Thursday, April 30, 2009

Blog flags - semifinal results

France has edged out Thailand in a thrilling (note: I've redefined "thrilling") finish. New Zealand maintained their early dominance to run out easy victors over plucky trilingual* Switzerland.

France 8 d Thailand 7
New Zealand 23 d Switzerland 9

So. Hmm. Its been pretty dull really hasn't it. And with very little chance of a sudden spike in French interest in the next month, things are looking good for the Kiwis.

But... wait! What is this note I've just been passed? "Photographes de Carla Bruni Sans Couture"? Why, that might just do the trick. We'll see.

*Actually quad-lingual including Romansch, with only 35,000 speakers

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Yikes - eerie 1970s ad for swine flu shots

Cloned puppies glow-in-the-dark

Top news today: "South Korean scientists have created glow-in-the-dark beagles using cloning techniques could help them develop cures for human diseases."
As if you need any higher reason to make glow-in-the-dark beagles. Hmmph!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lest We Forget

My favourite photograph of wartime, for Anzac Day. Taken by Frank Hurley, at Passchendaele, Belgium in 1917 (I think). The soldiers are carrying duckboards.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kokoda by Peter FitzSimons

I thought I knew something about the story of the battle for the Kokoda Track in New Guinea during WW2. I realise now I knew more about many other battles, remote in time and place, than I knew about this one, so close to home and so crucial to my parents' generation. If Australia had lost this battle my Mum and Dad might well have grown up in a country partly or wholly occupied by Japan.

So now, with the zeal of the converted, I can see that all Australians should be educated about this pivotal moment in our history, and learn from both the mistakes made and the incredible heroics displayed there. If you don't know much about it, get hold of one of the many books on the subject or look it up in Wikipedia - it makes for staggering reading.

This is by way of a review of one of the books, Kokoda by Peter FitzSimons (2005, Hodder Australia). As it introduced me to a gripping story I have to say I could hardly put it down. (I saw the film Kokoda when it came out a couple of years ago, but it concentrates on one patrol and doesn't convey much of the big picture. OK film though).

While I was fascinated by the remarkable individual stories, the waxing and waning fortunes of the two sides, and the quite incredible official blunders, I found the style of writing pretty ham-fisted. Before this FitzSimons had written one or two military histories, but his main gig has been rugby books. This one has a bit of rugby about it, and a lot of the Commando comics "banzai Japs".
"..seeing as this particular Jap spoke English and therefore probably understood it, many of the diggers took the opportunity to express their own thoughts on the matter and to tell him just where he could stick his bloody bayonet and, while he was at it, to tell the murderous bastards he was with that they were gonna get their own throats slit before long! And so it went.

Really though, what the hell? In a choice between them screaming or shooting at you, the Australians would take screaming any day. The main thing was that Captain Symington had passed the word that, once it was dark, they were going to pull out anyway and get back to Deniki. [...] They had held the airfield for two days now without Morseby flying anything in to them, so what was the bloody point?

No point, cobber. Saddle up. We're out as soon as the captain gives the word."

It's so liberally sprinkled with bloodies, buggers, bastards and so on, it's as if your only witness to history is a bloke most of the way through a carton of stubbies. All this above is his own author's voice, he's not quoting anyone. The book has sold very well, and I'm sure the old diggers love the way its written, but its not to my taste.

On the plus side FitzSimons gives a fairly balanced warts-and-all picture of the variety of Australians who fought at Kokoda. There are brave, brilliant, cowardly, clueless, compassionate and merciless officers. There are the bronzed Aussie regulars of the AIF, the ragtag 39th Battalion of part timers, and the even less imposing 53rd Battalion, many of whom felt they had been shanghaied. (They signed up on the understanding they would only fight on Australian soil - New Guinea was Australian soil only on a fine technicality.)

The Americans (led by the famous Gen. Douglas MacArthur) generally are depicted as arrogant, selfish and rude, the Australian top brass (led by Gen. Sir Thomas Blamey) as pompous, remote, ignorant and even corrupt. I am keen to read more about the events and personalities to see if there might possibly be another side to the story.

I am proud to say that my mum's father Frank Jackson fought in the New Guinea campaign, although he was not on the Kokoda Track. He didn't speak about his war much, and now he's gone I am trying to find out more about his story too.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Football rant - enter at your own risk

[Picture: Craig Borrow, News Ltd]

What the hell is going on at Richmond? Their coach is not the worst ever. The playing list is respectable, with the bonuses of a 34-year-old star getting a second wind, and a Brownlow-medal winner who has just fallen in their lap (since the other 15 clubs took a step backwards due to his age, dodgy hamstrings and drug issues).

But the results are just pathetic. They are underperforming massively. They have put it together here and there for a few quarters in the four games so far, but lost them all and deserved to.

I am of the mind that Terry Wallace should stand down as soon as possible. I honestly don't think it matters who takes over. I'm serious. It really doesn't matter. If they got a new coach and then came out straight away and played like champions, it would only make me despise the players even more. Wallace has been there nearly five years, this is his list, and it's riddled with cheats and bludgers. He's not going to be able to do anything in the next five months that he has failed to do in five years. So Terry should do the right thing and clear out his desk.

I have a lot of seething regrets about things that have happened, but it's not going to change anything to revisit those. So I will try to workshop some solutions.

The following are on the market for smugly underperforming regularly
Nathan Brown
Jordan McMahon
Jay Schulz
Cleve Hughes

The following are on the market for being not up to scratch due to skill limitations and/or age (neither of which are their fault)
Jake King
Jarrad Oakley Nicholls
Shane Edwards
Kayne Pettifer
Kane Johnson
Troy Simmonds
Adam Pattison

The fans have been howling for Richard Tambling to be ditched for years, but I would actually persist with him. Deledio is another smug underachiever, but his potential is such we just must hang onto him. Also in the "giving us nothing but need to be patient" category is Mark Coughlan - surely one day he'll be fit?

Polak and Cousins are special cases. The club owes them a duty of care for the rest of the season and needs to see if they want to continue in 2010. There is certainly lots of room on the list once the 11 above have shot through.

Richo and Joel Bowden have been great servants of the club through awful times. They have their knockers but I say they've earned the right to play on as long as they wish. The rest of the older players (Brown, Johnson, Simmonds) have got to go to effect change. For the rest of the season, give the next tier of players a chance to show by their deeds if they are really good enough to represent the club in the good times that we hope are ahead. They are certainly good enough to get a game ahead of some of the rabble that has been out on the field this season.

Is it really too much to ask that the Tigers field 22 players who really want to do their best?

Alain de Botton, God love 'im

I know he sounds like a monk or someone from the Crusades, but he's actually a very English sounding writer with severe hair loss issues, a shiny nose and sort of rheumy, spaniel eyes. He's in Australia at the moment - I know this because he was on SBS this evening (on that Jenny Brockie pointing show - a semicircle of people speak briefly when JB points at them) and immediately after popped up on the radio. He talks such a lot of human good sense I have decided he is my (portentous chord) Human Being of the Month. Well done Alain.

His new book is about work. It's called something like Work: What the Hell Is That All About. He interviewed many many people from many occupations; the two he mentioned most were a) accountants and b) people working in the largest biscuit factory in Britain. There were two things he said that I liked particularly.

The modern job of careers counsellor is like the job of surgeon in ancient times. Everyone wants cutting a hole in someone's head to be useful. But that doesn't make it useful.

The interviewer on RN said he has been accused of encouraging people to lower their expectations. His response was that if every other influence on people is encouraging them to raise their expectations of their relationships, their wealth, their looks and the job satisfaction, then it doesn't hurt to have someone saying "Hang on a minute - settle down". It is a recent phenomenon to expect to marry for love, expect to have an interesting job, expect to travel, expect to have fun available on tap, expect to have private personal space etc. Suicide rates are highest in societies where these expectations have become ingrained, like ours.

I am in favour of lowered expectations. Some would attribute this to my laziness and a lack of pluck. I am not saying that they aren't factors. But I can testify to the simple pleasure of having limited ambitions and meeting them regularly.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Atrocious behaviour

I was out for a walk yesterday, and heard from afar a soccer match happening at Darcy St soccer ground. The ground has a grandstand, and I cannot resist going in and taking a seat when there is anything at all happening. I joined a crowd of about 100.

South Hobart were playing New Town, and peppering the goals. One shot ballooned in the air, far enough to go over the quite high netting behind the goals. There are four or five low-rise villa units over the fence. As the crowd watched, an elderly lady walked up the driveway, picked up the ball, walked up the front steps of one of the units and disappeared inside. There was a gasp from the crowd as she closed the door.


Michael: "So, on Good Friday Jesus died to save our souls, and on Sunday he was born again to un-save them?"

He had asked what was the difference between Christmas, Easter and your birthday. Birthday was easy, and with the others I did my usual blurrily vague job of conveying the Christian essentials. At no stage did I mention souls. I think he hears accurate and cogent Christian information at after-school care, and like everything else, it sticks.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Important List! #05

Drongos. As requested by M.D. Lean of Surrey Hills, Vic, I have made one up. Spot it - if you DARE! Note - some drongos have been omitted from this list as a) I'm not sure that they really belong to the drongo family, taxonomically speaking and b)their names are not fun enough.

Bronzed Drongo, Dicrurus aeneus
Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Dicrurus remifer
Pygmy Drongo, Chaetorhynchus papuensis
Splendid Drongo, Dicrurus splendidus
Square-tailed Drongo, Dicrurus ludwigii
Shining Drongo, Dicrurus atripennis
Fork-tailed Drongo, Dicrurus adsimilis
Black Drongo, Dicrurus macrocercus
Ashy Drongo, Dicrurus leucophaeus
White-bellied Drongo, Dicrurus caerulescens
Crow-billed Drongo, Dicrurus annectans
Hair-crested Drongo, Dicrurus hottentottus
Sulawesi Drongo, Dicrurus montanus
Sumatran Drongo, Dicrurus sumatranus
Wallacean Drongo, Dicrurus densus
Ribbon-tailed Drongo, Dicrurus megarhynchus
Spangled Drongo, Dicrurus bracteatus
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Dicrurus paradiseus

Organs, organs, organs

I spotted this excellent human body model in a classroom at the primary school last year. He spends most of his time in storage. I asked if we could borrow him to have at home for a week, and the school were happy enough. The boys are very interested in it. Michael has been reproducing human body cross section diagrams for a while now, so I knew he would be interested in getting his hands on some rubber lungs.

Worrying cautionary note: we had dinner with in-laws last night including the boys' cousins' cousins, who are 10 and 14. The boys were very impressed with Lara particularly. When we got home Michael wanted to do a drawing of Lara before bed. After five minutes I yelled out from downstairs "come on - have you finished the drawing of Lara? Its time for bed!!" Marcus called "Yes, he's finished, now he's drawing the intestines".

Sunday, April 12, 2009


I think the boys are about 35 years too late to be sharpies, but they're giving it their best shot.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Human Body

Another recent drawing by Michael of the human body. Front and side view.

Join us at the crossroads

I have done a quick Google search to establish who is currently "at the crossroads". According to the Internet;

America is at the crossroads.
The American dream is at the crossroads.
The future of the media in Turkey is at the crossroads.
Global capitalism is at the crossroads.
California is at the crossroads of globalization.
Open-source licensing is at the crossroads.
The Liberal Party in Victoria is at the crossroads.
Rural health research in Canada is at the crossroads.
Cornell's laboratory is at the crossroads.
The use of sampled evidence in mass tort cases is at the crossroads.
Cuban society is at the crossroads.
Ca2+ influx by SOCs and Icrac is at the crossroads of the receptor-evoked Ca2+ signal.
China is at the crossroads.
Malta is at the crossroads.
Kashmir is at the crossroads.
eRulemaking is at the crossroads.
The nuclear pore complex is at the crossroads of macromolecular traffic across the nuclear envelope.
Cameroon is at the crossroads of development.
Agriculture in the US, as in other industrialized countries, is at the crossroads.
Kant is at the crossroads of modernity.
Engineering education is at the crossroads, say experts
Larry Johnson's career with Kansas City is at the crossroads.
Russia is at the crossroads.
Samoan contemporary art is at the crossroads.

Next week - who is "between a rock and hard place"?

Important List! #04

It takes a certain sort of person to be elected Governor of one of the United States. You might think I mean persistence, wealth or possibly a big forehead. No, I just mean a good governory name. If your name is Michael D. Peterson or Andrew Walker, you have no chance.

From the list of Florida governors, here are five in a row.

Dave Sholtz
Fred P. Cone
Spessard L. Holland
Millard F. Caldwell
Fuller Warren

Somewhat earlier were Ossian B. Hart, Marcellus L. Stearns and Mr Park Trammel.

I have done a quick flick through Louisiana and some of the states that start with M, and would like to bolster my argument with the following:

P.B.S. Pinchback
Oramel H. Simpson
Lot M. Morrill
Sumner Sewall
John Eager Howard
William Pinkney White
Spiro T. Agnew
Increase Sumner
Leverett Saltonstall
Foster Furcolo
Endicott Peabody
Theodore G. Bilbo
Lilburn W. Boggs
Meredith M. Marmaduke
Trusten Polk

and possibly the best of all, Harry W. Nice (Republican, Maryland, 1935-39).

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Mount Rushmore, v1.0

This was Mr Borglum's original design. Pretty hard to imagine it now. They look like they are all in an elevator and trying to impress each other with how "presidential" they look.

Fossil questions

Michael found this fossil in the backyard, and created his own learning activity out of it. What do you think - Fish skin, Plant or Lizard Skin?

How To Find Hobart From Space

Recent space drawings from Michael. His Earth is so cute - he makes the continents look so cartoony and lovable.

The one above needs a little explanation. Starting top right and moving anti-clockwise, it shows the Milky Way, the Solar System, Earth, Australia (I cut off the A scanning it), Tasmania and Hobart.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Furled umbrella

When walking briskly with a furled umbrella, I am constantly fighting the urge to play a few straight drives at an imaginary cricket ball, like Ricky Ponting does on his way out to bat. I even sometimes look to my right and imagine a beautiful delicate late cut, just behind point. The kind that curves away from the pursuing fieldsman as it rolls across the outfield into the fence. Lovely.