31 January 2008


The rivalry (or whatever else you may like to call it) between SA and Victoria has surfaced again following a claim by Victorian Premier Brumby that Adelaide is a "backwater".

Mr Brumby told a Melbourne media conference yesterday that unless Victoria pushed ahead with a $1 billion plan to deepen the channel in Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne would end up like Adelaide."If you want Melbourne to be a backwater, if you want Melbourne eventually to be an Adelaide – as someone described it the other day – well, don't do this project, and Melbourne will just die a slow death," he said.The major dredging project has caused deep division in Melbourne because of environmental concerns.

Mr Rann said Victoria's insecurity stemmed from losing the $6 billion Air Warfare Destroyer contract to South Australia."The Victorians are becoming more defensive because the centre of gravity for Australia's economic future is now firmly based in states like West Australia, Queensland and South Australia," he said."They (Victoria) announced plans to dredge their port back in early 2002, but they haven't got cracking with it," he said."They've been talking about it year after year while we got on with it, and we did it without stuffing up the environment. "We've overcome that here, and that's why we've been winning defence projects and have got a multimillion-dollar mining boom on the way."

Mr Rann may have a point about the port dredging, but he's being more than a bit disingenuous by arguing on economic grounds and also by linking SA with WA and Queensland, two states whose economies have been flourishing for several years now.

Adelaide and SA haven't had an economy to compare with Melbourne and Victoria's for more than 150 years, so if we judge by that criterion we are a backwater. But if you look at qualitative factors, eg the kind of things mentioned in a recent
New York Times travel article, then you get a different perspective.

The Advertiser/ Adelaide Now's Rex Jory occasionally writes pieces which capture the flavour of the city. He first drew my attention to the NYT piece in his column last week , though he's also well aware of the less sophisticated side of Adelaide, as this from last year shows.

It's interesting that Mr Brumby's comments have elicited considerable support, if the online poll conducted by Adelaide Now/ The Advertiser is any guide.

Dr Johnson once said "the noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees is the high road that leads him to England". Perhaps for many people the same holds true about the road to Melbourne (or beyond). My children, who have both moved away from Adelaide (I understand and support why they've done so) would probably concur with Mr Brumby.

I'm sure that Mr Rann, despite his knee jerking boosterism, understands this as well, even though he's chosen to respond with a frontal counter attack when a guerilla style hit and run would have made his point more effectively. And, if he's serious about doing something tangible to ameliorate the backwater perception he could commit to electrifying our major suburban railways. This, after all, has been done in Perth and Brisbane, the other two cities which he believes comprise, with Adelaide, "the centre of gravity for Australia's economic future".

28 January 2008

Australia Day

Australia Day fell on Saturday, when it was commemorated in many ways and in many places throughout the country. Monday was a public holiday, a second bite of the Australia Day cherry without many of the formalities.

I was at the Test on Saturday (in fact on all five days) and was interested to see that a public citizenship ceremony was conducted during the cricket lunch interval. The MC was Mr Tom Georganas, Federal ALP MP for Hindmarsh; also present were Ms Kate Ellis, Federal Minister for Youth and Sport, and Dr Jane Lomax Smith, State Education Minister. After the singing of the national anthem (for the second time in three days, this time by a young woman who pronounced the first word of the title "Advarnce " which we in SA prefer to the Eastern staters' short a-ed "Advants"), the citizenship ceremony took place.

Then Mr Georganas invited those Australians present (by no means all the crowd, as many were lunching elsewhere) to participate in a "voluntary" re-affirmation of their loyalty to Australia. He explained that doing so would have no legal effect, but I wondered whether this is setting a precedent for future sporting and other events.

In the Fin Review last weekend Mark Latham's piece "Aussie Aussie Aussie - shush, shush, shush" (p 90, not online but summarised here) lamented "the squeezing the fun and irreverence out of the Australian way of life":

A day at the cricket, one of our great national sporting institutions, is indicative of this process. There are now more than 230 security cameras at the SCG targeting large groups of spectators and people in "unusual costumes". Even the security officers have admitted that it resembles a scene from Big Brother. They are relentless in their surveillance, looking for "anyone turning their heads from the game - they are usually guilty of something."

Will it be long before the security cameras begin identifying those who turn their heads away from official ceremonies, or perhaps even don't join in with sufficient gusto? I pondered this as I continued to eat my lunch during the reaffirmation. Most of those around me did likewise but, as Latham and Rex Jory, writing in similar vein in The Advertiser/Adelaide Now on Tuesday, implied, who knows how this might develop? At least I know Don Bradman's average.


23 January 2008

A modern model for a modern Governor-General

The Australian hasn't missed a chance to rub salt into the Fairfax media's wounds for the latter's suggestion that Kym Beazley had been sounded out about becoming Australia's next Governor General.

Its coverage includes an editorial today "Reality check time: His or Her Excellency should be non-divisive", a pot stirring piece of whimsy by Philip Adams "If Bomber won't do, let's have Germaine", and a more solemn backgrounder by Greg Craven."The importance of being discreet and charming".

While there are many, maybe even a majority of, Australians who, like me, support a republic, some of them, also like me, recognise that the formal transition won't happen automatically given all the current constitutional obstacles that need to be overcome. We are IMO nevertheless a de facto republic now, albeit one which operates within the framework of a constitutional monarchy. In preparing the way for a formal transition to a republic it is important that the office of Governor-General not be devalued or downgraded.

The 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam government still casts a shadow over Australian political life, at least among those, like me, whose memories stretch back that far. In theory it could be, given the appropriate (or inappropriate) circumstances, repeated. Not that I'd wish it but I do accept that there needs to be a head of state, and preferably (with due deference to the quite different US system) when where the functions of head of state and head of government are, as they are now, separate. I'm reasonably open minded about this but haven't seen any strong arguments in favour of an alternative system.

Governor General Jeffery has, as far as I can tell, performed his official duties with dignified competence, even though Mr Howard did much to sideline him eg by taking a lot of the limelight at the Commonwealth Games, Rugby World Cup and no doubt other events as well.

Mr Rudd is reputed to be something of a control freak so we may not expect a much different attitude from him, but it will be interesting to see who he appoints to succeed General Jeffery.

My suggestion is Marie Bashir the current governor of NSW. Why? Recently I heard her interviewed by Jim Maxwell on ABC radio during a cricket match broadcast. She struck me as someone who clearly met Greg Craven's criteria of discretion and charm, but also as someone who recognised that, while her role was essentially ceremonial, she had the power to seek clarification of some of the matters which came before her.

PS Also in today's Australian
Tom Frame writes about the NSW "Rum Rebellion" of 1808. "Who'll watch guardians when ex-officers rule us?" he asks. An interesting historical reminder and one with, as Frame points out, much contemporary relevance elsewhere in the world today.

15 January 2008

More on water

  • The Adelaide Nowwebsite now features a separate section on our water crisis (not an overstatement). It features links to Advertiser and Sunday Mail stories together with information about weather, reservoir levels, water restrictions etc.

Rann staying put...or so he says

Premier Rann has pooh-poohed a suggestion from one of his party's senior figures, ex-Senator Chris Schacht (pronounced "shot"), that he will retire after the 2010 state election:

Premier Mike Rann - already the nation's longest serving premier - says he intends to stay in politics for another 10 years despite speculation he may quit.

Mr Rann, 55, said today he intended to continue his political career until he turned 65, although he conceded whether or not he remained premier for all that time was up to the voters.

"I've actually named the date, I've done what (former prime minister) John Howard didn't do," he told ABC NewsRadio, referring to Mr Howard's refusal to specify exactly when he would retire.

Tongue-in-cheek, Mr Rann said when he turned 65 he would: "Pursue that career in the film industry that I've been training for."

The premier will turn 65 on January 5, 2018.

If, as ex British PM Harold Wilson said " a week is a long time in politics", Mr Rann , who entered parliament in 1985 and has been Premier since 2002, must fancy himself as a political Methuselah. Does his vocabulary include the word hubris?

In the past week Mr Rann has been subjected to a lot of critical comment from the media, eg

  • The Independent Weekly's Don Riddell over his continuing refusal to accept an anti-corruption commission:"in rejecting calls for SA to set up an independent commission against corruption, he appears to see a "lawyers' picnic" or "festival" rather than another necessary step in our growth as a state."
  • The Advertiser/ Adelaide Now pointing out that the opening of the Bakewell underpass, while welcome, does not do much to deliver a better transport system to the metropolitan area: "the fact remains that one bridge cannot fix a transport system that has much wider problems.Traffic congestion in South Australia will only get worse unless the State Government comes up with an integrated plan to get people moving more efficiently. "
  • The Advertiser/Adelaide Now also refusing to let the issue of the state's water supply go away: "Premier Mike Rann was caught short last year on the politics of water and still does not appear to have responded adequately to community frustration."

I wonder whether Mr Rann really believes that he has another ten years in which to come to grips with these problems? Even if SA, as you've predicted, becomes "the Kuwait of uranium" will we have enough water to drink, wash and perhaps water our gardens a little), an anti-corruption commission with effective powers and a half-decent transport system?

14 January 2008

Cate Blanchett wins award and stimulates headline writers

Cate Blanchett has won the Golden Globe award as best supporting actress for her part in I'm Not There , an imaginative treatment of some aspects of Bob Dylan's life and work.

The headline writers have risen to the occasion, though they are less inhibited in some places


than in others


Sir Les Patterson redux as Foley off to Hollywood for blow job?

SA Deputy Premier and Treasurer Foley, one of the most philistine South Australian government ministers, has elbowed his notional boss Mr Rann, and other ministers with some knowledge of the arts (eg Dr Lomax-Smith) , aside by somehow getting the numbers to lead a delegation to the USA to, as The Advertiser/ Adelaide Now reports, " blow SA film trumpet" :

Deputy Premier Kevin Foley will knock on Hollywood's door and drum up business for our ailing film industry this month when he leads a South Australian invasion of the U.S.

The Treasurer, who leaves tomorrow, will join hundreds of high-profile Australians, including Kylie Minogue, Terri and Bindi Irwin and Olivia Newton John, for G'Day USA - Australia Week 2008.

He has meetings scheduled with Warner Bros and Walt Disney film executives to promote interest in film production in SA, which has slumped. "In particular on this trip, we have a large contingent of business people and people from the South Australian Film Corporation," Mr Foley said.

"Our niche as a film state is clearly in areas such as post-production and some of the more specialised services to the film sector."


South Australian film, music, food and wine will be promoted to millions of Americans.

The trip is expected to expose SA services and products to more than 100 million people.

Mr Foley will have meetings with economists to be briefed about the state of the U.S. economy. He also will discuss South Australian innovations in energy.

Australian culture will be on show at events in Los Angeles and New York. Representatives from South Australian companies and artists including Rising Sun Pictures, Etype Jazz, Beerenberg, Burra Creek Wines, Orgo Products, Nardone Wines and Pendleton Estate Olive Oil will accompany Mr Foley. Maggie Beer and Coopers products will be on display.

If Mr Rann can't swing a trip like this for himself, does this mean he's on the way out?

Mr Foley's public persona suggests that he is no cinephile or gastronome, yet his reputation suggests that he can at least make some claim to possessing a first hand knowledge of beer, which should give some credibility to his promotion of Coopers products, provided that they weren't what he had in mind when he spoke on the record of "poofter beer".

Perhaps while he's in Hollywood Mr Foley will be auditioning for the Sir Les Patterson part in a movie designed to revive the moribund SA film industry. His hair's not quite grey enough and his teeth insufficiently snaggled, but in most other respects he fits the part admirably.

Fear of poetry? There must be a word for it.

Two items from New Scientist have caught my eye.

The first, about phobias, is discussed by Will Pavia in The Times (it's also reported briefly in today's Australian).

It is the fear that dare not speak its name. It is hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.

Those afflicted are afraid of very long words, yet even as they attempt to lead normal lives, avoiding medical dictionaries and high-scoring Scrabble players, the very term that defines their condition hangs over their heads, terrifyingly polysyllabic.

Their irrational fear and the word that defines it has been catalogued by readers of New Scientist among a list of the most curious phobias to trouble modern man, as advertised by counselling companies promising a cure.

As readers delved deeper, a dictionary of phobias emerged that included some apparently reasonable apprehensions. There is nucleomituphobia, the fear of nuclear weapons, the fear of dentists (odontophobia) and a fear of the French (Francophobia).

The dictionary of phobias appeared on the website of a US company selling alternative treatments. ChangeThatsRightNow.com details 1,500 phobias, including paraskavedekatriaphobia, the fear of Friday the 13th. It offers “one-to-one help” for about £1,200.

New Scientist was sceptical, noting that “phobias conspicuous by their absence included “fear of silly marketing” and “fear of repetitive websites”.

Yesterday, several British psychologists insisted that phobias existed for almost anything.

Robert Endelmann, a chartered psychologist and a patron of the National Phobics Society, said: “It’s not unusual for people to have unusual phobias. Coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, is surprisingly common.”

Such phobias often develop after a traumatic experience. Emma Citron, a chartered clinical psychologist commonly treats elderly astraphobics, who fear thunder. “It reminds them of the Blitz,” she said.

Then there are learned phobias, that sufferers may have “caught” from friends or family, and there are phobias that may have a deep-rooted biological trigger. “Fear of the dark, fear of high places and fear of things that move quickly, such as spiders or snakes – it would have been useful for our ancestors to be afraid of such things,” Professor Endelmann said. For all that, there are phobias on the list that remain hard to explain. Lutraphobics are afraid of otters. Octophobics fear the number eight.

Then there are phobiaphobics who are afraid of phobias, and are surely caught on the horns of a terrible dilemma. In order to rid themselves of their phobia they would probably need to acquire another one.

It was left to Alexander Gardner, a psychologist, to sum up the proliferation of phobias. “I have a fear of Times reporters,” he said. “I have to go.”

The second, mentioned on the New Scientist website describes " Hitch Haiku", a Japanese computer program which can create haiku using two or three keywords.

Naoko Tosa of Kyoto University in Japan has written a program that takes two or three keywords entered by a user and creates a three-line poem related to them in the haiku's structure of five, seven and five syllables per line.

To find related words, the software searches several databases, including a thesaurus, a database that links words that relate to the same season, and one that links onomatopoeic words. Using another database on how words are ordered, it strings word combinations together. The combination that is most relevant to the keywords and obeys the syllable rules forms the poem.

The user can make changes to the haiku, which the program uses to learn the user's preferences.

The concept is explained further(in English) on a six minute YouTube video which is a tad more erudite than most of the other material posted to that estimable site.

The only verse form which I feel at all comfortable about composing is the limerick. After watching the video's explanation of the haiku's literary subtleties I wouldn't for a moment suggest that the limerick is worthy of such scholarly endeavour. A rhyming dictionary should meet most people's needs.

And the word for fear of poetry? I don't know. Can anyone help?

13 January 2008

Mining water

It's not uncommon to see lush gardens around the inner Adelaide suburbs with signs on their fences claiming, as if this were something to be proud of, that bore water is used to achieve and maintain their lushness.

But everything is not rosy in this particular metaphorical garden, as The
Advertiser/ Adelaide Now reports:

Professor Mike Young, from the Wentworth Group of Scientists, says State Government policy allowing unlimited access to bore water, amid the toughest restrictions on record, is unfair.

"We're in a situation where the very affluent can escape regulation, but the regular mums and dads of Adelaide are being denied the opportunity to buy their way out of water restrictions," said Professor Young, who is also Adelaide University's research chair of water economics and management.

"It draws a clear line between those who are affluent and those who are needy. It's actually creating water wars in Adelaide when it's unnecessary."

Latest figures reveal that many of the top 10 suburbs to sink bores are high-income areas, including Unley Park, St Peters, Toorak Gardens and Malvern.

Unley Park, in which 35 well permits were issued in the 14 months to November, has a median weekly household income of $1637. Suburbs such as Findon and Gepps Cross, which have median weekly household incomes of around $700, secured only one permit each.

Last month, the Government announced a temporary ban on new backyard bores to stem the explosion in numbers which is ravaging underground water supplies.

At the time, Environment Minister Gail Gago said restricting the water those households with bores could extract from the aquifer was not necessary, as there were no signs of abuse.

Professor Young says a fair scheme requires the regulation of bore water and the introduction of a water-trading scheme.

"I think it's time for the Government to be introducing a pricing regime that enables more people to be able to access this water rather than the very, very affluent," he said.

"We really need a market in Adelaide which enables people, who decide willingly to go without water, to sell it to those willing to pay for it, then all people benefit." Some of the suburbs featuring in the top 10 which might be considered more mortgage belt – North Haven, Largs North and Largs Bay on the LeFevre Peninsula – have access to shallow groundwater.


While bores can cost up to $20,000, drillers can hit water in Unley Park at about 20m. That costs around $6000. Uniting Care Wesley spokesman Mark Henley also called for the regulation of bore water.

"It's essential that we have fairness in water so that we don't have the water rich and the water poor," he said.

"The notion of unlimited access to bores is not fair, it's not reasonable and it's inequitable."

The Government, however, remains firm on its policy to allow unlimited access to water from bores.

Acting Environment Minister Jay Weatherill said in an emailed statement: "The State Government has already imposed a temporary moratorium on the drilling of new domestic bores in Adelaide to ensure that groundwater levels in the shallow aquifer don't deplete significantly during the current drought.

"This will be reviewed next spring before anticipated summer demand but there are no plans to apply domestic water restrictions."

He ruled out a water trading scheme for Adelaide saying the bureaucracy and administration would be cost prohibitive.

The simple fact is that, as Professor Young and said in September last year , removing water from an aquifer is very similar to mining:

Official figures show the water table below Adelaide has sunk to its lowest level since citywide records were kept.

In some areas, the water table's depth has fallen from 5m to 11m below the surface since 2005, during which time the number of new bores across Adelaide has increased from 85 in 2005 to a record number of 216 so far this year.

Water scientists yesterday warned the underground aquifer would eventually run dry if bore use was not cut during the drought.

Wentworth Group of Scientists member Professor Mike Young said groundwater was not "a mine" and its use needed to be limited as quickly as possible.


Department for Water, Land and Biodiversity figures show groundwater levels have decreased sharply since December, 2004.

A State Government review of groundwater use announced in December, which is considering capping bore numbers, is yet to be completed.

CSIRO land and water groundwater hydrology research group leader Peter Cook said uncontrolled use of groundwater did not make sense.

"The groundwater enters the system from rainfall in the Adelaide Hills and moves down beneath Adelaide over thousands of years and discharges to the coast," he said.

"If you take out great amounts, you can reverse the flow and start seeing the seawater draw back underneath the land."

In the past 12 years, 700 bores have been drilled in the metropolitan area.

So far this year, 216 bores permits have been approved.

So, there's a moratorium on new bore drillings fo the time being. Good, but what about all the existing bores? This is a tough one for the government, and not one for which the ersatz solutions of the type which Mr Rann and his government like so much are available.

12 January 2008

In defence of the plastic bag

So Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett wants to ban plastic bags. This proposal may be a genuine product of the minister's fertile mind, or it may be a knee-jerk response to the Chinese government's announcement that it intends to do the same.

Plastic bags have become an, often too visible I admit, symbol of modern waste. And yet they have an honourable place in many people's lives, including mine. I use each one at least twice: the first time for transporting items from shops, the second for storage or waste disposal. I also use the green shopping bags which cost up to a dollar, but they have a limited effective life.

Rather than ban plastic bags outright I wouldn't be averse to paying a small sum, say 5 cents, each time I required a new one.

10 January 2008

Suffer from password fatigue, infomania or man flu?

The Fairfax and Murdoch media report on the quest for theMacquarie Dictionary Word of the Year 2007 .

From News.com.au:

"Tanorexia" refers to an obsession with a suntan, while a "salad dodger" is an obese person.

Other nominations for the Macquarie Dictionary Online include "infomania", for those who constantly put aside the job at hand to concentrate on incoming email and text messages.

"Password fatigue" is frustration from having too many passwords to recall.

Casting aside the personal, someone who spreads their clothes around the house, clean or otherwise, is said to be treating the room as a "floordrobe".

Or if the global credit crunch is hitting home, you may be tempted into becoming a "credit card tart", or someone who shifts loans around from one credit card to pay for another.

In business, the "glass cliff" refers to people placed in jobs with high risk of failure because they belong to a group not well represented in leadership positions, such as women.

Even geopolitics gets a mention, with "Chindia" joining China and India, at least in Australish English, in terms of their fast growing strategic and economic clout in the world.

The "Great Firewall of China" noun refers to the block preventing Chinese internet users from accessing online sites deemed undesirable by the Chinese government. To get around it may take a "cyberathlete", or professional computer game player.

Susan Butler, the dictionary's publisher, said environmental themes were hot this year in a time of global warming, with "climate canary" referring to a geographical feature, plant or animal species pointing to climate change.

"Toad juice" refers to a liquid fertiliser produced in Australia from pulverised cane toads, an introduced environmental pest marching its way across the continent. To vote for their favourite word, Ms Butler said people should visit macquariedictionary.com.au.

There are 17 categories, each with five nominations. One winner from each category will be chosen.

Voting closes on 31 January, so check out the website and have your say!

Update 11 January

News of the quest has travelled beyond beyond these shores.

More transport miscellany

Cycling and trams

Today's Advertiser/ Adelaide Now editorial, acknowledges the Tour Down Under and calls for better cycling infrastructure for "day to day riders", eg me:

Bicycle lanes on our streets are haphazard and poorly co-ordinated.

There are few, if any, viable bicycle transport corridors leading into the city.

Worse, bike lanes often peter out into nothing on the most dangerous stretches of road such as Main North Rd leading into the city.

With the event celebrating its 10th year, it is time for Mr Rann and his Government to show similar support for grassroots cyclists, by developing a co-ordinated approach to making the roads safer for our bike riders.

Bicycle lanes and dedicated transport corridors should be as much a part of our transport planning as trams, trains, and large-scale roadworks like the Northern Expressway – construction of which began yesterday.

Cycling is a healthy, environmentally-friendly transport option. It ties with many of the Government's strategic plan targets concerning sustainability and wellbeing.

It is time to fund it accordingly.

While it's on the topic of transport the editorial adds some supportive words to say about the much maligned tram extension:

The new trams, while relatively comfortable, are clearly not big enough for their task.

Either the Government incorrectly forecast passenger numbers or it bought the wrong trams for the job.

Adelaide urgently needs a greatly expanded light rail network as part of an overhaul of its public transport system.

It is to be hoped the same mistakes do not happen next time.

When will the next time be, I wonder?

The tram line now runs down North Terrace by the railway station so it shouldn't be too difficult to convert at least some of the existing suburban lines eg Outer Harbor, Grange, Belair to "light rail". This has been done elsewhere, including some Melbourne lines and in South London

Insurance to protect licence losers

TheAge reports that an insurance company is now offering cover against loss of a driving licence.

National Underwriting Agencies spokesman Noel Johns said the policy was designed for good drivers who fell victim to revenue-raising.

"Thousands of Australians are being penalised for minor transgressions each day and the loss of their licence can really affect their work and family life," Mr Johns said.

"There are over 10.5 million registered passenger vehicles in Australia and the majority of the drivers of those vehicles are trying to do the right thing.

"But with the increase of fixed cameras and other devices, people are getting tired of being booked for a few kilometres over."

An increase in the number of speed detection devices throughout Australia has made it more likely for the average motorist to accumulate points and lose their driving licence.

The latest VicRoads figures show 33,082 full-licence drivers had 12 or more demerit points at June 30 last year, while 12,132 had 11 demerit points and 22,844 had 10 demerit points.

The State Government and Victoria Police deny speed cameras are used to raise revenue.

Although I won't be applying for one of the company's policies as I'm not (touch wood) at immediate risk of losing my licence (I have 3 demerit points) I think their arguments have some merit. For one thing, the government and Vic Police claim that speed cameras are not used to raise revenue is balderdash, for another many speed limits are arbitrarily selected and often on the "if in doubt, lower the limit" principle.

See the article I referred to in yesterday's post for another example of concern at the growing, and potentially misdirected, regulation of on road behaviour.

None of this is intended to make light of the still unsatisfactorily large road toll on our roads, and I'd be happy to consider any other views about what might be done to reduce it.

World's cheapest car

Both the Murdoch and Fairfax media report on the launch in India of what is claimed to be the world's cheapest car, the Tata Nano, a five seater no frills (eg no Air Con) vehicle with a 624cc engine which will sell for 100,000 rupees (about $A2,800).

I'd expect it to do well, though driving in many parts of India is, from my experience ( only as a passenger, apart from a brief bike ride in Goa), not for the faint-hearted. The price of petrol is high, the roads are are variable quality (there are some very good ones), and none of the cities have half decent street directories (or if they have none of the hire car, taxi or auto rickshaw drivers I've used have had one). That said, while I expect many people here will turn their noses up at the Nano, it doesn't seem to be very different in specs from a Fiat 500 or 600, a specimen of which I saw yesterday on the road near here.

09 January 2008

Motor skills

A grab bag of pieces about motoring from the media:
  • "Lost in the rush" by motoring journalist Bill Tuckey in The Australian: "Revenue-hungry governments ignore the statistics as they hype the holiday road toll, while their focus on speeding blinds us to the myriad other reasons behind accidents". It skims over a lot of topics but asks some pertinent questions.
  • A difference of opinion as to whether the Indian cricket team's bus was involved in a minor accident in Sydney. According to The Australian Radio 2UE reported it as a fact, yet the Indian team media manager said "I am on the bus. We didn't hit anything."
  • An anti- 4WD rant by Charlotte George in The Age . She uses the fuel guzzling Hummer to condemn all 4WDs (or SUVs as they are increasingly becoming known here) , which is fair enough...up to a point. As a 4WD owner let me say in my defence that I try to restrict my use to medium - long trips, and that I try to drive at the optimum speed for fuel economy (around 90 kph). Doing so makes for long days but with some CDs (audio books or music) to listen to on the open road and stops every two hours or so travelling can be enjoyable.

Good news for non-profits

"Labor to lift gag on critics" says the headline on the top left hand corner of today's Australian front page. On the page it's overshadowed by more about the cricket brouhaha, and online it's published as Critics in 'climate of fear': Gillard , yet the message is clear and very welcome:

Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the not-for-profit sector had been operating in a "climate of fear"under the Howard Government.

It had been forced to hold its tongue and not make public comments or risk losing funding.

Her comments came on the day The Australian revealed that Labor plans to rewrite government contracts with the non-profit sector to rip out gag clauses.

"We don't want to stifle debate, we want to ensure that this country ends up with the best possible policy. This requires us to get the gag off and listen to those who know what's going on,'' Ms Gillard said in Melbourne today.

"When we consulted with the not for profit organisations in the run up to the federal election they did say to us they were concerned what these clauses meant. There was a climate of fear that meant they were anxious about speaking out and advocating for those that they worked with.

"We want to get that fear well away, we want to make sure that they can have their say and still be treated fairly by governments.
"You only get the best possible public policy if you have the debate. The former government took the view that silence was better. We take the view that debate and hearing everybody's voices is much better.

Ms Gillard said there were several thousands of contracts between not-for-profits and the government with gag clauses, in the employment, housing and social services sector.

Well done, Ms Gillard and, presumably, your federal government colleagues.

Australian media on back foot with online polls

In today's Crikey Thomas Hunter asks "Australian Test team: do we really hate them?" and claims, on the basis of online polls conducted by The Age, The Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph, Today Tonight and Fox Sports, that the Australian cricket team is on the nose.

Some commenters have pointed out that such polls are statistically dodgy. OK, but why are they so common nowadays?

Others say that people from overseas (code for Indian diaspora) can vote and thus skew the results. If so, why don't the pollsters break down the responses according to country of origin?

IMO a problem with polls (online or other) is their wording. Adelaide Now (aka The Advertiser online) ran one recently, posing the question: "Do the Australian cricketers play within the spirit of the game?".

The results are published in today's Advertiser (p79):
  • Yes, they always do: 288 votes (12%)
  • Yes, but in the heat of battle things aren't always clear; 464 votes (19%)
  • No, they'll do anything to win: 1500 votes (63%)
  • No, in the professional era there is no such thing: 128 votes (5%)
Dan Lato , the blogger/ columnist, comments (in print but not online):

This week Adelaide Now 's coverage of the aftermath of the Sydney Test has gone global as is obvious by the poll we ran this week. Indians are passionate about their cricket and the stirring online defence of their team is testament to the devotion they have to Indian players.

Questions for Mr Lato: (1) how many Indians voted in the poll, (2) how does he know?, and (3) if he does know why doesn't he come out and produce the figures?

Crossposted at Nudges and Deflections.

07 January 2008

City of lit...

Today's Age editorial "Melbourne: city of literature and literacy" supports Melbourne's case to be the second, after Edinburgh, UNESCO City of Literature.

Why any city needs UNESCO's imprimatur to boost its claim (or self-belief) that it is a centre of culture is beyond me, but if Melbourne and Melburnians aspire to it, then the best of luck to you.

I was particularly interested in other comments in the editorial, especially the connection between literature and literacy:

To have a city of literature also requires involvement through comprehension and understanding by those who are best positioned to take advantage of it: the population. These qualities, as with those of culture itself, are not speedily acquired but are the cumulative work of years or generations. The pleasure of reading, something once taken for granted in the best sense of the phrase, has become harder to achieve; in the age of email and text messaging and other forms of instant gratification, reading a book takes time and space in a hectic world full of distractions. Literature is slow food versus the take-away chook leg.

I'll leave you to read the rest for yourself if you're so inclined. I must get off the computer and back to a book. For the record, at present I'm dipping into several books and have two novels on the go (or, with the lure of cricket distracting me latterly, go slow): David Leavitt's The Indian Clerk and Alexis Wright's Carpentaria.

Transport matters

Suburban railway travel

Today The Advertiser published (but not online) some more letters about Adelaide's public transport situation.

I travelled on the rail system today and found it very punctual (I just missed one train but won't complain) yet still looking tired and in need of upgrading.

A relatively cheap way of doing something would be to clean the train windows, or replace those those which are badly scratched (see this post from last year for an illustration). It's dispiriting not to be able to see clearly where you're travelling: I wonder how many people have missed their station because of not being able to read station identification signs (some of which are themselves defaced and illegible). I know drivers often read out station names, but their voices don't always come through clearly on the PA systems.

The drivers are currently in dispute with TransAdelaide over pay and they are holding stop work meetings (short strikes?) during off peak hours on some days. As it's school holidays I doubt whether too many people are inconvenienced much, but even so I hope that this relatively low key pressure helps obtain a reasonably satisfactory result for them.

Another current issue, and one which almost certainly will not be resolved as easily as the drivers's dispute is the poor condition of the track. The Outer Harbor line was reballasted and generally upgraded only five years or so ago yet there are now a significant number of speed restrictions, some as low as 15 kph, as the photo above, which I took during my travels today, indicates. (I found the page in a carriage- someone had used the back of it to draw attention to a wet seat).

The suburban railway system for all its shortcomings is an essential part of Adelaide's public transport system but an element for which the government seems to have no coherent or feasible plans for the medium to long term. It is planning to effect some repairs to the Outer Harbor and Grange lines over the next couple of weekends, but beyond that what? The State government's goal of doubling public transport use by 2014 or thereabouts seems to have been shunted into a siding. The cover story of this week's Independent Weekly indicates that the Noarlunga railway line is unlikely to be extended in our time, which is probably a wise decision notwithstanding the urban expansion down south, but something should be done to ensure the sustainability of the existing system, especially the major north and south lines.

Bicycle sales exceed those of cars...again

Today I used the train as a means of transporting my bike to and from the beach, where I rode from Grange to Outer Harbor (an excellent ride when the weather is like it was today - sunny and not too hot - and the tide is out). It's therefore good to see that, as The Age reports, in Australia bicycle sales have outstripped car sales for the eighth consecutive year.

Not that I've bought a bike for several years, but I do own two: a mountain bike, whose tyres make it easier to tride on firm sand, and a road bike, which I use less often. (I only have one car, which I try to use as little as possible around town, even in inclement weather).

06 January 2008

Observations on the release of David Hicks

David Hicks was released from Yatala prison just over a week ago. The media interest in his whereabouts and various other things, including whether he should apologise to the Australian people, has been intense for a few days (perhaps more intense than it would have been had it taken place outside the normally quiet holiday season).

The Advertiser sent a reporter to locate where Hicks was staying, which he duly did and was rewarded with a photo (on the front page from memory) of him knocking on the door of the house.

A selection of other material I've noted recently:

# An editorial in The Advertiser on 4 January which was more even-handed than most of the rest of the media treatment:

Questions linger in Hicks affair

ANOTHER chapter in the public debate over David Hicks' involvement with al-Qaida and subsequent imprisonment has drawn to a close.

Hicks has had fewer than a handful of opportunities to make public comment but has chosen to remain silent since his release from Yatala Labour Prison last weekend.

Perhaps this is understandable, given the strict conditions governing his release, which include limits on speaking publicly.

However, this leaves questions unanswered on both sides of this important debate.

Some relate to the injustice of his long detention without trial – indeed the validity of that trial – and the conditions in which he was held at Guantanamo Bay.

Others questions relate to the level of his involvement with al-Qaida and activities in Afghanistan, when that country was governed by a murderous, misogynistic and anti-democratic regime.

Given the secretive nature of the "war on terror", perhaps these questions will be answered only when, or if, U.S. documents are declassified.

Hicks might choose to reveal more by finding loopholes in laws preventing him profiting from telling his story.

It would be unfortunate if he were seen to profit in any way, even though many of his supporters might believe he is entitled to compensation.

Whatever the case, it seems key questions about one of the most important issues of our time – terrorism and the fight to prevent it – will remain unanswered for now.

# Tim Dunlop at Blogocracy qualifying his previous support to some degree

# The ABC website running a poll asking whether Hicks should apologise (with some interesting alternative responses):

Should David Hicks make an apology to the Australian people?

Yes, at best he caused immense trouble through his actions and at worst intended harm to his own society.
No, the whole affair should be allowed to subside and Hicks should get on with his life.
The Australian government should instead apologise to him for the handling of his case.

Interest seems to have abated over the last few days, a fact noted by Michael Coulter's Postscript in today's Sunday Age (p14, not online):

Last week, as Hicks savoured his first taste of freedom since 2001, only eight readers (four supportive, four substantially less so) were motivated to put their thoughts in writing.

Perhaps it's that people cared more deeply about the issue of natural justice (the five years of detention without trial or charge) than about the man himself. You rather suspect that if he'd been whacked with a five-year jail term after a proper and appropriate trial, one in which evidence was actually heard and contested, he wouldn't have received much sympathy.

Sadly, the dominant impression left by the whole affair is one of mistrust - of the system that created Guantanamo Bay, of the Australian government that allowed one of its citizens to rot there, and of Hicks himself, because we still don't feel we know all the facts. It's been an ugly episode , and one we'd do well to remember.

I find it bizarre that Coulter implies that a five year term in (presumably) an Australian prison after a sentence imposed by (presumably) an Australian court applying (presumably) Australian law would have cost Hicks much of his support. There are too many hypotheticals here.

On the other hand I agree with his final paragraph. This is why I'll still be interested in the fate of the man (eg will the control order be modified or removed over time?) as well as in the general principle that all Australians should be subject to the rule of law.

01 January 2008

Happy New Year

A couple of far from perfect images taken last night (or perhaps early this morning) at the Port Fairy fireworks display.

Best wishes for 2008 to everyone who reads this.