Archive for dodgy research

Defending Tim and Kate (a special I’m-not-really-here post)

Posted in Bollocks, rampant stupidity with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2010 by drawingdad

So yet again, Christmas is approaching and, as they have for about 17 years now, the department store Myer is selling their annual The Spirit of Christmas CD with proceeds donated to The Salvation Army. This year’s CD features the song White Wine in the Sun, written and originally performed by Tim Minchin. This version is performed by the fantastic Kate Miller-Heidke.

The song has been denounced as “disrespectful” and “a sick joke” by family and Christian groups, and the Salvos themselves were “disappointed” by the song, according to a report in Melbourne’s Herald-Sun newspaper. This reaction was sparked by the song’s athiest-leaning lyrics, such as

I am hardly religious
I’d rather break bread with Dawkins than Desmond Tutu
To be honest

and

I don’t go for ancient wisdom
I dont believe just cos ideas are tenacious
It means they’re worthy

and

I’m freaked out by churches
Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords
Though the lyrics are dodgy

And yes I have all of the usual objections
To the miseducation of children who, in tax-exempt institutions,
Are taught to externalise blame
And to feel ashamed and to judge things as plain right and wrong
But I quite like the songs

Needless to say, I think this criticism of the song is simply ridiculous. My response can be summed up in just four words:

Tim Minchin is awesome.

While this one line is response enough in the eyes of Minchin’s legion of fans, for the uninitiated, I’ll go into a bit more detail about why this song is undeserving of attack.

First and foremost, White Wine in the Sun is the best evocation ever written of what a Christmas in Australia is really like. It’s sunshine and alcohol and food and above all, family. This song never fails to bring a lump to my throat and a sense of longing for that safe warm place, surrounded by family who are always there for you, even if you live far away, even if Christmas is the only time you get to see them. It’s beautiful song that manages to express these things while still making comment on the religious and commercial aspects of Christmas. Furthermore, it’s a truly Australian Christmas song that completely avoids the nauseating Australiana that pervades and ruins every other attempt at capturing an Aussie Christmas in song.

While Minchin, very clearly an athiest, takes a couple of shots at religion, he also attacks the overbloated commercialisation of Christmas:

And yes I have all of the usual objections to consumerism
The commercialisation of ancient religions
And the westernisation of a dead Palestinian
Press-ganged into selling Playstations and beer*

He’s even defending Jesus in that verse! Sort of.

The truth, although churches and religious groups would be loath to admit it, is that Christmas for most people is not a religious festival anymore. Jesus has nothing to do with it. How many families only go to church at Christmas and Easter out of some misplaced sense of duty? Christmas has become about Santa Claus and presents and a big family get-together. The paradoxical thing about Christmas in Australia is that our culture is still so heavily dominated by the Northern Hemisphere that we keep singing songs about Christmas in the snow, in the dead of Winter. Many idiots still decorate their homes with fake snow! It’s ridiculous.

Most of the other songs on this year’s Spirit of Christmas CD aren’t about the spiritual or religious side of Christmas either. Track 2, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, is a golden oldie on the same theme of family togetherness expressed in a benign and, frankly, bland manner. Tina Arena’s contribution is a cover of the George Michael hit Last Christmas, a song about heartbreak and unrequited love. Oh so Christmassy! Right in tune with the spirit of the fucking season, that is. Other songs on the compilation include Merry Christmas Baby, All I Want For Christmas Is You, I Wish Christmas Day Would Last All Year and Street Parade, a song about, what a surprise, a street parade! Not one fucking word about Christianity in any of them. So why aren’t these songs deemed inappropriate? They’re not about the meaning of Christmas. It’s okay, apparently, to have Christmas love songs or songs about the trappings of the event, but by god, you can’t have a song with a point of view about it all.

Minchin sagely pointed out on Twitter that the first Spirit of Christmas CD, back in 1993, had a version of John Lennon’s Imagine that no-one said a word about. Imagine features lyrics that some religious types might object to. I should know, I sat through a long and pompous sermon delivered by the priest of the Catholic church I grew up attending, denouncing Imagine for its unChristian overtones.

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No Hell below us
Above us only sky**

Never mind that the song was all about peace and brotherhood and acceptance, all very Christian values. It said something that denied doctrine, so it was Wrong. Shouldn’t the church be embracing a song about abolishing barriers, about equality between people, about love between all mankind, rather than reinforcing barriers? It was this sermon, above all others, that turned me away from the church for a long time.

I can’t believe that White Wine in the Sun has been characterised as “a sick joke” and that the Salvos hope that people will still buy the CD despite the presence of the song on it. Shouldn’t such organisations be willing to tolerate accept differences in beliefs? (Do not get me started on the religious use of the word tolerance instead of acceptance.) The “sick joke” quote is attributed to a Bill Muehlenberg of the Family Council of Victoria, an organisation that is all about (archaic) family values. The song is all about the close ties of family you fucking moron! It is the height of hypocrisy for such people to attack this song.

We should be far more offended by the truly appalling choice of winner’s single (Somewhere in the World) on The X Factor. No matter who wins, this cheesy, clichéd abomination will be inflicted upon us.

I actually don’t like white wine, but I’ll take a glass or three of red or a glass of the champagne that’s usually on offer too, and happily spend Christmas Day in the company of a warm family. (There’s also sadness there, for the family I’m not with, but that’s another story entirely.)

Do yourself a favour and check out the song on YouTube, as performed by Tim Minchin (link at beginning of post) or Kate Miller-Heidke.

*Please note that lyrics from White Wine in the Sun are written by Tim Minchin and appear here without any authorisation whatsoever. However, I’m really hoping he’d be okay with it.

**Ditto for John Lennon, may he rest in peace, for the lines from Imagine.

(For those of you who read my previous post – Yes, I know I said I wouldn’t be around for a while, and I’m not here really. I just couldn’t let this one pass by without ranting about it. I’ll be back in a little while. Still sorting my shit out.)

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Why cant sum teacher’s spelling right?

Posted in Education, Not good enough with tags , , , , , , , on October 24, 2010 by drawingdad

So, a couple of days ago I dropped my kids off at school. I went upstairs into the open-plan grade 5/6 area to talk to my daughter’s teacher. Projected onto one of the walls there was a page of text, presumably for the teacher to work through with the students that morning. It was entitled “What are Hero’s?” I stopped in my tracks to stare.

Hero’s.

Not heroes.

This was not, thankfully, the work of my daughter’s teacher. Nevertheless, I did find this grammatical and spelling boo-boo quite alarming.

This person is supposed to be teaching our children. How is a teacher going to teach our children properly if they don’t know how to do something this utterly basic themselves? Misuse of apostrophes is rife in our increasingly, it seems, illiterate society.

Just to be clear:

An apostrophe is used in a contraction in place of missing letters (ie. do not = don’t) or when signifying ownership (ie. Michael’s blog…).  Not when making a word plural!

Additionally:

The plural of any word ending in O has an E before the S. For example: heroes, potatoes, dominoes, banjoes, etc.

Why is this hard for so many people to understand?

The real problem here, as I see it, is that teachers are severely undervalued in Western society. Seems a rather big claim, no? But it’s true. Every day, we entrust teachers to educate our children. They teach our kids facts and figures and how to do things, but most importantly, they are supposed to be encouraging and teaching children how to think. Rote learning won’t get you too far, but knowing how to use your brain, processes for working things out and understanding the world, these are the tools that will get you through life. The better you are at it, the better stead you stand in to live a fulfilling life. We all agree, at least in principle, that education is vitally important.

But this agreement in principle doesn’t often translate into action. Teachers hold what should be one of the most respected positions in society, but they are underpaid, overworked, and are rarely provided with all of the resources they need to do their jobs well. Class sizes swell; schools, particularly state-funded ones, are always underfunded; teachers find their work hours bleeding out beyond school hours into their evenings and weekends. Governments at both state and federal level prattle on about the importance of education but don’t put enough resources into it. More often they are seeking ways to cut back.

Don’t they realise that the future of the state, the nation, the world is in the hands of today’s children? And if those children are not smart, the world is buggered?

From the highest levels, education and educators are not seen as very important. So not enough people want to become teachers. It doesn’t look all that appealing. This means that when it comes to teacher-training courses, lower demand means that tertiary entrance scores for the courses are lower. Which means that some dimmer bulbs get into the course. Which means that some really bloody stupid people are entrusted with teaching the new generation of fresh young minds.

Do you see the problem here?

I am in a position to pontificate about this because I studied alongside such people. In the early to mid Nineties, I completed a Bachelor of Education (Secondary) at one of Australia’s most highly-regarded universities. And believe me, I knew some complete and utter morons who were in that course. (No, I’m not looking at you, “Nana”.) Some of them were incapable of spelling their own name legibly. And these people are expected to bring out the best in our children?

A good teacher and especially a great teacher can inspire a child to go on to amazing things. A great teacher can change a student’s life, setting them on a path that takes them through the rest of their lives. Alternatively, a bad teacher can ruin a student’s experience, rob them of drive and confidence and change their lives in a detrimental way. Our kids deserve the best, don’t they?

My argument now branches out in two directions…

Firstly, it seems sensible for our teachers to know what they are doing. So they should be fully and comprehensively trained. My course was a four year one, and by the time I’d finished (after five years) I still didn’t feel all that confident in what I was doing. Maybe that was just me. These days, teaching courses seem to be shorter. You can get another unrelated degree and tack on an extra year to become a teacher. This seems inadequate to me. Would teachers who get qualified this way be prepared for the responsibility, and do it well? And if the most basic of things, like spelling, is not addressed in these courses (it certainly wasn’t in mine), then are we doing the right thing by our kids?

Then there’s the question of how well educated are the students who will become teachers in the future? Spelling is one area in which they are failing. The prevalence of TextSpeak has ruined the written word. Just look at any teenager’s profile on Facebook, MySpace or Twitter. Incomprehensible! It’s bad enough that the words are lost – I do understand the abbreviations – but the syntax is buggered beyond all belief.

When I was interviewed for my last job, the recruiters had to specifically bring up the issue of the use of TextSpeak in business. As in “it has no place in any professional communication yet half the people here can’t help themselves; we hope you can do better, having a degree.” It quickly became apparent that a higher level of literacy was expected from me. By higher, I mean at about the level I was writing in Year 7. My team leader put it quite succinctly when he said “if you can write two sentences without making a spelling mistake, you’re doing better than most.”

All of this is avoidable! Let’s encourage better education. Let’s expect a better standard from students. Let’s give teachers the respect (and pay) they deserve and better equip them to do their jobs. Let’s take the pressure off them and let them get on with the teaching. Let’s make sure only the best and brightest are entrusted with that job. We owe it to the good teachers, and to the students, and to our future. Demand better!

A substantial post concerning a lack of substance.

Posted in Bollocks with tags , , , , , , on October 1, 2010 by drawingdad

So early yesterday morning, I found myself in a comfy armchair browsing through a copy of the latest issue of Cosmopolitan magazine while Channel 7’s irritating breakfast show Sunrise played quietly in the background. Not my usual morning and Cosmo certainly isn’t my usual reading material.

As I flipped through the mag I found myself alternately laughing and shaking my head in disbelief at the utter rubbish contained therein. Then, as I was reading some absurdly inane fiction-disguised-as-advice article, perhaps “Why you’ll never eat lunch at your desk again” or “The Perfect One-liner For Every Occasion”, Sunrise host David “Kochie” Koch announced a segment entitled “Which milkshake are you?”

According to Kochie, new research (by the Institute of Complete Bollocks, no doubt) has found that your favourite flavour of milkshake says a lot about your personality. Those who drink chocolate shakes, for instance, are ‘friendly, punctual and obedient’, while caramel drinkers are ‘conscientious and responsible’. One member of a panel that Kochie was discussing this with wisely pointed out that between the milkshake research and the “Which coffee are you?” findings and the “Which handbag are you?” findings and so on, she’s pretty confused.

I was dumbfounded. I already knew, of course, that the show has, for the most part, the substance of a ball of fairy floss. But this, on top of the magazine I had in my hands, was just too much.

Which milkshake are you? Seriously? This warrants expensive airtime on national television?! Based on research? Perhaps their own research, looking up time-sucking quizzes on Facebook. You know the ones: Which fruit/Teletubbie/Smurf/human organ/Bejewelled jewel are you? All of these made up, of course, by vampiric morons with nothing better to do with their time than leech off yours.

Cosmo, meanwhile, was sucking my time and lowering my IQ with journalistic gems like “50 things to try… just because you can!” This article, written by one Katherine Bebo, seems to be composed of a mish-mash of the bucket lists of perhaps half a dozen different women, four of whom are of the Eat Pray Love ilk. The other two would be aged somewhere between 13 and 18. The Carpe Diem-encouraging article contains such sage advice as:

11. Get a map of the world, close your eyes and point to a place. Wherever your finger lands, book a holiday there. [Never mind if it’s, say, Baghdad.]
30. Kiss a celebrity. If you really can’t find one, anyone who has ever tried out for Australian Idol counts.
34. Blag your way into a VIP party and say “Don’t you know who I am?”

I suggest number 51. See a doctor for your mental diahorrea.

While reading Cosmo, of course, you can’t escape reading the sex advice. This issue promised “Sex Moves That’ll Rattle His Thoughts For Days!” What you actually find inside is “The real reason it’s called making love” which is a mild article based on a pop-biologist’s understand of body chemistry. The apparently long-awaited return of the famous Sealed Section contains no more than a match the face to the boobs/bum activity and some advice on oral sex. The front of the sealed section promises “The new oral sex techniques that’ll keep a good man down!” New oral sex techniques? Wow! Alas, the piece itself is a page of Q&A with a panel of four sex “experts” who do not impart any advice you won’t have read before if you’ve ever read Cosmo or, indeed, ever given or received oral sex.

The real kicker for me was the horoscopes. Dodgy and unreliable at the best of times, but Cosmo has ditched the vague platitudes that can cover a great variety of events in favour of some very specific predictions. At the same time, they have ditched all pretence at any kind of authority or authenticity. Take, for instance, this month’s predictions for Gemini (my sign). Bear in mind these are written for women…

The social Moon has you organising a black light party near the 23rd. Replace your bulbs with black lights, hand out highlighters and cheap white tees, and let guests write messages on each other’s shirts.
>>Dating tip: Put your seductions skills to use after the 17th, when Venus sends an onslaught of male attention your way.
>>Love advice: Passionate Saturn compels you to treat him to a commercial-break BJ on the couch around the 8th.

Other planets apparently will urge other signs to so all sorts of naughty things. That’s urge though, as opposed to being compelled like Gemini. What. The. Fuck?!?

More and more, I’m finding that entertainment is becoming even more vapid. A mag such as Cosmo, which claims to be offering good advice on all matters love/sex/fashion/health/cosmetics is as convincing as Weekly World News. At least with that tabloid, you know what you’re getting.

The proliferation of completely meaningless programs and periodicals is increasing faster than the locust population that is apparently going to blight most of Australia this summer. And like locusts obliterate crops, they eat away at your time and intelligence. And we accept it. We promote it. We tell the people who make and peddle this bollocks that it’s okay, we like it, we want more! How else can Cosmo continue to be published, month after month? How else could a show like Australia’s Funniest Home Videos have survived for 20 years? How else could a show like 20 To 1 exist at all?

How else would the Wayans family be able to make a shitload of money for making such shithouse movies?

We should demand better. I know entertainment is mostly for the purposes of escapism. Believe me, I do like my escapism. However, does that mean it has to be so utterly devoid of substance? And so fucking condescending? Because that’s what it comes down to. We are being treated like idiots and for buying into it all, we are idiots.