Wednesday, 9 November 2011

We don't need no education

Thankfully it was yesterday and not today that I travelled to central London early in the morning and came home walking past the University of London Union building. As you know our young men and women were out demonstrating today, starting at ULU.

Here's Toby Young's comment

and James Delingpole's

and a student's view

I came home frustrated, so frustrated. The only comfort is that today's demo shows that anthropology graduates are not the only ones who live in cloud-cuckoo land.

I had the impression that the workshop I was attending was about getting people within anthropology to think outside the box and say how anthropology could or should be taught so that the richness of anthropological research could be used outside academia.

So I didn't mind a former MA student complain about how her course did not meet her expectations. Great, I thought, such honesty. Department staff have better sit up and take notice. The student is now a "customer". How do we meet their needs?

We had a recent PhD student telling us all the wonderful things he's done: refusing to "give office hours" because as Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) they are not paid for office hours (which I assume means consultation hours, ie making themselves available to students they tutor at regular advertised times).

Prat! I thought. When I was graduate tutor at NUS we all had to have fixed times for consultation. We are not only facilitators at tutorials. We do not only mark essays. We also provide some pastoral care to our students. We knew we had to do that when we agreed to become tutors.

We were not paid a lot of money, but it was our duty of care to the students. We took the responsibility of shaping lives very seriously.

This GTA would only do it if they were given more money.

Then he boasted about not agreeing with the policy of submitting attendance registers to the UK Border Agency. Apparently this was required to help the agency weed out those bogus students who sometimes cause a lot of trouble, either from a terrorist perspective or slipping into the great illegal/informal sector which costs the tax payer a lot of money in the long run.

Prat! I thought. Does he think he is on the moral high ground by simply claiming that he did not want to be "gatekeeper" and agent for the Border Agency?

Has he ever considered: If only we did not have to waste so much time, money and effort tracing the illegals, if only we manage to stop these illegals worming their way into our benefits system and sponging on it, or working in the black market sector without paying due taxes, we would have more money to spend on hospitals and education, pay our academics? Yes! Including him.

So on the one hand he wants to be paid more money. On the other he refuses to safeguard the finite amount of money available to pay people like him. "Eating cake" is the phrase that comes to mind.

Reminds me of the time my friend had heart trouble when visiting the UK. After a short hospital stay he offered to pay his bill as it would be covered by his insurance. But the staff -- presumably also refusing to act a a gatekeeper to a National Health Service -- told him that they would not be contacting his insurer.


That means they now cannot recoup the money spent on him that could be used to treat the next British heart patient who needs a hospital stay. It is the NATIONAL Health Service, not INTERNATIONAL Health Service, for crying out loud.

And then as Anthropology PhD students they didn't like very much having to study statistics .... I thought anthropologists are supposed to provide a holistic perspective.

Young students are allowed to be idealistic.

Most of the time we grow out of it. As we pay taxes, get married, start a family. When thrown into the dog-eat-dog world we begin to realize university is not at all like the real world. Grow up!

However, sometimes, they take this idealism to an unsustainable plane.

It would be a gross understatement to describe the last speaker as such. Despite the grey hair, this speaker does not seem to have grown up.

He rambled on about how he was unemployable, found a job, and then is now unemployable again. He is attempting to overthrow the British government come 30th November and then we can all happily return to being hunter-gatherers, when we would have more time to play, for music, for food, and sex and all that.

Is it any surprise that he has been sacked by a few universities?

He handed out leaflets for a blockade of the "ring of steel" (within which, incidentally, my husband works) that would "bring down the government". Capitalism has had its day, he thinks.

Yet just a few minutes before that this man was happily tucking into a store-bought sandwich in plastic wrapping carried in an orange plastic carrier bag, and drinking water out of a plastic cup, poured from a plastic bottle. Where would he be hunting and gathering if nobody now makes sandwiches for sale?

Is he any good at all with a rifle, I wondered. (I was pretty good at air rifle myself.) He would need something to hunt with. What happens when there are no more capitalists to make rifles for him to hunt?

O well, maybe he is good with a slingshot.

If these are the images that the British people have of anthropologists, no wonder anthropology departments are having trouble recruiting. Would parents across the country encourage their children to study this subject if all they could get up to is complain about everything?

What have they done today to make them feel proud?

What have they done in the last two weeks to make the world a better place?

How much taxpayers' money have they wasted today simply on the policing cost?

And what are they saying? I have a right to education, whatever that may mean. The taxpayer should fund my studies. Even if it means the hospital attendant, the school cleaning lady and the checkout girl at the supermarket must pay for it.

After all that cerebral exercise it was so good to return to sewing and making physical things with my own hands today.

Please tell me your views of anthropology graduates. Thank you.

Monday, 7 November 2011

What have you done today to make you feel proud?

Warning: This is a brag post.

My son, his mate and I enjoy watching the comedy series "Miranda" in which Miranda's friend (and employee) often holds up a mask of Heather Small and mimic her singing "What have you done today to make you FEEL proud?"

Yesterday I went to bed thinking that I really toted up well.

First, a meeting with fellow social scientists outside academia. It was a group I started by accident some years ago and now it has grown, nearly 400 members! Was able to encourage those present.

Then on the way home my train, for which I was careful to buy a first class ticket to ensure a seat after a tiring meeting, was cancelled I was squashed into a Tube train whereupon a man with a beard, long hair, a very large ring in his nose, dirty finger nails, on a walking stick asked my fellow social scientist and myself whether the train was going to MK.

He, too, was supposed to be on my cancelled train, but got shoved into this other train instead.

My colleague got off the train but this man let's call him Mick leeched on to me. Meanwhile husband was on the phone trying to get 'live' information on the internet and telling me how to get home.

We were directed to make a change at station X at which anxious people were trying to get information as to how to travel. The platform staff were trying to be helpful but they, alas, did not seem to have the up-to-date information.

The electronic board said 17:15 was "on time" whereas I was told on the phone (and another passenger apparently knew too) that it was cancelled. What to do?

Husband on phone said, go to platform 3. Train due in. I walked over to platform 3 as quickly as I could while Mick hobbled along, trying to keep up.

More confusion on this platform. Even bigger crowd. Mood still harmonious though. People were anxious, not angry. Londoners are used to such delays. Unlike in Singapore, a train that is delayed by six minutes does not get reported in the papers.

Husband on phone, "There should be a train coming in at 17.19. It's the late-running 16:44. Get on that one."

I could hear on radio of staff on platform receive the information from control at a station upstream, "Train leaving that platform, should be at station X soon."

Husband on phone, "Your 17:19 should be arriving any second now. You might need to push your way in. I'll hang on to make sure you're on."

Me, "No. If I need to push in I need both hands. Call back in five minutes."

Train on platform. Mick said, "O no! It's one of those trains with a big drop from the platform. I made sure Mick got onto the train and followed." We actually found seats across each other.

Husband on phone, "Are you on?"

Me: "Yes."

Husband, "Your train should arrive at 17:32. I'll be at the station to pick you up."

Mick continued to make conversation with me across the train. Other passengers looked on with interest. Was tramp-like Mick harrassing this tiny Chinese woman? I felt they were all watching to make sure I was alright.

The man next to Mick was clearly an ex-Gurkha. He wears a uniform with a badge "Security" emblazoned on it. (A number of ex-Gurkhas are in the security sector in the UK.)

Girl next to me got off. Mick came to sit next to me. Mick had been very keen to tell us on the first train that he could not wait to get home to his flat in MK. He had gone to London for a "demo" for animal rights.

I asked him where he lived before MK. He uhmmed and arhed which suggests that he had just been taken off the streets, or released from supported housing (for mentally ill?), or even perhaps from prison, but he was "doing well". I had, as if on auto-pilot, put on my CAB hat and wanted to make sure that he was being looked after as well as looking after himself.

So the questions came fast: why the walking stick? Orthoarthritis since he was 16 or 17. How old is he? About 39. Is he taking his medicine? He stopped because the pain comes back one the drugs wear off. He just bears with the pain." I thought, "Hmm, should I ask if he was on cannabis?" Time and place for everything, my dear. The train is not the right place.

Is he with a GP? Which council is looking after him? Does he get to do much? So I learned that he gets "lonely, you know" and he repeated how pleased he was to be travelling with such good company. Earlier he had given me his number so that my vegetarian colleague could call him. Now he tells me I should put his number on my phone, too.

No, I won't, I said. "Why not?" It's falling apart. "O! But you'd put it in your next phone." I didn't commit.

Then I said he should stop smoking. Told him I could smell it a mile away. What a waste of money. "I know, but I have cut down a lot," and threw me a sheepish look.

He told me he is into art (I really hope it's art, and not graffitti). I said he should make himself useful, do something with his art. "Do something nice for someone every day."

He said he tries to do that, indeed. Mick might smell, but he speaks very good English, and very polite. If indeed he was on cannabis his intellect had only be slightly dulled by its use.

We reached our station at the end of the line and was thrown off the train. I walked away quickly, wishing him a safe journey home. He waited as I went through the gates to say "Goodbye!".

I think Mick was chuffed that two complete strangers (describing us as "very pleasant ladies") trusted him enough to continue a conversation with him. Would he do something to make himself useful? I don't know and might never know. But I certainly hope so.

Outside my "chauffeur" was waiting patiently and we got home, had a short break and we were off to a church fireworks party.

There we met PO and his dad. PO has just lost his mum. His dad had been married for nearly 60 years. Put another way, he had been married for longer than I have been alive.

For Christmas "dinner" we usually gather people we know who have no close family to go to, or people who are new to the country. So a number of nationalities have graced our table at Christmas.

[What would Jesus do? In the parable of the banquet the rich man invited those who were not likely to reciprocate his invitation. This is also partly a result of my own experience of Christmas in this country as a single person. Friends went home to their families and I was on my own, lonely and very cold.]

We had asked PO and his dad this time knowing that the first Christmas after the death of a loved one is always difficult. PO's dad was not sure whether he wanted to accept the invitation just incase he wanted to be able to have a cry. Later on he grabbed me by the shoulders and said "Christmas. Thank you for the invitation. Yes, we will be there."

Tears welled up and he gave me a long, long hug. I comforted him as I have comforted others by confessing that it took me four years before I could speak of the death of my father without crying.

When we left the party husband was "smoke damaged" by then , from being the "lighter" of fireworks PO's dad gave me another long hug, and still more tears.

At the end of the day I took stock and thought: It does not take much to bring happiness to those around us. A word of encouragement. Kind words. An offer of hospitality.

Perhaps I must remember to ask myself at the end of each day the words of Heather Small: what have you done today to make you FEEL proud?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

English as it should be writ (Part 6)

The headline Institutionalise hawker courses (20th October 2011) refers.

20/10/11 I sent this email to the Straits Times editor:

It has been a long, tiring day: squashed in the Tube train first thing in the morning, research at university, department seminar, more library research, long journey home, prepared evening meal, back to school where son played a concert, prepared evening meal (again), supervised homework, etc. and then "Institutionalise hawker courses" on Straits Times online.

It woke me up!

Does the headline writer mean courses to institutionalize hawkers (ie how to put hawkers in an institution, usually implying they have committed a crime or needed to be institutionalized due to mental illness)?

Or does he/she mean running courses for hawkers so that they could become better (or betterer), more hygienic in practice, smarter in marketing, or more polite to customers, multi-lingual, etc?

In other words make them more professional?

When I finally got round to reading the letter I realized that the writer was, amongst other thoughts, calling for the Institute of Technical Education to run courses for hawkers, which I thought was a very good suggestion.

However the word "institutionalize" (I spell it with a "z") cannot be used in this context just because the name of an "Institute" has been invoked.

[The emphasis was added for this post.]

"Institutionalized" (usually in the past tense) means it has become identified with a certain act (ie normalized) or that a person has been incarcerated (ie put into an institution). Eg "institutionalized racism", so-and-so has been declared mentally unfit and needs to be "institionalized" for his own good.

Sure, we have the Raffles Institution, but one certainly does not refer to any of their alumni as being "institutionalized".

I doubt very much that Singaporeans would appreciate being locked up just so to get a licence to run a hawker stall.

An alternative headline?

I'm too tired to think of any.


Surprise, surprise, nochet got reply.

Please, Straits Times, teach our chewren well.
The original letter here:

Institutionalise hawker courses

MANY hawkers had no formal education when I grew up and yet, succeeded through sheer perseverance and hard work ('Who will operate stalls at new hawker centres?' by Mr Alvin Tan; Tuesday).

Many also grew wealthy. I believe there are still many citizens who are willing to be hawkers, judging from the number of those who work in retail assistant jobs and the food and beverage sector. The owner of casual dining chain Paradise Inn started out as a cook in a small coffee shop in an industrial estate in Defu Lane.

I patronise a stall selling cuttlefish kang kong at Bedok Hawker Centre opposite Bedok Camp. Its owner, Mr Peter, still runs the business handed down by his father since the 1950s.

The Institute of Technical Education or community clubs should consider starting a course for food stall operators.

I am confident the take-up rate will be overwhelming as there are now more young entrepreneurs keen to venture into the food business after seeing others succeed.

The humble hawker stall is a good starting point.

Jeffrey Tan

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

What would Jesus do? (Part 2)

Following the last post I continued to mull over "What would Jesus do?".

This is what Jesus did (emphases are mine).
Mark 12:
13Then they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Him in order to trap Him in a statement.
14They came and said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?
15“Shall we pay or shall we not pay?” But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at.”
16They brought one. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.”
17And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at Him.


John 8:
1But  Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
2Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them.
3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court,
4they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.
5“Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?”
6They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.
7But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
8Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.
10Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”
11She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”

Mark 10:
17As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
18And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.
20And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”
21Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
22But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

Luke 19:
1He entered Jericho and was passing through.
2And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich.
3Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature.
4So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way.
5When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”
6And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly.
7When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”
8Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”
9And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham.
10“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Was Jesus an out-and-out capitalist?

Luke 19:
11While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.
12So He said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return.
13“And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.
14“But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’
15“When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done.
16“The first appeared, saying, ‘Master, your mina has made ten minas more.’
17“And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.’
18“The second came, saying, ‘Your mina, master, has made five minas.’
19“And he said to him also, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’
20“Another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief;
21for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.’
22“He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow?
23‘Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’
24“Then he said to the bystanders, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’
25“And they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas already.
26“I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.

My observations
(1) When quizzed by Pharisees and Herodians trying to trick him into saying something to incriminate himself, Jesus reasoned and used words to make his inquisitors realize that they have backed themselves into a corner. They quietly went away.

(2) The rich man who could not stomach giving away his riches also went away quietly, grieving. Zaccheus, on the other hand, understood almost immediately that Jesus did not only wish to be a guest in his physical house, but wanted to enter into Zaccheus's heart as well.

Becoming acutely aware that his fraudulent dealings were not acceptable he repented and acted upon his conscience. He gave away half of his wealth and compensated those he defrauded.

(3) As for the parable that Jesus told, a literal reading would suggest that Jesus was on the side of bankers and banking. Bad news for the anti-capitalist protesters then? (They did not quote this parable, did they?)

Perhaps. This message is often quoted to teach us how we are each to use our talent/s until God returns. It does, however, suggest that Jesus would not oppose banking and banking (lending/saving) with interest, as such.

Alongside the Zaccheus story -- which comes immediately before this parable -- it also shows that Jesus was not happy with fraudulent gain. That is why Zaccheus's example is being hailed as the enlightened course of action once a person realized that his profit-making has not been above-board.

Which leads me to three conclusions:

(1) Given that Jesus was not anti-capitalist, would the protesters who have proven themselves to be asking the wrong questions of the wrong people at the wrong place now quietly go away?

(2) Are we more likely to get our money back through governments legislating against bankers, or should we pray that the rich and fraudulent "do a Zaccheus"? How would they do a Zaccheus unless they first let Jesus into their homes (and hearts)?

(3) Hebrews 13:5: Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
I Timothy 6:10: For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Matthew 6:24: You cannot serve both God and Money

Money, whether it is to render to Caesar what is Caesar's or to put it in a bank to gain interest, it is not evil. It is the love of money, otherwise known as greed -- when Money becomes our god -- that is the root of evil.

Capitalism does not have to be this greedy

The protesters and the clergy at St Paul’s Cathedral have both got it wrong

St Paul's protestors should stop bullying the Church of England and go home

Thank God ethics is a messy business

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

What would Jesus do (re: anti-capitalist protesters outside St Paul's)?

On the way back from Devon this morning we concluded that the anti-capitalists outside St Paul's were merely bullying the church. Why not pitch up outside a mosque, we asked.

Lo and behold, someone else thought the same.

They cannot pitch up where they wanted to and found refuge outside St Paul's. Now they have overstayed their welcome (as Libby Purves said in a Times column which I am not able to link to because some capitalist has installed a paywall), but nobody had the decency to move. Too much 'face' at stake.

No, no, must not 'lose face'.

Let's go back to first cause. Capitalism. If these anti-capitalists are really anti the capitalists then surely the church is the wrong target.

The complaints against these "protesters":
  • They all indulge in the fruit of capitalism: Starbucks coffee, coca-cola, iPhone, iPads, the expensive/cheap tents they use, etc. How could you be against capitalism on the one hand and support it with your buying habits? Something has to go.
  • Where do they find the time to protest? My husband and I, we do not have time for protests. They have the time to protest only because they do not need to work, ie they are either (1) on benefits, paid for by taxpayers within the capitalist system, or (2) offspring of very rich capitalists who can afford not to work. Either way their present activity is supported by the spoils of capitalism.
  • Some are "professional" protesters who have just moved from Dale Farm
  • Many are said to have not "camped" there at all during the cold nights, but retreated to warm homes and hotel rooms (but this is in dispute, although a spokesperson for the protesters said she did send people home for a shower and a rest).
One word comes to my mind: hypocrisy.

I am, like many others, not happy with the way the leaders and employees of banks have conducted themselves. I am, like many others, appalled at how the taxpayer has had to bail out these banks.

But I am, also like many others, not in favour of a group of people with very ambiguous aims ruining the livelihood of the families of those who work in and around the cathedral (ie the person who cleans the restaurant and brings you the tea, the single mother who mans the cashier counter, etc.). Yes, the very same people who paid taxes to fund the expensive university education of some of these protesters.

I like to say that my life is guided by the principle of asking "What would Jesus do?", as emblazoned on the banner of these protesters.

We know that Jesus overturned tables and chased the money changers out of the temple, the House of Worship. He was angry that these traders had turned the temple into a den of thieves. Apparently these traders were making profit out of people who came to the temple to worship.

Inside the temple.

But what did Jesus do outside the temple?

He supped with tax-collectors, merchants, farmers, Pharisees, prostitutes, etc. and worked alongside fishermen. Jesus engaged with people who were both in the centre of political and commercial life as well as those on the margins.

What else did Jesus do?

He healed the sick, comforted those who grieved, debated with the intellectuals, turned water into wine, taught us to give support to the widows and fatherless.

So let us not get mired in a mono-dimensional debate, comfortably ensconced in the muddy belief that because Jesus threw out the traders in the temple that he must be against all capitalists.

A basic principle of hermeneutics is that we must let scripture interpret scripture. We must look at the whole Bible for a truly biblical perspective. Never read anything out of its historical and cultural context.

For otherwise we would all migrate to Jerusalem (because the New Testament repeats "starting from Jerusalem"), we would all become alcoholics (look! Jesus turned a lot of water into a lot of wine), and then of course we would also encourage 12-year-olds to leave their parents in order to spend time with their religious leaders because that was exactly what Jesus did!

What would Jesus do? What would Jesus say?

I think that amongst other things Jesus would wish to know what have these protesters done in the last 24 hours, in the last week, in the last fortnight, in the last month, to make the life of one person in need, one hungry person, one sick person, one under-achieving student, better in any way.

How many of us have gone to visit someone in prison, read a book to someone in hospital, shared a hot meal with someone who has no one to share a meal with, given money to some deserving poor, coached a neighbour's child on trigonometry, washed someone else's dirty and smelly feet?

Many of us do this every day through our taxes.

Some of us do this through our ir/regular charity giving.

Too few of us do this every day for real.

What would Jesus do? I think, like Marx, Jesus would advocate "praxis".

(Readers who post links to my posts on FB, please use the "Comments" box to let me know where I could find them. As I believe in the freedom of speech, I would also appreciate a "right to reply".)