Monthly Archives: September 2010

Why Ms Eleven should be allowed to get a Netbook

Our elder daughter presented us with this essay. I’ve used her blog-name rather than her given name throughout, so one or two sentences sound a little odd, but other than that, I have not changed her work at all. What do you think? Opinions please.

A Netbook is a small laptop with a screen that is about 10 inches across. They have most of the same tools as a laptop. Ms Eleven is a girl of 11 (soon to be 12) years of age, who wants a Netbook for a present. There are four reasons for Ms Eleven receiving a Netbook.

The first reason for Ms Eleven getting a Netbook is that it would help her keep in contact with her friends in Australia. Ms Eleven will miss her friends a lot and having a Net book would help her keep in contact with them. Ms Eleven would also be able to use Skype instead of calling her friends, and so decreasing the family phone bill.

The second reason for Ms Eleven getting a Netbook is that it would free up the computer for parents and siblings. The main computer in Ms Eleven’s household is used for parents’ email, parents’ Tetris, mother’s blogs, children’s email, children’s games, parents’ work, children’s work, and children’s expositions about getting a Netbook. Because of all these different things the computer is used for, the main computer is very hard to get access to. If Ms Eleven had a Netbook, she could use that instead, and it would make it easier for parents and siblings to get to the computer.

The third reason for Ms Eleven getting a Netbook is that she could learn more about I.T. Ms Eleven is close to going to high school, and computers are used often for homework and schoolwork. After high school, is university and/or an apprenticeship. Then a job. All these use computers, so Ms Eleven will find it easier if she already had some past experience with computers. If Ms Eleven had a Netbook she would get to set it up, organise it, transfer information, practise touch-typing, and learn how to use it. Knowing how to do these would be a great life skill, and Ms Eleven can only acquire them if she got a Netbook.

The fourth reason for Ms Eleven getting a Netbook is that it will help with her schoolwork. If Ms Eleven got a Netbook she would be able to research and do assignments more easily. Ms Eleven would learn so much more from school if she wasn’t stressed about having a computer to do her homework on. She would get better marks and better reports, so getting her a Netbook is a great idea.

In conclusion, I strongly believe that Ms Eleven should receive a Netbook for a present because it will help her keep in contact with her friends, free up the computer for parents and siblings, advance Ms Eleven’s I.T. skills, and help her with her schoolwork.

Dr Pell and the Pill of Evil

The Australian gave Dr George Pell some space on Saturday, to write about why the pill has made things worse for women. For those of you who don’t know him, Dr Pell is Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, and he is a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. What he writes is utter tosh.

Dr Pell has three arguments about the pill and its terrible impact on women. First, it distorts the marriage market for women. Second, it makes women have abortions. Third, it makes women unhappy.

Let’s take them one at a time.

In the first part of the article, Pell draws on the work of an economist to show that the pill has made things worse for women, because now men don’t have to enter the marriage market in order to get into the sex market, and that means that women can’t find marriage partners anymore, and even if they do, they’re more likely to get divorced.

The economist Pell draws on is Timothy Reichert. His analysis was published in First Things, which is…

published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.

It was founded by Richard John Neuhaus, a Roman Catholic theologian. So this is not exactly The Economic Journal, or The Quarterly Journal of Economics. It’s a source that’s highly biased towards the results that Pell wants. As for Dr Timothy Reichert, the economist Pell cites so approvingly: his first degree comes from Franciscan University (the name alone should tell you about the religious orientation of the school), and his masters degree comes from The Catholic University of America. I suspect that he’s got some ideological prior commitments. These days, he works as a transfer pricing specialist. Having said that, his PhD is from George Mason University, and the economics school there is very highly regarded. He is clearly very smart, and very able.

I do not like arguments from authority, so I am not impressed by Pell’s regurgitation of Dr Reichert’s thesis. But if I do not like arguments from authority, then I am also committed to counter-arguments that do not consist only in criticising the authority. However, I am not an economist… Nevertheless, there seem to me to be two serious points to be made in respect of Pell’s use of Reichert’s analysis. The first is that because the pill has enabled women and men to separate sex and marriage, men have put off marriage. Women typically start looking for marriage partners earlier than men do. As a result, there is an age mismatch in the marriage market. And oh noes… women can’t get married because there are no men to marry!

Ah… slow down. Let’s imagine that in the absence of the pill, both men and women want to get married at say, age 20, so that they can have lots of sex. Then along comes the pill. Suddenly, people can have sex without having to get married. Even so, sooner or later, lots of baby lights start flashing in women’s heads, and by say, age 30, they want to get married and have children. Unfortunately, men’s baby lights don’t start flashing until say, age 40. So, there’s a 10 year age gap.

And there’s your answer, Dr Pell. Even if the pill enables men to delay marriage, the consequence is only that women marry men who are somewhat older than they would have been had there been no such thing as the pill. Sure, there’s a mismatch early on, when people may not be able to partner up, but over time, the mismatch sorts itself out.

Dr Reichert, and Dr Pell, assume that the age mismatch means that women have less bargaining power, which results in more divorces as men trade in older wives for younger. But that seems odd to me. If men are older when they start looking for child bearing and rearing partners, and older men are more likely to ditch older wives and start looking for younger ones, then surely that increases the number of men looking for wives. There must surely be an over supply of potential husbands, resulting in increased bargaining power for women, not less.

Even so, since when has the church taught that marriage is a transaction, to be engaged in only for what each partner can get out of the other? Many years ago, when we got married in the Catholic church, my partner and I went to a marriage counselling weekend. We talked about all sorts of issues with respect to relationships, and how to build a successful marriage. Absolutely none of the discussion was about what we could sell to each other. It is absurd to cast marriage as a mere transaction in a market place, and normally, the church does not do so. Except when it’s convenient, eh, Dr Pell?

Second, Dr Pell argues that the pill causes abortion. His argument goes like this. The pill creates a contraceptive mentality. The contraceptive mentality means that we regard pregnancy as something to be gotten rid of. Therefore, people are more willing to have abortions. Therefore, the pill causes abortion.

Personally, I find it hard to understand how something that prevents conception causes abortion. It seems to me that it’s ignorance of contraception that causes abortion. That, and ignoring human nature. The Catholic church teaches that all sex outside marriage is wrong (unless it’s priests raping children, of course). As a corollary to that, Catholic girls and boys don’t need to know about contraception, because they don’t need it, because they won’t be having sex.

Pull the other one.

As it turns out, abortion rates are falling, because unintended pregnancy rates are falling. It seems that over time, access to effective contraception is having exactly the desired effect.

Third, Dr Reichert, and Dr Pell, argue that women aren’t as happy now as they were before the advent of the pill. Ah.. because aside from rabble rousers like Betty Friedan, all women were surely much happier when they were required to be housewives raising children. The happiness gap between men and women has been much discussed: the most plausible explanation seems to be that men are still not stepping up.

A big reason that women reported being happier three decades ago — despite far more discrimination — is probably that they had narrower ambitions, Ms. Stevenson says. Many compared themselves only to other women, rather than to men as well. This doesn’t mean they were better off back then.

But it does show just how incomplete the gender revolution has been. Although women have flooded into the work force, American society hasn’t fully come to grips with the change. The United States still doesn’t have universal preschool, and, in contrast to other industrialized countries, there is no guaranteed paid leave for new parents.

Government policy isn’t the only problem, either. Inside of families, men still haven’t figured out how to shoulder their fair share of the household burden. Instead, we’re spending more time on the phone and in front of the television.

Perhaps Dr Pell would like to factor male responsibility, or lack of it, into his thinking.

As a final little point, Dr Pell points out that Western countries are no longer producing enough children to maintain their populations. Ah… so what? If anything, surely this is a good thing?

In any case, since when has the Catholic church ever been concerned about women? It seems to me that the hierarchy only gets worried about women when it seems that women might just gain a little independence, a little autonomy, a little respect, a little being treated as though they were human beings after all.

La plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

IN the Catholic church, it seems that it has long been a sin to expose evil doing by priests.

MacKillop exposed paedophile priest

MARY MacKILLOP was excommunicated from the Catholic Church partly as revenge for helping to expose the paedophilia of a South Australian priest, a new documentary about the life of the controversial sister claims.

It brings to mind the horrid story from March last year, when a nine year old child was raped and became pregnant. Her mother and a doctor arranged an abortion. The Catholic church excommunicated the mother and the doctor, but not the rapist.

It seems that it’s always right to cover up evil in the Catholic church.

I’m not impressed by what he said

Brendan Black is a new daddy, and he’s had an astonishing revelation. He has found that he needs to get over his semi-embarrassment, in public, about his partner breastfeeding their little boy. He’s urging all men to do the same, in an opinion piece that appears in both The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Age.

Grow up men! Breasts are not public property

His ostensible purpose is laudable: he wants men to get over the idea that there is something wrong with women breastfeeding in public.

Once my son was born, I quickly realised what I had long dreaded: my wife’s breasts had to be shared with someone else, even though he had a greater need for them than me.

He sets out some fairly standard ideas about the confusion between the sexualisation of breasts, and the need to feed babies. There’s nothing new in what he writes, except that he is addressing men. And yes, it’s jolly nice that he’s supporting breastfeeding. Of course, you will note the privilege that’s on display: because it’s being said by a man, it might get taken seriously, and even get published in a couple of big newspapers, but when women have made the same arguments, that’s just those wretched feminists getting whiny and shrill again.

But what really, really annoyed me about the article was his assumption of ownership.

Nevertheless, seeing my wife’s naked breasts several times a day, even with lessened ownership rights and in a new context, is still enjoyable…*

Oh, he asks for permission before he looks, but he still assumes ownership. And that’s the flavour of the entire article. He used to own his partner’s breasts, but now he has to share them, and hey, he’s okay with that.

Dude, it’s simple. The person who owns a woman’s breasts is the woman herself. Not her partner. Not any man who cares to walk by and take a look. Not even her babies. But the woman herself. That’s one of the basic notions of bodily integrity we have in Western liberal democracies. And once you understand that notion of bodily integrity, then whether or not a woman uses her breasts for sexual pleasure, or for titillation, or for feeding a baby, is none of your business whatsoever. Start with the notion that women own their own breasts, and then you don’t even need to worry about whether your “ownership” rights have been affected, because you never had those rights in the first place.

And by the way, this sort of behaviour…

We love to sneak a peek at a woman’s cleavage, cop a feel when we’re allowed to (and even when we’re not)…*

… is not a matter for joking. That’s sexual assault. ‘Though no doubt it would be more properly regarded as stealing from the man who owns them.

Update: Check out this excellent post at bluebec.com – This is not yours.

* Emphasis mine

I think I’m impressed by what he said

I saw something in the paper yesterday and thought that I must blog it but in the upheaval of tradies and school and work and organising a sale and a move, I threw the paper into the recycling and one of those exciting experiences when you have to go through the recyling to find the thing you want…. May I give you some gratuitous advice? Think very carefully before moving house.

Back on topic, the Brownlow Medal ceremony was held on Monday night. It’s the night when the Aussies Rules players are honoured for playing AFL. It’s a big deal for the players. And for the WAGS. I find that such a horrid term: the Wives and Girlfriends, appendages of the men, reduced to a mere acronym, and one that sounds derogatory at that. In recent years, each player has arrived accompanied by his partner, and they have sashayed down the blue carpet, with the woman’s dress being assessed, a la the red carpet at the Oscars. So not only are they WAGS, but the only thing that matters about them is what they wear.

But not everyone wants to play this silly game (that would be the WAGS / appearance / blue carpet game, not AFL).

But some football players are not a fan of the Brownlow fashion parade. Collingwood’s Harry O’Brien lashed out at the media when asked what his partner, Video Hits presenter Faustina “Fuzzy” Agolley, would be wearing. “There’s so much emphasis in our society on materialistic things. Women have so many issues with their body shape and have all these external things that they think will make them complete,” he said. “There is certain media that adds to the general feeling, the psyche of women in terms of that whole materialistic nature.”

From All eyes on the Brownlow’s blue carpet on AFL big night

I’m not quite sure what he meant to say, but I think I’m impressed by it. I think he was trying to say that the whole focus on appearance is ridiculous, and harmful.

Onya, mate.

Oh so beautiful

I went to see the South Australian State Opera’s production of The Pearl Fishers on Saturday night. It was beautiful, and very moving.

The story in the original libretto is, well, trite and hackneyed. The opera is set in Ceylon – oriental and romantic. Zurga is elected to lead the Pearl Fishers on their dangerous fishing voyage. As he does so, a stranger comes upon the scene – he is Nadir, Zurga’s long lost friend. Zurga and Nadir pledge their eternal friendship again, in what is surely the most beautiful duet ever written for two men. But then, the priestess who is to guard the pearl fishers voyage comes to their camp. She is veiled, but Nadir recognises her voice – it is Leila, whom he loves. And Leila recognises him! But… she is sworn to chastity, and virginity, on pain of death. In the second act, Leila is left alone for the night, but Nadir makes his way to her, and despite her pleading, he declares his love for her. Eventually, she says that she loves him too, but just as he is fleeing, they are discovered. Zurga must pass judgement – he condemns them both to be executed at dawn the next day. In the third act, Leila visits Zurga to plead for Nadir’s life. “Kill me,” she says, “but spare him.” Zurga in a fit of hideous jealousy refuses mercy. In the traditional version, he is jealous because he too loves Leila. She leaves him, asking him to give her necklace to her mother. She passes it to him, and he recognises it: it is the necklace he gave to a small girl many many years ago, who saved his life. In shock, he decides to spare her and Nadir, but by then, the pearl fishers are enraged. He must find a way for them to escape. So he sets the camp on fire. In the confusion, Nadir and Leila escape, but Zurga dies.

So much for the original libretto. It’s very thin, even for an opera. And annoying. The second act had all my feminist sensibilities irritated: every single man there was policing Leila. She must be virgin, she must love Nadir, she must keep her face veiled. I had no sympathy for Nadir’s pleadings of love: if he loved her so much, why on earth did he place her in danger by trying to be with her? He knew that it would mean death for her, yet he wouldn’t leave. A callow youth, I decided, and I couldn’t see why Leila loved him.

But the SA State Opera’s version of the story was much more compelling, and it moved me to tears. Several times. ‘Though not for Nadir.

As the overture played, we saw an elderly gentleman, Zurga, seated in his comfortable home, reflective, pensive, sore at heart, pouring himself another glass of spirits, restless. He is remembering the time when he was a colonial administrator in Ceylon. As the chorus started singing, a younger Zurga appeared, in his white colonial suit. He was stiff, but in command. And then, Nadir appeared. In the duet, Nadir pledged friendship, but Zurga pledged love. He was a man in love with a younger man, but perhaps not even aware of his love, or if he was aware of it, he knew he could not speak of it. But he and Zurga could be friends.

The duet which Zurga and Nadir sing in the first act is so beautiful that I think I would have cried no matter what, for the sheer joy of hearing it. On Satruday night, it was more than just a lovely song. I could see Zurga’s love for Nadir, and his longing. Hence his terrible anger when he is betrayed, and his jealously of Leila. In the final moments of the opera, as Nadir and Leila flee, he at last voices his love. “Nadir, je t’aimais!”

In the standard libretto, the words are, “Léïla, je t’aimais.”

The love and longing that Zurga had for Nadir was stunningly portrayed. The part was sung by Grant Doyle, and he was compelling. In the initial scenes, he was very much a stiff British administrator, in command, tense, yet somehow singing beautifully.* In the final act, I could see his torment: his entire being was in agony. It was a moment of gut wrenching truth when he was finally able to say, “Nadir, I love you!”

I have seen very little opera, despite my love of singing, so I am in no real position to assess the merits of the production. I thought that Leanne Kenneally and James Egglestone as Leila and Nadir were lovely, with beautiful voices. The sets were evocative – neither so bare nor so adorned that they distracted from the singing. But I find it hard to make those judgements, because for the most part, I was simply caught up in the music and the drama. I think I have been bitten by the opera bug: I will be going back for more. And I will be watching out for Grant Doyle. His performance was wonderful, and I would like to see and hear him again.

*How on earth can he do that? I know that when I sing, if I am too tense, my voice seizes up and all I produce is an agonised squawk. But he produced beautiful tones.

Suffrage Day!

Cross posted

On this day, 117 years ago, women in the New Zealand got the right to vote. On 19 September, 1893, the Governor, Lord Glasgow, signed the Electoral Act giving all New Zealand women the right to vote. New Zealand was one of the earliest self-governing territories in the world to enfranchise women, and the earliest nation to do so. It’s a proud moment in our history. Alas, it took another 26 years before women were entitled to stand for Parliament, and another 14 years after that before Elizabeth McCombs became the first woman to win a seat.

The suffragists fought a long battle to gain the vote, presenting three massive petitions to Parliament. The third and final petition had 32,000 signatures on it. The petition is on display in the National Archives in Wellington, and you can walk in there and take a look, just like that.

When I looked at the 1893 suffrage petition, what struck me was the street addresses of the people who had signed it. There was signature after signature from the same street. It is a record of a woman, or perhaps a man, going from door to door, up and down the streets, knocking and asking for signatures.

Signatures on the suffrage petition

Signatures on the suffrage petition

There’s a lovely story about one signature on the petition. It comes from Mrs Perryman’s account of the suffrage campaign and voting for the first time on the elections.org.nz site.

It meant hard work to collect those signatures, and we met many women who told us quite emphatically they wanted nothing to do with politics. Mrs T. E. Taylor, wife of a very prominent independent member [of Parliament], used to tell a good tale about one of these reluctant women. The lady firmly declined to sign the petition, and firmly shut the door in Mrs Taylor’s face. But before Mrs Taylor could reach the front gate she was called back. ‘Yes’, said the lady, ‘I will sign your petition, just to vote against that man Tommy Taylor’.

If you are in Wellington, do take a moment to have a look. The Archives are at 10 Mulgrave Street, just across the road from the Thistle, where Te Rauparaha is said to have had a drink from time to time, and one block over from Parliament.