When political activism is triggered by falsehoods, what do we do?

November 6, 2016
I was curious about the alleged blasphemy which had been reported as triggering violent protest in Indonesia – none of our local news services cited the inflammatory words.
A bit of googling found several sites saying that it was because a Christian Governor had had electoral opponents citing the Koran to say Islamic believers should not vote for a non-Muslim, and he had responded that the voters were being misled by the use of the Koran verse. More digging found:

According to sites including the Sydney Morning Herald, some Islamic groups had urged voters not to re-elect Ahok, citing verse 51 from the fifth sura or chapter of the Koran, al-Ma’ida, which some interpret as prohibiting Muslims from living under the leadership of a non-Muslim. It is often translated as:

“5:51 O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends: They are but friends to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.”

Others say the scripture should be understood in its context – making allies a time of war – and not interpreted literally – its context excludes those who respect the ways and beliefs of Islam. e.g. http://www.answering-christianity.com/sami_zaatri/friends.htm and http://seekershub.org/ans-blog/2009/09/07/friendship-with-non-muslims-explaining-verse-551/

I wondered whether it was extreme sensitivity to allegations of anti-Muslim bias which led the newspaper and TV  reports I came across to avoid dealing with the misinterpretation of sacred words as a basis for violence. If so, it is a pity – much of the world’s politics is shaped by invincible ignorance or deliberate lies, and we really need some mechanism for dealing with that.

This is a serious topic which has not been addressed by our parties’ policies.  It is time we wrote to our representatives and called for legislative action to protect the ignorant from falsehoods in the political arena as well as in the commercial world.  Maybe even time to picket or pillory those who are caught out misleading the public.  If they should have known better, if they could have checked with reputable experts, if they chose to speak from ignorance while acting as demagogues – they are as culpable as if they had lied.

In this case it is worse than usual, as the protests could be used by those already nervously aware of the Koran’s approach to those who are not of the Christian or Jewish faiths (why not to be an active atheist or pagan in Indonesia or Dubai…) to fear that Muslims could be led to vote for radical candidates purely on the basis of their faith, and thus destabilise our political system.

Australian Poverty Line

October 17, 2016

Recent reports of 3 million Australians below poverty line (where defined as below 50% of median income) – currently $426.30 per week for a single person – have started some public response. One person commented online that increasing welfare wouldn’t help, as it would drive up the average income and thus leave them still below par – another voter who does not know the difference between mean and median. Depressing that they can vote…

My immediate thought was different: have a major depression, and weaken Unions so more workers join the 32% of below-current- poverty-line whose main income is paid employment. Then the dole will be above that definition of poverty, while the executives stay on salaries giving over the poverty level weekly income per executive hour!

To compare with cost of basic needs: The March 2016 Henderson poverty line for a single person, including housing, is $425.61 for a single not in work, $524.89 for a single in the workforce. (The Henderson poverty lines are based on a benchmark income of $62.70 for the December quarter 1973 established by the Henderson poverty inquiry. The benchmark income was the disposable income required to support the basic needs of a family of two adults and two dependent children. Poverty lines for other types of family are derived from the benchmark using a set of equivalence scales. )

Australia’s Newstart Allowance (single person over 22  unemployment benefit) currently is at best about $335 per week, including rent assistance, and the Government is proposing to cut the Energy Supplement from it – about $8 per week. That is why I keep calling for those on welfare to have the right to surrender 90% of their income for guaranteed, supervised basic living provided by the Government.

Don’t diss dyslexics

September 30, 2016

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So we needed a bed base for a queen-size mattress, strong enough for a big man who had shattered slats on a standard single base. It had to be high enough for airflow and access for sweeping under it, but low enough for access to the bookcase’s lower shelves. It also had to be brought around a tight corner and fit into minimum space when assembled.

The dyslexic genius who volunteered to do it has worked through books on many crafts, has applied what ve has learned, and has recently studied a book on campaign furniture – partly from interest in British Imperial history. It takes ver longer to read, but ve remembers details well: reading is so tiring, get it right so it doesn’t need re-reading!

Three days from request to installation, including design, purchase of some materials, repurposing of others, cutting, gluing, bolting, labeling, transport to the nook, and assembly.

A queen-size bed which can be disassembled and transported in a medium-size car – longest parts (with folding) are 1.5 metres.

Damn fine work.

Literacy and maths geek : QED

September 30, 2016


Life in my head: weather warnings

August 29, 2016

On the State weather forecast tonight they had a high wind warning for the North and a sheep graziers warning for the South. (No apostrophe.)

Scary things, graziers, good to know to dodge them.  A change from cats and dogs.

What future for the average intelligence student? The problem with education “for employment”

July 10, 2016

Both our major political parties are talking about education to fit students for jobs in “the new economy.”  At the same time  Our Coalition Government wants to give Company Tax reductions to large businesses.  However, for large companies,  increased company profits invested in expansion tend to lead to job losses.

Not just from offshore subcontracting of labour to exploited workers with no leave entitlements, OH&S rights,  or superannuation. Consider  http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-36376966

It includes a quote from a former McDonald’s senior staffer : “It’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who is inefficient, making $15 an hour bagging French fries.”

The main item in the article is that 60 000 (probably OH&S nightmare) jobs have gone because Chinese factories invested in technology not humans – even at their pay rates the robots are cheaper.

These job losses are not just the semi-literate jobs.  Consider the rise in expert systems, even self-reprogramming learning systems: the first white-collar job robots are already here, even doing work for lawyers: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2016/05/16/meet-ross-the-newly-hired-legal-robot/

The students know about this.  They know that machine intelligence researchers are even starting to find ways to program the machines for creativity.
(see John Gero on Creativity emergence and evolution in design concepts and framework
and  https://www.jwtintelligence.com/2016/06/cannes-2016-creativity-and-machine-learning/  )

So why should the less bright and less creative struggle to learn the basics, if they are told education is “to get a job” and they know they are headed for love on the dole?   (Read Greenwood’s book, or at least a detailed review, if you haven’t come across a film or play adaptation yet )

It is time for the meme of “education to be fit for work” to die.  Move to “education to get tools to make more fun and happiness, or dodge trouble.”  Start classes in “Learning something new without a teacher’s help, and demonstrating it to others,” “Comparing and testing health benefit claims,”  “Bullshit detection,” “website reliability testing,” “effective complaints,” “Dealing with Bureaucracy 1:  Completing a basic tax return so you don’t pay your refund to an accountant,” and  “Dealing with Bureaucracy 2:  Complying with Dole paperwork requirements.”

Of course, you may end up with a lot of activists trying to improve the Nation because they realise that the  current socio-economic system is the source of much unhappiness.  They may even realise that money is just another social construct – and not a good one – and demand a world run on social obligation instead.
Would that be so bad?

Old Pea Soup recipe

April 8, 2016

It seems it is the time of year for thinking about soups for those wanting comfort food after rotten viruses attack.

Per request from colleagues – this is public domain, so don’t put it in a copyright book!

pea soup                                 

(old family recipe with a spice mix which suggests it dates from middle ages, put in metric format)

250 ml = 1 cup,  tsp = Australian metric teaspoon (5 ml)


500 ml dried yellow split peas  (rinsed, soaked, and drained if possible)

2 litres water (plus 500 ml if peas not soaked)

750 ml chopped onion

750 ml carrot

250 ml celery

2 large bayleaves (fresh – adjust number if small or dried)

¼  (lumpy) tsp cloves (rounded if ground)

1 (rounded) tsp pimento

½ (rounded) tsp black pepper

2 tsp salt, or 1 hamhock (cheap at many major supermarket deli areas) criss-cross cut through skin, or about 200 – 400g bacon bones


Grind spices if not already ground.  Pimento and pepper ground come close to the original whole spice volume.  (Change the amounts to fit your tastes – the traditional measure is “enough, judged on the day  in the curved palm of your hand,” and varies depending on the intensity of the spices on hand and the tastes of the cook.)

Add all  to large pot (pressure cooker if available) and bring to simmer, stirring occasionally.

If pressure cooker, once it simmers,

seal pressure cooker, bring to spin, lower to murmur, cook 30 min (45 if not soaked peas).

If pot

put on low simmer for 1 ½  to 3 hours, stirring as often as needed to prevent sticking, until peas are very soft and vegetables are easy to mash.  If ham hock used, much of the meat should fall off and the bodes should disassociate.


If you have time, remove bayleaves (and bones / large chunks of meat if any – a ham bone may separate into several bones and large chunks, you may wish to save (can freeze)  2/3 from this step  to do a second soup)  and stick-blend in pot (needs a sturdy blender such as Bamix, 2-minute limit types are too weak) or sieve to another pot if blender is kaput.  Or allow to cool and blend in bench blender.


Put the bayleaves, (some) meat,  and (some) bones back into the soup, add water if needed (but is supposed to be a very thick soup, sets to pudding consistency when cold.).  Simmer, stirring, 20 minutes.


Serve plain or with crusty bread and butter (not margarine or olive oil – taste is just wrong.)

Some people like a little milk spiralled into the bowl.

Leftovers microwave well.


Garden raiders – not all unwelcome.

April 4, 2016

My verge is a mixed planting of herbs, vegetables, productive trees and things I like to see.  It is a shared resource – many people know they are welcome to take some parsley or lettuce leaves or whatever else is in season.  As a result, it has also produced chocolates and fruit I do not grow.

This week, it was raided twice.

The first time, half-way through the nut season, Carnaby’s cockatoos despoiled the macadamia and pecan.  The  infill building around the city has reduced the amount of food for them, so I was more pleased than irritated by the loss of produce.

The second time, and for the second time, someone dug out and removed an entire basil plant.  Now that is both impolite and selfish.  Had the person asked, I would probably have said yes, because I have several others – but they have removed a thing meant to be shared with other passers-by, and that rankles.

I think I will plant a sage plant where it was:  the hole will make space for the soil enrichment sage needs.

Pot, this is kettle… Sunday Times (W.A.) provides resource for English teachers. (3)

April 4, 2016

Sometimes I do tell the Sunday Times of the writing I have found annoying.  An example:

The Editor
The Sunday Times
C/- letters@pst.newsltd.com.au

In your B+S supplement (and, too often, the abbreviation letters are appropriate) of 03 April 2016 page 3, one of the suggestions for a healthier life is “Swap this… book for iPad.”

Reading on, one learns that sleep quality is likely to be better if one reads a paper text rather than reading on a tablet. In Standard Australian English, if I swap this for that, I dispose of this and receive that; if I substitute this for that I use this rather than that. Your paper often uses these incorrectly. In this case, the heading should have read “Swap this … iPad for book.”

This is one of a string of errors and malapropisms which have made your newspaper a valuable teaching resource. I believe that, in your efforts to cut costs, you have outsourced editing to people who are not truly familiar with English. My occasional telephone complaints have been brushed off with “You know what we meant,” and my written corrections have not changed your performance. This shows the general public that “You know what I mean!” is a valid response to criticism of one’s English usage. So why should students bother to learn correct usage?

Although I appreciate the chance to let primary school children correct adults’ published texts – ego-boosting editing practice – I think it is time you spent the money to employ literate editors. THEN you could complain about the quality of teaching in Australia.

Sunday Times (W.A.) provides resource for English teachers. (2)

February 28, 2016

Once again The Sunday Times has provided Western Australian teachers with real-life examples so their students can have the opportunity to criticize adults’ writing.  The best one this week is from the Editorial. (Responsibility for editorial comment is taken by the editor, Rod Savage, 34 Stirling St, Perth, Western Australia  6000 – do send him a letter of thanks!)

In the section headed “Keep Bullies at Bay” (Page 38, News, The Sunday Times, 28 February 2016) the Editor addresses controversy over the Safe Schools scheme, which – acknowledging that ignorance is often behind out-grouping – addresses the range of sexual orientations.  The editorial’s final two paragraphs provide several topics for criticism and discussion:

“Everyone recognises the need to implement strategies to protect all children from bullying.  And that must include students who are gay, lesbian, or transgender.  We should not let these children down just because the scheme doesn’t sit comfortably with some politicians.  We can’t ignore the real risks of suicide and self-harm.  We live in an enlightened society and we shouldn’t incubate schools from that.  Critics say the scheme has highly sexual content which is more about ideology than helping children deal with bullying.

By all means, review the content, but we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Remember, prejudice, fear and by extension bullying, stem from ignorance.”


  1.  “… we shouldn’t incubate schools from that …”
    In this case, the desired word is probably “insulate.”  Mrs Malaprop had the habit of using fancy words in order to try to appear admirably educated, and (like Kath and Kim) showed her actual class by her incompetence – thus the literate reader’s derision of malapropisms.  However, in the more Hemingway-driven style of the popular press,  a technical term is often used because there is no simpler alternative, so the journalist who is not certain must not rely on the spellchecker.  “I don’t think that word means what you think it means”  is a marvellous tag.
  2. The first paragraph sentence order and sentence division
    “Everyone recognises the need to implement strategies to protect all children from bullying, and that must include students who are gay, lesbian, or transgender.  We can’t ignore the real risks of suicide and self-harm.  We should not let these children down just because the scheme doesn’t sit comfortably with some politicians:   we live in an enlightened society and we shouldn’t incubate (sic) schools from that. ”  Is that a better order?  Is it better to combine the first two sentences by using the comma before  “and” instead of a full stop?  Is the colon a better choice than a full-stop after “politicians”? Why, or why not?
  3. The paragraph break. 
    Would the final sentence of the second-last paragraph  be better as the first sentence of the final paragraph?  Why, or why not?
  4. Remember, prejudice, fear and by extension bullying, stem from ignorance.”
    This is also  worth a class discussion:
    – Why does the author have “by extension” before “bullying”?  – Would “as a result” be better than “by extension”?  Do the answers to the following change if we use “as a result”?
    – Would it be better as “… prejudice, fear, and (by extension) bullying stem …” or as  “… prejudice, fear, and by extension bullying stem …”  or as “… prejudice and fear and, by extension, bullying stem …” or even as  “…prejudice and fear (and, by extension, bullying) stem …” ?
    –  Is the Oxford Comma the best choice here, and if not, why not?
    Why do the suggested alternatives remove the comma between “bullying” and “stem”?   Should the comma remain? Why?
    – Why do the suggested alternatives separate  “by extension” from the surrounding “and bullying”?  Is this necessary? Why?

Thank you, Rod Savage.  Perhaps you could consider these questions before passing such items for publication?