Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Friday, 2 December 2016

Free Speech

We've been hearing a great deal lately, dear reader, from some who want to repeal clause 18c of the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act.

You'll have to excuse my cynicism about this issue, because I firmly believe that much of it is a reaction to a transfer of power. This power is being slowly removed from those who have held on to it for years, to those for whom having any kind of clout is a relative novelty.

It puts me in mind of a seventeen year old lad with cerebral palsy that I taught back in the seventies.He was smart with a great brain, but had no speech. Despite his inability to communicate conventionally, he had learned to write text using a head pointer on the keys of an electric typewriter, which was state of the art in those days.

One of my more resourceful teaching colleagues developed a method of making communication boards out of plywood overlaid with perplex, edged with beading used in the internal trim of motor vehicles of the day.

He set up a board for this lad, using a qwerty keyboard layout.

That layout was chosen because he was already familiar with it from his successful use of the electric typewriter. To "speak", he would touch each letter in turn with the pointer of his headpiece, and his communication partner would read what he was spelling. He became very fluent with it.

He became so fluent, in fact, that you had to concentrate hard to keep up with him. One of the techniques that helped speed the process, was for the person being spoken to verbalising what he thought was being spelled out as they went along - a kind of precursor to predictive text.

This lad had fairly active life, and he was out and about a lot in his powered wheelchair. This brought him into contact with a full range of people.

As he began to become more and more facile with his board, he asked me to get my colleague to make an addition to it. He wanted the words "Fuck off!" pasted on the reverse side of the board.

When I recovered from my initial surprise at the unconventional approach to alternative communication, the simple brilliance of his idea became apparent. Because that form of communication was frowned upon in polite circles (school for example), the text needed to be hidden. Placing it on the reverse side of the board accomplished that.

My colleague suggested that a text box with the words "Turn my board over" be added to the topside of the board to avoid a lengthy spelling session, and this was added.

I only ever saw him use this feature once when I was with him (on a school excursion to the museum). A bunch of students from a private school which will remain nameless was also visiting the museum. A couple of them were surreptitiously making fun of some of the unusual arm and head movements that were part and parcel of athetosis, the subset of cerebral palsy that was part of this lad's condition.

Normally, I would have intervened when I saw this happening, but held back this time. He asked for the board to be flipped, and used the special request. It very quickly had the desired effect, and humiliated, they left him alone after that.

He had successfully exercised his power of free speech.

I've learned after forty five years working with one particular dis-empowered group that when they're given the wherewithal to push back, it is often resented.

That is pretty much what we're seeing now. I wouldn't be calling for the repeal of 18C just yet.

Monday, 21 November 2016

RAAF Amberley Open Day

Mirage - not my photo - all the rest are.

The RAAF Heritage Centre at Amberley had an open day on Sunday.

They do this once per month (3rd Sunday I think) and it's a great way to view some historically significant aircraft.

The concept of displaying aircraft at specific (well-advertised) times works better, in my opinion, than a permanent display. The advantages are that there is no need for a constant flow of volunteers around the clock, and more time can be spent on maintaining the displays than showing them.

Maintenance is a never ending task, and the standard of the displays here was the highest I've seen.

The display is staffed by uniformed RAAF reservists, and as a consequence was run very efficiently, although I was surprised by the very high level of security evident. There was also a scattering of returned service personnel. The bloke manning the Iroquois was ex 6 RAR. 

I had to remove my dash cam before driving through the base gates into the parking area.

USAAF Boston. My dad worked on the RAAF version in New Guinea in WW2.

A Canberra and my bride. Not camouflaged as they were in SVN (the aircraft - not my bride). 

The driver of this CAC Sabre was a very lucky man.

 One of the more interesting displays was this CAC Sabre which struck high tension power lines whilst flying a navigation exercise near the Lamington plateau. The jet jockey's misfortune is recorded for posterity.

 The lines weren't marked on the map.


Wallaby Airlines Caribou
There were warbirds. this is a Yak.
Another warbird. Texan?
Beautifully restored chopper.

This brought back a few memories. Actual chopper had served in SVN. Maybe I'd ridden it before?

Monday, 14 November 2016

Interesting Times

The media is full of conjecture about how the USA will fare under a Trump presidency.

Frankly, dear reader, I couldn't care less. If he turns out to be a disaster, the Yanks who voted for him (or perhaps the 44% who couldn't be bothered voting for anyone), will deservedly wear it. I am interested, however, in how the rest of the world, especially Australia, will be effected - selfish of me, I know, but we had no say in it.

It's generally accepted that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behavior. Let's examine the past behaviour of Trump, the individual, and more importantly, the behaviour of those historical figures who have used the same kind of rhetoric and methodology that he has, to gain power.

Looking first at Trump's behaviour as an individual, a couple of characteristics stand out. I couldn't summarize then any more effectively than old mate Andrew Bolt on October 12th 2016 when he described him as  a braggart, buffoon, liar, narcissist and sexist with almost no political principles.

It would be difficult to disagree with Bolt, given the way Trump has conducted himself during the campaign.

He made fun of a person with a disability, made offensive statements about many women, boasted that he could sexually assault women because of his power, called Mexicans "rapists" and advocated racial profiling.

Certainly, his opponent was no political cleanskin, but compared to his behaviour (most of it well documented, and often broadcast live) she was calm, dignified, and reasoned.

So much for individual character.

Now let's look at history. There are two major historical precedents. Both were individuals who took political power by harnessing popular discontent in times of economic hardship. One also used the fear of a minority (the Jews) to harness reactionary forces.

I'm referring, of course, to Hitler and Mussolini. Trump's rhetoric has an uncanny resemblance to Hitler's (if less sophisticated) and his physical appearance is not unlike Mussolini's. Now rhetoric and appearance aren't necessary relevant, but policies are.

Trump's policies (rampant nationalism, infrastructure building, removal of minorities) have a chilling resemblance to those of Hitler, and to a lesser extent Mussolini. Whilst military expansionism seems to be no part of his declared policy platform, he has promised to expand military spending, whilst at the same time questioning existing alliances.

Ironically, the destabilizing effect of withdrawing from alliances may serve to encourage expansionism in the Russian Federation, in turn emboldening rogue states such as Iran and North Korea, so the end result may be conflict, just as it was in 1939.

Then of course, there's the Middle East. His policies here are vague, but he has been reported to promise "bombing the shit out of ISIS". Given that ISIS is a terrorist organisation, it is difficult to imagine any outcome of this that wasn't similar to throwing petrol on a fire.

After all, George W Bush's "bombing the shit out of Iraq" and his subsequent mishandling of the result of this wholesale destruction, was largely responsible for  the rise of ISIS.

So the prospects for peace and stability aren't rosy.

I see a symmetry between 1939 and 2017. Think about it - all the ingredients are there - nationalist movements in Europe, an Asian nation (China) seeking influence and economic domination, and an isolationist USA. Remember the Japanese aspiration for s South East Asian Co-prosperity sphere, and what happened when it was stymied by the US?

Certainly, 1939 Japan and 2017 China are poles apart, but all the ingredients for major conflict are there. For Australia, the implications are challenging to say the least. There is a Swahili aphorism that says "When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled". In this context, Australasia (including Australia) is part of the "grass".

The other eerie piece of symmetry relates to the passage of time since the two great market collapses. The Great Depression began in 1929. Ten years later war broke out. The GFC began on 9th August 2007. You can supply the next sentence.

So, gentle reader, I guess I have done nothing to make you feel cheerful. We can take comfort, I suppose, that the majority of our political leaders in this country are generally smart resourceful individuals. Let's hope that they're on their mettle during the next four years. They'll have to be.

In the meantime, read this.

Sorry, it's not all that cheerful, either.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Footpath Find

My youngest daughter doesn't miss a trick.

There was one of those footpath* cleanups under way in her neighbourhood the other day, and she noticed a camera case put out for collection.

 She picked it up, and inside the case was a  Canon 40D DSLR camera. It looked good as new, but further examination revealed an error message when the camera was turned on, and the charging lead for the battery was missing.

Now although these things have been superseded, they retailed at over $1000 new, and good examples are still going on Ebay for as much as $500.

She gave me a look at it, and I took it home and started investigating. I sourced a new charger lead, resurrected the battery, and gave it a general cleanup. Google explained that the problem was dirty lens contacts, and given that the photos saved in the camera were mostly beach and fishing scenes, the reason for the problem was probably exposure to a salty environment.

I own a Canon 1100D, which has compatibility with the 40D, and it soon became obvious that my 1100D lens would work on the found camera, and the 40D lens on mine - well most of the time at least. I then did a careful clean of the lens contacts using rubbing alcohol and Egyptian cotton swabs, and got the original lens working on both cameras.

 The original lens (EFS 17- 85mm) was more capable, so I finished up with two working cameras - an 1100D that worked most of the time with the lens off the 40D, and a 40D with that worked all of the time with the EFS 18 - 55mm lens that came with my 1100D.

I rocked up to the local camera shop for advice (although I had found plenty already on Google) and was told that the old lens was on the way out. It is a common fault, and can be repaired, but the cost would probably exceed lens replacement. This agreed with my research on Google.

 Anyway, it was daughter's birthday, so I lashed out and bought her a replacement lens.

She know has a working DSLR which is a very capable camera, and I have an extra lens for my 1100D which mostly works. All for the cost of a lens.

I reckon restoring cameras is almost as much fun as restoring cars.

 I still can't understand why the original owner chucked it.

The shots above were taken with the footpath find and the new lens.

*Note "footpath" - not "sidewalk". Our vernacular is being overwhelmed from across the Pacific. Fight it, dear reader, fight it!  


Tuesday, 1 November 2016

American Exceptionalism

Chinese carrier Liaoning

Those of you following the US presidential race have no doubt become aware of the "October surprise" dropped by the FBI on the Clinton campaign.

Clinton was secretary of state when she was using a private server.

How about when the president’s staff does the same?

From Wikipedia –
During the 2007 Congressional investigation of the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys, it was discovered that administration officials had been using a private Internet domain, called gwb43.com, owned by and hosted on an email server run by the Republican National Committee, for various official communications. The domain name is an abbreviation for “George W. Bush, 43rd” President of the United States.
Republican official Karl Rove used RNC-hosted addresses for roughly “95 percent” of his email. Rove provided email from his kr@georgewbush.com address in exhibits to the United States House Committee on the Judiciary.
White House deputy Jennifer Farley told Jack Abramoff not to use the official White House system “because it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc.” Abramoff responded, “Dammit. It was sent to Susan on her RNC pager and was not supposed to go into the WH system

So, it’s OK for the Bush administration to use a private server when he was the actual POTUS, to keep information out of the official system but not for Clinton when she was secretary of state? The motive and the method are identical.

By the way, our esteemed PM follows exactly the same practice for exactly the same reasons – https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/may/05/malcolm-turnbulls-emails-using-private-server-could-be-major-security-risk-says-labor

The US revelations resulted in the resignation of eleven senior Bush admin staff including Karl Rove. Memories are short, and the GOP has cornered the market in hypocrisy when they use this against Clinton.

What is more relevant to us, as Australians, is what would happen if Trump became POTUS.

You have to feel sorry for the Yanks, considering their choice between a self-obsessed draft dodging sleaze and a superannuated political hack. At least with Clinton, you’d expect more of the same, and there is some predictability about it.

If Trump is elected, and sticks to his rhetoric, a few outcomes are entirely predictable, but some very important ones relating to security and defence, are not.. They include possibilities of (respectively) a global economic crisis, a resetting of alignments including NATO and ANZUS, and trade embargoes leading to military conflict with China. Any student of history will recognise a startling similarity between the rise of Japanese militarism in 1941 and Chinese expansionism in 2016.

The Japanese wanted a "South East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere". These days, the Chinese refer to "Independent Foreign Policy of Peaceful Development". Back then the cause of conflict was United States opposition to Japanese expansion in southeast Asia and the Pacific. The US has made its objections to the Chinese doing exactly the same 65 years later. The geopolitical circumstances (and the rhetoric) are eerily similar.

Trump has pledged a tariff of 45% on Chinese products. Now that’s going to go down really well in Beijing.

Over 40 years ago, I was conscripted by an Australian government anxious to maintain security dependency on the USA. That ended well, didn't it?

It's not far-fetched to suggest that Trump inspired lunacy as applied to US defence policy lands us with conscription again.  If Trump withdraws from his alliances, as he has hinted he would, we could be left, in our own little corner of the South Pacific, like the proverbial shag on a rock.

We could have to resort to unpalatable measures simply to remain secure. They could include conscription. A rapid development of a self-reliant military would certainly create economic mayhem.

Trump's brand of American Exceptionalism would hit us like a ton of bricks. The tribal bleatings of many from the hard Right blogosphere conveniently overlook this likelihood.

If Trump is elected, we are likely to be forced to revise ties with the US, develop an independent foreign policy and create a military not reliant on US support. We'd also have to figure out how to pay for it in one helluva hurry.

Wouldn't that be fun?

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Electric Dreams

There was an electric vehicle expo held locally a few days ago.

The Tesla was the star of the show.

I wandered along for a look driving a decidedly old tech non-electric Suzuki Alto, probably in itself the most likely antidote to uptake of electric vehicles in urban centres any time soon.

Mitsubishi's offering.

The Suzi runs on the smell of an oily rag, and is small enough to be very useful in town.

Not a sparkie, but it doesn't look out of place in this company.

The technology on show was impressive.

From the most basic (Nissan Leaf) to the most exotic (Tesla) there was a decent selection.

The most remarkable thing about the expo was the unremarkedness (new word) of the vehicles. They pretty much looked like anything else on the road, and the controls and fit out were run of the mill.
Baby electric Bimmer

The only exception to this visual ordinariness was the Tesla. It does stand out. I guess when you pay $125000 for a set of wheels, you'd expect it to stand out.

As I was leaving, an elderly woman (older than me, so she was indeed elderly) approached me and asked - "Excuse me. Where are the trains?"

Nissan Leaf

This confused me somewhat until the penny dropped. She had misunderstood the expo to be a demonstration of miniature electric trains - not full size electric cars.

Another Mitsubishi (PHEV)

No wonder she was confused. the two small children who were with her were OK with the cars, even though Grandma had promised them a slightly different experience.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Working West

One week every school term I base myself in the same regional township and use it as a geographical base to work in five schools within a 250 km radius.

This is the most efficient way to do the job in this cluster of schools, and now that the new airport has opened up direct flights, I don't have to spend one day driving the 600 km to get there. Given that the return journey also takes a full day, the flights mean that I have two extra days in which to do a more thorough job.

It's a much more physically strenuous week than the more frequent one day to three day trips that I make to closer school clusters, but it's the week I enjoy most.

It doesn't feel like work. In fact I dread having to give it away, as I probably will next year. Doing this kind of daily work and travel at age 69 takes its toll.

I will miss the honesty and spontaneity of the bush kids, and the gratitude of their teachers. I will also miss the amazing landscapes, the colorful characters I meet in remote locations, and the rational approach to everyday life out this way.

The further west you go, the saner the world becomes.

I will miss the year one boy with non-functioning arms and legs who demanded that a tumbling mat be placed in front of his wheelchair so that he could devise his own version of the long jump.

I'll miss the ten year old with mild hemiplegia who plays second row for his school league team. He tucks the ball under his hemi arm, and his wobbly gait makes him hard to tackle.

I'll miss the eleven year old girl with a compromised neurological system who, until last week, was unable to communicate. Therapists helped set up a system that allows her to use eye gaze to communicate. The joy in her face (and her mother's) was worth the three years its taken to get the technology bought and paid for and working. It was a real privilege to be present when this breakthrough happened.

I'll miss the local bike shop owner in a very remote school who waived all costs to repair a high schooler's wheelchair. This was a better alternative than shipping it 1000kms back to the suppliers. The most difficult part was convincing the urban based agency supplying the chair that this could indeed be done locally.

It's been a blast, and I've been very fortunate to spend the last seven years doing it. I'll have to find something else. Any ideas gentle reader?

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