31 December 2005

2005 viewing and reading

Best New Release Film

Downfall :
hardly a conventional biopic but a penetrating insight into the minds of Hitler and some of his acolytes as the Third Reich crumbled.

Best Novel read

Saturday (Ian McEwan)

29 December 2005

Varieties of free speech

I recently came across this item from Spiked . While I don't agree with David Irving's holocaust denying think it's counter productive to threaten him with imprisonment for words he said years ago. He is variously described in the article as a "British historian" and a "racist crank", terms which you might think are incompatible with each other.

The case of Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish writer, is more interesting to me, not only because it is continuing at the moment but also because I'm reading Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilisation, which includes a lengthy chapter "The First Holocaust" on the 1915 massacres in Armenia. Fisk is well aware of Turkish sensitivities on this matter and draws attention (see pp 418 - 429) to some recent airbrushings and equivocations by the US and British governments and media. He also mentions (at p 430) other recent instances where discussion of the massacres has been aired in Turkey, while acknowledging the red rag responses they elicited .

Spiked, asserts that both cases are the same:

"both [ Irving and Pamuk ]could be incarcerated, not for physically harming another person or for damaging property, but for the words they spoke; both could have their liberty removed because they expressed views that the authorities - in Turkey and Austria - decree to be distasteful. And both of their trials are an outrage against the principle of free speech. You may or may not agree with what Pamuk said, and you probably are disgusted by Irving's weasel words. But this isn't about what either author said; it is about whether they should have the right to say it, and we should have the right to hear it. Freedom of speech, as its name suggests, does not mean freedom for views that go down well in polite society but not for views that stink: it means freedom for all speech, the freedom to think, say and write what we please and the freedom of everyone else to challenge or ridicule our arguments."

In today's Hurriyet the Turkish Justice Minister is reported as saying of the Pamuk case "All we need is democratic patience", whatever that means, though he "declined to give details of steps to be taken on the issue".

"Democratic patience" has, like most doublespeak, a bland fuzziness about it. Does it really mean "undemocratic impatience"? This would seem to be more in tune with the current environment of fear and anti-terror legislation.

27 December 2005

UK appeals against Hicks

The BBC reports that the British government is to appeal against the recent court decision that David Hicks is eligible to apply for British citizenship. The story is accompanied by a photograph of a very youthful looking Hicks: doubtless it predates his incarceration in Camp X-Ray.

Vale Mr Packer

The first I heard of Kerry Packer's demise was this morning when I tuned into his TV network to watch the test cricket, a game he'd reshaped to suit his own ends.

The love of cricket seems to have been one of the few things that he and I had in common, but I wonder whether those who succeed him, whether family members or others, will share the same commitment to supporting the game. The panel of experts assembled by Channel 9 this morning at the MCG to deliver their personal eulogies - Richie Benaud, Ian Chappell, Tony Greig and Bill Lawry - reminded me of how much a part of the summer living room furniture they have become over the last 25+ years. The sight of them together on the screen also reminded me that three of the four are older than me. Some of them will be difficult to replace.

If Kerry Packer was responsible (which seems to have been the case) for choosing Richie Benaud to lead the commentary team then he deserves to be remembered as a benefactor of the game.

26 December 2005

Christmas brought to you by whom?

Photo taken yesterday at the front of a local church. The sign in the foreground, with the sponsors' name featuring prominently, suggests that they, not the church, are running the event.

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22 December 2005

Incident in the Mall

I took this photo in Rundle Mall this afternoon.

I came upon the scene as the woman in the middle of
the picture was
being led away handcuffed. There
had apparently been some trouble between her and the child being carried by the officer on the left

being carried by the officer on the left.

I didn't hear anything about it on the news tonight so I'm intrigued as to what prompted the strong police response. Any ideas?
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20 December 2005

Wikipedia under scrutiny

The ABC reports that Wikipedia plans a "fixed" or "stable" version to counter "potential abuse of its live content".

The fundamental Wikipedia idea of allowing open access to contributors is good though it does allow errors of fact and opinion to be posted and to stand uncorrected.

Try looking up Wikipedia's articles on some towns and cities you know or want to find out more about . You'll probably find major differences in the information provided, and sometimes what you'd expect to find, such as the population, isn't mentioned.

On the other hand, as the story above reports, the British science journal Nature has put Wikipedia's scientific credentials to the test by asking independent reviewers to compare 42 of its articles with their counterparts from the Encyclopedia Britannica.

"Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopaedia," Nature reported.

14 December 2005

British (but not Australian or US) justice for David Hicks?

The UK High Court ruling that David Hicks is entitled to be registered as a British citizen contrasts sharply with the Australian government's inertia (or deliberate refusal to intervene) on the matter. as The Advertiser says

The decision may not stand for long though http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1927540,00.html

11 December 2005

Last spin for the Routemaster

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The BBC has reported the demise of the Routemaster bus on London bus routes:

The spindoctors have puffed the bus's alleged shortcomings, such as no wheelchair access, as hard as they can, but have not surprisingly ignored an assessment of the bus as "the best ever model" and "actually more accessible".

Does one need a PhD in industrial design to suggest that the rear platform could be modified to accommodate a wheelchair or two?

The companies who have grasped the opportunity to buy surplus Routemasters for a song and convert them into mobile bars etc have certainly shown a bit more initiative than Transport for London.

The real reason for the phasing out is shown in this photo, which I took in May this year: it is cheaper to replace one human being with an automated ticketing system and several security cameras.

Has anyone considered the potential security benefits of having a human observer to monitor passenger behaviour?

08 December 2005

More on the ABC favourite films

In today's Age Peter Craven has a piece about the ABC's favourite film show http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/movie-favourites-a-populist-grovel/2005/12/07/1133829659777.html. I don't agree with his suggestion that the survey should have been faked to produce a "more viable top 10" though I do agree with his conclusion that unless more is done to "treasure our film culture... it will be lost to history and we'll have a canon made up of last year's mush and modishness."

Response from Oxfam

Yesterday a person from Oxfam rang me to discuss the collectors doorknocking on my street. She stated that

  • The collectors were genuine
  • Oxfam has contracted an outside organisation (not named) to run the collection, and
  • This method has been used for about five years.

I did not ask, not was I told, how much of each dollar raised this way actually ended up with Oxfam.

06 December 2005

Oxfam diversifies its collection methods

Last evening I answered a knock at my door to find two young men standing there.

"Hi mate", said the one with the clipboard "have you heard of Oxfam?" I replied that not only had I heard of it but that I was a donor. End of discussion.

I wondered whether they were, despite their displaying what looked like Oxfam ID, genuine, so this morning I rang the Oxfam state office. I was told that Oxfam had engaged a contractor to collect door to door. I wonder how much of each dollar collected in this manner actually reaches Oxfam. In fact I wonder how much of each dollar that I donate to them actually reaches projects in the field...

05 December 2005

Next generation movie preferences?

Last night I watched ABC TV's program "My Favourite Film" which featured the top 10 films of a recent nationwide poll. http://www.abc.net.au/myfavouritefilm/top100.htm

The results show how far my preferences (see my blogger profile) differ from those of those who voted on this occasion. I can't say much about some of the films, eg Amelie, because I've not seen them, but then not all last night's panellists, of whom Stuart Macgill was both diligent in his viewing and perceptive in his comments, had either.

I'd expected the voting to reflect my stereotype of ABC (more specifically At the Movies) viewers: ageing, with middle to high-brow tastes. I'll need to think again about this and to fill the gaps in my film viewing. But I won't change my favourites for the time being.

02 December 2005

A man with his priorities right

According to this week's City Messenger (one of the Mr Murdoch's minnows). The Lord Mayor of Adelaide in his most recent fortnightly report listed the major events of the preceding 14 days. They were

1. Brian Lara's 226 in the Test.

2. Rupert Murdoch's visit to Adelaide.

3. Donald Rumsfeld's ditto.

I concur with this assessment.

29 November 2005

Help from above for cricket umpires?

To the cricket yesterday and today. Australia completed a comfortable and deserved win today. The turning point of the game IMO was the West Indies' failure to gain a significant first innings lead (at least 50) when they had the opportunity, though the margin of Australia's victory was exaggerated by poor umpiring from Billy Bowden and Aleem Dar.

Today Billy Bowden added to his mistakes of the previous days. He called a 5 ball over during the morning session and on one occasion stopped the bowler half way through his run up to upbraid the West Indian fielders for some alleged infringement, which looked and sounded to me like one man clapping before the ball was delivered.

These lapses seem odd for a man who has recently claimed that God is his "third umpire in a way" http://sport.telegraph.co.uk/sport/main.jhtml?xml=/sport/2005/11/09/scgad09.xml&sSheet=/sport/2005/11/09/ixcrick.html . It would be interesting to know how God communicates his decisions to Billy: on the cricket field they seem to come through very quickly and to favour Australia more than the opposition.

Perhaps there is something to be said for referring more decisions to a third umpire: an earthly one with access to good technology would suffice. Maybe the batting side should be given a certain number of challenges to umpire's decisions: this idea was discussed on the ABC radio commentary during the test. And "elite" umpire training needs to be reviewed.

Perhaps even the third umpire could be the ultimate decision making authority

27 November 2005

The hills and the valleys of test cricket

It was another very good day of test cricket at Adelaide Oval today, despite some lapses by the Australian middle order batters (note PC usage) and the West Indian fielders.

The first session was a la recherche de temps perdu (ie a throwback to the past): hard grafting with wickets falling regularly. 48 runs from 27 overs, for 4 wickets. Hey, this wasn't in the script but it was good to see the West Indian bowlers lift their game. Bravo was magnificent (as his name suggests) and even Fidel Edwards (will his name preclude him from gaining entry to Orstrailia when the new sedition laws are in force?) bowled at the stumps and earned a wicket.

Unfortunately for those who were hoping that the Windies would adminster the coup de grace after lunch. Fidel couldn't maintain the pressure and Hussey (who before lunch might have done more both to protect Symonds and to move the score along) and McGill took advantage of very slack bowling (what did Fidel E have for lunch to make him bowl so loosely afterwards?)

Ramdin dropped Gilchrist from a sitter (but AG didn't last much longer as Chanderpaul took a good catch). Hinds also dropped McGill from as easy a catch as must have ever been offered in test cricket. When the Windeis batted again Ricky Ponting at second slip caught Devon Smith with a catch that as good aas one could hope to see: Lee delivered at about 150km/hr, Smith edged downwards, Ponting moved forward (how could he in the nanosecond?), caught the ball and retained his balance.

26 November 2005

B Lara (cont)

Today Brian Lara scored another 24 runs which was sufficient to make him the top test match run scorer of all time. Congratulations to a master.

The ABC has engaged another master West Indian - Tony Cozier - as part of its radio commentary team. His comments are a combination of incisive analysis of the play and graphic description of the match ambience. IMO only Richie Benaud of current commentators rivals him.

25 November 2005

Another magnificent innings

Brian Lara finished the first day of the Australia - West Indies Test on 202 not out of a total of 7/352. His innings began with intense concentration and very careful, almost wary, shot selection. In the middle session he moved from 27 (out of 71) to 106 (out of 194) gradually revealing his full hand of strokes, while still maintaining his concentration apart from one or two foregiveable lapses. He sprinted to the 200 mark in an over in which he made Brett Lee (who otherwise bowled well) look like a net bowler, or parkland cricketer.

And this is his second great innings at Adelaide this year: the other his 156 against Pakistan in a one day international in January, which I also saw. Unfortunately I won't be able to be at the Adelaide Oval for the start of tomorrow's play but I feel as I've just consumed a magnificent meal - I'll leave the wine comparisons to the Cricinfo reporter who shares my opinion http://content-aus.cricinfo.com/ausvwi/content/story/227179.html.

24 November 2005

Letter to the Editor

Today's Advertiser published an open letter from Mr Rumsfeld "Secretary of Defence" (sic) thanking everyone for making his visit to "your beautiful city" such a success. Interestingly it was published in the Letters to the Editor section, and wasn't even the lead one. It did at least precede those written by the regular correspondents such as Paul Scott Wattle Park (today's contribution a characteristically pithy statement " Bring on TramsAdelaide") and Brian Wreford Morphett Vale (requesting express trains from Oaklands to Salisbury, a variation on his usual theme of extending the Noarlunga Line to Aldinga).

I wonder whether Mr R sends an open letter of thanks to the people of each city he visits. I'd like to see what he says to the citizens of Baghdad.

Despite Mr R's description of his meeting with Mr Downer and Senator Hill as "important talks" his visit to Adelaide doesn't rate on the "What the Secretary has been saying" section of the Defense Department website http://www.defenselink.mil/speeches/secdef.html . The only reference there to a town hall is a transcript of a "Town Hall Meeting" at MacDill Airforce Base on 11 October this year http://www.defenselink.mil/speeches/2005/sp20051011-secdef1981.html in which Mr R describes himself as a "broken down ex-cabinet officer".

17 November 2005

Donald ducks for cover?

All was quiet on the western North Terrace front at 7.30 tonight when I passed Fort Apache redux, aka the Hyatt. True, the fortifications were still in place and a good number of police in attendance, but there was no sign of any demonstrators.

At 9.45pm when I walked past on my way home it was a different matter. Several fire engines with lights flashing were parked in the vicinity and the police contingent was concentrated at the south eastern corner of the perimeter. It soon became evident why. The constabulary were trying, with limited success, to clear some of the barriers to open a passage for Mr Rumsfeld's entourage which, led by a wedge of police motorcyclists in arrow formation like a well-drilled bikie gang, swept imperiously across King William Street and came to a halt on North Terrace. As the entourage consisted of at least ten vehicles and a dozen motorcycles this took up quite a lot of the street. No doubt this wasn't quite as planned: did Mr R have to duck for cover?

Great Sporting Moments

This week I watched a great sporting moment: a triple century scored by Darren "Boof" Lehmann for SA against WA . While the opposition was below strength they were probably stronger than the current Bangladesh and Zimbabwe test teams so the achievement should not be devalued. Unfortunately the media ballyhoo about the Australia - Uruguay soccer match overshadowed the acknowledgement of this achievement. Even the Advertiser gave more prominence to the build up to the soccer.

I watched the match last night and was pleased with the outcome, though not for the first time thought it odd that an important game could be decided by a penalty shoot out.

Perhaps there could be a place in the finals - like a wild card - reserved for teams which have missed out because of penalty shootouts. Another competition would need to be arranged at relatively short notice but surely this wouldn't be too difficult.

By the way, was I the only Australian to be appalled by the rabidly chauvinistic tone of the SBS commentary? Have I been listening to too much cricket or is this now the new standard?

More dead heart than centre of the universe?

This week two pillars of the current world order (or a certain version thereof), Mr Murdoch and Mr Rumsfeld, have visited Adelaide. This has prompted some tongue in cheek remarks from commentators for example Christian Kerr in today's Crikey http://www.crikey.com.au/ (subscription may be required) about Adelaide being, at least for the moment, the centre of the universe.

The local media have matched this with stories about the city being locked down (Ch9 News today). I thought that I'd satisfy my curiosity (and check the accuracy of the reports) so went into the city early this afternoon. Everything looked quieter than usual, though there seemed to be more police and security people around. The 6pm Channel 9 news had a different story, with footage of the Hyatt (which I didn't go past) fortified and bag searches taking place.

I'll be heading in that direction soon (to see a movie, not to demonstrate) so will check out the situation again.

Yesterday Mr Rumsfeld was given a column in Mr Murdoch's Australian to expound his opinion about the strength of the Australian - US alliance http://theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,17258445%5E7583,00.html. In this he makes some comments about the military commission process which draw a very long bow: it "is fair, it is time tested and was a process by which several detainees were brought to justice [sic] during and after World War II."
For alternative views see http://www.llrx.com/features/military.htm and http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/1701789.stm. Note the BBC presenting two sides of the question.

13 November 2005

Miss Julie

ABC Radio National is my default radio station (except when test cricket is being broadcast) and Life Matters is one of my favourite programs. Last Friday however I was, to put it mildly, annoyed by a blatant combination of product placement and job interview featuring Julie McRossin. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/lm/stories/s1502494.htm

Julie was puffing Forever Yours: Australia's Hidden Love Letters, a compilation of material submitted by Life Matters listeners, which she has co-edited (whatever that means). She was her customary eloquent self and admitted that she was now relying on speaking engagements to keep the wolf from the door. I'd thought that someone of her erudition (for an example see http://www.takver.com/history/womyn.htm) would have no difficulty finding work. On air she implied that she might be open to other offers (she didn't mention returning as presenter of Life Matters but this no doubt came to many regular listeners' minds).

IMO Julie has burnt her Life Matters boat and should not, repeat not, be reinstated. Since she left several presenters have been tried: all have been competent, and some eg Sarah McDonald and Richard Aedy, have been outstanding. The ABC should give Miss Julie a miss.


09 November 2005

Water over the bridge? Observations of the Adelaide floods 8 November 2005

Yesterday I was planning to walk in the Adelaide Hills. The heavy rain precluded this but I decided to visit a couple of the places where the media (particularly the ABC, for whom thanks despite a quibble or two about terminology) had reported that floods either threatened or had occurred.

Waterfall Gully Road

In the middle of the day a kind of order, represented by the CFS, SES, Burnside Council and the police, had been restored though no Canute figure had emerged to bid the waters to recede. A lot of damage had been done to both public and private property, which made me wonder

(1) Given the history of flooding on Waterfall Gully Road, what contingency plans had been made, and by whom, to deal with future flooding?

(2) What if any measures were taken, when and by whom, to alert residents to the emerging threat of flooding over the preceding 24 hours?

(3) Who authorises development along Waterfall Gully Road, especially in its flood prone areas?

(4) Are there any proposals for development in these flood prone areas currently
before the development authorities and, if so, what, if any, impact will yesterday's events have on the eventual decision/ recommendation?

Onkaparinga River at Old Noarlunga

Here there was abundant evidence of effective planning and timely response.
The houses at risk had been identified (based on previous flood threats) and protected with a layer of sandbags laid by what appeared to be a functional coalition of the willing including the local council and the CFS (community based volunteers). I was there in the mid- afternoon when the water was rising rapidly, but measures were clearly in place to deal with any threats.

Although Old Noarlunga is low lying and situated on an oxbow bend of the river it has many aged buildings which must have survived previous floods or threats thereof. I wonder why. Did the early white settlers have regard to the vicissitudes of nature and build above the high water line? Did they draw upon the knowledge of the local Aboriginal people to help determine optimal building sites?

Media Coverage

Considering the main news story of the day (terrorism suspects arrested, and the media generously fed with information ), today's Australian had a reasonable report with photos, including one of Waterfall Gully Road (which may have been taken with a very wide angle lens). The Advertiser 's coverage didn't get below the froth as it concentrated on some Christmas decorations which were swept away down the Torrens, though it also warned of the danger of sharks gorging on the dead fish swept out to sea by the Torrential torrent .

One minor black spot was the solecism of the ABC reporter at Noarlunga who described a "swing bridge" across the river when he could only have meant a suspension bridge (I was within eyesight of his ostentatiously decorated ABC vehicle when I heard his live report on the 3pm news).

I can (up to a point) cope with allegations of left-wing bias at the ABC, but when it comes to poor English expression it is harder to defend such lapses, even if they were perpetrated by a person better known (to me at least) as a sporting commentator . Does the ABC have a re-education program for such people?

Where to from here?

Floods are uncommon, but not rare, in and around Adelaide so it's not surprising that some problems have resurfaced. No doubt the state government, local councils and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all will be assuring the media that all is well and that those for whom all is not well will be given $700 to assuage the short term pain (and the donors' consciences). No doubt development processes will continue to permit houses to be built in flood prone areas without any flood mitigation procedures in place.

To be fair, some measures are being put in place.See for example
You may well wonder what contribution so many disparate groups can make
to an understanding of floods in SA, let alone to coming up with moderately effective proposals to respond to the next set of problems.

02 November 2005

Worth how many words?

The Bill Leak cartoon in today's Australian http://theaustralian.news.com.au/cartoon is IMO a magnificent summary of the current Australian political environment.

As if to demonstrate that written words are capable of matching pictures, Paul Kelly's opinion piece immediately underneath the cartoon http://theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,17109859%255E12250,00.html shows that not only the Leader of the Opposition is hedging his bets:

"Australia's public mood seems more decoupled than ever from the sheer complexity of Iraq. This contest is not a morality play. It is about the balance of power in the region, the balance of power in the war on terrorism and how to minimise the damage from Bush's disastrous 2003 intervention."

It will be interesting to see who responds to each of these items, and how.

31 October 2005

Since when has it been illegal to take photos at Australian airports?

Yesterday I went to farewell my daughter and grandchildren, who were returning to London after an all too brief visit. The new Adelaide airport terminal allows visitors accompanying departing passengers to go beyond the security screening. As I had not divested myself of all the sharp objects in my possession I decided not to go beyond the gate but instead to take a photograph of the family.

As I pointed my camera at the grandchildren one of the officials overseeing the security screening barked at me that photographs weren't permitted. There were no signs stating this, and I was not aware that it was now forbidden in Australia. It is not uncommon overseas, but I'd like to know the nature and extent of the prohibition. Is all photography on airport land forbidden, or just near the departure gates, or what? What about the penalties? Will malefactors be subject to the forthcoming anti-terrorist laws with their attendant threats of detention without trial and isolation from friends and family?

21 October 2005

Does Mr Murdoch speak the same language?

While I'm not a paid up member of his fan club (or even a shareholder in News Corp), I have to admit to a soft spot for Rupert Murdoch, or at least some of the things he says and does. In today's Australian (p19 "Rupert netted by web's potential") he's quoted as saying "The more we think about it the more the internet fits into our whole modus vivendi" .

While using a foreign phrase (even from a dead language) violates some people's idea of correct English expression it does suggest that the great man has a deeper appreciation of the potential of language than many of his employees, for example the headline writer and whoever thought it necessary to translate the phrase. Perhaps Mr Murdoch could run a few master classes for some of his acolytes?

Cruise Ship Australia hits stormy weather: or whose Titanic conceit?

A week after it was published in the Bulletin the storm created by David Williamson's article comparing Australia to a cruise ship (see http://www.bulletin.ninemsn.com.au/bulletin/site/articleIDs/19DB1992F58E0305CA25707D000CDC14 )has, after briefly abating, increased to gale force thanks to some media luminaries who seem to have belatedly found enough wind to fill their sails (and if you think this goes over the top with nautical cliches just read what others have written).

This morning Gerard Henderson gave ABC RN Breakfast listeners his exegesis of the article; and some of the other usual media suspects have weighed in (try a Google search if you want to read them). But please note that their comments are but zephyrs to the gale force of the Australian's coverage, which began with its lead editorial on Wednesday "Titanic Conceit: if artists reject ordinary people, they are the losers". With a headline like this, who needs any further explanation? Probably not the aspirationals.

Thursday produced a (predictable) rejoinder from David Williamson, while today the Letters to the Editor began with an obsequious puff for the Oz from Dr Rachel Birati, who claimed that the editorial was "a meticulous work of art".

What next? If the Oz editorials are now, in the opinion of Dr Birati (a Monash uni academic), works of art, are they now eligible to be included in HSC English syllabi (or syllabuses)? Or will they be included in Dr Birati's course on Literature of Destruction and Redemption to be offered at Monash University in Semester 2 next year?

Through a guided study of appropriate literary texts, students will be able to explore the theme by focussing separately on destruction and redemption and then viewing them both in a unified way. Students will be directed to important critical material and will be guided through a variety of audio-visual aids.
(emphasis added)

Might Williamson's piece meet Dr Birati's criteria as an exemplum of destruction? If so, surely the Oz's editorial and Gerard H & co's responses would qualify as appropriate exempla of redemption.
What happens to the student who challenges the direction and guidance of the course coordinator, whether directly or indirectly (via assessment)? Will the Australian, Gerard Henderson or Uncle Tom Cobbley and all go into print about this threat to academic freedom? Or is this the new PC (aka neo-con toeing the line)? I won't hold my breath waiting for a response.

19 October 2005

Update on underemployment and welfare reforms

The issue of unemployment and welfare reform and the links between them have been kept on the front - well middle - burner in the media today with more comments from Barnaby Joyce, the Salvation Army and the CFMEU see http://theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,16965175%255E2702,00.html.

The Salvos deserve special praise because their employment services arm is a major beneficiary of government largesse. Will some of the other big players now step forward and support them?

My post yesterday was more concerned about underemployment, though of course this is linked to unemployment. I was nevertheless pleasantly surprised, via a letter in today's Crikey, to see that in WA there exists an Organisation of Un(der)employed People. They don't seem to have a website but in a previous incarnation appear to have called themselves a Union - surely the union movement hasn't forced them to change their title? They, with many others (albeit hardly a representative sample of Australian society) gave evidence to a parliamentary committee in 2003 http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/ewrwp/paidwork/appendixd.htm.

Mary Jenkins, the Secretary of the Organisation (formerly known as the Union), gives a graphic example in her letter to Crikey:

A person on Newstart can earn $62 a week without paying extra tax. This will not cover the resent rise in the cost of living. If they earn up to $120 extra they pay 50c in the dollar tax, which means half of what they earn goes to the government. Anything over $120 they pay the Government 70c in the dollar. So these people are working for 30c if they earn more than $120 above the Newstart allowance.

18 October 2005

Unemployment fruit salad

In today's Crikey lead story (http://www.crikey.com.au: subscription required) Christian Kerr discusses how "unemployment" is defined differently around the world. He compares Australia, where a person who works for an hour a week is deemed to be employed, to Germany, where someone who works less than 15 hours a week and wants to work more is considered to be unemployed. He points out that these differences dilute the force of the claims made by Messrs Howard and Andrews about our high position on the global employment league table.

Sure, it's good to see more people in work, but what about the underemployed: those who don't qualify as unemployed ? For example, mature age people who struggle to survive in home based businesses or rural workers reliant on seasonal work. Where are the programs or funding support to help them?

In the last few years the goverment has funded many worthy programs and fostered the growth of a privatised employment services industry which has seen large for-profit organisations do very nicely thank you. The industry and the government have developed a cosy relationship where even the older, often church and community based, non profit organisations almost invariably choose to take the government's money and run its programs. By doing so they become de facto government agencies for whom self-interest engenders a reluctance to criticise any government policies (and ideologies?).

Is there any organisation which speaks in any more than a whisper on behalf of the underemployed?

13 October 2005

Who called Bob "Judas"?

This question does not refer to the recently superannuated Premier of NSW's decision to accept a reported half million pieces of gold for doing some consultancy work, so the answer is not "most Australians with a well developed moral sense".

An Adelaide giveaway paper has offered a copy of the Bob Dylan No Direction Home soundtrack CD to the first four people who can identify the irate fan who shouted out "Judas" at a 1966 concert in the UK (when Dylan reverted to electric music). A Google search has narrowed the field down to two: John Cordwell and Keith Butler. See

http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/music/features/article314340.ece ( Cordwell's claim)

http://www.expectingrain.com/dok/who/b/butlerkeith.html. (the case for Butler with a nod in J C's direction).

I've neither the time nor the inclination to peruse the 21,100 or so links Google has thrown up and it's too late to claim a prize, but it would be interesting to know what the correct answer is.

12 October 2005

Lifeboat drill on Cruise Ship Australia

Today's Bulletin features an article by David Williamson in which he uses a recent cruise as a starting point for some trenchant criticisms of modern Australia.


It didn't take him long to see underneath the veneer of shipboard glitz:

it soon became apparent... that all wasn't to be plain sailing. The ship was stacked to the gunwales [sic] with John Howard’s beloved “aspirational Australians”.
The dinner conversation made this plain. They aspired to all manner of things: to holidays like this, to new cars, to kitchen refits, to renovations, to private education for their children, and to practically anything made of plastic, wood or steel. The one surefire topic of conversation that connected erstwhile strangers was price comparisons.

Bob Carr wasn't on board (Williamson couldn't identify any Proust readers) so the cultural deficit had to be made up by recollections of a cruise past:

A British cruise line took us from Hong Kong down through Vietnam, Cambodia and on to Singapore. Excellent lecturers from Oxford and other major universities gave talks morning and afternoon about the geography, history, culture and art of the places we were about to visit. It was like a floating university of the very best kind, and we had to arrive early and fight for seats as hordes of ageing but fit and mentally alert English jostled for front spots, many taking copious notes...In contrast to the mindless hedonism of the Australian cruise we were presented with a world of sharp and complex reality. Discussion at dinner was a lively examination of what we’d seen and its implications. The creative heights and the brutal depths of human potential resonated powerfully in our imaginations.

Cultural binge or cultural cringe?

Back on Cruise Ship Australia no one so much as mentioned the plight of the real aspirationals on board, the Indonesian and Filipino crew members who were away from their families on low-wage contracts for up to 10 months, or queried why they had one kind of lifestyle and we had another.

So the British cruise line vessel had an entirely British crew (and faculty)? We're not told.

Next Williamson shifts his focus to the environment. Australians have inherited [?] a very fragile ecosystem; probably after Iceland, the most fragile in the world .

He is pessimistic about the future but, somewhat oddly given his attitude elsewhere, endorses the economic rationalist view that farming should be shut down to buy time.

Then he concludes with a stirring rhetorical flourish

If you believe in a wider set of values than accumulating material affluence, wear it as a badge of honour next time some self-righteous journalist uses the word “elites” pejoratively against you. An obsessive focus on material acquisition, encouraged by governments who worship economic growth and little else, have locked us into a probable long-term disaster scenario for Cruise Ship Australia and for the planet as a whole.

This is all very highminded. It's difficult not to agree with many of his general points, though I'd have like to have seen him make them more subtly, and maybe even suggest how to change Cruise Ship Australia's (and perhaps Cruise Ship Earth's) course.

08 October 2005

Robert Zimmerman

I've just bought the DVD of No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese's doco about Bob Dylan from his musical beginnings (not long after his birth it seems) until the mid 60s. It's long (though not too long for those acquainted with Scorsese's other docos) yet well worth viewing if you're interested in Robert Dylan Zimmerman or documentary film making or both. The backbone of the film is archival footage, much of which was unfamiliar to me, of performances and events, fleshed out with recently filmed interviews with Bob and other luminaries eg Joan Baez and Allen Ginsberg, some of whom have weathered the passage of time better than others.

It's possible to program the DVD to play the Dylan music from the movie and, by drilling down into the Special Features menu, to play a few songs without commentary voiceover or interruption.

Apart from the music there's a great scene of a concert in the UK in the mid 60s where the national anthem (God Save the Queen) was played, perhaps partly as a crowd control device, to give Bob a chance to escape from those whose who'd taken umbrage at his conversion (in fact reversion) to electric guitars etc . This stratagem did not seem to be very successful but it reminds those like me who lived in the 60s how many things have changed. Another example is the number of male musicians who performed wearing ties.

02 October 2005


Woke this morning to the news of the latest Bali bombings. Apart from reporting the casualities the media, understandably in the circumstances, is asking "who did it?".

Last night, thanks to a friend, I was able to get a ticket to Robert Fisk's Edward Said Memorial Lecture at Adelaide University. Anyone who knows anything about Fisk will be aware of his reputation as a controversial journalist, especially for his support for the Palestinian cause.

I thought the lecture was an eloquently delivered piece of moderate advocacy for the Palestinian cause. Fisk interleafed his talk with footage from a 1993 Discovery Channel program he'd made which showed the dispossession of Palestinian Arabs in stark detail. Not surprisingly, complaints from certain quarters (any guesses which?) resulted in the program being banned from further screenings.

In the lecture Fisk didn't propose any solutions, but when asked during question time he suggested that any settlement had to be based on UN Resolution 242
http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/0/59210ce6d04aef61852560c3005da209?OpenDocument. He did acknowledge that the resolution was a starting (or re-starting) not a finishing point but didn't elaborate in any detail.

He also didn't say much about Iraq until question time, when he stressed the importance of always asking why things happened, not just how they did and who was responsible . He quoted statements made around the end of WW1 by politicians such as Lloyd George, the then British PM, which are still chillingly relevant today.

I don't think the lecture has yet been published but it deserves to be. In the meantime to find out more about Robert Fisk and to read some of his other work see http://www.robert-fisk.com/ .

There's plenty of material about Resolution 242 : for a summary see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UN_Security_Council_Resolution_242 .

30 September 2005

World Solar Challenge cover up?

It's good to see the World Solar Challenge given some publicity eg
http://www.theadvertiser.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5936,16764301%5E2682,00.html .

This may not be the full story. Xinhua, the official Chinese newsagency, reports an aspect of the winning team' s victory celebrations which you'd normally expect to see featured prominently in many of Mr Murdoch's media outlets:

The Dutch team celebrated in typically exuberant fashion, some members exposing their behinds as the car came to a halt, and later jumping gleefully onto the Victoria Square fountain.


What are we to make of this? Who is providing "fair and balanced" reporting here: the Murdoch or the Chinese media?

29 September 2005

GNE 2005

An outline of my Great Northern Expedition (GNE) in August and September 2005.

Photos - clockwise from top left: On the (unsealed) road again somewhere in the outback; Gregory Downs Hotel (the pub with no beer); Plunge pool Florence Falls Litchfield NP; Getting my feet wet in the Gulf of Carpentaria at Karumba

Day 1: Adelaide - Marree

Early start (by my standards). Rendezvoused with Tony, Coral and their vehicle (1992 Suzuki Vitara wagon similar to mine) then travelled to Quorn where we collected Rolf, Judy and their vehicle (late model Pathfinder).

Headed north. Each of us had a UHF radio but mine had a limited range, so a combination of this and my slow driving meant that we parted company when the others ducked into the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna. I ended up at Marree at dusk, wondering where they had got to. Decided to stay in one of the two caravan parks for the night.

Kms driven: 697.

Day 2: Marree - Tippipilla Creek

Fortunately the lost souls appeared in the morning, having spent the night at Farina some distance back down the track.

We set out along the Birdsville Track, which was in very good nick for an unsealed road. There had obviously been a fair amount of rain recently as there were occasional puddles of water on the road and the grass was tinged with green. We passed a cyclist heading south: he said that he travelled 42 to 92 kms a day depending on which way the wind was blowing.

We stopped at Cooper Creek which, notwithstanding the recent rain, was dry and Mungerannie, where the Derwent River (not marked on many maps) trickled across the road.

Driving on, we stopped for the night on the gibber plain at Tippipilla Creek.

Kms driven: 347.

Day 3: Tippipilla Creek - Birdsville

A relatively brisk run into Birdsville, stopping to inspect the racecourse which was being readied for the annual race meeting.

The town is laid out on a grid pattern and has a good range of facilities including a couple of public internet cafes, a bakery, library and a grassed oval.

After pitching our tents in the caravan park (I took longer than the others as it was very windy) we drove out to Big Red, reputedly the largest sandhill in the Simpson Desert. Rolf and Tony both drove up it easily. I didn't even try but did climb it (see photo elsewhere on blog).

Kms driven: 264.

Day 4: Birdsville - roadside camp south of Boulia

Drove north on road which interspersed some sealed stretches with unsealed ones. Stopped at Bedourie, another small town with an impressive array of facilities, for lunch, then onwards towards Boulia.

At night camped by a waterhole or river not far from a herd of cattle being driven/ drove (?).

Kms driven: 327.

Day 5: On to Mt Isa

The cattle passed us before we started. We overtook them some way up the road: the motorcycle drovers were moving them along at a good clip.

My car was a bit sluggish so the mechanical experts Rolf and Tony looked under the bonnet and identified a malfunctioning lead as the cause of the problem. They made a temporary repair, which lasted until Boulia when further work was required. Fuel consumption increased significantly during this time (from about 8 to 10 litres/ 100km).

At Boulia we went to the Min Min exhibition a series of graphic exhibits about the legendary Min Min (a bright light which is reputed to appear at random in the district).

From Boulia the road to Mt Isa was sealed, albeit only one lane, which meant that we had to pull over whenever a vehicle approached us.

Stopped at Dajarra, a town which like many in the outback had obviously seen better days, then moved to Mt Isa.

Kms driven: 394.

Day 6: Mt Isa sightseeing

Underground mine

Irish Club

Kms driven: 19.

Day 7: Mt Isa - Adel's Grove (near Lawn Hill)

West along the bitumen towards Camooweal, then north along a road which became unsealed and progressively worse.

Two river crossings.

Riversleigh: disappointing because of lack of signage.

Adel's Grove: camped on the lower level amid rainforest trees. Info leaflet warned of all sorts of creepy crawlies esp snakes but didn't see any.

Kms driven: 334

Day 8: Lawn Hill

Walked, canoed, swam. Idyllic.

At night listened intermittently to cricket. Also heard noise of trucks in background which turned out to be from (relatively) nearby Century mine.

Kms driven: 22

Day 9: Adel's Grove - Gregory River

Back on the rough roads but hit the bitumen again at Gregory Downs, where the pub had no beer for sale on account of licence having been suspended for some unspecified reason.

Camped on banks of Gregory River c 20kms south of pub. Another idyllic site.

Kms driven: 114

Day 10: Gregory River - Normanton

Bitumen most of the way. Stopped to help a young woman whose car had broken down.

Kms driven: 392

Day 11: Normanton - Karumba

Day trip to Karumba.

Kms driven: 191

Day 12: Normanton - Croydon by rail and bus

Gulflander excursion.

Kms driven: 4

Kms travelled: c 300 (roughly half by train).

Day 13: Normanton - Camooweal

Took my leave of the others and headed south, then west. Sealed road all the way so made reasonable time and was able to reach Camooweal, which was better than i expected.

Kms driven: 711.

Day 14: Camooweal - near Daly Waters

Breakfasted at Camooweal Hotel then set off into the Northern Territory: my second visit and each time have entered from Queensland.

A long slog of a drive, not without some interesting sights, though these were generally a long way apart.

Camped overnight in caravan park at junction of Stuart and Carpentaria Highways.

Kms driven: 847.

Day 15: Daly Waters - Birdum

Arrived at Larrimah to join Birdum Alive in 2005 group. Drove with others over a very rough and at times indistinct track to old Birdum site. Pitched tent, looked around, rode to Larrimah Hotel on fettlers' trolley (railway track still in good condition) to replenish liquid supplies.

At night music under the stars.

Kms driven: 115

Day 16: Birdum - Coolalinga

Slow start in morning, despite a good night's sleep, and got back onto the highway at about midday.

Stopped for an hour at Katherine and briefly at Pine Creek and Adelaide River.

Caravan park quite full but I unrolled my swag under a light and went quickly to sleep, disturbed only by a few spots of rain.

Kms driven: 496.

Day 17: Coolalinga - Darwin - Litchfield NP

Drove to Darwin, replenished supplies and then headed south.

Arrived at Litchfield early afternoon, chose campsite at Florence Falls 2WD, drove to Wangi Falls and back, then descended the 135 steps (I counted them) to the plunge pool. Great.

Again early to bed.

Kms driven: 252.

Day 18: Litchfield NP - Tennant Creek

Rose before dawn and surprised myself by getting on the road at 7.06am. I wasn't the only person by any means on the road to the Batchelor turnoff, so I shouldn't be too cocky about the relatively early start.

I set out with an open mind, trying to drive as far as I could in the day (not the night) and expecting to take either three or four days to get to Adelaide. As it turned out I was able without driving too quickly (100 - 110km/ hr) to reach Tennant Creek in the gloaming at 6.30pm.

Kms driven: 985.

Day 19: Tennant Creek - Marla

Another long haul, starting at 7.05 am and finishing at Marla at just before 7pm. Stopped for about an hour in Alice Springs, with briefer halts at Barrow Creek, Ti Tree and Kulgera.

Kms driven: 985 (again).

Day 20: Marla - Adelaide

A very long haul. Arrived home at 9.15pm, having missed only the first session of the final test. I was too tired to watch much more. In retrospect it was a mistake to drive back through the Clare Valley: certainly a much more scenic route (the countryside was very green) but the road was serpentine and each small town necessitated a speed reduction. I'd forgotten how many towns there were in the Clare Valley.

I probably overdid this leg, and while I never came near to falling asleep at the wheel I did stop a couple of times on the last leg and jogged about outside the car to refocus myself.

At no stage during any of the three days did I drink while driving (though a can or two of light beer were most welcome at the end of days 1 and 2).

Kms driven: 1138.

Total trip kms driven: 8624.

Fuel economy: approx 8.2 litres/ 100km (32 mpg).

GNE Posted by Picasa

28 September 2005

Birdum: the end of the Never-Never line

Birdum is about 500kms south of Darwin. It is the furthest point reached by the tracks of the "Never- Never line", as the North Australia Railway, the forerunner of the recently constructed Adelaide - Darwin railway, was known.

My interest in the line was aroused by a "Hindsight" program on ABC Radio National http://www.abc.net.au/rn/history/hindsight/stories/s1409442.htm .

I contacted Trevor Horman, President of the Friends of the North Australia Railway, who had contributed to the program. Knowing that I was planning to be in the vicinity (in outback terms) at the time he invited me to Birdum Alive in 2005.

I rescheduled my itinerary and duly arrived at Larrimah, a few kms north of Birdum, where Trevor and everyone else made me feel welcome. We then moved to Birdum for the main event: a combination of field trip, working bee and social function (with live music and other entertainment). The planning and organisation were top quality and I'm sure that everyone there will retain fond memories for a long time. I certainly will.

Unfortunately my camera memory cards didn't have much spare capacity so I couldn't take many photos. The one here shows the end of the line at the former Birdum station site: the track survives and, as we found out, is capable of conveying a well-laden (with people and other supplies) fettlers' trolley to the Larrimah Hotel and back.

The water tower (built in Richmond Victoria in 1929) in the photo is the only surviving structure: the other buildings which constituted Birdum were either dismantled or, in the case of the pub, moved to Larrimah.

25 September 2005

The Captain and the President

I know that there are many links between sport and politics but had never thought that Ricky Ponting had much in common with George Bush. Now a Cambridge academic writing in the London Review of Books has suggested some similarities between the two. See
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n18/runc01_.html .

A new meaning for an old word in the PM's vocabulary?

Insiders (ABC TV) today showed some recent footage of the Prime Minister on talkback radio trying to wash his hands of any responsibility for the current level of petrol prices. In response to an increasingly irate caller the PM replied addressing him as "mate".

This is the first time I recall hearing Mr Howard use the word when he's on the defensive. Is he just following the trend of using it as a generic greeting or is he trying to convince those who returned him to office that he's not lost touch with their hearts and minds, even if he can't do anything about their pockets?

24 September 2005

Images of India 2005: Mumbai

VT + PC = CST.
Originally Victoria Terminus, recent changes in the local political landscape have seen the station renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, or CST, after a celebrated Maratha warlord. While it is the chief station for the city by no means all intercity trains begin or terminate there, so if you're planning a rail journey to or from Mumbai check your ticket. you may want to think about rebooking if you have to start or finish at an outlying station such as Dadar.
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Images of India 2005: Mumbai

A cricket match in central Mumbai on the Maidan, a large fenced off area with room for several cricket pitches.  Posted by Picasa

Images of India 2005: Goa

Is this the only bus shelter in the world to
have been given World Heritage listing?
Note the ATM with security guard.

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Images of India 2005: Democracy in action

Election poster Benaulim Goa Posted by Picasa

Images of India 2005: Varanasi

The Ganga at Varanasi.
The city, which is built on one bank of the majestic river, is like a supersized rabbit warren, with narrow lanes which disorient the visitor (and perhaps some residents). Not much seems to have changed since 1956 when Satyajit Ray, the great Indian film director, filmed Aparajito (the second of his Apu trilogy) here. Even the monkeys are still a nuisance: Ray recorded the hazards they presented in his memoir My Years With Apu. By a stroke of good fortune I'd bought a copy just before I arrived and so was able to read what he'd written while looking out from the guesthouse balcony at the passing traffic on the river and the ghats.
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Images of India 2005: Jodhpur

Taken from the ramparts of the Meherangarh Fort, which is a must see (though you need to be prepared for a steep climb to the top). Allow at least half a day to explore what is inside and to look out over the city with its many blue houses and Anglo-Indian style clock tower (on right of photo).
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Images of India 2005: Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer: currently accessible only by road and rail (the latter is less stressful) but worth a visit to see this fort. Posted by Picasa

20 September 2005

Simpson Desert August 2005