Monday, June 28, 2010

Cake tin rant

I wanted to bake a cake, but in order to do so I had to buy the right size tin. The only one available was a super-good-quality-delux tin that cost $16.87 at Big W. $16.87 for a freakin' cake tin? No way!

I was thinking how there is this current trend in manufacturing really good quality homeware items - but they're the kind of things that don't actually need to be terribly good quality. I mean, my Mum has ordinary, run-of-the-mill cake tins that have lasted her all of her married life. She's still baking yummy things in them. I just don't think there's a need for overdoing it on the potato-masher quality.

But then, for other items that you use every day and actually WANT to last a long time, like electrical appliances, it's really difficult to find something good quality. In the old days TVs would last for 40 years; now TVs last for 5 years and your grater would last an eternity. Only there's no point for the grater lasting an eternity - you probably have another one anyway, so you'll send this one off to the op-shop in your next spring clean.

So I didn't buy the cake tin. I'm just going to bake the cake in something that's the wrong size.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Afghanistan war in an election year

Seems that Afghanistan is back in the news again. A number of Australian military personnel have died, and people are starting to ask more questions about whether we should be there. The polls show that the majority of Australians do not want our country involved in this war.

Coincidently, there is also a federal election on the way. Presumably the government will read the polls and decide that it is in their political best interests to withdraw? Sadly, no. The reality is that most people are passively opposed to the war in Afghanistan. If they had to decide, they would decide against, but in the scheme of things, it’s really not a big issue.

I found an interesting document on Wikileaks - a CIA report into shoring up support for the Afghan war in Western Europe. The document is dated 11 March 2010, and notes a poll that indicates that 80 percent of the German and French respondents opposed increased troop deployments in Afghanistan. Yet, the report says, "public apathy enables leaders to ignore voters". The report goes on: "The Afghanistan mission's low public salience has allowed French and German leaders to disregard popular opposition and steadily increase their troop contributions to the International Security Assistance Force (ASAF)". People oppose the war, but when it comes down to it, they don't really care that much. Only 0.1 to 1.3 percent of these poll respondents identified "Afghanistan" as the most urgent issue facing their nation.

Presumably the reason this CIA report was written is because they are nervous. The Dutch government fell over the Afghanistan issue, which led to the Dutch withdrawal of troops. In the Netherlands, Afghanistan became an election issue. There is concern that the same thing could happen to other coalition partners, like France and Germany - especially if there are more casualties. Summer is upon Afghanistan, which is the 'fighting season'. With the recent troop surge, there could be a lot more Western deaths. The report is concerned "that a spike in French or German casualties or in Afghan civilian casualties could become a tipping point in converting passive opposition into active calls for immediate withdrawal."

Until people begin to care and actively oppose the war - through demonstrations, letters, lobbying etc - Australia's troops are unlikely to budge. Australia's involvement in the war is completely beholden to domestic politics - one of the great things about democracy. Right now there is bipartisan support for the war, but perhaps if enough Australians cared, the Liberals would differentiate themselves by introducing a platform to bring troops home. It's entirely possible - after all, they're just politicians, fickle as the wind.

But until the war hits the voter radar, the status quo will be maintained.

My question is: how does public disapproval turn into public resistance, and what do we do to help that happen? Perhaps we could learn some lessons from the Dutch?

[Update: Defence Minister Steven Faulkner has just indicated that some troops might be coming home 2 to 4 years from now. I would say this announcement is likely due to increased disquiet about recent deaths. The other thing is that Australia isn't terribly committed to the war in Afghanistan - we're there mainly to look like we're supporting the US. So maybe withdrawing some troops isn't such a biggie.]

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The end of apathy at uni

When I was at uni I was involved in two student movements: Students For Christ and the political group against fee increases. I realised one time that they were having an event on the same day: the Christians were doing an Easter drama depicting the passion of Christ, while the activists had scheduled a protest.

(I wanted Jesus to be depicted as a woman. I thought it would show people a different side to Jesus and cause them to think deeply and ask questions. I rang up Kate, who was a leader, and told her my idea. She said, “Hmmm…”. I asked one of the other leaders and he said, “Hmmm…” as well. The idea never got up.)

On the day, one of the Christian students (a man) walked around on the main lawn with a cross pretending to be Jesus. A group of Christians followed behind, handing out tracts and pretending to be disciples. At the same time, the activists wore t-shirts that said “Welcome to the degree factory” and chanted slogans. They were on the main lawn too. I just stood and watched.

Then all the sirens went off in the university, so the whole campus was evacuated onto the lawn. Everybody was pretty shitty, except for the Christians and the activists.

The Christians said, “This is a great blessing, because people can hear our message!”

The activists said, “The student body is finally beginning to see how oppressed it is, and is coming out in droves to protest!”

For a while after that, in meetings, everybody was in a really good mood.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The 60s are gone

Today I met a woman who wanted to go back to the 1960s. She recited a poem, flecked with exerts of Bob Dylan and Jimmy Hendrix, sung with the voice of a middle-aged hippy and some pale blue eyes. She wore a psychedelic rainbow scarf and fluro laces on her black Dr Martin boots, and spoke about fields of daisies and a peace sign painted onto a smooth cheek - in the days before the drugs made everybody fight and 'free love' was the trojan horse that exploded marriages.

And most of all she yearned for her lover - that long-haired man with a scruffy ginger beard, who made her feel beautiful and special and that she belonged somewhere. Her pale eyes lifted skyward as she recited her words - of a full length fur coat skimming the ground, of platform heals that went high, sky high, and of a woman she once loved buried deep beneath piles of Simon and Garfunkel and cut-off hair.

As we chatted over milky tea and cream-filled Arnott biscuits, I suggested that what she missed was still within her - that it was a part of HER she wanted back, not the era. She shook her head slowly: "No, it was the 1960s" - the idealism, the freedom, the community. It was a short-lived revolution, destroyed by the very things that caused its conception. "I never got into drugs, I never slept with anyone else's husband!"

And now, all alone, the man who once held her in a fragrant bossom gone, selling stocks and tending children.

"Won't somebody join me? Why won't somebody join me?"