Monthly Archives: February 2010

Listen up!

Over at Public Address Radio, Craig Ranapia has some pungent commentary on Kevin Rudd’s bon mot with respect to PhDs and reproduction.

180 Seconds with Craig Ranapia, 20 February 2010

A weekend with Jane

We spent the weekend engaged with Jane Austen.

My lovely mother has been staying with us, but coming from cool Taranaki, she is not accustomed to hot Adelaide days. On Saturday, it was 37 degrees, and windy, so we retreated indoors. I had various chores to get done, as did Mr Strange Land, but the strangelings begged to watch Pride and Prejudice. (They have such good taste!) Mum and the girls settled down on the sofas, and watched it all. I managed to catch most of the highlights, including that scene, and eventually gave up pretending to do any housework, and sat down with them for all of the last episode. The girls were entranced, but the Misses Eight think that there ought to be a sequel.

On Sunday, Mum and I went to a concert in the Adelaide Fringe Festival, Jane Austen’s Music II. It was delightful. Soprano Gillian Dooley has put together a programme of songs from Jane Austen’s music books, the manuscripts and books held at Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton. Some of the songs are well known, but others are the comic and parlour songs of the day. All are songs that Jane Austen herself would have played.

Gillian Dooley has a pretty voice, and an affectionate approach to the songs. As she sang, I could imagine Elizabeth Bennett and Marianne Dashwood, and the happy Misses Musgrove singing just such songs.

The songs were interspersed with readings from Austen’s works, and some solo piano pieces, played by accompanist Fiona McCauley. I thought she was excellent. She played unobtrusively, supporting Gillian Dooley beautifully, except for some songs where there was real interaction between piano and singer, and in those songs her playfulness and delight in playing come to the fore. It was a very effective partnership.

As I watched Pride and Prejudice on Saturday, I was struck by the forced emptiness of the Bennet women’s lives. They had so little to do, except for the busy-work of pressing flowers and embroidering and going for walks in the countryside. One of the few duties that young ladies were expected to fulfill was that of providing music, to while away the long evening hours in polite society. This concert gave me a better understanding of just what that music might have sounded like.

And it was very enjoyable. I love Jane Austen’s books, and I love singing; this was an ideal combination for me. Gillian Dooley and Fiona McCauley are presenting the programme again at this year’s Jane Austen Festival in Canberra (15 – 19 April). I’m not trekking over to Canberra for the festival (that’s just a step too far, literally and metaphorically for me), but if I were, I would happily listen to this concert again.

Friday Feminist – Christine de Pizan (3)

One day as I was sitting alone in my study surrounded by books on all kinds of subjects, devoting myself to literary studies, my usual habit,. my mind dwelt at length on the weighty opinions of various authors whom I had studies for a long time. I looked up from my book, having decided to leave such subtle questions in peace and to relax by reading some small book. By chance a strange volume came into my hands, not one of my own, but one which had been given to me along with some others. When I held it open and saw its title page that it was by Matheolus, I smiled, for thought I had never seen it before, I had often heard that like books it discussed respect for women. I thought I would browse through it to amuse myself. I had not been reading for very long when my good mother called me to refresh myself with some supper, for it was evening. Intending to look at it the next day, I put it down. the next morning, again seated in my study as was my habit, I remembered wanting to examine this book by Matheolus. I started to read it and went on for a little while. Because the subject seemed to me not very pleasant for people who do not enjoy lies, and of no use in developing virtue or manners, given its lack of integrity in diction and theme, and after browsing here and there and reading the end, I put it down in order to turn my attention to more elevated and useful study. But just the sight of this book, even thought it was of no authority, made me wonder how it happened that so many different men – and learned men among them – have been and are so inclined to express both in speaking and in their treatises and writings so many wicked insults about women and their behavior. Not only one or two and not even just this Matheolus for this book had a bad name anyways and was intended as a satire) but, more generally, from the treatises of all philosophers and poets and from all the orators – it would take too long to mention their names – it seems that they all speak from one and the same mouth. Thinking deeply about these matters, I began to examine my character and conduct as a natural woman and, similarly, I considered other women whose company I frequently kept, princesses, great ladies, women of the middle and lower classes, who had graciously told me of their most private and intimate thoughts, hoping that I could judge impartially and in good conscience whether the testimony of so many notable men could be true. To the best of my knowledge, no matter how long I confronted or dissected the problem, I could not see or realize how their claims could be true when compared to the natural behavior and character of women.

Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies, 1405

Memo to doctors: women are moral adults

A group of New Zealand doctors is challenging a proposed Medical Council guideline on abortion. The new guideline requires doctors to tell women who are unsure about their pregnancy that termination is a possibility. They are not required to provide the certification for abortion themselves (under NZ law, a woman must obtain signatures from two certifying consultants), they are certainly not required to provide the abortion themselves. However under the proposed guideline, they must tell women of the possibility of abortion, and refer them on to another doctor.

So this is an attempt to balance doctors’ freedom of conscience with patients’ needs. I’m already pretty unhappy with the balance in favour of doctors: why on earth should doctors be allowed to refuse to provide medical treatment in the first place. But this is hardly an imposition, that doctors should be required to tell patients about the possibility of a particular procedure.

I think the subtext from the doctors who oppose this new guideline is particularly nasty. It says that they will make moral decisions for their patients, because women can’t be trusted to make those moral decisions themselves.

I’m not interested in any medical doctor telling me what to think about moral issues. I’m interested in them telling me about what treatment options are available to me, what effects those particular options may have on me, what the likely outcomes are if we leave a condition untreated. But in no circumstance do I think that a doctor has any role in making moral decisions for me.

The text of the new guideline is under judicial review. It will be interesting to see what the court says about doctors as arbiters of morality.

Update: See the Queen of Thorns for an excellent snark about this, and there’s a discussion at The Hand Mirror too.

But what about the parents?

As part of its coalition agreement with the National party, ACT was promised a working party on school choice. Their basic idea is that the top 5% and the bottom 20% of students should be identified, and then those students and their parents can choose to go to different schools for different classes, depending on their needs. So a child might go to one school (“provider” in the report’s language) for one class, and another school for another class, and back to their base school for the rest of their education, taking the relevant portions of funding with them wherever they go. You can download the whole report if you like (Step Change: Success the only Option, Report of the Inter-Party Working Group for School Choice – PDF 2.3MB) but I wouldn’t bother. It seems to be a very thin piece of research, channeling ACT market ideology. Even so, the two ACT MPs on the committee don’t think it goes far enough: they’re releasing their own minority report.

You will no doubt already be thinking that this is vouchers in disguise, but frankly, I’d rather have vouchers than this ill-thought-through nonsense. Over at Red Alert, Kelvin Davis has been doing an excellent job taking the report apart. In his most recent post, he takes on the logistics question. That is, how on earth are we going to get 25% of the school children in New Zealand on the move each day, to get to their specialist classes. ACT et al have suggested buses, but I bet you that just won’t happen. Instead, as usual with New Zealand public schools, there won’t be enough money to fund the activities and extra education properly, so any parents who want to help their children to take advantage of the extra education on offer will end up running a taxi service themselves. And what that will mean is more cars on the roads, more parents juggling work and childcare and education commitments, more organisation just to keep your family arrangements ticking over.

None of these things are difficult in themselves, but add them as yet another thing to already stretched households where the adults are working full or near full time, or to already stretched households where paid work is scarce so there’s just no spare money for running the car much, and you have a recipe for outrageous stress.

You know what would be really, really nice? It would be great to be able to drop the kids at the local school, and be confident that no matter which school they were at, they were going to get the best possible education, because the school was adequately resourced to teach kids of all abilities. No running about like headless chooks just to get the children to a school where the education they need is available, because it’s available right in their neighbourhood, where their lives are physically located.

Education is not just about kids and schools. It’s about kids and schools and parents and caregivers. Any education policy needs to think about all three of those things.