Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Chan and Sukumaran

Amnesty International rang me this afternoon asking me to attend a vigil for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who are likely to be executed in Indonesia in the next couple of weeks. I am an Amnesty member and against the death penalty, so it should be a no-brainer. I probably will be there.

But I feel very conflicted about it. Here is why.

Indonesia's sovereignty. The Republic of Indonesia has always had the death penalty, and they have used it regularly since 1973. People inside and outside the country can pressure them to repeal it for all the excellent reasons that apply everywhere else too. And of course in this particular case we can appeal for clemency and so on. But we have done those things. Sometimes they may work but in this case the President of the country has considered it and declined.

The big picture. I want the death penalty repealed in Indonesia. Bashing Joko Widodo over the head with the specifics of this case – the involvement of the AFP, the rehabilitation efforts of the men, their distraught families – none of that will actually help push Indonesia to repeal.

Collateral damage.  In pushing Indonesia to repeal, we need to pick our battles. It’s like selecting a test case to take to court. You may be one of many victims of a criminal, but yours is not the clearest case. The police take another case to court knowing that they have a better chance for conviction. Your own case may never be heard, you are just collateral damage in a larger war. If people in Australia would like test the death penalty in Indonesia, maybe take a wider interest in Indonesian justice. We hear that its corrupt, patchy, painfully slow. Maybe more Australians could get behind an international organisation like Amnesty that tries to work within existing frameworks, applying leverage in the most effective way. You can bet that there are dozens of Indonesian citizens on death row whose convictions were not so cut and dried. I’d rather devote my efforts to having their cases re-examined, saving them and demonstrating the pitfalls of the death penalty, anywhere, for anyone. These Australians may just be collateral damage in a longer struggle.

Consistency. [Take away the death penalty for a second.] If you want to intervene to change their sentence, is it because they are Aussies? Because they are sorry? Because they were dudded by the AFP? Because they lead prayer groups and painting classes?  I don’t feel like I want to change someone’s sentence on that basis. They were guilty, they did a terrible thing and dragged seven others down with them. Rehab is great, good for them, but it was not a hard thing to choose. For me they can rot in jail. [OK, bring back the death penalty.] Now I have to act whether I like it or not. I argued against death for the Bali bombers. Even for Russell Brewer. But I am pretty sure Alan Jones wasn't on my side then.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Phillip Hughes 1988-2014

When Phillip Hughes was suddenly drafted into the Australian cricket team, they must have got him to pop in to Channel 9 so they could film his little video portrait. When they mention a player or when he comes in to bat, they play this clip of them slowly turning around, lifting their head and giving you a look, you know, like you have just asked to dance with their girlfriend.

Phillip however jerked around as though someone had just dropped a fully laden tea tray.

I am joking around because his death is too sad and incomprehensible for me to address any other way. There have been many beautiful, thoughtful and heartfelt pieces written and I will not even try to match them.

It is a small mercy that of all the world's cricket grounds he was at the SCG. For his family and friends it meant they could be with him and all together over the next two days and hold a vigil for him. If he had been in Mohali or even Perth it would have felt quite different. Michael Clarke has been outstanding and is an ever more impressive leader, who has some more challenging times ahead, maybe the most difficult of his career.

I was fickle in my support for Phillip Hughes. After thrilling to his brilliant start and then despairing of his chances to ever lock down a spot in the team, I was too easily convinced by those who said he was a Shield run machine that just didn't have the technique to make the next level.

His innings that has been warming the cockles of my heart was not a spectacular one. It was full of maturity, and a sense that time was not against him, time was in fact ripening up and rounding out his talents. He batted with Ashton Agar on debut, in that extraordinary partnership at Trent Bridge that dragged Australia back into the match. He talked the young bloke through it and it was so impressive in a low-key way. There is a beautiful recap of it by Anthony Sharwood here.

Rest in peace Phillip Hughes, 1988-2014.

 Pic: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Meanwhile our other son...

... is back creating new alphabets. This one is heavily based on Gujarati (which I think is the most beautiful of the Indian alphabets).

Michael makes constant use of Google Translate - here he is translating colours into Gujarati for inspiration.

A big event in Brisbane - no, not that one

Last week Marcus and Elf spent a few days in Brisbane, so that Marcus could be presented with a gold medal from the Australian Mathematics Trust. From what we could establish, it was for his extremely high scores in the Australian Maths Competition this year. 34 medals were given out in Australia all together across grades 7 to 12, but Marcus was the only Tasmanian.

Taroona High were very proud, as this is their 3rd medallist in 4 years, but they had to admit that when a kid is part way through Grade 7 the credit really should go to their primary school.

Elf and Marcus flew up on Thursday, and stayed at a reasonably comfortable hotel in the city. There was a massive electrical storm in Brisbane when they arrived. They took the airport train to Central Station, and were staggered to see people walking through the Botanical Gardens with umbrellas despite the lightning. They had to wander about a little to find the hotel, but once there they settled in and had room service supply dinner, including a memorable bitter chocolate ganache tart thing.

They didn't sleep all that well, so they got up very early and walked around the Botanical Gardens, and were staggered (again) to see half-meter-long lizards just hanging around. They thought they had escaped from an enclosure, but no, this is just their place, man.

Later that morning they went to Government House where the Governor of Queensland, Paul de Jersey, presented the gongs. Then there was a bit of a reception with a lot of awkward standing around from the teenage maths genii, and then a buffet lunch at another hotel in the city about a block from where Elf and Marcus stayed. The Commonwealth Bank sponsor the maths competition and they put on the lunch.

That evening they went for a big walk along Southbank and saw the market, the man-made beach, beautiful gardens and the city buildings all lit up in colours for the impending G20 summit. They had a ride on the Wheel of Brisbane, and were generally very impressed. And of course it was lovely and warm.

On Saturday morning they had breakfast at the Pancake Parlour - a novelty for Hobartians as we have no good pancake outlets. Then they went back to the Botanical Gardens to say goodbye to the lizards, and caught the train back to the airport. Michael and I picked them up a few hours later and it was great to have them back.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Royal Hobart Show 2014

We took the boys and Karri and Miah to the show yesterday. Did the farm animals first, then crazy rides, then food, then watched the axe throwing competition, then the pig races, went back for pavlovas, a go on the dodgems and collected showbags on our way out. All went off pretty well.

Some highlights: we watched the judging of several classes of alpaca. These black ones have huge arses hindquarters and tails like sewn-on teddy bears. The one nearest won in a photo finish, from the next one along. The judge went and fetched the blue ribbon then hovered around uncertainly for ages before finally garlanding the winner around its silly long neck.

My favourite part was watching the handlers trying to get them to line up parallel. Apparently the best way is to seize their rump just above the tail, lift hind legs off the ground and rotate into position.


You can't beat the classic laughing clowns. When they finally laugh their last, these originals are replaced with lumpy and amateurish papier maché mouse heads. For me its got to be clowns all the way. The operator here stood out as unusually clean living and dad-like. Generally carnies are finding new (bad) ways to accent their trademark look every year.

This is the zipper. Marcus, Michael and Miah are in one of those pink cages waaaaay up at the top, that look like they are made from old Leyland Marinas minus the wheels.


I high-fived this chicken, and also later got a tired fist bump from a pea pod by the Woolworths fruit 'n' veg display. He was just about to knock off, saw him shortly after knocking back a ristretto, still in violent green pants but minus the pod.

Some shots from around the World Of Birds. I was going to say poultry but are pigeons poultry? This first one is a racing pigeon transporter.

And now, all the kids having a turn being a cactus. Thanks, taco stand whose tacos we did not buy!

The best call of the day was from the announcer at the axe-throwing. Some axes were missing the quite-small target altogether, or hitting the top of it and bouncing away at unpredictable angles. Not far behind the target was a grandstand. At one point a thrower missed, and then pointed to some kids who had been running around under the grandstand right in his eyeline. The announcer said "OK, better round up those kids before someone turns one of them into twins".

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Another Maths Medal for Marcus

The high school is so big, and full of kids and activities beyond our ken. So the school newsletter usually gets a cursory glance from me. This week it opened up on this beautiful picture and exciting news about Marcus. He hadn't heard about it and either had we.

It turns out he is going to Brisbane in early November to get his medal, presented by the Governor of Queensland. 17 medals have been awarded in Grades 7-10 across Australia. The rest of us are going along as well - we think that the Australian Mathematics Trust pays for Marcus and a parent to travel and stay, but all that of that is still to be confirmed.

I am very proud of course, but also a little excited as I have never been to Queensland in my life. I am imagining Government House will;
  1. be on stilts; and 
  2. be surrounded by pineapple plantations, mangroves and burning canefields.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Junior Master

Marcus is on his way back from Launceston as I write, where he has competed for Taroona High in the State Chess Finals.

I had a sneak peek online at the results - out of 9 games he won 5 and drew 1, lost three to highly rated players. His own rating has shot up 64 points to 1041, which makes him now a Junior Master at 12! He came 20th in open secondary, competing against kids up to 17 years old.

We are again very proud of him. A super kid.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


For the last 20 years I have struggled to brush my teeth twice a day. At some point I decided the toothpaste taste made me hungry. I thought I’d be able to stave off morning tea until 11 if I didn’t brush my teeth in the morning. I never verified that scientifically, but it was enough to get me out of the morning brushing habit.

My wife, granddaughter of a dentist, also does not brush in the morning and so we never got the boys doing it as a morning routine. A really good brush at night, but nothing in the morning. Wellllll - you are only going to food up your teeth all over again in a few hours aren’t you? Please don't report us.

After a few terse conversations with my modern-day dentist, I vowed to start brushing in the morning again, and cut back on my work-from-home morning-tea and afternoon-tea staple of honey sandwiches. I bought an electric toothbrush, as they are meant to do a better job, and I thought it might be fun.

I loathe my electric toothbrush. Every night I consider just going to be bed unbrushed, as the idea of a hard piece of plastic rattling against my teeth is just so unappealing. I know if you do it right that won't happen, but I am a bit clumsy and so I get that regularly.

Dentists now won't hear of any kind of toothbrush except soft. Soft, softer, softest, extra-softest. Whereas I remember a time when it was OK to have a good, firm toothbrush – in fact it was manly. I prided myself on giving my teeth a pretty damn serious working over with a brush - not a floppy floopy soft thing but a brush.

I have a throwback toothbrush that we picked up at a hotel I think. It is a firm no-nonsense unit that is quite prepared to make your gums bleed, and expects to be thanked for it. And I love it. So - my new approach is that I am going to bribe myself to brush in the morning by making that my morning brush, while I give the enamel a gentle caress in the evening with the electric.

Stay tuned, next week as I'll be discussing flossing and how to successfully lie to your dentist about it.