A Slice of Life
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commentary on issues in politics, culture, environment and technology
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23 Jul 09 A spanner in Rudd’s digital education revolution?

Federal Labor leader Kevin Rudd

The Sydney Morning Herald recently released this article entitled: “Rudd’s laptops send standards backwards”

THE centrepiece of the Federal Government’s so-called education revolution may be worse than useless, a visiting American researcher says.  Jacob Vigdor, of Duke University, North Carolina, has conducted what is probably the world’s biggest study on the effect on maths and reading scores of gaining a home computer. He finds “statistically significant” evidence that it sends them backwards.

“Children in homes with computers tend to do better than those in homes without – there’s no doubt about that…”
Peter Martin, July 20, 2009  http://ow.ly/hEsX

Perhaps negativity such as this is to be expected amid the turmoil of the most comprehensive and fundamental changes to education in living memory. Certainly those Luddites resisting these changes will enthusiastically point to such research with loud ‘ah hahs!’, thinking yes, we knew it all along, and we won’t be dragged into the 21st century kicking and screaming or otherwise.

(more…)

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06 Jul 08 The Climate Change Political Football

earth wrecking ball On Friday 04/07/2008, in the first comprehensive assessment of the impact on Australia of climate change, Professor Ross Garnaut reported that Australians must pay more for food, petrol and energy or risk a rising death toll, economic loss and destruction of natural wonders such as the Great Barrier Reef.

The Howard Government’s policies on the environment, climate change and global warming: scepticism, inactivity and a steadfast refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol did little or nothing to address concerns raised by The Garnaut Report and other similar studies. None the less, it was to some extent highly politically astute. Howard understood that any positive measures in environmental policy would have a huge economic cost and be political poison. However, Howard failed to accurately gauge the mood of the Australian electorate and the piecemeal environmental policies he took to his humiliating 2007 sydney flooded due to global warmingdefeat were seen as too little too late. The rise of the Greens as a force to be reckoned with attests to the fact that the environment is now a major concern to considerable sections of the community.

The Kevin ’07 campaign made considerable ground by declaring environmental policies which at least appeared to have some credibility, as long as the capitulation on the Gunn’s pulp mill is put to one side. There were key Tasmanian seats which might have been put in jeopardy had Labor opposed the mill. The Rudd government has undoubtedly been damaged by the recent trauma over petrol prices. The decision to implement an emissions trading scheme and meet the Kyoto goals is likely to damage Rudd’s government even more among sections of the population that votes with their hip pockets in mind. It may actually improve his standing among those with a genuine concern for the environment. The backroom boys have undoubtedly already weighed up the statistics. Still, the climate change political football is looming more like wrecking ball for both sides of politics.
sydney desertPerhaps this is the fundamental flaw with democracy. It is natural that any government strives to ensure its political survival. To do so, it necessarily introduces short term policies that aim for approval within the next electoral term. Dealing with the environment has always required much longer term vision and a good deal of short term economic pain; making ‘climate scepticism’ a very attractive response.

It seems clear that governments will always create policy agendas in line with voting intentions. The responsibility ultimately falls to the electorate. If the majority aren’t willing to spend more on petrol and make sacrifices to help save the environment governments are unlikely to do anything more than make expedient noises in an attempt to pacify the minority who understand that sacrifices are necessary to ensure the survival of the human species.

The irony is the long term economic cost of ignoring conservation will be much greater than any short term hardships we might endure securing the future. How much prosperity will we enjoy when coastlines are under water and the rest of the country has turned to desert?

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05 Mar 08 Internet Censorship

The Rudd government has announced plans to filter internet content at the ISP level. This is a ridiculous idea. This government gained a good deal of support with promises to promote an information revolution. Filtering content at ISP level will significantly slow down connection speeds. Australia is already way behind the rest of the world in this respect; in Japan the speeds are about 20 times faster. The administration and technology for filtering will cost ISPs money, which will then be passed on to the consumer; so we get slower internet for a higher price. Some revolution. While protecting children from inappropriate content is of course a very good idea, surely that responsibility lies with parents. Any parent who allows their child access to an unmonitored internet connection behind a closed bedroom door is asking for trouble. It is very easy to install a “net nanny” type program on a computer, and why not locate the computer where you might be easily able to watch (at least from time to time) what your child is doing. Apparently, users will be able to “opt out” of filtering and still receive what Rudd and his gurus consider to be “inappropriate”. Who knows what their idea of “inappropriate” will be? Why not make parents who are too lazy or technophobic to take child safe precautions “opt in”. This is supposed to be a free society after all. Anyone who has experienced internet use with filtering applied (e.g. the infamous DET portal) will know how painful this can be. Many useful and harmless sites are automatically blocked while others with quite questionable content still get through. This kind of attack on civil liberties seems more at home somewhere like China or hardline Islamic states. Australian internet connections might soon be like Ned Flander’s cable TV: “100 channels, and all blocked except for the weather.” Okely dokely? No! Doh!

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19 Feb 08 Political Animals

Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and her colleagues last night questioned what impact Mr Rudd’s cat, Jasper, and his golden retriever, Abby, would have on the state of the lawns at the Lodge. With Kevin Rudd enjoying an approval rating of 70%, and Brendan Nelson languishing on a mere 9%, is this really the best the Liberals can do? Nick Minchin’s explanation of the figures as ‘the honeymoon peroid’ effect hardly seems convincing.

I mean, really… calling Rudd’s dealings with his family pets into question sounds a little desperate. A lot in fact. Do we really have to go through the whole Brian Bourke thing again. That was tried last year to little effect. The leaked revelation about Rudd’s visit to a New York night club seemed to make him more popular if anything. What next? Revelations about Rudd’s indiscretions as a schoolboy? Perhaps the Liberals are running out of straws to clutch at, but they surely need to have a better strategy than this incredibly trivial garbage raking if they are not to be consigned to political oblivion.

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17 Feb 08 The Apology

At long last, the vicious (to use Paul Keating’s words… classic!) reign of the Howard Government is at an end. Kevin Rudd and his cabinet don’t seem to have put a foot wrong so far, at least in PR terms. Howard’s failure to make any sort or apology seems mean spirited at least. His explanation that ‘sorry’ and ‘an apology’ are different things (admittedly, he was talking about interest rates here) seems lame at best. The apology has been a triumph for Kevin Rudd, and has left Brendan Nelson with egg on his face. Nelson really had nowhere to turn, his initial, non committal caution gave way to a qualified apology of a dubious nature, but had he refused to support the apology he risked seeming just as out of touch as Howard. Supporting the apology completely might have risked alienating those sections of the community who are offended by it, at least in Liberal perceptions.

I applaud the Rudd Government’s symbolic apology and acknowledge the meaning that has resonated within the indigenous community, but an apology with no compensation is at best a hollow gesture. The stolen generations deserve compensation as was recommended by the courts. Is this nothing more than an apology for an apology? Perhaps we should ask John Howard (sorry…)

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