Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Home-made winter soup

It's definitely soup weather, later than most years.  I love soup, and since my friend Jane gave me an amazing liquidizer, it's easier than ever to have smooth vegetable soup whenever I feel like it.

My method with soup is easy.  I usually use carrots and potatoes as a base for my soups, and I use onions or leeks (prefried) as flavouring, with garlic if I fancy it.  I add anything that comes to hand - parsnips, leftover vegetables, beans, spinach... though be aware that the colour turns from a lovely orange to a rather greeny brown on the addition of a lot of greenstuff. 

So... ingredients
6 carrots
2 or more potatoes
Any leftover vegetables or vegetables you'd like to add
2 onions (chopped and fried)
1 large tomato or a bunch of smaller ones
stock - either fresh or reconstituted pots or cubes - but watch out not to add too much salt if using commercial stock, lots of them already have a lot in.  I used to use chicken stock, but I have progressed to beef and I like that better although it doesn't smell as good when cooking, strangely.
butter/oil for frying
garlic (optional)
Worcerstershire sauce

Fry the onion and tomato and set aside.  If very fancy you may want to skin the tomato before chopping and frying.  Add garlic if wanted.

Roughly chop all the other vegetables, put in a pan and cover with stock.  Bring to the boil for 30-60 minutes, making sure the potatoes and carrots are cooked. 

Depending upon whether you have a plastic blender or a glass one, you may have to leave the soup to cool before blending.  My posh blender has a different problem altogether:  if you follow the instructions and tightly fit the lid onto the blender with hot ingredients, it fountains out of the top when you begin to blend.  I learned the hard way, with hot soup on my cupboards, toaster and myself, that one should leave off the stopper in the middle and cover it with a clean tea towel!

Blend until smooth.  Add in the fried onions at this point to blend them in too.  Return the blended ingredients to a clean pan.

Reheat and then test the soup, and add the extra ingredients like worcestershire sauce, seasoning, maybe a splash of balsamic vinegar, to get the soup to taste the way you like it.  Some soups with parsnip and carrot can be very sweet and need balancing with salt and pepper, others need a little sweetness to bring out the flavours.  Anything goes.  Play with the ingredients and note down if you like extra onion, or not so much onion etc, to help next time!

I like my soup hot in a bowl with a dollop of cream or creme fraiche or yoghurt in the middle.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Home Education under threat again

I've heard from several contacts now that Home Education is once again coming under the spotlight because the authorities, OFSTED and NSPCC believe that it is possible for home education to be used as a cover for abuse. 

Local authorities have been agitating for more control over home educated children for a long time, but the last time that the NSPCC proposed that there should be more controls, we successfully fought off but it seems that they are going to try again.

One of the first things any home educating family has to do when they start home education, is to decide upon their educational philosophy.  This is partly because case law has established that education is efficient if it achieves what it sets out to achieve, and it is pretty much impossible to work out if that is true withoutfirst deciding what you are setting out to do.  When I first thought about home education, that seemed like a simple prospect.  Of course, I wanted my children to be educated... didn't I?  But soon you realise that you have to sit down and work out what that actually means. 

Those of us who went to school were squeezed through a system which assumes all children have the same basic ability to learn how to read and calculate, and that if you only apply yourself, you can succeed.  Except this isn't true, as anyone who has been through school knows.  You have different levels of ability to concentrate on different things, you have different attitudes to sitting still, to being quiet, to learning about the Romans.  What inspires and excites one will bore another. 

The education system assumes that anyone will want to achieve five GCSEs, go on to A levels and then to university.  Indeed, as Sir Ken Robinson says, the ulitmate aim of the educational system seems to be to become a professor and remain forever trapped in the education system.  Success in the terms of school, is success at school, which is the achievement of exams.  But many children who pass through the school system fail to achieve exam success, and still go on to live useful lives.  Don't we also need people willng to work in shops and cleaning offices and hospitals? For some people their pleasure in is helping people, serving people, selling things - all things whih school measures very poorly.

More sadly, many children do succeed at exams, and have a bright future ahead of them but then become depressed and suicidal because of the risk of failure, or because they are unhappy people who happen to have succeeded at school stuff while feeling a failure at everything else.  Or have been bullied, or have been made to feel that their owly worth is their academic success. 

Education, in its purest sense of the word, I realised, is not about pushing in a lot of facts and figures and letting a child regurgitate them in an exam.  It is about drawing out of the child the potential that is there in the first place.  Which a school cannot know, because it is a psychopathic institution, as Peter Senge says.   He means by that, a school is not a learning institution, adapting its procedures to fit the pupils within its walls.  It is, like justice, blind to the people who are currently within it, and blind to the differences in those people, treating all the same.  This equality can be presented as a positive, but it can most surely be presented as a negative... especially if you are one of the people whose skills are not valued or tested by school.

So I decided when I came to think about my educational philosophy,  that first, I wanted my children to be happy, secure in themselves, not bullied (as bullying had been a feature of my son's school days) and able to know themselves, and grounded in a life where they weren't coerced into doing English when they longed to run around the park, or made to do Maths when they longed to play football.  Responding to their interests, accessing maths through daily life, shopping for food, English through the spoken word, leaving them free to learn at their own paces, was my aim.

Of course, this presents the authorities with a problem.  They are not empowered to test a home educator in the way that they can test a school against the national curriculum, because home educators are not obliged to follow the national curriculum, any more than private schools are.  Without their tick boxes and national curriculum they feel lost, and so a lot of local authorities use the same tick boxes they use in schools, to establish that parents are teaching their children more or less the same curriculum they'd be learning in school.  Except, they don't have to. 

I had an inspection once.  I'd been lied to and told that I had to have one, which I did not.  I was completely and utterly honest with the inspectors.  When they asked me about maths I said I didn't teach the children in that sense at all.  We did maths when it came up in everyday life, counting change and calculating weights and measure for cookery.  The fact that my daughter outperformed her peers when helping out at a jumble sale, showed that her mental arithmetic was far better at five and six than those who had been subjected to maths lessons each week was irrelevant, apparently.

I learned from the inspectors that they had no knowledge of home education at all.  They weren't even interested in it - the differences, the benefits, the drawbacks.  They hadn't read any of the authors which home educators are directed to when they begin to home educate - John Taylor Gatto, John Holt ("Oh I might have read something by him in college..."said our inspector), Roland Meighan and Alan Thomas.  They were ignorant of the differences between a teacher and thirty pupils and a parent and three.  They not only didn't know, they didn't want to know.  A more perfect example of a non-learning organization it would be hard to imagine.  And their business is assessing education.  It's a nice irony.

Ordinary people, the ones who have gone to school and now put their own children through school are nearly always highly critical of the idea of home education, and see it as a slur on their parenting that you have chosen to home educate your children.  But if you can talk to them about their own school days - the teacher they hated, the subjects they hated, the bullying, the feeling of not fitting in - it seems these are universal experiences and then, people begin to understand and see the situation rather more openly and less critically.

If you look at the history of state education, you will find that it was never the aim of it to educate the masses to the best of their ability.  It was to get the urchins off the streets, and to educate the masses to be useful to the industrial machine, that's all.  And although it has only been about a numder and forty years out of the length of human history, the authorities have been pretty damne successful at persuading the people that school is best and that it is dangerous or difficult to educate your own children unless you have a degree in education... and sometimes, even when you do, given that I have supported a number of qualified teachers also having problems with local authorities.

Those same people can immediately see, as the NSPCC and the inspectors can see, how it would be possible to neglect or abuse your children if you withdraw them from the public eye.  And of course, that *is* possible - in fact it is happening in every town in the country, after school.  Most abused children are attending school, and the fact that they are seen by teachers and other pupils may mean that their abuse is picked up... but for many it doesn't.  If being in the public eye was an antidote to abuse, then no school children would be abused.  Sadly, that's not the case.

There have indeed been some cases where children who were allegedly being home educated were abused and in some cases murdered by their parents or carers.  But if you look into the detail of those cases, most of the children abused and murdered by their children while "home educating" were already known to the authorities before they began to home educate.  The authorities have the ability to go into a home where they suspect a child is abused, whether that fmily is schooling or home educating their child.  They don't need new powers to do that, they already have them.  The problem is not that parents use home education as cover for abuse.  The problem is that even when concerns have been expressed about a child, the authorities do not use their powers to protect children.

It's possible to shoplift when you go into a shop, but I don't do that and I'm sure you don't either.  We'd be pretty annoyed if all shops insisted on searching our bags and turning out our pockets on the off-chance we might have done.   It's possible to drop your wife off the cross channel ferry in the middle of the journey because she insists on clearing away your meals befre you're ready, but most of us will put up with the annoyance and not murder our spouses... not because we are watched or checked up on, but because we're nice people.  Most people are nice, love their children, want what's best for them.  Which isn't regular inspections by strangers who don't understand how their intervention may change the dynamic in the family.

The NSPCC is talking about welfare inspections to ensure a parent has not been abusing a child out of school.  The inspections the local authorities are talking about are inspections to ensure a child is being educated, in line with the education act.  They're different things.  Do we send inspectors in to check that parents with children under five are not abusing them?  No, not unless concerns have been expressed by someone that the children may not be OK.  Why should children in home education be different from that?  If we spend all our money in checking up on all the parents who are not abusing their children, how much money will be left for checking up on those who *do*.

The inspections the local authorities talk about, are the impossible inspection of a child against an unknown aim selected by the parent - for that is, literally what the authorities have to inspect against.  It is perfectly OK in home education for a child to aim to be a horse rider, an astronomer, a dentist or an artist at the end of their education, and if they can be shown to have talent and to have ability in that area, it would be hard for the authorities to argue that a child wasn't being educated according to their age, ability and aptitude, but at the same time, very difficult for an inspector to assess.  They usually fall back nowadays on looking at the core subjects of the national curriculum and trying to check that the education a child is receiving is covering that. Which it may not be, even though absolutely compliant with the education act.  Most children pursuing their dream will learn the core subjects simply because they are needed to fully understand nearly everything in our informational age.  But not necessarily because the parents have been offering lessons in it.

That's without the additional problems that some inspectors don't know the law, and try to exceed their powers.  One told me that maybe the local education authority was allowed to "vary" the law, as they are able to do in housing law.  I pointed out that this housing variation is actually written into the law, which it is not in the case of education.

Periodically, it seems, the NSPCC decides to stir up trouble by suggesting that home education is a cover for abuse, and periodically we all have to cease what we are doing and fight that idea, to retain the freedoms which have made home education such a joy in England, and such a pain in many other European and Scandinavian countries.  So here we go again....

Tell us about you

I've been compiling a blog about Methylisothiazolinone and other related chemicals, as I have become more and more sensitive to its use in washing up liquids and other products, more and more of which are containing these chemicals.

In the course of compiling lists of those products containing MI and those which do not, I have been visiting a lot of company websites, which has started to make me very critical of the way that they use the "about us" page on their sites.  So often, companies use it to blow their own trumpet about their products, their ethical behaviour, their reason for making the product, without telling you a single thing about the people behind the company.

Quite often, you have to dig to discover whether a company is in the UK or not.  Having been stung by customs duty on a number of purchases abroad, and not wanting to waste a lot of money on postage and packing, I try to buy British where at all possible.  For others with the same problem, the contact us page usually - but not always - gives the company address.  Often it is a webform to allow one to ask questions.  I'm presuming that legally they need to give a company address somewhere on the website, but I'm not sure that this has been legislated about in the way that paper literature has been.

It's most frustrating when the companies put a picture of their people, or CEO or founder, and still tell you nothing about them.  The trouble is, descriptions of a company's ethical policy or philanthropic record is so much less interesting without the people.

Sometime people tell you almost too much.  Being a member of the Facebook group on MI allergy, I received a linkto a company selling products, in which the salesperson said more or less that selling the products was going to be her way to a life of luxury as it is a low risk high rewards business.  Making it sound like a pyramid scheme which overprices the products, it told me far more than she would have liked us to know, it seemed to me. 

Transport of despair

The government announces a 15 billion pound investment in roads.  Roads, people.  Not public transport, which would be the greenest way of bringing the most happiness to most people, but roads.  The bloated fat cats in Westminster need their transport, and hopefully the changes to that dreadful road down to Cornwall will cut the time it takes for them to get to their holoiday cottage in the back of beyond, don't you know?  /end sarcasm.

One of the commenters on the Guardian story suggested that people being able to drive out of Cornwall for a variety of reasons might also be important.  I'm not denying that Devon and Cornwall have been badly served for public transport and road infrastructure for a long time, and that probably does deserve investment.  But if the government has money sloshing around for transport, it seems to me that they should use some of it to improve public transport before they start making the roads shiny.

This area of Lincolnshire still has people in the signal boxes!  Although we have a journey of only 19 minutes to our county town, Lincoln, it is made very difficult to commute there for work. as I said in the Guardian comments myself "...It seems that the powers that be in this area expect you to drive and have a car, and if you don't, screw you. There are trains which thunder through Market Rasen station all the time on their way to Lincoln, but only two stop at the station in the morning - one at 6.22 am and the other at 7.39 am. As it takes 19 minutes to get to Lincoln, our nearest large town and employment centre, this means that you can get to town for 6.40am or 8 am roughly... if you can get on the second train at all, which is not infrequently impossible as it is a single carriage cattle truck. If you can't get on that train, you are stuck for two and a half hours before the next train stops.
We are killing our planet with our reliance on fossil fuels and cars. Our grandchildren and great grandchildren would rather like some of that money spent on improving public transport so that they can still breathe in 2050 - and I'd like some of it spent now so that commuting 19 minutes to town isn't an impossible dream."

And it's true.  The public transport system available in the capital is decades ahead of the system I have access to in Lincolnshire.  And it isn't good enough.

I am wondering how it is that the government justified the nationalization of the railways.  The East Coast line, which was taken back into public ownership, made £225 million in profit last year, and people were very pleased with the services it offered, but they went ahead and reprivatised it big fat anyway. so now the profits will go to the shareholders and not to the public purse.  It's no wonder at all that the governments books aren't balancing, with the income and possible profits going to private firms and the costs of transport infrastructure all being paid for by the public purse - and that includes train infrastructure - it's only the profitable parts that are in private ownership.  We own the costly bit.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Precautionary Fracking principle

Fracking free beautiful countryside
A government scientist has compared Fracking to asbestos and Thalidomide in a report which does not give the government the support it was looking for on allowing commercial companies to Frack the Frack out of England. The full Walport report is available here.

I've been campaigning against the TTIP for the last few months, under the aegis of 38 degrees.  I have read the report by War on Want which outlines the reasons why we might not want to agree the TTIP and it includes the fact that in Europe we use the "precautionary principle" in relation to food and other additives, expecting a company to prove that an additive or substance is safe before they inflict it on the population.  In the US, the precaution is all the other way:  a benighted consumer or consumer group must prove that the harm that was done to them is related to the additive - they can throw anything they like into their products until someone proves that it is harmful.  This may be why Mcdonald's chips in the UK have four ingredients and in the US more than a dozen.

That's what's wrong in the Fracking decision that the government has taken.  They've used their normal "divide and conquer" approach of making the policy decision - to allow fracking - centrally, but have insisted that local authorities ought to make the local planning decisions themselves.  They have definitely not kept any sort of a precautionary principle in mind:  they've decided to let people Frack until it is proven to have harmed our green and pleasant land... and do not consider that it may be too late by the time we work out what damage has been done.  As with Thalidomide and Asbestos.

I urge everyone in the country who reads these words to use the "They work for You" website to contact your MP and ask whether they are going to urge the government to reconsider their decision on Fracking in the light of the Walport report.  And tell them you are against the TTIP, and most particularly, against it being negotiated in private with the negotiations remaining secret under the 30-year rule, while you're at it.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ello ello

I've joined Ello, which is billed as an alternative to Facebook, or in some reports as the anti-facebook.  It's not the first alternative to Facebook that I've joined, but I like its style.  It is no-ads, no tracking, a bit minimalist for my middle-aged brain to cope with...I feel like I'm blundering around in a white room with the doors and windows camoflaged and with an audience laughing just outside a door I can't see! 

However, I'm liking the freedom from advertising, and the fact that it is currently all early adopters who are web-savvy and interested in a wide range of things who are on the scroll list.

You can follow people or set them aside in the "noise" stream... so it's more like G+ as a model for friending.  I dunno... I think the social media model which is going to succeed will let us have multiple identities under an umbrella, and keep our different friend groups in different places.  Currently friend simply means "interested in" on ello.  It doesn't need to be reciprocal - so someone you friend may stick you in "noise".  But I have friends who are interested in what I do in SL and not at all interested in genealogy... friends who are also home educators and interested in unschooling but not at all interested in my music.  I need a way to keep all my friends happy and currently the only way to do that would be to develop different accounts for different groups. 

What I really need is a combination of G+, FB and the late lamented Subjot, which was like twitter but divided into subjects.  I loved Subjot, because it allowed me to follow someone when they wrote about genealogy but not to get all their "I'm on a train!" general stuff.  It let me follow a lot of SL people whose other activities I had no interest in. 

It's under development still, so I'll see how it is... but the lack of enclosed space to post things you only want your RL friends to see, is a big disadvantage.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Bashar: being the experience

Bashar is a personality channelled by Darryl Anka.  He purports to be an alien from a future parallel world.  I have no idea whether that can be true, but he has interesting ideas and I am impressed by the answers he gives to the people who consult him.  I feel he has taught me a lot, and I am profoundly grateful that my Quaker hankering after new light, wherever it may be found, and my unscientifically open mind, which doesn't discriminate against people even if they make very outlandish claims, has allowed me to be open to the ideas that Bashar talks about. 

His ideas include the suggestion that we are the experience we are having at any given moment, which is included in this video, which seems to be a private recording of Bashar.  What fascinates me is that the idea he talks about in the video meshes very well with the ideas in the experiment with light, which is something I experienced and wrote about some years ago. 

One example in the video tha Bashar talks about is the experience of sadness:  if you are feeling sad, then he says you are that experience, the feeling of sadness.  If on the other hand you are a person wondering about your feeling of sadness, or thinking about your feeling of sadness, that's who you are.  And the perspective of who you are and what you are experiencing changes radically, because you are perceiving or experiencing that sadness from a distance, not experiencing the sadness, but experiencing the wondering or thinking about the sadness.

This change of perspective is an important one, I do believe, particularly for people experiencing a deep emotion or emotional problem.  Being the experience means that you can deliberately gain objectivity by being the person wondering about the problem or being the person thinking about the problem, rather than being the person with the problem.  For people who haven't considered the difference, they'll seem the same; they aren't. 

Watch the video.  If you can suspend your disbelief about Bashar and channelling, it may be a useful insight. It's something I will be meditating upon, along with his other idea, that we are constantly navigating parallel universes guided by the life we prefer to experience... which is a whole other blogpost entirely.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Infinite variety

Most people who have a connection to the internet have had the experience of surfing from one page to another, travelling from subject to subject in an unplanned and unformed way.  My day was like that yesterday.  I'm missing Eelco, who went home on Sunday, and trying to clear and tidy away the things I have collected recently.

I started with tidying up, and saw there were strong cardboard boxes littering the living room, which had held deliveries for my birthday, and some things from Amazon.  I began by moving them into the kitchen, thinking I would disassemble them and take them to the recycling place on Friday (it's only open Friday to Monday) but it occurred to me that I have been planning to make Christmas decorations and would need cardboard for that.

So I drifted from tidying to cutting out stars and hearts and Christmas trees, while listening to a play on Radio 4.  The iPlayer has become increasingly frustrating for me, listening mostly on my laptop, as the BBC in their wisdom have designed the page for mobile and tablet, and removed most of the useful navigational ways of seeing what's available.  Nowadays I look up the category I am interested in and have to click back and forth through the list of apparently available drama, most of which isn't available at all.

I found a Martin Beck mystery and found I have been missing these, the past few weekends.  There were several mentioned on the site which were no longer available to listen to.  I listened to the available edition and followed that with some preposterous nonsense which purported to be a whodunnit starring a fictional version of Noel Coward... strange.  A growing heap of cardboard offcuts grew at my feet while I assembled a box full of stars and other useful shapes.

In the course of making the five pointed star I wanted, I made a six pointed star, and adapted this to a snowflake.  That led me to look up snowflakes on google, and I found a wikipedia article with a lot of pictures of snowflakes.  I read the article, but the explanation that a snowflake has a six-fold symmetry because the climactic conditions are similar for the formation of the flake seemed a very poor explanation to me.  Surely if the climactic conditions were the only consideration there'd be a lot of very similar snowflakes falling all the time, which doesn't seem to be the case?

Kim has been making papier mache using shredded tissue paper and a whisk to make a clay-like substance.  I went onto Pinterest to show her some white salt dough made with cornflour, and caught site of a picture of a Swedish house lit from within. I then made a couple of little houses... having found a good shape I reversed the construction to give myself a pattern to use when next I have a pile of cardboard.  I fancy groups of snow-covered cottages and houses for Christmas....

Pinterest, and returning to tidying up, led me to think about other craft projects I have been meaning to try, and when I found a little pile of fabric which needed returning to the pile of hampers I keep that stuff in, I began to think about Mister Finch and his moths and mushrooms.  He makes fantastical creatures from fabric, and I have often lusted over them but am unable to afford them.  The only way I am getting a Mister Finch mushroom is if I make one myself I thought, and immediately began to think about how they are constructed.

So still in the middle of a chaos of untidied sewing and craft materials, I began to try my hand at a Mr Finch mushroom.  I had two completed by bedtime, one small and the other enormous.  Neither of them is anywhere near his professional finish, but I realised that little mushrooms might make lovely pincushions, and great Christmas presents.

I was still thinking about snowflakes and their beauty and variety this morning and so looked for creative commons pictures to illustrate this blog post.  I found the amazingly beautiful work of Alexey Kljatov, who is the photographer responsible for the photograph above.  The more I look at them, the more I think snowflakes are more than just a random freezing of water... I do not think similar environmental conditions explain the symmetry and beauty that Alexey has captured.  For those interested in snowflake photography, he gives a lot of information about how he makes these pictures on his blog.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Abuse of power: the fight for Ashya King

Some days ago, a story appeared in my Facebook feed from the Lincolnite, for a "missing" child, last seen with his parents, and possibly heading for Lincoln.  I commented on the stream, asking in what sense he ws missing, if he was with his parents?  There was no detail in the story to indicate that the parents were abusive or that he was in any danger.  The other people commenting on the stream treated my question as though I was an idiot - of COURSE the child must be at risk of harm if the police were chasing after him - but having been aware of a number of similar cases among the home education fraternity, where the social services had assessed children as being "at risk" without the slightest evidence that this was so, I am sceptical of witch hunts like this one without firm evidence.

I was less sceptical when the reports of the kidnapping of another child started to be run on the BBC, because it seemed from the reports that the child, suffering from a brain tumour, had been endangered by the parents, not having enough battery to continue the feeding that the child needed, and taking him out of the country to an unknown destination, but I retained my feeling that most loving parents will want what's best for their child, and so they must have had a very good reason for this action.

Once the facts of the case began to emerge, I was horrified that the authorities had issued such senstional news reports without any justification whatsoever.  The father went on youtube to explain that there was no danger to his son: the family had made very careful preparations for the journey, the feedling system could be plugged into the mains, use a battery (and they had a spare) and they could also do the feeding manually using a syringe if necessary.

It became clear from the information released by the family that they had disagreed with the doctor treating their son, and wanted to be able to have a treatment for his brain tumour known as proton B.  When he refused, saying that it wasn't appropriate to his case, AND refused to allow them to seek a second opinion, the family did what actually few enough of us would actually do, and decided to sell their assets and find the treatment elsewhere.  Proton B, as far as I understand it is a better targetted use of radiation for tumours that avoids as far as possible the damage which can be inflicted by standard radiation treatment.  In terms of a brain tumour, that may be significant.

In any case, the child was not in the danger which the hospital had stated, the parents had committed no crime by removing their child from the hospital and leaving the country, and surely their right to take decisions for their family must be respected - mustn't they?  Well it seems not.  The authorities saw fit to issue a European arrest warrant for the parents, which is normally only used when a person has been charged with a criminal offence, and the parents were arrested in Malaga, Spain.

The reason they were in Malaga was to sell family property, in order to obtain the £100,000 they needed for the proton B treatment for their son.  These were the neglectful parents pursued with the full force (and enormous cost) of the Hampshire constabulary, because a child was at risk of harm.  Although to date no evidence that I can see of the harm has been produced by the authorities, they took the further step of proceedings to make Ashya a ward of court, and continued with proceedings against the parents despite the fact that by this time a groundswell of opinion was that the hospital had overstated the risks to the child (which they admitted, yesterday, during news reports) and the only crime the parents had committed was to want the best for the child.

A "Fight for Ashya King" Facebook group has been set up for the family to support the child, which had 5000 members yesterday and 10,000 today.  A Change.Org petition had been set up, which had 30,000 signatures yesterday and has nearly 100,000 today.  A number of funds have been set up for the family because many people wanted to be able to donate towars the child's treatment, and although the paypal donations have been frozen by paypal, £12,000 has been donated on the Indiegogo fundraiser, which hopefully will help meet some of the costs that the parents are incurring, fighting in court.

For that is what the parents are having to do.  Detained under arrest by police in Malaga, they have had one appearance in court during which they declined to be returned to the UK, and are due for another today.  The judge in Malaga has to decide if there is a case to answer, but unbelievably, the Hampshire constabulary and her majesty's government don't appear to have decided to drop the case in the face of the evidence that they overreacted and sent the hounds after perfectly innocent parents who were trying to do the best for their son.

Unbelievably, although a number of news reports, including one from the Guardian, have started to quote members of the government in support of the parents, the news reports on BBC radio are still reporting as though the parents are guilty of neglect or abuse in a negative way.  Their famed balance and neutrality over issues like this seems to be absent.

It is obvious that questions are going to have to be asked of the doctors, hospital, police and authorities once the dust has settled, because if the parents were not guilty of putting their child at risk - and it seems likely that they were not - then this exercise in opporessing their rights has cost us a lot of money.  We should not be intervening in the rights of a family to choose what they consider to be the best treatment for their child.  Having had a child with a chronic illness, I know how easily a medical expert can pronounce authoratitively on a case, notwithstanding the fact that an equally qualified expert gave the opposite opinion - in the end the parents have to decide whether the hospital is offering the best option for their child, and if not, find that option elsewhere.  Which is all they did.

I hope that questions are asked about this family's treatment.  They aren't the only family struggling with injustice but they have garnered a lot of support and publicity because it is so evident that an injustice has occurred.  I hope the Biritsh government can admit its mistake and free them today, because the idea of a little boy, terminally ill in hospital, without the parents who love him, is breaking our hearts.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: why you SHOULD care and DO something about it!

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement (TTIP) is being negotiated behind closed doors at the EU, and on the surface it seems to be common sense:  an agreement that allows standardisation of requirements between the EU and the USA, and which sets down some of the arrangements to do that.  Under the surface, though, is a whole lot more stuff which could remove a large part of our government's ability to impose environmental, employment and safety laws in our own country and for our own people.  And THAT's why we have to stop it becoming a reality.

It isn't that it might not have any advantages for the UK or EU as a trade agreement - but the potential cost in loss of our democratic right to control our laws and make legislation would be undermined fatally if it goes ahead. 

The current government seem to believe that if they promise "more jobs" and "more money" and a "booming economy" we will be prepared to allow any sacrifice to our way of life, our welfare state and our local laws and safety regulations - but they're wrong about that as far as I am concerned, and I hope they're wrong about it for a lot of people.  But we have to mobilise the people of this country who are worn down by the fact that they can't find anyone worth voting for, and have given up on expressing a preference - and make sure they get the facts and figures and make their voices heard before this agreement becomes a fact.

You can read George Monbiot's article for the Guardian about TTIP.  As you will see, Ken Clarke has published a riposte to the article claiming that it's an overreaction.  He actually says in the body of his article:   "This is not about reducing safety levels. It is simply common sense. Would any of us on holiday in the US decline to hire that all-American SUV, or say no to that unfeasibly enormous vat of fizzy pop on the grounds that the regulations "are not the same as the EU's"?"  Well actually Ken... the fizzy pop in the USA contains a whole lot of high-fructose corn syrup, which has been associated with a lot of poor health in the US and is not allowed to be used in the EU - and that might change if this agreement goes ahead.  And yes, I care about that, the possibility that foodstuffs will include unlabelled GM, and the fact that many things which are banned in the EU are allowed in the US, possibly because they are subject to the same sort of crazy agreements.

The damaging part of the trade agreement comes because our governments and the EU can be sued in secret offshore courts, and made to compensate companies for making them follow our laws on minimum wage or cleaning up the environment.  

As George Monbiot says: "During its financial crisis, and in response to public anger over rocketing charges, Argentina imposed a freeze on people's energy and water bills (does this sound familiar?). It was sued by the international utility companies whose vast bills had prompted the government to act. For this and other such crimes, it has been forced to pay out over a billion dollars in compensation."  If we sign this agreement, we may be affected in the same way.

The trouble is, politicians think we're stupid.  If they harp on about the positive aspects of the trade agreement, and wave money in front of our faces, we won't look behind the curtain and see the possible effects of the agreement in the future.  Which might include the government being made to compensate the corporations if their companies are disadvantaged by an increase in minimum wage or a change to environmental safeguards.  We already have dozens of rich American companies refusing to pay tax - now we'll have them demanding compensation on top.

As for the much wider concern that they might be able to prevent us from reversing the privatisation of the NHS... don't get me started.  War on Want have published a comprehensive PDF about the possible outcomes from the TTIP.

There's a day of action tomorrow, as the supporters from 38 degrees will be leafletting and telling people about the possible consequences of the TTIP.  You can find details here and sign up to help at your local protest or with posting leaflets through people's doors.

Sign the 38 degrees petition here:

TV review: Extant

Full Moon over Puget Sound by Shari Maria Silverman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

I was about nine years old when man landed on the moon in 1967, but I wasn’t very much impressed.  As I had been watching Dr Who for about four years by then, I had assumed that Man was able to go to far more distant destinations already.  My idea of what was possible was governed by the programmes I had watched.

How much more difficult must it be to sort the real from the unreal for today’s children, brought up with pixel-perfect special effects and an array of science fiction worlds to inhabit.  Currently I have been watching CBS’s Extant with interest, as it seems to me to have mastered the art of placing the action in the future, with improved gadgets and slight changes to the way things work, but with jumps that aren’t too far to imagine.

Currently, there is room for the plot to move in different directions, and it isn’t clear whether the greatest threat to mankind has arrived via an alien impregnation of a solo astronaut, or via an innovative lifelike robot who has been given the gift of life by a scientist who believes that he can create a simulacrum of a human, without any of the traditional limits on robot behaviour.

It is clear that the future world is already wary of the robots, and it is hinted that there has already been trouble caused by a previous generation of robots at some time in the past.

I find it believable and its production values seem to be high, although I fear that CBS, being driven only by immediate viewing figures, may cancel the show.  The USA doesn’t seem to allow shows to build an audience, pulling them without a chance to find their feet.  This show has some pretty complex ideas embedded within it, and needs attention and intelligence to be understood properly  and to keep track of the constantly shifting line between good and evil which arises. 

In the show, the household seems to have a computer presence which only makes itself evident when there are incoming phone calls or communication of some sort.  You don’t hear the people making an impromptu shopping list, but maybe the house monitors the number of loo rolls or availability of fresh milk automatically.  It’s not too much of a leap to imagine a future where every room is connected, as “OK, Google” is already available on an android phone near you, and the worlds first household robot communications hub is attracting crowdfunding on Indiegogo.

I’m assuming that the writers are committing anachronistic mistakes which will only be obvious at some stage in the future.  Maybe the sort of mobile telephone you have to hold in the hand, thin and beautiful as the futuristic designs may be, will be entirely unnecessary once we all have wearable computers on our wrists, able to conjure holographic keyboards and screens seen only by us.

Cars that drive themselves, GPS systems to track individuals and their vehicles, screens embedded into walls are not too much of a leap, while the very lifelike and realistic robot boy is a long way forward of our current technology.  It’s hard to review the plot without putting in too many spoilers, and I don’t want to do that while the show is still in its first series and needs to attract viewers.  Some of the American press seem to think a review should be a recap of the plot of the episodes, and even more annoyingly, think they can watch two episodes in the middle of a series and understand what is going on.  Fortunately, apart from a quick recap at the beginning of the episode, Extant doesn't go in for the irritating American habit of recapping every five minutes in case one of the audience has drifted off to make a cup of tea, and might return, confused about what has happened since they last looked at the screen (which has begun to infect many of the UK's factual series).  However, the future land where it is possible for a company to constantly monitor an employee’s whereabouts, coupled with robots without the prime directive never to harm a human, expected to understand and live by some sort of acquired morality, is scary.

We seem not to have had the big ethical discussion about the use of drones in warfare, something one character speaks about passionately, having been injured in a drone attack.  It seems quite incredible to me that any medical research to be perpetrated on the public must go through ethical committees and scrutiny before it can be allowed, and yet the changes to the way that warfare is run, including the use of unmanned drone flights which allow people to inflict death and destruction on people many miles away, has been introduced without any formal public ethical debate.  The speech may well make people think.

I’m enjoying the fantasy element, enjoy watching Halle Berry and Goran Visnjic and the little boy who plays a spookily realistic robot, Pierce Gagnon.  I’m apprehensive that most of the themes which are evident in the first few weeks will never have time to blossom if the current viewing figures dictate the future viability of the series.

In the UK, the series is available on Amazon Prime, as part of the membership, and that is how I have been watching it.  Unfortunately, in the last couple of weeks double episodes have been released, never a good sign for a tv series, which may indicate it is about to be cancelled.  Which would be a great shame, as I think the series has a lot of potential, and maybe the audience needs time to build.  I can think of a lot of classic tv series which would have folded at the end of the first series, if the current obsession about viewing figures had been the main directive.  Sometime people need time.

Incidentally, even among the sci-fi-loving young people of my acquaintance who have Amazon Prime, and therefore are able to watch Extant for free, it is little known.  Maybe some of the shiny trailers and polished publicity should be a bit better distributed, to attract the viewing figures which will give it future life.

Friday, August 01, 2014

School of hard knocks

My niece and I had a long conversation today, which is unusual in itself.  She asked me some questions about my reasons for home educating, and told me about a TED talk she had seen by a boy who is home educated, which she said made her cry. 

The talk is a good one, and astonishing for a 13 year old boy to have done.  He is so assured and well-paced, making jokes and letting the audience have space to catch up, and laugh.  If I had to sum up his talk, it is that we don't teach children how to be happy and healthy, indeed, don't recognize those as good aims for people in general, and the education he is hacking for himself is allowing him to be both of those things.

He's fairly low-key in his criticism of schooling, preferring to concentrate on the advantages of his approach rather than the faults of the system, but I'd go a lot further in my criticism of the school system.  He talks about the possibility that children in school may not be happy now, if bullied, or lost in the school system, or wanting to do things they aren't allowed to do.

If you believe that the greatest work any of us have to do is to work out how to be the best version possible of ourselves to the best of our ability, school is a big handicap.  Spending years believing that you hate poetry or maths or Shakespeare and accepting that as part of Who You Are, it can come as a shock to find that actually you find Shakespeare funny or love some poetry or can work mathematical things out if motivated to solve a real-life problem.

There are a number of ways that I feel schooling undermines our ability to be ourselves, and the ability to tell whether we actually hate something or only hate being made to do it, is one.  Not being given the opportunity to make choices about what we learn and when, leads to a lot of boredom and a lot of wasted opportunities, is another. 

The imposition of a lot of what home educators call "busy work" is also a problem for me.  Children are expected to repeat what they have learned endlessly because so much of what we think we know about learning is derived from the work of Ebbinghaus.  His work is still taught in teacher training colleges because it is thought of as the pure understanding of how we learn, but as Frank Smith points out in his wonderful Book of Learning and Forgetting, this only applies to things we have no existing knowledge about and which don't make sense to us.

Ebbinghaus conducted experiments testing adults with their ability to learn a set of facts and figures, and was frustrated by the fact that his results differed according to how much information a person already knew about a subject, and how interested they were in it.  He then locked himself away for a few years to come up with hundreds of meaningless syllables, which could not possibly be known already as they didn't mean anything in any language.

His tests, therefore, were to see how many of these meaningless things an adult could learn before they began to forget the first ones they had committed to memory.  His conclusion was that the average was ten, which is the reason so many things come in sets of ten questions or lists of ten things to remember.

Of course, you have to realize that ten incomprehensible syllables are rather different from ten things that add to knowledge you already have on a subject which interests you.  Some children demonstrate their ability to learn hundreds of facts about Pokemon or football clubs, or anything that interests them, without the slightest risk of forgetting any of it.

I came across these ideas in Frank Smith's wonderful Book of Learning and Forgetting, which had a profound effect on me, although the feeling I had was of someone articulating my thoughts and elegantly arranging them into a book. 

When I withdrew my children from school and had to come up with my own philosophy of education for the local education authority, it was a complete revelation to find how much of my opinion and thinking about education was built on assumptions I had learned at school - on my schooling and not on my intelligence, education or actual opinion.  Once I was forced to confront what aim I wanted to have for my education of my children, I realized that more than anything else, I wanted them to be happy and to know who they really were.  And the curriculum for that is very different from one which aims to force all children into further education, with as many paper qualifications as possible.

School isn't fit for purpose any more.  It remains a Victorian institution, where learning how to conform and be quiet and compliant is more important than any learning, and where your personal inclinations for particular types of study are meaningless to the system.  This last I find very difficult to understand - life is not divided into subjects like maths and English and physics and biology.  Generally, our activities tend to involve a complex mixture of subjects, so that even a relatively simple task like making biscuits might involve maths, English, chemistry, history... giving children real tasks, and letting them take the learning where they want to go, is far more efficient, far more enjoyable, and far happier, than having them sat in rows with busy work until the bell goes.

We have the best resources for education of any generation in the history of earth, and yet we are still making the same mistakes that the Victorians were making 140 years ago.  The tragedy of the education industry is that it actually diminishes a child's potential for learning and curiosity, and hasn't raised the literacy and numeracy rates at all.  Living in an information age, we ought to be finding out if alternatives work better than our current methods. but actually diverity of provision has become more and more scarce, as the government has taken more and more interest in what is taught and when in our schools.

Home education and home educators provide the best possible range of alternative approaches to schooling, from those who run a school-at-home set up complete with timetables and curricula, to the unschooling crowd who may never suggest any academic work, ever.  It is a mystery to me why governments show no interest at all in learning what they can from them, and applying that to schools.  As for adults, some children will be happy sitting and reading or studying a subject that interests them.  Others will be far happier outside playing.  The current school model seems to assume one is good, the other a waste of time... but my contention is that both are potentially a waste of time or the most important work that can be done, depending upon who is doing it, and why.

That's the thing that school doesn't allow.  And won't I guess, until they realise that forcing an unwilling participant to do something they aren't ready or willing to do, may be doing more damage than we can know.  It is no coincidence that the level of mental health problems, number of youth suicides, and number of prescriptions for drugs have risen and risen in the teenage population. 

Understanding fate and free will

One of the advantages of being a Quaker, in my opinion, is that you are exhorted to look for new light, wherever you may find it.  I've always had an open mind, but what I have learned over the past twenty years of seeking for answers about the big mysteries of life, is that sometimes someone can be very wrong about some things, but hardly anyone is wrong about everything.

Over the last ten years, there has been a distinct convergence between the wackier outliers of esoteric thinking and mainstream science, particularly quantum physics, with physicists postulating that there may be an infinite number of parallel universes.  Bashar, who claims to be a channelled being from our future, teaches that we can navigate our way through this by choosing the path to the life we prefer, which I find an interesting idea.  He says that we have free will to choose our path, while also teaching that people have a purpose which aligns with their highest excitement.

It's always been hard to align the idea of fate or predestiny with the idea of free will, because they seem to be mutually exclusive.  If precognition is a thing (as experiments appear to show, and I think it is) then doesn't that mean that the future is fixed, immutable, and the idea of free will is redundant?

Bashar teaches that the divergence of worlds into many parallel universes means that the probable future at any given time becomes more and more probable as it becomes closer.  He says that ideas of precognition are only possible probable futures, but not fixed because we always have a choice to change it.

This morning it struck me that the best analogy for this idea is a game of patience.  The cards have been dealt a certain way, and they make certain moves more or less likely.  As you proceed through the game, you may open up or close down the future choices, making certain moves impossible or very likely - but not fixed.

I find it hard to get my head around the idea of parallel universes.  People have postulated that every time one take a decision another universe goes off in the direction you didn't choose, while your consciousness follows the path you have chosen.  Does this mean another Fee in another universe is not writing a blog post this morning, but cooking herself tomato and scrambled egg?

Whatever the truth may be, I enjoy seeking new light in the weirdest of places.  Enlightenment comes from within, not from without, but information and knowledge can be waypointers to an expanding consciousness that our physical world and what we can see is not all that there is.  I strongly believe we are eternal, and are spirits having a human experience and not the other way around. All is one, we are profoundly connected, and seeking after truth is part of my highest excitement.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Loud and clear

With my Dad, some years ago....
I've come to St Albans to give my sainted mother a couple of days respite looking after my father.  She's been loking after him since he was released from hospital, despite having divorced him forty years ago.  He's much better physically, but his short-term memory is completely shot and he is forgetting how to do some things he was previously handling himself like emptying his catheter.

My sister Amanda took the first couple of days.  Yesterday she left him his lunch and wenty off back home, and I arrived a couple of hours later.  My father seemed happy but surprised to see me at 2pm, and continued to be happy but surprised every time I came into the room.  If I asked him if he wanted anything he invariably demanded a cup of coffee, which meant that he'd had about six by 7pm.

He has a supra-pubic catheter, and therefore has to have a night bag attached before he goes to bed.  I've never done this before, as he was previously handling that sort of detail himself, and so I was a little anxious about it, but I managed OK and got him to bed without incident about 11pm.

Fortunately, knowing that he's an early riser I went to bed about an hour after him, and managed to sleep pretty well.  I fell asleep to the sound of his snoring and woke to the sound of a medley of musical favourites.  I shot out of bed, and hastened to his side with bowls for the changeover to day mode, and successfully detached night bag without incident.  (My mother found him dragging his night bag around a couple of mornings, with messy consequences.)

I was still celebrating this achievement when I saw the time.  5.06am!  He's refused to dress or wash and is now watching News24 at 90 decibels in the living room.  When he saw me, he was happy but surprised.  And demanded a cup of coffee.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Tyger Drew-Honey on Porn

Having heard Tyger Drew-Honey (the oldest Outnumbered kid) interviewed on Radio 4 a few days ago about his new venture into documentary making, I had high expecttions for his take on Porn.  I'd learned that his father had been one of the major actors in British porn, before the internet put them all out of business.  Ben Dover, with his enormous genitals, featured heavily in the documentary and I think it was the reliance on people Tyger knew and the focus on himself, which made the documentary so disappointing.  A bit less Tyger and a bit more curiosity would have enhanced the result.

It was interesting, however, to see someone so comfortable with the idea of porn, masturbation and sex and also British, doing a bit of navel gazing in the face of the faint possibility that porn may not be entirely beneficial.  With slapstick moments, most of which didn't work, and initially gave a false impression of the documentary... although one or two raised a laugh in the Berry household.

Starting from the premise that the participants in porn were people exercising an informed choice, and in the form of one surgically enhanced actress, positively enjoying the filming of actual sex for the cameras, there was very little examination or even mention of the fact that among the porn on offer might be women exploited or coerced into participating.  It only arose during one dramatic interview with a woman who found the use of porn by an ex very disturbing as he used more and more extreme rape porn, some of which she suspected did not involve acting.

Although there was much discussion about the contrast between real sex and porn sex, there was very little examination of the difference that context may make to a real relationship.  Those who talk about love and commitment in any discussion about porn are assumed to be religious killjoys who disapprove of anyone enjoying sex outside marriage.  However, anyone who has had meaningless sex outside a relationship and sex within a committed relationship can tell you that context makes one hell of a difference to the quality and impact of a sexual encounter, and it is this which is missing in porn.

Some years ago when I read Nancy Friday's books on male and female fantasies, I realised that there was a general pattern to what she was being told:  while women had actual fantasies which were based upon their imagination, men often based their favourite fantasy on their first sexual experience.  In the course of my life I have also found it to be true that men have fixated upon their first sexual experience for both their ideal sexual encounter and their fetishes and fantasies.  This makes the rise of the young teenage porn user a worry for the future.  Not only is there a danger that they will make assumptions about the acceptability of the things they see on screen to a real life woman, but also the danger that they will be trained to prefer solitary sex in front of a laptop to actual sex with a woman.

There was some jokey research into the idea that people who are addicted to porn may be desensitized to it, and need more and more to be able to be excited - again in the absence of any thrill from real live people being involved... and some vox pop into the possibility that men have become more demanding about the range and type of sexual encounter they regard as normal, having been brought up with porn for information and suggested activities.

In the end, Tyger seemed to be reflecting on the idea that porn had informed his sex life in ways he hadn't considered, and he seemed genuinely moved by the woman with the abusive partner.  However, I was disassatisfied with the amount of time spent on jokes and interviewing his own parents as filler for a documentary which could have been so much more interesting with a bit more depth.  I think he is a likeable presenter who needs far more direction and help with structured writing to get the best out of a documentary format, and make the result more than superficial entertainment


Friday, April 11, 2014

Glass safety

When we had the survey done on this house, the surveyor noted that he could not confirm that the glass installed in the back door and the inner back door was safety glass.  I noted the comment and thought I should really do something about it, but I didn't give it any attention really.

John fitted a draught excluder around the back door, which has helped a lot with the draughts but has led to the door becoming rather more difficult to shut.  Consequently the occupants of the house began to slam it to get it to shut, and thus it was that Ali put his hand through the glass in the door a few weeks ago.

We were very lucky.  He cut and shredded his little finger, but wasn't badly hurt - although he bled like a stuck pig and I had to rush home from the air ambulance to see to him.  He needed hospital attention and steristrips but it was a warning I took seriously and so I have ordered toughened safety glass for all the doors, including the garage doors.  I'm not taking more risks, having seen how viciously sharp non-safety glass can be.

My mother once advised me before I had children never to put off anything which was related to safety, never to think oooh that's dangerous and do nothing, or I'll pick that up in a minute or someone will trip and fall - do it now!  And it's been advice that I am sure has saved accidents on numerous occasions.  I wish I had kept it in mind with the glass.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Back again

I've been away for a while, visiting my father in hospital, then having flu.  I'm back and picking up the threads again in Lincolnshire.

It's one long round of DIY and housework at the moment, and I have guests coming over Easter and want to make the house a good place to be and not full of boxes of miscellaneous stuff I have failed to find a home for.

The birds in the garden were very glad to see me - I filled the feeder in the garden and then watched as a flurry of sparrows and a couple of fat wood pigeons squabbled over the feeder and the seed that falls on the ground when several sparrows try to feed at once. 

The garden is full of bulbs - grape hyacinths, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and the first primroses are out too.  There are daisies on the lawn, and the wild geranium is taking over in the vegetable plot.  There's lots to do, if we have a few fairweather days.

Ali put up my curtain rail in my bedroom and it then fell down immediately.  I'm going to Lincoln to buy a sturdier one, and to get a lampshade, and then I will hopefully be able to use my room for the first time since we moved.