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) are 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.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Adele Geras has a new

"quick reads" book, "Out of the dark" coming out in February. (Quercus) The "blurb" on the back caught my attention because it is rather similar to a real-life story I was once told.
I knew a very old man, now deceased, in this district. He went off to WWI as a very young man, very young indeed. Tom had been brought up in an orphanage. He lied about his age to go - and they took him. I can remember him telling me "I had no idea of course. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I just thought it was preferable to being by myself."
He was sent to France and endured the unimaginable horrors of life in the trenches. Next to him was another young man, one just old enough to go. This second young man had a sister who had knitted him a pair of socks. She had knitted his initials into the top of the socks. The two boys were, perhaps inevitably, both wounded.
When the owner of the socks was dying he elicited a promise from his younger, seriously wounded friend that he would go and see his sister and take the socks with him. Tom took the socks.
When he was eventually repatriated. He went to the address he was given only to discover that the family had moved. Nobody seemed to know where they had gone but eventually a postal employee gave him an address in another part of the country. It was over four hundred miles away.
Tom had no money and he was not in a fit state of health but he set out to walk - and he took the socks. He worked odd jobs along the way.
"I don't know what made me do it. I could have posted the damn things to her," he told me with a smile.
Eventually he found the house in the suburbs of another city. It took time but he summoned up the courage to knock on the door. It was answered by the mother who thought he was one of the many men tramping the countryside at the time. She was prepared to offer food but, for once, he shook his head. He held out the socks and told her how he had come by them. They were barely worn.
She looked down at his feet. He was wearing roughly fashioned "shoes" of kangaroo skin.
And yes, he met the daughter. They were married for fifty-four years before her death. 


Monday, 19 January 2015

Why do people want to go to

Bali on holiday anyway?
The Whirlwind came back from holiday yesterday. She and her father went to a fairly remote beach location in this state. They "didn't do much" according to her. Was she bored? No.
"I did heaps of reading. I used up two big sketchpads and three little ones. We played chess and Scrabble and we started to learn how to play Go. It's harder than chess..." and so she went on - enthusiastically.
A friend of hers went to Bali with her family. I asked what said friend had thought of it.
"I don't think she liked it."
I must investigate further.
One of my nephews went to Bali with a friend. They did not go to the tourist part. My nephew never did see the tourist strip. He didn't want to. The two boys went to a quiet, very quiet, part of the north. They stayed a fortnight. My nephew was ready to come home after a week. He could lie on the beach here. (He isn't really interested in doing it anywhere.)
I don't understand the fascination with Bali. I know people who have been more than once - and would go again. They don't venture out of the tourist area. They seem to believe they have been somewhere exotic on holiday. Perhaps it is - for them. I rather suspect Bali is a money-laundering site for a certain group.
Drugs? People who have come back seem to fall into two groups. Either they say nobody offered them any or that they are readily available. I don't know.
I wouldn't take the risk. As I have said elsewhere I am opposed to the death penalty. The last man to be hung in England was not the man who pulled the trigger - although he was present at the scene of the crime. The other man was too young. They ended up changing his identity and sending him to New Zealand.
Bali has just executed six people for drug offences. There will be more executions. I don't think anyone should doubt that. Nor should anyone doubt that the vicious drug trade will continue.  Those at the very top are safe as long as they remain at the top - and people continue to holiday in Bali.
I think the Whirlwind probably had the better holiday.