Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Saturday, 14 October 2017


The one I bought when it was mounted on the owner's NA.

My MX5 will soon be a testarossa*

I need to get some striker plates and two Frankenstein bolts and the job will be done.

By way of explanation, gentle reader, these bits and pieces are needed to attach the hardtop to the car.

These are the bits you need.

I've done all this before. I fitted my first MX5 with a hardtop before I sold it. The mounting points are located in exactly the same position in all NA and NB versions, although you have to remove a bit of trim to access them.

These hardtops are like hen's teeth, and are beginning to go for very silly money. I think I was a bit lucky to get hold of this one. I contacted the vendor on the day he advertised it on Gumtree, and was in Brisbane collecting it the next day. The Ute is indeed handy, although there was about 5 mm to spare getting the hardtop under the canopy for the journey home.

His price was reasonable, as it's in pretty good nick, even though it is ten years older than the car.

I will eventually paint it to match the car, but initially I will be driving a testarossa.

Hardtops are a blessing for a number of reasons.

They make the vehicle much more secure. Anyone with a pocket knife can gain entry to a softop. This actually happened to my current car, which explains why it has a relatively new convertible top.

In addition, they are completely weatherproof - although the softops are the same, providing they're properly fitted.

They also increase the car's rigidity if mounted properly.

But for mine, the greatest advantage is the improvement in over-the-shoulder visibility.

Driving an MX5 with the convertible top up is a bit like sitting in the bottom of a bucket when it come to rear visibility.

*Check Google translate. It's Italian.

Update: Trial fitting -

The hardtop is not compatible with the roll bar, sitting about 5 mm too high - so I'll have to remove it. Another job ahead.

What do you reckon, gentle reader? Leave it red, or have it matched?

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Home of the Brave - Land of the Free

A very young Abe Lincoln

Australians looking across the Pacific right now can’t believe what they’re seeing.

Our long-time ally, and a country which we always believed shared our values, is slowly but surely destroying itself.

Mind you, we've seen it all before.

I saw a similar phenomenon when serving beside Americans in Vietnam in 1970. Back then, American servicemen were killing their junior officers at an alarming rate. The preferred method was to put a hand grenade beside the sleeping victim, pull the pin, and run like hell.

Nine hundred died in this manner from 1969 to 1972. It was so common that it produced its own jargon.

The Yanks called it “fragging”.

The violence was a symptom of a deep national malaise in 1970, relating to the lack of support for the US military in Vietnam at home, and a growing understanding by those at the sharp end of the conflict of the sheer futility of it all.

In 2017, we are seeing similar violence, most recently the slaughter of 58 people at Las Vegas.

There seems to be a chilling inevitability about this, and the impotence of the US law makers to deal with it.

It is also a symptom of deep national malaise. The country should probably be renamed "the Disunited States of America", when you observe the quality of the hyper partisanship that has developed in the last decade.

That division in public opinion also reminds me of Vietnam.

When he was asked to put forward reasons why the US should continue to fight in Vietnam, in a memo dated March 24, 1965, Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton writes to his boss, Robert McNamara, that America’s end goal is “70%” to avoid humiliation.

The “dignity” of the USA held sway over everything else. It wasn't about defeating Communism, or saving the Vietnamese. It was all about the self-absorption of the body politic in the USA.

So, the prime reason was about symbolism – saving face. We saw how that worked out.

In many ways, gentle reader, this same symbolism is at the root of the current malaise. A naïve observer is prompted to enquire why the most powerful nation on earth lacks the capacity, and apparently the will, to protect its own citizens.

And, on the face of it, if you listen to the NRA, it’s all about the symbolism of the Second Amendment.

This clause is held up as an inviolable symbol of freedom, expressed as the right to self-defence.

Now forgetting about the obvious and inevitable outcome of the practical expression of this cultural symbol (a rate of mass shootings unrivaled anywhere else on the planet) it’s important to examine the historical perspective.

You need to go back a lot further in time than Vietnam or Las Vegas, to understand that this thread of the threat of self-destruction runs through American history.

The following is an extract from an 1838 address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, by a very young Abraham Lincoln. He was talking about existential risk to the Union - 

How then shall we perform it? --At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? -- Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! --All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions: As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

I’ve bolded Lincoln’s answer.

It’s pretty obvious that he saw self-destruction as the greatest threat. Twenty three years later the threat was realized.

We’re seeing this same threat now, in the context of a President who gained power by dividing his country, and surfing into office on the fear and resentment created by that division.

As for the line in the anthem – Home of the brave – land of the free.

The gun culture fostered by the NRA is not an outcome of bravery, but of fear, or more accurately paranoia.

And the country which characterizes itself as a bastion of freedom, has the highest incarceration rate in the western world.

The irony is stark and inescapable.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Leyonhjelm Wimps It

Old mate David Leyonhjelm (that's him with the cat) is a vocal critic of Australian gun laws.

So am I, by the way, but unlike the esteemed senator, I believe they're not restrictive enough.

You would assume, that if he's fair dinkum about his position, he'd be prepared to debate it in a public forum.

Twitter is a good example.

Not so. I've been blocked after a few robust exchanges after a recent US gun massacres (the one before the last).

Today I visited his Facebook feed and invited him to debate the issue on that forum - or any other of his choice.

I won't hold my breath, gentle reader, but I will keep you posted....

Upgrade: The esteemed senator was not prepared to engage, but I discovered that there are a heap of conspiracy theorists out there who think he's God's gift to gun nuts. Why am I not surprised?

Monday, 2 October 2017

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick: The Vietnam War Is the Key to Understanding America

I'm posting this, gentle reader, because it is commentary on the documentary series produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

It comes recommended as an epic undertaking which reveals so much about the war which has waited 50 years to be revealed.

I'd be grateful, if you get to watch the series, if you let me know what you think of it. As I write, it's being streamed on American PBS, but not in Oz.

These people spent ten years on the project, and for a change, interviewed Vietnamese, from both North and South.



One of the (few) benefits of having lived three score years and ten, is the chance to observe the way our wonderful English language has morphed over that time.

English is flexible, organic and versatile. The way it is used in political discourse demonstrates this.

Let’s look at a few well-used expressions.

“Illegal” is a good example for starters. It has been appropriated from across the Pacific and applied to what our government calls Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals (UMAs).

Before wee Johnny’s “Pacific Solution”, anyone using the term “illegals” would have been looked at quizzically, and asked “illegal/s what”? It was, after all, an adjective, not a noun.

Other nouns are converted to verbs. “Medal” is a good example.

Then we have “illegitimate”.

Back in the day, this word was used to describe a child born out of wedlock. I doubt that most Gen Xers would have any understanding of its use in that context.

Then there is “guy”. Again, it’s a trans Pacific import, but its meaning has morphed from the individual male to the non-gender specific collective. It’s now a word used to address a group of both genders. Strange….

Some words are relatively new. An example is “awesome”.

Apparently, it originates in California surf slang of the 1960s, where it meant more or less anything from "good" to "incredibly amazing". I don’t remember hearing it until the early 2000s, but I’m always a little behind the trend.

Occasionally, words are invented. If the person doing the inventing has a profile, the word usually enters the lexicon quickly. Pauline Hanson talks about “Straya”. I think she is referring to my native land, but I can’t be completely sure. After all, most of what Hanson says is her own unique form of patois, understood only by Harpics.*

Many words are so over used that have been worn out. An example is “icon”. An icon was, for eons, a devotional painting of Christ or another holy figure, typically executed on wood and used ceremonially in the Byzantine and other Eastern Churches.

It is now used repeatedly by all kinds of media to describe something as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration. That’s OK. What irritates me is that it is over-used to the point of abuse of the original word and its meaning.

Then there is the language used in the political arena.

Generally, political language labels rather than describes. A favourite way of shutting down a discussion is to label your opponent. It’s used by those with a binary disposition who find analysis difficult.

That’s another trend imported from across the Pacific, as is the hyper partisanship that is wrapped up in it.

The study of language continues to fascinate me. I hope, gentle reader, you share my obsession.

*Those so far to the Right that they are completely round the bend. Derived from the slogan of a toilet cleaning product - "clean round the bend".

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Running Restoration

Interior. Note gear lever knob and lace up wheel cover.

My slow restoration of the MX5 continues.

One of the most appealing aspects of these cars is the wheel-tyre combination. Unfortunately, in its 17-year life, this example had many unhappy encounters with kerbs.

The technical term is “kerb rash”.
Rimskins not a success.

So, this needed attention to restore the appearance. I tried a product called Rimskins, but was unable to keep them attached to the wheels. The state of the rim edges probably had something to do with that.

Kerb rash

In the end, I gave up on the Rimskins, and went for a complete (all 4 wheels) rim reconditioning. The process involves grinding back the existing damage on the wheel to ensure there is a smooth surface to work with, and then colour matching with paint to the existing colour of the wheel and finishing with a clear coat and hardener.
Amazing improvement

The result was well worth the outlay, and I would recommend these people.

Another aspect that was contributing to the less-than-concours appearance of the car was the state of the interior. Most of it was honest wear (some call it patina) but the leather wheel and gear lever knob were both well-worn and unsightly.

The gear lever knob was beyond redemption, but when I priced a replacement, I was rocked by the quoted ask (from Mazda spare parts) of $350.

Instead, I found an aftermarket knob for $32. It’s not the real deal, but may have to do until I can source a second-hand part from a wrecker.

Then there’s the leather steering wheel. Short term solution there is the lace-on cover, but I’m looking to restore or replace the well-worn Nardi.

Under the bonnet, the dipstick had snapped off at the top.


The OEM replacement was only $32 - same as the gearshift knob - seems a popular price.

The best part of all of the running restoration is that I get to drive the car whilst all this is going on.
That is, after all, the object of the exercise.


Sunday, 17 September 2017

Considerate Car

Now I am not one of those petrol heads that endows my cars with personality, gentle reader, but if I was, I'd be claiming that my MX5 is considerate.

When it failed to proceed, it did so in my garage, which was very convenient.

This things are generally very reliable, as they are a conglomeration of simple Mazda mechanicals in a lightweight roadster body, but like all things made by made by man, they are not foolproof.

This becomes more of an issue, when the vehicle in question has covered more than 65% of the distance between the earth and the moon, as this one has.

It failed to start after a long run on an unseasonably hot day, and I reckon the CAS* is cooked.

The RACQ came to my aid. I'm a "platinum" member, and got a free tow to my workshop of choice. The operator was very careful. He told me he is fond of MX5s. That was an advantage.

He was solicitously careful about getting it on the tilt-tray, not an easy task on our sloping driveway.

Anyway, I was always expecting niggles, and as they go, this one (if my diagnosis is correct), is not major or expensive.

I did a compilation the other day of the work that has been done on the car before I came into ownership -
So the CAS was one of the bits not replaced.

It will be now.

* Cam Angle Sensor
This is the thingy. You don't have to take the donk out.


It was the cam angle sensor, although the fuel pump was replaced as it also was on the way out.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Analysing the Ad

An advertisement supporting the "No" case in the upcoming postal survey about same sex marriage hit the deck a few days ago.

In the best tradition of fact checking, I thought I'd have a closer look at it, and try to come to some conclusion as to its veracity.

This, gentle reader, is the result. Read it and weep - 

The women featured in the ad make three statements. Let’s look at each in turn – Cella White, the first "parent" featured, says “the school told my son he could wear a dress if he wanted”. The principal, John Albiston, denies this.

Cella White used to work for the Australian Christian Lobby, and has appeared previously as a spokesperson for that organisation.

We have the school principal’s word against that of a political activist. My experience as a principal with parents with a political axe to grind is this. They invariably make an approach to the media and the upper echelons of the department rather than approach the school their children attend, the latter being the correct approach if their concern is for their child rather than the political barrow they’re pushing. The former approach gets more media coverage.

Cella White did exactly that. The first the principal knew about her “concerns” was when he read it in the media.  Given White’s political affiliations, I know whom I would believe.

The second statement made by a different person (who has also previously been active in the media)  is – “This type of programme will become widespread and compulsory”.

Despite the myth, Safe Schools is NOT compulsory in Victoria or anywhere else. Check the Victorian Ed Department’s website (not the Safe school’s website) for confirmation.

So it is neither “widespread” or “compulsory” now (note the woman featured used the verb “will” – she’s making a dodgy prediction). To ascertain the likelihood of this prediction, we need to look at jurisdictions where same sex marriage is legal. Let’s look (for example) at Ireland and Canada.

The link to the relevant section of the official Irish curriculum is here.

Let me know gentle reader, if you find any mention of a program resembling in any way “Safe Schools” in the Irish curriculum. You would have to if the allegation in the ad is correct.

Then there’s Canada. Please let me know if you can find any reference to programs promoting gender fluidity (or anything like it) here .

The third statement made in the ad is – “Children in Year 7 are asked to role play being in a same sex relationship”.

There is no evidence that this has ever happened beyond the statement in the ad. What school? When, and by whom? If it had indeed happened, no doubt there would have been witnesses, but no one has come forward. Common sense would suggest that it comes from the same place as the first unsubstantiated allegation.

So, in summary, on the balance of probabilities, the first and last statements are concoctions. The second statement is simply untrue.

I think it’s perfectly reasonable to call two allegations and one non-factual statement “lies”.

For your information, here are some extracts from the Victorian Ed Department’s website about safe Schools. They confirm my understandings above. 

Myth: The Safe Schools program is a compulsory part of the school curriculum.
Fact: Safe Schools is not part of the Victorian Curriculum – it’s a commitment that schools make to be inclusive places for all students, including LGBTI students. The Department of Education and Training provides information, resources and professional learning that have been developed by experts for school staff to use as they see fit to prevent discrimination against LGBTI students.
Myth: The Safe Schools program is teaching sex education and/or sexual practices to students, including material that is not age-appropriate.
Fact: Safe Schools is not a sex education program, nor does it teach sexual practices. The Safe Schools program simply seeks to create safe and inclusive environments for LGBTI students. Resources provided by the Department of Education and Training to help deliver the program are developed by experts and carefully selected to ensure they are appropriate for the ages of students using them.
Myth: The Safe Schools program encourages students to question or change their gender or sexuality.
Fact: Nothing about the Safe Schools program encourages students to question or change their gender or sexuality.
Myth: The Safe Schools program teaches radical gender theory. 
Fact: Safe Schools does not teach radical gender theory. It is simply a program to help schools and students understand and respect that people should not be discriminated against for any reason - including gender and sexual diversity.
Myth: Parents are not given an opportunity to consent to their child’s participation and the program disregards the wishes of parents who do not want their children to participate.
Fact: Individual schools decide how to implement the Safe Schools program at their school, based on their local context and the needs of their school community. This is often done in consultation with students, school council and the broader school community. The program does not impose specific requirements for student participation but does ask all school community members to demonstrate the school’s values. The Department of Education and Training encourages parents to discuss any concerns directly with the school principal. Within any school community there is always a diversity of views represented and schools take those views into account when working with children and families.

I have a few mates in the game (principalship) in Victoria. They regard this media outrage as the biggest beatup since the year 2000 virus. It does sell papers.

After working with kids with disabilities for nearly 50 years, I am saddened by efforts to subvert the capacity for kids from a different minority group (gay and transgender) to live their lives free from harassment and bullying.

We won this struggle for kids with disabilities in the mid-seventies. It’s sad that it has to be fought all over again for a different marginalised group.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Toilet Humour

We're hearing a great deal about gender fluidity as the same sex marriage debate rumbles along.

Much of it is based on fear, rather than fact, and prominent throughout this meme are warnings about children being sexually assaulted in school toilets.

It goes something like this - children who have identified as female but who are biologically male will present an unacceptable threat if admitted to female toilets.

I'm unaware if this has ever happened in a school in Australia. If it has, we would no doubt have heard about it, as it would provide fertile ground for the level of outrage about this issue that sells newspapers and scores clicks on websites.

After 49 years in schools (18 of them as a school principal), I have encountered from time to time, incidents where children have been assaulted by their peers in school toilets. Child-on-child violence in the school yard is not uncommon, unfortunately, and not surprisingly, much of it happens in the toilet.

When you think about it, if child A is intent on giving child B a good thumping, the toilet is an ideal location, as it's out of sight (usually) of patrolling teachers. The same applies if the violence has a sexual component. Sexual violence towards members of the same gender is unfortunately not unheard of.

One of the major problems presenting for principals trying to organise supervision during breaks these days is the gender imbalance in school staffing.

When you have very few male teachers on staff, how do you ensure the boy's toilets are supervised by males? School communities are generally uncomfortable about female teachers venturing into the boys toilets to sort out bullying issues, for example. Bullying still happens, and the toilets are a favored location for the reasons suggested above.

Let's look at the gender fluidity issue in the light of the current situation. Violence happens in school toilets, irrespective of the sign on the door.

How is allowing kids who identify as the opposite sex into that designated toilet going to make any difference to that?

Here's a better idea. Remove the gender designation from school toilets. This would save a great deal of money when building new schools and remodeling existing ones. Leave the problem of ensuring student safety in these places to the architects, the technology gurus, and those developing supervision rosters.

After all, if it's good enough for Scandinavia it's probably worth a try here.

The Scots (where at Glasgow in 2015 unisex toilets were introduced into every new school built in part of a campaign to eradicate bullying) have also come round to the idea. If I'm permitted to acknowledge the stereotype, maybe the Scots were also attracted by the money savings.

My experience in education has been primarily with students with disabilities. Toilets accessible to students with disabilities have been unisex for decades, and there's never been a problem that I'm aware of.

Think about the last time you flew somewhere. Did you notice that the toilets in the aircraft were unisex?

Anyway, gentle reader, that's the last time I will blog about toilets. It's difficult to keep a straight face in light of the confected outrage generated by this topic.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Fun, Fear & Frivolity

Today is the anniversary of the battle of Long Tan, so it's fitting to post something relevant.

In this case, gentle reader, I've opted to review an eBook released recently by a Vietnam veteran called Ian Cavanough who served in 2 RAR in 1970-71.

The book is called "Fun, Fear, Frivolity", and it is well worth a read, whether you're a veteran or not.

Ian (better known as "Cav") has put together a memoir tracing his training, service in SVN, and return to Australia. His descriptions of recruit training are alternatively hilarious, accurate and bizarre.

Looking back on it, that is exactly how rookie training was. I doubt it made much difference whether that was at Singleton, Kapooka or Puckapunyal, the three recruit training bases. Cav captures the atmosphere, the development of confidence and camaraderie, and the daily experience of training very accurately.

His recount of his Vietnam experience is fascinating. Although he states on a few occasions that he can't write about his emotions, the force of the narrative actually captures the feelings of the young diggers very well. Nothing is stated, but the descriptions are so vivid and stark, that most readers would be captured by the his account and feel for those involved.

Although Cav is very self-deprecating about his writing, his capacity for accurate recall, vivid description and gentle humour make his work very engaging. His use of maps and photos taken during operations add to the immediacy of the narrative. 

His experience as an infantry soldier on operational service during the latter stages of Australia's involvement in the conflict is shared by thousands of diggers, but given the nature of counter insurgency warfare it is unique to Cav as an individual. 

For most Australians at the sharp end in Vietnam at the time, jungle warfare was very much a small patrol operation, and no two soldiers saw the same situation from exactly the same perspective. Cav captures his experience and that of his section and platoon with riveting detail and wry observation.

An unexpected bonus for me was his description of the operating environment, particularly the flora and fauna. For me, old experiences and images were dragged out of the recesses of memory and relived. Most of the accounts of the experience I've read down though the years (and I've read most of them) lack this wealth of detail.

There are many cliches, myths and misunderstandings about this most divisive of conflicts. Through it all, the stubborn valour of the diggers, whether national servicemen or regular soldiers, renders all this background as irrelevant - as white noise.

This memoir is an important contribution to the body of work still being produced by those who actually lived the experience of the war. It is authentic, immediate and engaging.

Get yourself a copy - whether you're a veteran or not.

Go here to find out how you can do that.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Two of a Kind

Trumpkim - origin unknown

I know I’d promised, gentle reader, to avoid matters political (national and international), but right now there’s a very large elephant (actually two elephants) in the room.

Given that our PM has said that we are “joined at the hip” with the US, we are involved in the current standoff whether we like it or not.

Turnbull’s statement brings back memories of Holt’s “all the way with LBJ”, and shortly after it was made, along with thousands of other young Australians I found myself beating around the bush in South Vietnam whilst a number of young men from another dispensation tried very hard to kill me.

You will understand then, gentle reader, why I don’t greet the PM’s words with any enthusiasm.

But back to the title of this post.

It’s fascinating to compare the two individuals at the epicentre of the current dispute.

In the first place, they both inherited unbridled wealth and power through no merit of their own.
In Trump’s case, from his father, and likewise for Kim Jong-un. The Kim dynasty is in many ways similar to a royal family. Australians know all about that.

The Trump dynasty began with his paternal grandfather, Friedrich Drumpf who emigrated to the United States in 1885 at the age of 16. He amassed a fortune operating boom-town restaurants and boarding houses in the Seattle area and the Klondike region of Canada, during the gold rush.

Trump inherited the family company and all its wealth (the Trump Organization) in 1971. It fell into his lap.

Kim Jong-un assumed power in North Korea in December 2011 upon the death of his father Kim Jong-il. Both the Trump dynasty and the Kim dynasty are characterised by serial “marriages”, although in different generations. Kim Jong-il had four, Trump three, so the Korean wins that one….

Trump has five children by three marriages, and has eight grandchildren. His first two marriages ended in widely publicized divorces.

Nether Trump nor Kim Jong-un saw military service. Trump was at college during much of the war in Vietnam and was deferred five times, and Kim Jong-un was educated in Switzerland,  a long way from conflict both in time and place. This probably helps to explain why both demonstrate a proclivity for bellicose rhetoric. This has always come easily to politicians who have not experienced the reality of operational service.

Then there is their physical appearance. Both are chubby, and have unusual hairstyles. Both look as if they need to be aware of issues such as diabetes and hypertension. Kim Jong-un is much younger, so his viability into the future is probably stronger.

But most of, their public behaviour (excuse me whilst I quote my PM) really joins them at the hip.

Both have cultivated the cult of personality to the utmost. Trump has used the media, going to the extreme of setting himself up as a soap star. Kim Jong-un has used the media he controls in North Korea equally as effectively. It’s easy to note the eerie similarity between a Trump rally and a Kim Jong-un parade.

The main difference is the standard of choreography. Kim Jong-un comes out on top here.

Both claim to lead democracies. Kim Jong-un’s state is called the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, so it must be so. We keep hearing, after all how Hitler was a left winger because the word “socialist” appears in the term NAZI.

Trump was elected by 27% of eligible voters (subtracting those who voted for Clinton – 2.8 million more, and those who did not vote at all). Put another way, 74% of eligible American voters did not support him. That is not “democracy”.

So there it is. We can only cross our fingers in the hope that those surrounding this pair of lunatics can restrain them so that the Korean peninsula (and probably Japan) don’t become piles of radioactive ash.

And we are “joined at the hip” to one of them. Aren’t we lucky?

Blog Archive