Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Places of the Heart

National Service memorial

I had about half an hour to fill the other day, waiting for daughter to do her driving test, so I went for a walk across the road to East Creek park.

There are a number of memorials in that area, and though I've lived in this city for over fifteen years now, I've never taken the time to look at them.

The first one I encountered was the National Service memorial (above). This was dedicated in 2009.

Vietnam War memorial

Then there is the Vietnam war memorial, dedicated in 2004.

This plaque honours the civilians.

Air force tribute

This element commemorates the RAAF.

RAN element

This commemorates the RAN.

And the driving test? Success - another learner in the family.

Bolt's Bluster Bombed

Giving the fatuous Andrew Bolt any more exposure than what he already has clawed his way into, is probably daft, but this is worth your time, gentle reader.

James Mathison, ex TV host, who is opposing Tony Abbott (AKA Metronome Tone) in Warringah, was interviewed on Bolt's show the other day.

The result has gone viral, which isn't surprising when you consider how effectivelly he counters Bolt's usual bluster.

This young man has real potential.


Saturday, 25 June 2016

Veterans Railroaded

From 1st July (the day before the Federal Election) concession fares for Veteran Disability Pensioners and War Widows traveling on Commonwealth railways will be terminated.

 As an old digger on the Duty First Facebook page posted -

That is a nice Election day present to those most affected by the wars and conflicts that the Coalition have sent us to.

The $644 fare from Perth to Adelaide will now cost $1,280

The $367 fare from Adelaide to Darwin will now cost $1,989

 These concessions have been available since WW2. There was  no consultation, rationale or apology.

There are many people with disabilities unable to use aircraft. I wonder whether their needs were considered?

Great Southern Rail is a big employer particularly in Adelaide, which has a high unemployment rate. No doubt there will be a drop off in travel on the two iconic trains, the Ghan and the Indian Pacific

I was fortunate to travel both these trains in the last decade. There were many veterans of various wars on board. I remember thinking how fitting it was that they could travel across the vast country they fought for using a well-earned concession.

This decision is short sighted, unreasonable, and a slap in the face for the veteran community.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Car - Heal Thyself

We run a 2014 Ford Focus Trend, which in all respects, except one, is a great little car.

That one issue relates to the Powershift transmission that came with it. Despite the fact that it changes gears all by itself like all other auto transmissions, it actually has a clutch.

More accurately, it is a six speed automated manual which has an automated clutch, unlike most auto trannies of its genre. The other manufacturer that went this way was Volkswagen, with controversial results.

It has, ever since we bought it, demonstrated hesitation and shudder as if it can't really decide which gear it should be in.

Ford is well and truly aware of the problem, and there have been two recalls. The first one was major, involving replacing both clutch and driveshafts. The second one only a few weeks ago, was what Ford call a "reflash". I think they reprogramme the driveline computer with new software.

Prior to that, I followed the directions shown on this video, and I swear it improved out of sight.

My bride reckons I imagined the improvement after this process, and it only really improved after the latest recall.

I don't know what to put it down to, but it certainly changes gears now much more smoothly, and the shudder is no longer apparent.

It's eerie to own a car that adjusts to your driving style, as the Powershift is designed to. Maybe that's the problem - the poor little thing gets confused by the difference between my driving style and my bride's.

Whatever, it drives OK now....

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Somewhere Tonight

This video montage was posted on Facebook by one of my 5 Platoon associates. Thanks Bernie.

It was originally used to promote the 1987 Welcome march - something I missed (to my eternal regret).

Although it's Bob Seger song, Normie Rowe makes a great job of it. He does, after all, have an in-depth understanding of the experience.

My platoon features from 3.36 until 3.40.

Most of the photos are the work of Denis Gibbons  and Andy Mattay, two great photographers.

Here are the lyrics -

Somewhere tonight
Someone's reachin' out to someone who's refusin'
Someone's tired of all the reasons someone's using
Someone doesn't understand

Somewhere tonight
Someone's thinkin' back to someone who got closer
Someone's realizin' something's really over
Someone's thinkin' it's too late
Someone's thinkin' it's too late

There's a cold wind blowin' from the north
And the summer birds are leavin'
As the sun slips ever further south
The lakes will soon be freezin'
And the ice will claim the empty shores
Where the one's in love went walkin'
And the hard blue skies will shiver
As the winter clouds come stalkin'

And unless you find someone to hold
Unless someone starts carin'
Unless you find the warmth you need
Unless someone starts sharin'
When the long, dark nights come closin' in
And the winter winds come howlin'
You don't know if you'll make it
Without someone you can count on

Somewhere tonight
Someone's packin' up and someone's really leavin'

Someone's not quite sad - only disbelievin'
Someone's walkin' out the door

Someone's walkin' out the door


Friday, 27 May 2016

Finland Forever

By the end of this year I will have been teaching (or leading teachers and supporting them) for forty-eight years.

That's a long time, admittedly interrupted by bits and pieces such as two years as a Nasho, and four years in Regional administration, but generally speaking, I've worked in schools with kids and teachers and this profession has pretty much been my life. I continue to get a real buzz out of it.

It's interesting to reflect on the waxing and waning of educational trends down through those years. There's been plenty.

When I started as a wet-behind-the-ears First Year teacher (we weren't given the honorific of "graduate" back then) I had a class of forty five sitting in rows, and I was on my own. Teacher Aides hadn't, at that time, been invented. I remember that the job was challenging, but fun. For me, it still is. At least the actual teaching part, that is. The bureaucratic dross that has been added down through the years is less enjoyable.

We taught from a "workbook" which stipulated content. On day 5 of term 2 (for example) work that was set down to be covered was written in detail in the workbook. It was different from day 4, but was pretty much set in stone, irrespective of location, student characteristics and school size. Every school in the state was teaching the same content on that specific day. I can't remember the origin of this curriculum content, but I recall that it came from a syllabus.

Ironically, we've gone full circle in that the "syllabus" is now called the Australian Curriculum, and its content is available on line.

In just about every other aspect of the craft, however (apart from class size) there have been enormous changes - too many to cover here. I will, however, touch on the current obsession with standardised testing. It's known as NAPLAN (called irreverently NAPALM) by some.

It's the politicians' gift to education. Quite obviously, if you aren't sure what to do to improve results (I won't use the word "outcomes") measuring them is probably a safe bet. At least, if you're a politician, it shows that you're "doing something about education".

Actually, you're not. You're doing about as much for improving a team's performance as the crowd at a Broncos/Cowboys match does by watching it. Somebody should tell Wayne Bennett that the performance of his team can be improved by the game's spectators. Standardised testing does however provide great copy for the media. They publish "league tables" and sell a lot of newsprint.

The other downside (apart from the league tables) is the waste of precious time and energy preparing for, and administering the testing regime, and the time it takes out of actual teaching and learning. The subjects that actually enhance quality of life (Music ad the Arts) are languishing.

All this testing and data gathering seems to be making little difference to school performance.

There is one country where standardised testing was abandoned decades ago.

And guess what - their school performance improved exponentially. Now I'm not saying that the improvement is down purely to the lack of standardised testing. It's not.

It's down to a range of factors, most of which relating to teacher performance. It's pretty simple. If you want high performing students and high performing schools, you need high performing teachers.

When I was in the principalship, my school participated in a Queensland study looking at the influence local school management had on school performance. It was supposed to show that if the management of a school's financial and staffing resources was in the hands of the school community instead of the centralised bureaucracy, results would improve.

When this study was done and dusted, it proved that there was a small correlation between management and outcomes, but by far the most significant factor was teaching competence. It had been commissioned by a government that was hoping to use its results to justify a programme they called "Leading Schools". The very expensive study was quietly shelved, never to be cited again. They had to use other justifications.

Going back to my reference to standardised testing, I'm talking about Finland, of course. Take a look at these results -

Ninety-three percent of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percentage points higher than the United States, and 66 percent go on to higher education, the highest rate in the European Union. Yet Finland spends about 30 percent less per student than the United States.

The Finns moved away from highly centralised planning and standardised testing decades ago. Instead they focused their time energy and resources on improving the quality of their teaching force. To teach in Finland, you need a masters qualification. You are a didactition, a concept totally foreign in the USA (and here, as it happens).

Google the word - results come up only in Finnish - yet it's an English word.

There is a waiting list to get into teaching in Finnish universities. Teachers are highly respected and well paid. They also have a strong union. The last characteristic is about the only one that in this country we share with them.

If we want to improve educational standards, lets support the people critical to school performance. Let's pay them what they're worth, improve their status, and understand that teachers shape the future.

Ask the Finns. 

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

This Gearing is Negative

Negative gearing of home loans has become an election issue.

For those readers (like me) who find topics about finance as exciting as warm custard, here is a definition -  

Gearing simply means borrowing money to buy an asset. In the case of property, you have taken out a loan to purchase a property. Negative gearing means that the interest you are paying on the loan is more than the income. As a result, you are making a loss.

But why, you ask, would you buy a property and run it at a loss? Wait – there’s more.
If you do this, you can claim the loss as a tax deduction. Now that’s a trick. It means that you’re paying less tax than I am, when I bought a unit and paid cash for it. So, I’m subsidising your investment.

Financially it makes sense; ethically, not so much.

There is one very basic concept implicit in the process which seems to have been ignored in the political debate.

That concept relates to the definition of a "home". Perhaps I am old fashioned, as I've always considered a home as a place to live. You know, as referred to in Maslow's hierarchy of basic needs - a place of shelter.

Negative gearing looks at "home" in a different fashion. It sees a home as an investment, not a place of shelter.

It also considers this same home as a tax dodge. 

Now that process, claiming a deduction for the purchase of a home that the owner is living in sounds to me, reasonable enough. For this owner, the home is indeed a place of shelter.

But consider a different scenario. In this case, a property investor has five homes, and has made a great deal of money from the property market. This same investor is treated by the ATO in exactly the same way as a first home buyer. But for this owner, the home is something else entirely. It is an investment.

That is not reasonable. Why should my hard-earned tax dollar contribute to this individual's accumulating wealth? What is also not reasonable is that first home buyers, in Maslow’s terms, are being priced out of their capacity to seek shelter.

A bit strong, you say? Not really, negative gearing, amongst other things, puts upward pressure on home prices. So one segment of the population, property investors, are being subsidised by the taxpayer to keep another segment out of the market.

It does, and will continue to do so under the Coalition's negative gearing policy.

It stinks.

It needs to be tweaked. You should only be able to negatively gear your place of residence.

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