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There will be a break in proceedings for an indefinite period.

The last year has been an annus horribilus – Amanda’s accident and ongoing illness, struggles to get my business up and running despite absences caring for family members, and Bruce’s unexpected death.

To top everything off, last week we found that Kathy has cancer and will need major surgery.

At the moment I barely have the emotional energy to go to work and cope with the constant harrassment of running a computer business while still trying to be nice.

I need to give myself a bit of space, and reduce some of the pressure I put on myself to get things done.

I will be back.

Thanks.

Ben-Peter Terpstra points out that it is much easier to make up your own Jesus if you have no idea who the real Jesus was.

In fact, if you have never read the Bible at all, and you are talking to other people who have never read the Bible, and have no intention of doing so, you can say what you like without fear of contradiction. Or at least, confident that your worthless opinion has as good a claim to respectful consideration as anyone else’s worthless opinion.

A few years ago I was arguing (politely) with the wife of a Sydney clergyman about the real presence of Christ in the eucharist.

‘But that’s just your opinion,’ she said, meaning that her opinion, or that of anyone who agreed with her, had just as good a claim to truth.

My argument was that this was not just ‘my opinion’ but what the church had taught unanimously until the 16th century. I know the scriptures on this fairly well, and some of the early church fathers. I quoted from John, Paul, and a few 2nd century letters and sermons.

Her response was ‘Well, I don’t care. I know what’s right.’

That was the end of the discussion, of course.

But for liberals (I mean the Labor kind) it is diversity, discussion, the journey, that is important. More important than the truth. Actual objective facts get in the way.

Ben-Peter writes of the Bible:

And that’s why Labor hacks despise it. Don’t teach the New Testament – and the next thing you know Jesus is a vegetarian feminist, driving a hybrid with a pro-gay marriage sticker. Or the Old Testament is just a mean patriarchal manifesto.

If you can make Jesus in your own image, you can claim him (or her, after all, who really knows) for your cause.

So the last thing you want is people reading the Bible, and finding that far from being enlistable in the latest cause de jour, Jesus’ life and words, with their claim to be eternal and objective, demand a response of repentance, a life of serving His cause.

Of course you can always pretend to read the Bible, and talk about ‘the trajectory of the Scriptures,’ which means that Jesus seems to have been an all right sort of bloke, so we can be confident that if he had known what we know, and been as clever we are, he would have thought the things we do.

But once we have allowed ourselves to encounter the real Jesus, making him in our own image is no longer an option. The choice we have is to remake ourselves in His.

If you are interested in US politics, the Town Hall website is worth visiting regularly.

Today there is an article by Michael Medved which asks why big lotto winnings are more acceptable than big executive bonuses. A couple of excerpts:

Why do huge Wall Street bonuses provoke so much more public indignation than similarly gigantic lottery jackpots?

At least financial tycoons can try to argue that their payoffs stem from their own wise decisions or productive hard work. But Powerball winners get rewarded for patently stupid behavior: wasting a few dollars (usually on a regular basis) on addictive games of chance with only the remotest possibility of success.

All studies of government-sponsored games of chance show that they draw their dollars disproportionately from the most disadvantaged members of society. … Lottery losses of just five dollars a week (a common pattern in the nations poorest neighborhoods) could otherwise yield life-changing results (like a compound-interest portfolio that will likely exceed five figures within 20 years) if that money were saved and invested.

Americans can accept a winner of Megamillions who collects $340 million simply because he’s luckier than we are, but we wince at the idea of bankers drawing a similar amount because they’re better connected, smarter, more sophisticated or even more productive.

And Debra Saunders notes that there is pretty good evidence that using a mobile phone while driving, even a hand-held phone, is no more risky than turning on the windcreen wipers:

Last week, an insurance industry report found that bans on using hand-held cell-phones while driving in California, New York, Washington, D.C. and Connecticut did not reduce the number of car crashes. To the contrary, crashes went up in Connecticut and New York, and slightly in California, after the bans took effect.

Insurers are the most risk-averse, nag-happy, fun-killing folks in the private sector. If ever there was an industry that loved nanny-state laws and had nothing to gain in raising information that does not support them, that would be the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

But its report found that the crash statistics simply aren’t there.

I doubt that will stop the legislators.

No s%#t, Sherlock.

Businesses are not charities. Loyalty schemes are designed to make more money. They make more money by encouraging people to buy from a particular store or chain.

Choice magazine found that consumers need to spend $100 to earn $1 dollar in rewards in loyalty programmes like Flybuys.

You could save that much by walking down the road and buying a single bottle of Coke on special, rather than paying full price at your loyalty card issuer’s store.

Research …  shows to earn a $50 voucher, using FlyBuys and Woolworths Everyday Rewards schemes, customers must spend almost $11,000 at Woolworths and more than $15,700 at Coles.

The findings are based on Roy Morgan Research figures that show in the year to last June, the average Australian shopper spent $156 a week in supermarkets. It would take seven years to gain enough points for a Virgin Blue flight from Sydney to Melbourne using the FlyBuys system, the report claims.

And since points expire after three years, all that loyal shopping and swiping your Flybuys card is not going to earn you anything.

Even if you don’t use a loyalty card, and shop for specials wherever you find them, you are still paying for loyalty schemes, because extra staff time, stationery and other costs of administering the scheme have to be built into store pricing.

Phew!

It has been a long couple of days – back from Bruce’s funeral, trying to catch up at work. It’s good to be busy, but this is getting ridiculous.

Anyway, a couple of totally tasteless ads from the 11 Points blog:

Rectal Christmas Fun

Nothing says Christmas fun like a rectal suppository!

Valentine Funeral Planning

Nothing captures the spirit of Valentine’s Day like ‘Let’s plan your funeral.’

Taxidermy Cheese Store

Try our Gorgonzola while we stuff your pet goat.

I noted a few days ago that KICE – Kangaroo Island Education, had scored below average results in national numeracy and literacy testing. Results for the year three group were substantially below average. This was when compared with all schools, and with ‘statistically similar schools.’

Kangaroo Island is regarded as remote, and incomes on the island are below national averages.

So statistically similar means poor and remote. Other schools listed when I checked the site were schools with high proportions of indigenous students.

Aboriginal schools are generally recognised as having significant issues in terms of absenteeism and literacy.

For KICE to score below aboriginal schools at any level is an appalling result.

How could this have come about? There three possibilities.

1. Children on KI are unusually stupid.

I don’t think this is so. But there does seem to be an unusually high proportion of students with learning difficulties – particularly boys.

2. Parents do not see the value of education, are not supportive of the school, do not read with their children at home, etc, etc.

This is possibly true. There does seem to be a general lack of recognition of the value of learning.

There is also a high incidence of domestic violence.

I have not seen any studies of  correlation between domestic violence and literacy, but I would expect a strong inverse relationship.

A close friend says her observations while working in aboriginal schools confirms this. Children were often scared of what they would find when they went home, if Dad was drunk, or Mum had threatened to kill Dad in his sleep, or sister had been beaten with iron bars the night before because she was friends with someone the family were enemies of.

Because they were scared the children were not interested in school work, or left during the day to check what was happening, or found other, often unhealthy, ways to cope.

Even in less extreme circumstances, children might be distressed and distracted by unhappiness at home.

But this is not the whole answer. The relationship between KICE and parents seems to be marred by suspicion if not outright hostility.

To give an example, last year a parent wrote a letter to the local paper, questioning the teaching of Indonesian as a second language. The questions were reasonable, and could have been answered in a  reasonable way.

Instead, the principal wrote back to the paper saying he was taking legal advice, and suggesting the parent, and anyone else who thought like him, was a narrow-minded redneck.

This kind of response does not encourage parents and community members to believe they can talk openly with the school about issues.

It also makes the school as whole seem defensive if not irrational, so that parents are less likely to take the word of teachers or other staff over that of their children, and less likely to believe disciplinary measures are being adminstered fairly.

3. The school is disfunctional, or at least, teaching in the early years is or has been very poor.

I met two retired teachers last week. Both had taught for many years on Kangaroo Island. I asked one of them what he used to teach, meaning subjects. He replied ‘little bastards.’ I laughed, and asked whether this was what had lead to his early retirement.

He said it was not. He was used to poor behaviour from students, and lack of support from parents. What had got him in the end was ongoing bullying in the staff room. The other teacher who was with him confirmed that this had also been his experience.

Now let’s just talk in general about disfunctional schools.

There was a fuss in the papers in South Australia a few years ago about a power group of teachers in a public school. They organised timetables so that they got better students and more free time. Difficult classes would be split for them, but left intact for new teachers, who were then belittled if they had classroom management problems.

Teachers were appointed, and office space and privileges allocated, not on the basis of need or experience, but on the basis of who knew who, and who talked loudest about the great things they had done.

This resulted in high levels of tension, large numbers of staff on stress leave, and declining academic results. Senior staff sent to try to resolve the problem were either drawn into the power group, or if they resisted and tried to bring about change, decried as bullies or incompetent, and moved on.

No one benefits from this, except the few who are able to make life comfortable for themselves at the expense of other teachers, students, and the community.

For results to improve, existing problems need to be acknowledged. Power groups need to be recognised for what they are, and deprived of their power. Appointments need to be made on the basis of who is best suited for the position, not who is someone’s drinking buddy.

And last but certainly not least, there needs to genuine and respectful interaction with the community.

More money will not solve the poor NAPLAN results. Better management will.

Computer gaming and Facebook cause rickets.

Well, no.

There seems to be a a widespread rise in vitamin D deficiency. This could be a lack of sun or shortcomings in diet.

It is a long stretch to say that gaming or Facebook are responsible, expecially when rickets usually starts to appear before age two. Most online gamers and Facebook users are a little older than this.

Even in very young children vitamin D deficiency can be caused by lack of sun as well as diet. But if computer games are not to blame, what is?

Last night I saw on TV a terrifying ad that showed a young man at a beach. As soon as he took his shirt off, deadly rays from the sun struck his skin. As the rays penetrated inside, one skin cell turned black and then began taking over other cells and turing them black. A stern voice said something like ‘A tan is your body’s way of protecting your skin against cancer. There is nothing healthy about a tan.’

This was a government sponsored announcement to warn people that even the smallest amount of exposure to the sun will give you melanoma and kill you. You never know, so it is better to wear a burqa every time you go outside.

That was the message I got, anyway. And incidentally, vitamin D deficiency is a major problem for women in Saudi Arabia.

No wonder people are scared to go outside without ‘slip,slop,slapping’ themselves or their children to the point that not one bit of ultra-violet gets through. As a consequence of which the body cannot manufacture any vitamin D.

Half the advice given by doctors and scientists is wrong and should be ignored.

The problem is working out which half.

I have followed the debate about the publication of national numeracy and literacy testing with interest.

My view, of course, is that parents, the wider community and the government should have as much information as is practicably possible about educational standards, including information about which schools are doing well and why.

The AEU (Australian Education Union), of course, thinks any such plan is reprehensabul, riprahinsable, reprehansbil, bad, because parents might choose to send their children to schools which produce better results. Which means that mediocre teachers might find themselves out of work. Which would be another really inaproprite, unexcaptable, bad thing.

Much badder than children not getting the best possible education, for example.

Over the objections of the AEU, the Federal Government today launched the My School website, which enables anyone to check any school’s NAPLAN test results against the national average, or an average of statistically similar schools.

My nearest school is KICE  – Kangaroo Island Community Education.

The site shows KICE’s results are below average compared with all schools and statistically similar schools at all year levels, and spectacularly below average in year three.

On Friday I will make some suggestions about why this is.

Tony Abbott was asked a question.

It has been interesting to read the outraged remarks that followed his answer.

The question was  “What advice would you give your three daughters about sex before marriage?”

The answer was ”I would say to my daughters, if they were to ask me this question … it is the greatest gift you can give someone, the ultimate gift of giving and don’t give it to someone lightly.”

It all seems perfectly reasonable to me.

The question was “What would say to your daughters…”

Not “What advice would you like to give to Australian women?”

The answer was prefaced with “… if they were to ask me this question… “

It was not even gratuitous advice to his daughters.

Yet Julia Gillard immediately jumps in to tell the world that ”Australian women want to make their own choices, and they don’t want to be lectured to by Mr Abbott.”

Senator George Brandis quite rightly and respectfully points out that “Julia Gillard who is – has chosen not to be a parent – and, you know, everybody respects her right, in the vehemence of her reaction in fact shows that she just doesn’t understand the way parents think about their children when they reach a particular age.”

But judging from the further outrage occasioned by Senator Brandis’ comments, it is clear the left wing believes Mr Abbott and his personal choices and beliefs are fair game, but Ms Gillard’s are not.

Even more absurdly, leading nitwit, sorry ‘leading feminist,’ Eva Cox says that by encouraging young people to value themselves and their sexuality, and to wait until marriage Abbott “is commodifying women, by saying their sexuality was something to trade.”

Of course, Mr Rudd’s attendance at a New York strip club, where he was reportedly told off for attempting to touch the girls, but was so drunk he claimed he couldn’t remember anything, is an example of non-commodifying respect for women, where trading in sexuality is the last thing on anyone’s mind. Obviously he was only there to get the ladies’ opinions on climate policy.

Then there are the bullhorn bellows of ‘hypocrite’ from the ‘I’ll do what I want when I want and don’t anyone dare tell me I can’t’ crowd.

Is Mr Abbott a hypocrite?

Only in the same way that a bank robber who told a young person tempted to a quick solution ‘That wasn’t the right thing to do. It wasn’t good for me or the people I loved. If I had my time again I would make a different choice,’ could be called a hypocrite.

And here’s the heart of the matter: Tony Abbott is right.

Giving yourself to someone wholeheartedly, completely, emotionally and physically, is something wonderful and precious.

Complete physical giving of oneself only makes sense, can only be really complete and wonderful and joyful, as it is meant to be, when there is also an unreserved commitment of life, love and time.

In other words, in marriage.

You can be a party girl or boy, and have sex with anyone you fancy, because it’s your choice, and everyone else is doing it, and there’s no harm in it, and no one can tell you what to do. Or you can have a deeply fulfilling, faithful, life-time commitment to one person.

You cannot have both.

With increasing age, it becomes clearer that the path of lifetime loving commitment is the one that brings real happiness and trust and fulfillment. That is wisdom that comes from thought and experience, often painful and regretful.

So when parents ask their children to be careful, to treat themselves and their bodies as something precious, and to wait for the love and commitment of marriage, it is not because they want to spoil their children’s fun, nor because they are hypocrites.

It is simply because they care.

I am not sure that this photo portrait of Barack Obama proves he is an incurable narcissist, as some other bloggers have suggested.

Obamic World View

The man is entitled to use a mirror in his own house. Having the moment captured forever and posted on the White House Flickr stream was probably not his idea.

But it was not wise. It could easily be taken as an allegory of the Obama administration, even by people who are not familiar with Magritte’s Portrait of Edward James:

The Forgotten Man

Perhaps even more disturbing is the parallel between the portrait of Obama, and Komar and Melamid’s portrait of Stalin:

Stalinist World View

Again, not Obama’s fault.

But either his advisors are simply ignorant of some of the key icons of 20th Century Western culture, or someone on his staff is making some very uncomplimentary suggestions about his personality and abilities.

My brother David sent me these, and I though they were worth sharing:

Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter
  Got to admire those zombie firearm skills

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says  
   Ya think?

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers   
   Now that’s taking things a bit far! 
 
Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over   
   What a guy!   

Miners Refuse to Work after Death  
   No-good lazy so-and-sos! 

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant   
    See if that works better than a fair trial! 
 
War Dims Hope for Peace   
   I can see where it might have that effect! 
 
If Strike Isn’t Settled Quickly, It May Last A While  
   Anything’s possible!

Cold Wave Linked to Low Temperatures   
   Who would have thought! 
 
Enfield Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide   
   They may be on to something! 

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges   
    You mean there’s something stronger than duct tape? 
 
Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge   
   Electrifying!

New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group  
   Why? Weren’t the first lot fat enough? 

Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft  
   They told him not to take the baked beans!  
 
Kids Make Nutritious Snacks   
   I bet they taste like chicken.

Local  High School Dropouts Cut in Half   
   That’s one way to get rid of them!  
 
Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors   
   Boy, are they tall! 

And the winner is….  
Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead  
   That was in Ireland, right?

The reasons private schools generally do better than public schools is not that they are better resourced.

A few of the top schools are, of course. But private schools receive on average a third less overall government funding per student.

Although they make up some of the difference through fees and fundraising, most private schools have larger classes and fewer resources than their government equivalents.

The difference is attitude.

This is true of private vs public hospitals too.

If you walk into a private hospital the chances are that you will be able to see the reception area immediately, and that when you get there reception staff will look pleased to see you, and will try to help.

If you walk into a public hospital and manage to find the reception desk, you will be snarled at by some surly slattern, who after saying ‘Yorrite?’ will say she doesn’t do patient enquiries, and direct you down the hall to the right, second stairs on the left, along the passage and up the lift, where if you are lucky, someone might have some idea where your loved one is.

I have nurse friends who have worked in public hospitals and gone to the private sector expecting higher staff to patient ratios, and found the reverse is the case. And yet, patients feel better cared for.

The difference is attitude.

Private schools and hospitals only succeed if clients are happy with the service they receive.

This means outcomes matter, and patients, students, visitors and parents are treated as people.

I am glad New South Wales farmer Peter Spencer has ended his hunger strike, is well, and will be able to speak directly to legislators.

Jo Nova and Michael Duffy have both written about the impact of tree-clearing legislation on Peter’s property, and on farmers and graziers in general.

The NSW Native Vegetation Act 2003 is draconian. It not only stops clearance of previously unused land, but also the removal of regrowth, so that land which may have lain idle for a couple of years cannot be re-used.

The loss of income and loss of property value this causes is entirely met by the property owner. This is unjust.

The community, through State or Federal government, is perfectly entitled to decide that a particular piece of land, or building, or watercourse, is of special value and should be preserved.

When it does so, the costs of retaining that land or watercourse in its original condition should be met by the entire community, not by whoever owns it. This should take the form of realistic, market value compensation for loss of income or loss of capital value.

This does not apply, of course, if the land or other asset was purchased after the legislation was in place. In that case the purchaser could reasonably be expected to know that it applied to the property he intended to purchase. Purchasers have a responsibility to check whether a property is suitable for their purposes.

If the legislation was in place, and the purchaser did not check whether it applied to the property, or what its impact might be, then it is hardly reasonable to blame the government when the earning capacity of the property is not what he hoped.

The situation in that case would be similar to that of the tourists in Dubai who went to the police to complain after the woman was raped. The alleged rapist was arrested, but so were they.

The couple were on holiday from England. They celebrating were their engagement. They were sharing a hotel room, and had been drinking.

Well, so what?

The ‘so what’ is that the woman is a Muslim. In Dubai, a Muslim woman drinking and sleeping with a man to whom she is not married is a criminal.

To arrest a woman who has been raped because she has been having sex with her fiancé is monstrous. It would not occur in any civilised country. But Dubai is not a civilised country, and in Dubai, that is the law.

Those who travel abroad have a responsibility to ensure that they comply with the laws of the countries they visit – even if those laws are manifestly unjust and inappropriate. If you cannot comply with a country’s laws, don’t go there.

If we expect tourists to consider whether they are willing to comply with the laws of the countries they visit, then even more can we expect business people to check Australian legislation that might affect their use of any asset they purchase. The greater the value of the asset, the greater the diligence required.

But Peter Spencer bought his property beginning in 1980.

He had no way of knowing that the NSW government would enact legislation which would make what he purchased to be a business, a working farm, into an extensive nature reserve.

In his case, and the many others like it, the government has a clear moral obligation to compensate for losses suffered.

Justice Stephen Rothman said in the Supreme Court in 2008:
when .. restrictions prevent or prohibit a business activity that was hitherto legitimate, … and  (the government) does not fully compensate for the restrictions imposed, society is asking Mr Spencer, and people in his position, to pay for its benefit … it is a most unfortunate aspect of the operation of the scheme that a person in Mr Spencer’s position is effectively denied proper compensation for the restrictions imposed upon him by a scheme implemented for the public good.

If we don’t stand up against this sort of injustice, and demand that something be to remedy it, what right do we have to expect justice for ourselves?

A new report commissioned by the Australian Education Union, has found, surprise, surprise, that State schools are not receiving a fair share of Federal Government funding.

This, they claim, is terrible, unfair, wrong, bad, and disadvantages families whose children attend State schools.

These claims by the AEU are so misleading that it hard to see how thay can be anything other than deliberately dishonest.

Education is a state responsibility. Schools are meant to be funded by the states.

But states routinely give only minsicule funding to private schools – less than 10% of the funds given to State schools.

The Federal Government makes up some of the shortfall by giving additional funds to private schools. But total government funding to private schools is still only about two thirds per student of funding to State schools.

Children who attend private schools are just as much citizens, and their parents just as much tax-payers, as those who attend State schools.

A system which so grossly discriminates against families who choose private schools is unfair. The AEU claims it should be even more unfair.

The AEU is not concerned about justice. Nor is it concerned about better outcomes in education.

The AEU has consistently opposed every state or federal policy proposal which evidence suggests would give better results.

The evidence is indisputable that clear curricula and standards based teaching works, that clear reporting of student results and rankings works, that more parent involvement in schools works, that giving parents free choice of schools works.

But all of those things undermine union power, and the AEU can be relied on to object to all of them.

Perhaps it should be renamed the AUPMT – the Australian Union for Protecting Mediocre Teachers.

According to worried family members, a boat carrying 105 illegal immigrants left Indonesia on October 2nd, and has not been heard of since.

Up till then 19 deaths could be attributed to the Federal Government’s new, humane immigration policies (five after a boat carrying 50 people was sabotaged and exploded, twelve drowned after a boat carrying 39 sank near Cocos Island, and two shot in an altercation with the Indonesian coastguard).

Adrienne Millbank of Monash University says the government’s policies are contradictory and reek of hypocrisy.

But still Mr Rudd and his mates seem to think the appearance of compassion is more important than the lives of a few people in leaky boats.

Bastards.

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