Testing Times

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I’ve been watching the crazy circus that is US politics these days, but I don’t have anything to add to the oceans of words that have been spoken and written about it all. It’s just so bizarre that this stuff is happening in the USA. And the whole POTUS vs Mr Trumble (they couldn’t even get our PM’s name right) is more than weird, considering that Australia has been the USA’s most faithful sycophant ally for the longest time. We’re treating it as a huge joke, of course, because that’s what Australians do, although secretly we probably don’t like it that our PM was so brazenly humiliated. It all just goes to show that we’re not really the USA’s “special friend”, after all. It’s a wonder POTUS didn’t remark that Mr Trumble spoke pretty good English for an Austrian (George W Bush once got Oz mixed up with Austria), but I doubt that in a verbal battle POTUS would get the better of our prolix ex-barrister PM. And for the record, Mr Turnbull is actually the Prime Minister of Australia; we don’t have a President. However, we do have a completely shameful record of mistreating asylum seekers who arrive here by boat. Our current refugee policy is the cause of much dissent and impotent rage amongst those of us who give a damn, but sadly, the majority of Australians support the government’s warehousing of  “boat people” on pestilent tropical gulag-islands. We can’t say a single thing about the USA’s recent foray into racist immigration policy, because we’ve had our very own for years now. :/

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So, I’ve been trying to find a more efficient note taking system, but I have to admit defeat. I tried reading PDFs on my iPad and taking digital notes with a variety of apps, but I simply couldn’t come to grips with all the digital text. For whatever reason, my brain doesn’t process digital text in the same way as it does text on paper, so I ended up reading a lot of PDFs and typing a lot of notes, but the next day I’d realise that I couldn’t remember much about what I’d read or noted.

Next, I tried the Cornell Notes system and got total writer’s block! It felt too structured, and it took too much mental effort to condense entire paragraphs of academic-speak into a few words. I started procrastinating about sitting down to study, which is something I seldom do, so I decided to give myself a break and go back to my old index cards, and free-form summarising (waffling to myself) in a notebook method, and hey presto! I got some worthwhile work done, finally.

This is so typical of me, this second-guessing myself. I had a system that had served me well for years, and I still thought I should try to get with the “digital programme”. I’ve never been able to do anything more than skim-read eBooks, and I always outline and mind-map with a pen and paper before I start typing anything important, so yeah, I should have just left myself alone to get on with it.

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I finished a book the other day – A Touch of Love, by Jonathan Coe. I liked it a lot, although it probably won’t be everyone’s idea of a good read. It was poignant and sad and witty, and I’d quite like to read more of his stuff one day. I was doing well with my fiction reading for the first few weeks of the year, and then all the POTUS stuff exploded and, suddenly, I didn’t feel in the mood for novels. Mostly, I’ve been reading about human rights and international relations, and the theory and philosophy of human rights. Seeing as how I’m situated on the far-left of the political spectrum, I’m finding quite a lot to interest me in the idea that “universal human rights” is a really a continuation of the imperialist, colonising project. It will be interesting to see if my thoughts change over time.

I read an article about human rights and FGM in which the author objected to the word “mutilation” being used and argued that Westerners opposing FMG fail to recognise the cultural and social significance of the practice. I can understand that point of view, but on the other hand, surely FGM is “mutilation”, and there are some cultural practices that simply cause too much pain and suffering to be allowed to continue? And then I thought about the growing phenomenon of labiaplasty, which is not only socially sanctioned, but is also legal in Western countries and carried out by doctors who swear the Hippocratic Oath. FGM is also considered a cosmetic procedure in some cultures, and although I totally oppose it because of the pain and suffering involved, and because girls have no choice in the matter, I do think that if we’re going to talk about universal human rights, our discourse probably needs to be less hypocritical and more considerate of cultural diversity.

In general, when it comes to human rights, it seems to me that in many ways we want to make all cultures in the world adhere to the tenets of  Western liberal democracy, whether they want to or not. Maybe we don’t take into consideration the possibility that other people actually prefer to live within another system of belief, and if they do want change, then change needs to come from within, rather than being imposed from without. Maybe our attempts to “do good” are not actually helpful. I read somewhere that human rights advocates should be aiming to support a “multicultural mosaic”, rather than create a series of “Western clones”. I like this idea, and it’s something I want to explore further.

I can see that studying human rights is going to be a LOT more interesting than studying DWM philosophers, or (it’s-acutally-fiction) history. I hope I get along alright with the other students, because my interest in human rights is probably a bit more academic than some of the others who are keen on “making a difference” in the world. I feel a bit too world-weary to gallop off on a crusade, and I certainly don’t have aspirations to “save” anyone. Primarily, I’m interested in asylum seeker and refugee rights, and the rights of children incarcerated in the juvenile justice system. Also, I’m interested in the rights of mentally ill people, disabled people, the rights of LBGTI people, the rights of Indigenous people, and women’s reproductive rights. Those are at the top of my list, anyway. An issue such as women being supposedly “forced” to wear certain clothing and headwear just doesn’t interest me at all, because I think there are more pressing problems in the world. HRH the Queen wears a headscarf, and no one gets upset about it, so I don’t know why people get so het up about Muslim womens’ attire. Also, men wear turbans, yarmulkes, homburgs, kufis, and all manner of other headwear that signify their religious faith, and  jubbas, thobes, kurtas, and all sorts of robes. No one says a thing about mens’ attire, but some people want to police what women wear. Truthfully, I would prefer Western women to dress more modestly, and I really don’t like the way clothing is used to sexualise young girls. In my daily life, I don’t want men “sizing me up”, so I don’t give them anything to look at, and I think that’s how the Muslim women I’ve spoken to feel as well. Not all women want to be the target of “the male gaze”, although many do, and that’s their choice. I think we need to be aware that not everyone thinks in the same way, and that “freedom” means different things to different people.

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Today, I spent four hours doing a weirdly intensive online academic integrity module. I had to watch a number of videos and read a ton of stuff about plagiarism, collusion, proper citation and referencing, and all manner of university rules, and read about and digest information on the wide range of penalties if you fail to meet the stringent requirements. Then I took a test, and scored higher than the pass mark, although I didn’t get 100% and the Perfectionist Imp that sits on my shoulder was not happy. Everyone at my new-to-me university has to pass this test or else their course results are not released and they automatically fail the semester. I was more than a bit disappointed with myself that I still seem to “need” to get 100% on everything. “Normal” people would have just have thought, “Whew, passed that, what’s for dinner?” The Perfectionist Imp is still nagging away in my ear. Near enough is never good enough for that bastard.

 

Oy Vey!, But HA HA!

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Do you get the feeling that the US might have another president before too long? Surely, a medical team will show up at the White House with a syringe and a straight jacket any moment now? I guess the compulsive tweeting allows us to see what’s happening, but OY VEY! It’s all so surreal and weird.

I’ve been thinking for a while now that all political candidates should be psych evaluated to make sure they’re not a narcissistic psychopath. Clearly, You Know Who would not have passed that test. National Day of Patriotic Devotion (to MEEEE). Crikey! Where will it all end?

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So, being a hopeless geek swot, I’ve started reading up on the theory and philosophy of human rights, which is one of the units I’ve signed up for. Hello, Plato, Kant, Marx, et al. I can’t seem to get away from those DWM philosophers, but I suppose it’s a good thing that I encountered some of them as an undergrad and know what to expect. Reading Kant again. *sigh*

I’m trying out a new digital note-taking “workflow”, which does save me time, but I’m not sure I’ll stick with it. I worry about “what if” there’s a laptop/iPad glitch that causes my notes to vanish? There’s something reassuring about having hand-written notes on index cards, and summaries and outlines in paper notebooks. Copy and paste is quicker and easier though, and reference material mostly comes in digital form these days.

The more I read about the ins and outs of human rights, the more complex it all becomes. I need to try to avoid over-thinking my studies this year, because I can get really bogged down in minutiae if I’m not careful. I have a tendency to want to read everything on a particular topic, and I end up feeling overwhelmed. I’m going to try to be more efficient with my study time this year. [Note to Self: good luck with that!]

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I hope you’re not feeling too despondent about the state of the world. I’ve been listening to some NPR political podcasts, and it’s kind of reassuring to hear that some of the media are determined to hold the US government to account, or at least try to. I think it might get worse before it gets better, but in the long run, I think there are more intelligent and decent people in the world than there are self-serving ignoramuses, so I think we’ll be okay. I think we need to be vigilant, though, and to stick up for what we believe in, even if that means stepping on toes and upsetting people who are resistant to facts. People really don’t like it when you burst their bubble of “faux truth”. I’m constantly surprised at just how ill-informed some people really are, and the obviously false things they believe.

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James Madison. (n.d.). AZQuotes.com. Retrieved January 26, 2017, from AZQuotes.com Web site: http://www.azquotes.com/quote/844006

Life Swerve

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Ha! So much for reducing my spending on books this year. After much consideration (in a brain-fog of indecision!) I decided to apply to do a Master of Human Rights and see what happened. I got an offer the next day, and as the enrolment cut-off date was looming, I only had a few days to think about accepting or not. I’m totally over all this switching between universities and degrees, and I don’t know if human rights will be a better fit for me, but I guess I’ll find out. And then there were all the textbooks to buy. :/

If Donald Trump wasn’t about to become one of the most powerful men on the planet, I probably would have stuck with my history masters. But. The world has gone f***ing mad, if you ask me, and I feel there’s a genuine need to be more politically active, and to stand up for more things that I believe in. It seems to me that human rights issues are going to become even bigger than they are already, and that if I’m going to be involved in lobbying and campaigning and whatnot, then I should probably know what I’m talking about. I couldn’t really just sit back and study 19th century history, not with all the stuff going on the world right now.

I feel pretty sad about the state of the planet, but I also feel that if we don’t do something, then we’re part of the problem. This is no time for apathy and hand-wringing, although I’ve been doing a fair bit of that over the past couple of months. However, it’s time to act, and it’s clear that a lot of other people feel this way, too:

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“A crowdfunding campaign has raised more than $130,000 to get a photograph of two young girls wearing hijabs at an Australia Day event on billboards across the country, and surplus funds will now go to Indigenous organisations.

Last week the photograph of the two girls – taken at the Docklands celebration last year – was removed from a Melbourne freeway billboard after the billboard company allegedly received threats. The image of the two young girls – one of a series of photographs advertising a nearby Australia Day event – had been posted to a far right group’s social media page and prompted hundreds of bigoted comments and complaints, many directed at the girls.

In response, a crowdfunding campaign by the Campaign Edge advertising agency called for the girls’ photograph to be reprinted on posters and in an Australia Day campaign. After more than $120,000 was donated in 24 hours, the campaign expanded, proposing to erect dozens of billboards across Australian capital cities.” The Guardian

 

White supremacist racist bigots are not going to win.

Hard right-wing conservatives are not going to win.

Xenophobes, religious extremists, and ignorant people are not going to win.

And, those who want to trample our human rights are not going to win, either.

 

Up the Revolution, Comrades! 🙂

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Peaky Blinders – Series Three

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I’m a big Peaky Blinders fan, and I loved the first two series. I found the characters intriguing and I thought the show was stylistically brilliant. The sets and locations were wonderfully atmospheric, and the costumes were just fabulous. I liked the suits and the watch chains, and the shirts with the collar stud and no tie. I liked the ankle-grazing trousers, the flat caps and the billowing coats, and I was very taken with the Peaky haircut.  I liked Polly’s messy chic, and the floaty frocks some of the other characters wore. I was especially pleased with the soundtrack, because it featured some of my favourite music. I pretty much loved everything about the show, except for Sam Neill’s arch-villain, but then no one is supposed to like him. Peaky Blinder World was fantasy, altered reality, visually beautiful, and I loved the whole thing.

Anyway,  I finally got around to watching the third season on DVD. What a big disappointment that was!* The first indication that something was not quite right came in the opening scenes when I saw Tommy Shelby’s haircut. The sides of his head were no longer shaved and his appearance was almost conventional. I used to find it interesting that Tommy’s limpid and innocent blue eyes, and his beautiful facial bone structure, were at odds with his sometimes brutal behaviour, just as his brutal behaviour was at odds with the vulnerability and tenderness he sometimes displayed. Tommy Shelby was a wonderful invention, a complex and contradictory man, a bad man who wasn’t a bastard. It was easy to feel empathy for Tommy and to care about what happened to him. However, in series three, I felt that Tommy was just boorish, greedy and stupid. Even his interactions with Grace, which used to light up the screen, were cold and perfunctory. I could almost see the seams stitching the scenes together; I could see the actors being actors – move here, sit there, speak, emote, etc., – with the heavy, heavy, hand of the director seeming to weigh it all down.

In truth, it felt as though I were watching a whole other show. There was no spark, no levity, no light and shade – it was all dark, all the time, and relentlessly alienating. The plot was convoluted almost to the point of incomprehension, the new villain was bland, and the licentious and corrupt Russian aristocratic family was a total cliche. Tom Hardy’s turn as the Jewish crime boss was way over the top, and oh, sod it, the whole thing was just so utterly disappointing! Even poor Arthur was made to get religion and be under the thumb of a manipulative, hypocritical wife. And don’t get me started on Polly, whose character has gone from being feisty and fearsome, to being a lady-like bourgeois social climber. Somehow Ada has miraculously become middle-class, Esme is reduced to being a drug-addicted baby-maker, and Lizzie still hangs around even though everyone disrespects her. Michael commits his first murders, John sheds sentimental tears, and all the while Tommy scowls and mutters and orders everyone about. The thing is, Tommy isn’t nearly as tough or as clever as he was in the first two series. Stupidly, he thinks that money can buy social class, and his hubris is his undoing. Having Thomas Shelby snivel and grovel and almost beaten to death might have made a nice change for Cillian Murphy and allowed him to flex his acting chops, but the Tommy Shelby of series one and two was far too street smart to get done over like that. In short, in this series, nothing added up and nothing made any sense. I didn’t buy any of it, and I felt short-changed when Grace was killed off. Viewers had a lot invested in the Tommy-Grace relationship and it felt all wrong to have her pop her clogs so soon. I think that Grace deserved better treatment, because it was through her that we were able to see Tommy’s humanity, and it was their relationship that made the show more than just the doings of a violent rabble.

I hope that series four gets back on track. I’m not waiting with impatience for new episodes. I’m still trying to get my head around the dangling plot threads and that ending, which might have been the most unrewarding thing I’ve seen on the screen in a very long while. Apparently, filming of series four begins in a couple of months, and the show might be out by the end of the year. I won’t be holding my breath for the return of the magic, though.

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* This is the reason why I haven’t watched Victoria or War and Peace, yet. I’m worried they won’t live up to my expectations and I’ll be horribly disappointed. I’m looking at you, Poldark. *shudder*