Hope

I wanted a positive image to share with you on this day when we are just hearing of the violent fanatic attack in Paris. And here are two. They don’t answer everything, but do say a lot. They remind us that beauty and decency and  mere humanity just may be universal values.

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The story, if you missed it, is here, here and here.

MOSUL, Iraq: Amid the bombed-out ruins of an ancient site revered by both Muslims and Christians in Mosul, Iraqi violinist Ameen Mukdad on Wednesday held a small concert in the city he was forced to flee by Islamic State militants.

As Mukdad played scores he had composed in secret while living under the militants’ austere rule, explosions and gunfire could be heard from Mosul’s western districts where U.S.-backed forces are still battling Islamic State for control…

Wednesday’s hour-long concert marked his first return to the city that was overrun by Islamic State in 2014.

Mukdad said he chose the Tomb of Jonas, or Mosque of the Prophet Younis, as the site is known by Muslims, to symbolise unity.

“I want to take the opportunity to send a message to the world and send a strike against terrorism and all ideologies which restrict freedom that music is a beautiful thing,” he said.

“Everyone who opposes music is ugly.”…

On the Revenant of Oz inoculating us against common sense…

The Revenant is back in form.

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The latest:

Senator Hanson had made the comments earlier today while defending her social media post urging Australians to pray for a Muslim ban after yesterday’s London attack.

“Let me put it this way, we have a disease, we vaccinate ourself against it,” she said.

“Islam is a disease we need to vaccinate ourself against that.”

The response from government and others has been swift, as it should be:

The Deputy Prime Minister slammed Senator Hanson’s comments as “bat-poo crazy stuff” and “plain dumb”.

“You can’t say stuff like that, you just can’t. It’s mad,” Mr Joyce said.

I didn’t watch #QandA last night, opting to read and listen to music instead. But apparently some relevant things were said there.

It was not the only time Chikarovski was on clean-up duty. She also deftly dispatched a questioner wondering what could be done about the effort by Muslims “to establish a worldwide caliphate”.

Chikarovski, in summary: “It’s not going to happen.”

In all, it was a night that required panellists to have their wits about them. This much was clear from the git-go, when the opening question began: “In the wake of the London terror attacks in Westminster, the Mayor of London, Mr Sadiq Khan, stated terror attacks are now part and parcel of living in a big city…”

Mr Khan said no such thing last week. He made a similar remark last September – only to find it resurrected out of context by Donald Trump Jr in recent days, and bafflingly resurrected again last night on Q&A.

“He didn’t say that, right?” A hat-tip to panellist Peter Holmes a Court for heading this particular bit of fake news off at the pass, albeit several minutes beyond the point at which it should ever have been let loose.

Here is a heartening story, definitely not fake. Women formed a human chain along Westminster Bridge tonight to remember the victims of the attack on March 22. We need to “inoculate” ourselves against the likes of The Revenant with what these women have!

Participants in the Women's March, gather on Westminster Bridge to hold hands in silence, to remember victims of the attack in Westminster earlier in the week, in London

Former Howard government minister Amanda Vanstone has a good piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

We hope for and, I think, are entitled to expect a higher standard from our elected representatives. Why on earth did Pauline Hanson rush out with her “pray4muslim immigration ban#”?…

The radical Islamists are engaging in a war for the hearts and minds of the next generation. We, the West, will not win that war with guns and bombs alone.They will have their place. If you fail to stand up to your enemy you will be crushed. The battle for hearts and minds will certainly not be won by taunting and insulting those the radicals want to win over.

Throwing gravel in the face of normal decent Muslims just makes some of them, and particularly their children much more vulnerable to the messages from the radicals.

Hanson’s constant knocking of all Muslims just plays right into the hands of the very people we should be afraid of. They don’t have to convince Muslim children that they’re not liked by the West when there are Members of Parliament happy to go out there and do it for them. Hanson doesn’t mean to help the radical islamists. Nobody could suggest that. But that doesn’t change the fact that what she does or says does in fact help them.

My reading last night continued with the excellent Graeme Wood, The Way of Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State. I have found his What ISIS Really Wants on The Atlantic. I commend it to you as a condensed version of the book. I find him learned, convincing and enlightening.

Virtually every  major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal…

Denying the holiness of the Koran or the prophecies of Muhammad is straightforward apostasy. But Zarqawi and the state he spawned take the position that many other acts can remove a Muslim from Islam. These include, in certain cases, selling alcohol or drugs, wearing Western clothes or shaving one’s beard, voting in an election—even for a Muslim candidate—and being lax about calling other people apostates. Being a Shiite, as most Iraqi Arabs are, meets the standard as well, because the Islamic State regards Shiism as innovation, and to innovate on the Koran is to deny its initial perfection. (The Islamic State claims that common Shiite practices, such as worship at the graves of imams and public self-flagellation, have no basis in the Koran or in the example of the Prophet.) That means roughly 200 million Shia are marked for death. So too are the heads of state of every Muslim country, who have elevated man-made law above Sharia by running for office or enforcing laws not made by God.

Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The lack of objective reporting from its territory makes the true extent of the slaughter unknowable, but social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks. Muslim “apostates” are the most common victims….

A few “lone wolf” supporters of the Islamic State have attacked Western targets, and more attacks will come. But most of the attackers have been frustrated amateurs, unable to immigrate to the caliphate because of confiscated passports or other problems. Even if the Islamic State cheers these attacks—and it does in its propaganda—it hasn’t yet planned and financed one….

Western officials would probably do best to refrain from weighing in on matters of Islamic theological debate altogether. Barack Obama himself drifted into takfiri waters when he claimed that the Islamic State was “not Islamic”—the irony being that he, as the non-Muslim son of a Muslim, may himself be classified as an apostate, and yet is now practicing takfir against Muslims. Non-Muslims’ practicing takfir elicits chuckles from jihadists (“Like a pig covered in feces giving hygiene advice to others,” one tweeted).

I suspect that most Muslims appreciated Obama’s sentiment: the president was standing with them against both Baghdadi and non-Muslim chauvinists trying to implicate them in crimes. But most Muslims aren’t susceptible to joining jihad. The ones who are susceptible will only have had their suspicions confirmed: the United States lies about religion to serve its purposes….

In the light of all that The Revenant’s nostrums make no sense at all!

London

Cannot be avoided this morning: London terrorist attack turned tourist landmark into scene of horror and from a fellow-blogger, Stephen Liddell in London.

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Happening to the day on the first anniversary of Brussels. Terrible, but London has survived much worse, and I think it is fair to say the authorities there have been very capable and measured in their response thus far.

Attacks like this are highly unpredictable but also highly likely. While the imminent elimination of ISIS also seems likely, the ideology it represents continues and will continue. And here we must be very specific and take the trouble to transcend blanket judgments about an entire religion and a quarter of the world’s population.

My reading lately has assisted me in getting better at that. First came Gabriele Marranci’s cool anthropological take in Wars of Terror (2016). Marranci is Australian — Macquarie University in fact. You can get a feel for his work in posts like Indefinite detention for advocating jihadi violence (2015).

Next is my current Wollongong Library borrowing, Graeme Wood, The Way of Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State (2017). It is a good read too, which helps, and I am finding it rings true with my own past encounters with the theology of advocates of what some would label extremism, in my case posted in 2004-2006 for example: Wolves in sheep’s clothing on an extremist Islamic mission.

See this Council on Foreign Relations launch of ‘The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State’.

ROSE: Explain for a second what a caliphate is.

WOOD: And a caliphate—a caliphate is a—it is a resurrection of an institution that most people think was—has been extinct since 1924 when the Ottoman Caliphate was abolished by the republican Turks. But it is a Muslim state that is led by one person, who is a caliph, which—a word which literally means a successor, successor usually considered to the prophet Muhammad as the political leader of Muslims all coming together.

So what ISIS—what they did by declaring a caliphate, for many of the people I spoke to, was—it’s as if they switched a light on. There was suddenly an entity that required the allegiance of all Muslims, caused them to be required, obliged individually to come to fight under the direction of the caliph.

ROSE: So, like, they send out a big bat signal, and now everybody has to come?

WOOD: It’s the ultimate jihadist bat sign, that’s right. And sure enough, you know, that’s what we observed from 2013 and then really in force once the declaration happened in 2014 up until the point where the bat sign turned out to be too dangerous to heed. Like, the Islamic State actually said, if you follow the bat sign, apparently you’re going to get killed, stopped, arrested; we’d rather you ignore it and then just attack where you are.

ROSE: You said that this is Islamic, but it’s a kind of oddball or extreme or not universally accepted operationalization of some strands of Islam. Is that basically correct?

WOOD: Yeah, it—

ROSE: And how would you gloss that?

WOOD: It’s not just that I say it. That’s what ISIS itself says, that they recognize that their interpretation is an extreme minority among Muslims. And they say that that interpretation, that means that most Muslims who have actively rejected them—which is most Muslims—are no longer Muslims. So they—

ROSE: So by definition, if you’re a Muslim but don’t agree that this is the new caliphate, you are an apostate?

WOOD: They’ve got a long list of things that they say would nullify your Islam. And these include voting in an election, any kind of worship of a grave or a saint. These—it—the list just goes on and on and on. But yeah, being persnickety about these questions is really their favorite sport, and they practice it pretty avidly.

See also the NPR interview In ‘Way Of The Strangers,’ Wood Explores Why Young People Embrace ISIS.

WOOD: Yeah. John Georgelas came from a military family. And I think there was still a sense that the way to succeed was by succeeding in a kind of American military sort of way. And so when the parents saw their kid go off in a jihadist direction, they thought of him as a follower. And yet all the Islamic State supporters I had been in touch with thought of him as their leader. So to have this impressionable kid really find his footing and become the leader of a sect within a terrorist group I think is truly inconceivable for the parents to see.

MARTIN: Yeah, a horrible kind of position for a parent to be in. You write in the book that part of the West’s misunderstanding of ISIS is a kind of refusal to acknowledge its religious roots, that there is a theology behind all of the violence.

WOOD: Yes. I think that there is a strong urge to say that Islam has nothing to do with religion, that ISIS is a bunch of psychopaths, people with blades cutting off heads wantonly. Unfortunately that’s just not true. ISIS has looked into Islamic history with historical accuracy, with intellectual rigor. And that’s part of what has produced that group as well as its Muslim opponents.

MARTIN: How do they justify the violence?

WOOD: You’ll find some who will say the violence is temporary. We are Muslims who are reviving the faith and we have to do this in a fallen world, so we’ll cut off the hands of thieves right now. But once the Islamic State is stronger and people realize this is the punishment, we won’t have to cut off hands.

MARTIN: The violence is a way to peace?

WOOD: Yes. That’s what you find with the nicer ones. The less nice ones just say this is a wonderful thing. The violence is not something that needs to be explained except to say that our scripture says it must be so. And so when it happens, we should celebrate it.

I think Wood’s book is excellent. A site he commends has connections with scholars from Princeton, among others: it is Jihadica. Well worth a look.

Jihadica is a clearinghouse for materials related to militant, transnational Sunni Islamism, commonly known as Jihadism. At the moment, much of this material is diffuse, known only to a few specialists, and inaccessible to the public and policymakers unless they pay a fee. Jihadica provides this material for free and keeps a daily record of its dissemination that can be easily searched and studied. These records are accompanied by the expert commentary of people who have the requisite language training to understand the primary source material and advanced degrees in relevant fields.

Oh and please ignore groups such as our self-appointed “patriots” and One Nation. I recently unfriended someone on Facebook after he serially commended “patriot” gatherings and the latest anti-Muslim hysteria. I really don’t need to see that stuff when there is so much better out there. Serious knowledge we need, blanket Islamophobia we surely can do without.

Update:

I do not resile from this for one moment and never will, having seen the utterly useless response of the Revenant of Oz. On Facebook I have just posted “Pauline Hanson is a useless, ignorant, egomaniacal and counterproductive heap of shit. To put it mildly!” As I said, ignore One Nation!

Next day:  If anything I was too kind to this malignant carbuncle on the Australian body politic!

Inspiring — teachers and schools, and terror

Great opinion piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald by Dr Michael Anderson, Professor of Education at The University of Sydney.

This is what we call 4C schools, and these schools exist. The 4Cs are creativity, critical reflection, collaboration and communication. In their classrooms and staffrooms, 4C schools are transforming learning and teaching through this quartet. But in these schools it takes will, energy, inquiry, courage and determination.

The 4C evolution is only just beginning in certain schools but it is always characterised by a climate of re-invigoration, excitement, challenge, difficulty, uncertainty and possibility.

However, this is not always the climate across all schools.

The onward march of NAPLAN, testing a limited set of ‘basics’ with its teach-to-the-test oppressions, and league tables, have transformed education into a much-reduced experience for teachers and students alike. This is professionally disappointing for teachers and it is a profound threat to the students in schools.

While we chase ever-increasing ‘accountability measures’ we are relegating the aspects of schooling that will prepare students for the realities of work and life in the 21st Century….

Compare my thoughts at This is the Naplan post that wasn’t… (2015).

It is Naplan season again and all those boring things that always get said are being said again. I was so pissed off by The Drum last night that I turned the TV off to prevent the wittering of some hack regurgitating the right wing propaganda about charter schools in the USA. Compare The truth about charter schools: Padded cells, corruption, lousy instruction and worse results.

So on Facebook I vented thus:

Naplan = craplan? I thought of doing a blog post about the annual stupidity that breaks out as so many who should know better think the Naplan ritual actually “measures” something. It does not. Even if it did, the fact there hasn’t been enough “improvement” means very little. Why not just say the the truth: things turn out pretty much as you can expect, and all the agonising is just pissing in the wind. I pretty much said this in 2008.

Better just to concentrate on substantive teaching and let all this politically motivated bureaucratic “measuring” crap die the death it should.

Oh and that blog post I proposed? I am sick of the idiocy and really can’t be bothered any more. Time to let go, and let others wake up and shout out.

Now if I were writing up the issue in a sober manner I would doubtless be a tad less nihilistic about it all. Those of you who can read my Facebook will see that Thomas has commented thoughtfully and extensively, greatly improving my post. A small part of what he added:

Naplan contributes very little, I feel, to the overall education process. I won’t say it contributes nothing because, being concerned with my students’ progress, I appreciate getting feedback and “indications” as to what my students need. Obviously literacy and numeracy are key skills that students need not just to succeed in school (whatever that looks like?), but to be life-longer learners. Is this the best way to get the feedback? No, not at all. But I do enjoy getting feedback.

Finally, to recycle that 2008 post: Memo to Julie Gillard and Kevin Rudd

Last night SBS’s venerable Insight looked at some of our most inspirational teachers.

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While the declining academic performance of Australian school students in international rankings may have captured the headlines, for some students the influence of their teachers goes far beyond test results; teachers have changed their lives.

Denzyl Moncrieff grew up in a tough environment. By the end of year 9 he wasn’t interested in going to school or making friends. The moment when Suzy Urbaniak singled out his performance in a year 10 science test changed everything.

Donna Loughran was an absent high school student. She was bored and didn’t see the relevance of what she was learning at school. By Year 11, Donna had a decision to make about the kind of future she wanted. Luckily, she had Steve Duclos for legal studies and he showed her the possibilities.

Omar Sawan was an angry student. He says he lost count of the number of times he was suspended from school. At one point he challenged the principal to expel him. That principal, Jihad Dib, refused and managed to see potential in an angry school kid.

See also Some thoughts on Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl (2014).

Listen to the guy! [Jihad Dib.] Carefully!

This has been one of Sydney’s least promising schools, on the face of it. Just a few years back it was getting the media treatment for other reasons:

Adam Shand: Today on Sunday, second generation Lebanese Australians, speak of life as foreigners in the land of their birth. They tell of the growing racism they perceive, their feelings of alienation and the price we all pay for this. They explain why they are angry.

Adam Houda: I see the situation escalating. I can tell you there is simmering tension within our community and they are just sick and tired of the relentless attacks upon our people and our community.

Dr Jamal Rifi: When you have people marginalised, pushed into a corner, they are going to bite back and they are going to do it in very unpredictable ways and very unpredictable fashion.

Adam Shand: The Mufti of Australia Sheik Taj Aldin Alhilali has unwittingly revived a damaging debate about the sexuality of young Muslim men. His comments likening women to uncovered meat were widely interpreted as encouraging, even inciting sexual assault.

Prue Goward: This is incitement. He should be deported.

Adam Shand: Such views reinforced the notion that Australian Lebanese men can be mobilised to criminal action by their religious leaders — that the Koran comes before the law of the land.

Mohamad el-Assaad: I don’t think anything he said incited, I can listen to Tupac if I want to, I can listen to Nickelback if I want to, if I want to follow what this guy says, that’s up to me.

Adam Shand: And you also go to the mosque and listen there as well?

Mohamad el-Assaad: I go to the mosque, here and there.

Adam Shand: Many of these young men attended Punchbowl High School in Sydney’s south-west. The school is notorious for producing a notorious group of rapists who terrorised young women in 2000. The leader of the gang Bilal Skaf, now serving a 32-year prison sentence for his crimes, is always identified as Lebanese Muslim.

Back in 2003 The Sydney Morning Herald offered: Guns, gangs, poison: a principal’s battlezone.

This was life at Punchbowl Boys’ High School for its former principal Clifford Preece: a gang member came into the school, put a gun to his head and threatened to kill him. Students armed with knives threatened their classmates. Teachers had a toxic chemical put in their kettle, were assaulted in class and faced gang invasions of classrooms.

The school’s students were to become notorious: one was convicted of murdering schoolboy Edward Lee. Three other students were jailed for gang rapes – along with their gang leader, Bilal Skaf – who was a “regular intruder” at Punchbowl Boys’.

After five years as principal of the “Punchbowl school battlefront” between 1995 and 1999, Mr Preece says his 30-year career as a teacher ended with a breakdown.

In the District Court, Mr Preece is suing the Department of Education, alleging that it failed to protect his safety, and that as a result he has developed chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and cannot work as a teacher.

Mr Preece, 53, told Judge Christopher Robison he had nightmares when he read about former students M, who killed Edward Lee, and gang rapists Tayyab Sheikh (who was sentenced to 15 years in jail) and brothers Mahmoud and Mohammed Sanoussi (11 and 21 years’ jail)…

Edward Lee, incidentally, was once a student where I worked, and many of his associates I knew well…

My point: work out for yourself how this turnaround has happened. Note what the intriguingly named current Principal had to say. People like him have the knowledge that is needed, and I am pleased Julia Gillard seems to have noted it….

Jihad Dib is now a member of the NSW Parliament and Shadow Minister for Education.  He, and what we witnessed last night on Insight, remind us that in this respect Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is right and The Revenant and the self-appointed “patriots” are utterly wrong.

He rejected “entirely” a comment by Senator Hanson, leader of One Nation, that all Australian Muslim should be treated with suspicion, and criticised as dangerous attempts to “demonise” Muslims.

“Which is the good one?’ You can’t tell a good Muslim from a bad one,” she had told the Nine network.

Mr Turnbull said “the vast majority of Australian Muslims are patriotic hardworking, seeking to get ahead, committed to peacefully living in Australia and abiding by our laws”.

He said: “One of the arguments that those who seek to do us harm make — this is the terrorists — is they say that there is no place for Muslims in Australia.

“And that’s how they seek to radicalise and mislead young Muslims, Australians.”

And in a comment which indirectly included the One Nation leader he said: “What I must do as a leader, and what all leaders must do in Australia is emphasise our inclusivity, the fact that we are a multicultural society where all cultures, all faiths are respected and that is mutual.

“So, trying to demonise all Muslims is only confirming the lying, dangerous message of the terrorists.”

He repeated a quote from his host, President Joko Widodo: “Indonesia is proof that Islam, democracy and moderation are compatible.”

Mr Turnbull said: “The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of Muslims in Australia are utterly appalled by extremists, by violent extremism, by terrorism.

“We have to remember that the vast majority of the victims of ISIL, or Daesh, are Muslims.

“Islam is practised by about a quarter of the world’s population and in this country we see — a country with which we are building closer ties — we see that democracy, Islam, moderation, tolerance are compatible.”

Related is my current reading, Gabriele Marranci, Wars of Terror (2016). More about that later, but do look at his blog, Anthropology Beyond Good and Evil. Thought-provoking in the best way:

Australia is under attack. There is no doubt about it. Yet what exactly is attacking it remains unclear: it is not a country with an army, it is not even an organised movement such as al-Qaeda, but instead it seems a dark magma of different forms of frustrations that are sometimes channeled into fascist religious ideas. We have a chaotic reality that harms community relations and polarises opinions.

Among Muslim communities there are a majority who are silent and may fear both to become a victim of terrorism and victim of right-wing anti-Muslim propaganda and who condemn terrorism and the killing of innocent people. There are also Muslims whom point to the double standards of the West, yet they use very similar rhetoric to that of extremists except they do not advocate violence.  Finally there are those who, openly or latently, support Daesh and wish to see the black flag, hijacked by the group as symbol of death and destruction, flown in Australia. Unfortunately, many who hold such views are very active in the social media sphere.  Since these extreme messages attract attention, the people on the fringes of Muslim communities who create them and spread anti-Australian and anti-Western hatred will shape perceptions of Muslim Australians despite that a majority want nothing to do with such discourse.  This sad fact may increase the anxiety among non-Muslim Australians who are unaware of that and believe instead that there exists an ‘enemy within’.   

This dynamic reminds me of what people told me in Northern Ireland about how the paramilitary organisations, in particular within the Protestant communities, started to form. It was fear, and a fear which spread from one side to the other, that brought such disaster to NI. People want security and security is paramount to normal ordinary life. Security, however, does not exist per-se, as it is a cognitive category, an idea. Hence security, or the illusion of it, can be achieved through action, since inaction can make people feel even more insecure.

When a community feels threatened, and especially if the community is in the majority, it is not unusual that vigilante groups develop. As NI teaches us, the jump from vigilantes to paramilitary groups is easy.  Daesh calls for random attacks on soft targets. This, when there are evidences that some are listening, creates a deep and diffuse suspicion and fear towards anything that happens to be Muslim or Islamic. Organisations such as Q-Society provides the “intellectual” background to the less intellectual and more hooligan style organisations such as the Australian Defence League, and more recent anti-halal movements have shown to attract fascists. Of course, these movements claim to be peaceful and simply exercising their freedom to oppose what they dislike — but so does HT in Australia, which the Australian government wants to ban

However, if the above mentioned groups never transform into paramilitary organisations, they are the kind of group which may facilitate the creation of vigilantes and paramilitary groups through their line of thought and become the pool from which members may be sought. 

The risk that Australia and, in particular, the state of New South Wales are facing in the medium term is to see the formation of anti-terrorist paramilitary groups that inevitably will target innocent Muslims, and this will produce the counter-effect of Muslim paramilitary groups, which however will not be directly linked with international terrorist organisations.

Are we today doing enough to prevent such a trajectory and is such trajectory even preventable?  I have the impression that not enough is done. It is clear that the divide between Muslims and non-Muslims is widening in this period. The responsibility for this does not lay with one single side. I think also that a different approach to the issue of terrorism is needed in Australia. Yet we must also re-discuss how the ideology of multiculturalism has been implemented (or not implemented) and the confusion that it has created among the generations who grew up with it. Yet this topic is for another post to discuss.

Update: I note the recent vicissitudes of Punchbowl High, but do not trust the Telegraph spin/reporting on the matter. See New principal takes reins after predecessor’s sacking. That Andrew Bolt is on the case makes me hesitate to assert where the truth really lies. Too many axe-grinders on all sides!

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?

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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?