Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Is it a mad bad world?

OK, so reasonable, sane people who don't have a right wing or protectionist agenda tend to loathe Trump, and this week's events in Israel have not helped one little bit. We long for the nuanced, thoughtful, non provocative Obama style. But here's the thing: it seems to be the case that the Trump style gets results. North Korea talking to the USA? (Sure this may collapse if North Korea feels there is too strong a nuclear agenda here), And I reflect on history's bad and powerful people who created stable and peaceful empires (at a cost), and the warring and jealous and feuding factions held in check by them. Is it the case I ask myself, that we need the madder, riskier types in power from time to time, so that a kind of balance of events flows? (Obviously this argument has its limits - Hitler for instance isn't a good advert for the case.) I wonder if the EU will fracture too, for lack of coherent leadership which committees cannot give. Is it the case that we humans just can't co-exist peacefully wherever money, power, resources and influence matter, and that wherever they do, look out?

Moving from all of the above to another story that is international this week, the wedding of Megan Markle to Harry Windsor. The media is feasting on the choicer portions of some aspects of the American cousins responses to it all. I heard one comment refer to the cousins' resentment that Megan had hardly been in touch with them and I wondered how much communication ever happened between them, especially before Megan hit the acting scene as big as she had? Were they that interested back in the day? Communication is two-way isn't it, but we hear the moans only when one of the parties hits the big time, and the others feel ditched, because their sense of entitlement to share the spoils has been ignored.

Ah, that spectre - a sense of entitlement. How that has come to haunt our educational and health institutions. Teachers can be worn down by a small minority of parents who feel entitled to more, health centre appointments are snatched up by the same kind of patient, and our voluntary community organisations can be wrecked by them. Eventually gate keepers are posted, and they become so used to the belligerent and demanding, that the meek and mild are met with the same tone and barrier building attitudes that were put in place for the aggressors.

I don't believe that there are more bad people than good in the world. Indeed I strongly believe the opposite to be the case. It's just that the bad and the mad seem to have so much more impact. And that takes us back to the start of my piece.  

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Understanding the resilience of Trump

I came across this in the Guardian Opinion columns. I hadn't clocked Suzanne Moore before, but I like her style, even if she's not offering solutions to the protests she voices. You can read the whole piece here:

I have expressed the opinion that Trump may well be re-elected. This excerpt from Moore's article may help to show why I think this.

Every day some terrible fact is exposed and social media rouses itself and ... nothing much happens. We are caught in a cycle of ineffectual reaction. Can this man really be in charge of pushing the nuclear button, we ask, every single time he pushes our buttons? Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury was going to bring it all tumbling down. It is a belting read, in a-bucket-of-KFC way; greasy and ultimately unsatisfying. Hillary Clinton reading bits of it out at the Grammys is surely the ultimate signifier of impotence. Let’s all laugh at him, us who are so much better.
As a collective strategy, this is proving as futile as my pathetic tweets. The Republican party keeps him in power. The Democrats still appear to be in a state of post traumatic stress disorder, stuck in the loss, unable to put it in the past. Trump has delivered to the right, to the Tea Party element, to the so-called “nativists” (also known as racists). He has cut taxes in ways Mitt Romney lost the nomination for talking about. The liberal revulsion to his misogyny and racism has been mistaken for opposition. It is not enough.
Gary Younge’s recent reporting from Muncie, Indiana, where he also spent a month before Trump’s election, revealed that most Trump voters think he is doing OK (and these people are not even his core supporters). Tax cuts, deregulation and a conservative in the supreme court are all cited as achievements. The underlying forces that propelled people to vote for Trump – a belief he would smash up the system and, yes, racism, are still there. The narrative of a maverick who works against the mainstream media operates successfully in a huge country where news remains suprisingly local.
The focus on his ludicrous ego and ignorance may make us feel superior. But that is all it appears to be doing. He will not be toppled by us jeering at a picture of his enormous arse or reports of his word salad on climate change, his links to Russia and his comments about pussy-grabbing. Not as long as he is supported by racists, the far right, Christian fundamentalists, the global business elite and his own party. And he is. It is time to get serious about what drives this presidency. At the moment, the joke is on us.
Suzanne Moore (Guardian)

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Denunciations and accusations

I read that 100 women have signed an open letter condemning the recent wave of denunciations that are making waves at the moment particularly in the wake of the Harvey W scandal. I think they perhaps go a little too far in defending some masculine behaviour, but I also think we need to keep things in balance. I like debate, and when I saw the response of a group of 30 feminists accusing the 100 of trying to "close the lid" on the scandal and of scorning the victims of sexual abuse, I felt that it was they who were trying to close a lid, and that on simple debate. For me, the danger so easily let loose by the media is the one of judging before the evidence or the testimonies and cases are in. An accusation should be taken seriously, and fair play, women have been severely cold shouldered and made to feel guilty, complicit, powerless and ignored in the past, and for that there is no excuse. However, an accusation is not the same as guilt proven. I'm thinking of the witch trials in the past, where after an accusation was made, the accused stood very little chance of survival. The odds were stacked against the accused, in the same way as now, the odds seem stacked against the defendant. The headlines often speak of guilt rather than accusation, or at the least, imply guilt, before all the evidence is in, all the accounts heard. People have to act guilty, lose their jobs, go into hiding, just because they have been accused. That is not how justice should work is it? There will of course be incredibly difficult cases where the accused may not have abused more than one person, and so it becomes their word against their accuser. It is not difficult to imagine cases where people may have been bribed to speak false accusations, where powerful enemies have reason to seek the downfall of a particular person. However, I feel that the processes of careful evidence hearing and taking will in most cases deliver a just outcome, if they are allowed to happen fairly and wisely. And to this end accusations must be handled sensitively and seriously. There can be no return to a male dominated heavy hand of protection for the miscreant as has now so often been revealed to have been the case. And it may be that the pendulum must swing a little wildly before it settles.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

I came across this whilst reading an article on the "Word on the Streets" website. Word on the Streets describes itself as "Information for Transformational People".  I think I'm a gatecrasher. Anyway, they had taken the questions below from the Innovation Unit's blog. So shamelessly I'm repeating them here. I like the 10 questions and the way they are challenging so many of our presuppositions about school education.

From a blog by The Innovation Unit

"The Innovation Unit is a social enterprise that grows new solutions to complex social challenges. They use innovation to help create a world where more people belong and contribute to thriving societies.

In a recent blog, they observe that our model of schooling is more than 100 years old and has barely changed in that time, while the rest of society – our industrial practices, technology, the media we use, our leisure activities, the global scope of our world, communication systems – has undergone a revolution.

One example of revolution has been the Open University (OU) through which more than three million people, most failed by their schooling, have passed OU degrees. Although some moves have happened, this revolutionary innovation has not happened in schools where we need 100% of students to be skilled and capable citizens able to contribute positively to both their economic and social world.

To demonstrate, they ask 10 questions:

1. Why do we still have age-cohorting?  It certainly isn’t because we believe that all students mature and progress at the same rates. Watch rehearsals for a school production or a concert if you wonder about mixed-age learning.

2. Why have we retained so exclusively the subject-based curriculum, when no tasks in the real world segregate knowledge or its applications in that way?

3. Why are schools designed into corridors and classroom spaces – such that it makes teaching the most isolated and un-stimulating professional practice?

4. Why do we assess all students at the same time, rather when they are ready to demonstrate mastery (think music grades, or driving test, or sports coaching awards, or Open University modules, or PhD dissertations)?

5. Why do schools set homework, when they already have students in school for 25-30 hours a week – and when the world outside school is rich in opportunities for self-initiated learning?

6. Why do most schools have 25 one-hour lessons – when nobody believes that it is a unit that is enabling of deep or applied learning?

7. Why is the assessment outcome that matters still an exam written on pen and paper and marked by anonymous paid markers – when teachers know students and their capabilities from years of engagement with them?

8. Does speaking matter? Do so-called hard skills matter? Do so-called soft skills? Does making and doing matter?  If so, why are none of these things given high currency?

9. Why do we persist with the corrosive language and practice of ‘ability’ groupings.  Schools are the only places where it is deemed appropriate to name people ‘low ability or ‘less able’.

10. Finally, a contentious one. Given that schools are centres of learning, why are the adult learning norms and practices in most of our schools so abysmally poor?"

Friday, 6 October 2017

Theresa may cough

My goodness - what a storm in a tea cup. She has a number of things go wrong as she makes her speech, and the journalistic pack descend howling upon her as though these are all signs that she needs to go. Whatever you or I may think of her, this is not a good reason to bay for her blood. I hope it all works out well for her as one Tory is as bad as another in my little and limited view of things. Ok, she isn't quite the master of the quick quip, (although she did quite well if only the reporters had not sought to portray such a distorted image). What the media fails to see is that as a nation, we quite like the underdog and if they continue to portray her as they have been doing, she may well get a good deal more public sympathy than she actually deserves. The mistakes are many and deep: Boris unleashed like a disobedient dog, (she should promote Gove back into the cabinet and have him walk behind Boris with a big metaphorical knife...) Brexit jammed and Mrs May telling the Europeans that they have to be creative and flexible. It seems to me that that is like telling a chess player who can mate you in a couple of moves, that they will have to negotiate with you for a draw. Then there's a lack of transparency about what limited funds can achieve and how if you are trying to reduce the national debt, there are some things you can't spend a lot of money on. She needs to make much more public the national balance sheet, along with what it is they will spend money on and how they will save money in other spheres. The public need to be told what can't be achieved in Public Health and Education and Social Services, along with what can. But having said all that, the Tory reign is inevitably slipping, as does the reign of all political parties. The danger is that Labour, with its huge and expensive wish list to be paid for by borrowing, will drag us to the verge of bankruptcy or over the edge of it even. I approve of socialist ideals, but I see also that they can't be arrived at without some more cost to us all, and all the politicians are afraid of raising taxes. In a country as free of bribery and corruption amongst politicians as ours, surely we can risk that?? The socialist agenda won't really work unless we are all prepared to pay a bit more for it. Meanwhile, surely, Theresa may cough.

Monday, 2 October 2017

The Las Vegas Massacre

So what do those crazy American gun lobbyists say now? "If this is the price we have to pay for allowing people to own assault rifles capable of discharging multiple rounds in matters of seconds, so be it.That freedom is worth the lives of 50 people." Really? Because there is no other defense. There is nothing else to be said about allowing people to own weapons capable of killing on that kind of scale at that speed. The shame is that there will still be people who make these arguments, people who think that it is morally defensible to allow people to possess that kind of killing power. And even more upsettingly, because the gun lobby is powerful, there will be strong republican voices to influence the legislative process in an obstructive way. If nothing changes after this with regard to ownership of guns in the USA then they have lost all sense, and lose all respect in the eyes of the world, (what shreds are left that is, given Trump's insane outbursts).

The worst of it all is that this was an event just waiting to happen. Those opposing gun ownership on the liberal and permissive scale permitted in some states, could see this. And why is it that we always have to wait until lives are lost before our authorities lift a finger to do anything? It's because money and winning votes still matter more than anything, including human life. But even one life lost to one handgun is too many, is not worth the freedom of being able to easily own a gun. It is bad enough that other methods of slaughtering people are too easily accessed, such as owning a car. And even in this regard there are people who rail at the loss of freedom and invasion of privacy that speed cameras and average time cameras present. I for one welcome their presence on our roads if even one life is saved. That makes them worth it. Freedom to drive as fast as we like, freedom to own guns, is not worth the life on one single person, end of argument. We cannot ban the use of cars, or car ownership, but we are trying to make our roads and  vehicles ever safer, thank goodness.  Unlike car ownership, the owning of guns in the USA could be dealt with by drastically revising the laws, and this would have powerful and positive benefits. Come on America, listen to and act on this wake up scream.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

It is a mad mad world at times

The BBC has just revealed its wages bill for those lucky enough to be live in the canopy of its jungle. Chris Evans who crashed out (nice pun) of Top Gear because he couldn't hack it, on £2 mill.? He is not worth it. Nor are people like John Humphries on 600 grand. The chiefs say it's a competitive market and they have to pay top dollar for talent. Come on. That's what they said about the bankers, remember! These people need to be on  a moderate salary scale that reflects their real and none too exalted abilities. As far as the ladies getting on to an equal footing is concerned - bring it on.

And then there's the retirement age increase row. It will be necessary and anyway, we are living longer. But there should be a caveat. Certain professions and jobs are not kind on the life expectancy of their workers and they should be factored into all this, and their practitioners allowed to retire earlier, not forced to retire later, e.g.teachers. And all the Labout Party can do is growl negatively. Just when I was beginning to like them.

But speaking of the Labout lot, it was when Jeremy Corbyn started hooting at Theresa May's offer of a bit more collaboration that really got me. Here was the one who wanted to change the style of politics and political exchange, playing exactly the same silly game the moment he looked stronger.

Give me strength.