Friday, July 27, 2012

Defacto Parents

The Latin expression "de facto" means "according to the fact" and refers to a situation as it actually is, regardless of what the law specifies. It is most commonly used with respect to defacto marriages in which couples are living together in a long term committed relationship but are not actually married. I would like to suggest that teachers are defacto parents for our children.

Children spend a lot of time at school under the supervision of teachers, but a significant chunk of that school day does not involve academic instruction. Even while students are receiving formal lessons they are still being managed or babysat. Children are babysat in the playground before school and during the lunch and recess breaks. They may need to be babysat if their classmates are participating in a paid dance lesson by a visiting teacher, for example, and they have not paid, and must therefore sit in the hall and watch, and do worksheets. When the music van arrives to entertain and inform the children, as well as sell them music lessons, the class teacher has nothing to do but babysit. In class, during Crunch 'n' Sip time, children deliver their news to their classmates while they eat fruit, and either listen or don't listen, quietly. The teacher is babysitting. 

Teachers don't just teach and schools don't just provide academic training for our children. We send them to school to be taught and to be looked after so that we don't have to teach them or babysit them all day. To be fair to parents, there are many things we can't teach them, either because we lack the knowledge or are devoid of the necessary skills and temperament to teach effectively. We love our children but do we really want to spend all day with them, every day? We've got our own interests and pursuits: work or leisure. So we need free babysitting, and as a bonus, our children actually learn a huge amount about a whole lot of stuff.

They not only gain knowledge and skills but also values, and it is this last area of acquisition which is by far the most important. Those universally accepted values which we are required to not only know but to practice, and which transform us into loving, caring and respectful citizens, are either taught or reinforced at school. Do we want teachers imparting values to our children? Do we trust them? Do we even care? As long as they are being babysat, as long as they are safe and happy, does it really matter what else happens at school? What is a parent? What is a teacher?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Great Australian Story

The copy I have is called the Patriots which is a much better title. This volume was a real return to form for author William Stuart Long.

I found the story of Michael Wexford (aka Cadogan)totally engrossing and the second last chapter, when his sister's search for him ends, was heart stopping. The scenes from India with the De Lancey's were gripping, and I thought it was cool how Luke Murphy came back into the story. I also liked John Broome and felt real empathy for him. I don't have volume 9 and I wasn't going to bother, but I just have to know what happens next in this truly great Australian saga. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Risky Business

Teenager Thomas Kelly was walking along a King's Cross street on Saturday night, July 7, when he was king hit by an unknown assailant. This single random punch put Thomas in hospital where he subsequently died two days later, when his parents made the gut wrenching decision to turn off his life support. The assault was only one in a series of violent and as yet unexplained attacks on people on that night in perhaps Sydney's most famous night time entertainment district. Police allege that the offender, who is now in custody, spent an hour roaming around King's Cross bashing three other people besides Thomas. Parents like myself, cry for Mr and Mrs Kelly, and for their loss, and we think about all the times our children, regardless of their age, have risked death or injury simply by living. Life is risky business. At any time, in any place, we and our loved ones may be subject to violent misadventure. Driving our cars, walking along footpaths, sitting in our homes or places of work, surrounded by crowds or alone. The tragedy of Thomas Kelly screams a warning about our vulnerability.

Many questions arise in my mind and no doubt in yours as well, but the most troubling one is why? As yet, we do not know anything about motive, or whether the perpetrator was loaded with alcohol or fueled by illicit drugs. We only know that four people were assaulted and one died. It defies belief that the victims were chosen for any particular reason, although it is possible, so why those four out of the hundreds of others who were there, and why did Thomas die? News overnight has come in about a shooting at a cinema in Denver. The same questions explode in our minds: why? We will most likely find out why the gunman did it, but will we ever know why, of the hundreds of people at the cinema, those 12 were killed and another "unlucky" 59 were injured. Why those people? Movie goers were enjoying the premiere of the latest Batman film when their lives were taken, when their sense of security and safety was stolen. Life is risky business.

In this broken world, sin reigns and none of us are innocent. The fragility of our lives means we are under constant threat from physical, emotional and psychological trauma. Suffering is an unavoidable part of life, and living is an inescapable part of life. We cannot simply lock ourselves away and hide from the frightening uncertainty outside our doors. We must have faith and exercise it, as we confidently and hopefully live rather than hide, or merely exist. In the end hope is all we have, because although we can control some things in our lives, we are not the masters of our own destinies. Thomas Kelly's death proves that. In whom then or in what do we hope? May I suggest that if your hope is not in God then it is misplaced.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Captain of the World

It is truly a grand title but to whom does it refer? Armed forces have captains but they are not top ranking officers-more like middle management. Sports teams have captains but even at the highest level, they cannot claim to represent the world. We have captains of industry but only a handful of them would be arrogant enough to presume global rule. Captain is a title for a leader, but heads-of-state around the world are referred to as Prime Ministers, Presidents, or kings and queens, not captains, and regardless of the title ascribed to them, there is not a single person who rules over the whole world. There may have been rulers of the world in the past, and perhaps, even today, there are leaders who act like they are, or at least like they want to be, Captain of the World, but we have another word for such megalomaniacal leaders: dictators.

There is a ship sailing the seven seas which is in fact the world's largest privately owned residential yacht. Boasting 165 luxury residences it circumnavigates the globe every two to three years following an itinerary chosen by the residents. This select group of very wealthy travellers choose to either reside permanently or occasionally on this floating city of opulence, enjoying ever changing 
water views through the windows of salubrious multi-million dollar  apartments. The captain of this ship is a Norweigan, and the name of this ship is The World. Have a closer look at it here.

There are many titles and epithets attached to God, but Captain is not one of them. Perhaps it is too small a title, or too low a rank for the one who created all the leaders of the world, all the captains of sports teams and armies, both past and present, and all their followers, even the Captain of the World. What title would you give, what title should you give to the One you brings life to all and sustains all by the power of his Word? What do you call such an awesome being?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Courageous or Crazy

Nuts are a kind of food. There are many different kinds of nuts...Hey, wake up! This is interesting. Snickers, the nut filled chocolate bar which really satisfies has just been released in a new version. The latest in an insanely long line of Snickers varieties is a yellow packet version. Mars confectionery, bless their hearts, after trying once to boost sales of the popular snack with a king sized version, and then again with an extra nuts edition, now want us to try Snickers with three nuts. I don't know if this marketing has been successful or not, nor do I know whether the marketing gurus at Mars and the boffins who make the budgetary decisions are courageous or crazy. Successful or not, I think they are all nuts.

With apologies to North American readers who are used to multiple varieties of everything, I must say I just can't see the need for trying to improve Snickers. It's always been a favourite of mine because it really satisfies, and it helps me feel more like myself as opposed to grouchy like Joe Pesci, or wussy like Betty White. Australia did not even receive the Snickers blessing until 1977 which was 47 years after the sensational product hit the stores in the U.S., and 50 years after it was invented. Who says Australia isn't behind the rest of the world? The point is though, the Snickers bar was three years in the making. That's 1095 days of tinkering and fine tuning the original product to get it spot on. I reckon it's perfect. Just the right size, exactly the right amount of nuts, and precisely the right kind of nut: the peanut. It doesn't need to be improved.

However, changing the ingredients and/or the packaging is necessary according to Mars, and it does provide at least an initial boost to sales simply because people are curious. One of the human characteristics which is mercilessly targetted by advertisers is our curiousity, the other is our greed. We've already got the perfect chocolate bar, Snickers, but they say, let's try to improve it because we need to sell more units. Well, I'm not falling for it this time. Call me courageous or call me crazy but I am going to boycott Snickers as a personal protest. Are you with me?

To encourage participation in my futile little protest, I am offering a free copy of my short story Yummy. Just e-mail me and ask for it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

We Suck

Excuse my use of such sophisticated language but it is the morning after, the smoke has cleared, the dust has settled and we have lost again. Seven years in a row we have been defeated by our arch enemies from north of the border. I'm talking about Rugby League football. I'm talking about the State of Origin Battle Royale.

Every year New South Wales play Queensland in a best of three game series to determine which Australian state rules the Rugby League roost. This intense rivalry has raged since Federation in 1901, and now from 1982 with the fight transferred to an annual sporting contest, the fiercely passionate antagonism reaches boiling point over a six week period during which the three matches are contested. The State Of Origin series is a premier sporting event which attracts huge television audiences and sells out stadiums. It is the pinnacle of the game, the highest quality, the fastest, toughest sport on Earth. I love it.

What I don't love is the fact that my team, the Blues of News South Wales, lost another game and another series to those we southerners affectionately refer to as Canetoads, the Maroons of Queensland. This year was our best chance. We picked a team that could theoretically match the opposition, and the coach was charged with instilling faith in the players: faith to believe that they could beat the Maroons who, are possibly the best Rugby League team the game has ever seen. The question on everyone's lips was, could we not only compete with them but could we beat them. In Game One we played well enough to win but didn't. In Game Two we played better than we did in the first game and we deserved our victory. And so it was with our chests puffed out and heads held high that we marched into war at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane for the deciding match feeling like this was going to be our year. We would finally end the winning streak of the Maroons and claim glory for the mighty state of New South Wales.

Last night our hopes were obliterated. We lost by one point. Just one point, but the truth is we sucked. We did not play as well as we did in the previous match. We didn't defend as aggressively or effectively, and in attack we looked clueless most of the time. The final half of football in the 2012 series was when we should have stepped up and taken what was rightfully ours, but we didn't. We sucked. Credit to Queensland though. The wining margin may have only been one point but they were clearly the better team and deserved their victory. Ah well - here comes the cliche -there's always next year.