Australian post-school education in the age of Trump

January 17, 2017

My new blog post on “Australian post-school education in the age of Trump” has been published by Open Forum.

The post addresses the question: “With the upcoming inauguration of Donald J. Trump as US President on January 20th, what ‘spill-over’ impact will his presidency have on Australian vocational education and training (VET)?”

You can read it here on Open Forum or here on the Community Colleges Australia website, under the title “Australian VET in the age of Trump”.

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Walking on screen

August 13, 2015

Bill Bryson’s visit this week to Australia to promote the film “A Walk in the Woods” – based on his 1998 hit book about walking the Appalachian Trail – brings renewed attention to that oldest of human past-times, walking (what did you think I was going to say?). The film stars Robert Redford as Bryson, and Nick Nolte, playing Bryson’s dissolute walking mate and childhood friend, Stephen Katz. Emma Thompson provides support as Bryson’s British wife. Now that’s cool: Bryson never imagined that Redford would play him on screen. The film opens in North America and Australia the first week of September, following its premiere at Redford’s Sundance Film Festival early this year.

There’s a problem with this casting, as ABC Radio presenter Michael Cathcart pointed out on ABC Radio National “Books and Arts” program (click here to listen to the delightful interview): Bryson was just 44 when he “walked the woods”, and Redford was 78 when the film was shot in 2014. That casting changed the theme from a “reconnecting with America” theme – Bryson’s ostensible reason to undertake the walk – to two ageing men battling infirmity in their trek. (Click here to watch the “7.30 Report” interview with Bryson.)

But no matter. I am a great fan of Bryson’s work (like me, he is an expatriate American who has spent the majority of his life living overseas – in his case, the United Kingdom) and of Robert Redford. So the pairing, for me at least, will be irresistible.

Unlike most Australians, I have actually walked short parts of the Appalachian Trail: some bits in North Carolina (the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; my friend Dave lived nearby in Knoxville while studying at the University of Tennessee) and some in New Hampshire and Vermont, near Hanover, New Hampshire when I attended Dartmouth College in my undergraduate university days. Not much, mind you, but just enough to claim some personal knowledge of the Trail. Local Knoxville newspaper “The Daily Times” reported this week that the Great Smoky Park is gearing up for another invasion of walkers, following the release of the movie in a few weeks’ time.

Tales of walking are popular on screen, and are some of my favourite recent films. In “Wild”, based on the best-selling book by Cheryl Strayed (love that name), Reese Witherspoon dramatises Strayed’s adventures walking the Pacific Crest Trail in western USA. “The Way” with Martin Sheen, follows a (fictional) pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago (the Catholic Way of St. James) in France and Spain. In “Tracks” (one of my favourite Australian films of 2014), based on Robyn Davidson’s memoir, Mia Wasikowska plays the main character’s solitary walk from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean in Western Australia.

Other books about walking – possibly less filmable – are on my “read soon” list: Rebecca Solnit’s essays in “Wanderlust: A History of Walking” and Martin Fletcher’s “Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation”, about walking the Mediterranean coast of Israel from Rosh Hanikra to the Gaza border.

(below an image of Bryon’s book)

A Walk in the Woods image


Further proof that Australians love the USA

July 22, 2014

Just in case you need more proof that Australians love the USA …. if you are near a David Jones department store in Australia, go have a look at their new promotion, entitled “United States of Style”, featuring various iconic American brands.

At Sydney’s Market and Castlereagh Streets, David Jones has turned all of its windows into major themed USA messages.   As I have noted previously, images of the USA – particularly New York City and California – are deemed to be very powerful brands here in Australia (Apple used California; two years ago David Jones actually used New York City.)

The online advertisement appears here:

DJW_0156_wk226_Hero_USA

And the shop windows – David Jones “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” (yep, New York):

David Jones Brooklyn July 2014David Jones “California Dreaming”:

David Jones CA Dreaming July 2014

David Jones “All American Midwest” (definitely a new image – who ever thinks of the midwest here?):

David Jones Midwest July 2014

David Jones New York City, California and USA Lonely Planet guidebooks, along with a “Big Apple” (for NYC):

David Jones NY CA July 2014A pretty interesting representation of what Australians think about in the USA.


Thanksgivukkah

November 27, 2013

This year, the American holiday of Thanksgiving – established by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 and celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November since FDR mandated that in 1939 – and the Jewish holiday of Chanukah fall on the same day.  According to Chabad.Org’s “brief history” of the two holidays, this has happened three times in history: 1888, 1899 and 1918. (There are two “Texas only” exceptions that I will ignore; not many Jews in Texas). The confluence is projected to happen again in 2070, assuming that the Thanksgiving celebratory day remains the same.

And it now has a formal name:  “Thanksgivukkah”, which is a variation of the “Chrismukkah” that was popularised by the American television program The O.C. during its first season in 2003.

This is more than a footnote in history.  Wikipedia has an extensive, carefully written and well-research web page on “Thanksgivukkah” (complete with 61 references and five additional external links).  A Google search on the name comes up with more than 4.5 million hits. For those who do not know, Thanksgiving has always been a favourite holiday for American Jews:  seen as a secular Sukkot-like celebration, American Jews have warmly embraced Thanksgiving, giving them a “holiday season” opportunity to participate as “Americans” so close to the overwhelming (and off-putting, for many) Christmas.

There are also lots of cute images that illustrate this “new” holiday.  Here is one of my favourites, from The Los Angeles Jewish Journal
Jewish Journal Thanksgivukkah
Reform Judaism magazine encapsulates it thus:
Reform Judaism Thanksgivukkah dreidel


Why is American assimilation different from European?

November 26, 2013

Ever wonder why assimilation of migrants in the USA is so different?  Well, it is.  Certainly not like here in Australia.  And especially not like in Europe.

In a fascinating article in the November 2013 issue of The Atlantic, entitled “Assimilation Nation”, Jason DeParle provides good insights:

Compared with Europe, the U.S. attracts more immigrants who share the dominant faith. (Imagine if Mexicans built mosques.) An economy that, until recently, had lots of entry-level jobs has made it easier for immigrants to find work. American schools generally provide students second chances, while Europeans are more likely to leave stragglers on vocational tracks. The U.S. also had Martin Luther King Jr.—the civil-rights movement, cresting just before the current mass migration started, bequeathed a robust apparatus for promoting opportunity. And American culture sells, in all its tawdriness and splendor. In Europe, the children of immigrants sometimes cling to the Old Country more than their parents do: sons import brides. In the U.S., the bigger danger is assimilating too fast: children get fat eating french fries and watching TV.

These are the reasons that so many of the worst fears of protectionists in the USA have not come to pass.  The migrants are, by and large, Christian.  And their young people, by and large, are given lots more chances to “join” the country.  And there’s a history:  ironically, the African-Americans helped to pave the way.


The new face of poverty in the USA – and it’s white

October 31, 2013

In his recent blog post, Richard C. Longworth describes a new phenomenon: a new white underclass, ascribing the blame to globalisation exacerbated by the Global Financial Crisis and the increasing inequality of wealth.

He points out that “America basically wrote off its inner-city blacks … a generation ago.”

And:

Now this country is just waking up to the pathology of its new white underclass — the same unemployment, the same bad schools and drug use, the same familial breakdown, the same hopelessness.

New statistics dramatised this situation but got relatively little attention, perhaps because they seem incredible to most Americans. Based on census figures, they showed a decline in longevity among the poorest and least educated Americans. Life expectancy for white men without a high school diploma has dropped by three years since 1990. For white women drop-outs, it’s even worse: down by five years.

This is as nearly bad as the six-year drop in life expectancy for Russian men in the last years of Communism. Even in the black ghettoes of American cities, we’ve never seen anything like this: longevity for black men dropped by a year or two between 1984 and 1989.

Imagine that:  A decline in health outcomes almost as severe as what happened in the former Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

A recent Associated Press examination reports that

Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.

This is the face of the new inequality.  The economic differences between whites and blacks appear to have narrowed in the USA NOT because blacks are doing so much better, but because many whites are doing so much worse.  If left unchecked, these trends have the potential of moving the USA towards un-imagined depths of inequality as we proceed over the next decade.


African American disadvantage in 2013

July 28, 2013

The recent Trayvon Martin verdict (George Zimmerman found not guilty) has stimulated new discussion about African-American (black) disadvantage in the USA.

Here’s what President Barack Obama said:

In the African-American community, at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here. I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.  The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Time Magazine – which specialises in summarising complex phenomena in coherent and reasonably objective ways – included a set of statistics in their most recent issue:

Issue Blacks Whites
Median household income $33,000/year $55,000/year
Male unemployment 15% 7%
Religion important to their lives 79% 56%
Believes discrimination exists in USA today 56% 16%
Percentage 18-24 enrolled in college 36% 45%
Percentage in US population 13%  
Percentage  in US prison population 37% (three times pop rate)  

(The Time statistics were sourced from the National Urban League, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau, Social Problems journal and Sentencing Project.)

And here are some more statistics from Time:

–          Blacks make up 13% of the US population, but 37% of those in prison – thus incarcerated at three times their rate of population.

–          Blacks constitute 13% of the regular drug users (exactly their rate of the population), but are 38% of those arrested for drug offenses (again, almost three times the rate of others – surely a connection).

–          Wages grow at a 21% “slower rate for black former inmates, compared with white former inmates”.

–          “Eleven US states deny the right to vote to more than 10% of their black populations because of felony convictions”.  And yet, blacks voted in the 2012 Presidential election at a GREATER rate than whites did, for the first time in history, continuing a trend that has been apparent since 2000 – see the US Census Report from May 2013 and the Pew Social Trends report.