Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Thursday, 24 March 2011


Blue Lake - Fraser Island

There’s been heaps in the media recently about bullying.

Some of the commentary is hysteria mixed up with drivel but it attracts attention. Frankly, bullying is no more or less a problem than it has been for years – people are simply more likely to call it. That’s a good thing.

It also gets filmed and spread all over the interweb. Hence it gets attention.

Years ago (early eighties) I was principal of a special school in the northern suburbs of Brisbane. In those days, primary school principals had the bad habit of trying to offload kids (usually adolescent boys) with behaviour problems on to special schools.

I made myself very unpopular with the district authorities at the time by complaining loud and long about this practice until it was stopped but I’d inherited many of these kids from my predecessor who had rolled over.

The main reason why this was a bad practice was that the kids with intellectual impairments – legitimately enrolled at the special school – were given a hard time by the brighter ant-social kids who shouldn’t have been there in the first place. The combination of aggressive kids and kids lacking protective behaviours was toxic.

I got together with the principal of a neighbouring special school dealing with the same issue and we decided we’d try to do something about it.

We took four of the most intractable kids from each school (total of eight) and with four adults (two principals, and two male PE teachers) equipped with three 4WDs set off for seven days on Fraser Island.

We called it an “adventure camp”.  The real purpose was to take these kids out of their street environment and encourage them to learn to cooperate. Some of them were bright kids – some had police records – some were simply mollycoddled. All they had in common was aggressive and anti-social behaviours.

On the first day, we took them for a 5km run along the beach, in and out of soft sand. I was much fitter back then. By the time this was over, they were all completely exhausted, and all they wanted to do was collapse in a heap.

Unfortunately for them, they had to put up their tents and prepare their dinner. Faced with no physical help from the adults (we gave them plenty of advice) they had no option but to cooperate. The alternative was to spend a cold and hungry night. They squabbled a bit, but in an hour or two tents were up, fires lit and dinner was on.

There are red-bellied black snakes on Fraser, and one turned up just before dusk. Suddenly we were alone – all eight had retreated to the safety of their tents. These were city kids after all. The thought of snakes in the dark was too much.

During the night, they weren’t game to emerge, and there were some very full bladders by sunrise. I remember being asked  “Sir - Can you walk in front of me to chase the snakes so I can come out and a have a piss?” I was mean and refused – the walking in front bit didn’t appeal.

What followed was days of fishing (the Tailor were running), hiking through the beautiful environment, and lots of talk about things which these kids would never share with teachers. The environment made the difference.

I remember one kid who previously had been the bane of his teacher’s life showing me how to gang-hook for Tailor. This kid had done a bit of fishing with his dad (before this same dad had cleared out).

This role-reversal (him teaching me something) did his self-image no end of good. It was great for me, as well, as I caught a couple of Tailor. The lad was as chuffed as I was.

By the time we got back, the relationships – both with us, their teachers, and with each other, had improved out of sight. These kids did change, and the camp made the rest of the school year a different exercise. Their parents kept telling us that they had changed for the better, although I’m not sure whether part of the benefit for them was simply the week’s respite.

The only downside for me was that I was completely buggered. My principal colleague’s wife told me that he had slept for two days when he got back, but he was ten years older than me. I needed one day.

By the way, there was no bullying to speak of for the rest of the school year.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

It's Lent

There's the old joke. You know the one. Newlywed gets a knock back from her partner and asks "Why?
The answer comes back. "It's Lent".
Newlywed wails "To whom and for how long?"

You have to be a Mick to appreciate it.

On a more serious (and timely) note, see below -  

A thought for Justice in Lent

In almost every town and village that this paper gets delivered to there once was a butter factory, a cheese factory, a dairy co-operative. The cheese in my childhood fridge had local names on the wrapping -
Pittsworth, Warwick, Toowoomba etc. When we visited relatives we would drive to the local factory to pick up a large block of cheese. When I made my home in this city the milk was delivered to our door three days a week. This is not ancient history but for the dairy industry those days have long gone.

$1 for a litre of milk seems like a good price in anybody's language - but there are hidden costs in this
that many of us queuing at our local supermarket may never see. 

Of course I refer to the recent Milk Wars - where the two major supermarket chains Woolworths and Coles are dueling to see who can get the most customers through their doors with the lure of dollar a litre milk. Of course it is good news for customers in the short term- but in the process could kill off local farms, communities and a large chunk of the dairy industry. 

If people stop buying branded milk the supermarket duopoly can dictate prices driving many farmers to the wall. More than half of all fresh milk now sold in Australia is a supermarket brand. I dipped my toes in the water, or should that be milk of the milk wars a few years ago. This was in the wake of de-regulation when the Supermarkets were muscling in with their own no name brands.

I spent a few nights in freezing community hall meetings where locals spoke of blockades and wholesale boycotts, I spoke with one farmer who told me his company was looking after him - but it was tothers who were the baddies. I learnt that between 45 and 60 percent ofthe milk produced across this country can be used for export - while 90 percent of milk produced in Queensland stays here. I learnt that small scale operators can be better for the environment compared to huge dairy agri-business, I voted with my wallet and ensured that all milk consumed in our house was a branded version which gave a better deal to the producers. I continue to do this and would urge others to do the same. But the fight as a consumer is not an easy one. 

The coffee and tea that I consume is also fair trade where the producers receive a fair price for my daily cuppa. When I select chocolate I search for the fair trade logo again ensuring that child labour has not been used to support my sweet tooth and that cocoa farmers can look after their families. It's a growing movement that we can all be a part of as consumers but it is still not enough. It might assuage my middle class guilt - but it is a bit rough demanding that an aged pensioner spend a few more of their precious dollars at the supermarket fridge buying the name brands. We need to act with integrity as consumers but we also need systems in place that ensure that whole industries and communities are not burnt on the altar of free trade. 

We need a system of fair trade where the big boys in the supermarket game do not call all the shots. It is an easy PR stunt for the supermarket chains to offer to give part of the milk price to support dairy farmers affected by recent floods. It would have more integrity if they ensured a decent farm gate price for milk producers. In Britain today almost all milk sold is supermarket brand with farmers claiming it is sold below the price of production. So if you can afford it give the supermarkets a miss when it comes to purchasing your milk. It might take a little longer but it is nothing compared with the inconvenience the current milk war is causing Queensland dairy farmers. We may never get back the local cheese factory or butter board but surely there must be a way that we can continue to drink fresh milk without breaking a local industry.

By Mark Copland printed in the Chronicle 

Dr Mark Copland is the Executive Officer of the Toowoomba Diocese Social Justice Commission.

You can make a difference by boycotting monopoly milk brands in the supermarkets. Keep our dairy industry alive and keep jobs local.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Bolt Composted

Andrew Bolt has been a little more testy than usual lately.

He has latched on to a narrative about The Drum publishing a blogger (who does/does not exist and is/is not a send up).

It’s not entirely clear whether his outrage is driven by the opinions expressed or because these opinions are “leftist”, or because they were aired on the Drum. Pick one....

Other things however are very obvious.

His behaviour towards anyone who disagrees with him frequently descends to a refined form of bullying.

I’ve been banned from his blog more often than I’ve had hot dinners, but a pattern has emerged. I get banned, and then get posted again, apparently when his moderators get absent-minded. Whether or not I’m banned in the first place seems to be related to how silly my posts make Bolt look.

Let me give you a few examples.

On 21st July 2009, Bolt posted a thread which claimed that turnout to the 2008 presidential election was less than at previous polls. This was quite wrong, of course, and it wasn’t difficult to access official data to confirm it.

I posted a correction and linked it to the source.

My post attracted no comment from the moderators, but the usual torrent of abuse from his loyal acolytes turned up right on cue.

Next day, I posted again, with a mild comment on an unrelated topic. I was banned in shouty text –


Click on the screen shot and read the comment from "Andrew of Pearce". He's nailed it.

This was at first confusing, but then I remembered being banned before when I pointed out that Bolt had posted a graph that showed exactly the opposite of what he was arguing. In this instance, that post got through, but it was the next one – again unrelated, and pretty mild, that was snipped.

The graph at the top of this post was the one that got me banned because I pointed out that the trend was upward, and that the downward bits were anomalies.  Andrew obviously doesn't know the difference. Pointing this out was what did the damage.

The penny dropped. Bolt doesn’t like being made to look silly on his own blog, so anyone seen as a potential threat is blocked. Because he is slipshod, it usually happens after the event.

The banning was my comeuppance – if a bit late.

His moderators are half asleep, or he doesn’t pay them enough – possibly both.

Another pattern has emerged.

I have two other pseudonyms under which I post. The opinions expressed and the words used to express them are no different from posts under my 1735099 moniker, but I have never been banned or snipped using these other screen names. It's only 1735099 that gets censored.

He’s obviously a bit twitchy about a Vietnam Vet taking him on. It may not got down well with his basically conservative audience.

His work has a couple of basic characteristics.
He has a very thin skin. It's as well I don't - given the abuse I cop from Bolt's acolytes. A very clear double standard operates.

He is prone to bullying and shouting down his critics (other evidence of this is clear from his appearances on Insiders).

His analysis and research skills are of a very low order for someone who claims to be a journalist.

Getting back to his bullying of the alleged blogger referred to above. It occurred to me that he might be prepared to argue the toss with me on a few issues, so I posted this challenge on his blog.

It wasn’t published, so I sent him an email. 

Still no response. So not only does this “journalist” have a thin skin, he also lacks the cojones to take on a blogger who might offer him a challenge.

He makes a living out of it, after all – I’m a rank amateur, a 63 year old codger who works for a living and blogs for fun.

I’ve obviously got him well and truly bluffed……

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