So normal blogging resumes…

When I first posted on Facebook that I would be doing the poetry and music sequence I said: “I have resolved that when I resume my blog around Easter I will ignore for the moment whatever Trump/Putin might be up to, even if it is World War 3. Expect poetry and music for a week.”

Well. World War 3 hasn’t quite started yet, but not for lack of trying over the past week. Aside from Trump and Putin — the latter not getting much airtime lately — we have had this extremely weird guy:

North-Korean-leader-Kim-Jong-Un-2-485x269
Have a look at 20 little known facts about Kim Jong Un.

  1. Kim’s real birth date is a mystery. While his official birth year in 1982, the U.S. Treasury Department — after imposing sanctions on North Korea last July — officially identified his date of birth as Jan. 8, 1984.
  2. Kim is the world’s youngest leader, if we go by the birth date listed by the U.S. Treasury Department.
  3. Reports suggest that Kim attended a boarding school in Switzerland between 1998 and 2000. He is reported to have been enrolled in the school under the name “Pak Un.”
  4. Kim was reportedly caught with a porn magazine in his school days.
  5. The young North Korean leader was reportedly a fan of Chinese actor Jackie Chan in his school days.
  6. According to reports, Kim is a heavy smoker and a fan of Swiss cheese….

Meanwhile isn’t this interesting!  ‘Tricked badly!’ Despite talk, US ‘armada’ was a long way from North Korea.

Beijing: As tensions mounted on the Korean Peninsula, Admiral Harry Harris made a dramatic announcement: An aircraft carrier had been ordered to sail north from Singapore on April 8 toward the Western Pacific.

In reality, it was on its way to join Australian forces in the Indian Ocean….

March 2017 exiting

Can’t resist the latest spam bot, this one calling itself Jim and emanating, Jim says, from Fox News (UK) with a German email address:

I hafe bedn browsing onlpine more tha threee hours today, yeet I nevwr found anny interesting article likee yours.

It iss pretgty worh enough ffor me. In my opinion, iff aall webite
ownerfs annd bloggeers mde gopod content as youu
did, the internet wwill be mch mopre useeful tha ever before.
I’ve been brosing onlime mopre tha 2 hokurs today,
yett I nevver found any interesting article ike yours.
It iis pretyy wordth enough ffor me. In my view, iff all webmasterds aand bloggers madce gooid conteent as yyou did,

Now “Bye-bye Jim” — presses the “Empty Spam” button…

lead_form_spam_bot

In March 2017 this blog has averaged 50 hits a day, down on last month but better than last March’s 43.

The most visited posts have been:

Home page / Archives  897 views in March 2017
Friday Australian poem: #NS6 – Mary Gilmore “Old Botany Bay” 29
Ian 24
Ian Thorpe, Bullied, USA insight  15
Tom Thumb Lagoon  14
Proud of my old school/workplace 14
Fascinated by Catherine McKinnon’s “Storyland” 13
Yesterdays — 1944 and March 2017  13
What was I up to in March 2002/2007  11
About  11
Two on Trump  11
Coniston  11
Random Friday memory: 1 – John Mystery, my brother, Illawong 10
Mapping disadvantage 10
All my posts 10
Nobel prize winner’s obituary triggers memories 10
Hard to ignore the weather…  10
London 10

What was I up to in March 2012?

Five years on from the post before last.

The Cock House at Fellsgarth

Given this is Mardi Gras weekend you may well wonder, but in fact this is a school story by Talbot Baines Reed which I have just read as an eBook. More years ago than I care to admit to I read his The Fifth Form at St Dominic’s but had never encountered The Cock House before, so naturally I was curious. In brief it is tosh and rubbish, but not entirely a waste of time. Having been a teacher for so long I would have to fail Reed on mere educational grounds. The schools he describes would never cut it in NAPLAN! They really are quite awful places really, seriously…

I see there is a Facebook page for the COOK House at Felsgarth… Hmmm.

Much more worthwhile is Alec Waugh’s The Loom of Youth, which I am currently reading on Baby Toshiba.

My eBook collection of freebies now exceeds 500 titles!

Alas poor Baby Toshiba

My companion in hospital last year, and a faithful little servant in the tail end of my tuition in Chinatown, latterly to be seen in my company in clubs and pubs from Surry Hills to The Gong.

P2210233

Oh Baby Toshiba, why won’t you boot up any more? You just turn on and almost instantly turn off again…!

Only on the Internet: back to 1954

Had an email the other day from the son of my Year 6 teacher at Sutherland Boys Primary in 1954. He had found 09 — My Teachers in my Ninglun’s Specials archive.

Grade 6 1954

The second principle Andrew Metcalfe and Ann Game derive from their corpus of interviews is:

Good teaching recognises the unique potential of each student. This is not the same as an expectation or a prediction; it is seeing students in their wholeness, as they are now. The teacher’s responsibility is to nurture students and draw out their potential by opening them to new worlds. Thus teaching is inherently ethical, allowing students to find their place in and to contribute to the world.


I would like to name Mister O’Neil, my Year 6 teacher at Sutherland Public School (or Sutherland Boys Primary as it was then, now a “special” school) in 1954, the year of the Royal Visit. I still vividly remember (among other things) going with my maternal grandfather — another inspiring teacher — through the fence and beside the track to wait for the (then) sheer magic of seeing the Royal Train go through, and Mister O’Neil rehearsed us over and over to perform appropriate songs, including a late Vera Lynn called “She’s the Queen of Everyone’s Hearts”, at the Sutherland School of Arts, where my mother won an electric jug in a raffle.

World War II was after all less than ten years before; indeed I was enrolled at Sutherland in 1949. My father had been in the RAAF.

The thing about Mister O’Neil is that he had a class of fifty or so students, all in a portable class room that baked in summer. Hardly any of the boys had shoes. Cast-off bits of military uniform were fashionable; no such thing as a school uniform, or (I may add indelicately) underpants. There were a few quite talented kids in 6A; I was a bit up myself, I’m afraid, because even though I took every August off to have bronchitis, and also that year had mumps followed by orchitis (nasty) and pancreatitis, I still managed to top the class, despite my rather alarming (and continuing) innumeracy. He let us have our heads, really. We produced school newspapers, in which I wrote and illustrated serials that were rather like Biggles, and also devised crossword puzzles. Every Friday we “broadcast” our plays over the school’s PA system.

When I was selected to go to Sydney Boys High my parents were against it, mainly because of the travelling which, combined with my absent-mindedness that led to my once almost being run over at a pedestrian crossing, they felt would not suit me. I guess they were also worried about my health. My mother at that time, I might add, was invalided with a clot in the leg, so I was also cooking dinner every night, following instructions emanating from my mother’s bedroom. She used to say what I cooked for the dogs smelt more appetising than what I made for the family — chops and three veg usually. Can’t go too wrong with that. Well, Mister O’Neil I found one afternoon when I came in from playing with the Dawson boys down the road sitting by my Mum’s bed in earnest conversation. Result: I went to Sydney Boys High. Apparently I had the highest IQ ever recorded at Sutherland Primary to that point… That may not be saying too much, of course, and I certainly found myself a small fish in a big pond at SBHS the following year.

But hats off to Mr O’Neil. Not only was he just a fascinating teacher, but so dedicated. By his complexion I suspect he may have enjoyed the odd bevvie too… At a time when many schools, especially boys schools, were “houses of swinging bamboo”, I can’t recall seeing him actually cane anyone either. I remember him with gratitude. Mind you, I don’t think I ever have quite fulfilled that potential, and at going on 65 it may be a bit late…

You will see the use Michael O’Neil made of my reminiscence on his family site: Edgar Ronald O’Neill (1918-1994) & Sheila Hudson (1919-1948)

Eddie on playground

There he is: Eddie O’Neil, my Year 6 1954 teacher – in 1957

Gives you a good idea of what school in The Shire was like back then too…

Check the dunnies behind him… Yes, pans!

Only on the Internet, eh! What would the chances have been of making this sort of contact before the Net came along?

Back from Sydney

Sirdan came down from Gympie today, just for part of the day! He, P and I dined at a swank Italian place in the old GPO.

P3080294

Sirdan had to be on the 2.30 plane back to Queensland, and P to work I assume. I decided to revisit old haunts.

P3080311

Sydney Boys High this afternoon.

I have nothing against a good belly button…

omphalos

Don’t know them, but they are Aussies…

But this guy elevated the belly button to cosmic heights…

PhilipHenryGosse,1855

Wikipedia: “Philip Henry Gosse (6 April 1810 – 23 August 1888) was an English naturalist and popularizer of natural science, virtually the inventor of the seawater aquarium, and a painstaking innovator in the study of marine biology. Gosse is perhaps best known today as the author of Omphalos, an attempt to reconcile the immense geological ages presupposed by Charles Lyell with the biblical account of creation.

After his death, Gosse was portrayed as a despotic and fanatically religious father in Father and Son (1907), the literary masterpiece of his son, poet and critic Edmund Gosse

The gist of the Omphalos theory is that just as Adam. though not “born”, would have had a false history stamped on him via his belly button – think about it – so the fossil record etc represents a false history preloaded, as we might say today, by God at the time of creation. Ingenious, except that there is nothing to say the false history began two seconds ago and this entry was preloaded by God….

At the moment I am reading Father and Son. Just how true it is people have disputed, but whatever the case the book is a real treasure. Thanks to Project Gutenberg and my Kobo.

Meanwhile, capable as I was of reading, I found my greatest pleasure in the pages of books. The range of these was limited, for story-books of every description were sternly excluded. No fiction of any kind, religious or secular, was admitted into the house. In this it was to my Mother, not to my Father, that the prohibition was due. She had a remarkable, I confess to me still somewhat unaccountable impression that to ‘tell a story’, that is, to compose fictitious narrative of any kind, was a sin. She carried this conviction to extreme lengths. My Father, in later years, gave me some interesting examples of her firmness. As a young man in America, he had been deeply impressed by ‘Salathiel’, a pious prose romance by that then popular writer, the Rev. George Croly. When he first met my Mother, he recommended it to her, but she would not consent to open it. Nor would she read the chivalrous tales in verse of Sir Walter Scott, obstinately alleging that they were not ‘true’. She would read none but lyrical and subjective poetry. Her secret diary reveals the history of this singular aversion to the fictitious, although it cannot be said to explain the cause of it. As a child, however, she had possessed a passion for making up stories, and so considerable a skill in it that she was constantly being begged to indulge others with its exercise. But I will, on so curious a point, leave her to speak for herself:

‘When I was a very little child, I used to amuse myself and my brothers with inventing stories, such as I read. Having, as I suppose, naturally a restless mind and busy imagination, this soon became the chief pleasure of my life. Unfortunately, my brothers were always fond of encouraging this propensity, and I found in Taylor, my maid, a still greater tempter. I had not known there was any harm in it, until Miss Shore [a Calvinist governess], finding it out, lectured me severely, and told me it was wicked. From that time forth I considered that to invent a story of any kind was a sin. But the desire to do so was too deeply rooted in my affections to be resisted in my own strength [she was at that time nine years of age], and unfortunately I knew neither my corruption nor my weakness, nor did I know where to gain strength. The longing to invent stories grew with violence; everything I heard or read became food for my distemper. The simplicity of truth was not sufficient for me; I must needs embroider imagination upon it, and the folly, vanity and wickedness which disgraced my heart are more than I am able to express. Even now [at the age of twenty-nine], tho’ watched, prayed and striven against, this is still the sin that most easily besets me. It has hindered my prayers and prevented my improvement, and therefore, has humbled me very much.’

This is, surely, a very painful instance of the repression of an instinct. There seems to have been, in this case, a vocation such as is rarely heard, and still less often wilfully disregarded and silenced. Was my Mother intended by nature to be a novelist? I have often thought so, and her talents and vigour of purpose, directed along the line which was ready to form ‘the chief pleasure of her life’, could hardly have failed to conduct her to great success. She was a little younger than Bulwer Lytton, a little older than Mrs. Gaskell—but these are vain and trivial speculations!

From my week’s reading: Edmund Gosse, “Father and Son” — 1907

Still relevant after all those years.

My holidays, however, and all my personal relations with my Father were poisoned by this insistency. I was never at my ease in his company; I never knew when I might not be subjected to a series of searching questions which I should not be allowed to evade. Meanwhile, on every other stage of experience I was gaining the reliance upon self and the respect for the opinion of others which come naturally to a young man of sober habits who earns his own living and lives his own life. For this kind of independence my Father had no respect or consideration, when questions of religion were introduced, although he handsomely conceded it on other points. And now first there occurred to me the reflection, which in years to come I was to repeat over and over, with an ever sadder emphasis,—what a charming companion, what a delightful parent, what a courteous and engaging friend my Father would have been, and would pre-eminently have been to me, if it had not been for this stringent piety which ruined it all.

Let me speak plainly. After my long experience, after my patience and forbearance, I have surely the right to protest against the untruth (would that I could apply to it any other word!) that evangelical religion, or any religion in a violent form, is a wholesome or valuable or desirable adjunct to human life. It divides heart from heart. It sets up a vain, chimerical ideal, in the barren pursuit of which all the tender, indulgent affections, all the genial play of life, all the exquisite pleasures and soft resignations of the body, all that enlarges and calms the soul are exchanged for what is harsh and void and negative. It encourages a stern and ignorant spirit of condemnation; it throws altogether out of gear the healthy movement of the conscience; it invents virtues which are sterile and cruel; it invents sins which are no sins at all, but which darken the heaven of innocent joy with futile clouds of remorse. There is something horrible, if we will bring ourselves to face it, in the fanaticism that can do nothing with this pathetic and fugitive existence of ours but treat it as if it were the uncomfortable ante-chamber to a palace which no one has explored and of the plan of which we know absolutely nothing. My Father, it is true, believed that he was intimately acquainted with the form and furniture of this habitation, and he wished me to think of nothing else but of the advantages of an eternal residence in it.

Then came a moment when my self-sufficiency revolted against the police-inspection to which my ‘views’ were incessantly subjected. There was a morning, in the hot-house at home, among the gorgeous waxen orchids which reminded my Father of the tropics in his youth, when my forbearance or my timidity gave way. The enervated air, soaked with the intoxicating perfumes of all those voluptuous flowers, may have been partly responsible for my outburst. My Father had once more put to me the customary interrogatory. Was I ‘walking closely with God’? Was my sense of the efficacy of the Atonement clear and sound? Had the Holy Scriptures still their full authority with me? My replies on this occasion were violent and hysterical. I have no clear recollection what it was that I said,—I desire not to recall the whimpering sentences in which I begged to be let alone, in which I demanded the right to think for myself, in which I repudiated the idea that my Father was responsible to God for my secret thoughts and my most intimate convictions.

He made no answer; I broke from the odorous furnace of the conservatory, and buried my face in the cold grass upon the lawn. My visit to Devonshire, already near its close, was hurried to an end. …

“Gosse’s Father and Son is a superb and sometimes quite beautiful book…” — Brian A. Oard

Sunrise

Further to March 2002…

I find one post has survived the Diary-X wreckage!

Sunday, March 24, 2002

Cecily. Well, I know, of course, how important it is not to keep a business engagement, if one wants to retain any sense of the beauty of life, but still I think you had better wait till Uncle Jack arrives. I know he wants to speak to you about your emigrating.

Algernon. About my what?

Cecily.Your emigrating. He has gone up to buy your outfit.

Algernon. I certainly wouldn’t let Jack buy my outfit. He has no taste in neckties at all.

Cecily. I don’t think you will require neckties. Uncle Jack is sending you to Australia.

Algernon. Australia! I’d sooner die.

Cecily. Well, he said at dinner on Wednesday night, that you would have to choose between this world, the next world, and Australia.

Algernon. Oh, well! The accounts I have received of Australia and the next world, are not particularly encouraging. This world is good enough for me, cousin Cecily.

Cecily. Yes, but are you good enough for it?

That is of course from Act II of The Importance of Being Ernest and still got a good laugh from an Australian audience on a warm night when there was hardly a neck tie in sight!

Particularly when Cecily was played by a six foot tall Australian male in a fetching Edwardian summer frock.

Yesterday was a sheer delight. I met the Model for lunch where we discussed some matters of mutual interest. We then remembered that a rather important horse race was being run that day, or at least the Model did, so we went in search of a betting shop, managing to walk straight past the nearest one. However, we found another and the Model made a small investment on our behalf, which (it turned out) confirmed my ambivalence about gambling…

Then to the New Theatre where we met up with PK, Sirdan and Colin. The first play, Gross Indecency was Moises Kaufmann’s docudrama on the trials of Oscar Wilde, and is quite a splendid play. Peter Flett as Wilde was convincing in appearance and I was moved, I have to say, particularly by the speeches of Wilde towards the end as his life descended into chaos and the prison house beckoned. The Marquess of Queensberry, on the other hand, was just a bit too caricatured. There was a delightful sequence where Queen Victoria was literally wheeled in to sign into law the Act forbidding “Gross Indecency” (except between women).

One could not but be struck by echoes of the past week in Australia (the Justice Kirby issue).

The Sydney Morning Herald reviewer had damned the second play, The Importance of Being Ernest out of hand. It is, admittedly, Barry Lowe’s transformation of the text: we find ourselves at the beginning in Reading Gaol, the prisoners (including Wilde) circling in the exercise yard. Then we move to Wilde’s memory of the performance of The Importance of Being Ernest with Wilde sitting to one side of the stage. Twice he appears within the play; after the interval we enter the theatre and see Wilde talking to Cecily, who addresses her first lines to him. Then near the end, Wilde makes a short speech just before the last few speeches of the play. I thought it worked very well, particularly when you had just seen Gross Indecency.

The play itself was fresh, funny, well-paced, and the audience loved it. Sirdan had never read the play before or ever seen it, and he really enjoyed himself. The fact all parts were played by men was not at all disturbing. In fact it added to it, in my view. They did not camp it up outrageously but stayed in character and respected the text; the disjunctions, when they occurred, were delicious. I loved it. So did the Model, and PK, who is a bit of a purist when it comes to theatre.

We concluded the Herald reviewer must have been to another play!

Between plays we had the most delicious African food in a restaurant in King Street.

It was a really beautiful afternoon/evening.

Later

I had fun rereading The Importance of Being Ernest at various times during the day.

Then, this evening at 7.30 SBS showed the first episode of the PBS series on the reign of Queen Victoria. I certainly learned something from it. Next week it deals with India–must watch.

Now to visit the New Theatre archives.

Australian Premiere of Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde by Moises Kaufman, directed by Elaine Hudson

This stunning work of theatre – a smash hit off Broadway – turns the trials of Oscar Wilde into riveting human and intellectual drama. Expertly interweaving courtroom testimony with excerpts from Wilde’s writings, and the words of his contemporaries, Gross Indecency unveils Oscar Wilde in all his genius and human frailty, his age in all its complacency and repression. Rent boys and prostitutes appear alongside titled nobility and the rich and famous, including Lord Alfred Douglas, the Marquess of Queensberry, George Bernard Shaw and Queen Victoria. Author Moises Kaufman also wrote the 2001 smash hit at Belvoir, The Laramie Project.

in repertory with Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest (as performed by the inmates of Reading Gaol)

A Prison Fantasy, concept by Barry Lowe, directed by Elaine Hudson.

Oscar Wilde’s comic masterpiece, The Importance of Being Ernest, (as performed by the inmates of Reading Gaol) plays in repertory with Gross Indecency for eight performances only, with an all-male cast for both plays. As one critic observed, “Ernest is full of masculine women and feminine men.”

“Ernest shattered sexual boundaries when it was written,” comments director Elaine Hudson, whose Death of Peter Pan was a Mardi Gras hit in the mid 90’s. “There are secrets and sins in both Ernest and Gross Indecency,” she adds. “but they’re light-hearted and benign in one, and deadly serious in the other.”

The Importance of being Ernest is a triumphantly funny play, which Barry Lowe has set as a ‘prison fantasy’ against the grimness of Reading Gaol.

” I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky… ” (The Ballad of Reading Gaol)

As Oscar Wilde also wrote, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Directed: Elaine Hudson, Design: Alice Lau, Lighting design: Tony Youlden, Sound Design: David Cashman and Featuring: Michael Briggs, John Farndale, Peter Flett, John Grinston, Anthony Hunt, Michael Lynch, Brett Hicks-Maitland, David Michel, Leigh Rowney, David Scott, Simon Stollery.

Director Elaine Hudson is a NIDA graduate, whose directing credits include After the Fall (Associate Director), Barry Lowe’s The Death of Peter Pan, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll and Gina Schien’s Relative Comfort, all at the New Theatre, Endgame at the Lookout, Poles Apart at the Stables, The Lady from Dubuque for Company 2a, The Man Who Came to Dinner (Genesian Theatre) and A Touch of Paradise Downstairs Belvoir. Elaine recently returned from The International New York Fringe Festival, where she appeared in Queensize Production’s award-winning Mary Stuart.

What was I up to in March 2002/2007

These retro posts are meant to be at five year intervals, but alas because of the sad fate of Diary-X most of 2002 is missing. I have however found one entry on the Internet Archive which at least shows what is missing.

Ninglun’s Books and Ideas: new series

31 Mar 2002 – Not unexpected.
29 Mar 2002 – Minds to treasure, and other matters.
28 Mar 2002 – Dramatic story, predictable response
27 Mar 2002 – Am I a puritan?
25 Mar 2002 – On keeping an online diary
24 Mar 2002 – What a wonderful day!
23 Mar 2002 – It’s a funny world, isn’t it?
21 Mar 2002 – Not when I was at University
20 Mar 2002 – Finis: Justice Kirby story
20 Mar 2002 – Minefields: many will disagree.
19 Mar 2002 – Feedback
18 Mar 2002 – Hefferlump self-destructs!!!
18 Mar 2002 – Trying to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, etc.
17 Mar 2002 – Patrick Cook does it better…
16 Mar 2002 – More on the Kirby story
15 Mar 2002 – Here we go again
14 Mar 2002 – News causes diary to reopen
12 Mar 2002 – WATCH THIS SPACE
11 Mar 2002 – This diary is closed–for the time being at least…
11 Mar 2002 – Strive for balance in your life
10 Mar 2002 – We were not amused: Matthew Shepard did NOT deserve it.
09 Mar 2002 – Am I a turnip?
08 Mar 2002 – Dilemmas and hopes
06 Mar 2002 – Two cases of debunking…
05 Mar 2002 – On suffering at university?
04 Mar 2002 – Some nice bits of dissent…
03 Mar 2002 – Mardi Gras, morality and the open society–oh, and James Joyce. Later thoughts prompted by P Akerman.
02 Mar 2002 – Mainly on S I Hayakawa
01 Mar 2002 – Great movie, good company, challenging thoughts.

Those are dead links.

Now to March 2007.

Great pic from The Poet in Victoria

30 MAR 2007

triathletes come ashore

On a more personal note

30 MAR

Yesterday morning I spent time with Lord Malcolm, going with him to physiotherapy at the hospice and witnessing how he has virtually no muscles on his legs, and seeing both the determination and the pain as he did some gentle exercises. We then had coffee in the hospice coffee shop, wheeled out to look at Green Park for a while, and then back so he could be sent for another x-ray — some problem with the feeding tube.

Before tuition in Chinatown I had a call from ex-student Ross (class of 1976). We met and had a really good if shortish chat. Here is what one of Ross’s classmates has been up to, having diverged somewhat from Law.

Post against stereotypes…

26 MAR

I am at the moment wading through the white-hot prose of Londonistan. It was good then to drop in on Madhab al-Irfy, Irfan Yusuf’s more Islamic blog: Prayers for Allison Sudrajat (14 March 2007). Allison was the AusAid worker killed in the recent plane crash in Indonesia.

Tomorrow at 1:30pm, after dhuhr prayer, Canberra’s small Muslim community will join friends and family of Allison Sudrajat for a traditional Muslim janaza (funeral) prayer service followed by burial…

Read the post and think “Muslim humanitarian” for a change…

Lord Malcolm’s trip to Victoria

25 MAR

I expect to hear from Sirdan later this morning how this quite amazing trip worked out yesterday. Sirdan was accompanying him. When I visited Lord Malcolm on Friday he was psyched up for it, albeit still in the Hospice and with a feeding tube down his nose…

Later

Just got that call. They made it and it went well except Lord M ran out of steam about 1 pm and needed medical help, which was on site at the Air Show. They got back to Sydney safely. I am having lunch with Sirdan later today. No doubt I will hear more then. Lord Malcolm himself (by phone) says he had a fantastic day. 🙂

And later

After lunch at the Porter House Irish pub Sirdan and I visited Lord M, but he was too exhausted. Happy though. He really was given royal treatment at the Air Show yesterday. Sirdan’s part in that venture can’t be praised too much. He and Lord M did something almost everyone thought was impossible.

Voted, melted, and saw wildlife in Surry Hills

24 MAR

So here I am back from tutoring in Chinatown and voting in Riley Street. And is it ever hot! Daylight saving ends tonight, yet at 2pm it was near enough to 35C here in Surry Hills. (That’s 90+ for those who use F still.) On the way to tutoring I saw the biggest flock of cockatoos — right near Central Station — that I can ever recall seeing in Sydney. There must have been a hundred of them. They seemed to fill the space between Central and the buildings on the corner of Elizabeth and Foveaux. Strayed in from points west because of drought?

cockatoos.jpg

I took that from Charlie Moores’ Bird Blog, on a page well worth looking at showing Sydney’s Botanical Gardens.

That was quite an Aboriginal moment too, as somewhere in Central someone was playing the didgeridoo giving the whole scene a rather magic quality — well giving that to me at least.

And then I voted. Yes, not Labor. Yes, not Liberal…. In neither House.

Another voice against torture

16 MAR

(a) We renounce the use of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by any branch of our government (or any other government)—even in the current circumstance of a war between the United States and various radical terrorist groups.

(b) We call for the extension of basic human rights and procedural protections to all persons held in United States custody now or in the future, wherever and by whomever they are held.

(c) We call for every agency of the United States government to join with the United States military and to state publicly its commitment to the terms of the Geneva Conventions related to the treatment of prisoners, especially Common Article 3.

(d) We call for the legislative or judicial reversal of those executive and legislative provisions that violate the moral and legal standards articulated in this declaration.

Now who do you think that was? Amnesty? Human Rights Watch? The ACLU?

No: think Evangelicals for Human Rights. See Jim Wallis Thursday, March 15, 2007.

When I was a twenty-something conservative in transition…

11 MAR

… at Dapto High School south of Wollongong, a colleague in the English Department was Dale Spender, who once told me that if I didn’t have shit for brains I might know what she was talking about. Trouble is, she was probably right at the time. Dale went on to a career much more spectacular than mine. To give Dale her due, she knew far more back then than most of us did about how to deal effectively with some of the less able (as in “IQ too low to assess”) and more disadvantaged students we had, and I did learn much from her.

I see she has entered the current silly education debate: Now the class scapegoat is the teacher.

No one has a good word to say about teachers. Not so long ago they were well-informed and well-respected members of the community whose advice was sought after and highly valued.

Today, if you are to believe the Government’s condemnations and the media coverage, teachers have had a spectacular fall from grace.

Press stories over the past decade accuse teachers of everything from illiteracy and incompetence to outright ill will. A few regular media commentators charge classroom teachers with left-wing tendencies, lowering standards, and with throwing out the worthwhile curriculum in favour of “dumbing down”.

Yet no hard evidence of the harmful behaviour of teachers is provided. Rather teachers are being made the scapegoats for the disruptive changes that are under way in society – and in education. For education consultants [it] is so much easier to blame the teachers than it is to look more intelligently and constructively at the problems and pressures of the 21st-century classroom; and at the failure of the nation to properly fund the information-education revolution.

Teachers have been caught up in the turmoil of educational change, but they have not been supported with the resources to make the massive leap from traditional education to computer-based classrooms.

Teachers can teach only what they are taught. Now that they have to learn the art of teaching with the new technologies, they need information, facilities, and a great deal of encouragement. Without such support, it is the teachers who have the genuine grievances: they could put at the top of their list the counterproductive smear tactics used against them by Commonwealth educational advisers and ministers…

Each year teachers are asked to do more: more national testing, more meaningful reporting on students, more social welfare tasks and more new technology courses. And each year teachers are blamed for more school failures, more lapses of discipline, and more of society’s ills. Teaching is the most demanding job ever devised yet the teachers’ side of the story is rarely heard; they can’t “tell someone who cares”. The profession is so badgered and abused, the wonder of it is that there are not more of its members walking out the door.

The bad press that teachers get is not the only source of low morale. Teachers know that there can be no art of teaching with technology when the technology does not work. Spare a thought for the masses of overworked, dedicated teachers who stretch themselves to prepare exciting internet-based lessons only to enter the class of 30 eager, energised students, and find that the computers have crashed, and the network is down. Such disasters can be an everyday occurrence. And although this is definitely not the teachers’ fault, they who must deal with the dire consequences when their anticipated mind-expanding learning experience turns into a nightmare.

One might well ask how teachers’ critics and Co would stare down such high-maintenance students: it would take more than a pile of platitudes and a dose of Shakespeare…

Well, as for technology… I’m here, aren’t I? I suspect that Dale overstates her case a little in that article. It would have been more true ten years ago. It certainly was true of me ten years ago. Nonetheless, she has a better understanding of what is happening out there in the schools than many of her opposing commentators.

In her column today Miranda Devine praises the recently established Redfern Exodus centre which aims to provide intensive remedial reading to children in Years 3 to 6 who have fallen behind. It is a good project, housed at the moment by my very own church, South Sydney Uniting Church, but run by the Exodus Foundation of Ashfield Uniting Church. The methodology employed derives from the Macquarie University’s phonics-centred approach, and that is Miranda’s angle: the success of the MULTILIT programs underscores the tragedy of so many other young lives wasted – countless smart children who believe they are stupid because they haven’t been taught to read. I do not knock what is happening in Redfern, but do suggest Miranda (all praise to her though for supporting the venture) is unfair in her ideological stance. More “countless” than the numbers of students benefitting from this intervention are the numbers of students who do not need it because they have in fact been taught to read. No single factor explains the issues that led the minority being helped in this and similar programs to their present plight, though more adequate staffing and funding of remediation programs in schools both public and private would no doubt have helped. There are, even so, “countless” students who are assisted within the system and who therefore never need a Redfern program. For very many students the NSW government’s Reading Recovery program has been especially effective. I have seen it done, and spent a year some time back in a research project tracking its effects in a number of schools in a more disadvantaged part of the south-eastern suburbs. (See also Research in Reading Recovery.)

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Reading Recovery session at Brookvale Public School Sydney.

One key to both the Redfern program and the Reading Recovery program is individualised intensive tuition. It is a fact too that provision for such individual help after Year 2 in the system is inadequately funded.

All ideology aside, I wish all such programs success.

Forgotten and surprising facts on 21st century religion

02 MAR

That same issue of Atlantic Monthly from which I drew the previous entry also took me to The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. There is a fascinating survey there called Spirit and Power: a 10 country survey of Pentecostals. Some definition: “By all accounts, pentecostalism and related charismatic movements represent one of the fastest-growing segments of global Christianity. According to the World Christian Database, at least a quarter of the world’s 2 billion Christians are thought to be members of these lively, highly personal faiths, which emphasize such spiritually renewing “gifts of the Holy Spirit” as speaking in tongues, divine healing and prophesying. Even more than other Christians, pentecostals and other renewalists believe that God, acting through the Holy Spirit, continues to play a direct, active role in everyday life.”

Go to the survey report for yourself, but I place below two of several interesting fact boxes.

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A nice dilemma here in the political correctness and cultural relativity department: how to assert principles of universal human rights without cultural imperialism or belittling the right to difference in other cultures and consequently being ignored. Take Nigeria for example:

A proposed Nigerian law banning same-sex marriages is a threat to democracy, says Human Rights Watch. Writing to the Nigerian Senate, they said the legislation, “contravenes the basic rights to freedom of expression, conscience, association, and assembly”. The rights group urges the Nigerian National Assembly to reject the bill.

If the proposed law is approved, anyone who speaks out or forms a group supporting gay and lesbian rights could be imprisoned.

The bill has divided both chambers of the Nigerian parliament as some MPs see legislation as a move to save Nigerian morals and cultural values. Others legislators who reject it say it say it is anti-freedom and portrays Nigeria’s democracy in bad light…

Naturally I side with Human Rights Watch on this one. You can see the problem though, can’t you? In our focus on the USA and Australia we often forget the rest of humanity, and we forget that Christian fundamentalism is even more alive and well in developing countries than it is in the USA or Australia. We also forget that there is a positive side to this in terms of lives turned around, services delivered, and self-esteem restored; we need to set that against the dark side, the questions of gay rights, AIDS prevention and so on. I see a dilemma. Do you?