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Welcome to The Monthly Missive.
But Sophie, it's a week late!
Yes. Sorry about that. Something came up on Sunday last week that I had to take care of.
Seriously? But what could be more important than telling hundreds of people all about good stuff on the internet?
A lady never tells. 

Anyway If you want to save these stories to read later, I recommend using Pocket. As always, get in touch by replying to this email or following me on the social network of your choice. 
- Sophie


"George Christensen on poverty, the priesthood and a flirtation with One Nation" by Joshua Robertson, Guardian Australia 26/09/16
Reading time: 10 mins
In 2011-12, I interviewed George Christensen around once a week for work, as he was the federal MP for one of my broadcast regions. There were always things we were never going to agree on, but he was in his first term as MP and very committed to being a good local member. Of course, advocating for small business in Mackay and roads in Bowen don't get you a national media profile, so once he was re-elected he started going feral on issues such as immigration and LGBTIQ rights. I get really frustrated when inner-city people condemn people like Christensen and Bob Katter -- no matter how objectionable they might be -- without knowing the context of life in their electorates, and I thought this profile of George was insightful and fair. Highlights include interviews with George's parents and the admission that he bailed on becoming a Catholic priest because there were too many gay men in the seminary. 

"Once in a while, a “salt of the earth” LNP supporter in Mackay called Shane Maloney would lay out a spread of scones, tea or beer on his verandah where locals bend Christensen’s ear.

That’s where, amid complaints about foreign ownership of Australian properties and tree-clearing restrictions, Christensen cops it for not going far enough.

“It’s interesting, it’s a ferociousness from people who are of the same ilk as me in my own electorate, who are upping me as the representative of the LNP or the National party for not doing enough on these issues,” Christensen says.

“I have to say to them … ‘can I just tell you I would love it if the entirety of the nation was like all you people sitting on the verandah here’. But we’ve got people that are diametrically opposed to what you’re saying and what you think. That’s unfortunately the art of politics, doing what’s possible, not doing what you’d like to do all the time.”

"Stigma and silence: welcome to abortion in rural Australia" by Katherine Gillespie, Broadly Australia 12/09/16
Reading time: 10 minutes
In Queensland, the NT and NSW, abortion is technically illegal. There's a hell of a lot of rural Australia in those states, and women who want to terminate their pregnancies must travel thousands of kilometres, spend thousands of dollars and break the goddamn law in order to do so. And that's just the beginning! This is a good read for anyone who is a woman, has women in their life and/or cares about health. 

"Dr Mehreen Faruqi, a member of parliament with the Greens party in New South Wales, is leading a movement to decriminalize abortion in the state. Faruqi describes the rural abortion experience as one of her chief motivations. "I've been to Albury many times," she tells Broadly, "where there is only one reproductive health clinic serving a large catchment area. And on the way in and out, doctors and patients are regularly harassed and intimidated by anti-abortion protestors."

"Inside the Lives of the Heroin Addicts Who Steal from Supermarkets to Fund Their Use" by Max Daly, Vice 16/11/15
Reading time: 7 minutes
The headline says it all. I had no idea this was a thing that happened, but it makes perfect sense -- particularly the fact that they mostly steal meat. 

"People can see the price and the sell by date. I get half the sale price for it, which is good—a lot of other things you have to sell on for less," says Scott. "Everyone needs meat, but it's expensive, so people are tempted. Once I was in Co-op and I'd stuffed a load of posh hams costing £6 [$9] down my coat, but they had fallen out the bottom onto the floor right in front of this old lady. I swear she was not a day younger than 70. She picked them up, gave them back to me and said, 'If you're selling them, I'll meet you outside,' and she bought the lot."

"Big data, Google and the end of free will" by Yuval Noah Harari, Financial Times, 26/08/16
Reading time: 12 minutes
An old friend of mine who recently came out as a trans woman shared a "Facebook memory" of a status she'd posted on Facebook in 2014 mocking the fact that the supposedly all-knowing Google was serving her ads targeted towards lesbians ... of course, when this person was still living and presenting as a heterosexual man. Did Google know my friend was a queer woman before she was able to know or admit it to herself? What else does Google know that we don't?

"Now, a fresh shift is taking place. Just as divine authority was legitimised by religious mythologies, and human authority was legitimised by humanist ideologies, so high-tech gurus and Silicon Valley prophets are creating a new universal narrative that legitimises the authority of algorithms andBig Data. This novel creed may be called “Dataism”. In its extreme form, proponents of the Dataist worldview perceive the entire universe as a flow of data, see organisms as little more than biochemical algorithms and believe that humanity’s cosmic vocation is to create an all-encompassing data-processing system — and then merge into it."

"Millions of Australians caught in health records breach" by Karen Middleton, The Saturday Paper 08/10/16
Reading time: 6 minutes
If freezing the Medicare rebate and putting GPs into dicey financial straits wasn't enough, now the government has breached the privacy of millions of Australians (and their doctors) by bungling the handling of sensitive medical records data. This article is a good primer on why general practitioners are so incredibly pissed off at the government ... not to mention why you should be very wary of any promises the government makes about being able to keep sensitive data safe. 

"The health history can include tests for diseases, mental health consultations, abortions and signs of chronic illness.

That information could be valuable to an insurance company wanting to increase premiums or refuse cover to individuals based on risk.

An employer might use it to check up on staff. An ex-spouse seeking ammunition for a custody battle might be interested, or a media organisation trading in celebrity gossip, or a stalker, or a blackmailer – hence the new offence.

Based on re-identified provider records, an insurer could examine a doctor’s prescribing history without necessarily having the context of each referral or script. "

"I sold my family for a novel" by Lionel Shriver, The Guardian 17/10/09
Reading time: 7 minutes
This sums up why I could never write a memoir (aside from the fact that I am in my 20s and as such it would be a very thin book) about my hilarious extended family: mostly, I really like and love them all and want to continue to be on speaking terms with them. 

"Writing is an imposition on reality, sometimes a brutal one. Family members who have been ruthlessly hijacked as characters have no means of redress, no outlet for their own story, no forum in which to proclaim to the same public, "But I'm not really like that!" or "That's a lie, she made all that up!" For someone obliged by occupation to be perceptive about what makes people tick, during the composition of that manuscript I'd been shockingly ignorant. I'd imagined that many tender, admiring, and empathic sentiments would act as counterweights to the odd devastating zinger. Idiot. Even with the tough-skinned, you can write reams about how accomplished and charming they are, but if you include a single sentence that puts the knife in – that defies what they think of themselves, that hits a point of special sensitivity, if only by accident – that sentence will be all they remember."

"I think creativity always lives somewhere in everyone but its nature is quite prankster-ish and slippery and every time you grab its tail, it's found a new corner to thrive in. Perhaps the trick is not to force it and put it up against a wall and want it to be in a particular area, but rather, with a lot of kindness, sniff it out and wonder where it has gone to this time around. If it's in sauce recipes, writing theatre plays, paper mache improv with nephews, discovering new hiking routes or simply trying to figure out a family member's sense of humour. I definitely don't succeed in this all the time but feel overall things have been more fertile when I trust this creature's instincts and follow it rather than me wilfully reforming it into a circus animal colouring by numbers. Anyway, as much as you'd like to ignore this animal you have to attend to it, because if you don't, then dark times turn up. "

-- Musician Bjork's reply to a fan question asking how she deals with writers block, posted in a recent Reddit AMA. The whole Q&A is worth a read. 

Real talk

"Your anxiety isn't an excuse to be an asshole" by Chelsea Fagan, Thought Catalog 01/05/16
Reading time: 7 mins
This is required reading for anyone who thinks being anxious entitles them to being exempt from all criticism and responsibilities in their life. I've been there, and maybe you have too. It's better to sort out your anxiety than be a painfully terrible anxiety baby. 

"The truth is that your friends/family/coworkers are HUMAN BEINGS, TOO. Just because they don’t have clinical anxiety or depression (and maybe they do, you don’t know their life), that doesn’t mean that they can act as your punching bag until you finally decide you’re well enough to act like a decent person again. If you ignore them, cancel on them frequently, snap at them, take out your stress or anger on them, or simply not pull your emotional weight in the relationship, they have every right to drop your ass as a friend. Maybe they will be kind and deal with some of your episodes because they love you, but if they are not getting more out of that relationship than they’re putting in, they should walk away. Do you know why? Because anxiety is very capable of making you a Toxic Person, and indulging your worst impulses only makes you more of one."

'The two pounds rule' and the magic trick of weight loss" by Aaron Bleyaert, Medium 07/07/16
Reading time: 6 minutes
I've lost a reasonable amount of weight this year (yes, thank you, thank you) and it is pretty much all down to portion control and cutting out 70% of my treats intake. Sure, the strength training I have been doing has helped a bit, but I think it plays a bigger role in reducing my stress levels and therefore my desire to rage carb. I liked this piece about how sustainable weight loss is hard and boring and not really to do with exercise. Sorry, Michelle Bridges. 

"It is easy to put on cool neon stretchy workout clothes and go into a gym and run on the treadmill and do yoga and lift weights and fist bump other people and feel like a bad ass and all that stupid shit. It is easy to do those things because you feel cool doing that stuff. There is no way to make “I’m sorry, but could I substitute egg whites?” feel cool. No fucking way."

"Bad Writer" by Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Sydney Review of Books 04/10/16
Reading time: 12 minutes
A really great piece about what makes bad writing bad, what it takes for a bad writer to become a good one and why, in Ahmad's words, "most aspirational writers I’ve had to work with are no good, do not know it, do not want to find out, and are not interested in improving."

"Of course for bad writers the idea of learning creative writing through education and training is unheard of. Learn? What do you mean learn? Good writing comes from the heart. This would be a completely unacceptable attitude in any other discipline. Would you try to perform brain surgery or replace a car engine or get into a professional boxing ring because you have heart? Nobody is denying that to be good at one of these professions you need to have a passion for them – but this is not supposed to be a substitute for education and training. Boxing is a particular area where I can draw some useful analogies because I was a fighter before I was a writer. I strode into the Belmore PCYC like every other Lebo in Bankstown, with my chin high and my chest cocked and a cigarette wedged between my left ear and my razored head. I peered over the boxing ring at a Lebanese boxer shorter and skinnier than me – five foot five and 55 kilos max. ‘I can knock you,’ I said to him, and straightaway he stepped over and spread apart the ropes, inviting me into the ring. I proceeded to throw straight jabs at his head and every time he’d roll under them and give me a round-houser into the rib, sucking the air from my lungs and my loins, until finally, not even one minute into the fight, he stung me so hard with a right uppercut in the stomach that I went down on the canvas and began to spew up that night’s dinner (potato and gravy and two pieces of fried chicken from KFC). Then the Leb called everyone in the gym to come over and have a look at me, and he said out loud while I continued to spew, ‘You see, that’s what happens when you act like a hard cunt!"


My Dad Wrote A Porno
The premise behind this podcast is quite simple. Inspired by the success of the 50 Shades Of Grey series, Jamie Morton's dad wrote an erotic novel, self-published it on Amazon. Every week Jamie reads out a chapter of the book to his friends James and Alice, and they all (hilariously) discuss it. My boss got me onto this podcast, and over the last 3 weeks I have listened to the entire first season and all of the current season. I've tried and failed to stifle my laughter in the gym, on public transport, at work and walking down the street while listening to it -- it's just so funny. Jamie's dad (who goes by the pen name Rocky Flintstone) has an alarmingly poor knowledge of how the female body works, and this is worth it for the repeated sexy references to the cervix. (The cervix is not a fun sex part, FYI). 
I adore the Disney/Pixar movie Up!, and the dog Dug (who is able to talk like a human as the result of a special collar) is one of my favourite characters, as he speaks as you'd imagine an agreeable golden retriever would. This video of a "talking" dog being let loose in a park is delightful. 


Humour me.

Now, I know from the stats that musical recommendations from me are easily the least clicked-on bits of these newsletters. Unfortunately for you guys I just love music SO FUCKING MUCH so you will have to endure these recommendations.

If you like Courtney Barnett, Alabamba Shakes, Camp Cope or Rilo Kiley, you should check out Margaret Glaspy. Her voice is incredible, her songs are catchy and clever and her guitar playing just something else. Seriously. I've been trying to work out her song You And I and she uses all these weird jazz inversions and timing and makes it all sound so effortless. Shout out to my housemate Flavia for getting me into her stuff. On the same kinda tack, Angel Olsen's "Shut Up And Kiss Me" is a banger of a song and has my favourite simple video clip of the year. 

If you like post-hardcore like La Dispute or Pianos Become The Teeth or older Australian indie punk like Blueline Medic or Jebediah, have a listen to the new album by Safe Hands. They're from Newcastle and have been at this for a long time, and I really appreciate the evolution from chaotic hardcore with yelling to something a little more expansive with narrative storytelling. 

Not only are Jimmy Eat World still putting out music, but they are putting out good music. Newie Sure And Certain is really catchy. 
Copyright © 2016 Sophie Benjamin, All rights reserved.

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