Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Brits flocking to Australia

Not mentioned below is Britain's problems with violent crime. Why? Because the problem is largely traceable to blacks. Australia has many fewer blacks

A RECORD number of Britons are moving to Australia, with Queensland their destination of choice, the latest survey has revealed. Britain's ailing economy and gloomy weather are believed to be the main reasons many people are packing up and moving Down Under, according to the Move Monitor survey carried out for removalist firm Pickfords. The study found a 31 per cent leap in the number of Britons who moved to Australia in 2008 compared to the previous year.

Queensland was the most popular state to set up home in for Britons wanting a new life in Australia for the second consecutive year. However, there was a 44 per cent rise in the number of people wanting to move to Adelaide and a 42 per cent increase in Melbourne's popularity.

"The Move Monitor has revealed that Queensland is our most popular destination in Australia I am sure the quality of life, sunnier climate and diverse job opportunities play a part in the relocation decision," spokesman Graham Hardwick said.

About 40,000 Britons moved to Australia in 2007, with about 23,000 intending to stay permanently. The Move Monitor tracks the relocation trends of Pickford's 7000 customers who move overseas each year.


Grammar revival?

What a lot of scatterbrained nonsense we read below! There is no ambiguity about the Latin-derived rules which govern written English. Why can't kids in primary and secondary schools simply be taught those rules? That's what's going to be most useful to them. Leave the airy-fairy stuff for specialist university courses

Australia is distinctive among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries for its long tail of students who are unable to process - much less understand - the texts of which English brags. And problems of access are not confined to students in low socioeconomic enclaves. Even middle-class parents find it increasingly difficult to help their children produce successful assignments in a discipline so different from the one they studied. And, so, grammar is back; hauled out of retirement to help, no, to party.

When people think "grammar", they mostly think traditional grammar. But this is a tool kit - or dance card, perhaps - for a simpler discipline. It's good on parts of speech, on subject-verb agreement and on rules, all of which are routinely broken by published authors. It has nothing whatsoever to say about newspaper headlines, Aboriginal English, the hilarious play of malapropisms in Kath and Kim or the incomprehensible genius of Vicky Pollard in her "Yeah, but, no but, yeah but". And almost anything interesting in contemporary discourse is ungrammatical in the traditional sense: it begins the wrong way, with conjunctions, splits infinitives. As far as literature is concerned, grammar has never connected well with textual matters such as focalisation, voicing, structure and plotting. A very limited repertoire.

There are other grammars available. One is functional grammar. It makes real connections with the preoccupations of English: with texts, contexts, meaning making. But it too has an image problem. First of all, it's hard: technically demanding, linguistically ambitious. Some might say the dance moves are too difficult for the informal partygoer.

Those calling for a return to grammar are not talking about a new grammar but the old version, tarted up perhaps, but largely unreconstructed. Traditional grammar is simply not up to the job and, for now, functional grammar is out of favour. Any grammar that is going to work has a big challenge on its hands. Can we develop a grammar adequate to an ambitious curriculum, akin to the television program So You Think You Can Dance?

Four parameters come to mind. First, there is the matter of stretch. Any grammatical tool kit for exploring the features of complex texts requires flexibility. The authors of the Initial Advice Paper on the national English curriculum are unequivocal on the need to engage with complex texts. They are requiring that teachers develop systematic understandings about "the structures, interpretation and the effects of certain features in multimodal texts". This means picture books, websites, graphic novels and films, as well as traditional literature such as the novel. It requires a grammar that encompasses study of a wide range of textual choices and their combined effects on meaning, a real stretch.

Second, there is the matter of discipline in the study of language. The notion of "deep knowledge" has become a familiar adage in discussions about school learning. But what does this mean for knowledge about language at text, sentence and word levels? This is the remit of the national curriculum: systematic and explicit teaching about language as a system. There is work to be done if kindergarten teachers are to share understandings about language with primary and secondary English teachers. This task takes us well beyond the comforting mediocrity of "grammar at the point of need", a rigorous routine of new moves for alldancers.

Third, there is the matter of improved performance: making knowledge accountable to those we teach, especially students without start-up cultural capital. Any study of grammar must enable students to read and write more effectively. The national curriculum advice is clear on the need to inter-relate learning about and learning to use language. There is much we don't yet know. Recent research undertaken by education academic at the University of Hull, Richard Andrews, and his colleagues in Britain reveals that assumed links between knowledge about grammar and improved writing remain unproven. The jury is still out about whether grammar helps students with literacy. Such research is crucial if we are to improve the literacy performances of students.

Fourth, there is the matter of potential: seeing the possibilities in our students' communicative practices. If we accept, as Michael Halliday, emeritus professor of linguistics at the University of Sydney, has suggested, that language is "a resource for making meanings", then our grammars must become attuned not just to problems but also to (often surprising) developments in students' uses of language. This orientation is alert to the promise in a first draft, to a deconstructive cartoon, the subversion in an impromptu class performance. Our young people are doing such clever things in their out-of-school literacy practices. Any grammar that is going to lead development in new routines has to follow as well as lead in these new dances. Are we up to it? Do we think we can dance?


Wearing thongs leaves feet exposed to skin cancer

This sounds logical but it won't separate many Australians from their favourite footwear

THE nation's thong lovers are putting their lives at risk, an expert has warned, with their exposed feet putting them at greater risk of skin cancer. Queensland dermatologist Catherine Faulkner said thongs left their wearers dangerously exposed to skin cancer. "Often sunscreens are washed off the top of the feet when people walk through water, so we do see quite a lot of skin cancers on the top of the feet," she said.

People should check not only the tops of their feet but also their soles and underneath nails for suspicious signs, she said. "The real danger is under the feet because it's not a place you look. "It's also where you get this dangerous and more aggressive melanoma, which is often diagnosed late."

The other body parts often forgotten when applying sunscreen are the lower lip; scalp; tops of the ears; and the area between the nose and eyes. Cancer Council Queensland statistics show almost half of all Australians will develop some form of skin cancer. Sunscreen sprayers, from corporate skin cancer awareness campaigner Suncorp, will visit South Bank today to give away hats and sunscreen.


Take control, public hospital patients urged

Don't expect Mohamed Khadra's new book to be comforting reading if you're about to go into hospital. The author of the acclaimed Making the Cut and a professor of surgery at the University of Sydney, he is about to publish a follow-up that makes crystal clear the fact that unappealing food is the smallest of the many hazards facing patients admitted onto public wards. The new book, called The Patient, is being published next week. It tells the story of a fictional male professional, Jonathan Brewster, who discovers mid-career that he has a bladder cancer. The book follows him through the various stages of his treatment, noting in pitiless detail along the way the impersonality of the health system, the strains it places on the legions of dedicated yet sleep-deprived staff, and also the unprofessional attitudes of some doctors and nurses.

It also documents the cavalcade of cock-ups, major and minor, that go on behind the scenes. But while the story is fictionalised -- like Brewster, the Victoria Hospital in which it is set does not exist -- The Patient is not fiction. Khadra, the book's sole real character, says most of the things that happen to the unfortunate Brewster and to others within the hospital are drawn from real-life experience.

The book confronts head-on the "corruption" of the health system: the fact that patients handed a cancer diagnosis who need an urgent specialist's appointment can effectively jump the queue, simply by having the right social connections -- while other patients without strings to pull have to wait weeks or months.

It spells out the extreme patient-unfriendliness of a system that can bandy about terms such as "triage" that barely a handful of people understand. It scores in painful detail the rudeness of some doctors, nurses and other staff; the clock-watching, officious culture of the newer breed of nurses, and the madness of a health bureaucracy that alienates its own permanent nursing and medical staff by paying double rates to last-minute agency fill-ins.

Perhaps most tellingly, the book exposes the extraordinary lack of compassion that can be found in every corner of the system -- from the receptionist who keeps a pain-wracked patient on his feet while she slowly fills in a form, to the haughty consultant whose aloof arrogance scarcely conceals his disdain for public patients, who he believes contribute less to his income and prestige than those paying privately.

Khadra -- who received a huge response to the criticisms of the health system in his previous book -- says a prime motivation for writing The Patient was to help patients understand better what a spell in hospital involves. "Day in, day out, I sit across the desk from people who are planning their next holiday, they've just been married, they've just bought a house, they've just started a new job -- and I look down at a piece of paper that has words on it or numbers on it that are radically going to change their life for the worse over the next couple of years, or even curtail their life," Khadra says. "And I find people just aren't prepared. They have this sense that the health system is a benevolent creation of the government that will look after them; they aren't prepared spiritually, they aren't prepared physically and financially."

But it's also a call to arms. Khadra himself has been a patient, after being diagnosed 10 years ago -- just as he and his wife had bought a new house, were raising two boys, and as their careers were taking off -- with a thyroid cancer that had already spread to his chest and neck. "I had an extensive period of treatment," he recalls. "And what I saw of the health system then, and what continues -- if anything -- to get worse over the ensuing 10 years, is a health system that ... doesn't deliver compassionate health care to people most in need. "And my basic feeling is that what has occurred in the 20-year period since the 1980s, when I trained, is a cancerous growth in the bureaucracy of health. "The basic aim of the bureaucracy is to avoid making mistakes. And what that creates is a paralysis of decision-making throughout the system that now has kneecapped every single hospital general manager, health leader, and nursing leader."

Such a critique could not come at a more poignant time: NSW Health and its minister, John Della Bosca, have been deeply embarrassed this week by further revelations of chronic late payment of debts -- to the extent that some tradesmen and suppliers of drugs, food and other consumables are refusing to deal with hospitals in the west of the state. It chimes with Khadra's own experience. He tells of a general manager of one hospital he worked at who was unable to spend just $55 on a medical textbook without getting clearance from the central health department.

At the ward level, Khadra says the solution is to take the power away from the bureaucrats and give it instead to the clinicians and managers within each hospital who would then once again have the power, and incentive, to ensure their own units ran efficiently.

In a different way, power should be claimed by the patients themselves. "There wasn't a ward I could walk into 20 years ago, in any hospital, where I couldn't go to the nursing unit manager and say 'How's Mr Jones', and that nurse would be able to tell me that his cousin visited yesterday, that his toenails have been clipped today, and that he's been moved six times overnight to help with his pressure sores," Khadra says, echoing a criticism that earned him widespread public support following the publication of his previous book. "Now, even from the nurse looking after the patient, I'd struggle to get any sense of what's going on with the patient.

"What has happened? What has happened is that local single-point accountability has been taken away from the hospital, so there isn't that opportunity for someone to say this needs to be changed. "If the ward is unclean, who do I go to? The boss of that cleaner is somewhere in town, because it's all outsourced. If the food that I'm putting in front of the patient is unappetising, who do you go to? It's all outsourced somewhere, and there are policies upon policies that obstruct any sort of feedback on that."

Khadra -- who says he received overwhelming backing from his peers after the publication of Making the Cut in 2007 -- urges patients to ditch the passive role they suffered 50 years ago and claim a greater responsibility for their own care. He accepts he might receive a "cold shoulder" from one or two doctors who take umbrage at the portrayal of their profession in the character of David Johnson, an arrogant, glib and dismissive consultant urologist who regards patients as stupid and their questions as irritants to be discouraged. But he stresses the book also portrays "a number of heroic doctors ... who really are compassionate, who really are competent".

"The point that I make in The Patient -- if you are dealing with a doctor who isn't communicative, who isn't able to sit down and really go through the benefits and risks of a particular procedure, who isn't transparent about why they are doing it and involves you in a shared decision-making capacity -- perhaps you are going to the wrong doctor," he says. "I welcome it when my patients are questioning about every step of the way. Why am I having a PSA test? Why am I having a prostatectomy? What are the alternatives? What are the risks of this, what are the benefits?

"Gee, I love those questions, truly -- it shows an involved, informed patient. And we know now there's some evidence to suggest that the outcomes for that type of patient are actually much better, because they are involved in their healthcare, they feel empowered in their own health care. "Are there doctors out there who avoid that glare of light on their own practice? The answer is yes. But I can tell you the vast majority of competent doctors would welcome that type of questioning."


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