Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Net imitates life

OK so everyone's pretty worked up about China and Google and censorship right now. And I really am interested in that issue, but I am also really interested in this one:


Because to me it seems like something inherently clicheable. You know, like maybe "closing the stable door after the horse has bolted", or perhaps "throwing the baby out with the bathwater", or even just "royally fucking people over".  (What? It's a cliche. Sounds pretty cliche to me. Fuck you. Go read some literature.)

All anyone has to do is mention "child porn" and people will be falling over their own assholes to disassociate themselves from that most taboo of taboos. Even if this means supporting a policy that blacklists the following, apparently:

"About half of the sites on the list were not related to child porn and included a slew of online poker sites, YouTube links, regular gay and straight porn sites, Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites, websites of fringe religions such as satanic sites, fetish sites, Christian sites, the website of a tour operator and even a Queensland dentist."

I'm not saying that child abuse isn't an important issue that deserves attention and funding and resources. I'm just saying that shutting down a fuckload of sites, only half of which may include child porn, is not going to change the amount of children being abused. But, as with so many other things, we are concerned with what is visible, more than that which is hidden. Get rid of the offending material online, and we've made progress, right?

I don't fucking think so. The material online is just a reflection of life, of people, of people's imaginations. I think real issues, like that of child abuse, should be dealt with starting in reality. Stop the child being abused THEN take the pics off the internet. Doesn't this seem sensible to anyone else?

OK, local rant over, let's get back to China now.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Meat and Me

I don't eat meat.

I like it, love it even, but I don't eat it. It's a choice I made about seven years years ago, based on a number of reasons, including moral, environmental and sentimental factors. My argument is not holeproof (I am an ovo-lacto vegetarian), but it's a choice I made, for myself and no one else, and it rarely affects anyone apart from me, so there's no reason for any one to object to it. Or question it, as far as I am concerned.

It is however, a very frustrating choice by which to live. Three reasons, mainly:

1. Eating in restaurants
2. The whole, "Oh you don't eat fish?" thing.
3. My mother.

Restaurants. Australia is possibly the worst country I have ever eaten in, in terms of accommodating vegetarians. Israel was great. For starters, any dairy in the dish? You can be sure there is no meat in it. That's kosher. India - fucking awesome - they understand vegetarianism there. All meals are "veg" or "non-veg". Concise. Absolute. Note also that the terminology is determined by the criterion of vegetarianism. The choices are not "veg" or  "meat", but "veg" and "non-veg". Because "non-veg" could conceivably contain animal products without actual meat chunks, like stock for instance. Yep, they get it. Hell I think they probably invented it. And the range! A huge range of "veg" food. Given there are about a billion more types of vegetable than meat that is commonly eaten, this makes sense to me. Unlike our local family restaurant that has nine different salads, not a one of them vegetarian.  Greece was pretty bad, about on par with Australia. Maybe a little worse. But even the UK, which is often viewed as more conservative than Australia, even the UK is aware of the fact that there are people who don't eat meat. Not Australia, though, fuck no. I'm lucky if there are two vegetarian choices when I go out to a restaurant. It's like there's some totalitarian chef in the kitchen screaming "Vegetarians? Tonight they shall eat QUICHE!" Oh yeah and fuck the vegans. Dunno where my blood pressure would be if I ever joined that crowd.

This brings me nicely to my second point. Fish. Have a look at a fish. See its eyes? Little swimmy fins? Mouth for eating? You ever seen a vegetable with a mouth? Yeah, OK, potatoes have eyes, never heard that one before but COME ON. Why is it such a foreign and baffling concept if I say that, being vegetarian, I don't eat fish? Fish is meat. No really, just let me say it again. Fish. Is. Meat. MEAT. Fish is meat. And I don't eat it. Yes I KNOW some vegetarians eat fish. But they aren't really vegetarian are they? I saw a good quote once. 

"Saying you are vegetarian and occasionally eat fish is like saying you are a pacifist that occasionally punches a child in the head".

I don't care if people eat fish and no other meat. That's great. I really could not give a shit. But if you call yourself vegetarian and eat fish, then what you are doing is creating this idea in the heads of meat eaters, this idea that vegetarians eat fish. So it can be really very difficult for them to comprehend that fish does not form part of the vegetarian diet. Which leads to situations like the following:

*enters restaurant*
Me: I see you have one vegetarian dish, "Stir Fry Vegetarian Delight". What's the sauce on that?
Waiter: Oyster sauce.
Me: You know oysters are meat right? And not vegetarian?
Waiter: ...oh.

Similarly I ate from the "vegetarian" menu at our local Thai Place (that is not a misplaced capital, it is actually called "Thai Place". Is it meant to be "palace"? Or is it just more honestly descriptive?) all year until a sneaking suspicion prompted me to ask if there was any fish sauce in the vegetarian food. "Oh yes. And shrimp paste". 

Fish, people. Fish are made of meat. 

And the third point. My mother. Generally a fairly liberal person, who never, before I became vegetarian, objected to eating vegetarian dishes. She seemed to take the whole thing very personally. I actually feel that this is the result of her seeing an implicit judgement of her own dietary choices in my decision to not eat meat. But for whatever reason, since I stopped eating meat, she has become extraordinarily vocal about her right to eat meat. She can't eat meat quietly around me. She has to make her eyes all wide and announce loudly, "MMMMM FLESH". When going out to dinner with me and my friends she will immediately ally herself with other meat eaters, as if she has to assert the rights of her fellow carnivores or else she will be forced to have a meal without any animal in it at all. Oh the humanity.

I did an experiment once. My brother, several years ago, decided to become vegetarian also. Nothing to do with me, but of course I was happy about it. At the time he told me, he had not yet told my mother. So I said casually to mum, hey, have you heard about Tris's recent lifestyle change? And she said, no, what is it? I said, he's gay. She said, oh OK then. That probably would have been the end of that. No real reaction, not bothered at all. So I said, OK I lied. He's not gay, he's vegetarian. And she screeched, WHAT THE FUCK? And refused to believe that I wasn't joking for a good five minutes. This whole exchange confirms for me that the woman is not conservative or narrow minded, but rather fanatically a carnivore who feels the need to impose her own choices, in this regard, on other people. 

Take my birthday for example. It's my birthday soon. She's invited some of my friends over and she said she'd make a nice meal. What would you like she says. To eat. For dinner. Just to be clear, I say, something without meat. She scoffs. Of course without meat, what did I think? I say, OK, I don't mind, anything. But not a barbeque, because it will turn into a meat fest. She says, OK. 

That was two days ago. Today she says to me, So I decided what to make for your birthday. A barbeque. 

But, but, but, I said that was the only thing I didn't want?

Yes, yes I know, but it's easy to just throw some meat on the barbeque, and I can buy some vege burgers for you.

Thanks mum. It's my birthday, and you're gonna give me vege burgers, while everyone else eats steak. Cheers.

I don't understand why it is so hard to contemplate a single meal that doesn't have meat in it. One day it'll happen, and she'll drop dead from instantaneous anaemia.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Violence and Ancient History in a Modern University

I very often find that my personal and my academic lives overlap in significant and often bitter ways. I suspect this is not unusual; my experiences are the foundations of my interests. But occasionally, it all just strikes quite close to home, and I don’t know what to do with the anger.


Having been forced to re-experience the helplessness that is the product of a controlling, manipulative, and emotionally abusive past relationship this afternoon, I was not well predisposed to sit through two academic papers. However, the author of one paper is a person especially dear to me, as an academic supervisor, and damn-near a parental figure, and really wanting to hear his paper, I went regardless of my ill-ease and agitation.

Both of the papers were provocative and intelligent. The first was an analysis of the concept of “beggarhood” and charity-giving in the Roman Republic. The second, my supervisor’s, was on the battered woman of Ezekiel 16, and drew a comparisons with spousal abuse and the autobiography of a slave-woman in the ante-bellum American South, Harriet Ann Jacobs. Quite complementary papers, giving voices to the muted.

Let me give you a short extract from the lengthy tirade Ezekiel launches against Israel, personified as an adulterous woman, with which the second paper was concerned:


Ezekiel 16:26 You played the whore with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, multiplying your whoring, to provoke me to anger. 27 Therefore I stretched out my hand against you, reduced your rations, and gave you up to the will of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. 28 You played the whore with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable; you played the whore with them, and still you were not satisfied. 29 You multiplied your whoring with Chaldea, the land of merchants; and even with this you were not satisfied. 30 How sick is your heart, says the Lord God, that you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen whore; 31 building your platform at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square! Yet you were not like a whore, because you scorned payment. 32 Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! 33 Gifts are given to all whores; but you gave your gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from all around for your whorings. 34 So you were different from other women in your whorings: no one solicited you to play the whore; and you gave payment, while no payment was given to you; you were different.

35 Therefore, O whore, hear the word of the Lord: 36 Thus says the Lord God, Because your lust was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your whoring with your lovers, and because of all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children that you gave to them, 37 therefore, I will gather all your lovers, with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you hated; I will gather them against you from all around, and will uncover your nakedness to them, so that they may see all your nakedness. 38 I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring blood upon you in wrath and jealousy. 39 I will deliver you into their hands, and they shall throw down your platform and break down your lofty places; they shall strip you of your clothes and take your beautiful objects and leave you naked and bare. 40 They shall bring up a mob against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. 41 They shall burn your houses and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women; I will stop you from playing the whore, and you shall also make no more payments. 42 So I will satisfy my fury on you, and my jealousy shall turn away from you; I will be calm, and will be angry no longer.


The rage and violence that fuels Ezekiel’s misogynistic and pornographic tirade is not something that has been eradicated from today’s society. Women are still accused of whoring (be the infraction real or imagined), are beaten, shamed, humiliated and left helpless and voiceless. Just this week five women in India were publically stripped, beaten, and forced to eat shit.

Here, have some source material: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8315980.stm


But it’s not just India. The Australian component of the International Violence Against Women Survey (2002-3) found that 57% of women interviewed had been assaulted physically or sexually, and most of these women experienced that violence at the hands of their current partner: http://www.aifs.gov.au/acssa/statistics.html#police

So really, this paper was dealing with nothing of the sort concerning “quaint” biblical society. These are real issues, old as patriarchy.


And yet. The responses after the paper were mind-blowing. For my part, I spewed forth a mulch of ideas, quite incoherently, so excited was I to hear a paper that really addressed something I care about. As opposed to say, the 45 minute discussions of exactly which year a certain coin was minted that usually dominate these seminars.


“Surely we can just say this isn’t the case any more, that was their society then, and now all that has changed, so we can forget about it” was one particularly astute response.

But the response that tore me in half was that of an extremely eminent scholar who is very well-loved by the department.


He made a comment that the exegetical tradition deals with all these issues, and that this part of the bible is nothing that hasn’t been treated before, and indeed throughout the millennia. Perhaps this is correct. I haven’t read the last two milennia’s publications on that passage. Perhaps I should. But I have read a hell of a lot of exegesis, and I know that feminist scholarship has important and innovative things to say about women in the bible, generally and specifically. I can point you to a hundred feminist articles, commentaries on the bible, monographs and more. Upon my supervisor answering that feminist scholarship felt that the violence of the passage had not been dealt with sufficiently, Prof. Eminent Scholar replied:

“Well I would suggest that feminists don’t read exegesis.”

Oh no. Really? Feminists don’t just read exegesis, they fucking write it.

At this point the discussion was pretty much terminated, and I got out of there before I participated in some violence myself.

This is the department in which I work. I love it. Or I thought I did. But to have this most respected scholar so flippantly deride the efforts of the scholarship to which I so aspire… It made me want to leave. To be made, once again, to feel helpless and ridiculous in the unwavering and relentless tide of male monologue… It hurts.


I’m so tired. 

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mothers and Murder

I have noticed in literature and in the media a tendency to demonize women who harm or murder their children in a way that is inconsistent with the depiction of fathers who have committed similar crimes. We have a much more severe reaction to women who harm their children than to other types of violent crimes. This is readily understood - mothers who murder are seen as epitomizing perversion of the natural order. Mothers by nature are expected to nurture and protect. But why the difference in representing murdering or abusive fathers? 

Mothers who harm their children are often identified in the media as "mum" whereas their male counterparts often receive the less emotive appellation "father", or simply "man". This is a trend I have noticed without compiling any data, so at this point my comments are merely anecdotal. But it would be an interesting study, along with surveying the vocabulary in  biographies of violent crimes committed by parents against their own children. I am thinking particularly of the animosity elicited by Rose West, and Newcastle's Kathleen Folbigg, who was convicted of killing her four children. 

Of course I may be just noticing those articles that present information in a certain way that arouses my ire, but it would be an interesting study nonetheless.

This is something I would like to follow up in the future. I hope this entry will serve as a reminder for me to do so.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When I was walkigto work this morning I saw a dog, a large boxer, wandering idly about the main street. I got that feeling, that "I could just walk away, I'm in a hurry, I've got lots to do this morning, what responsibility is it of mine?" feeling.  That feeling made me feel shitty, so I thought, the least I can do is to check the dog's collar and give its owners a call, let them know where their dog was.

I followed the dog and asked a few nearby people if it belonged to them. Negative. I was trying to get close to the dog when a man walking two small yapper type dogs approached. The boxer was very interested in the small dogs, and their owner didn't seem too concerned. At least until the boxer, predictably, decided the yapper dogs needed to be dealt with, and went for the throat of the closest one. 

I am ashamed to say that I hesitated out of fear, and so I wasn't able to get the boxer off the small dog until it had done some serious damage. When I had a hold of the Boxer I screamed at the man, who was still standing about like a fuckwit, to pick up his dog. He didn't. He just walked away, dragging the small dog ebhind him. Literally dragging. The small dog was in shock or worse, and the man hadn't seemed to notice that it was unable to stand, let alone walk. He was dragging it along the concrete on its side. I shouted at him again that his dog was hurt, and he turned around, and seeing that the dog could not stand on its feet, he picked it up and walked away.

Which left me holding the boxer, not knowing what the fuck to do next. The owner of a nearby shop was standing outside, arms folded, looking on cheerfully. I asked if she sold rope in her shop. She nodded. I asked if I could have some of her rope, she nodded, but didn't move. I asked again. The same response. "I'll buy you some rope" said a woman I hadn't noticd previously. And she went in adn bought me a lead. I was in a bit of a fluster, and the lovely lady, whose name was Julia, stood nearby (she was afraid of the dog so wouldn't come too close) and between us we managed to find the number of the closest vet, call them and be told all we could do was call the RSPCA or bring the dog into the vet. 

Funnily enough, it was the same vet that treated the dog Asha attacked a few months ago. God knows what they think of me there. 

Anyway, I was too scared to walk the dog through the park and up to the vet, as she was a strong dog, and had already proven her aggressiveness. I haven;t walked a dog since Asha's attack. So I accosted the next man I saw (Random guy who turned out to be Nick, student, local, on his way to train station to go to uni) and asked if he would  mind walking with me to the vet. If only Nick had been around ten minutes earlier. He agreed immediately, and we walked to the vet, dropped the dog off, and turned around and walked back to Epping. When we went our separate ways, I thanked him and said that I was sorry if I made him late for his class. He said:
"That's OK, it was an ethics class anyway".

There is so much rant inside me, but I've run out of energy.

Thanks Nick and Julia, who helped when everyone else kept walking.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Cruelty in dessert form

It's hard to go to the gym. Even though I know I enjoy it, the motivation it takes to actually decide to go is phenomenal in itself. 

You know what makes it harder? Cheesecake.

There is a cafe at the entrance to my gym. It opened not long ago, and started out selling healthy wraps and yoghurts and a variety of salads. The muffins appeared a few months ago and the friands not long after. The salads are taking up noticeably less shelf space. Today, there was cheesecake. 

Is this not one of the cruellest things to sell at a gym cafe? Assailing me in both directions: as I come in (vowing to run off last night's dinner), and as I leave (vowing not to immediately replace the calories I just burned).

I mean, I thought the vending machines with chocolate and chips right next to the treadmills were fucking enough to contend with, but now cheesecake? I can't take it. And the girl really  took her time making the fifty billion coffees for all the people ahead of me, so I stood in line and watched that cheesecake for about fifteen minutes. 

Obviously this is a conspiracy: 

"Eat cheesecake! Oh damn, now you need another six month's gym membership, what a shame." 

Bloody capitalist parasites. 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

idealistically speaking...

At Easter, I was talking to a homeless guy on George street. He said to me, "I was 15 down, but you made it 14". When I asked him what he meant he replied that on a good day, he gets 3 people an hour stop to give him some change. But that day I was the first person in five hours who had stopped. First of all  - 3 people an hour? What the fuck is wrong with everyone? Second, five hours with no-one stopping at all? I repeat the fucking aforementioned interrogative.

I saw an artwork today at the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art that really pissed me off. I have to acknowledge the possibility of over-reaction due to "difficulties associated with menses" (thank you wikipedia o stalwart of political correctness), but I think even at another, less...imminent juncture I would still have suffered that mental gag reflex. The work was a collection under glass of cardboard signs purchased from homeless people in Melbourne. The signs were nothing so different from those that one might see on any busy street in any reasonably large city. Brief notes of explanation and exhortation, directed to the same end: please give me a few dollars.

What the fuck purpose does it serve to put these together as a "work of art" in a fucking museum? Here's a thought: go outside, walk for two minutes in any direction and you can see your own "real life" fucking version, where you can contribute to the actual cause, rather than sigh, think profound thoughts, vow to give to the next vagrant you see, and then promptly forget about it as you are struck by the next inspiring piece of self-congratulatory, furiously ego-wanking "artwork".

My question is this; how does such a collection raise awareness, as it were? Is it because these signs in their original context are rarely read due to the head-down pretend there's no-one there response most beggars prompt? If so, how is setting the signs out so aesthetically (most notably, without their human author present) going to change anyone's reactions? If you can't have compassion when the face of the poor is staring you in the face how the hell is going to a posh fucking museum where people happily pay extortionate amounts for stupid postcards going to make any difference? 

And isn't it exploitative? Yeah OK, the artist paid for the signs, good job, real social awareness there, but isn't it, in fact, going to eventually benefit that same artist, if not in immediate monetary reward, then at least in increasing exposure to his/her work, which presumably would be hoped to lead to financial gain at some point in the future? 

I'll admit it is possible that I missed the point. Perhaps the artist is actually incredibly socially oriented and works hard for a multitude of causes and produces art fit for the Museum of Contemporary Art in their spare time. Fuck knows. But art should stand on its own should it not? This piece to me seemed to stand on the fucking tired feet of those who would better use them to congregate around the Museum door and demand fair recompense for their lives on display.