Thursday, 27 August 2009
It's on the front page of all the papers: results up again. 20% of all grades A or higher. And every single one tuts about the state of the nation's education and how the exams weren't so good in our day.
Seriously. Fuck you.
We slaved our arses off. As far as stereotypes go, young people don't have it so good in the media. If we're not beating up fathers-of-three and filming it on our phones, taking crack on street corners, binge drinking and filling up emergency departments, we're playing violent video games and stabbing each other. And on the one day when we come good, we do well, we get the chance to show the world that hey, we didn't do too bad. No, we did outstanding. We blew last year out of the water. Give us some credit!
Believe me. The exams aren't easy. Oh, it's coursework these days, you say. That ain't easy either. Especially when it's for 11 subjects at once. Talk to a school year and you will find over half the kids stayed three hours after school to finish something; a good portion came in on weekends. Nor are the grade boundaries light. It's 80% for an A in most subjects, 90 for an A*. In some that's 90 and 97.
I challenge anyone who says the exams are too easy to sit them. And then do all the coursework as well. But before you do, let me tell you this. Discuss the merits and disadvantages of our education systems all you wish. But do not imply that our grades mean nothing. That our hard work was meaningless.
To those who do, allow me to repeat:
Saturday, 27 June 2009
In February of this year, 13-year-old Daniel Hauser, of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer which attacks the immune system and white blood cells. Left untreated, the disease would kill him within a year and a half. However, Hodgkin's is one of the most common types of cancer and is widely regarded as one of the easiest ones to treat, with chemotherapy being particularly effective. In normal circumstances, Daniel would receive several high-intensity courses of chemotherapy, consisting of cocktails of drugs designed to destroy all of the cancerous cells. Unfortunately there are usually many unpleasant side effects: vomiting, hair loss, digestive problems, nervous twitches, muscle spasms. But with chemotherapy, the survival rate for Hodgkin's is an impressive 92%.
However, Daniel Hauser has become the centre of a massive debate among the medical, scientific and religious communities. Because, at the age of 13, he has refused chemotherapy saying that it contradicts his religious beliefs. In fact, he has refused all treatments other than so-called 'natural remedies' including ionized water. To be blunt, I'm no oncologist, but for all the good these 'natural remedies' can do for colds, infections, etc., a few cups of herbal tea is not going to cure a malignant form of cancer. Daniel has just chosen to die within eighteen months. In fairness, chemotherapy is a horrible process, as anyone who has ever had it will tell you, and Daniel has told reporters that he felt it was making him sicker than he was getting better. But without it, his chances of survival beyond two years' time are less than 5%.
As he is under 18, American law recognises him as a minor. In most medical debates like this, parents of a child can overrule that child's wishes if doctors and judges agree that it is for the child's own good. There was a recent case of a 16-year-old girl refusing life-saving drugs after a car accident because they had been tested on animals, but her decision was overruled by doctors and her parents. In this case, however, Daniel's parents agree with his choice, as they are all followers of the same religion.
This raises an ugly question. Does a person have the right to refuse treatment and condemn themselves to a painful, drawn-out death on the basis of religious belief? My personal morality would say, hesitantly, yes, they do. I have always believed that people should be able to choose within reason what they do with their own bodies and their own lives. It shouldn't make a difference how old this person is, as long as they are capable of rational and logical thought. I'm technically a minor, and I would want the ability to make choices about my treatment or death - if I was told I had an untreatable form of terminal cancer that would end in a painful death, I would want the right to ask to be filled full of morphine and given to God. But if the disease is perfectly curable, do people still have the right to refuse treatment even if it will result in eighteen months of agony?
So now we have a dilemma. If we accept that everyone capable of rational thought has the right to autonomy over their own body and their own life, then we are faced with the prospect of having a 13-year-old kid die when it could be avoided. Half of me says, "it's his life, his beliefs, he can choose from all the options" - the other half says, "For the love of God, he's just a kid, who cares about his mumbo-jumbo naturalism, pin him down and give him the juice". If his condition worsens and he changes his mind it'll be too late, the cancer will be too developed. Martin Luther King said that the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but at times of challenge and controversy. In other words, that one's morals should be maintained despite the circumstances. But if we keep that belief, that every person has a right to decide for themselves what to do with their life, then we condemn a child to death.
What is the solution? There are two real options:
1. Rule that Daniel Hauser is not capable of rational enough thought to make a decision about withholding life-saving treatment. We can base this conclusion on the fact that no rational person would refuse something that would save his or her life. As Hauser and his parents would be declared legally unfit to make such a decision, the court would be free to force him to undergo chemotherapy. Hauser's doctors are pressing heavily for this option. Having seen hundreds of kids die from cancer which they couldn't avoid, I can understand why they will fight hard. But can we justify ruling someone insane just because they have religious beliefs?
2. Rule that Daniel Hauser has every right to refuse chemotherapy and that he understands the risk perfectly. This preserves the human right of autonomy, but results in the unnecessary death of a 13-year old kid, and also could end up setting the framework for other cases, such as the animal rights crowd. The question is where to draw the line - do we respect everybody's beliefs, even when it results in their own destruction? Even when it's their own body which they choose to destroy?
The judge has ruled that Daniel Hauser is logically impaired, but based this not upon his religious beliefs but evidence that he suffers from learning difficulties and thus does not understand that he will die if he doesn't have the treatment. Surely this cannot be true for both his parents, as well? What would I have done in his place - I don't know. Usually, these sorts of discussions take place when the religious parents don't want their kid to have a life-saving blood transfusion, and the court says that the kid has every right. That's black and white in my view. But here, respecting human rights and freedom of religion results in the death of a 13-year old.
Let's not forget that Daniel Hauser is the victim here. I hope that he sees sense and agrees to the chemo anyway, although that seems unlikely. Most of all, I hope that he pulls through.
Friday, 19 June 2009
Saturday, 30 May 2009
Of course, in modern, civilised, western society, we've come too far to use those less fortunate than ourselves as tools for our own entertainment.....
Hang on, I'll finish after Britain's Got Talent. Diversity FTW!!!!!
Thursday, 30 April 2009
Children as young as 11 will be taught about homosexual relationships and
civil partnerships under plans for compulsory sex education. Pupils
aged nine to eleven will also get lessons in contraception, pregnancy
and sexually-transmitted diseases in the first three years of secondary
school. New-style classes will also be compulsory in all faith schools in
Woop. Cheer. No longer will religious schools be able to just tell children that sex is evil and not to do it. Now, can you tell this is a little too good to be true?
However, faith schools will also be free to apply their values to lessons by
telling pupils that same sex relationships, contraception and sex outside
marriage is wrong.
Give me a moment whilst I re-read that. Faith schools are allowed to teach children as young as nine that homosexuality and contraception are wrong!? And this is meant to help reduce teenage pregnancy and promote tolerance. I'm all for freedom of religion. Believe what you want to believe. But don't impose that on children. Let them make their own decisions for themselves. If they choose to believe that sex before marriage is evil, contraception kills babies and gays are the devil's children, they're free to do that. But give them all the facts and let them come to their own judgements.
They'll argue that this is restricting their religion. No, it's just protecting our children. Telling teenagers that contraception is wrong won't stop them having sex - it just means they'll get pregnant when they do. If they don't want to use contraception, let them make that choice. I don't like the idea of faith schools anyway, but as an atheist that's probably natural. But it doesn't matter. What this law means is that schools have free rein to teach children religous belief in place of fact. Whatever your belief, surely it is the basic human right of every person to be free to choose their beliefs and practices, as long as it doesn't harm any other person.
I'm a socialist. I know it's about eighty years too late, but at the moment, with one parent unemployed and another facing it, capitalism really doesn't do it for me. Would I support a school which taught in its PSHE classes that capitalism was evil and that the upper class should be herded like cattle? No. Because ultimately, in a democracy, the right of a human to his or her opinion is second to none. And suppressing or controlling that opinion all through adolescence is an abhorration.
That law sickens me. What's more, it was given almost no media coverage. I mean, with the epic swine flu of death bent on world domination, why should something as tiny as the religious indoctrination of our children matter a damn? I think the most useful thing I can do now is add a quick footnote for any faith school kids who read this:
CONDOMS: They go on your willy. They're sort of like the Get-out-of-Jail Free card in Monopoly. If you're not sure, buy a couple from a pub toilet and practise on a banana. We've all done it.
GAYS: Are ok. Most of them are pretty cool. It doesn't matter which door you go in as long as you end up in the house.
STDs: Aren't nice. I won't go into details, but don't put "chlamidya" into Google Images after eating. To avoid, see "Condoms" above. Most of them cause intense suffering and don't go away.
POLITICIANS: Rather like STDs now I come to think about it...
Wednesday, 18 March 2009
Ok. Unless you meet one of the three categories below:
- You've been in a coma for the past three years.
- You're deaf, you can't read and you don't understand sign language
- You belong to one of those really cool undiscovered tribes in the Amazon.
You will know that Barack Obama became President of the USA on January 21st of this year. With him came a new hope for the future, though after eight years of that idiotic monkey, he doesn't exactly have a hard act to follow. Anyway, Obama's election made waves with the fact that he was black. I know I'm stating the obvious here, but let me get to it. But I still felt uneasy about it.
When I decided that I supported Obama, it wasn't because he was black. I tried as best I could to be colour-blind. I judged them on the merits of their policies and their track records and their principles. I don't believe anyone should be judged on anything except what they do, not who they are. I celebrated his election because he was a President with values I agreed with, not because he was black.
But saying that, I recognise the fact that forty, or even twenty years ago, a black man becoming a world leader would simply not have happened. And I respect the victory for equality that his election represents. But we by no means have an equal society. I mean, if a Muslim stood for office in this country, his or her chances of getting in would be laughable. But I was reading through the BBC's News column when I came across this article:
And the reaction of the Icelandic news agencies?
Johanna Sigurdardottir, named as Iceland's prime minister on Sunday, is
the first openly lesbian head of government in Europe, if not the world - at
least in modern times. The 66-year-old's appointment as an interim leader, until
elections in May, is seen by many as a milestone for the gay and lesbian
"I don't think her sexual orientation matters. Our voters are pretty liberal,
they don't care about any of that," said one news source.
Ok. People judging people on political merit rather than personal quality? I don't know about you, but to me Iceland is growing on me. More than anything, I hate discrimination. I hate hate. I don't want to sound self-righteous, but I try never to form an opinion of someone or something based on prejudice or stereotype. And it's difficult. Only this afternoon I found myself having to take back stuff I'd said cause I realised I'd been judgemental. It's not easy. But it's not impossible.
Imagine that. A society where there are no labels. I'm surprised that the first gay world leader hasn't had that much media attention. I think that equality on the basis of sexual orientation is improving, although I can see why the African-Americans' struggle for liberty is more powerful. Straight people have done some pretty horrific things, granted, but we didn't rip gay people from their homes and enslave them for four hundred years.
Still. Equality is equality. I have a new respect for the people of Iceland. Their music is pretty good as well (check out Sigur Ros and their song Saeglopur - turns out it's a beautiful language as well). What I'm trying to say is, this proves that equality is possible. That we can have a society where where you come from, who you love, what you believe, doesn't matter. It's no longer a dream. It's our responsibility to make it a reality. It's in our hands.
Sunday, 8 March 2009
What I found made me reconsider how I looked at music in general. I think everyone needs a way to express themselves, and mine is when I pick up my sax and play, usually very badly, but I play it nonetheless. And that's why I like the jazz side of things - I can pretty much be as expressive as I want. If I'm in a bad mood, expect straight quavers, punched-out scales and me being as out-of-key and melancholy as I feel. On the other hand, if I'm feeling upbeat, I'll throw out those ridiculous high notes which usually fail but sound ecstatic if they work. That sort of freedom can't be found in many other genres, not belittling them in any way.
Anyway, the video I found was an original recording by the guy who wrote Watermelon Man, Herbie Hancock, talking a little about where he got his inspiration for the piece. It was about a street vendor who, for some of the kids in Harlem, was the happiest thing they'd see all day, and who'd give them discount watermelons. It was about finding joy even through adversity. These were the days, of course, when racism was unthinkably commonplace - black people lived in ghettos attached to American cities. The most exciting thing for a kid maybe my little brother's age back then would have been a free watermelon.
I felt guilty. Incredibly guilty. I'd been thinking that when I was playing I was truly expressing myself, that the music coming out the end of my sax was mine and mine alone, and that I was conveying just a little bit of what I love and how I feel to whoever happened to be listening. But it turned out that all I was was a rich white kid playing music written about adversity and hardship the likes of which, due to dumb luck, I could never even imagine. I felt like I was bastardising his music, imitating him, pretending that I had experienced things that he had. I felt like I had stolen a part of him, that I was expressing something which I had no right to.
Then I figured that I had to do my best to convey what he'd been thinking about when he wrote that tune, and in some way make him proud that his music was reaching other people. I still feel bad that I'm in some way trying to be someone I'm not, which goes against everything I believe - and defeats the point of me playing in the first place. Holden Caulfield would call it "phony". (Just an aside - I recently read that book for the second time and for God's sake if you haven't read The Catcher in the Rye yet go do it. They sell it in Tesco for about £6)
Whenever I turn on the radio I usually get angry. Whenever I hear that processed shit, written by someone whose name you'll never know, and performed by someone who can only sing because they're digitally remastered to do so. The Rihannas and Chris Browns of this world. That's isn't music! That's the equivalent of squeezy cheese. There's no expression, no feeling, no emotion in there. Like everything else beautiful in this world, it's been sold out in the name of the relentless pursuit of money, fame and fortune.
So anyway, I'm now stuck. I'm gonna play my heart out anyway, but still it won't take away that uneasy feeling that I'm stealing someone else's glory. I know it's irrational, and I know that if anything, he's probably glad that his music is being opened up and heard by another person, but I just hope I do it justice. And there's a lot of me in that piece as well. I sat down at the piano and wrote one tune the other day. It's alright. You listen to it and you can tell how stressed I was. Fuck me, it's manic.
Problem is, I doubt I'll ever be good enough that anyone will really listen to the stuff I write. So here's yet another catch-22 to fall into. I guess what I'm trying to say is that everyone needs an outlet for what's in them, some way of communicating that to the outside world. Whether it's bad poetry, bad music or bad art, at least it's better than that shit the radio keeps throwing out. At the end of the day, Herbie wouldn't mind. I hope.