Review: Sex Crimes of the 50s

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Sex Crimes of the 50s takes an in depth look at the way sex crimes were treated in the 50s. This examination centres on New South Wales, the largest region in the country at the time, and focuses on 585 individual cases.

Lisa Featherstone and Amanda Kaladelfos have used information from court transcripts to put together this insightful and deeply disturbing look at the way sex crimes were tackled by the court system in the 50s providing a reflection on Australian culture at this time.

This book was a difficult read – I can only imagine it would have been even more infuriating to write. The book focuses on the different natures of sex crimes and the law at the time. Rape, for example, was defined particularly as penile penetration of the vagina. This brings us to two conclusions: under NSW law at the time:

  • if something else is used, then the act that occurs has not been rape, and
  • rape cannot happen to a man.

We see a lot of victim blaming for sex crimes today, but some of the court evidence presented is truly disturbing. Featherstone and Kaladelfos provide the statistics that most guilty verdicts were found again perpetrators who had attacked underage women or boys. Only a small percentage of guilty verdicts were found against men who had attacked adult women.  Fathers who abused their families were allowed to get away with their crimes based on the fact that they were good workers and attended church – especially if their wives had been absent or had been withholding sex.

There is a look at medical evidence and how completely useless it was in the courtroom, due to both the limited nature of the conclusion doctors could draw, and to the gender biased natures of the doctors themselves. One piece of “medical evidence” relied on was that if the women was healthy, the musculature of her vagina would prevent rape from occurring.

There is also a look at the farcical way that homosexuality was treated at this time, with the police being heavily criticised by judges for their use of entrapment techniques, and little more evidence than the officer’s testimony.

Sex Crimes in the 50s is an eye opening read, a must for anyone with an interest in Australian criminal law.

5 out of 5 horrifying testimonies.

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Review: The Happiness Effect

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Do our smart phones and social media make us happy? We certainly find it difficult to be without them. This is one  of the questions Donna Freitas examines in her book The Happiness Effect, available February 2017.

 

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I have personally said many times that I’m very glad that I grew up prior to smart phones and social media. My early 20s were pretty socially care free, knowing that none of my worst moments would turn up to haunt me on a website that my colleagues, employers and parents could see.

These days it seems that every moment is recorded and posted somewhere. It seems as though it’s not enough to do something, but there is also a need to record it and look amazing while doing it.

Freitas interviews a wide variety of US college students to see what they think about it social media, how they use it and the impact it has on their lives. Her findings are very interesting.

It seems that for the most part people are aware that others only record and share their perfect moments,  creating an online version of their life that looks perfect from the outside. Despite knowing this, a lot of students were made to feel insecure and inferior by the perfect life their peers shared online.

Young people also seem very aware of keeping their online presence employer friendly, and would ensure that anything untoward was not posted on their Facebook pages. One girl went to the extreme of managing 17 (!) groups of friends with whom she would share only specific aspects of her life.

This book is a very interesting look at social media and the way it is used by young people, and how it effects the way they view themselves, others and the world around them.

4 out of 5 smiley faces.

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Review: South Sudan: The Untold Story from Independence to Civil War

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Hilde Johnson was in South Sudan, serving as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission from July 2011 to July 2014. She witnessed the country’s move to independence after it’s continued struggles with Sudan, and she witnessed its descent into chaos and terrible bloodshed.

Due to Johnson’s role at the time, she is able to provide a unique and high level view of the developing chaos, and discuss the points where the people supposed to be controlling the situation let their people down.

As one senior SPLM member put it: ‘When leopards are assigned the responsibilities of shepherds, the flock stands no chance.’

Johnson follows the time line of the split from Sudan, the joyous vote for independence, through the difficult relationship between Sudan and South Sudan to the disastrous choice to close the oil pipeline between the two countries. She talks of the widespread corruption and theft by those with responsibility in the early government and finance sectors. She speaks of the difficulties between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar – the President and Vice President – and how this instability contributed to the lack of control that led to the wild outbreaks of violence. She also talks of the terrible impact on the civilians of South Sudan and the fact that this was now South Sudanese perpetrating violence upon one another for the first time and her fear that this could have turned into another Rwanda.

This is a striking and important book. I remember watching bits and pieces of this crisis unfold from my lounge room in Australia. Told from up close it is incredibly awful. Johnson’s account is scholarly and factual, but I couldn’t help but wonder how scared she and those around her must have been in some of those moments. Her sympathy is obviously with those who were not protected by the UN who suffered terribly. She does not discuss any fears she may have had for her personal safety.

South Sudan is still in a state of terrible disarray with Kiir’s ability to lead and govern still being questioned, and with basic necessities like food, clean water and health care being hard to come by. After reading this book, this is not a surprise, although it is a terrible tragedy.

If you are moved to help, you can do so by donating to organisations such as this one .

4 out of 5 corrupt government officials.

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Review: A Buddhist Grief Observed by Guy Newland

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A Buddhist Grief Observed is a new book by Guy Newland, due out on August 9. Newland is a respected Buddhist teacher and scholar who has been working at Central Michigan University since the 80s. This is a mindful look at the Dharma, and in particular how Newland’s lifelong Buddhist practice helped or hindered him during his wife’s terminal illness and his grief that followed.

Most people assume that Buddhism’s philosophy of “no attachment” encourages its followers to stifle their emotions. Quite the opposite, Buddhism encourages feeling everything, but cultivating non-attachment to one state over another, as it is the attachment to objects and ways of being that cause us discomfort.

Grief is the process of adjusting to unwanted change, and since change is unrelenting, we bear every day unrecognised micro-griefs.

Newland takes us on the journey of his wife’s diagnosis and illness, and his learning to be in the world without her. He reflects that death and impermanence makes up a good portion of the Dharma, but even this did not prepare him for the grief he encountered after his wife’s death. Grief is a unique experience for everyone and not all of the Dharma is helpful to the grieving process. Newland recognises that useful adage of the Buddhist practitioner – take what helps and leave the rest.

 

Newland identifies the practices that helped him manage his grief and his through processes during this difficult time. He recognises that sitting with the pain is necessary but it can also be completely overwhelming.

When we have deep pain that seems not to touch others, we get sucked into this sense that pain is our deepest identity.

He debunks the “cancer as gift” mentality that seems to pervade some of Western thinking, and asks us to reflect that death may be an experience that brings positive growth and change to some, but it certainly is not this experience for everyone. He suggests this is not only narrow and over simplified, but robs people in an awful situation of the freedom to authentically articulate their experience.

There is lots of good stuff in this book – I lost my father at the beginning of May to a long running illness. His death was not a surprise. My grief was. Newland has many words of comfort and support for those going through something similar.He notes how his “Guy-as-teacher” personality was still able to pop up and function with little input from the rest of him, which still felt completely wrung out. (I felt much the same – it’s amazing how much you can achieve on autopilot if you need to).

A good understanding of Buddhism would be ideal before diving in to this book though – it is not a beginners piece. It is also worth noting that this is more a reflection of Newland’s personal beliefs and practices rather than any particular branch of Buddhism.

3 out of 5 Mala beads