Noo is busy giving the house a ‘Spring Clean’ in preparation for the arrival of my daughter and her husband tomorrow. We have no maid, and Noo does everything except take care of the pool. I think she would even do that if I let her.
These days, she rarely watches television and prefers to spend her spare time in the garden, where the flower-beds and vegetable patches seem to expand in number by the day. The problem with all these garden plots is the dogs – particularly my golden retriever, Cookie as unless they are properly ‘fenced off’, as soon as we leave the dogs at home alone, ,Cookie delights in digging up any newly planted shrubs and setting them down in a neat row outside the front door!
So before Noo plants anything, she goes out and forages for bamboo and then brings it back home, strips and whittles it into suitable lengths to fashion ‘dog proof’ fences with the bamboo and wire. I feel tired just watching her….
The weather has been a bit strange lately; we ought to be moving into the hot dry summer, but instead we have been experiencing almost daily storms and a fair amount of overcast skies. Every few days we have been experiencing very violent electrical storms and each time we get a power cut that lasts for two to three hours. I’m not complaining, as the temperatures are well below what we would normally get at this time of year, with highs in the low 30’s and the lows in the low to mid-twenties; quite pleasant for most of the time and especially pleasant for April.
I’m afraid that according to the forecasters, that this kind of weather is expected to continue for at least the next week or so, which is bad news for my daughter who wants to get a tan and do a fair bit of sunbathing. God knows why!
I am pleased to report that my novel is moving along quite well and I have now completed two more chapters. I have not published them yet, as I am saving them up to publish on blog days when I am unable to write anything due to my possible preoccupation with my family’s visit.
Anyway, for those of you who have been waiting with bated breath, the new chapters will be published soon. I have given myself a deadline of 31st August to get the novel finished, which I think gives me a realistic target to aim for. I’m afraid it’s turning into a pretty long, rambling story – a saga almost – and my guess is that the finished work will run to at least 150,000 words – maybe more, which is quite a lengthy novel by today’s standards.
Has the world gone stark raving mad?
By any measurement at all, the world – including the west – is going through extremely difficult and deeply traumatic times.
OK, maybe the last few years cannot be compared to the darkest days of WW2, or the Great Depression of the 1930’s or with many other catastrophic world events, going right back in history to the days of the ‘Black Death’, in the Middle Ages.
But by general consensus, the horrendous economic recession, which took the world by surprise in 2009 and the on-going conflicts throughout the world, from Al Qaeda terrorism, to Iraq, to Afghanistan to Sri Lanka to The Sudan, and the all other countless civil wars and uprisings throughout Africa and the Middle East, certainly make these years testing times for most of us who are struggling to live through them.
I am stating the obvious, because it seems that for some people in this world it is not quite so obvious. You would think that in times like these that our leaders in the west, together with all the citizens who are lucky enough to still be gainfully employed, would have an appreciation of the countless millions who have a daily struggle to survive, and to behave in a sensible and as responsible a manner as possible.
Yet, two news stories over the past few days have caused this writer to ask; ‘Has the world gone stark raving mad?’
The first concerns our beloved European Union bureaucracy. This is not the first time that I have written about this totally profligate and wasteful body, whose financial accounts have not been signed off by auditors for years and who enacts laws of such nonsense that they become the butt of jokes throughout the pubs and bars of ‘Euro land’.
It came to light the other day that a great number of EU offices are left empty for many months of the year. Apparently, some officials can take 17-18 weeks off, including overtime. That’s four months holiday a year!
Apparently an organisation known as The EU’s External Action Service, (EEAS), says it is trying to change the system, but EU officials have described as “ridiculous” the idea that offices abroad are being left untended, and that most of the people sent to work in EU delegations and embassies around the world were “thoroughly committed to their job.”
Well, they would, wouldn’t they?
The EEAS reports that MEP’s have been calling for some time for a change to staff regulations that provide perks which date back to the 1960s. The EEAS have told the BBC that staff are not available because they have too many days off, and questioned how it would be possible to build up a real service, if staff are frequently not available?
As well as nine “office closing days”, officials in many countries such as South Sudan, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are allowed special leave, far more than diplomats working for national governments such as Germany. Substantial periods of absence from work are the norm with staff able to earn two days’ extra leave per month through overtime.
This EU leave issue involves all postings: in Washington, an EU official’s basic annual leave is 53-59 days, depending on an employee’s age, as compared, for example with 33 days for a diplomat working for the German government. That’s almost double, and when you add to this the nefarious ‘overtime entitlements,’ it is more than double.
The EEAS has stated that current plans to revise the rules fall “far short” of the EU Parliament’s call for a major overhaul off a system which it considers to be too expensive and unfair for taxpayers. As if to drive home the point, it has been further revealed that Member States’ ambassadors sit in economy class, while EU officials sit in business class.
Since when could overtime be converted into additional ‘holidays’? In my working days, people in management positions received absolutely no compensation for overtime, as managers were required to work for as many hours as was necessary to do their job. And even those lesser mortals who did somehow qualify for overtime were remunerated by monetary payments, not by extra time off. How on earth can you run a key department if the boss is absent for 4 months of the year?
It is utterly ludicrous… no… it is scandalous in these difficult and dangerous times.
Now, to my second story.
No, this one isn’t another tale about wasteful spending or of government bureaucrats taking too much time off, although God knows I am sure there are plenty more of these stories around.
No, this story is a bit of an oddball story, that simply demonstrates how isolated and encased in ‘ivory towers’ some of the world’s left-leaning officials have become, and how totally out of touch they are with reality – in spite of the desperate times that we all live in.
We have all heard much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the loss of so much of the West’s manufacturing base to countries such as China, and we have all been made painfully aware of how the West – both Europe and America – need to ‘up their game’, when it comes to educating our children in the sciences and engineering subjects so that they can compete with the ‘emerging markets’ of the world.
So you would imagine that the education administrators in one of the world’s largest and most dynamic cities – the Big Apple itself, New York City – would have these kind of thoughts in the forefront of their minds, wouldn’t you?
Well, if you did, you would be wrong.
So just what is it that the education czars of New York concerned with?
They are deeply concerned that their students may become traumatised by sensitive subjects being mentioned in their school tests. In a bizarre case of political correctness run wild, so called ‘educrats’ have banned references to “dinosaurs,” “birthdays,” “Halloween” and dozens of other topics on city-issued tests.
That’s because they fear such topics “could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students.”
Dinosaurs, for example, call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists; birthdays aren’t celebrated by Jehovah’s Witnesses; and Halloween suggests paganism.
Even “dancing’’ is taboo, because some sects object. But the city did make an exception for ballet. (Thank the Lord for that…)
The forbidden topics were recently spelled out in a request for proposals provided to companies competing to revamp city English, maths, science and social-studies tests given several times a year to measure student progress.
“Some of these topics may be perfectly acceptable in other contexts but do not belong in a city, or state-wide assessment,” the request reads.
Words ‘that suggest wealth’ are excluded because they could make kids jealous. ‘Poverty’ is likewise on the forbidden list.
Also banned are references to ‘divorces’ and ‘diseases’, because kids taking the tests may have relatives who split from spouses or are ill.
Officials say such exclusions are normal procedure.
“This is standard language that has been used by test publishers for many years and allows our students to complete practice exams without distraction,” said a Department of Education spokeswoman, insisting it’s not censorship.
In fact, sensitivity guidelines recently published by a group of States creating new high-stakes exams, also caution against mentioning ‘luxuries’, ‘group dancing’, ‘junk food’,’homelessness’ or ‘witches’.
Yet a comparison shows that the city’s list, at 50 topics, is nearly twice as long as the States’ list, and has fewer exceptions.
The city asks test companies to exclude ‘creatures from outer space’, ‘celebrities’ and excessive ‘TV and video-game use’ — items that are OK elsewhere.
Homes with ‘swimming pools’ and ‘computers’ are also unmentionables here — because of economic sensitivities — while computers in the school or in libraries are acceptable.
City officials also specified that test makers shouldn’t include items that are potentially ‘disrespectful to authority or authority figures,’ or ‘give human characteristics to animals or inanimate objects’.
‘Terrorism’ is deemed too scary. ‘Slavery’ is also on the forbidden list.
“The intent is to avoid giving offence or disadvantage to any test takers by privileging prior knowledge,” said a spokesman for the Core Knowledge Foundation, an education group. “But the irony is they’re eliminating some items like junk food, holidays and popular music; subjects that the broadest number of kids are likely to know quite a lot about.”
A Columbia University Teachers College professor said, “If the goal is to assess higher-order thinking skills, then controversial topics, for example, ones that are the subject of political debate, are exactly what students should be reasoning about.”
Honestly, I ask you? You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried, could you?
The economies of the western world are on their knees, China will soon become the world’s largest economy, The USA and Europe desperately need to up their game, yet the trusty officials from New York City are worrying about banning items such as ‘birthdays’, ‘computers’, ‘dancing’ and ‘disease’, from subjects permitted to be written about in school tests in case some kid gets upset.
I reckon I’d better start taking lessons in Mandarin….
Two famous quotes
George Orwell, the famous British author and political satirist, wrote in ‘Animal Farm’, when the pigs were taking over control: ‘All animals are equal but some are more equal than others’.
Chalerm Yubamrung, the famous Thai deputy Prime minister and political thug, said of his self-exiled leader: ‘Thaksin did not commit any offence, but instead happened to do what the law prohibited’.
BUTT… BUTT… BUTT… I don’t give a Hoot!…