A Few Home Truths About Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech is a human right. 
It is the right to express  one’s ideas and opinions verbally or in writing, either publicly or privately.
It is the right to engage in public conversation about personal and public issues and events.
It is the right to communicate meaningfully with other people. 

Even so, it has it’s ethical limitations. 

All individuals have freedom of speech. It is not just the domain of one person, or one group. 
This means that the right is also accompanied by the responsibility of listening to, and responding thoughtfully to, the ideas and opinions of others. Freedom of speech is a two way street. 

It is not the right to cause harm or injury to other people. 
It is not the right to incite violence. 
It is not the right to abuse, slander, or misrepresent situations or other people. 
It is not the right to spread dangerous disinformation.
It is not the right to break the law or commonly accepted rules. 

The people decrying Twitter and Facebook for banning Trump need to understand these things. 

When he opened his social media accounts, he agreed to the terms and conditions. Nobody can have those accounts without agreeing to those rules, which clearly state that one cannot use that social media platform to break the law or encourage anyone else to do so. There is a clearly stated warning that infringement of those rules will result in your account being suspended or cancelled. 

There is no doubt that these are the rules invoked when the accounts belonging to a range of criminals and terrorists were cancelled in the past. People and governments actively and rightly demanded that this should be the case in response to the manifesto and live streaming of the actions of the Christchurch mosque terrorist, for example. 

It is illegal to use social media to promote illegal activity or post offensive material. 

Why, then, should Trump not be banned for inciting a riot or encouraging sedition? Why should his followers not be banned for plotting violence and premeditating murder and insurrection? 

The clear answer is that they absolutely should. 

Anyone using social media to plan or conduct a criminal act should be banned and then prosecuted to the full extent of the law. 

Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have acted rightly. 
They have not assaulted anyone’s free speech. It is not censorship. Those on the quiet end of a ban have invited that consequence for themselves. 

A Few Home Truths About #FreedomOfSpeech
#Rights2021 #SocialMedia

The Everyday Person’s Guide to Writing an Excellent Book Review

A friend asked me recently how to write a book review that goes beyond whether or not they liked and enjoyed the book.

Having posted some time ago about things to avoid when writing a book review, I thought it high time I wrote something more positive and helpful in the interests of helping people review books more confidently.

A good book review doesn’t have to be long or academic. 

Using everyday language is absolutely fine. You don’t have to write like a professional reviewer or an English teacher to write a meaningful or helpful review.

Some websites where readers post book reviews require a minimum length, which gives you room to say whether you enjoyed the book and why. One or two sentences will do the trick. There is no obligation to write any more than that if you don’t wan to. 

If you do want to write more, try these ideas: 

  • Why did you like or dislike the story?
    Remember that others may like what you disliked, and vice versa, so always try to be kind. Feel free to say a book wasn’t to your taste – and try to identify why – but avoid comments like “this sucked” or “I hated it”. They are not helpful.
    Similarly, “Best. Book. Ever!” is of limited use if you don’t say why.
  • What important ideas did the story make you think about?
    Themes such as love, anger, justice, revenge, pain, fear, overcoming… anything that is relevant to you or to a lot of people are helpful points for comment.
  • Were the characters likeable? Where they relatable? Why or why not? Was there something we could learn from them?
  • Did the writer’s style impress you in any particular way? Were there images or word pictures that you liked? Did it make you laugh, or imagine vividly, or feel genuine emotions of one sort or another?
  • Was it easy to read and understand, or did you have to really work at it?
  • What other kinds of people might appreciate the book? Think about interests, age group, and genres or categories here. 

Remember that every book is unique, so some things will be more

Writing about ideas like these will help you to write a review that is interesting in itself, and will encourage the right readers to choose that particular book. In that way, you’ll help both the author and prospective readers at the same time. 

This will also help you to avoid retelling or summarising the story and giving spoilers that might put prospective readers off or make them feel as if they no longer need to read the story to find out what happens.

The Everyday Person’s Guide to Writing an Excellent Book Review
#howto #readerscommunity #BookReviews

Doomscrolling.

Image by geralt on Pixabay.

Doomscrolling is the act of continually updating and reading  one’s social media feed for the latest news on a significant event. It is closely related to doomsurfing, which is scouring the Internet for the same kind of information.

The term has been around for a few years, but found new popularity as a hashtag earlier  this year, predominantly in response to Covid-19. It is surging again on Twitter today as people try to stay updated on the results of the US election.

It may be a relatively recently coined term, but it’s fair to say the activity to which it refers has probably existed for as long as  easy access to the Internet, especially via platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, has been available.

It’s an understandable behaviour – we want to stay informed, after all. These things matter. We want to know. However, it can also be a very effective self-torture device, as it compels us to focus on what is actually causing our anxiety and distress.  It seems that the worse the news is, the more people tend to keep on watching or reading. Some people even become fixated on that event, to the exclusion of other things, no matter how sad or angry it makes them.

The term also hints at the subjectivity of the behaviour: what one interprets as ‘doom’ is likely to be the exact inverse of what another person interprets it to be. It all depends on what outcome one is hoping for whether the course of events is classified as doom or a reprieve.

A highly relevant and helpful Twitter account is Doomscrolling Reminder Lady, who repeatedly tells people to get off the internet and take care of themselves instead.

It’s good advice.

Sources:
Merriam-Webster
Doomscrolling, Explained
Urban Dictionary

Doomscrolling
#words #DoomScrolling #behavior

Josh Frydenberg: You Have Some Nerve, Mister.

An open letter to Josh Frydenberg, Federal Treasurer and MP for Cooyong:

You have some nerve. Your outburst in Parliament yesterday was way out of line.

Yes, mistakes were made early on in Victoria’s management of COVID. And they got cleaned up. We’ve actually done a brilliant job, which you didn’t even acknowledge. But that isn’t the part of your speech to which I, and many other Victorian teachers, take particular exception.

While the rest of the House was congratulating the people of Victoria on crushing the curve and bringing the numbers back to zero, you chose to be ungrateful. That little tantrum of yours would make a two year old proud.

An excerpt from Frydenberg’s speech in Parliament, Tuesday Oct 27, 2020.

Your assertion that your children missed out on six months of schooling is highly offensive to every teacher in this fine state who has gone way beyond the call of professionalism and duty of care to ensure that our students did not miss a single thing that we were able to provide for them.

Were my colleagues and I merely dreaming all the extra work we put into setting up online classrooms, doing extra courses in online safety and classroom management, monitoring our students’ wellbeing and mental health, in addition to all the usual planning, preparation and teaching we have been doing all year?
Did we imagine the eye fatigue and headaches from being in online classrooms all day, doing all our marking and reporting online, meeting with colleagues and conferencing with parents online?

You have been able to do your job almost completely normally all year.

We have had to completely reinvent ours, while at the same time being required to switch from face to face teaching to online classrooms, then back, and back again, sometimes at only a few days’ notice.
We’ve done it without tantrums, without complaints, and without pointing fingers at people who were also trying to do their best in otherwise uncharted territory.

Victorian teachers have proven to be dedicated, resilient, and incredibly versatile this year.

And I will tell you one thing that is absolutely certain: the students at my school did not miss six months of school. They had their full timetable, every school day, complete with teachers and teachers aides, differentiated lessons, roll call, and individual help whenever they needed it.

Don’t be firing your nasty little aspersions at Victorian schools and the 100% committed teachers in them, Mr Frydenberg, even by inference.

We do not deserve that. We are exhausted, our patience has been pushed to the limit, and we are still going. We are not in the mood for your petulant tantrums.

It’s high time you gave credit where credit is due, learned some gratitude and grace, and got on with doing your job while we continue to do ours.

An Open Letter to Josh Frydenberg @JoshFrydenberg
#TeacherLife #VictoriaTheHeroState #howdareyou

Masking The Awkwardness With Humour

Teacher masks students covid COVIDSafe

Disclaimer: I don’t kneel for my students, as that would send entirely the wrong message. Besides, they are teenagers and I’m only 5’2″. Also, I can no longer kneel. Image via Pixabay

Face to face teaching is back in full swing in Victoria, with all students over the age of 12, and all teachers, required to wear masks.

The kids generally don’t like wearing masks, and I totally get that. Still, that’s not an excuse for defiance. It’s currently a legal requirement, so whether or not we like it is a moot point.

Most of the students are quite cooperative. Some kids, though, are getting sneakier— or perhaps just less conscientious— about wearing them properly. The challenge for teachers is to find ways to remind them without being awkward or, even worse, coming across as nagging. As anyone who has tried to get a teen to do something they don’t want to will attest, that’s only ever going to create more resistance. 

As I am wont to do, I have reverted to humour in addressing the problem. 

When a student has their mask pulled under their nose, I tell them “don’t fly the flag at half mask”. 

When someone is not wearing a mask, I say, “Oops! Your face is naked.”

When the mask is sitting under their chin, I tell them to “pull their face pants up.” 

In a quiet classroom environment, or if I want to remind someone without drawing attention, I  simply make eye contact, hold my hand horizontally near my chin and lift it to above my nose. 

These responses engage the students by surprising the m and making them think about what I’m saying. They generally respond with a smile and then comply. The occasional student tries to argue, which invariably ends in disappointment for them.

I am always happy when it works. I was also very pleased when, while I was on yard duty, I heard one of my students tell another kid to pull his face pants up. I smiled with great satisfaction and whispered, “Good work, kid! Keep it up!” Nobody noticed, though, because I had my mask on. 

Masking Awkwardness With Humour
#TeacherLife #humour #blogpost

Note: Arguments about whether or not masks should be worn will not be entered into, and negative comments to that effect will be deleted. 

Easily Confused Words: Bought vs. Brought

Bought and brought are words that lots of people get mixed up. They may look similar, but they are very different words.

These words are by no means interchangeable, so in the interests of both being clearly understood and preserving one’s credibility, it is beneficial to know which is which, and how to use them confidently at the right times

Bought is the past tense of buy. If you buy something, you have bought it. 

Brought is the past tense of bring.  If you bring something home, you have brought it home. 
Note: neither ‘brang’ nor ‘brung’ is standard English. 

The easy way to remember which is which is that there is an r in bring and brought, but not in buy or bought. That makes pairing the correct words much easier. 

Easily Confused Words: Bought vs Brought
#grammar #English #explanation

Is It Okay To End A Sentence With A Preposition?

The practice of leaving a preposition at the end of a sentence, often referred to as preposition stranding, has long been considered to be “against the rules”. Generations of teachers and grammarians have condemned it as a grammatical taboo. 

That isolated, lonely preposition, separated from its noun, is known as a terminal preposition, and may also be described as danging, hanging or stranded.

Albeit with the best of intentions, this was drummed into me as a child, so I simply accepted it and tried to avoid doing so in whatever I wrote. 

As I got older, though, I came to realise that it’s something we do very naturally in speaking. In fact, avoiding it in spoken English can make what one is saying seem very formal and stilted. 

When I was in high school, one of my History teachers told us a story about one of Winston Churchill’s famous comebacks. On receiving a correction about finishing a sentence with a preposition in the draft of a speech, he responded, “This is nonsense, up with which I shall not put.”  

As it turned out, it probably wasn’t Churchill who first made the joke. I don’t know if he ever did, despite numerous and varied attributions. It has also been attributed to various other people, and there are variations on the line that was said to have been delivered, so it’s hard to know who said what, and when. 

Either way, the story demonstrates that the rule is actually a bit ridiculous. 

So where did this rule come from? And is it something we still have to abide by?

Back in the 1600s, a grammarian named Joshua Poole developed some principles about how and where in a sentence prepositions should be used, based on Latin grammar. 

A few years later, the poet John Dryden, a contemporary of John Milton, took those rules one step further when he openly criticised Ben Johnson— another great poet— for ending a sentence with a preposition. Dryden decreed that this was something that should never be done. Nobody bothered to correct or oppose Dryden, and Ben Johnson certainly couldn’t because he had been dead for years, so Dryden’s strident and public protestations popularised the principle into a rule. Over time, strict grammarians and pedants began to actively oppose the practice, and the rule became widely accepted and firmly established.

Ironically, despite all the wise and clever plays, poetry and essays written by John Dryden, it was his consistent complaint about the terminal preposition that became his most enduring legacy.

Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, published in 1926, calls it a “cherished superstition that prepositions must, in spite of the incurable English instinct for putting them late… be kept true to their name and placed before the word they govern.” Fowler goes on to assert that even Dryden had to go back and edit all of his work to eliminate the terminal prepositions in his own writing. 

In the last century or so, people have become progressively less fussy and worried about it, but some still seem determined to cling to the rule no matter what. 

I advise my students that in formal writing such as essays, speeches, official letters and submissions, it is best to avoid the terminal preposition just in case their reader is someone who might judge them for it. Any other time, in keeping with standard spoken English, they are free to use their prepositions wherever they feel most natural and make the most sense. 

Nobody in the 21st century is going to naturally ask someone “On which char did you sit?” rather than “Which chair did you sit on?”, nor will they say “I wonder for whom that parcel is intended” Instead of “I wonder who that parcel is for.” 

In the 21st century, that really is nonsense up with which we do not have to put.

Sources: 
Quote Investigator
Merriam-Webster
Fowler, H.W (1926) A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Oxford Language Classics, OUP, Reprinted 2002.

Is It OK to End a Sentence with a Preposition?
#grammar #English #language

Nuclear Does Not Rhyme With Circular

This post might come across as some kind of linguistic snobbery, and while that’s not my motivation, it is a risk I am willing to take. 

The common mispronunciation of nuclear is something that drives me absolutely nuts. 

So many people pronounce it as nucular ( nyoo-kyoo-lar) but that is not how it is spelt or pronounced. I’ve even heard scientists on the radio and TV who say it that way, despite the fact that scientists of all people should know better. Did they get through however many of years study at university calling the central body of a cell the nuculus? I think not.

Nuclear is a three syllable word, pronounced nyoo-klee-ar.

If someone can say the words ‘new’ and ‘clear’ correctly, they should be able to manage ‘nuclear’ by just mashing those two words together. Think of it as linguistic nuclear fusion. 

It really isn’t rocket science. 

What A Dictionary Does – and Does Not – Do

A dictionary is not a rule book for the language.

Image by libelulle789 on Pixabay.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but there seems to be some misunderstanding about the function or purpose of a dictionary, particularly on social media. 

A good dictonary serves a number of functions:

  • Dictionaries record language as it is used. Words are added to a dictionary when they become frequently used by the people who speak the language. One can’t just make up a word and apply to have it included. It needs to become part of the commonly spoken language of the people first. 
  • Dictionaries give meanings of words. 
  • Dictionaries provide accepted spellings of words, and often include alternative spellings. This varies according to the country of publication, particularly when it comes to the differences between English and American spellings of words. 
  • Dictionaries often give advice as to how a word should be pronounced. This too will vary according to common usage in the country in which the dictionary is published. Some dictionaries use the regular alphabet to achieve a phonetic respelling, while others use the International Phonetic Alphabet
  • Online dictionaries do all that, and also offer voice recordings to demonstrate pronunciation. They also provide direct links to thesaurus entries and related words. 
  • Dictionaries can also settle arguments. They are helpful in adjudicating spelling games such as Scrabble, and settling arguments about how a word is spelt or what it means. 
Image by PDPics on Pixabay

There are, however, things that dictionaries neither seek nor claim to do. 

  • A dictionary is not a rule book for the language. Just because a word isn’t in the dictionary does not actually mean that it’s not a word. If people say it, and other people understand it when they do, it’s a word. 
  • An Australian dictionary is not useful for recording American English, and vice versa.
  • A dictionary generally doesn’t give the etymology of a word, although it might suggest that it’s an old, obsolete or archaic word.
    There are etymological dictionaries that do this, but they are far less popular than the regular kind of dictionary with which most people are familiar. Some etymological dictionaries are specific to a particular area of study, while the Online Etymological Dictionary is a vast resource of the history of a plethora of English words and phrases.
  • A dictionary generally won’t include words that have fallen out of use. In the large dictionary on my desk at home, words like ‘forswunk’ and ’trustful’ are no longer included, while they would have been many years ago. It doesn’t mean they are no longer words: it simply means the likelihood of someone wanting to look them up is considered far less than someone wanting to look up ‘exhausted’ or ‘melancholy’ instead. 

What’s the best dictionary to use? 

Most people will find the greatest value in a dictionary which is compiled, written and published in the country in which they live and work. Most people will want one that is up to date. 

One of the two editions of the Macquarie Dictionary I own.

For Australian English, I love the Macquarie Dictionary.
For UK English, there is nothing that surpasses the Oxford English Dictionary, but the Cambridge English Dictionary is very good, too.

I have no preferred dictionary for American English, because I don’t use one. (If you can make a recommendation, please leave a comment!)

Old dictionaries hold particular appeal for scholars, teachers and lovers of language. They can be invaluable resources for authors and readers, too. 

Gluing a Jigsaw Puzzle for Framing

A simple, step by step guide to preparing a completed puzzle for framing.

The first thing I discovered when I started researching how to prepare my memorial puzzle for framing was the amount of conflicting, and sometimes terrible, advice the internet had to offer. 

Why did it all have to be so hard to find? Why couldn’t there just be one post with clear, straightforward instructions? Who even knows? I resolved then and there to write that post once I worked out what I was doing.

So, I drilled down, made notes on the approaches that seemed reasonable, and sought out some experts to guide me on the process. 

On their advice, and a fair degree of holding my breath and hoping things worked as I had been told they would, this is the process I followed. 

Materials: 

  • A good solid board to mount the puzzle on. I used 2mm strawboard which I bought for about $5 at my favourite office and art supply shop. It is strong and flexible, but won’t sag or warp. It is also slightly textured, which makes it less likely that things will slide around on it. 
  • A rolling pin.
  • Mod Podge sealant glue. I didn’t know how much I would need, and I knew my puzzle was big, so I bought the 16oz bottle. It turned out that I only used about 2 oz of that. It’s handy stuff, so that’s okay. 
  • A small cup to pour your glue from. This allows you to have more control over how much and where you are pouring.  I used an old measure from laundry detergent. 
  • A plastic spatula with a straight edge for spreading the glue. Some people use a credit or ATM card, but the handle on the spatula moves your hand back from the action and allows you to see right away what you’re doing. 
  • Strong spray adhesive. 

Practice Makes Perfect.

Before you go anywhere near the puzzle you want to frame with your glue, practice an old puzzle so that you develop your skills and your confidence. 

A friend who runs a puzzle exchange gave me an old one that nobody was interested in. Goodwill and charity shops often have loads of them for a dollar or two each. 
 I didn’t even make the whole puzzle. I simply completed a couple of sections to practice on.

My first attempt was not bad, but I quickly discovered how easy it was to use too much glue. It spread easily, but pooled around the edges.  This gave me a better idea of how much to pour on in the first instance, and how to spread it evenly. So, the edges were messy with glue, but the effect on the puzzle was good. 

My second attempt was much more even. It came up really well. 

I braced myself, got my gear ready, and turned to my beautiful puzzle. It was time. 

Gluing The Puzzle

  1. Use your rolling pin to ensure the puzzle is completely flat and the pieces are evenly joined.
  2. Pour some glue from the big bottle into the small cup. You can always add more if you need it. 
  3. Don’t panic that the glue is white. It WILL dry clear and glossy.
  4. Pour the glue in a thin, even S shape line over your puzzle. Spread it thinly and evenly over the surface with the spatula.

    Make sure all the joins between the pieces are filled with glue. Make sure you don’t have globs or spots of glue anywhere. The aim is to achieve an even coating over the surface. 

    Mine was a very large puzzle, so I did it in three sections. When one section was done, I poured more glue and kept going. 
  5. Allow it to dry for several hours. It will feel dry to touch after about 20 minutes, but it’s important to allow the glue in the joins between the pieces to cure and dry completely before you go any further. 
  6. Turn your puzzle over very gently. It may have been glued, but it’s important to be as careful as you can with it at every step of all times, as it is still fragile.
  7. Repeat the gluing process on the back of your puzzle. This will both strengthen the bond between the pieces and seal the surface. 
  8. Wait at least 12 hours to ensure that everything is completely dry. 
  9. Cover the back of your puzzle evenly with spray adhesive, then cover the surface of your mounting board.

    Wait a few minutes for the surface to become tacky to touch. then flip your puzzle very carefully onto the board. 

    Do this outside or in a well-ventilated area, and wear a mask. Remember, you don’t want spray adhesive all over your furniture OR in your lungs! 
  10. Use a rolling pin to ensure the entire surface of your puzzle is pressed onto the board. 
  11. Leave it alone to set and dry. Your puzzle will be ready for framing tomorrow. 

The Result: 

I’m really pleased with how my puzzle turned out. The finish is beautiful, and the gloss of the glue really highlights the gold highlights and subtle colours in the puzzle.

Because my puzzle is a very special one, and because it is too big for any of the commercially available frames I have seen,  I’m going to take it to a professional picture framer. 

All ready to go to the framer!