Friday, December 18, 2015

Fletch Star Wars: The Force Awakens - My Spoiler-Filled Review

BE WARNED. THIS REVIEW HAS MAJOR SPOILERS AFTER THE FOLD. SO DO NOT CLICK IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Lucia Russia Lies - Boris Schumatsky

Peasant kissing a soldier of the "Army of Liberation" on a Soviet propaganda poster issued after the joint Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland.

A while back I tweeted the link below as a means to have a way of storing and sharing important pieces of information. After tweeting for a while, I've found that Twitter is not a good way of accessing stored information, that the blog does this far better.

So here is Russia is a Lie, by Boris Schumatsky. It's important to keep what you read in mind whenever Russia says anything. So many people whom I thought would have known better have been taken in by Putin because they trust what they are reading.

The greatest difficulty in dealing with Russia is this: Russia lies. This blanket assertion sounds like a slogan from the Cold War, and yet it's the only one that does justice to reality. ... Today not only do I write that the country of my birth has become an empire of lies, but that Russia itself is a lie.

...only one thing matters: who is strong enough to impose his truth on his opponent. Putin actually has nothing against NATO, he had initially wanted to join it himself. Now he only claims the right to do the same as all big players of geopolitics in his opinion do, the right to betray and murder. Vladimir Putin and his followers didn't encounter these rules by reading philosophical texts. They learned them on the streets.

... The Putinist only believes in one thing: lying as a way of life. Whoever grew up, like Vladimir Putin or I, in a large Soviet city learned this already at primary school. You get surrounded by a group of bullies. One of them says: "you ratted me out to the teacher", although it's the first time you see him. If you say "that's not true" you get beaten up immediately. If you apologise you will first be mocked. And then beaten.

Cries of victimhood coupled with a clenched fist is not an unknown gesture. Putin's Russia, which jumps into the ring like a world power, complains about Western intrigues. The Kremlin is well aware of the weaknesses of the Russian state, its economy and its military. But in a street-fight one hides one's weaknesses. Your opponent should think you are strong. Your opponent should piss his pants. He should believe that if he doubts your lie you'll punch his teeth out. He can de-escalate, as politicians the world over have been trying with Putin. He can call out: 'Peace!' - with the effect that you will also shout 'Peace!' - and then strike.

If the victim doesn't defend himself against the lies he also won't defend himself against the violence. He will be beaten up, and the attacker has already won from the moment that his victim didn't call him a liar.

Needless to say Russia isn't a nation of thugs who ruthlessly shoot down passenger planes. Needless to say there is another Russia - more than one in fact. But the diversity of Russia has been banished into internal and external exile. As long as the illusion holds, the millions of potato farmers, mathematics teachers, bank cashiers or publishing editors can achieve just as little politically as those who, like me, have left Russia. Only one voice is now heard in Russia. It is the voice of the collective Putin which leaves you speechless.

...The postmodern concept of plurality of truth is being riddled with bullets in Ukraine. Putin is imposing a return to reality. Realpolitik is being displaced by the real, by the old-fashioned adventure of naming things. The luxury of relative truths and devalued values is gone. In Russia the lies have triumphed once again, and once again only simple, black-and-white language does justice to this drama. Solzhenitsyn wrote it thus: "Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence".

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Lucia Airport Donetsk


I've just watched Airport Donetsk, the short documentary film above. It's basically interviews with Russian separatists (Russian military) and with surviving Ukrainian armed forces who battled each other at the airport, with the Russians ultimately winning.

There are some gruesome scenes of injured and/or dead bodies, and one particularly awful scene of Russian soldiers forcing captured Ukrainian soldiers to eat their Ukrainian flags cut off their uniforms. One can only imagine what happened next to those soldiers.

I'm left feeling quite numb after watching it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Lucia MH-17 Report and attempts to cover up the cause of the crash



It's finally out, the Dutch investigation into the MH-17 passenger plane crash in Ukraine last year, the crash that many believe was a deliberate targeting of the flight by pro-Russian rebels.  Not that they believed they were aiming for a plane full of civilians when they fired, but that they thought the plane was a Ukrainian military plane of the type they had shot down before.  It was only when the debris came to earth that they realised their terrible error.

Anyway, the Dutch report does not conclusively say who and why, but only what, in that it was a Russian-made surface to air missile, a BUK, that took down the plane and killed everyone on board, fired from rebel controlled territory in Ukraine.

What's even more interesting is how persons unknown made efforts to cover up causes of disaster:

The report by the Dutch safety board said that more than 120 objects, “mostly metal fragments”, were found in the body of the first officer, who had sustained “multiple fractures”. When Dutch experts identified the captain’s body they found it had already “undergone an external and internal examination to remove foreign objects”.

Despite apparent attempts to remove shrapnel, “hundreds of metal objects were found”, the report said, as well as bone fractures and other injuries.

Among the fragments of missile shrapnel examined, two were in the shape of a bow tie, which the Dutch board found to be characteristic of a particular type of Buk missile warhead. However, the Russian manufacturer had earlier denied that any such fragments were found, and insisted an older Buk model was used, one that was no longer in service in the Russian armed forces.

However (from Dutch Report: MH17 Downed By Buk Surface-To-Air Missile):

Nick de Larrinaga, Europe Editor for IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, noted that Russia has put forth differing claims, including а Russian Defense Ministry claim that Ukrainian Su-25 jet shot down the plane.

He also dismissed Russian assertions about the 9M38 or 9M38M1 missiles, saying evidence showed both were in service and in Russian military stockpiles as of July 2014.

In other words, the both new and older type of BUK was still in service as of July 2014, when MH-17 was shot down.

When it comes down to it, with all the various theories and denials put forth by Russia, we should take the following into account:

"It is worth remembering that Russia has a long history of disinformation over its involvement in Ukraine, initially the country denied its troops had invaded Crimea -- something Russia now acknowledges was the case," Larrinaga said.​

Indeed. See also, How Dutch Investigators Rebuffed Russia’s Alternative MH17 Theories

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Fletch The New Zealand Flag, Choice, and the Illusion of Free Will

The four flag choices.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll know that we here in New Zealand are having a referendum early next year on whether to change our national flag - that is, of course, after a separate referendum to decide on what the design of the new flag should actually be.  In other words, it's being done backwards, as though the decision for change had already been made. And I think that was the intent. Otherwise, why not ask first if people want a change, before wasting time and effort asking for design submissions and whittling them down to a final four? Perhaps they know damn well that when people are asked straight up, as they have been in the past, they don't want a new flag.

If it must be done in this order, why not just have the one referendum (saving time and expense), and include the current flag as the fifth option? Will they, at some stage, perhaps decide not to have the second referendum regarding the choice between the new and current flags? I wouldn't be surprised.

My feeling is that this is a savvy marketing campaign to change the flag. By having people actively engaged in the process of making a selection, they are planting the seed of the idea in our brains that a new flag is needed. By having the option of the four new flags to choose from in the referendum but not the current one, they are offering the illusion of choice. People are happy if they believe that have control over their own actions and can exercise free will, but is having to choose between four options you don't want any choice at all? It's a Morton's Fork choice (eg, between a rock and a hard place, or between two things, neither of which you really want).

As I said, by doing it this way - back-to-front - it gives the illusion that the people are being consulted and involved in the decision, but it's really only in certain decisions.

Why do I have the feeling that, ultimately, we don't have any choice in the matter at all?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Lucia Let the boys park their cars on school grounds!


I am amazed at how many people voted against letting the pupils from Christ's College park their cars in an empty lot that is adjacent to the college and is college owned. What is wrong with people?? At the time of my voting, a massive 72% of those who voted did not think that the boys should be able to park on a piece of empty ground next the college. It's empty, what is the harm? Seriously, if it were a group of teachers that needed the car parking, I bet there would be no problem.

The school headmaster and those 72% should read the late Celia Laslie's book: He'll Be Ok: Growing Gorgeous Boys Into Good Men for help. By the time boys are year 13, they need to be treated more like adults than children - something schools have a lot of trouble with. Of course, I don't know if the boys campaigning are year 13, but even if they are not, the opposition to allowing the boys to park on empty school grounds seems petty and vindictive and unreasonable.

Related link: Christ's College students to 'face repercussions' over car park campaign

Friday, August 7, 2015

Lucia Daily Vertical - Putin's Propaganda Fail


Brian Whitmore talks about the recent international Pew Research that shows that despite spending half a billion dollars on getting their message out to the world, Russia and Putin are considered far less favourably in most countries that were surveyed.

This just goes to show that no matter what countries or people say, their actions speak louder than their words. Colin Craig should take note.

Related links: The Daily Vertical: Russia's Propaganda Fail Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
Russia, Putin Held in Low Regard around the World ~ Pew Research Centre

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Lucia Colin Craig threatens to sue for defamation

Oh dear. As my oldest son said, doesn't he realize this will just keep all that stuff alive that he'd rather people forget???

In the interests of keeping myself out of Craig's cross-hairs (he's suing Cameron Slater and John Stringer for more than Jordan Williams, because the first two are BLOGGERS!) - all I'll say here is that all of this will (is backfiring) backfire on Craig.

Any respect from this side of the political divide that might have been given him because of what he was trying to do with the Conservative Party is now totally gone.

Related link: Hilarious booklet on the allegations of defamation

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Lucia Anne Applebaum on the British Election

From the Washington Post: The End of Britain As We Know It

This election will be remembered as the one that rescued the career of David Cameron, the British prime minister, who was publicly contemplating his own exit from politics only two months ago. It will also be remembered as the election that abruptly ended the career of the Labor Party leader, Ed Miliband, who had confidently carved his electoral promises onto a large piece of limestone only last week. Above all, it will be remembered as the election that every single major pollster got wrong...

Certainly it could literally mark the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom, that union of four nations — Welsh, English, Northern Irish and Scottish — whose stability hasn’t seriously been challenged for quite some time...

...Suddenly, a vision of a different future has opened up, especially for a certain kind of English Tory: Without dour, difficult, left-wing Scotland, maybe they could rule the rest of what used to be Great Britain, indefinitely. For U.S. readers who find the significance of this hard to understand: Imagine that a Texan secessionist party had, after years of campaigning, just taken every Texan seat in Congress. And now imagine that quite a few people in the rest of the country — perhaps in the Democratic Party — had, after years of arguing back, finally begun to think that Texan secession really might not be so bad and were beginning to calculate the electoral advantages accordingly.

I suppose a similar thing for New Zealand would be the South Islanders getting so sick of being part of New Zealand that over the years there would have been a growing movement for separation which everyone in the North gradually accepts as not such a bad outcome.

This election may also be the beginning of the end of Great-Britain-as-we-know-it in another sense, too. In 2013, Cameron promised that he would, if reelected, hold a referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union. He also promised, somewhat more vaguely, that he would first “renegotiate” that membership. Even today nobody knows what that means, for Cameron has never explained it. Nor has he ever sought European allies or partners to help him in that process, and this isn’t the best moment to begin. The rest of Europe’s leaders are involved in a complex financial negotiation with Greece, are forging a strategy toward Russia, are facing an enormous illegal migration crisis on its southern coasts — and aren’t collectively enthusiastic about launching into a long, painful negotiation with Britain.

Bloody typical really, but not so surprising. Britain was one of the great maritime empires, and that wasn't too long ago for them. Being outside of the main destruction of Europe during WWII, they don't have as strong a desire to work with Europeans for mutual benefit, as to Britain, this mutual benefit is not so obvious.

But whatever the rest of Europe wants, this issue is now of necessity at the center of Britain’s foreign policy. In practice, that means British diplomats aren’t going to have time to worry about Russia or Libya in the next few years, because they’ll be focused on E.U. treaties. At E.U. summits, the British will want to talk about Britain’s role in Europe, not Europe’s role in the world, or Europe’s crises on its southern and eastern borders. The outward-looking, fully engaged Britain that “punched above its weight” has already faded away, and not everybody in London is very sorry about this turn of events either. Cameron has been less interested in foreign policy than any British prime minister in recent memory, his party has just run the most insular election campaign that anybody can recall and he has just been rewarded with a resounding victory for doing so.

Interesting times.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Lucia Putin co-opting conservatism and religious messianism gather world-wide support and sympathy

A new Forbes article (Un)Holy Alliance: Vladimir Putin, The Russian Orthodox Church And Russian Exceptionalism makes shocking reading.

[...W]hile much attention has been paid to the growing authoritarianism of the Kremlin and on the support for Putin’s regime on the part of the Russian oligarchs whom Putin has enriched through his crony capitalism, little has been paid to the equally critical role of the Russian Orthodox Church in helping to shape Russia’s current system, and in supporting Putin’s regime and publicly conflating the mission of the Russian state under Vladimir Putin’s leadership with the mission of the Church. Putin’s move in close coordination with the Russian Orthodox Church to sacralize the Russian national identity has been a key factor shaping the increasingly authoritarian bent of the Russian government under Putin, and strengthening his public support, and must be understood in order to understand Russia’s international behavior.

The close relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the Russian state based upon a shared, theologically-informed vision of Russian exceptionalism is not a new phenomenon. During the days of the Czar, the Russian ruler was seen as God’s chosen ruler of a Russian nation tasked with representing a unique set of value embodied by Russian Orthodoxy, and was revered as “the Holy Orthodox Czar”. Today, a not dissimilar vision of Russian exceptionalism is once again shared by the ROC and the Kremlin, and many Russians are beginning to see Vladimir Putin in a similar vein – a perception encouraged both by Putin and by the Church, each of which sees the other as a valuable political ally and sees their respective missions as being interrelated.

John Schindler wrote something similar at the end of 2014: Putin’s Orthodox Jihad, while as Brian Whitmore (of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty from) wrote Vladimir Putin, Conservative Icon a few months earlier. I strongly recommend interested readers go through both of these articles as well, for much of what these authors talk about are patterns that I myself have noticed.

As many readers of this blog know, one of my co-bloggers has very strong Russian Orthodox beliefs and has exhibited on numerous occasions a type of Putin hero worship. Therefore, he and I existing on the same blog after Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year has created a rift between us, so to speak.

Fulton Sheen, many years ago predicted that in the future there would be a co-opting of Christianity to political aims. It seems to be a very constant temptation. The Russian Orthodox Church and Putin are doing this very thing. Rather than the ROC being a balancing religious voice in Russia acting as a moral brake on the excessive authoritarian tendencies of the Kremlin, it instead acts as an enforcer of the politics.

Putin has also tried to make himself look like a conservative, moral and religious man; but it's as if he is playing a part rather than living these aims. The conservatism, morality and religious sentiment is very shallow. All of it was pretty much obvious to me prior to the Ukraine invasion, but I ignored it. I thought the man is trying, I'll let him be and not criticise. After all you have to give people a chance, despite how something looks.

No more chances now, though. With everything that has happened, Putin is looking more and more like another anti-Christ than a reincarnation of St Paul, as is believed by some in Russia.

Lucia The Daily Vertical: Foreign Agents Against Torture


Today's video is about Europeans, participating in a conference against torture, deported from Russia.

Related link: The Daily Vertical: Foreign Agents Against Torture

Also available is an hour long podcast on States Within A State:
Two republics in the Russian Federation. Both predominantly Muslim. Both seeking to secure maximum autonomy from Moscow. Each using dramatically different tactics.

...On the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we discuss Grozny's and Kazan's approaches, Moscow's respective reaction to them, and what this tells us about Russia today.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Lucia Alarm on the border in Poland

From Deutsche Welle: Alarm on the border in Poland

Since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, citizen defense and paramilitary groups in Poland have seen their numbers swell. The government in Warsaw has officially included these troops in its plans for national defense.


An article in more depth on Poland and it's fears and preparation for war with Russia, from Poland Prepares for Russian Invasion by John Schindler of The XX Committee:

... Poland is the real issue when it comes to defending NATO’s exposed Eastern frontier from Russian aggression. Only Poland, which occupies the Alliance’s central front, has the military power to seriously blunt any Russian moves westward. As in 1920, when the Red Army failed to push past Warsaw, Poland is the wall that will defend Central Europe from any westward movement by Moscow’s military. To their credit, and thanks to a long history of understanding the Russian mentality better than most NATO and EU members, Warsaw last fall, when the violent theft of Crimea was still just a Kremlin dream, announced a revised national security strategy emphasizing territorial defense. Eschewing American-led overseas expeditions like those to Iraq and Afghanistan that occupied Poland’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) during the post-9/11 era, this new doctrine makes defending Poland from Eastern aggression the main job of its military. Presciently, then-Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, contradicting optimistic European and NATO presumptions of our era that conventional war in Europe was unthinkable, stated in May 2013, “I’m afraid conflict in Europe is imaginable.”

Particularly in light of the fact that both NATO and the Obama administration rejected my advice to seriously bolster Alliance defenses in the East with four heavy brigades, including the two brigades that Warsaw explicitly asked NATO — meaning, in practice, the United States — for after this year’s Russo-Ukrainian War began in earnest, the issue of Poland’s military readiness is of considerable importance to countries far beyond Poland. Instead of creating a militarily viable NATO tripwire that would deter Russian aggression, the Alliance, and Washington, DC, have opted for symbolic gestures — speeches, military visits, small exercises — that impress the Western media but not the Russians.

Then there is this article from the Guardian Poland’s warning to Europe: Russia’s aggression in Ukraine changes everything:

Russia’s aggression against neighbouring Ukraine has changed almost everything. Poland is deeply concerned about its national security and about the degree of solidarity its western allies are able – and willing – to demonstrate. This anxiety is not limited to the ruling class, or politicians. It is deeply felt by the population.

... Poland got one thing right: it never believed in “the end of history”, Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 formula proclaiming the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy over ideology. This scepticism led Poland to push extremely hard for admittance to Nato and the EU, both seen as virtual life insurance policies for the nation.

...Poland would much prefer to have two US brigades under Nato command stationed on its territory. This was opposed by Germany on the grounds that it would violate the Nato-Russia agreement of 1997. Polish officials have a point when they say privately that the German position is questionable, because the agreement explicitly rested on the notion that strategic circumstances would remain unchanged in Europe, which is no longer the case. A Polish diplomat put it to me this way: “In 2014, with the Russian annexation of Crimea and the Russian assault in the Donbass, the unthinkable became reality.”

Just in case anyone tries to paint all this as "American propaganda", as my co-blogger Andrei accused me of yesterday on this post, notice my sources here. They are German, British, Polish (in that these stories are about Poland) and yes, American.

Lucia Daily Vertical - Novorossia: A Short-Lived Mirage


Novorossia died a quiet death this week.

When separatist leader Oleg Tsarev announced the end of the scheme to unite the Russian-speaking regions of eastern Ukraine into a single pro-Moscow separatist entity on May 20, it was the latest in a series of signs that the yearlong conflict in the Donbas is lumbering toward some kind of endgame.

In remarks reported by Gazeta.ru, Tsarev, the chairman of the self-styled parliament of Novorossia, said the project was being suspended because it "doesn't fit into" the cease-fire agreement signed in Minsk in February.

In reality, Novorossia was stillborn from the get-go. Unlike in Donetsk and Luhansk, where pro-Moscow separatism took hold, Russian-speakers in Odesa, Mariupol, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, Kharkiv, and elsewhere remained loyal to Kyiv.

...

Russia had once hoped to partition Ukraine by seizing so-called Novorossia, which stretches from Kharkiv in the northeast to Odesa in the south, which would have given it a land bridge to annexed Crimea.

But having failed at this, Moscow is now seeking to keep the separatist-held enclaves in Donetsk and Luhansk inside Ukraine in order to use them as a fifth column to paralyze Kyiv and keep the country from integrating with the West.

If and how these territories are reintegrated into Ukraine will be the main battleground in the coming phase of the conflict.

Read the rest at After Novorossia on Radio Free Europe.

As an aside, it's good to see the daily video integrated into the daily post - the link up is important for those that prefer not to listen and just want to read or vice-versa. Makes it easier for me linking to both also as it's one less link to refer to.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Lucia The Daily Vertical: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid


Authorities in Krasnodar announce that they will monitor a concert by the popular musician Noize MC for extremism after the liberal-minded rapper criticized Russia's policies in Ukraine.

Local Cossacks in a St. Petersburg suburb unveil a statue depicting Vladimir Putin as a Roman emperor.

The State Duma approves legislation criminalizing "undesirable organizations."

A pro-Kremlin institute unveils a computer program that will trawl social networks in search of chatter about unauthorized protests -- and report it to the authorities.

The latest petty harassment of a socially conscious artist. Yet another cartoonish exaltation of the national leader. And the creation of a couple more blunt instruments to repress dissent.

Just another month in the brave new Russia.

I can't imagine any company in the Western world unveiling a computer program to trawl social networks to check for chatter about unauthorised protests. In fact, protests in the Western world are a part of life - there's no need for authorisation. Even if they are rent-a-mob leftists, we put up with them.

Related links: The Daily Vertical: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid
Resistance Isn't Futile

Lucia Russia threatens to ban Google, Twitter and Facebook over extremist content

From The Guardian: Russia threatens to ban Google, Twitter and Facebook over extremist content:

Russia’s communications watchdog has threatened to fine Facebook, Google and Twitter and block their services under a controversial law on blogging.

In a letter to executives on on Monday, the director of the communications oversight agency warned that the three US companies could face sanctions if they continued alleged illegal activities in Russia, Izvestia newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Any action could affect a number of social media sites: besides its eponymous social network, Facebook also owns the photo-sharing service Instagram, while Google owns YouTube, BlogSpot and Google+. Facebook and Twitter, in particular, have been instrumental to organisers of opposition protests in Russia, where the major television news channels are controlled by the state.

A spokesman told the state news agency RIA Novosti that the watchdog’s complaints related mainly to deleting pages with extremist materials and receiving information under what is known as the “bloggers law”. This 2014 legislation requires popular bloggers to register their real identities with the authorities, a measure that prominent bloggers say is designed to have a curb free speech and criticism of the regime.

The agency’s deputy director, Maksim Ksenzov, had issued a warning to the three companies on 6 May, telling them they were in violation of the bloggers law because they had not provided requested data on the number of daily visitors to several users’ pages, as well as information allowing the authorities to identify the owners of accounts with more than 3,000 daily visitors.

According to the law, the agency can fine a violating organisation up to 300,000 roubles (£3,850); a second infringement can incur a fine of up to 500,000 roubles or a suspension of its operations for up to 30 days.

If the companies did not take steps to delete from their sites “information containing calls to participate in mass rioting, extremist activities” or unsanctioned public events, the watchdog would “limit access to the information resource where that information is posted”, Ksenzov warned.

Wow, it's totally amazing that Russia uses the internet outside of Russia to spread disinformation, while as within Russia it's on the warpath in a massive clampdown. Well, Ok, not so amazing, just the irony is blinding.

Lucia Bible classes in state schools


I suppose many readers might assume that I would be for the continuing teaching of bible classes in state schools. Of the type where the school "closes down" for a little while so that the class can be taught out of school time. Except I don't support this sort of thing at all.

The whole notion of closing a school down so a subject can be taught is ridiculous. Either the school has the mandate to teach something or it doesn't. In other words, Bible class should be made part of the curriculum, and then the fight is with the Government, or the school not teach it at all. Any parents that want Bible class need to get together and create some sort of Sunday school.

So, in that way I am on the side of Jeff McClintock, who is taking his 7 year old daughter's school and Attorney General, Chris Finlayson to court. From 3 News:

A parent fighting bible lessons in schools admits he's feeling a weight on his shoulders as his High Court battles begins.

Jeff McClintock is taking a case against Red Beach School north of Auckland, and the Attorney-General, Chris Finlayson.

He says it has become a David and Goliath battle that could set a precedent for other schools.

What I find interesting, is this Bible in secular schools is really a hang over from when every one in New Zealand was Catholic or Protestant. The Catholics had their own religious schools and the Protestants had the state schools.

From the 3 News article, Massey University History Professor Peter Lineham says:

"We've had this system of bible in schools for 100 years or more now and it came about because there was consensus at the time that those who hadn't gone off to Catholic schools were very happy to have some kind of religious education, but there was always a right for people to opt out. Now the opters-out are claiming that this is a terrible prejudice against them."

I'll ignore Peter Lineham's ideas that he puts forward in the article, because I disagree with them.

Another option, could be that the Bible classes need to be at the beginning or the end of school, so that parents who don't want their children to attend just take them when school officially starts or pick them up early. This is how the Catholic school my youngest son went to a number of years back dealt with objectors, such as myself, to schools teaching sex education to pre-teenage children.

I personally find that with religious education, it's pretty much pointless if the person teaching it does not live it or believe it. In fact, it's a good way of creating little atheists if it's not taught well. I've seen enough of that sort of thing in Catholic schools where the religious education can be trivialised or dumbed down.

Also, from the Catholic point of view, a parent's right to have their child taught what they believe, even if it is atheism, is paramount. God gives atheists children and expects those atheists to raise those children in the best way they can. So even if I disagree with atheism, I side with the father in his case against the school, for no one has a right to teach children anything that is contrary to their parent's beliefs.

Compulsory schooling, for too long in countries such as NZ, creates a belief that the will of the state is supreme with regards to education. It's good that this idea is being challenged.

Lucia The continuing invasion of Ukraine by Russia


From New Putin Invasion Coming This Summer ~ Michael Weiss and James Miller, Daily Beast

On May 5, the Ukrainian government released new data which says that they have lost 28 towns to Russian-backed separatists since February 18. That was the day the strategic town of Debaltsevo, which guarded a key highway to separatist-controlled regions, slipped from Ukraine’s control. The map of separatist territory is as alarming as it is illustrative, especially when it is combined with the daily reports of ceasefire violations and fighting coming out of both the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Kiev.

On May 6, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko addressed the National Security and Defense Council and warned that Russia has 50,000 troops on the border and its proxies have more than 40,000 fighters inside the country. That’s not only a combined 50% increase in possible invaders over July of last year, the month which proceeded the “Russian invasion” on the Ukrainian mainland. It’s more than enough soldiers to invade and gobble up a significant amount of Ukrainian territory.

“There is a convincing evidence that Ukraine strictly complies with the Minsk [ceasefire] agreements and militants constantly violate them,” Poroshenko noted. Separatists do not allow international observers to verify their withdrawal of heavy weaponry. “Militants regularly shoot Ukrainian positions, engage in reconnaissance and subversive activity and provoke armed confrontations in order to disrupt peaceful settlement of the conflict.”

One day later, May 7, the OSCE witnessed a significant amount of fighting both near Donetsk and around a town called Shirokino, 20 kilometers east of Mariupol—part of a trend of heavier fighting which started in late April. The OSCE also reported that one of their surveillance drones was jammed for 10 minutes while attempting to monitor the movement of separatist tanks near Donetsk, in violation of the 50-kilometer demarcation line agreed upon by both sides.

The above article was published four days ago on the Daily Beast, since then, Russian forces and proxies attack Shyrokyne with heavy artillery banned by Minsk agreements.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Lucia The Daily Vertical: The Strange Endgame In Donbas

*

For more than year, there's been a war in eastern Ukraine that nobody called a war. And for the past three months, there's been a cease-fire there that wasn't a cease-fire.

And now that the agreement reached in Minsk in February that was supposed to end hostilities in the Donbas is all but dead in the water, we seem to be lurching toward some kind of endgame. And it is shaping up to be as strange and counterintuitive as every other aspect of this through-the-looking-glass hybrid conflict.

This article Lose The Territory, Win The War is what is said in the You-Tube above plus lots more analysis.

Personally, I think, Russia Putin needs to be forced to repair the damage to the country of Ukraine and pay reparations to all those families, both Ukrainian and Russian, that have lost loved ones in this pointless war. Putin is worth at least $40 billion, though some think he's even richer at $200 billion, so he can afford it.

Related link: The Daily Vertical: The Strange Endgame In Donbas ~ Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Lucia Mr Abbas - Angel of Peace or not?

Pope Francis and President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority at the Vatican

There's been a bit of outrage over Pope Francis supposedly calling President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority an "angel of peace", according to some news reports, during a private conversation between the two when Mr Abbas visited the Pope at the Vatican recently. Other media reported the phrase as an exhortation for Abbas to be an angel of peace.

The Vatican hasn't clarified matters, beyond reminding everyone that angels are messengers.

Anyway, officially Israel is not too concerned, for ...

Emmanuel Nahshon, the spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said he heard a recording of the conversation, had consulted with Israel’s ambassador to the Vatican and was satisfied that the pope had said, “May you be an angel of peace.”

“He is far from an angel of peace,” Mr. Nahshon said of Mr. Abbas, adding, “If he was, perhaps by now there would be peace.”

Yep.  There's also no harm in encouraging him to be an angel of peace.  The Palestinian Authority needs as many of those types as possible.

Related link: Vatican Seeks to Quiet Uproar Over Pope’s ‘Angel of Peace’ Remark ~ New York Times

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lucia Proof verified by MSM as to who shot down MH17 [UPDATE 3]

An Australian journalist, Michael Usher recently traveled to Ukraine, into rebel-held territory, to look into the evidence for a Russian BUK shooting down MH17 as it flew over Ukraine.

He used information from Bellingcat, photos and geo-locations, which he verified by going to those places.  He saw exactly where the Russian BUK passed through, thus putting to bed any suggestion that it was a Ukranian BUK as asserted by Russia. He also talks to an expert as to whether the damage to the plane was from projectile (ie a Ukranian fighter plane as the Russians initially asserted) or a BUK which creates shrapnel type damage.

This 60 Minutes TV programme was screened in Australia only a few days ago and is a must watch, especially for those that are unsure as to what actually happened.  It seems the Australians will not let this go, and with good reason.



This is a new wave of internet crowd sourcing of forensic detective work backed up by the MSM.

Related link: Michael Usher travels to Ukraine to track the missile that shot down MH17

UPDATE 20/05/15: The second video (part II) has been removed from this post. That video has been taken down due to a copyright claim by Channel 9 in Australia. If the first video disappears, the videos are still available through the link related link above. I really wish media outlets such as the Australian Channel 9 would think about making it easier for bloggers to disseminate their material by providing embed links the way You Tube does.

UPDATE 2: Something I should have added to this post, so here it is. A more in depth explanation of the methods Bellingcat uses to track Russian military activity (including the shooting down of MH-17, and the firing of missiles from Russia into Ukrainian territory). It's half an hour and well worth your time if you are interested in this sort of thing...

UPDATE 3: Damn, embeded video does not work. Here's the link to the page it originated on instead. Why can't everyone just put their stuff on You-Tube where embedding always works? Note, it looks like their servers are down. Oh well, I'll just leave the post like this.

Lucia The Daily Vertical: Is The Nemtsov Case Being Whitewashed?



Brian Whitmore is back from holiday, and today he talks about the lead detective on the Nemtsov case in Russia being removed (for a promotion) and replaced with someone more political.

Related link: The Daily Vertical: Is The Nemtsov Case Being Whitewashed? ~ Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Monday, May 18, 2015

Lucia To understand Putin, read Orwell.

From To Understand Putin, Read Orwell by Timothy Snyder.

Anyone who wants to understand the current Russian position on Ukraine would do well to begin with George Orwell’s classic, 1984. The connections go deeper than the adjective “Orwellian”: the structure and the wisdom of the book are guides, often frighteningly precise ones, to current events.

The easiest way to begin, in light of the now entirely open Russian invasion of Ukraine, is with “War is Peace,” one of the slogans of the imagined empire in Orwell’s tale. After all, every attempt thus far at negotiation and cease-fire has been accompanied by a Russian escalation, to the point where we can be certain that this is not a coincidence. If Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with other leaders, we must simply expect that this is cover for the latest outrage, as with the entrance of Russian troops, armor and artillery during the recent talks in Minsk.

But we need to dig a bit deeper into the plot for the three concepts needed to understand this very strange war, in which Putin has radicalized Russian politics, destroyed a European peace order, challenged Europeans’ assumptions about their entire future — and even threatened nuclear war. Every reason proffered to explain a war that is pointless to the point of nihilism is obviously bogus or self-contradictory or both. To grasp this horrible event in which people are killing and dying for no discernible reason, we need to remember some key concepts from Orwell: Eurasia, doublethink and learning to love Big Brother.

In Orwell’s 1984, one of the world powers is called Eurasia. Interestingly enough, Eurasia is the name of Russia’s major foreign policy doctrine. In Orwell’s dystopia, Eurasia is a repressive, warmongering state that “comprises the whole of the northern part of the European and Asiatic land-mass, from Portugal to the Bering Strait.” In Russian foreign policy, Eurasia is a plan for the integration of all the lands from—you guessed it—Portugal to the Bering Strait. Orwell’s Eurasia practices “neo-Bolshevism”; Russia’s leading Eurasian theorist once called himself a “national Bolshevik.” This man, the influential Alexander Dugin, has long advocated that the Ukrainian state be destroyed, and has very recently proposed that Russia exterminate Ukrainians.

If you really don't know what is going on in Russia and Ukraine, read everything you can about the situation by Timothy Snyder. The article above is continued here.

Lucia Roman Emperor Putin

Created and erected by the St Petersburg Cossack Society, it was unveiled to mark [this year's Russia's] Victory Day celebrations

The bust, created by the St Petersburg Cossack Society to mark Russia's victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War, has been unveiled on a plot of private land in the north.

Andrei Polyakov, a local Cossack leader, said the idea for the bust came about after Russia's annexation of Crimea last year.

He said: 'Cossacks would want to have an emperor for life, who would give strength to the state and would take care of Russia's destiny throughout his whole life. 'Presidents come and go, but an emperor as a symbol is probably what Russia needs.'

It will remain perched in the small town of Vartemyagi, which is located just outside the northern city of St Petersburg.

Vladimir Belyancheko, a member of the society, said: 'In this image we see manhood. This is the image of a victor, and probably a model for our Russian democracy,' according to The Telegraph.

He said: 'Cossacks would want to have an emperor for life, who would give strength to the state and would take care of Russia's destiny throughout his whole life.

'Presidents come and go, but an emperor as a symbol is probably what Russia needs.'
Well, I cannot image any other leader beyond maybe Kim Jong-un of North Korea getting this sort of hero worship from his subjects.

I know I have readers who struggle to believe that Russia is now on the war path and the aggressor in Ukraine.  My question to those readers is, beyond what I have posted in the past week, what more do you need?

Related link: Hail Putin! Cossacks unveil extraordinary bust of Russian leader as a Roman Caesar to mark Soviet victory in World War Two ~ Daily Mail

Friday, May 15, 2015

Lucia Very Wet Yesterday UPDATE

Slip on Centennial Highway blocks the train track on the right on the hill and the road

It was a bit wet here on the Kapiti Coast, NZ yesterday. We had a lot of rain and there was flooding, which caused a major slip on the main highway disconnecting us to the city of Wellington. Chaos ensued.  A man died, stuck in his car in a flooded area.

My backyard filled with water, but not above the level of the grass. My sun room leaked and a giant puddle formed outside the front door, but with being on a slight hill, the house was never in danger.  Though, there were evacuations further down the road due to the local stream rising.

The local schools were closed, my kids were home and spend the day playing computer games rather than studying, and they were hoping school was not on today either. Which it is, despite the trains not running and no buses as replacement, which affects those coming north into this area.

My husband is still stuck in Wellington, but was able to stay with my mother and brothers overnight. Luckily he had a change of clothes and a toothbrush due to a trip to Auckland and back previously.

Fortunately, if something like this ever happens again, a new road is being built connecting Wellington to the Kapiti Coast, which will give a much better alternative route rather than the single lane in each direction issue prone to slips and flooding we have now in places on the state highway.

For those not in New Zealand, here's a few news stories:
More wild weather on the way as Wellington and Bay of Plenty begin clean up ~ NZ Herald
Evacuations after heavy rain, floods and slips in Wellington region ~ Stuff

UPDATE: Live updates: Wellington roads clear as residents assess the damage ~ TVNZ

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Lucia Must listen: Panel Discussion on current Russian Disinformation



Joint Baltic American National Committee Conference 2015 Morning Panel
Archived JBANC panel on Kremlin propaganda and disinformation from April 18

Panelists are: Paul Goble, Christopher Walker, Jamie Kirchick, Liz Wahl, John Schindler.

I have to disagree with Jamie Kirchick that ridicule is the best counter to those who propagate disinformation in the West. Ridicule does not persuade those who are undecided, or don't know what is going on. It can enforce conformity, but not everyone is a conformist and is therefore convinced.   You can lose a lot of people by using ridicule.  Far better to directly engage with the arguments and inform of the real situation.

I really would like to write a lot more about the 72 minute talk fest above, but it would just take far too much time, and rather than post nothing, I leave it to those who want to know more about what is going on to spend the time listening as well.

Related links: Joint Baltic American National Committee

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Lucia Putin still defending Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that started WWII

Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel (L) and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, Moscow. Photo: EPA/SERGEI ILNITSKY (Source)

Angela Merkel is trying to talk sense into Vladimir Putin. Unfortunately, it's still not working.

Russian President Vladimir Putin defended 1939's Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany as Moscow's response to being isolated and having its peace efforts snubbed by Western nations.

At the close of his Sunday meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow — a day after Russian held grand-scale celebrations of the allied victory in World War II — Putin offered a lengthy defense of the controversial agreement that led to the carving up of Eastern Europe.

"The Soviet Union made massive efforts to lay the groundwork for a collective resistance to Nazism in Germany, made repeated attempts to create an anti-fascist bloc in Europe. All of these attempts failed," Putin told journalists at a joint news conference with Merkel, according to a transcript released by the Kremlin.

"And when the Soviet Union realized that it was being left one-on-one with Hitler's Germany, it took steps to avoid a direct confrontation, and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed," Putin said.

Merkel offered a diplomatically phrased objection, telling the joint news conference that the "Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is difficult to understand without considering the additional secret protocol. With that in mind, I think it was wrong, it was done illegally," she said, according to the Kremlin's Russian-language transcript.

The secret protocol, which accompanied what was officially presented as a non-aggression treaty, divided up the territories of Poland, Romania, the Baltic nations and Finland into German and Soviet "spheres of influence." It led to the German and Soviet invasions of Poland, and to the Soviet annexation of the three Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — and parts of Romania

Timothy Snyder, one of my favourite historians in the following You-Tube clip, asks what it means for Europe today when the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact has been rehabilitated by Russia. He was the keynote speaker at a conference in Germany at the Boell Institute in Berlin on March 2 this year. He's definitely got the Germans thinking about this question, which would be why German journalist raised it with with Putin a couple of days ago.



Related Links: Putin Defends Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact in Press Conference with Merkel ~ Moscow Times
President of Russia Vladimir Putin defended the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that paved the way for the division of Poland during a press conference on Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel ~ Radio Poland
Putin’s New Nostalgia ~ NY Review of Books

Cartoon by David Low, published in the Evening Standard: 20 September 1939 (Source)

Lucia Too many crucifixes and Catholic imagery in Catholic university in the US

Pope Francis holding a crucifix
A Catholic university in America is being investigated for having too many crucifixes, thus offending the Muslim students who go there. Not that any of the students have complained. No, it appears a serial litigant has complained on their behalf.

The sixty-page complaint was filed with the Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights by a one-man nuisance-lawsuit factory, George Washington University Law School Professor John Banzhaf. Muslim students are but pawns in Banzhaf’s game against Catholics. Taken to its logical conclusion, his lawfare would wipe out mosques and Islamic learning centers as well. The rules of engagement in the Establishment’s War on Religion have a funny way of changing to accommodate Islam, however, so perhaps those hypothetical logical conclusions will never be reached.

Banzhaf’s complaint alleges that the large amount of Catholic imagery draping the halls of Catholic University creates an “offensive” environment in which Muslims are intimidated out of proper reverence for their own religion.

He further alleges the university “does not provide space – as other universities do – for the many daily prayers Muslim students must make, forcing them instead to find temporarily empty classrooms where they are often surrounded by Catholic symbols which are incongruous to their religion.”

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Not only that, but Muslim students forced to make do with Catholic University’s chapels find their souls crushed by the oppressive spectacle of “the cathedral that looms over the entire campus – the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.” Banzhaf insists the Muslim students must be provided with facilities where they can conduct their five-times-daily prayers without having to look at anything Catholic, especially that immaculate-conception Death Star of Catholic piety.
Well, you've got to wonder if complaining about the Catholic university is time well spent for Professor John Banzhaf.  Maybe it's just a ploy to raise his profile and get everyone talking about him.  It certainly doesn't look like a serious complaint in any case.  Unless you are an anti-Catholic bigot that is.

Related Link: Catholic University Investigated for Offending Muslims By Having Too Many Crosses ~ Breitbart

Lucia Author John Schindler on Woodrow Wilson's involvement in Europe

The post Woodrow Wilson’s Great Folly of John Schindler on his blog is a very different way of looking at what happened post WWI that I hadn't really considered as a person of Polish heritage. For me, the breakup of empires at the end of the war, specifically the breakup of the Hapsburg Empire was always supposed to be a "good thing", for it meant that Poland became it's own country again. Yet it wasn't that good, because WWII happened, the expansion of Soviet influence happened, so much death and destruction happened when the land powers of the early 20th century fell apart. His summary of what Europe could have been like is therefore though-provoking.

It’s clear, with a century of hindsight, what a Europe without Wilson and his Fourteen Points would look like. A compromise peace would have allowed the Germans to quickly crush Russia’s nascent Bolshevik thugocracy like a bug, as they planned to do. Without the Bolshevik threat, European politics would have been transformed in positive ways, for without the Communist menace, which was real, with violent Red revolutions in Hungary and Germany in 1919, far-right extremists like Mussolini and Hitler would have enjoyed limited appeal.

Related link: Woodrow Wilson’s Great Folly

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lucia A theory about why the pollsters are getting election results wrong

The internet is destroying homogeneity of information and therefore predictability of citizens. No longer are family, friends, work colleges, the local paper or the national TV the sole source of information. Now the internet can give you points of view that you are interested in from around the world, giving people perspectives that they may not have though of from their corner of the world.

The aim of modern (Prussian) schooling, to create predictable citizens (see Why Schools Don't Educate ), is being destroyed by technology.

Inspired by: The rise of the ‘shy Tory': why pollsters are missing voters on the right

Lucia Russia and WWII



My father fought the evil of fascism, but he was taken advantage of by another evil. He and millions of Soviet soldiers, sailors and airmen, virtual slaves, brought the world not liberation but another slavery. The people sacrificed everything for victory, but the fruits of this victory were less freedom and more poverty.

The above paragraph by Mikhail Shishkin published as part of his opinion piece in the New York Times several days ago, I think, is the quintessential summary of Russia and WWII. It does not deny the victory of the Russian people, yet it also does not deny their involvement in bringing misery to many more.

To admit this requires a strength and a humility to look into the face of evil, see yourself, and not be consumed or capitulate to it. This is something that all of us, at some point or another have to do when confronting our own past, because no one has an unblemished history.

Related link: How Russians Lost the War ~ New York Times

Lucia Battle of Vienna 1683 You-Tube clip


Related links: Wikipedia
Turning the Ottoman Tide - John III Sobieski at Vienna 1683
Under Mary's Holy Name: Victory in Vienna, September 12, 1683

Monday, April 20, 2015

Lucia Russian expansion is not cool

A truly bizarre tweet to me that tries to get me along to BloggingCon by telling me Russian expansion is "cool". I mean, seriously?



Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Lucia Air strikes against Russian backed separatists fighting in Ukraine now being contemplated



Basically the feeling is that the Ukraine military, even if they were armed by the West, are not competent enough to successfully drive back the Russian forces in their country, therefore the "Kosovo Solution", ie air strikes on Russian forces, are being talked about by Germany, Britain and the US.

To those that don't believe there are Russian forces fighting in Ukraine, read this: Diplomatic obfuscation aside, 10 reasons why the ceasefire in Ukraine is a myth

Also, Putin has now admitted that he sought to have Crimea returned right after the previous Ukrainian President fled: Putin Says He Decided To Take Crimea Just Hours After Yanukovych's Ouster

Monday, March 9, 2015

Fletch No Heather - That Isn't 'Romance'

We were treated in the news recently to the tale of a female backpacker who, while lazing on the beach in Picton, was tickled when a male jogger who she considered a bit of alright ran past her and smiled. That was enough to get her to design a poster and begin a campaign (subsequently picked up by the media both here and abroad) to try and find him.

She eventually found out who the guy was (he worked at a local burger bar) and, by all accounts, they spent one night together and that was it. Hardly the stuff of romance - unless you happen to be One News reporter Heather du Plessis-Allan. Here's what she had to say about the matter during a One News fluff piece report.
The reason that we like it, is that it's wholesome isn't it. It's not like these two have met each other in a bar somewhere and kinda like taken each other home with two hours notice. This woman has seen him, she's thought about it, she's missed her chance, she wants a second chance - it's a romantic setting of a beach, you know, one of the greatest love cities in the world - Picton. And he's a man of mystery with tattoos on his body, I mean, it just cites all the things in a classic love story. I mean - look, it worked. The sleepover was the sign that it worked. It's lovely. 

I'm not sure if she was taking the p*ss or not. I hope so, because this isn't romance, or in the least bit "wholesome" and it isn't "lovely".  At least if they had met at a bar and had a long conversation and got to know each other and thought there was something there and then later she tried to find him and they began some sort of a relationship - that would have been a little romantic. But watching somebody run by without knowing the slightest thing about him and forming some sort of fantasy idea about him in your mind leading to trying to find him - that is a bit creepy.

As I said, I hope Heather was taking the proverbial, unless tracking someone down for a one-night shag is now considered romance.

I doubt it was worth the effort.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Lucia Classic Russian Propaganda on RT

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Lucia New Stalin statue erected by Russians in Crimea

New statue of Stalin, with Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta

From The Interpreter, Three Disturbing Developments in Russia:

[T]he whitewashing of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and of his GULAG prison camp system continued and expanded. Last week, Russian officials put up the first Stalin statue in more than 60 years, and to add insult to injury, they did so alongside statues of Churchill and Roosevelt showing the Western leaders deferring to him and in recently occupied Crimea.

The Russian media justified this by saying that this trinity created the post-war world that Vladimir Putin would like to go back to, but as one more thoughtful Moscow commentator put it, “erecting a statue to Stalin in Crimea is like putting one of Hitler up in Israel.”

And related to this was the celebration rather than lamentation of the 75th anniversary of a GULAG camp, one in which millions of Russians and other Soviet citizens were incarcerated and died between the 1920s and the 1950s. Praising prison camps goes well beyond approving Stalin’s role as a wartime leader.

I don't know what to say. Over the past few months I have been debating on and off (on KiwiBlog) with people who believe that Russia is not being aggressive and is not fighting a war against the Ukrainians, that they really want peace (yeah, bet they are annoyed the Ukrainians are fighting back!) and that the US is behind all the war in Ukraine. I've gotten to the point where I've had to stop, because it's like debating with the insane. Insane people and their thought processes are not normal. You have to be careful talking to them because they can suck you into their world where if you challenge obvious logical flaws, they go more "mental" and/or revert into endless loops. Things that cannot be true they can believe with certainty, despite any evidence offered.

Not that the leadership of Russia is insane - far from it. They are just acting as if they are. It's quite a feat to act as if insane and demand that everyone buy into your reality. And rather than acting decisively, various Western leaders either play along or dither about what to do (see from several days ago: Western Nations Split on Arming Kiev Forces). It's madness, really.

Lucia Traditional vs Reform Mathematics in NZ and the US

The Promised Part II on the Failure of Mathematics Teaching in New Zealand...



I really, really like mathematics. I understood it easily at school, came first in my entire 6th form year in Maths, Physics and Chemistry in the mid-80's, and enjoyed teaching it to my boys when we were homeschooling. I grew up to be a computer programmer (and software developer and more). In other words, I moved into a STEM field with ease.

Strangely enough, I have discovered that people's eyes glaze over when you talk too much maths. Even just a little bit can be too much. For instance, no one has commented on my previous post: Mathematics in NZ at NCEA Level in a dismal state.  Ok, there were a couple of comments on Facebook, but one of those comments was about the picture I accidentally chose for the post.  Also, I've gone and on about these same issues and more to my husband, and after listening politely, he is unable to comment much and changes the subject.

Hopefully this will be an easier post to read and understand now that I've got the previous one out of my system, so to anyone whose eyes haven't glazed over, I'll just remind you that of the philosophical way that mathematics is supposedly taught in New Zealand before I launch into my comparisons of the two styles. Here is a quote by  Derek Holton, from the Forward of the 2009 Findings of the NZ Numeracy Projects:

An emphasis on letting students explore and absorb number sense, rather than teaching them learned algorithms without any understanding, seems to be the right way ahead for students to gain an understanding of number and, possibly more importantly, of liking and feeling comfortable with mathematics itself.  At all costs, we should ensure that we never return to the hundreds of algorithms that have made mathematics a wasteland full of rote learning of incomprehensible rules.
This style of mathematics is called "Reform Math" or "New Math".  It has some laudable aims, as can be inferred from the quote I've given above.  In the post from the other day where I linked to Nigel Latta's television programme on education of school children in New Zealand, you get the idea that because it's not like it was when most of us were at school, very few of us understand it, and have trouble knowing whether or not it's better or worse.

I think it's worse, much worse than what was being taught back in my day (I did 6th form maths in the mid-80's), but unfortunately I have very little memory of exactly what I was taught.  I haven't been able to find any maths text books from that era, so if anyone can help me with that, I would be very appreciative.

However, I have found a very interesting report (Mathematics Educators: Shaping the Curriculum?, that goes into a bit of the change that occurred in NZ maths, first in the 1960's, lead by university mathematicians, and then in the 1990's lead by maths educators*.  It's the result of what occurred in the 90's that I'm taking serious issue with. Thankfully I was taught in the 1960's style:

It is useful in a comparison of influences in the two periods to have some understanding of the nature of the curricula and how they are different. The 'New Maths' of the 1960s had its origins in the structure of mathematics itself and was concerned with children learning the laws of mathematics from its axiomatic base. Content was organised around algebraic structure and there was little concern for pedagogical matters (Neyland, 1991). Emphasis was placed on rules and the one way of solving a mathematical problem.
The curricula which came out of this were 'teacher proof and textbook driven (Apple, 1992a).

In contrast to this, changes in mathematics curricula in the 1990s focus on the teaching and learning of mathematics with an emphasis on problem solving and multiple ways of 'doing mathematics'. The curriculum aims to "help students to develop a variety of approaches to solving problems involving mathematics, and to develop the ability to think and reason logically" (Ministry of Education, 1992, p8). It is stated that
"mathematics is best taught by helping students to solve problems drawn from their own experience ... real-life problems are not always closed, nor do they necessarily have only one solution" (Ministry of Education, 1992, pl1). Students construct new knowledge and refine their existing knowledge and ideas (Ministry of Education, 1992). The use of technology is encouraged as a tool for learning. Mathematics is perceived as a human activity, culturally produced and socially constructed (Walshaw, 1994).

In the United States, most probably because of their much larger population which doesn't let the government get it's own way, there have been and continue to be major math battles over the curriculum.  Many parents and maths teachers don't like the new or reformed math, and will go to war with the teaching authorities to get the Reform Math turfed out.

From the New York Times : The Faulty Logic of the ‘Math Wars’

At stake in the math wars is the value of a “reform” strategy for teaching math that, over the past 25 years, has taken American schools by storm. Today the emphasis of most math instruction is on — to use the new lingo — numerical reasoning. This is in contrast with a more traditional focus on understanding and mastery of the most efficient mathematical algorithms.

A mathematical algorithm is a procedure for performing a computation. At the heart of the discipline of mathematics is a set of the most efficient — and most elegant and powerful — algorithms for specific operations. The most efficient algorithm for addition, for instance, involves stacking numbers to be added with their place values aligned, successively adding single digits beginning with the ones place column, and “carrying” any extra place values leftward.

What is striking about reform math is that the standard algorithms are either de-emphasized to students or withheld from them entirely. In one widely used and very representative math program — TERC Investigations — second grade students are repeatedly given specific addition problems and asked to explore a variety of procedures for arriving at a solution. The standard algorithm is absent from the procedures they are offered. Students in this program don’t encounter the standard algorithm until fourth grade, and even then they are not asked to regard it as a privileged method.
[...]
Reform math has some serious detractors. It comes under fierce attack from college teachers of mathematics, for instance, who argue that it fails to prepare students for studies in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. These professors maintain that college-level work requires ready and effortless competence with the standard algorithms and that the student who needs to ponder fractions — or is dependent on a calculator — is simply not prepared for college math. They express outrage and bafflement that so much American math education policy is set by people with no special knowledge of the discipline.
From the American Thinker: Reform Math Must Be Destroyed Root and Branch:
The common denominator of all these inferior programs is an artificial complexity, and an emphasis on learning concepts and “meaning” without actually being able to do problems.  These programs teach algorithms that parents don't know.  A tremendous separation is created between the generations.  Parents are rendered irrelevant.  The children are frustrated to tears.  In a few years, in all of these Reform curricula, the kids end up dependent on calculators.

I think a little of these maths wars must have erupted in NZ to a certain extent, otherwise why would there be so much support for the NZ Government implementing National Standards for primary and intermediate school children?  Unfortunately the Standards are themselves contaminated by Reform Mathematics, as well, as I noticed when I first looked into them, so National Standards can do very little to raise maths standards.

To be continued ...

* Updated 5:16pm - had the two groups mixed up.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Lucia NATO finally stepping up to counter Russian aggression

Finally! It took them long enough to decide to do this.

Nato will establish rapid reaction force to counter perceived threat of Russian aggression
Nato declared on Thursday it will set up six new command posts on its eastern borders and create a 5,000-strong rapid reaction force in an effort to show resolve and solidarity in the face of what the alliance brands Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Announcing the new force in Brussels on Thursday, the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said it was “the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the cold war.”

Some elements of the new force will be able to deploy to a flash point with 48-hours notice, Stoltenberg said, with the rest being able to move in a week, much faster than current Nato response times. It will be supported by air and sea forces as well as special operations units, and two more land brigades on standby in the event of a major crisis. Altogether, 30,000 Nato troops will be assigned to bolster the alliance’s eastern defences.

New Nato command posts will immediately be set up in six eastern members states – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria – who have been clamouring for a permanent alliance presence on their soil since Russia’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine. They will house about 40 to 60 officers as serve as command and control units, which would help coordinate any deployment of the spearhead force, as well as training.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Lucia New Zealand Day Tomorrow


I heard on the radio today that many years ago Robert Muldoon was responsible for New Zealand Day being renamed Waitangi Day. I'm probably one of the few people that actually celebrate the day, but not for what it supposedly stands for country wide, but for the fact that my oldest son was born on that day eighteen years ago after two days of labour. It was a momentous event for me, and for my son, well, it's his birthday.

Which leads me to the idea that a day can be anything we want it to be. I've been hearing a lot over the years about New Zealand needing a special New Zealand Day and how Waitangi Day is not really a cause for celebration because of the debacles at Waitangi, year after year. Well, why not ignore all that and do what the Aotearoa New Zealand people are trying by sheer repetition, hoping the name will stick, why not call tomorrow New Zealand Day? Why not treat it like New Zealand Day? Why not?

For me, Feb 6. is always going to be my oldest son's birthday, but I can add other meanings to it.

New Zealand Day - lets do it!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Lucia Mathematics in NZ at NCEA Level in a dismal state

Hello readers of NZ Conservative!  Yet again, it has been a long time between posts.

It's funny, I think blogging only works if you are angry about something.  Otherwise it's just not worth the effort.  That certainly explains sites like WhaleOil and The Standard, but not KiwiBlog.  I don't know what David Farrar is angry enough about to keep him blogging for so long, but that's a mystery for another day..

Right now, besides Russia invading Ukraine and lying about it, I've found something else to be angry about.  Maths.  Specifically NCEA Maths.  Boy am I pissed.

When I was home-schooling, January was the month when I'd plan for the year.  After a number of years of hiatus, since both my boys have entered the state schooling system, I have again reverted back to typical January planning.  Because I have to.

Since mid-last year, I have been studying mathematics in an attempt to help my mathematically able but struggling in the last couple of years son in his maths for NCEA level 2 and now NCEA Level 3 for this year so he can go to university and get a degree in Computer Science.   He needs 16 credits of NCEA Level 3 credits, plus passing in NCEA Level 3 to do this.

Gone are the days where you could just rely on the schooling system to teach you everything you needed to know.   In order to pass now, kids have to call on a wide variety of sources, especially in Mathematics, otherwise they are stuffed, seriously stuffed at the higher levels.

My experience with this absolute train-wreck of a schooling system is seeing my mathematically gifted and well-trained son go from breezing through at Year 9 after homeschooling, to struggling at Year 12.  If that has happened to him, how many children have had their mathematical ability completely stuffed up from the beginning, where no one is aware they had any ability at all because of the way mathematics is taught in New Zealand today?

Quite by accident, I found an article from just over a year ago that I hadn't been aware of that had been published in the NZ Listener about tertiary educational facilities being very concerned about the mathematical and science ability of New Zealand teenagers who gain NCEA but are seriously lacking in mathematical and scientific skills necessary to do well in courses in university that rely on those skills. From NCEA Slammed):
A confidential Tertiary Education Commission report reveals profound and widespread concerns about the way NCEA prepares students for further study. It paints a picture of substandard mathematics and science education, NCEA students coming unstuck in their first year at university and tertiary providers scrambling to come up with their own diagnostic tests and remedial courses.

The document is a summary of formal reports from 15 tertiary institutions – universities and polytechnics – that offer engineering courses. The institutions are not named. One told the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC): “An extremely significant concern is the poor preparation of the bulk of our student cohort following NCEA study.”

The report, drawn up as part of the Government’s plan to boost the numbers of engineering graduates, was presented at a high-level TEC meeting on September 2. The Listener was leaked a key page and obtained the full document under the Official Information Act.

The problems the report flags with NCEA fall into three main categories:
• students getting confused or being given poor advice on subject choice;
those who do the right subjects still being unprepared for tertiary level study; and
• the system not creating a good work ethic.


So, with all that in mind, have a look at a Nigel Latta TV show screened last August, where by Nigel goes back to school to see if there is a crisis. Note that this report and the dire results coming out of maths and science as noticed by tertiary institutions is not mentioned.  Only the Melbourne based academic John Hattie fronts up to deny there is any problem.

This is the blurb for the show:
Nigel Latta takes himself back to school to have a look into NCEA and our education system. Spending time at both primary and high schools, he discovers learning is not what it used to be.

Here is the link to view the episode at TVNZ Nigel Latta: School Report - What's Going On

Here is a bit of what I wrote down while watching the maths portion of the show of Nigel Latta's show, including quotes and my impressions:

Nigel: Now, one of the things that worries me and a lot of other parents is that maybe our kids aren’t being taught Maths properly.
He talks to kids about what they’ve been taught through school – no long division by hand, it’s just strategies. Just talked to my 17yo, and at his school at Year 9, no one except for him could do long division (out of approx 200 Year 9 kids in a decile 8 school) and only a few could do short division.

Maths Teacher: In the good old days you were just taught, follow this process and you’ll get the right answer. But not so many people experienced mathematical thinking [question mark in voice] and that’s why people hated [another question mark] maths. It’s likened to learning musical theory without every playing the instrument. So what we’ve tried to do with this generation and it’s a global movement is trying to get students actually playing with maths. They’re solving big problems and thinking mathematically rather than a very small piece of maths that’s just sort of following procedures without much understanding.

The whole class is about trying to get the answer to 3 to the power of 6.

Nigel ruminates about how the kids aren’t locked into a rote formula, like he was taught.

Teacher gives them a clue :
What if I told you 250 * 3 is easier for me?
That’s to a group of boys just standing around who have just worked out the answer (729).

You know at this point, I hadn't realised the boys had figured the answer out because of the clue the teacher gave them, but no, she doesn't seem to be too impressed by them finding the answer, she's more impressed by the effect of her clue when of one of the kids works out that you multiply 250 by 3 and minus 7 three times to get the same answer. Every one claps.

This is a light bulb moment for Nigel who thinks that kids now are learning a deeper understanding of numbers, way more than he ever did when he was at school. No kidding.

Here is Nigel Latta talking to Leighton Smith about his show the next day.



What I found ironic about the Nigel Latta show on education and even the interview the next day is that here we have Nigel Latta pronouncing that everything's fine in maths, yet he admits he hated maths at school and wasn't any good at it. He also didn't talk to any of the older classes, where things are not fine. He thinks this new method makes more kids enjoy maths, but at the older age groups they seem to hate it more, and at my son's school, perfectly capable kids are opting into the easier stats stream rather the calculus stream because they've had it with the way harder mathematics is taught. The tertiary education providers are also finding that many of the students have inadequate mathematical knowledge, even if they've passed NCEA Level 3 Calculus.

There is definitely a problem and it's a problem of philosophy. From the Forward of the 2009 Findings of the NZ Numeracy Projects, Derek Holton says:

An emphasis on letting students explore and absorb number sense, rather than teaching them learned algorithms without any understanding, seems to be the right way ahead for students to gain an understanding of number and, possibly more importantly, of liking and feeling comfortable with mathematics itself.  At all costs, we should ensure that we never return to the hundreds of algorithms that have made mathematics a wasteland full of rote learning of incomprehensible rules.

If any one were in any doubt of the type of mathematics that is being taught in NZ schools, that one paragraph explains how we are using a Reform or New style of maths, not a traditional style.

We are also not the only country where there are serious controversies about Reform Mathematics.

End of Part One, to be continued ...