A Farce or a Tragedy

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This is a follow-up to my last post, about selective schools and the need for an elite trained for leadership. I just read an article on populism by Yascha Mounk (Harvard lecturer on government) in the Guardian Weekly, and my attention was seized by the following passage:

What, George Washington asked in his Eighth Annual Address, could be more important than to pass civic values down to “the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”

“A people who mean to be their own Governors,” James Madison echoed a few years later, “must arm themselves with the power that knowledge gives.” His fears about what would happen to America if it neglected this crucial task sound oddly apposite today: “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps, both.”

Of course, it would be ideal to have the entire population ‘armed with the power that knowledge gives,’ not just a meritocratic class That lofty goal has eluded us so far, in America and elsewhere.

Yascha Mounk

George Washington

James Madison

 

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Selective Schools

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This is a very short post. I just want to give you a link to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald. The author is Yan Zhai, a Year 12 student, pictured alongside. She writes with elegance and clarity, and persuasively I think.

I confess to being a fan of selective education. Comprehensive schools are wonderful and egalitarian, and I know that Finland has them and always tops the rankings in educational achievement. But we need an elite trained for leadership. That requires a superior moral as well as technical education.

Anyone disagree . . . ?

 

 

Doing Right by Sheep

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Australia exports about 2 million live sheep per year, 95% of them to the Middle East. Demand peaks before Eid-ul-Fitr, when devout Muslims slaughter animals in imitation of Abraham’s sacrifice of a lamb in place of his son Ishmael (Quran: Surah 37, verses 99–109) or Isaac (Bible: Genesis 22, verses 1–2). It’s a gruesome story, so don’t read it if you’re at all squeamish; in fact, don’t even look at the picture below.

Transporting live animals across large expanses of ocean is a gruesome business too. Every so often the Australian public is shown evidence of extreme cruelty to animals, whereupon government agencies and lobbyists express outrage and give assurances that rules will be tightened, enforcement will be strengthened and it will never happen again. And then it does.

The latest shock-horror story is about a shipload of sheep bound for the Middle East. We are told that more than 2,000 of them died of heatstroke and thirst.

I will not lapse into a diatribe against archaic, barbaric and horrific practices in the name of religion, which might attract accusations of antisemitism and islamophobia. I will simply draw a parallel between the export of live animals in appalling conditions, just so that they can be killed somewhere else, and the slave trade.

An interviewee from the livestock industry conceded that there was inevitable cruelty in the raising, transporting and slaughter of animals people like to eat, but pointed out that many Australian jobs depend on this economic activity. I imagine that slave traders were making similar statements 200 years ago.

Poor People Forced to Steal . . . ?

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There were two articles in the Advertiser this morning that made me especially stroppy. Here the headlines and opening paragraphs:

  • Families driven to steal fuel
    Desperate householders are resorting to drive-off fuel rip-offs [taking fuel at a self-service station and driving off without paying] to survive, the state’s peak welfare body says.
  • Parents tell fibs to save cash on family holidays
    Cash-strapped parents are lying about the age of their children and even sneaking them into their accommodation in a desperate bid to bring school holiday costs down. New analysis by travel website Wotif has examined the hacks parents confessed to.

I both cases the thieves and liars are said to be ‘desperate’. In the first, their very survival is said to depend on their dishonesty, and their poverty is evidenced by the relative prevalence of drive-offs in low-income suburbs.

Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but in my world theft is theft, lying is lying and fraud is fraud. One’s financial circumstances are irrelevant. If you can’t afford to buy petrol, get a bike. If you can’t afford to go on a family holiday, stay at home.

Mistakes Were Made

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Ah yes, the ultimate confession that you make when you’re not making a confession: “Mistakes were made.” This usually means either:

  • “I broke the law;”
  • “I behaved immorally, unethically and disgracefully, but nobody can prove that what I did was actually illegal;” or, if a corporate spokesperson is speaking,
  • “We could have screwed our customers, our employees and/or the government almost as efficiently, and without all this hassle from the media, if we’d been a tad less greedy.”

The latest “mistake” to hit the Australian headlines has been ball-tampering. That’s cricket ball-tampering, by roughing up one side with sandpaper to make it swing more. Shining up the other side by rubbing it on your thigh is OK – it’s “cricket” in the old-fashioned sense of being fair and sportsmanlike – but roughing up by artificial means is definitely “not cricket.”

The roughing up took place in South Africa, where the Australian team were playing the home team and doing very badly. Ball-tampering was a desperate response to a dire situation. Losing a test match by a wide margin angers Australian fans, and even people who aren’t very interested in cricket but recognise the national cricket team as their personal representatives – gladiators, one might say, in the global arena. It’s also likely to reduce the number of zeroes on sponsors’ cheques.

Three players, including the Captain, confessed and were shipped home in disgrace. They fronted the cameras, broke down in tears, and admitted to … having made a mistake.

Stroppy 2019

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With nine months to run, we have our first a nomination for the Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Drivel 2019.  Sorry for the slightly fuzzy reproduction:

It’s a strong contender, but what a pity they didn’t work in a reference to ‘empowerment’ and the words ‘going forward’! Without those simple improvements MYP cannot be considered a shoo-in for the coveted award.

You can make your own nomination at any time. Just email me at johnstandingford@hotmail.com

 

Martyrs

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Causes thrive on martyrs. Suicide bombers are described as ‘martyrs’ by their puppet masters. Interestingly, people who gain moral strength from their own martyrs rarely recognise that their enemies may gain equal moral strength from theirs.

The opponents of fanatical Islamism, which is fuelled by the blood of ‘martyrs’, have gained a new martyr of their own: Colonel Arnaud Beltrame (pictured). He was the police officer who exchanged himself for a hostage at the Super U supermarket in Trèbes.

Not only did he expose himself to the most extreme danger. He kept his mobile ’phone with him and connected to fellow police officers, allowing them to hear what was going on inside.

Arnaud Beltrame died a hero’s death. His heroism and his name will be remembered when the ‘martyrs’ of Daesh, Al Shabab, Boko Haram and their like are at the bottom of the rubbish heap of history.