Saturday, 27 October 2007

Basmati rice scandal

Tilda has done it - betrayed the South Asian matriarchs.

Basmati in a microwave.

My mother would die. Her mother would kill.

Soaking the rice; cutting the onions; measuring out the water; getting the golden crunchy bottom - every single step was part of a ritual, passed on from mother to daughter.

To end in the MICROWAVE? Never.

"Sanjay is my only son - handsome, loving. Now, of course, he's brought shame on the family."

"What happened?"

"He cooks his basmati rice in the microwave. 48 hours I was in labour with him - for this? TWO MINUTES IN A MICROWAVE? Can a microwave replace a mother?"

Every South Asian mother would rise up against this sacrilege.

As do I. Mine takes at least 11.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

The perfect anthem...

I've been cheated.

I've lived in two countries with completely rubbish national anthems - one about a war, one about a current ruler. Neither is really a paean to the land or the people who make a nation what it is. Each land has better options, but opted for the ones they have now.

Lately, of course, I've been singing this one constantly. I'll write more about why in another entry, but suffice it to say that the anthem is in four languages and ends with "Let us live and strive for freedom..." Absolutely. Those are the sentiments that a national anthem should have: love of country, representation of her peoples and a sense of moving forward together.

This weekend, I was messing around on youtube, and I thought, "Oh, I need to hear that national anthem so I can take the piss out of it." Found it easily enough...

and discovered an anthem that moved me to tears - a perfect blend of music and words. Watch it - the harmony on the first verse is incredible.

Rach will smirk, but I can take it, so here goes:

Australians all let us rejoice
For we are young and free
We've golden soil and wealth for toil,
Our home is girt by sea:
Our land abounds in nature's gifts
Of beauty rich and rare,
In history's page let every stage
Advance Australia fair:
In joyful strains then let us sing
Advance Australia fair.

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross,
We'll toil with hearts and hands,
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands,
For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share,
With courage let us all combine
To advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia fair.

It brims with love and gratitude to the land, her beauty and the wealth she brings them through their own hard work; a joy in living and sharing that prosperity with those "who've come across the seas"; and a resolve to move forward together to advance Australia fair.

I know no land is perfect, and that in reality, Aus has the toughest immigration rules of them all. But anthems are about ideals: what we're living and striving towards.

And this one should be adapted for and taken up by all humanity - to advance our Terra fair.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Aye ken reed...

"In order for children to read, all the studies show that we need to teach children how the alphabet works..." --Jim Rose, author of the Rose Report on literacy

Makes sense, right? Not if you're the head of a teachers' union, or if you're the children's laureate.

In this country, 20% of children leave primary school at 11 incapable of reading at an 8 year old level. Ten years ago, that figure was 33% - that's ONE CHILD IN THREE. IN ONE OF THE MOST DEVELOPED COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD...AND ONE THAT BITCHES ON ABOUT IMMIGRANTS NOT BEING ABLE TO SPEAK OR READ ENGLISH.

Thank God it's a country that understands irony. Most of the time.

I'm livid. Absolutely furious that a country that claims to put children and education first has schools full of teachers who cannot - or will not - catch students falling through the literacy net.

Why, you ask? Surely, it's simple enough. Teach children what the letters and diphthongs sound like, and they'll learn to string words together- they'll have the tools to attack reading, work out words they don't know, and feel competent, right?

In other words, the way we ALL learned to read - phonics.

Oh NO, says NUT and the children's laureate, couldn't possibly do that. It's BORING. God forbid the children should actually have to do work that isn't fun.

The children's laureate was shown trying to instill a love of literature into students he's working with - and with them stumbling over their reading, with him reading parts for them and them repeating it back, he argues against phonics, claiming it will kill their love of reading.

Erm, and you would be a shining example of that, would you, Michael? Because, my dear, at your age, I'll guarantee you that you learned to read by...phonics. And funnily enough, it's older generations - those who learned by phonics - that seem to enjoy reading most.

To get to the point where you can ENJOY reading, you have to read fluently. You have to feel confident in your ability to face unfamiliar words, sound them out, go "OH! That's e-l-e-ph-a-n-t...elephant," pat yourself on the back and carry on. If you stumble across an unfamiliar word and you use 'context' or 'whole word' methods, you're f***ed. What are you going to do if you can't sound it out, if you don't know blends, dipthongs, phonemes? Guess from the word shape? "Oh, it has a long neck, it must be 'giraffe'?"

You need to understand how the parts work, what their function is, how they fit together before you can understand the whole. Just like nature builds the proteins that give creation its infinite variety from amino acids generated by a nucleic acid code, words are built from letters and sounds. To understand proteins, you need to understand the nucleic acid code, amino acid properties and how they fit together. It's the same with words. Or anything else.

You need to build your foundation on rock, and stop pretending that shifting sand will do as well.

So it takes a bit of drill - make it fun, as some of the teachers on the show did - make a song of it, give them actions to go with the sounds, help them string words together. This isn't a 'right wing agenda' - going back to basics is just common sense. How you TEACH the basics is up to you.

I'm not a phonics dictator - I strongly believe in parental involvement, reading to your child, using context to determine *meaning*, instilling kids with a love of literature. But you need to give them a solid foundation on which to build their infinite variety of houses...and that means giving them the ability to work through reading themselves by teaching them how the alphabet - which makes up their words - works.

Literacy isn't just about reading words on a page - it unlocks worlds of reality and imagination; the ability to express yourself and understand others when they choose to do the same; it gives a child confidence to face the world, because she has the tools to understand what the world is telling her. It makes it possible for her to fly.

So doesn't that make it criminal for us to clip her wings when we refuse to make literacy possible because we're afraid of 'boring' her? After all, once she learns phonics, it's a skill she'll use automatically for the rest of her life. She's not going to be going "B-u-gg-e-r" when she's 12, now, is she?

Quit kvetching because you have to learn a new way of teaching a child to read, or you have to spend a little extra time catching a child in that safety net. Or because YOU found it boring as a child. This isn't about you, it's about our children and their future.

Now let's get reading.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Still being lazy...

I'll be writing a proper blog entry soon, but first, a big thanks to James Buchanan (aka Gary Barlow) for putting this on his Facebook status. I'm actually STILL laughing - again. For those of you who don't know the song or the artist this refers to, please go here first:

Loved it. And to those of you who voted and made me a wolf - an animal I've always been deeply fond of, and would have chosen as a totem - thank you. Of course, I'd have been proud to be a tiger too.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Let him offer me a better place...

This is how I came to learn, then, dandled on a former adept's knee, how blessed Elua came to be; how when Yeshua ben Yosef hung dying upon the cross, a soldier of Tiberium pierced his side with the cruel steel of a spearhead. How when Yeshua was lowered, the women grieved, and the Magdalene most of all, letting down the ruddy gold torrent of her hair to clothe his still, naked figure. How the bitter salt tears of the Magdalene fell upon soil ensanguined and moist with the shed blood of the Messiah.

And from this union, the grieving Earth engendered her most precious son; blessed Elua, most cherished of the angels.

I listened with a child's rapt fascination as Brother Louvel told us of the wandering of Elua. Abhorred by the Yeshuites as an abomination, reviled by the empire of Tiberium as the scion of its enemy, Elua wandered the earth across vast deserts and wastelands. Scorned by the one God of whose Son he was begotten, Elua trod with bare feet on the bosom of his mother Earth and wandered singing, and where he went, flowers bloomed in his footprints.

He was captured in Persis, and shook his head smiling when the king put him in chains, and vines grew to wreath his cell. The tale of his wandering had come to reach the ear of Heaven, and when he was imprisoned, there were those who answered. Choosing to flout the will of the One God, they came to Earth...

...It came then to the One God that his persuasion held no sway over Elua, in whose veins ran the red wine of his mother Earth, through the womb she gave him and the tears of the Magdalene...The One God pondered long, and sent not the angel of death, but his arch-herald to Elua and those who followed him. "Do you stay here and love as thou wilt, thy offspring shall overrun the Earth," said the herald of the One God. "And this is a thing which may not be. Come now in peace to the right hand of your God and Lord, and all is forgiven."

Blessed Elua smiled at the arch-herald, and turned to his boon companion Cassiel, holding out his hand for his knife. Taking it, he drew the point across the palm of his hand, scoring it. Bright blood welled from his palm and fell in fat drops to the Earth, and anemones bloomed. 'My Grandfather's heaven is bloodless," Elua told the arch-herald, "and I am not. Let him offer me a better place, where we may love and sing and grow as we are wont, where our children and our children's children may join us, and we will go."

The arch-herald paused, awaiting the One God's response. "There is no such place," he answered.

...Our mother Earth spoke to her once-husband, the One God, and said, "We may create it, you and I."

--Jacqueline Carey, Kushiel's Dart, pp. 12-13, 15-16

Let him offer me a better place - let his religion offer me a better place - one of passion, laughter and sensuality,
where we may love and sing and grow as we are wont...and I too, will go. Until then, neither the One God nor any of his self-styled owners of the 'one truth' will persuade me to an eternally bloodless and passionless land.

Love as thou wilt, and the blessed Elua will ever guide thy steps.

And so I shall.