Friday, July 10, 2009

Now the pasty-faced technology geeks have laser beams too

(First published in the Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, July 7.)

A LARGELY overlooked aspect of the digital technology revolution is that it has placed dangerous power in the hands of pasty-faced young men with bad skin, greasy hair and no friends.

In previous eras they were losers. They were the 90-pound weaklings who had sand kicked in their face at the beach and never got the girl (assuming they were interested in girls in the first place, which is a moot point).

Computers have been their salvation. Now they can sit in darkened rooms, surrounded by discarded fast-food packaging, and perpetrate mayhem just by tapping at their keyboards.

Hacking, spamming and phishing to their hearts’ content, these computer geeks can wreak enormous mischief without ever leaving their bedrooms. It’s a great way for socially inept nerds to get their own back on the world.

It’s safe, too. There’s no risk of getting shot, unlike those less intelligent dysfunctional young men who make the mistake of running amok with guns.

Now the technology geeks have added laser beams to their repertoire. Do they, I wonder, get some sort of sexual thrill from blinding aircraft pilots on their landing approaches, or does orgasm occur only if they actually bring the plane down? It would be interesting to know.

The only socially beneficial use I can think of for laser beams would involve shining them into the eyes of boy racers, but that’s too much to hope for.

* * *

IT WAS a big week for Maoridom. The $500 million Treelords settlement was finalised and the Government confirmed the proposed repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act. All of which raises a few questions:

■ Why do I get the feeling that the repeal of the F and S Act is driven not by principle or high-minded determination to resolve a legitimate grievance, but by pure political expediency: namely, the need for National to secure a long-term alliance with the Maori Party that will keep Labour out of office for the foreseeable future? (The taxpayer, of course, will pick up the tab.)

■ What faith can we have in the integrity of the process when it was carefully choreographed to the extent of appointing a “review panel” whose membership ensured the outcome was pretty much a foregone conclusion? Even Winston Peters gets some things right, and he’s right about this.

■ How much of the millions likely to be paid to Maori under the new foreshore and seabed arrangements will trickle down to dispossessed “urban” Maori? Or will the process be tightly controlled by the same tribal elites that have prospered from the big compensation deals of the past, thereby ensuring a large body of Maoridom remains out in the cold, potentially storing up further grievances for future governments to deal with? (This is a rhetorical question.)

■ When will we see Maori leaders shift their focus and energy from the pursuit of financial compensation for supposed historical grievances to the more urgent need for moral leadership of a people ravaged by crime, drugs, alcohol, violence and welfare dependency – or will that remain in the too-hard basket?

That’s a rhetorical question too.

* * *

THE FUSS over proposed national literacy and numeracy standards shows that teachers’ organisations still haven’t got over the quaint notion that the education system is all about them.

By petulantly threatening to withhold information about how schools perform under the proposed standards, the primary school principals’ organisation is placing the self-interest of teachers above the right of parents to exercise an informed choice about which school will best meet their children’s needs, and the right of the public at large to know whether schools are doing the job expected of them.

Teachers insist they are motivated only by concern for the quality of education and the need to ensure low-decile schools don’t suffer. In truth, they seem to have a deep-seated phobia about public scrutiny and accountability.

The very word “standards” is anathema to them because once standards are established, parents and the public have a means of making comparisons. And once comparisons can be made, parents will insist on the right to take their children out of poorly-performing schools and place them in better ones.

The fear-mongering teachers’ organisations insist that the publication of so-called “league tables” will create a winners-and-losers mentality and lead to non-performing schools closing as parents shift their kids elsewhere.

The corollary of this is that teachers think it’s okay for sub-standard schools to be protected by an official conspiracy of silence that prevents parents from finding out their children’s life prospects are being blighted by a lousy education.

* * *

AMID THE wave of righteous indignation that swept the country after French rugby player Mathieu Bastareaud was revealed to have invented his story about being attacked outside his Wellington hotel, it was possible to detect a large measure of relief as well. Because although the attack didn’t happen, everyone knows it very well could have.

New Zealand cities in the early hours of a Sunday morning are dangerous, violent places in which anyone walking alone is at risk. This explains why everyone – Kerry Prendergast and John Key included – was ready to believe Bastareaud’s story.

We got off the hook on this occasion because diligent police work revealed it was all a gigantic fib, but let’s not get up on our hind legs and protest that our international reputation as a safe country – a myth we desperately need to promote ahead of the 2011 Rugby World Cup – has been unfairly impugned.

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