Tuesday 30 July 2013

Out with the new, in with the old

Gough Whitlam-Australia's
fastest moving Prime Minister. 
I think it was Kerry O'Brien, the ABC journalist who said, when comparing the
government of the day with the Whitlam government, "Remember, we once had a government that left you breathless, rather than saying, 'don't hold your breath'".
Last week, as usual, mostly without realising it myself, I included a bit about gay rights, which then led me to realise that ten percent of the human beings are gay, and so I behoves me to write something about 50 per cent of the population and their lack of rights, women.
I have treated women pretty badly in my time, I'd like to think I'm better now, but really I can't know, I cannot redress individual wrongs, but I can write something here that may help.
The real leap forward for women in Australia came in 1975 with the implementation by the Whitlam government of "no-fault divorce".
Looking back now none of us can conceive what a breakthrough, what a staggering impact this Act had.
Previous to this, divorce would only be granted through the courts by the adversarial system, with one partner proving the other had engaged in a criminally culpable act: adultery, then as now, was common, but also abandonment or felony would work if the court could be convinced.
Please note, felony did not necessarily mean domestic violence either, before 1975 it was generally considered that if a man gave his wife a flogging, she almost certainly deserved it by nagging or other goad.
In doing my research I discovered some appalling carryings-on that take your breath away.
For instance in Alabama the original constitution of 1819 stipulated that a divorce would only be granted with the consent of the court and permission from, wait for it, TWO THIRDS OF BOTH HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT!
Missiles will fly the day this happens.
Needless to say few if any divorces were granted.
Another historical quirk of my researches was that the first no-fault divorce Act of the modern era was introduced in California in 1970, and guess who signed the act into law?
Ronald Reagan.
Reagan is generally considered the icon of conservative values in the States, indeed there was even a plan, thankfully, mercifully, short lived, to add Reagan to Mt Rushmore.
Reagan, the arch Republican was governor of Ca. during the Sixties and called out the National Guard over the Berkeley riots among other acts that got him hated by the better set, but by signing in no-fault divorce it just goes to show that no one is all bad.
But back to Australia pre-Whitlam.
One of the saddest things I ever saw on TV was some footage taken outside a pub, it showed a woman sitting in the back of an EH Holden and her husband was bringing her a middy of beer from the pub.
Sadly I haven't been able to find a picture of this, but take it from me it was conservative Australia writ large.
I don't think it was ever mandated that women weren't allowed in pubs, but the societal pressure not to attend the public bar was almost as powerful as a law.
However, the look on the woman's face in the back seat of this car was so downtrodden and broken that I subconsciously decided that one day I would start a blog and write something about it.
And so to no-fault divorce, I, and I suspect many of you reading this, were still in primary school when Gough came to power, so it was largely before my time, but I have distilled this from that time, from stories told to me by those who lived through it.
A woman who was being beaten by her husband every Saturday night for ten years, finally realizes that she has got to get out before he kills her one drunken night.
That decision itself takes an inordinate amount of courage.
So she then has to find a lawyer to represent her in court.
At the time almost all lawyers are men, so even finding one to represent her is an issue, paying for it another staggering financial hurdle.
Lawyer engaged, she then has to find some, or even 'a' witness.
Her neighbours have heard the abuse going on for the last ten years, but a) her female neighbours are too scared to testify, fearing that they will be beaten up by their husbands, and b) her male neighbours will not testify as comradely support for the husband, who, as alluded to above, was only beating her because she deserved it.
If she was 'lucky', she would still have a black eye or broken nose when she went to court, and this was often the only 'evidence' submitted to an invariably male judge.
It was known for the judge not to be convinced and send her home to another ten years of domestic violence.
So the title of this blog refers to the recent despicable act of the Gillard government to remove a large number of single parents from the single parent pension, introduced at the same time by the Whitlam government, and put them back on the dole.
The single parent pension went hand-in-hand with no-fault divorce and gave those unlucky broken women a measure of financial independence and some means of escape from a DV home.
Even in this modern era, single parents of either sex were struggling even with the SP pension, now many have to go out and find work.
This keeps them from their children whilst at work, and they then have to pay for child-care, which neatly sucks up any money they earn, a hopelessly backwards paradoxical step.
I wonder if the Rudd government is going to complete this unholy double crown and make domestic violence legal again?

Bertie Wooster, English
literature's definitive upper class twit.
OK, moving on to something a bit less blood-boiling.
Recently I read an article about gangsta speech in LA and learned that they use the term 'beezer' for nose.
I found this curious because the last time I heard the same slang it was in a P.G.Wodehouse book.
Wodehouse famously wrote about English upper class twits in the twenties.
His stories are generally considered the most fluffy writing in modern English, as light as a superbly finished souffle.
If you sat down and tried to work out two of the most diametrically opposite socio-economic groups in human history you would struggle to do better than the Edwardian uppercrust and gang-bangers of LA.
Yet, they use the same slang term.
How did a term for the nose cross the Atlantic, lie dormant for nearly ninety years, then resurface in a group so removed from Bertie Wooster as to be almost in the realms of quantum unbelievability?
Gang bangers use the same term for nose.
I don't know, and I suspect no one does.
This is another of the curiosities that the English language throws up now and then.
Now I find this fascinating, but then I was hit full force by a 12-gauge geek ray at an early age.
I can assure you that I have more in common with Ross in Friends and Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory than anyone else and it doesn't make you any cooler to say that, infinitely the reverse if anything.
So for those with no job, who I suspect are the only ones still reading at this point, here are a few other quirks of English.
These from Bill Bryson's researches:
'Fall' for autumn is actually an English term, used by Shakespeare.
Rhode Island refers to a land-based state and comes from the dutch term for 'Red Island' which the term originally signified before coming to encompass the whole entity.
Pass the buck has nothing to do with dollars but refers to a buckhorn-handled knife which was passed during poker games to signify who was due to ante up or bet.
California is named for a wholly mythical queen Califia, and that is so apposite for a state based largely on making myths real in Hollywood.
A speech pattern that I have noted (I use it myself) is the modern Australian habit of saying 'yeah, no'.
This is the ultimate paradoxical answer and there is no known attestation, as with so many english terms, to its genesis.
It is in fact the 'hiccup' of English.
A hiccup is defined in some medical dictionaries as 'a spasm of the diaphragm with no known cause or function'.
And this describes saying 'yeah, no' perfectly.
'Yeah, no' is of course an oxymoron, 'Microsoft Works' and 'Military Intelligence' are two others often humorously quoted.
Finally, I'd like to return to one of my well-ridden hobby horses, so sonically picture a Sideshow-Bob-esque growl as I state: Commercial television.
Hamish and Andy with a Philipino superman.
On Monday night I tuned in to the only show I like on Channel 9, Hamish and Andy's Asia Gap Year.
When 8.30 came around I was enraged, to put it mildly, to discover that they weren't on this week as Channel 9 were using an old trick to get viewers to watch their new show.
Those who know me well will tell you that among the many things I loathe as a card-carrying old-fogey are reality TV shows.
Among these execrescences on the bum of humanity the one that I detest with every fibre of my being is Big Brother.
Even I can't articulate fully why this is but I think it is the modern obsession for being famous, and by extension, rich, without doing anything.
I at least write a couple of thousand words each week.
The singing and dancing reality shows you at least have to sing and or dance.
But Big Brother you just, from what I understand as I've never watched that garbage, go into a house and the thinnest woman wins, but only if she appears nude.
So you can see why I was incensed when Channel 9's only intelligent show was replaced with a show from the other end of the spectrum of human thought.
Perhaps the saddest thing is though, 1.3 million Australians watch this trash.
I have printed the ratings for that night below.

1 The X Factor 1,633,000
2 Nine News 1,430,000
3 Seven News 1,373,000
4 Big Brother 1,309,000
5 Today Tonight 1,239,000

In the end, and even irremediably sadder is, I can't figure out which of the five shows printed there is the most repulsive.
Three of the shows are laughably titled news and current affairs, but if you watch Media Watch each Monday you will commonly see all three caught out ignoring facts that get in the way of a good story, and the other two are reality TV shows.
Which brings me rather neatly to close with another oxymoron, there ain't nothing remotely real in a reality TV show.

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