I’d rather talk about Leonard Cohen

Vomitous – that in all honesty was my very personal assessment of the Kevin Rudd resignation that was oh so obviously stage managed and timed for the peak news slots back home in Australia. But then the whole saga is – to put it mildly – disappointing.

I rather agree with rob1966 in his comment on Malcolm Farnsworth’s account of the crisis that ought not to be.

Rudd’s carefully timed speech had Bruce Hawker stamped all over it – down to the "catch phrases", the "careful wording", the "mannerisms", and the "facial expressions".
Hawker-Britton, the "strategists" that created the problem that is NSW Labor, now attempting to do the same with the Federal Party.
This leadership turmoil is NOT about policy difference, it is NOT about wanting to take the party in a different direction, it is NOT about what is good for the country – it is ALL about personal grievences, personal scores to be settled, and personal ambitions.
The country suffers as a bunch of bickering children carry out their playground squabble – initially behind closed doors, but now out in the open for all to see.
As an aquaintance of mine mentioned in passing last night – hopefully we can have a federal election soon, and elect some politicians who are actually interested in governing for the good of the nation instead of their own vested interests and egos.

And that doesn’t include Tony Abbott either in my book.

Come the election I will vote for Leonard Cohen:

In Paris, after the press conference, I’m discreetly ushered into a back room for a rare interview alone with Cohen. Up close, he’s a calming presence, old world courtesy mingled with Zen, and his smoke-blackened husk of a voice is as reassuring as a lullaby. I ask him if he wishes the long and painful process of writing his songs would come more easily.

"Well, you know, we’re talking in a world where guys go down into the mines, chewing coca and spending all day in backbreaking labour. We’re in a world where there’s famine and hunger and people are dodging bullets and having their nails pulled out in dungeons so it’s very hard for me to place any high value on the work that I do to write a song. Yeah, I work hard but compared to what?"

Does he learn anything from writing them? Does he work out ideas that way?

"I think you work out something. I wouldn’t call them ideas. I think ideas are what you want to get rid of. I don’t really like songs with ideas. They tend to become slogans. They tend to be on the right side of things: ecology or vegetarianism or antiwar. All these are wonderful ideas but I like to work on a song until those slogans, as wonderful as they are and as wholesome as the ideas they promote are, dissolve into deeper convictions of the heart. I never set out to write a didactic song. It’s just my experience. All I’ve got to put in a song is my own experience.”

In Going Home, the first song on Old Ideas, he mentions writing "a manual for living with defeat". Can a listener learn about life from his songs?

"Song operates on so many levels. It operates on the level you just spoke of where it addresses the heart in its ordeals and its defeats but it also is useful in getting the dishes done or cleaning the house. It’s also useful as a background to courting."

Is a cover of Hallelujah a compliment he has grown tired of receiving?

"There’s been a couple of times when other people have said can we have a moratorium please on Hallelujah? Must we have it at the end of every single drama and every single Idol? And once or twice I’ve felt maybe I should lend my voice to silencing it but on second thought no, I’m very happy that it’s being sung."

Does he still define success as survival?

"Yeah," he smiles. "It’s good enough for me."

Snippets from my eBook browsing

Just love things like this.


Going local, I was rather fascinated by Early Days in North Queensland, by Edward Palmer (1903). Edward Palmer (1842–1899) was a squatter, public servant and conservative Queensland politician. Classic on the Federation era background view on such matters as Aborigines.

In the three hundred years since the first contact between Europeans and the New Hollanders, no change has occurred; they were then spread over Australia, the same in habits and life as they are now, and the only result of the contact of the two races of men, the civilised and the savage, is that the native is fading away before the white man like mist before the morning sun. Nothing can avert the doom that is written as plainly as was the writing on the wall at Belshazzar’s feast. And to what purpose would we preserve them? What good could accrue from maintaining a remnant of a race that it is impossible to civilise. The buffalo of America, like the Red Indian himself (the hunter and the hunted), pass over the river in front of the advancing tide of civilisation.

Rather more frank than some later whitewashers, however:

The treatment of the native races has always been a difficult question. Whenever new districts were settled, the blacks had to move on to make room; the result was war between the races. The white race were the aggressors, as they were the invaders of the blacks’ hunting territory. The pioneers cannot be condemned for taking the law into their own hands and defending themselves in the only way open to them, for the blacks own no law themselves but the law of might. The protection of outside districts by the Native Police, was the only course open, although the system cannot very well be defended any more than what was done under it can be. The white pioneers were harder on the blacks in the way of reprisals when they were forced to deal with them for spearing their men or their cattle or horses even than the Native Police. But how were property and the lives of stockmen, shepherds, and prospectors in the north to be protected unless by some summary system of retribution by Native Police or bands of pioneers? …

Yes, the “I” word and no bones about using it either!

Turning to someone who is truly fascinating in his own right, though I had never heard of him: Basil Thomson (21 April 1861 – 26 March 1939) — British intelligence officer, police officer, prison governor, colonial administrator, and writer.  What an odd effect these words from The Fijians — A Study of the Decay of Custom (1908) have on a 21st century reader!

The present population of the globe is believed to be about fifteen hundred millions, of which seven hundred millions are nominally progressive and eight hundred millions are stagnant under the law of custom. It is difficult to choose terms that even approach scientific accuracy in these generalizations, for, as Mr. H.G. Wells has remarked, if we use the word "civilized" the London "Hooligan" and the "Bowery tough" immediately occur to us; if the terms "stagnant" or "progressive," how are the Parsee gentleman and the Sussex farm labourer to be classed? Nor can the terms "white" and "coloured" be used, for there are Chinese many shades whiter than the Portuguese. But as long as the meaning is clear the scientific accuracy of terms is unimportant, and so for convenience we will call all races of European descent "civilized," and races living under the law of custom "uncivilized." The problem that will be solved within the next few centuries is—What part is to be taken in the world’s affairs by the eight hundred millions of uncivilized men who happen for the moment to be politically inferior to the other seven hundred millions?…

Cheap and rapid means of transit are sweeping away the distinctions of dress, of custom, and, to some extent, of language, which underlie the feeling of nationality, and the races now uncivilized will soon settle for themselves the vital question whether they are to remain hewers of wood and drawers of water for the white man, or whether they are to take their place in free competition with him. The "Yellow Peril," which implies national cohesion among the Mongolians, may be a chimera, but it is impossible to believe that a white skin is to be for ever a sort of patent of nobility in the world state of the future.

History teaches us that there can be no middle course. Either race antipathy and race contempt must disappear, or one breed of men must dominate the others. The psychology of race contempt has never been dispassionately studied. It is felt most strongly in the United States and the West Indies; a little less strongly in the other British tropical colonies. In England it is sporadic, and is generally confined to the educated classes. It is scarcely to be noticed in France, Spain, Portugal or Italy. From this it might be argued that it is peculiar to races of Teutonic descent were it not for the fact that Germans in tropical countries do not seem to feel it.  It is, moreover, a sentiment of modern growth….

At the dawn of this twentieth century we see the future of mankind through a glass darkly, but if we study the state of the coloured people who are shaking themselves free from the law of custom, we may see it almost face to face. Race prejudice does not die as hard as one would think. The Portuguese of the sixteenth century were ready enough to court as "Emperor of Monomotapa" a petty Bantu chieftain into whose power they had fallen; and the English beachcomber of the forties who, when he landed, called all natives "niggers" with an expletive prefix, might very soon be found playing body-servant to a Fijian chief, who spoke of him contemptuously as "My white man." In tropical countries the line of caste will soon cease to be the colour line. There, as in temperate zones, wealth will create a new aristocracy recruited from men of every shade of colour. Even in the great cities of Europe and America we may find men of Hindu and Chinese and Arab origin controlling industries with their wealth, as Europeans now control the commerce of India and China, but with this difference—that they will wear the dress and speak the language which will have become common to the whole commercial world, and as the aristocracy of every land will be composed of every shade of colour, so will be the masses of men who work with their hands. In one country the majority of the labourers will be black or brown; in another white; but white men will work cheek by jowl with black and feel no degradation. There will be the same feverish pursuit of wealth, but all races will participate in it instead of a favoured few. The world will then be neither so pleasant nor so picturesque a place to live in, and by the man of that age the twentieth century will be cherished tenderly as an age of romance, of awakening, and of high adventure. The historians of that day will speak of the Victorian age as we speak of the Elizabethan, and will date the new starting-point in the history of mankind from the decay of the law of custom.


I should add that both books are quite fascinating and well worth spending time with.

And finally a bit of a critique of the USA:

… if a body of ingenious men had gotten together to make the frame work of a government to absolutely take from the people all the power they possibly could, they could not have contrived anything more mischievous and complete than our American form of government. (Applause).

The English Government is simplicity itself compared to it. As compared with ours it is as direct as a convention of the I. W. W. (Applause). The English people elect a Parliament and when some demand comes up from the country for different legislation which reaches Parliament and is strong enough to demand a division in Parliament and the old majority fails, Parliament is dissolved at once, and you go right straight back to the people and elect a new Parliament upon that issue and they go at once to Parliament and pass a law, and there is no power on earth that can stop them. The king hasn’t any more to say about the laws of England, nor any more power than a floor manager of a charity ball would have to say about it. He is just an ornament, and not much of an ornament at that. (Applause). The House of Lords is comparatively helpless, and they never had any constitution; there never was any power in England to set aside any law that the people made.  It was the law, plain and direct and simple, and you might get somewhere with it. But we have built up a machine that destroys every person who undertakes to touch it. I don’t know how you are ever going to remedy it. Nothing short of a political revolution, which would be about as complete as the Deluge, could ever change our laws under our present system (applause) in any important particular.

That is famous lawyer Clarence Darrow in 1912.

So the Gonski Report on education funding has now been published

I haven’t read it and neither have you, more than likely. But I did download it just now, and the not unrelated report from the Grattan Institute, Catching up: learning from the best school systems in East Asia. In today’s Sydney Morning Herald Gonski seems to have the Grattan Institute’s report in mind as much as his own.

As the global economy continues on its trajectory of change, the pressure is on Australia to maintain a knowledge and skills base that can change and adapt to keep up with the world around us.

The race is being run, won and lost every day. It is a continuing race and educational results tell us that Australia is losing ground from its strong position a decade ago.

It is no surprise to see Shanghai at the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s achievement table. There is an obvious link between its outstanding educational outcomes and its great leap forward as one of the world’s most dynamic cities and a centre for financial services and manufacturing.

But perhaps more of a surprise is the pack now ahead of us in mathematics – Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and China: Macau. Canada also does better than us among 15-year-olds in the Program for International Student Assessment tests for reading, mathematics and science, and so does New Zealand…

I have been interested in the coverage given to the Grattan report – not an entirely objective outfit either, I would have thought, even if it claims to be. I have in the back of my mind some of the things very perceptive Singapore writer Alex Au has had to say over the years in his Yawning Bread blog, most recently Education system a high stakes board game.

The other day, as I was waiting in line at an automated bank teller, I overheard several schoolgirls talk among themselves about their choice of subjects to major in. They were about 14 years old  and were probably at the point of being streamed into Science, Arts . . . and then I said myself: Gee, I really don’t know what streams there are or how our educational system is structured anymore.  It’s been decades since I left school.

So, I asked around a few people more knowledgeable than I, and I thought I might share with readers what I learnt (apologies if you already know all this).

It’s obviously an important topic for many parents. A few months ago, I noticed several among my acquaintances figuratively biting their nails as their kids sat for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). This national exam for the 11-plus is often seen as a make-or-break point in their lives. The Education Ministry says it shouldn’t be (and rightly), and that our school system has several cross-pathways to allow slower developers to catch up. But I have the feeling that few parents know it or believe it. We more readily believe that the Singapore system is quick at judging and condemning, with no opportunities at remedy…

So much for the scheme, what about content?

Singapore’s overall educational scheme may be nice, but what about the quality of content? If at all to be considered, it has to be a separate discussion altogether, which I didn’t set out to engage my discussants on. However, there were tantalising side comments . . .

Generally, Singapore students do well in international comparisons in math and science, though whether it’s related to cramming is perhaps a pertinent question.

With language and communication skills, there may be room for doubt. One person I asked said something to this effect: “If you want to know about the quality of the teaching of English, all you need to do is just hold a conversation with any English teacher in a neighbourhood school.” This may well be an unfair statement reflecting the jaundiced view of that particular speaker, but seeing the language skills the vast majority of school leavers have, I have a feeling that she isn’t all that far off the mark.

Another teacher — she teaches chemistry — said something that made me even more worried: “Some of my colleagues hold shockingly unexamined views about race and religion — and they’re teaching the social sciences and humanities.”

A third contact reported increasing disciplinary issues in our schools, but with so much flux in thinking about how much control teachers should exercise, and how much spontaneity to encourage, there’s been a very uneven response to this issue.

See also Moral education likely to end up as immoral indoctrination, Old-style history lessons now history, Mother-tongue policy undermines education and our future, Confucius not allowed to teach here, Poor quality English in Singapore, Towards an open and inclusive society.

For an interesting perspective that I find well worth adding to our thoughts on this see David Zyngier on The Conversation. For example: Gonski review: another wasted opportunity.

The Gonski Review sought to create a new funding system for Australian schooling, because what we currently have is a mess. It was to be transparent, fair, financially sustainable and effective in promoting excellent outcomes for all students.

Gonski’s recommendations for a resource based funding model starts with a false premise. Since the Karmel Report 39 years ago we have witnessed a slow but ever increasing movement of taxpayer’s dollars from public schools to the private sector, all apparently on the basis of Commonwealth provision for school education on the principle of “need”.

The Gonski Review has accepted as holy writ that if parents decide not to send their child to the local public school, then the rest of the country is required to subsidise that choice.

The cost of choice

Why should a struggling worker on an average wage of $50,000 be asked to contribute to the education of the children of doctors and lawyers who have the financial capacity to choose to attend schools charging $25,000 after tax per student per annum. That worker doesn’t have the luxury of choice that the middle class have…

I well remember the Karmel Report. I was in the private sector at that time too and there was much angst, though everyone did survive – well, almost everyone. There is no doubt that Zyngier is quite right about the mess we have been stewing in for the past decade and more, a mess skewed heavily towards private rather than public education – hence the proliferation of religious schools of varying degrees of battiness over the past several decades.

Interesting too that we are having held up as models now by the Grattan Institute report countries or authorities – Shanghai is not a country – that are not necessarily famous for encouraging democratic values. Authorities indeed whose power to coerce policies and outcomes is rather greater than we (or presumably the Grattan Institute) would find palatable. Not that I am knocking the achievements reported there entirely, and what is said about matters like teacher mentoring is very impressive. And we are already following suit.

So over the next few days I will actually look at both reports. Maybe I’ll have something to say, maybe not. After all I am no longer in the game.

Locally see Illawarra gives education funding model tentative tick.

Spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Wollongong Peter McPherson said the Gonski findings were in line with Catholic education expectations, but said there would be a lot of discussion before the effects of the report would be seen.

He was concerned the new funding model could work against some Catholic schools.

The Illawarra Grammar School headmaster Stephen Kinsella said the report would spark interesting discussions, but was waiting to see how the Government would implement its recommendations before making a final judgment.

‘‘It is certainly recommending more funding for education overall and is maintaining the notion that there will be no winners and losers, which is a good thing,’’ Mr Kinsella said.

‘‘What has to be worked out is the process by which the schooling resource standard is calculated and that’s where some serious discussion will have to happen so the process is fair and transparent.’’

NSW Teachers Federation Illawarra regional organiser Nicole Calnan said the report had delivered good results for public schools and teachers but now it was up to the Government to act.

‘‘The problem is that this could end up becoming a political football, but we need all political parties to embrace the recommendations.’’

Church and lunch

I went this morning to the Wesley Mission Uniting Church on the Mall in Wollongong. Sat where relatives of mine sat one hundred years ago.

The current minister, Rex Graham, had a rather strong message in The Illawarra Mercury on Valentine’s Day in support of gay marriage.

Rex Graham

He did indeed allude to this in today’s service, particularly to the sad things said in the comments on that story by those possessed of too much certainty about the mind of God.

A younger member of the congregation who led singing near the end of the service made a point of vigorously supporting what Rex had said of gay marriage.

But I also noted that Rex’s supply position is being terminated at the end of March.

So here I am in Diggers enjoying an after lunch sweet.

And indulging the free internet via Baby Toshiba.

In the meantime I attended the end of an outdoor ceremony remembering the 1942 bombing of Darwin. Took some photos down at the War Memorial in McCabe Park.

And now, later on, at The Five Islands Brewery where a band is getting ready to start…

At the Five Islands 2.20 pm

E C and the Voodoo Train is what the band turned out to be.

And talk about family friendly. There was a Christening party going on out in the veranda area — and some kiddies got into the music.

little groovers