Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

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?

Friday, 7 October 2016

SA Blackouts and the Importance of Sequence

SA Towers

There has been a media frenzy – mostly from Newscorp commentators – about how the “Greenies’ were responsible for the South Australian power outages.

Let's forget for a moment that the Greens aren’t in power in SA, and have never made energy policy there.

To argue that the ratio of renewables to coal powered generation in SA is responsible, we should at least read the only report available as this is written on the causes of the problem.

 My reading revealed a couple of interesting facts.

The first is that any report of the sequence of events claiming that the wind generators dropped out before the pylons went down is wrong. 

From the report –
The weather resulted in multiple transmission system faults. In the short time between 16:16 and 16:18, system faults included the loss of three major 275 kV transmission lines north of Adelaide.
Generation initially rode through the faults, but at 16:18, following an extensive number of faults in a short period, 315 MW of wind generation disconnected (one group at 16:18:09, a second group at 16:18:15), also affecting the region north of Adelaide.

Now I’ve never been much good at using 24-hour time – it was always a pain in the arse when I was a Nasho, but I’m pretty sure that 16:16 is two minutes before 16:18 – correct me if I’m wrong.
So the wind generators disconnected after the transmission towers went down, not before. That contradicts what has been reported in much of the Murdoch media. 

Sequence is important. I discovered this when I had an unauthorized discharge with my SLR in Vietnam, when I cocked the rifle before removing the mag, and then pulled the trigger to show the weapon was cleared. It wasn’t.
So we’ve established the sequence (towers down first – wind generators off line a few minutes later). 

WA Towers (Barrow Island - Cyclone Olivia -1996)
What the AEMO* report doesn’t say is why the generators tripped. I’ve heard reports (interviews with engineers) that it was down to bad programming – we’ll eventually know when the final report comes out.

Now let’s look at those towers in the illustrations. The SA towers were pulled out by the roots. The West Australian ones deformed. Accepting that the wind velocities were much greater in West Australia (Barrow Island, Cyclone Olivia – 1996), a reasonable conclusion is that the WA towers were of better quality than the SA examples.

One major difference between the two states is that the SA infrastructure was privatized in 1999. West Australia’s is still in public hands. Remember how the LNP lost an election in Queensland around that issue?

 Remember also that poor maintenance on a privatized Victorian power network was the triggering event for the 2009 bush fires in that state. Remember the class action and the multi million payout?

It’s a reasonable conclusion that the parlous state of the SA infrastructure is a consequence over time of its privatization in 1999. The 23% increase in tariffs is also an outcome of that same privatization. There’s much more money in tariffs than maintenance.

Perhaps electricity consumers in SA should go to class action.

The most revealing extract from the AEMO report is this – The event resulted in the SA regional electricity market being suspended. 

Now that explains a lot..

To AEMO, it’s a “market”. I suspect the electricity consumers in SA have a different idea. They probably regard it as a service.

And the Newscorp reporting? Perhaps the answer lies here (excuse the pun).

*Australia Energy Market Operator

Thursday, 6 October 2016

A Busy Box

The rope is for towing it.

About five years ago, I had to have a container fabricated to safely ship my eBay purchased hardtop (for the MX5) from Melbourne.

I googled a box-maker, and after sending him the measurements, he knocked up a very sturdy box.
When I say “sturdy”, I mean it was so heavy that it took two strong men to lift it, which created all manner of complications and delays. At various stages of shipping, it had to wait for a special truck with one of those inbuilt mini crane thingies or a hydraulic hoist attached. Ipec trucks are operated by one person.

Anyway, it arrived, and it had kept the precious (and vulnerable) hardtop safe.

Box (with hardtop inside) arrives.
After the top was sprayed the same hue as the MX5, it looked pretty good, and kept the car a lot more secure than the original.

Of course, I disposed of the MX5 some years ago, but the box lingered.

It was always a problem to store, so I dragged it into the backyard shed, where it did sterling duty as a storage for tools and things for a few years. It was narrow enough, stood on its side, to work as a container for heavy stuff, and left enough room for the ute.

Hardtop fitted.
With the onset of Spring, we always seem to get the urge to plant stuff. The local rag was giving away a whole lot of free seed as a promotion, so we found ourselves in possession of a range of vegetable seed varieties, many of which were new to me.

The problem with attempts to grow stuff at our place is always the dogs.

They dig stuff up, play weird games on any open area of soil, and eat anything that grows. This means that any garden has to be thoroughly dog proof.

I hit on the idea of using the box, but the problem of its weight remained. Then I thought about ways of making it mobile, so it could be moved around to take advantage of prevailing conditions.

Casters (available at half price from Masters because it’s going out of business) were the answer. They’re attached using coach screws. I put a rope on one end to make moving it by one person feasible, and will attach a roll of chicken wire across the top to discourage the dogs.

We’ll plant herbs and vegies. 

Mobile gardens are a thing.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Ming Misremembered

Image courtesy Loonpond.blogspot.com.au

John Howard has been hosting an ABC production called Building modern Australia - Howard on Menzies.

It is hagiography rather than history. Howard mythologies Menzies to the point that you find yourself waiting for the suggestion that he (Menzies – not Howard) should be canonized. I suspect that the only obstacle in the way of that suggestion is the fact that Menzies was Presbyterian and Howard (nominally) Anglican.

Howard forgets that some of us (and here I am giving my age away – gentle reader) lived through the Menzies era, or some of it.

To believe that everything was rosy during Menzies’ period as PM ignores the historical statistics.

When I was a kid, there was a joke doing the rounds about Bob Menzies. My Dad, who was not renowned for telling jokes, repeated it in my presence on a number of occasions.

It went something like this –

Bob Menzies was surfing at Bondi one Sunday when he was caught in a rip. It was early in the morning and no lifesavers were on duty. Menzies would occasionally take early morning swims to avoid the crowds.

A teenager – a strong swimmer - saw that he was in trouble, and swam out to his aid, dragging him to the beach.

An exhausted and grateful Menzies said to the youth – “Lad, you’ve saved my life. I am the PM; I can give anything you want. What can I grant you?”

After a brief hesitation, the teenager said – “Can you organise me a state funeral?”

“Certainly”, said Menzies, “but that’s a strange request for one so young. Why do you want a state funeral?”

“Because”, said the young man, “If my dad hears I’ve saved Bob Menzies, he’d kill me.”
Ming in his day was not as universally loved as Howard mythologizes.

His failures were many.

He did, in fact, run budget deficits for the last nine years of his reign. When he left office, national debt was running at 41% of GDP. His deficits were proportionally greater than those chalked up by Swan. Remember the bitter criticism of deficit budgets thrown at the Labor treasurer by Abbott, Howard, Hockey and Co. Apparently that practice was OK in Menzies' day.
In 1950 he attempted to ban the Communist Party. The Communist Party Dissolution Bill was passed by parliament. After it was enacted in October, the law was challenged in the High Court and, on 9 March 1951, was held to be unconstitutional. The Court ruled that parliament could not invoke its defence powers to rule an association unlawful when the nation was not at war.

(Menzies seemed to believe that what was possible in wartime was also a goer in times of peace. This eccentricity in policy making reared its head again when he introduced conscription in peacetime – but more on that later)

He had another go in 1951 and sought approval this time for the federal government to ban the Communist Party of Australia by referendum. It was defeated. This approach has an eerie similarity to what we've been hearing from One Nation about Muslims recently.

But back to conscription. Menzies introduced conscription in peacetime on November 10, 1964; the necessary amendments to the Defence Act were made on April 6, 1965. This was despite the fact that it had never been a feature of Australian defence policy before, and referenda on the issue, introduced by Billy Hughes, had twice been defeated in World War One. 

It’s not difficult to understand why Menzies didn’t take this issue to a referendum. Despite the hysteria about “Reds under the bed” that he, and later the DLP had whipped up at the time, a majority of Australians didn’t want a bar of it. This had become abundantly clear by the time of the 1970 Moratorium marches.

The act of introducing conscription in peacetime did more to alienate a whole generation of Australians towards the Coalition that anything before or since. That gets small mention in the TV series. 

I guess it wouldn’t neatly fit the narrative.

The fact That Menzies dodged service in the First World War is also omitted.

It’s hardly a surprise to see Howard rewriting history to deify his predecessor. He behaved very much like Menzies. The best examples of this are his approach to the US alliance. Menzies gave secret undertakings to the US that Australia would be prepared to give legitimacy to a much increased US involvement in Vietnam through provision of Australian troops1. This was mimicked by Howard, nearly 40 years later in reference to Iraq.. 

The difference between Howard and Menzies was that the former wasn’t ruthless enough to send conscripts to fight in peacetime, or perhaps had learned from the history.

Howard, like Menzies, also whipped up fear to maintain power. In the case of Menzies, the target was Communism; in Howard’s case terrorism. 

There are some of us who have lived long enough to have seen it all before, and some of us that were part of that lost generation of conscripts...

1. WAR FOR THE ASKING: How Australia Invited Itself to Vietnam - Michael Sexton – New Holland - 2002

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