Apr 29, 2012

Sex, Politics and Religion

I'm going off topic. We'll resume the usual programming about parenting and working and nervous breakdowns shortly. Meantime, what are your top "versus" topics?

Here are three of mine:

1. Religion vs Atheism

Religion provides valuable cultural and psychological benefits. If it didn't, it wouldn't exist.
Yes, it is associated with much repression and misery within cultures. But that's not the religion per se doing that, it is the way it is used by the powerful. Similarly, religion is a pretext for wars, not a cause.

I have no actual problem with religion.

I send my kids to RE at school (with some guilt and misgivings - but I still think I'm doing the right thing). I am helping them get the experiences and the tools to help them grow in their culture, understand human knowledge and experience, AND question beliefs. We discuss Jesus and God and Heaven sometimes, and where it is appropriate, I am starting to let them know, gradually, that these are not fixed, settled realities. More will follow as they get older.

It might be my 200-years-ago anthropology degree speaking here, but I really believe what works for kids is integrating them into the culture they live in. Give them the belonging and the frameworks and the community. Sow some seeds to allow questioning and rebellion, but let them go either way.

I am, however, a HUGE fan of Richard Dawkins. Some find him smug or snobbish, but what he really is is just relentlessly logical. The God Delusion was a strong, minty breath of fresh air. Remember, Dawkins made atheism okay. That's huge.

[Oh - and while I'm on The God Delusion - for an example of how religious and atheists can discuss these things in a respectful, open-minded way, see this blog: http://isitadelusion.blogspot.com.au/ ]

2. Left vs Right

Photo by bitterlysweet via Flickr CC
I've always been left-leaning myself. My dad and grandfather used to call me "the Communist" when I was a kid, which, all respect to them, is not saying a whole lot. Or I thought it wasn't, until the day my rabidly, cringe-inducingly Far Right grandfather told us he had been a member of the Communist Party when he was young. The shock and merriment this news produced in our family is hard to overstate. Pop explained it with his variant on the Winston Churchill quote : "If you're not a Communist at 19, you have no soul. If you're still a Communist at 29, you have no brain."

I love that quote because it says a lot about my grandfather, and also it's just funny and true in the way it depicts youthful righteousness slowly morphing to centrist pragmatism with age and experience.

Now there are many things on the right that I dislike. But I have to say the one thing I most dislike on the left is smugness. I hate that whole thing the left tends to congratulates itself with, that being left makes you a kinder, better person.

It's true there are horrendously cruel and uncaring philosophies on the right. The callousness and lack of charity on the American right never fail to take my breath away. There are close-minded, unthinking people who refuse to credit anything outside their own skill or persistence in their success or affluence. So yes, that's true.

But many on the left are not open minded either. They think they are, but they aren't. Open minded doesn't mean adopting every liberal stance going and knee-jerking snarky abuse at other options. Open minded is not rejecting every public utterance of someone because of where they sit politically. Even if they happen to be (gasp!) Tony Abbott or Andrew Bolt.
                But, but... those guys are close-minded!
                               So what?  Be better.  Be open minded.

In Australia up to half the population votes Liberal. Hey, I voted for them once! (I call myself a swinging voter, but I don't actually "swing" so much as consider swinging, most elections).

To dismiss half the population as stupid and greedy is insulting, but more than that - and I think this annoys me more - it is illogical. It is ridiculous to imply that such a large proportion of the population is bad.

There are unthinking, close-minded voters on both sides.  There are people who vote from their hip pocket on both sides. (As Lee Iacocca said in his autobiography, "When we were poor we voted Democrat; when we were rich we voted Republican.")
And there are thinking, caring people voting out of belief for what's best for the country, voting from all sides.

*Winston Churchill quote:  “If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain.”

3. Marriage Equality vs "Marriage is Between a Man and a Woman".

Well, marriage equality, absolutely. FFS, if nothing else, it's time. I feel the tipping point on this was reached a couple of years ago. So what are the objections?

"Marriage is between a man and a woman." 
C'mon. That language was drafted in the ancient past when homosexuality was unknown to many and taboo to everyone else. We're not in that place anymore.

"It disrespects marriage." 
We have been doing that for ages without help from gay folk. Unhappy marriages, forced marriages, marriages of convenience, marriage for money, political marriages, separations, the divorce rate, people who marry four times... Please.

"What's wrong with a civil union that confers the same legal benefits?" 
Well, I don't know. Let's see: Did you choose a civil union, or marriage?
People want what people want. There is no "real" reason for marriage as such, but people continue to want it. Everyone should have the same access to it.

Photo: Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures 

Your turn!
What are your top "versus" topics?

Apr 28, 2012

Fiction Fridays (Saturday Edition): In A People House

I meant to post this Friday. I started it on Friday. I thought about it on Friday afternoon, and I intended to finish it Friday night.
But then Friday evening my daughter A. had a meltdown of gargantuan, exhausting proportions, and as soon as I got the kids to bed I flopped straight into bed and straight to sleep myself. (She's fine now, thank you).

So anyway....

In A People House
By Theo LeSieg
Illustrated by Roy McKie
Random House, 1972

"Come inside, Mr. Bird,"
said the mouse.
"I'll show you what there is
in a People House..."

Dr Seuss wrote as Theo LeSieg on books illustrated by others, and when I think back as a kid I probably liked the Theo LeSieg books best. Dr Seuss was a genius, but his illustrations could be a little creepy.

Re-reading Theo LeSieg books now what I like about them are the really simple illustrations - few of which, I think, would pass muster in a new book today.

Story synopsis:
The mouse takes Mr Bird through a typical middle-class house in 1970s America, and shows him all the things there are:

A People House has things like chairs, 
things like roller skates and stairs.
Banana, bathtub, bottles, brooms,
that's what you find in people's rooms.

As they go through the house the pictures show them using or playing with the things they find, making more and more of a mess and having more and more fun, until a pile of "doll and dishes, teapot, trash" being balanced by the mouse comes crashing down, bringing forth the people who live in the house to toss the animals outside.

Why it's good:
It's a fun book to read because the rhythm is so good, and in usual Seuss/LeSieg style it's funny too. The use of household objects means that kids can talk about which things we have at home ("big blue ball") and which we don't (piano, stairs). The pictures also tell a huge part of the story. As the animals go through the rooms, it's the illustrations that tell the story of the fun and the mess. And the story is from the animals' (i.e., little kids) point of view, in that the people (i.e., parents) are not shown except as disciplinarians at the end (and you don't see them in full). You know how much mess a small wild animal can make if it gets in your house - this story is cute because it imagines that happening because the animals are curious and having fun looking around.

And of course, what kid can't relate to being curious about objects, playing with stuff they're not supposed to, making a sudden mess and being shunted out of a room by giant grown-ups?

If you would like to play Fiction Fridays, click on the badge below to see how:


Or check out the Pinterest board set up by Child-Led Chaoshttp://pinterest.com/childledchaos/fiction-fridays/

Apr 23, 2012

Top 5 Wishes For My Children

This post is linking up with Kate Takes Five: Listography. These are so much fun!

Disney Clip Art

What "inner gifts" would you bestow on your child, if you had fairy godmother powers like the fairies in Sleeping Beauty?

Here's what I would bestow on my daughters (and my nephew), if I could do it with a wave of my wand:

1. Optimism. Very helpful for a happy and productive life. It's not critical, but it helps.

2. Patience / Judgement. Sadly this is one that most of us only acquire with experience (the wrong sort of experience). But if I could bestow it, I would. Not at the expense of some crucial thrills and spills in their younger years, mind. Those are part of a good life too.

3. Empathy / Kindness. I know, we teach our children these, and we model them, and we don't really need a magic wand to bestow them. But they are that important.

4. Middling Beauty. Not raving supermodel good looks, which (I imagine) bring their own kind of pressure and problems, but simple "attractiveness" which is not disruptive and goes far.

5. Friendship. Not just a circle of friends, but the delicate and crucial art of making friends and maintaining friendships.

What would YOU bestow?

For more Listography, look here.


Apr 22, 2012

In Pursuit of a Good Commute

Working in stockbroking for the last 15 years, I have long worked in the CBD.
Living in Suburbia Superbia, this means commuting.

PART ONE: In The Olden Days

In my life BC (before children), I took public transport to work: the tram back when I lived in "Zone 1", and the train once I moved to the 'burbs.  I used to enjoy the train because it was roomier than the tram, air-conditioned, and I could sit and read a book.  (Anyone living in Melbourne will recognize this was some time ago, as the trains during rush hour are no longer roomy, and it's rare to find space to read a book).

When I returned to work after maternity leave, having to drop off and/or pick up the girls from daycare (open between 7am and 6pm), starting work at 8am and finishing at 5pm, the train was no longer an option. I wouldn't have got door to door in time.

And so began my life as one of those horrible, selfish, stupid single-occupier car drivers who congest the freeways, hog our city's resources and increase our carbon footprint.

PART TWO: When I Had A Watertight Excuse

Photo by Nationaal Archief via Flickr CC

Where we live, public transport from our house to the train stations is patchy. There is a bus that goes on the half-hour, between 6am and 6pm. I used this approximately two times, because: (1) I could only do it on a day I wasn't doing drop-off or pick-up; (2) I had to get up at 5:00am, then (3) I had to walk a kilometre to the bus-stop, which meant (4) I had to wear comfortable shoes and walking clothes or carry change of clothes/shoes with me, and despite all that (5) I could never catch the bus home from the station anyway, as the last one left at 6pm, which is later than my train from the city would arrive, so (6) I had to pay $12 for a taxi home from the station, thus wiping out the cost benefit of not driving.

All this is not a complaint you understand - we chose to live in a 3-bedroom house in the 'burbs (the audacity!) rather than squash our family into a flat closer in, or spend half a million on a townhouse in a sustainable urban village on the city fringe. I don't expect the government to underwrite my lifestyle or put on a million more train lines. I don't expect my employer to pay me to work half-days, work from home or set up branches in the eastern suburbs.  I don't expect to find work close to home paying the same money or offering the same career opportunities. I don't expect daycare centres to offer 24 hour service or schools to look after my children until evening.

What I would like, if it were a teensy bit possible, is for media types, urban planners, public commentators, inner-city dwellers and bicycle riders to STOP vilifying me for driving to work!!

PART THREE: Current Day

As Tom Vanderbilt points out in his excellent and compulsively readable book Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us), the reasons people commute and their relationship with commuting are complicated.
For example, who can understand this picture?
Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 1971 -
State Library of NSW

But also, consider these points about my own driving habits:

  • At some point during the childcare years, we worked out that I did not have to be solely responsible for drop-off and pick-up, since my husband works closer to home than me, and sometimes starts work later. So he started taking them and picking them up 2 days, and the other 3 he dropped them off and I picked them up. This gave me 2 days where I did not have to drive to work. I did "try" to take the train on those days, but my efforts were sporadic. The main reason was time, or more accurately a bit of time and a lot of convenience. If I drive to the station and take the train, going to work takes an hour and twenty minutes. Coming home takes longer - I would not get home until 7pm. In comparison, driving takes 45 minutes. That's a BIG difference. Because as any working-at-the-office mother knows, the later you get home in the evenings, the more shitful the night goes for you and the kids, with the knock-on effects bleeding into the next day (kids are grumpier, mum is more stressed, dinner is rushed, everyone gets to bed later, prep is curtailed for the next day...).  So even when I "should" have used public transport, I usually drove, despite the cost and sometimes the guilt, because that half-hour difference was worth it.
  • Currently I only work 3 days, and on 2 of those my husband is at home (he works weekends); which means for two of those days he looks after the kids, gets dinner, etc. As I am home more with the kids I don't feel as guilty about making sure I squeeze as much time as possible being by their sides, plus I am no longer exhausted every day. All of this means that the extra half-hour commute using public transport should no longer bother me on those 2 days, and I should easily be able to take the train to work. But.... I don't. I've got used to the comfort and convenience of driving my car.
    Missouri W.P.A. Art Project, 1943
    (Library of Congress) - via Flickr
  • I have a love-hate relationship with my commute. I wish it was shorter. I am not the world's best driver and am aware that the risk of an accident soars on the days I am run-down or just tired. I know all the costs - petrol, tolls, city parking, risk of crashes, extra wear and tear, and the impact of less movement on my fitness. But I love listening to the news and talk shows on the radio, the familiar banter between Red Symons and Jon Faine, AM with Tony Eastley (and the thoroughly excellent PM with Mark Colvin on the way home) and even (when I am running late), guiltily catching the beginning of the Jon Faine show during the time I should be at work. I like doing my make-up sitting in the carpark five minutes before I go up to work. I like being able to cart stuff in and bring stuff home. (Compare coming home on the train with dry-cleaning).  I do miss walking, which I used to do a lot of. When I do take the train and walk the 2 blocks to work, I notice and enjoy interacting with the environment (pavement, air, sights and sounds) the way you don't in a car. On those days I wish I could walk to work, or catch a tram or a train from walking distance to home.  But I think mostly I am like the commuters mentioned in  Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us), who name the daily commute as the worst part of their day, but when asked what they would like instead, nominate "a shorter commute", rather than "no commute". 

TRAFFIC: Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us)

Here are some excepts that stood out for me from this totally fascinating book:

"98% of US commuters favor public transportation for others." - Headline in The Onion

"As [traffic increases], things get worse for everyone, but as there is still a gain for each driver (getting to work, getting home), that exceeds the gain from not driving, and as the loss is shared by all, people keep joining the freeway."

"...once you have shelled out for a car, the comparatively marginal cost of another trip is barely noticeable - in other words there is little incentive not to drive."

"...a half-mile is as long as planners believe the average person is willing to walk."

"The reason we see so many people on the roads, getting in our way, is that so many of them are doing things that used to be done at home. This, too, is a function of affluence, but it's a complicated relationship. Do we drive to a restaurant for take-out food because we can afford it or because we are so busy trying to make money we have little choice?"

"One study that looked at the working poor found that those with a car were able to get around three times more quickly than those without one. Even people who do not own a car are more likely to commute by car than public transport."

"Trying to crack the commuter psyche is rather bewildering work. On the one hand, people seem to hate commuting.... On the other hand,... when people were asked to name an 'ideal' commute time, their mean response was not, as you might expect..., 'no commute', but sixteen minutes."

And finally, just because it's so good, enjoy "Mr Walker and Mr Wheeler" in Disney's Motor Mania (made in 1950, watched and loved by my family in the 70's, and still so relevant!)

How do you get to work? Do you commute? 
Do you hate it or is it not so bad?

Apr 20, 2012

Fiction Fridays: The Bravest Kid I've Ever Known (and other Naughty Stories for Good Boys and Girls)

Hooray! My wireless is back up and at last I can return to Fiction Fridays.
(Blogging anything other than very basic formatting is too hard on an iPad - or at least it is for me).

This week's book - or actually, a story in a book:

The Bravest Kid I've Ever Known
and Other Naughty Stories for Good Boys and Girls
by Christopher Milne
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2010

A Very Naughty Boy
Neil Pike was a naughty boy.
A very naughty boy.
You see, Neil did smells. All the time. Rotten, disgusting smells. On purpose.

According to the blurb at the back, this book was born when the author ran out of stories to read his kids and started making up his own, and found the more "pooey, rotten, disgusting things" in the stories the better they went over.

We haven't yet read all the stories in this book, but THIS story was a huge success with my girls, and no doubt would be with your kids too.

Neil is a chronic and disgusting farter, but manages to save the day when his whole school is swept out to sea due to some very heavy rain (??? the physics are not clear). The save involves the use of many pieces of cloth tied together and strung up on the roof to make a sail, and Neil providing the required ... propulsion to blow them back home.

Miss M. in particular laughed herself so giddy she nearly fell off her bed.

If you would like to play Fiction Fridays, click on the badge below to see how:


Or check out the Pinterest board set up by Child-Led Chaoshttp://pinterest.com/childledchaos/fiction-fridays/

Apr 17, 2012

The Dry Cleaning Conundrum

The number of times an ostensibly house-trained Pomeranian can pee on bedding is apparently unlimited, but the amount of money I have for dry cleaning doonas (duvets) and the time I can find to take them to dry cleaners and wait for them to be ready is not.

So today I washed three down duvets with wool wash and hung them out to dry.

Before I recommend doing this in favor of following the "dry-clean only" instructions on the labels, bear with me for a couple of days and I will let you know how this went. *

Do NOT let this cute face fool you. He is evil.

* Not well. In the case of feather duvets, the "Dry Clean Only" label is telling the truth. 
If "Dry Clean Only" labels weren't on every second bloody garment in order to cover every bloody manufacturer's @rse I might believe them when it counts. Hrmph. I blame the Lawyers.
And the dog.

Apr 13, 2012

Why does my alarm clock create cliffhangers?

This morning I was having a beautiful dream. I mean REALLY beautiful - the kind you only have rarely, and that stay with you into the day. I wasn't in the dream; it was a love story that played out for me watching it like a movie. The man and the woman were brunette and lovely, there was piano music playing throughout, and the scenes were gauzy, filtered and sepia-toned (have I been too much on the Instagram maybe?). I won't bore you with details (too late?!) but believe me when I say this particular dream was something special -beautiful, haunting, lyrical, and different. It was the New York Times critical review best seller of dreams.

Seriously, I know it's just synapses firing in our heads and our memories, plans, hopes, fears and various daily influences sorting themselves out into their little filing cabinets - but every now and then our brains produce something wonderful in a dream.

These rare, lovely dreams seem to come from nowhere. I can't pick what influenced this one, nothing I was reading or thinking or seeing the past few days explains it.

And here's the other thing that seems to happen. My alarm clock woke me up RIGHT at the pivotal point in the story - the make or break scene on which the whole story was hanging. I woke up with that weird dumb feeling you get like "Oh no! I want to know what happens!" Like it's a movie on TV instead of something your own imagination has produced.
Then you spend the next few minutes trying to work out how it would have ended, which is really quite weird when you're the one who has created it.

But what I'm wondering is this: WHY does this happen? How does my alarm clock go off right at the pivotal moment? This is not the first time this has happened - I might as well dream of a murder mystery with the victim gasping "The murderer is..." right as my alarm rings.

I think my mind is somehow, subconsciously, doing this to me on purpose. I have a theory that my mind takes tiny cues from outside my bed (the light out the window, the little click the clock makes before the alarm goes off), and sets up a storyline it can't possibly wrap up, "knowing" it doesn't have to finish the story...
But HOW does it do this? How does it get the timing just right?

Alternative explanations: selective memory (I'm not remembering the times this doesn't happen); or perhaps I am imbuing the dream with more significance because of the interrupted ending, or I am not remembering it correctly... Or the dream was not as amazing as it seemed and the lack of ending means nothing...

"Sommeil d'hysterique" from Bibliotheque
de Toulouse, via Flickr CC

Does this happen to you? Do you have "cliffhanger" dreams? 

How do you interpret them?

Apr 6, 2012

Personality Test Disaster

Have you ever taken an online personality test?

I've done the odd Myers Briggs (INTP), a 3-hour psych evaluation for a potential employer, and a couple of tests to diagnose depression when I already knew I had it ("There!", I said petulantly to myself. "I told you!")

Last night while idling on my idle-Pad, I followed some Zite article to a site that does online personality tests to diagnose "personality disorders". And there was a one-stop test to diagnose the ten main types of personality disorder. (Ten!)

Naturally I took the test. What could go wrong, right?


I could turn out to have TWO personality disorders, for one.

Actually, I don't really think I have these. We're all on a continuum and I think I have elements of the traits that make up these "disorders" but I have decided the test is flawed (uh oh, is that a narcissistic streak?)

For instance, I am a bit of a loner, but I don't dread social situations (mostly), and I do have a small handful of friends. I don't think I have weak inter-personal skills, or am unresponsive to praise or criticism, and I definitely don't have difficulty expressing anger!

So to any employers or other acquaintances reading this, please take these test results as a sign of my relaxed, cool, not-taking-myself-seriously* personality and my ability to laugh at myself and at online psychology - and NOT as a clinical diagnosis showing I am a basket case!

Paranoid Disorder:Moderate
Schizoid Disorder:High
Schizotypal Disorder:Low
Antisocial Disorder:Low
Borderline Disorder:Moderate
Histrionic Disorder:Low
Narcissistic Disorder:Moderate
Avoidant Disorder:High
Dependent Disorder:Low
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder:Moderate

-- Personality Disorder Test - Take It! --
-- Personality Disorders --

Have you ever taken a psych test? Were you surprised at the result?

*I am none of these things.

Jackie K


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