xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: September 2012

Friday, 28 September 2012

Going to the Dogs

It is well known that  school principals are often confronted with unusual and bizarre situations.
One morning four parents entered my office before school and their leader said gruffly, “What are you going to do about the school’s dog problem?” 
“What am I going to do about the school’s dog problem?” I slowly repeated. I often used this ploy as a delaying tactic to give my brain a chance to tune in.

“Yes, what are you going to do?”

“Well, I must say I haven’t actually seen any dogs around the school.” My good old brain had kicked in pretty quickly on this one. 

“No, not when you’re here in school time. But every morning between six and seven thirty about four or five cars drive up to the school oval. The owners let their dogs out to run around. Then, after they have done their dirty business on the grass, the owners call them back into the cars and they drive away.”

“Yes,” added another parent, “ and later on in the day our kids go out to daily phys. ed or playtime and get dog dirt all over their shoes. It’s disgusting.”

“And other people do the same thing with their dogs after five o’clock at night. What are you going to do about it?”

“Hmmm” I said as sagely as I could, waiting anxiously for my good old brain to get a handle on the problem. Unfortunately my brain just kept telling me that unless I camped  out on the oval all night I was not likely to come face to face with the dog menace. My brain kept saying, “Handball this one as quickly as you can.”

I leaned across my desk and said as decisively as I could, “ This is a public health problem. It is against the law to allow dogs on to school property. I’ll contact the local shire and get the Ranger to issue on the spot fines.” My brain gave me a round of applause. The four parents didn’t. They did nod slightly as they left my office. I rang the Ranger and told him of the dog problem.

“No worries, mate. We’ll be around straight away. Do you have the dogs tied up?”

“No. The owners bring the dogs to school before 7 a.m. and after five at night.”

“Sorry, pal. We only work eight till five each day. Can’t help you, I’m afraid.”

The next day the parents were back and not too happy with my news.

“I’ll get the local shire to put up some ‘No Dogs’ signs I said. The parents left. This time they didn’t nod.

About a week later the local shire erected six ‘No Dogs” signs around the school. That weekend some galoot in a four wheel drive knocked them down and took the signs as souvenirs. The parents came back. Very unimpressed. Their heads were not nodding but they were beginning to shake all over.

"What are you going to do about the school’s dog problem?” My brain was ready for them. More handball.

“I’m going to write a letter explaining the penalties and arrange a letter drop throughout the district.”
The next day they were back wanting to see the letter.

“Well, actually” I beamed,  “I thought instead of a negative  and nasty letter about penalties I’d  appeal to their better nature. I think it is better to be positive and try and inject a little humour into the situation. So I’ve written this poem instead. I think people will get the message.”

The parent leader looked grimly at me. “Humour!  Humour! This is not funny. We do not need humour. We need action. Show us the poem.”

This is what she read:

Our school grounds would be much neater                       Oh! Could some law be quickly passed
without vast piles of dog excreta.                                      To leave our ovals merely grassed.....
Dog is man’s  best friend it’s true,                                     Not dotted with dollops of smelliness
But no one says the same of the doggie’s poo.                  That cause in young children much unwelliness

At recess our children rush out to play                              For their canine’s misdemeanours
Leaping over doggie droppings on their way.                   Dog owners themselves should be the cleaners,
The children play chasey and drop the hankey                 Removing deposits from knoll and crag
But the dog’s smelly litter is making them cranky.             And placing the doings in a doggy bag.

“Our school’s not a doggie loo,” they shout                     For until the dogs - both leashed and stray
As they cast their eyes around and about.                         Are prevented from littering in this foul way
The sight and the smell is cause for coma...                       It seems our school grounds will forever be
Poor noses invaded by pungent aroma                               Just one enormous dog lavatory.

Our school has become a doggy toilet.
How can dog owners let them soil it?
Our gardens and ovals are splendid grounds
Made unpleasant by incontinent hounds.

 This is not poetry!” she snarled and threw the poem onto my desk.
“It isn’t” I queried.
“No. It is just a lot of doggerel.”
Despite these critical comments about my poem I published it in the school newsletter and in the local paper.
Fortunately, we had a parent who was in the police traffic branch. He told me he may be able to help.
I managed to get the parent delegation to obtain the car registration numbers of the offending dog owners’ vehicles. The parent policeman traced them on the police computer and I wrote them a very stern note about council by laws and on the spot fines.
Soon afterwards the morning and afternoon dog visits stopped.
Ah yes, I really enjoyed being a school principal. Sometimes, though, it can be a dog’s life.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Violent times. Why are we so surprised?

Recent violent and tragic deaths have once again focussed our attention on the increasingly violent society in which we live. Apart from stabbings, there are “glassing” attacks with broken bottles. One punch killings are commonplace. Deaths by shooting are becoming more commonplace. Violent youngsters bash the elderly, they bash the police, they bash their teachers and they even bash their parents. In fact it seems that they will bash anyone who upsets them in anyway. Each weekend our police battle drugged and drunken youths at out of control parties.

After each violent episode, talk back radio goes into meltdown as caller after caller blames the schools, the teachers and or the parents for the increasing violence in our society. TV news programmes continue the sad story, accompanied by graphic pictures of the deceased, the grieving relatives and the wreckage.. There is a call on politicians to give the police and the courts stronger powers to punish the violent.

But why are we so surprised that violence is rampant? Why are we so surprised that parents and schools seem to be producing more and more violent citizens who have no respect for themselves or others?

We should not be surprised at all. The writing has been on the wall for thirty years.

In 1982 the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health reported that “violent programmes on television lead to aggressive behaviour by children and teenagers who watch those programmes.”  This was a confirmation and an extension of what the Surgeon General of the United States had warned of in an earlier study.

As a result of these and other research findings, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution in February 1985, (that is right, 1985, twenty seven years ago) informing broadcasters and the public of the potential dangers that viewing violence on television can have for children.

What did that 1985 research by APA show? It stated that the three major effects of children seeing violence on television are:

Children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others.
Children may be more fearful of the world around them.
Children may be more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways toward others.

It also showed that children who watch a lot of TV are less aroused by violent scenes than those who only watch a little. In other words, those who watch a lot of violent behaviour  are less bothered by violence in general and less likely to see anything wrong with it.

A Continuing Debate
 In spite of this accumulated evidence, broadcasters and scientists in the 1990s continued to debate the link between viewing TV violence and children's aggressive behaviour. Some broadcasters believed there was not enough evidence to prove that TV violence was harmful; a bit like those cigarette sellers who said smoking was good for your health. 

However, scientists who studied this issue said that there was a link between TV violence and aggression, and in 1992, the American Psychological Association's Task Force on Television and Society published a report that confirmed this view. The report, entitled “Big World, Small Screen: The Role of Television in American Society”, showed that the harmful effects of TV violence do exist.

Field studies, showing the long-range effects of televised violence, supported this APA research. Dr. Leonard D. Eron was a well respected psychologist whose 50 years of research led him to warn society that children who watch violent television shows tend to show aggressive and destructive behaviour later in life.
"We found that youngsters at age 8, who were not aggressive at school but who were watching violent TV at home were, by age 18, significantly more aggressive than youngsters who at age 8 were aggressive at school but not watching violent TV at home," Dr. Eron told the Washington Post in 1995.
"The kids who watched violent TV at age 8 are significantly more aggressive by the time they reach age 30 --- more criminal convictions, more abuse of spouses, more drunk-driving convictions," he said.
He also found that as these aggressive subjects grew up and had children, their own children were more aggressive than their peers. He ran similar long-range studies of children in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park and of children in Finland, Australia, Israel and Poland, all with similar results.
Dr Eron’s findings have been widely cited and duplicated over the years and he testified multiple times before the U.S. Congress. He published seven books and more than 100 professional articles and was chairman of the American Psychological Association's Commission on Violence and Youth.

Violent video games
It can be reasonably argued that violent content in television and films has increased markedly since those findings were made back in the 1980s and 1990s.  Also, since those days, television and the motion picture screen have now been joined by extremely violent and interactive video games.

In April, 2000, the American Psychological Association announced that video games can increase aggression. It quoted psychologists Craig Anderson PhD and Karen Dill PhD, saying, “One study reveals that young men who are habitually aggressive may be especially vulnerable to the aggression enhancing effects of repeated exposure to violent video games.”
These two researchers, who worked with 437 U.S. college students, went on to say that, “Another study reveals that even brief exposure to violent video games can temporarily increase aggressive behaviour in all types of participants.”

In essence, their studies showed that “violent video games may be more harmful than violent television and movies because they are interactive, very engrossing and require the player to identify with the aggressor.” (APA Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. April, 2000)

In November, 2006, the U.S. National Institute on Media and the Family issued a Fact Sheet, supported by research evidence, announcing that
  • By the time a child is eighteen years old, he or she will witness on television (with average viewing time) 200,000 acts of violence including 40,000 murders
  • Children, ages 8 to 18, spend more time (44.5 hours per week - 6.5 hours daily) in front of computer, television, and game screens than on any other activity in their lives except sleeping. 
  • Since the 1950s, more than 1,000 studies have been conducted on the effects of violence in television and movies. The majority of these studies conclude that: children who watch significant amounts of television and movie violence are more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviour, attitudes and values (U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 1999).
  • Media violence affects children's behaviour. This was reported jointly by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Paediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at the U.S. Congressional Public Health Summit in 2000.
  • Children are affected at any age, but young children are most vulnerable to the effects of media violence
  • Young children
    • are more impressionable.
    • have a harder time distinguishing between fantasy and reality.
    • cannot easily discern motives for violence.
    • learn by observing and imitating.
  • Young children who see media violence have a greater chance of exhibiting violent and aggressive behaviour later in life than children who have not seen violent media (U.S. Congressional Public Health Summit, 2000).
  • Violent video games can cause people to have more aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviours; and decrease empathetic, helpful behaviours with peers. Children who watch more TV and play more video games are not only exposed to more media violence, but are more likely to act more aggressively with peers and tend to assume the worst in their interactions with peers.
  • Violence (homicide, suicide, and trauma) is a leading cause of death for children, adolescents and young adults, more prevalent than disease, cancer or congenital disorders
What’s happening?
Six prominent medical groups (American Academy of Paediatrics, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Psychiatric Association) warn of these effects of media violence on children:
  • Children will increase anti-social and aggressive behaviour.
  • Children may become less sensitive to violence and to those who suffer from violence.
  • Children may view the world as violent and mean, becoming more fearful of being a victim of violence.
  • Children will desire to see more violence in entertainment and real life.
  • Children will view violence as an acceptable way to settle conflicts.
    (Congressional Public Health Summit, 2000)
How much more evidence do we need? Although the above data is based on U.S. research, the situation would be much the same in Australia. We are all too sadly aware of the increasing reports of violence in our homes, our schools and the wider community.
It is interesting to note that girls also, are now much more violent than thirty years ago. This is no doubt due to the influence of strong and aggressive female role models such as Charlie’s Angels, Lara Croft, Xena, The Warrior Princess and others. 

Despite the overwhelming research evidence there are still many who maintain that violence in the media does not influence behaviour. These people should go and talk to the moguls who control the advertising industry. These high powered executives spend billions of dollars world wide each year putting various images on our screens because they firmly believe those screen images will influence our behaviour.

In 1969 The US Surgeon General warned that smoking was a health hazard. Since that time much has been done to reduce the use of tobacco in society. Cigarettes in Australia now come in plain packaging with highlighted health warnings. On the other hand, despite the overwhelming evidence of its damaging human and social consequences, nothing really has been done to curb media violence.

And the violence continues. Given the vast amount of research data available since the 1980s as to the causes and the effects of violent behaviour in our society, the really surprising thing is that we are surprised by it at all.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Ian Fleming has a lot to answer for

Since 1995 I have written many articles and stories for WAPPA WORDS, the quarterly magazine of the Western Australian Primary Principals' Association. Some were about education but many of them were just a lighthearted look at life. WAPPA printed them all ... except for this one. So, twenty years later, before my word processor collapses, I submit it once again. (NB. I have updated the names of some of the public figures involved.)

There was a time when undercover agents and detectives such as Sherlock Holmes, Bulldog Drummond and Hercule Poirot were unsung heroes, members of a revered profession and hailed as patriots. They used their intellect, not explosives, violence and million dollar gadgetry to thwart the villains.

That their image has slipped considerably in recent times is due almost entirely to the lurid example set by James Bond, the super spy created by Ian Fleming.

Fleming, who actually worked for British Intelligence, cast Bond as a sex crazed, sadistic snob with a firearm fetish who spent his considerable leisure time in gambling casinos sipping Chivas Regal while decked out in a silk dinner jacket draped with a busty blonde, brunette or redhead ... sometimes by all three simultaneously.

Ian Fleming has been dead for about forty-five years and it is depressing to note that the Bond image he created still persists and in fact is growing stronger.

Recently, we have had Daniel Craig carrying on the tradition, established by Sean Connery, Roger Moore, George Lazenby, Roger Dalton and Pierce Brosnan, who have been bonding themselves together in a double headers on prime time TV and multi screen movie complexes for over fifty years. Brosnan’s most popular Bond movie was “Tomorrow Never Dies”.Apparently neither does James Bond.

Craig is the sixth actor to portray Bond on the screen since 1962. Unless something drastic is done soon, more and more actors will be appearing in more and more James Bond films well into the 21st Century.

In order to prevent such a calamity I submit this script for what hopefully will be the final chapter in the sordid James Bond saga.

Ladies and Gentlemen, fictional detective lovers everywhere, may I present James Bungle, Agent 000 on his very last case.

SCENE 1:    [James reclines on a psychiatrist's couch].

JAMES:    Doc, you must help me. It has been almost two hours since I solved an international unsolvable mystery. I'm losing my touch.

DOC:    Calm down, Bungle.

JAMES:    Calm down! [Sits up]. Is that all you can say? I tell you the situation is desperate. Before I came to see you I was cruising down St George's Terrace on my motor scooter looking for clues and ...

DOC: (Interrupting): And did you find any, Bungle?

JAMES:    Not a one. There I was on my gold-plated Yamaha scooter with the underslung 125cc engine. It has a triple tension torsion bar, double throw through ball valve clutch and digital liquid crystal traffic indicators plus ...

DOC:    Ah, yes, Bungle. That is most interesting, but did you find any clues?

JAMES:    That's my trouble, Doc. There were no clues. In fact all I could see were naked women.
DOC:        Women, you say. Naked! Hmmmm. [Searches in his drawer and produces three pictures].
                  Bungle, I wonder if you would look at these and tell me what you see.

JAMES:     Pictures? Doc, who needs pictures? I need therapy.

[Doc shows Bungle a picture of Ross Lyons waving a large West Coast Eagles flag].

JAMES:          Why, it's a naked woman!
DOC:              And this?
                        [A picture of Joe Hockey in a Jenny Craig tee shirt].
JAMES:         That's a naked woman!
DOC:              Hmm. Very interesting, James. And this one?
                        [A picture of Michael Malthouse pulling daggers out of his back].
JAMES:         That's another naked woman.
DOC:              [Shakes his head sadly]: I see...I see.
JAMES:          C'mon, Doc. Stop this tomfoolery. What is my problem?
DOC:              Well, the simple fact is, James, old boy, you have a very dirty mind.
JAMES:           What? Boy, Doc., that is rich. You say that I have a dirty mind when you're the one with all those dirty pictures.
                        [Telephone rings and Doc answers].
DOC:               It's for you, James. Some chap called Z the Head.
JAMES:           Hello Z. What? For me? An urgent unsolvable international mystery.? I'll be right over on my gold-plated Yamaha with the ...(very angry noises from telephone). But, Z, old boy, let me tell you. It has a steam operated, manually automatic gear lever and a ... (even angrier noises from telephone).
                        Aw, gee, Z. O.K. I'm on my way.


[Well appointed office. Well appointed blonde sits typing at well appointed desk]

[James strides in boldly. Girl stands up. They kiss passionately] .

JAMES:          Who are you?
GIRL:              I work for Z the Head. I'm a Girl Friday.             
JAMES:          A Girl Friday, hey! What are you the rest of the week?
                        [James smiles sardonically at his witticism].
                        Say, is that perfume I smell?
GIRL:              It is... and you do.
JAMES:          Hey, listen Girl Friday, don't talk to me like that. Do you know who I am? My name is...er...um. My name is...ah, er...[James looks confused. Girl helps him to a chair].
GIRL:               You were saying your name is ...
JAMES:           I suppose you had better call me 000.
GIRL:              Double Oh Oh?
JAMES:          Yes. Whenever I try to think of my name, my mind goes completely blank.
GIRL:              We all have days like that.
JAMES:          Yes. It is amnesiacal deja vu. I have forgotten my name before!
GIRL:               Hey, how did you get that lump on your head?
JAMES:          [Feeling his forehead]. What this? Oh, it’s nothing. I was putting some toilet water on my hair this morning and the seat fell down.       
GIRL:               If you say so. [They embrace passionately].
Anyhow, Z the Head wants you to solve an urgent unsolvable international mystery. He has a man waiting outside. Shall I ask him to come in?

JAMES:         Of course. Of course. [They embrace once more. The girl then sways outside while James looks into the silver cocktail tray and smoothes his eyebrows. Enter a clean cut young man carrying a  brief case on the side of which is painted the Star Spangled  Banner.]
MAN:              Agent Double Oh Oh. Boy, am I glad to see you.
JAMES:          Well, of course you are, dear chap, but who are you?
MAN:              I represent a friendly foreign power.
JAMES:         Which one?
MAN:              At present we do not wish to be identified. We operate under a special code sign.
JAMES:          Clever thinking. What is the code sign?
MAN:              We call ourselves U.S.A.          
JAMES:          U.S.A. Say, that is good. I must try to remember it. Now, about this urgent unsolvable international mystery that you want me to solve.
MAN:              We need you to locate a beautiful spy named Fanny Adams.
JAMES:          Never heard of her. Does she work for S.M.E.R.S.H.?
MAN:             No, she works for an unfriendly foreign power.
JAMES:         Is that so. Which one?
MAN:             I'm not at liberty to divulge that top secret classified information at this point in time. However, we have given it a secret code sign. We refer to it as I.R.A.N.
JAMES:         Very interesting. Now just what has Fanny been up to?
MAN:             She has infiltrated our organization and has copies of our weapons ...
JAMES:         Offensive?
MAN:             No way, pal. Fanny is a real swinging chick. That's how she infiltrated our ...
JAMES:         (Testily). The weapons. The weapons man, are they offensive?
MAN:             Oh No! My goodness me, no! We do not make OFFENSIVE weapons. We threaten no one. We only make DEFENSIVE weapons. However ... if turned against us by an unfriendly foreign power ...
JAMES:          You mean ...
MAN:              Exactly so ... as weapons of mass destruction we would all be blown to smithereens.
JAMES:         That could be quite nasty, old sport.
MAN:             Right. That is why you, James Bungle, Agent Double Oh Oh, face the hardest task we have ever set anybody.

[Music in the background wells up. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is singing "America, The Beautiful". Further in the background the Luton Girls Choir sings " Land Of Hope And Glory". Still further in the background Sam Newman leads a combined AFL choir in several rousing football drinking songs ).

MAN:                Bungle, you will need to use all your cunning and guile to seek out Fanny, get the plans, replace them with fake copies, plant plastic explosives and destroy their entire spy network before they destroy us.
JAMES:          Righto, old man. How much time do I have?
MAN:             [Looks at watch].  Two minutes exactly.
JAMES:         [Sits down. Thinks. Pours drink. Thinks.] I have it! Where is Girl Friday?
                       [Shapely blonde reappears. She and James embrace].
GIRL:             Yes, Agent Double Oh Oh. What is it?
JAMES:          Send for Z the Head. [He embraces girl once more. Girl departs]
MAN:              This is incredible, Bungle. Do you really have a solution?
JAMES:         Naturally, old bean! Oh, I'll admit I was puzzled for a few seconds, but these urgent unsolvable international  mysteries are a piece of cake really. It is simply a matter of recognising the clues.

[Enter girl with an elderly gentleman who is carrying  a Union Jack. It is Z the Head. Girl and James embrace].

JAMES:         [Points at Z the Head]. There is your master spy! There is your sweet Fanny Adams!
MAN:             Are you mad, Bungle? That is Z the Head. He works for us. He is your boss. Besides, he is an elderly man. I already told you that Fanny Adams is a beautiful woman!

[James lunges forward, tearing at Z the Head's clothing. He is quickly restrained by  two bodyguards].

MAN:              Well, Bungle, are you satisfied. Was it your female spy?
JAMES:         [Confused]. No ... No, it wasn't. It was Z the Head.
Z :                    Bungle's flipped his lid. He is no good to us any more. Take him away.
JAMES:          I don't understand it. Every time I looked at Z the Head I could see this beautiful naked woman.
MAN:               He's gone psycho! This is the end of his career. We'll have to put him away for good.

                        [EXIT ALL ...if only they would!]