Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Public schools: what do we angst about?

Helen's done a two part post (Uno, Dos) on public schooling issues. She is discussing the campaign by some parents in the Seddon- Yarraville area, suburbs pretty similar demographically to my own, to get their 'own' public high school rather than having to send their kids to one in a neighbouring suburb. One that's a little different, shall we say less fortunate, demographically.

This had me thinking about my own attitudes and the extent to which there is cognitive dissonance between my ethical and political ideals on the one hand and my expectations in a school for Bear and Mitts on the other. I dumped some thoughts, brain in a whirl, and although they aren't the pinnacle of clarity and reason I wanted to capture the gist here to record and discuss some of this confusion on my own site. Extracts from the thread:

We’re all formed by the negatives we ourselves experienced. I’ve been to rough bogan schools where violence was rife and intellectual and artistic qualities were pretty much looked down on (in real life, not in the rosy view seen by most parents or in brochures), and an extreme snob school with vicious bullying based on wealth and status and very narrow aspirations based on high flying white collar careers (in mundane areas like law and banking!). I’ve been to a school with some palpable ‘reverse racism’ too, and it largely caused me to have a reactionary phase in my mid teens, something that eased off once most of the perps had been expelled.

I dislike all these extremes. I would like a safe environment with as little anti intellectual crap as possible and a focus on intellectual and creative development rather than ‘tooling up’ future employees. A reasonable if not ridiculous selection of subjects including good music and languages. A mix of kids and backgrounds. Bit of sport but not abject worshipping of all things ball related.

Public schools that appear to leap those hurdles are then top of the list, and that’s probably 60% in our overall region. I wouldn’t want my kids to go to Carey or Scotch even if they were offered full scholarships, I equate that with class ambition rather than education. But the poppets are on the list for a couple of mid level private schools that seem to be one back from the extreme of snobbery, but that have good languages and music and seem to be roughly in synch with our beliefs.

Public schools I’m struggling with include those that have particularly rotten school results, offer few academic and creative options, overly emphasise the tooling up side, make the news for all the wrong reasons, are heavily dominated (ie a step up from mere interesting diversity) by another cultural grouping such that I think my own kids will get excluded, or simply have an excess of aggressive little sh*ts in fauxhawks or gangsta gear. I’d be willing to take a look, but I’d need some convincing that first impressions lacked substance.

I found Helen's argument persuasive but would need to visit the school and know a lot more before feeling confident. An argument in defence of the Yarraville-Seddon clique is that they may have chosen to live in those suburbs because, along with Northcote-Thornbury, these are among the only places in Australia of their type: lefty to green, socially and sexually tolerant, and rife with artists and other outsiders from the general boganalian diaspora.

They come from a pretty marginal grouping themselves- it is, in my respectful view, overly simplifying the matter to equate their angst with the general ladder-climbing characteristics of the holus-bolus middle class. But that being said, there is clearly some overlap, and probably some latent class and race discomfort coming out for many of them as well.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Everyone needs protection from violent assault

While I can understand the angry reaction to the bashing of Sergeant Brett Ward, it seems odd that people are calling for mandatory higher sentences for assaults on police, per se. It seems the response to violent attacks in Victoria is constantly being tracked away from the main problem (people being violent, full stop) towards proposals that focus on certain exceptions: assaults on police or public officers, assaults in a group, assaults motivated by race, alcohol as a cause, late nights as a cause, and so on.

How about this: violently assaulting another person without an extremely good explanation (self defence, or a complete lack of sanity at the relevant time) should result in some of the heaviest sanctions in the legal system.

Where psychiatric problems are a cause, this should result in appropriate treatment rather than senseless punishment. However the community should be protected by some level of restriction and supervision until it can be certified that the risk of repeat offending is low.

Wrist slapping gave us this:

He had a criminal career laced with extreme violence and Justice Coghlan was asked to take into account his 60-plus prior convictions. Many included the use of weapons and a number of his assaults were against women.

So why, why, WHY was he walking around on the streets?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Darebin - no kinder places but a fantastic climate change policy

This could make me leave Labor, buy an F250 and permanently lose any faith in public education in one swift hit. *

Kids are not getting places in kindergarten in Darebin. Come again, you say, because we are a 1st world country and although not everyone is happy with their local schools surely the public system does guarantee everyone a place?

Apparently not.

We are calling around neighbouring suburbs and I'm yet to see whether there is some decent option somewhere out there. But surely this would be a bit of a funding priority for the council?

Apparently not:

Darebin Council’s Community Climate Change Action Plan commits $250,000 in this year’s budget to deliver more programs that will work closely with business and industry, low income households and culturally and linguistically diverse communities to support further greenhouse emission reductions.

Oh FFS. Low income families probably want their kids to go to school first, you might get a slap in the head if you rock up and tell them to eat more hummus while they sit there rotting at home, kids missing out on basic educational milestones. Climate change is serious but I thought 2 other levels of government were putting a large portion of their policy budget into this issue? It might be a nice idea, but try meeting your most basic deliverables first before whipping out creative and vague Action Plans.

Anyway, who cares when we know they're going to get a fcuking laptop in primary school. It'll all be better when they have laptops.

(*please forgive slight case of having the shits and sliding into exaggeration.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Horn Envy

While I'm talking music I will share that I am going through a bout of sax withdrawal. Your scribe once was a good heavy rock guitarist, the kind that could pick up a guitar at a keg party and stop the room with a few chops. Then I got into free jazz on the recommendation of Soundgarden's Kim Thayil and Living Colour's Vernon Reid, and from there explored the entire back catalogue of jazz while my bemused friends stuck to their metal/grunge (a neat schizm in my friends that has largely held to this day).

Sticking on Ornette Coleman between Slayer tracks raises eyebrows, I can tell you.

When I like something, I want to play it. The sensible thing would have been to delve deeper into jazz guitar, building on what I'd already learned to become a great guitarist. But the solo horns are the soul of jazz, and I ended up taking up tenor sax for a while. Coupled with me starting law, this crippled my development as a guitarist as I didn't have time to practise both.

Then I got into singers and songwriting and the sax languished. Again, I liked it, I wanted to play it. And I've vastly improved my vocal in the decade or so since. But vocals are an instrument where if you are born with a $50 Kmart job, you will never upgrade it to a Gibson or Selmer.

I still play the guitar, but after trading my tenor for a soprano sax, for ease of transport, I lost the latter along the way (it was stolen out of a car that I had shipped up to Darwin, to be precise). I have not picked up a sax for several years. I miss the blend of simplicity and infinite complexity that comes from improvising on a single note instrument, and I miss the warm, rich nuance I used to draw from my old Yamaha Tenor with its gold-plated Otto Link mouthpiece.

Perhaps, one day soon? I leave you with the very essence of noir...

A Beautiful Song

I found a song, I want to share it. An iTunes bonus found while scrounging around the works of Martha Wainwright. Set the Fire to the Third Bar is a slightly improbable duet between Ms Wainwright and Snow Patrol (yes, of Chasing Cars fame, the indie Hoobastank!). It is 100% duet, that is, they don't break away into solos, counterpoint or call-and-response and barely deviate from the same melody.

And it works. It is beautiful and understated.

After I have travelled so far

We'd set the fire to the third bar

We'd share each other like an island

Until exhausted, close our eyelids

And dreaming, pick up from

The last place we left off

Your soft skin is weeping

A joy you can't keep in

I'm miles from where you are,I

lay down on the cold ground

And I, I pray that something picks me up

and sets me down in your warm arms

More on the Wikipedia page. Enjoy, if you are into simple sentimental stuff.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A highly depressing thought

Last night I went through a brief but intense bout of depression. Almost jump off a bridge material. Not really, I would never. But in that vein.

I thought of how bad our relationships with our parents have become. I imagined a worst-case future where the naysayers were proven correct, you know the ones who say you'll be the same when you're that age.

I can tell you I would rather lose the use of all my limbs than end up in a relationship with my kids like the ones our parents have with us. Perhaps the strongest incentive I have for plugging away at the latter, trying to find a way through various impasses, is to flout the fates and build up some familial karma so that we in turn can build on that and have something better.

If you, dear reader, had a lousy relationship with your folks, but have managed to build something better with your kids, feel free to share.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bango? Bangobot!

Bango was the surprise hit from the holiday, a testament to childhood imagination and the potential that lies within ordinary household objects.

Bango was a white, plastic laundry basket. Bango may as well have been a lifesized replica of Thomas the Tank Engine filled with jigsaw puzzles and spouting strawberry iced cream out of its nose cone. We don't know how it got the name (though there are some obvious guesses) or why it became such a hit. But thusly it did both.

(Point of clarification- with Bear. Oddly enough Mitts had a preference for smaller objects that he could twist and chomp on, such as his sister's wrist or the sports pages.)

Bango would be taken out into the garden. Placed on top of head. Twirled. Put on its side and rolled. Hidden in (peeking through the slats, incognito!) while others were chased.

Quick to find my own inner child -a rather obvious and unreconstructed part of my own makeup- I kicked off the next game by sticking it on my own head, extending my arms out parallel with the ground, and chasing the Bear up and down my parents' garden while doing a voice that probably most resembles one of those throat microphones as seen on South Park:

.... Bangobot... Bangobot... Bangobot...

File under happy parentard.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A whirlwind of estrangement, deja vu and running on the sand

I have been offline for nearly 2 weeks, I apologise for neglecting my networkingz. In the blur that is my recency, much has happened.

One of the grandparent constellation had taken to writing letters. I wrote one back. It actually wasn't that bad. Optimistic, full of positive affirmation. The reaction was as if I called them a pedophilic closet neo-nazi. I, um, a bit stunned. I now wait to see whether we are estranged. 

We went to see my parents in Bundaberg. It was ok. My mum was hit by someone backing up with a trailer. More generally my impression was that lots of Queenslanders are familiar with trailers. I suspect most were conceived in them (with apologies to the likes of Quiggin and Bahnisch, who clearly don't have 'the gene'). The Bruce Highway, a single lane strip used for drag racing by pig-bothering types in large trucks, is testament to governmental retardation and ineptitude. 

My mum barely survived breast cancer and is struggling with several other significant impairments, but clearly she can be run over and expect no support at all from anyone relevant. Police dormant, insurers- well, that's where it gets fun, apparently in Queensland you have to chase people with lawyers to get your hospital bills paid. We'll see, it's early days, but don't these people know how to write a piece of legislation to bring their motor vehicle regime up past the 19th century?

The kids were cute with my folks and this clearly warmed their hearts a bit, even my dad, astonishingly (and to a limited level). The old 3 day rule kicked in on the 4th evening when he made a comment along the lines of 'if only we'd sent you to elocution lessons you might be a QC now'. Firstly, I don't think I brag that much here, but I'm pretty much an ace at public speaking. Secondly, he'd dishonestly given me the impression he accepted my interest in policy as genuine, when in fact he was still whistfully sitting around admiring men in wigs and wishing he could show off a picture of me in court, using my brilliant elocution to, I don't know, do what lawyers do.

Fuck over some old person who'd been run over, perhaps? Good onya dad, thanks for showing that we've made so little progress, you and me, over the last 20 years since you first commenced putting down everything I do.

And this after I wrote a letter and got their dispute with Centrelink wrapped up in less than 48 hours.

Oh and there was the comment that the way we feed Mitts would technically constitute rape in many jurisdictions. 

...ngngngng MOVING on... 

Noosa, is where we moved on to. Mitts got the sand, and the tips of the waves, between his tiny toes. Bear chuckled and laughed and splashed and kicked her feet as I carried her across the surface of the pool and through the waves and was a little bundle of blonde-bouffed joy. We shamelessly threw the rules out and sat by Hastings Street, all 3 members of the family who no longer eat boob, scoffing rich multi-flavoured iced creams and slurping vanilla milkshakes.

On we drove, and with friends in Brissie we relaxed again, meeting their beautiful new daughter and admiring the airy Queenslander (house, not local resident) with its lush, green backyard.

The welcome home was almost overwhelming and Mao is rubbing himself against me every few minutes. Here dad, here's my scent, don't going running off with any other cats!

Mitts was hitting the wall, badly, but he still erupted with joy when he lay down on his familiar sheepskin. Again when he spotted the smiling wooden clown hanging above his cot. What a homebody!

Sweet. Home.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Kyle and Australian Idol: burying a history of gleeful abuse

Kyle Sandilands, professional thug and serial ridiculer of children, well at least vulnerable teens, has lost his post at Australian Idol. Now. Finally.

Not back when he was on Idol, ridiculing teenagers or commenting leerily on their looks. Back when I thought the big scandal he was risking was a suicide. A poor, pathetic, low-esteem teenager humiliated on stage, told everything they loved was beyond them, going into the dressing room and picking up a belt...

The producers of Idol have long sat by while judges indulged in rudeness and worse. They left Kyle on the panel, despite his clear lack of anything approaching useful musical insight, lapping up the ratings, ignoring what must surely have been thousands of complaints.

I, a long time tragic viewer of this pulpy show, enjoying as many do the flashes of brilliance from the talented contestants themselves, found myself cursing and telling the living room what I'd do if that was my daughter and he spoke that way to her. I'm sure I wasn't alone. I don't think that much of any of the judges on Idol, but being annoyed because Dicko is a generational bigot who swoons at mediocre prog rock from the '70s while ridiculing anything vaguely interesting written after 1990 is different to feeling a bit sick as you watch a 17 year old being humiliated and ridiculed for fun, Kyle-style.

Why wasn't something done? Would those producers have feigned surprise if one of their charges had burst into tears and revealed some horror from their past during a vicious tirade at Kyle's hands? I'm not sad to see him go now but it's a bit rich to suddenly discover that he's a bogan pig when a long-term habit of indulging in ridicule and nastiness belatedly backfires on him.

While we're here, why is it the So You Think You Can Dance franchise can score big ratings while using judges who actually know their stuff, and while allowing for experimentation, individuality, and some cutting-edge artistry in their format? Could the next Idol judge possibly be vaguely musically literate?

Myf Warhurst?