31 March 2006

Intergenerational tensions

Today's ABC RN Life Matters talkback segment was called "Move over babyboomers, you've had your turn!". As often happens on RN "talkback" programs the guests (listed below) did much of the talking, which on this occasion wasn't necessarily a bad thing, as they had some interesting and provocative points to make. The program is available for downloading via its website. Here is the summary:

If you're a person born before 1961, and after the war, in other words a baby boomer, then today's program pushed your buttons.

Our guest Ryan Heath is 25 and he wants you baby boomers to get out of the way. Put bluntly Ryan says 'Please just F* off it's our turn now'... that's his phrase - the title of his book which is currently ruffling feathers, even in his own age group.

Ryan Heath is a 25 year old Australian now working in the civil service in London.

Aside from his views on generational difference, Ryan Heath also makes a case for re-engagement with politics and what he calls 'glue' issues of affordable housing, the environment and investment in children.

What do you think of Ryan's views?

Leave a comment on our guestbook.


Lisa Pryor
Journalist and Sydney Morning Herald Saturday columnist

Ryan Heath
London based civil servant, writer and former student activist and political staffer

David Dale
Tribal Mind columnist, writer and social observer

I wonder whether the post-boomers (or whatever they're called) will follow Mr Heath's suggestion and turn against the oldies. In his diaries Mark Latham (15 October 2004 at p348) mentions a young man in a campaign focus group who objected to the prospect of his grandmother getting into hospital ahead of him. I'll keep looking over my shoulder!

Journalist corrects own error

Australian Media Section included a rare instance of a journalist publicly correcting a mistake they'd made themselves.

Amanda Meade, who compiles the Diary, admitted that she was wrong to claim that researchers had discovered "in the ABC annual report of 1935 [that] the ABC was into reality and interactive television before it was fashionable".

Ms Meade commented "Not only before it was fashionable, but 21 years before television broadcasting began in Australia." Unfortunately her correction, in the "Talking Turkeys" box, was not included in the online version (if you're curious go to p22 of the print edition) but well done anyway Amanda for coming clean.

30 March 2006

Fortify yourself at the Ideas Bar before you check your bags at the cloakroom

John Quiggin spoke today at one of the (free) sessions at the Brisbane Festival of Ideas , a worthy cultural event where, according to Premier Beattie , only Queenslanders are welcome:

"The Queensland Government invites all Queenslanders to take part in the Ideas Festival...

It is an opportunity for Queenslanders to share ideas, celebrate the best of our many thinkers and innovators...The 2006 Ideas Festival will emphasise the sort of practical ideas that can be harnessed as part of our vision to improve life for Queenslanders. "

Phillip Adams was MC of a debate broadcast on ABC RN's Late Night Live last night. Has he been given honorary Queenslander status for the duration (or longer)?

Unlike its Adelaide counterpart, you have to pay to get in to many of the sessions, but at least there is an "Ideas Bar" open all day for those Queenslanders who need to fortify themselves against the barrage of ideas to which they may be subjected if they decide to attend any of the sessions.

On the positive side the Festival website reassures any doubters that high level security measures are in place :

"When planning your visit please be aware that the Queensland Performing Arts Centre has strict cloakroom rules. For Ideas events in the Concert Hall and the Cremorne Theatre, you will have to check all day bags, small backpacks or big handbags into their cloakrooms prior to entering the theatres. Cloakroom facilities are limited in the Conservatorium building. You are best advised to leave bags at home or allow plenty of extra time to make use of cloakroom facilities.

Does this allow you to check your brain in?

Of course the recent
London Times report implying that, at least in the northern hemisphere, the further people live from the equator the higher their IQ, doesn't apply here. If it did Tasmanians would be represented disproportionately.

29 March 2006

PM on back foot yet sees O'Brien off easily

Tonight the
7.30 Report featured Kerry O'Brien interviewing the Prime Minister. I thought the PM had a case to answer and hence was expecting Mr O'Brien to ask him a few pointed questions. Unfortunately Mr O'Brien's ego got the better of him as he descended to thinly veiled personal abuse instead of trying to probe Mr Howard's flimsy defences. The result? IMO the PM emerged as a man on top of the situation whereas Kerry looked like a ranting buffoon.

Check the transcript for yourself: the facial expressions and voice tones aren't there but you may be able to infer them from the words.

28 March 2006

Self-confessed amnesiac appointed to Fair Pay Commission

Today's Australian reports (not online) that the government has appointed Mr Mike O'Hagan "the wealthy owner of multi-million dollar removalist company Minimovers, which employs people on non-union individual contracts who work up to 70 hours a week" to its Fair Pay Commission.

The report states that Mr O'Hagan has previously been one of the government's "Australian Worplace [sic] Agreement ambassadors". When asked, Mr O'Hagan could not remember when he was approached about the position: "I'm not very good with dates and times" he is quoted as saying.

The Age also comments about him:

"Mike O'Hagan, whose Brisbane business MiniMovers hosted Prime Minister John Howard during the 2004 election campaign as a model for individual employment contracts, said he had an "open mind" on how the commission should work.
Asked how he would balance the competing interests of workers and bosses in setting the basic wage, he said: 'It's just a fair balance, that's all it is.'".

Will he apply Minimovers' motto "if we damage it we will fix it" to his new role? Perhaps there are some clues in his personal website. Will his appointment mean that he will have to cease his paid speaking engagements?

Underworked GP targets bottom end of market

Advertiser reports that a North Adelaide GP is, unlike most of his colleagues in the state and the nation, so short of patients that he is considering some innovative marketing strategies to drum up business.

He is quoted as saying
: "
We have practically dropped our pants to get people to come here."

Vice-Regal matters

Today's Crikey reports that the Governor of Queensland has sent messages of support to the communities affected by Cyclone Larry.

Here are two of the seven. The others are identical in format. Can you pick the differences?

Message to the Mayor and Community of Atherton Shire Council

My husband Michael and I extend to you and all of the people of the Atherton Shire our heartfelt warm wishes and support at this time of profound loss and hardship.

It is impossible for us to understand the devastating impact of Cyclone Larry on the lives and livelihoods of those affected by this disaster, or how we – and all Australians - might assist with the practical hardships that you face.

May I acknowledge and commend the efforts of everyone working so hard to deal with these desperate circumstances. I am confident, however, as Queenslanders, that your deep sense of community spirit will come to the fore and overcome this adversity.

Message to the Mayor and Community of Cairns

My husband Michael and I extend to you and all of the people of Cairns our heartfelt warm wishes and support at this time of profound loss and hardship.

It is impossible for us to understand the devastating impact of Cyclone Larry on the lives and livelihoods of those affected by this disaster, or how we – and all Australians - might assist with the practical hardships that you face.

May I acknowledge and commend the efforts of everyone working so hard to deal with these desperate circumstances. I am confident, however, as Queenslanders, that your deep sense of community spirit will come to the fore and overcome this adversity.

This has set me thinking about the role of the Vice-Regal representatives in Australia.

Apart from ex-Governor Butler in Tasmania most vice-regal representatives have latterly kept a very low profile. Even the Queen's man in Canberra, Major General Jeffrey, seems to have kept or been kept out of the limelight recently. His
website suggests that he may only have attended the Commonwealth Games on two days, whereas Mr Howard to judge from his website managed to fit at least five trips into his busy schedule. Not that the GG has been resting on his laurels: he has visited the cyclone affected areas of North Qld and has hosted a cultural event for diplomats at which he demonstrated a degree of nimbleness well beyond Mr Howard's capabilities:


27 March 2006

The Britannia empire strikes back

According to recent reports in The Times , the BBC, The Washington Post and The Australian (reprinted from The Times), Encyclopedia Britannica has come out fighting to challenge the claims made by Nature that it is a less reliable source than Wikipedia.

For the EB response see here; for Nature's see here. So far Wikipedia has not responded though at the time of posting this item its EB entry includes a section on "competition", which states:

Today, one of the biggest challenges to the Britannica is the ease with which people can find information online. Many people simply prefer to find information with the help of a search engine. A particular challenge to the Britannica is the emergence of Wikipedia, a Web-based free-content encyclopedia written collaboratively by volunteers. Wikipedia is much larger than the Britannica (1,000,000 articles compared to 120,000, and 340 million words compared to 55 million). Both Wikipedia and the Britannica contain articles on subjects that the other does not. The journal Nature reported on December 14, 2005 that science articles in Wikipedia were comparable in accuracy to those in the Britannica: Wikipedia had an average of four mistakes per article, while the Britannica contained three.[3] However, Nature indicated that some of the Wikipedia articles they reviewed were "poorly structured", or "confusing".[4] On 22 March2006, Britannica published an open letter which criticised the study as inaccurate, stating "Almost everything about the journal’s investigation, from the criteria for identifying inaccuracies to the discrepancy between the article text and its headline, was wrong and misleading."[5]. Nature responded in a press release issued on 23 March 2006 which rejected Britannica's criticisms, and declined to retract the study. [6]

Pedantic postal pooh-bah's piddling prevarication prevents prompt proficient passport processing

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has very kindly sent me a reminder that my passport will expire soon and enclosed a partly pre-printed application form to renew it.

Today, having completed the form and with the required photos (taken by a professional), I went to the Norwood Post Shop to submit my application.

The official who dealt with me

  • Made me sign the form again because my original signature went over the allotted space on the form by a millimetre or two
  • Interrogated me as to whether my height was 188 or 189 cms (does 1 cm matter that much?)
  • Cut a sliver off my current passport (which still has more than 4 months' validity) thereby rendering it invalid, and then
  • Rejected the photos I proffered on the basis that there was a slight shadow visible behind my image.
Despite my belief that my photos complied with the official guidelines , I asked him to direct me to someone with whom I could take the matter further.

He referred me to the DFAT office in Currie St. As it is relatively close and as I had the time (if not the inclination) I proceeded there. After a 1980s moment or five ("take a ticket mate, I'll be with you soon") I was able to lodge my application successfully despite (or perhaps because of) disclosing the obstacles I'd faced at Norwood.

All this shows that there are some significant gaps in DFAT's processes. At the very least the photo guidelines need to be
  • reviewed to ensure clarity, and
  • explained sufficiently to applicants, post office staff and photgraphers who provide passport photos.
It was relatively easy for me, as I live near a DFAT office and was not too pressed for time, to deal with the issue in an afternoon. But what about people who work and live away from capital city CBDs, eg in Port Augusta, Bacchus Marsh or Normanton? Mr Downer, your department needs to lift its game.

Spot the difference



Joanna Fargus / Fiona Hamilton
Fateful night ... Joanna Fargus at the Last Lap in Melbourne. Picture: Fiona Hamilton

TEAMMATES of Commonwealth Games gold medallist Joanna Fargus have told how they supported her after she collapsed in a nightclub, following a suspected drink-spiking incident.

Fellow swimmer Leisel Jones described the incident, which occurred during Games celebrations, as "appalling".

"It's very scary and that's probably the reason why I haven't really gone out," she said on Southern Cross Radio today. "It is something that's very scary and I think it's very invasive and it makes you so vulnerable.

"It is appalling and I'd just hate to be in her shoes but I know all the girls in the swimming team have supported her, they all looked after her and got her home, got her in to bed and have really, really looked after her."

Australian Games team chef de mission John Devitt today said Fargus, the 200m backstroke champion, felt "dizzy and nauseous" while out at a Melbourne club with teammates late on Saturday night.

"Joanna was assisted immediately by ambulance officers and the management of the swimming team was notified," Devitt said.

"Joanna and her teammates returned to the village where she was examined by the team's medical staff. It is believed her drink may have been spiked.

"Joanna has recovered fully and will fly home to Brisbane this evening."

An elite police squad will investigate claims that Fargus's drink was spiked at The Last Lap, a temporary nightclub for athletes at the Queensbridge Hotel in Southbank.

The Last Lap was established by businessman and former AFL footballer Craig Kelly, who with partners set up similar, highly-successful Last Lap venues at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002.

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon would not name Fargus, but said police had gathered evidence that was being scientifically tested.

"It's now handed to Task Force Diamond to ascertain whether that occurred and our forensic people became involved pretty much straight away," Ms Nixon said.

Task Force Diamond is part of the Commonwealth Games security shield, and comprises leading detectives from the Victoria Police crime department.

Test results on a glass and other material, and a review of video surveillance footage, were expected within days, Ms Nixon said.

Ms Nixon said the woman had not been assaulted or harmed following the incident and reported the matter to police at the Games village.

Fargus was forced to report the incident to police and officials in case the substance in her drink was on the banned list and showed up later in anti-doping tests, an Australian team official said today.

Australian team officials are satisfied that all legalities have been followed and there should be no issues if the situation arises, the official said.

Fargus won a silver medal for England at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002 before switching her allegiance to Australia.

The organisers of The Last Lap confirmed there was an alleged incident of drink spiking at the venue on Saturday night.

Venue staff helped the victim and ambulance officers, police and Australian swim team officials were quickly informed, Last Lap spokesman Rob Woodhouse said.

"We are working with the police in their investigation of this matter and are assisting them with all of their inquiries," he said in a statement.

"It is a sad reflection on our society that an activity such as drink-spiking occurs in nightclubs.

"In our planning and management of The Last Lap we took all precautions to ensure that the athletes were given a safe environment to celebrate after the Games."

GOLD medal-winning Australian swimmer Joanna Fargus has withdrawn her complaint that someone may have spiked her drink during Commonwealth Games celebrations.

"That complaint has been withdrawn and we are still keeping general inquiries going," a spokesman for Victorian police said.

Fargus, who won the 200 metre backstroke event, has declined to comment on the matter.

Swimming Australia media manager Ian Hanson said Fargus stood by the claim her drink was spiked as she celebrated at a nightclub with teammates on Saturday night.

"She's not dropping the claim. She just doesn't want the investigation to continue," he told AFP.

Fargus, who has since fully recovered, began to feel dizzy and nauseous while out in central Melbourne, an Australian delegation official said.

"Joanna was assisted immediately by ambulance officers and the management of the swimming team was notified," he said.

"Joanna and her teammates returned to the (athletes') village where she was examined by the team's medical staff. It is believed her drink may have been spiked."

Camilla, queen of the desert shopping

The Weekend Australian reprints a story from the London Times, with a fresh headline "Camilla, queen of the desert shopping", which will resonate with movie buffs . The Australian's print version also includes a photo very similar to this one from the Chicago Tribune, depicting the royal couple looking like characters from a novel by Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell, Olivia Manning or Graham Greene (any other suggestions?). Or do they most closely resemble Edward and Mrs Simpson?

For all its levity the article does touch upon some serious points about exploitation of workers in the third world. Even the obsequious media camp followers such as Hello magazine aren't really able to dodge this one despite their best efforts with word processor and camera.

26 March 2006

East Timor adopting Australian IR laws?

The local media have so far failed to pick up
this report about the consequences of disaffection in the East Timor armed forces. Is the East Timor government's response a taste of things to come for Australian workers when the new IR regime comes into effect tomorrow?

25 March 2006

Bad chair days in UK

The Australian reports that a pungent dispute has arisen over a chair supplied to a senior staff member in an English school. The whole thing looks to have been blown out of all proportion but the passions aroused must be deep seated as the matter has gone to court.

23 March 2006

Get off his back

This morning I finished reading
The Latham Diaries and then moved on to the Australian which had this story on page 1.

It was written by Sam Maiden, not one of Latham's favourite reporters (for example see entry for 5 July 2004 at p311), so perhaps Mr Murdoch and his people should replace her on the story with someone who is more detached from its passions. Latham is, as he says, a private citizen. OK, he may belie this by emerging occasionally from his self-imposed internal exile to beat the same drums he banged in his Diaries , but at least to date he's not, as far as I'm aware, accepted any lucrative corporate engagements like Bob Carr and more than a few other former ALP luminaries .

Mbube - In the jungle, the unjust jungle, a small victory

I didn't know what "Mbube" meant until I read this article from the New York Times . It's about a song whose jaunty tune I've whistled many a time, and which I (and probably many others) know as "Wimoweh" or "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".

It now appears that, to put it bluntly, the song in its present form(s) is the product of a theft of intellectual property , made worse (at least to me) by the involvement of Pete Seeger, the radical US folksinger of the 1940s and 50s who was an early music influence on Bob Dylan.

In 1939
"Mbube" was first recorded by its composer Solomon Linda and his group the Evening Birds. Here's what the US PBS doco A Lion's Tale says:

Because blacks are not allowed to have royalties in 1930s South Africa, the studio gives the band a “petty cash voucher” in exchange for the rights to their song.

In 1948 Pete Seeger, a young American folk singer living in Manhattan, receives a copy of “Mbube” from his friend Alan Lomax, who is working for a record company. Lomax had “rescued” a box of records—including “Mbube”—from the trash, which the company had received from an African record company in the hope that they could be re-released in the U.S. Seeger is fascinated by the song and transcribes it for his band, the Weavers, writing the Zulu chant “Uyimbube” as “Wimoweh.” The Weavers record and perform the song to acclaim in the early 1950s.

In A LION'S TRAIL , Seeger explains: “The big mistake I made was not making sure that my publisher signed a regular songwriters’ contract with Linda. My publisher simply sent Linda some money and copyrighted The Weavers’ arrangement here and sent The Weavers some money.”

Thus did Seeger and his group benefit from exploiting (whether knowingly or otherwise) a talented man who was prevented by the laws of his country from reaping the fruits of his intellectual labours.

But at last, many years too late, out of "the unjust jungle" (of intellectual property law) has come the "small victory" of which the NYT writes. Should we be grateful for this small mercy and shut up, or continue to press for further changes to other areas such as the laws which make it so much harder for less affluent nations to acquire cheap anti-AIDS drugs?

22 March 2006

Bay tram

Today I travelled for the first time on this tram, one of several Flexity trams recently introduced to ply the Adelaide - Glenelg route. I took the photo at the Moseley Square terminus, a very short walk from the jetty and beach.

The tram is much easier to board than the 1920s H class ones, which remain in service for now but are to be phased out in the not too distant future. Wheelchairs and prams can be taken on board without too much difficulty. Bikes are not allowed (why not?).

I was surprised how few seats there are for a vehicle of its length, and how hard the seats are: they look (and feel) as if they are made of moulded plastic with a thin covering (film?) of material. Still the journey takes less than 30 minutes and the ride, most of it on reserved track, is smooth, so the risk of numb-bum is low.

People have complained about inadequate airconditioning, and I can see why: the large non-opening windows are tinted but not sufficiently to stop the sun cutting through on a 30 degree day like today.

Despite this the trams are a considerable improvement on the H Class primarily because of their ease of boarding. Many disabled people will be able to ride a tram for the first time while elderly people (a significant proportion of passengers if today is any guide) will not have to struggle to get on board. Whether younger passengers will give up their seats for them is another matter.

20 March 2006

Third anniversary of what?

President Bush in 2003 and in 2006.

Is there some inconsistency here?

Cyclone Larry appeal

The media, including the ABC, News Ltd and the BBC, have reported Cyclone Larry in detail. At present it is expected that the cyclone will continue to move west across the Gulf Country and possibly reach Croydon, Normanton and Karumba, all of which which I visited last year when there wasn't a cloud to be seen.

Fortunately no one has yet been killed or seriously injured.

Despite this many North Queenslanders will have had their lives and perhaps livelihoods disrupted. When I was in India last year I saw the aftermath of the tsunami at first hand, and how some survivors' lives were directed back on track with, by our standards, very small amounts of pump priming relief money. The cyclone appeal
deserves to be well supported.

Signor Berlusconi's global election campaign

This was in Saturday's Advertiser. Signor Berlusconi's Forza Italia party (the name derives from a football chant, which says a lot about it) is offering

-"reacquisition of Italian citizenship"

-a substantial monthly pension increase

-subsidies for Italian retirement homes (in Italy or Australia?).

I'd like to know whether under Australian law it's possible for a person who's become naturalised to "re-acquire" citizenship.

ABC a stickler for pronunciation but slack on spelling

The ABC in Victoria has sought expert advice about the correct pronunciation of a contentious word. As its website says:

The increased use of the word has put focus on the correct pronunciation of the word cermony [sic]- , with much discussion that some of us are pronouncing it incorrectly.

Irene Poinkin is a Language Research Specialist for SCOSE at ABC. Irene says the correct pronunciation of the word is SE-ruh-muh-nee and not Sarah–Moany.

SCOSE stands for Standing Committee on Spoken (not Spelt) English. See here for more details and some examples of the challenges which confront Ms Poinkin.

19 March 2006

Reporter makes gaffe after Melbourne company pays passage to India

Yesterday's Advertiser travel section featured this article by Jamie Walker describing a trip to Mumbai/ Bombay.

The author tells us

Among the biggest names in Bollywood right now are willowy Preity Zinta and hunky love interest Saif Ali Khan in the hottest show in town, Salaam Namaste. It's a love story – of course – filmed in Sydney.

Wrong - it was filmed in Melbourne, or reasonably close thereto, as a quick check of IMDb would have revealed.

This all sounds trifling until we read that

The author travelled to Mumbai with The Captain's Choice Tour, courtesy of Croydon Travel, Melbourne, www.captainschoice.com.au

A Melbourne company paying for a trip to India for someone who appears to believe that Sydney is the only place in Australia of any consequence?

What do Ron Walker and his Commonwealth Games booster mates think? Or is Melbourne receiving enough publicity at the moment for them to ignore a slip such as this?

Rann gets results he wants in SA election

At yesterday's election Mr Rann and his party achieved probably even better results than they'd hoped for. For the latest figures see here. In my seat of Norwood for example the Labor sitting member converted a narrow margin into a comfortable majority. Congratulations to them.

Some observations

- The ALP's troubles at federal level seem to have had no discernable impact on its vote in SA (and Tasmania for that matter).

- The Legislative Council results showed massive support for Nick Xenophon and his No Pokies team. They attracted 21.5% of first preference votes (160k+) and have to date gained 2.58 quotas. Compare this to ALP 36.6% of the vote (4.39 quotas), Lib 25.5% (3.06), Dems 1.7% (0.21), Family First 4.9% (0.59) and Greens 4.1% (0.41) .

Voters have passed the "keep the b***s honest"/ people's tribune baton to Mr X. It will be interesting to see whether he and whoever else ends up being elected on his ticket will be able to develop some consistent and coherent policies . Already there is some uncertainty about whether he now is a party or "third force".

- Family First didn't do quite as well as they must have hoped even though their performance was not discreditable. They may still win an upper house seat.

- The Democrats now look like a spent force. On Insiders this morning there was speculation that Natasha Stott Despoja would run as an Independent when her Senate term comes up.

17 March 2006

Media support Mr Rann or expect him to win

On the eve of the state election the local media all recommend to their audiences that Mr Rann (and his government, in case you've only seen material promoting him) should be re-elected.
The Advertiser
heads its editorial "Return Labor then put them to the test", but does qualify its endorsement somewhat

THE State Government should be approaching tomorrow's election on the crest of a wave, carrying South Australia with it. This is not the case. A government which has performed consistently well in its four years of power has lost electoral momentum suddenly.

This will not deny Premier Mike Rann and his team a deserved second term. Nor should it deny Labor government in its own right.

It does raise pertinent questions. Have we seen the best of this administration and is it potentially a government in decline?

Time will tell.

The Australian (second editorial) begins by recycling his publicity: " Mike Rann's the man. Labor has earned a second term in South Australia."

In the last paragraph it takes a step back and makes some pertinent comments:

Inevitably, Mr Rann's regime has not been error-free. The health system is in trouble, demonstrated by the Premier's campaign commitment of an extra $400 million for hospitals. Some of his colleagues, notably Attorney-General Michael Atkinson, have made an art of unforced errors, especially in the way he handled an internal ALP dispute that came to involve the Government. And some members of Mr Rann's staff respond by attacking anybody who dares ask difficult questions [emphasis added]. These are all signs that too large a majority could encourage arrogance and inertia in a second-term Rann government. But on the form he has displayed in office, it is impossible to deny Mr Rann another go. Mr Kerin's half-hearted performance as Opposition Leader, and his inability to offer an alternative vision for the state, make Mr Rann the man to lead South Australia for the next four years.

Elsewhere the Tasmanian election seems to have captured more attention but there are interesting comments from Graham Young, who's been doing some research, on Ambit Gambit, while ABC News links to Antony Green's info. Other bloggers have varying opinions: one will vote for Mr Rann because of his haircut or the sexiness of his partner (you guess which), another boldly states (or states in bold) the Premier will win, while another shares my concern about his apparent double standard on environmental matters. The Independent Weekly daily email has a brief summary of some last minute stories while, to its discredit, Crikey has nothing on its public website about SA today , choosing to give the Tassie election a higher priority, though in the subscriber section Christian Kerr has some thoughtful comments, including one about the Premier's vanity.

Suzuki cranks up Labor's environment credentials

In the letterbox this morning were several, mostly Labor, letters and leaflets, including a very glossy one featuring David Suzuki (including a photo with his right arm draped around the member for Norwood Vini Ciccarello and his left hand holding a weighty Bob Ellis tome and some other papers) . The leaflet reprinted an Advertiser article from earlier this week.

Here is an extract:

My good friend, Premier Mike Rann, has shown particular vision on this issue. Echoing the world's top scientists, your Premier calls climate change a greater threat than terrorism. He understands the urgent need for a massive switch from polluting coal power to clean, renewable energy. And he's followed through with concrete action: your state now leads Australia in solar and wind power, and looks set to meet Mr Rann's clean energy target – 15 per cent by 2014 – about seven years early. And just last week, Mr Rann announced he intended to introduce legislation to back up his 60 per cent greenhouse cut target.

Good for Mike. I hope he lives for another hundred years, but even he won't be around to get the credit or blame for meeting or missing the goal. We need to have concrete targets that keep us on that road to 60 per cent. That's why environmental groups are demanding a legislated 25 per cent clean energy target by 2020, so the clean energy revolution is not held hostage to political whims.

I wonder how much Dr Suzuki's trip from Canada cost (including whether he flew business class), who paid for it, whether he was able to offset these expenses with other paid engagements.

The Premier spins once more before the election

On this morning's Radio National Breakfast Mr Rann attempted, as you'd expect from a man of his talents, to put the best spin possible on his election campaign. Fran Kelly tried hard to get a few straight answers but even she was baffled by time constraints and the Premier's ability to to deflect her questions and dispense his version of the truth.

Some points I noted

#When asked about his personal attacks on the opposition his justification was that they had done this to him in the two previous election campaigns. A modern version of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth"?

#When asked whether his 30+ year career as a professional politician or political staffer was too narrow he replied that the Leader of the Opposition was in the same situation. This seems to be a significant bending of the truth: according to his website Mr Kerin has only been an MP for 12 years. Mr Rann's website tells us that he has been an MP since 1985.

#Answering the question about his career in politics he called the Leader of the Opposition "Bob" Kerin. How would he feel if someone called him "Mick" Rann? As today is St Patrick's Day perhaps he wouldn't mind because it might even win him a few votes, but any other time?

#He dodged a question about whether he would support the view of some sections of the ALP that the leader should be able to select his ministers rather than having them elected by Caucus.

I'm concerned that the personal abuse attack strategy which has been one of the cornerstones of the Rann/ ALP campaign strategy in this election will be carried over into post election political life and become increasingly legitimised. If, as seems likely, Mr Rann is re-elected and his party has a clear majority he will have fewer restraints on his use and potential abuse of power. His powers of patronage will be further expanded yet, as several commentators have mentioned about the current ALP, the pool of talent available to draw upon will be reduced. Is this how modern democracy functions?

16 March 2006

Since when has Henley been part of Norwood?

Today's Advertiser reports"Liberals crunching back in key seats". The key seats are Hartley, where the Liberal sitting member has successfully defended a wafer thin margin for several elections by cultivating his constituents, and Norwood, where the incumbent Vini Ciccarello has responded by putting out an eleventh hour glossy leaflet enumerating all the "results" she "has delivered in Norwood as your voice in the Rann Government".

The leaflet lists 39 "results" and some additional "beneficiaries". Some of the beneficiaries, such as the Henley Water Polo Club ($2,500), are on the other side of town, while others such as the Eastside Business Enterprise Centre (a small business advisory group which has received $150,000 and is managed by Gullycorp, an affiliate of Tea Tree Gully Council) have a much lower profile in the electorate since their management and funding have been transferred elsewhere.

Ms Ciccarello in her rush to print seems to have misspelt Labor icon Don Dunstan's name: the map in her brochure lists no 30 as "Dunston Grove". Presumably this refers to the Dunstan Adventure Playground listed in the council's website. Perhaps none of the $15,000 she claims to have delivered there was allocated to checking the spelling on the signage.

She also claims to have delivered $510,440 to the City of Norwood, Payneham and St Peters Council . If this is correct I wonder why my rates have increased so much this year.

15 March 2006

Bad hair day for Greens despite preloaded graffiti

The Greens, always on the lookout for innovative strategies to reduce waste and laughter, have come up with an election poster with what looks like preloaded graffiti.

Here's their number 1 candidate for the Legislative Council. Sporting a beard, wearing glasses and staring at the camera with that fixed smile seem to eliminate just about every opportunity for embellishment, right?


No advertising on ABC, says PM

The Prime Minister appears to have scotched the possibility of advertising on the ABC, even though Senator Coonan in an interview with the Bulletin didn't rule it out.

If the PM is right Paul Daley's article is already out of date, but is worth a read, as is the summary of the current situation regarding the ABC Board.

In last Thursday's Australian Media section David Salter and Mark Day also floated some views about the ABC, its board and how it might tap further into alternative sources of revenue. I don't agree with Day's suggestion of charging for program downloads, but will try to keep an open mind on other suggestions. The pace of technological change in media is now so rapid that today's no may be tomorrow's maybe or yes.

Not surprisingly, as reported in various ways by various sources including The Australian and The Guardian,
Mr Murdoch has made some observations and predictions of his own.

I'll have more to say about these issues.

Our very own heart of darkness or the Premier's reading challenge?

This week's Bulletin runs an Adam Shand report hard on the heels of his Sunday TV piece about bikies and their SA connections. He's shone his torch into yet another dark side of Adelaide:
"the City of Churches but it’s also the city of brothels and kinky sex murderers, occultists, child molesters and psychopaths.

On this occasion he hasn't quoted any political figures apart from Ms Summers, who is a candidate for the Legislative Council at Saturday's election, which makes me wonder whether there is a cosy unstated agreement between the major parties to keep the topic under wraps. You might expect Family First to have something to say about it, but I've not found anything from them either.

Monday was Adelaide Cup day, so Mr Rann's party political broadcast delivered on TV in Sam Kekowich style (complete with po face and machine gun delivery) , was most appropriate. At the end of a long list of achievements and promises he mentioned the Premier's Reading Challenge one of his (and several other state premiers') worthiest projects. The website suggests that it's only available to school students, but perhaps Adam Shand has assumed that anyone can enter, as he
gave one of his sources ("a huge hirsute man mountain") a copy of Heart of Darkness, with an explanatory aside to his readers "Stormy’s is a place further up the river than Mr Kurtz could ever have imagined". Perhaps Shand attended last week's Writers' Week and assumed that most South Australians spend their time with their noses in books. If some of the things he's hinted at are true, maybe that's a good way to be.

AAA for credit rating, E for history?

The SA Libs have copped a bit of a beating in the media lately, sometimes over relatively trivial matters. Crikey (not online) has taken them to task for not being able to spell (or spellcheck) words such as "Labor" (not "Labour") .

Talking about casting the first stone....One of Labor's blue eyed boys Deputy Premier, Treasurer and architect of the restoration of the states's AAA credit rating Kevin Foley has slipped up on his website . Most South Australians except him and his staff would know that the site of Port Adelaide was not chosen by "
Captain Light"
: it was Colonel Light, as in the well-known Adelaide suburb Colonel Light Gardens. If Mr Foley can be so loose with his historical facts how can we believe him when he tells us about all the manna from heaven which has descended on the state during his stewardship?

14 March 2006

Commonwealth Games fudging

The 7.30 Report tonight reported on a few isues about the Games, including allegations of cover ups about doping, where a spokesperson for the Australian Anti-Doping Authority fudged the issue with a chllling example of doublespeak:

"I'm not avoiding the question, but I'm not going to speculate on the answer."

With all this information available to him why can't he move things on?

13 March 2006

Well done South Africa, and Poms struggle against India so blame Aussies

Congratulations South Africa!

Well done South Africa for revising the laws of probability , not to mention my expectations, and chasing down the record Australian total. I wrote the South Africans' chances off after I saw on the Internet that they'd lost an early wicket, so went to bed. As ABC Radio wasn't broadcasting the game (why not?) I didn't hear more until I heard Warwick Hadfield's characteristically pithy report on RN Breakfast. After that I didn't need a coffee to wake me up. It must have been a very good game: perhaps someone willone day produce a DVD for those like me who know that to subscribe to Foxtel will glue them to the couch and condemn them to a life of intellectual torpor.

Another thought: how will this game effect the Duckworth-Lewis method? Statisticians awake, the cricket world awaits your findings.

Whingeing Poms redux?

The London Daily Telegraph blames Australian umpires Hair and Taufel for England's sub-standard performance in the Second Test against India Their alleged fault(s): failing to refer close decisions to the TV umpire. In one instance, according to Derek Pringle, the Telegraph's man on the spot (or the couch?) "
a combination of snickometer and super slow replay would have sent Pathan on his way". The Australian players may have an occasional disposition to abrasiveness but it's hardly fair to criticise our umpires. Mr Taufel has a good reputation in these parts (a New South Welshman, he stood in a recent SA - NSW limited overs game which I watched on TV and he struck me as being a model of impartiality, even though SA lost narrowly). As for Mr Hair, surely he's done his penance for no balling Murali Murilatharan sometime last century.

Who are Mr Pringle's ideal opponents? To him the Indian captain Rahul Dravid, is "a gentleman cricketer with a steely core". Gentleman and Captain of India? The concept and the office are incompatible , as anyone (except perhaps Mr Pringle) who knows anything about India and its cricket would confirm. If you'd like to find out more, start with Boria Majumdar's 2004 book Twenty Two Yards to Freedom: a Social History of Indian Cricket. "Steely core" is much more to the point: apart from being a standalone description of Dravid's talent it rhymes with both "a million crore" (rupees) and "Steve Waugh", two important influences on his life and cricket.

That said Rahul Dravid is indisputably a great cricketer. Not quite in the Ponting or Gilchrist class, but would probably get a place in a best World XI with them. I remember his innings in Adelaide in 2003 where he reached his century with a six which looked for a moment (as my heart sank) as if it would be caught, but fortunately for the match and the series, wasn't .

12 March 2006

Bikie gangs

Today Sunday ran a story about bikie gangs. A transcript is available. Much of it has a South Australian flavour.

While the program was to my mind relatively even handed, perhaps even pro bikie, parts of the footage showed a gang refusing to stop at a police roadblock. I wonder what would happen to most of us if we tried that ?

One of the issues raised by the program was the lack of criminal convictions obtained by police against bikie gang members. I'll therefore be interested to see the consequences of the six arrests and 11 reports in the five day "Operation Cornerstone" as reported in today's Sunday Mail (p25 not online).

EM forbids long lens cameras while TM says "What better place for Womad?"

"Settlement here was based on people coming so they could freely practice their religion and other political views. What better place for Womad?" says our Tourism Minister Jane
Lomax-Smith in yesterday's Advertiser (p9, but not online)
What if my political views include a belief that I should be able to use a camera to photograph signs such as the one above? Anyway, what is a "long lens camera"? Where is it defined or is it just a loose concept left to the discretion of the "Event Manager" or his/her minions at the gates? Is the EM the new BB now that the Big Brother concept has been trivialised by reality TV?

The sign above (which, in the absence of further and better particulars, I may have breached the EM's rules by photographing) is balderdash since some of the listed items are not forbidden. Alcohol is definitely allowed for paying customers who don't mind drinking out of plastic cups (and I can confirm that the beer and cider are cold) , and glass containers are available for those who are prepared to pay a $10 deposit for a bottle of entry level Fox Creek (to be drunk only from plastic glasses unless you're in the VIP zone, which seems to be modelled on a bikie fortress).

Who is the "Event Manager"? According to the official website the event is

Produced and presented by the WOMADelaide Foundation and managed by Arts Projects Australia and WOMAD Ltd. Presented in association with the Government of South Australia.

Is this doublespeak the price we have to pay to stand in the sun and watch some good musicians (with the VIPs seated under cover at the side of the stage?) ? Does it also enable the EM to wash its hands of any dissent? Would, as a post an a previous posting asked, all the performers agree to appear if their names were to be associated with such restraints ? Are the bannings on long lens cameras etc merely kite flying for Mr Rann to come back and say "well we've had the power for years, nobody has objected, so I'm surprised that there's concern now that, in the interests of public safety, we've decided to enforce it".

I'm not alone in my concern about VIPs. In his column in today's Sunday Mail (not online) Peter Goers ("The People's Voice") really got stuck into the "Festival Freeloaders", as he calls them:

"The chattering class gathered to freeload on the concourse in front of the Convention Centre above the seductive Persian Gardens which pulsated with Arabic wails, brightly lit pagodas and oversstuffed poufs

Here were all the enamalled drunks, fat captains of industry charging the bar like Billy Bunter looking for sticky buns, sybaritic socialists, obese oligarchs and their frizzled face-lifted wives in designer Boho clothers their daughters would laugh at, bombastic bureaucrats and public service poohbahs and the bimbos and himbos.

There were long lizard stares, weak smiles, air kisses and wan greetings. These people know how to put the "hell" into hello. It was a freak show of high society."

I wasn't as up close to the Womad freeloaders as he was to the Festival ones so I can't be as personal, so will pass no further comment.

10 March 2006

Womadelaide opening marred by bumbling ineptitude

Botanic Park 5.40pm tonight. A long, slow moving queue which I apparently need to join, even though I've got a prepaid ticket. Such are the regulations.

Another SCWH (Second Class Wait Here) event. It doesn't have to be like this. The people on the left (of the photo) must have had media or VIP marquee passes which give them fasttrack entry.

To get in most people needed to

1. Buy a ticket, either (a) in person at the gate on the day, (b) over the internet or (c) from an external ticket seller (VenueTix or Australia Post).

2. If you chose option (a) you didn't have to wait in a long queue and could jump to step 5.

3. If you chose options (b) or (c) you had to join the queue on the right of the photo and wait (I estimate that the people in the photo would have had to wait up to an hour to complete all steps). I gave up and came back after 7pm when it took only (!) half an hour.

4. At the head of the queue you produced your receipt and "event key" (a kind of smart card - why is this necessary?) and waited for this to be scanned into a computer and generate a barcoded wristband. People who'd booked over the internet had to wait for an event key to be manufactured, then scanned to produce their wristband. In my case the salesperson disappeared for about 5 minutes before returning with the wristband.

5. Join another (thankfully shorter) queue for a bag search (many things are forbidden including glass, alcohol and "long lenses")

6. Have your wristband validated by a scanner. You could then enter the venue.

Womadelaide is a longstanding and successful "community event" (as the signs on Hackney Rd state). The average age of the audience might have increased over time but people still appear to be extremely tolerant of organisational shortcomings such as queuing delays, poor facilities (eg insufficient toilets to cater for the ageing audience), limited shade, and nannystate rules for the paying customers (eg no "long lenses" or glass bottles unless you pay for the latter over the top + $10 deposit), and wristbands "void if removed". The only disputes which cause a ripple of discontent are those over where to draw the line between the seated and the standing to see the performances. These are invariably resolved by a pragmatic consensus along the lines of I want to sit and hear: you want to stand, see and hear; but we both want to hear (so sit down, or stand up, and shut up). Police or security never need to intervene. I reckon it would have to be one of the cushiest police postings available (and is paid overtime too).

All the administrative bumbling has further dented SA's reputation. Many of the people queueing with me were interstate or overseas visitors who had bought their tickets over the internet. They must think that Adelaide is a real hick town if we can't make access easier than this (or perhaps the English among them think this is a practice run for making it difficult for their cricket supporters for the test match later this year). The staff on duty tonight were superficially civil but most of those I came in contact with had no idea of what they were supposed to do. Who trained them? Their task was made far more difficult by the need to generate wristbands and sometimes event keys on the spot, which added to the delays.

I did go to the information booth and put my issues in writing (in an exercise book) , together with my name and contact details . I won't expect a response but I'd like to know if others have had similar experiences at Womadelaide or other events. I believe that too many people have been too passive for too long about being treated like cattle at events and processing points such as airports. There may be a last be a little more hope for the second class citizens who stoically stand and wait: the issue now being picked up by pro-democracy groups such as Open Democracy : see this for an example.

But will anyone be held accountable and, more important, will changes be made to give those who wait a fairer go?

Robert Fisk at Writers Week

This week I've been very fortunate to hear two different but complementary presentations by Robert Fisk at Writers Week.

On Wednesday the fire in his belly was evident as he spoke of his experiences spanning almost 30 years as a journalist covering the Middle East. On Thursday his tone was more reflective as he read from his book The Great War for Civilisation, beginning with a piece about his father from chapter 9. What seems at first to be an island of personal reflection in an ocean of political analysis soon brings the two together into one theme: the roots of the current Middle East troubles extend back to the "great war for civilisation", aka World War 1. The spine of the bulky (see photo) and sometimes labyrinthine book depicts those words on the back of one of his father's medals.

I was most taken by RF's "equation" ,as he described it in one of his presentations, about the US presence in Iraq. It's mathematically incorrect but has a kind of doublespeak logic to it:

- The US should not have gone into Iraq

- The US must get out

- The US can't get out.

The questions for the Thursday presentation were generally much more focused than those for the Wednesday one. The Thursday presenter, Roy Eccleston of The Australian, set the ball rolling by asking whether RF ever had nightmares about some of the gruesome scenes he'd witnessed (the answer was only once). Other questions asked whether RF thought he'd been in the job too long to retain a reasonably balanced albeit pro-Palestinian perspective (he didn't), and whether his pessismistic vision allowed any scope for hope that things might somehow become less bloody (only subject to some unlikely but not impossible conditions being met).

Update Friday 10 March

Today's Canberra Times reports on a public lecture RF delivered last night on the topic
"9/11: ask who did it but for heaven's sake don't ask why".

09 March 2006

Varanasi bombings

I was shocked to hear about the Varanasi bombings, not only for the loss of life, but also because last year I entered and left the city via the station where one of the bombs exploded. Until now my principal recollection was of cows wandering around even more freely than elsewhere in India, including up and down the steps which descend from the overpass to the island platforms.

The BBC's website has a report (with photos) of the devastation at the station. I hope that, given Indian resilience, and assuming heightened security arrangements, it will be a long time before anyone else will be able to take a photo of the deserted waiting room.

08 March 2006

If the Brits can say it why can't our government?

Today the London Independent reports that Kim Howells, the minister in charge of British middle east policy, has called for the Guantanamo Bay detention camp to be closed:

"Our alliance with America is based on shared values. If those shared values are seen by the rest of the world to be terribly flawed that actually undermines the cause of democracy. If Guantanamo is undermining those shared values then it should go, it should close."

This view is not confined to the Labour Party. William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, says much the same thing:

"Reports of prisoner abuse by British and American troops - however isolated - and accounts, accurate or not, of the mistreatment of detainees at Guantanamo and extraordinary rendition flights leading to the torture of suspects, have led to a critical erosion in our moral authority. In standing up for the rule of law, we must be careful not to employ methods that undermine it."

f a British Conservative believes this can we expect to see Mr Howard or Mr Downer reviewing their positions?

I'm not expecting anything, but will keep an eye on the local media to see whether and how it reports the story.

The ABC has reported

Speaking on a visit to Britain, US Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales insists the camp is consistent with the Geneva Convention, but he questions the relevance of the Convention in today's world.

"I think it's always appropriate to look to see whether or not in this new kind of war against ... this new kind of enemy, are the conventions, are all the provisions of the conventions [relevant]," he said.


The Oscar results are posted all over the web but try the old faithful IMDb for a full list.

I didn't think that
Crash was Oscar material, as the plot with so many characters was hard to follow (maybe I shouldn't have missed the first few minutes). Nevertheless I congratulate all those involved in its production for a magnificent team effort: a large team at that. Philip Seymour Hoffman was outstanding as Capote as was Reese Witerspoon in Walk The Line (Joaquin Phoenix was also v good). Paul Giametti (Cinderella Man) and Catherine Keener (Capote) were unlucky to miss out on best supporting actor/actress awards but their turns may yet come.