Friday, 24 November 2017

The Foreign Pollcy White Paper

came out yesterday.
I put in a submission when public submissions were called for. It wasn't something I intended to do but a colleague emailed me and asked me to "say something about the languages issue".
Right. I could have said a lot. I said very little. From experience I know it is better to say very little - and have those you are addressing actually read it.They might even remember what you said.
What I had to say could be summed up as follows:
(1) We are not a linguistically able nation. 
(2) We have concentrated on teaching Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian in the belief that these are the languages we need for trading purposes
(3) We have failed to recognise the need for other regional languages and languages of global importance.
(3) There is a need for much greater linguistic ability and diversity if we are to even maintain our place in the world. Without increasing it we will fail.
Many Downunderites are monolingual. In a sense I am monolingual. I can use a few social phrases in many languages. If I have a dictionary to hand I can struggle and put a sentence together in a few. I know something (but not nearly enough) about many more languages - even, again with a dictionary, read some of them. What I can't do is speak another language fluently. I never had the opportunity to learn a language at school - apart from Latin. (I only did three years of Latin... it barely got me past the first declension.) 
All that came about  because I went to rural "area" schools until the last year of school. Languages were not taught in them then. The teachers were simply not available. 
Even then I was reading about other languages. Different ways of saying things fascinated me. It still does. I have gone on reading about language and languages. What all this has taught me is the importance of knowing at least two languages. I became increasingly conscious that throughout Western Europe almost everyone speaks at least two languages, sometimes three or more. 
When I write a communication board for someone who comes from Denmark or Sweden, Holland, Belgium or the like I often get told, "Do it in English and...." whatever language they are going to be surrounded in out in the field. They know that if it is in English instead of Norwegian or German or Italian or something then more people will almost certainly be able to use it.
I also know that, while English may be seen as the "universal" language by many, it isn't the only language on the planet. Too many native English speakers tend to be arrogant about this. They tend to assume that "everyone" speaks English or should be able to speak English.
So, I put my short submission in. Did they read it? Did they take note? There's a hint there that they might have noticed it. I suppose that's something. 
But I am still worried about my lack of linguistic ability - and that of so many others.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

"Zimbabwe's a mess"

he told me, "And it isn't going to get any better."
We were waiting in the Post Office queue and it gave this man, a former farmer there, the chance to tell me what he thought.
He lived in the country when it was still called Rhodesia. He left when the talks about independence began. 
     "I can see what's going to happen," he told me years ago. I remember the conversation well. He had just sold the family farm - for something less than it was worth even then - and got out.
He's a decent man. He tried to treat his employees well. They were probably rather better housed, fed and educated than many. He saw to it that the children went to school and that medical attention was available. If the correspondence he still gets is any indication then yes, they liked him. 
But, he didn't feel he could stay. He left when the terms of then Rhodesia's independence were being negotiated.
     "I don't trust Mugabe," he said.
I know that not everyone agreed with him. They saw independence as the great opportunity. The country was in good shape. They could make a go of it.
I remember telling this man about the history lesson I had been given in school, the one in which our teacher had told us, "Put your books away. I am going to tell you what is going to happen in Rhodesia." 
Our teacher was absolutely right. He predicted the descent into chaos. This man reminded me of this yesterday.
He doesn't see the situation as improving either. Yes, there is now going to be a change of leader but will he be any better? He doubts it. 
     "Things may look as if they will improve for a bit but they won't. Emmerson Mnangagwa is not to be trusted. He was one of Mugabe's men for years. He is guilty of ordering many deaths. Morgan Tsvangirai can't do the job. He's not strong enough. He doesn't have enough tribal support. I don't think he's well enough either."
It's a gloomy view to say the least. It may well also be a very accurate one. 
      "So Zimbabwe was better off under colonial rule?" someone else asked as we moved forward closer to the counter.
       "It was different," came the response.
His turn came and he went to the counter. I looked at the other man who had spoken. He's a man of fairly radical views who will tell you he is "far left". I know he would have been trying to pick an argument.
      "I suppose you think he's right," he said - still eager for an argument.
I started to move towards the counter as someone else put their things in their bag and said,
      "Zimbabwe has sixteen official languages. That's bound to make for communication problems."
Behind me I heard, 
       "F..... hell, no wonder they can't talk to one another."
 Of course it isn't the only problem - but I am sure it doesn't help.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Animals do have emotions

and they do feel pain.
Apparently there was a vote in the UK parliament recently which denied these facts.
A couple of days ago I observed something very interesting. I was out with the rest of the family and we went to a venue which has, among other things, two alpacas on the property. They were just sitting there when we arrived. They looked at us and at the other visitors from behind the fence of their enclosure. They were I suppose "interested". At very least they were "aware". 
Some time later a small child, playing around as small children do, got herself caught on a low tree branch and couldn't get free.  There was some almost immediate and panicky crying.
The two alpacas were up in an instant. They rushed to the fence and stood there watching until an adult came along and freed the child. Then they went and sat down again in their former positions but they watched the child. Wherever she went their heads turned  - until she was finally led off for lunch.
I was reminded of another interesting event in this house. When two of my nephews were aged around perhaps not quite four and not quite two a former neighbour came in. He loathed cats. My nephews were playing on the floor and the cats had been nowhere in sight. On the appearance of the neighbour suddenly there were two cats between him and my nephews. He went to crouch down and talk to the older boy. No way! The fur of both cats was up. They hissed and crouched ready to spring at him. 
He had the sense to back off. 
We didn't think too much of it at the time. It was just a freak coincidence - or so we thought. But, the behaviour persisted. That neighbour could not get anywhere near the two small boys if the cats were around - and they seemed to know when he was there. 
When the Senior Cat was recovering from surgery the same cats spent hours apparently just asleep in the same room. It wasn't somewhere they normally slept. When he recovered they went back to their usual spots. 
There are thousands upon thousands of similar incidents which have been well documented.  All of them suggest some sort of thought processes and "awareness" rather than simply "being".
I have no idea what those alpacas or the cats were "thinking" - and I suspect their thoughts and memories are in images rather than words but I believe quite strongly that to suggest other animals cannot feel pain or a range of emotions is absolutely mistaken on our part.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Magic show!

"Grandpa's going to do magic!"
"He's going to make it disappear...and then maybe come back again."
"How did you do that?"
"Will you show me?"
Yes, the Senior Cat showed them some simple tricks - a "magic show" with five simple tricks.. He doesn't do much these days. He has given most of his apparatus to much younger magicians - one of whom is now making his (somewhat precarious) living from it. He has taught a lot of young people some of the art of conjuring.
And the kittens are fascinated, almost over-awed. He taught the oldest two a simple trick to do. The third girl can almost do it too. She will get some more help from "Grandad" - her grandfather rather than her great-grandfather. 
At least one of those "tricks" has been around since Roman times. It may be even older than that. It is a sleight of hand that still fools people. The Senior Cat has always tried to teach it - and other tricks - in a positive, fun way. We both know that some of those things have been abused - used to fool people into doing something like parting with money or valuables.
This morning the Senior Cat prowled out to breakfast and said, "I'm really, really going to miss them." 
Yes they head back to their home state this morning. We won't see them for another year. 
And then the Senior Cat also said, "I wonder how B.... is getting on."
He taught B... some conjuring tricks many years ago. B... lives in Israel now. He did his military service in Israel too. We saw a BBC video clip of him out on patrol. What the BBC didn't show and what B... didn't mention was the small "pocket tricks" in one of his pockets. When things got tense, when young Palestinians were throwing rocks B.... would bring out the tricks and do them.
They would stop throwing rocks to watch. He would offer to teach offer probably not often taken up but it was there.
I wonder how B... is getting on too. He's a grown man now.
Does he do "magic" with his children? Will they bring their children and grandchildren to be taught how to "make something disappear and maybe come back again"? 
Perhaps it's a useful life skill. 

Monday, 20 November 2017

AC/DC is not my sort of

music but I at least know they were a rock band. The death of lead member of the band, Malcolm Young, was widely publicised here. He was considered to be a "local lad" and the manner of his going, dementia, was cruel. 
    "I thought only old people got dementia," Ms W told me. I had to explain otherwise.
She thought about this and then said, "That's really horrible. He probably lived a really crazy sort of life doing that stuff but he didn't hurt anyone."
No, as far as I know, he didn't. I wonder what sort of rumours are currently flying around about  what caused his dementia. If someone from the medical profession was asked they would almost certainly say they didn't know. That won't stop the on-line "experts" telling the rest of us.
I thought of that this morning as I read about the concern over the large number of suppression orders being made by our courts. I am not opposed to suppression orders. My view is that all cases should be subject to a suppression order. 
That view usually raises eyebrows but our courts are open. Anyone can walk in and listen to what is going on in the magistrates' court, the District Court, or the Supreme Court. You can, if you so wish, head off to the High Court.  I have been in all those places. What goes on in them is rarely exciting. Much of it is extremely tedious. It is very rarely the way television series portray it. I did once hear a joke made but it was a very, very rare thing - and both parties to the matter were in consensus as to what the outcome should be in the case. The Children's Court is, rightly, closed. Once, in a long while, courts will hear something "in chambers" or "in camera" - privately.
That might be done to protect a victim or a witness. It is not something a magistrate or judge does lightly. 
They don't make suppression orders lightly either. There have to be good reasons - and one of those reasons is the way things are reported. Professional journalists are normally responsible about such things - but not always. Selling news, particularly a big story, is more important than the rights of victims - and even the alleged perpetrators have rights.
People's lives have been ruined by the salacious reporting of cases in the past. They are even more easily ruined now by the unending commentary on social media. 
This sort of behaviour is starting to have flow on consequences into other areas. Recently I made a genuine attempt to get more information from someone. Rather than answer my questions I got a furious response accusing me of criticising - the last thing I was trying to do. People are taking offence where no offence is intended.
We might be saying more but we aren't communicating. 

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Activity packs!

"I remember. You did it before."
The eldest kitten purred and found the one with her name on it. She and her brother were here a little before the others. 
"Come on!" she told her brother handing his over.
"Did you say 'thank you'," their mother asked.
"Thank you!"
They went into the other half of our living area and yes, the boy still upended his on to the floor while she started to pull things out.
The other three little kittens arrived about twenty minutes later. They saw what was happening. Anxious looks. Were they getting  something like that as well?
    "If you look by the door  you will find three more bags with your names on them, " I tell the eldest.
Huge grins - and no need to prompt a thank you. 
They all sit there looking at what is inside the bags. Biscuits! It doesn't matter that the mother of the girls has stopped at the bakery on the way.  Of course they can eat savoury twists AND biscuits.
Oooh chocolate frogs too!
How do you make this? The eldest is looking at the simple origami cat and dog face instructions. She has just turned eight. The seven year old from the other family looks at her in disgust and says, "Read the instructions."  The seven year old then proceeds to make one and shows the eight year old how to do it. The three little girls from one family do a lot more craft work than the other two. I help the five year old do it while Miss Three watches and then Miss Three insists on doing it too - and she does it with the appropriate amount of assistance. She rushes off to show her father who, being an excellent father, is genuinely interested. 
They ate things. They drank orange juice and water. They found more little things. 
    "There's a sharpener for the pencils." (I had included a tiny packet of 12 pencils about one third the length of the usual pencil.)
Miss Three had not come across a good sturdy eraser before. Her mother showed her  how to use it. Miss Three wrote "P" - her initial - and rubbed it out and then did it again and again. 
Eventually we gathered everything up and replaced what had not already been eaten in their bags. They went off to where they are staying for the next three nights.
Quiet descended. The Senior Cat went to sleep. I cleared up the dishes, their plastic cups ("you kept them from last time") and the various cups, saucers and mugs used by the adults. I swept the floor.
Later we went to join them for a barbecue. They had been to the "jumping pillow" and into the swimming pool. Now they were making "invitations" for the rest of us. The pencils were in use. The drawing paper was in use. There were cats and dogs - somewhat lopsided animals - scattered around "watching us do some more".
Today they are going somewhere else. Tomorrow we hope to take them to an adventure playground...and the Senior Cat is going to show them some "magic tricks".
And we still need to blow soap bubbles with the little party bubble kit I found in the cheap shop....if I have any breath left! 

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Allen and Unwin have cancelled

the publication of a book. The news appeared in our state newspaper yesterday.
Delays in getting a book out happen all the time. All sorts of things can go wrong but withdrawing a book from publication is much less common. 
If the reason for failing to publish it is true then we have a major problem. The problem does not surprise me.  I have been aware of it for some time. I was just unaware of how far it had gone.
The book has been written by a professor at one of the state's universities. It concerns the "silent" influence of China on the affairs of this country - and the demands they are making in so many areas.
China is of course a very powerful country. The size of the population and the way that population is controlled make it even more powerful. You don't dissent in China. You don't criticise either.
And that makes it much easier for them to control dissent and criticism outside the country too. Those in authority can say, "Look, everyone here is happy. They like the way things are done. Don't criticise us."
And then they can say, "And if you do criticise us then we will take legal action and there will be consequences. We will win because we are much more powerful than you."
They most certainly don't want people to know how they really do business.
Not so long ago a friend here told me that her son, who set up a major business in China - a business which employs hundreds of local people and is very profitable for their local economy - was recently told, "Don't go back to China. You'll be arrested."
Our government won't let him return. They say it is too dangerous. No, he hasn't done anything wrong. He has obeyed all the relevant laws, paid all the relevant taxes and more. So, what's the problem?
It's simple. He hasn't paid the bribes.
There are still contracts to be met. Threats are still being made but he is a free man of sorts - unless he goes back to China.
It's just one of the many examples of how business ventures in China have gone sour for others. It seems many people have simply paid the bribes - and go on paying bribes. They don't see a choice. 
I have also had tertiary colleagues here and elsewhere complain about the pressure put on them to award higher marks to students from China - and some other countries. I have seen the work of more than one "government funded" student - the sons and daughters of high ranking officials - who were given higher grades than they deserved. I have seen them given passes when they should have been failed.
     "No, we can't fail him," is something I have heard too many times. 
But now it seems that the "influence" is ever more pervasive. It affects other parts of life as well. A look on the supermarket shelves will see "made in China" and "product of China". The Senior Cat is one of the most tolerant people I know. He has welcomed people of all backgrounds and faiths and beliefs into our home. He has been to China. He still tells me, "Don't buy food sourced from China." He knows how much of the food there is produced and he doesn't want any of us to risk our health. Still it is hard when major supermarket chains are obtaining more and more of their "home brand" products from China. Yes, they may be cheaper but are the associated risks worth the cut in price?
 I know, through my work, that some of our news is filtered by Chinese interests. There are things we are simply not being told. That's not good either. No country should be able to influence the news service of another country in that way. 
China's buying power is still immense. They are buying influence. "If you want to do business with us then you will..."
 If a major publishing house has cancelled a book critical of Chinese influence on our society then we should be worried. I don't know whether the book is good or bad, fair or not. I haven't read it. I may never get to read it. Of course I am now curious about what it says and I know other people will be too.
It also means that other publishing companies are going to be wary of publishing anything critical of China. They will look at Allen and Unwin and think, "No."
I wonder what the late Judy Unwin, a woman I liked very much, would have had to say about the way the old family firm had caved in. I suspect she would not have been at all impressed. 
If the Chinese had simply allowed publication and then come out with a rebuttal of the claims made in it they would have done themselves far less harm.