Monday, 22 February 2016

When kids make up words

I saw a Facebook post today by Smaggle about a small boy who created 'bin-oco-lookers', that reminded me of one of the things my children - as many do - did that has lasted into current time. They both made up words, and the best of them - and sadly, while there were many more, I never wrote them down, so they've been lost - are part of the family vocab to this day.

How to, as parents and the adults mostly around them, conduct ourselves with small children is something that is still debated as far as the baby talk vs no baby talk argument goes. Both the boys were bright and advanced with language, and had impressive vocabularies as small children. As a young man, No.2 was a formidable Scrabble opponent too! They were both read to from the beginning, and I wasn't one for baby talk, so conversations - from birth - were regular ones. No.1 had a tendency to contract words, while No.2 tended more to enlarge them. But it was the variant creations that we loved, and to this day, there are a few gems that we all still use.

Stagon wayshun - station wagon. Pretty self explanatory, really.
Windscreamers - windscreen wipers. A personal favourite.
Ambience - ambulance. He could say it, but liked his version better!
Hoppycopter - helicopter. Particularly brilliant, I think!
Vegables - vegetables.
Fi-shen truck - fire engine.

They both delighted in nonsense poetry like Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky. No.1, who'd been bilingual as a tiny child (I was learning Italian at the same time he was learning to talk, so the end result was that he switched between languages fairly randomly!) loved mixing up Italian and English words. It was quite deliberate, as he knew the difference...but the confounded expressions on people's faces were clearly irresistible!

We used to play a game with a dictionary - which you can buy now as the board game, Balderdash - taking turns to pick out a word and have everyone else make up definitions for it. It's a game that can be played with a mixed age group, which was useful with two six and a half years apart. 

Now and again, we'd hit some sanctimonious type who couldn't help themselves, and HAD to correct. As I said to both of them - as my mother had said to me - language is a living thing. It changes via usage, and experimenting with it didn't make what they were doing wrong. Obviously, there's a time and a place for mucking around with it, but the joy they had with their invented words and the reactions of family was worth more than treading on them and forcing corrections that weren't really all that important, given the context. 

After all, Dr Zeuss made a career of nonsense words, did he not?!

Friday, 12 February 2016

Lockout laws - an antidote to Australia's culture of drinking and violence?

Sydney's current lockout laws - which specifically target the King's Cross area and the CBD (apart from the Sky City Casino and Barangaroo precincts) - are under fire, primarily from clubs and other entertainment venues, due to lost revenue. They were brought into place after a series of incidents of alcohol fueled violence resulted in the deaths of young men from so called 'coward punches'. 
Since those laws came into being, violence in the Cross and the CBD is down. However, as posts on social media and articles in local press indicate, some of the violence has moved to areas where there are no lockout laws - specifically, the inner west suburb of Newtown - prompting the question as to the usefulness of the laws in the first place. If all imposing earlier closing hours does is move people onto another area where there aren't early closings, do the lockout laws work?

Sydney nurse, Paul Harwood, who works in intensive care at St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst (near the Cross), and whose wife is an ER nurse, posted THIS VIDEO on Facebook this week. In it, he makes it very clear that in the time since the lockout laws were enacted, the number of cases he's nursed that are a result of alcohol fueled violence have lessened dramatically, and the degree of violent incidents in the ER have also lessened. Professor Gordian Fulde, Senior Australian of the Year for 2016, is a staunch supporter for the lockout laws. As head of St Vincent's ER, he described, in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, his department before the lockout laws as a "war zone" and the decrease in severe head injuries since then as "spectacular and terrific". 

Whether or not the lockout laws are directly responsible for the drop in violence or not - and there are reports that argue otherwise - the fact remains that, as a society, Australia has a serious problem with both alcohol and violence. I wrote recently about the ongoing incidents perpetrated by NRL players during their off times - usually at parties, or out and about at clubs or pubs. These incidents are an ongoing problem, prompting discussions in the press about the underlying drinking culture in football. 

I watched, with no small degree of alarm, as the stepson made his way through high school and a growing social life that was centred on parties organised and advertised via social media. There was a lot of press coverage at the time about teen parties getting out of control and being raided by gatecrashers. He was at parties where this happened. There was also a lot of alcohol at the parties - and a tacit sense that that was both expected and acceptable. At the time, nearly all the legitimate (invited) party goers were well under the legal drinking age. 

I'm no prude. I drank underage - most of us did. At home, for special occasions, we were allowed wine - one glass, and watered down - at a celebratory meal, in much the same way as is common in many European cultures. Parties with school friends could sometimes feature illicit supplies of beer - but not very much, because no one had the funds to spend on it, and the consequences if we'd been caught by our parents would have been pretty severe. By the time my eldest reached teen party age, it was becoming a bit more of an issue, but I kept on top of it and denied permission to attend parties that weren't supervised. Once, and only once, I got the call to go and get him from a party where the drinking had got out of hand. He was a pretty cheap drunk, and hadn't had all that much, but he was well away, talking non-stop, and reeking of beer. The sore head and marked lack of sympathy from me the next day left him a bit to think about! He was a bit of a control freak though - still is - and tended, even when he was of age, to not drink to excess in public situations, where he could lose control, and more importantly, be seen to lose control. There were odd times when he'd gather at home or with mates at one of their homes, and get quietly blotto...which he always seemed to regret afterwards. 

In the case of the stepson though, it started earlier and much harder, with vague talks of 'gatherings' that turned out to be in the scrub bordering suburban beaches with significant quantities of illicit alcohol - and rarely beer. They started with cruisers, and moved on fairly quickly to bottles of spirits, which I found particularly worrisome. 

There were a number of parties where the police had to be called - usually because of havoc wrought by gatecrashers - and not a few brawls. And there was a hospital visit after he consumed a huge amount of vodka far too quickly to be safe. Fortunately, his mates saw sense and called an ambulance. 

The thing is, this isn't uncommon with his age group. We've had numerous conversations with him about the nature of these parties, especially since, after the event, he all to often said how boring they were, and really not any fun. That makes sense, if all they consisted of was a lot of people drinking too much and fighting...that's not fun at all. 

Currently, in the eastern suburbs, there is a gang - one of many - circulating, doing the rounds of pubs in the area, looking for trouble. He knows many of them - some of them were at his school a few years behind him. Their aim appears just to be to head to a pub, do some drinking, and then provoke a fight - and this is happening over and over again. However, it appears that the norm for many of our young people is that drinking is appropriate, and excessive drinking is entree into the 'cool club'. Queensland teen Joshua Blake wrote this article about his experience of the drinking culture of his peers, including the pressure to drink in order to fit in. They're starting early, drinking harder, and by the time they're of age to drink publicly, they're well entrenched in a culture of heavy drinking.

A lot of the social media commentary around the lockout laws is from people speaking out against the troublemakers, saying that not everyone is like that, and asking why laws have to be in place that limit the options for going out for others who aren't violent. It's a good question, but at the same time, I query the need to be out drinking at 3, 4 or 5 in the morning... Is it really necessary, in order to have a good time? Others, responding to this, have volunteered the eminently sensible (well, I think so) suggestion to head home and continue any partying there once the venues close. And seriously, is there anything wrong with that? It eliminates the walk of shame at dawn, heading home in bedraggled evening wear, for starters, not to mention ensuring that everyone is safely in a home environment where they can crash and burn without serious repercussions. 

I am in favour of the lockout laws. I have no issue at all with people heading out to clubs and bars and having a good time out with friends. I do have an issue with those public spaces turning into venues for violence and bloodshed - which is an increased risk, the longer they are open and the more intoxicated people can get in a public space that continues to serve them, regardless of how drunk they might already be. Add recreational drugs to that mix and it's a recipe for mayhem. I don't think it's necessary to be out all night in order to have had a good time, and nor do I think that dropping the amount we drink per session is going to seriously lessen the fun that can be had. Alcohol relaxes people's inhibitions, and allows latent characteristics to come to the fore, and if those latent characteristics are violent, it's a problem. 

While there may be other, more creative solutions, as touted by local politicians and police personnel - explored in this article in today's Sydney Morning Herald - the lockout laws, according to those at the coalface, have already had a significant effect. That they may need to be extended to other areas to enlarge that effect is a simple indication of the depth of the issue, and an indicator that there is more work to be done. Some of the solutions used overseas may be useful to implement at some point, but they won't deal with the underlying issues of alcohol abuse and violence in Australian culture. As Joshua Blake wrote in his article,
However, significant improvements can be made if Australia changes its drinking culture ... To make this change, Australians need to drop this sense that heavy drinking is a part of our identity. Admittedly Australia is not the only country with heavy drinking inherent in its national identity, but by that count, we are not the only country with a problem and one evil does not beget another.
Fixing the problem is not easy. The first step, however, is to admit there is a problem.
We DO have a problem - as a culture. And it's past time to admit it. 

Monday, 1 February 2016

Domestic violence in Australia - how do we change the thinking?

Australia has a problem with violence against women. It's a BIG problem. Social media organisation, Destroy The Joint, started a project called Counting Dead Women in 2012 - tallying the number of women who died violently at the hands of men. Last year, that number reached 79. 79 dead women - more than one a week. Dead at the hands of a man, and all too often that man was someone they knew - a partner, an ex-partner, a family member. Since the beginning of this year, four women have been killed - the fourth was added to the tally this morning, and this artwork is new. 
Photo: Destroy the Joint
Domestic violence is a huge issue in this country. It doesn't only affect women - there are children being hurt and killed, and men too. But, overwhelmingly, it is women who are the largest group of victims of violence, and most often it is perpetrated by men. 

This is an issue that affects people at every level of society. Domestic violence makes no distinction between the well off and those who are struggling financially. It crosses cultural boundaries. It is in our cities and in our country towns. Old and young women, and those in between have all been victims. Single women and those in relationships are potentially both at risk. 

Common to all is the fear, the sense of powerlessness, the isolation, the feeling that there is no one they can talk to and nowhere safe to go. The most dangerous time for many women is after they leave and abusive relationship - and yet there is still a widely held attitude that condemns women for staying in those very relationships. "WHY didn't she leave?" is a question that is either asked or inferred in nearly every conversation that is had around an incident of domestic violence. 

Women who stand up and speak out against the violence often become targets too.  Writer Clementine Ford has spoken out vocally after fielding incomprehensible levels of attacks on social media after naming and shaming an internet troll who leveled abuse at her - one of many, and the one who was the straw that broke the camel's back. In her article from December 2015, she says that she did it because too many women are scared to stand up to the trolls, are frightened by the threats, and she was sick of women having to take responsibility for the actions of those male abusers. Unsurprisingly, given the subject matter, there was another backlash on social media and she had yet more abuse levelled at her. But there was also support - lots of support, such as this article by Koraly Dimitriadis, who wrote it to thank Ford for her stand, and went on to voice the fears that so many women - those in the public eye and those not - feel when they try to stand up for themselves against abuse.

Part of the problem is a deeply embedded cultural attitude of male empowerment and entitlement. Regardless of the fact that we live in the first country to give women the vote, and has legislated to ensure that there are no barriers to opportunities based on gender, there is still a prevailing attitude that a woman who is raped somehow 'asked for it', and that it's a woman's fault for being in the wrong place at the wrong time - not the perpetrator's fault for committing the act of violence in the first place. 

Just last month, former MP Mark Latham, in a program on commercial radio, gave his opinion of the anti domestic violence campaign, refuting the seriousness of the issue, saying:
Blokes have lost their self-esteem, they're welfare dependent, they've got other troubles, drugs, alcohol in their life. It's that loss of self-esteem where I think they use the domestic violence as a coping mechanism to get over all the other crap they've got in their lives. So demonising men and making them feel worse about themselves is not going to solve the problem.
"They use domestic violence as a coping mechanism to get over all the other crap they've got in their lives." A coping mechanism. Taking the next logical step, I wonder what kind of lengths, based on Latham's twisted reasoning, it would be OK for a woman who's been beaten up by her partner might then be allowed to retaliate - in order to be able to cope with the 'crap' of being beaten in the first place? Because THAT'S how utterly wrong, not to mention frightening, his view of the situation appears. Unfortunately, the culture of victim blaming adds another layer to the issue, and it is all too common to see men and women looking to put the victims at fault rather than the perpetrators.

In Latham's view, as stated in her response in the Sydney Morning Herald, Kasey Edwards writes:
... Latham's comments reveal a lot more than his ignorance. His attempt to minimise the horror and prevalence of domestic violence gives us a chilling insight into the mindset that justifies domestic violence in the first place. Domestic violence is a consequence of men's feelings of entitlement; the belief that they have a right to power and control at any cost, even if it costs the lives of women and children.
Latham is far from alone in this attitude. In a horrifying development, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story yesterday about a global meetup of followers of the Return of Kings website, with meetings planned in Australia in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. The man behind Return of Kings, Daryush Valizadeh, espouses what he calls neomasculinity - if you click on the link you will see his definition. He blogs about what he sees as the breakdown of society, caused by feminism, and bemoans the loss of traditional gender roles and male power. Having gained a large online following, the idea of the meetups - at secret locations and times - is to allow those followers living in the same places to create communities of support for each other with like-minded men. That there are four meetups planned for Australian locations indicates that there are enough followers who think like Valizadeh, and feel that it is entirely valid.

Chillingly, one of his mandates, published recently online, is a call to legalise rape on private property - stating on his blog:
Without daddy government to protect her, a girl would absolutely not enter a private room with a man she doesn't know or trust unless she is absolutely sure she is ready to sleep with him.
The full blog post can be read HERE.

Valizadeh has announced on his site that he plans to come to Australia for the meetups on 6 February. In 2014, his associate, Julien Blanc, was deported in the wake of running seminars that taught men how to manipulate women into having sex. Then Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, said to Sky News at the time, "This guy wasn't pushing forward political ideas, he was putting a view that was derogatory to women and that's just something that our values abhor in this country." A petition has been started since news of the 6 February meetups asking that the Department of Immigration deny entry to Valizadeh on the same grounds. You can sign the petition by following THIS LINK.

In September 2015, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull allocated $100M funding directly to the cause of violence against women, and the development of new strategies country-wide to begin addressing the problem. It's a start. If the money is properly directed to practical, grass-roots strategies that help women and children escape untenable situations, and find new and safe places to live and rebuild their lives, that will be a wonderful thing. But there also needs to be education from the ground up to create a shift in the way we even think about violence against women. That's not a quick fix. That will take generations of men coming to the table and helping to change attitudes as well. This is a national issue and if affects men, women and children everywhere, so everyone has to be part of fixing it.  

In the meantime, events like the planned meetup of neanderthals who think it's right and proper for men to have full dominance over women, resorting to rape and beatings if required, have no place here. People like Valizadeh have no place in this country either, if we're going to back the Prime Minister's program. Please sign the petition to have his entry to the country blocked. Please feel free to share this post to help create more awareness of just how much work there is still to do before we achieve real, long term changes, and women don't always have to be looking over their shoulders.