Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Australian national anthem sounds like

a dirge. The words are, at best, inaccurate and - well it is just plain awful. There, I have said it.
I will go on and say that I have no time for Australia Day. There are indigenous Australians who find it insulting, indigenous activists who call it "Invasion Day" and many others for whom Australia is the second country of allegiance rather than the first. The  idea that Australians are all one united happy people is utter nonsense. They're not. "Mateship", if it ever existed, went out the window years ago.
There was apparently an idea floating around that everyone should stop at eleven o'clock - or some hour - and sing the national anthem. Most Australians don't know the words and don't want to know the words.
The idea of a "national day" seems to be at odds with the other idea of a "multi-cultural country". How can you have both? How can you just have all the green and gold and wattle and football (Aussie Rules of course), meat pies, Holden cars and whatever else the song said - as well as claiming to have every other colour under the sun, a different shaped ball (for something called "soccer") and more foreign than locally made vehicles?
Yes, that last sentence was too long. It is not good English. 
There are always "citizenship" ceremonies on Australia Day. There are always pictures of people with happy, smiling faces. They have achieved their dream of being "Australians". Good on them. I am pleased for them, genuinely pleased. I hope they won't be disappointed.
But, last night on the SBS news, they interviewed the man who owns Kogan.com. He's a migrant who came here as a child. He had something rather blunt to say to other migrants. If you migrate here become Australians, don't try to bring your way of life and your values from your other country. I think it is a fair message.
But, it is a message that is at odds with the official message.

Monday, 26 January 2015

I set about stirring the political pot

yesterday. I did it on Twitter and I did it deliberately. 
I probably should not have done it, particularly as I was sitting safely on my fence-post. That particular fence-post is a long way up. It is comfortable. I can stare at the political dogs on both sides - and drive them mad. Fence-posts are friends if you are a cat.
I stirred a few cat hairs into the pot and waited - and got the expected frenzied barking.
I let them bark for a while, told them it was a joke and let them growl in disappointment. I wasn't moving from the fence-post.
But, there was also a serious side to what I was doing. The media is not, generally, kind to politicians of any flavour. That's fine - up to a point. One role of the media is to question and another is to criticise.
The problem is that this has gone a little too far in recent years. The last two Prime Ministers had an on-again off-again relationship with the media. The media had a great deal to do with their downfall. The media also miscalculated. There was a belief that they could reinstate the previous PM and win the election. They lost.
Our present PM has never had a good relationship with the media. Put simply, they don't like him. He's a Rhodes Scholar but they make him out to be a fool. That reflects on other Rhodes Scholars of course apart from one of our previous PMs, also a Rhodes Scholar - but he was of the other political persuasion. 
The present PM volunteers, and has done for many years, as a surf-lifesaver and in a rural fire service. We're told he only does that for the sake of his political career. Perhaps he does. I don't know why he volunteers. What I do know is that it doesn't help the image of  volunteerism or help in encouraging others to volunteer when he is derided for volunteering.
He's Catholic and apparently began training for a religious life so he gets called a "mad monk". He goes to church. He has been accused of allowing his faith to get in the way of policy and taking orders from the church instead. True or not? I don't know. What I do know is that previous PMs have not had their faith - or lack of it - questioned in this way.
He has been accused of being a bully and threatening violence. Are the accusations true or are they politically motivated exaggerations? I don't know. I do know much has been made of them. I also experienced, first hand, the boorishness of another PM - something well known to the media but barely mentioned.
Much was made of his having had a child out of wedlock when he was much younger. A paternity test proved otherwise but the story still surfaces when the media find it convenient. Despite the fact that he appears to be in a strong, supportive married relationship he's accused of being a chauvinist. Is he? I don't know.
I could probably go back to every previous Prime Minister and find they have had similar treatment from the media. There is now a difference however. In the past we did not have the same 24 hour news cycle. We didn't have blogs or sites where people could comment on what others had written. It was not possible to have well-organised and well-conducted campaigns designed to oust a figure in the news simply because they don't share the same beliefs as others who have "media clout".
The last two Prime Ministers were effectively ousted by the media. It seems they want to do it again. Voters need all the chapters in the book, not just those which suit the media.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

"Australia doesn't have a problem with

alcohol. We have a problem with violence," the article by Tim Gregg in the Sydney Morning Herald suggested.
Mr Gregg cheerfully went on to "support" his assertion by telling people what it was like when he was in Germany. If you believe him there is no alcohol fuelled violence problem in that country.
Sorry Mr Gregg I don't believe you.
Australia does have an alcohol problem. It has a very serious alcohol problem.
I will have to say here that I do not drink alcohol at all. I am allergic to alcohol. It makes me feel violently itchy all over - believe me it is not a pleasant experience.
I also have to say that I see nothing wrong with other people enjoying alcohol. I know there are many people for whom "a glass of red" or "a cold one" (beer) is a pleasant way to pass an evening at the weekend. 
I also know there are many people who drink much more than that one glass of an evening. I found the article offensive and irresponsible. Ask a traffic policeman what the main causes of accidents are and s/he will list things like inattention, speed, drugs - and alcohol.
So why would any responsible newspaper print an article like that? I could probably ask one of my nephews, who happens to be responsible for the digital advertising for a major news group, whether the article was accompanied or followed by a spike in alcohol advertising. I am as certain as I can be that the answer would be yes. I am also as certain as I can be that the industries fuelled by alcohol would be trying to put pressure on state governments to relax some alcohol related laws.
Media access makes it increasingly easier to do that sort of thing. More and more people have access to social media. It makes it easy to get your message out, not by direct advertising but by articles like Mr Gregg's. Those who commented on it almost without exception thought it was a "great" article. They agreed with him. They agreed with him although there were no statistics to back his claims. Even if there had been statistics they would need to be treated with caution. It bothers me.
I am also bothered  by an increasing tendency to undermine our  leaders and elected governments while giving time to people who engage in dangerous behaviour or try to influence others to engage in that sort of behaviour.
It's time to stop.   

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Apparently only about 1%

of people registered on social media contribute regularly. About 9% contribute occasionally and about 90% "lurk" - don't contribute at all.
The link I was sent about this also mentioned that there are about 55m blogs (about 5% of all users) and, of those, only 0.1% of them post daily. 
Hmm...I suppose I am in the minority. I didn't realise just how much in the minority I was. I knew there were "inactive" blogs in my own list. I have left them there because, once in a while, the owners think of something to say.
Then there are the people who "contribute" to other sites - newspapers, on-line forums, news-services and so on. The "chatter" there can get over-whelming.
But - look carefully. Even there it will often be the same few people who contribute the most.
There are people who contribute usefully. They are worth reading. Their contributions will be thoughtful. They will offer alternate views, raise issues that are missing from an article or provide reliable sources of information. There are others who "maintain the rage" against the government of the day. Still others will be for or against another issue - climate change anyone?
I keep my wide-range news feed on. I need to know what is going on. A major incident might mean there will be more work for me. But - I confine my contributions largely to the beginning and end of the main part of my working day. Rarely I will add something to a discussion - and I might go back hours later to discover that is has stirred some comments.
And there is Twitter. It's there in the background. I use it in two ways. There is my professional account - the one used strictly for direct messages to and from people I am working with. And there is my "cat" account, the one I "prowl" with. It's the thing that makes my day-to-day working from home life bearable. I can have a little fun. I can "chat" with people I would otherwise never communicate with.  
Yes, for once, being in the minority is a good thing.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Yes, we need libraries!

Am I really having to say that all over again?
Nicola Morgan has been saying it all over again too - over on "An Awfully Big Blog Adventure". Nicola isn't the only one either. I sent on what she had to say to someone I know who used to run the library at one of my old tertiary institutions. He read it and then sent a message back saying "What in the hell do they think they are doing? Kids need libraries."
And then I mentioned it to someone who used to work in something we called "The School Libraries Branch".  She looked at me in despair. "Things started to go downhill when we stopped calling libraries "libraries" and started calling them "resource centres". Perhaps she is right. I don't know.
I know teachers who seem to think that the lack of libraries doesn't really matter. They believe the children can get all their resources on line. I hasten to add that these teachers are in the minority and they may not be the best teachers. Some seem to think it does not matter in "their" subject area - usually maths and science.
There are other teachers however who say things like, "They need to know about books. They need to know how to use books." In the past week one teacher, about to go back to work in a tough school, said to me, "Some of my students need a place where they can go and find a book for themselves. They don't want me telling them they "must" read something. They need to be able to browse the shelves and lose themselves in a different world."
Over the summer school holiday period I have watched children and teens going in and out of the library. So many of the younger ones run ahead of their parents or grandparents in their eagerness to get into the library. Those of primary school age are usually lugging a bag over-flowing with books and DVDs they have borrowed. They want to know what activities the library has planned and what's new on the shelf.
The "young adults" or "teens" are different. They tend to sneak in furtively, as if they don't wish to be caught there. They pretend to wander nonchalantly around, as if they are really not very interested in being there. Borrow a book? Yeah. Maybe. Don't let your mates see you doing it. Once in a while the "nerds" might gather. The seats are comfy. They can get their phones out. I've seen them text a friend and then realise, with some embarrassment, that the friend is in the next book bay!
Yes, they still read. But, something happens on the transition to secondary school. The "homework" is suddenly greater. More of them are allowed to go to and from school alone. They stop off at the shopping centre in the afternoon. They stand around and talk to friends. The opposite sex is more interesting. Somehow there is less time to read.
If we then tell teens that reading is not important by taking away their libraries in schools - that place where they can browse the shelves and where it IS acceptable to be seen because it is a normal part of school - then what are we doing?
As a child and a teen I absorbed an enormous amount of information through reading. I did it in a way that television and the internet cannot do. I went back to books. I am not in the least musical but, in our house, "The Oxford Children's Companion to Music" was well thumbed by me and my brother. My parents had found a slightly damaged copy going out cheap in a bookshop which specialised in children's books - alas, the place is no more. We had many other books. We borrowed books even when we lived in the most rural areas. The Children's Country Lending Service let us do that.  It made us culturally literate - or at least partially so.
Something has gone wrong somewhere. It's not just "screen time". We're telling the next generation that reading is not as important. Really it is more important than ever.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Senior Cat had visitors

yesterday. I had just arrived home having done a quick trip to check on an oldie who broke her wrist last week. It was something I needed to do but it took time out of work.
Yes, I work. I still work. I am likely to go on working as long as I have the ability. The problem is I work from home.
Back in the dim distant past, before the advent of home computers and the internet and e-mail, I used to have to go into the university each day. I don't need to do that any more. I go in when I need to see students.
I don't have a room there any more. We decided I didn't need it. That was a mistake. People don't believe I work any more. I mean, if you don't "go to work" then you "don't work" do you?
So, yesterday... neighbour came in as I was getting midday meal for Senior Cat and self. That's fair enough - although it slows me down she knows to let me go on doing it. And then I pedalled off and saw the oldie - who is miserable but at least being cared for.
I had just settled down to do some work when the phone rang and someone invited himself and his wife to afternoon tea. He needed to talk to the Senior Cat.  I put the kettle on.
I was in the middle of doing something for someone. He lives in Tanzania. His internet connection is uncertain at the best of times but he had "come into town" from the village he is currently working in especially to contact me. So I went on working. Each time I sent something off for him to read and consider I went back and made tea and talked to the wife. Then I would go back and see what my colleague's response had been and do a bit more or make another suggestion.
It was stressful. I felt I was not giving it my full attention. I knew I was not giving his problem my full attention - and his problem was a great deal more important than talking to someone I had not been expecting to see.
Oh yes, they know I work "but you can always take a bit of time off" and "it's not as if you get paid for doing it" and "you can always do it later" and "it doesn't really matter does it?" These things are said by other people who have no idea what I do or how I do it.
Well yes, it does matter. It matters a lot. If I say I will do something then I like to do it and I like to do it on time. It is not always possible to take time off simply for the convenience of other people who have imposed themselves on you. No I am not getting paid but the people I work with are not getting paid for doing that particular job either - that's part of the agreement we have between us. We can't always do something later for any number of reasons and yes it does matter - because other people's lives matter.
We ended up having pita bread stuffed with egg and salad for our tea. The Senior Cat, bless him, quite understood. He almost never interrupts me - and I don't interrupt him either.  


Wednesday, 21 January 2015

"He should have gone to school

last year," the weeping mother told me, "And now they say he can't go this year either." We had this conversation at the beginning of January.
Her son is now six. He has a medical condition which makes him doubly incontinent. There are other serious health problems too. 
His parents were asked to delay his entry into school for a year "to see whether things improve". They haven't.
I can understand the family's local schools not wanting to take the child and I think the parents do as well. There needs to be a qualified nurse in attendance - or someone fully trained to take care of his special needs.
There is nowhere for him to go. There might have been once.
I came away feeling frustrated at having to advise correspondence school lessons - which the teachers at the hospital school will continue whenever he is there. He's going to be lonely because he is an only child and his physical problems mean that mixing with other children is always going to be difficult. A school dedicated to children with needs like his would make life very different.
There is very little "special education" left in this state. It was all about "integration" and only the most difficult and disruptive students are removed from the "normal" classroom.  We have been told that "mainstreaming" is the way to go.
I had doubts from the beginning and the doubts have grown over the years. Yesterday there was an article in the Guardian talking about how many special schools in England were getting an "excellent" report from the OFSTED inspectors. The article asked why this was not being publicised. Suggestions were even made that the inspectors were just giving them those ratings out of sympathy. I would say that was utter rubbish. In my experience school inspectors are more likely to be critical. They know special schools are more expensive to run and when money is tight - as it usually is in education - they would be looking for excuses to close such schools.  
No, a good special school can be very good indeed. It can be outstanding. It can give children the skills to move into other schools and it give them the skills to move out into the community. It can make the most of a child's abilities. It won't make a child with a permanent disability "normal" but it can make the child a great citizen.   
I wonder whether the real problem with special schools is something else. If you are mainstreamed then you can pretend that, at least in some ways, things are "normal". You can pretend that the child is "accepted" and is "part of society" and is "doing most of the things that other kids do". You don't need to feel "guilty". It makes you feel better. The child is being "socialised" and has "normal" friends. Somehow that makes the child "normal" too.  Special schools are said to deny those vital "normal" experiences.
About six years ago I went to the last school reunion of an outstanding special school. It was about to close for good. In that room there were two people with doctorates, three more with degrees, and at least seven with other good post-school qualifications. All but the most profoundly disabled students with additional communication impairments were employed. The school had handled physically disabled students with profound hearing losses and with severe visual impairments.  It had all happened because of the intensive specialist work put in by the staff and the students - all day and every day.
Children with similar impairments are now out in ordinary schools. They get limited help from a classroom teacher - who has responsibilities for other children too. They get some help from teacher aides - if they are lucky. They might, if they are lucky, get some specialist assistance once a week from a peripatetic teacher with some additional qualifications. It's not the same. It can never be the same.
And some children cannot go to school at all.