Monday, October 27, 2008

Happy Eighth Birthday, Jacob!

It was my older son's birthday on Saturday. Jacob turned eight.

We had a party on Saturday for him and four of his school friends and his two Melbourne cousins (and other relatives) involving a round of mini-golf and then a birthday picnic at the park. We then had a late BBQ lunch for the family after. It was a pretty busy day, as you can imagine. And exhausting.

Mini golf is a strange game. It's stranger to watch five eight-year-olds (we'd split the party into manageable groups for the golf) struggling to hit little white balls into not much larger holes with unwieldy clubs over deviously frustrating tracts of poorly maintained artificial grass. I think the kids had fun.

The cake and treats certainly made up for any frustration though.

In all, I believe Jacob enjoyed himself. He even said so.

Jacob's been really enjoying his birthday presents, in particular the electric train set we gave him (in conjunction with his Nana). He's been a train buff for a long time, but this is his first electric model train set, and he was really excited about it. But it turned out to be larger that we expected, so it took nearly all of Sunday for his mum and I to build a special platform train set so that it could be kept safely out of reach of feet, accidents or his little brother's hands.

With sheets of plywood and lengths of timber, glue, screws, sandpaper, a borrowed electric drill and a great deal of elbow grease, sweat, occasional swearing and good planning, we managed to get it finished last night just after dinner. It still needs quite a few finishing touches, including a paint job, but it gives Jacob the chance to set up the tracks and run his train, which he's enjoying a lot.

Happy birthday, son! It is amazing to think that it has been eight years since I witnessed your birth and you came into our lives. Smitten as only new father can be, I marvelled at how amazing you were. And you continue to amaze me. Your mother and I really didn't have much of a real idea what we were in for when you were born, but it has sure been an amazing adventure.

I love you, and I hope your life continues to be an amazing adventure!

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Overheard on the tram

Teenage boy 1: Sonic Youth are just weird. Teenage boy 2: Dad only likes crap music. Aah, the generations gap. Mobile post.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Toilet training success

Cafe post: Out in Fitzroy with my youngest and he waited til we got to a cafe - and used their loo without fuss! Woot!

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

6 minutes isn't even enough time to help my youngest go to the toilet

'One Minute Aussie Dads', the headlines screamed when I spotted it on the tram going home from my night class on Monday. Well, it was something like that, because I didn't pay very much attention. If it hadn't been on the front of the free, waste of old-growth forest glorified shopping catalogue distributed free on Melbourne's public transport that I saw from across the aisle, I may have paid a bit more attention to it – beyond wondering what beat-up about dead-beat dads it was beating up.

I'd been in work training in the city all that day, so no internet, no email and no blogs, and hadn't heard the news. But there it was again the next day when I did get on the net at work.

There was a whole bunch of news items reporting the research findings of social researcher Lyn Craig from the University of New South Wales that Australian fathers on average spend as little as one minute a day alone with their children – on weekdays. Or, on average, six minutes alone with their kids from Monday to Friday.

I'm not sure who these fathers are, or how these averages are calculated, but it doesn't sound anything like any of the fathers I know well enough. It certainly doesn't reflect my experience.

6 minutes didn't even cover the time it took me to help my second go to the toilet to do a poo this evening. Or to wash his hands.

(He's two and a half, and he started toilet training a week and a half ago, and he has been going wonderfully well this last week, with accidents getting fewer and further between. He has even moved on to doing a poo on the toilet this last couple of days, which is a great accomplishment, and which required my sitting in the hallway outside the loo keeping him company this evening before dinner, and more… Hmm, I bet that was probably a bit more information than you really wanted, isn't it?)

Then there's the bit of time before the loo thing that I spent with my two boys in the front yard playing cricket. And I didn't come home from work and yoga yesterday to immediately blog on these reports because I was putting the boys to sleep. And I bet you know (or can guess) how long it can take to get two boys to go to sleep.

I'm not trying to talk myself up, or request a round of applause. I guess I am saying that the research findings came as a bit of a surprise to me. Perhaps that is the shortcoming of assuming that many - if not most - other people are like yourself or the people you know.

But even where I consider the many the differences in socio-economic, cultural, and educational backgrounds and attitudes amongst the people around me, I find many who apparently share some traits with me – fathers who care about spending time with their kids and being directly and intimately involved in their care, and mothers who expect, encourage and enable this participation.

A lot of the reporting on the research was that fathers spend time with their children alongside the mothers of the children, and spend more time alone with their children on weekends. Another finding was that many fathers believed that the care for children was the responsibility of mothers, while for fathers it was a hobby.

It is probably true that many, many in Australia still hold such attitudes, and many for whom time with the kids is time as a family, rather than one-on-one or without mum around. And there are a lot of men who are struggling to balance work demands with their desires to spend more time with their families at all, let alone time alone with their kids.

But there are also lots of fathers who spend a great deal of time alone with their children, and relish it. And it's not just time spent playing sport and other 'blokey' things. This can be shuttling kids to and from school, or helping them with their homework, reading to them, drawing with them, putting them to bed, or just hanging out. And enjoying it.

By all means, do still take them to the footy. At least you've got that.

If we don't talk about the fact we are doing this, and
why, then the kinds of attitudes identified in the research, and the dearth of time fathers spend with their children without the mediation of mothers, will continue.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

I have succumbed

And hence, I have succumbed to the lol-cats blog post.

It has been one of those weeks.

(Oh, and I've been very, very busy. Promise.)

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Why do you care about climate change?

Another step I took as part of my recent eddy of activity on climate change was to sign up with the 'Who on Earth Cares' website. An initiative of the Australian Conservation Foundation, the site allows people across Australia to express their concerns about climate change and pledge to take certain steps to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, and record and share their initiatives on a map. It also allows you to see how people in your neighbourhood are taking similar steps. It's quite encouraging.

The site asks you three basic questions, thus providing a frame for what you share online, and asks you to nominate various steps you pledge to take to cut your personal and household greenhouse emissions. I've decided to share what I wrote for Who on Earth Cares here – also because it captures my latest thoughts on action on climate change:

Why do you care about climate change?
I believe that global warming is one of the most pressing crises facing our planet, and our human society, and we need to take the most effective action possible as soon as possible to avert the most dangerous aspects of climate change. I want to be able to say to my children and grandchildren that I did what I could to help slow, stop and even reverse dangerous climate change.

How concerned are you about climate change?
I'm very concerned about climate change, and I'm very concerned that despite its promises, the efforts by the Rudd government will be too little, too late. The Rudd Government must commit to strong targets in any climate change plan
– namely a reduction of greenhouse emissions by a minimum 40% by 2020 and no less.

Although I believe that the most effective action on cutting greenhouse gas emissions must come from government and industry, I think that families and households can reinvigorate our action to cut household emissions to show the government and industry that we are serious, and that we can 'do' as we 'say', just as we expect them to act. This is why I am renewing my and my family's commitment to continue reducing our climate impact and to cut our household emissions further.

What do you want Australia to be like in the future?
I want Australia to be carbon neutral – to be weened off the fossil fuel industries and generating our energy needs from sustainable, renewable energy. I want Australia to be nuclear free, and tapping into the vast resources of solar, wind, and geothermal energies. I want to see whole communities working together to make our food, transport, housing, health, well-being, culture, industry, education, government etc ecologically and socially sustainable – to be human and humane.

To reduce my greenhouse pollution, I have personally committed to:
* Switch my household power supply to accredited GreenPower
* Set my washing machine to wash my clothes in cold water
* Turn off computers and screens overnight at work and home
* Eat one less serve of meat a week
* Avoid one domestic air flight this year and purchase carbon offsets
* Drive 20 kilometres less each week
* Reduce my household electricity and gas usage by 20%

A lot of the steps I've pledged above are things I already do, like cycling and taking the tram to work instead of driving, but I'm renewing my comitment to do them.

steps are new – we're switching to 100% wind powered GreenPower. This has been a useful exercise because I discovered the GreenPower plan we're on at home only includes 20% wind energy, leaving the ballance to come from coal and hydro (which the government no longer accredits as GreenPower, I gather).

The other great thing about the site is that it encourages you to write to your local federal member of parliament to share your concerns and urge them to support stronger action from Australia on climate change. It automatically generates the letter's text based on what you've written for the first two questions above and additional material they provide on greenhouse gas emissions targets. Brilliant! I also used this feature to amend and prepare a second letter to federal Minister for Climate Change, Penny Wong. More action that is usefully directed at lobbying your MP and Minister.

I encourage you to sign up with Who on Earth Cares (if you haven't already, of course) and perhaps share what you've written there on your own blog if you have one (drop me a comment here to let me know if you've done this). One reason for this is that most bloggers I know aren't too keen on outing their locations so publically on a google map, which is what Who on Earth Cares does. After all, we are fond of our privacy and security, aren't we? Though perhaps not as much as we are fond of a decent and secure future for our kids.

So do remember to send your letter to your local member.

[Image is a screenshot from Who on Earth Cares]

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Taking climate change action to the workplace

Of late I have tried to reinvigorate my efforts and take further action on climate change – especially beyond this blog. The recent concern with Garnaut's proposed targets for cutting Australia's greenhouse gas emissions helped spark this.

I also think that after the first flush of concern and action around climate change that started two or three years ago, there is the danger of complacency setting in, or concern with the accelerating rate of warming turning into 'caught in the headlights' fear.

For these reasons, it is useful to remember what we're concerned about, renew a sense of responsibility, recommit to whatever steps previously made to cut our greenhouse emissions, and take further action. This includes taking action at work beyond chats in the tea room.

This morning at work, I organised a viewing of a DVD on the impact of climate change on poor communities in developing countries, including Australia's Pacific neighbours. The 15 minute DVD was from Make Poverty History, who are distributing it as part of their climate change campaign to highlight the disproportional impact of global warming on the poor of developing countries. They had also kindly provided pamphletes, posters, postcards, petitions and a host of other campaign material.

I was pleased with the positive reception – not just in the number of my colleagues who came (a big majority) but also in the short discussion we had after. A lot of my colleagues are already well versed in the issues around climate change and take their own personal action, but efforts to be more sustainable at work have been slower and a little more painful.

That is why I'm really heartened by some people saying they were inspired to act further, and a renewed interest amongst us in the organisation switching to GreenPower and exploring offsetting the carbon emissions for our various activies, including flights – including from my boss. We are a small organisation with a small budget, and there is only so much we can do. I could not have hoped for a better response.

I've volunteered to get information on carbon offsetting and switching to GreenPower, and having an energy efficiency audit done at work. More work to do, but good work.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Thank you, Leslie Canold

For saying what you said – publicly. I really, really appreciate it, and I think it is spot on.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Lemmings or wildebeest?

Wildebeest Stampede
In case you need further proof that stock market traders and other capitalist flunkies are a bunch of lemmings collectively hurling themselves off the cliff – taking our superannuation savings with them – in a fit of irrational fear, then heed the words of these scientists.

Paul Zak of the Centre for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California says, "There is this sort of herd mentality over-reaction".
"I am not a financial genius. I do know that when you see millions of people in the market essentially freaking out, that spills over into your brain and you get this impulse to do what everyone else is doing," he said.
I just wonder if these traders and investors are wildebeest stampeding to escape predators or base-jumping lemmings. If they are just wildebeest, they'll stampeded until they tire themselves out and look around sheepishly when the dust settles. The irony is they are terrified of the results of their own handiwork.

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