Welcome to Janet's Blog

I first used this blog to publish "Trash" before I knew about ebooks. I wrote "Trash" twenty years ago. The novel explains why, in the original version of "If not for the tomatoes" Annie wrote: "We had aliens come and tell us". It wasn't Al Gore at all.

Annie isn't the hero of "Trash", but she has her own story ( a much more polished novel). Go to smashwords.com and look for "Tipping Point". (Follow the link to the right.)

If you're a first time visitor to my blog, try reading "If not for the tomatoes" first. (It's the short story in Annie's future - look in 6/5/07) This is only half the story, though. The complete story that inspired Tipping Point appears in my other blog as "Our choices".

To begin reading "Trash", start at 17/6/07. (Many apologies for the poor navigation.)

READ ON FOR LATEST BLOG POST


Saturday, 5 July 2014

Losing my class . . .

The words are sliding along in the background, persisting like the lyrics of that daggy song you just heard on the radio. "Old teachers never die, they just lose their class."

I started teaching in 1982. The world was a different place then. I remember the first computer room I worked in with students - Apple IIE set up in sequence. One button out of place and you had to reboot the whole room again. (A process that took five minutes or more, inserting floppy disks and booting each monitor individually.) Now the kids have laptops and we mark rolls electronically.

In my prime I was a damn good teacher. But the techniques I honed in the eighties and nineties no longer work. I remain a decent teacher, but can no longer hold their attention and fire their ambition to write well. Those who want to learn from me will do so, and they can learn well, but the percentage of kids who resist is higher now; there are more whose behaviour is extreme and disruptive. And I'm losing my patience.

For roughly thirty years I've been listening to variations on: "But I wasn't talking, Miss. I just asked him if I could borrow a pen." ("I'm not wet, I never went near the trough and another boy pushed me in!") Except these days, when asked to be quiet, to work, there are more and more students who are just as likely to simply say, "No!" I have no technique to counter that. And it's making me angry.

I know, I know. The older generation has been complaining about the younger generation since Adam was a lad. I deal with the younger generation professionally - I work in an atmosphere where conflict constantly threatens to break out. I am expected to endure, and somehow change, behaviour that is abusive and bullying towards myself, as well as other students. I just don't want to do it any more.

I suffer from a form of faulty thinking; and a person's attitude affects what is happening around them. Perhaps I would do better in the classroom if not for this deep-seated and dysfunctional belief that I should be teaching. But as I face the sabotage of the recidivists, I don't believe I am. Nothing classy about what's been happening in my room.

(Although I also believe there have still been kids learning in there - except they're not in my face like the world-weary rebels who have no need of my knowledge.)

Fortunately, right now, I don't have to battle my harsh judgement of my effectiveness as a teacher. It's school holidays and in ten days' time Nev and I embark on our long service leave adventure. We will travel through the centre of Australia to Kakadu, then back through the Kimberley and Pilbara. I hope we have time to spend in the SW of WA as well.

And when we return?

There are decisions I need to make about my future. Maybe I should leave the classroom before I lose my class entirely?

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Open for business

On his recent overseas trip, Tony Abbott told the world that Australia is open for business.

An image lurks in my mind, painted worse by my agreement with the sentiment expressed. The cartoon depicts a distasteful vision of a whore (Australia), legs akimbo, with the caption: "Open for business." I shudder at the way this image connects with my own sense of being violated by Mr Abbott's actions as Prime Minister.

As a citizen of Australia I feel responsible for the decisions being made in my name. I cringe with shame at the way we are treating asylum seekers, people so desperate they put themselves at risk as they flee, seeking a safe haven. Australia now sends them to Papua New Guinea. Does Mr Abbott have any idea of the violence endemic in PNG society? Our detention policies are barbaric.

His three word slogans are wearing thin. Stop the boats. Axe the tax. Ditch the bitch.

The harshness of Abbott's conservative (I'm trying not to say fascist) ideology is not supported by the evidence. As "necessary" budget cuts hit those who can least cope, HILDA research reported that "in 2001, 23 per cent of people aged 18 to 64 received weekly welfare payments."(1) In 2011 that had dropped to "18.5%".(2)

While the air force has new planes, the budget makes less available to support education, people with disabilities, senior citizens, workers on low incomes, the environment and more.
Less will be spent, in our growing population, to care for people's on-going health (a measure that saves money in the long run) in the name of increasing medical research. Medicare is being dismantled while money is poured into mining. Does poor Gina need a helping hand?

All of the budget measures suggest an ideology that has no compassion for the most vulnerable members of our society.

Abbott also wants to lead other nations in dismantling carbon pricing, saying it will endanger jobs. Yet
around the world countries are surviving their efforts to tackle climate change through carbon pricing. There are even robust examples of countries that have thrived in moving to a greener approach to life. Changing to new technologies can create jobs.

I keep thinking of a joke that went the rounds of the e-mails:
 
Question: Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

PLATO: For the greater good.

DOUGLAS ADAMS: Forty-two.

J.R.R. TOLKIEN: First, the Chicken, sunlight coruscating off its vibrant, silken coat of feathers, approached the silently ominous road and scrutinized it intently with the obsidian-black eyes. Every detail of the thoroughfare leapt into blinding focus: the rough, granulated texture of the surface, over which countless balding tyres had worked relentless thread through the ages; the innumerable fragments of the stone embedded within the lugubrious mass, and the dull black asphalt itself, pitted with crevices; and then it crossed.

DARWIN: It was the next logical step after it came down from the trees.

MARK TWAIN: The news of its crossing has been greatly exaggerated.

BASIL FAWLTY: OH, Don't mind the chicken, it’s from Barcelona.
 

TONY ABBOTT: There is no evidence that the chicken exists, and I am not going to risk the jobs of hard working Australian families while attempting to deal with a non-existent threat.


Of course, it's an old joke. Abbott's name replaces John Howard's.


Meanwhile Clive Palmer is showing signs of becoming an environmental warrior, standing next to Al Gore. Does a mining magnate have more environmental conscience than our Prime Minister?

Or have I missed the punch-line?


Footnotes (1) and (2) - statistics drawn from "The Age" 16/6/2014


Thursday, 29 May 2014

Choice

The point of the Adam and Eve story of temptation in Eden, is choice. The serpent coaxes Eve to eat the fruit because: "ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." In this way, the Bible deals with sentience.

Sentience is what distinguishes Adam and Eve from the beasts, and it is why God gives them dominion. Once they have eaten the forbidden fruit, mankind is burdened with an understanding of the nature of good and evil, and is free to choose either.

There is general agreement among the human race that actions which cause others to suffer are evil. Different cultures vary over what is legally sanctioned: how criminals are punished, killing in a time of war, the treatment of innocent refugees.

Others areas are even more murky. Some cultures still openly declare the right of a husband to beat his wife. The society in which I live considers it a crime, yet it happens. Every week someone (usually a woman) dies as the result of domestic violence.

Mining is not an evil activity. When the environment is critically damaged by mining it is morally obscene, but surely mining does not need to destroy our precious environment? When mining leads to the production of surgical instruments that save lives we must say it is good. But the use of metal in armaments that maim and destroy is evil.

The point is that we are capable of understanding the consequences of our choices. (Provided we are not too apathetic or brain-washed.) We can choose.

We can choose how we treat the environment on which we depend. We can choose how we treat the people around us. We can choose to place moral responsibility above our greed; to nurture rather than rape.

Unfortunately the decisions being made by business and corporations, by government and the military, are too often causing suffering to the environment and it's creatures and peoples.

Greed for power. Greed for wealth. Greed for glory. These things drive so much that is evil in the world around us. In the dim evolution of our ancestors, the greedy survived. Now the greedy threaten to wipe us out with ecological disaster. And the media lulls us and lures us to shop our troubles away, to indulge our desire for greedy additions to our hoards. Whether we choose to ignore it or not, global warming is rapidly approaching, if not already past, the point of no return. Wait too long and there'll be nothing we can do to put out the fires we have lit.

We'll all burn together.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Moral Evolution

Sentience is, at best, a mixed blessing. The ability to understand and prepare for the future has given mankind many advantages over the animals, but comprehending our own mortality is a cruel blessing. It is something that religions have played upon, and as religion wanes in the modern world, rampant consumerism and drug use appear to be the best we can do to protect ourselves from the unwelcome knowledge.

And, of course, the advantages gained through sentience won't help us if we don't use our capacity for independent thought. At present there seems to be widespread refusal to accept evidence that we find inconvenient.

Since the Industrial Revolution, advances in technology, agriculture and medicine have seen human population grow alarmingly. We have challenged nature and won many battles. The problems we now face are of our own making.

Evolution is a slow process that has no morality. Greed developed as a survival trait. But now technology has made us more powerful and capable of making grander mistakes than ever before. Natural Selection is not swift enough to save us from our clever interference in the natural systems on which we depend.

If we are going to survive, if our world is going to remain viable, it will be because we apply our ability for sentient thought to the problems. Instead, what I see in the society around me is media, driven by business, continuing to encourage the belief that consumerism is good.

There is no question that consumerism is good for the economy - it is a message that underpins many political messages. It is not, however, good for the planet and our chances for future survival. Yet it continues to be encouraged.

If we hope to survive we must develop a new morality. We can't afford to wait until it evolves. Anything which damages our environment must be viewed as morally reprehensible. We accept the strictures against murder, harm and theft - the social contract benefits us. We now need to accept that if our environment fails, so will our society.

Sentience is a two-edged sword. It has caused our problems, but it also holds the hope of redemption. Using our intelligence is our best hope of survival. But when I look around me what I see is people rushing out to shop, because, like a drug, it helps numb our fears for the future.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Budget Blues

So . . . the age of entitlement has ended. Well, if you're poor, or old, or sick, or unemployed it has. I haven't noticed anything in the budget that will make the obscenely wealthy actually make a reasonable contribution to this country they have violated to obtain their riches.

Will it be clear to the Australian public that we now have a government that is pursuing an agenda that will dismantle social welfare in favour of benefitting those who already enjoy the most advantage? Maybe . . . for a little while. But you can bet that the next two years will be a process of sweetening the electorate, instilling fear and bullying us into forgetting enough to vote for the Liberals again. After all - you can't trust the Greens or Labor. They might go and try to ensure a fair deal for every-one again!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

How rational is Tony?

Economic rationalism is destroying the world.

I have just finished reading Isabelle Allende's The House of the Spirits. Her portrait of the conservative Senator Trueba makes me think of Australia's "Liberals".

Led by Tony Abbott, the Liberals are dismantling the good that has been done for our country, just because it was done by the Labor Party. Programs and departments are being closed, leaving the environment and science untended. The Disability Support Scheme is now in his sights and I want to weep for what is being done in our names to innocent asylum seekers who have tried to reach Australia because they thought they would get a "fair go". Senator Ludlum's speech was so much more eloquent than I could be.

Pip (who works in the sustainability field) was telling me recently that a business friend was surprised at what wasn't being reported in the news. Abbott has not yet been able to repeal the "big bad tax" on carbon that isn't actually a tax. This woman had nothing but praise for a system which gathered money and then redirected it to businesses, allowing them to make the changes necessary to be more "green" and sustainable, and also more competitive in the market: a result which would surely be acceptable to the conservatives who run this country. Instead, the Liberals continue to harvest the "tax", but the money is no longer being directed as intended. Why? What are they doing with this money?

I can't help but wonder whether all the posturing about the need for the government to make cuts is just a cover for the changes they are making to deliver their hard-hearted ideology. Meanwhile Abbott takes a business trip to crow about trade agreements he is signing, all of which were the result of years of negotiations by the Labor government.

When Senator Trueba and his cronies were unhappy at the democratic election of a Communist president, they tried every trick they could think of. Consumer goods disappeared from the shelves and rumour abounded. When economic squeezing didn't work, they enlisted the help of the military, supporting a coup that overthrew the communists. But the soldiers had no intention of handing over power, and before too long the country was being savaged by a military dictatorship worse than anything Senator Trueba could have imagined.

What will be the cost to Australia of Abbott's single-minded conviction that economic rationalism is the best basis for government? The belief that the best reason to dismantle a program is that it was begun by the Labor Party? The refusal to see that welfare is about both compassion and common sense? What will be the consequence of his intention to exploit rather than save our fragile environment?

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Editorial comment

I've been signing on-line petitions for some time now: save the whale, save the rainforests, help little Johnny get the cancer treatment he needs. It's kind of depressing hearing about so many things that should be done but need petitions to give them momentum. Today, however, (Well, okay, it might have been yesterday.) I have finally signed a petition that made me feel kind of hopeful.

Apparently there is a push for newspapers to change their policy concerning letters to the editor. In line with a responsibility to be accurate in their publications, some papers (wish I could remember the names) have decided not to publish letters from climate change deniers. The papers are effectively accepting that climate change is real, and caused by human activity, and any-one who says differently is just plain wrong.

Such a small thing but I feel like cheering. The petition I signed was calling on  Australian papers to follow suit - I believe the Sydney Morning Herald already has. And as unseasonal bushfires rage at the outskirts of Sydney, I feel a quiet surge of hope. Is this the beginning of the change in public opinion that will lead to effective action to save our beautiful world?