Testing Times


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. :/


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.


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.


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.



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