In some countries, democracy is a sham because a totalitarian regime controls election outcomes. In Australia, it’s a sham because the two options that are (realistically) available don’t seem to have any actual policies. You know, the things that politicians are meant to have? With the same Greek/Latin etymology? Yeah, those.

Instead of hearing some decent ideas about how they might run the country, we get name-calling. Having a female prime minister just makes it worse because it’s reduced to:

Abbott: “Girls smell.”
Gillard: “No, boys smell.”

This isn’t politics, it’s reality TV, fuelled by the media that certainly at least partially orchestrated Rudd’s demise. Whose members the politicians know by name. It’s poll watching and worm watching and adjustments based on these. A popularity contest. It’s all about dog-whistles and wooing voters.

How did we get here? I think reality TV does have to do with it. (If only we could vote Tony Abbott off the island, or at least one of the Ste(ph/v)e(n)s (Conroy or Fielding, either one.) I think the collapse of the Australian Democrats has something to do with it to. (Natasha Stott Despoja, come back, I beg you!)

I hate our preferential voting system. It’s downright depressing that my vote must go to an MP who will form a majority for one of the two clowns who can possibly become the Prime Minister. All I can take comfort in is the Senate. I will be voting below the line, that’s all I can say.

I want my (M)TV [but not too much]

This post was written at the request of Mary Finucane, a blogger I like rather a lot. Mary has been blogging at Disney Princess Recovery since she removed all Disney Princess branded items from her home, and has provoked many interesting conversations about marketing to children, among other things.

Every so often, we really surprise people by not having a television. Technically, we’re not completely without one, as we have a special aerial thingy (that’s the technical term) that plugs into the computer. But it’s not plugged in all the time. You can’t just plonk down in front of the TV and watch it for hours. You have to actively want to watch something, and be willing to sit in an office chair to watch it. The same goes for our DVDs.

So yeah, no TV. It is unusual but my husband and I both grew up without one, because of our religious backgrounds. When we got married, it felt like something worth continuing, both for ourselves and for the kids we were hoping to have.

Maybe it’s because my exposure has been so minimal, but I get very drawn in to anything audiovisual. Even if it’s not very good. So I like to make an active choice about whether I’m going to watch something. I tend not to follow many shows at once. I avoid reality TV. At worst, I replace the time I would have spent watching TV on the internet, but at least that has the potential to be interactive. At best, I read, write, or do any number of better things in that time.

As far as kids go, we never let our daughter watch anything at all until she was two, mainly because that’s what’s recommended for kids’ eyes. After that, we let her watch a little bit. Sesame Street podcasts were a real lifesaver on the bus. She got a Wiggles DVD as her reward for giving up her dummy (pacifier) and she collected a couple of others. But I was staggered at how well she knew all the popular characters without ever seeing them on TV. Dora, Ben 10, Barbie, Disney Princesses, Yo Gabba Gabba and more were all familiar faces. Children are marketers’ dreams; they absorb every instance of every brand. So I was pleased that we’d set things up so that it would be hard for her to get over-exposed.

Now, she’s a savvy four-year-old. She can’t set up the TV, but she can put a DVD in the drive. She plays computer games that will supposedly teach her how to use a mouse and keyboard. So it seems more important to limit her screen time now. We don’t have a set time limit, but we try not to let her play or watch for too long on any given day (maybe half an hour to an hour at most), and we aim to have plenty of days with no screen time at all.

In terms of content, we’ve been pretty laissez-faire. At her age, I think her body image will be more shaped by positive, healthy comments from her parents than by whether Barbie could physiologically exist. And I’m happy for her to explore all kinds of portrayals of women, as long as they’re positive in some way. So Barbie and Disney Princesses aren’t banned in our house (although they might be if she got too obsessed with them, like Mary had to do). We allow some branded toys in the house, but try to keep control of it. Being relaxed has led us to making some mistakes, though, like assuming that she’d be OK with Toy Story 3 because she enjoyed the previous two (it was scary and she was traumatised).

So when Mary says

I’m guessing that since your home is tv-free, you are likely a mindful consumer, more aware of internal vs. external influences. I think that is an incredible form of protection.

I’m not sure if I’m quite living up to her expectation. I guess I try to be mindful without being extreme, but it doesn’t always work. The best I can say is that I’m actively parenting, trying not to repeat mistakes, and above all gauging what’s good by listening to my daughter and thinking about it and talking about it as a family. So far I think she has a healthy psyche, so I’m hopeful.

Don’t leave it to the genes

Here‘s why I’ve always been opposed to the movement pushing homosexuality as being OK because it’s “probably genetic”. I’m young enough, educated enough and idealistic enough to think that that shouldn’t be necessary at all; it shouldn’t matter whether people prefer men, women, both, neither, or anywhere in between. But I’m sympathetic to the reasoning behind the “genetic” movement; it’s a more realistic stance in one sense, as it recognises that there’s a long way to go before that’s a widely accepted belief.

Still, it’s a dangerous tactic, pinning everything onto genes. The genome is a Pandora’s box that’s been open for almost 10 years, and it’s to be expected that geneticists will go digging for anything that anyone hypothesised is genetic in origin. Behavioural traits are no exception.

But the relationship between genotype and phenotype is far more complex than was previously thought. Let’s put aside the rights and wrongs of antenatal treatment of genetic quirks that may cause “abnormal” sex and gender; this topic has been covered in the article linked in Begley’s article (linked in the first paragraph) and elsewhere. What I suspect will emerge over time is that, like many complex behaviours (or even complex physical attributes), homosexuality and lesbianism won’t be pinned down to one gene. What they will find is that all (or most) women with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) will be lesbians, but not all lesbians will have CAH.

In the meantime, women and their fetuses are put at risk of side effects of medication not being tested in randomised controlled trials, all in the hope of preventing something that’s arguably not a disease (by which I mean CAH, not its corollaries of lesbianism or aspirations beyond playing and keeping house). This is not smart; parents are being promised something that is not achievable, meritorious, or helpful for their children, who will grow up in a more inclusive environment than exists currently. I hope they will, anyway.

The post that had to wait

Being antisocial by nature, I have a love-hate relationship with social networking. Actually, I think a lot of people do; there’s plenty to be annoyed about. So it was only natural that sooner or later, I’d write a post about it. Admittedly, I was at least partly inspired by Buzz Bissinger, in a reactionary kind of way; also by a friend who deleted her Facebook account.

But you have to get your timing right with these things. I wrote the first sentence of this post on Wednesday, somewhere between 7.30 and 8.00 pm. Then I got distracted. By Twitter. Specifically, by the #spill hashtag. Without thinking about it, I got swept up in the instantaneous updates about the swift changes to Australia’s leadership.

My husband commented that he was surprised at how involved I got, but the truth is that without Twitter, I would likely have gone to bed without knowing and woken up with a new Prime Minister. With Twitter (which is still quite new for me), I was able to watch it all unfold from speculation into something real. And comment in real time.

But it only took me so far, because at around 10pm I turned to the same medium that I always turn to when there’s a real emergency: radio. The radio was on when Rabin died, when 9/11 happened, even when there was a blackout in our area (on my mobile). And then, I turned to my least-liked medium, the television, and watched Rudd address the press.

It was interesting to be a minuscule part of what may be a historic change in our society, and I think I can say that I get Twitter better because of it. But most of my beefs with social networking remain. Many of them have been covered already by The Oatmeal (which is brilliant), among others.

To me, what they boil down to is that social networking most often magnifies what people always were. Interesting people are interesting on social networking sites; I like many of the links that people share and the witty one-liners that make the most of Twitter’s 140-character limit. But people who were annoying before now have a bigger platform upon which to annoy their cohort.

For instance. On Twitter, I was most recently staggered by the #amwriting hashtag. Oh, you’re writing a novel/screenplay/poem? Wonderful… but I don’t want to know about it until you’re done (and it’s published, but therein lies another story). You don’t get a gold star for being creative, especially not if you feel the need to stop and tweet about it. Just write the damn thing.

Which leads me to my other problem with social networks (is it ironic that I’m complaining about this on a blog? I think so), which is more a general internet thing. I’ve been online for about 12 years. First it was email, then IRC, then message boards, and now social networking. They all have the same problem: not only do they waste time, they seem to sap creativity. Mine, at least; I can’t speak for anyone who’s #amwriting (grammar cringe, I know).

Here’s my theory. I’ve got a certain number of words I can write per day. I’m not sure how many exactly, but I know I was prolific… once. But now, instead of being concentrated in one story, it’s diffused over all these ridiculous websites. So I’m currently quite jealous of my friend who deleted her Facebook. But I can’t do that, because I’m addicted. If you need me, I’ll just be out trying to find some discipline. BBL…

Time to grow up, Australia!

Rudd’s plummet in the polls is interesting from a psychological perspective, even though it’s obviously not over yet. And Ross Gittins’s article on the topic got me thinking that politics is disturbingly similar to parenthood. (It’s not the first time I’ve thought so; the idea often crosses my mind when considering Middle Eastern politics.)

Apparently, what we really want from our leader is a bit of tough love. Someone who’ll do the right thing for the country (and world, in the case of climate politics) even if it hurts us a little. And because Rudd hasn’t don’t that, he’s become less popular. Instead of telling us that we can’t have any more lollies, he’s allowing us to keep the jar.

Perhaps our whole model of politics is wrong. We don’t need one Prime Minister (or better yet, President); we need two: a soft one and a strict one. How many parents operate like this? As children, we want as much as a softer parent will allow us, but we know that the stricter one is right.

Adding a new political role goes against my tendencies towards libertarianism and anarchy, but if my other ideas about politics were taken up (becoming¬† republic, so we ditch the governor general; abolishing state government; dramatically reducing politicians’ paychecks and superannuation) it would more than balance out.

Jokes aside, it is kind of sad that we can’t have a political system based on the opinions of mature adults. Instead, when we’re not being cynically manipulated for a politician’s career, we’re disappointed because we’re not being babysat enough. Can we just grow up and get on with it already?