Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Working Forest by Les Murray (not the soccer analyst, the poet)

I was actually whiling away time at a kids' party when I picked up a recent Les Murray poetry collection and started reading. I was startled by how good it was. The book I've got now is a collection chosen from all his published prose. It is also excellent, but I haven't got far yet. I just want to quote this though;
I was in Derry on October 13, 1994, the day when Protestant paramilitary commands joined in the Sinn Fein ceasefire and a tentative peace came to Northern Ireland. In that pretty town, reminiscent of Dunedin, people were not dancing in the streets, or saying anything that would be remembered later, but they were filled with an immense simple relief and the beginnings of hope. Celebrations were often personal and private; a man spoke of taking his dog for a walk right across the city, as he had not been able to do for a generation.

New office

Here is our new office. Salamanca Place! It's the tourist mecca of Hobart. It's where the tall ships berthed back in the golden whaling days of yore. There are even a couple of big trypots they used to boil whale blubber in, right out in front of our building. We are on the top floor of one of a long row of 1850s sandstone warehouses.

View Larger Map

It's the arts precinct - we share the building with a puppet troupe, half a dozen gallleries, a bunch of artisans of various kinds, a few artists succcessful enough to have their own shopfront, the Australian Script Centre, and many arts administrators. There are always a lot of meetings going on. Apart from the people that just buy some silver, fashion it into something then sell it; everyone else needs to do a lot of yakking before anything can happen. I guess we are no different, except I am usually spared from taking part, and hear about the decisions later.

Unlike all the spaces we've had before, here just about everybody is in one big room. Kath needs to concentrate to do her spreadsheets and whatnot so she's got an actual nook with a door, but the rest of us are all just in each other's faces. The kitchen is just a new sink screwed to the wall in the corner (plumbed to god-knows-where), plus a fridge and a small bench. The carpet is plush enough that the ergonomic chairs will hardly roll; you need thigh power to actually go anywhere.

The Arts Centre of which we are part is two warehouses joined by a built-in bridge on the first floor. To get to the toilet we need to go down two flights of checkerplate fire stairs, unlock a door, go round the corner across the bridge, do two zigs and two zags past two galleries, and there you are. Or, if you haven't got those keys on you, you go down the three flights of fire stairs to the ground, down an alley and out into Salamanca Place, past some elderly Japanese tourists and a juggler on a unicycle practising during the off season, up an arcade between some shops, out into a courtyard, and there you go, on your left. Might have to wait for a free stall, especially in the high season. Sometimes the blacksmith is out in the courtyard making fire-dogs and candelabras.

I prefer the upstairs toilets, which are less public. It is a unisex facility, which is a little alarming. The doors on the stalls are the shin-to-shoulder-height type. I am already missing my long-held role of toilet librarian, and I'm plotting ways to inveigle some kind of bookshelves into my preferred stall - which I would then stock with expendable Penguin 60s and those textbooks from long-ago courses that, although interesting, you always resent because you bought them under sufferance.

We have now all been issued with three elaborate keys each. They have those little plastic colour-code inserts that should help you tell them apart. They are all red.

Pyjama banjo dream

I was looking at a bolt of cloth, like that used for kids' pyjamas. It had a pattern of lots of different animals, all playing the banjo. I was concerned, because the fabric designer had just cut and pasted the same banjo. The elephant, cow, dolphin, monkey, polar bear, were all playing the same banjo. It was a sequence of pictures. Obviously they would have had to take turns, and each spent a lot of time on the sidelines, just hanging loose, or maybe humming along. I felt bad about this.

Then, suddenly my perspective changed. Somehow I just shed my professional-designer-deconstructing-another's-design persona, and looked at it maybe like a naive kid would. Look at all the happy animals, floating at diverse angles, all going to town on their banjos, maybe they're in zero gravity somewhere! Awesome! It's a zoological outer space banjo orchestra! All right, so I'm not sure how the snake is getting any sound from his instrument but ... YEAH!

I woke up feeling very content.

Canberra - land of two shadows

This morning flying into Canberra, all the trees had two shadows - the usual black one, and a slightly offset white one, from the thick frost that had not yet melted.

I am writing this in Sydney. My work colleague Ben and I are here for a couple of hours on our way home from Canberra - which is like going from Paris to London via Rome. The sun has just set over the immense airport with planes, terminals and blinky lights as far as the eye can see. And also a control tower with a twisty spiral staircase. Nice. I am in the Virgin Lounge trying to use up as much as possible of the $35 I paid to get in.

We have just had a meeting at the National Museum of Australia (with six ladies)which went well. This is for the Sunshine Harvester interactive. Walking in from the distant reaches of the NMA car park at 11.00, there were still ice-crusted leaves here and there on the grass. It was sunny and bright but the wind was penetrating. Canberra is way inland, essentially sheep country that has been turned into a capital city. Every now and then I think it does our politicians good to be forced to spend part of every year in the freezing/burning interior with its plagues of cockatoos/moths and its essentially permanent drought.

As we had a rentacar and no time pressure, I suggested we go see the Sunshine Harvester in storage. I'm glad I did, as a) the NMAs got a warm fuzzy feeling that I might be as interested in the harvester as they are and b) Ben and I got to rubberneck at a couple of dozen other famous or notable vehicles in storage, mostly in inflatable "carcoons". The harv was just under a drop sheet. A beautiful thing, corroded to a standstill. I am going to enjoy making an interactive about it though. We ended up all squeezing into one of the curators' cars, and had a jolly outing and all got to know each other better.

Hmm. Time for another complimentary beverage.

Data retrieval

I did a lot of work at home over the weekend on stuff for our Canberra meeting. Yesterday was our first day in the new office - now 45 mins walk from home, as opposed to the old 20. I had loaded all my work onto a little portable flash drive to take to the office.

When I got in I set all my gear up from scratch, crawling around on the floor getting cable plugged in etc etc. Usual first-day-in-new-office malarkey. Once I was up and running I fished in my bag for the flash drive. Not there. Sigh.

I got on with other things, until an opportunity came up to hop a lift back up that way - Jeff and Craig were going back to the old office to sort out stuff. The car trip was a doozy - Craig had the gearstick between his knees, so he changed gears while Jeff drove. What a team. "Do you want some third?" "Hang on, hang on... NOW".

At our place everyone came in to rubberneck at the house/new dog. While they did that I hunted high and low for the flash drive, to no avail.

I was just firing up my home computer to try to burn a disk of my whole weekend's work, when Jeff, who was calling Winston, said - "hang on, he's chewing something - should he have that, what is it? Oh - it's your flash drive".

It was unharmed. He is now IT Support Dog  - retriever of lost data. Labrador/Data Retriever Cross.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Prime Minister

Today we have a new Prime Minister, Ms Julia Gillard. Everyone is feeling a bit sorry for old Kevin, especially after his farewell speech got all teary. It's the first time a PM has not been allowed to finish his first term - quite extraordinary given the wave of optimism he surfed in on.

We were moving offices at work today, and as we toiled up 4 flights of stairs carrying computers, crockery and files, it occurred to me that Kev and his people may have already started moving out of their Big Office. And of course he's got to let Julia have The Lodge as well. Not to mention changing his Twitter handle from @KevinRuddPM.

I copped heaps at work from Jeff, a pro-Kev colleague, on account of the little grizzle I penned a few weeks ago. Jeff thinks Kev should get more credit for saving us from the Global Economic Crisis, and he reckons I triggered the leadership spill with my blog post. While that may be true (I did bring down Scullin, Menzies and Gorton) I think largely Rudd brought it on himself.

An opinion piece I read today made the point that he systematically cut himself off from the rest of the parliamentary party - it was done his way (often at 2am) or it wasn't done at all. He didn't need anyone else, most of the way along. So when he looked over his shoulder to check the numbers, it's no surprise there was only three men, a dog and some hired Facebook Friends following him.

I think it's a terrible waste, but he really has behaved like an outrageous pillock. Main positive: might get the Emissions Trading Scheme back on the front burner. Main negative: I think she has made some factional deals to get up today that will see a harder refugee policy. The backroom boys think that will play well in the marginal electorates.

Acting Prime Minister

This seems very relevant, given the news of this morning, but it's something I have been considering for some time. If you are Deputy Prime Minister, and the PM is on holiday, at a summit, or stuck in a lift for a few days, you become Acting Prime Minister.

It's great all round - it gives everyone a chance to see how you would do the job, and gives you a chance to sit in the big chair, wear the special Cardigan of State and visit the secret cryogenic chamber where they keep John Laws.

But when you are Acting why aren't you required to actually do the PM of the day? Pop on a wig, pillow up the jumper, do the funny walk, stage-prop glasses, whatever. I always thought when Kev was away Julia should have gone the blond mop, glasses, blue tie and suit, and said "Fair suck of the sauce bottle" really awkwardly like Kev. She did say "working families" in every sentence like the main man does. What I am calling for is a Method Acting Prime Minister.

Now plucky Wayne Swan is Dep to Julia, so when she is off at GATT or the G11 or the Jogjakarta Zinc Summit, Wayne will have to swap the glasses for contacts, pop on the auburn wig, get a bit of pointy putty on the end of his nose, fl-a-a-atten the voice, and slip into a tidy little power suit with some kind of neck-jewellery thingy. And waddle - look, sorry, but she DOES. She really does. She's a waddler from way back. A western suburbs waddler, God love her.

Australia 2 d Serbia 1, Group D Match, Potokwame

This was a great game, the classic "game of two halves". We could hardly take a trick in the first 45 mins, and our few "shots" on target were feeble indeed. We did not look like a team that needed to kick 4 goals to stay in the tournament. Mark Schwarzer was at his very best, keeping out a few point blank shots, and winning the few times he gambled. The big threat was Crasic on the right for Serbia - he was too fast and too wily for David Carney. Once he charged into the box unaccompanied, but was pushed wide by the incredible telescopic limbs of Schwarzer. If Crasic had taken one more touch he could have walked around the prone and embarrassed keeper and scored - instead he snatched at his shot, off balance and too wide to get his angle right. Halftime still 0-0, and the simultaneous Ghana v Germany the same.

Australia gave it heaps from the restart. They look happiest when they are attacking, its a shame the next coach of the Moroccan Youth Team (for that is where Pim Verbeek is headed), did not encourage them to do it from Day 1. Timmy C scored one of those goals he so often does, a contested header right into the corner. He's not a big guy, he just has timing, quite a leap and the X factor that his teammate Josh Kennedy lacks. Kennedy stalked about up front all game, 7 foot tall but never really a threat to Serbia's world class (Manchester Utd and Udinese) central defenders. Apparently just after halftime word went around that Germany were 1-0 up on Ghana, and that spurred the flurry of attacking intent.

About eight minutes later, Jason Culina played a lovely backheel to Brett Holman (who was not in the starting lineup, strangely). Holman found himself in acres of space just inside the attacking half, took the ball forward about 15 metres, then let fly from about 40 with the vaunted defence standing off, expecting him to run at them. The keeper had no chance, Australia 2-0. It was one of the finest goals of the cup so far.

At this point the impossible dream was alive - if Australia and Germany could each conjure another goal, we would be level on points and goal difference with Ghana, and the 2nd place in the group would be decided by rock-paper-scissors, or something. Then Pantelic scored a sitter for Serbia after Schwarzer dropped a catchable ball at his feet. The End. Both teams scrambled frantically for the last few minutes - Serbia needing a win to progess, Australia needing an unprecedented salvo of goals. Neither happened, although the 3 minutes 10 seconds of injury time added on was almost cartoonish in the amount of action packed into it.

I haven't been able to use my joke about there being no Panic in the Serbian defence as he is out with a groin injury. Oh well, maybe in 2014. And the same goes for the Australians. Maybe the name "Socceroos"  can be dropped down a mineshaft, sealed in with concrete and they can go forward as "Australia" like the cricket team are happy to. And attack next time right from the start - ATTACK!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Justice in the special "Fifa World Cup Courts"

 See the branding? No, me neither.

While justice in South Africa generally moves at glacial speed, where the World Cup is even faintly involved, things are different.
The Johannesburg magistrates' court is the sort of unloved municipal building whose corridors smell of damp and bureaucracy, and whose chilly courtrooms recall Bismarck's observation that those who love sausages and believe in justice should never see either being made.
Enter this structure at present, however, and you are greeted by large signs proclaiming the "Fifa World Cup Courts", directing you to the courtrooms which have been specially established to deal swiftly with anyone besmirching the good name of this football tournament. Unsure of when the next case is up? Then do take your seat in the "Fifa World Cup Court Waiting Room" […] 
The most high-profile cases have been the two Zimbabweans who robbed some foreign journalists on a Wednesday, were arrested on the Thursday, and began 15-year jail sentences on the Friday; and the Dutch women who wore orange dresses to Soccer City stadium and were charged with "ambush marketing" for Bavaria beer. The ladies appeared before Johannesburg magistrates last week – despite their arrest being denounced as "disproportionate" by the Netherlands foreign minister and an embassy official – and were bailed to return on Tuesday on criminal charges which carry a maximum penalty of six months.
From this article in The Guardian

Good morning, Switzerland

This is just a short cheerio to a family of dedicated blog readers in Winterthur, Switzerland, the Fullagars. Hello Chonk, Irma, Bea and Eric - thank you for regularly tuning in and even roping in neighbours to read it - great work. And well done beating Spain in the World Cup, too. Good luck against Chile, Hopp Schwiiz!

And while I'm at it, great work with the cheese and clocks.

Brazil 3 d Cote d'Ivoire 1, World Cup Group G game, Johannesburg

Ooh, ah, Cote'dIvoire. This was a match everyone had been salivating over, since the World Cup draw last year. I missed the first 35 minutes due to snooze-related issues, but the rest of it was terrific. Brazil are in classic form, passing and running very fluidly, and by the last twenty minutes the Africans were reduced to fouling to try to stop them. Once again Brazil conceded a late goal, with defenders ball-watching. It's been the only weakness they have shown so far.

The refereeing was controversial again. I think the standard of refereeing has generally been excellent - there are things they miss, but generally they have been in charge, haughty, brandishing cards early to establish authority and then letting the game run.

In this game the French ref needed to get the yellow card out earlier. Once they were down 3-0 the Ivorians started kicking the Brazilians up in the air. Five minutes from time one of them ran hard into Kaka who was standing still. The Ivorian fell to the ground holding his face, and an all-in scuffle ensued. Kaka already had a yellow (simply for being annoying) and he was given a second, and sent off.

There has been a certain amount of frothing, swivel-eyed conspiracy theorising from usually calm rational people. FIFA are deliberately favouring the big sides over the minnows. Australia's 2nd game was refereed by an Italian - surely related to the fact that Italy eliminated Australia in 2006. I heard one TV pundit say that things were really not going Australia's way, listed a few incidents, and included a German being sent off against Serbia. A long bow to draw, really.

I do not underestimate the conniving manipulative qualities of FIFA - right up there with the IOC for corruption and greed. But I don't believe they are influencing referees.

What is impressive is the passion in the conversation of Australians. Back at work on the Monday after the Germany loss, you could feel the tearooms of Australia resounding with questions about the coach's tactics, his starting eleven, that red card, that possible offside, how Serbia looked against Ghana etc etc. There are still idiots writing to the papers saying what they ought to do is make the goals bigger, why don't they get rid of offside, there should be goal umpires, etc etc. But generally the level of knowledge and passion in the Australian fan is really encouraging.

When you hear someone say we are persecuted by FIFA, we are playing utter rubbish, we've got to sack the coach you almost could be in Brazil.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Liver treats

Until we had a dog, I never thought the concepts "liver" and "treats" could go together.

Embarrassing insight / chess progress

This is a bit of an embarrassing insight into how we sometimes talk to the boys, but it's worth it. I was requesting Michael to approach me for a little bit of a squeeze.
Me: Can I flip and flap you and floop you?
Michael: No you can't, as I'm a private rodent.
Later, we were having our second game of chess. I was pointing out to him that my king was boxed in behind a row of pawns, in a bit of a trap that he could take advantage of.
Me: So my king is trapped, you see he's kind of caught in a bag…
Michael: Of prawns?

A kind of donkey

For homework, Marcus has to find as many words as he can in his teacher's full name. To protect her privacy let's call her Ms Vise Archeries Hat. She said the record is 97 words - so far he has 120. We are only helping with spelling and confirming that words do or don't exist.
Marcus: An arse - that's a kind of.. er.. antelope isn't it?
Me: I think you mean ass, that's a kind of donkey. Make sure you write after it "a kind of donkey".

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Three inch paw

That's a seriously big paw for a 14 week-old dog.

It was a dark and stormy night…

I have just brought home my old typewriter from work, where it has been functioning as an objet d'art in the boardroom. Michael was keen to have a go on it - seeing it as just an archaic computer with no screen but some kind of in-built printer. The boys both did a bit of typing - it's got no ribbon, but being a hoarder I was able to locate some carbon paper (under 40s - ask your parents about what that is).

I was inspired to actually write my blog on it, but sadly we ran into some technical difficulties. The space bar stopped working, and in trying to fix that I unhooked something that was spring-loaded, nearly lost a finger, and now the tab key doesn't work either. It's an Underwood 14, from maybe the 1920s, and it has no "1" key, which apparently was not unusual. It's as heavy as a boat anchor, and if I can't get it going again may well end up used in that capacity.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Argentina 4 d South Korea 1, World Cup Group B game, Johannesburg

I am going to blog this game to help me stay awake. It's 2-1 at half-time. Argentina have dominated utterly, but just gave up a goal a few seconds before the break, and walked off looking like stunned mullets.

The first goal came from a dangerous free-kick, an own goal that ricocheted off a Korean shin. Argentina were stringing together upwards of 20 consecutive passes, with marvellous teamwork and moments of individual brilliance from Leo Messi and Carlos Tevez particularly. It was said coming in that the Korean defence would be their  strength, but it's been rather ropey in fact.

The second goal came from exactly the same spot as the first, lofted with menace into the box, nodded on and then placed precisely in the net by the head of Higuain. A beautiful goal, and it looked like more would follow any moment. A sensational move by Messi ended with a sublime little dink shot, just wide.

Then, just when 2.4 billion people were getting ready to make a cup of tea and have a toilet break, the Argentine centre-back Burdisso dwelt on the ball a little long, and was caught by Lee Chung  Yong who tucked it past the keeper with amazing composure.

It's been one of the best matches of the Cup to now, and that sets it up for an intriguing 2nd half.

55 mins: Korea have a free kick, followed by their first corner. A few minutes of forward pressure but nothing comes of it. Winston is sighing and wuffling.

57 mins:  Korea spurn a golden chance. Argentina are picking up some yellow cards and the game is still very open. You can feel more goals in the offing.

63 mins:  Koreans are playing with freedom and confidence - you sense they believe anything is possible.

73 mins: Quiet period - having trouble staying awake. Run out of Caramel Crowns. Winston is honking and wheezing. Maradona has taken off Tevez and brought on his son-in-law Aguero.

74 mins:  Argentine keeper Romero comes out of his box to intercept, slightly mistimes his run and nearly stuffs it up, then incredibly his clearing kick goes all the way down to his opposite number and nearly sneaks under the crossbar.

76 mins:  Aguero and Messi make a tap-in goal for Higuain. 3-1.

80 mins:  Aguero puts up a lovely cross to make a simple nod-in for Higuain's third. 4-1. Anything could happen in the next ten minutes. I am going to tip a red card and one more goal each.

85 mins:  Korea still pushing forward, holding the ball creditably.

87 mins:  Park Ji Sung bites the dust inside the penalty area after another bit of defensive snoozing from Los Albicelestes. No penalty.

92 mins:  Aguero lets the ball run too far before shooting from resulting very acute angle. Pushes it across the goal, near miss.

93 mins:  Full time, Argentina 4 d South Korea 1. Argentina should now be joint favourites with Germany to win the Cup. Is coach Maradona in fact a genius rather than a shrieking gibbering loon? His bizarre selection of six centre-forwards and four centre-backs seems to be working like a charm. Meanwhile Korea showed enough to think they can beat Nigeria in their last game to progress, if they can get some shots on target.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Snuggle up, quadrupeds!

Hattie and Winston have been close enough for me to touch both of them simultaneously today. Twice! There was some occasional light hissing but Hat seems to have twigged that Winston doesn't want to eat her.

Michael makes tea

I know how to make tea. First you get another cup, not the one you are going to drink out of. You put the milk and the hot water and the tea beans in there. You mix them and stir them all around. Then you pour all that through a strainer into another cup, the one you are going to drink out of. The tea beans are all left behind in the strainer. Then you throw the tea beans away.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Relive the pain of 0-4

Its a little less painful as its a) in German and b) animated with Lego

Monday, June 14, 2010

Michael plays games

Lana stayed for a sleep-over last night. In fact I watched the soccer from 5.15am this morning (see below) with Marcus and Lana beside me, sworn to silence. They made so much noise getting up that we were joined by Winston. Winston subbed in for Hattie, who had been on my lap but now left the field. I think she will be on board for the full ninety minutes against Ghana, though.

Last night after dinner Lana and Elf played the boys and I at Pictionary. It went fairly well. Michael is not usually very interested in organised board games, preferring to invent his own (such as Mrs Cat's Miaow Money). His drawings were very beautiful - this one for MIND was my favourite.
Between dinner and getting going with Pictionary, Michael asked me for a game of chess, for the first time ever. We only got about 3 moves each in before the scheduled Pictionary kicked off, but he was keen enough to insist that we continue it in the morning.

This morning we did resume, and he stuck at it right up to the point that he had just a king left, to my 4 or 5 pieces. Then he waltzed off in a huff. But - he had remembered the set-up, and all the moves. He listened to my advice and remembered it. He was patient. Best of all, as Elf was still asleep and I was trying to corral three kids and the dog in one corner, it kept him quiet for about an hour.

Once the huff had run its course, he was back at the board, setting it up again and then inventing some chess variations. He has now got out the chinese checkers (which he has never played, as far as I know) and is working on a version of chess using those pieces - eg purple is the king, red is the queen etc.

Germany 4 d Australia 0, World Cup Group D game, Durban

Australia's realistic best hope against one of the Cup favourites was a draw. The Germans are a certainty to top the group of four countries, so to finish 2nd Australia needed to perform better against Germany than either Serbia or Ghana manage to. Serbia play Germany on June 18, then Ghana play them on June 24. Perhaps Ghana might go to pieces and concede 4 or more? It's a slim hope.

Anyway - to this morning's game. Australia started with an odd lineup, nothing like the formation they had brought through the warm-up games. Tim Cahill was up front with the inexperienced Richard Garcia beside him. Cahill is a goal-scoring midfielder usually, rather than a striker. Most of the talk post-match concerned why Pim Verbeek set them up this way.

We started brightly, with a sustained period in attack, and Garcia could have scored after 4 minutes with an ounce of luck, from a quick cross that pinballed around in the box. The Germans defused it, and started to impose themselves. After about 25 minutes an attack down the right resulted in a delightful cross cut back to Lukas Podolski, unmarked on the left. His first-time shot was all class, and too powerful for Mark Schwarzer to keep out with one paw.

Pretty soon after a high looping pass looked like it was going to be cleared by Schwarzer, but Miroslav Klose got his head there a moment earlier, and scored the second.

Verbeek swapped Vinnie Grella for Brett Holman at half-time, an attacking change. Holman had a couple of good opportunities and did some smart things for no result. He might be a starter in the next match.

Tim Cahill made a poor tackle, and tried to pull out of it, but was given a straight red card. He may have been a bit unlucky but sometimes clumsiness gets punished in football - eg Lucas Neill flopping in front of Fabio Grosso 4 years ago and conceding a penalty. So we will play Ghana without our only real scoring option, as Cahill now has a one match ban.

Once we were down to ten men, the Germans found space more easily and added two more beautifully taken goals. The four goals were all lovely clean strikes by different players. They will know that that was probably their easiest game of the tournament, but still their confidence must now be at an all-time high.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tiger Airways is a disgrace

I just don't understand super cheap airlines. How exactly do they make any money? Is it from people booking a super cheap flight then getting stung for every single thing possible? How on earth do they get any repeat business? Presumably the Civil Aviation Authority and OH & S regulators set a minimum on how crappy their planes and terminals can be. They must be at least not dangerous or unhealthy for their staff, if not their passengers.

So how is it a viable business? I ask this as Elf flew back from Melbourne yesterday with Tiger Airways, after having flown over with Virgin Blue (it was booked for her by her work). The Virgin flight was unremarkable - the Tiger experience was irredeemably dreadful.

Her 3.45 flight finally took off at 5.15 - one of nine flights delayed (one other was cancelled). So the terminal was chock full of unhappy people. The bins were overflowing, the toilets were closed for maintenance. The cafe was outdoors, and occupied solidly by smokers also talking loudly on mobiles. Flights that were delayed came up on the board as "closed", adding to the mild hysteria. NOTE: there was no fog, snow or hail. Just no planes. Also the Tiger terminal is a stand-alone Third World shed at Tullamarine, 10 minutes walk from the relative comfort, security, fun and chuckles of the First World main terminal.

Elf said the general vibe was that none of the Tiger staff knew what was happening. Hobart passengers were called to the front at one stage, then told "As you know your flight is now leaving at 5.00..." No, they didn't know, and why were they now at the front of a queue where they were actually not allowed to check in yet?

At home I was trying to find out when to expect Elf to arrive. She doesn't have a mobile. Tiger are not in the phone book here although they fly into Hobart. (There is also not one single Tiger sign at Hobart Airport). When you call the Melbourne number a male voice says (more or less) "Dude, what do the think the website is for? Get off the phone..... [time passes] ... OK, so you're still here. Sigh. Press 1 for bookings, press 2..." And none of the options encompasses arrivals/departures. Their website has a section that looks like it will help, but rather than give information about individual flights it claims that "81% of our flights are on time" and goes on to gloat about how excellent that is.

Meanwhile Elf was now in the air. She decided to embrace the spirit of the new age of flight, and buy some M&Ms from the hostie. $3, credit card only. "Sorry, we don't handle any cash". At least the plane didn't crash into the sea. As they approached Hobart the captain said on the PA "We'll be in Hobart just a few minutes after the scheduled time". Met with rueful laughter from the passengers, I imagine.

It strikes me that every Tiger flight is a bit like a minor hostage crisis.
Anxious families wait for news. The group sit around on their possessions, in the clothes they were wearing when they were captured. Unlikely alliances are struck. Their captors use confusion as a tactic to divide and rule. Basic human requirements are denied. Once the hostages are strapped in they are faced with unreasonable demands (if you are thirsty you had better have a credit card) - which only the strongest can resist. The captors attempt brainwashing ("just a few minutes after the scheduled time"). The captors attempt to control the flow of information. Once their demands are granted, the captives are dumped in the dark at an anonymous location (no Tiger signs, no Tiger desk, no Tiger staff). Thank God everyone is reunited with their families, but what if this shadowy "airline" were to strike again?

Indoor soccer update: we are on fire

This roster Knackered are unbeaten, after 8 games. We have two more to go then the semi-finals. Our last two matches have been very different.

Last week against the typical team of tireless sprinting youngsters we scored first, then promptly conceded six goals in a rush. Down 1-6, we started working our way back in to it, and were down 4-6 at half time, with the game swinging our way.

After half time goals came very slowly, but with about 90 seconds to go we had done what I thought was impossible, and climbed back to 6-6. With about a minute left I found the back of the net, and from the restart we took possession and did a good job running down the clock. Final score: 7-6 win.

On Friday night we faced a more skillful team of equally fit Gen Y lads. I think they beat us when we played them in a previous roster. After about 5 minutes we were 0-3 down and things were looking grim. Once we finally notched a goal our passing started to improve, and more goals followed. I think we were level 3-3 at half time.

After the break Paul added three more and Cam scored a rare goal to take our lead to 7-3. I had thought we were safe at 6-3, so now I really felt it was in the bag.

The youngsters put their heads together and started funneling the ball to their best player regularly. He was too slippery for any of us to mark well, and a few communication failures in our defence helped them too. As they brought it back to 7-4 then 7-5 I was watching the clock nervously. We had about a minute left to play. In that minute they took the ball off us and scored again, but it took long enough for us to restart that they no had no real chance of an equalising shot. Final score: 7-6 win, again.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mammal News

Mammal Five and Mammal Six have been spending more time in the same room lately. We have re-erected the toddler gate at the top of the stairs, but it's always open. When Hattie comes up looking for her food, we slip around behind her and close the gate, to enforce a period of co-habitation. Winston usually keeps to his bed - we have stopped putting the lead on him, and can now just control him verbally. Hattie is giving him a good old hiss if he gets too close, and he responds in exactly the right way - turns and heads in the opposite direction immediately. Hattie has spent up to ten minutes looking reasonably relaxed, sitting by the heater and watching Winston. She always ends up over at the toddler gate, trying to squeeze through, so then we let her out.

Today we will stop shutting the gate, so that she doesn't start to think of the living room as a kind of cat trap. We'll see if she still is prepared to hang around and play Happy Families with Winston then.

Jonestown by Chris Masters

This came out in 2006, and I have finally read it. It is an unauthorised biography of Alan Jones; radio broadcaster, former national rugby union coach, and one of the most powerful men in Australia.

I am miles away from the typical Jones audience profile. His people are generally retirees in Sydney (his prime market) or regional Australia (where his show is syndicated). His ratings are enormous, and over the years he has convinced federal and NSW politicians that his opinions need to be listened to, as he is so in tune with public opinion. This book traces his rise, and looks at how this man with many gifts but enormous flaws came to wield so much power.

I found it a gripping story. He is a simply loathsome man, hypocritical, foul-mouthed and abusive, manipulative and greedy. He has helped many, many people over the years, but Masters demonstrates that this pattern of behaviour always has Alan as the main beneficiary in the end.

His career is built on accepting money to state as "opinion" material faxed to him by his paying customers. What I have never understood is how anyone can fail to see that this is the process at work. Why would anyone buy something on his recommendation? Why would any politician allow him to influence policy? When listeners hear him praise a policy, person or product don't they remember that last month he was tearing them to shreds? Apparently not.

Anyway - it's a great read if you enjoy a forensic dissection of someone who deserves it. Reading the details of the Australian Broadcasting Authorities "Cash for Comment" enquiries was marvellous. Jones insisted to the enquiry that material only made it on his show if it was interesting news. The enquiry heard tapes of some of his "unbiased editorial comment" such as;
"I've had so many calls about mobile phones. Well Optus have got a new Freestyle pack … so that's Optus Freestyle. Sounds interesting. Go into any Optus mobile outlet or ring 13 39 99 to find your nearest Optus World…" 
Counsel for the ABA, Julian Burnside QC, asked if that was really news. "Well, it is interesting isn't it Mr Burnside?" When a contract was produced showing that he was required to promote Optus on air and denigrate their competition, Telstra, Jones claimed it was a coincidence that he done just that, as in fact he had never read the contract. The warmth for Optus was purely his personal opinion. He was asked if he would ever sign a contract with Telstra. "Never".

Three years later on 17 July 2002 his radio station accepted $1.2 million to have him speak positively about Telstra. The ABA found that
"prior to the commercial agreement Alan Jones made a number of on air statements critical of Telstra, especially with respect to its fees and charges … [on] 17 April, 18 April, 22 April (twice), 23 April (twice) 26 April and 11 July 2002. From 17 July onwards, however, the material provided to the ABA records Jones making predominantly positive commentary, supporting Telstra's service standards, public image and credibility".
Heh. Great stuff. But you know what? He was cleared of breaching the ABA code. The Chairman of the ABA was a big Alan fan. So, for all the fun of reading about him being caught out lying, deceiving and manipulating, the really sad thing at the end of the day is he's still doing it, and no-one has ever really laid a glove on him.

Unprecedented since Terminator 2

A couple of weeks ago at work, I was feeling pretty fed up. I had the flu, I was stuck on a boring repetitive task, and I started thinking about all the bills we had piling up. For the last six months or so I've been pretty bored at work. I used to not fuss too much about my salary, as I found my work largely its own reward. But now I was moved to do a little research on comparative salaries. As I suspected, my salary bumps along near the bottom of the band of pay for similar jobs. Everyone knows pay in Tasmania is always lower than the national average, but maybe it would be nice to be at the bottom of the middle rather than in the middle of the bottom.

We live a reasonably spartan life. Of course we are much better off than many, many people. We can afford to eat, and feed a cat and dog. We get takeaways perhaps once a week these days. We have a reliable car, a lovely house, we don't miss our mortgage payments. But we don't buy books or CDs or magazines, we buy clothes for the kids but not ourselves, we scoff at iPads and bluRay bluetooth-enabled telephone wireless dishwashers.

So anyway, before I had a chance to have second thoughts, I emailed my boss and said hey - can we talk about a payrise? I have worked for the same dynamic film producer/director couple since 1991, with a couple of breaks when their business (and me with it) have been bought out and they have gone off to start something new. I haven't ever asked them for a pay rise. That's Nineteen Ninety One, people! Nirvana! Bob Hawke! Terminator 2! Mobile phones the size of a car battery!

So asking for a pay rise was a big deal. I had a meeting with my 3 bosses today - I didn't get a raise, but we had a good long chat about the prognosis for one down the track. Roar Film is very dependent on our export product going to the UK, and things have tightened up there lately. Ours is not a workplace where the staff are constantly told 'business is bad - work harder and don't complain!" - we cruise along blissfully ignorant of the big picture mostly. I appreciated them taking me seriously enough to all make time to go through the big picture with me, and I elicited a bit of appreciation for the work I have been doing. We stopped short of a group hug, but I think we all left happy.

In the last 6 months I have keyed out the green screen background on hours of interview footage, sometimes the same footage over and over when it's edited into different packages. And it's been driving me loopy. The good news is that a couple of more interesting jobs have plopped out of the chute this week, and I am enjoying a break from the dreaded green screen. My current gig is all about the Sunshine Harvester - the fact that I'm finding it deeply interesting reflects pretty poorly on what I've been doing lately.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Wild Card

In tennis tournaments you often hear that someone has been given a 'wild card' entry. Sometimes its an ageing ex-champ, sometimes its an up-and coming star of the future. But they are always a tennis player of some kind. That doesn't seem terribly wild to me.

I see a future where every tournament has half a dozen 'really wild cards', and you don't know who it's going to be until they walk out on court. Of course it would be unusual for any of them to get past round 1, but imagine the excitement all the same. It's Wimbledon, early summer, strawberries etc, Roger Federer is warming up with a coach, impatiently doing a few stretches and a few practice serves, when the spotlight falls on the mouth of the tunnel, and out walks ... Martha Stewart. Or ... Prince Edward. Or ... Lindsay Lohan, complete with detention bracelet on her ankle. Or Elton John, or Alice Cooper, or Oprah Winfrey. Donald Trump. Venezuelan strong-man Hugo Chavez. Supermodel Giselle Bundchen.

For the French Open mixed doubles, we could have those wily clay court specialists, Yves Saint Laurent and Juliette Binoche. Or perhaps the doubles should be pro-am. Australia would be represented by that classic good-cop/bad-cop combo, Samantha Stosur and Kyle Sandilands.

Friday, June 04, 2010

All good in the cardio department

Yesterday Michael and I went over to Melbourne for his scheduled check-up at the Royal Children's Hospital. Michael was born with a heart defect that was corrected surgically at RCH when he was a week old. On our last visit 3 years ago his cardiologist was very happy with his progress, and asked for him to come back this year, at age six. He had not been looking forward to the trip at all, so I was very pleasantly surprised that he was terrific all day.

Our flight left at about 9am, and we managed to get him a window seat. It's not all that long since he has been on a plane, but it's still a novelty, and he let out a delighted whoop as we took off. Flying north over Tasmania is always pretty spectacular, but even when we were above the clouds he was thrilled by how fluffy they were. Descending into Melbourne we were above some patchy low cloud, and he said he thought it looked like ice floes.

Our appointment at RCH was not until 2pm, and I had planned that we would spend the morning at the nearby zoo, then maybe spend a while at the Melbourne Museum afterwards if we had time. It happened that in the taxi to the zoo, Michael found a brochure for the museum, and started picking out the parts of it he wanted to see most. I got the vibe that he was much more into the museum than the zoo, so I re-directed the cabbie and we hopped out there instead.

Michael just hummed with delight throughout the museum. I let him lead me wherever he wanted to go, and we probably covered about half of it. He is really fascinated by the human body, and in the cab he decided the Mind, Body, Spirit exhibit was the main one he wanted to see. It is upstairs, so first we spent some time among the obligatory dinosaur skeletons, and visited the insects. Upstairs I craftily let us get slightly lost so that I could look at the History of Melbourne exhibit that I have never quite got to previously. This is where they keep Phar Lap, in a glass case. He certainly was a big fella. For decades this stuffed horse has been the Museum's No. 1 attraction.

The Mind, Body, Spirit exhibit was like all Michael's favourite library books brought to life. I made one error of judgement when I suggested he might like to come into the tiny theatrette and listen to the audio presentation on the history of human dissection. Yes, I know what you're thinking, but he is constantly reading books about this stuff and I thought an audio thing would not be scary. Well, once they got up to the trial of Burke and Hare, the 19th century Edinburgh grave robbers and murderers, I probably should have suggested we move on. When the judge with the hammy Scottish brogue said they would be "taken from this place to another place and hung by the neck until dead, whereupon you will be dissected like so many of your victims..." Michael himself said he had enough and could we leave please. Sigh. Bad dad, bad dad.

Although I did learn that William Harvey, who discovered the circulation of blood, actually dissected his father and sister. Bodies for dissection were so hard to come by, that once they had shuffled off the mortal coil, he simply couldn't pass up the opportunity to have a bit of a peep inside.

We got out into the fresh air and hailed a cab. Michael was right beside me, hailing also, like a tiny cosmopolitan. At the hospital everything went very smoothly. Just as he did when he was 3, Michael seemed determined to be as positive and helpful as he possibly could. He had an ultrasound, and ECG and finally an exercise test. During the ultrasound he was watching the TV set up over the bed, showing a Scooby Doo episode about voodoo dolls and vampire/werewolf types, who did a bit of toothy shape-shifting. It was actually pretty scary, and on top of the Burke and Hare stuff I was thinking they were seeing his little heart probably pumping at full tilt.

For the exercise test he had to have wires taped all over his chest, and then run on a treadmill. It's pretty hard for a 6 year old to do, actually. Every few minutes it sped up a little and the angle increased, so he needed to run faster and steeper uphill. They were attempting to get his heart rate up to a particular "red line" to see how he coped. Before he got there he was feeling tired and asked to stop. They asked him to give it another three minutes, and he did, but he didn't reach the red line. It was still a useful test, but his cardiologist is keen to see him to do it again in three years, when he will be more able to understand the need to push himself.

The hospital visit was finished quite a bit earlier than I had thought. After the museum and the treadmill, I thought what we needed to do was sit down for a while, so we caught a tram going past the hospital and just stayed on to the terminus, on the other side of town near the Domain. I told Michael there was a cafe just up the road where we could have ice cream and coffee. It turned out to be a fair bit further than I remembered. He didn't complain though, just asked if we could sit under a tree and read for a while before we kept walking. I had bought Michael a book at the museum gift shop (another human body book) so we sat and read that for a while. After we had carried on and got ourselves some afternoon tea, Michael sighed and said "I just want to go to the airport and fly home now Dad".

Our flight was not until 7pm, so all we could do was get a tram to the city, get a cab to the airport and hunker down and wait. Jetstar's gate for travellers to and from Hobart is pretty unglamorous. You feel like you are at the arse end of the airport, maybe one step up from the shed where they park the baggage buggies. You have to walk across the tarmac to your plane. No-one still does that at a massive international airport, surely? We do it in Hobart, but that's because we have a tiny Toytown airport.

The flight home was no picnic - it was dark, and squeezy, and we were both tired. Michael was a bit teary. I hadn't packed very well - I had pulled out reading matter we were too tired to read, but left packed away money for snacks, water to drink and chewing gum for sore ears. Of course we touched down eventually, and it was great to see Marcus and Elf. On the drive home from the airport Michael was his old self, and regaled everyone with an astounding level of detail about the day.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Churchill, on the phone, 1944

Open letter to my local member

Dear Mr Kerr,

I am extremely disappointed in your government's decision to exempt itself from its own Government advertising guidelines. Actually, I am disgusted, and have been moved to write to you, not something I have done before.

It appears that right from the inception of the Resource Super Profits Tax, a strategy was in place to spend $38m advertising it. This is a massive error of judgement.

If the PM and Treasurer think they have a fair case to make, they can reach anyone who is interested enough, at no cost to the public purse, through the news and current affairs media. Ministers have been claiming there is a "hunger" in the community for information - this is just unsubstantiated spin.

The Howard government was thrown out not because of brilliant Labor strategy, or Kevin Rudd's manifest destiny. Howard's "whatever it takes" approach to elections, including massive spending on "information" campaigns, eventually disgusted even his own traditional supporters.

Now how can the ordinary person draw any distinction between the current and previous governments on this issue? Are the PM and Treasurer so convinced of their own genius that they think this will be an electoral plus for them? Current polls suggest not.

I am a swinging ALP/Green voter, I have no shares in mining companies or any involvement in that industry.

Chris Rees