The Dog’s Bollocks

Truth is like a dog’s bollocks – pretty obvious if you care to look.

ALP Leadership prognostication

Lateline had a story tonight about the prospect of an immanent change in the leadership of the ALP as it is reported that a push is on to draft Kevin Rudd. Thought I’d hark back to a couple of prescient postings on my original blog site back in early October.

Beazley has to go – please no more Howard-Lite

Despite the ALP having a 4 point lead over the Coalition over the last 6 polls, no-one seems to seriously believe that Labor will win the next election. Howard’s battlers are getting pissed off with the Coalition and would vote for Labor if there was any glimmer of hope, or vision, or leadership, or straight talking, none of which Beasley can deliver.

I’ve long thought that Kevin Rudd would be my choice for alternative PM. He has in image issue – a bit nerdy, too clever smarty pants. But he sure can speak concisely and eloquently backed with a razor-sharp intellect.

As I’ve been sitting here blogging, Rudd was interviewed on Lateline. One of the most inspiring messages I’ve heard from any Australian politician in recent times. Apart from when I heard him interviewed about his Christianity on Compass a while back. I’m hoping it is the early sign of a leadership push on Beazley rumoured for November.

Poll paradox

While Labor has a commanding 8 point lead in the latest AC Nielsen/Age poll, Beazley still looks like anything but a winner.

On a two-party prefered basis, the ALP has winning 8-point lead over the Coalition. But it’s not good news for Labor or Kim Beazley. Beazley as preferred prime minister has risen 1 point to 34% – still a whopping 20 points behind Howard.

More disturbing is that 52% of those polled disapprove of Beazley as preferred prime minister. That means a significant proportion of ALP voters don’t approve of him either.

If Labor wants a chance to win the next Federal election Beazley needs to be replaced with someone who can put a voice to the obvious record levels of dissatisfaction most voters feel toward Howard’s government.

You would have heard it here first.

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Filed under: Politics

Performance-based pay for teachers

Over at Thoughts on Freedom, amongst some cheap cliched dissing of how the teaching profession have it easy, there has been discussion of why teachers are paid peanuts and that performance-based pay is the solution.

Brendan Halfweeg  draws the parallel with ‘what happened in the trades under individual based contracts.’ However, I’m not convinced that education can be likened to a trade. We can judge the effectiveness of an automotive mechanic by how well he/she maintains our vehicle. The car needs to be maintained so that it can perform to the best of its ability, design and age. But you can’t determine that by benchmarking a Gogomobile against a Series 7 BMW based on performance criteria – other factors and limitations must be taken into account. And so it is with effective education.

I suspect that market forces work well with tradeable commodities, but I’m less convinced of their effectiveness with essential services such as education. Free market supporters promise more for everyone, but the reality is usually more for the privileged some and cost-cutting for the rest with the overall objective of lessening the tax burden, rather than improving outcomes. Halfweeg argues that performance-based pay will benefit everyone and teachers will be paid more.
Given that most public school families ‘only’ pay at most a few hundred dollars contribution per year it is hard to see where the extra money for higher teacher salaries under this market model will come from – unless it’s from governments investing more in education.

The constant whinge about standards of education will not be remedied by market driven redistribution of the same pool of money to the top 20 percent and impoverishing the rest. If the nation is serious about quality education more investment is needed. The Irish Republic is a good example of transforming a country through long term investment in education and training.

I still don’t know how you determine performance based pay for a brilliant teacher in the most dire of disadvantaged schools with challenged students. Simple measures like ENTER scores are inadequate, but it is these simplistic devices which are preferred by politicians, tertiary institutions, economists and journalists.

It is in our interests that all students are well-educated, not just those with academic gifts and wealthy parents – unless we’re intentionally aiming for a two-tiered society of the wealthy and a poor, unskilled underclass. Sadly, there are those who think this would be a good idea – the markets will sort it out. For some, what is wealth and privilege without a corresponding poor and disadvantage?

Filed under: Economics, Education

Climate change denial-lite at LDP

The political aspirants of the fledgling Liberal Democratic Party have been musing over a climate change policy. Publicly, they acknowledge scientific evidence that global warming may be real, but some current discussion seems to me to be more about rationalising attitudes more consistent with climate change denial and global warming skepticism.

The main themes so far seem to be:

  • there is no firm evidence for anthrogenic global warming
  • even if there is, it’s doubtful that it will be anything we need worry about
  • Graeme Bird thinks that carbon is good, good, good and that the present level is about right while he works on a new theory that it’s not CO2 emissions, but the oceans that are the problem
  • if anyone will be affected it will only be marginal and nothing we need worry about
  • even if it’s real, the best thing we can do about it is nothing – the markets are the only effective method for dealing with it
  • if we do something about it, it will only be shifting the cost to the poor and that wouldn’t be fair
  • so best not worry about it

To argue that humans can go on emitting 7,000,000,000 tonnes of CO2 annually and not be concerned strikes me as arrogant, so certain are some that they understand how it all works and what may or may not be the consequences. It doesn’t seem prudent, let alone rational.

I’m concerned when some libertarians suggest that it’s OK for say 150 million people to be dispossessed of their countries (what to speak of culture and heritage) by rising sea levels. I guess we’d be doing them a favour, as most of them want to leave their island homes for the big city anyway. No big deal there. I would have thought this utilitarian attitude incompatible with libertarianism. What happens to the liberty and free choice of those 150 million souls? Is my liberty more important than yours? Or is it more a case of our liberty is more important than theirs?

I have pondered why many people are so determined to deny the possibility of climate change or the need to do anything about it. I still haven’t got past the idea that having to deal with it for some people is simply too threatening. That it means making changes to the materialistic, consumptive, growth at any cost lifestyle they presently enjoy (invariably at the expense of others in a global context) and hope to enjoy even more of as soon as possible.

Much easier to go on the offensive and quibble about models and mathematical formulae and rationalise it all away with fancy economic theories. Heaven forbid that we actually make some personal sacrifice or provide some political leadership.

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Politics

Howard’s ‘vision’ for Technical Training

Today I attended a 2007 planning day at a regional TAFE College for coordinators of VETiS programs – Vocational Education and Training in Schools.

VETiS has been happening in one form or another for about a decade. The mostly state funded program provides Year 10, 11 and 12 students with in-school and/or local TAFE and industry training in a wide range of nationally recognised courses such as Automotive, Agriculture and Horticulture, Electroengineering, Child and Elderly Care, Engineering, IT, Multimedia, Hospitality, Retail, Conservation and Land Management, Equine Studies among many others in direct response to the needs of local businesses and industry.

Wherever possible the training involves workplace training and assessment, and articulates into higher Certificate, Diploma and Graduate qualifications. In many cases students also gain Victorian Certificate of Education credits and assessment scores as well. Parallel systems exist in other States. VET courses also provide for the New Apprenticeships and pre-apprentice training programs, again working closely with local business and industries.

Howard’s new federally funded Australian Technical Colleges are coming on line next year. From discussions today I have learned that a state funded secondary college has been given the contract for one of three ATCs in Victoria, and will competing for the same clients with the local TAFE which has provided these services for many years. The local Tafe was the competing applicant for an ATC. Ironically, while the new ATC facilities and infrastructure are being developed the TAFE will be the auspicing Registered Training Organisation. The ATC will also use some of the TAFE’s facilities during the interim.

No doubt there are those who would argue that competition between the Tafe and the ATC will be a good thing. The reality in this small regional town in rural Victoria will be different, as I suspect will be the case across the country.

Both the Tafe and the ATC will be delivering essentially the same programs to the same client base. There will be expensive duplication of facilities and capital works (the TAFE is in the middle of an extensive building and renovation program) and no doubt, many of the staff for the ATC will be poached from the TAFE.

In the regional centre I travelled to today, the most efficient, and most effective way and simplest way to deliver skills training to the region would be through rationalisation with the existing TAFE. Both organisations are being funded by public money with significant duplication and overlap of services including buildings and equipment in a market that likely cannot adequately sustain two players.

This is a direct consequence of Howard’s skills and training policy on the run in the campaign for the last election. Rather than coming up with a sensible and practical plan to provide the needed services through cooperation between State and Federal funding, they’ve reinvented the wheel at great cost with quite probably a net detriment to both training and students.

It would be interesting to know what the distribution of the ATC projects is with respect to the marginality of federal elctorates. I doubt that it’s been determined purely from a rational needs/benefits analysis. It may be good politics, but whether it will deliver effective outcomes in an efficient manner is a moot point. That would be too much to ask from a Government that sees itself as the natural economic managers.

Instead we get duplication and waste of public funds in an area the Howard government has sytematically neglected for a decade, despite being an essential investment in skilling a nation for the new economy.

The prognosis for a takeover of education by the federal government under the new constitution busting corporations ruling would not be good. If a national government places education at a lower priority, pushes ideologically flawed or ineffective curricula, or are simply incompetent managers, the whole nation will suffer, without the buffer of diverse and locally adapted state systems.

Some things, like water and carbon policy may well benefit from centralisation, but education is not one of them. Practicality must prevail over ideology.

Filed under: Economics, Education, Politics

The lost year in Iraq – a failure of ideology

In Lost Year in Iraq on SBS’ Cutting Edge tonight Republican neo-con insider Paul Bremmer tells his story:

L. Paul Bremer III set off to Baghdad to build a new nation and establish democracy in the Arab Middle East.

One year later, with Bremer forced to secretly exit what some have called “the most dangerous place on earth,” the group left behind lawlessness, insurgency, economic collapse, death, destruction – and much of their idealism.

A text-book catalogue of how to invade a country and overthrow its dictatorial regime while having absolutely no idea of what to do next, and thereby create what has colorfully been called the ‘Iraq clusterfuck’.

Apart from the sheer negligent incompetence of the whole operation what struck me most was that this happened as a result of a group-think mindset suffering from a total reality disconnect.

So convinced were the executors of this grand Iraqi experiment to bring democracy and stability to the Middle East and neutralise the rise of the nation of Islam, they believed they could make it happen because they ‘knew’ they were right. They convinced themselves that they had grasped the Truth better than anyone else. They even had Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News spin the whole thing for them like some kind of sporting spectacular where we all get to wave flags and go “Hooray for our side!”

It’s proving to be a total failure by any kind of political, economic, or moral measure other than sheer hubris.

In the blogosphere there are also group-think mindsets, and some of them are truly radical. Their adherents believe they have the truth, they know they are right, and spend much effort in explaining why everyone else is wrong – and when (or more likely we wish) their ideas are implemented then the world will be a better place. (May there be mercy on those heretics who would disagree!)

Let the great neo-con experimental clusterfuck that is Iraq be a salutory warning to those with messianic tendencies.

And yet, even in the midst of failure, there are those who still believe that the only reason Iraq has failed, apart from the feckless and ungrateful Iraqi people being too useless to make a go of it, was that we didn’t go in hard enough or brutally enough to make it work. You just gotta show ’em who’s boss.

Speaking of whom, Murdoch playing to an all A-List home crowd today opined that Australian people must not let these legitimate doubts about the policies of a failed administration turn into an irrational American antipathy. A bit rich coming from him, and a bit late now. Howard warned those who would indulge in Armchair Anti-Americanism (he must know about bloggers) to be careful what they wished for (or the terrorists will get you and eat your children?) He proudly declared the invasion of Iraq as the most poll defiant thing he had done.

Rupert also put a new spin on how our oil addiction props up Islamic regimes as well as causing global warming and climate change. Out they go! Two for the price of one!

Filed under: Big Picture, Politics

I hear that train a’comin’

The Maldon Steam TrainI spent Melbourne Cup Weekend, the official start of spring in these here parts, at the amazing event that is the Maldon Folk Festival. It was my third time performing there. It’s been going for more than 30 years. Around 4 to 5000 people come into this beautiful 19th century village in the goldfields of Central Victoria to hear and play folk music. And by folk music I mean music created by ordinary people, not marketing companies and corporations. All kinds of music, styles, players, ages – each with their own preferences and prejudices.

They come to relax and chill out from the weary blues of the humdrum workaday world. They camp out, catch up with friends and acquaintances. Do a slow crawl around the pubs, cafes, venues and sessions. It can take two hours to walk down the main street, catching up with people you know, listening or participating in impromptu sessions along the sidewalk. Old-timey, dance hall music, bluegrass, blues, traditional Celtic music with whistles and accordions, Australian music, world music. Every one has a good time, especially when the spring sun shines down upon the town as it did this weekend.

These folk enthusiasts become a community for three days – that’s the easy part – it’s being a community the rest of the days that’s more problematic. But for those three days, people are polite, friendly, and strangers say hello to each other. All the usual social divisions and ranks are irrelevant. You can find yourself sharing a fine bottle of Irish whiskey with total strangers and singing Irish and Country ballads until the wee small hours. The mild-mannered fellow who sings lovely songs and plays guitar spends his work days wearing a suit and tie in an office, paying the bills, and looking forward to the next music festival. People living to hear and play music. It’s a shared passion and commitment. And all run by volunteers from within and out of town. Organisation, catering, first-aid, security – police, SES, the CWA, the Shire, and local schools are all involved. Makes you proud to be a member of the human race. The usual concerns of the world seem way off in the distance, even if they are often topics for song.

In my travels at Maldon I was trying not to mention politics, although the subject of John Howard came up a few times. The response was always one of simmering resentment and anger, tempered with the bitter frustration of despair. Of course this may be well what you’d expect from people who go to folk music festivals – some of them even used to be hippies. But people are not impressed with the current state of play.

Driving down to Geelong through this beautiful Australian countryside you can’t help but notice the rural culture, its history of struggle and collective endeavour evidenced by numerous small communities and old towns. It makes me appreciate a little more the characters I have come to know in this part of the world. Hard-working, straight-talking, big-hearted battlers – usually just managing to scratch a living. But they are tough and determined by and large, with a generous sense of humour – characteristics which you need to survive out here.

The signs of the drought are everywhere. Many people who live here eke some kind of living from the land, trying to do the right thing, contribute to their community – creating a little lifeboat to sail the tempestuous sea of existence. I was listening to Dave Steel’s new album on the way home, and like he sings ‘if the rain won’t fall, the river won’t flow’. We’re heading for a tough time this summer with everything drying up.

Looking at all these properties out here – all those trying to make a living from the land are going to do it hard without water. This will exacerbate the regional economic downturn, which in turn will have a depressing effect on the rest of the economy.

I sense that people are thinking it’s time for change. I certainly hope so.

Filed under: Environment, Music, Politics

The Dog’s Bollocks

What they say

The Dog's Bollocks: "Bollocks" is one of my favourite words, and this is now one of my favourite blogs and I've only been reading it for five minutes. – John Surname

This is the person who tried to analyse Hayek. This is actually a person who needs a shrink. – JC

Shut up slim. You’re an idiot.
Just you stay honest and keep that thinking cap on. – GMB

Insightful perspectives on politics and discussion of matters epistemological? I’m sold! - Bruce

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