Archive for September, 2008

Dear America,

You are imploding. You are imploding so powerfully, so utterly, so comprehensively, that the ever-hungry vortex of your doom is like a star gone nova. Last night, I dreamed that John McCain and Barrack Obama could both fly like Superman, debating each other as they pirouetted and bounced off the skyscrapers of New York, only to look down and notice, all-too-belatedly, that the ground was collapsing beneath the city, giant sinkholes opening up as chunks of pavement crumbled into them, yawning into great black depths of nothing. I don’t mind saying, I woke up with a feeling of dread like I should apply for a Goddam prophecy permit, but then again, realising the obvious hardly makes me Miss Cleo. You are hurting, America, hurting bad, and like a dog with a broken leg, you’re lashing out with crazed, unbalanced mania.

First: that $700 billion bailout? In the immortal words of William Butler Yeats, Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” Put another way, without land in sight, there is only so much distance you can sail a sinking ship before even bailing becomes ineffectual. What you need are structural repairs, while the best you can currently do is limp for land faster, the better to haul out, turn the whole thing belly-up and work some serious shipwrighting mojo. And hey, Wall Street? I’ve got a reality check (not cheque) for you. It’s a major election year. You’ve screwed things up. You’ve screwed up royally. Maybe in the past you could take a golden handshake and walk away smelling of Midas roses, but right here, now, there’s two would-be presidents locking horns like a couple of twelve-tine harts in rutt, and you, my friends, are the fat ole’ tree they’re going to shine their ivories on. Good luck with that.

That’s another thing: the election. Way back in Season 2, remember that episode of The Simpsons where Bart and Martin ran against each other for class president? Bart dominated the campagin, won all the popular support and even held a preemptory victory party under the slide, while Martin ended up a sweating, shivering, nervous wreck. But Martin won: because only Martin and one other person remembered to vote.  And America, let me speak frankly: if you vote McCain and Palin in through apathy and fear, the rest of the world will not forgive it lightly. You have laughed – or rather, certain of your media has laughed – at Obama’s popularity overseas while simultaneously scorning his lack of foreign policy experience. The fact that this isn’t touted as an obvious contradiction should set off alarm bells, because we – the people who, in future, will need to be most impressed by the President’s l337 n3g0ti47ing s|<i11z – are impressed already. Contrast to Sarah Palin, a woman I wouldn’t trust to run a primary school fete, who still thinks the proximity of Alaska to Russia equals foreign policy experience.

Your own media has already kept you well abreast of troubles in the McCain camp, and the economic dangers they’re so willing to hide behind in order to avoid debating anything that hasn’t stopped in the interim. If your eyes are half open, you know the score, even if the sacrosanct Laws of Armchair Sport forbid you to ask who’s playing or what game it is; and if your eyes are wilfully closed, there’s little I can do but weep with mine.

But oh, America, if you stumble now, then Yeats was right: mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Yes, it’s that time again – my most recent coumn, Hung to the Over, is now up at Halo 17. Do feel free to drop by and leave ludicrously flattering comments.

That is all.

….a mess. But an insightful mess! Behold: my natural habitat.

1. Meaning and Necessity, by Rudolf Carnap. My Long-Suffering Husband (LSH) is, as has been mentioned, a logician/philosopher; this book was part of my first-year wedding anniversary present to him. Underneath is a tome on non-classical logic, while further down the table one may spy works on both symbolic logic and models and ultraproducts – huzzah! Sufficed to say, I don’t read them. Unless I’m suffering from insomnia. Or, even then, perhaps not.

2. Ugh boots. These also belong to the LSH, but as they are warm and overlarge, I’ve been known to make use of them during cold Melbourne winters, or whenever I feel like clomping.

3. More logic papers. Note the extreme proliferation of Greek and algebraic symbols. Know what they mean? ‘Coz I don’t.

4. A crude communications device, referred to in some literature as a “mobile phone”, or mobilius phoney in the Latin. This one belongs to the LSH.

5. Unopened mail from my university containing this week’s lecture on pop culture. (Best thing about distance education: pausing or fast-forwarding the lecturer at your whim. If only real life were so obliging.) 

6. Unopened superannuation mail, to be set aside in a kitchen drawer until such time as my father calls and asks why I still have three different providers, and when will I get around to rolling them over? As a result, I will send it to him. He will read it, make a note of the contents, file it in another drawer full of similarly uninteresting but frustratingly important data, make timely remarks about my financial future, and then all will be well with the universe. 

7. An alabaster chess board, which was an awesome wedding present.

8. Pertinent reading material (mine).

9. Trashy action movie of the Brendan Fraser oeuvre.

10. Chocolatey goodness.

11. My iPod – another awesome wedding gift. You can tell it’s mine, because the rubber circle thingies have come off the ear buds and there’s a slight scratch on the screen. Contents include an amalgam of Buffy soundtracks/songs, 90’s rock and the entire Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series.

12. Salt and pepper shakers. We have no kitchen table worthy of the name, and so end up eating in the lounge. This makes us lazy.

13. Nintendo nunchuku!

14. Beginner-sized knitting needles. I’d post a photo of the (I use the word laughingly) scarf I finished yesterday, but one of the cats is sleeping on it. There is no untruth in saying that this is the best possible to use to which it could be put.

15. Headphones. All the better to hear you with. Or not.

16. There is, I swear, some kind of God-Damned breeding factory for water bottles in our house. We never buy them – in fact, I can think of only one we’ve purchased in the past year and a half – and yet they just show up, like the creepy Mormon lady who knows my name. This one, at least, holds some actual water.

17. Nutritional sugary goodness.

18. The Wiimote. (Thinks: I wonder if I can fit in some tennis before bed?)

19. Glasses tend to accumulate on our table. There’s no real excuse. Bad Foz. 

20. TV remote. Ah, bringer of entertainment!

21. X-Box 360 remote. Our DVD player died of mysterious causes some time ago, so now we use the X-Box instead, largely because it comes equipped with this handy, cordless doodad.

22. X-Box controller. The LSH and I are intermittent gamers: my addiction to Final Fantasy and Mario Kart has been well-documented, while he tends more towards first person shooters. The console was my last Christmas gift to him, so that we could play Halo together – ironically, however, this doesn’t often happen, as whenever I’m winning (most of the time), he has a tendency to drop suddenly out of the map, grumbling inaudibly about the unfairness of shotguns, swords and plasma grenades. Currently, though, he’s playing The Force Unleashed. Which is shiny.

And, finally: 

23. The LSH himself. Or at least, his hip and guitar-print shorts.

What does your coffee table say about you?

During the unillustrious days of the Howard government, one of the many areas selected for funding cuts was tertiary education. Although VSU was still yet to come, lessening the budget had an immediate knock-on effect, with the consequence that, at Sydney Unviersity and others, the most expensive-to-run courses were axed, or at best retained at significantly diminished capacity.

Concurrently, the media and general public were sinking their teeth into the problem of hospital shortages: in particular, the notable dearth of midwives and nurses. While concern over the number of available beds was also an issue, this, at least, has eased a little with time. Given a few years, it’s possible to add new wings to this hospital or that, but it’s not possible to train more nurses and midwives than universities have placement for.

You see where I’m going with this: because the courses most hard-hit by the withdrawal of federal funding were – surprise, surprise! – nursing and midwifery.

That was four years ago. Fast forward to today’s news, in which the Royal Women’s Hospital has been forced to initiate a pull-back plan on its maternity services due to a lack of midwives. The next phase redirects low-risk pregnancies to Sunshine hospital; but Sunshine itself is still 10 midwives short.

So let’s do the math. Bigger hospitals and a rising birthrate = greater demand for nurses and midwives. Until or unless VSU is revoked and federal university funding increases (hint, hint, Mr Rudd), diminished training capacity = fewer nurses and midwives. Result: demand outstrips supply, and given how long it takes to train competent nurses compared to putting up a building or conceiving a child, the sooner we fix things, the better.

Anything else is a recipe for disaster.

Oh, NSW Board of Studies, hear my plea: stop forcing me to agree with Miranda Devine. The state of your English curriculum is appalling, and you know why? Because it’s not, in fact, an English curriculum, so much as a bastardised, non-historical departure into post-modern wank. Ignoring the hideousness of placing pop songs and advertising on the same cultural footing as Shakespeare, there is nothing elitist in acknowledging that different media are designed for different ends, and while it’s possible to consider a level of ironic social commentary in Britney Speares songs, there’s a point beyond which you cannot go. Unlike Don McLean’s American Pie, with its moving lyrics, musical historicity and devout poetry, Toxic is not attempting to communicate anything below the surface. American Pie is worth studying, not because it’s a song, but because it’s a good song, both in its own right and for the purpose. Toxic isn’t.

Because when you set out to distance yourself from ‘elitism’ and all its permutations, you are intrinsically negating the concept of quality. The argument that all forms are equal is tantamount, in this instance, to saying that all examples of a given form are equal: that there is no innate difference in skill, purpose or structure between Beethoven’s 9th and the Coca Cola jingle. Logically and intuitively, this perception goes against everything we understand about the world. To quote The Incredibles, a useful film for discussing homogeneity vs tall poppy syndrome, calling everyone special is just another way of saying that no-one is. And when you take down the jargon, the oh-so-cringeworthy NewSpeak in which you feel frighteningly compelled to couch your arguments, you are effectively advocating cultural assimilation. If there is no innate difference between the substance of Sylvia Plath and a Mr Sheen add – if you take all the wild, ritous variety of the creative world and declare it to be identical, forcing each vibrant shape into the drab grey monotone of texthood – then it is you, Herr Doktor, who are running the police state, garbing the populace in prison smocks and shaving their obedient, cowering heads.

Board of Studies, some animals are not more equal than others. Power is also a form of elitism, especially if it brooks no argument, and when you actively punish students for disagreeing with the conclusions of the syllabus – regardless of how intelligently dissenters might argue their point – you are placing the highest value, not on critical thinking, but on conformity. Critical thinking: one of the much-touted ‘outcomes’ of HSC English. Now there’s an irony. Herr God, Herr Lucifer: beware, beware. Your brightest students, the ones who care about literature, are the ones disagreeing so vociferously. It shows they’ve been paying attention. They do not like what they see. And neither, by all accounts, do their teachers.

Since completing the NSW HSC in 2003, I’ve been howling into the void about your damn imbecility. I have poured thousands of words, hours of my life, into trying to understand why, despite spending most of Year 12 reading books or writing my own, I came to loathe 2 Unit English with a fiery vengeance. Nobody would listen then, because the views of a mere student and teenager to boot were universally declared to be irrelevant. Nobody listens now, either, because I’m not a teacher, a journalist or a member of the Board of Studies. No – I’m just a literate, eloquent reader who’s been through the system, who’s seen what it looks like from both sides, and has had five years to think about it.

And you know what?

I still think you’re wrong.

In fact, I believe it. Powerfully. Call it a chip on my shoulder, highschool bitterness carried oh-so-unfortunately into adult life, but the gauntlet has been thrown. Out of the ash I rise with my red hair, o Board. And I eat men like air.

What The..?

Posted: September 19, 2008 in Life/Stuff
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Someone has stolen our tree.

As in, uprooted it. Gone. Utterly. Since this morning.

A whole entire tree.

I do not get this.

When I left for work this morning, there was a slender, dead, but decidedly extant tree in our front garden, which is essentially a metre-wide, less-than-half-a-metre-deep patch of dirt between the fence and the door. It was not a big tree. It was very much deceased, but in a scenic, unthreatening way. Except for our house or the fence, there is nothing it could possibly have fallen on, nor was it heavy enough (being both exanimate and hollow) to damage anything it did fall on. Even had this happened, the tree would – one assumes – still be there. Slanted, perhaps, and decidedly less well-earthed, but nonetheless present.

This is not the case.

Instead, our tree is gone. Given that we returned home circa 1:45 AM after an evening out, this resulted in rather less alarm than might reasonably have been raised at any other time. But, still. There is no sign of the tree near our house or in the street. There is – and I cannot stress this enough – an exceedingly obvious hole where the tree once nestled. And that’s it. Zip. Nada. Nothing. No tree.

I am so weirded out right now.

I mean, suburban tree thieves? Who steals a dead tree with grey, rough bark, two meters tall, that’s thin enough to put both your hands around and have the fingers touch? A dendrophiliac with an anorexia fetish? The landlord, for inscrutable reasons of his own? Did the tree fall down,  only to be removed by a kindly neighbour/Samaritan before we got home? If so, why not leave a note to explain the absence? Are aliens abducting trees? Why our tree? Are there other victims? These are the obvious responses, none of which is especially, well, obvious. Because, seriously: who steals a dead fucking tree?

I’m going to invesitage this.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

So wrote Dylan Thomas, thereby immotalising the death of his father. There is a longstanding association between the personal melancholia of artists and their creative fascination with death, whether seen through the lens of longing, fear, ambivalence, courage, despair, relief or some more complex commingling, with poetry acting as a powerful meidum for such thoughts. Frequently, however it is death in the form of suicide which prevails: Anne Sexton, like her friend and contemporary, Sylvia Plath, was prolific on the subject of suicide (which, eventually, they both committed). Eloquent and sharp, her poem Wanting to Die makes this observation:

 

But suicides have a special language.

Like carpenters they want to know which tools.

They never ask why build.

 

By this logic, the need for death is obvious, predetermined: it goes without saying. But human beings are fragile, pain-filled creatures. There are few pleasant ways for us to die, and fewer still by our own hand. In the days of ancient Rome, suicide was a socially accepted practice, particularly when, as was often the case, staying alive would only provoke one mad emperor or another to kill you in a far more unpleasantly creative manner than slitting your wrists in a warm bath. Classic literature even romanticises the concept – Romeo and Juliet is the obvious example, but particularly in feudal Japan, love-suidice pacts were a tragic staple of Yoshiwara society. More recently, George Orwell’s 1984 created a whole new horror from the concept: a violent, inescapably totalitarian world in which even the freedom to die has been effectively withdrawn, forcing the populace to endure a life of brutality and fear. 

 

Historically, the human reaction to suicide has been mixed. Judeo-Christian believers tend to respond in the negative, on the grounds that the act falls squarely within the definition of murder, which is a sin. Others view it as a human right or individual freedom, drawing a moral distinction between how we treat ourselves and how we should treat others. Either way, the concept of a situation in which anyone would want to die tends, rightly, to make us uncomfortable. 

 

Which leads us to the problem of euthenasia, and what it means. Despite longstanding anecdotal evidence and social speculation, keeping a positive attitude makes no medical difference in fighting cancer, which, though true, undercuts an extremely powerful (and useful) instinct for suvival. Because human beings, though mortal, do not like to confront their own mortality. Implausible hope has a place in our universal pantheon: if nothing else, it keeps us sane, gives us strength and can, on occasion, help us hang on long enough for the cavalry to arrive. But it’s not a panacea, and at times, the easier, braver, more honest path is to accept the inevitable, the better to meet it gracefully. This latter point is held by euthenasia advocates, because once you have acknowledged that a painful death can’t be averted, unless you believe in the innate sinfulness of removing yourself from the world, there is a certain logic to ending matters peacefully, on your own terms.

 

Consider, then, the heart-wrenching case of Angelique Flowers, who died – violently, vomiting fecal matter – at the age of 31. Having suffered Crohne’s Disease for half her life, she was then diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer. She didn’t fear dying, but only the pain it would, inevitably, cause her. Before she died, Angelique devoted much of her time to exploring the possibility of euthenasia, which isn’t legal in Australia, and although she fultimately obtained a drug which would’ve allowed her to die peacefully, she chose not to use it: either through fear of repercussions for her family or a final change of heart, we’ll never know. But for me, the point of legalising euthenasia is choice: one which allows a greater scope for both dignity and courage. We do not jail those who attempt suicide and fail; neither should we punish the dying by demanding that they expire in a prolonged, painful fashion.

 

Because mercy is not always the same as a happy ending. Sometimes, it just means a lessened measure of grief.

 

Unhelpful

Posted: September 13, 2008 in Life/Stuff
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I’ve been living in Melbourne a good two years now. I’ve made friends here, some of whom I see more than once a week, while I’ve lost contact (insofar as Facebook allows this to happen) with people back in Sydney. It happens – it’s life. We roll with the punches, grow and flourish as individual blossoms in the metaphoric Garden of Whatever, catch up where we can, move on when we can’t. It’s a healthy Goddam process.

So why are all the numbers in my mobile phone exactly the fucking same as they were five years ago?

I’m not even kidding. Tonight, I’m looking to call someone about the address of a party we’re heading to – we’ve been there before, but can’t remember the route – and what do I find? One releveant number. One. In two years.

It’s like being in the Matrix: I walk around, blythely assuming my ability to call anyone I know, only to take the red pill and discover that a full half of all my contacts are utter strangers. I mean, Colette? Who the hell’s she? Or Bren? Or Debbie? Or Emma? More importantly, why don’t I ever put in last names? Or, let’s go crazy, some form of useful identification, like ‘random chick I must’ve met at a college party, maybe she had brown hair and a weird laugh’? Because this is just ridiculous.

With the exception of about four numbers, the rest are work contacts for jobs I’ve long since left, friends from early highschool I see maybe once a year, and family: in short, numbers relevant only to my CV (where they’re recorded anyway), my life between the ages of 14 – 19, or which I know by heart.

Well, I’m taking a stand. Tonight, by gum, I’m going to do an overhaul. I’m going to find out the numbers of friends, and call them.

Eventually.

Lord have mercy – Sarah Palin is ready and willing to declare war on Russia. Newsflash, guys: the Iron Curtain has fallen. Whenever John McCain starts talking about communism and Eastern Europe, I start to hear flashes of Dr Strangelove: “Mr President, we cannot allow the development of a mineshaft gap!” Has satire taught us nothing? Earth to America: Dmitry Medvedev has seen the Big Board. The spies have come in from the cold and are sunning themselves in Cuba. No, wait, not spies – I’m thinking of enemy non-combatants unprotected by the Geneva Convention. They’re the ones in scenic Guantanamo. Cuba. Thingy. Damn!

Where was I?

Ah, yes, Sarah Palin and her delightful proclivity for warfare. Who knew: not only do the Republicans support a return to the moralism of the 1950’s, but they also hunger for Cold War politics! In cinemas, it could play as McCarthyism 2: The Hottening. Get it? Cold becomes hot. I just kill me (or, if I were Sarah Palin, lots of Russians). But while on the film theme, might I draw your attention to Kyle’s Mom, aka Sheila Brovlovsky, of South Park fame? Remember in the South Park Movie when Sheila declared war on potty mouths and Canada?

This is who I picture when Sarah Palin talks about war. Criminy: they even look alike. (Bonus: if the Republicans win, we can all have a rousing chorus of Cartman’s song.)

And who says life doesn’t imitate art?

My fornightly column at Halo 17, called the Unicorn Evils, is now in business. First article: The Modern Apocalypse. Enjoy!