Sunday, 20 June 2010

Beware of pasta

The justification (or should that be "justification"?) for the blockade of Gaza has always been to preserve the security of Israel by keeping out dangerous materials. If pressed, apologists sometimes elaborate the justification from preserving security, to preserving Israel's very existence.

So, now that the announcement has come that the blockade is being eased after the public relations disaster of the storming of the Mavi Marmara and the detention of the aid flotilla on the high seas (footage of which, having been saved from confiscation, can be seen here)

it's interesting to have a look at the list of things which can not be brought into Gaza.

Sewing machines, razors and spare parts for tractors are a no-no. Fair enough. Ingenious people, Palestinians: one can see how tractor parts, blades and perhaps needles could be cobbled together to make some sort of cutting (or perhaps sewing, or harrowing) missile which would threaten the security of the most heavily armed country in the Middle East.

Flavourings and smell enhancers, A4 paper, and something called "industrial margarine" are also banned, possibly in case an attack of greased paper planes impregnated with vile smells is planned.

But, OK, flavour enhancers have got to be chemicals, haven't they, and there may be some fiendish method of engineering them into something even nastier and more vuirulent than pine air freshener. The same goes for pencils, also banned - the graphite in them must be dangerous, I think.

Clothing fabric cannot be brought into Gaza. Nor can baby chicks. Nor can seeds. Nor can dried fruit. Nor can sage, cardomom, ginger, nutmeg, halva and, until now, jam, although apparently the "easing" of the blockade will henceforth permit the import of jam.

Rejoice, for jam is going to be available to the Palestinians of Gaza... tomorrow. Halva too, though apparently chocolate remains on the banned list unless brought in by a humanitarian organisation: it cannot be imported by merchants to sell.

Pizza, macaroni, and biscuits are also banned, lest they threaten Israel's security or its very existence.

In 1990, as Saddam invaded Kuwait, I was in Naples watching Italians panic-buying tins of tomatoes and packets of pasta. I was bemused by this at the time, because the products being swept off the shelves were staples produced in Italy, not imports whose prices and availability depended on peace in other countries.

But seeing that macaroni is banned from Gaza makes me think that maybe those Neapolitan shoppers were onto something. They were not, as I had assumed, spurred by atavistic memories of 1944 in Naples when the warehouses were boobytrapped and the sea mined, when there were no cats to be seen because they had been eaten ("and frankly," said a friend, "there were no rats either."), when all the trees for a day's walk outside the city had been stripped of their bark which was boiled up for soup.

No, they were not stocking up on food as I had supposed, but cunningly preparing an arsenal to be used if Saddam, not stopping at Kuwait, had swept west, crossed the Meditterranean and landed in Calabria.

They were preparing to defend themselves with tomato-paste missiles and the macaroni of mass destruction.

And it's obvious from reading the partial list of items banned in the blockade (apparently the list changes almost daily, but numbers about 4000) that macaroni is as dangerous today as it has always been, along with baby chicks, olives and soft drinks.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Thoughts on the workshop

If you think teaching is difficult, you should try learning!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Atmospheric Conditions

It was 6 pm and 48 degrees, but we had finally managed to get to the pool. It was packed, pool and loungers. Tuesday is a night when the sauna is women only, so all the hairy muscular little guys who spend a happy evening hanging out in the eternal triangle between sauna, steam room and "plung" pool had per force to hang out in the olympic (well nearly) sized pool. They were two or three to a lane - some of them just hanging out, but enough of them were doing showy splashy lengths up and down to make us think twice about getting in ourselves. The length markers are quite close together and we both hate colliding with others or being jostled.

We both behaved characteristically. I flopped onto the nearest available lounger like a beached whale and started to read, or at least look at, my book. It was Boris Johnson's collected bits, purloined from the library and not bad: he has a good turn of phrase and some decent enough instincts, at least in journalism, but a bit of a tendency to grandstand. It was not quite absorbing enough to prevent me flapping my ears at the possible international flirtation going on amongst the loungers to my left. Barrie, instead, paced the poolside, poised like a hawk (if hawks wear swimming trunks, which I rather doubt) to leap in as soon as a lane was free.

I must have nodded off - no surprises there, as I was exceeding knackered. When I surfaced, Barrie was submerged. It was full night now, and two small, smooth clouds gleamed low down in the sky. Gradually, though, the sky to the west began to be overcast as a continuous blanket of cloud pulled across from the direction of Oman.

Suddenly there was thunder, a long, low, distant rumble, but I had not seen any lightening. What happened next, though, was that the air began to cool and rush about - gusts blowing this way and that. People were getting out of the pool, and the kiddie pool began to empty. It was still hot, though, and some of the gusts of wind were warmer than others - warmer, and grittier. The cloud continued to draw across the sky, which told us that the wind high up was steadily blowing from the wet, whereas the wind and ground level was coming from all sides. I had grit in my eyes, and the taste of it between my teeth.

Barrie got out and came and sat beside me under a towel. Everyone else had disappeared. We kept wondering whether it had started to rain, or was starting to rain, as from time to time we each thought we had felt a drop - but every time we could not be sure it wasn't just a spray from the pool.

The lightening came, and we counted for the thunder, which was sharper, and much closer. I kept saying "Rain. Come on, rain". All week I had been wanting half an hour's rain to settle the dust and relieve the endless heat. Over the wall in the date orchard the palm trees were thrashing about. Barrie counted the next one lightening strike off and declared the storm was 8 kilometres away - about half the distance it had been, and closing fast.

Suddenly a huge wave of pinky-yellow rose behind the trees in front of us, like a mammoth lifting its head, and moving closer and to the right. It was a cloud of dust, or sand, picked up from the dry wadi that lies beyond the hotel's irrigated gardens, and which extends right down to the border. It loomed and moved, fast, against the direction the little gusts of wind were mainly coming from, and like a thing with a mind of its own: I'm going this way; you do what you like. Its yellowy pinkness was partly from the colour of the sands and partly from the neon lights around the hotel reflecting off its dusty flanks.

Then the rain started, spots and spits and then a proper stream and downpour of rain. Although we were sitting under the awning, we were wet. And cold enough to shiver: the temperature had dropped about 15 degrees. Lovely rain, the smell of wet earth. Even the hotel lawn, which is as denatured as astroturf, smelled suddenly of grass.

Then I swam. I'm not quite foolhardy enough to swim in a thunderstorm, but after the rain had passed over and headed away to Sarooj, it was time. The water was cool and filled with shards of palm leaf and large, bemused beetles like black volkswagens. As I got out I could see a bright star just under the edge of the cloud... almost impossibly bright, so that I thought it was a plane heading directly towards me, but after ten minutes it was still where it was.

As we drove away, the car temperature gauge said 38 degrees. It was twenty past eight in the evening.

There was no rain in Falaaj Hazaa, where we live.

It was still hot.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Instructional Skills Workshop

All of a sudden it's the last week of the semester (apart from the other week for which I won't get paid, but that's another story). This week I'm helping facilitate an Instructional Skills Workshop, with one co-facilitator and three colleagues participating. It's a programme originally developed in Canada which provides a short, focused and quite intense workshop in practical teaching skills.

For people who've done a lot of teaching it's a refresher, a backto-basics, and a chance to play around with techniques and ideas. For people who are new to teaching it's a safe space to try out some instructional tools which will work almost anywhere. For me as a facilitator it's all that and more, plus a chance to get to know some of my colleagues better.

One of the principles of the ISW is that we enter a kind of ISW bubble - we work together, lunch together, and are supposed to be released from all other duties for the duration. Back in the old days, I'm told (paradise is always what we have recently lost... just before my time, usually) the college would fund us or find sponsorship for us to go off to a hotel for 4 days, so we wouldn't even be physically on the college campus. Nowadays, the facilitators are also providing lunch for themselves and the participants every day.

And principles don't necessarily work well with practice.

Which is why I'm still at my desk at 9.30 pm to complete the grade entry for the last of my courses.

Say not the struggle naught availeth...

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Just a thought

Is there nothing, really nothing at all, that Israel's government and its armed forces could do that would not find defenders and apologists?

I've been wondering about that for years, and here we are again with another, even lower, low.

Most amusing comment on the IDF's storming of the Flotilla in international waters so far: our delightful Tory Foreign Secretary Willian Hague has called for "an independent inquiry."

Fine [well, in politician terms fine - ie not very, especially when we remember how effective the last independent inquiry, into the attack on Gaza, was: results sat on for months and when finally released the Israelis suddenly discover that the internationally respected judge who chaired it was a war criminal who has no right to say anything about Israel ever to anyone... you can read some stuff about it here, if you must: ].

Back to the Foreign Secretary - that is fine, right up until you read the last two words of Hague's sentence....

Thats "an independent inquiry by Israel."

Umm, yeah.

On the other hand, an "independent inquiry by Israel" has a slightly lower chance of having its head smeared after the results come out and are found to be mildly critical.


Monday, 31 May 2010

Rape in the UAE - an update

My last post but one was about a rape case in which an 18-year old Emirati woman reported a gang rape, was arrested, held in prison, and put on trial for having sex outside wedlock. The 6 men accused in the case were on trial both for rape and for having consensual sex outside wedlock - two charges which, I would have thought, were mutually exclusive, but apparently not here. I haven't been able to find it explicitly stated anywhere, but it seems that if the prosecution fails to make the case for rape (which can carry the death sentence) against the men, they will still be done for unlawful sex, which carries a jail sentence and possible flogging.

Then a couple of days ago it was reported in The National that the woman had retracted her statements, including the charges of rape against the men. She is still on trial for having sex though, and appeared in handcuffs. The men are still on trial as well - although charges against one of them have been dropped. One, under questioning in court, was visibly supressing his laughter.

There are quite a few questions that this report leaves unanswered - most of them about procedure (are the men still on trial for rape, or just for consensual sex?) - but the main question is, why on earth would anyone ever report a rape in this country?

The first reponse seems to be to arrest the victim and treat them as a criminal - and this applies to male rape victims as well as to female ones, as witness the appalling story of the French/Swiss teenage resident a few years ago. The 15-year-old was abducted and raped by 3 locals (two adults and one older teenager), escaped and went to the police - only to be accused of being homosexual and asked by the doctor examining his injuries to "confess he was gay." Furthermore, one of his attackers was HIV+, and knew it, but according to the boy's family, local officials assured them for months that there was no risk to the boy of sexually transmitted disease.,8599,1680682,00.html

To put this in some sort of perspective, rape convictions in my own country are shockingly hard to come by - about 6.5% of the cases that actually come to court in England and Wales result in conviction, compared with about 34% of criminal cases generally - and it's only a 2.9% conviction rate in Scotland.

This is the lowest conviction rate in Europe, and the convictions that are obtained are almost always the result of confessions by the accused. So basically, if you plan to commit a rape in Europe, your best bet for getting away with it is in Scotland, and whatever else you do, if you get caught, just keep denying it.

The careers of some rapists who eventually became well known (Ian Huntley, the Soham murderer and child rapist; Kirk Reid, who enjoyed a 12-year long stint as a rapist and stalker; and John Worboys, who combined his work as a taxi driver with his hobby as a rapist over 13 years, are examples that spring to mind) show them shrugging off accusation after accusation.

But one important difference is that accusations of rape in the UK very seldom proceed with the arrest of the victim. Although, (to quote the Guardian quoting from the Home Office report) victims in the UK are "found to experience delays, "unpleasant environments", inappropriate behaviour by professionals, insensitive questioning during interviews and "judgmental or disbelieving attitudes" when coming forward with complaints of rape", they are seldom arrested as soon as they make the charge, banged up in prison until the trial is heard, or appear in court in handcuffs.

Here, however, sex outside wedlock is a criminal offence, and it seems as if prosecuting this takes precedent over deciding whether sex was consensual or forced. Of course it's difficult to prove consent or the lack thereof, as consent leaves no bodily signs, and lack of consent cannot necessarily be inferred by bruising or other damage. Easier to determine whether sex took place - although from the reports, there may also be some peculiarities of the forensic tests as used (or as interpreted) here - for example, the 15 year old boy raped by three men was told the tests proved he was homosexual, which no test could in fact prove.

For rapes amongst Emiratis there is also a powerful disincentive to report rape in the value placed upon women's physical intactness, and the role that physical intactness plays in the pride and status of her male relatives. This young Emirati woman has apparently been beaten by her brother, disowned by her family, and ... well, now what? If she is found guilty of consensual sex she is likely to have a prison sentence and lashes, after which - who knows? If she is acquitted of consensual sex (which presumably would require the charges of rape to be upheld), will she be returned to her family without a blemish on her character?

The only possible safeguard for her now would be for the court to magically find that no rape at all has occurred and no sex either - in short, that she is completely untouched by hand of man... except that the court has already heard that she got into a man's car, and this alone is enough to destroy her reputation and her family's pride in the eyes of many.

So who can guarantee her safety now? Nobody - not her family, from whom she is clearly in danger, not her fellow nationals, and certainly not the legal system of her country.

And what about the accused, "supressing their laughter" in court? I don't know whether or not they are guilty, obviously, and would not like to speculate. But it seems to me that if any potential rapists are following this story - people who would quite like to rape somebody, if they only thought they could get away with it - they will be supressing some laughter of their own.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Gutters, greed and grumbles

Two daft and depressing recent stories from the world of tabloid. And one from the fuzzy zone where tabloidness and politics merge and blend.

First off, somebody vaguely important and connected with a game that lots of people seem to like quite a lot had an ex-girlfriend. They went out to supper together and she secretly taped his conversation and sold the recording to a newspaper (actually this should be "newspaper" - it was the Mail on Sunday) for 75,000 pounds. As a result of some of the mildly indiscreet comments that he was taped making, England's chance to host a massive festival of the game that lots of people like has been destroyed for ever. Or not.

We won't know for a while but Lord Triesman (for it was he - and no, I hadn't heard of him before either) has lost his job heading the Football Association (for it was soccer - I have heard of that, but only barely) and has obviously annoyed a lot of people in the important world of football. The UK has spent a phenomenal amount of money on preparing for the Olympic games in 2o12, and evidently there was some hope that we might get a chance to recoup if we could host the football World Cup in 2018. Blown, apparently, for a mere 75,000 quids and a few more readers for the MoS.

Secondly, somebody who was once married to a former helicopter pilot who got lucky in the lottery of birth is secretly filmed soliciting huge sums of money for "access" to her ex husband. Apparently she was under the impression that meeting her ex-husband would be worth that kind of money to some of the people who have that kind of money.

But who would pay that kind of dosh to meet this rather undistinguished guy? (I believe he's a good golfer, to be fair). Well, the ex-husband has some rather nebulous role as the UK's special representative for International Trade and Investment, so quite possibly coughing up half a million quid (the price named by the ex-wife) might somehow turn out to be all worth while for the keen investor. Invest in Britain - my lovely country, with the best royal family money can buy.

Both depressingly ugly stories. Both involve a certain degree of illegality and some grey areas. For one thing, it is illegal in the UK to record a conversation without all parties being aware that recording is taking place. Journalists sometime get round this by claiming a public interest exemption (where for example the person taped has public office and the taping provides evidence of their unfitness).

But one trouble with public interest is defining it. Is it more in the public interest that Britain gets to host the World Cup, bringing huge sums into the economy? Or is it more in the public interest that we find out that someone most of us have never heard of texted his squeeze with the words "sweet dreams" and gossiped about whether one nation competing in the footie might try and bribe a referee? Who decides where the interest lies?

Then there's the general grubbiness of people "monetising" their personal relationships. I'm not sure whether Triesman's fancy, one Melissa Jacobs, was ever in it for anything other than the dosh. (She's a civil servant, apparently, and my goodness how standards must have fallen. She's also a blogger, inevitably enough.)

But how much would you sell access to your ex spouse for? Should I be offering introductions to my Beloved for the highest bidder? A current spouse, no less, and he'll probably make you a nice cup of tea too. But alas, no investment advice, so introductions to him have no monetary value.

Finally the third story - well, not so much a story as a state of affairs. The News of the World, the paper which gave us Fergie floggin access to Andrew, used to employ a private investigator and a journalist who together tapped phones, hacked into voicemail and did a lot of reprehensible stuff on a large scale. They were both caught and jailed. The paper had to pay damages to a number of victims, including footballers and members of the royal household (not, you'll note, just of people who happen to have been born or married into royalty, but also people who simply got jobs there).

During the court case in which the two were jailed, editorial staff at the paper were criticised for suffering a convenient "collective amnesia" about arrangements for the bugging, especially as regards to who knew about it, or indeed who solicited it.

The then editor especially, one Andy Coulson, claimed he knew nothing whatsoever about it - which either means he was an extremely poor editor who had no idea how the stories which appeared in his paper were obtained or what the large payments were being made for, or he was being extremely economic with the actualite. Numerous people are said to be considering suing him and the corporation for which he worked (News International, owned by Murdoch, which at the last election not only supported the Conservative Party but turned fairly rabid attacks onto Nick Clegg of the Lib Dems... until he made the deal which put Cameron in Number 10 and was suddenly hailed as a noble statesman).

Coulson is no longer editor of the News of the World, which ought to be good news. But actually, it isn't. He's now "Director of Communications" for the Prime Minister.

One wonders who is more pleased: Cameron for having such a direct line to his master's voice, Murdoch for having his bagman not in the corridors of power but inside the very office, or Coulson for the wonderful reward for his sterling career in "communications".

I'm sure all the other tabloids (those few not already in the News International kennel) are taking note.

Expect more of this. The rewards for illegality, grubby muck-raking and pursuing vendettas are great. Rather greater, one must now suppose, than the half a million quid solicited by La Fergie for a chance to press the flesh with her ex.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

So depressing

Here's a highly educational story from my local paper. It goes like this:

An 18 year old woman reported to the police that she was gang raped by 6 men. The police arrested her. She has been in custody since making the report, and is now facing charges.

To put a little more flesh on the bones, the prosecutor claims that she agreed to get into a car with one of the men, who was presumably someone she already knew. The prosecutor claims that by agreeing to get into his car she was clearly agreeing to have sex with him.

The man then called five of his friends, who raped her.

She is now accused of having extramarital sex with all 6 of them. That is, of course, a crime in this country.

I am not sure whether the prosecutor believes that agreeing to have sex with one man means you automatically consent to having sex with any of his friends he cares to invite round. It may be that in the eyes of the law, the simple act of accepting a lift from a man means that you have in effect consented to being used by him and all or any of his friends.

The main thing that comes across is that this woman must be punished - though it isn't clear whether she's simply being punished because she complained.

Two other points worth noting: she has no lawyer to represent her, and her family were not in court...

Monday, 17 May 2010

A Mistake

When I was but a sproggette, I was good at reading. I enjoyed it, too, partly because we were a bookish family (my father's study, lined with books and dark red curtains, is in many ways my ideal room) and heavily into words, read to and rhymed at and recited over from the earliest ages.

Plus of course every Sunday we got together in a large building with many of our neighbours and spent an hour or so repeating responses, listening to readings, singing hymns, hearing sermons and reciting prayers - some of which were in Latin (my father's missal was bilingual: Latin and German).

Being able to read, and then reading a lot, and then reading about reading and writing about what I had been reading seemed to be pretty important things to do. Everybody I met seemed to agree on that.

Eventually I fetched up at university, only negatively by choice - the careers advice at my school consisted of what university might accept us to do what subject-and naturally I chose to read my "best" subject at school: English. I really enjoyed it, and through reading, discovered
Philosophy, Politics, Criticism and such like exciting stuff.

All that time, as I did my BA and then my first Masters Degree, it seemed as if there was nothing so important, nothing so valuable as to read and to read well, to discuss what had been read with others who had read the same, to fine tune one's critical apparatus, to read what others had written about what you and they had read .... and there would be no end to it, but that was fine, that was what CULTURE consisted in, that was the cutting edge of what it's all about, and we were on it.

And now, 30 years later, it has become apparent that I was completely wrong.

The cutting edge, the place where our culture is making itself, is science, much of which is expressed in a language that I and most of my literary chums can barely read: maths.

I feel a bit of a twit now - though I'm still glad I read most of those books (if I had my time over again, as Woody Allen said, I probably wouldn't read The Magus).

Not that there's anything wrong with being able to read stuff and understand it, but never again will I be able to confuse reading a lot with the cutting edge of culture.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

On a Thursday about fifty years ago, in Perivale in the county of Middlesex, a woman was lying in hospital reading a book by a former show girl about her affair with a famous writer. She was waiting for the doctor to induce delivery of her second child. The baby, already more than a week overdue, showed no sign of wanting to budge.

Eventually the doctors' efforts succeeded, ("they broke the waters" she used to reminisce "but nothing happened") but by the time the child emerged at last it was after midnight on Friday the 13th of May. The child's father was fast asleep after a long day's teaching few miles away in Ealing.

There was an outbreak of jaundice in the hospital at the time so the baby had to sleep in a bathroom instead of the baby ward, and mother and child remained in hospital for a week. When the father visited, he later recalled, he noticed that another new father in the waiting room had brought his wife a hula hoop - a fashionable toy in 1960, but perhaps not ideal for a woman who had just given birth.

The parents had already chosen a name for the baby: Thomas. They hadn't bargained for a daughter, but that's what they got. So for about 10 days she was described as "our little girl" while alternative names were canvassed - Thomasine, Charlotte (the father's first name was Charles though everyone called him by his second name, Stephen, and its abbreviation). They settled on Sarah, which alliterated nicely with her brother's name, Simon. She already had cousins, Desmond and Dena, with similar chiming names.

It was odd that they didn't decide to name her after a saint (there is actually a Saint Sara, who is black, mythical, and dear to the Romany -but they did not know that at the time). They did at least give her the classic Roman Catholic girl's name Mary as a second choice.

Well, that was my Mum and my Dad. The book she was reading was Sheilah Graham's account of her love affair with F Scott Fitzgerald (which I should get around to reading one day) and the baby of course was me.

Never knowingly puctual...

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Ties That MIght Possibly Bind

Yesterday I mentioned that Gordon Brown, resigning perhaps in the hope that the Lib Dems would consider a deal with Labour once he was no longer leading it, was photographed wearing a purple tie.

Purple is the colour adopted by the "Fair Vote Now" protesters who demonstrated outside the Lib Dem headquarters while negotiations were going on about the Tory offer of a Parliamentary Commission to ignore - I mean study - the case for Electoral Reform.

I signed off by saying that we should watch out for Cameron wearing a purple tie.

And guess what?

Today, the new Prime Minister David Cameron was photoed on the steps of 10 Downing street wearing a purple tie and chatting with his new Deputy Prime Minister and NBF, Nick Clegg.

Clegg seems to be wearing a yellow tie - the colour of his party.

Perhaps we should take it as a message that Cameron really means it this time on electoral reform. He's apparently promised that there'll be a whip to ensure all the Tory MPs vote in favour of a referendum , although they'll be free to campaign against a yes vote in the actual referendum.

And Clegg seems to be reassuring his own party that Lib Dem values will not be diluted by getting into bed with the Tories.

Of course they could have just picked the tie with the least egg stain on it.

After all, they've all been awake since last Thursday...

On and Off the Page - the blog which gives you the news before it happens.

Providing it's about ties.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Oliver Miles on Britain's Election Problems

It wouldn't have happened in Azerbaijan, apparently.

This is from the excellent London Review of Books blog:

In the meantime, campaigners for electoral reform have taken the colour purple as their badge... and when Gordon Brown was announcing his resignation, guess what colour his tie was? Yep.

Cameron meanwhile is still wearing blue.

If he's spotted wearing a purple tie...

Monday, 10 May 2010

A Job Well Done

I follow a wonderfully-named blog called "lathophobic aphasia"
by a chap with a lot of EFL under his belt and an excellent take on the joys and sorrows of the English teacher's life. He's been talking recently about "learner English" aka comic learner errors, a subject beloved of all EFLers.

As it happens I've been marking and reviewing writing exams. Here are a few of the delights I've stumbled upon (the topic was whether old people should be cared for by their families or in special homes).

I think tace car for the old People it well be like wine you take care for your sealdrenor your babey.

Thay need more care for food ho thiy eat and take abath and sleap also and if thay sike not soud yo bo you well thake him far the housebetal.

In my opening the beast please to be old people fine is home with family.

Another thing meny some of the people desn’t like niers, you wan’t help you one in you family.

I conclusion I hop every one to do what the beast for old people in my opeining everyone do this with any pearse.

Alson, the children meby bess in oyr live our withe them family so the will not tok care with bernts.

Meade the havi some desses and the should get madecen but the forget takeit then they will be very secia and ne one the new.

And I listen all people put the old man in the sameplaces.

Some people now put your mother and father of you old people on the special hospital and no need old people on your house.

In conctusion…

The interesting thing to note is that it's usually pretty clear what they are trying to say - in fact, if you read it aloud and allow for L1 interference (my students are Gulf Arabic speakers) and pronunciation confusions (p/b for instance), indifference to vowels in spelling, plus inadequate spacing between words, you can understand almost everything here - though I drew a blank on part of the second sentence - soud is presumable should, but yo bo I do' 'no'.

So the students are, in spite of appearences, getting somewhere. The problems are

a) knowing where to start in helping them

b) overcoming the horrors that the "surface errors" inspire in any teacher and most native speakers.

Anyway, reading these scripts made me feel fairly secia, but I try not to get mad(ecen). Definitely not soud yo bo, bro!

In conctusion, (but certainly not in my opening) I’m going home.

It’s the beast place for me.

I’ll check there are no old people on my house, especially not the mother and father of you old people, who must be ancient.

I’m planning to do something tonight that will be like wine.

A LOT like wine.

More politics, sorry

People were turned away at the polling stations. Young people were told to allow older people to go first, then by the time they got to the head of the queue they told the polling station was closed. In some places not enough ballot papers had been printed and people could not vote. In some places, would-be voters sat in to demand their right to vote.
Third world?
Nope, the UK.
Not everywhere, not all over, and almost certainly thanks to incompetence and antiquated systems rather than actual fixing - although there are enquiries going on in some places into the use of the postal vote, where suspiciouly large numbers of voters have suddenly registered from the same address.
It was a hard fought election and the majorities in many places are very slim - just a few votes between winning and losing the seat. In Oxford West, for example, after an ill-tempered campaign in which the sitting MP was described on leaflets as "Doctor Death", the winner polled only 176 more votes than he did.
What effect has the lost votes had around the country? Nobody knows, and the only way to find out is for individuals who believe they have been prevented from voting to mount an individual challenge in that constituency. If their challenge succeeds there can be a by-election.
Our voting system is often described as "first past the post". This is true on two levels. In the constituencies, the winner is the one with more votes than the next candidate, even if it's only one more vote. In Parliament, the party with more seats than the others gets to form the government - which means that all the ministries are headed only by members of that party, only that party gets to sit in the Cabinet (the inner circle) and the leader of that party becomes Prime Minister. Latterly, ministers and Cabinet members have even been appointed directly by the Prime Minister not necessarily from members of parliament (or, conceivably, even from members of the party of government), so important roles in government are taken by people who have not been elected to anything at all. Lord Young, part of Thatcher's government, was the first I can remember.
The situation at the moment is that the Conservatives, polling a minority of the votes cast overall, have more seats than the next party, Labour, but not more than Labour, the Lib Dems and all the small parties put together. This means that if they tried to pass any laws - especially laws that not all their own members agree with - the other parties could defeat them, and a government that cannot legislate cannot govern.
But Labour and the Lib Dems, polling a majority of the votes cast between them, don't have enough seats to pass laws if the Conservatives (and perhaps a few of the parties with one or two or three seats between them) oppose them.
So neither party can govern.
It's an irony of the situation that the two major parties which campaigned on electoral reform demonstrated the need for it by getting 52% of votes cast, but not 52% of the seats. The Lib Dems, for example, with nearly a quarter of the popular vote, got fewer than 10% of the seats.
This is why the negotiations between the Tories (who oppose electoral reform) and the Lib Dems (for whom it has been a platform for many years, and who stand to benefit most from it) are a bit delicate just now...
In the meantime, how would we know whether our elections are fair, or whether unfair tactics have been used, or whether local parties have lied to the electorate? Oddly, there is no central data monitoring, as Ben Goldacre explains:

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Sexual Abuse

I blogged below about the sexual abuse which, it turns out, went on for many years at the school where my 3 brothers went and where my father taught from 1948 until his death in 1974. The school, Saint Benedict's, is run by the Benedictine monks of Ealing Abbey, which was also our parish church. One of the convicted abusers, David Pearce, was a priest at the Abbey. The other, John Maestri, was the maths teacher, and a family friend.
Since writing about it I have heard credible accounts from a close friend and ex-pupil at St Ben's of abuse by Maestri and by another monk, Fr Lawrence Soper, who is currently in Rome. Other allegations that I have heard indirectly name two other monks at the Abbey - one still alive, and in fact one of the trustees of the school, and the other now dead.
The deceased monk was head of the junior school when we were small - and I remember that my mother told me my elder two brothers did not start at the school at the age of five, as they could have done, because my father did not want them around this monk. I always assumed it was because that monk was heavy-handed with the cane, but now I wonder.
Well, Pearce was finally brought to justice after 30 years of complaints against him. In the last few years he was put on a restricted ministry and supposed to have no access to children (officially, according to the Abbey, the "protect him against false accusations"). Nevertheless, he was still able to find a minor to abuse. He was jailed for 8 years, after the court heard the testimony of some of his victims.
Fine, but on Friday his appeal to have his sentence reduced was heard, and it succeeded. He's now down to 5 years. The really extraordinary thing was the statement of the judge, as reported in the Times, that Pearce's activities should not be "elevated to the status of a crime". In which case, why on earth is sexual abuse of minors prosecuted at all?
What the judge seems to mean is that Pearce manipulated, groomed, emotionally blackmailed, groped, fondled and snogged boys in his care, and for whom he was headmaster, priest, and possibly also their confessor. He did not penetrate them, so it's not serious. Possibly also the judge thinks that as they were boys (some as young as 11) it doesn't matter so much. Well, we all know what boys are like, don't we?
In the words of Private Eye "this justice should be seen to be done."
Well, I wasn't going to blog about the election but it's been so interesting, and I've been thinking about it far too much for my own good. Plus my Facebook status updates were getting longer and longer... so here it is.

Interesting times - first hung parliament since I was a teen. Good. Labour did not deserve to win again after their record in power. Iraq mainly, but also so many things to chose from... mainly, for me, from turning themselves into Tory-lite, cozying up to the markets, the "faith" pressure groups and worshipping power and empire at its most naked in the GWBush adventures.

Unmitigated Toryness would be a disaster to all but the super-rich and the financial markets -as usual. The fact that they've got a smooth and emollient PR man at the head doesn't mean they have changed, expecially when you get... well, I was going to say "get below the surface", but Chris Grayling, the man who believes it's OK to discriminate against people, is shadow Home Secretary, which is hardly subterranean. Home Sec. is the third most important government minister.

The Lib Dems deserve some recognition of the fact that so many people in the country actually support them and their policies. It will be interesting to see how it pans out and will require negotiation and compromise - rather alien to the British tradition which is usually more adversarial and either/or.

Electoral reform may be on the cards now, at last, though that will be a tough one for the Tories, as they had specifically ruled it out. Right out. Right up until the morning after the election when they realised they'd have to offer some kind of sweetener to the Lib Dems to let them take power. So they've promised an all-party committee to bury it, I mean look into it. Classic political delaying tactic, given that there is likely to be a second election within a year. I hope Clegg has more sense than to accept.

Lib Dems also want to end Trident, a hugely expensive piece of junk which enables us to destroy Moscow if we really want to. Why we should want to, and why we should carry on with this vanity project left over from the Cold War is something nobody seems able to explain, but both Labour and the Conservatives have said we MUST keep it, because... er... we must.

Historically, Labour was against Trident, and only swung over to pointless militarism as part of the NuLabour project, which has done us so well in the last 13 years. It did get Labour into power, though and cast off the spectre of the mid 80s when they campaigned on a disarmament ticket, were slated as tools of Moscow and thrashed at the polls (though a majority of the voters voted against the party that won - more arguments for electoral reform, of course). But the Conservatives are generally the more military party.

And the Lib Dems want closer ties with Europe, which is a deep rift among the Conservatives still.

Tricky then for the Cons to work with Lib Dems, though as Cameron really really really wants to be PM and as his leadership style is extremely "kitchen cabinet" and centralised, he may manage to force his backwoodsmen and women to accept a deal, at least for the moment. He has a following wind in terms of media support, for now, and could possibly manage by offering deals and then blaming the Lib Dems if they fall through.

Tricky also for the Lib Dems to work with Labour, though they are in many ways more naturally allied. Labour promised electoral reform in 1997 (though forgot about it when they won a landslide under the winner-takes-all system), for instance. But Labour is very grubby and shopsoiled now, and Brown is no asset. Lib Dems might well lose popularity if they seem to be shoring up a government that the country thinks is well past its sell-by date.

So, yes, very interesting. A goodish result, I think, (and the first Green MP elected, hurrah!) but the exciting thing is what comes next.

Standby for a power struggle within Labour coming shortly, and before that, look out for what Clegg does next...

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Beads and bead-related...

Beading is currently my new craze... not sure whether it's the scent of the glue or what, but I find making paper beads quite addictive. It's getting too hot to go our much so indoor activities are more appealling. Plus, I had a rush of blood to the head, accompanied by a rush of money from the pocket, at the Global Village this year, and bought lots of beads and semi precious stones to work into jewellery.
Then a friend who is an absolute beading fiend, found all these amazing shops in Dragonmart...
For those who don't know the Plague Pits of Mammon -- sorry, I mean Dubai -- Dragonmart is an enormous wobbly warehouse on the outskirts (insofar as Dubai, which has no centre, can be said to have outskirts.
Dragonmart is different from the average Mall in that it is entirely Chinese, mainly tiny little stalls and shops with names like Modern Appliance Trading Co (which sells, as you'd expect from the name, frilly baskets). Basically it is a cross between a souk, a Shanghai slum and the very biggest mound of tat you have ever seen or imagined in your life multiplied by ten.
Wander round there for five minutes and you wonder just how deep the Chinese tat mines can possibly be. Lots of shops sell beading suplies and what the jewellery trade rather bafflingly calls findings (the bits of wire, catches, spacer beads, etc that you string your beads on or use to stop them falling off the chain. I plundered.
Making paper beads, though, requires very little equipment - just toothpicks, glue, something to stick the toothpick into (I was using half a potato at first, but I've since acquired an old piece of polystyrene which does very well), scissors and paper. Thin magazine paper is good, but I've also had some fun with wrapping paper. I get pretty stuck on experimenting with shapes and colours. So far I've made two necklaces and a pair of earrings from paper beads and have dozens of beads in various stages of completion on the go.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

In theory...

Recently I exchanged a number of emails with my supervisor and the Human Resources person where I work, which resulted in a deeply philosophical conundrum.

The background to this is that I am leaving in June as I don't want to renew my contract here, but have accrued 16 days of leave that I am due.

First, I wanted to know what would happen about that leave I'm owed.

Instant and very clear answer from HR. I will be paid in lieu. Great.

Next I wanted to know if I could take a single day of that leave during the semester. There is one working day coming up when (for that day only) I have no teaching. I also won't be required for exams or for marking sessions. Could I take that single day off?

The HR person said "Certainly, if your supervisor approves it."

The Supervisor said "It's unprecendented and it can't be done."

I said "OK, but HR seem to think differently."

Supervisor replied "HR was talking theoretically about institution policy. Honestly I've asked "higher" and "higher" says it can't be permitted."

I thought of emailing Supe to elucidate the difference between a theoretical policy of yes which always in practice comes in as a no, and an actual and admitted policy of no... but I decided not to.

Just as well.

I'm pretty sure Supe doesn't see there is one.

(It occurs to me to hope that the payment in lieu will not merely be a theoretical one...)

Saturday, 6 March 2010

A roof over my head

Been very quiet for a while. Partly work and then holiday in England, during which I was offline for a massive 12 days (and saw the sun once, for half of a morning). Then back at work and job hunting - ah dear. I may just have possibly ever so very slightly mistimed my resignation, as the job market is pretty poor at the moment in my target areas and lots of people I would like to work for not hiring. Hey ho... Will be attending the job fair at TESOL Arabia next weekend and hope there will be a couple of possibles.
In the meantime, work on the tiny hovel in England has restarted and moved into phase ... what is it now? Phase 97? 324? I've lost track. Anyway, after the stripping of the carpets and the cleaning which was more like archaology, and tearing out the hideous fireplace, and putting in the woodburner, and new windows, and new doors, and a new boiler, and central heating, and underpinning the walls... we're now getting a new swing-a-rat kitchen and swing-an-undersized gerbil bathroom, yippee yiy yay!
Naturally as things get replaced or improved new defects occur - I was alarmed by a leaky roof blackened with mould, and news that the roof over the bathroom (a flat roof cobbled together in the 80s) was in a bad way. So we're getting a sedum roof put in (aka a living roof or a green roof), which I've thought was a great idea ever since I heard of them. Basically the roof is planted with a dense carpet of small plants that don't need that much care, so that instead of yet more tarmac - bad for runoff and flooding - there is at least something busy photosynthesising away. It won't reverse global warming, but it is quite a nice thing. Pity I can't grow veg on it (not strong enough for any depth of soil - the roof I mean, not me) as our garden space is the size of a tablecloth.
So it looks likely that come July I'll be back in the UK and jobhunting at a bad time, but I will have a niceish house to do it in. Count blessings... ONE.