Archive for the ‘Good News Week’ Category

I’ve never liked the New South Wales Board of Studies. As a student, I loathed their jargon-bloated English curriculum, a position I’m yet to renounce; and even as a functioning, happy adult, the word juxtapositioning continues to give me grief. Internally, I still picture them as a befuddled panel of port-sipping old duffers interspersed with managing executives in shark suits: the ultimate amalgam of straw men. I’d love to be proven wrong, of course, because it would mean things might actually get fixed, but so far, there’s not been anything especial to convince me otherwise.

Imagine my chagrin, therefore, at the following bold advice to HSC students struggling under the dual burden of coursework and part-time employment: to “set out a roster that balances time for their schooling and studies and their responsibilities with their part-time work.”¬†

On the surface, this is a seemingly reasonable statement. It’s also entirely unhelpful, and, like just about every other¬†Board-originating comment¬†in the article, so obvious as to be risibly condescending.

So,¬† for the benefit of those Board members¬†whose own adolescence whipped by some time prior to the construction of the pyramids, take heed: teenaged checkout chicks have about as much negotiating power with their employers as a mouse does with a very hungry cat. Because of the limited hours they can work, they’re already competing for shifts with more flexible workers. Their pay is low, their rights are few and, appropriately, they are extremely easy to replace. Beginners in any field simply can’t advocate for the most favourable shifts with any weight, and most managers, nice though some of them undoubtably are, have a business to run: the roster is meant to work for them, after all, not slot in around the study habits of a junior employee.

Nobody likes to work late and get up early. It’s just that, for students, there are¬†very few avenues of redress. School is non-negotiable; absences even for good reasons are frowned upon, as is running late – and I notice, Board, that your solution wasn’t to try and promote flexibility within schools, but to put the onus back on students and families to figure it out themselves. Which, undoubtably, they’ve already tried to do.

It’s not an optimal situation; I’m not even suggesting there’s an easy solution. But throwing a patter of useless, pat-on-the-head statements out into the ether and hoping that an ability to state the bleeding obvious counts as a proactive endeavour is worse than if you hadn’t actually noticed.

Oh, come on, Queensland – women who don’t breastfeed are¬†more likely to neglect or abuse their children? The fact that you’ve managed to correlate these two things does not mean that one is¬†directly responsible for the other. Many women choose not to breastfeed: some for medical reasons, some out of personal preference, some out of necessity. The fact that abusive mothers go down a similar path, however,¬†is not a rational choice, because for whatever reason, they are already emotionally disconnected from their children; and if this disconnect is caused by external or pre-existing problems, then breastfeeding will not solve them. In fact, if those problems concern substance abuse, alcoholism or chain-smoking, then breastfeeding could well harm the child in question. Fancy!¬†

So, no, Lane Strathearn: promoting breasfeeding is not a simple and “cost-effective” way of¬†preventing abuse and neglect. The act of suckling a child will not cure post-natal depression, alcoholism¬†or¬†nicotine addiction, nor will it negate the consequences emotional trauma, poverty, single parenthood¬†or poor education. Those are many and various battles; none of them simple. By all means, promote breastfeeding in public; educate women about their choices; help addicted mothers come clean. But don’t¬†lay guilt on good, happy,¬†bottle-feeding¬†mothers¬†by¬†wielding¬†poorly reasoned conclusions about their propensity for child abuse.

That kind of idiocy helps no-one.

Dear Australian Parents,

Stop freaking out about finding the perfect school for your precious progeny.¬†Parroting the answers to standardised tests is not a form of intelligence, and tends to impart the lesson that memorisation is more important than comprehension, let alone independent thought. Kids at their best are creative, explorative, curious . Encourage their interests, but don’t regiment them – the best way to teach is to make learning fun, not to take something they love and make it joyless. If you really want children who are bright, articulate, interesting and well-adjusted, then learn with them: buy them books you’ll read together, play with them, ask what they’d like to do and, where possible, make it happen – but don’t just¬†farm them out to a stranger for rote-learning. ¬†

Not every child is a Rhodes Scholar waiting to happen, and that’s OK. Encourage them to do their best, help them if they struggle, but understand that no amount of money thrown at private tutors, schools or remedial programs will make them any happier or healthier. I understand your concerns, I really do: the world is a difficult place, and especially in times of economic turmoil, it’s natural to want an advantage for those you love best. But education, sadly, has become a commodity, something we buy and sell without anywhere near enough thought as to its intrinsic value. Our society has fathomened the letter of schools, but lost their spirit. When almost everyone finishes Year 12 and a vast majority attend uni, what sets someone apart isn’t their improved marks, but their genuine hunger for knowledge. And that,¬†assuming it can be taught, is¬†a much more subtle lesson.

Parents, let out the collective breath you’ve been holding. Love your kids – teach them, guide them, help them – but remember: they won’t be kids forever. The more you have to force them into something, the less fun they’ll find it. And all too soon, when they shoot up into rebellious, awkward teenagers who storm out, sulk, cut class and answer back, the very best you can hope for is that they want to learn, regardless of whether everything they busy themselves with is part of the curriculum. Like gumtrees that start out in verandah pots, you’re teaching them to be bigger than the space they’ve known. You’re helping them grow up. Whether you send them to public or private school, if they have a tutor or not, it’ll happen. They’ll cease to be meek, but they will inherit the Earth.

So don’t mould them after the system. Teach them to change it.

Cruising through the New York Times today, I did a double-take on the following headline:

Teenagers’ Internet Socializing Not a Bad Thing

As this is a blatantly obvious observation akin to announcing that Chocolate Is Bad For You But People Eat It Anyway, I spent a good minute staring at the link, trying to figure out what I was missing. My instinctive reaction was that, for reasons unknown, the Times and the Onion had somehow contrived to swap stories. Or maybe those fake headline guys had struck again Рwho knows? Unable to come up with a better theory, I decided to read on.

Frighteningly, it appears the story is genuine.¬†How anyone could remain oblivious as to why teenagers – or, for that matter, adults – use MySpace and Facebook is beyond me, while¬†the idea that the MacArthur¬†Foundation actually put money towards proving the bleeding obvious¬†causes a small but vital part of my cerubellum to¬†bulge in a worrying fashion. Seriously, dudes? Young folk nowadays use of the Internets. They send of the text messags, speak on the cellular phones and¬†jive to the rock’n’ roll musics. Deal with it. (I have a sneaking suspicion that the author, Tamar Lewin, is a modern-day Luddite. Only someone completely out of touch with reality could put quotation marks around the phrase “geeking out” and hope to be taken seriously about either technology or youth culture.)

In other unintentionally-self-mocking news, Germaine Greer, that grumpy old feminist, has lambasted Michelle Obama’s election-victory dress with the kind of angry, colourful prose normally reserved for botched military campaigns. The irony of a feminist icon slagging a powerful, intelligent, prominent woman purely on the basis of her clothes – and, stranger still, complaining that Malia and Sasha’s¬†dresses weren’t “girly” – is disturbingly potent. Especially now that¬†actual fashion designers have called Greer’s own wardrobe into question¬†(lordy!),¬†the whole ludicrous¬†incident is eerily reminiscent of something the Monty Python pepperpots might have done.

Now there’s a thought – try a photo of Germaine Greer next to Terry¬†Jones in drag¬†and see what you think. To quote the quintessential Python/Pepperpots exchange:

“Shh. It’s satire!’

“No it isn’t – this is zany madcap humour!”

Also, there’s a two-faced kitten.

Fourth wall, anyone?

As has been mentioned previously, I’m heartily¬†sick of the media dubbing each new scandal a Blahgate. I’ve contained my rage at Troopergate, if only because it appeared to be an election-spawned one-off, but no. Now we have Auntiegate, with the revelation that Obama’s half-aunt (on his father’s side) is an illegal alien. I mean, Christ on a bicycle, Media – can’t you think up something original?

Wait. That was a stupid question.

We’ve had Iguanagate, which couldn’t be redeemed even by the wonderful, ludicrous¬†phonics of the word ‘iguana’. We’ve had Gong-gate, wherein the entire Woollongong Council proved themselves unfit to govern a white elephant stall, let alone¬†handle real cash-money. We’ve had Grannygate and NAFTA-gate. We have, in fact, had it up to here with gates, fences, walls, doors or perimeter-keeping objects of any kind.

More importantly – and I say this with feeling – Watergate was the name of a hotel, you ignorant bastards! It was a scandal that brought down the Presidency in an unprecedented fashion, not just an amalgam of popular controversy! Fall in a well and die!

OK. I’m calm again now.

Digital Dilemmas

Posted: October 24, 2008 in Good News Week
Tags: , , , , , ,

In news today, a drunk Sydneysider has been caught taking sickie thanks to his Facebook status, while elsewhere, a woman has killed her virtual online husband Рor rather, his avatar.

Clearly, despite mounting anecdotal evidence to the contrary, we have yet to form total symbiosis with the World-Wide Web.

So Australian model Abbey Lee Kershaw has collapsed on a Paris catwalk courtesy of a very tight corset, which was itself courtesy of Alexander McQueen. There are many possible conclusions one can draw from this incident,¬†such as¬†that professional modelling is entirely stupid and that it is rarely adviseable to starve oneself to stardom, but my big question is: why is the damn corset so fsking ugly? It looks like someone skinned a very unfortunate-looking crocodile to make a gay centurion’s breastplate, only to go all Little House on the Prarie and add some fabric.

And this, right here, is exactly why I hate fashion. It turns otherwise normal women into emaciated drecks, flounces around our media outlets like a two-year-old in a party frock (but without the benefit of being either innocent or sweet), and all so morons can spend upwards of $300 on clothing which, by definition, looks even more ludicrous off the catwalk than on it.

Grumble, grumble.

As of today, Nathan Rees has officially ousted Morris Iemma from the NSW Premiership, with Carmel Tebbutt, beloved defender of education, by his side (Rees’, not Iemma’s). And I can’t say I’m sorry to see it happen.

What I can say, however – and will –¬†is I told you so. Well, OK, maybe I predicted Iemma would lose the next state election to the Liberal party rather than caucus to his once-loyal backbenchers, but still. Saw it comin’.

Dave Freeman, author of 100 Things to do Before You Die, has died – with his own list incomplete.

Now isn’t it ironic? (As Alanis Morissette might ask.)

Although ironically, her song about irony listed several things that weren’t, in fact,¬†ironic.

Now that’s irony.

Apparently, America’s military isn’t strong enough for the 20th century.

This is a bit like saying that if lions were bigger, they could hunt elephants. Of course they could! But in the meantime, they are still lions, replete with claws, jaws, teeth, muscles and power enough to maintain a place at the tippy-top of the food chain, and incidentally to dispatch, in fair combat, just about anything else on the planet desirous of messing with them. However, even if a coterie of mad scientists were keen on breeding a strain of Giant Super-Lions with atomic brains and laser-eyes, I would still prefer this to America developing the real-world equivalent of a death ray.

Y’know why? ‘Coz lions, awesome predators though they may be, are still in no danger of blowing up the entire fucking planet.

Behold my staggering lack of confidence in human restraint, mercy and sanity when it comes to pushing the Big Red Button, as personified by this quote from the above article:

“To be sure, there are serious arguments both for and against developing such a system. Part of the justification is that the U.S. military already has such a capability. Unfortunately, it’s nuclear, which renders it worthless for anything but Armageddon.”

Let’s tackle this statement one sentence at a time. First off, there are “serious arguments” for such a system? As in, in favour of? Pro? Sweet Frickety Moses. I can¬†argue seriously to be paid a $100,000 salary to stay home, write books and watch Dr Who¬† (incidentally, if anyone does want to pay me for this, please contact ASAP), but that doesn’t mean it’s a good argument, no matter how serious I am.

Similarly, very small children can argue quite vociferously for their right to stay up late, hit each other with Tonka trucks and eat sugar until they vomit, but that doesn’t mean any right-thinking adult should let them. In this instance, at least, there are signs of prevailing¬†intelligence, Congress having blocked George Bush from building his new toy two years in a row. The article phrases this as:¬†“Lawmakers are concerned that Russia, and soon China, might mistake the launch of a conventionally-armed Trident with the start of a nuclear war against them ‚ÄĒ and respond in kind before realizing they were mistaken.”¬† (My emphasis.)

Secondly: part of the justification for building an Awesome New Weapon (ANW) is that – wait for it – they already have one. Is it lonely, do you think? Are they trying to get it a mate? If the ANW were a giant panda, I can see why finding it a¬†friend and eagerly awaiting the¬†pitter-patter of little panda paws would be a good thing. There would be cute photos, and women worldwide would go, “Awwww.” But we are discussing high-tech, city-destroying weaponry, and¬†not a photogenic variety of large, endangered fauna, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say no.

Thirdly: this existing ANW is nuclear. Oh – this makes it better. The Awesome New Weapon is too awesome. They want permission to build a slightly less powerful variant (i.e. one which will leave vast stretches of God’s Green Earth inhabitable for Americans after they’ve won the Next Great War, but still destroy the lives of countless millions) and use that instead. How do they describe it? Safe as houses, aye: “The lack of any explosive would generate precise mayhem, “comparable to the type of limited damage caused by meteor strikes.””

Meteor strikes? Meteor strikes. This is their benign military¬†alternative to nuclear Ragnarok? This, according to the article, “Sounds nifty, until you read the fine print”?

Nifty?

Jesus.

The fine print (for those who are wildly curious) means, essentially, that the weapon “represents only a “niche capability” designed to attack stationary terrorists or nuclear weapons or supplies,” and not, say, anything that moves. As weapons go, I almost like the sound of that, except (warning, warning, Danger Will Robinson) “there remains the challenge of finding a target in the first place”. (Translation: we can, potentially, hit anything – just not necessarily what we were aiming at.)

The next paragraph lists two (notably specific) scenarios in which the system “could” be perfect for saving the day – except that this still “raises at least the possibility of an accidental launch of a nuclear weapon”.

All in all, I think they’d be better off with a pointed stick and maybe a cartoon anvil. Possibly, under strict supervision, they can use the adult scissors. Or, here’s an idea, we could not blow each other up.

Now that, I like.