31 December 2006

End of year reflections

Another year has almost passed. I was going to write at some length about some of the highlights of 2006 as I saw them (including books read, films seen etc), but will content myself with mentioning the times I've seen my grandchildren (who are shown in the photo above scrutinising a bandicoot at Cleland Wildlife Park ) and my first circumnavigation of the world, including a long awaited visit to New York.

The grandchildren are returning to London with their parents early tomorrow so I'll be retiring shortly so that I can rise in time to farewell them at the airport.

Best wishes for 2007 to everyone who reads this. I hope that it is a more peaceful year for you personally and for the world in general.

26 December 2006

Another step towards a republican Christmas

While the Prime Minister/ de facto President has issued his Christmas message("Think of less fortunate, says PM"), the Governor General, for the third year running, does not appear to have released one.

The last GG's CM that I can find is from 2003. Oddly enough it looks very similar to Mr Howard's 2006 one (but I suppose when you've read one, give or take a reference or two to recent major events, you've read them all).

Has Mr Howard instructed (or "advised") the Governor General not to issue Christmas messages? I would be surprised if he hadn't.

Devaluing the office of G-G is one means of preparing Australia for transition to a republic but doing it by stealth will mean that when the opportunity arises to change our constitution to a republican one it will be harder to argue the case for having a President with some real powers. I'm not saying that this will be necessary or desirable but without seeing further and better particulars I'd like to keep as many options as possible on the table, not under the carpet.

In the UK this year, an alternative Christmas message far more radical (I think) than anything the GG is likely to put out here has been given a platform, as The Age

Other reminders of the origin of Christmas

In today's Australian Ross Fitzgerald writes an opinion piece "Still no room at the inn".

It begins

On Boxing Day it behoves us to consider the plight of the destitute and the homeless. Cities and towns across Australia all seem to have skid rows or no-go areas and, sadly, the numbers congregating in these places are increasing. How can this happen in our affluent society?

As freeways transect the city, inner suburbs become gentrified and local councils impose "dry zones", and night refuges close because they can't meet government measures of performance, homeless people are being funnelled into zones of hopelessness. Add housing and income-support policies that are increasingly short term and outcome driven and the punishing sanctions on those who fail the work tests imposed by government, and we have a pincer movement of social pressure squeezing the most vulnerable into insecure housing or on to the streets.

Politicians and administrators often ignore the homeless, opting for glossier issues or, worse, blame them for their misfortune when it's a national problem that every community needs to address urgently.

Read on for more details.

Also today Bill Leak 's cartoon "Joseph goes for another miracle", showing Joseph preparing to watch the test on a borrowed TV while Mary feeds the infant Jesus, is another comment on our current values.

"The most hilarious press release ever issued by a senior politician"?

This (minus the question mark) is Matt Price's assessment of Mike Rann's tribute to Shane Warne (who as I post has just taken his 700th test wicket). It hasn't yet appeared on Mr Rann's website but Matt has transcribed it to his blog . An edited highlights version is in Price's sport column at p39 of Saturday's Australian.

I'm reluctant to agree with Price's opinion that it's the most hilarious press release ever, but I agree that it is over the top. I'll have more to say about this and other cricket matters at Nudges and Deflections.

25 December 2006

Bushfires one week, white Christmas the next: could it only happen in Australia at Christmas?

Two stories from The Age show how the Australian (or more accurately, the Victorian) climate can turn around so rapidly:

One reports that an area which a week ago was threatened by bushfires has been covered by snow. The other reports hail in the outer suburbs of Melbourne which, with the accompanying photo, has given the headline writer sufficient licence to judge it a white Christmas.

Here in Adelaide it's been cold by our standards, with a little rain falling at times. A grey Christmas, as somebody in the group with whom I shared an excellent Christmas lunch, described it.

A Christmas message for our times

The Anglican Archbishop of Perth has, the ABC reports, accused the Prime Minister of hypocrisy over the delays in bringing David Hicks to trial (if what the US authorities propose can be described as a trial).

How many other leading citizens will have the small amount of courage need to follow his lead?

22 December 2006

Would you hire this man?

As I read Barry Cohen's piece in The Australian about a journey he made in 1970 when he was a member of the ALP's Aboriginal affairs committee to some remote communities in the NT I felt that this was a somewhat longwinded description of some bushbashing and hijinks. Wrong. Read the last paragraph (it's on p10 if you prefer the hard copy version).

21 December 2006

Surviving the bush

No , not advice to the people of Iraq. Today's Australian (p9) ran a lengthy and well informed article by D D McNicoll about how t survive in the bush. It was prompted by the unfortunate loss of 17 year old David Iredale who died while bushwalking in the Blue Mountains. Unfortunately the article isn't online though several of its key points are covered in
this report.

While stories about lost people are always newsworthy it's not often that papers print, as today's Australian does, detailed advice about how to survive in the bush. Since I can't link to the original here's a precis of the advice:

# Carry an

# Travel in groups of at least four (if one person is injured, two can go for help while one remains with the injured person).

# Carry a whistle (I'm not sure that there's such a thing as a 50c one as the paper claims, but they shouldn't be that much more expensive): use it if you're lost.

# Carry a "flash mirror" (a small mirror with a hole in it to point towards a searching aircraft or helicopter). Apparently very effective, even in wooded country.

# Keep hydrated: don't wait until you feel thirsty.

20 December 2006

Hicks "at breaking point"

The Age reports that David Hicks is, according to his father, "at breaking point" after he recently refused to take a pre-arranged phone call.

Mr Hicks said his son was unable to communicate properly during their last telephone conversation in July this year.

He was now convinced his son was suffering severe mental problems, exacerbated by spending the past nine months in solitary confinement.

"We have been worried about David's mental state for three years," Mr Hicks said.

"This shows he's not as well as everyone says he is.

"He has probably thought 'do I need to go through this mental stress' and speak to the family.

"The Australian government says he's OK ... but they're cold, they have got no heart, they don't care about him."

According to another report in The Age the Federal government will question a decision to ban forensic psychiatrist Professor Paul Mullen from visiting Hicks at Guantanamo Bay.

Given the government's record of equivocation on all Hicks related matters I'd be surprised if the questioning was very robust. It seems that those who want to see the matter resolved are being fobbed off with bureaucratic waffle which appears to hold out a slight chance of a resolution while preserving a ruthless and immoral status quo.

There are some, such as
Mirko Bagaric, who criticise people like me for focusing on David Hicks to the exclusion of the other Guantanamo detainees. I take their point, but justify my position by saying that the Hicks situation is different because he, like me, is an Australian citizen and therefore deserves the protection of our legal system. Once this has been given I'll turn my attention to the remaining detainees (and other persons who have been detained without trial).

18 December 2006

Seasonal froth #1: Blog-media cliches

Gawker has published a list of cliches which it says infest the media and blogosphere. I can't say that I'm familiar with many of them, which may only confirm that my three day visit to New York earlier this was insufficient to acquaint me with the language of the Manhattan sophisticates who are Gawker's primary readership.

17 December 2006

What does the word really mean?

Have you heard the word 'macaca'? It has, as news.com.au reports, been given an award in the USA for the most politically correct term of the year.

What does it mean? The report doesn't tell the full story. It says the word is "
an offensive slang term for Indians from the Sub-continent", but according to Global Language Monitor which organises the awards, it has a narrower, more regional meaning, being "an offensive slang term for Indians of the Sub-continent in the West Indies" (emphasis added).

In its report of the incident which brought the word to prominence The Washington Post gave it a different meaning again:

Depending on how it is spelled, the word macaca could mean either a monkey that inhabits the Eastern Hemisphere or a town in South Africa. In some European cultures, macaca is also considered a racial slur against African immigrants, according to several Web sites that track ethnic slurs.

Wikipedia has further details.

Here's the complete Global Language Monitor list (with an interesting bonus item at the end):

1. Macaca – Might have changed the political balance of the US Senate, since George Allen’s (R-VA) utterance (which is an offensive slang term for Indians of the Sub-continent in the West Indies) surely has impacted his election bid.

2. Global Warming Denier – Since there are those who now believe that climate changed has moved from scientific theory to dogma; there are now proposal that ‘global warming deniers’ be treated the same as ‘holocaust deniers:’ professional ostracism, belittlement, ridicule and, even, jail.

3. Herstory for History – ‘Herstory’ again attempts to take the male element out of ‘HIS story’. Though there are nearly 900,000 Google citations for ‘HERstory, they are all based on a mistaken assumption. When Herodotus wrote the first history, the word meant simply an ‘inquiry’.

4. Flip Chart. The term can be offensive to Filipinos, please use ‘writing block’.

5. 1a and 1b -- The headmistress of a grade school in Midlothian (Scotland) had to split a grade into two equal classes. Though the split was purely alphabetical, parents objects because those with children in '1b' feared they may be perceived as academically inferior to those in '1a'.

6. Politically Incorrect Colors -- Staff at a coffee shop in Glasgow refused to serve a customer who had ordered a 'black coffee', believing it to be ‘racist.’ He wasn’t served until he changed his order to 'coffee without milk'. Around the world we have reports of the word ‘black’ becoming emotionally charged and politically correct or incorrect depending upon one’s point of view.

7. Oriental – Asian, please. Though this is generally a purely American phenomenon. In Europe, Asians prefer the term Oriental, which literally means ‘those from the East’.

8. Menaissance – The rise of a ‘manliness’ culture or male renaissance. Replaces metrosexual, which evidently appealed to women but not men.

9. Momtini -- A Michigan mother invented the term ‘momtini’ as an act of rebellion against ‘parental correctness’. This has raised the hackles of child protection and ‘anti-alcohol’ groups.

10. “Our Mother and Father Who are in Heaven” – From a new, ‘inclusive’ Bible translation (The Bible in a More Just Language) that replaces what it believes to be “divisive” teachings of Christianity.

Bonus: Political Correctness -- 'Equality Essentials,' a 44-page training manual book called has been used for staff training courses at Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire suggests that the term Political Correctness is now politically incorrect.

For more about the council manual see here.


Time magazine's cover story for the 25 December issue includes a segment about the man who incurred Senator Allen's wrath. Ironically, the story states, he's lived all his life in Virginia while Allen is a Californian carpetbagger.

13 December 2006

Ghan involved in accident

An accident to the Ghan passenger train has apparently left a passenger and the driver of the "truck" with which it collided about 130 kms south of Darwin severely injured.

The Age online report includes a graphic photo, though the headline describing the scene as "desert" is wide of the mark, as anyone who has travelled through the area in daylight knows.

On my travels up north earlier this year I was pleasantly surprised to see that most if not all level crossings had warning lights, though not boom gates. I took the photo above at the crossing on the Buchanan Highway between Dunmarra and Top Springs, a remote area more than 500kms south of Darwin.

I'm curious to find out more about what happened.

[Links accessed 13 December 2006]

Update 6.00 pm CST 13 December 2006.

Today several media outlets including news.com.au and The Age report that the driver of the semi-trailer involved in the collision with the Ghan has been arrested in the Royal Darwin Hospital.

Each of these websites has a photo of the scene which conveys something of the scale of the collision. Adelaide Now has a sequence of seven images taken from a number of perspectives.

ABC News Online doesn't have a relevant photo but does report on the safety and environmental concerns which have been brought to the fore as a result of the crash, eg whether boom gates should be installed at all level crossings, the difficulties of rendering prompt medical assistance in remote areas and the heightened hazards of transporting uranium on the railway.

It's worth noting that the NT government recently announced proposed changes to its road traffic laws to try to reduce its road toll, which is the highest in Australia per head of population.

With all these developments there is no further news of the condition of the passenger who was last reported by various sources, including the Northern Territory News , to be in a critical condition in the Royal Darwin Hospital. I wish her, and any others who may have been injured, a speedy recovery.

12 December 2006

"A public scandal" as PM's chief of staff moves to corporate world

In today's Crikey Stephen Bartos
Director of the National Institute of Governance at the University of Canberra, writes about Arthur Sinodinos, who has moved from his position as the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff to a seat on the Goldman Sachs J B Were board.

GSJBW undertakes extensive business for the Australian government, Mr S's move, says Bartos, creates "massive conflict of interest" problems, and is something which wouldn't be allowed in many Australian states and other countries.

He cites an online Parliamentary Library e-brief (issued 15 June 2006, updated 19 July 2006), which includes a summary table showing that in Australia only the Federal, Vic, Qld and NT parliaments do not have policies regarding post-separation employment.

While Bartos does not allege that Mr Sinodinos is making improper use of information he acquired during his time as the PM's chief adviser, he points out that conflicts of interest can be potential as well as actual:

Post departure, given Arthur Sinodinos as the Prime Minister’s top adviser was privy to every important government policy decision, how can he avoid a perception that he’s able to use that knowledge to unfairly advantage Goldman Sachs?

Sinodinos is undoubtedly ethical and will not deliberately take advantage of his inside knowledge or disclose sensitive information. But we’ve not yet invented the Men in Black device for removing memories: so there can be no certainty that his information won’t indirectly influence his work. Conflicts of interest are about not only actual but also the perceived potential for conflict.

PS As I post Stephen Bartos is speaking on ABC RN's Perspective, this time about AWB. The link takes you to the transcript.

He also participated in a panel discussion about the effectiveness of Australia's overseas aid on this week's Counterpoint, another ABC RN program.

11 December 2006

Why do do many Australians not care?

This, not "Why is the Australian government leaving Hicks to languish at Guantanamo Bay?", is the question which Leigh Sales , writing in today's Australian, thinks David Hicks's supporters should be asking.

She makes the point that the weekend rallies did not attract much support: I'd have to agree with her about the Adelaide one. This and other examples, eg little coverage in mass circulation newspapers or commercial TV, lead her to the view that both government and opposition are "convinced the issue is of no great concern to mainstream Australia". This, she believes, is why Hicks's lawyers are now, as I posted last week taking action in the Federal Court.

Reading between her lines, I don't detect many signs of optimism, though her final paragraph is a good summary of why Australians should care more:

Regardless of what people think of Hicks and whether he is guilty or innocent, his case raises issues that matter and ought to be debated: should Australia allow a foreign country to lock up an Australian citizen for five years without proving a case against him? And is Australia prepared to sacrifice fundamental principles and values, such as the right to a speedy trial, in the name of the war on terror? The fate of Hicks as an individual is important and after five years, needs to be resolved urgently. But long after he has either been released or convicted, the broader questions will remain.

I don't doubt that Ms Sales has accurately summed up the government's position at the moment, but I wonder how long Mr Ruddock's pledge of a fair trial will hold up if the foreshadowed proceedings don't get under way soon:

Hicks would likely be charged after January 17, when new regulations for the US military commission expected to try him come into effect, Mr Ruddock said.

"We've sought assurances that there'll be a presumption of innocence, that he will know the evidence that's going to be presented against him, that he will be effectively represented in the military commission process, that there are appeals ... into the civilian court system," he said.

"We are certainly pressing the US and have received certain assurances from them that a fair trial should be possible under the scheme that they've legislated for."[Emphasis added]

This is all pretty vague. What happens if Mr R's requirements for a fair trial aren't met within the time frame? Will he or Mr Howard then ask the Americans to release Hicks, as the British and many other governments have done about their citizens who were incarcerated in Gitmo?

More on loss of HMAS Sydney

Speculation about the loss of
HMAS Sydney in 1941 (see my previous post for more background info) has come back into the news with a report (headlined "Shrapnel deepens cruiser mystery") in today's Australian.

The discovery of shrapnel in the skull of the body of the one sailor who has been identified as a crew member of the Sydney has raised questions about the authenticity of the "official" version of the ship's loss:

Experts at Sydney University initially identified a metal object in the skull as a bullet from a low muzzle-velocity weapon, possibly a hand gun.

Now, sources close to the forensic scientists confirm that the object is shrapnel from a German shell, a finding which appears to be at odds with the official version of the attack.

According to that version, Sydney, under captain Joseph Burnett, sailed parallel and 1km away from Kormoran at 14 knots, while checking its identity, and was fired on when the Germans could not respond with a secret signal.

Hit by six 15cm guns, 3.7cm anti-tank weapons, 20mm cannon, machinegun fire and a torpedo, Sydney is said to have tried to ram Kormoran, missed astern, and made off at six to 10 knots until it blew up late at night.

But shrapnel in the skull poses the question of how a man mortally wounded in the head could have got into the float[in which his body was found] with Sydney still moving when Kormoran last fired at her.

The tests are expected to be completed by next February. It will be interesting to see how the results will modify the "official" or some of the other versions which are floating around.

I shall keep watching developments with interest.

10 December 2006

Where is cricket's left field?

"Voges call comes out of left field" is the headline of an article attributed to Courtney Walsh (the former West Indies quick bowler?) and Malcolm Conn in
The Weekend Australian (not online) which reports an unexpected selection in the Australian squad for the third cricket Test.

"Out of left field" is a term which derives from US baseball, not cricket. It's global English managementspeak missapplied to this situation. Why should our distinctive and descriptive sporting language, have to follow the current iteration of our foreign policy and be embedded in the US variety?

What's wrong with "Voges surprise selection in squad" as a headline?

The current issue of Quadrant has an article "Americanising Australian English" by Robert Solomon (not online) which explores this further.

[Also posted at Nudges and Deflections]

09 December 2006

Fair Go For David rally

Here are some pictures of today's Fair go for David rally in Victoria Square Adelaide, which was held in 40 degree plus heat.

Charles Southwood (ex-ABC FM presenter, MC)

Brian Deegan (lawyer whose son was killed in 2002 Bali bombings)

Professor Leon Lack (expert on sleep deprivation)

Ahmed (Australian citizen of Iraqi origin who returned to Iraq in 2003, was detained without trial, interrogated by British and US intelligence and spent some time in Abu Ghraib prison before being released without conviction) with Steve Kenny (his lawyer who has also acted for the Hicks family).

Terry Hicks (David's father)

[All links accessed 9 December 2006]

08 December 2006

More on David Hicks

Today The Age prints two different opinion pieces about David Hicks. One titled "Shameful neglect is the John Howard way", is by shadow Attorney-General Nicola Roxon.

The other, "Critics of US tribunals turn blind eye to UN" by Liberal Senator Brett Mason.

Read them both and decide for yourself. For my part I think the senator is not confronting the central issue, which is about the rule of law and its application to David Hicks's situation,
not about the critics of US tribunals.

It's good to see Ms Roxon coming out more forcefully in support of Hicks than she seems to have done to date.

Tomorrow (Saturday 9 December) a series of rallies will be held in mainland Australian state capitals: see here for details.

07 December 2006

Who knows what's happening in Fiji?

Slightly different takes on the same events can be found at the BBC, ABC and The Age websites. The 77 year old man appointed by Commodore Bainimarama to be PM has admitted the coup is illegal, though he and more particularly the Commodore really seem to be saying that parliamentary democracy is not the best form of government for Fiji.

The Age
and the Acid Test blog have some interesting observations.

Mr Downer our Foreign Minister doesn't seem to be able to shed much light on the situation if this recent ABC report is accurate.

Slight movement on the Hicks front?

The Age yesterday reported that David Hicks's Australian lawyers have been granted an urgent hearing in the Federal Court to hear a claim that the Australian government has failed to provide adequate assistance to an Australian abroad. The matter will be heard on 15 December. The story is updated today: see here.

News.com.au recently reported that Coalition MPs have raised the matter with the PM in a joint parties meeting.

Tim Dunlop at Blogocracy has also discussed the situation, reiterating with his characteristic succinctness that the central issue is the rule of law:

Any reasonable person concerned about the war on terror would understand that a commitment to the rule of law is basic to our understanding of ourselves as a democratic nation in that fight. And yet, the Howard Government has let Mr Hicks languish in the prison at Guantanamo Bay rather than insist that the Bush Administration release him from this legal limbo.

The comments (52 as I post this) are worth reading, not least for the misapprehensions which seem to persist among some members of the public, eg that Hicks fought in Iraq. There are still those who support the "keep him in Guantanamo and throw away the key" view.

It's ironic that these views are underpinning the continuing casuistry of Attorney-General Ruddock, who is supposed to support the rule of law here. He is taking refuge in the position that it's US, not Australian, law which is applicable, and that it's the continued quibbling by the detainees's lawyers which is delaying justice. I don't recall hearing him say anything like this about other matters where cases take a long time to go through the full range of appeals to higher courts.

04 December 2006

New Labor leader (and deputy)

As expected, and as I and almost everyone else with the slightest interest in Australian politics foreshadowed yesterday, Kevin Rudd was today elected leader of the ALP with Julia Gillard as his deputy.

He's already said that his front bench, the composition of which he'll announce later this week, will have some new blood.

It will take a few days to separate the grain of leadership substance from the chaff of media hype ("dream team" etc). Mr Howard has already gone on the attack, beating the drums of union control of the ALP and Mr R's inexperience. No doubt we'll be hearing more of this litany.

03 December 2006

Labor leadership to be contested

Tomorrow is the day which will (unless something very bizarre happens) decide the short- and perhaps even the long-term future of the ALP. The safe pair of hands (which haven't actually held on to every chance that's come their way recently) versus the new broom.

The winner? I'm not an ALP member but like to see a strong opposition to keep the government on its toes.

Kim Beazley, decent man as he undoubtedly is, cannot articulate simply and clearly (the clearly is of paramount importance here) wht the ALP stands for or even how it might change our society for the better. surely he had advisers who can help him remedy ths deficiency?

30 November 2006

Labor's lest than perfectest day

Matt Price's column in today's Australian is a very erudite and witty, albeit all too true, take on the ALP's current difficulties:

The themes of Much Ado About Nothing are disguise, deceit and infidelity as two long-time adversaries, Bennedick and Beatrice, wind up in love. Which would pretty much sum up any Dream-Team ascension - Rudd and Julia Gillard have spent most of their parliamentary careers eyeing each other suspiciously across Labor's poisonous divide.

Thoughts of which prompt a return to Shakespeare:

Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.

Four hundred years old, still the perfectest description of caucus you're likely to hear.

27 November 2006

The incredible shrinking GG

The Weekend Australian
carried a substantial profile of the Governor-General by Kate Legge, an edited version of which, minus photos, has been published online at news.com.au.

A sample (which shows that he and the Prime Minister appear to think alike on many things):

Invisibility doesn't suit Major-General Jeffery, who likes a media plan for every event despite being inherently risk averse. He is greener than the Prime Minister on climate change, which he says has been confirmed by science as "pretty definite" for the past five years, but for all his alarm he will not attack the Coalition's refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

"I believe we can't take the risk of ignoring carbon emissions ... if we get that wrong we're in deep trouble," he said, advocating alternative energy sources such as thorium, wind, solar power and uranium.

"I think uranium will come ... Australia does have the most stable geography and it would be silly to rule uranium out because we're a bit frightened of another Chernobyl, but nuclear power plants would need to be built to the highest standard."

23 November 2006

Nothing to offer but blood, spice and broccoli...

During President Bush's recent visit to Indonesia a gentleman coyly described by CBS News as a "Voodoo Practitioner" prepared and drank a potion, thereby casting a jinx over the President.

The recipe appears to have been taken from the cookbook of the witches in Macbeth, with some input from Jamie Oliver:

Ki Gendeng Pamungkas slit the throat of a goat, a small snake and stabbed a black crow in the chest, stirred their blood with spice and broccoli before drank the "potion" and smeared some on his face.

The broccoli has your fingerprints on it, Jamie, but I'd like to know for how long it was stirred in the blood.

While sceptics might dismiss all the jinx talk as superstition there have been, according to US blogger
Boozhy , some interesting developments since the ceremony:

It seems Bush has fallen out of the roll of God's Favorite, as the curse seems to have worked due to the fact that chaos has certainly ensued following Mr. Pamungka's curse. First, daughter Barbara had her purse burgled right out from under her cute perky little nose, while the Secret Service looked on. Second, two motorcycles in Bush's motorcade crashed yesterday, leaving three officers injured and one in serious condition and finally, top White House official and acting Director of the White House Travel office, Greg Pitts, was beaten and burgled yesterday outside of a Honolulu night club.

22 November 2006

Unsatisfactory garbage collection

When I went to retrieve my rubbish bins this morning I found that one of them, shown here, had not been properly emptied, and the other (not in picture) had been overturned. This isn't the first time I've had poor service from the collectors.

The rubbish collection is contracted out to East Waste. I complied with their collection policies but this did not prevent them from doing a shoddy job.

I went to the council offices today and notified them of my concerns, and will await a response from either them or East Waste.

I cleaned up the mess shown in the photo myself.

Never too late to get on the rails

An interesting story from the UK Daily Mail about Giles Wilson, son of former British PM Harold Wilson who switched career tracks late in life from teaching to train driving.

He recently gave up his lifelong career as a teacher to fulfil his boyhood ambition of becoming a train driver, and has started by driving trains from Waterloo in central London to Guildford and Dorking in Surrey.

Mr Wilson is so passionate about trains that he has bought and restored at least two disused branch line stations in the West country, including his current weekend home near Exeter.

During the week he lives alone in a modest flat in Belsize Park, north London, where he is visited by his mother Mary, 88, and brother Robin, 62.

A family friend said: 'Everyone was a bit surprised that he should take up driving trains as a career.

'It was well known he was a rail enthusiast, but not that he was so serious he planned to be a driver full time.

'It is one thing loving the world of railways but quite another to actually work for a rail company. But he has made that decision and seems to be very happy with it.

'Who knows what his father would think. I'm sure he would not have expected him to end up a train driver.'

Mr Wilson refused to discuss his decision to change careers, insisting that he has always avoided publicity.

20 November 2006

The Deep End to end

ABC Radio National plans to drop the weekday editions of its arts program The Deep End . I'm very sorry to learn this as over the last year or so I've moved from being an occasional to a regular listener.

Each day the program presents several arts-related items. For example, today it discussed

# an award for new video and media art,

# an open air sculpture exhibition in a small SA coastal town,

# cult film and television classics (the first of a new, and presumably brief, series) and,

# a hand-wound free play radio (part of the regular Monday to Friday "Deep End Five" countdown of the "best of" something, this week's topic being "objects and systems that promote sustainable lifestyles").

The Deep End is well produced and Amanda Smith, the presenter, consistently engages listeners with her
friendly manner and detailed knowledge of the arts.

The ABC has issued an
an explanation where the RN station/ network manager is reported as saying

I’m not thrilled about it, and a little bit of it is to do with resources, but most of it is to do with, what will serve the arts best...
Arts is a difficult area to cover. It’s difficult on radio because so much of what you’re talking about is either visual or local, and for a national radio network it’s a tricky area to bring to life. And it also has within it stuff like arts funding policy, which is incredibly important, but again can be difficult radio.

We were beginning to feel that, on a daily basis, in-depth, analytic conversations about where the arts are heading in Australia and around the world (was too hard) without a really high level of resourcing and specialist staff that we probably had in the 80s and 90s, but are unable to sustain in 2006.

Radio National is a very expensive network to maintain, because of the level of depth we want to bring to everything we touch, and over time priorities about what we want to bring that depth to change.

This is full of weasel words. Can anyone translate "The level of depth we want to bring to everything we touch"(or the entire passage) into plain English?

I don't have enough inside knowledge to crack her code, but wonder what what is really happening.

19 November 2006

GG blues

Glenn Milne at news.com.au reports that the Governor General and his wife are " victims of a whispering campaign in Canberra, driven by claims Government House has become pompous and self-important".

If anyone has become pompous and self-important it is the
Prime Minister, who has marginalised the GG by taking a leading role at many major events, leaving Major General Jeffery to officiate at the less important ones. Earlier this year I calculated (by looking at their respective websites) that the score for appearances at the Commonwealth Games was PM 5 - GG 2.

Mr Howard has effectively become President Howard of a de facto Australian republic. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though it leaves the GG in limbo, a comfortable limbo to be sure, but one which has no doubt increased the Vice-Regal couple's frustrations. I expect that the PM/ President will continue to live his double life, because the obstacles in the way of a formal change, eg referendum, are formidable and I believe many Australians will continue to feel relaxed and comfortable about accepting his spin on matters, including much more important ones.

16 November 2006

Government keeps SA public in dark

Two instances of government fudging in SA. The first, where the state government, more specifically Transport Minister Patrick Conlon, has refused to disclose the amounts paid for land for the planned northern suburbs expressway.

LAND acquisition cost estimates for the new $550 million Northern Expressway will not be revealed, so the Government does not "pay more than it should by being indiscreet".Transport Minister Patrick Conlon said the land acquisition was a major component of the project. "One of the things we are not going to do is separate out the components of funding," he said."If we say we have X dollars for acquisition then that's what people will be asking us for."

"We are not going to set the Government up as a patsy in this regard. Everyone can be assured the project will go to the Public Works Committee and every detail will be known."

He said feedback on the expressway and its new route had been positive. "Land acquisition does not need to take place for another 18 months," he said.

"We are treating this with urgency and sensitivity. There are always going to be difficulties and controversies."

Construction is expected to start in 2008 and completed in 2011, with parts of 79 properties likely to be acquired.

Mr Conlon said some landowners would be less happy than others, but the bottom line was if the Government was not prepared to do these things, the state would not have the infrastructure it needed.

The state's largest road project for more than 40 years, the expressway runs past Penfield and Gawler's western edge.

The four-lane expressway is designed to boost freight links from the Sturt Highway to Port Adelaide.

At the local government level there's been a lot of buckpassing aboutdisclosure (or non-disclosure) of remuneration of council staff.

LOCAL councils are paying nearly 100 of their executives more than $100,000 a year and many receive performance bonuses.

The Adelaide City Council has 25 staff on more than $100,000 and 12 are paid bonuses.

The Port Adelaide-Enfield Council has 22 officers earning above $100,000 and also pays performance bonuses of 1 per cent a year.

But the full extent of the bonus payments and salaries paid are not available because some councils are refusing to release the information.

Independent MP Bob Such wrote to all 18 councils in September, asking a series of questions about payments to executives, use of council cars and whether staff were given rostered days off or time off in lieu of overtime.

Only 10 councils replied, while Onkaparinga, Charles Sturt and Holdfast Bay said the Local Government Association would respond on their behalf.

Replies were not received from Prospect, Marion, Adelaide Hills, Mitcham, and Norwood, Payneham & St Peters.

Of the 10 who did, four councils said they paid employee bonuses - Salisbury, Adelaide, Campbelltown and Port Adelaide-Enfield.

Salisbury pays the city manager $15,000 extra a year "subject to performance assessment", Adelaide pays 12 staff bonuses which are "performance based", Campbelltown pays its managers bonuses based on performance, while Port Adelaide-Enfield executives are paid a 1 per cent bonus based on occupational health and safety targets.

Only Burnside, Campbelltown and Walkerville said they did not provide cars or reimburse mayors for using a private car on mayoral duties. Only Walkerville said it paid extra superannuation as part of an executive package.

"Councils are not there to make a profit," Dr Such said. "They are there to serve the community like the public service."

Local Government Association executive director Wendy Campagna wrote to Dr Such, saying four of 68 councils in the state use bonus payments.

"They are common-place in private industry and at a time when there is a skills shortage in management expertise," she said.

Dr Such, as often, has a good point here: councils are not there to make a profit. Ms Campagna's explanation is disingenuous: the website of Local Government Association, her employer, states clearly: "Councils are part of our system of government".

15 November 2006

Bono in town? What about Rupert?

Readers of today's Advertiser front page were teased about the prospect of Bono being in Adelaide a day or two before tomorrow's U2 concert. Nowhere in the paper was there a mention of Mr Murdoch's visit for the News Corporation local shareholders meeting.

Were the editor and his staff apprehensive about stepping on their boss's toes on the one day of the year when (it could reasonably be assumed) he'll read what they print over breakfast.

Well, they made up for it later by putting online a story about Mr M complaining (IMO justifiably) about poor broadband speeds here, as well as video and podcast interviews with the great man.

They also did not overlook an important local event : the testimonial dinner tonight for Darren "Boof" Lehmann.

UPDATE 16 NOVEMBER: Today's print 'Tiser certainly makes up for yesterday's omissions, with a front page story "Murdoch urges water rights buyout" as well as a page five stories repeating his plea for improved internet access (see above) and a briefer tribute to his philanthropy "Avenue of Generosity" about his significant contribution to the Adelaide Botanic gardens redevelopment fund. If you don't know how much he gave, read the story.

Last rites for states' rights?

The High Court's decision in the Work Choices case
New South Wales v Commonwealth of Australia; Western Australia v Commonwealth of Australia has attracted much media comment.

The Australian includes comments from Brad Norington, Chris Merritt, Joseph Kerr, Mike Steketee , Matt Price and P P McGuinness.

The Age's coverage includes contributions from Kenneth Nguyen, George Williams , Michael Gordon and Meaghan Shaw and Michelle Grattan.

Blog postings include those by Tim Dunlop "The states are dead", Ken Parish at Club Troppo "Reports of the death of federalism are much exaggerated" and Andrew Norton"Is higher education next?"

I've not read the full judgment but after looking at extracts and some commentary I add my five cents' worth:

# The decision continues a trend towards centralisation which has been evident for some time, and which has been generally welcomed (or tacitly accepted) by both major parties.

# The Federal Government is unlikely to expand its authority in the short term, but will continue the current trend towards making the states more accountable for their spending.

# Major constitutional changes will be difficult to achieve given the referendum requirements (majority of votes in a majority of states) of the Constitution.

# Premiers Rann and Beattie are unlikely to achieve much from their call for a constitutional convention.

# If the worst case scenario eventuates Mr Rann will make a good Mayor of South Australia.

12 November 2006

The Road to Guantanamo

Yesterday I saw The Road to Guantanamo, a dramatised documentary which follows some English-domiciled Muslims who in 2001 travelled to Pakistan, then to Afghanistan, where they were captured, incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay and eventually released after their interrogators were unable to elicit enough information to bring them before what passes for a justice system in the war against terror.

The movie has an authentic ring to it - the depiction of the Guantanamo Bay camps looks particularly convincing and not all the guards are absolute b*stards all the time - and will inevitably remind Australian viewers of David Hicks.

The Australian government hasn't had much to say about the movie yet, though it has refused a visa to one of the characters depicted therein.

I recommend the movie highly, and not only to those for share my views.

11 November 2006

Unfamiliar sounds

As I write I can hear thunder and rain outside. Why is this unusual? Well, in these parts we've not had much rain lately.

I haven't taken any photos but someone not a million miles from here has .

10 November 2006

Government re-thinking or re-fudging David Hicks?

Tim Dunlop at Blogocracy has an excellent post "Mr Howard's Bushy blind-spot" in which he summarises some recent developments in the David Hicks case and states:

Any reasonable person concerned about the war on terror would understand that a commitment to the rule of law is basic to our understanding of ourselves as a democratic nation in that fight. And yet, the Howard Government has let Mr Hicks languish in the prison at Guantanamo Bay rather than insist that the Bush Administration release him from this legal limbo.

There seem to be some indications that the government is shifting its ground a little from, for example, the view expressed by Foreign Minister Downer in July. The Senate has, at Barnaby Joyce 's urging recently passed a resolution urging that David be brought to trial quickly, and there are reports that Attorney-General Ruddock has agreed to meet Terry Hicks, , David's father. Even so I'm not expecting a quick resolution of the matter.

Iraq veteran's bum steer

I can't resist mentioning this story about a UK bonfire night prank which went horribly wrong. The victim- perpetrator was trying to reenact a stunt from the movie Jackass, but the outcome showed that life does not always imitate art...

PS The Age report also includes what is claimed to be a photo of the take off.

Australians " totally uncivilised"

Also posted at Nudges and Deflections

The Australian team, notably Messrs Ponting and Martyn, have been described by Sharad Powar, the head of the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) as "totally uncivilised" for their behaviour at the Champions trophy presentation.

I know from personal experience that Indian people set great store by ceremonial protocol: at most functions there is a hierarchy of guests, with the chief guest, in this instance Mr Powar, being the most important. Ceremonies with each guest, beginning with the least important, being acknowledged, and usually invited to speak. Nothing should disturb this. In my only appearance at such a ceremony (not, alas, related to any performance on a cricket field) I was speaking when the power failed. The show nevertheless went on: fortunately I was speaking off the cuff and was able to finish quickly and allow the next speaker their turn (half way through which the lights came back on).

Acording to Cricinfo Cricket Australia is trying to hose the matter down, though to my mind CEO James Sutherland's comments seem a bit bland for an Indian audience, however well they may go down in Australia:

James Sutherland, Cricket Australia CEO had said yesterday that the relations between both boards were absolutely fine. "It's unfortunate that there has been an interpretation of disrespect from that. I know that no disrespect was intended by the Australian players; I have spoken to Ricky about it. Perhaps sometimes these things can happen between different cultures."

For a sample of Indian opinion see these pieces from Hindustan Times , Times of India and The Hindu. Here's an extract from the latter:

We respect the way Australia runs its cricket and we respect the way Australia plays its cricket, which is probably why half the Australian team strides around on Indian television hawking stuff. (We certainly don't respect our board president getting pushed around).

But in Australia, respect for Indian cricket is grudging, if at all. The talking-down, slightly supercilious tone that some use (which we got for years from the English and still do in some places) bothers me.

Culture shock

It bothers me also that this is what you often read about India in Australian sports pages. Chaotic. Noisy. Dirty. Cracked pavements. Delhi-belly. Yawn. It's true, but it's also all so 1980s about a country that's changing every day. It's intriguing, too, that culture shock only occurs going from West to East.

Presumably this shock explains why few write about how well Australia's players are treated in India.

I'm not being precious, I'm just plain bored. And wondering, is there nothing in pulsating, economically powerful, rapidly changing, complex India, which is interesting (and I'm not talking about elephants on the street and the maharajas).

India may not be big news in Australia but it is elsewhere in the world, and by resorting to lazy stereotypes some cricket writers, who are the primary messengers, are not being entirely accurate messengers. Writers in Australia such as Peter Roebuck, Greg Baum and Chloe Saltau, and former cricketers like Ian Chappell, do a fine, thoughtful job, but I find them lonely voices. After all, if anyone wants to know about India, all they have to do is ask: we love talking.

Guilty until proven innocent?

Several serious charges have been laid against the former NSW Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Milton Orkopoulos. Premier Iemma has according to The Australian dismissed him from the ministry and as a state MP.

While I don't in any way play down the gravity of the charges it concerns me that due process, especially that a person is innocent until proven guilty, has not been applied here. The correct thing to do would be to stand down Mr O from the ministry, to withdraw his preselection for the election due early next year and to ask him to resign as an MP pending the outcome of the case.

06 November 2006

1984 - 2050?

Today on the News Ltd website a new blog, Blogocracy began. On the evidence of today's prolific output, and the author, Tim Dunlop 's , other blog , he will look at local and world affairs from a different perspective from most of the other News Ltd columnists/ bloggers. This is most welcome.

Having said this I thought that one of his posts today "I'll stop calling the Howard Government Orwellian" went over the top. Although he refers to the Appendix to 1984 in which Orwell outlines the principles of Newspeak (the artificial language which aims to prevent the expression of ideas at odds with official ideology), he accuses the Howard government, or more accurately Parliamentary Secretary Robb of being Orwellian for seeking a replacement for the term "multicultural".

Mr Robb may be able to come up with another term to replace "multicultural" ("diversity", "harmony"?) but I'd be surprised if it happened suddenly, as IMO the word has taken root in Australian public (if not everyday) parlance. All governments, and political parties (not to mention many other bodies), seek to manipulate language for their own ends, yet for Dunlop to imply that the Howard government somehow stands alone on its own axis of linguistic evil is to overstate his case. In fact in his elaboration of his headline he waters down his argument considerably, but it's the echo of the headline which remains in the mind. In the 1984 Appendix Orwell said that didn't expect Newspeak to be completely established in his dystopian society until about 2050. Perhaps the novel should now be renamed (or subtitled) "2050"?

05 November 2006

Culture of complaint against public broadcasters continues

UPDATE 6 November: Matt Price's article referred to below is now online here.

ORIGINAL POST (unchanged except for one typo corrected)
"Aunty and co face Neo-Connie's wrath".This is the title of Matt Price's column in today's Weekend Australian. To read it (and like most of Matt's stuff it's worth reading) you'll need to go to page 20 as, unlike most if not all his other pieces, this isn't online. I won't speculate why.

"Aunty" is of course the ABC, about whose current travails Matt has written previously, such as here.. "Neo-Connie" is NSW Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells , aka, as he puts it "Connie to her pals, neo-Connie to detractors", who "chooses to patrol the public broadcasters for signs of far-Left bias. Which, in neo-Connie's eyes, are everywhere".

He also has a critical thing or two to say about Victorian Senator Michael Ronaldson aka "neo_Ronnie", who "is less dedicated culture warrior than knockabout bully to whom broadcaster bashing is more sport than religion" .

The two Senators used the recent Senate estimates hearing to quiz, harangue, berate - call it what you will - the managing directors of the ABC and SBS about alleged left wing bias. Matt gives some examples of their lines of questioning and comments about the increasingly abrasive tone they used. The committee chairman (also a Liberal) "was plainly embarrassed and to his great credit intervened to chide his ultra-aggressive colleagues".

He continues

As taxpayer-funded outfits, ABC and SBS should be answerable to senators scrutinising government. If people such as neo-Connie feel compelled to complain about nudity on SBS, it's a small price to pay for public funding.

But the bullying is out of control. John Howard has stacked the board that chose [Mark] Scott as the man to lead the ABC into the complex, ever-changing digital era. On Monday's performance [at the Senate estimates hearing], he'll do a good job. The appointment of an editorial director to guard against partiality is contentious and bureaucratic and won't stem criticism of the ABC. But you'd think government senators would at least give Scott a settling-in period. Instead, neo-Ronnie and Connie roundly mocked and scorned the ABC chief, who stoutly defended the corporation against their generally absurd, overblown attacks.

It's easy for a senator with a tramscript and a chauffeur to sit on their air conditioned ar*e and blithely lambast a war corespondent for using the term militant instead of terrorist during a live interview, often conducted in a battle zone. Scott ignored the snide comments and insults, lauding the professional judgment of his reporters and explaining how 65 radio stations running live around the clock will produce an array of content, not all of it necessarily adhering to a bureaucratic formula.

Wait for the futile nitpicking to increase as Labor and the minor parties mirror the Liberals' tactic of bombarding the ABC, in particular, with complaints...No good can come of this, and the obsessive, unreasonable antics of neo-Con and neo-Ron will eventually backfire on unreasonable critics of ABC and SBS.

Unless I'm wrong, audiences and voters much prefer the flawed public broadcasters to pissant, pedantic politicians. And by the time Labor and those far left-wing leftists eventually win office, nuisances such as neo-Connie and neo-Ronnie will have written the rule book for egregious political interference.