Friday, May 28, 2010

Copyright and Integrity

Last Tuesday some of the boys in son's school showcased their piano skills.

This usually means playing some boring exam piece they've spent the last six months practising.

Along came one of his mates who did not attend the rehearsal but decided to come on to play ... wait for it ... Star Wars (one of the tunes from). It was a hesitant performance, but never mind. It was brave.

Yesterday son came home to say another promising pianist in his class wants now to play the theme from 'ET' at the next concert (we're talking May 2011, OK?). Son asked if it was OK for him to loan friend his John Williams book.

"We are not allowed to make a photocopy for him, are we? So I've better let him borrow my book."

I felt really proud of my son who thinks about whether it is right to photocopy copyrighted material.

I would rather he does not let his friend borrow his book for a whole year, thank you very much. And should his friend choose to photocopy from it, we might never know.

And then I thought, ah, I don't think John Williams is going miss that bob or two of royalty that does not come to him just because a 10-year-old chooses to copy a tune from the whole book. Still, intellectual property is intellectual property.

We'd probably let said friend borrow the book and if he decides to, he could pay to download a copy of the music online, or he could go to support our local music shop by buying his own John Williams, which is what I'd prefer him to do.

Meanwhile son is happy playing Kats-Chernin Eliza's Aria from Wild Swans, or that music from the bank TV commercial.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Self-esteem and Mix(ed)-handedness

Had a most illuminating chat with son last night.

He was reading the book Stick Up for Yourself: Every Kid's Guide to Personal Power and Self-Esteem. Again.

Why? I asked.

"O well, you know, my self-esteem is at an all-time low."

Something to do with being ranked in "C" team at cricket.

But you came in top at skiing, I said.

"Yeah, but that is all forgotten," (ie by the other boys in class).

Then he went into the technicalities on how to bowl a cricket ball and how he was often criticized, and we drifted into talking about his preference to use the right hand for some tasks and the left hand for some tasks.

Clearly having a very strong left hand has given him an advantage in piano playing.

Obviously, I said, your brains must be a bit confused when it comes to bowling a cricket ball.

Ah! That explains why you are so good at skiing, I said. You use both left and right sides of the body equally when skiing.

Face on son shows a lightbulb has gone on.

Did some quick research on the internet and decided that while son is not ambidextrous (as his grandad was), he is also not left-handed (like his mum's brother and his dad's brother).

He writes exclusively with his right, more dextrous hand but uses his left but stronger hand for using a knife and twisting a jar top off. He told me when he used to try to remove a jar lid with his right hand, he would twist the jar with his left hand instead of twisting the lid off.

He is "mixed-handed".

Not very nice things are said about children who are mixed-handed, that they are more prone to ADHD, for example.

But not enough is said about how such children do in sport and what kind of sport they are good in. In this link I found that "Generally, people with crossed hand-eye preference seem to have the centre of gravity closer to the midline of the body, giving them better balance and hence better performance in gymnastics."

I would like to hear from other mixed-handed people or parents of mixed-handed children to find out what their experiences are.

In particular what kind of sports are mixed-handed people good at. We are still trying to find a sport that son could excel in (apart from skiing) at school. We can't wait for him to do hurdles, but athletics is a very short season at his school.

Our son, like Bill Gates, is able to jump very high from a standing position.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Parenting guru. Moi?

Not yet.

But it was good to meet a mother from my toddlers group last Saturday.

She was at my son's school "Open Day". She told me she would always remember what I said to her, many moons ago.

Apparently she was trying to tell her son -- who was happily chattering away -- to shut up.

Apparently I said to her that it is OK to let toddlers chatter away. Apparently I said that "we spend all their first months encouraging them to talk, and then when they start talking we tell them to keep quiet. It must be confusing to the poor child."

For whatever reason this young mum remembered this, and my face -- for I don't think she knows my name -- will always be associated with that "advice" I gave her.

I didn't think it was the right time and place to mention that we must also teach our children that "there is a time and place for everything", under heaven, if I might add.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Can this be true?

From the Telegraph today:

"Meanwhile, more evidence emerged of the painful cuts in public spending which are set to come in across the board whoever wins the election. It was revealed that secret plans have been compiled by NHS bosses which would see thousands of training posts for doctors and nurses axed after the election, despite claims from ministers that front line services would be protected if Labour were re-elected.

"Thousands of training posts have been earmarked for closure in cutbacks planned by the government."

Who are these 'NHS bosses'?

Trim the layers of bureaucracy, not stop training medical staff, I say.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

This ostrich-turkey-chicken election

This election has been so lacking in ideology. Max Hastings calls this the "ostrich election" as politicians and voters alike bury their heads in sand and hope that the real problems we face would just go away.

It is like a toddler putting his little hands on his eyes and saying, "You can't see me now."

Then toddlers grow up and realize, hey, other people can still see them even when they covered their eyes.

So, too, we must grow up.

None of the major parties seem to have any undergirding ideology in the recent years. There is no real 'vision' for this society. Everywhere there is just a bit of tinkering here, a bit of polyfiller there.

Meanwhile the voters want lower taxes, higher benefits, higher pensions, better schools, better health care, better transport, but how do we pay for that?

Many taxpayers (of which I'm one, just as women, of which I'm one) do not mind paying taxes to help those most in need. We don't even mind helping those who are genuine asylum seekers. But when the reality we experience is generations of unemployment because a career on benefits is more lucrative, then taxpayers are entitled to say, "Enough is enough."

We are not against immigration per se because an immigrant society can be a vibrant society. The problems arise only when (1) we see migrants who do not wish to integrate into local community; capitalize on education and health, etc, yes, but would not integrate (eg learn English) and engage with local people, and (2) when immigrants are taking jobs it shows -- logically -- there ARE jobs to be taken. So why are there still these millions on benefits, long-term benefits?

Our political parties have abandoned ideology because ideology does not win votes.

Unless we agree on austerity measures, we will go the way of Greece. Swingeing cuts in public spending will be required. With such a large proportion of the electorate being either employed by the government (local councils, central government, NHS, etc) or dependent on benefits, to vote for a party that has the guts to say "cuts" is to expect turkeys to vote for Christmas.

Instead, we have politicians saying only what the populace wish to hear.

The closest that I've come to hear about ideology is "The Big Society". It reminds me of "The Big Issue". Perhaps homelessness, or 'purposelessness', IS what is ailing our society.

We do not have poverty in physical, material terms as most of us could get by quite well if we cut out the booze and fags, mobile phones and those feral dogs. If you wish to know what real poverty is I can show you, in different parts of the world I've lived and worked.

I don't even buy those stories about families of four having to "squeeze" into a two-bedroom house/flat. I come from a family of eight and we lived in a one-bedroomed and then later two-bedroomed flat.

It only made us determined to do well in school to get out of that poverty. We had no social welfare but we had the tenacity in our spirit to better ourselves. Just as importantly, we had an education system (one that rewards achievement) and meritocratic society which allowed us to better ourselves.

Here in Britain where people prefer to be on benefits rather than to work, the poverty is in the spirit where no amount of tax credits could eradicate.

When I first moved into this area I went straightaway to a charity shop to volunteer my services on a Saturday morning despite working a full-time job. Here I met other volunteers who gave of their time freely for no other reason that it makes them feel good to give.

Retirees on pensions had little money but lots of time. They gave time. Someone suffered sufficient brain damage to make it impossible for her to complete her 'A' levels (back in those days when 'A' levels meant something). She volunteers much of her time at a charity shop.

So you see, people on benefits and people who are disabled can also make a net contribution to society. It cheers their spirits, gives them a purpose and reduces the need for dependency on drugs, TV or whatever.

Why don't the majority of people on long-term benefits do the same? People say it's not worth their while working because they lose their benefits. I have a simple solution: take away their benefits.

"Big Society" is about a "social contract". An ideology based on a social contract is workable only when people share a moral compass. We have rights and we have obligations. There is a certain amount of give and take. I give when I am able, and hopefully when I need help, someone else would give.

Instead for too long, far too long, we have lived in a situation where some of us give and give while others take and take. That is not a fair society. No matter how politicians dress it up as "those who have more should give more", those who have been giving and giving, and giving some more for the last 20 years or so, are tired. And then we give some more to bail out the banks.

Increasing the inheritance tax threshold is often made to sound like an unjust tax on the poor because only the "rich" benefit. Yet when you trace the paths of these so-called "rich" you could often find that they are ordinary people who made money based solely on their diligence.

Inheritance tax is an unfair tax on people who have worked hard all their lives and who have already paid tax on their income, including bank interests. It takes away the incentive for people to succeed, to accumulate, to pass on to the next generation when inheritance tax means much of what they earn in a life-time will be taken away, to fund those feckless others who only play.

On the other hand, many of those who have been taking and taking have had more than a generation to get back on their feet, but have refused to do so. Hard work is outside their 'comfort zone'. They are happy to keep taking some more. Why bother to have an education and find work when a 'career' as serial single mother is more lucrative?

What about the adage "God helps those who help themselves" or that thieves must no longer steal?

To refuse work when one is able to work so that one could remain on benefits is to steal. This person is stealing from the cancer patient who is refused drugs because the NHS does not have the money. And theft is punishable by law and that should be the case.

I can forgive a young girl for getting pregnant the first time. Young people are allowed to make a mistake here and there. But to have several other babies with different fathers subsequently smacks of total irresponsibility and as such, their children should be removed. No ifs, no buts. Their babies should be given to childless couples who are more likely to give them a chance to break out of this vicious circle of poverty and illegitimate pregnancies.

We are spending more and more on child protection because many more babies are born to people with no intention of discharging their responsibility as a parent. They go in and out of relationships like a revolving door just to satisfy their own needs with no consideration of the consequences of their actions. I, as a taxpayer, do not wish to pay for their profligacy. But do I get a choice?

So it's not just an "ostrich election", as we can be sure that come Election Day turkeys are not going to vote for Christmas. Whatever the outcome, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies has pointed out, our careless spend-and-spend policies will mean that the chickens will come home to roost.