do you have a class starting in here?"
" Hey, yeah, it starts in about ten minutes"
"Oh, okay, cool. What class is it?"
"Body Jam, you can stay for the class if you like"
"Oh man...this room is going to be full of hot girls, right?"
"Yup."
The best thing about it? No-one in that class is being hot for society, her partner, god, or anyone but herself. Thanks, Belinda, for giving me 1:45/week, where I too, am hot.

Rave: BodyJam makes most women hot

The gym I go to runs a Les Mills program, including Body Jam, a dance aerobics class taught by the talented, enthusiastic Belinda. Jam is choreographed by a guy from NZ who I have seen on TV and don't much like, but nonetheless it is a fun routine.

There's something pretty weird about Jam, though, especially at my gym. The Jam class in the area I live in caters predominantly to white middle class women from (at a guess) age 18 up. Most of us (again, at a guess) are youngish professionals, in the 20-30 bracket. Not that any of that is weird, though; what is weird is that twice a week these women come out and hip-hop, latin dance, bollywood it out, house dance, dance like dirty early 90s rock music video girls, and generally shake their booties -- not what you would expect of this group, right?

What's really weird is that, at the beginning of the class, 10-20 normal looking women walk into the room (and so does Belinda, who is way too cool to be merely normal). Once the music turns on, though, you have 10-20 women getting loose, having fun, and enjoying their bodies (there are often also 10-20 gawkers looking in the windows, but as a participant you learn to ignore that fairly quickly). This is not to say that every woman there is completely comfortable with every move, but when a woman is having fun at that class (and yes, where I go the participants are almost invariably women), she looks great even if she isn't doing the right moves. It's because she feels great, and is enjoying her body. At the end of the class 10-20 normal, if slightly sweaty women walk back out of the class again.

continued in next post

Rant: Courtesy in an apartment building

I live in a block of townhouses, which are called row houses in other places. Before I moved here, I also lived in a block of townhouses. Townhouses are wonderful, because you do not have neighbours above you, only to either side. This means there are fewer directions from which noise can come, and therefore one could reasonably expect the environment to be relatively peaceful.

If you expected peace here, however, you would be dead wrong. I am sitting here, at 846 on a Sunday morning, listening to my neighbour's son bounce a soccer ball off their wall. He started at precisely 830 AM, which is presumably when his mother said it was alright to wake us up (doesn't worry me, I've been up all night, but the noise is repetitive and annoying, it's like bloody Chinese water torture). His mother is well aware that we can hear the noise quite clearly, because we have asked for the kid to stop before. She has told us that she will not stop him, that it is only for an hour a day (lies), and that it cannot possibly disturb us (also wrong). There is a yard out the back of the child's house, but that is not acceptable because apparently he cannot keep his soccer ball inside the fence (we have a basketball in our yard which I suspect is his; it has been there for months and nobody has asked for it back). Using the other outside wall of her house is also unacceptable, apparently, because it would mean she could not see her son. She has signed a contract stating that she will not disturb her neighbours, but she seems wildly disinclined to honour that contract.

In a previous townhouse block, there were consistent dramas because people felt the need to park wherever they wanted, instead of in the marked parking spaces, often meaning others could not get their cars in our out. Given that this was in NZ where you are totally dependent on your car to get anywhere, this was not a happy scene. In this same block there were issues with people interfering with the private courtyard garden spaces of others.

Frankly, unless you consider your neighbours, living in a townhouse just doesn't work. That means no loud music late at night, no really noisy sex, no 6am home maintenance with a hammer, and certainly ball sports must be confined to outdoors. You must accept the limit on your parking space, and accept the fact you can see the plant in your neighbour's garden that bothers you. If tolerance and respect of others isn't in your vocabulary, I suggest you get a standalone house, or, better yet, a farm.

Reflections: Is Harry Potter really getting kids to read?

Harry Potter has been touted again and again as the next big thing in getting kids to read, and JK Rowling is certainly not arguing with this. The cracks are beginning to show in the evidence though, as the early readers of Harry Potter get older and haven't the time nor the inclination to read the books. People are even beginning to admit, sacrilege of sacrileges, that they are no longer enjoying the books.

Despite the intense and wide-ranging following the books have, it simply is not reasonable to expect one series of books, often released more than a year apart to really make a difference to children's reading habits, just as it is not really reasonable to expect one bad computer game or TV show to put children off. The biggest reason why Harry Potter isn't going to make a difference to children reading, though, is that each of the books is being made into a movie, and each movie is more feature packed than the last. For most kids, the movie will be enough, I would think, and the book will be irrelevant.

Rant: Just 'cause I am a chick doesn't mean I am not serious about being here and other gym rants

Thanks Brett, for the topic.

I like to go to the gym. Many days I do group fitness, but at least a couple of times a week, I like to go and do weights with my partner. Yes, you heard me, I lift weights. No, I am not trying to tone so much as I am trying to gain muscle mass, if not muscle size.

I go with my partner so we can spot each other, encourage each other, and do technique checks. I also go with my partner, because if I am there with a guy, I get noticeably less aggravation from other gym goers -- fewer 'friendly tips', fewer stares, and definitely fewer people who refuse to treat my workout as though it is a real workout.

My gym is a small gym, and there is not a lot of room to move around. The space to monitor your technique in the mirror is limited (not that technique seems to matter for the vast majority of people using the gym). Recently I was doing front shoulder raises with a 4kg dumbell in each hand, and standing a few feet from my partner; it wasn't clear that I was 'claimed'. One of the guys who uses the gym decided it best to walk in front of me instead ot taking the four extra steps to go around, interrupting my flow. I suppose he thought that since I was a girl, and using a light weight, and he did me the huge honour of saying "excuse me" as he interrupted me.

Well, now I am pissed off and intolerant, so here are the new rules:
  • Do not talk to me unless you have something relevant to say to me, like 'are you finished with those weights'. If you do talk to me, listen to the answer.
  • Do not fuck with my workout. Wait, or go around. If you go through, I will hit you with my weight, even if you say excuse me.
  • Do not sit on the machines and talk to your friends; if you want to talk there are couches in the lobby, or there is the sauna. There is only one of each machine, so chances are, people are waiting to use it.
  • Do not touch my bag, I left it where I wanted to find it. I am sure you have some compelling reason why you need my hook more than I do, but I am afraid telling me that reason would mean telling me something irrelevant.
  • If you sweat on something, wipe it up -- yes, even if it means wasting 30 seconds of precious personal trainer time in an hour's workout.
Speaking of trainers, here are some rules for you, because frankly, members take their courtesy cues from you, and the cues are clearly not good enough.
  • Do not monopolise any machine with your client -- I know you have your favourite exercises, but I would like to use the puley machine before the gym closes.
  • I do not need to hear what exercise your client is going to do next from the other end of the gym. That is their business, and yours, so keep it down.
  • Watch and correct the technique of anyone doing something dangerous, not just ypur client. Safe moves take up less room, and I will be pissed off if I can't use the weights because someone else hurt themselves.
  • Oustide the stretch space is not an appropriate venue for boxing-based cardio training. Go down to the sports hall or out to the poolside.
  • Greetings are not irrelevant.
It sounds as though I hate my gym, or at least the people in it. This simply is not true; despite the fact the gym is small, it has state of the art equipment, and generally speaking is more woman friendly than my old gym. When all you have to bitch about is peple getting in your way in a small gym, you're doing pretty well, really.

Rant: New Zealand gave women the vote, and then did nothing else (part 3)

Not only is birth control expensive in NZ, you have to see a doctor twice a year to get it (for anything other than condoms), and they are expensive too. Tubal ligations are fully funded, but there is a waiting list and they are more dangerous, more invasive, and more permanent than vasectomies (which are not funded, unless there are exceptional circumstances).

On the flip side of the coin, fertility treatment is easier to get if you smoke, if you or your partner has been voluntarily sterilised and changed your mind, or if you prefer not to have sex with a man. A couple that has no specific, diagnosed infertility has to wait five years before they can get help, making pregnancy and birth riskier, and the parents five years older.

So, in New Zealand, abortion is actually cheaper to acquire than any other form of birth control. There is no safe, reliable birth control for any woman who eventually wants children, but has anything wrong with her intestines at all (or indeed for teenagers who routinely drink too much, shag someone random, and throw up their pill). On the other hand if you want to get pregnant, you should make some poor choices there, too.

Frankly, I agree with the handwringing politicians, that New Zealand does need a unified approach to reproduction, including a review of the old laws, but since these things cost money (and NZ doesn't like to spend money on women's health), and they might get the government voted out, I'm not holding my breath.

Rant: New Zealand gave women the vote, and then did nothing else (part 2)

My rant on reproductive choice in New Zealand was spawned by an article I read on the state of NZ's abortion laws. Under the law, New Zealand women are not supposed to have abortion-on-demand, even in the very early stages of pregnancy, and so most women who get an abortion in New Zealand most women who have an abortion do so because to have the baby would 'severely adversely affect their mental health', which is patently bollocks. This law also means women have to jump through a number of hoops to get an abortion. The article quotes male experts acknowledging that the law doesn't work, but notes that the government doesn't want to touch abortion law because it pisses people off. This is a law that has not been reviewed since 1977.

New Zealand has a high abortion rate, and a high teen pregnancy rate, and the lawmakers in that article are wringing their hands and claiming that to really solve the abortion problem, we need a unified reproductive strategy. Having been a victim of NZ's present reproductive strategy (I was offered an IUD as my "best option" despite never having had children, wanting them, having a bleeding tendency and having an autoimmune disorder), this made me fume: In New Zealand, birth control options are the pill, the mini-pill, depo-provera (which is seen as being unsafe in many countries) condoms, copper IUD, hormonal IUD (if you pay yourself), and sterilisation. Even if you pay yourself, you cannot get the patch, the implant, the nuvaring, or any of the lower-estrogen pills, and if the pill that works best for you is not one of the ones the government thinks is okay you are going to pay a fortune for it.

continued in the next post

Rant: New Zealand gave women the vote, and then did nothing else

New Zealand, despite being the first country in the world to give women the vote, has a really crap record when it comes to womens issues. Some of the lowlights include:
  • Well after the Helsinki convention was signed, doctors were performing cervical cancer experiments on women and girls without their knowledge or consent.
  • In a completely separate incident, readings of screenings were botched for years in one region of NZ -- as a result of this NZ women now do not have adequate privacy protection for their smears or their medical records, as they are all part of a research programme to improve cervical screening.
  • Despite NZ's purported interest in preventing cervical cancer, anyone who wants the vaccine there has to pay for it themselves.
  • Herceptin, a breast cancer drug, inadequately funded in NZ
  • Haemophilia patients (mostly male) have access to a wide range of treatments and uncapped funding, while rheumatoid arthritis (mostly female) patients have only recently gained access to world class care under strict funding guidelines.
This list has focused on health issues because this discussion is going to be about one of the biggest health issues for women: reproductive choice.

continued in next post

Rave: The miralce of the internet, a.k.a. my friends in the black box (part 2)

Like offline friendships, my online friends and I support each other in bad times, and celebrate in the good times (because of time zones, one of my online friends was the first to know I was engaged). We also support each others' endeavours in whatever we do; much of the sponsorship and some of the topics for my blogathon have come from people I have never met in person (and, because someone is awake somewhere at all times, this is one of the many times my online friends will help me get through the night-- it's just the reason is much better this time).

Friendships where the parties have never met is not new, or restricted to the internet. When I was a kid it was the done thing to have a pen-pal in some far flung country that you hoped to travel and meet one day. What is new about the internet is the ability to seek out a community of like-minded people and meet a lot of them at once, incurring few or no expenses; this lower barrier to entry means that more people are able to try it.

That's all very dry and clinical, though. My online friendships have meant more to me than the sum of their parts, though; and because I know some of those people are reading tonight, I will try and explain why. I'm a bit lot of a hardass in person; I come across brash and brusque, and I try never, ever to talk about my feelings. I don't expect people to like me, and that's fine by me. If they do like me, then they know what to expect. Except, that's all bullshit. it's convincing bullshit, but it is bullshit nonetheless. Forgive me for the navel-gazing here, but having friends online, where it is easier to think before you speak, and where it is possible to take time out before you make a response has meant I have been able to try out the part of my personality that is not bullshit. And by seeing people like and respect that personality, for the most part, it comes out in everyday life more often. Do you know how much easier life is when you aren't constantly bullshitting?

Because my friends are kind and respectful, because they have hearts of gold and have accepted me, because I feel supported by them, my life has gotten easier. And that sort of story is the real miracle of friends on the internet.

Rave: The miralce of the internet, a.k.a. my friends in the black box

Thanks, Carole, for the topic and the title

A long time ago I wrote a post about how the internet is cool, because it is the mother of random creativity.

There is another reason why the internet is cool: because it can facilitate friendships. There are two ways that this plays out -- existing friendships, and new friendships.

The internet facilitiates existing friendships by allowing lighter and lighter weight communication. The teens of today are using email very little, and instead prefer their social networks. Email is lighter weight paper letters (or telephone), and IM is lighter weight than email. All of this means it is easier to keep in touch with people you have met off-line.

Using the internet that way isn't what this post is about, though. This post is about meeting wonderful people online, and becoming friends with them there. There has been a lot written about the negative aspects of meeting people online -- the marriage break-ups, the stalkers, that sort of thing -- but hardly anything about good experiences of meeting people online.

I personally have made a number of friends online, on a shared-interest community. I was lucky to find a place where genuine people congregate, and I have made a lot of friends there. These people are kind and caring; I rely on them for support and I enjoy interacting with them on an almost daily basis. Most of them I have never met in person, though when I have had the opportunity I have gone out of my way to do so.

continues in the next post

Reflections: Male birth control (part 3)

So why hasn't there been a push for male birth control sooner? I am going to be cynical and say I think it is because unintended pregnancy hasn't hurt men enough to be bothered until now, and that society doesn't care about the side effects birth control have in women, because they should count themselves lucky to have a choice. This has changed, though, and the push is on.

Currently, men have two birth control options: Vasectomy, and condoms. One of these is a little too reliable, and one of them isn't reliable enough. There are no really good options for men who do want children, but not right now (and men who want vasectomies so they never have children are struggling to get them). Drug companies claim they are close to having a birth control pill for men, but realistically this is probably still a good five years off by the time FDA testing and all that crap has been done. Even then, I think men are probably less likely to remember to take a pill, and men are already bitching about side effects they might get having seen what happens to women. What I can't understand is why hormones are the option being most closely investigated. It seems to me that the best option would be a reversible method of blocking the vas deferens, but then I guess no-one can make enough money off that.

Whatever the end result is, now that men actually want reversible, reliable birth control, I think we can expect to see it, and has got to be a good thing for everyone.

Reflections: Male birth control (part 2)

Increasingly, men are complaining that they are made to pay child support for their offspring when they did not choose the pregnancy, and suggesting alternatives ways of making the situation right. Many of these ways involve men opting out of parenthood in some legal manner, but like the Violent Acres' post, many are also talking about birth control.

Finally, after years of women having not just the control but also the responsibility for reproductive choices the financial impact of unplanned children is starting to make men (and mens' advocates) push for male birth control. In my opinion, a legal opt-out is a cop-out to maintain mens' privileged position of being able to have sex without consequences. Male birth control, though, is a step forward; it means men finally sharing the responsibility for family planning, including the cost, the side effects, the stress, and the bullshit with doctors and pharmacists.

to be continued in the next post

Reflections: Male birth control

Not too long ago I read an interesting blog post about male birth control, saying that since they were financially responsible for any issue of theirs, they needed their own methods of birth control so that if the woman had an 'oops', either deliberately or accidentally, they were still covered. The tone of the post makes it read like it is written by a bitter man who got stung, but if the writer is not a dog, then in fact she is a she, and a stepparent to two children.

Her post really made me think. I don't think it is just that women get all the choices about the outcome of an accidental pregnancy, but (before I get jumped on) I do think it is fair, because the woman's body and the woman's life are much more affected by their choices than men's are. There can be no just solution to this while women do the childbearing, or while men can force women to have sex with them, both of which will be the case for the forseeable future. Having said that, it is entirely appropriate that men bear half the financial responsibility for a pregnancy, because by choosing to have sex, you accept the risk that pregnancy may result, whether you are male or female (and hell, if you really object, just be a deadbeat dad--it's very popular, though to be fair some weird shit happens with child support in the US).

to be continued in the next post

Rant: Just because they are quirky doesn't make them good

You know, I am really sick of all the poxy little gits who launch themselves on the internet, sing in funny accents, and then are lapped up by the public because they are 'quirky'.

Sandi Thom
(debatably) launched herself on the internet, and went international with an interesting, fresh song that got a lot of airplay, and which I like very much. However, her next song was pretty boring, and she hasn't crossed my event horizon since. Having said that, I am glad she made it, because that one song was worth it; so the criticisms made here are not levelled at her.

Sandi Thom isn't really crap, though. Really crap are the Arctic Monkeys, who (so far as I can tell) are only famous for launching themselves on the internet. Their music is samey, and was never that interesting in the first place.

Even more crap are The Kooks, who, while they didn't launch themselves on the internet seem to have won international fame for singing boring songs in a cockney accent. As far as I am concerned singing in an accent hasn't made anyone cool since the Proclaimers, and they only pulled it off because they could actually perform a couple of decent songs reasonably well.

My pet peeve, among this group of accent-laden internet superstars, though, is Lily Allen. She can't sing, people! Her voice is even worse than Bob Dylan, Billy Corgan, and nails down a chalkboard put together. Her songs are repetitive and boring, and to me her accent sounds decidedly fake. And yet somehow she made it into the Triple J top 100 five friggin' times, despite being the worst kind of trashy pop.

These people might be marginally quirky if they weren't all the same, but they aren't interesting enough to be worthwhile.

Reflections: You see all kinds on the transport

Where I live and work in Melbourne, I am fortunate to have excellent access to public transport. Not only is it close, and relatively convenient, but it is also cheap in comparison to owning a car in Australia.

Having said that, I have continued my weirdo magnet tendencies here in Australia, except instead of attracting the oddest of students (I am going to touch on that) in a later post, I attract the oddest of transport users. Some have been relatively harmless, like the guy who cleaned his toes with rubbing alcohol (they stunk to high heaven, you will note I said relatively harmless) and the girl who smiled at me and then insisted on doing things with her hair with stuff from an enormous bag for the rest of the trip -- all over me. There was one guy who may have been harmful had I stuck around to find out; he was chewing his tongue and staring at me, and he broke the cardinal rule of transport as we were getting off at the same stop (not coincidentally, I don't think) -- unless forced by space, thou shalt not touch thy fellow travellers. I hightailed it out of there, and washed my hands vigorously before touching anything.

Then there are the amusing types, like the cheerful drunk who ran a poll on what 'direct' meant in relation to train lines and couldn't believe I hand found the big word in his word puzzle within seconds of looking at it (I am well trained, I have been doing those things since I was a kid, and the word was 'occurrence').

The most interesting case, though, must have had his poles slightly mixed, because he missed me and accosted my friend. He said he had "Just had a revelation, and it felt amazing, and could he tell [my friend] about it" (I have to confess that I was tempted to tell the guy to sleep it off and he would feel better in the morning, but I didn't have the heart to break him). Despite my friend suggesting politely that he find someone else to tell, this gentleman told my friend that:

"He had finally fucking found Jesus as his fucking lord and saviour, and that he now knew he needed to be a fucking good bloke, and not be a prick to everyone or treat them like shit, and not be a mean c**t [yes, there are words even I won't use], and just fucking love his fellow man".

Yup. That was an interesting night. Fortunately this one happened as we got off the train, and the guy turned the other way to what we did, or I might have burst from trying not to laugh.

So, sometimes you get freaks, sometimes you get rude people, and sometimes you get the religious. While I am glad to have the use of a friend's car for the next few weeks (though it will only be used when the transport it not super convenient), riding the transport is always more interesting than sitting in a traffic jam!

Rant/Rave: Michael Vick is an asshole, but he is (almost) getting what he deserves (part 2)

Now, admittedly Vick hasn't been proven guilty of the charges, and that is probably why he has not been dropped from the NFL altogether, but my understanding of the case is that it is fairly clear cut; it is not that he might have been involved, it is that he was involved. All arguments about slipperly slopes and innocent until proven guilty aside, this guy deserves the treatment he is getting.

I am sure his Nike sponsorship deal says something about being a role model and not bringing the brand into disrepute, and Nike have printed t-shirts with Vick's face and the word 'Hero' on them (prior to this incident) implying they expect Vick to be a hero. Nike themselves have said they do not condone animal cruelty (whether that is actually true is a whole other issue), meaning they do not consider dogfighting heroic, or a good role model. By involving himself in dogfighting, I would contend that Vick must have known he was taking risks with his career by engaging in this behaviour, and he did it anyway.

Now, I hope that Vick is going to be locked up for a long damn time for what he has done (and I hope that other asshole doesn't get to plea his way out of jail time), but I also think that what is happening to Vick now is something important. It seems to me anyone who would do something like this to an animal must have some status issues, and by stripping Vick of status, the punishment is fitting the crime.

As to the nutters who want to make this a race issue, or to dither about whether dogfighting is worse than rape (frankly, given that animal abusers are often people abusers, we shouldn't be splitting hairs, and I personally believe that animal cruelty is just as bad as rape), they need to stop framing this in terms of their favourite political issues, and think about what happened here: This guy did awful things to any number of animals, for which he should rot in jail at a minimum, and hell at best.

Rant/Rave: Michael Vick is an asshole, but he is (almost) getting what he deserves

Since this blogathon is for the SPCA, I thought I should comment on the Michael Vick case. Michael Vick is involved in dogfighting, which is a horribly cruel 'sport', and apparently he was a particularly cruel specimen. Michael Vick also used to be a footballer with an NFL contract, and Nike and Reebok sponsorship. All three have dropped or sidelined him as a result of his accusations, and public pressure (I was part of a letter writing campaign to get him dropped from both Nike and the NFL).

crap, link surfing takes a while...this will continue in the next post.

Rant: Hone Harawira is a racist bastard (part 3)

In the end, though, the thing that is really wrong with this is that Harawira has not suggested an alternative. The children that are being abused are not being removed from their homes, as they would in other Australian families, because of the 'stolen generation' policy. The situation for aboriginal women and children is bad, and getting worse. While Howard's plan has some major flaws (in my ill-educated view abolishing the permit system and making this a land issue is one of them), it is also clearly and firmly saying that the abuse has got to stop. It is putting sensible steps in place to make sure aboriginal children are at a minimum fed, clothed, and not exposed to alcohol and pornography (personally, I think that a portion of the money that all welfare recipients receive should have to be spent on food, clothing and/or healthcare, so just call me a bitch), and it is doing it in a way that does not involve creating another stolen generation.

My embarrassment and irritation does not end with Harawira, however, in the end he is a publicity-grabbing fool and nothing more. The New Zealand press, however, had some coverage that was as cheap as an underarm bowl, for example pairing these two images (NZ Herald):
Hone and JohnNice to see they could find good press shots of each of them. And then there was this crap, which by dragging everything else into the picture, and glossing over the fact that Harawira is an MP completely misses the point: It is not okay make personal attacks in politics, and something has to give for aboriginal women and children (To be fair, there was also some very good opinion coverage; see for example: here, here, and here).

In the end, though, let's face it: Hone Harawira was elected in an electorate whose only constituents are those of a certain race. Now just who is a racist?

Rant: Hone Harawira is a racist bastard (part 2)

Not only was Harawira's attack ad hominem, it was also factually wrong (contrary to Harawira's claim it hat not been ten years since the report was released, the inquiry was only started last year).

Howard gave Harawira's comments all the attention they deserved (precisely none) at least in the press, and members of Harawira's party (and indeed his family) called for him to resign. Not only has Harawira not resigned, he has refused to apologise to anyone but his political party for his comments.

sorry this one is short, was doing some fact checking and couldn't write much; continues in next post

Rant: Hone Harawira is a racist bastard (part.1)

Recently, the prime minister of Australia announced some pretty drastic measures to try and reduce violence against women and children in aboriginal communities in Australia. I have opinions about these measures, not all of them favourable (but not all unfavourable either), but this post isn't about my opinion, it's about the opinion of an MP in NZ.

Hone Harawira came out and called John Howard a "racist bastard" the day after the policy was released, claiming:

"If I was an Aboriginal man in the Northern Territory I would feel like absolute shit right now, I would have the leader of my country saying I am an alcoholic, I am into pornography, I am into sexual abuse. All I would want to do is go out and smash someone"


Now, this may provide us some insight into the domestic violence statistics among Maori, but for a New Zealander living here in Australia this kind of commentary coming from a NZ politician and being reported as far away as India is fucking embarrassing. Political commentary is one thing, and Harawira would have been well within his rights to malign the policy as racist, but an ad hominem attack that is not even provably true just isn't okay in any civilised discourse, much less international politics

continues in next post

Retrospective rave: And the winner is... me: A note to INXS




People get engaged in all kinds of situations; many of them go away somewhere, some have a nice dinner, some get their engagement ring with another gift (famously, my uncle was too shy to actually ask my aunt, so he gave her a tiger soft toy with a ring on his tail).

Not me. I got engaged at a rock concert, which though it might sound a little unusual, was absolutely perfect. INXS were the background music to my proposal (with
Afterglow), and they will be the background music to the signing of the register (which is of course, the legal part of getting married).

My fiance is my partner in crime, the person who makes me laugh the most, my best friend, the stability in my life and (as you can see below) my cat's favourite person in the world. He knows me so well he chose the time I had mentally picked out to propose to me, and we have been together through illness, surgery, financial difficulty, buying a house and an international move, and nonetheless we want each other more than anything else in the world (except maybe the cat). I am truly a winner, and without the history of INXS in our relationship, that winning would not be quite so sweet.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Rave: Why my Blogathon is all about Satchmo

Satchmo is my domestic employer, because as anyone who has a cat will know, cats have staff, not owners. Satchmo came to me after two previous owners in a house I lived in back in NZ, and I didn't know him as a kitten. I do know, though, from his previous owner (who ironically also now lives in Australia, though there was no way she could have taken Satchmo with her to the states) that he did a brief stint in the SPCA when he was a baby, and then was adopted into a good home, neutered and health checked.

Without the SPCA, my former flatmates would have had nowhere to take Satchmo that he even had a chance at life, and many other animals would have worse lives and deaths; they are a good organisation.

I'm blogging for the SPCA for selfish reasons, though -- without them I probably would not have Satchmo in my life, and he is a blessing. I'm not really his favourite, even though I do none of the fleaing and worming; and give most of the cuddles, Satchmo is all about my partner:

Nonetheless, he is very much a part of my life. He talks to me, and walks on my chest in the morning to wake me up, he sits with me when I am sad, he entertains my guests (which is a damn good thing, because he is a better host than I am). Hell, he entertains me a lot of the time, which is also a good thing because otherwise I might have gone mad living in the city where I lived in NZ for the past 10 years. And I wouldn't have him if it weren't for the SPCA, most likely. For all the good things Satchmo has brought to my life, the next 24 hours are the least I can give up to help other animals like him, so (despite the fact he would prefer to be thanked with tuna, and lots of it) I am dedicating my blogathon to Satchmo.

Heads up: I'm doing the blogathon

In the next 24 hours I am going to make 48 posts to this blog, because I am doing the blogathon to raise money for the Australian SPCA. I am going to try to keep to the usual topical, mostly grammatical though typo-laden writing I normally provide you (my non-existent reader) with, but some rants/raves/reflections will be spread over multiple posts (because most of the posts on here take about 90 minutes to write, and I have to post every 30), and some of it is likely to be gibberish, because I am going to be up for 36-odd hours straight, with no exercise and too much caffeine.

Oh, just thought I better say hi to my monitor, too. She's going to be hanging out here intermittently for the next 24 hours. Hi CJ! Thanks for helping me raise this money!

Bear with me. This is for a good cause, and I will tidy up the blog afterwards (merging posts on a single topic, getting rid of gibberish, that sort of thing).

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Rant: Sony are sickos who have lost my custom

In an earlier post I commended Sony (against my better judgement) for creating video games that girls might like to play. I take it all back. Sony have done a bunch of things that have really pissed me off, including rootkits, non-redbook CDs that actually broke some Apple computers, and supporting the notoriously misogynist Grand Theft Auto by releasing it on the Playstation platform. I am also of the firm opinion (and experience) that most of their hardware, far from being the reliable gear it used to be, is crap, these days.

None of that, though, was enough to make me boycott their stuff. You would think it would be, but no, my love of their Singstar and Buzz series has outweighed my disgust with their general business practices, until now. After using a dead goat as a prop at a party (and making it look like the goat had been recently slaughtered), and then, for fuck's sake, publishing the pictures in their magazine, Sony has lost my business.

Now, Sony are claiming that the goat was already slaughtered by a butcher, and that the "still warm intestines" they invited guests to eat were actually offal. I, frankly, don't think either thing makes their behaviour okay; they glorified the torture of an animal (even though it may not really have been tortured) not just at the party, but to their magazine subscribers worldwide, and for what? To sell a few computer games? Some commenters suggest that if one eats meat, one has no right to complain about this use of the goat; I disagree. Consumption, as a use of a dead animal is wildly different from a Japanese corporation (though run by a Welsh man) using a dead goat as a sales prop -- meat does not glorify cruelty, and is, for some, a necessity of life.

The goat is the really horrific point in this story, but I also feel the need to point out that Sony also had topless women at this party, serving drinks, presumably to increase the "orgiastic" atmosphere. While I am no prude, this seems a particularly exploitative use of women's bodies; selling computer games. I also find it bizarre that the newspaper that broke the story pixelled out the head of the goat, but left a young lady's bare breasts and face on display; the goat was dead and could suffer no further indignity (and the full horror of what Sony did should really be made clear), but the young lady is alive and still subject to exploitation.

While no doubt this revolting stunt by Sony has created a wave of publicity that may even sell more games, they have also overstepped this time. I will be boycotting them, I will be encouraging my friends and workmates to boycott them, and comment on the web suggests many others will boycott them too. If I were in Sony's shoes, I would be making a very hefty donation to humane societies and women's shelters about now, and I would watch my commercial step for many years to come.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Rave: I love Melbourne

As some of you might know (hah, like anyone is reading this anyway) I recently moved to Melbourne. Now, I was kind of worried, because everyone I talked to (apart from Martin, who is living here and can't have the kind of life he can have at home) told me I was going to love Melbourne, and always exactly like that, with the emphasis on the word love. Normally when something is talked up up to me like that, I find whatever it is a disappointment.

Well, today I realised how much I really, truly love this adopted city of mine. I walked out the door, and it was foggy, and I thought "oh hey, it's foggy. Cool!". Those of you who lived with me before, or indeed know anything about my previous home city will know that it is notorious for fog. Anyone who lived there with me will know that my reaction to the fog was anything but "Cool!". It's true. I love Melbourne so much, I even love the fog.

Loving Melbourne as much as I do has made me realise that I never really settled in to my previous home. I loved the people there, and I was in many ways loath to leave, but I was always disenchanted with the city itself. It was muddy in the winter, and humid in the summer. The winter fog often did not lift. The terminal rain in winter really slayed me. I lived in that town for ten years, and it was never really home -- there was no loyalty, and no love lost.

I've been in Melbourne six months. It really shouldn't be that different to where I was before. In some ways, relying on public transport, and living in rented accommodation, and having fewer friends, I should find it more difficult here. There are no mountains here. And yet... I love Melbourne, even on foggy days. Here there are concerts, and art galleries showing things that interest me, and local artist markets and loads of good cafes within walking distance of where I work and live and there is public transport, and it doesn't rain for days on end. Here I saw a band that I thought were cool back when I first heard their song while I was living at home, and who I never thought I would see (Eskimo Joe), and they were awesome. Here I saw a band I fell in love with on TV (INXS), again, and they were awesome, again, and I will never forget the concert (but that is a whole other story). Here I saw the guy from Black Books -- and if it weren't for my workmate I wouldn't even have known he was coming. Here, if I had a radio, I would hear Placebo played (and with a station like Triple J, we must do something about a radio). I will always associate Livin' by the Day by Dilana with getting used to here, and it is one of my favourite songs.

None of that would make a difference, though when my many of my friends and none of my family are here, if it weren't for one thing: Melbourne was a choice -- and a good one at that.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Rant: David Bain: A life (needlessly) lost

Unlike the rest of New Zealand, and maybe because I am not there, I don't believe I know for sure that David Bain did or did not murder some or all of his family on June 22 1994. I have heard all sorts of theories, from "he did the lot, and might just off Joe Karam while he's at it" through "his Dad shot the family, but he shot his Dad" right up to "he is inncoent and his Dad did it" and the conspiracy theory "they burned the house down, and someone important did it and wants this to go away". I'm pretty certain the guy is innocent (in no small part because you would have to be one scary, talented individual to protest your innocence for 13 years if you did it), but only he (and depending on what you believe, his dead family and God, oh, and maybe the conspiracy theorist's murderer and police) really know.

The justice of the matter is, though (since the truth, for once, is irrelevant) it that it really, truly does not matter whether he did it or not. There is no way that based on the evidence he should have been convicted of all five murders (or even one of them), and thus he has spent nearly thirteen years in jail unjustifiably (well, maybe fewer than thirteen, but at least since the first appellate court rejected his appeal). I, like the privy council, do not blame the judge or the jury at the trial, they had a shit of a job, and I am sure under the circumstances they did the best they could. The same cannot be said for the police, I don't think, and it certainly cannot be said for the court of appeals, who appear to have taken the path of least resistance at every possible opportunity. Woe for NZ that we no longer have any international courts above our own internecine, incestuous little judicial affairs.

Now there is all the scrap about whether he should be re-tried (the privy council said yes, but that it was up to the local courts to decide what would be in the best interests of the public), or indeed whether he can have a fair trial (a decision on this is expected to be made later this month). There is also the question of compensation, for which apparently present laws state he would have to prove his innocence.

In all the hue and cry, however, we seem to have forgotten that it is not just David's family who wrongfully had their lives cut short, it is David as well. This is a man who spent 13 years, from his early 20s to his mid 30s, in jail (not known for it's pleasant environment) in jail for a crime he should never have been convicted of. He's never held a job, owned a cellphone, had a long term relationship, had the chance to have a family, surfed the web because he felt like it, had the chance to vote on a reality TV show--the list goes on. He has been locked up not just through his own early adulthood, but also through a time of great change in the world. While he was in jail, he went from an adolescent looking young man, to a man who is suddenly middle aged.

Young David Bain

David Bain in 2007

To be fair to David, he learned a marketable trade in jail, and seems to remarkably well adjusted. He has job offers (which is a good thing, given he hasn't a cent to his name, being wrongfully convicted of this has even taken his inheritance), and he is learning to cook. He has a supporter in Joe Karam, and many others as well.

Just because he is taking it well, though, does not excuse us from knowing our criminal justice system has made him into a not-guilty 34 year old man who feels "It is nice to have different drinks and hamburgers and things to choose from". Our justice system, with no right, not only took this man's life, but kept it long after the court of appeals had seen evidence that should have released him.

Should he be retried? Probably not. Should he be compensated? Absolutely. Even if he did do it, he should not have been in jail for a good chunk of the time he has. The government, the justice system, and we as electors and jurors owe him more than we can ever repay for those years. What is the most scary thing about this case? That it is likely not the only one, and jail does Bad Things to people, often. Something is very wrong, here, and I don;t know how to fix it.

David, you have my apologies for not finding out how to support you. You have my apologies that our justice system was prepared to leave you in jail to cover it's own ass. Most of all, though, you have my apologies that you needlessly lost not just your family, but your own life.

Update, 21 June 2007: Apparently the NZ judicial system has not had a big enough piece of David Bain yet. The decision to retry him was reached today, and so we are going to waste yet more of his life (though how they are going to get a jury that will even consider convicting, I would love to know).

Monday, April 23, 2007

Reflections: Social misfits and the golden rule

You know the golden rule -- treat others as you would have them treat you. Well, you know, I abide by it, but it doesn't work, because I am a social misfit. So the rule should really be "treat others as you would have them treat you, until they ask you otherwise".

I learned recently that because of my social misfitship, I have been pissing a friend of mine off unwittingly. Said friend sent me an email saying that my behaviour was insensitive to them, inconsiderate to their significant other, and left a sour taste. Moreover he pointed out (which of course, being a social misfit, I didn't recognise) that my behaviour was also unusual. Of course, being a social misfit, but not unkind, I was upset and horrified to have been upsetting said friend. I was glad the issue was addressed in email, because it gave me time to react without the reaction being witnessed; I don't deal well when my emotions are on display. I wrote back saying I had not realised my behaviour was upsetting, and I would, of course, cease and desist. There was another brief email exchange where the friend said thanks, and I explained that my intent had not been malicious, and that had things been the other way around the behaviour would not have bothered me, because my view of things was different (and that I hadn't realised how unusual it was until it was pointed out to me). At that point said friend responded that I was not a social misfit, just different.

See, the thing is, it's too late. I have been reminded once again that I am a social misfit, in an angry tone, and in words that made me out to be the whole problem (as opposed to perhaps "I am uncomfortable when" instead of "you are insensitive and inconsiderate"). I'm feeling bad about all the incidences of the behaviour that have gone before. I don't want to see the friend anymore because I am scared I will slip. And I am hurt, because it was made all about how bad my behaviour was. And I am upset, because often, when I ask to be treated differently, my requests are regarded as unreasonable.

The upshot of all this? I'm hurting, the friend has everything they could hope for out of the situation, and I am probably an idiot for rolling again. And the golden rule, it only works when your friends are very like you. If you have friends who are social misfits, be kind to them when you ask that they change their behaviour. After all, they are your friends, and they are, like me, probably not being deliberately malicious.