Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Bone Man of Kokoda

I’ve just finished reading The Bone Man of Kokoda by Charles Happell.

This is one of many books I received for Christmas. It’s time to start my own lending library, even if it’s only to help with storage. One of these days our home will spontaneously explode with the pressure of books stored in a variety of places.

Anyhow, it’s one of those stories that simply shouted to be told.

It’s about a WW2 Japanese soldier named Kokichi Nishimura. This bloke was one of very few survivors of a unit called the 144th Regiment, part of the renowned Nankai Shitai (South Seas Detachment) which was deployed to New Guinea in January 1942.

He was one of very few who survived that brutal campaign which ultimately saw the Japanese defeated as their supply lines were destroyed by the allies. He fought on the Kokoda Track, and was one of the few Japanese survivors of their retreat after forcing the Australians to a point on the track within sight of Port Moresby.

He was repatriated to a field hospital at Giruwa near Buna, after being seriously wounded and suffering from Malaria.

Eventually, after many lucky escapes, including surviving his ship being torpedoed and sunk by an American sub, he returned to Japan in 1945. He was badly injured during the sinking, and was hospitalised again, for months.

He was an old-fashioned warrior, adhering rigidly to values of comradeship and honour, and felt out of place in post war Japan, despite establishing a highly successful manufacturing company, getting married, and raising a family. Ominously, he made a condition of his (arranged) marriage that eventually he would return to Papua New Guinea to find and retrieve the remains of as many members of his old unit as possible.

Nishimura lost his much-loved youngest son in 1966 in an accident, and the author believes that this shock was the catalyst for the extraordinary decisions he made later in life.

In 1979, Nishimura announced to his family that he was going back to New Guinea to keep the promise he’d made to himself and that was a condition of marriage. Despite his wife accepting the condition prior to their marriage, she never anticipated he meant it, and was devastated. This marked the end of the relationship with her and the rest of his children – save for one daughter who stuck with him.

This is where the story gets really bizarre. Nishimura set himself up in Popondetta, New Guinea, building a house and setting up a series of unauthorised memorials over time. He spent years in New Guinea, collecting bones, identifying them, and repatriating them to Japan. At one point he went back to Japan, bought a fishing boat, and sailed it to New Guinea to provide a reliable form of transport along the Eastern coast. The fact that he had never before sailed a boat of any description didn't stop him. He simply took a two-week navigation course, got his master’s ticket, and set sail south.

He was known to return to Japan from time to time, put skulls and bones he’d found in a box, and drive all over Japan, calling on the relatives and descendants of those whose remains he carried to deliver then personally. 

He wasn’t always received gracefully.

What makes this story remarkable to me is the resemblance I saw between Nishimura’s determination and that of the team that brought the last Aussies home after the war in Vietnam.

Remarkably, Nishimura started his quest at the age when most are beginning retirement (well over 60). He was a total non-conformist, something very unusual in Japanese culture. At times, he managed to get the governments of both PNG and Japan offside. His unconventional methods caused his old regimental association to disown him, and he completely ignored customs regulations both in Japan and PNG.

The book is comprehensively researched, the prose is clear and eminently readable, and the story amazing.

It’s a great read.  

The publisher is Macmillan.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Happy & Holy Christmas

Season's greetings to you, dear reader, and the other two and a half thousand from Oz, the USA, the UK, India and the USSR who have visited so far this month.

Relative Worth?

Peter Fitzsimons comes in for a bit of stick from Timmeh, amongst others.

How refreshing, then, to encounter, in the same bookstore display, an example of one of his bestsellers together with wee Johhny's tome.

The prices are interesting.

Lazarus Rising - $9.95

Batavia - $69.95

About right, I reckon.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

More Adventures in the Blogosphere

One version of blogspeak

I’ve had a good time this year posting comments on the sites of the more risible of those who make a living out of peddling opinion.

Opinion is not all they peddle. Prurience, prejudice and pretentiousness are also evident.

It seems that the possession of an over-inflated ego or at least a very delicate one - is also a prerequisite, .

On some of these sites, I’m frequently banned, or have my posts deleted. This is always a good sign. It indicates that I'm on the money.

Others who post on these sites abuse (see above), denigrate and threaten, but they are posted so long as they toe the party line. An example is  Curious (above). No substance in the post - only a cheap shot, but that's OK by the mods.

I avoid name-calling and abuse, so there must be other reasons for the censorship.
Sometimes they sneak through...

One possibility is that the site owner feels threatened by the post. This may be because the original opinion posted is obviously biased or pays little attention to the facts. The deleted post below is a good example. Blair was either in too much of a hurry or two lazy to read the complete article he linked to. He therefore wasn't too keen to find that his hero told porkies, so my post was deleted - credibility y'know....poor petal.

Both Pilmer & Timmeh have a poor regard for the truth

The other likelihood is that the blogger has an argument that he can’t sustain. This doesn't happen quite so often, because you don't get arguments on these sites - only ill-considered opinions.

Given that it isn’t a good look for a “professional” to have errors and bias identified by an amateur, naturally the corrective post doesn’t make it. It persists of course, as a screen shot, and can always be posted.

 The second deleted post below was a reply to someone having a go at my moniker. I wasn't allowed to defend myself. This is petty stuff - you'd expect someone who earns his living through blogging to be a little more secure. I would have thought that would have made for some interesting banter, but on this blog, there's a politically correct line that mustn't be crossed.
This is offensive?

If opinion can be bought or sold – and this is of course what you’re seeing here – real dialogue is crushed. We’re left with the kind of pseudo discussion which passes for political dialogue across the pacific. Comparing US style political discussion with what used to be accepted here is similar to comparing a doughnut to a decent curry. It's easy to see that Blair and others of his vintage belong to a generation that never saw war and have been indulged and cossetted. They take themselves with a seriousness that is bizarre.

The blogosphere is a great leveller. It is also a platform for discussion and discourse. It’s a shame that the “professionals” have forgotten this.

They’d enjoy themselves more if they remembered that in this country free speech is valued and indulging in a little banter (virtual or real) is an Australian pastime.

Click on the page views to upsize them.

E Books Vs “Real” Books

We’re told that eBooks are going to render the “real” version obsolete before too much longer. Amazon is already selling slightly more eBooks than paperbacks. The same, however, is not true in Australia.

I wonder about that. Could it be more about “horses for courses”? Perhaps whether a reader opts for a material book or an eBook depends on the content. In any event, there is no appreciable drop-off in regular book sales in this country.

Maybe we’ll see the printed book and the eBook comfortably selling side by side for some time yet – at least for as long as I still have enough eyesight left to be able to read.

The genuine article has plenty to recommend it.

The physical presence of the book is often a conversation starter. I’d like a dollar for every time I’ve been on a plane or some other form of mass transport when what I’m reading (or what someone else is reading) becomes exactly that.

Perhaps I’m weird, but the smell, the weight, the cover art and the physical presence of the book matter to me. One of my preferred activities (less so at this time of the year) is browsing in bookstores.

These days, of course, bookstores are a threatened species. Having said that, both Mary Ryan and the ABC locally seem to be doing well.

As I read somewhere the other day, instant coffee didn’t mark the end of brewed coffee.

I think the same will happen with books and e-books.

Whatever, I’ve decided to investigate having my offering sold in e-book mode, mainly to sell in the USA and UK. By the time I’ve shipped copies overseas it doesn’t pay – either the reader or the vendor.

Maybe I should have it translated into Russian. According to my blog stats I have a strong following there. That’s a bit weird.  

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Typos are Dangerous

This is an ATSB animation showing an incident that occurred at Tullamarine on the night of 20 March 2009. It was developed by downloading the data off the FDR. There's no sound.

The aircraft, an Airbus A340-541, registered A6-ERG and operating as Emirates EK407, with 18 crew and 257 passengers suffered a tailstrike and cleaned up a locator beacon when it ran out of runway.

The reason? Erroneous take-off performance parameters were entered into a laptop by the crew. Apparently someone typed "2" instead of "3".

Some typo!

The crew and passengers need buy no more lottery tickets. They've used up all their luck.

This shot (taken off the end of the runway) shows a locater beacon taken out by the aircraft.

This one shows marks left by the main wheels in the dirt also off the end of the runway.

That was close.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Hardtop Hassles

Paint it silver or leave it black?

Now that what felt like an interminable wait for the MX5’s hardtop is over, I decided I’d better get organised to actually fit the thing.

I’d taken a photo to see how it looked. It looked OK.

I’d even stuck it on top of the car, clipped the two front brackets in place, and drove it around the block.

This disabused me of any notion of actually using it before all clips and brackets were installed. It made the most amazing rubbery creaking noises, and threatened to detach itself and fall off onto the road. The results would not have been pretty.

Now we’re told by the aficionados that any genuine Mazda hardtop will fit any series of MX5. This is true, but there are a range of clips and brackets and you have to match the clips on the hardtop with the latches on the car.
Frankenstein bolts aren't rocket science

Brackets and clips changed with three models of MX5 and I presume three models of hardtops. The mathematicians out there will probably contradict me, but I think that amounts to nine possible combinations. Given that I had no idea of the vintage of the hardtop (although I did of the car) this matching up exercise was not necessarily straightforward.
Lots of bits

I did lots of browsing on MX5 websites (there are plenty) and after a careful inspection of both car and hardtop came up with pics of what was needed. These I emailed to the three or four suppliers and got info about price and availability. In the end the best deal was local (Brisbane) so I drove and collected the parts. In the process I discovered that the hardtop is about five years older than the car.

I checked the packaging carefully to make sure I had an LHS bracket and a RHS bracket. Turns out I should have taken the brackets out of the packaging. When I got home I unpacked two RHS brackets. Even weirder, they were different breeds of brackets.

The Frankenstein bolts were the right ones. I guess there’s not much to change in a Frankenstein bolt.

I decided to go ahead and fit it. I reckoned that only one securing device missing out of six would probably not be a major problem. I phoned the supplier who promised an LHS bracket to swap for the RHS one when I was next in Brisbane.
It got a bit messy

The most difficult part of the exercise was cutting an opening into the plastic panel behind the front seat to access the thread for the fixing bolts.

I didn’t have a Dremel, so I went to a hardware store where I was sold a twenty dollar drill attachment which took Dremel bits. It worked OK cutting the panel. The aperture has rough edges but that doesn’t matter as it is hidden by the bracket once mounted.
Dremel attachment

I discovered that a fair bit of mucking about is necessary to adjust each of the brackets to get a tight seal. First time on is not the two minute job it’s supposed to be.
RHS bracket installed 

Anyway, it all bolted together, and is watertight after spraying with a Karcher (which didn’t go “twang” when I packed it away).

There seems to be less wind noise with it mounted which means that you can hear the motor – a much more pleasant sound.
Front bracket and clip

The greatest advantage is security. I can leave the thing parked now without worrying that some lowlife will quickly and quietly slit the soft top to get at whatever is in the car. Rear vision is also improved.
Rear clips over Frankenstein bolts

It doesn’t leak, but then the convertible top was also watertight. This has always been one of the Mazda’s main advantages over classical British roadsters.

Ballad of the GFC

Hat tip to Plane Talking.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

A Certain Symmetry

My big cleanup is revealing a lot of interesting forgotten stuff.

These two photos for instance – ignore the quality.

The top one was taken in Port Moresby at a RAAF base in 1944. My dad is front row, second from left.

The lower shot was taken during rookies at Singleton in 1969. I’m the only one without a hat – always hated wearing hats.

There’s a certain symmetry about this.

The separation was 25 years. My sons have missed out. There is no photo for 1994 (which would have been 25 years on).

I’m not at all disappointed about that.

Looking Back

I was having a cleanup the other day and came across an opinion piece I wrote for the local rag, the Toowoomba Chronicle, back in October 1997.

At that time I was the principal of one of the two special schools in town.

It's interesting to look back. The numbers of children in special schools are beginning to rise again, and the corporate emphasis has moved to issues such as NAPLAN.

Some things haven't changed. Excellent work is still being done in these schools. This work - where it brings kids from dependency to Independence saves the community a fortune. It's not recognised because it's not sexy - not edgy.

Many of the issues discussed in this piece will hopefully be addressed by the mooted National Disability Insurance Scheme. Both parties support it, but it remains to be seen whether or not the pollies are simply blowing bi-partsan hot air.

The funds to allow this transition from institutional schools to community schools originated in the Whitlam era.

That is something else lost in the mists of time.

The article is much longer than what I normally post here (1400 words), but stick with it.

It has a happy ending.

I can vividly recall a conversation I had in the mid eighties that helped me clarify my understanding of the word “education”.

In 1986 I was given the task of establishing and opening a new school for children with severe disabilities in a large regional centre in North Queensland.

Almost all the children who were to attend this school were living in a nursing home run by a private charity, and had always attended school-in a building on the premises of their residential.

It was my job to persuade the board of directors of this agency that the children should all attend the new school. On this particular occasion I was trying to convince an eminent (and scholarly) director of the merits of this proposition.

The fact that he always took every opportunity to criticise my grammar whenever I spoke with him wasn’t helpful, nor did it do much for my confidence as a young principal in his first large school. The new school was some five kilometres distant from the nursing home where the children lived and was in the process of construction. After issues of safety, transport, supervision and accommodation had been planned to this director’s satisfaction, he was still unable to give his sanction to schooling away from the institution.

The reason he gave was that these children were “unreceptive to education”. It took me some time to realise that we didn’t share a common understanding of the term.

To this person, the product of a generation schooled in the 1940s and 50s, education meant academic learning as applied to grammar, trigonometry, history, geography, algebra, and the classics.

Given our very different backgrounds, it was no surprise that we disagreed. In our own ways we were both correct. The difference was in the respective values we placed on what is learned, on curriculum.

As a teacher of children with disabilities, I had an understanding gleaned from working hands-on with these children. I had seen them develop over time the hard-won ability to move, communicate, speak, socialise and organise themselves to perform the routine tasks of daily living.

Education is about all these things.

Society is inclined to put a value on curriculum that devalues the importance of the more fundamental and functional skills.

I wonder which of the following is more likely to produce an individual capable of living a productively independent life – the skill of calculating the area of a complex geometrical shape, or the ability to safely prepare a nutritious snack.

For most children these skills of independence are learned before they go to school or at home while they are of school age. For some children with disabilities, this is not always possible, and they have to develop these skills at school.

Although providing sufficient resources to help children with severe and multiple disabilities towards independence is expensive in the short term, it does pay off in handsome savings over the lifetime of the individual. Remember, it costs around seventy thousand dollars per year to provide care for an individual who lacks independence.

The trouble is nobody bothers to measure this. In any case, often the true economic costs are not borne entirely by the community. Much is hidden, unmeasured, and borne by the parents and carers of these individuals.


The preoccupation of economic planners with measurement of corporate inputs and outputs simply fails to recognise the contribution of parents, carers and volunteers.

Because this vital contribution isn’t measured as a financial input, in the world of the corporate managerialist, it doesn’t exist.


Try telling the people providing this care that these hours of toil are a figment of their imaginations. The economic analysis is both half baked and half hearted. It doesn’t take into account the whole picture and the heart has no place in it.

We need only to look back to the early 1960s to get some idea of the progress that has been made in the area of education for children with disabilities.

At that time many of these children were not considered worthy of a place in the public system. Private charities (for example the various Crippled Children's Associations and the Queensland Spastic Welfare League - as it was called then) provided what were generally called "training centres", as well as some schools.

These training centres provided programs for children who fell below a predetermined ability level based on intelligence quotients. Remember the reference to this practice in the deep south of the United States as portrayed in the movie "Forest Gump"? Back then things weren't much different in Queensland.

As the State accepted more and more of its responsibility towards the education of children with disabilities the style and structure of provision changed.

A quiet revolution ensued, which began to see children with severe and multiple disabilities attending state schools, typically Special Schools earlier called "Opportunity Schools",

Responsibility for the schools set up by the volunteer organisations moved to the state. Progressively more of the children with less severe disabilities moved into "regular" schools.

This process was for the most part engineered by teachers at school level. I remember it well, beause I was one of them. Support services were slowly and gradually developed to keep pace with this movement. So much that has been successful has been taken for granted.

To develop an understanding of the massive changes that have occurred quietly over time it helps to look at some figures.


In Queensland in 1989, 6624 students with disabilities were receiving programmes of education in special schools and 207 in units. By 1997, that figure had risen to the point where there are more than four times as many of these children in inclusive settings (units, classes attached and regular schools generally) than in special schools.

In 1975, there were 21 special education units operating in Queensland. As this is written, the number is 136.

In a large organisation like Education Queensland, it is important to maintain elements of the activity of the organisation that can solve unique problems in unique ways.

Special schools do this well as they are structurally more pliable institutions than large primary or secondary schools.

To be relevant into the next century they will need to become even more responsive and flexible in the delivery of services, and work with school communities in other sectors to create programs around groups of children for varying lengths of time.

Special schools in the 1990s are becoming way stations, not destinations, and children will be able to move in and out of their programs as they become more socially, physically and intellectually independent. Many children are at the same time enrolled in both mainstream and special schools, when their learning needs and characteristics demand it.

I am very proud to be part of a state system that is open to all. I am dismayed by the use of the word "exclusive" applied to schools. I am also dismayed by the recent tendency to blame the public education system for the unemployment statistics. Allocating blame is entirely non-productive. It is also very easy – and very lazy. It is much more difficult to do something about the problem.

It is easy to identify the people who are doing something daily about improving the life chances for our young people with disabilities. They include the teacher who is training a boy with autism to comply with instructions, so that he can live safely in the community, They include the physiotherapist who is teaching a child to drive a powered wheel chair so that he can get around by himself.

They include the teacher aide who is helping a teenager who can't speak or move to attend lessons in a secondary school. They also include the parent who comes to school as a routine to help her son overcome the massive social anxiety that his autism triggers.

These people, both teachers and parents, but especially parents, require a kind of stubborn valour, as well as all the skill, knowledge, patience and endurance that they can muster. They also need, from the wider community, recognition that their endeavour is enormously productive.

Incidentally, the result of the conversation referred to at the beginning of this article was from my viewpoint, as the founding principal of the new school, very positive.


All the children from the nursing home were attending the new school by the end of the following year (1987). No longer were their lives confined to the grounds of the nursing home and the school on the premises. Like other children, going to school meant travelling some distance.

One of them was a six year old girl who at that time had been given six months to live. As I write this over ten years later, she is thriving and still at school.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

When hysteria is HIP

On this blog you’ll find a site called “The Failed Estate”.

It’s listed because it’s well-written, frequently updated, and often caustic in its criticisms of mainstream media.

The author concentrates his criticism on style and bias. He doesn’t often deal with substance.

This post is an attempt to do that – deal with substance, I mean.

The topic is the much maligned home insulation programme (acronym used is HIP).

We all know the history of this “abortive” programme. That’s the word most often used, after all, together with “botched”, or “disaster”.

For an initiative to be described in these terms, it must have at least failed in its purpose, killed many people and/or destroyed the lives of many.

Let’s look at purpose. It was designed both to save energy and stimulate the economy. How much energy it has actually saved will probably never be measured accurately, but let’s try.

By the time the programme was suspended, 1.1 million homes had been insulated. The best estimate of energy savings indicates bills of $200 per annum less for the average household.1

That amounts to roughly $220000000 (count the zeros). OK – the scheme has saved 220 million in energy costs. That doesn’t sound like a “disaster”, but perhaps I don’t understand the journalistic meaning of the word. Obviously, there’s some version of poetic licence operating here.

Did it stimulate the economy? It probably did provide jobs and encourage business growth in the home insulation industry, up until the point when the political decision was made to can it. Perhaps the government of the time should have toughed it out? If they had, the consequences of termination wouldn’t have been so severe. One rational interpretation of the history of this programme was that those shock jocks and opinionistas who screamed the loudest bear a responsibility for the result.

OK – there was a cost caused by the hot potato effect.

That brings us to the fires. Note the segue – hot potato – fire – never mind…….

National data has been kept for years identifying the reasons for fire service callouts. Prior to the implementation of HIP, fires in roof insulation were averaging 2.4 callouts per 100000 dwellings per year across Australia.2 Given the hue and cry when fires occurred, you would expect a sharp rise in the incidents of these fires post and during HIP.

You’d be wrong.

The rate of callouts initially rose to 2.5 per 100000 dwellings per annum. That’s a rise of 0.1 per 100000. I’ll leave it to those of you across statistics to determine how significant that is. But then something really strange happened. The rate of fires started to decline.

In the six months to the end of January 2011, the rate has decreased to 1.63 per 100000 dwellings extrapolated to twelve months.

Now that’s really interesting. Could it be that the publicity about the fires has alerted folk who’ve had insulation in for a while to have it checked? Perish the thought – it doesn’t fit the MSM narrative.
The most tragic element of this issue is the deaths of the insulation workers – four in all – three in Queensland.

 These deaths were tragic and unnecessary, but I can recall the language used by Tony Abbott (amongst others) at the time.  Abbott claimed that Garrett could be charged with industrial homicide.

Titans Insulation, a Queensland company was fined $100,000 in August 2011 for unsafe practices after a 22 year old employee was electrocuted at Millaa Millaa. He was killed by shoddy workplace health and safety practices, not by Peter Garrett.

So where does that leave us?

BIP has lowered energy consumption in 1.1 million homes.

It has saved $22 million in energy costs.

It has resulted in the rate of fires caused by faulty insulation to drop from 2.4 callouts per annum per 100000 dwellings to 1.63 callouts.

Maybe the only government incompetence demonstrated in regard to HIP was its early termination. And that really doesn’t fit the narrative at all…….

First Dog

Perhaps I have a warped sense of humour, but I find this funny.
It's reposted from the Crikey website.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

True Colours

So now the Brits have taken their bat and ball and gone home.

David Cameron’s hissy fit has demonstrated very clearly the core values of the Tories in the UK, and their allegiance to the financial smart arses in the City.

Suddenly the drivers of both the European crisis and its precursor and origin, the GFC are laid bare.

Through Cameron’s reaction, unbridled greed, deregulation and the political power exerted by the big end of town are blatantly obvious. Scratch a Tory, even lightly, and you’ll find an eye for the main chance.

The following comment by a certain John Bruce on the Politics and Policy website puts it well (I’ve bolded a couple of paragraphs. Do yourself a favour and read them twice) -

The EU has the power to legislate in its own interest. We have excluded ourselves from its number in order to 'protect' our banking sector which, bailouts included, has not advanced the cause of civilisation, decency, success or sustainability in the UK since the Big Bang.

Indeed, its greed has so infected the financial life of the UK that it has cost us 40% of the manufacturing Industry which once earnt the country its living. A bank's profit is another's loss. It is an industry which actually 'makes' nothing and facilitates very little - and nothing in absence of extortionate cost.

Not only has its 'fast big buck culture' avoided all investment in manufacturing for export for the last 30 years of decline, but it has done so simply to line its own pockets with never a thought to the reality that it profited at the expense of those it put out of work; those not directly involved in the Financial Services Industry. So save in the bloated City the Country is now in a perilously week condition. Yet none of this was necessary.

It is and has always been perfectly possible to manufacture in the West in successful competition with the Tiger Economies. The Germans have grown and now they own our industrial 'crown jewels'. Toyota, Honda and a host of other firms manufacture in the UK for global export from the UK. Pilkingtons is a huge UK success.

So why have we lost manufacturing for export and the basis of a successful economy? It is easy to blame the Unions of the day - yet today we do have successful manufacturing, so something else has been at work.

In a nutshell 'banking' (and hedge and private equity funds to handle the casino cash) has bred an investment industry which would no more look at any 'front end loaded, long term, slow return investment' than fly to the Moon.

Gone were the 170 years of 3% on investment being an acceptable return on which the industrial revolution was built. What we have come to be all about is 5 years quick in and out with swag of cash - and tough on what's left. So the only successful people in manufacturing have been careful companies with strong enough balance sheets to fully automate when needed to become, or remain competitive.

The terrible thing is that the banking and financial sector 'wealth' has been not creative in any sense, save in impoverishing the pension funds and ordinary investors to whom sub prime and an ever growing pile of 'junk' has been peddled for decades.

Indeed, there is not one ' fund' open to the ordinary citizen that has actually delivered a profit, fees met, tax paid and inflation adjusted, for decades. Indeed, the FSI is an industry whose existence is almost entirely parasitical. And it has near killed its host UKPlc.

The reductio ad absurdum of the position Cameron has now engineered is that, having bet the farm on the City, when, in fact, the regulation comes from Brussels. We have no control. And whatever control we did not have is even less now! - The EU will not now legislate to favour the UK's interests in advance of its own. The enlarged role of the ECB and the acute need for growth in the EU will leach away City activity and with it the only worthwhile products, tax and 1.3 m jobs. Even if the position were that Cameron had got what it was naive to ask for, the realty is that banking is already on the move in shifting its axis East.

The real problem however is this. 55% of our exports that do earn 'Adam Smith' National wealth earnings from abroad, in the continued absence of a sufficiency of which we will default, are to the EU. That market is already under attack from the USA and Far East. By isolating ourselves to protect what is perceived by the other 26 as really rather more than over selfish national interest we have lost purchase in this market place.

The 26, being highly interdependent in the task of recovering out of a collective Sovereign Debt Problem, will act collectively to trade where they can obtain best advantage. That means not simply a lot more production in export replacement, to our disadvantage, but much more trade with China who - given the access - will help financially. Something we can't do.

If you’re a self-funded retiree like me, read the second bolded section.

Occupy Wall Street? - those well meaning bods are far too soft on the Masters of the Universe  - Tarring and feathering is more fitting for the amoral smart arses and maybe a month or two cutting cane at Innisfail in the middle of the wet season, or better still, six months in an Infantry section wandering through old minefields in say, Cambodia.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Fleet Vehicles

Fleet vehicle front tyre

Fleet vehicles are different.

They are driven without reference to tyre pressures, coolant levels and disc pad condition.

They don’t require washing, vacuuming or cleaning of any kind.

They come fully equipped with empty chip packets, coffee spills on the centre console, and dried nasal effluvia on the dash and steering wheel.

When collected from the fleet garage, they always have just enough fuel to get out into the street, but not quite enough to make the service station one block away.

The spare tyres usually have 5psi or less, and the wheel brace and/or jack is always missing.

The fuel card is often expired, is the wrong one for the vehicle, or has been absent mindedly left in the previous driver’s wallet or purse.

Any diesel fleet vehicle that isn’t an SUV has been misfueled at least once.

If it hasn’t it will be.

The front tyres (most are front driven these days) are almost always bald or showing beads or canvass – the rears almost always pristine. The spare (if it isn’t one of those 80kmh wheelbarrow wheels) will also be pristine.

Centre consoles often contain HRT tabs, used tissues or well waxed ear swabs.

The rego sticker is usually peeling off, or attached with sticky tape after a windscreen replacement. Every fleet car windscreen has at least one major chip, usually directly in your eye line.

Any CD left in the player is always head banging rock or C & W.

Still, they cost a lot less to run than your own car, and driving them beats walking.

Been driving fleet cars for 5 years since I "retired". It's getting to me......

Friday, 2 December 2011

One of many virtues

The right truck

My bride tells me that patience is not my most noteworthy virtue.

She should know, as we’ve been married for thirty four years.

I reckon that’s changed with advancing years. My evidence for this statement resides in recent experience with an e-bay purchase.

I bought this item (a hardtop for our MX5) on 25th August. I was probably a bit lucky to snaffle it, as they’re as rare as hens’ teeth and fiendishly expensive when new ($3000+).

I got this one for a third of that, so I was feeling pretty chuffed.

Problem was getting it from Melbourne to Toowoomba.

I was warned by the wise (members of local MX5 clubs) that these things don’t travel well. Simply loading it into a truck as is would be seriously tempting the courier Gods.

OK I thought – no problem – I’ll drive down to Melbourne, clip it on, and drive it home. This would combine a nice drive in the country with shipping the goods north. I’m always looking for excuses to drive this thing all day.

Unfortunately, the seller broke the bad news that it was lacking the vital parts (“Frankenstein” bolts and striker plates) that would attach it to my car. There are about 20 different combinations of hardtops and MX5s, despite the fact that only three models exist (NA, NB and NC), and the only way to be sure was to view the car and the hardtop together.

I wasn’t going to risk buying parts sight unseen, driving to Melbourne, and then finding that it wouldn’t fit because I didn’t have the right combination of parts.

Plan B was to get a crate made in Melbourne, ask my obliging vendor to pack the hardtop inside, and freight it north.

I found a crew in Melbourne, who knocked up crates, and gave them the dimensions. They fabricated a crate for $137 which was reasonable. I didn’t realise how reasonable until I saw the crate for the first time today.
It's sturdy

There seemed to be an interminable delay in getting it picked up from the vendors place in Melbourne – about ten days actually. I kept hearing that they “don’t have the right truck”. The couriers work alone, so if they’re shifting anything substantial they need a truck with a hoist.

Did I say “substantial”?

This crate would be proof against nuclear attack, and probably weighed four times as much as the hardtop.

Anyhow, it arrived today, after a further 24 hour delay getting it from the depot in Toowoomba to our place because (wait for it) they “didn’t have the right truck”.

It's nearly as big as the car

The hardtop fits. I know that because I’ve already tried it on, carefully avoiding the temptation to take it for a run with only the front clips engaged.

I figure that after waiting four months, another week or two sourcing the attachment parts won’t be a problem. It’s in good nick – although I might get it sprayed to match the MX5. It’s black – too hot in this climate.

Waiting for the attachments and the paint job is no hassle.

I’m patient now. Even my bride says so.

Black or silver?                                                                                                                                                                             

  It looks OK fitted.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

NDIS - What's That?

Years ago I read an article by a couple of disability workers in the USA. From memory, Katz and Katz – a husband and wife team.

Unfortunately, with the passage of time and five house moves intervening, I’ve lost the original journal.

I remember the content well.

Put simply, it points that the greatest predictor of quality of life is autonomy. Autonomy has become the preferred term describing that combination of freedom and independence that enables any individual to control their environment and activity.

Katz and Katz maintained that there is a direct negative correlation between quality of life and dependency. If you have to depend on someone else (a carer for example) to allow you to live an active life, by definition your quality of life is poor.

If I want to (for example) go to the shops and need to wait for someone else to take me, I am dependent on that other person. My quality of life depends on that other person’s generosity and availability.

Given that 5% of the Australian population is classified as having a disability, this problem of dependency affects over 1 million. With the rapidly aging demographic in this country, this proportion will only increase.

It is a significant issue, and effects more people, day to day, than other hot button issues such as the Carbon Tax, boat people and the perils of minority government.

There is a political dimension to this, relating to the push for a National Disability Insurance Scheme, which generally has bipartisan support, but when was the last time you saw it on the front pages of any newspaper or first item on the evening TV news?

It’s just not sexy. It doesn’t have heroes and villains, and there’s no oppositional behaviour around it, so the media largely leaves it alone.

There is an item today about the sad and shameful situation in our national treatment of people with a disability in comparison to other OECD countries, but I’ll bet you pounds to peanuts that it won’t become the topic of conversation on blogs or talk back radio.

 An extract from the news report -

The report said 45 per cent of people in Australia with disabilities lived in or near poverty and Australia had been ranked 27th out of 27 OECD countries for relative poverty risk. Australia ranked 21st out of OECD countries for the provision of job opportunities for the disabled, with just 31 per cent of people with disabilities in employment.

It says a lot about our national political dialogue, and most of what it says is pretty disgusting.

By the way, I think I know why Price Waterhouse actually bothered with the study. One of the people driving it is a quadriplegic.

Says it all really.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

What was all that about?

6879 came this way last year

 53900 overstayers (currently) came this way

The news that refugees will begin to be released into the community hopefully marks the end of a deplorable episode in recent Australian history.

The phenomenon of both major parties toadying to the basest xenophobic instincts in our national psyche has been wrecked by the legal system.

The wierdness in this comes from the fact that our refugee intake makes up less than 2% of total immigration. Why the fuss about 2%?

It would be great if the shock jocks got just as excited about the 5% of 20 million Australians (born here) with disabilities and their carers living as third class citizens as they do about the 6700 from the boats. Why isn't a National Disabilities Insurance scheme, (which would make a real difference to one million people) as important as the issue of  a relative trickle of unauthorised arrivals? When was the last time you heard Ray Hadley or Alan Jones foaming at the mouth about people with disabilities?

We’re back where we were before Tampa and the Pacific Solution.

From here on in, people arriving unlawfully by boat will be treated in the same way as those coming by plane and unlawfully overstaying.

The irony in all this is that it took Australian law, rather than Australian politics to restore sanity on this issue.

It has to be the best argument for the separation of powers I’ve seen in a long time. In effect, it represents the High Court saying to the Australian government “Wake up to yourselves”, or as my Millennial daughter is fond of saying “Get real!”

Howard’s draconian and retroactive Border Protection Bill 2001 has finally been relegated to that chapter of our national history where other totalitarian legislation such as (for example) the May 1965 amendments to the Defence Act can be found.

If you believe the rabid Right we’ll now see riot and revolution on our streets, boat people driving around in brand new Commodores, and burqa wearing and Sharia law compulsory.

Maybe if none of these catastrophes actually eventuate, we’ll see an end to the hysteria.

But then again, maybe not. The only thing that sells more newspapers than fear and xenophobia is steamy sex stories.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Putting in the Slipper

Peter Slipper is the most recent in a list of Queensland pollies who has demonstrated an eye for the main chance.

He follows in the time-honoured tradition of such notables as Vince Gair, Mal Colston and Pat Field to name a few.

The outrage of his Coalition colleagues is a bit lame (and hypocritical) when this history is considered. Such indignation obviously has a great deal to do with whether or not the coup has been engineered by someone on your side and who ultimately benefits, rather than the morality or otherwise of the activity.

Put simply, the belief seems to be that if we did it, it’s OK, but if the other side carried it off it’s mean and nasty.

It could be argued that this situation would not have eventuated if Abbott hadn’t refused to pair the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. Refusing the pair as an act of petty political spite put the ALP one vote down. It's come back to bite him on the bum.

Having said that, the fact that Peter Slipper is involved, comes as no surprise, based on what I know of him.

I first met him in 1894 as the newly-elected National Party member for Longman. There have been some boundary changes and renaming of electorates since then, but Slipper has been a constant in this part of the world.

At that time I was principal of a special school to the North of Brisbane which was on the border of four electorates, two state and two federal. Consequently, I saw a great deal of Slipper (and the other pollies, two Labor, and two National Party) at school functions such as fetes and award nights.

One of these pollies, a state Labor member and an ex-wrestler named Joe Kruger, actually made an official complaint against me to the then Regional Director because I didn’t acknowledge him from the podium at a school function.

Silly bugger phoned me the morning before and told me he couldn’t make it because he had a prior commitment. He then turned up late and didn’t let me know he was there, so I didn’t mention him. He actually mistook me for my predecessor as principal who was a Liberal supporter with political ambitions of his own.

I was young and innocent back then.

Slipper was visibly uneasy in the presence of kids with disabilities, but worked hard at making a name for himself as a supporter of the school. My bride, who has a knack with accurate assessments of character, intimated that she found him “flakey”. You’d have to ask her exactly what that means.

He’s actually High Church Anglican, which goes some of the way towards explaining his friendship with Rudd, who is of similar persuasion.

One thing that this situation reinforces is that federal pollies from south of the border completely misunderstand the way Queensland works. Abbott’s attempts to have the Queensland LNP machine go easy on Slipper obviously cut no ice at all.

Queenslanders have a knack of listening to advice from Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra (take your pick) and then doing exactly the opposite.

People from the south are called BFCs, BFSs or BFMs* here.

The collective term is “Mexicans”.

*Bastards from…….

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