Sunday, August 29, 2010


Sharing a blogger I enjoy reading.

I love that she has so much fun.

Here is a story of strange coincidences.

Her father is Bernard Cornwell, the writer.

Here is a story of some other strange coincidences.

And she draws. Creative, smart and funny. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What you don't need to buy for kids.

I like Free-Range Kids. I like challenging the idea that parents need to spend money to stimulate their children. Einstein never used flashcards. Mozart never listened to , well, Mozart, in the womb. You may remember that the Baby Einstein company had to retract their promotions claiming their products make children smarter.

Here is an article I like, from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Pay to have littlies learn what they do anyway
Lenore Skenazy
August 27, 2010

Want to get rich quick? It's easy! Just tell parents that their toddlers are dolts. First, assure them their tykes are cute and precious, and could well turn out to be geniuses. But hint that unless their little bundles of potential get heaps of help, very soon, in the form of educational classes, toys, teaching and tapes, sorry, but all bets are off.

How else to explain the burgeoning business of baby and child stimulation? I'm not talking about early intervention for kids with issues. I'm talking about early intervention for kids with parents who have an extra buck left in their wallets.

In this ''Hurry up or fall behind!'' baby culture, along come the child-stimulation leeches - er, ''experts'' - to convince us our kids are going to sit there like lumps unless we get crackin'.

As the company Gymboree explains on its Facebook page: ''Designed by experts, our age-appropriate activities help develop the cognitive, physical and social skills of children as they play.'' In other words: we need full-blown experts to teach our kids how to play.

As if play is so complicated. As if our kids could totally blow it. (No, sweetheart! You're wiggling all wrong!) You've got to wonder how did we develop any cognitive, physical and social skills in the dark days before professional baby stimulation? How did Edison figure out that whole light bulb thing without a single ''Fun with Electricity'' video? How did Maurice Koechlin design the Eiffel Tower without taking a single Lego class? How on earth did Bach take to music at all, considering he was born a full 300 years before anyone offered the first clapping class for six-month-olds?

''The marketplace has been brilliant in convincing parents who are already anxious about their children that if they don't have these fancy toys and devices and classes, their child will be left behind,'' says Roberta Golinkoff, the chairwoman of the school of education at the University of Delaware and a co-author of Einstein Never Used Flash Cards.

She says: ''I find Gymboree kind of benign. But the kind of motor activities the children engage in'' - looking, listening, banging, bouncing - ''they would engage in, anyway.''

Speaking of which: have you heard about Walking Wings? These are a sort of marionette-like contraption that you attach to your kids to hold them up as they learn to walk. According to the package, the product ''helps baby learn to walk balancing more naturally''.

More naturally? More naturally than pulling themselves upright the way 300,000 years of Homo sapiens have done without Walking Wings? But see? Once again, if the industry can convince you your kid might not do something 99.99 per cent of the species does automatically, it can sell you almost anything.

Which brings us to the latest product I just heard about: Babysmartees. These are T-shirts billed as a revolutionary breakthrough because they feature 100 per cent black designs on 100 per cent white backgrounds.

What I might call ''cheap printing'' the company's marketing campaign calls ''infant stimulation'', because the black-white contrast is supposedly so compelling. And guess what? ''An infant stimulation program can improve a baby's curiosity, attention span, memory, and nervous system development. Newborn babies who are stimulated reach developmental milestones faster, have better muscle co-ordination …''

Yada, yada, Yale.

Oh, please. You know what contrasting materials you really need to stimulate a child? Life! Trees against the sky. Rocks on the beach. Ants on a sandwich. You can't get more high-contrast than - hey wait a second! Brainstorm!

Are you a new parent? Do you have $29.99? If so, have I got a product for you! It's high-contrast. It's educational! Put it on your head, your kid will laugh. Hold it a few metres away, she'll crawl towards its, maybe even walk - early! But wait! There's more!

If you brush the ants off, you can eat it! I call it the ''Baby Stimulation Get-Ahead-Now Picnic Peanut Butter Sandwich.'' And I'm open to venture capital.

Lenore Skenazy is founder of the movement Free-Range Kids and will appear at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House in October.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Non-core promises

When Labor is returned to government, with the help of the Greens, here are the policy promises I hope Julia Gillard didn't really mean:

- school uniforms (who thought this was a big issue?)
- rewarding teachers for improving school performance (how on earth could that work?)
- a citizen's assembly to see what we should do about climate change (we already have a parliament, and voted Labor in three years ago on the basis of action on climate change)
- offshore processing of asylum seekers (inhumane)
- cash for clunkers (encourages people to buy new cars rather than use public transport)
- teaching economic management in schools (already do this)
- more money for school chaplains (if we need counsellors, get counsellors)
- money to celebrate Mary MacKillop (the Catholics can spend their own money - as an atheist you don't need to throw money at the churches - they already pay no tax)

So, I'd like these to be non-core promises please.

And I'd like to never again see an election campaign. If you can't tell us what you stand for before the election is announced, don't bother. Such a waste of time and money. Just announce the election, and hold it a week later. Would stop the stupid policies that throw money at any group the parties think they need to placate.

Conditions of Chinese workers

This in SMH today. This company has been responsible for 12 workers suicides this year. They have erected safety nets outside the factory windows, or are the safety nets outside the factory dormitories? Workers had been doing up to 80 hours a month overtime. That's overtime. All so we in the west can have our iPhones and electronic gadgets.

iPhone-maker rallies workers after China suicides
August 19, 2010 - 9:10AM

Young workers who normally spend their days assembling iPhones and other high-tech gadgets packed a stadium at their massive campus this week, waving pompoms and shouting slogans at a rally to raise morale following a string of suicides at the company's heavily regimented factories.

The outreach to workers shows how the normally secretive Foxconn Technology Group has been shaken by the suicides and the bad press they have attracted.

"For a long period of time I think we were kind of blinded by our success," said Louis Woo, special assistant to Terry Gou, the founder of Foxconn's parent company. "We were kind of caught by surprise."
Foxconn employees attend a rally at the Foxconn campus in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

The company has already raised wages, hired counsellors and installed safety nets on buildings to catch would-be jumpers. Other changes include job rotation so workers can try different tasks and grouping dorm assignments by home province so workers don't feel so isolated.

However, Woo acknowledged there will be challenges in preventing such tragedies in a work force of 920,000 spread across 16 factories in China, all of which are to have morale boosting rallies. Woo said he expected the company will grow to 1.3 million workers sometime next year.

"No matter how hard we try, such things will continue to happen," he said.
Foxconn employees gather to watch a rally at the Foxconn campus in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

The rally took place at Foxconn's mammoth industrial park in Shenzhen, which employs 300,000 and where most of the suicides have taken place. The latest suicide - the 12th this year - occurred August 4 when a 22-year-old woman jumped from her factory dormitory in eastern Jiangsu province.

Twenty thousand workers dressed in costumes ranging from cheerleader outfits to Victorian dresses filled the stadium at the factory complex, which was decorated with colourful flags bearing messages such as "Treasure your life, love your family". The workers chanted similar slogans and speakers described their career development at Foxconn.

As they filed toward the stadium for the rally, a flood of workers headed in the other direction to begin the night shift.

"In the past, from the time we started work until when we finished, we would not really have a break. But now we've been given time to rest," said 18-year-old worker Huang Jun. "If I can get off work early enough and have a little time for fun, then I feel a bit better and less stressed out."

Other workers said they wanted Foxconn to organise more recreational activities such as sports or karaoke.

Woo said it was common for workers to have 80 hours a month of overtime, but Foxconn was aiming to reduce the workload and become the first company in the industry to keep overtime to a maximum of 36 hours a month - as required by Chinese law.

Foxconn, part of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry, has built itself into the world's largest contract maker of electronics by delivering quality products on thin profit margins for customers including Apple, Sony, Dell, Nokia and Hewlett-Packard.

Labour activists, however, say that success has come in part from driving workers hard by enforcing a rigid management style, operating a too-fast assembly line and requiring excessive overtime. The company denies that it treats employees inhumanely.

The troubles at Foxconn came to light amid broader labour unrest in China and highlighted Chinese workers' growing dissatisfaction with the low wages and pressure-cooker working conditions that helped turn the country into an international manufacturing powerhouse.

One activist said the rally was unlikely to boost morale and does not replace the need for more thoroughgoing reforms.

"I don't think today's event is going to achieve anything except provide a bit of theatre," said Geoffrey Crothall, spokesman for the China Labor Bulletin, a labour rights group based in Hong Kong. "Basically what Foxconn needs to do is treat its workers like decent human beings and pay them a decent wage. It's not rocket science."



So, this is what happens when you are feeling overcommitted and stressed, when reading Derrida is doing your head in, and have been handing out brochures for The Greens, talking to people about the upcoming election and the sorry state of ideas in our country, when a leader is basing his campaign on 'turning back the boats' while millions of people in Pakistan are in dire need of help, and you are at your child's dance class watching the two new girls being totally incorporated into the formation when they are dancing to Imagine, a song written forty years ago about a vision of how the world could be that we are no closer to than we were when John Lennon wrote it.

You cry.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Feminist action on the election campaign

This in The Age this morning. A letter with over 40 signatories expressing concern about how an Abbott government will impact on women. Good to see some collective action.

I must say I'm finding Gillard's promise to fund a celebration of Mary MacKillop's sainthood and funding for more chaplains in pubic schools a little confusing. And Cardinal Pell's fear of The Greens. Shows where the Catholic Church stands on a lot of issues. I know plenty of Catholics who would disagree with him.

Abbott will take women backwards

THE gender divide in support for Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott is significant. Media analysis views it as women supporting a woman. This sidesteps the real concerns women have about Abbott's views and past policies.

Tony Abbott wants to take divorce laws back to the 1970s, with an idea that aggrieved spouses could be required to prove offences like adultery, habitual drunkenness or cruelty to be granted a divorce.

Abbott blocked Australian women's access to RU486 because he opposes legal abortion. He has said Christian politicians cannot check their faith into the parliamentary cloakroom.

His musings on female virginity and premarital sex are also troubling. He needs to reassure Australian women that Parliament is not the place to impose religious rules or beliefs.

Abbott's views and past policies have and will continue to give rise to policies that undermine the respect and equality women have fought so hard to achieve.

Women may be unsure how far Julia Gillard wants to move us forward, but we know that Abbott will take us back.

We don't care that Abbott has religious beliefs. But we have good reason to worry that should he become PM, he will impose his religious values on us.

Anne O'Rourke, lecturer; Leslie Cannold, ethicist; Helen Marcou, musician; Angie Hart, singer; Jill Singer, journalist; and 40 other signatories

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Does atheism need more female voices?

Yes, I think so.

This article, although flawed (stereotypes women, generalisations), does raise some good points.

Why religion and atheism need smart women
August 6, 2010 - 6:52AM

The Vatican's recent revisions that put the ordination of women on par with child sex abuse drew howls of protest from around the world. In some ways, I think people are being a little unfair.

After all, the Catholic Church is just being true to form – it has actively discriminated against women since its inception. Perhaps rather than condemning the Church for this slip-up, we should be thanking it for the reminder that religious values and teachings have been used to incite, aid and justify discrimination against women throughout history.

From the orthodox Jewish prayer in which men thank God for not making them women, to the estimated 5000 Muslim women and girls who are shot, strangled, stoned, burned or otherwise killed by their own families every year in an effort to restore "honour", you can find countless examples from every one of the major religions to demonstrate their patriarchal basis and the inherent message that women are inferior to men.

But while it is women's lives that are so often restricted and harmed by religious practices, debates involving religion – both for and against – are still often dominated by men. Female atheists clearly do exist, with 2006 census data showing women compose nearly half of the Australians who label themselves as having no religion. But they always seem so quiet.

Part of the problem, I think, stems from the brand of atheism that is dominant today. Many people, especially women, might find it intimidating or unappealing.

While the religious can simply fall back on a position of faith to justify their own beliefs, atheists are not afforded the same kind of shoulder-shrugging, passive argument. Instead, they are expected to have a university-level understanding of every major religion, a thorough grounding in ancient and modern history, and a faultless knowledge of science. Atheists must be prepared to actively defend their non-belief, a process that by definition will offend many believers.

While there is most definitely a place for this so-called "militant" atheism, it is little wonder that some women might find it off-putting. After all, girls are taught to be sensitive and emotional, to not cause trouble or be particularly forthright with their opinions. Women who dare to be aggressive or outspoken are often labelled as hysterical harpies, not worthy of being listened to and impossible to take seriously. We should hardly be surprised that some women might be reluctant to come out as atheists.

All of this is not to say that there are no vocal or intelligent women out there talking about the role of religion, sharing stories about their own loss of faith and generally waving the atheist flag. However, we rarely hear the names of Dutch activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali or author Ophelia Benson mentioned alongside Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens.

How then can we redress the balance and create an environment in which more women are encouraged and inspired to align themselves publicly with science, reason and non-belief? How can we better engage them in discussions about the ways in which religious teachings are used to control female bodies and lives?

Perhaps we need to promote a different side to atheism that is not so much seen as looking back in anger, as it is about looking forward with hope. While it may be akin to sacrilege, maybe there is room for a type of atheism that isn't so much about being anti-religious, as it is about looking at questions of how to live, how to find meaning and how to end suffering. Maybe we could even celebrate and better use those characteristics traditionally associated with "femaleness", such as story-telling, empathy and understanding.

Clearly, not all believers are misogynists; equally, many acts of violence against women have been perpetrated by non-believers. However, as Jimmy Carter pointed out last year, religion remains one of the "basic causes of the violation of women's rights" and this is something that all of us must work together to tackle.

It's not a question of whether smart, rational women are out there – it's just a matter of encouraging them to stand up and make their voices heard when it comes to matters of reason and religion.

Sarah McKenzie is a freelance writer.

There are times I have reason to agree with this comment:

I'm an athiest who respects and understands the belief's of others. The reason that my views and opinions are private is because I respect those alternative views and have no wish to offend. If someone says to me "I'll pray for you" I have no wish to tell that person not to bother as their motive is good. If someone comes to my door selling me their religion I will politely say "no thankyou", unless they push it then they get the Wrath of Sue.

The part that irks me is that I know that my beliefs will offend some people and so I show them the respect of not offending them but I also expect the same in return. Unfortunately, time and time again, more and more religious people let me down by offending me, pushing their beliefs onto me, not accepting my own choices and beliefs. Their closed mindedness, discrimination, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, etc etc continue to make me believe that athiests are the moral, caring, open-minded, accepting people in this debate.

As I tell my children, sometimes you just need to use your manners and walk away. Sometimes I see atheists do this more than those of religious faith.