Thursday, May 23, 2013

Death, cancer, space and politics: A list of links

Another month and another list of links to things I've been reading and watching and listening to and thinking about. 

1. At the beginning of the month I saw my first ever dead body. I have been to two funerals but I didn’t see their bodies. I’ve not been with someone as they died. Or found someone after they’ve slipped away. I read a lot of fictional and non-fictional accounts of death and dead bodies but this really brought me up short. A stranger, laying on the ground, as ambulance works manoeuvred his limbs into a body bag. At the time, I couldn’t even tell if it was a man or a women. There was no indication of a car accident, and no real clue why they were there, why there were dead, why they were there and dead. It got me thinking about death and the body in a way I haven’t since I read Jessica Mitford’s ‘TheAmerican Way of Death’ – an excellent piece of investigative journalism (collected in John Pilger’s Tell me No Lies – and an interesting prelude to 'The Massacre at My Lai' by Seymour Hersch). I couldn't find an online excerpt to link you to, but if you know your way around Google Books, this is a link to Mitford's chapter in Pilger's collection. It'll change the way you think about your own funeral. 

2. Our national budget was announced recently and amidst all the analysis and praise and derision was this little piece about the pre-budget lock-down for journalists – where they’re shut up in a room the morning of the budget speech with an early release/embargoed copy so they can get a head-start on their stories and the government can get a head-start on their spin. I love reading about the way other journalists work, about how stories develop and the cultures they build around themselves and with their own words. 

3. There’s a scene in The West Wing (there’s always a scene in The West Wing) from one of my favourite episodes (‘Galileo’) where there’s a passionate monologue about going to Mars. And now there’s this. Not a government funded dream of travelling beyond the stars, but a privately funded big-brother competition to take a one-way trip to colonise the red planet within 10 years. A one-way trip. And within days there were thousands of volunteers. Are these the people we want out there? Every day people who would volunteer for what is essentially a suicide mission. One way with no realistic chance of return. I want to know what happens when the ratings drop, when the public loses interest on the long, long journey in between lift-off and a far off and not guaranteed set down. What happens if/when they die?

4. And on the space theme, here's a glimpse at the recent annular solar eclipse seen in Western Australia, taken from three positions in the Pillbara.

5. Like the rest of the world – I read this piece by Angelina Jolie. It is a brave move for her, not just to have the operation but to discuss it publicly. I commend her for making it a public issue and using her celebrity (as well as her body) to raise awareness just as she’s done for her humanitarian causes. But I would hate for this to become a bandwagon. I hope people realise that having the gene isn’t the same as cancer being a sure thing. There are also other preventative options including regular screenings and prophylactic chemo. Ovarian cancer is a tough one because the screenings aren’t as reliable as they are for breast cancer and often symptoms don’t show until it’s very advanced. But I think the decisions for radical surgery there are also quite different ones. Both are entwined with ideas about being a ‘whole’ woman but one is about reproduction; the other is about the ability to feed a child. I think you make different decisions based on those circumstances. Preventative surgery is also a different proposition around the world as standards of quality and care differ from country to country or even state by state. Angelina Jolie has the money to receive the very best of care from the very best of surgeons and doctors and other healthcare professionals. Very few people are in the same position. I imagine there is a long, long waiting list for public patients wanting this done in Australia. There is also a need to consider, before you are screened for the gene, how the answer will affect you and your decisions. Would knowing one way or the other change how you live your life or the decisions you made about your health? Ovarian cancer is the one I worry about. There’s a family history of it but that doesn’t guarantee I have the faulty gene. But I worry about it all the same. I wonder if I should have the genetic screening to be sure, to give myself a little reassurance, but if it came back that I had a 40% chance of developing it (which is roughly what the increased chance is if you have the gene), what would I do? Would I opt to have my ovaries removed? Am I done with having babies? How would it affect me hormonally over the rest of life span? Those are big questions with really iffy and uncertain answers.

6. This is an excellent satirical article from a student journalism site about the Prime Minister’sapproval ratings dropping because she cured cancer. It’s a hilarious but actually really quite depressing commentary on the realities of the politics of personality and the way the Opposition spins and spins and spins and will never ever say ‘good job' because... well... that's their job.

7. I spent 10 minutes scrolling up and down looking at the photo tricks in this article from the Mama Asia series on the ABC’s website. Look at all that HTML fanciness.

8. I’m liking these 19things to tell my son before he’s all grown up, especially the ones about his penis. Yeah, I just said penis. 

9. This is an interesting article by the writer Amanda Filipacchi on Wikipedia’s apparent sexism towards women writers. The list of American novelists was slowly being culled of its women writers who were being ghettoised over in their own ‘women novelists’ category. Here’s the follow up where Filipacchi was heaped with scorn (and had her Wikipedia page savagely edited in retaliation) for suggesting that this was a problem. And about how the culling was quickly reversed.

10. This story about young girls dancing is not going to go over well. But one of my glorious, gorgeous nieces dances and, watching some of her concerts, I have felt incredibly uncomfortable with the small costumes and sexualised routines. Why do 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 year olds (or any girl under 18 for that matter) need to thrust their hips suggestively? And why do they need to wear hot-pants and bra-tops to do it? And why do they need whorish make-up plastered all over their faces? What's wrong with age-appropriate moves, clothes and performance make-up? With an elite dance school owner recently charged with all manner of depraved activities and abuse, I hope dance mums around the country will get a better clue about what this kind of thing does for their daughters. I hope they think about the term 'grooming' and just what exactly this fun and healthy activity is actually doing to their kids. 

11. Okay, you sat through the rest of that. Now here's a video of baby pandas drinking milk.

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