Sunday, May 31, 2009

Supermarket lunch

Damn the food in Japan is good. This is what I bought for lunch from the supermarket on Friday.

Get a load of the size of the figs!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Strange Flashbacks

That ABC article about how girls need to be taught to be more assertive has been floating around in my head for a week now, and just this morning it triggered a memory of a night when I was 16 or 17. I hadn't thought of it for years and years, but I wonder if it played a part in my position on consent and ethics for blokes.

Mark, Jessie*, Rob** and I had gone to see a band or some such and we ended up back at Mark's place. A great deal of silliness and no doubt masses of flirting ensued. This, rather inevitably at that stage in my life, ended up in a tickle fight. One that I also inevitably lost. It's hard to win a tickle fight when your hands have been tied together. I was all good with this. I knew Mark pretty well, this was a running gag between us and Jessie was his girlfriend and was involved in the nonsense. At some point Rob crossed the tickling/foreplay line, and despite having felt completely in control up until that moment, right then I changed instantaneously into deer in the headlights. I didn't speak up, I didn't do anything. Fortunately, Mark also knew me pretty well, and when he realised what was going on he immediately intervened and the situation disappeared. I was a little shaken (mostly regarding my own lack of action), and went home soon after.

When I look back on that, my first question is "Why didn't I just tell him to stop?" I think I had been drinking, but I certainly wasn't rat-arsed. I remember way too many details about unrelated parts of the night for that. One very likely contributing factor is that there was bugger all conversation involved with the sexual encounters I had under the best of circumstances. Some giggling, and occasional whispers, but with only a few rare exceptions, I was utterly incapable of verbal communication once the hormones kicked in. I was probably desperately afraid of saying the wrong thing. Or maybe it's just that no-one ever speaks in sex scenes in movies. Anyway, the guys were no better at it than me. If you can't speak up to ask for what you do want when everyone is on the same page, what hope does anyone have of speaking up when they want to stop proceedings?

The next point that comes to mind is that I don't think Rob was a particularly unpleasant guy. He certainly didn't object when Mark intervened, and I can't really say that he was entirely unreasonable in assuming that, since I had allowed my hands to be tied and got involved in all that physical contact and flirting and all, he was only doing what I clearly wanted. The only snag was that it hadn't even occurred to me that he could think so. Actually, it hadn't even occurred to me that he would want to, after all I was fat and ugly.

And then the other thing that occurs to me is that males are clearly completely capable of having ethics regarding sex, because Mark exhibited them magnificently, and to be fair, given the total lack of communication that was endemic in my sex life, Rob did too.

There was a situation that could easily have ended in tears, even rape allegations. I definitely didn't want him to continue, but for some reason couldn't express that. Any definition of consent I can come up with, though, puts that encounter in exactly the same category as the ones in which I was happy to participate - at least from the point of view of any observer who didn't know me really well. This is why I think consent breaks down as a concept in these potential date rape scenarios.

So maybe our sex ed classes need to show videos of people having grown up sex, in which they speak, maybe even laugh. You know, they could even ask each other questions like "Do you like it if I touch you here?" - might give both sides a chance to find out the answer....

And once more, this attitude that men just have sex with anything with ovaries that stands still long enough unless someone explicitly tells them not to has got to stop. Those sex ed classes have to expect boys to think long and hard about the consequences of this action just like the girls. And those consequences are not just rape allegations. This is not just about consent. They can behave morally reprehensibly without raping anyone, and that needs to condemned, not saluted.


*Names changed because I haven't asked them if I can talk about them
**Name made up because I can't actually remember it

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Which privilege?

From HAT, I followed a link to Being White - a comedian fully aware of the privilege he enjoys as a white male.

There's always been a niggle when I've heard people talking about white privilege, but I've never put my finger on it. This quote from the stand-up clarified it for me:
Here’s how great it is to be white, I could get in a time machine and go to any time and it would be fucking awesome when I get there. That is exclusively a white privilege.
This is probably true, as long as you stay in the western world. Spending a tiny bit of time as very definitely the inferior race rather makes it clear how insanely western-centric this notion of white privilege is. If he gets in his little time machine and travels to Japan in 2AD, he's unlikely to find it "fucking awesome".

This is not to say that white ideals of beauty haven't infiltrated Asia, but the only advantage being white confers in Japan is less requirement to adhere to the cultural norms. You are, after all, only gaijin, and not actually capable of that level of sophistication.

I don't argue that being white isn't a "leg up" in my own society, but having worked closely with a few places in Asia for over a decade now, I have also always been aware of my inherent inferiority in those places.

One reason for my awareness is that racism is regarded completely differently in various parts of Asia. In a few places, it is fairly commonly accepted that white people are racist towards Asians, and that only Asians can do business in Asia. White people don't belong. We are too stupid and lazy to achieve anything. Asians, of course, are not racist - after all, they aren't much different to anyone else on the planet.

In Japan, however, racism is a part of life. It's fairly egalitarian racism - all those who are not Japanese are gaijin - which translates a number of ways, but "foreign trash" is the most common usage. I am called that openly and routinely.

The Filipino guy I work with is called a "yellow banana". Over the years I've heard heaps of it.

The point here is not a "who is more racist" competition - I suspect most cultures are on equal footing, they just express it in different ways and to different degrees - the point is that I can't help feeling that defining white privilege as a universal condition is arrogant. It completely disregards a huge part of the world in which white confers no privilege.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I like Tokyo

This is a city I can feel comfortable in. I barely speak ten words, I stumble over the etiquette and I can't read a single thing, but I'm confident to wander around by myself. I even played tour guide today.

When I try to speak tiny bits of Japanese, people are gracious. They don't point and laugh. They even make like they understand me. Smiling and bowing gets you a long way.

The city feels alive and welcoming. Not a lot of reckless abandon, I grant you, but a reserved enjoyment that is very easy to get along with. There has been real thought go into making it easy to get around (as long as you aren't trying to do so based on an address), so that you are almost never very far from some sort of railway station entrance. Armed with a rail map you can then get anywhere.

Of course, knowing a handful of Japanese words can make for awkward situations. After getting assistance to make my hotel access card work again, I bowed and said "sumimasen" (thankyou). The guy then said something to me very quickly in Japanese, which I decided (while I stood looking vacant) was probably "Oh, so you speak Japanese?". I don't even know the word for "no". So I said, in English, "No, I'm sorry, that was it." The next morning the guy said, in an almost perfect BBC accent, "How are you this morning Ma'am?". No doubt thinking "Bloody stupid Gaijin." I certainly felt like one. :)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Am I Politically Correct?

Political correctness has been occupying my thoughts a bit recently for some reason, and I've been trying to find some order to my opinions. You see, on the one hand I cringe visibly when "spastic" is used as an insult, on the other, I resent having to eat Scalliwags*.

I started down a classification path. There are words that are not actually offensive in and of themselves, they become that way when someone adds an offensive meaning to something that describes ordinary people - such as spastic. Then there are words that are offensive because of the cultural baggage those words have - such as Golliwog.

I have always had much more sympathy for changing my behaviour with respect to the former, than the latter. Someone using a category that applies to you as an insult is always offensive, regardless of how you behave. On the other hand, the words with cultural baggage only continue to have power if the people on the receiving end choose to let them.

I know it's more complicated than that, not everyone has the luxury of the self confidence to make those choices. Also, I would not choose to call Tania Major a coon, nor would I call Michael Kirby a faggot. I'm all for "coon" and "faggot" being appropriated by their targets and having their negative connotations removed, however, it's not my right to thrust that upon those who it affects. But that's in a personal setting. In a more general setting, I try to guess where the sentiment is, and provide momentum for the movement. I have friends who happily claim wog heritage, and I happily support them by using wog with no negative connotations. Similarly with dyke, fag and no doubt quite a lot of others.

And this is where I run into conflict with others - I don't believe that you can fix the problem by not using the words. Further, I think you exacerbate the problem when you stop letting people who never even knew about the negative connotations, much less implied them, use the words. Cultural baggage is context dependent.

Golliwog is an interesting case in point. I grew up knowing golliwogs as rag dolls made out of black material and tasty chocolate biscuits. I had no idea that the term carried all sorts of nastiness in some parts of the world. When I look back on the dolls and the biscuits, the problematic thing I see is when they tend towards the clownish, black and white minstrels look. The golliwog I had as a kid wasn't that kind, it was a girl holding a doll. The problem to me was with the icon, not the word. But in the case of the biscuits, we kept the icon, and not the word. This strikes me as condescending and massively point missing. Bring back the gorgeous little girl golliwog and its positive connotations!

So I have a policy of repair on those words. I thought I had a zero tolerance policy on the other ones. I remember a teacher in 3rd class telling us not to use spastic as an insult, since it was horrible to children who were spastic. It was a revelation to me that spastic had another meaning, but I really took that to heart. Well mostly. Over the years I've had to break other similar habits (misusing schizophrenic, for example) and then I ran into one that I balked at. Lame. I use it a lot. It feels to me that it has been redefined. The only time I have heard the word used to describe disability in the last 20 years is on ads for child sponsorship, and that's a whole separate kettle of exploitative fish. I don't believe a doctor has told anyone recently that they will be lame for the rest of their life.

So I guess the question comes down to whether anyone really thinks the category "lame" applies to them. I would argue not, but then I currently have no disability that could possibly count. Oddly, everyone I know that has had a qualifying disability, either temporarily or permanently, has used the term cripple. Does anyone know anyone that claims "lame" as their own?

*Golliwog chocolate biscuits got renamed as Scalliwags. They still look the same.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is consent a furfy?

I've been trying to stay right out of the Mathew Johns melee, but this article just got up my nose enough to make me post.

The ABC news article discusses how 14-19 year old girls are not taught how to say "No".
She found that while the girls were well informed on topics like pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, their education did not adequately prepare them to cope with sexual relationships and negotiation skills.
I have been bothered by both sides of the "group sex incident" argument.

Firstly, this is a "he said, she said" situation. The number of he's isn't relevant - they will all say the same thing, that's what years of team sports can offer. So we can't assume that either side's story is right. I strongly object to the "she said she was raped, so she was raped" line of reasoning. Equally do I object to the "he's a good bloke, so he wouldn't have done that" line. The only things we know for sure are what they all agree on. And even that is possibly questionable.

This all goes to the heart of what sex is, what it means to whom and who is allowed to do what.

This comment from PinkPixie
, on Blue Milk's post, for some reason, really got under my skin.
There is no way in hell I will ever believe that she consented to all these big burly blokes having sex with her , degrading her and deaming her not just as a woman but as a human being – willingly.
Who says she couldn't? Who says that choosing to have sex with a big group of "big burly blokes" is by definition degrading? By looking at the list of acts, you can't determine that. Granted, my ability to believe that a bunch of pissed footballers were treating a 19 year old with respect in an act that, while unusual, was genuinely what she wanted is severely limited. However, I have a visceral reaction to the suggestion that she couldn't possibly have wanted to participate.

I should point out that PinkPixie's comment was made in the context of this particular incident, and may well not have intended what I read into her comment. It just drew my attention to this underlying attitude in much of what has been discussed.

The power dynamic in sexual encounters is:
  • Men want sex
  • Women are allowed to want sex too, under society approved circumstances
  • Women are charged with making the decision about whether this is socially approved circumstances
  • Women are then expected to enforce their decision, despite the possibility of physical intimidation, and the lack of experience noted in the article above
  • Men are required only to stop themselves if they actually notice she said no.
So men are apparently incapable of making the judgment call about whether this sexual encounter is a good idea. This is very apparent in the GSI, where no-one has criticised Johns for not recognising that this was not an appropriate sexual encounter. There has been some flack for his infidelity, but none for just failing to recognise that sex with this girl and all his mates was a bad idea, irrespective of his marital status.

The girl in question, however, is constantly criticised for getting herself into the situation. For failing to use good judgement. Even the article only discussing helping girls to make and enforce their decisions. Not a single mention of boys being expected to do the same.

The question is not about consent, in my mind. Consent just perpetuates the "woman as gatekeeper" mentality. The question is about respect. Both sides showed a lack of it in bucketloads.

The girl had insufficient self respect to steer well clear of men who are pretty much defined as mysoginistic.

She also possibly had insufficient respect for the guys to consider them as human beings rather football heroes. I don't know if this is true or not, but it is a possibility.

The men had insufficient self respect to recognise their own agency in this. To take responsibility for their own moral decisions. The "but she wanted to" defence essentially denies a man's ability to not have sex unless explicitly told not to by someone else.

They definitely had insufficient respect for her as a human being. While I recognise both sides' responsibility to see that this was a bad plan, they were older, and in a position of greater power, thus making their lapse more significant than hers, in my mind.

All of this analysis leaves out the social conditioning that makes her a slut if she really did want this, which then in turn justifies the men disregarding her right to respect and care. That's the vicious cycle, because we don't hold men responsible, only women can be sluts, so men never have to be responsible (only sluts engage in dodgy sexual behaviours) and so on.

I don't want to see Mathew Johns crucified, I want to see someone ask him why it matters whether or not she consented* (in his mind). Ask him whether there is a possible state of mind that this girl could have had that would justify his behaviour. And then in response to the "these girls throw themselves at us all the time" nonsense, ask him why men are less capable than women of saying no to unwanted sexual advances. I'd like to see him understand, or at least invoke some understanding in other people.

Oh, and one last pet peeve - I don't care what his wife did or didn't say or what she does or doesn't believe. She has a number of things to consider in her response, it isn't reasonable to hold her accountable to all womankind, and she might just be making a huge mistake. But cut her some slack, no-one wants the media watching them while they deal with something like this.

*Clearly, if there was explicit non-consent, this becomes a legal issue and consent matters. However, in a situation so murky, morals are what matter, and I don't think consent need come into it.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I'm not a feminist but

Lauredhel pointed me to this little discussion at Feministing. I'm not a feminist, but I have to ask, who is to help create a new generation of feminist people (or indeed, just balanced, reasonable individuals) if real feminists aren't "breeders"?

Seriously, I completely understand the indignation that results from the "You will want to have children when you grow up" sentiment. I got it a lot before I decided to have kids. So what I know is, it is possible to believe that you will never want children and then change your mind. I also know that some people just never want children.

What I also know is that if you have no thought for the next generation, you are a waste of space. You have a right to occupy that space, and I won't begrudge you your life, but don't expect me to value your opinion. If you don't care for those that come after, I don't feel a need to care for you.

But ultimately, how can anyone call themselves a feminist and brand child bearing "breeding", with all the snide, condescending overtones that conveys? If you have the right to not reproduce (and you most certainly do), I have the right to reproduce. How do I tell my daughter she should be a feminist when (these kind of) feminists tell her her mother is unworthy?

While these people denounce the biological role women play, they make the feminine inferior. I don't ask anyone to like my offspring. I argue that the social contract requires a reasonable support of the next generation, based on the fact that the last generation was supported, and that the current ones wish to be supported in their dotage. My children have to justify their value to society just like everyone else. They aren't special, but I hope they will be part of the generation that looks after me when I can't.

But ultimately, what pisses me off the most? How dare these people assume that having children means that the only thing I care about is my children? My life is balanced. It isn't all about my kids. I am as interested in my childless friends' lives as anyone else's. I am interested in politics that have nothing to do with families. I like beer. Fuck it, I am really looking forward to my kids being adult. Those ignorant, nasty people can keep their ridiculous stereotypes to themselves.

Labels are so easy to hide behind.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I'm not racist but

This week my "there are no inherent differences caused by race" stance has been highly threatened by my "there are some cultures I just don't like" position. I nearly blogged about it a few days ago, but the nag in my head was telling me it wasn't bloggable.

So it's been on the back burner for days, trying to work out what my experience was actually telling me. After interacting with a help desk in India, it took my rational mind some extended wrestling to kick the "All Indians are morons" conclusion (A) out of my head. Academically I knew that was bullshit, but I dealt with 5 or 6 Indians - all of whom were incapable of doing their jobs (and not as a result of language issues). I then dealt with one person in the UK, who knew what he was talking about and got results.

So, given that stupid, racist conclusion A wasn't viable, what can I really say? Well my stats course is ringing in my head with the line "from the population from which the sample was drawn". So, "All Indians employed by company X are morons, when compared with Brits employed by company X." (B)

Yes, I am happy with conclusion B. It is accurate, from a statistical point of view*. However, social commentary it ain't. What is this telling me that is meaningful? I ask myself, why would company X employ morons in India and competent people in the UK? Surely this can't be good for business.

And then reality finally dawned. Company X's clients expect conclusion A. Company X doesn't have to spend money on good people in India, they can just rely on the racism of their clients to have very low expectations.

But company X is based in the UK. They have to spend money on good people there. You can't have people thinking Brits are morons.

And so the racist feedback loop continues. And it is really hard, when you are just trying to get a job done, to look deeper than the frustration caused by an inept person on the other end of the phone.

So when I get the chance to have a bitch about the standard of the help desk, I'll be asking why they don't employ good people in India, like they do in the UK. I will not be duped into blaming the Indian help desk.

Although I may still swear about the incompetence every time I deal with them.

After all, Bigpond's help desk is proof positive that you can staff a help desk with morons anywhere in the world.

*I am assuming significance, this is a blog, not a stats assignment :)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Undermining my faith in humanity

I had a really lovely day on Saturday. After swimming, I went out with the family girls, ate cake, bought a red jacket for $30, wandered around strange shops, ate a tasty lunch at about 4pm and then went home.

Crash had a really shit day on Saturday. After swimming, he took the kids to Broadway shopping centre so that Ben could go to a birthday party at IntenCity. Unfortunately, Charlie really, really liked IntenCity. Crash gave him a game of air hockey and then promised him another after they had finished the shopping Crash wanted to do.

It was all going ok (Charlie approved of the porridge making device, but disapproved of the casserole making device) until Crash headed out to the car to deposit the purchases. Perhaps Charlie felt that his deal had been broken. For whatever reason, he took it upon himself to go back to the birthday party, without warning.

It was an hour before Crash found him.

For the people who walked past the crying three year old in Broadway on Saturday, I have a few tips:
  • If you see a small child with no obvious adult nearby, take 15 seconds out of your precious life to scan for an adult that looks like it belongs to the child.
  • If the child is crying, don't walk away unless you are positive an adult is overseeing a tantrum.
  • If there is no adult watching a crying child, ask them if they are ok. Worst case scenario it will take you 5 minutes to take the kid to security and you can get on with your life. You will save an adult and child a great deal distress.
People saw him, they told Crash they did. What kind of person leaves a crying 3 year old on his own? FFS.

On the plus side, we've had the massive scare that should stop Charlie bolting again and it all ended well. Poor Crash needed a lot sympathy and kindness that night.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The unexpected

At swimming on Saturday, Elissa didn't much enjoy herself. The water was too cold and the instructor was a stranger (our wonderful Clare was sick) and it was all too much. So I fetched her out immediately after her lesson and sat with her beside the pool while her brothers played with their father for the designated period of time.

While I was watching her run up and down the blue spongy, bumpy non-slip mats, falling over every two metres or so, giggling hysterically, applauding herself and occasionally demanding to have her hands kissed better, an astonishing revelation hit me.

I am going to miss this stage.

I am actually going to look back fondly on 18 months, and long for it. Her tantrums are still rare. She is mostly laughing, dancing sunshine. She can talk enough to get most desires across. She is loving learning language. With her parents she randomly interchanges "mummy" and "daddy". With other people, anyone currently looking after her is "mummy". She practices Commando Cuddle, whereby she runs full speed at the back of my legs and cuddles them on impact without warning.

But it's slipping. The tantrums are increasing. Frustration is creeping in as her desire to learn language is starting to outstrip her ability. This is a short moment. I'm glad I had half an hour to really enjoy it on Saturday.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Another one bites the dust

Oh, how sad, Mick Keelty (head of the Australian Federal Police) has resigned. Kev has paid tribute to him, he doesn't deserve it. I don't understand how that man sleeps at night.

Peter Faris QC has told ABC2 (lifted from the above link):
I think he's just waited for a reasonable time after the [Haneef] inquiry before resigning. My analysis of it was that he was the prime mover in it all and it went terribly terribly wrong as we all know and he should have accepted responsibility and resigned and he didn't.
For those not aware, Dr Haneef was accused of terrorism and deported. The sum total of the evidence was something along the lines of him having a brother who may or may not have been involved in dodgy dealings in the UK. Eventually the Dr Haneef's visa was reinstated and all the charges were dropped. It was a debacle.

However, for mine it paled into insignificance compared with the "Bali 9". A quick recap:
  • The father of one of the mules involved in smuggling heroin from Indonesia found out about his son's plans. He called the AFP in the hope that they would stop his son from going to Bali. He was told they would.
  • The AFP passed all the information given by the father to the Indonesian authorities and did not stop him boarding the plane.
  • Scott Rush and 8 others were arrested in Bali. All 9 faced the death penalty.
At this stage, I am still having trouble working out exactly where it all stands, but I think 6, including Scott Rush, are on death row. 2 others have been sentenced to life while 1 has been given 20 years.

The AFP is not supposed to cause anyone to face the death penalty. Mick Keelty put these young people in harm's way for no good reason. They are nobodies in the drug world, and authorities got no Big Guys out of this exercise. It is disgusting, and if any of those men die (and it seems certain that at least 2 will), their blood will be on his hands.

Good riddance Mick Keelty, this country deserves better than scum like you.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Labels

Chally over at Zero at the Bone wrote a post about how she came to identify as a feminist, and when I went to write a response I realised I had started off on a tangent that probably had no business in her comments section, so I brought it back here.

I'm not much into labels. This isn't a philosophical position, nor is it an indictment of the labels themselves. I don't identify as a feminist, because it doesn't feel right. I can't see how I have any more or less overlapping beliefs and ideals to many people who do identify as feminists, so I was wondering why I can't say "I'm a feminist." Then it kind of occurred to me that I may have issues with labels of any kind.

The fact that I don't identify with my own last name could be a give away. It's not that I don't identify with my family - I do, quite a lot actually. But it doesn't feel like it belongs to me. I cringe slightly whenever someone uses my last name. When I got married the first time, I changed my last name because I didn't care much what it was. I changed it back after the divorce because it seemed silly to have someone else's last name, but my maiden name still didn't feel like mine. I didn't use it at all in 3rd and 4th year uni - in physics "Ariane" is a sufficiently unique signifier. I hate having an email address with my last name in it.

As a kid, I tried out Christianity, it didn't fit, but while I was trying it, I never called myself a Christian.

The only label I ever really embraced was "witch", and let's face it, that was 30% identification, 70% amusing shock value. Especially when approached by Mormons.

Although honestly, reading about Wiccan belief was the first time I had seen anything that resonated with me, and it did feel, for a time, like I had found the label that fit me. It was the ritual aspect that appealed to me, it is that part which has remained with me. Since then I have read more, and continue to pick the eyes out of this and that belief system. I am probably an atheist/Buddhist/Wiccan hybrid now. No doubt that will continue to change. (Not the atheist bit, I can't see me ever believing in god - but I still can't call myself an atheist either!)

I am pathologically opposed to labels, it seems. I don't know why. Perhaps it comes from fear of rejection. If I am not X, I can't be rejected by Xians. But then, I'm pretty sure I can't be rejected from the last name society. Or maybe that's just the absurdity at the logical extreme.

Perhaps it is sheer arrogance. Could be, I'm good at arrogant.

If I ever finish this psych degree, I might be able to work it out.

Snippets

A day of small things...

Quote from Ben:

"When lots of people like something and one person doesn't, it's really bad."

Indeed.

--

I should never have started with iPhone apps, I was sufficiently addicted without them. In ten minutes I added a Twitter app and Bejewelled. My children will be neglected and no work will be done.

--

Charlie's teachers keep holding him up as a shining light of preschool behavioural excellence. I am considering leaving him there permanently.

--

In less than 2 weeks I am heading off to Singapore and Tokyo and the to-do list before I go is getting longer instead of shorter. I have prep work for the trip, a great deal of uni work to get through to cover an assignment which is due just before I get back, all the normal work stuff and people keep calling meetings on me. Necessary meetings, but time consuming nonetheless. I think I need the school day to go to 6pm...

--

On the plus side, the children all slept through the night last night. No fevers, stomach aches or nightmares. Sniffles, coughs and one loud thump, yes, but nothing that dragged my sorry arse out of bed.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Stupidly named 'flu of the year

Since I've been pulling myself out of a local low, I missed most of the "swine flu" stuff. It seems to be running itself out in Mexico, which suggests that while it will spread some more, it is unlikely to reach a critical level. Sorry, Nerida, but you probably won't get your two weeks off work.

I really struggle to maintain balance with these things. On the one hand, I genuinely fear a major 'flu pandemic. I believe it is one of the greatest threats to my family's safety in the short to medium term. On the other hand, the media goes directly from "new strain of 'flu we don't know enough about yet" to "pandemic - do we have enough anti-virals to go round?".

I don't know exactly how these situations should be handled. As a new strain of 'flu is identified that behaves sufficiently differently to the existing ones to present at least a plausible threat of pandemic, what should we do in the learning phase? Sadly, there is no way of taking sensible containment precautions without telling the world what is going on. So the WHO and governments and other People In Charge need to decide how to balance the description of threat so that it is taken seriously, doesn't incite panic and doesn't lead to a bad case of crying wolf in the public's eyes.

So far, I think they have done quite well on the first two points. Mostly. However, I think the only way to avoid the malaise that is already starting to surround a possible pandemic threat is education. People need to understand that if we don't have a 'flu pandemic in the short to medium term, it will be quite remarkable. We are due, as they say. And then they need to know what can and can't be done about it. Not to mention what could be done about it if more resources were funneled in that direction.

One thing that has struck me dramatically is the change in my shopping habits. Time was I could have lived out of my cupboard for a while if need be. In fact, my family did so when I was a teenager for about 6 weeks when there was no income (savings? ha!). I look at mine now, and if presented with a 2 week lock down, we'd seriously struggle. I am not buying up big, just thinking slightly about what would happen if I had to feed three kids from what's inside our house right now for 2 weeks. In honour of this thought, I bought an extra loaf of bread and a few tins of salmon and baked beans. That should work don't you think?

Of course, if locked in a house for 2 weeks with 3 kids aged 1-6, eating could prove to be the least of my problems....

Sunday, May 03, 2009

From the flip side

I was listening to a Hack podcast the other day whose topic was beauty. The first segment was a guy called Andrew who nominated himself as ugly. He talked about when he first "realised" he was ugly and mentioned his mother saying something along the lines of "You're not that bad looking" when he was a kid. (Reminded me of my mother telling me that it didn't matter that I wasn't pretty because I was smart :) - but that isn't the point of this.)

Then he talked about how he deals with being ugly - how he doesn't let it get him down. The two main things he focussed on was his professional success and his fitness. To be precise, he said (possibly slightly paraphrased) "I control the things I can control - my fitness and keeping my weight in the healthy weight range since I can't control that I'm ugly."

Which struck a chord. The strong message in fat acceptance is that you can be beautiful despite having little or no control over your weight, and here is a man saying that he can be slim, despite having no control over his beauty. Hmmm. Are there people who are ugly no matter how they present themselves?

I have certainly described people as ugly - but not anyone I know. The more I get to know someone, the more their appearance changes to me. If I like them, I naturally focus on their good points and if I don't - well then someone can be really ugly. But I'm usually too busy bitching about their other flaws to bother mentioning it. I'm pretty sure this is most people's experience.

And of those anonymous (or possibly famous) people I have branded ugly, there's probably not a one who hasn't been labelled as hot by someone else. Granted, there are some for whom the ratios are heavily skewed, but still, if someone finds you beautiful, then you have beauty.

So my money is on Andrew not actually being ugly - but since Hack is a radio show, I'll never know.

I feel I have more control over my beauty than my weight. After listening to Andrew, I wonder what is the objective truth. The fat acceptance line is still valid, challenging stupid norms and weight obssession is a Good Thing.

If objectively we have more control over our weight than they profess - well, that doesn't change personal experience. We should still keep looking for why we don't feel we have that control (be that cause medical, social or psychological), but in the meantime, fat = ugly has got to go.

At the very least, it is plausible that our obsession with skinny is what is making us fat.