Errant rubbish

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Radio National is being gutted, apparently. And frankly, if yesterday’s lunchtime sample is anything to go by, perhaps a filleting might do it the world of good.

Yesterday I heard The World Today’s ‘story’ on Australians who are spending $555 million on ‘useless study’. Apparently many students obtain qualifications they don’t use when they leave university.

We were treated to the damning example of the person with a degree in tourism who then got an entry level tourism job. We were told;

‘The boss is unhappy because the employee lacks everyday customer service skills and the employee is unhappy because their degree, which covered things like management and policy) is unused’.

The interviewer, Linda Mottram responded with the theatrical gravitas of a home shopping presenter,

“How much would you expect to pay for this useless education?” she shrieks. “What’s the cost?” sotto voce – to the taxpayer

Perhaps if Ms Mottram had undertaken a useless degree in journalism, she would have instead asked questions like;

 – What is the time frame on deeming a qualification useless? How many of those with ‘useless’ qualifications go on to use them later?

 – Does the tourism grad expect to start working in the industry at a lower level, and work their way up, therefore using their degree later? 

 – If the tourism graduate is short on customer service training, how does this negate the value of their other tourism qualifications?  One thing does not lead to another, or as we simpering morons without extensive customer service training would say, this is a post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy

 – If a student forgoes their tourism degree for a qualification in customer service, and then ends up running the company, do you deem their original qualification useless? 

 – You said that employers were using a bachelor’s degree as a ‘filter’, choosing candidates who had a degree. It seems to me that if a degree makes you more likely to get a job it doesn’t fit well with the definition of ‘useless’. Or are you saying that employers are so stupid they need to be told who to employ?

 – How did you judge useless? If, for instance, the student develops self discipline, or perhaps basic literacy during the course of their degree, is this deemed ‘useless’ to their entry level position? 

 –  Let’s talk about the broader context. SkillsIQ is a government research body. The Liberal government actively supports private training organisations which provide ‘skills training’ in areas like customer service (ingratiating servitude), or using a cloth and breathing at the same time. How do you respond to the claim that this is simply another example of the government attempting to undermine the university sector in favour of their well-heeled donors, the private training sector? 

And finally, perhaps the most important question;

 – Given that the university sector is currently under pressure to limit the amount of the everything it currently offers that isn’t Vice Chancellor’s reimbursements, can you tell us how this isn’t just some made-up, bullshit study intended to appeal to Liberal voting Murray and Janice who always knew that young people’s degrees were useless and students would be better off just working hard like they did in the 1970s, and also aren’t young people annoying and full of themselves?

These are just a few of the gaping holes in the four minute interview. How on earth Radio National can be considered a serious broadcaster beggars belief.

 

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Artificial grief

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Straight to the pool room

There’s no shortage of issues to be concerned with at the moment, foremost of which is Australia’s energy ‘restructure’ that will have major implications for this country’s emissions…not that you’d know because no-one seems remotely interested in it.

What everyone is interested in is the ridiculously polarised debate over the detainees on Manus island. Honestly, it’s like the two sides of the media collude to create a brainless duopoly. Missing altogether is any mention of the real mandate of the anti-asylum seeker politicians.

It’s all very well to talk about how few asylum seekers are coming to Australia, or how Australia should admit those who’re currently being held in (or ‘released’ from) the Manus island detention centre BUT the main reason Australians continue to vote against asylum seekers is that they think if Australia admits everyone who comes by boat or plane then more will come.

I personally think Australia should take many more refugees than it does – we are currently engaged and complicit in fucking up the Middle East, and have benefitted massively from its general instability, now and in years gone by. Even the most cursory examination of history will tell you how this works. However, that’s my perspective and I know it’s not a popular one.

What needs to be addressed in the refugee debate is the perception that if more can come, more will come. I have only once seen an acknowledgement or discussion of this idea in the mainstream left media (in The Monthly, several years ago).

Now, it’s hard to imagine a more pressing issue than the status of refugees being abandoned in Papua New Guinea. Or at least that’s what I thought. And then I read our local paper this morning. A group of fishermen is petitioning for an artificial reef. That’s right, it turns out that after 200+ years of European despoil there just isn’t quite enough shit cluttering up the bottom of the ocean. If only there were just a little bit more!

After all, it’s getting harder and harder to catch fish, so clearly there needs to be something that organises them into a more easily accessible area. And actually, while we’re at it, let’s get rid of the Marine Park as well. Because God knows, that thing has heaps of fish in it.

You might think this issue is a little mundane, but that’s where you’re wrong. Because the fishermen are not the only local group furiously sweating into their heavily branded baseball caps this week. There is another group of ‘concerned locals’ who’re being actively concerned in the direction of the Mayor, this time about sea level rise. That’s right, our Council has had the audacity to suggest that the avalanche of scientific evidence regarding climate change is, in fact, true. And not only is it true, it will cause the sea to rise. But not without a fight. Nothing turns back the ocean like a group of crimson-faced hefties belligerently sweating into their heavily branded baseball caps. It’s in the bible, somewhere near the back. Check the index for; ‘coastal inundation’, or ‘double-brick’.

There is a delightful symmetry here. Because, on the off-chance that protesting sea level rise does not hold off the inexorable creep of the ocean, our local coastline is set to acquire a rather substantial artificial reef, complete with brick-and-tile patio and floor mounted swivelling bar stools. That’s right, most of the region’s waterfront properties will eventually fall into the sea.

The fishermen would love it for the snagging opportunities alone; ‘Fuck, Bazza, I’m snagged on the rotunda’ would enter the lexicon, a development that is certainly overdue.

The fish would love it too – they could lay their eggs in the entertainment unit and hang fibreglassed humans above the bar.

Why I’m not rich is beyond me.

Depression and anxiety; The new racism

It’s been a hell of a few weeks. Clearly I am suffering from stress. It could lead to depression, or perhaps anxiety.

Or perhaps I’m just busy and under pressure. Perhaps I’ll just harden the fuck up for a bit and see if that helps.

First; a warning. This is just some out-loud thinking. Sorry if it doesn’t make any sense. I’m stressed etc.,.

Yesterday I heard Frank Furedi speaking about freedom of speech on Radio National. I’ve not heard of Furedi since I was an undergrad student, about 20 years ago. I liked his work then, but have shifted in other directions since.

Yesterday, I listened to him argue that Western universities are increasingly self-censorious. This is because, under a neo-liberal consumerist model, they’re competing for students. There are prizes for the least confronting course content.

Education has become commodified, of course, but it’s happened in weird ways. University is no longer an adult stage, it is a continuation of a cosseted larval form, where endlessly fretting parents shuffle continuously build a fuzzy little ‘happy bubble’ around their children.

Every year the numbers of university students applying for special consideration on the basis of ‘stress’ or ‘depression and anxiety’ increases, as students pathologise the normal pressures of life in the adult world into an ever-expanding rubric of ‘wellness’.

Furedi often writes about this cultural turn but for me it was refreshing to hear someone validate what I myself have said so many times. In fact, I usually go one step further. I think we are encouraged to focus our attention on ourselves so as to avoid looking at the structural inequities and problems that may affect our ‘wellbeing’. This is one of the key ways that neo-liberalism works – it is the cult of the individual; If you can’t make life work, it’s because you’ve got something wrong with you. You have an illness. I’ve moaned about how this insidious cult of wellness operates before.

Here’s the thing; All capitalist systems require a certain degree of labour market elasticity. This is what the NAIRU (Non Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment) refers to. It is simply the rate of unemployment that can be sustained before inflation rises.

In the old days, the easiest way to secure churn at the bottom of the labour market was simply racism – you brought people in to your country and then stigmatised them so they would remain at the bottom. The decline in Empires (something that really only happened with the recession in the second half of the 1970s) has made flat-out racism more unpalatable and immigration much harder to manage. But the market still needs a bunch of people who will buy things but can’t work all the time.

Depression and anxiety is the new racism.

There’s another dimension to Furedi’s comments about education and feeble-mindedness, however. The commodification of a university education under a neo-liberal model has seen a dramatic increase in university enrolments. I’ve written about this in the Australian context before. My point is, universities are now accepting students who are completely unprepared for a university education.

One of the one hand, it’s predatory lending – inviting students to buy a mediocre education where they barely scrape through a general degree, with the help of multiple concessions to ‘stress’ or ‘depression’, is a bad thing.

But I’ve got mixed feelings about this. I myself left school before School C(ertificate*), and hit university in my early 20s. I was hopelessly outgunned. But, after a year I worked it out and did rather well thankyouverymuch.

So I’m cautious about suggesting that university entry requirements should be tightened as it may exclude those who might genuinely benefit.

I’ll leave that there. Apologies for lack of coherent thought.

 

 

*School Certificate and Bursary were the two main qualifications one could earn at school. Bursary (silly name, as it didn’t come with money) was roughly the same as HSC, undertaken at the end of Year 12. Only those planning to go to uni sat Bursary.

School C was the main qualification and you sat it at the end of Year 10. Can you imagine today’s year 10s sitting a series of exams at the end of the year? The stress! You’d be weeping into your chai latte.

 

Vote to marry a year ten brachiosaurus!

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To begin – this shit, from the ABC, no less. IT’S NOT A FUCKING VOTE, it’s a survey.

The whole point of a survey is so the government doesn’t have to have a vote. I note however that this article comes to us from ‘Hack’, the Millennial’s ABC, so one doesn’t expect it to be remotely accurate because, like, facts are like so, like lame or something, meh.

Second – the NO media campaign ads.

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Apparently these ads are going to be popular, because they have women in them. Women who don’t make any sense. Seriously, there are some coherent arguments against SSM (depending on your point of view) but these ads don’t encompass them.

Here’s a snippet of the dialogue;

If same sex marriage is passed it will be like overseas, where we don’t have a choice anymore….

That’s right, everyone will be forced to marry gay people.

Also, Concerned Mum of Tuggeranong (she’s the slightly cross eyed lady looking upwards towards the camera in faux penitence) says;

If same sex marriage goes ahead my year seven boy will be told it’s OK for him to wear a dress to school next year

Yep, that’s right – this survey will have far reaching consequences that may or may not bear any resemblance to the original fucking issue. Here’s the outtake,

If same sex marriage goes ahead my year seven boy will be told he can wear a fur-suit and marry a brachiosaurus! Won’t someone think of the children?

Quite. So let’s think about those children….well, while everyone was working themselves into a state about the ‘damage’ same sex marriage will do to children, these two stories emerged, one about toddler Braxton Slager who drowned in his foster carer’s illegal backyard pool, and the other, Braydon Dillon, the nine year old boy who was killed by his father in Canberra;

I heard Slager’s mother and father complaining vociferously about their son’s death on the radio. Apparently the state services had ‘let them down’. Even the Minister, Prue Goward, called them to apologise. The system is broken!

The media intimated that the toddler should have never even been placed in foster care. His mother said she didn’t want him placed in foster care, and that she was already the primary carer for other older children. Surely he could have stayed in the loving embrace of his mother?

But let’s be clear-eyed about this – FACS don’t remove toddlers because Mumsy doesn’t have the latest Wiggles DVD. In fact, a recent report showed just how hard it is to get FACS to do anything at all,

It shows in July 2012, the St Mary’s office closed 60 per cent of “risk of serious harm” reports without assessment due to competing priorities, while in June 2013 at Mt Druitt 86 per cent of reports were closed without assessment.

I’m prepared to entertain the idea that FACS thought the toddler was in immediate danger if he stayed with his mother.

It’s worth noting, given the statement above, that  FACS in Western Sydney might appreciate a lazy 122 million dollars, but no, we need it for the government sponsored survey that’s going to tell us exactly how bad it would be to officially recognise gay people who are already raising children perfectly well, as married.

Which brings me to Bradyn. I was thinking about him as I heard the ‘No’ campaigner telling ABC’s Patricia Karvelas that the best environment in which to raise children was with a mother and a father. Bradyn Dillon’s father hit him in the head,

…multiple times between December 2015 and February 2016.

The final beating, which caused previous brain injuries to re-bleed, was sparked over an accusation Bradyn had stolen lollies from his father.

Dillon had just beaten Bradyn with a belt as he was bent over naked on a coffee table.

“Bradyn told the accused he didn’t want to live with him anymore and that the belt did not hurt,” the documents said.

Dillon then forcefully hit and kicked his son in the face and head.

Bradyn’s mother had contacted authorities multiple times to report this abuse, although for some reason Bradyn couldn’t go and live with her. I won’t speculate as to why. Once again, we witness the failure of authorities to protect a child at risk. 122 million probably wouldn’t go astray there either.

Then, still on the subject of children, I see this morning that the Catholic church has come out against same sex marriage. Yep, the catholic church has defined gayness as an act of moral turpitude. Let me get a pen.

And final salvo in this weird, stupid and offensive campaign that seems to know no bottom, goes to the frankly weird campaigning of the Greens – I received an email from them with the subject line;

You’re enrolled to vote YES!

This is ridiculous. IT’S NOT A FUCKING VOTE.

The Greens shouldn’t tell anyone they’re going to vote yes, it’s smug and presumptuous, and finally, people who aren’t enrolled might think this means that they are, and therefore not bother to check (yes, the email came before the cutoff to update your enrolment details).

Opposing same sex marriage because it might damage children is patently fucking ridiculous, as there are thousands of gay men and women raising children already. People’s ability to provide a loving home isn’t dictated by their sexual orientation. It just plain isn’t. You might oppose it for other reasons – mainly due to western-judeo christian something-or-other and that’s a matter of religion, but the ‘community is just thinking-of-the-children’ argument rings hollow in the light of the horrors above.

If you’re that fucking concerned about the welfare of children, put all your efforts into stopping parents from hooking into the methamphetamine. 122 million dollars might help with that.

 

 

 

51% of university students sexually harassed!

It’s a good line isn’t it? Certainly got everyone’s attention. Here’s the stat;

Around half of all university students (51%) were sexually harassed on at least one occasion in 2016, and 6.9% of students were sexually assaulted on at least one occasion in 2015 or 2016. A significant proportion of the sexual harassment experienced by students in 2015 and 2016 occurred in university settings. For the purposes of the National Survey, incidents which occurred in ‘university settings’ included sexual assault and sexual harassment that occurred:

• on the university campus

• while travelling to or from university

• at an off-campus event organised by or endorsed by the university, and

• at university employment.

Experiences of technology-based harassment were included where some or all of the perpetrators were students, teachers or other people associated with the university…..

When incidents of sexual harassment which occurred while travelling to or from university are excluded, the Commission found that 21% of students were sexually harassed in a university setting in 2016.

So, 21% of students experienced some form of sexual harassment on campus, or in a ‘university setting’. I’m not prepared to consider public transport a ‘university setting’. After all, when was the last time you were expected to pay for trips with massively inflated dollars twenty years down the track?

Still, 21% is quite a high rate but then it apparently includes being harassed over ‘technology’. Does this mean a vaguely smutty/insulting remark in response to something (equally offensive) that you’ve posted on Facebook is sexual harassment? If that’s the case then I think 21% is remarkably low.

No matter. 51% is a great statistic. Especially on Twitter.

Things got pretty…

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Here are some numbers for Mr Stepney and those like him.

– The survey polled around 30 000 students, yielding a standard error of around +/-0.4%. 30 000 students could therefore be considered a representative sample.

– Annabel Crabb is a well known and respected Australian journalist. She has 437K followers.

The main problem with this survey is that it’s biased towards those who would take the time to fill it in. In other words, it’s more likely to attract those with some experience of sexual harassment or assault.

When the ABC does it too….

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 8.55.39 AM.pngEvery year or so Life Matters *discusses* preschool education for Australians. Yesterday we were treated to the wisdom of two experts, one of whom runs a preschool in Newcastle, and the other, an early childhood education researcher at Victoria University.

Australia sits near the bottom of relevant countries when it comes to GDP spending on pre-primary school aged children.

Industry experts say the number of years spent in early childhood education and care is a strong predictor of the level of performance reached at later stages, both in and out of school.

Naturally we were treated to frightening statistics. Well, one anyway. Did you know that children who attended preschool did twice as well in high school science? And did you also know that there’s almost no point in sending kids to preschool for just one day a week, they need to attend much more than that!

Let’s start with the claim that kids who go do preschool turn out better human beings. Here’s the thing, preschool costs money. Poor kids are less likely to go to preschool. Poor kids also do worse in high school generally. This obvious confounder was not even mentioned. Same goes for women in the workforce. Kids with working Mums tend to grow up and work themselves. Mum-key see, mum-key do.

Certainly, some studies show that children from highly disadvantaged backgrounds who attend preschool do better at school than their peers who don’t, but this is probably because they’re getting access to an enriching environment instead of sitting front of the TV. Spending the day in jail in an underground Nepalese coal mine would most likely improve their performance, compared to staying at home.

No matter, though, that’s just research. BORING! We all know that preschool education is awesome for all kids! In fact, some countries have now decided to do away with parenting altogether and turn the whole thing into a profession that the state pays for. It worked with dentistry!

The message from Life Matters was unashamedly biased – Australia should provide access to preschool for all three and four year olds. It helps them with their literacy and numeracy when they reach school, and teaches them how to cope in a large group.

I could go on about the multiple ways this is bullshit, but I won’t. It is, after all, a shameless puff piece engaging in the worst kind of cherry-picking to appeal to its demographic – working, predominantly middle class women who want free, full time childcare. It’s telling that for all the talk of ‘preschool as education’, the head of the Newcastle centre still referred to it as ‘childcare’.

So here’s the other side of the story; children with an enriching home environment can and do thrive when they hit school. Moreover, many children find the noise, chaos and violence of a preschool setting troubling and exhausting. Have you ever been to a preschool? It’s like someone airdropped a shipping container of methamphetamine into the meercat enclosure. However, as with daycare, stressing the shit out of small children isn’t destined to get a whole lot of government sympathy and attention.

And this is because it’s the economy, stupid. There is no longer an option for anyone to stay at home with the kids, unless you’re part of the minuscule elite. Mum or Dad must now work. Grandparents who are well enough to look after children are actually in Tuscany/Rome/Portugal at the moment. And who can afford to rent a place in the same neighbourhood as a baby boomer anyway? What everyone could do with is a spot of free childcare. And so this is the line Life Matters is pushing.

I’m not anti-preschool. My kid went to preschool, for two years, before (public) school. In the first year (at age three) my kid attended one day a week. This was all we could afford. The following year we were a little better off financially, and started going two days a week. The kid did not cope at all and was a complete wreck. We quickly pulled it back to one day a week. Of course, I’m not suggesting our experience is generalisable – unlike the radio program that entreated listeners to call in with ‘their experiences’. Did you go to preschool? How has it worked out for you? Very scientific.

But seeing as you ask….I went to preschool – it was a community run playgroup thing. We didn’t have ‘early childhood educators’ – we had a bunch of Mums in track-pants not contributing to the tax base while we tried hard to set one another on fire. It was excellent. My later high school performance can be best summed up as abominable.

Perhaps I wasn’t ‘ready’ for the classroom – didn’t have my literacy and numeracy nailed, compared to my peers. Well, this is just a comparative measure – pretty meaningless. Who cares if you can’t read when you’re six? Steiner kids don’t even start to read until someone really needs to know what’s in a packet of Cheezels. Doesn’t seem to do them much harm. Or those home-school weirdos. They seem to do rather well, actually. In fact, there are heaps of kids who do rather well outside the mainstream, homogenising school system.

Again, we’re in the mainstream school system, and it’s bloody great – our experience with the public school education system is that it’s creative, engaging and bloody good fun. It does not need to start any earlier than five though.

 

Revenge effects

Newsflash! Australian employers encouraged to ‘retire’ casual staff at twelve months!

I woke up this morning to the news that the Fair Work Commission had accepted Union demands to give casual workers permanent work;

“If the casual employment turns out to be long-term in nature, and to be of sufficient regularity … then we consider it to be fair and necessary for the employee to have access to a mechanism by which the casual employment may be converted to an appropriate form of permanent employment,” the full bench found.

Most of my colleagues are on casual contracts, many have been for years, including myself. I’ve done the same job, for the same money for five years. Each year is covered by two casual contracts, which are zero hours when I sign them.

So you’re thinking hey this is good right? I can now ask for permanent work?

Yeah I guess that’s true except three things;

Employers can refuse the request on reasonable grounds including that…. they could foresee their position would no longer exist in the next 12 months.

First, What stops an employer from simply saying ‘I don’t think your job will exist in twelve months’?

Second, there’s casual loading in casual pay, to compensate for being casual. It’s probably about 30% would be my guess. Does this mean a pay cut? Do casuals trade permanence for less money?

But perhaps the most problematic implication is this;  employers will be penalised for employing a casual for longer than twelve months. Surely this will encourage them to replace ‘old’ casuals with ‘new ones’ to prevent them from applying for permanent positions?