Saturday, December 13, 2014

For the love of reading


Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieUnlike many books based on Africa, this book focuses on the lives of a group of middle class Nigerians.   This is a story around a girl (intertwined the stories of people she grows up with) who moves to America for college. 

It follows her journey as a foreigner in a strange new land to someone who might still be considered a foreigner but understands the American culture better. This allows her to have great insight into the US and the complexities around race relations.

This is a perceptive and fantastically written book that has it all - strong characters that grow and develop as well as a social commentary and narrative that keeps you turning those pages. STARS *****

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. If you liked Gossip Girl, then this is the book for you as this could easily pass as an Asian equivalent. It was hard to tell if the author was joking with book as some of the individuals in the book as they were a little redic (like Gossip Girl) but it was a fun read.  STARS ***

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman. This book is truly amazing and one of the best books I've read all year. 

With the various stories that weave together, the book makes good on its promise to 'tell people what happened here', specifically what happened to the Jews during the world wars. I couldn’t put it down. STARS *****

Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron. Zafron's the shadow of the wind is such an amazing story and so cool in so many ways. It's rich and, at times, dense plot makes it almost impossible to put down. I soon realised that I could not go for a few days with reading a few more pages, not only because I wanted to find out what happened next, but if a few days passed I would forget the many small details of the story.

Having just finished this book, I felt that I was swept up and carried along by the writing while being overwhelmed by the details, if you know what I mean? It was a strange feeling. 

Also, some of the expressions seemed a little too contemporary but this is a small matter, it was a great book. STARS *****


Breath by Tim Winton. I could not put this book down. For the 2/3rd of the story I fell in love with the relationship between the various characters as well as their quirks but then it seem to fall flat . 


The characters in Breath were typical Winton characters - flawed, self doubting, unpopular, dark and brooding. Probably my favourite Tim Winton book yet. STARS ****



Friday, December 12, 2014

Feminist Friday: What is The Misogyny Factor?

For the next few Fridays I am going to try and review a book that discusses feminism or discuss some of the issues facing women.

Often the smallest books seem to be the most powerful and this little book is no different.

At only 162 pages, Anne Summers’ book was based on two speeches that she gave at the University of Newcastle (Australia) in August 2012 on the defamation of Australia’s first Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.


It is not about all aspects about the lives of women and doesn’t cover such as health or birth control but focus on economic issues. Like many other books that look at gender issues, this book is aimed at both men and women. 

Same, same but different

Like so many recent books on this topic, this book does briefly cover the importance of economic independence in ensuring that women can have control over their own lives and be able to make their own choices. Economic independence prevents dependence on men and liberated women from traditional gender roles.

It is also not into ‘men bashing’ but looks how the patriarchal paradigm affects the lives of everyone.

In line with much of the feminist literature, this book criticises the double standards women face. ‘Men can be fulfilled as fathers and workers, yet we still argue the toss about whether women can ‘have it all’. And increasingly we conclude, no they can’t, and they shouldn’t and they had better not’.

This book also looks at the history of the women’s movement and takes it one step further by putting it a modern day context. to answer why women aren’t considered equal (just look at the pay gap)despite, government legislation and Affirmative Action policies, getting the vote, having reproductive rights, and graduating from university in greater numbers than ever before.

The answer that Anne Summers is The Misogyny Factor’

Summers argues that there are three challenges that women face: inclusion, equality and respect. She maintains that while the structural factors are in place to support women, unless they are included, considered equal and treated with respect, nothing will change.  

What is ‘The Misogyny Factor’? 

Anne Summers argues that it’s more than just the hatred of women but a ‘set of attitudes and entrenched practices that are embedded in most of our major institutions (business, politics, the military, the media, church, academia) that stand in the way of women being included, treated equally and accorded respect’.      

It is the innate attitude that women only exist to fulfil a domestic role and ‘do not have a fundamental right to be part of society beyond the home’.

It’s common for among both men and women of certain ages and ideological persuasions to hold this view. Often they try and cover up their regressive thinking by pointing put that they have daughters and are supportive fathers but we know that this won’t automatically make an individual promote inclusion, equality and respect. 

Wait, the Prime Minister has rights?

Since the treatment of Australia’s first Prime Minister inspired this book, Summers cleverly devotes a chapter to analysing this treatment as if she was a normal employee, or more specifically, the CEO of Australia.

In her chapter entitled ‘Her Rights at Work’ (based on a highly successful trade union campaign called ‘Your Rights at Work’) she looks at what was said in the media and asks if she was a normal employee she would be able to take her employer to court under the Sexual Discrimination Act 1984, Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunity for Women) Act 1986 and the Fair Work Australia Act 2009 for bullying, sex discrimination, and sexual harassment.


There were many instances where personal attacks were made in regards to her gender. As Summers states ‘I came to the conclusion that these demining and offensive attacks are designed to undermine Julia Gillard’s authority as Prime Minister. They are an assault on her legitimacy and, because they rely on sexual and other gender-specific attacks for their potency, I have branded this campaign of vilification ‘misogynist.’

As the Youtube clip shows, these attacks were clearly aimed at her gender and a male prime minister has never been treated in this way.

What this clip shows is only a fraction of what happened. There were obscene emails that did the rounds and facebook pages that were just horrible. As Summers points out the images in the emails and on Facebook were ‘solely designed to demean and diminish her, humiliate and intimidate her’

It is not about agreeing with her politics. People might not agree with how she runs the country but it is unacceptable that she was treated this way.    

It is a shame that this sort of treatment is happening at the highest levels. I expect better from government as they should be an example and be setting the tone for the national conversation.        
    
Finally…..

Summers prompts us to say something if we get one of these vile emails or stumble on one of these Facebook pages and say ‘it stops with me’.


Anne Summer’s The Misogyny Factor might be a small book but it offers up a powerful analysis of the treatment of powerful women in Australia and the gender roles in the wider society.   


Saturday, December 6, 2014

What is it with Perth?



While for most people Perth is just a place where live and don’t have a strong opinion on this city either way, recently I have been thinking about those love it or hate it.

We have it so good here but why can’t we take it a step further and make this city slightly more interesting?

Since I have found this clip on You Tube, it has been funny to see the different perspectives, although the ‘haters’ are a little more entertaining than the corporate spin.  

  





But what is it about Perth that makes people want to laugh at it?

Maybe because Perth has so much to offer but it still seems like a small town.

It has skyscrapers and a growing café, bar and restaurant scene but the CBD is literally deserted after 7 and it is almost impossible to get a good coffee after 4pm.

Not to mention a transport system that assumes that after 7pm no one needs to go anywhere.

I completely understand why Perth fans love it so much; the great weather, the outdoors lifestyle, the beaches, the opportunities to spend national holidays in Kings Park (Perth’s botanical gardens) waiting for the fireworks to start while dancing in bikinis to tunes pumped out by commercial radio, etc, etc!

Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone but a city’s climate and beach culture is unappealing to someone like me who isn’t interested in the superficial, appearances or even the good weather.

This outdoorsy and appearance driven narrative seems to be so strong that if you are not into that, you soon feel that there is no alternative aspiration.   

Bluntly (some of you will kill me for saying this) Perth is like a beautiful person with no personality. Appearances, the beach and sport are held in high esteem and there is not the population size to leave the geeks and the nerds (like me) with enough alternatives to feel satisfied.   
   
What makes Perth different from…..?

Having move from the UK to Perth when I was 15, the first thing I noticed was the small town mentality. The rest of the world (including the other parts of Australia) seems very far away and almost irrelevant.    

I also noticed that people were friendly and welcoming but it was harder to make friends. I just put this down to because Perth crowd (generally) had been there all their lives; they had their posse of friends and weren’t interested in making new ones. It was ‘hello, how are you? And chat for awhile…… then, see you later!’

It takes a longer to find where the cool people hang.

Moving to Sydney for work was interesting. I soon found a group of mates that weren’t from Sydney and were more than happy for newbies to join their posse. After all most of them were new to the city once and knew what it was like to arrive and not know many people.     

What I do love

I love the coffee culture in Perth and while there are some duds of cafés, there are many great places that make an awesome cup!

The tradition of going out for breakfast is something that I love (although the prices ,compared to Melbourne, isn’t so cool) and can’t get enough of.

I love the Perth International Arts Festival and think this Festival is amazing!!! For a few weeks during the year, Perth comes this vibrant city that is filled with life and interesting stuff.

I am also so glad that Perth is so close to South East Asia as if we had moved back to the UK as planned, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to explore this interesting and diverse part of the world. 

I also love how the city surprises me. Just watch the clip below...




Isn't cool?
         
The future

A bigger population here in Perth is almost inevitable. The more people move to Western Australia, the more diverse the community will be. I hope that Perth will become a truly cosmopolitan city with a melting pot of cultures rather than multiple cultures and lifestyles operating side by side.  


Perth does have so much to offer and that with a commitment to economic development, progressive urban planning and investment in public transport and community development, I think the future looks bright!!   

Friday, December 5, 2014

Feminist Friday: Unfinished Business: Sex, Freedom and Misogyny by Anna Goldsworthy

For the next few Fridays I am going to try and review a book that discusses feminism or discuss some of the issues facing women.

A lot of what Anne Goldworthy writes in her essay in The Quarterly is nothing new but it showed how much progress there still has to be made. When she says that ‘what men should do and what women should be remains a persistent bias of our culture even as it bears no resemblance to the actual divisions of labour’. 

Her article documents the gender issues surrounding the prime ministership of Julia Gillard and describes the state of play of the role of women in public life. It seems outrageous that what women do and look like is still important in 2014.


This essay covers everything from how language is used to degrade women as well as the concept of the gender card. Not only does she look at female politicians but also at women scholars, miners and novelists. 

There is also an interesting discussion on the female body as a unit of shame and hate as well as its role in popular culture.

Goldsworthy states that ‘the shame of the original sin was the shame of a woman. The psychology of shame is feminine: blushing, withdrawal. It prompts us to make ourselves smaller, through dieting or modesty of bearing. Shame underlines our compliance, our fixed grin, our need to please.’ From the moment we’re born we seemed to be conditioned to behave in a subservient way and is amazing to see how ingrained it is.    

Much of the essay looks at Gillard’s famous misogyny speech, where she points out that what caught people’s attention around the world was that it was more than Julia vs. Tony or Labor vs. Liberal but women vs. misogyny.

Her article made me sad, it made me angry that despite the progress that women have made that Australia’s first prime minister would be such a target of vitriolic abuse from shock jocks and “commentators” and have to deliver such a speech in order to be taken seriously.  



Geek up late reading stories of political turmoil


I have always been into politics and being a political geek means spending a lot of time reading books about politics well into the night and well after ALP branch meeting have finished and conferences have wrapped up.

It must be tough running a country. With what Jacqueline Kent describes as a ‘sullen and disengaged electorate’, alongside a 24 hour news cycle and an increasingly globalised world it is not easy to have rational and sensible discussions about the decisions that are being made in Canberra. 

Below are just a few books and essays on the challenges that the government faces in managing Australia’s prosperity while ensuring a fair and decent country for all citizens.    

Sideshow – dumbing down of democracy (Lindsay Tanner)

I don’t know where to start with this book, not to say that it was bad in anyway but that Lindsay Tanner brought up so any good points that I could almost write an essay.

But basically political spin has increased over the decades and Tanner seemed to imply that the main reason because the main purpose of commercial media was to make a profit and therefore giving people consumers what they want, i.e. entertainment. As he points out ‘news is now often judged on its entertainment value; and that there is an increasing emphasis on visual imagery.  This means that everything has to be seen as ‘fun’ and the physical appearance of politicians (more often than not, female politicians) is more important than the difficult discussions surrounding inequality, Aboriginal disadvantage  and refugees. As a result anything serious and of substance is a lot harder to get covered by the media.


This idea is shared by Mark Latham in this book (see review below) who writes, ‘for most people news bulletins and current affairs shows have just become another form of infotainment, a forum for escapism and light relief, rather than hard news content.’ It is all a bit depressing really. The challenge of including the electorate in the discussions and decisions that directly affects them has to be one of bigger ones that face the government.  

So in this current environment, the media focus on words and events that would entertain their viewers and readers. Just think of the stunts that Steve Fielding pulled or any situations that were described as fiasco, turmoil, row, crisis or chaos and any of such situations are not nearly as big as they are made out to be.  The 24 hour news cycle doesn’t help either.

I found his arguments surrounding the role that media plays in the disengagement with politics and the widening gap between those who are “into” politics and those who aren’t very interesting and a point that I wished he’d developed further.     

Tales from the Political Trenches (Maxine McKew)

As an ALP hack and in Sydney during the 2007 election campaign, I found it interesting to read her story about her time in Politics as well as why we didn't hear more from her. It soon became apparent that it was the party machine's slight obsession with keeping on message at all costs But as I got through the book I found that it was as much about her story as it was about the current problems with the party and politics in general.

It was often painful to see the dirty laundry of the party whose values (working for the common good, equality, improving the lives of working people etc) that I believe in aired in public but hopefully books such as Maxine's will get read and will learn from the mistakes that she discusses. 

No wonder that the apparatchiks don't want to read this book because it has the repercussions of their work staring back at them.

The Making of Julia Gillard (Jacqueline Kent)

Simply written but an easy read! While it interesting to find out more about Julia Gillard's life, I didn't learn anything that I couldn't find out on the internet; my attitudes weren't shifted in any way. It does read like a bible for any future political ALP hack or apparatchik, so if you are thinking of running for parliament this is a good book for you.

Not Dead Yet: Labor’s Post-Left Future (Mark Latham)

Latham’s essay describes a party with an identity that is in conflict with itself and the changing nature of Australian society. Australia is very different to the Australia that gave birth to the Australian Labor Party in the 1890s. Australia’s working class no longer is necessarily economically disadvantaged or even supporters of the labour movement. 

Latham correctly identifies that civil society has changed and developed to a post political party environment; meaning that individuals opt to participate in civil society groups, even though they might be political in nature, rather than participating in the mainstream political process.

Mark Latham laments that while union membership is at around 16%, the ALP is still controlled by an “oligarchy of union-based factional leaders” whose unquestioned power extends to who gets pre-selected, which issues get “debated” at party state/national conferences and how delegates to these conferences vote. This, he argues, has lead to disengagement by the rank and file membership who struggle to participate in a party that seems to be full of “the aging party faithful, plus party members of parliament and their staff and hustling aspirants for elected office”. 

Of all Latham’s recommendations it was his focus on using education as a tool to economic and social empowerment which also included improving the status of the teaching profession, using the Asian model of education (encouraging and supporting parents in the education of the children) and improving pre-school education. Also his focus on poverty in Australia was a good reminder Australia is not a lucky country for everyone.

The Political Bubble (Mark Latham)

You mention Mark Latham to rusted on Labor supporters and they will dismiss him as a once crazy leader who crashed and burned. But after reading his latest book I have developed a new respect for Latham. 

For a while I thought his time out of politics had mellowed him and given him a sense of perspective but his article on feminism in November 2014 in the Financial Review made me not so sure.

But sometimes I just think he gets it and maybe the reason why some ALP people hate him so much is because Latham writes some uncomfortable things about the political game that they play. Like when he argues ‘It operates as a tribal situation, a closed club in which the comfort of its members is a bigger priority than the interest of outsiders’.

I found the discussion around the government’s decreasing control over the economy interesting and how governments like to claim more control over the economy. I think he’s correct when he writes ‘increasingly in public life, there is a disconnection between political rhetoric and the power of the government. While party leaders continue to make promises they can’t keep, the influence and authority of the nation state continues to be marginalised’.  

I also found his reading of the Australian public quite interesting. He argues that Australians have become (through better access to education and jobs) socially mobile and self sufficient as a result. This has meant that there has been a shift in how citizens view the political establishment.

He argues that ‘the weight of influence in Western nations has shifted to individual agents: well-educated, highly skilled people who have little reason to rely on collective organisations….elsewhere, capacity has dispersed to a growing group of self-sufficient citizens, people with the skills and resources to bypass traditional institutions. While I think his reading of the general public is by in large correct, he doesn’t discuss the sense of entitlement that goes with that and the common attitude of ‘the government owes me’ or ‘what does the government done for me?’

It is a good read, especially if you are into party politics, although your level of discomfort will be linked to your level cynicism.

Latham’s World: The new politics of the outsiders (Margaret Simons)

The first thing that struck me about this article was how much Simons was a fan of Mark Latham and I wondered how much objectivity she would have.

Mark Latham was a Labor Party leader in the early to mid naughties and was a ‘loose cannon’. He was hated by many and not considered prime minister material by many more.

The article taught me a lot about how Latham's past influenced his politics and behaviour. I now appreciate what he stands for and can see past the roguish behaviour to his values that drive him to be a player in the political game.     



Friday, November 28, 2014

Mom’s Dumpling House not your usual experience

Often Restaurants in Australia that offer food from other countries adapt their food to the local pallet. While they do it for business reasons, I often look out for places that pull crowds from that country as it is usually a sign of being true to their roots.

Mom’s Dumpling House in Victoria Park is great like this. Situated near Vic Park's famous 'Kidney Roundabout', it is an unassuming restaurant that specialises in Northern Chinese food. 



While they have the standard fare such as dumplings, sweet and sour pork and the like, their menu is full of dishes that I had never heard of and weren’t particularly appealing to the Aussie taste such as ox tongue in chilli sauce, beef and ox tripe in chilli sauce, hot & spicy pork ear as well as poached pork liver.

To celebrate the end of the working week my friends and I visited Mom’s Dumpling House and after some discussion we chose quite the feast.    

We went for kailan in oyster sauce, spicy seaweed salad, spring rolls and chives, pork and shrimp dumplings (steamed) to start off with and which we loved. Although the dumplings came out much later which was a shame as we would have appreciated them if they came out before we were half way through our meal.    




The butter chicken was chosen by my young friend who loved it as it wasn’t spicy and had simple flavours.

The hot & spicy pigs ear was served cold on a bed of shaved cucumber; with its multiple layers of flavour, it was an unexpected favourite.

The chicken, mushroom vermicelli claypot was a surprise and wasn’t what we expected. This dish was heavy and resembled comfort food that you would have in the middle of winter in Russia rather than on a late spring everning in Western Australia.  
    

It quite easy to order too much food but luckily, the staff were happy to provide containers for you to take food home. Overall, the service was great and I will defiantly be back to enjoy their Northern Chinese menu.     



Mom Dumpling House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Help, I need a wife!

Like most people, my life is super busy and so often I wish I could have a wife. Someone who does the domestic things while I go out and have a fulfilling life without the inconvenience of having to the mundane errands and waiting around!

What stuck a cord me while reading Annabel Crabb’s new book The Wife Drought was that it offered such a different angle on the gender and work debate. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a fresh perspective on the women and work discussion.

She wrote this book to fill a gap in the discussion about gender and work. There is so much literature about how women are disadvantaged in the world of work and how the current paradigm favours men as well as how women should make the system work for them.

But there isn’t much written about men in the world of work and this book asks if men are happy with the current system. She writes ‘we focus our attention on who wins and who loses at work, but we don’t join it up with what is happening at home. As long as we assume that women are the only losers in this situation, nothing will change. Because the truth is that everyone loses in a system like this. Women feel hard done by, men who feel trapped at work, children who don’t see enough of their fathers.’     

So, why are wives so important?

According to Crabb, a wife (it doesn’t always have to be a female, there have been male “wives”) is someone who works a lot less in order to successfully manage the domestic sphere and handles all the things that pop up in everyday life such as visits from the plumber/electrician, goes shopping, chooses a new fridge, spend hours on the phone to the internet provider, and, not to mention looking after kids, elderly parents and associated pets.

Having such support allow men to focus on their careers, which includes staying back in the office, being available to travel (after all they have a wife and, as men, they are not primary responsible for their children) and attend out of hours networking functions.

You couldn’t do all is if you didn’t have a wife to manage your domestic life.

Different experiences and expectations       

While other books on this topic focus on the experiences of women, Crabb’s book includes a look at the role of men in family life and society attitude towards this role.

She rightly notices that while the role of women has changed dramatically over time, men’s role in society has remained stagnant. It is still assumed that they are the main bread winner and the mother of their children will be their primary carer.

Any deviation for that narrative creates huge burdens for everyone. Women feel like there are neglecting their children if they work while also being made to feel like they are not quite present in the workplace.

On the other hand, marriage grounds men – the bachelor lifestyle with its flamboyant is supposed to stop once a guy marries and has children.           

The highlight of Annabel’s discussion was around the lack of opportunity for men to access flexible working arrangements as well as the societal expectation that men won’t make much of a change to his working hours after he has children.
     
I thought it interesting when she quoted George Megalogenis who said ‘Women have trouble asking for pay rises, and men have trouble asking for time off’. The reason being that it is uncool for men to scale back for the sake of their family or ‘work-life balance’ and doing so makes them look like they are not serious about their career.   

What makes this book different?

While there are a plethora of books and articles on this topic, what Crabb’s book adds to the debate is a unique investigation of the effects of the gender roles and how ‘having a wife’ benefits men. It benefits them economically as well as in regards to their ability to participate in business and public life.

What I also like about Crabb’s book is that, unlike other books on this topic, there is a strong emphasis on men’s role in balancing work and family rather than just only on women and the problems that they face in this area.

You just have to switch on the TV or read the newspapers to notice that the individuals running the companies and in government are men and what often goes unnoticed is the level of support that they require to become captains of industry and government ministers.

Just so you know…..

This book isn’t so much about hating the patriarchy; it is about encouraging men to as for flexibility at work and participate equally in the lives of their family. As Annabel Crabb writes, ‘This is not a book of rage on the whole. And – on the whole – it is not a book about women. Because in all the research and argument and thought that’s been expended over the past five decades on the question of why women don’t succeed at work like men do there’ a great, gaping hole. It is a men shaped hole.

That’s why I liked this book (other than that it is super easy to read and is full of the usual Annabel Crabb charm, wit and grace) because it acknowledges that the problem not just one facing women that has to be solved by women or be dealt with by corporations for their female employees but that men are as much part of the solution as they are part of the problem. Allowing both men and women flexibility at work to have a life out of employment and look after children makes for a better society.     

Why read ‘The Wife Drought’?

I could go on and on about this book as well as quote every idea that I highlighted but I hope I gave you enough of an idea to give this book a try.


It is super easy to read, highly relevant and easily relatable.    


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Home town discoveries

If you live somewhere for long enough you develop certain ideas about where the cool places are and you want to spend your time off. As time goes by cities and suburbs change without you noticing unless something grabs your attention and changes your views.    

Until recently, Perth’s entertainment hub of Northbridge, with its seedy undertones, has inspired images in my mind of drunken teenagers and out of control Bogans and has put me off spending much time there.

This was before I went on a Foot Loose Tour which is essentially a long walk around Northbridge’s best restaurants. It is run by well known Perth blogger with years of industry experience and these tours are designed to be a snapshot giving you an opportunity to try several places in one night.

We met under the big screen in the neighbourhood’s piazza and then, after a short introduction by our guide, we made a move.

First stop was Darlings Supper Club, one of Northbridge’s new kids on the block.  As we tried various dumpling we made a mental note to come back and explore more of their menu.




Next we got to try another new kid place called Lot Twenty,
although it was on a different block, but it was as cool. The vibe was great and somewhere I’d return to.


After a nice cider and a long chat with friend who came with me we moved on across Northbridge to Big Els Latin American Fusion. We hadn’t heard of this place before so it was good to give it a go and with its funky décor we would be back if we ever felt like South American food.    



When we seriously thought we couldn’t eat any more we shuffled over to a burger joint that I never new existed. Varsity Burgers is down a pedestrian side street and, given the name, had an American feel to it. Think deep fried, think burger after a night on the town. They seem different to the burgers that you get at other burger places but we loved our double cheese burger and fried peanut butter thing.

At this point we couldn’t eat anymore so we piked but I think the group went to visit more places.



On the whole, we had a great time and we discovered some great places to eat and look forward to going back to spend some more time at these places. It looks like Northbridge is changing for the better and making it somewhere that people would visit rather than avoid.

If you want more information regarding Food Loose Tours, go to www.foodloosetours.com.au
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