Friday, December 23, 2005

Father Christmas

Despite the clamour of commercials and signs urging us to ‘Buy! Buy! Buy!’ there is something worth thinking about a lot more at Christmas: fathers.

No, not Father Christmas, or Santa Clause, or even St Nicholas – but fathers, dads. The Christmas mythologies and our contemporary, secular, commercialised celebrations can tell us quite a bit about fathers – what the world thinks of us, and what we think of ourselves. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on our roles and identities as dads.

Fathers have a strange place in Christmas traditions, stories and mythologies. Many place fathers in conflict and subsequent reconciliation with families – from your ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ type story of dad’s personal redemption through to your stories of fathers rediscovering their families and children via the magic of Christmas.

Then you have the mythologies of Santa Claus as the jolly old man who is magical ‘father’ to all children – bringing gifts to nice children, and punishing (by omitting) naughty ones.

From this, I gather that Christmas is offered as a time for fathers to reconnect with their families – to find redemption with their children for their absences caused by (over)work or emotional and time distance – and to re-establish their identities as dads.

Strangely, it also resonates with the Santa Claus persona of ‘presents for children’ – only inversely: the greater a father’s absence or alienation from his children or family, the bigger or more expensive the presents. The more actively involved a father is in his family life, the more prepared he may be to question if too many presents are being bought or too much money is being spent on the children. Maybe. Sometimes.

I’m wondering about the maxim that what our children really want – and need – is more time and love from their fathers (and mothers), rather than greater or more desirable presents. Presence or presents? I don’t doubt the significance of the time and love I give my son. However, I’m really unsure about wanting to prove the point by being simple (read meagre) with presents. I am concerned with his potentially negative reactions to the presents he gets. I don’t want to see my son disappointed on Christmas day, any more than I want to spoil him rotten with things I can’t afford to buy.

I’m yet to truly test that maxim. Only reflect on it…

The fathers who also come to mind in this reflection are those who don’t fit the popular Christmas stories, but whose experiences are becoming increasingly common – fathers from separated families, divorced fathers, etc. Separation is so common that the re-negotiation of the ‘family’ Christmas has become so necessary.

Those who have worked things out with their former spouses/partners and kids are lucky enough to see their children for the Christmas season, if not for that day. Many go through the ‘you get Christmas lunch, I get dinner/Boxing Day’ routine; others alternate years; others find some other fit or solution.

Some poor bastards cry their guts out when they drop their kids off at the airport/bus/train-station, as their kids go back to Mum after their flying visit.

Meanwhile, the father who hasn’t worked things out with his ex finds Christmas the loneliest time of the year, often as he wonders if his ex (or her new partner) has trumped his presents to the kids with something bigger, brighter or better. Some go to their Mum’s for lunch and bitch about the ex. Others think they’re ‘back in the game’ as they make life uncomfortable for the women at whichever Christmas party or nightclub they’ve ended up at.

The kids are often forgotten pawns in this Christmas story.

The Christmas father who offers me the most fruitful reflection is often neglected in Christian and Christmas mythologies. Joseph, the father of Jesus, plays his part in the Christmas nativity plays throughout the world and then recedes into the background the rest of the year. Mary has traditionally had centre stage, along with Jesus, of course. But I wouldn’t be surprised if more people know of the Three Wise Men than they did of Joseph.

Yet Joseph’s role has central – and highly confronting – significance in the Christmas lesson for fathers. Yes, he is ideal: protecting Mary in her months of pregnancy, securing the shelter for birth to take place, and then protecting the mother and child as he leads them in that flight to Egypt as political refugees. Exemplary fathering.

But Joseph is also the symbol that challenges the still primitive European-Christian patriarchal values so prevalent today. He shows that a man can still father a child without being its biological father.

Of course, it is premised on the beliefs that Jesus is the son of God, and Mary conceived miraculously (would Christmas be the same without these myths?); but the lesson is important.

I think it is a profound challenge. It contradicts our notions of ‘true’ fathering (the biological), and asserts the idea of fathering as an expression of love rather than a biological and genetic imperative. This is important at a time when the media loves stories of men discovering the children they thought were theirs’ are biologically not, and seeking recompense from their wives/ex-wives for the ‘deceit’ and expenditure.

Joseph offers a slap in the face. Wake up! How can you father a child for however many years and then turn around and say ‘No, you’re not mine after all. I want my money back’.

Christmas affords us a time for reflection, but for very different purposes for me. This is part of my effort to secure some personal meaning from the Christmas celebration that doesn’t rely on the Christian mythologies of the birth of Jesus. But the Christmas story – and even the secular holiday that has supplanted it – holds many lessons for me on what it means to be a father.

I hope you get to wake up with your kids on Christmas morning and watch them opening their presents. It’s wonderful. If that doesn’t happen for you, I sincerely hope that you get some other time to spend with your kids.

If you’ve been too busy to pay attention to how excited your kids are about Christmas, or are too busy thinking about which wine to serve with the turkey, or whether two slabs of beer are better than one at Bazza’s party, stop. Go spend some time with your kids playing with their new toys. They may even enjoy a reindeer ride on your back more than their presents. For a minute.

But, remember – you’re a Dad. Happy Christmas to all.

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Greenpeace's 12 steps to a greener holiday season

This may be a bit too late now for many, but think about what you can do from Greenpeace's 12 steps or ideas to make your Christmas season greener.

It includes very easy things like:
  • remembering to turn off the Christmas lights when you go out,
  • making your own wrapping paper from recycled paper, (or reuse it!),
  • cycling or taking public transport to do your shopping (I'm glad I didn't have to drive/park in the city yesterday!),
  • and thinking about the packaging and waste in the presents we buy.
If you feel this is too little too late for this Christmas season, check out number 12, and make this your resolution for next Christmas!

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Man charged over violent text messages. (22/12/2005. ABC News Online)

A man has been arrested and charged over violent text messages he sent urging people to gather in Cronulla (*see below) on Sunday 18 December. The gathering led to the racist riot.

Do we cheer? No. We shouldn't rely on police action to stop racists on our streets. A concerted community anti-racism and anti-racists campaign is what we need.

Correction: I made a mistake! This man was arrested in relation to texts he sent urging retaliation AFTER the Cronulla riots! I don't know why I'm surprised that the police's first arrests would be of a Middle Eastern man inciting violence retaliation to the white racist violence of the previous week, rather than arresting any of the white racists who actually did riot the week before!

I don't know why I'm surprised at the media beat-up of this and other arrests being made of Middle Eastern young people, and how they're letting the vitriolic spite of Alan Jones go unpunnished!! (Except the excellent David Marr, who's report on Jones i've linked. Thumbs up, David! Love your work.)

Why am I surprised that the white establishment will protect its own, and target the wogs/Arabs, in this debacle?!
(edited 23/12/05)

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Lurk and smirk

The enemy that lurks*(george)
and the enemy that smirks (john).

(*I heard Bush on the radio this morning…)

And look at this clever Howard pic too. More on the theme of Empire.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

What is racism - 101, or ‘how can a man open a floodgate of racist vitriol and get away with it?’

After the white racist violence erupted at Cronulla in Sydney, John Howard told us that he did not believe there was an undercurrent of racism in Australia. He rejected the argument that Australia is a fundamentally racist society, insisting instead that Australians are decent people at heart.

There is one thing that John Howard is very good at: making white Australia feel very good about itself and convincing the ‘nation’ that everything is all-right, and that if things have gone wrong then it is just a hiccup in the great scheme of things. Alternatively, if things ARE wrong, then it is the fault of the rest of us/‘others’: migrants who’ve refused to assimilate, refugees, asylum seekers, Arabs, terrorists, Aboriginals, women (especially mothers) who work – but not white men.

This man is the consummate smoke-and-mirrors operator of Australian politics.

Just as the yob mob draped themselves in the Australian flag and painted their faces and bodies with the Southern Cross at Cronulla, so Howard pulls the flag over the country’s eyes to blind it with patriotism.

So it was that at the anti-racism rallies in Melbourne (last Friday) and in Sydney (the past weekend) protesters condemned Howard’s apologist crud, and drew connections between, on one hand, Howard’s stand on things like asylum seekers and the souring relationships with Indigenous Australia, and on the other hand, with the recent racist explosion in Sydney. And rightly so.

One speaker at the Melbourne rally pointed out the overwhelming similarity between Howard’s statement from two election campaigns ago (the one with the Tampa crisis etc):
‘We will decide who will come to our country’
with the t-shirts and slogans of the racists at Cronulla:
‘We will decide who comes to our beaches.'

This is Howard’s line in the sand – but not at Christmas Island (where boats of refugees have tried to land over the years seeking asylum) but in suburban Sydney, his heartland.

It is a line that draws young white men closer to him – your working class Tories, if you like – and isolates ‘others’ further away. If anything, this will shore up the government’s push for greater anti-terror laws. What’s a betting that the first time new anti-terror laws that allow police to ‘lock-down’ whole neighbourhoods are used will be in predominantly Arab communities in the wash-up of this continuing saga, than be used against white-power/fascist groups shown to be involved in the actions in Sydney…

But these bovver boys – dangerous as they are – are only the storm troopers of something much larger: the last decade of increasing white Australian hostility towards, and reversal of, so much that has been fought for and built over the past twenty years or so; the dismantling of what could be seen as Australia under Labor’s ‘accord’ with Aboriginal Australia and moves toward Reconciliation, its ‘engagement with Asia’, the move to a republic, the expansion of multiculturalism and its related cultural industries.

Under the cover of endorsing ‘openness’ and encouraging ‘free speech’ – i.e. the freedom to slag-off wogs, gooks, abos, faggots and sheilas openly – Howard dismissed all these gains and initiatives as merely ‘political correctness’ as he came to power in 1996. His language, but more importantly his actions, made it clear that what Howard and the Liberals saw as the ‘special privileges’ of the Labor era were to end. It was the start of what many in Australia call ‘dog whistler’ politics, or in its more overt form, wedge politics.

Howard opened the gates to those with axes to grind, who resented the gains of anti-racist campaigning, the funding for multi-cultural and multi-lingual initiatives, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait land/civil rights movements and the programmes to address Indigenous poverty and disadvantage in rural Australia. It opened the gates to Pauline Hanson and the One Nation phenomenon, which attracted a big range of bigots – from your ‘I’m not a racist but…’ mums and dads to your hard-men White Power and neo-Nazi types.

And just when I thought that the Liberal-National Coalition would be the big casualties of the Hanson floodgates, Howard out-manoeuvred the racist nationalists and won back their concerns to his mainstream agenda. He won back the heartland. The mainstreaming of racism, as some have called it.

Howard has pushed a nationalist agenda that encompasses barricading refugees and asylum seekers in concentration camps in our unforgiving deserts, whilst barricading our island-continent against the rickety boats that try to carry them ashore to freedom and safety; and locking out Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people out of any meaningful national self-determination and chiselling away their few hard-won gains.

More recently, the war on terror and the Iraq war have such racist and xenophobic overtones. While the war has been tragic in Iraq, Guantanamo, and Afghanistan, the last few years in Australia have opened the gaping sore that is White Australia’s legacy. We’ve seen the increasing isolation of the Middle-eastern and Islamic communities in Australia in an increasingly vitriolic climate of xenophobia and hysteria over terrorist attacks (both ‘home-grown’ and imported).

We’ve also seen an older, but now mutating, moral hysteria over young Arab men – they’re either immoral thugs who prey on white women, or they’re zealot, fundamentalist Muslims who will fall into the clutches of the suicide bombers…

I see the clear lineage between Howard’s decade of rule and the expressions of Australian racism in today’s Cronulla, and its ripples.

I really hate seeing him get away with it.

Note: thanks to D who sent me the photo of the placcard at protests condemning the recent racist violence. Could it be in Sydney? Also, I'm unsure if I will leave this long posting here in the blog, or move it to a web page for longe articles and essays of mine. But it will be here until after the new year.

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Empire games at the cricket

ABC News online reports that:
Members of the crowd have been … racially abusing South African players during the first Test at the WACA in Perth … South African management has made a complaint to the International Cricket Council (ICC) after several players were subjected to racial taunts during play on Sunday.

A statement issued by the team's management said racial slurs and chants were directed at Ashwell Prince, Garnett Kruger, Shaun Pollock, Justin Kemp and Makhaya Ntini during the third day's play.
What makes me sick is the ideas of Aussie yobs learning the racist taunts of the Africaans:
"The belief is that they were Australians, that they were using Afrikaans terminology that we have now briefed into security personnel around the country so that they can be familiar with the fact that these particular words that they might not be familiar with themselves are actually offensive to South African players out on the field," [Public affairs general manager Peter Young] said.
Uuhggh – I shudder at the thought of Apartheid language being used here in cricket bigotry – especially considering the upsurge of public racism lately.

The media has made much of Australia’s Captain, Ricky Ponting, criticising the racist attacks. Is this our white knight coming to our defence? Oooh. It's just not cricket.

Not my hero. Perhaps when Australia finally has black/Aboriginal players – or people of colour – and someone who will lift up his white shirt and show off his black skin and say 'I'm black and proud of it' a al Nicky Winmar of AFL Essendon v Collingwood fame circa 1995 (?), then I'll cheer.

Until then, it will still be the Empire games in Australia, and I'll still hope the Windies or Sri Lanka win.

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Anti-racist non-violent rally today in Melbourne

There will be a non-violent anti-racist rally this afternoon at the Bourke St Mall in Melbourne this afternoon, at 5pm. A text message has been doing the rounds here in Melbourne publicising this rally to show opposition to the racist violence that flared up in Sydney over the last week – with the white-racist-riots being the flashpoint last Sunday.

I got this text on Wednesday night, and many of my friends and colleagues have been getting it over day yesterday:
Can this text spread as well as the race riot ones did? Nonviolent protest against racist attacks Fri 16th 5pm Bourke St Mall. Spread this like wildfire.
I have to admit some trepidation when I first received this text: who is organising this rally? No names or organisations were associated with it. Who has been circulating this text? What chance is there of people hijacking this rally to fan racist/white-supremacist fear-mongering and hatred?

Thinking more on it, and considering who sent it to me, and who sent it to him, I decided to forward the text to a few of my friends. Many people, I think, who first received it would have responded similarly: to forward it to friends whom they believe would be sympathetic to the purpose of the rally – i.e. to be selective; like attracting like.

The fact that my colleagues got this text from their friends, and who they forwarded it to, supports my thoughts. And so it goes, the text moving on into the ether, much like this blog.

So, see you there, maybe. To show our opposition to racism and violence in Australia. Publically, and non-violently.

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Monday, December 12, 2005

'White supremacists' involved in Sydney race riots - ABC news

While the today's ABC News Online report was titled 'White supremacists' involved in Sydney race riots' (12/12/2005), I think the report itself was pretty much about point scoring and finger pointing between the police and both sides of politics in NSW politics.

I don't think the main point is whether the police did or didn't act strongly enough.

I believe the main point is that after so many years under the Howard government, with its accompanying hysteria against Arab terrorists and assylum seekers, and the war in Iraq, the white racists feel confident and beligerent enough to get pumped up in the streets and not only bash Arabs but take on the cops as well.

More bad signs of a bad decade in Australian politics.

Keep tuned for more on this. It won't go away easily.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Photo of the Day - Day 6

Originally uploaded by Mark Lawrence.
This pot plant sits in the corner of the office I work in, near my workstation. It was one of a number of plants my workplace got to help create a better environment. Figuratively or literally? Either, or both, depending on who you ask. But I do think they made a difference.

And this plant has really grown! I hadn't quite noticed how much until my colleague, who sits next to it, pointed it out: originally it only came up to just below the window sill. Now it's nearly 20 cm taller!

Yes, things can grow in an office environment.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Photo of the Day - Day 5

Originally uploaded by Mark Lawrence.
I've been having trouble keeping up with Photo of the Day, as you may be able to tell. Still, after a long day at work and an evening full of looking after my five-year-old son and playing with him and his toy train set, I thought I'd better have a go.

As night fell, I tried, not so valiantly, to capture something left of the day for Photo of the Day - from my back door.

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Walking with purpose

Yesterday, my family and I went along to participate in the Long Walk 2005. We wanted to show that we too cared about the many issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia.

It was also a chance to make a statement in protest against the Howard Government's dismantling of the potential for Indigenous engagement and participation in the political, social and economic processes and decision making in Australia. And to condemn their derailing of Reconciliation in our country.

It was so good to see that we weren't the only ones.

Although it was such a short walk, it took us a long time – walking 3 km is eventful with a five-year-old. And, although I had many misgivings over the overpriced and overpackaged food sold by the vendors after the event, and felt it difficult to feel part of something once the walking was done, I'm glad I did it! I'm glad I played my part in something so historic.

Only time will tell if it is as significant as the speakers at the start insisted it was.

Michael Long and Cathy Freeman, seen here coming down to the pitch at the football stadium, led the way that day.

As you can see in the photo at the top, the walk was long - it snaked far ahead of us and almost extended right around the park!

Here, here and here are some media about it.

Oh, and these are my 'Photo(s) of the Day' for yesterday and Saturday (Days 3 and 4), 'cos I was so tired when I got back, I didn't get round to blogging them! And, Saturday was a wash out...

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Photo of the day (aka 31 Photos) – Day 2

Originally uploaded by Mark Lawrence.
It is the second day of summer, and it has been pissing down with rain all afternoon!

Good for the dams, bad for the bbq we were going to have at the park this evening.

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Four women have started their long walk

I've just got news that four Indigenous women are walking from Geelong to Melbourne to support the Long Walk.

The The Long Walk website reports:
On Thursday 1 December 2005, Merryn Edwards, Jacqui Marion, Julie Phillips and Patricia Atkinson-Sinclair will walk from Geelong to Melbourne in support of The Long Walk 2005. The friends will then end their journey on Sunday 4th December where they will join Michael Long at Princes Park. These four proud Indigenous women walked with Michael Long in 2004, on his journey to Canberra to talk to the Prime Minister.
Amazing! Good onya! That's 75 km! And it's pissing down with rain in Melbourne right now. I hate to think what it's like for them on their walk!

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

31 photos – Day 1

Originally uploaded by Mark Lawrence.
Things have really gotten out of control with the junkmail in our neighbourhood! This has build up over just three days, and despite my deliberately leaving the junkmail in there to prevent more being stuffed in, the delivery people just keep on cramming it in. A pretty apt expression of our consumer culture, eh?

This is the first post of my new project for December: 31 photos, one photographed and blogged each day for the month of December. Watch out for the weird, wacky and down-right crappy!

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World Aids Day

Today is World AIDS Day.

Support World AIDS Day

According to the ABC, this year there has been 5 million new HIV infections globally.

Find out how drug companies are not helping to stop the pandemic.

Show your support for those who are helping globally and locally.

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