Sunday, January 31, 2010

geckoes, the grosser side

gross, someone slammed the bathroom door and squished a poor gecko, now what do i do? It is completely flat and so, so, so vomit making. I can't touch it, but I can't leave it......
I don't know who did it either, I just woke up and found it like that. I hope he can forgive us in gecko heaven.

The Global Financial Crisis, not just another Anocrym

It seems that things are tougher in America than we can know. I mean you can watch the news and hear the stats, so many foreclosures, so many factory closures, but until you listen to someone it is happening to, or read the blogs of people who have been hit hard, it doesnt seem real.
down to earth
a homesteading neophyte

I have just read, "The Two Income Trap: Why Middle class parents are going broke," by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi. This book was printed in 2003, and predicted there would be problems in the economy in America due to Sub-prime Mortgages. Et Voila, Global Financial Crisis.

The Authors did a study on bankruptcy cases in America, looking at the different causes.
They tried to figure out why American families were worse off financially, now, when they more than likely had two incomes, compared to thirty years ago, when most families only had one income.

They discussed that it wasn't a case of families being greedy, spending on frivolous extras, and racking up irresponsible debt.

They found that increased housing costs caused by stupid school district laws, deregulation of the mortgage industry and high healthcare costs are causing a trainwreck in the finances of the american middle class family.

They found that the main cause of problems was that families need to provide thier children with decent schooling. In America, parents do not get to choose which public (state funded) school to send their children will go to. Instead, a bureaucrat draws lines on a map, forcing children to go to whichever school they happen to live near. So, in districts that are percieved to have a better school, a bidding war for houses starts between families. Warren and Warren Tyagi, claim that thirty years ago, parents were satisfied with the quality of schooling available, and in fact thought that school was better than what they had experienced, now the exact opposite is true.

The need to live in a particular area has limited choice and driven up house prices. This situation was exacerbated by the deregulation of the interest rates. Instead of a 80% homeloan as was normal in the 1970s, lenders were offering 90%, 100%, and even 125% mortgages. If you can't come up with a deposit, the lender will just tack on a hefty mortgage insurance, and you will pay higher fees and extra interest for lack of credit points. So you may be able to obtain a mortgage that might have been impossible a few decades ago, but it is going to cost a heck of a lot more too. In some cases, over the life of the loan, the house will eventually cost triple the principle amount.

Warren & Warren Tyagi cite studies that show compared to people who make a 20% deposit, people who make a deposit of less than 5 % are 15 to 20 times more likely to default.

Interest rate deregulation led to sub-prime mortgages, for people with not so good credit history. This sounds like a good idea in theory... helping people acheive the american dream etc etc.
However, the majority of subprime mortgages (80%) were used for refinancing existing homeloans, rather than firsthomes or investment properties. Another fact, that Warren & Warren Tyagi point out is that nearly half of people sold subprime mortgages could have qualified for traditional, cheaper mortgages. There was no case of having bad credit and taking the extra fees on the chin, to scrape through and get a mortgage.... these people were sold a dodgy, expensive product that they didnt need. Mortgage lenders in America are no better than loan sharks, or used car sales men. See this article from american federal trade commission

The fragile financial situation of families keeping up with massive mortgage payments, mean that if an emergency happens, such as a health crisis, or a layoff, the family is stretched too thin to recover.

Many jobs come with health insurance as a benefit so if one or both family members experience a lost job, they also lose the security of having access to doctors and hospitals. Medical expenses can be astronomical in a country that regards universal healthcare a socialist hand out. If a family member has a heart attack, or has a premature baby, families will have to come up with tens of thousands of dollars, somehow.

(As much as I hate standing in line at Medicare, I love that my son can get the occupational therapy, medication and therapy he needs, and it will never send us broke, ever. Occupational therapy costs $100 a session, I pay $30. Pediatrician appointments cost $1000 last year, I paid $80. And get this, when I gave birth, the hospital and homecare nurse was free, and they paid me the baby bonus. God Bless Australia.)

So basically, the idea of the book is that in 2003, American politicians, academics, and policy makers, if not the general public, were aware of problems in the economy, and the hardships faced by average families, yet they let them flounder.

and flounder...

until the tidal wave of bankruptcies became too big to ignore...

so instead of helping out,
by reregulating interest rates,
launching an inquiry into the mortgage lending standard operating procedures,
or introducing a comprehensive state funded healthcare system,
or even reducing the strain on particular school districts by funding schools, so they were more equal, and abolishing stupid district laws that prevent families freedom to choose the best education facility for them....

the powers that be decided to make it harder to file for bankruptcy.... hmmm, yes i can follow that, wait no i can't.

And now the rest of the world is reeling economically, because due to globalisation,

if a butterfly flaps its wings in America.......... we are all screwed.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I did not know, did not think to ask and was never told

For about a year, when I was eighteen years old, I used the “oral contraceptive pill”. If I had been informed of the true function of the pill I would never, ever, have taken it.

Prior to then I had used condoms. However, I was convinced that only women who engaged in casual sex, with a number of partners, needed to use condoms. Condoms weren't respectable, the pill was. To use the pill was to be in an adult, committed relationship. It was a right of passage, a part of becoming a woman. I was told my feminist Grandmothers, Mothers and Aunts had fought bitterly for my right to have penetrative sex without the risk of fertilisation. My sexual partners, the media and even my women friends convinced me that having semen washed over my cervix was extremely pleasurable, and that having a thin synthetic coating between partners ruined intimacy and reduced pleasure.

My mother lived in fear of me “repeating her mistakes”, by which she means having children while young, and becoming dependent on men, either a husband, or the Government. She instilled into me that “only stupid girls get themselves pregnant”. Sensible, educated girls are in control of what goes into, and what comes out of, their vagina. I knew if I fell pregnant, before “having lived my life” (whatever that means), I would be an enormous disappointment.

I had internalised all of these views, some consciously, and some unconsciously. So believing I had made an educated choice, I asked my doctor for a prescription.

I never questioned that to receive this right I had to ask for permission. If control over fertility is the most basic of feminine rights, why is distribution recorded, controlled and regulated? If prevention of pregnancy is so basic a right, on par with education, health care, freedom from harm, and freedom of association, why is contraception not free? Someone, somewhere, is making money from millions of women ingesting steroidal hormones daily.

At the age of eighteen, I had trouble achieving orgasm from penetrative sex. I perceived this as a defect in my own physiology, or possibly psyche. Why then, when pleasure was possible, and actually more likely, without penetration, was I so intent on using the pill? Why did I need a method of contraception that was specifically designed to allow ejaculate to come in contact with my cervix? Why did I feel that the only “real” sex was penetration?

At eighteen, it had not occurred to me to question any of this.

For 12 months I took that tiny, innocent-looking, almost pretty tablet. For 12 months I experienced the absolute terror that I would forget to take it. For 12 months I had painful, humiliating abscesses and blind pimples on my face, which my doctor could not (would not?)attribute a source to. I regularly experienced “breakthrough bleeding” for periods of more than three weeks at time, as my body “adjusted” to the chemicals. Through 12 months of extreme cramping in my womb, of gaining weight, of developing anaemia, and of feeling foreign in my own body, I persevered. For this is what all women must go through, to experience the wonder of semen inside their bodies.

Finally, I fell pregnant. To my relief, the dreaded event I was enduring agonies to prevent had happened and I was allowed to unceremoniously, throw the pills in the f---ing bin.

One reason, in fact, my main reason, for using the pill was because I didn't want to have an abortion. I had decided that if my ovum did become fertilised, it would remain in my womb. My reasons for this are many and complicated, and I would never presume to force my choices on others.

However, my choice was removed from me. Every 28 days, or so, I had unwittingly, performed an abortion on myself. I did not know, did not think to ask, and was never told, the oral contraceptive pill is not actually contraception, but an abortifacient. Instead of preventing sperm reaching and fertilising my eggs, as I believed, it made my womb a hostile environment, so that embryos were prevented from attaching to the wall and were simply expelled.

I found this out, not from my doctor, not from a medical source, but from Germaine Greer’s The Whole Woman. When I found out, I already had a beautiful baby. I knew the exquisite agony and pleasure of motherhood. And I felt grief, absolute sorrow at the thought of those approximately twelve “almost, could have been” babies, flushed out of my womb, in my ignorance, by my own actions.

“All this suffering, all this mess, is the direct consequence of the insistence upon the accessibility of the cervix to the ejaculating penis. Whether you feel that the creation and wastage of so many embryos is an important issue or not, you must see that the cynical deception of millions of women by selling abortifacients as if they were contraceptives is incompatible with the respect due to women as human beings. [...] Fake contraceptive technology manipulates women in ways that we are coming to condemn when they are practised on members of other species. What women don’t know does hurt them. If we ask ourselves whether we would have any hope of imposing on men the duty to protect women’s fertility and their health, and avoid the abortions that occur in their uncounted millions every day, we will see in a blinding light how unfree women are.”

Greer, Germaine, (1999), the whole woman, Transworld Publishers Ltd, 1999, ISBN 0-385-60016-X, p

Monday, January 18, 2010

summer blahs

This morning, at 8am (Queensland time), my son informed me the temperature on our veranda was 40C, (104F). I am glad he has discovered temperatures and is having fun with the thermometer. However, I really didn’t need to know that. The veranda is the coolest place in our house, because it faces south and gets great cross breezes, being two stories up. I could have cried, I literally let out an involuntary whimper. I don’t function well in the heat, my brain doesn’t want to work, and I feel sleepy. We are all off our food. I keep plying my son with frozen poppers and smoothies trying to get vitamins and protein into him. The cat isn’t eating either. I can’t even bring myself to add to the heat by putting on a pot of coffee, or making some toast. Whatever the forecast temperature is for Brisbane, you can safely add 3 or 4 degrees, and that is what it will get to at our house. Today is supposed to be 36C, so voila 40C!

Note: The temps I am whinging about are the same as those experienced down south recently, however, when you take into account the humidity (today its 74%) when it’s 40C, the apparent temperature is 50C+.

I know that people, who live in places with cold winters, often express jealousy about my year round growing season. And yes, it is really lovely to have the opportunity to grow all those tropical fruits, and have fresh herbs, like basil, 12 months of the year.

You know what, though, I am jealous that northern hemisphere countries get at least a three month break, where nothing grows. No lawn to mow, no weeds, everything neat and tidy, covered by a layer of snow. You can sit inside, gaze out the window and dream of the next spring while frosts keep your garden beds nice and bare. Here, the weeds have taken over everything. The grass is head high in some places, and anything I planted on purpose has bolted to seed weeks ago, or is too bitter to eat from lack of regular water.

(Note: the grass is so high because we rent and we are not legally allowed to perform “maintenance” on the property. We can’t even fix holes in the walls, or repair a leaky tap! Trust me my Husband loves mowing, he would be out there weekly if he was allowed.)

True, I have only experienced snow, twice, on holidays. I can only guess at the hardships a serious winter brings, but right now I am hot, and chafy, and my head is pounding, because I can't physically drink enough water to replace my sweat, and I just want to be able to hop out of a shower and not break into an instant sweat. The humidity here is so bad that damp towels go mouldy even if they get hung on the clothesline straight after being used.

I can remember spending winters in rural Victoria, as a child.
I love the feeling of a taking a walk, on a frosty morning. The air is so clear it tinkles. The grass crackles under foot and every spider web has a snowflake pattern dusted onto it. When you look back across the sparkling silver field, your footprints have dotted it with green.

I can remember, breaking the sheet of ice that had formed on the dog’s water bowl so that he could have a drink, (and throwing the shards at my sister.)

I love the smell of a shed filled with boxes and boxes of apples, mingled with the musty smells of chicken feed and a hidden litter of kittens.

Here, at night, I can smell fermenting mangoes, the musky, wild smell of fruit bats, and the strange smell of Christmas beetles. The hot breezes waft the rotten meat smell of the neighbour’s wheelie bins into my bedroom, and I lie awake in a puddle of sweat.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Wildlife at Kedron Brook, Lutwyche/Grange, Queensland

What to do, when you need to entertain the kid/s and moneys tight, and they are sick of games, and the park, and TV, and you?

After a bit of a surf, I lucked onto the concept of geocaching....
I thought it sounded like a great idea, but assumed it was mainly an American thing. Imagine my delight when I typed in my postcode and hundreds of little boxes flashed up on the screen!
I picked 3 that were within 2kms of my place, making about a 4 km round trip, up and down hills, through parks and along bush tracks.

We had a lot of fun, searching for the little containers,deciphering codes and figuring out clues.

It felt a bit like being a spy. Lots of "Shhh, look casual, there's a muggle coming."
Walking down Eildon Hill, Wilston, Queensland

My tips for a successful geocaching walk:

  • Write down, or print out, the coordinates of the geocache you are searching, as well as any clues, or extra hints.
  • You can use a hand-held GPS, a mobile phone with a maps app, your car gps (which is what I did), or even just print outs from google maps.
  • Copy and paste the coordinates into google maps search, and a little green arrow will pinpoint the exact spot for you. I printed these as a back up, because I didn't trust the battery on my gps, and I found they were more useful. My gps isn't very walker friendly, sometimes its 100m-200m out.
  • Make sure you have a pen/pencil for writing in the logs, a notebook to record your finds and maybe some trinkets for exchanging. You could take a digital camera, I use the one in my phone, but don't post any photos of the actual hide because that would ruin it for others.
General walking common sense:
  • Pack plenty of water, 2L each minimum. I have two one litre bottles fridge cold and two frozen. By the time you have drunk the the first two, or they are too hot to be refreshing, the frozen ones are defrosted.
  • Wear hats, sunscreen and sunglasses.
  • Wear comfy sand-shoes, or boots, (preferably old and worn in)
  • Take insect repellent
  • Take snacks, everyone (me included) gets grumpy after a while and juice, a biscuit or a piece of fruit can stop tantrums before they start.
  • Keep the walk to a length that the youngest, (or the most unfit) geocacher can cope with.
  • Don't walk in the middle of the day. Leave really early and plan to be home by 10am, or leave it until after 3pm. Especially this time of year. And if the forecast has temps in the 40s like they are having down south, its probably a good idea to postpone it.
  • Take your rubbish with you. "Cache in, Trash out".