Archives: April 2006

28 Apr 2006, Comments Off on Cucumbers and the art of Motorcycle maintenance

Cucumbers and the art of Motorcycle maintenance

Author: Helen

Nick Possum sent me a link:

Check out this crazy-mad Ukrainian girl’s website.
She’s into fast motorbikes and riding through Chernobyl. Also digging up relics from the vast grizzly WWII battlefields that she grew up amongst …
and visiting people in gaol.
Lots of great pics and downloadable movies.

Image from
On the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, I find myself getting depressed that the push is on to sell yellowcake to China. I don’t much care, to be honest, whether the intended purpose is for nuclear weapons or “peaceful” purposes. To me, it makes little difference, because – sorry to quote myself, but I’m lazy-

U-235 has a half-life of approximately 700-713 million years
U-238 has a half-life of approximately 4 billion years plus.
Plutonium is relatively benign with a mere 24,000 years.

Compared with:

Roman empire: 5th century BC to 5th century AD: About 1000 years
Byzantine Empire: 4th century AD to 13th century AD: About 900 years
Mayan empire: 4th to 16th century: About 1200 years
Imperial China (from Qin dynasty): 3rd century to 20th century: About 1700 years
Kingdoms of ancient Egypt: (Click here for a breakdown) about 3100 BC to 4th century AD: 3500 years, and as with China, weíre cheating by including
multiple periods, kingdoms and dynasties, so these periods, while the longest, are hardly stable.
British empire: Approximately 1700 to 1980s/1990s: A mere 300 years, being generous

Compare and contrast:

Engineered systems which have remained completely error free (including transport accidents, terrorism and sabotage) for at least the span of the British empire (the shortest example above): 0

Anyway, Elena is considerably more fun:

It is hard to find mechanic who does not drink. Sometimes, when they repair your engine they leave tools inside. Once while adjusting valve clearance on his car, my neighbour discovered a rotting cucumber under the valve cover.
We were amazed. There is no other way for a vegetable to get inside an engine, unless it was bolted down in there by some drunken mechanic. Perhaps it was a misplaced snack – but better than leaving a beer bottle in compression chamber!

Now go here for a haunting photoessay on Chernobyl.

Safe riding, Elena.

26 Apr 2006, Comments Off on Hoist on my own Hills

Hoist on my own Hills

Author: Helen

You’ve heard of the Mummy driveby™ (Sorry, I drop the US spelling on this blog), but here’s the childfree version.

Every mother is a total guilt bucket of course, and one of the marvellous flavours of that guilt is that as breeders, we are total environmental vandals!

It is absolutely true that children = environmental pressure, but as the Australian human population is below replacement level, I can usually maintain that form of guilt at a manageable level.

D. caught up with me as I was sitting in the laundrette giving my washing load a bit of a toast. Because although I use my clothesline and clotheshorse extensively, as the days draw in and the evenings get cold and we just can’t get the boy and do the evening bread-and-milk run and still be home in time to get stuff off the line before it all gets clammy…And sometimes these days it even rains! (Hooray!)…I still need to fall back on the dryer to get the job done completely.
Image from

-So, what are you doing here?
-I’m doing a load of drying. (Thinks: Nothing to do with the fact I can sit and read in a warm place, uninterrupted… honest!)
-Oooh! (giggle), I don’t use the dryer, I use the clothesline!

Well, what can I say to that? If I replied “well, perhaps it’s something to do with the fact I’m washing for four and you’re washing for one”, which is just the bleeding obvious, I’d be putting shit on her single status and sounding like Teh Smug Married Bore. Which I am always careful not to do.

So I just had to suck it up, didn’t I.

23 Apr 2006, Comments Off on Fishy, Pete!

Fishy, Pete!

Author: Helen

Image from

It was a happy coincidence to be walking up the steps of Trades Hall on Eight Hour Day. (That’s a link to a wonderful program, if you can bear extremely bad folk singing.) I wasn’t there for any event to specifically celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Eight Hour Day – I was there to see Sophie Kelly in Miriam and the Monkfish. But it was nice to be there on that day, and I always love to walk up the bluestone staircase with its pits and hollows worn by the steel-capped boots of millions of workers over the last century, and the honour rolls with a list of Eight Hour Day committee members. (It’s interesting to see the variety of trades, too; you don’t see many “cigar makers”now.)

Not that I’m optimistic about the prospects of the eight hour day in the immediate future. Now we have Work”Choices”, of course, the battle might have to be fought all over again in a different way and in a changed work and economic environment.

So what does Peter Costello do to mark this important anniversary? He smirkingly proclaims the 21st of April as Debt-free day, because the Federal government has paid off its debts.

Well, whoopy-do. We’ve shifted government debt to private debt, and it’s worse than before. Yet again the government’s managed to portray itself as a paragon of economic management based on affluence bought with money that isn’t ours. Like a lot of households these days.

Could Peter’s smirk-and-mirrors show be designed to distract our proletarian attention away from the Eight-Hour anniversary by creating a spurious “We’ve Paid off the Mortgage” day? Surely not.

This looks like a picture of the average punter’s reaction to “Debt Free Day”, but in fact it’s the promo from Miriam and the Monkfish, which is still on and well worth a look.

22 Apr 2006, Comments Off on Community childcare centres: a threatened species

Community childcare centres: a threatened species

Author: Helen

When you’re arguing about child care (see post on Steve Biddulph below) it is worthwhile pointing out that there’s child care, and there’s child care, and it’s not all the same.

When I went looking for a childcare centre for my little’uns, I was looking, specifically, for a community based childcare centre.

I was doing so for two reasons.

One was that community childcare centres were often joined to a kindergarten- in the one building or complex, that is – and that meant my kid could attend kindergarten. Kinder kids, as most of you know, start in late morning and finish soon after lunch – an impossible schedule for even the most flexible working parent.

The other was that the private childcare centres didn’t have the heritage and depth of commitment of the community centres. If I’m going to have my child cared for, I want it to be in a building which looks relatively permanent, which has actual grass (some private centres increasingly use astroturf). I want to use the service which has grown from second-wave feminists whose concern was to provide care for children and their parents. They didn’t grow from a need to make a profit for private businesses.

I don’t want my children’s needs to be offset against a shareholder’s needs.

Now the ABC “Learning” Corporations seems set to swallow up most of the child care “industry” (which is what it is becoming),and is now the world’s biggest child care company. Eddy Groves is the CEO, and he’s one of these Young Turks who sometimes come across as a bit sociopathic.

The notion of profit – suggest critics from not-for-profit child-care centres to Victoria’s Minister for Children, Sherryl Garbutt – sits uneasily with the notion of caring for babies and toddlers. Groves, who lifted his usual “zero media” policy for this interview, strikes back.

“That same line comes out all the time,” he complains. “OK, let’s go through some other essential services. Hospitals: private? Yes. Profit? Yes. Prisons? Yes . . . why is child care such a big thing, why is Eddy Groves such a big thing?”

Eddy, just quietly, you might want to stop referring to yourself in the third person, for a start. It makes you sound like someone with a Napoleon complex.

The problem with his statement above is that it reveals his complete and ideologically blinkered adherence to the neoliberal conventional wisdom. Yes, there is plenty of evidence coming out both here and overseas that there are big problems with private, profit-driven corporations running essential services and social services. (Wackenhut, anyone?) As far as Eddie’s concerned, it seems, there’s no argument. But those of us who use community childcare centres think there is.

Googling for privatised hospital systems, I came across this quotation:

Making profit a central motive can distort traditional relationships. To quote a commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine (August 5, 1999), “Our main objection to investor-owned care is … that it embodies a new value system that severs the communal roots and Samaritan traditions of hospitals, makes doctors and nurses the instruments of investors, and views patients as commodities.”
Why The Mater’s Afraid Of The Political Wolf by David Henry, Sydney Morning Herald 18 January 2000

Substitute “children” for “patients” and “carers” for “doctors and nurses” and you pretty much have it. You can read some stories herefrom parents who have/had children at ABC Learning Centres. But the really damning evidence is that when staff from ABC and from community run childcare centres were asked whether they would send their own kids to the centre they worked in, while most of the community childcare workers were happy to do so, twenty-one percent of the ABC workers said they would not.

I meant to blog about our experiences, but this is getting too long. I haven’t touched on Family Day Care here, which is where a mum at home qualifies to run a council-sponsored service at home, with relatively few kids. This suits some people better than community day care centres. But if the community centres are all taken over by corporate chains, the councils will follow, and these mums will be answering to a suit who answers to investors, instead of to the council and the parents. (Out-of-hours school care has already gone down this route.)

The National Association of Community based Childrens’ services has a lobby kit here. If you have kids, you might think about bookmarking it for the next election.

19 Apr 2006, Comments Off on So little time, so much to blog

So little time, so much to blog

Author: Helen

Aaaie. I had some time off over the Festival of Chocolate, but spent it reading rather than writing.

Here’s some things I want to tell people about:

I tuned into RN and heard Natalie of Philobiblion being interviewed! if you don’t know her blog, check it out. The post I’ve linked to has a link to a podcast.

Now if someone as busy as that can make the time to blog as well as she does, why the hell can’t I?

Natalie mentioned there’s a new Carnival of the Feminists on. I’ve been slack about linking to that, so here is where it’s going to be posted sometime today. The theme is “Feminism and Challenges – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.”

And in other news, as they say, the sisterinlaw is going pretty good. They’ve put back the bone flap they took out of her skull in order to operate on the aneurysm (which they were keeping in a fridge next to the mouldy yoghurt, according to her SO, but I wouldn’t mind betting people really do put their yoghurt in there.) Just as importantly, the tracheotomy has been taken out.. and she’s talking!

A bit of slurring, but not major.

One thing I didn’t know, after you’ve had a tracheotomy reversed you do throat farts for a while. Very special.

Now I’m late for work.

11 Apr 2006, Comments Off on Easter eggs and Nazis

Easter eggs and Nazis

Author: Helen

Image from

Almost Easter, and the chocolate eggs and other paraphernalia have been in the supermarkets for about two months already.

Irrelevant digression: We’ve come to accept that Easter is now a Festival of Chocolate; I love chocolate; no objection to eating easter eggs. At a stretch I’ll even accept chocolate bunnies and bilbies. But why, for the love-of-god, must they try to flog wheelbarrowloads of non-Easterrelated lollies with it? I’m talking about the easter packages which will include, for instance, one large egg and a surrounding nest of mini chocolate bars or individual chocolates. And all the un-egg-shaped chocolate and mallow stuff. Why is there need for all the extra chocolate items when we’re already going to be climbing the walls with chocolate poisoning?

Irrelevant digression #2: I didn’t know, until I took a training course last year, that “easter egg” is a word for a little bonus which bored developers put into applications you buy. For instance, if you follow these steps in Excel 97, you’ll get a flight simulator.

Anyway, back to what I was going to blog about. No matter how annoyed you are by the ubiquitous chocolate egg, you won’t be half as annoyed as the Washington citizens who woke up to find “words of hate and pornographic images… Plastic Easter eggs loaded with obscenities.” Read more of the story at Orcinus.

The egg layers were, of course, neonazis and the victims were local Hispanic residents. It’s instructive that at a time where antiterrorist hysteria is at its height, where everyone fears the terrorist with a dirty bomb and passengers are searched to the Nth degree at airports , the authorities’ reaction to these containers – because that’s what they potentially were – was so relaxed, it was falling over.

But despite the messages, police say the only crime is littering.

“At this time, we really don’t have much. We have littering. They have a right to free speech. There’s not much we can do … We don’t have any suspects,” said Tumwater Police Det. Jennifer Kolb.

This is contrary to some of what we’ve been told: If there really were pornographic images, then there certainly may have been charges related to that, since these were left on families’ lawns. It’s not a free-speech right to distribute pornography to minors.

Yeah, maybe this sort of behaviour is just offensive, but I can’t help but feel that the parents of the children in those local streets would have found neonazi “Easter Eggs” threatening. Maybe it’s just because I’ve read this story by Saki.

9 Apr 2006, Comments Off on Berlusconi’s Man in Bulleen?

Berlusconi’s Man in Bulleen?

Author: Helen

Sometimes I get up in the morning, switch RN on and listen to the morning news as I get breakfast for myself and sprogs, find clothes, pour coffee, hang out clothes, find library books, put out rubbish… You know the kind of thing. There just isn’t that much time for uninterrupted concentration on news items, sometimes.

So… A couple of days ago, I could have sworn I heard an item about Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, who is on the campaign trail. And there’s a lot of overseas italians who are entitled to vote, so he’s going all out to make sure that he picks up as many Australian and other votes as possible. I thought I heard something about right wing Italian politicians bringing Queensland politicians to harangue the voters of Bulleen in the local hall.

I couldn’t find anything about it in the ABC news, press, or google, so I thought I must have been imagining things.

Guido at Rank and Vile explains:

Due to the huge waves of migration just before and after the Second World War, there are potentially millions of potential voters spread around the world. Some haven’t been in Italy for decades and have lost touch with the current political and social trends there.

Imagine millions of Australians who haven’t been in Australia since Menzies was in power voting and be possibly be a major factor in deciding marginal seats…

…For Forza Italia, the party headed by Prime Minister Berlusconi one candidate for the Chamber is Giuseppe (Joe) Cossari who is councillor for Loughnan’s Hill Ward in the City of Maroondah. According to his website he served as President of the Ringwood Chamber of Commerce and Industry and as Mayor of the City of Maroondah and seeing all the Liberal Party links and happy photoes with John Howard I wouldn’t be surprised if he was also a Member of the Liberal Party.

The other candidate is Teresa Restifa from Brisbane.

For the Senate Forza Italia has Luigi Casagrande also from Brisbane, and Francesco Pascalis.

There are quite few surprises here and there. For the ‘neo-fascist’ Fiamma Tricolore Party one candidate is Tony Labozzetta who was the chairman of the old Soccer Australia during its most incompetent periods. Interesting that here in Australia Labozzetta always had ALP links. Go figure.

Will be interesting (to me at least) to see what comes out of it all.

That explains the Brisbane connection, I guess. Berlusconi multiplied by Queensland politics: Not dodgy at all! Or as they say on that comedy show, nothin’ suss! How delighted will the Italians be having their government decided by a lot of overseas people who haven’t lived there for decades, and who have been worked over by Queensland pollies?

7 Apr 2006, Comments Off on But she would say that, wouldn’t she.

But she would say that, wouldn’t she.

Author: Helen

The growth of corporate, franchise-style “chain” child care companies is in
the news again, particularly ABC childcare, and the profits and takeovers . Meanwhile, Steve Biddulph reckons all childcare– well, all childcare in amounts large enough for their mums to hold down a job– is bad.

The trouble with the Cast Iron Balcony offering up her opinions on this is that it’ll look like a Mandy Rice-Davies. Because I do think high quality childcare is necessary for half the population to have any kind of life outside the home, and my own two children have been through family day care, short day care and long day care without taking to smoking crack or holding up 7-11s, any criticism of Steve’s newfound scientific proof of teh badness of childcare might just appear selfserving. Anyhow, I’ll press on, after all, blogging as therapy etc…

You have to forgive us mums for our cynicism. We have been lectured since Victorian times, often by men, on what are the optimum methods we should use to do the job of being a parent correctly. You might call it another kind of PC- Parental Correctness, or patriarchal crap. And as the wheel of history turns, one after another of these “infallible” experts turns out to be wrong. So forgive us if we give a jaundiced eye to Steve’s incontrovertible science. Like the adaptors of John Bowlby, whose maternal attachment studies were based on neglected children in orphanages but were then twisted to suggest that children in child care, who go home to their family every afternoon, were in a comparable situation. Or James Dobson, who is making corporal punishment OK again– so, it’s not OK to put your kid into childcare, but whack away all you want. Hmm. In the 2010s the next childhood guru will be telling us something completely different– all for our own good, of course.

If researchers are reduced to swabbing children for saliva samples to “prove” that childcare is bad, could that be because they can’t find enough social or behavioural indicators to “prove” their point? In other words, are they kinda scraping the bottom of the evidential barrel? And could being swabbed by medicos cause stress in itself? Paging Doctor Heisenberg!

Then there are the limitations of the “cortisol studies” which give his ideas such a scientific sheen. Where were these done? What were the childcare centres like?

To state that no child care is good child care and that quality doesn’t make a difference sets the system up for failure, and it also lets off the hook the current crop of entrepreneurs trying to make childcare into a profit making venture. We need someone to fight for the community childcare centres which have set the standard which the for-profit centres can’t, or won’t live up to.

Getting rid of child care is a middle to upper class fantasy. Here’s Steve’s idea of the ideal child care arrangements, if you must use it.

Care options in order of preference

1 Engage a close relative or friend who you trust and who loves your child.

Now, I wonder what the gender of his imaginary close relative or friend might be?

2 Employ a trustworthy family day carer you know personally.


3 Find a quality day-care centre with stable staff you can get to know and
about whom you feel comfortable.
What’s best by age
No child care at all. Keep baby with parent, relative (or trusted babysitter
for short breaks).
One short day with a trusted carer. Ideally a one-on-one carer-to-child
ratio; one-to-three at most.

(Assuming you haven’t slashed your wrists by now after attempting to jump through Steve’s impossible hoops)

Two short days a week with a trusted carer. Building up to short days in a
quality centre but only if the child settles well.
Up to three short days or half days in quality care.
Up to four short days or half days in quality care.

I think having maternity leave for the 0 to Ones is a good idea. But does Biddulph agitate for maternity leave? Not so I’ve noticed. (Feel free to correct here.) And Biddulph’s requirements for the One to Fives doesn’t leave mothers much option for any activity other than the occasional manicure or tupperware party for mothers. Unless– as he seems to be suggesting in his 1998 book Manhood — men step up to the plate and take on more childcare hours themselves. But strangely enough, this idea, which could dovetail with his anti-formal-childcare opinions, isn’t brought up in this new article. I would have thought this was the time for Biddulph to
call, not for a return to the old breadwinner/homemaker model, but for men (who still largely control how work is structured) to change the model, reduce their working days, and take on more of the burden and rewards of caring for children.

I guess that despite his rhetoric, he just sees the pointy end of childcare as someone else’s problem, when it comes down to it.

The fact which childcare opponents fail to acknowledge is that the breadwinner/homemaker model is specific to a very short time in history and a narrow class band; specifically, the mid-to late twentieth century, and families who could afford it. In “traditional” societies, women have always had to work – in fields, making bread, cheese, tofu and other necessities, and looking after much greater numbers of children. It’s not accidental that in such “traditional” societies (a garden of eden, you’ll remember, to social conservatives), children do spend a lot of time in the company of carers other than their mothers. The SAHM of the 1900s is a historical blip.

In industrialised societies, we have always needed women to work in the factories and as servants in the houses of the better off; childcare opponents have ignored this. Ignoring the quality and availability of childcare (as well as parental leave) is contributing to the “baby strike” in developed countries, too.

We need childcare to be as good as it can be. And in a climate where corporate chains are taking over and bringing a cost-cutting,
shareholder-profit-making ethos to the care of children, it would be more helpful if Steve Biddulph could champion community nonprofit child care centres and help to curb the growth of the corporates. Because women don’t want to just “dump” children in any old childcare, despite what the anti-child-care lobby might say. They want excellent child care with management and staff they can trust. But perhaps the most relevant and useful thing Steve Biddulph could do is put his mouth where his money is and
lobby for employers and governments to enable dads to do more.

Childcare won’t go away. It has always existed in some form or another. If we do away with childcare, we will soon see unacceptable care arrangements becoming widespread. Hopefully, that isn’t going to happen here. So, in the real world, we can leave it to the ABC Learnings of this world, or we can (collectively) construct a better system. If we go the way of profit and cost cutting, and kids are the losers, you won’t find anyone less surprised than me.