Thursday, December 15, 2005

Lange, Bush and Thatch

Well I’ve been away and now I’m back. There are bits of the far South where I can testify that the sun will burn you (and make you sad, sorry, sore, peeled, cancerous ?). Apologies to the poor soul who bumped into this blog by accident (I presume it was so) - thanks for not complaining.

I can also announce that I am still a geek at heart having derived childish pleasure from being conversant with a statistical technique called structural equation modelling (don’t ask).

And here’s my tale for today:

The CIA is morally indefensible. Well at least kidnapping people and then transporting them to compliant allies in order to torture them certainly is. As for Condosleezy Rice trying to sidestep and gamely defend such activities it makes me ashamed to hold a PhD. It appears the lesson here is with academic achievement does not come moral enlightenment (look at me ha !). I cringe though for those in the US who I am sure, feel bitterly ashamed to be represented by such nasty f****rs. Good news the bushboon has admitted that the intelligence he used to argue the case for war was wrong and that going to war was his fault. What I couldn’t see was whether Dick n Don were running the autocue…….. A subtext to all this was the ‘discovery’ that the republican Govt has been buying press coverage (as if Fox news wasn’t helpful enough !) which worries me and brings forth the only original thought of the day.

I was there in 1985 when David Lange gave his speech on nuclear weapons being indefensible. I lived under the yoke of and in the plain knowledge that a four-minute warning was not going to save my life given my location and circumstance. All through my school days the quiet desperation of those thoughts dragged at my soul. This and a few friends changed my life and gave an angry young man a sense of moral direction and purpose. Above all I realised the importance of free thought and an abhorrence of propaganda. It was interesting to re-read David Lange’s speech some twenty years later. Two points stood out specifically. The first was that before giving that speech he was allowed to tour unhindered throughout the US debating this issue. Quite clearly from his delivery he felt that he had been given a far crack at it too. It is difficult to imagine anyone being allowed such freedom in the contemporary democratic joke that is America. The best one could hope was that any message would get lost in the mire of passing news not relevant to America, at the worst one might be stoned by Christian Fundamentalists and misreported by the right wing press. This might be a caricature, but the sentiment is real I genuinely feel that this highlights just what the world and America in particular has lost. Though I am unable to grasp how things got this bad. My second point rests with a reference that Lange made to Margaret Thatcher, my interpretation remains that he, like many saw her as intimidating (which in my opinion was an understatement). Part of that formidable façade was operated through the media. Not the comments in the Guardian about Thatch’s knighthood for the disgraced media warlock Conrad Black and realise that media manipulation was then as it is now. I believe we still cannot see the TV footage of Miners vs. Police at Orgreave colliery (I was there too). The interesting sideline may be that at least then the BBC might have complained these days it does what it is told and shuts up shop in Europe to set up a broadcast rival to Al Jazeera. Now in who’s interests is that, and what exactly is it worth do you think.

Thatch has been on my mind a lot recently, not least because it appears that she is finally losing her marbles. I don’t know for how much longer she we live but these thoughts burn in my mind;

I want to out live her long enough to be as indifferent to her death as she was to the plight of the working men and communities that she ruined for generations under the banner of rationalisation.

I wish to be as crass and arrogant as she was when she sent British Servicemen to war in order to win an election.

I want to be as utterly heartless as she was when she opted to sink a ship full of Argentine sailors who need not have died at all in a war that could so easily have been avoided.

There will be obituaries that will speak of great leadership and reform. But the bitter truth is this. The woman was cruel, heartless and power mad. To this day I find her in presence and in deed to be utterly despicable. My moral fig leaf is this I would be glad if she read this for I will repeat it at here death and at any time afterwards. My only regret is that I will not be amongst those waiting to tramp the dirt down. Should there be a hell, then surely it was made for her.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The painful politics of ignorance and education.

It seems that the bile is poring out of me at the moment, I’m not bitter……..honest (yeah right!). This issue to do with Te Wananga o Aotearoa (TWAO) is stunning - yes it has appeared before but the quote from Susan Cullen had me asking to for permission to use the C word.

“God sends waves and you have to learn how to surf them.”

”I would do the same again if given the chance.”

All this from someone who made $30 million net profit in five years out of education. I do hope she is as philosophical if she ever gets mugged, robbed or conned. This trite bitch deserves it.

The wananga went from approximately 6000 funded enrolments to more than 34,000 in three years. According to rough funding calculations the government should have given $180,000,000 dollars in 2003. Check out the figures here and here.

The total scam runs to over $74 million. Mahi Ora the main course involved is a simple school level course in how to get a job, its free, it can be done at home and here’s the clincher your kaiako (teacher) can be contacted on an 0800 number using the mobile provided. Oh and there’s a noho marae (learning weekend). So my guess is the bulk of the teaching is done by workbook/video/ audio tape and trusty phone server.

Fortunately for Susan Cullen she was not an employee of Te wananga. Had she been TWAO would have saved approximately $10 million a year. I can only wonder as to whether she ever has been an employee. The $30million made in profit could easily have bailed out Rotorua's Te Wananga o Aotearoa that apparently needed a $20 million subsidy.

The $74 million given to Cullen would have been enough to clear most if not all the debts for HE institutions in New Zealand or employ roughly 1100 teachers; the profits ($30m) from this venture alone could have employed close to 500 teachers on its own. That doesn’t take into account the extra $20m for TWAO Rotorua. In a country where most schools and tertiary/higher education providers are struggling to make ends meet and provide real bums in seats education; it seems absurd that any institution of any credibility could generate that much profit let alone afford to give it away. I would looooove to see the enrolment/pass ratio and please someone send me the curriculum now. This I have to see - the course that actually teaches itself requiring minimum resources. Well bugger me, strangely no one else in the country can do this in fact no one else in the world seems to be this good at education, that is apart from the internet Universities.

All this from a tertiary education provider that champions the concept of Maori values/methods in education and also claims to be a University when it isn't. Forget how much Brash and his mates will enjoy this dish and try and figure out if NZ Maori should laugh or cry.

Don't forget $30 million is the equivalent of $50 for every Maori in New Zealand. Better still about $150 dollars for every Maori kid. But get this, I reckon I could put an internet ready PC in every Maori household for $74million and still have change for a shed load of internet access - perhaps a years free dialup.

Just in case you missed this cuzzes and neffs, Susan Cullen won't be shelling out for any hangi for Tangata Whenua either. Most of the profits are tied up in holding companies and luxury properties no doubt where she wines and dines such lunminaries as...... Donna Awatere-Huata ?

Its no wonder Rongo Wetere didn't need to siphon off funds. When you can pay your kids this much and have your wife as a contractor who needs more ?

What does all this tell us ?

That if this amount of profit can be generated, then clearly the governement is paying too much for education and in particular Maori centred education. (erm not ! I do hope no one is really thinking this)
People in education cannot run their own affairs.
That Maori under the banner of Maori interests will grab what they can get and stuff their kin.
Tino Rangatiratanga once more scores a magnificent own goal.

I do hope the pepole on these courses did learn something useful otherwise it would have been a truly tragic waste.

Susan Cullen is an immoral and reckless a grifter working New Zealand’s conscience for all its worth.
This hands all the ammunition needed to those who maintain a less the flattering cultural stereotype for Maori. But the real criminal of the day has to be the fool who put the finance model in place that allows this to happen. Susan Cullen and TWAO only took what was made available to them. How the F**k can this happen in a modern world ?

Oh of course this will almost certainly mean that some pointy head in Wellington will create another piece of paper work for me to do next year.

P.S. TWAO if you do read this, please note that your intranet seems to be running a mirror for slashdot japan..........

Friday, December 02, 2005

George Best my Dad and Me

Sooner or later I’m going to have something nice to say….but at the moment I will reserve all the niceness I can muster for those I love.

When my dad died he did not look pretty, he did not look well, in fact drowning in your own blood from a perforated liver is a pretty shitty way to die. Yup you guessed it my Dad was an alcoholic (some of you may be way ahead of me by now already). I saw a picture of him when he married my mum, he looked like a film star (sadly I don’t). He didn’t look like a film star when he died. At the time in fact he looked to me like a drunken thief. He had stolen the youth from my sister and I, squandering the best years of my mother’s life on the way. On top of that he drank away the profits of a business to which we all sacrificed some part of ourselves. It says a great deal that my sister and I haven’t spoken for five years passed and my mum and I despite our best efforts rarely communicate. My dad has been gone close to 8 years. Though I’m quite sure that our lack of family cohesion is not entirely his fault the lack money certainly was. In death the greatest tragedy is felt by the living.

With the death of an alcoholic we might expect some respite from an ongoing tragedy, but in truth the misery rarely stops there. So it is with George Best. I will not endorse this media canonising of an alcoholic. My father was a nice bloke but it will never make up for the things he did and didn’t do. George Best was a great football player but it will not dismiss the charming deceit of the celebrity alcoholic. This is a man who made a living out of his tragedy and that which he forced upon others. If some good has to come of this, we need to recognise that you can call a spade a spade and in turn an alcoholic however talented, a bad person. If we continue to romanticise and covertly endorse alcoholics particularly those like George Best, we don’t help Alcoholics or their numerous victims.

It is quite simply unacceptable for the media to come out with lines like “remember the great football players he was”. It’s like me sitting here trying to remember my film star looks dad, it is a denial of the truth.

The line we miss is; I’m an alcoholic, I am a bad person and drinking will not make this better, not drinking just might though.

What I really want to say is this: bury the selfish f****r, stuff the nice bloke garbage and take real good care of those he hurt. Then try to create a society where this is less rather than more likely to happen.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Students and my education.

Today was one of those days that sucks the very soul right out of you. I spent my time dealing with the consequences of failing students in a paper that I teach.

The bottom line is that higher education in the developed world has entered a phase of denial. In order to dance to the governments tune Universities take in more students and magically maintain their pass rate whilst teaching them for diminishing amounts of money. We might call this increased efficiency, we might call it better teaching. Some of the time this may even be true. However there has also been a tendency to coerce lecturers towards passing students who should perhaps not be at University at all.

This is not a reflection on the students; they are as ever bright kids many with a great future ahead of them. What has become clear to me over the years is that a number of those who attend University have made conscious decisions to invest in activities other than education. These decisions have been made quite often before they get to university and consequently these students have achieved in line with the effort they have expended. Good on ‘em I hope it is worth it. They should enjoy the mobiles, games and other stuff they buy with the money they earn whilst not attending to their education. That said they shouldn’t be encouraged to go to university with the expectation that they can, work have the goodies, have fun and get a degree as a sideline. Because students pay fees that does not give them an automatic entitlement to a qualification. Achievement is linked to effort and consequently earning meaningful qualifications demands effort. No effort = no ticket.

The problem is that governments like the one in New Zealand also want educated kids without paying for it. So we have less effort, less money and more students. Go figure.

I have no problem supporting and teaching anyone who is prepared to make the sacrifices required to achieve a valued goal, particularly and educational one. But the majority of students that I teach have no grasp of this concept and vastly different expectations. Something I blame on schools, parents, educational establishments and above all the government. University education requires hard work at some stage or other, if we let students in expecting anything else we are lying to them and we are lying to ourselves. The consequences are either that the students fail (rarely) or that in fact they don’t receive the education consistent with the qualification they receive. Follow this to its logical conclusion and you have cereal box degrees of no real value to anyone.

This is the situation in the US, hence the need for the graduate record exam. The GRE may not be a measure of anything other than a students willingness to work in order to achieve valued goals. Hence proper university education should consign this Exam to irrelevance. It doesn’t because Uni ain’t what they used to be. And boy don’t I know it.

What has this to do with today ? Well I spent most of the day doing the mountain of paperwork necessary to fail students and then did another mountain trying to set up means by which they can have another go. This raises two issues:

i) My employers will never tell me that I cannot fail a student, they will however set up a system that makes it sooo much easier when you just fix things to pass as many as possible.

ii) Some of these students can barely write in English (yes there are people who write worse than me) and consequently should not pass until they can.

But here’s the scary soul destroying bit. Some of the students I have failed and will now have to re-assess, are overseas students with English as a second language. Some of them are not. When marking their work it became clear to me, that excepting the rather obvious names at the tops of the papers, some of the work was so bad from the English first language students as to be indistinguishable from the foreign students. That is pretty bad. How do these kids graduate school ? How do they get let into University ? What damage will this do to education and consequently society as a whole in the log run ? I don’t know the answers to this. None of what I have written here will come as a surprise to many others involved with higher education. This has probably been written elsewhere.

What kills me is that Higher Education caused my re-birth as a capable and occasionally useful human being. I became an educator in order to offer the same opportunities to others. I did this in the belief that I was doing something of use and value. It fills me with aching bitterness after a day like today to realise that I am struggling to achieve these aims. It will become impossible as time progresses because neither the students nor the institutions will be set up to do this. Yet the students will leave university in the belief that they hold the same qualification that people valued so highly in years past. An opportunity will be lost, damage will be done, and I will be part of a larger lie. I’m not sure how long my conscience will put up with betraying my personal values and the students I teach, many of whom are a pleasure to know. I’m even less sure what to do about it.

Yes I always feel like this at the end of an academic year and sometimes teaching does turn up something that gives me hope. But each year this feeling gets worse and I don’t think it is because I’m getting older.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Food labels and corporations.

I read with interest today that New Zealand has opted not to go with Country of Origin labelling (cool) of food. This I find disappointing for two reasons:

i) The protocol has already been adopted in Australia and therefore New Zealand goods have to be labelled accordingly so our biggest trading partner can engage in the sort consumer choices, (protectionism) that we are denied. I get the feeling New Zealand loses out here.

ii) I’m peeved because I won’t be able to choose local produce, which I have done since settling here. Worse for me is the thought that I would end up buying US or Israeli fruit which I have boycotted for years.

The NZ government’s view is summed up thus "Mandatory COOL is potentially an unnecessary barrier to international trade.".

Others said: The FSANZ labelling plan was criticised earlier this year by Wellington economists as having the potential to add costs without adding "significant consumer value".

I clearly Disagree with consumer value where it seems only to represent price/profits.

I can only imagine in the absence of any useful reasoning in favour of this act (which seems to contradict economic and green reasoning for buying Kiwi Made) that NZ is bound by some free trade deals with a big partner.

So let me get this right……….consumer choice only operates where there is a buck to be made. That’s the way it seems to read here.

I was more encouraged by this post by Pax. Its good to see peolpe in the states still fighting for the soul of the America we thought we trusted. After the second world war Tommy (british soldiers) came back and voted in a government for social welfare, which though battered has been a cornerstone of british life for nearly 50 years.

Then I remind myself that the Labour government I first voted for before I left was supposed to be different from the Tories . It wasn't and I was already leaving anyway. But Pax makes the point that this is what we should expect becuase its no longer about goverment and opposition but about people versus the needs of corporate share capital. How much mony do they need and can we make them quit ? Or is it true about greedy bastards who won't give up.

Why I will never support the AB's

On the whole I like the guys over at Public Address but just recently they have let me down. Russell Brown appears like many NZ rugby lovers to be making a dive for another fig leaf in response to the dissonance many New Zealanders feel about that tackle. Well not even about the tackle really; Rugby is a professional game, people get targeted and sometimes they get hurt get over it. But the unrepentant nature of NZ media in support of an equally unrepentant All Black team to this, bugs the s**t out of me. Just front up and be nice....boys. When people get that injured you are messing with their living and their dreams. No the offer to talk about it over a beer later will not do. Which brings me to trying to explain this outburst.

Describing this as merely gracious is one thing, to then cite a small passage out of another equally generous analysis and find another from which to launch a dribble of snot about hypocrisy is as false as it is low. The response to these minor issues is to point out that professional sport is professional even at international level so there should be no doubt that border crossing and nationality is becoming a grey area. Notwithstanding the fact that the British Isles provides gameful employment and a finishing school for a number of NZ rugby coaches and players.

Just what is it that is getting to these guys ? The fact that the UK press can come out with almost as much garbage as the New Zealand press ? or is it that the discomfort caused by international media is unbearable on top of the endless own goals scored by New Zealand media against many potential stars and New Zealand sport as a whole.

Thoughts to bear in mind.......

i) No I'm not English......
ii) I will probably devote my best working years to New Zealand sport (who's the patriot here ?)
iii) Linford Christie good though he is, may not in fact be UK's most celebrated track athlete (Anyone remember Seb Coe, Steve Ovett, Kelly Holmes ?) and besides this is about rugby not athletics.

iv) Stuff like this is why I would rather shout for Wales anytime.