The great maternity leave debate

I do not have children, nor do I plan to reproduce – so I suppose you could say I have no skin in this particular game. But I’ve been thinking about the debates around maternity leave and the low birthrate that have occurred recently in Australia.

The key problem does not actually seem to be paid maternity leave for a number of weeks after the birth, rather it seems to be the fact that one must support the child for at least 18 years after the birth. Nowadays there are few women who do not have to return to work to support their families. Given this situation it seems to me that the real problem is not maternity leave, instead it is the lack of cheap and available childcare.

The solution to this problem is obvious! The government should provide childcare on the same basis as it does school education. It should be a universal right in this country. Since many women (and men) would like to have children this would support a rise in the birth rate by removing a key impediment to child rearing. I must admit I would prefer my taxes go to universal childcare than to some other things.

Tracking the end of the world – the Doomsday Guide

This site is a real gem, at the Doomsday Guide you track doomsday in its many and varied forms. This site provides an “online link resource to the full spectrum of End of the World Scenarios” inlcuding Armageddon, the Apocalypse, End of Days, Doomsday. There are even categories to look under:

  • Environmental
  • Technology
  • Extraterrestrial
  • Religious Prophecy (western & eastern)
  • Prophecy
  • Global Conflict

I’ve always had a fondness for a good disaster scenario (although I prefer not to experience them in real life) so this site is fabulous.

Professionalism & IT (or not as the case may be)

Aaargh!!
It is an unending source of amazement to me that our society will not let a hairdresser cut your hair or a mechanic fix your car unless they’ve done a multi-year apprenticeship BUT they will let any half-wit who thinks they have a clue play with mission critical computers.

Since computers are now a central part of modern life this course of action seems at best imprudent and at worst plain stupid and dangerous! In recent times I’ve seen some configurations that are criminally stupid and risky, and these could only have been implemented by people without any idea of what the were doing.

An equivalent disaster to the big blackout in the east USA could happen at any time because there are complete clowns being allowed to ‘play’ with essential computer systems and infrastructure. If only people realized how scary the world of technology really is!

The case of a defined body of knowledge that practitioners must master before being let loose on our systems is a most pressing issue. How can we have homeland defense when there are people who don’t know how to patch their systems against worms, trojans, and viruses. Heaps of the recent attacks had patches out months earlier.

Again, a lack of professionalism in the IT industry.

Men, Women and Lifesteyle Choices

Women in the western world are actually very lucky in many ways. Now there are so many choices for women – education, full time career, part time work, family, no family, travel, etc.

But for men there does not seem to be so many choices. Many women of my acquaintance have decided to take career breaks, to leave work and raise a family, to work part time and pursue a hobby or education.

However, amongst the men of my acquaintance those who make similar ‘lifestyle’ choices are in the minority. Instead men seem to have a linear set of options: get an education, get a job, perhaps have a family, retire, die.

The multiplicity of ‘lifestyle’ options seems to be passing many of them by. I wonder why?

Family Friendly or Punishing the Childless?

One thing that the big focus nowadays on so-called ‘family friendly’ workplaces (including maternity/paternity/parental leave) has overlooked is that this excludes the many people who for various reasons do not have children. The question is ‘what about us’? While parents are getting time off, more ‘family friendly’ rosters are implemented (etc.) who but the childless are left holding the fort in this 24×7 world of work?

Not meaning to sound grumpy here, but what is an employer going to give me in return for coming to work every day, not leaving early, working unpaid overtime, covering so-called ‘family’ un-friendly shifts, etc?

The other annoying thing is that I’m not considered part of the ‘family friendly’ world because it only counts children not other relationships. So tough luck if your only family is another adult (like maybe a few gay or lesbian couples out there?).

In essence these ‘family friendly’ policies are rewarding those with offspring and punishing those without. The sooner employers start to see this the quicker they will stop the inevitable revolt amongst the childless. In fact, the revolt may already have begun:

Whirlpool News – Telstra to stop rolling out pair gain (2002-Oct-2)

This from 2002: Whirlpool News – Telstra to stop rolling out pair gain

Many people (including me) are still suffering from this stupidity and cupidity of Telstra!

They knew pair gain was a cheap but ineffective way to roll out phone lines but they did it anyway. I think this bolsters arguments not to privatise them.

If this is how Telstra behaves when they are under government regulation what will they be like when they are free to do anything they want!

Death by PowerPoint – yet another perspective

Many people have noted how annoying it is to go to a meeting and experience the well-know ‘death by Powerpoint’ phenomenon.

But one person who’s made the argument most excellently is Peter Norvig, when he put the Gettysburg Address on PowerPoint.

This simple action encapsulates all of the arguments against Powerpoint so powerfully.

How much less inspiring the Gettysburg Address is in this medium. How much less is it a call to future action. Indeed, ‘how much less’ sums up the Powerpoint version of this famous speech.

We are in real danger of allowing technology to obscure and not enhance our ability to communicate as humans.

2004 Commencement Yale Class Day Speech, by Ken Burns

Ken Burns makes some excellent points in this speech, I’ve picked out some highlights – click here to see the entire text (in PDF).

Now more than ever we in the western world should heed speakers like this. Ken speaks of a United States that has inspired many over the years. It would be a pity to see the US become that which it hates, forgetting it’s history and what has made it a great nation.

Nothing could be more dangerous than this arrogant belief, brought on and amplified as it is by a complete lack of historical awareness among us, and further reinforced by a modern media, cloaked in democratic slogans, but dedicated to the most stultifying kind of consumer existence, convincing us to worship gods of commerce and money and selfish advancement above all else.

Now we are poised to fight that war again, and perhaps again and again, this time culturally, where the threat is fundamentalism wherever it raises its intolerant head. The casualties this time will be our sense of common heritage, our sense of humor, our sense of balance and cohesion. The ultimate stakes, though, are just as great as those Abraham Lincoln faced–the Union and very survival of our country.
* * * * *
So, I ask those of you graduating tomorrow, male or female, black or white or brown or yellow, young or old, straight or gay, to become soldiers in a new Union Army, an army dedicated to the preservation of this country’s great ideals, a vanguard against this new separatism and disunion, a vanguard against those who, in the name of our great democracy, have managed to diminish it.
* * * * *
So what do we make of all this? Let me speak directly to the graduating class. (Watch out, here comes the advice.)

As you pursue your goals in life, that is to say your future, pursue your past. Let it be your guide. Insist on having a past and then you will have a future.

Do not descend too deeply into specialism in your work. Educate all your parts. You will be healthier. Replace cynicism with its old-fashioned antidote, skepticism.

Don’t confuse success with excellence. The poet Robert Penn Warren, who taught here at Yale for many years, once told me that “careerism is death.”

Travel. Do not get stuck in one place. Visit Yellowstone or Yosemite or Appomattox, where our country really came together. Whatever you do, walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. Listen to jazz music, the only art form Americans have ever invented, and a painless way, Wynton Marsalis reminds us, “of understanding ourselves.”

Give up addictions. Try brushing your teeth tonight with the other hand. Try even remembering what I just asked you.

Insist on heroes. And be one.

Read. The book is still the greatest manmade machine of all — not the car, not the TV, not the computer, I promise.

Write: write letters. Keep journals. Besides your children, there is no surer way of achieving immortality. Remember, too, there is nothing more incredible than being a witness to history.

Serve your country. Insist that we fight the right wars. Convince your government that the real threat comes from within, as Lincoln said. Governments always forget that. Do not let your government outsource honesty, transparency, or candor. Do not let your government outsource democracy. Steel yourselves. Steel yourselves. Your generation will have to repair this damage. And it will not be easy.

Insist that we support science and the arts, especially the arts. They have nothing to do with the actual defense of our country — they just make our country worth defending.

Do only, as Emerson suggests, whatever “inly rejoices.” Do not lose your enthusiasm. In its Greek etymology, the word enthusiasm means, “God in us.” Remember, most of all, that only love multiplies.
Ken Burns – Walpole, New Hampshire

From: 
Yale Office of Public Affairs