Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Human Rights - it's personal

Sally Warhaft, Julian Burnside and Tom Porteous
in conversation at The Wheeler Centre.
When I booked tickets to this evening's Fifth Estate event at the Wheeler Centre to hear Julian Burnside, barrister and refugee advocate, and Tom Porteous from Human Rights Watch discuss human rights, none of us knew that later tonight two Australian citizens would probably be executed. I say probably, because while there is breath in their bodies, there is hope.

It seems cruelly apt to be thinking and talking about human rights when state sanctioned murder is about to occur.

As I listened to chair, Sally Warhaft, share her private grief about what is likely to happen, I really felt the truth that human rights is personal and it's individual and it is important for every human being.

Last weekend, I called the police after hearing a woman nearby screaming for her life. She's human and has rights and I can't stand by and hear her be threatened without taking some kind of action.

At the same time, the so-called leader of the free world presides over a country that still has the death penalty. Julian Burnside spoke about the fact that the debate in the US is currently more about the method of execution, rather than the existence of it. He said some of the countries that manufacture the chemicals required for execution by lethal injection are refusing to supply it. Tom Porteous said that in his home state of Maryland (which includes the city of Baltimore) consideration is being given to bringing back firing squads and gas because of the difficulties faced in carrying out lethal injections. (Read more.)

How can Indonesia take criticism of its actions seriously, while this is going on in the US? Or while Australia runs concentration camps on Nauru and Manus Island?

I was struck by Tom Porteous' statement about "judicial fallibility" coupled with the "irreversibility of the death sentence". What a terrible cocktail.

Twitter and Facebook show a wide range of views, including those that suggest people should get what's coming to them if they break law. Here's my response:




The session will be available as a podcast tomorrow if you'd like to listen.

I'm off to light a candle and hope for some goodness and sense in the world.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Gaggles of girls and group dynamics

The door opened and four people spilled into the pizza shop. The televisions weren't on as usual, so the restaurant part of the shop was quieter than usual. A burly man wearing the high-visibility shirt and sturdy boots which denotes "blue collar" followed in the tumble of girls and curls who spilled in before him. Their prissy and fussy starkly contrasted with the utilitarian functionality of the man.

He asked the girls where they wanted to sit. They noisily chose a booth and proceeded to pile onto the banquette, opposite their father who looked as if he was attending a job interview. Quickly the girls were silenced by the compelling content of their electronic device. He studied the menu. All interaction between the opposite sides ceased. The middle girl would occasionally elbow the older and the younger to stop them crowding her as their hypnosis deepened.

"What do you want?" he asked.

"Where's mum?" they asked.

"She'll be here soon," he replied.

Is this a Friday night handover of children between divorced parents? I wondered.

"What do you want?"

"PIZZA!" they screamed.

Well, it's a pizza shop, so that's a pretty good pick.

I continued to wonder at the contrast between the man and his progeny. All these girls - so many of them! - with their giggles and glances and things - so many of them! - must be mysterious to such a man. How does he come to know and understand his daughters? Already they seem to wield power of the man.

A feeling of confused wonder surfaced. I'd had it before. I remember sitting on a train when a group of young women dressed for a night on the town all boarded the carriage together. The sounds, sights and smells were overwhelming. As a pack, they were intimidating. They had so many shoes and bags and nails; so much hair and earrings. They jangled and tinkled when they moved, providing the soundtrack to their overly loud voices and awful, false, self-conscious tittering. The wall of their perfume made them an impenetrable group.

I look at the father and think about how lonely it can be when you're on the outside of a group - even if it's one that you don't want to be part of.

*****
I'm doing some professional development next week as I embark on an Advanced Diploma of Group Dynamics. See you afterwards.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Boys on their bikes

Two boys on bikes fly around the corner, following the sound of their own voices. They are about twelve or thirteen years old. The first boy is graceful and elegant, almost like the bike is part of him. As he comes around the corner, his hands are stretched out at his sides, like aeroplane wings, and he looks so loose and free. The second boy is everything the first boy is not. He's awkward and wobbly. He takes his hands off the handlebars for a second and the bike's frame shudders and shakes from side to side.

"How do you take your hands off without the handlebars wobbling?" he calls to the first boy.

"Balance," is the only response and not very helpful for a boy who struggles just to ride the bike.

"Yeah, I know! But when I take my hands of the handlebars, they wobble. Yours don't. How come?"

"Balance!"

Groan.

It was a futile conversation. The first boy has it naturally and it seemed miraculous that the second boy was able to ride the bike at all.

It was nice to see a couple of kids out and about on their bikes in the neighbourhood. I suddenly realised it's a rare sight these days. I remember riding my bike all over town when I was their age. We'd ride to and from school and be away for hours at a time on the weekends. Only once, did I go quite a long way and underestimate how long it would take me to get home. In the days before mobile phones, my parents must have worried about me. I did get there in the end.

I hope the second boy is really good at something that the expert bike rider isn't. That would only be fair.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Paying tax - why?

I received my tax assessment today. Before you stop reading - tax is hardly the most thrilling subject - I want to talk about what else was in the envelope.

There's a tax receipt which explains where my tax dollars were spent. It shows how much and what it was spent on. I think this is an excellent way to educate about the value of paying tax, but for some reason it feels like a cynical exercise.

The first thing I noted was that the level of Australian Government gross debt has increased from $257 billion to $320 billion. That increase has happened under PM Abbott and Treasurer Hockey who used to talk about a "debt and deficit emergency" but now they say there isn't one.

Unsurprisingly, welfare is the biggest proportion and payments to unemployed people is the smallest share (apart from "other").

Health is second highest, then the list gets interesting. Defence received more of my tax dollars than education ($5 more to be precise). I'd like to know more about health spending - for example how much of it goes on subsidising private health insurance for people with money compared to mental health services.

Recreation and culture gets the smallest amount. Luckily I prop them up by paying to go to art galleries, concerts, plays and other cultural activities.

Any mention of the environment is screamingly absent and I can only hope that some of the money going to "fuel and energy" is for development of renewable energy.

There's more information on the website. I love their commitment to plainspeaking:

Understanding tax

Australians pay tax so the government can provide services to the community.
Good to know.
Immigration is the category that upsets me because I know that I have no choice but to financially contribute to the immigration detention centres where innocent people are kept in concentration camps.
I wonder what would happen if tax payers could direct where our share of taxes was spent? I know that it wouldn't necessarily be practical, but it would be interesting to ask people. My decisions would be very different from those of the current government, but I don't resent paying tax.
Thanks to the Australian Government for the information!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Man about town - who's his haberdasher?

In the bookstore, downstairs off Collins Street, I was in the science fiction area, looking for a book recommended by my friend J. We'd had lunch and wandered around a little section of Fitzroy, enjoying conversation and the glorious autumn weather. A vision in hot pink spandex and matching sneakers excused himself. I looked up. The sound of the voice did not fit the expectations set by my peripheral vision. I was expecting a woman and saw a man. He was resplendent, with plumage in his hair to rival any bird during the mating season. His eyebrows were strong black diagonal lines. I figured he had been at the Supanova Pop Culture Expo which had been on at the Melbourne showgrounds until I saw him on the train this evening.

Tonight he was wearing a tight red mini dress with a purple faux fur jacket. Again, he was topped with spectacular plumage - red and purple feathers, sprinkled with jewels, covered his entire head. I noticed the eyebrows again.

As I made my way to the exit, he looked directly at me. We nodded at each other. Weirdly, it felt like we were recognising something kindred.

I took the plunge. "You look amazing," I said.

His face lit up. "So do you!"

This felt like high praise from someone who clearly spends A LOT of time on his appearance. I also work hard to maintain my artist's identity when I'm working in that capacity with corporate clients. I must have succeeded today.

"Same hair!" I laughed, referring to our matching red.

"Twins!" he responded with the appropriate amount of irony.

He held the door open for me and we both went out in the night. I found myself wondering where he'd spent his days and then decided he'd probably been earning a living, just like most of us travelling home at 6pm.