One Big Damn Puzzler (John Harding)

The tale of diffident but competent William Hardt and his experience bringing compensation to an Island nation for the horrors they have suffered during life as a US Army base/battleground. Hardts’s quest to find those islanders injured by land mines and the victim of an unspeakable rape, leads him into contact with the customs and cultures of a world hitherto foreign to him.

Harding does, I think, a good job of creating a complete and well established island nation here. Although they are a fictional people, he has clearly researched thoroughly and has an informed viewpoint from which he has built his setting and his characters. Their belief system and customs are thoroughly fleshed out and accessible. They are treated with respect and it is apparent that Harding honours and understands the customs of other island peoples.

I enjoyed reading this novel whilst holidaying and had no trouble immersing myself in it. I have read of some commentators indifference to Harding’s scatological bent, and perhaps it’s because this is the first of his novels I’ve read, it didn’t bother me. The obsession with toileting doesn’t really seem too out of place when you consider the protagonist is a man who suffers OCD and living in a developing society. Having had some close run ins with public toilets myself, I mostly sympathised.

The more pertinent considerations involve the novels central theme – the relationship between an Indigenous people and the colonising (or invading) other. Harding does a good job of emphasising that attitudes of cultural superiority which ignore the true needs of one group (the islanders) despite the good intentions of the others (in this case American) are tragically destructive and he mourns the loss of Indigenous culture appropriately.

The downturn of the islanders society is measured in contrast to the destruction wrought on the US in the September 11 tragedy: William discovers the ‘help’ he so fervently assisted on providing has been the catalyst for both a crisis of cultural identity  and public health as his own nation is reeling from the attack on the twin towers. The point is apt, and paralleling the two a nifty device, but overall the point is somewhat laboured. I’m always sceptical of any moral lesson that the author feels they haven’t written strongly enough about and so has their protagonist speak or think the epiphany, as happens here.

The idea of remorse and regret is interesting, and we are left in no doubt about the place of both by the end of the story, but I would have liked for there to be more accountability for individual actions. It doesn’t really sit well with me that our protagonist gets pretty much what he wants the whole time, realises what an awful thing he’s contributed to (despite his good intentions) and then still gets pretty much everything he wants. But then, in the face of Western colonisation of various lands the world over, I suppose this is pretty much how it works, and that is something we should all be thinking about and striving to rectify. Harding is effective in exploring the issues, but seems somewhat mute on future action, but it is, after all, one big damn puzzler and a story such as this, which is effective in promoting discussion, awareness and above all, empathy, is essential in taking steps towards the ultimate goal. 

Trying to get the feeling again

Happy 2016 dear friends.

You may have noticed (haha -as if anyone really is still reading this) that my postings have become somewhat sporadic and unpredictable of late. I can think of no reason to account for this, so we’ll just move on and I’ll vaguely promise to try and do better this year.

I’d like to reach out to the authors of Raising Orlando and I Love Newbies who were both kind enough to say some lovely things about my blog (despite its lazy author) of late. The two women who write these blogs are absolutely wonderful in the way their honesty, passion and humour somehow just gets to the heart of the issues we face when we are just going about our business and life starts happening to us. I know this will just look like I’m “returning the favour”, but I really do recommend these blogs to others. It’s possible that you may find there territories and information you didn’t expect to explore, but I urge you to read on, because sometimes the aspects of life we instinctively talk about least, are the ones that we might benefit most from reflecting on.

What do I hope to achieve in my own writing this year? I’d like to find a clearer voice for reflecting on life, the universe and everything. Less of the judgemental ‘armchair critic’ voice and more considered reflection and engagement with ideas I encounter through reading, conversing and otherwise living this life.

I’d like, very much, to make a return to a time in my life where literature played a far more central role in both entertaining and challenging me, and where I was disciplined about appreciating it, not just consuming it. Or, in fact, given the complete submission of my soul to Netflix, I’d probably settle (at first) for consuming it at all. Still, baby steps.

I also hope to be able to start showing off the scenery and landscape around me, you know, because I’ve actually been out in it, living some sort of outdoorsy life. As my father would tell me, stop hoping to do it, and just get out there and do it. He is, of course, right. Watch this space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tim moves on with nothing!

A friend and colleague recently gave me the above amusing cartoon, the overall message of which was that a lot of annoying and stupid things happen on the internet and sometimes it is best to just let them go. I haven’t blogged for a while, and I don’t think he reads it anyway – it wasn’t a subtle hint to reduce my online presence, more a metaphor for our lives as teachers: you can’t get angry and rant about everything. I’ve stuck it up on my wall and it has improved the quality of my life immensely. But here’s the thing, sometimes you do need to respond to the foolish things that happen in the world. Tony Abbott’s recent (and mercifully now over) Prime Ministership should be all the evidence you ever need that when people don’t criticise low level stupid ideas they have the potential to spiral out of control and all of a sudden you’re an international laughing stock.

I use this example for a couple of reasons. One: it is true. Two: it brings me – thank god I hear you cry – to my point. Last nigh I enjoyed a mere hour of the ABC’s “Leadership Spill” TV tribute, plumping for the Leigh Sales interview at 7.30 and the modified version of Australian Story, mostly filmed years ago with the Turnbull clan. I enjoyed both, drank some wine, thought about what was said, ate chocolate, moved on with my life. I wake up this morning to a few news articles that are fairly critical of the 7.30 interview. The two general strands of this criticism are these. One: Leigh Sales was too polite, didn’t grill Turnbull enough/at all and in general gave a soft, lovey interview. Two: Turnbull waffled and was generally arrogant and spoke at great length about himself.

I thought about taking my colleague’s advice, and like Tim in the cartoon, moving on with my life – good move Tim. But I can’t quite. Poor Leigh Sales. She (and the ABC) are constantly criticised for their aggression towards subjects (especially members of the coalition government) but change tack and change tone for one evening and you’re crucified, so I’m not really sure what the people will have her do. And maybe it’s a naive thought, but the change in Prime Minister (whilst not actually the gift of the people as Abbott’s cronies tried to make us believe last week, though in this instance certainly is a gift TO the people), does warrant some opportunity for said new PM to outline the philosophy from which he intends to lead the Government. I mean really, can we not allow one interview where this philosophy is outlined without the need to draw blood from the man at the same time? Then Leigh Sales and everyone else has a concise, on the record go to summary of all the things they can rightly criticise in the performance of the government.

Good interviewing is not just about entrapping your subject and then destroying them. It is also about facilitating a high level of public debate. Sure, it’s nice to know you can go for the jugular and win, but it is not always what is best, or, what a deeply fractured and already hideously anti-intellectual nation needs. The culture of negativity, and of constant criticism is slowly killing our ability to reflect on anything and develop an informed opinion. Much better that we all just tweet our instant displeasure, feel smug about our excellent opinion and move on with our lives. I suppose it’s also the case, for news outlets running the Leigh “Fails” tone of article, that there is a level of institutional jealousy that 7.30 still gets these important one on one interviews that noone in their right mind would do with the SMH as a “first port of call, get the message out to all the people” type event.

But twitter, oh twitter, you sadden me too! The sheer number of tweets along the lines of “Malcolm is a verbose twat.” He may well be, and time/the people/history will judge his Prime Ministership as we do with all others but really? We’ve only just escaped the Abbott years. Perhaps we might all be allowed a honeymoon period, in which we can celebrate the existence of an intelligent, conversationally adept Prime Minister. A Prime Minister who not only appears to have understood the question, but has a thoughtful and personally considered answer. A Prime Minister who will bring some level of dignity to the leadership of our nation, and the first one who, for a long time, has a chance of unifying the socially progressive Australia we dream of with the economically responsible Australia we need. The real question is whether he can take the coaltion with him. If yes – we celebrate. If no – then the whole sorry mess goes on for another few terms of government until the next great hope comes along. He’s a Vinnick with the gravitas of a Bartlet. And if he nails it, then the ALP are out of work.

The world is complicated, let’s try and keep some perspective

It has been an intense few weeks in the media cycle – there have been a series of violent crimes, tragic accidents, natural disasters (Nepal) and high profile international incidents (death penalty in Indonesia). For those watching/reading/tweeting or otherwise engaging with news media, it has been an emotionally demanding time; for those engaging with social media it all seems amplified.

The one unifying feature of all these events is that it has allowed society, or at least for the most part, to remember a very compassionate, supportive and community minded way of life and way of looking out for each other. In reacting to the very worst of humanity, many people have shown some of the very best.

At the same time, however, I have been left feeling somewhat bewildered by much of the public reaction (media/social media/other) to the execution of two Australians in Indonesia this week. Before I go on to explain my ideas, I do want to say right now that I am wholly and fully opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances. I believe the justice system must focus on rehabilitation as a primary aim, and a just and fair punishment where necessary, or where rehabilitation has failed.

It follows then, that I am disappointed that the Indonesian government would execute anyone (Australians or otherwise), in much the same way that I am disappointed that any government, anywhere in the world would do this. And it happens. All. The. Time.

What would I want for Andrew Chan and Myran Sukamuran? Any just outcome that didn’t involve their death.

That said, I am also really disappointed in the reaction of a large portion of media and social media in Australia.

I am disappointed that main stream media outlets have used this sad event as an excuse to encourage anger and resentment towards Indonesia and Indonesians, revealing the very worst of Australian racism and xenophobia. If you want to know more about this, just look at the front page of any of the national news papers, especially tabloids, in the days following the execution.

I am disappointed in the outpouring of outrage about how disgraceful it is that Indonesia has breached human rights in so foul a manner by the same people who have no empathy for the plight of asylum seekers and apparently no shame about Australia’s inhumane and unyielding policies in this area. (I admit it, some of this is editorialising, in the sense that this is as witnessed around me. On the other hand, this paragraph applies to many members of the Federal Government, so I think the criticism stands.)

I am disappointed that in their haste to be outraged and fight the evil of “what Indonesia has done to some Australians,” a number of people seem to be glorifying the individuals involved. Can we remember for one moment that these were “ringleaders” of a drug smuggling group attempting to bring heroin into Australia. I’m not sure it’s ok to promote them as innocent victims of a cruel system. They didn’t deserve the death penalty, because no-one does. But beyond that? I think the sympathy thing is getting a little out of hand. Exhibit A: the fact that ACU has announced scholarships to honour them.  Where are the scholarships for run of the mill local drug dealers ACU? That’s what I want to know.

Oh, that’s right, they’re nowhere. Because the media hasn’t made them “A Thing.” And they never will, because eventually sanity will be restored and we will all remember the terrible scourge that is the current drug problem all over this country.

I’m all for an emotionally literate society and I’m really keen on a world where people look out for each other and care about each other. Can we please just remember that not every emotion needs to be intensified by the unstoppable beast that is ‘public opinion.’ It’s ok to feel without becoming overzealous and losing touch with common sense. The world is complicated. We can feel empathy for people who have suffered something terrible without canonising them.

I’m just going to let twitter have the last say.

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I hope Mark Latham never suffers from something for which he wants sympathy…

Thousands of people all around the world do something positive to help address the stigma of mental illness, or do something loving and kind to support someone they know who has a mental illness, or just bravely acknowledge the mental illness they have and do whatever it is that helps them manage it every day. None of those things are necessarily that easy, but all of them are noble.

Well done, those people.

Mark Latham – the past just phoned, it wants to know if it can have it’s prejudiced, ignorant and ill-informed callousness back?

It’s Movember, and I’m super proud of all my mates who are growing moustaches, raising money to support a shifting attitude towards men’s health, and being super honest about the importance of discussing the health issues that face men, one of which is mental illness. I’m super proud of them, and I’m a woman. Don’t make mental health some sort of lifestyle choice/ ‘you suffer so you’re clearly inferior in some way’/’thank god only silly women have mental health problems, including post natal depression’/’real men don’t need antidepressants’ type issue. It’s so beneath what thousands of people have worked really hard to achieve.

Just count yourself lucky that when your time of need comes, there will be someone there to support you, even though you won’t have earned it. Don’t worry though, you’ll get support, because you’re human and you deserve it, even if you think others don’t.

PS – no cure for being a dickhead. You’re on your own there.

PPS – give it up – the nation has already spoken on how not interested it is in what you have to say.

I call bullshit

The world is this morning waking up to some “major news”, which is expected to be confirmed in a television interview this evening: Ian Thorpe acknowledges he is gay.

It’s highly unlikely that I will watch this interview. Ever since the Meg Ryan debacle, I’ve found it difficult to watch Michael Parkinson – his arrogance gets in the way of his subject (not unlike Ian Mcnamara in this respect). Maybe it is a great interview, but I fear it will 60 minutes of extreme close-ups, awkward (thoughtful?) silences and ad breaks that are dramatically and inappropriately inserted for ratings suspense. I’ll just read about it later on the internet. Or beforehand, as it happens. We’re still about 7 hours before it goes to air, and multiple news sites are running with the headline that the great Thorpedo is about to finally reveal the truth about his sexuality. Most are just sort of alerting us to this information and are clearly a useful piece of promotion for the upcoming interview. Others are offering some sort of interpretation and commentary on the issue, including one piece  by Peter FitzSimmons, which I read this morning and felt a little bit uncomfortable about.

I’d just like to spend 5 minutes saying why.

You can’t claim that this is a non issue and private business and express sorrow for him in the same article where you dismissively stereotype gay men, act like its some amazing achievement you knew this about Thorpie before he did and then be all “its just his business but here’s my highly narrow-minded view on the fact that he lied to us all” which I suppose is just my interpretation of what this article is about, but my interpretation it is, nevertheless.

First of all, the gripping and sensitive (please note use of irony) opening to the article really seems to miss the point:

Look, it’s not that being cultured, sensitive, softly spoken, discerning, philosophical and cosmopolitan with a huge interest in fashion are the exclusive preserves of gay sportspeople in the oft macho and proudly hairy-chested sports world we live in. But as Thorpe, by his own admission, has long ticked all those boxes, of course there has been speculation for many a’moon that he is “that way inclined,” as they say in the classics.

Repeated use of a phrase such as “the gays” and then talking about how they’ve claimed another high profile person with excellent achievements seems a little bit counterproductive. In fact, it seems to fairly well betray a belief that gay people in our society are some sort of “other” and whether or not you’re being ironic, or trying to reach the not yet converted, or whatever, actually it really just reinforces the division that sadly does some times exist in terms of the way people view sexuality.

I’m uncomfortable, also, with the implication that Ian Thorpe has being lying, manipulating and otherwise dishonestly conducting himself with regard to this issue for the past 15 years. It is undeniable that Thorpe has, for a long time, not wanted to discuss this publicly, and has made statements that are contrary to the announcement that he is allegedly going to make in tonight’s interview. I think it would be generous to allow for the fact that all people need time and opportunity to discover their own identities and build their own sense of self, up to and including issues of sexuality. I might be way off base, but I imagine that being thrust unexpectedly into the media spotlight at age 15 just because you happened to be quite good at something; having your every move scrutinised; having hoards of people you can’t even conceive of the existence of speculating about who you’d like to have sex with at an age where you’ve probably not even thought that much about it yourself probably doesn’t make for the easiest climate in which to sort yourself out.

There’s going to be a lot of media around this, and I’m pretty sure that most of it is going to reveal exactly why Thorpe didn’t want to discuss this publicly for the last 15 years. Please remember, dear media, that dignity and decency should be a part of everything you do. Sarcasm, stereotypes, labels casually and thoughtlessly applied help no-one.

The article in it’s entirety:

http://www.smh.com.au/sport/swimming/ian-thorpe-acknowledges-hes-gay-lets-hope-hes-now-happy-as-well-20140713-zt5rm.html

Possibly some verse

Some of my students were writing poetry today. It had one rhyme in it and the said word ended all 8 consecutive lines of the poem. “Write a poem for us then, Miss.” Always up for a challenge, I wrote this little verse for the girls in order that they might improve their poetry writing. Apologies for the couplety nature of it, I’ve been reading a lot of Jonathan Swift and it’s just the way my mind is going these days.

 

An original scribble...

An original scribble…