March 10, 2008

TRAVEL: May 05, AU Edition


Gary A. Warner says that if you look beyond the sleaze, Amsterdam is full of treasures

Forget the canals. Forget the coffeehouses. Forget the acres of Rembrandts and Van Goghs. Forget all that wooden shoes and tulips and silly Hans Brinker and his silver skates stuff you ever heard, read or saw.

Before you go to Amsterdam, get your brain around the other Amsterdam. The in-your-face Amsterdam.

The CBD shops that sell postcards of genitals painted to look like Santa Claus. Where delivery boys on pink bicycles deliver marijuana seeds. Where porn and prostitution flourish in the most picturesque red-light district in the world.

Get ready for it, all of it, because it is going to smack you right in the head whether you like it or not.

How you react will determine whether you see Amsterdam as the most liberal, liberating metropolis in Europe or a beautiful old jewel wrapped in an oily envelope of sleaze.

For the better part of two decades, I fell in the latter category. Four times Amsterdam was penciled in on my itinerary, and four times I found reason to get out the eraser.

But when I realized I’d been to nearly every major European city – I had been to Brussels twice – I decided it was time to give Amsterdam a shot.

I’ve always had a long list of reasons not to go. But I came away with more reasons potential visitors shouldn’t repeat my mistake of waiting so long to experience the Dutch metropolis.

Amsterdam has a great airport. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and Amsterdam gets off on the right foot.

With its one terminal that has just two levels, Schiphol is the easiest, most modern airport in Europe, a dream to navigate compared with the creaking facilities of London, Paris and Rome. A high-speed train leaves every 15 minutes for the 20-minute ride from the airport to the city center.

I don’t go to a city for its airport (if I did, I’d never go back to New York City). But Amsterdam’s is nonetheless a big plus.

The morning after I arrived in Amsterdam, I was fighting jet lag. I stepped out of my canal-side hotel and wandered the quays for hours.
The trees had lost their leaves, revealing glimpses through the bare branches of old houses that line the waterways. Homes were hung with Christmas lights and garlands – even many of the 2,500 houseboats along the canals were decked out in yuletide finery.

The heart of the city is the Grachtengordel, the three concentric canals that half-ring the city center. Viewing the mansions of the Herengracht, the bridges over the Keizergracht and the houseboats fronting the artists’ lofts of the Prisengracht is one of the most popular strolls for visitors.

In all, there are 47 miles of canals in Amsterdam, and each mile seemed to offer a postcard image: A woman carrying a cello on her back as she pedaled her bicycle toward the city center. A mother singing “Jingle Bells” to her kindergartner as they skipped by. Pre-teen boys bundled up against the cold playing soccer on a canal-side strip, making moves that would fool most Australian high school teams.

When you get thirsty, watch your language. Ask for a ‘coffee shop’, and you’ll get more than a caffeine buzz – it’s the popular term for places that legally sell marijuana and hashish. If you ask for a ‘café’, you’ll likely be sent to one of the 1,000-plus bars in the city. (Do go. Drinking is a wonderful pastime in Amsterdam. Try a light-tasting Hoegaarden or a dark De Koninck beer. Or better yet, a traditional jenever, a gin-like drink often infused with fruit or herbs.)

There are the grand cafés whose luxurious interiors will seem familiar to anyone who has walked into a fancy café in Paris, Vienna or Budapest.

I prefer the old, small taverns called “brown cafés” for their stained-wood interiors and dark, drapery-blocked doorways. Press past the curtain at Hoppe near the Spui Square, and you’ll go back three centuries in time. It’s a cramped but cozy place that’s especially good in the off-season, when the hordes of summer tourists aren’t trying to elbow in for a seat.

Another good choice is ‘t Doktertje, which means ‘the little doctor’, another timeworn spot where for less than $10 you can get a drink and sit for as long as you like. I brought along my journal and enjoyed wasting a couple of hours in the corner.

Amsterdam1.jpgMy favorite of all was In De Waag, a bistro and bar inside the last remaining gatehouse of the old city. This imposing brick pile was once the weighing house for goods, and later the site of the city’s executions. I had a bowl of spliter wtensoep, the traditional stick-to-your-gut pea soup with duck rillettes, washed down with two haze-reducing cappuccinos. Between bouts of reading the International Herald Tribune, I perused my e-mail and watched a Webcast of the surf at Pipeline in Hawaii from one of the café’s computers. The total of a bill is called a ‘rekening’. I smiled at the apocalyptic-sounding word for a tab so small.

Go ahead and make your pilgrimage to the Rijksmuseum to see Vermeer’s ‘The Kitchen Maid’. Take in ‘The Sunflowers’ and ‘Wheatfield With Crows’ at the Van Gogh Museum. Just save time for some of the smaller museums around town.

I enjoyed my visit to the Amsterdams Centrum voor Fotografie on a narrow street just off Dam Square. The collections change constantly at the modernist glass-and-steel show space. One day it may be large-format photos juxtaposing cuts of meat or raw animal parts with flowers. Another day it might feature military-installation still lifes from around Europe.

If there is a must-see museum in Amsterdam, it’s Anne Frank Huis, where the young Dutch Jewish girl wrote her famous diary while hiding from the Nazi occupiers during World War II. She and her family were turned in to the police and she died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp just two months before the war’s end. Her diary describing her hopes while hiding has become one of the most widely translated books in the world.

One of the great charms of Amsterdam – albeit a sometimes dangerous one – is the sea of bicyclists making their way around the city. People wheel wildly around the cobblestone and brick streets as if they are invincible. There’s no headgear, and even at night there are young men and women wearing black on bicycles without lights. Lights and reflectors are just one more thing to get ripped off – Amsterdam logs more than 100,000 stolen bicycles a year.

With bikes parked outside where they are pelted by inclement weather and preyed upon by thieves, there’s little incentive to ride a fancy 10-speed or gizmo-laden mountain bike. Most are your simple one-speed models that you brake by backpedaling – not very different from what most Amsterdamers’ ancestors would have ridden.

It’s possible to rent a bicycle and make your way around the city as locals do. Just be prepared for some kidney-jarring old streets and maniac wheelers – especially during the morning and evening rush hours – who will be more than happy to run you right off the road.

Until World War II, the Dutch ruled Indonesia, and one of the great treats of a trip to Amsterdam is to enjoy a rijsttafel – “rice table” – which is made up of up to two dozen small plates presented at the same time, including fried rice with pork called nasi goreng, and satay – skewers of chicken, pork and beef with peanut dipping sauce.

Beware the spicy sambal chili sauce. Two of the best places to experience the rijsttafel are Tempo Doeloe on Utrechtsestraat and Kantjil & De Tijger on Spuistraat.

For a more domesticated taste, try patat, the local version of what we call chips. The crisp, fresh, fried potato strands are only a distant culinary cousin to the greasy slabs served up in fast-food joints. They’re served from outdoor stands scattered all around town. One of the best is Vleminckx on Voetboogstraat. Locals have it with mayonnaise – so speak up when you order unless you want your order drowned in the white stuff.

There are a number of big baroque barracks on the main plazas and a few design-oriented boutique hotels like Blakes, the local branch of Anouska Hempel’s London-based temple of trendiness. But part of the charm of a stay in Amsterdam is cozying into a canal-side hotel that’s been sewn together from neighboring town houses.

I stayed at the Pulitzer Hotel, with its sparkling gold lights outlining the roofs of the 17th-century homes that form its facade. Though it’s affiliated with the Sheraton chain, there’s none of the artificial feel of a business hotel.

A perennial favorite among travelers is the Ambassade Hotel, a small hotel made from a string of canal houses not far from Spui Square. One that’s not in a lot of the guidebooks, but that I found charming, is Hotel van Onna, a nice canal-side budget hotel. The rooms are small and Spartan, but I loved its pretty Christmas ornamentation inside and out.

Another small hotel enjoying a lot of buzz these days is ‘t Hotel, an eight-room mansion turned hotel built in 1690 that houses its own antique shop. Rooms look out either on a canal or over the pretty gardens.

I’ve already got a list of what to explore next time. Yes, there will be a next time. First, a return in the spring – I’ll put up with the crowds to experience the flowers. I’ll wander the pretty Leidsegracht canal and go see the Poezenboot – a barge filled with cats – that’s moored on the Singel. I’ll drop into the Amsterdams Historisch Museum to see if it offers better insight into how the 17th-century stolid commercial town became the free wheeling place of today.

After so long avoiding Amsterdam, I want to go back. It doesn’t intrigue like Berlin or warm like Rome. It doesn’t have the treats of Paris or the ease of London. But it deserves better than the just-passing-through Brussels treatment.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:53 PM | Comments (0)

SCIENCE: July 05, AU Edition

cat.jpgCOPY CATS
Entrepreneurial American scientists are destined for the dog house, says Susanne Quick

It’s just another brown brick building in a suburban American business park. But Suite J at the Waunakee Business Center in Wisconsin is about to turn into the animal cloning debate’s ground zero. Genetic Savings & Clone Inc. – the entrepreneurial outfit that introduced the first cloned pet cat to the world in December – is opening its doors in this small Madison, Wis., suburb this month. The company’s CEO, Lou Hawthorne, has promised that by year’s end, a dog will be born here.
In the eight years since Dolly the Sheep’s birth was announced to the world, research into animal cloning has progressed in ways few dreamed possible a decade ago.

Scientists have now cloned barnyard animals and endangered species. They’ve created cloned cows from frozen steaks and cloned mice from cancer cells. They’ve talked about resurrecting extinct creatures such as woolly mammoths and Tasmanian tigers. And with the news on Thursday that soft tissue from dinosaurs had been discovered, re-creating these giant lizards does not seem so farfetched. Despite the scientific excitement, creativity and ingenuity that have inspired and driven this research, cloning remains uncomfortable – even freakish – for many people.

Who and what are the clones? Are they healthy animals or deformed monsters? How many animals are sacrificed in the pursuit of one healthy clone? And, in the end, what will it lead to?

As ethicists and scientists weigh the motivations for animal cloning – improving the food supply, fighting disease, saving endangered animals – the arguments for and against cloning mutate and evolve along with the research advances.

That debate is now moving to the backyard.

In December, Genetic Savings & Clone announced the birth of Little Nicky, the first cloned cat to be sold as a pet. The recipient, a Texas woman known only as Julie, paid $50,000 to have her beloved – but dead – kitty cloned. While some say she was swindled, Hawthorne believes she was given an incredible, if expensive, gift.

‘Our product is based on love’, Hawthorne said.

David Magnus, director of Stanford University’s Center for Biomedical Ethics, scoffed at this claim. He said the high death rates and possible cruelty that go into cloning make Genetic Savings & Clone’s product anything but ‘loving’.

Also, he and other critics said consumers are being duped: The animals they think they are getting – their original pets – cannot be reproduced.

And finally, they think Genetic Savings & Clone’s product is grossly frivolous in light of the number of animals in shelters who need homes.

‘Everything about this is objectionable’, Magnus said.
But Autumn Fiester, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, said there isn’t evidence to show that animals are suffering – at least any more than commercially bred dogs or cats.

She added that the claim that pet owners are being duped is condescending. As for the frivolous argument, she says, ‘Then you’re arguing against buying any luxury good.’ Among those involved in cloning, she is in the minority.

Robert Lanza, vice president of medical and scientific development at Advanced Cell Technology – a Worcester, Mass., company at the forefront of cloning technology – called it ‘troubling.’

Rudolf Jaenisch, a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a researcher at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, called pet cloning ‘ridiculous’ and ‘preposterous.’

Somatic cell nuclear transfer – the shop name for cloning – is conceptually a pretty easy process.

A cell – such as a skin cell – is taken from an adult animal. The nucleus, and the DNA it houses, is sucked out and placed next to an empty egg cell that’s had its nucleus removed. The new egg-nucleus combo is then jolted with electricity or bathed in a chemical cocktail.

‘What you want to do is basically trick the egg into thinking it’s been fertilized by a sperm’, said Neal First, a retired professor of animal sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the first researcher to clone cattle.

If all goes well, the duped egg starts to divide, eventually creating an incipient embryo, which researchers implant into a surrogate animal.

While this may sound pretty straightforward, it’s actually a messy, hit-or-miss process that yields few successful clones.

Depending on whom you talk to, the number of successful clones – i.e., those which survive beyond birth – can run as low as one-in-1,000 to as many as 15 percent.

Researchers believe this is the result of a host of molecular issues, some they can pinpoint, others they can’t.

The mystery is in the egg. ‘There are molecules in the egg that allow the DNA to reprogram’ and start anew so that it’s read as the blueprint for an embryo, not an old skin cell, Lanza said.

But what those molecules are and how they work remains elusive.
There is also an issue of extra DNA in the egg. Even though the egg’s nuclear DNA is removed, other genetic material remains floating around the egg cell in a form known as mitochondrial DNA.

No one knows for sure what effects this might have on a developing clone embryo, but it does mean that the clone, despite its name, is not an exact genetic duplicate of the donor. It has some other DNA that may or may not affect its development.

Then there’s the issue of imprinting. Mammals carry two copies of each gene: one set from their mother, the other from their father. But only one of these copies is active at any one time.

In a clone, ‘the normal battle between mom and dad’ is not taking place, Lanza said. The end result: critical messages from the genes are being lost during an embryo’s development, potentially leading to cardiac problems, respiratory ailments and ‘a messed up placenta.’
The hurdles don’t end here.

When DNA is in a quiescent state, it looks like spaghetti noodles with proteins attached to it. This means that when the skin cell DNA is sucked out, it’s carrying a lot of protein baggage. It is possible these proteins may get in the way of the egg-skin cell DNA fusion.
Researchers at Genetic Savings & Clone say they have solved this problem by using a new technique called chromatin transfer that cleans the DNA. The result, according to Hawthorne, is higher efficiency.
‘Our losses are well under 50 percent’, he said, adding that such losses are typical in commercial breeding.

Magnus and others question these claims; scientists at Genetic Savings & Clone have not published their results. But Jim Robl, president of a South Dakota biotech company called Hematech and one of the developers of chromatin transfer, said he, too, had gotten good results using this method to clone cows.

Yet, the battle over pet clones only partially hinges on technical and molecular hurdles.

These animals are behaviorally complex. They are not just products of a strict genetic blueprint, but of the multicolored and textured tapestry of their environment and experiences.

This means that a consumer who’s paying thousands of dollars in hopes of getting the same dog or cat will be getting an animal that behaves differently than the original. That, said Magnus, is ‘a rip-off.’
Finally, critics of pet cloning said there’s the issue of the millions of animals who don’t have homes that are living on the streets or housed in shelters.

Magnus and Spiegel-Miller believe Hawthorne’s business is minimizing the plight of these animals.

They charge that the money Hawthorne’s clients are willing to spend on a clone would be better used on these other animals, that Genetic Savings & Clone clients should head to a local shelter, pay $50 for a cat or dog that needs a home and donate the rest to the shelter.
That would be a more ethical way to spend their money, they say.
Fiester and Hawthorne dismiss the criticism as baseless.

‘Why should someone who loves their cat be more obligated
to donate money or help shelter animals than someone else?’ Fiester said.

He also threw back the notion that cloning for agricultural or medical purposes is somehow more ethical.

In the end, he said, the future of the pet cloning business will depend upon the quality of the product.

If Genetic Savings & Clone can create animals that pet owners are happy with – animals that aren’t sick or compromised and behave in ways similar to the original – the business will succeed, Hawthorne said.

His scientists also are looking into how to enhance pets and make them live longer and healthier.

‘Our clones will be better than normal,’ he said. ‘Clones are going to become the preferred pets.’

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:51 PM | Comments (0)

TECHNOLOGY: July 05, AU Edition

From cough syrups to eyeglasses for cows, Martha McKay takes a peek into a very tiny future

At the nanotechnology show in New York City recently, companies touted the state-of-the-art, from quantum dots to microscopes powerful enough to see atoms.And then there were two guys from Cleveland hawking cough syrup.If you follow the nanotechnology industry closely, this sort of thing isn’t surprising.

But if you don’t, such seemingly humdrum technology on display alongside the advances at the fourth annual NanoBusiness conference might seem unusual.

Spend time with nano-experts and one thing becomes clear: nanotechnology is more commonplace than you might think – from nano-engineered eyeglass coatings used on one in five pairs of eyeglasses, to sunscreens and stain-resistant fabrics.

One of the most hyped areas of technology since the Internet, nanotechno- logy is the study and engineering of really small things – particles and gizmos from 1 to 100 nanometres, or a billionth of a metre, in size to be specific. The paper you are reading this on is about 100,000 nanometres thick.

As you might expect, there are hundreds of ways of using nano-sized particles and devices, with new ideas popping up all the time.
The U.S. government will pour an estimated $1.3 billion into nano-based R&D with a particular emphasis on such areas as cancer research. Here in Australia, governments are putting up $100 million for domestic nanotechnology research this year.

Jeffrey M. Jaffe, president of research and advanced technologies for Lucent Technologies’ Bell Labs, told conferees how telecommunications networks could be transformed by nano-sized devices. Tiny power supplies working together with nano-sized microphones, tiny sensors and video displays could one day give us a communications ‘wallpaper’.
Even the ability to have ‘several microphones inside a phone would be a tremendous (sound quality) improvement’, he said.

Out at the New Jersey Nanotechnology Consortium, university researchers have 60 to 80 nano-based projects under way.They include building a stress gauge to strap on the back of a fruit fly. The tiny device will enable scientists to tell if the drosophila is asleep (they don’t have eyelids, in case you wondered). Researchers, who
study fruit flies because they are well-suited to genetic studies, want to be able to test whether their modifications to the fruit fly’s sleeping patterns work.

They are also looking into ways to build an electronic nose that can smell, a real-time DNA analyzer, and what they call a ‘rubber mirror’, which would map the imperfections of your eye and allow the creation of perfect corrective lenses.

‘We could fit a cow with glasses’, says David Bishop, vice president of nanotech-nology research at the labs.

But along with purely scientific uses for nano-devices, many companies hope to turn a profit – the motivation behind Cleveland-based Five Star Technologies and its cough formula. Nano-emulsions and dispersions made using a patented technique called controlled-flow cavitation make the cough syrup adhere to the throat better.
Gerry Weimann, Five Star’s CEO, doesn’t think consumers really care about the ‘nano’ aspect of the syrup, which is made by another company called Improvita Health Products.

‘Most people are just looking for a good experience – not a lot of people wonder about the technology behind it’, says Weimann.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:47 PM | Comments (0)

TRAVEL: Sep 05, AU Edition

After a whirlwind trip through India’s sights, smells and sounds, Robert Cross vows to return

AIPUR, India – ‘I was told that the first thing you’ll notice is the smell,’ said my friend Dave with a faint leer. Just a friendly word of warning to get me going on the wrong foot.

My wife, Juju, and I had been hearing a lot of secondhand and even firsthand tidbits like Dave’s almost every time we told anyone about our travel plans. Visiting India? Get ready for a shock: Pollution. Dirt. Poverty. Stifling heat. Noise. Weird behaviour. Those odors.
I’m here to testify that any negatives were far outweighed by the beauty, culture, architectural grandeur and spirituality we were privileged to sample during a brief visit to a few cities in the north.

After we cleared the jetway in New Delhi at 5:30 a.m. on an autumn Saturday, the only smell came from the universal airport brew of electric-light ozone, air conditioning and passenger scents no different from those at Sydney or Heathrow.

Instead, the first thing we noticed was the wallpaper on immigration officers’ cubicles, a darling blue-and-pink-flowered pattern of the sort that might decorate a little girl’s nursery.

The officers’ faces remained properly stern, of course, and they worked deliberately. We heard a constant thumping of rubber stamps and piped-in native music that sounded like the whining of a thousand mosquitoes, and after about 45 minutes, a man in uniform summoned Juju and me to his posy-splashed quarters, examined our documents and pounded on them with his stamps.

Still no smell when we finally carted our luggage to the parking lot. Obviously, Dave had been misinformed.

Our driver, Remish, helped with the bags, and we set off on the five-hour drive to Jaipur and the beginning of our seven-day India adventure. Dawn greeted New Delhi with a gray haze of pollution, and my chest felt heavy. Our little white van seemed to be the only passenger vehicle on a highway filled with trucks and bicycles. Huge cows, some gray, others black, lolled on the median strip.

Those trucks provided some color in the otherwise drab outskirts of the big city. Each one had been professionally painted with garlands of flowers, soaring birds, cartoonish tigers, lovable bovines and complex geometric patterns. Some bore neatly scripted slogans on their sides, like ‘I Love My India’ or ‘The Great Indian Spirit’. On the rear end of each lorry, the artists had painted a fervent plea: ‘PLEASE HONK YOUR HORN’. Remish hit the horn incessantly, sticking to the right-hand lane and passing the endless parade of freighters – India is a left-hand-drive country – while deftly avoiding wayward bikes and meandering cows.

Two hours later, as we drove into the state of Rajasthan, the roadside scene abruptly changed. Our divided highway became a two-laner, adding to our excitement the real possibility of head-on collisions.

In downtown Jaipur, Juju and I felt as if we had been dropped into the middle of a Bollywood epic. Film buffs use the term to describe Bombay’s prolific movie industry, and here we had subcontinental action in three dimensions. We entered Jaipur during rush hour, so some of the streets leading to our hotel had been temporarily declared one-way in the wrong direction, apparently an effort – largely futile – to prevent gridlock. While Remish circled the city at a crawl, trying to find a route, we suddenly were interacting with the people. A few tapped on the windows to beg for money or sell us things. But most were in cars or riding mopeds – intent on honking their way through thickets of traffic, but still taking a moment to smile and wave at Juju’s video camera.

LocalMan.jpgWe found ourselves in the middle of an enchanting old city, alive with markets and the brilliant colors of the dresses and turbans worn by residents going about their business. Pedestrians skittered between vehicles, which slowed down only when a cow or two decided to lounge in the middle of the street.

Remish at last found the hotel entrance, a discrete opening in a wall and a long driveway leading to the magnificent, cream-colored Jai Mahal Palace. The 250-year-old building had once served as a palace for one of Jaipur’s many royals. Rajasthan has had a bewildering lineup of rulers and high-ranking court figures through its long history, and we soon lost track of the lineage, despite the best efforts of our local guides. But the maharajas sure had good taste in housing.

We felt entitled to a few hours of leisure. The lawns, pools and statuary of the Jai Mahal Palace invited meditation and brought a welcome element of tranquility to soften the jet lag. A pantalooned and turbaned house musician entertained two children with an old stringed instrument while they frolicked on the grass near a pavilion where we and a few other guests ate lunch. Juju and I still felt dragged down by travel overload. A visitor to India should schedule a day of retreat every so often to avoid becoming overwhelmed by exotica and to think about the meaning of it all. Our tight schedule denied us that luxury.

The next morning, our guide, who introduced himself as G.S. Arora, joined us and Remish in the van for a tour of Jaipur. His eyes sparkled mischievously behind his glasses. We would have other guides in the days ahead – a scholarly gentleman in Agra and at the Taj Mahal; a religion expert amid the Hindu temple carvings (some quite erotic) in Khajuraho; the harried scout who showed us the sights in Delhi.

Even so, Arora was the first, and this is a story about first impressions, so the task of satisfying our basic curiosity about the Indian way of doing things fell to him.

We headed for the heart of Old Jaipur, the walled and picturesque enclave known as the Pink City. Arora explained that in 1876 the reigning maharaja, Ram Singh, ordered all buildings near the palace painted pink to celebrate a state visit from the Prince of Wales, who later would ascend to the English throne as King Edward VII. ‘Pink is the color of warmth and welcome,’ Arora informed us, and pink the old city has remained. The buildings within the wall are repainted every couple of years. ‘People can use different shades of pink, but the basic color has to be pink,’ Arora said. ‘The authorities take care of the painting.’

We paused at Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Winds, for what Arora termed ‘a Japanese stop.’ He said that meant a stop for photographs. Although Juju is Asian, she laughed at the stereotype, one that I thought the world and its technology had obliterated. For a second, the guide’s little joke made India seem even more deliciously anachronistic.

The Palace of the Winds was pink, naturally, a beautiful 204-year-old facade about 5 stories high and dotted with tiny windows. From rooms and balconies on the other side, ladies of the court at the adjoining City Palace could discreetly peek down at the street scene.

On Tripolia Bazaar and other streets of the Pink City, merchants with open-air shops were selling everything imaginable. Although we felt the urge to get out and look at the displays of produce, spices, clothing, tools, toys and all the rest, we had a schedule to meet.
Arora did pause long enough to point out a milk market, where farmers had lined up canisters containing the morning’s output from their goats, cows, sheep and buffaloes.

The guide called our attention to a potential customer dipping his hand into a can. ‘To make the milk more profitable, a lot of water is added to this milk’, Arora said. ‘When the buyer comes in, he will put his hand in the milk, shake it out, rub the milk on his fingertips and see how much fat is in it. So the more hands that go into this can of milk, the better the milk becomes because of this added flavor. Thankfully, this is not the milk supplied to your hotel.’

That led to the subject of cows. ‘Every morning people would milk their cows and then leave them in the street to be fed by people,’ he told us. ‘The cow being a sacred animal, every household would try to feed them. After eating, they stand in the middle of the road or sit in the middle of the road and chew cud. This is good, because it slows and controls the traffic. And the cows like it, because the fumes make them feel high. In India, every animal except the husband is sacred.’

‘How do the cows know how to get home?’ Juju asked.

‘They always know. They are like homing pigeons.’

Khajuraho-India-s-Temples-o.jpgAt the Amber Palace, our next stop, we found it easy to avoid eye contact with the hawkers because the palace itself commanded our full attention. The pinkish-beige structure sprawls across the crest of an imposing, rocky hill about 7 miles north of Jaipur. Begun in 1592 and completed in 1639, it served for more than 100 years as the capital of Rajasthan. In 1727, the reigning maharaja, Jai Singh, moved the capital to Jaipur, but the royal family continues to take up residence in the Amber Palace from time to time, even though the government now owns it.

We decided to ride an elephant up the hill to the palace entrance, a popular if somewhat hokey way to get there. Jeeps were also available, and visitors can hike up the steep ramp if they wish. Juju and I climbed onto a little seat behind our elephant driver. It swayed and tilted, while the driver engaged in a long, loud argument with his supervisor. Evidently, the driver wanted two more passengers for his mount, because the seat can hold four. Juju said, ‘I don’t like this at all. It’s scary. I want to get off.’ But before we could figure out how to do that, the elephant started up the ramp.

Arora, not being a tourist, preferred the Jeep. He met us in the palace courtyard, which was crowded with visitors and the elephants they came in on. He showed us around the wonderfully carved and pearl-inlaid areas where rulers held their audiences. We peeked into the artistically decorated private chambers that housed the maharajas and their concubines. A sandstone garrison stood grimly at a higher level, and both buildings spread their ramparts far along the mountainside like a truncated version of China’s Great Wall. Such a display of power and wealth must have intimidated enemies and subjects alike.

In the days that followed, we moved on to Agra and India’s absolute must-see, the Taj Mahal. After taking in the sights of Agra, we flew to Khajuraho, a relatively tranquil village famous for its beautiful Hindu temples dating back to the Chandela dynasty, which ruled for 500 years until overrun by the Moguls early in the 16th Century. The structures were a pleasant contrast to the palaces, tombs, fortifications and congestion of Rajasthan and Agra. We beheld an array of temple towers surrounded by lawns laced with uncrowded pathways.

Our guide that afternoon introduced himself as Mr. Singh. Immediately, he began to explain at great length the Hindu religion and how the carvings on those temples – built within a 100-year period, starting in AD 950 – illustrated the complexities of Hinduism and honored its divinities in all of their forms. He said the towers had been constructed in this out-of-the-way place to protect the sandstone images from frequent rains and floods that hit the Chandela capitals.
The masterful carvings encircled the towers in rows all the way to the top. They depicted gods and goddesses, of course, but also aspects of everyday life. Animals hauled farm goods, musicians played, soldiers fought, hunters stalked, and beautiful, exaggeratedly proportioned female dancers swayed. Animals both real and figments of artisans’ imaginations cavorted – leopards, elephants, horses, boars and combinations thereof.

Most famously, human couples were shown locked in carnal embrace, striking many of the positions detailed in the Kama Sutra.
‘You know about yoga?’ Mr. Singh asked. ‘There are a hundred kinds of yoga These are the way to reach the ultimate goal of life that is the next incarnation. These poses are a part of it, specific positions. Even sex could be a part of yoga.’

We were still pondering the complexities of the Hindu religion that night, as we dined at the rooftop Blue Sky Restaurant. Below us, merchants sold souvenirs, fabrics, saris, books and miniature copies of temple carvings. Across the street, the actual temples glowed with golden light and a voice boomed in Hindi – a sound and light show. We filled up on helpings of a dish very much like fried rice but punctuated with masala, a mixture of spices that provided a delicious mosaic of flavors.

Up there on the Blue Sky, we met a young couple from France who had been traveling through India for several weeks. They described wonders we would miss, experiences we wouldn’t have. At least not now. They were merchants, buying materials for their shop in Brittany. ‘We did make a short visit one time’, the man said, ‘and it was very difficult and frustrating. Doing it this way can still be difficult and sometimes frustrating, but there is so much to see.’

Intrepid INDIA

Classic Rajasthan
15 days, ex Delhi
Trip Style: Intrepid Original
Highlights: Delhi, Taj Mahal, Ranthambhore National Park, Pushkar camel safari, Keoladeo Bird Park, Jaipur, castles
Brief: Rajasthan is home to all the colours of India. On our classic Rajasthan adventure we discover hidden forts, majestic palaces, colourful bazaars and of course enjoy a camel safari. This is the essence of Rajasthan.
Departure: Departs every Sunday from September to April and selected dates in July and August.
Price: AU$1020, plus Local Payment of US$200 per

Unforgettable India
15 days, ex Delhi
Trip Style: Intrepid Original
Highlights: Delhi, Khajuraho’s erotic temples, the River Ganges, Orchha, Chitrakoot, markets, Varanasi, Taj Mahal
Brief: India is vibrant, intoxicating, inspiring, dramatic and above all, unforgettable. From the Mughal splendour of Delhi and Agra, to the reminders of the Hindu epics in Chitrakoot and memories of prehistoric man in Chanderi, this trip offers it all. Join pilgrims as they undertake their daily rituals on the banks of the Great Mother Ganges.
Departure: Departs every Saturday from September
to April.
Price: AU$920, plus Local Payment of US$200 per person

India Unplugged
22 days Delhi to Kolkata
Trip Style: Intrepid Basix
Highlights: Delhi, Taj Mahal, desert scenery, towns lost in time, palaces, Kolkata
Brief: Chaotic and inspiring, this is the real India. India Unplugged is a far-flung adventure to one of the planet’s most exotic destinations. See towering fortresses and holy rivers, cosy up with camels, try your hand bargaining in bazaars and still have time to check out the Taj Mahal.
Departure: Departs on a Sunday.
Price: AU$1080, plus Local Payment of US$150 per person

India Family Adventure
15 days, ex Delhi
Trip Style: Intrepid Family
Highlights: Delhi, Taj Mahal, Ranthambhore National Park, Bundi, Pushkar, camel safari, Jaipur
Brief: Come and meet India’s people and let them show you their homeland. This itinerary is designed for adults and children alike. Explore some of India’s most famous sights and experience an overnight camel trip into the desert, seek wildlife at Ranthambhore and learn local crafts around Jaipur.
Departure: Departs on a Saturday.
Price: AU$1270, plus Local Payment of US$200 per person
For more information on traveling in India with Intrepid Travel, please visit, free call 1300 360 887 or come and see us at 360 Bourke Street, Melbourne.


Best time of year to travel? India’s climate varies enormously from region to region and from season to season. While southern India basks in a reasonably constant tropical climate, the temperatures in the Rajasthan desert can vary from 50 degrees Celsius in July to 0 degrees Celsius at night in January. Monsoons bring torrential rain to most areas between June and August.
Religion: 81% Hindu, 12% Muslim, 2% Christian, 2% Sikh, 3% other
Language: Hindi (official) plus 12 other official languages and over 1600 dialects
Currency: Rupee (INR)
Visas: India does not offer visas on arrival - they must be applied for prior to travel. Conditions vary with country of origin and they usually take 1-2 weeks to process. In Australia, most travellers will apply for a 6 month multiple entry visa.
Electricity: 220-240V, 50 Hz
Times to avoid: Because climate changes so much within India, times to avoid certain areas will vary according to season. In addition, India is a land of festivals – best to check whether there is a festival going on in the area you want to travel to and book well in advance!

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:45 PM | Comments (0)

THE WATCHER: Dec 05, AU Edition


The year of the monkey…

It was an annus horribilis for an increasingly isolated and beleaguered Republican president under attack from a scathing media and irresolute Democrats in Congress. Each day’s news appeared more dreadful than the last; a constant stream of casualties and poor generalship and setbacks.

Even the president’s attempts to honour the nation’s war dead was sharply condemned. The Chicago Times said he ‘misstated the cause for which they had died’. In other words, he had lied. And, they added, ‘the cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dish-watery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States’.

Pretty harsh words. They were to be expected, though, from pundits and cartoonists who frequently questioned the president’s intelligence and who had regularly drawn him as a chimpanzee. Abraham Lincoln would have been happy to give 1863 a miss entirely. But then 1862 hadn’t been a banner year, either. At Antietam, Union forces suffered over twelve thousand casualties, the South nearly fourteen thousand; many more would fall in the year ahead at Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor.

One of the few bright spots in an otherwise grim political landscape was that Congressional Democrats were severely split. The so-called ‘War Democrats’ were all for it, but squabbled over every battlefield disaster, of which there was no shortage. If that wasn’t enough, the War Dems also accused Lincoln of being a tyrant – packing the Supreme Court with cronies that would do his bidding to destroy civil liberties.

On the other side of the Democratic divide were the ‘Peace Democrats’, who had bitterly attacked Lincoln’s Emancipation Declaration on job protection and racist grounds – proof, they wailed, that he had lied all along about the real aims of the war he had foisted upon the nation. They demanded that the war, which was being ‘fought on a lie’, be ended at once, even if the Confederacy was allowed to secede.
Even some Republicans voiced their doubts. Covetous European powers were encouraged.

Simian sophistry
Today, the Democratic and media chorus sings the same tune: ‘Chimpy lied and thousands died’. George Bush, from the beginning of his presidency portrayed as having apelike characteristics, has been accused of lying the nation into war the war in Iraq.

While the Big Lie charge has always focused on WMD, it has morphed through three distinct ‘lies’, each charge itself a lie. The first version of the lie, in the immediate aftermath of the war, went something like this: Bush lied when he claimed that Baathist Iraq under Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the national security of the United States.

Of course, Bush had never argued that Iraq posed an imminent threat. He had clearly argued that in a post-September 11 world, preventative action was justified to prevent gathering threats from metastasizing to the point where it was too late to act.

In a major pre-war speech, Bush said: “Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.”

Bush argued, in accordance with international law that threatened nations need not wait for an “armed attack” or even an “imminent” threat before responding with force. Rather, as the distinguished diplomat, presidential adviser, and Yale Law School Dean, the late Eugene Rostow, maintained: ‘the target of an illegal use of force need not wait before defending itself until it is too late to do so. International law, after all, is not a suicide pact’.

It is past ironic that Bush – who was and still is scolded for his doctrine of early preemption (i.e., preventive or anticipatory self-defence) against gathering threats – was attacked for not meeting a standard which he explicitly rejected.

The second Big Lie invention that has been peddled is that Bush argued that the war in Iraq was, in the words of California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, ‘all about WMD, full stop’. Boxer made this outburst during Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice’s confirmation hearing earlier this year. It would be generous to accept that Boxer simply forgot what she had voted for in authorising military force against Iraq:

“Whereas Iraq persists in violating resolution of the United Nations Security Council by continuing to engage in brutal repression of its civilian population thereby threatening international peace and security in the region, by refusing to release, repatriate, or account for non-Iraqi citizens wrongfully detained by Iraq, including an American serviceman, and by failing to return property wrongfully seized by Iraq from Kuwait...

“The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to:

“(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and

“(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq”.

Or as Bush stated in October 2002:

“America believes that all people are entitled to hope and human rights, to the non-negotiable demands of human dignity. People everywhere prefer freedom to slavery; prosperity to squalor; self-government to the rule of terror and torture. America is a friend to the people of Iraq. Our demands are directed only at the regime that enslaves them and threatens us. When these demands are met, the first and greatest benefit will come to Iraqi men, women and children. The oppression of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomans, Shi’a, Sunnis and others will be lifted. The long captivity of Iraq will end, and an era of new hope will begin”.

The third Big Lie furphy, re-heated lately by Chimpler critics the New York Times and Democratic Chairman Howard (‘Yeeeeeaaaahhhh!’) Dean, is that the Bush Administration twisted and lied about pre-war WMD intelligence. Congress and every other intelligence service in the world, including those of nations which were against enforcing the UN Security Council’s resolutions – chiefly France and Russia –had access to the same intelligence and agreed the threat that Saddam posed was real. The Mesopotamian miscreant’s record spoke well enough for itself: four wars, genocide, WMD use and support for terrorists.
To this Dean et al now claim bizarrely that Bush had a secret stash of heretofore uncovered intelligence that showed Saddam had uncovered all of his WMD. Again, it would be charitable to suggest that such charges are based on an innocent overlooking of extensive bipartisan and independent investigations in the US and Britain that showed intelligence had not been cooked up to stage a war.

If the Bush administration could be criticised for anything, it would be for indulging the doubters in the first place. It was never for the UN or the US to prove that Saddam still had WMD; rather, it was always for him to prove that he did not. This he failed to do, or even attempt in good faith to do, and the message and precedent was made clear by Bush’s response.

Nevertheless, Bush has hit back at his critics:

While it’s perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began. Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community’s judgments related to Iraq’s weapons programs.

Bush was up-front about his war aims. While Lincoln planned the Emancipation Declaration in secret, after the war had begun, Bush at least outlined all of his goals before the first shot was fired. But like the Civil War, the war in Iraq was always about much more than the primary stated aim.

While the Civil War was fought, initially, to save the Union, in the end it was and had to be about freedom. The denial of freedom was, after all, what had led to secession and war. Likewise, the absence of freedom in Iraq, and in the Middle East generally, was the proximate cause for terrorism and the spread and use of WMD. For it is a simple fact of the modern world that democracies not only do not repress and terrorise their own people, they do not terrorise or otherwise attack other democracies. It is why, so long ago, the Great Emancipator’s work remained unfinished.

Lest it descend into the Planet of the Apes.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:44 PM | Comments (0)

FOOD: May 05, AU Edition

When the weather’s cold and the sun sets mid-afternoon, Eli Jameson finds brightness in the kitchen

It has always amazed me that when T.S. Eliot wrote the line, ‘April is the cruelest month’, he wasn’t talking about the onset of winter. Of course, this is hardly surprising given that he lived in the northern hemisphere. But for myself, April, with all its attendant rituals – the changing of the clocks, the airing of the jumpers – has always been a grim affair.

Somehow, it’s hard to be cheery when the sky turns black at what always feels like four o’clock.

To cope with this seasonal black dog, I’ve tended to take refuge in good food and cooking: after all, much better to stick a roast in the oven than your head in one. Not only does keeping the cooker on full-bore help heat at least one end of my drafty circa-1890s terrace house, but it also provides something in the neighbourhood of an acceptable substitute to that favourite summer pastime – namely, standing in front of the barbeque searing off ribeyes and drinking shiraz at 8:30pm, when it’s still bright and sunny.

Another advantage is that winter comfort food (for lack of a better, and less hackneyed, phrase) can be as simple or as complicated as one likes. For the home chef with a busy work schedule who still likes to muck about in the kitchen a few nights a week, this is a great advantage: if I’ve knocked off a bit early and am home by six or seven, then I might happily bread and fry some eggplants, knock up a red sauce, grate a few cheeses, and boil some spaghetti (perhaps even making the noodles myself, if the mood strikes) to wind up with a ridiculously huge platter of eggplant parmagiana that will keep me in lunches through the week. (Fill a good bread roll with a few rounds of the leftovers, wrap in foil and bake until gooey). Otherwise, tossing a tray of veggies in the oven to roast for an hour or so while pottering around the house tidying or simply watching the 7:30 Report over a quiet drink pays a myriad of dividends. Out of a concession to age and arteries, I don’t do this very often, but lately I’ve taken to tossing the results of this together with some pasta, cream, and good freshly-grated cheese (see recipe).

Another old standby for when people come by the house is a lamb-and-pasta dish I picked up when I lived in New York (and yes, I realize that complaining about a Sydney winter after spending one particularly bleak December-through-February living next to the East River does show a lack of perspective, but bear with me). This involves getting some lamb steaks, flattening them out, rolling and tying and them up into little parcels with mint, rosemary, and cheese.

I then brown the packets, set them aside, and make a rich red sauce in the same pan – deglazing, of course, with some hearty red wine. That done (and here’s the beauty: all this fiddly work can be done in the afternoon), I boil up some orichiette pasta, and serve it in bowls with some of the sauce and a couple of lamb rolls. If you’re out to impress, cut the lamb on a bias and arrange artfully on top of the pasta.

Whether simple or complicated, there is something restorative about the whole cooking process that shuts off the white noise of the previous twelve hours and makes for a welcome distraction from a bout of winter blues. As American novelist Nora Ephron once put it, ‘what I love about cooking is that after a hard day, there is something comforting about the fact that if you melt butter and add flour and then hot stock, it will get thick! It’s a sure thing! It’s a sure thing in a world where nothing is sure; it has a mathematical certainty in a world where those of us who long for some kind of certainty are forced to settle for crossword puzzles.’

Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian

This a great winter soup that’s not too complicated for a weeknight and packs a spectacular payoff. Plus, with the exception of the optional truffle oil, it costs virtually pennies a bowl to make. My family eats vats of this over winter.

You’ll need:
• Approx. 250g Great Northern beans, soaked overnight
• 2 litres vegetable stock
• 2-3 peeled garlic cloves
• Dried mint, oregano and/or other dried herbs
• Olive oil
• 3-4 diced onions
• 2 starchy potatoes, peeled and diced
• Leaves of one silverbeet or one head rocket, thinly shredded
• Fresh parsley
• Salt and pepper
• Good extra-virgin olive oil (or, for something really special, truffle oil)

1. In a biggish, heavy-bottomed pot, bring the stock and the beans to the boil. Skim off the froth that comes to the surface, and add the garlic and dried herbs. Give it a good stir and simmer, loosely covered, for up to an hour or until the beans are tender. At this point, crush the garlic cloves against the side of the pan.
2. In a second, bigger pot, bring some olive oil up to a medium-high heat and add the onions and potatoes, stirring so that nothing sticks and everything picks up a bit of colour (about five minutes), with a shot of salt and pepper. Add the silverbeet or rocket, stir until just wilted, and pour the other pot with the beans over the whole affair. Bring it all to a boil, then simmer and stir occasionally for about half an hour.
3. Just before serving, toast some thick slices of good crusty country bread and set aside. Using a wooden spoon, mash some of the potatoes and beans against the side of the pot – this nicely thickens the broth. Check seasoning and ladle into bowls, and drizzle a little good extra-virgin olive or truffle oil over each dish. Serve with toasted bread.
Serves: an army.

roastveg-pasta.jpgROAST VEGETABLE PASTA

Even though it takes a little while to roast the veggies, the actual work time involved in this pasta is virtually nil. And all the cream and cheese makes the healthy bits of the dish much more palatable.

You’ll need:
• 250g dried pasta, such as fettucini, papardelle, or rigatoni
• An assortment of baby eggplants, fennel bulbs, zucchini, onions, et cetera – whatever looks good at the market that day, roughly chopped
• 200ml whipping cream
• 1 cup (or more) freshly-grated grana padano cheese
• Fresh parsley, for garnish
• Olive oil

1. Place the chopped vegetables in a roasting tray with a good glug of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss the lot around to coat, and place in a reasonably hot pre-heated oven. Meanwhile, place a pot of salted water on the stove to boil.
2. After about 45 minutes or so, check the vegetables – when they are good and soft and roasted, throw the pasta in the water.
3. Warm some cream in a wide saucepan, bringing just to the boil. When the pasta is a few minutes away from being al dente, remove the vegetables from the oven and toss with the cream. Add a good handful of the cheese.
4. Drain the pasta, and toss with the cream, vegetables, and cheese. Serve in warmed pasta bowls and sprinkle on some more cheese and fresh parsley.
Serves four

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:41 PM | Comments (0)

THE ARENA: Dec 05, AU Edition


Get ready for a long, hot summer…

Anyone who has ever taken a holiday in a beach community knows that such places can be fairly insular places. When so much time is spent looking out to sea, it’s sometimes hard to remember that there’s a whole land-based world behind you. And with a little bit of paradise on their doorstep, it’s no wonder that locals get possessive and resentful when outsiders roll in and start violating all the little informal and unwritten rules that make a place where everyone enjoys a common piece of property – the beach – function properly. Just ask fish-kisser Rex Hunt, who was accosted with his teenage son by a group of toughs in Byron Bay recently.

But the riots which swept over Sydney’s eastern beaches recently in the wake of the bashing of a lifeguard by young “men of Middle Eastern appearance” (as the popular press so gingerly puts it; it’s amazing that they don’t use the abbreviation MoMA to save column inches, though perhaps a certain museum in New York might not be so happy about it) were something else entirely.

It is no secret, to anyone who has cared to look for it, that there have long been simmering tensions between packs of youthful “MoMAs” and not just beachside locals but about anyone else who is unfortunate enough to cross their path. In places like Cronulla, the only Sydney beach with its own train stop, this simmer has been on the verge of boiling over for months if not years, as locals share stories of disrespect, abuse and attacks by young Lebanese males pouring in from the western suburbs and causing trouble and charging around the place with a disrespectful swagger.

(Apparently one of the favourite lines of these thugs, cited by the Daily Telegraph’s Anita Quigley, to women and girls who reject their advances is to turn to their mates and say, “She’s not worth doing 55 years for” – a reference to the sentence handed down to gang rapist Bilal Skaf. Combine this with the statements of a Pakistani recently convicted of rape to the effect of “my culture made me do it”, and it’s not hard to see why people get nervous).

But the sad thing about the recent riots is that in many ways they were completely preventable. Although the popular press has been quick to cry “racism” and cite the riots as another example of just what an uncouth bunch of bogans we are in Australia, race ultimately had precious little to do with it. (Just ask the infamous Bra Boys gang of Maroubra, which had a starring role in the riots and which over the years has become a fairly multicultural operation, united in defence of former NSW Premier Bob Carr’s postcode). Instead, John Howard had it right when he said that the “behaviour was completely unacceptable but I’m not going to put a general tag (of) racism on the Australian community … I think it’s a term that is flung around sometimes carelessly and I’m simply not going to do so.”

The problem could have been headed off at the pass years ago had police in NSW – ironically enough, largely under the leadership of Bob Carr – not been systematically stripped of their powers to deal with trouble before it gets out of hand. And while in a free society the presumption of innocence lies with the individual, there’s also a noble tradition of what might be called informal “hidden law”, which says that cops know when a group of kids are up to no good, and should have the power to move them on, arrest them, or break them up accordingly.

Instead, Cronulla residents tell hair-raising stories of offensive and threatening conduct by Lebanese youth, and being told by the police that they can only do something if matters get violent – by which point, of course, the damage is already done.

Nature and criminals abhor a vacuum, and if criminals see that police have, by their absence, created a space where bad behaviour is permissible, they will rush in to fill the gap. That’s been happening for years at Cronulla, and locals finally got sick of it – and of trusting the police to deal fairly with their complaints (hence the violence). But unlike Macquarie Fields, where cops hung back after the riot began at the behest of a politically-timid leadership that kept front-line officers from doing their job, in Cronulla and at other beaches, the failing has been going on for ages, leading many to believe that there is one law for the testosterone-charged MoMAs and one for everyone else.

NSW Police could learn a lot from the example of New York, where an aggressive police campaign against the sort of anti-social behaviour committed regularly not just by ethnic gangs but all sorts of people ended years of “long hot summers” of riots and slashed the crime rate to previously-unimaginable levels.

Or, closer to home, they could look at New Zealand, where a few years back Auckland cops employed a change in the unlawful assembly laws to tackle similar problems of race riots and thuggery.

There’s an old cliché in politics that goes something along the lines of, “the first person to call their opponent ‘Hitler’ loses”. There’s something similar when gangs go at each other: the first group to pelt an ambulance with bottles loses, at least in the eyes of the media. And certainly the thugs of Cronulla who went on a rampage against anyone with too dark a tan are no better than the thugs of Bankstown or Lakemba who, fighting massive internal cultural conflicts, treat beachgoing women as objects of both desire and scorn. But it’s amazing to think how much of this could have been prevented if the provocation – community concern at the thuggery on the part of visiting gangs – was dealt with by the cops at a much earlier stage. It’s time to empower cops to crack down on yobbos and crims – no matter what their ethnicity.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:37 PM | Comments (0)

FOOD: Sep 05, AU Edition

Want a fun challenge in the kitchen? Make your own pasta, says Eli Jameson

Ah, the pasta aisle of the supermarket. Fettucini, cavatelli, oricchiette, rigatoni, penne rigate...just reading off the names on the different boxes and bags is enough to make one feel Italian. And so many of these shapes have names that sound cool even in English: Does a plate of priest’s caps (agnolotti) appeal? No? Well, perhaps a steaming bowl of strozzapretti – or ‘priest stranglers’ – will sate your appetite as well as your anti-clerical urges.

But almost every packet of pasta for sale in the supermarket has one thing in common, regardless of shape: it is dried. Which means that it is made by combining water and hard semolina flour and extruded in factories through various shaped dies. Some of these pastas are very good, and indeed gourmet dried pastas are showing up on the shelves of more and more suburban markets (tip: look for noodles that have a particularly rough sauce-holding surface as a sure tip-off of quality), but they lack a certain something. Now, I keep a five kilogram sack of penne rigate in the cabinet because it’s an incredibly economical and convenient base for a huge number of dinners. But there are times that some occasions, and some recipes, that call for more than just a couple of scoops of Barilla tossed into boiling water.

That alternative is, of course, fresh pasta. Contrary to what one might think, fresh pasta is not simply the pre-dried version of what comes in a rectangular blue box with instructions to ‘cottura 11 minuti’. Instead it is made from eggs and flour – which is why the stuff has a pretty firm use-by date – and unlike dried, only takes a few minutes to cook.

So where to get the stuff? Some fresh pasta is available from gourmet Italian delis and even supermarkets, but it is ridiculously expensive considering what goes in to it. Instead, I say, make your own.

I sometimes think that there is a conspiracy out there in the world of TV chefs and cookbook authors to keep certain ideas and techniques just vague and complicated enough so that the average punter remains mystified and unable to fully recreate certain end-products – or at least not regularly enough to become adept at them. I have a fantastic cookbook by the American chef Charlie Palmer which is almost like a detective hunt: every photograph of a finished dish has some extra touch or flourish not included in the printed recipe, and the reader has to study it closely to discern the hidden item. Call it The DaVinci Cookbook school of food writing. The end result is it convinces ordinary home chefs that fresh pasta can only be made with two kinds of imported artisinal flour and lots of kneading, followed by ample time for both chef and dough to have a good rest.

This is, of course, completely untrue, and there is no reason why fresh homemade pasta can’t become part of any home chef’s regular – i.e., at least weekly – routine. The advantages are numerous: though it takes a little longer to prepare on the front end (and we’re only talking about twenty minutes, with a little practice), it takes only moments to cook. One need only be up from the table for five minutes, tops, to knock up a pasta course before rejoining the rest of the party.

Furthermore, the texture is night-and-day to that of dried pasta. It holds sauce much more effectively – one might even say intimately – and as a result, one needs less to coat it. This is where the old adage that pasta is not about the sauce but the pasta comes from, and it’s impossible to understand unless one has experienced the difference. Fresh pasta absorbs sauce in a way dried simply can’t.

To make fresh pasta, one really only needs to get a hand-cranked pasta machine, costing between $60 and $90, depending on brand, at decent homewares stores. Word to the wise: spend the money on the more expensive Italian model if you can. The cheaper look-alike made in Korea will do the job just as well, but doesn’t stand up to regular use over the years, and will need to be replaced far sooner. Beyond that, the only ingredients are flour (I prefer Italian strong, or ‘00’ flour, but the basic house-brand stuff will do just as well) and eggs (see last month’s column on the virtues of fresh eggs – they make a difference here as well). Ready? Let’s begin.

To make a simple pasta like, say, fettucini for two, just place two cups of flour in a bowl, make a well in the middle, and crack the eggs into it. (Rule of thumb: one plate = one egg = one cup of flour). With a fork, begin to combine the eggs with the flour until you have a mass of dough. On a well-floured work surface, knead this well until it becomes a ball, and it starts to get stretchy when worked with the meat of your hand.

Now comes the fun part. Take about a third of the dough, flatten it, and run it through the machine on its widest setting (1). It may take a few goes at this stage to get it fully formed and looking like a square of pasta, but once that is achieved, keep running it through until you reach the second-thinnest setting (generally number 8). Give this sheet a dusting of flour, and repeat with the remaining dough. And when it’s all done, run it through the wide noodle cutters that come with the machine. Presto! You’ve just made fettucini!

So what now? Well, for one thing, it should be lightly dusted with flour and laid out on a sheet so that it doesn’t stick together, and allowed to dry out a bit. One can also make this at lunchtime for an evening’s dinner party without worrying a bit. When cooking time comes, plunge it into a pot of boiling, well-salted water, and let cook for just 2-3 minutes before tossing it into a pan of sauce. Make an alfredo by frying off some finely-diced onion in a large whack (100 grams) of butter, and adding a good slug of cream, a handful of parma cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg. (Healthy it up with some greens, asparagus, or mushrooms if you like).

Or make a ravioli – those same sheets can be cut into circles and pressed together around a filling of your own invention, sealed by an egg wash. Use the flat edge of your chefs knife to press them shut so they don’t pop in the water. A favourite stuffing in our house is beetroot, sage, and goat cheese, served in a brown butter sauce jazzed up with beetroot greens.

Whatever you do, don’t be intimidated, and don’t let yourself be constrained by your imagination. Once you’ve got the technique down, you can knock up sheets of the stuff in all of twenty minutes. Your guests – and your palate – will thank you.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:36 PM | Comments (0)

May 05, AU Edition

may05sexart1.jpgTRAFFICKING IN TEARS
Slavery was supposed to be a thing of the past. But in the dark corners of Australia, it is still flourishing – and as SHAUN DAVIES reports, despite recent efforts the government is losing the fight against the devastating trade in human property

It’s a story that’s guaranteed to break your heart. A 22-year-old law student from Thailand, promised a job in a restaurant where she can legitimately earn millions of baht (the Thai currency), flies into Australia in late November 2002 with high hopes of saving up enough money to buy a car.

But within 24 hours, the student’s situation takes a nightmarish turn. Instead of starting work in a restaurant, she is taken to a house in Surry Hills, handed a g-string and informed that she owes her new employers $200,000.

She has been bought to work as a prostitute – and she can’t leave until she pays the money back.

Shipped from brothel to brothel, she is forced to have sex with up to 20 men each day. If clients refuse to use condoms she can’t turn them down. At night she is locked in a house with fourteen other girls. She begs clients for help – and exchanges phone numbers with some of them – but no-one comes to her aid.

So on the afternoon of January 5, 2003, the student makes a decisive move. She convinces her manager to let her use the brothel’s telephone, telling him she wants to order a pizza. Locking herself in a bathroom, she dials the number she found in the ‘big yellow book’: 000.

‘I want police help me, understand?’ she tells the operator. ‘People come here, lie on me, work in store... Help me, I want to go home, OK?’

The manager bursts into the cubicle and ends the call abruptly, but police raid the brothel later that day and take the student away to a woman’s refuge.

The student’s disturbing allegations, heard recently in open court in Sydney, led to the arrest of two women alleged to own the brothel, and another man alleged to have managed it. All three have pleaded not guilty two charges including exercising ownership over a slave, knowingly conducting a business involving sexual servitude and causing a person to remain in sexual servitude. They are facing jail terms of up to 25 years.

In some ways the case is a landmark – the first of its kind since current legislation against human trafficking was introduced in 1999. It is also the first since the Federal Government allocated $20 million over four years to combat sex slavery in 2003, following public pressure after the death of a trafficked woman named Puontong Simaplee in Villawood detention centre.

This substantial package funded a new federal police task force, as well as education programs for police and immigration officers. The Government also placed an official in Thailand with a brief to combat sex slavery and created new visas that allow trafficked women to stay in Australia. (See sidebar.)

A spokesman for the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison, told Investigate that the government has been ‘doing its utmost to fight this crime through concerted domestic, bilateral, regional and international efforts’.
But those who work closely with trafficked women believe much more still needs to be done. And it seems that the crooks are getting smarter – finding methods to avoid detection and legal loopholes to escape prosecution.

So are we winning the fight against sexual servitude and slavery? And if not, what more can we do?

sexart4.jpgBesides weapons and drugs, international crime syndicates are increasingly trading in a less risky commodity: human beings. International estimates of total trafficking levels (which includes trafficking for the labour market as well as the sex industry) vary wildly, but the US government believes the total figure is somewhere in the vicinity of 600,000 to 800,000 persons ever year. Interpol and the United Nations both rate the issue as a top priority.

Some experts say that the rise in trafficking for sexual servitude to developed nations has been brought about by demand. Women from rich countries don’t want to work in the sex industry, but at the same time more men are using sex workers, so demand is outstripping supply – and organised crime is filling the gap.

Others say the push is coming from the supply side. Sex workers from poor countries want to migrate to developed nations but cannot do so legally. So they look to traffickers to sneak them into a country of choice.

While we know for certain that Australia is a destination market for trafficking, it is impossible to know exactly how many women are brought here each year, says University of New England academic Kerry Carrington.

‘For a start it’s difficult to quantify any form of crime – it’s always going to be hidden. But an added issue here is that it’s not only the criminals. The victims may also hide the crime because of other consequences,’ she says.

A recent Government report claimed there were probably less than 100 trafficked women in Australia. However, Carrington is more inclined to agree with groups who put the figure much higher – around 1000 women every year.

Carrington has one major gripe with the Government’s policy on trafficking - criminal justice visas are only granted to women when there’s a strong chance their evidence will lead to a successful prosecution. Otherwise they are repatriated to their home countries and back into danger when the syndicates that trafficked them seek revenge.

‘I think it’s dubious to say that this meets our obligations under human rights laws,’ she says.

‘As there is no guaranteed migration outcome for assisting a prosecution, there is still little incentive (for the women) to assist prosecutions. Those victims unable to assist the prosecution of traffickers for fear of reprisal, either against themselves or their families abroad, or other reasons, remain unprotected.’

Senator Ellison’s spokesman told Investigate that the visa regulations were fair and ‘provide support to people in genuine need
of protection and who are assisting law enforcement agencies with their investigations’.

But in an interview with the ABC in 2004, the Senator was more direct: ‘We don’t want to make it too attractive for people to come here because they’ll think that they’ll get very good benefits and
so they can come here and then claim to be a victim and enjoy
those benefits.’

But Carrington says that each woman’s case should be critically assessed while she is on a bridging visa. If her case meets a civil level of proof (that is, it seems true on the balance of probability), they should get a longer-term visa.

Shirley Woods, an outreach worker for Australian NGO Project Respect, works with trafficked women on a daily basis. She believes that the approach of police and immigration officers has come a long way since the days of kicking down brothel doors and shipping illegal workers out as soon as possible, though Investigate was supposed to meet with an allegedly trafficked woman from Thailand for this article who was picked up by DIMIA and deported before we could speak with her.
However, Woods says there’s some way to go before officers can handle cases of trafficking with the deft sensitivity that would make trafficked women trust them.

‘I think it’s a matter of more people knowing the right questions: “Do you have your passport?”, “Where do you live?”. A lot of women are shipped from brothel to brothel and don’t know their address,’ she says. ‘There are a lot of questions you can ask.’

In October 2003, the AFP delivered an intensive four-week course in dealing with trafficking to senior investigators from DIMIA, state police agencies, customs and the tax department. Woods believes these education programs will eventually have an impact.

‘It’s very difficult because it’s almost an instinctive thing. So I think that as more immigration and police officers work with trafficked women the situation will get better.’

may05sexart3.jpgThe jewel in the crown of the Government’s trafficking package is the Transnational Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Team (TSETT) – a kind of sex-slave commando force which the AFP says is ‘modelled on the successful narcotics strike team approach, with intelligence-driven investigations and the flexibility and capacity to respond quickly to the highest priority cases.’

It’s difficult to quantify how effective this task force has been. We do know that the AFP has conducted 38 investigations into sexual servitude and slavery-related offences since 2003, and that a total of 15 people are currently facing charges for these crimes.

The AFP has not responded to queries about the current level of trafficking in Australia. But Project Respect’s Shirley Woods says she has come across more trafficked women since the taskforce was established (which, she points out, may just be chance). She believes traffickers are getting smarter.

‘There’s been a huge shift away from Thai women and towards Korean women recently because they can get student visas here. The whole payment system and everything has changed,’ she says.
In one recent case, Woods says, trafficked women in a Melbourne brothel were actually given one-third of the money they earned. But of this third, an extra portion went to the brothel owner to service the woman’s debt, and another portion was given to an ‘interpreter’ who couldn’t speak Korean. All up, the women still only kept one-ninth of the money they earned.

‘I think the traffickers have sat down and had a think about what the legislation means and how they can get around it,’ says Woods. ‘I’m interested in how they’re getting around the education issues associated with student visas - maybe they’re paying off [English language] schools.’
Kerry Carrington also believes that the traffickers have changed tactics. ‘I’ve heard anecdotally that the modus operandi of the traffickers is now to circulate the women and move them along, so that they can avoid being detected,’ she says.
Some advocates believe a radical approach is needed to defeat trafficking - issuing temporary visas to sex workers so that they can legally work in Australian brothels.

Fiona Patten, spokeswoman for the Eros Foundation, says giving sex workers temporary visas would completely undercut the trafficking market. She points out that many Thais pay huge amounts of money to legitimate employment agencies to organise a job and a visa in Australia – at least as much as trafficked women pay to brothel owners. The problem, Patten says, is that sex workers can’t go to a legitimate employment agency.

‘From the industry’s point of view, we see sex work as valid work. By enabling women to come out here and work legally in a system where you can ensure that they’re working in safe conditions, where you can ensure that they’re not being exploited, is that not a better thing?’
However, Patten admits that any political party who took up this idea would be committing electoral suicide.

Ranged against Patten and other sex industry groups (such as the Scarlet Alliance and SWOP) are abolitionists who say that cutting demand by outlawing prostitution is the only way to stop trafficking. Project Respect president Kathleen Maltzahn is a careful advocate of this position.

‘We’ve got to go back to asking who prostitution works for – and it’s not the women who do it,’ she said in a 2004 lecture. ‘Prostitution is set up for men. That’s what trafficking tells us so clearly. When there are enough women who agree to do prostitution the industry will use them, but if there aren’t... the industry brings women in, with absolute disregard for their choices, desires, hopes.’

‘We need to stop talking about prostitution as if women’s choices make it happen and start asking about men’s choices. Without this work trafficking will continue unabated.’

may05sexart2.jpgIn the US, a different group of abolitionists are dominating the trafficking debate – the Christian right. Groups such as the International Justice Mission have the ear of President Bush, who has pledged $150 million to eradicating sex slavery over two years. But sex industry lobbyists are vehemently opposed to the abolitionist approach. It’s supply, they say, not demand, which is driving the trafficking market.

‘I think when you consider (the abolitionist) argument in a global context it doesn’t make sense,’ Scarlet Alliance president Janelle Fawkes says. ‘Many people travel for work, often to another country where the earning potential is greater.’

She gives the example of Burmese women who migrate to Thailand to do sex work, which she says does not make sense in terms of demand.
‘Trafficking happens not because of an unmet demand by clients, but a demand by sex workers who seek to enter Australia to work in the sex industry. It’s a worker’s market, not a client’s market.’

As Investigate goes to print, the trial of Tran, Qi and Xu is still in progress. Another slavery-related trial has just begun in Melbourne and three further matters are ready to go before the courts.

Compare this to 2003, when only one person had ever been convicted of sexual servitude offences in Australia: Melbourne brothel owner Gary Glazner, who made an estimated $1.2 million peddling women to the sex industry. For his crimes, Glazner (who was tried under the Victorian Prostitution Control Act 1994) received a pathetic $30,000
fine and a 30-month suspended sentence.

Although the situation has improved, trafficking will never be completely stamped out unless there is a major shift in our approach to the sex industry as a whole. If there is a market for trafficking (whether supply or demand-driven), criminals will always find ways to exploit this – no matter how well-trained the AFP’s special taskforce is.

While a controversial idea, a legitimate working scheme for foreign prostitutes might cut the market from beneath the trafficker’s feet, and give these women a chance to come to the country for a short time and provide a regulated working environment. But realistically, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that Australia will embrace the idea of visas to foreign prostitutes. For now we’ll have to rely on more basic initiatives and the experts agree that the Government is heading down the right track. It just needs to walk a little further and a little faster.

The Government’s $20 million package attempts to deal with attempts deal with trafficking through a number of initiatives, including:

* The establishment of the AFP’s Transnational Sexual
Exploitation and Trafficking Team – there have been AFP 38 investigations into trafficking since 1 January 2004.

* The creation of a new position to combat trafficking - Senior Migration Officer Compliance (SMOC). This position is based in Thailand, which has until now been the source country for most women trafficked into Australia.

* Changes to visa regulations. Women who may have been involved in trafficking are now granted a bridging F visa which allows the AFP to assess their case. If a woman can assist the AFP in a prosecution she is granted a criminal justice visa. Women deemed to be in some kind of danger if they return to their home country may be granted a witness protection visa (trafficking).

* Education of immigration and police officers to ensure that trafficking is recognised and that women are not deported before they can give evidence.

* Proposed amendments to legislation that will bring Australian law more closely into line with UN trafficking protocol. These have been tabled in the senate and are under consideration.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:34 PM | Comments (0)

FIRST DRAFT: May 05, AU Edition

Even Kofi Annan’s got his own weblog now…

MARCH 21 2005
Man, this investigation into Kojo and me is a real drag. It’s total pressure, 24-7! I thought having this position meant I wouldn’t have to put up with this kind of thing. Like, dude, where’s my diplomatic

But no, they have to investigate everything. Everything, going back aaages. Like, hello! Cotecna? Who are they? I don’t remember.
Cotecna, Coshmecna.

And that Paul Volcker guy. Man, he is such a wingnut.
The worst thing is that I appointed him. Sheesh. What was I thinking?
Hey, Volcker! Investigate this.

posted by GenSec at 12:26 PM
Permalink Comments (124) Trackback

MARCH 24 2005
Man, this Cotecna thing is really ruining my reputation. Like, I just ran a Google ego search. I’m a pariah! Not so long ago I was a superstar on the world stage. I was pretty fly (for a black guy). Not any longer. I’ve gone from hero to zero in, like, days. This is sooo not happening.

Not that I’m in this just for the glory, mind. I just want to do my job. And it’s one helluva tough job. No, really! It’s not all receptions and champers and canapes, you know. There are medals of honor to receive; genocide reports to quash. (Like, words are important, dude. There really is a difference between mass murder and genocide, okay? Trust me.) Still, when all the drudgery is done I can enjoy the best part: I get to be concerned. I just love that ... Being concerned – it’s a buzz, man!

That’s why I hate all this controversy. I want to be concerned about the world. I don’t want the world being so concerned about me. You dig?

posted by GenSec at 4.34 PM
Permalink Comments (67) Trackback

APRIL 1 2005
It’s April Fool’s Day, alright. Now the World Bank is headed by a neo-con.

I had to put up with sniping from that guy and his cronies for, like, years man! “You’re too weak with dictators ... Act on Iraq ... Do something, for God’s sake” ... Etc.

But the UN couldn’t win, could it? When I did nothing, the Yanks had a field day. But if I’d said go in and kick butt, the member states would have gone all medieval on my ass. As I posted at the time: Saddamned if you do. Saddamned if you don’t.

Why won’t they shut up about “oil-for-food” ...
Hey, Wolfie and Co., read my lips: I did not have financial relations with that man Saddam Hussein!

But now I’ve got to have financial relations with Wolfie?
Jeebus, what a drag. I might just quit after all.

posted by GenSec at 9.40 AM
Permalink Comments (57) Trackback

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:28 PM | Comments (0)

TRAVEL: Dec 05, AU Edition

SJ-tshirtsales.jpg‘NAM PLUSSED
Patricia Rodriguez discovers the joys (and hassles) of Vietnam, but falls in love with it anyway

LAU CAI, Vietnam – After sleeping fitfully on the night train from Hanoi – note to self: Drink fewer liquids prior to a 10-hour journey on a train where the bathroom is a hole in the floor two cars down – we are herded onto a waiting minibus for the drive to Sa Pa.

The highlands village of Sa Pa, a 90-minute ride from Lau Cai, a trade centre on the Vietnam – China border, has been billed as a bucolic paradise, green, peaceful and mostly unspoiled by modern commerce. But the morning is hazy and foggy and still a bit dark, and as our van struggles through traffic-choked streets, I can’t see much of anything. We drive past long stretches of small, faded buildings with their metal security doors rolled shut, advertising “pho com” (soup/restaurant), “bia hoi” (fresh beer) and “karaoke” (no translation necessary). Kids in Nike warm-up jackets and baseball caps drive scooters loaded with trays of cut-up chickens or boxes bursting with vegetables; other mopeds carry entire families, two adults and two or three kids, so tightly packed together they don’t even have to hang on. It looks like bustling Ho Chi Minh City, except on a smaller, dingier scale.

Then, suddenly, the bus turns a corner and begins to struggle uphill, and the sun burns through, the fog lifting like a film being peeled from a piece of glass. Revealed is the lush landscape we’d been promised. Low, mist-covered mountains, their sides precisely terraced with rice paddies. Rises covered with fir trees and endless beds of lavender-flowering indigo plants. A clear, rocky stream, crossed by a rudimentary wooden bridge. It’s “National Geographic” – beautiful. Worth every second of last night’s discomfort.

And that, for me, is Vietnam: Just when I’m about to give up on this place, something happens that makes me fall just a little bit in love with it.

At times, Vietnam can be an easy place to love: When you’re walking undisturbed through thousand-year-old palace ruins in the imperial city of Hue. When you’re eating a huge bowl of “pho,” beef noodle soup scented with cilantro, mint and lemon grass, that costs less than 50 cents from a sidewalk vendor in Hanoi. When you’re being fussed over in a tailor’s shop in the ancient fishing port of Hoi An, being fitted for custom-made silk clothing that will be delivered to your hotel within 24 hours.

But at other times, it feels like trying to travel with a toddler, one who’s loud, messy, frantic, constantly changing his mind and demanding all your attention, right this minute.

My husband and I had hit bottom in Ho Chi Minh City, only a few hours after arriving in Vietnam and finding our way to a $15-a-night hotel in the area of the city that caters to backpackers. Trying to walk to the nearby public market, we couldn’t take two steps without being asked to buy something. Postcards? Cyclo ride? Taxi? Chewing gum? Spring rolls? Cigarettes? Beer? Hotel room? Guidebook? Guide?
Hot and frustrated, we retreated to a touristy cafe – crowded with dreadlocked and tattooed Western backpackers, smoking and drinking Vietnamese-brewed 333 beer – and wondered whether coming to Vietnam had been a good idea.

SJ-halongbay_mug.jpgWe’d planned to spend a few days based here, seeing some of the nearby sights, like the Mekong Delta’s floating markets, huge flotillas of small boats moored together so closely you can step from one to another, buying lychee and bananas from one boat, plasticware from another, conical straw hats from the next. But the smog, the heat and the relentless commercialism got to us. On only our second day, we hopped on a flight to Hanoi, the northern capital. The center of the country’s ruling Communist Party, it also has a reputation as a gracious, reserved city, older and quieter than Ho Chi Minh, retaining a bit more of its French-colonial heritage and architecture. Also, roughly a thousand miles to the north, it would be cooler. We thought we might like it better.

“Mademoiselle”, the cook says, waving my husband and me into her tiny restaurant, just a bare room that opens directly onto the street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Her daughter smiles and propels us toward a low table in the corner, where we sit on tiny plastic footstools. Around us, several other diners, mostly older men, eat their pho, or soup, and read local newspapers.

We don’t have to order; the proprietress simply starts cooking. Squatting in front of a few pots on portable burners, she takes a couple of large handfuls of very long noodles, cutting them with scissors and eyeballing them until the two portions seem equal. These she places in a bowl, ladling hot broth from a giant kettle over the top. Next, she plucks pieces of meat, hard-cooked eggs and dumplings from other pans and adds these to each bowl, finishing with a handful of fresh herbs. She hands the bowls to a young boy, who delivers them to our table, and then watches attentively as we dig in, giggling as my chopsticks keep dropping the long, slippery noodles. I laugh, too, but I keep trying; the pho is too delicious to leave in the bowl.
The cost for breakfast and entertainment? Less than $1. We head out into the early-morning streets, well-fed and happy. It’s our third day in-country, and Vietnam is growing on us.

Hanoi is jammed with traditional tourist sites, including ancient temples and pagodas, French cathedrals, scenic lakes and parks, and a gaggle of buildings dedicated to the late Vietnamese ruler Ho Chi Minh himself, including a museum, the stilt house where he lived in the ‘60s, and the mausoleum where his remains are on display. We’ll eventually see some of these, but mostly, we spend our time in Hanoi getting a feel for the city – walking, shopping, eating and just sitting.

Hanoi is perfect for this type of touring because it’s compact, walkable and, somewhat surprisingly for such a large urban center, quite beautiful.

Tourists spend much of their time in the Old Quarter, which has been the city’s commercial district for more than 1,000 years. The district begins at the edge of Hoan Kiem Lake, edged by weeping-willow trees and a small park where young and old gather to exercise at dawn, and complete with a small pagoda built in the middle of the lake.
At one time, each of the narrow, twisted streets in the quarter was named for the type of goods you could buy there – silk, bamboo, copper. Today, the old names are still used, but the streets have become less specialized; stores sell merchandise of all sorts, from traditional water puppets, carved wooden boxes and silk clothing to fake designer sunglasses, boomboxes and T-shirts printed with the image of Ho Chi Minh, four for $10.

The exception is the meat and produce market, with sections still dedicated exclusively to astoundingly fresh displays of fish, flowers, live chickens, vegetables, herbs and fruits, and filled with buyers and sellers haggling over prices and quality. It becomes our favorite place for lunch. At one stall, we buy fritters of sliced bananas and sweet potatoes, dipped in a sweet rice-flour batter and fried crispy.

At another, a crusty French baguette filled with pat’ and cucumber slices, garnished with cilantro and fish sauce, the national Vietnamese condiment. At a third, giant prawns, cooked over a tiny charcoal grill, served with French bread and cold Vietnamese beer.
The Old Quarter has also been an area of growth for hotels, restaurants and coffee bars. We linger over sweet iced coffees and spring rolls at a second-story cafe overlooking the traffic circle across from Hoan Kiem Lake, watching the cat-and-mouse game that is city traffic here.

Traffic in Hanoi, like in the other large Vietnamese cities, is dominated by motor scooters, traveling six or eight or more abreast. There seem to be few lanes, few traffic lights and only one rule – if you’re driving, don’t hit anyone. Crossing the street is like playing the old video game of “Frogger.” There’s no such thing as a “walk” sign; to cross a busy street, you simply take a breath, make sure you’re not stepping out directly in front of anyone, and start walking slowly and deliberately, keeping your eyes on the traffic, so they know you see them. Miraculously, they’ll swerve around pedestrians every time. Watching it from above, it’s like a beautiful ballet, except with lots of honking horns and traffic fumes.

SJ-cycling.jpgStill, after a couple of days, Hanoi’s charms wear a bit thin; it’s still a city of people trying to make up for lost time economically. Some of our fellow tourists have developed strategies for spurning the persistent vendors and cyclo drivers – ignoring them, frowning, pretending not to understand English. (Practically all young Vietnamese speak at least a bit of English, though some older people still speak French.) I, however, must look like an easy mark; I can’t help but speak to every vendor, often with a smile, even when I’m saying no.

Sa Pa is as far from the city as you can get in Vietnam, we’re assured. It’s not a short trip – at least 10 hours overnight on the train both ways – but we figure to see another side of this diverse country, it’s worth it.

Sa Pa was built as a hill station by the French in the early 1920s, a scenic retreat where they could escape the heat and humidity of the lowlands and the coast. When the French withdrew, it fell into a period of decline, hotels and cafes getting shuttered and many people moving to larger cities in search of work.

But over the past decade it has been discovered by tourists who are eager to see the lovely mountain vistas and experience the culture of the hill people. Hotels have been restored or built from scratch, new restaurants have opened, tour guides have multiplied. There’s even an Internet cafe. Now the market in Sa Pa is flooded with tourists every day, and there are frequent organized tours to smaller markets in the surrounding villages.

At arrival, Sa Pa seems like the Vietnamese version of a Colorado ski town; a couple of the new hotels are even built in the style of a mountain chalet, complete with flower-filled window boxes. But it’s still somewhat rustic, with dusty, steeply angled streets and little traffic. Our simple guesthouse has a terrific view of the town and surrounding valley – but requires a hike of six flights of stairs to get to our room.

Yet some complain that the influx of outsiders – still only a tiny proportion of those who visit Vietnam – is having an adverse effect on the culture of the tribal peoples, essentially Westernizing them.
True, the Hmong and Dao women in particular have taken well to capitalism. The women have learned that their craft work – pressed-tin and silver jewelry, and beautifully dyed and embroidered pillows, tablecloths, purses, vests and dresses – were coveted by the Western visitors. Now small groups of women and larger bands of girls, as young as 7 or 8, congregate on the main tourist streets and near the market, wearing gorgeous traditional dress and trolling for customers.

“You’re pretty!” one calls out.

“I like your hat!” says another, emboldened by the first.

“Where are you from?” asks a third, and they all collapse into giggles. But they keep their mind on business. Pause for even a second and risk being engulfed by a sea of smiling, chattering little saleswomen, each begging that “you buy from me, from me.”

The tactics work. I end up with far more tin bracelets and indigo garments than I can possibly use, and many new, small friends, all of whom remember us the next day when we wander through the market.

“Are you ready?” asks a tiny, beautiful girl, dressed in the traditional clothing of the Black Hmong tribe – a skirt, vest and leggings dyed in indigo, a blue-black so deep it’s almost shiny, and embellished with rows of colorful embroidery, and a conical hat, her long black hair pinned within it and the ends spilling from the opening at the top. She also wears huge loop earrings, an armful of bracelets, and in a nod to the changes that have arrived in her world, a pink ribbed turtleneck, a nylon backpack and flat plastic-soled sandals.

Her name is Zei, and she will be our guide for the next two days. She looks about 12, but she says she is 16 and has been leading tours for almost three months. Today we’ll have an easy hike – a couple of hours round-trip to a waterfall that was once harnessed for electrical power by the French, with a leisurely side trip over a wooden footbridge and through fields of indigo.

But the next morning, when Zei comes to collect us after breakfast, is a different story. Today we will visit three ethnic villages – one settled by the Hmong, Zei’s tribe; another by the Tay, known for their wooden stilt houses; and the last by the Dao, recognized by their bright red, puffy turbans, edged with large silver beads.

“We will walk for 14 kilometers (about 8.5 miles) today. Mostly down, though,” says Zei, whose English is very good, from talking with tourists.

(She didn’t study English in school – in fact, she says she hasn’t been to school regularly in years, apparently a sadly common occurrence among the hill-tribe children. Her first language is Hmong, which somewhat resembles Chinese, but she says her English is better than her Vietnamese.)
“You’ll be OK?” she asks, shouldering her backpack, containing lunch and water for all three of us, and assuring us we can catch a ride back to Sa Pa rather than repeat the 14-kilometer route. We promise her we can handle it, and we head out of town.

For a while, we keep to the main road, where the lovely overlooks of forests, rice paddies, indigo fields and the occasional small house must compete with a constant passing stream of minibuses, motorscooters and small trucks. After about a mile, we evidently pass some sort of test, for Zei leads us off the main road and its parade of tourists and onto a barely discernible footpath, descending steeply into the wooded valley.

“This is a better way,” she says.

“Shortcut?” I ask.

“No, just better,” she says.

This, apparently, is a local route. We no longer see tourists, but we pass water buffalo, which make a show of ignoring us, and Hmong women and girls, on their way to market, who smile and offer to sell us yet more indigo clothing. At one point, we’re passed by a group of eight or nine young teen-agers, each carrying a piece or two of corrugated metal on his head and walking about twice as fast as us on the rocky path.

“Someone is getting a new roof,” Zei observes.

SJ-traveller.jpgSometimes, we can see a small house or two, tin or thatched roofs nearly obscured by the greenery. Most often, we see an endless expanse of green. Though the villages have been billed as the tour’s highlight, we find ourselves more thrilled by the landscape. It changes from thick forest to a more open valley; we cross rocky streams on rickety-looking wooden footbridges and clamber up staircases rudely fashioned from flat stones. Eventually, the path seems to disappear. We pick our way through rice paddies, carefully balancing on the earthen dikes that are built into the hillsides.
Zei, at first shy, begins talking more the farther we walk. She lives with her mother and little sister; we get the sense she is their main source of income. She used to sell trinkets to the tourists, but when her English was deemed good enough, she was hired as a guide, an occurrence she seems to regard as a striking bit of good luck. She makes better money – a few dollars per trip, plus tips – and the work is steadier. To her, being a tour guide is easy – just walking along paths she’d be using anyway. And usually, she says, the people are nice.

At the last village, little more than a half-dozen huts in a loosely arranged group, we run into another guide, a friend of Zei’s, and her charge for the day, an Australian army officer named Flo whom we’d met on the train. Flo has taken a longer excursion yet, and she’ll be spending the night in one of the villager’s homes. They invite Zei and us into the home to look around; it’s cozy and comfortable, with wooden benches, a small kitchen and several platforms piled with bright blankets for sleeping. The guide offers us cool water and snacks, but we still have a long way to hike; we have to be on our way.

“Isn’t this the greatest?” Flo stage-whispers to me as we leave her to head back to Sa Pa. “Don’t you love that you’re seeing this?”

Flo is talking about the villages and the day’s hike, and I agree with her. But as we make our way back to the main road, where local entrepreneurs will offer us rides on their mo-peds back to Sa Pa, I realize that I’ve come to feel that way about Vietnam. Ten years from now, as the economy continues to explode and ever more Western tourists discover it, it will be a different country. For better and for worse, I love that I am seeing it now.


The Reunification Express
15 days, Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City
Trip Style: Intrepid Original
Highlights: Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City
Brief: Traverse the length of vibrant Vietnam by train. The Reunification Express is a vital lifeline between north and south Vietnam. Along its path we experience the many scenic, historical, cultural and culinary highlights of this marvellous country. All aboard for a ride you’ll never forget!
Departure: Departs every Sunday & Thursday
Price: AU$885 plus a Local Payment of US$200

Vietnam Basix
21 days, Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City
Trip Style: Intrepid Basix
Highlights: Hanoi, Halong Bay, Cat Ba Island, Sapa hilltribes, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City
Brief: There is a lot more to Vietnam than rice paddies and noodle soup! See Vietnam from top to bottom, witness its ancient and modern history and explore the tiny villages and teeming cities. From commercial centres to spiritual havens, this stunningly beautiful country has something exciting to offer around every corner.
Departure: Departs every Monday
Price: AU$895 plus a Local Payment of US$300

Vietnam Family Adventure
15 days, Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City
Trip Style: Intrepid Family
Highlights: Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City
Brief: Diverse, beautiful and lots of fun – Vietnam is a great place for a family adventure. Journey together from Hanoi to historical Hue and Hoi An, the beautiful beaches of Nha Trang and the modern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City. On this trip, the whole family is set to be entertained and educated by the people, history, colour and culture of this ancient and amazing country.
Departure: Departs on a Saturday. Dates available online at
Price: AU$1165 plus a Local Payment of US$200

Vietnam Experience
15 days, Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi
Trip Style: Intrepid Comfort
Highlights: Ho Chi Minh City, Cu Chi Tunnels, Mekong Delta homestay, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, water puppets, Halong Bay, Hanoi.
Brief: From south to north, Vietnam is a kaleidoscope of wonderful people and picturesque landscapes. Imagine exploring the beautiful lakes and boulevards of Hanoi and shopping to your heart’s content. What better way to get to know the locals than to be their guests in a Mekong Delta homestay! Experience historical temples, spectacular scenery, delicious banquets and lively cities all with a touch of comfort.
Departure: Departs on a Sunday. Dates available online at
Price: AU$1625 plus a Local Payment of US$200


When is the best time of year to travel?
Generally, there is no “best” time for travelling in Vietnam. The seasons are a little vague and vary considerably from north to south and within regions. Flooding can sometimes cause minor alterations to our itineraries. THE SOUTH: The dry season is from December to June with March to May being particularly hot and humid. Temperature range from 27°C to 36°C. The wet season with short, heavy rain showers is from July to November. Temperatures average between 22°C and 27°C. THE NORTH: With four seasons, winter is from December to February – it can be extremely cold in Hanoi and the mountainous regions, with overnight temperatures of 4°C and daytime highs between 10°C and 20°C. Thermal clothing is a good idea if trekking in winter. Summer is June to August – expect hot and humid conditions at this time. Temperatures average 27°C to 30°C with high humidity.
Religion: Predominantly Buddhist, with Confucianism, Taoism & other minorities
Language: Vietnamese
Currency: Dong (VND)
Visas: It is necessary to apply for a one month travel visa prior to travel as they cannot be obtained on arrival. This visa takes about 5 days to process and must state the date of arrival and departure in order to be valid.
Electricity: 220V, 50 Hz AC (some 110V, 50 Hz AC)
Times to avoid: Best to avoid the Vietnamese New Year, Tet. Dates are based on the Chinese New Year lunar calendar and therefore vary from year to year. Scheduled TET dates for 2006 are January 29th and for 2007 it is planned for the 18th of February. Vietnam effectively shuts down for at least 3 days over this period and it is virtually impossible to travel anywhere as 60 million Vietnamese are also travelling to see their families.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:28 PM | Comments (0)

Sep 05, AU edition

She was a Russian dancer. He was a suburban psychopath. IAN WISHART has the story of a paedophile’s manipulation of the law to gain access to children, and a trail of wrecked lives he’s left behind him

Teardrops well, glistening in the soft evening light, but they never fall. ‘I can’t cry anymore,’ she says after a moment, gathering herself again. ‘I don’t cry’, she repeats, softly, more to herself than anyone else. Her name is Elena Reznikova*, and on a cold August night she’s a long way from home, back in the Ukraine. The story of a journey from her life as a Russian ballerina to being surrounded by semi-stacked boxes of files in a tatty suburban law office after hours, is a long and, like many Russian stories, tragic one.

Daughter of a Soviet Air Force pilot, her mother a nurse, Elena Reznikova had a relatively normal childhood in communist Russia. Born in the remote province of Khazakstan – a legacy that would return to haunt her Down Under – Elena’s parents shifted to a home in rural Ukraine, not far from a local nuclear power station named Chernobyl. She draws back the collar of her turtleneck sweater: ‘See, I still have scar from cancer’, she notes, touching her throat. Her voice is hoarse and barely there.

As if sensing the unspoken question, she adds: ‘I have lost my voice, all year. Stress. It will kill me eventually, I think.’
Stress. Now there’s an understatement.

It was back in February 2001 that Elena met Paul Copeland – originally from Australia, now transplanted to New Zealand – courtesy of a Russian bride internet agency.

‘I wanted to get out of Ukraine, out of Russia’, she reflects. ‘I met a person on internet line. He look good. He promised me beautiful life, I would “bloom like a flower”. I fell in love with his photos, I was ready to take care of his children. He said he needs a woman who will look after his children, who will cook, who will clean – and I was the best – and I was ready to be a stepmother, to be friendly with his other partners. Because he was like me, he had three different children from three different relationships. Can you imagine this madness?’

Elena had been married and divorced. Like thousands of Russian women, she was deserted by the men in her life because of appalling economic conditions over there.

‘My friends told me, ‘don’t give up, you can find a good man’. Because it is impossible to find in Ukraine, with children, it is economic, men are unable to provide.’

Copeland, she says, was everything she thought she wanted in a man. ‘All my girlfriends were crazy about him because he was good looking, charming, gentleman, just a little bit drunk, but we just thought he liked his beer, as we do in the Ukraine.’

But Elena had no idea Copeland had a very dark past, despite an incident that ever so slightly foreshadowed what she would later discover.

‘My neighbours came over. We have a tradition in Russia to make a person drunk because we want to know how he acts when he is drunk, because people are different when they are drunk. Paul was drinking and drinking, and he started to try and jump off the second floor balcony, because he said he was trying to escape being locked up.’
In 1989, Paul Copeland hit the headlines throughout New Zealand for trying to murder his first wife with a crossbow in Tauranga. It was a well-publicised court case, with testimony of terror.

A report from his trial in May 1990 recounts the facts: ‘A 32 year old Tauranga man tried to kill his estranged wife by shooting her with a hunting bow and arrow…from only a foot away…the broadhead spear arrow penetrated part of the woman’s liver, stomach and one of her lungs, poking out the other side of her body.

‘She managed to make her way to the kitchen where she tried to use the phone but was prevented by Copeland, who forced her up against a wall in the hallway opposite the kitchen.

‘Feeling dizzy, she had slid down the wall but managed to get up again to make her way downstairs and to her car where her young daughter was waiting for her. She had collapsed beside the car and neighbours who saw her had rushed to her aid,’ the Crown Prosecutor was recorded as telling the High Court at Rotorua.

‘Copeland, from an upstairs window, had asked several times if she was dead yet.’

He was found not guilty by reason of ‘temporary’ insanity. Copeland, you see, had always been troubled. His father was named in investigations as a violent alcoholic paedophile who had allegedly sodomised his young son. In his early teenage years, Paul Copeland allegedly returned the favour by raping one of his younger sisters. There were burglaries, drug use, car thefts and fraud charges. Violence towards animals was also a Copeland trademark – executing cats and other small animals by bludgeoning them, revelling in the gore.

russ4.jpgLittle surprise that the teenager ended up in the Tokanui mental institution as a result of his behaviour. Family members would later talk of assault incidents in Australia with drink driving and firearms convictions added into the mix.

None of this, however, was contained in the internet dating agency files as Copeland linked up with Reznikova in far off Ukraine. Instead, the New Zealander turned on the charm, promising marriage and more to the former ballerina and mother of two boys.

‘He said he wanted to make me pregnant, that this was beautiful because I need a baby girl, so we need to do it immediately because it would be easier to get visas.’

By August 2001, Elena was pregnant with their child – her third.
‘Paul was very good for about two weeks after I got pregnant, then he started to drink, he said he’d spent all the money for tickets, nearly, and I said, “Listen, we have to have money for tickets to go to your country”.’

In September that year, the couple and Elena’s youngest son, Yuri, landed in Auckland.

‘I couldn’t speak English. None. I couldn’t put sentence together. I couldn’t make myself understood. I left behind my eldest son because the immigration people in Moscow said it would be hard to get him out here, because Paul didn’t have enough money to pay. But he promised me he would bring him out later.

‘I’d always wanted to speak English well, like I do now. I wanted my children to speak English, and I wanted to have a good job and be happy. So New Zealand looked to me like a countryside that I liked, because my family came from the countryside. We had 100 turkeys. My family grows vegetables, we have lots of food, very hard working people.’

Clean and green the countryside in her new home might have been, but behind the four walls of Copeland’s house she began to discover his demons.

‘When I arrived in September I used to clean the house because I was a good cleaner…and I found some photos of other women with children, in Spain, Africa and elsewhere. So I asked him, ‘was this your previous girlfriend?’ He said ‘no, I just used to live with her for a while’. I said ‘why didn’t you bring her to New Zealand?’. He said ‘she wasn’t good, but her children were good’.’

Elena wasn’t quite sure what he meant.

‘When we first arrived, we had sex all weekend, every day, but when his other children arrived he wasn’t interested in me, he doesn’t have sex with me. I’m asking him, ‘Paul, I’m waiting for you upstairs’, but he never came up. I’m four months pregnant but I’m a woman who is still healthy, you know.’

Over the weeks and months of her pregnancy that followed over the summer of 2001, Elena claims Copeland became more and more distant, more focused on the children, including Elena’s six year old Yuri.
‘On the beach I noticed that he was putting his fingers in between the children’s legs every time he picked them up. His children always used to scream in the bath. I said to him, you bath boy, I bath girl. He was always present in the bath when the children were there. I don’t leave babies in the bath alone, but when children are five or older it is a different thing.

‘I often heard the children sobbing, and once [his daughter Amanda, from his second wife] came out crying and I asked “who hurt you”, and she pointed at Paul saying “him”.

‘He used to call me worthless, and good-for-nothing whore. On the few times we had sex after that he became violent, even though I was pregnant. He never kissed me, and turned my face away during the act of intercourse. He was cold and brutal. Then, at the end, he got worse. He had so much sex with me at the end that I had premature baby.’

Their child, Nicholai, was born in March 2002, with complications.
‘When he was born the baby didn’t breathe, and he said “I don’t know why I should have to buy expensive medicine just to keep the baby alive”. He refused to buy medicine, so I used to go to the church, and there was a very good woman there and she gave me $20.’

When the baby had to be rushed to hospital, Paul Copeland allegedly took his time.

‘He wanted the child to die. He told me. He didn’t want to take me to hospital. He went so slow. As a mother, I’m lucky I have medical skills to keep this child healthy and alive, so when he got better – it was four months later – I moved out of the house.

‘There was a neighbour across the road, and everybody knew about his background, nobody told me, it was a huge secret from me. And when I used to speak to people in the church, everywhere, people used to be so nice, they understood my problem and thought they would encourage him to marry me, so I would get residence. But I wanted to go back to Ukraine because I left my son behind and he told me I will never see him. Then he said if I went back he would keep my two other children with him, so I used to carry on in the home, being with him together, and no one could help.’

When she tried to get Copeland to sign their baby’s birth certificate, he spat the dummy.

russ2b.jpg‘He screamed at me about a former wife who had taken his money. He called her ‘a bitch, a whore and a lesbian’, and swore that no woman would ever get anything from him, although he did eventually sign the certificate.’

During this time, she says, Copeland would often threaten to have her deported back to Ukraine without her children. ‘I’ll keep them, and you won’t be able to go to court because I’ll make you leave the country.’

Copeland also took the unusual step of publishing a photograph of his fiancée onto an internet porn site, along with a story about their sexual exploits when he first met her in Russia: ‘My Elena didn’t like to drink, that was a problem! Still, I had my two beers and the offer of SEX was on, it was the Russian wash down now with no hot water from the tap. So Elena would fill a basin with hot water, and I would sit in the bath. Elena would wet me then with soap wash my body down, then rinse me. Now, guys who haven’t experienced this, it is good, very good to receive this care. So we are clean now, and it’s time to get dirty, so it’s off to the bed again for a lesson in Russian! The sex was good, very good…as will be revealed soon.’

The revelations are too graphic to reprint in a family magazine.
Elena could see no way out. Although her understanding of English was growing, she still found it hard to speak it, and many people simply wrote her off as ‘an over-emotional Russian’. But the woman from the church who’d paid for the medicine to save Nicholai’s life turned out to be a guardian angel.

‘So that woman, she said “I will help you go to a Women’s Refuge”. I said “what is that?” Because we don’t have that in our country. Can you imagine how crazy it seemed for me to leave for Women’s Refuge with four-months-old baby, and leave the man whom I loved, believe me. Later on I realised it was only about that he wants children to abuse.’

Elena fled on a Friday afternoon with baby and older son in tow. She asked the Women’s Refuge to help get her deported back to the Ukraine on the grounds that her immigration status was now void because of the relationship break-up. And she didn’t have the money herself for airfares. But on Monday morning, Paul Copeland had already obtained a court ruling preventing Elena from taking baby Nicholai out of New Zealand.

The Russian mother was trapped. Her own immigration status meant she now had to leave New Zealand; the court order meant her four month old baby son could not go with her. Paul taunted her by threatening to keep Yuri as well.

‘He always told me that he would send me back to Ukraine but he was keeping Yuri with him.’

Even so, Elena Reznikova still had no idea just what her fiancé had done in his past. It wasn’t until Paul’s sister picked her up from the refuge that the missing pieces of the jigsaw began to tumble into place.

‘She told me her brother is a paedophile, and he raped her and two others. And their father was a paedophile. It was like a dream for me because she got my Russian dictionary and she showed me the words. I hadn’t realised then that he had tried to kill his ex-wife. I was more shocked when I found that out.’

It was at this point that Elena was introduced to Copeland’s third wife, a woman named Elizabeth who’s still living in hiding, 11 years after first meeting Copeland. Elena had found a contact number for her and rang her from the Women’s Refuge. Elizabeth says she could barely understand the distressed Russian woman with the thick accent, but she took down bottles so she could feed baby Nicholai. When she heard Elena’s suspicions that the children had been sexually abused, this former Copeland bride heard the penny drop. Elizabeth immediately phoned Copeland’s sister when she got home, who explained that Paul had also sexually abused her when she was a child. ‘You should believe Elena,’ Copeland’s sister told Elizabeth.

It turned out Elizabeth was another foreign woman lured into Copeland’s orbit in 1994, just four years after his trial for trying to murder his first wife. Elizabeth’s own marriage was in difficulty, and she says Copeland was ‘very romantic’ and charming, and convinced her to leave her husband. She says he acted like a father to her two daughters, and ‘got me pregnant two months after we met’.
Sound familiar? Copeland told Elizabeth it would be easier to get residency if she was pregnant.

Once his victim was trapped, Copeland moved from suave suitor to Hannibal Lecter, catching the neighbour’s cat, gassing it, and then burning it in front of his wife despite her pleas to spare the creature.

A recent study suggested people who torture animals are more likely to be sexual abusers. On the Richter scale of deviance, Paul Copeland was already an 11.

After Elizabeth and Paul’s son, Timothy, was born in 1995, he again turned his attention to Elizabeth’s two older daughters, often watching them shower, poking them frequently with a toilet brush while they were naked, assaulting them, verbally abusing them, making one of the girls pick up excrement in the garden using only her bare hands.
Elizabeth worked nights, leaving her husband to babysit six-month-old Timothy and her two daughters. The children’s grandmother would often pop in and find the girls weeping and distressed. He teased one of the older girls about her weight, calling her Moby Dick, and suggested to a family friend the other ‘would be a slut and pregnant’ by the time she was 14.

It was around this time that Elizabeth, wife number three, discovered a box under the stairwell containing files relating to Copeland’s childhood and the fates of wives one and two.

She read of the bow and arrow attack on wife one, the declaration of temporary insanity and the very brief spell in Tokanui Hospital before the psychopathic Copeland had convinced the cuckoo-keepers he was sane enough to fly the nest. She read of how Paul had allegedly been raped by his own father, and the history of sex abuse in his family. She discovered how he’d met wife number two, a German woman (mother of Amanda), and burned her passport and all her papers. How he’d smashed all the windows in his house on one occasion, and psychiatric reports detailing the horrific tortures he’d practiced on animals as a child.
Naturally, after reading all this, Elizabeth became absolutely terrified about what might happen to her and her children.

When she tried to leave, and she did so half a dozen times, Copeland would invariably track her down, stalk her and terrify her until she returned. In the end, however, he booted her out along with her two daughters. Elizabeth says he physically threw them out the door, locked it and stayed inside with Timothy and Amanda. By the time Elizabeth returned with help, Copeland had barricaded both of his biological children in an upstairs bedroom.

Elizabeth staked out the local supermarket and tried to grab Timothy from the shopping trolley while Copeland’s back was turned, but he foiled the rescue by screaming ‘Help, this woman is stealing my son!’ He put Timothy in hiding. Police eventually found the two year old at Copeland’s sister’s house.

The stalking and terror got worse, however, and eventually Copeland managed to convince Elizabeth that he would leave her alone if she’d just give him access on alternative weeks to Timothy.

Mindful of the crossbow attack, Elizabeth signed the custody form.
It was after that, she says, that she noticed her little boy’s behaviour change markedly on his return from access visits; it was, she says unusually aggressive and strange.

This, then, was the story of wife number three.

The woman who would have been number four, Elena, is deeply saddened at the fate of Copeland’s first two children.

russ7.jpg‘Last time I saw Timothy and Amanda they put their heads down, they know that I know their problem but I can’t help them. They don’t talk, they’re very embarrassed to tell anybody what’s happening to them because they’re scared that their father will kill them. He told them, “I will kill you if you tell anyone”. He told it to my son but my son is Russian and Russians are very strong. We have a, how do you say, self, self-preservation, as a child when you’re young. You learn to save yourself in a difficult situation, even losing your life.’

In the past year, Elena’s older son Yuri has told of being made to watch naked children on Copeland’s computer during the months that Copeland has had Nicholai in his care, and Elena’s family friends say Nicholai has complained of a “sore bottom”, and “dad touching me in the bottom”.

‘I have three boys,’ says Elena. ‘I have a lot of experience as a mother of boys. When they are small their penises never stand up, they don’t have hormones for sex, but my little boy, his penis is so sensitive. I think it has been massaged. He wakes up at night and says “it hurts”. I am so scared what will happen to him if he goes back to his father. This child has already been damaged.’

Yuri says he and the other children witnessed Paul Copeland interfering with Nicholai’s genitals and bottom – in fact, all the children were made to watch it.

Elena obtained a psychologist’s report on Yuri two years ago, and she says the psychologist was convinced Yuri had also been abused.
She says one of the most frightening things about Copeland is his psychopathic aloofness.

He’s absolutely normal in public, but he’s not normal. His body language is absolutely absent. He doesn’t move, there’s no body language. I didn’t want to have anything to do with a former criminal anymore because I was scared that one day I would have to protect myself and the lives of my children. He told me I would never see my eldest son again, and I haven’t seen him in four years, his threat came true.

‘When I go to bed I feel that I’m already dead or am unable to leave, or help my children to be happy, to be together. The man is killing me psychologically, emotionally. He would like to kill me physically. He has already tried to kill his ex-wife.

‘My second relationship, my partner said “Elena, I can’t pay these bills for lawyers, this is crazy, just give the child away”. I said, “Peter, this is sexual abuse”. He said, “I know”. He said, “sorry Elena, I do love you but with all these problems I don’t want you. I don’t want your children”.’

Nor has the New Zealand Government come to the rescue of the children. The Immigration Service has cancelled Elena’s right to stay in New Zealand, and wants to deport her, if necessary without her children who would be left in the care of Paul Copeland.

‘My application for residence was cancelled because I was born in Khazakstan. It’s another nonsense. Khazakstan is part of Russia and it appears on my birth certificate, but my parents took me out of Khazakstan when I was two months old, so Immigration Service asked me for a police certificate from Khazakstan, and it’s impossible to get! It’s so stupid.’

It wouldn’t be the first time New Zealand’s bureaucrats have been called stupid.

With Copeland continuing to stalk her and harass the men helping her, Elena found herself increasingly isolated. No money to keep up her fight to stay in New Zealand long enough to get the non-removal order lifted, no money to buy groceries. No work permit. She turned, reluctantly, to prostitution to pay the bills.
‘I hated it. I did not want to do. But how else could I survive? How else could I provide?’

Today, she sells other services.

‘My flatmates discover my cooking and cleaning is so good, they pay me to do all of it.’

With the help of a Russian-speaking lawyer, she’s launched a renewed bid to secure New Zealand residency and, as at the time of writing, she has temporarily wrested back control of her children from Paul Copeland and is helping heal their scars.

‘I got Nicholai back two weeks ago,’ she murmurs. ‘He wakes at night, but I think he will get better. I love him. Once I didn’t want to stay in New Zealand. Now I do.’

The most stunning aspect of the whole story, however, is why on earth a man with Paul Copeland’s psychiatric history, a sexual predator who raped his own sister and tried to murder his wife with a bow and arrow, a man who enjoyed killing cats in the cruellest ways he could find – why such a man would be allowed anywhere near a child by New Zealand’s social workers and psychologists.

For Elena, that is the biggest mystery of all.

*All names except those of Elena Reznikova and Paul Copeland have been changed for privacy purposes

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:19 PM | Comments (0)

FOOD: Dec 05, AU Edition

iStock_000000700250Large.jpgSEEING RED
Eli Jameson celebrates summer and separates the ripe tomatoes from the hoary chestnuts

Hear the word ‘tomatoes’, and what do you think of? Spaghetti piled high and swimming in marinara sauce? Garden vines hanging heavy with ripe, red fruit? Or perhaps something less pleasant – childhood memories of supermarket tomatoes as tasteless as their plastic packaging, sliced into a salad of sweaty iceberg lettuce and gloppy dressing the colour of jaundice?

To me, tomatoes always mean one thing: summer. Regular readers of this column are familiar with my fierce dislike of the colder months, and so the arrival of abundant and cheap tomatoes in the markets is always a cause for celebration. For the foreseeable future, there will always be a truss of tomatoes, still on the vine, on the kitchen bench ready to go on sandwiches, be tossed into some dish or other, or simply sliced on a plate and sprinkled with sea salt and a little extra-virgin olive oil – the ultimate simple summer salad – perhaps with basil and a torn-up ball of buffalo mozzarella.

But what’s the story with tomatoes? Are they fruits or vegetables? Were they really once thought to be poisonous, until someone ate a bucket of them on the steps of a small-town U.S. courthouse? There are a lot of strange stories that have grown up around tomatoes, and I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve fallen for some of them (the courthouse steps one, especially) myself over the years.

Tomatoes, according to the invaluable Wikipedia, are a fruit, at least scientifically speaking: they are the ovary, together with the seeds, of a flowering plant. However, because tomatoes are generally served as a main dish and not as desert, they are legally classified – at least in the United States – as a vegetable. The issue even went so far as the US Supreme Court, which in the 1893 case of Nix v. Hedden declared tomatoes as vegetables because of their popular use (along with cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas), a decision which had huge tariff implications at the time. For a good time, invite a botanist and a lawyer along to your local’s next trivia night, and make sure the emcee asks the fruit-or-vegetable question.

And then there is the tale of the brave Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson, who is said to have eaten of a basket of tomatoes on the steps of the Salem, New Jersey, courthouse in 1820 to turn the tide of public opinion and show that the fruit was not the least bit dangerous to anyone who didn’t suffer severe hearburn. Alas, the much-loved Johnson tale is not true: the American television network CBS popularized the story in a 1949 episode of You Are There, in which an actor playing the colonel declared to an assembled throng of two thousand, “What are you afraid of? Being poisoned? Well I’m not, and I’ll show you fools that these things are good to eat!”

As it turns out, tomatoes were grown and eaten in North America since at least 1710; not only were they not thought of as poisonous, but Puritans of the time even eschewed the things, fearing their alleged aphrodisiac properties! That great gourmand and man of the world Thomas Jefferson himself purchased the fruit (not yet classified a veggie by the courts) to serve at state dinners in 1806, and from 1809 onwards planted them at his estate, Monticello. Jefferson’s cousin Mary Randolph, author of the extremely influential 19th century cookbook, The Virginia Housewife, contained some 17 tomato recipes for such exotic dishes including gazpacho and gumbo.

Today, tomatoes are not only not considered dangerous, but downright healthful, especially as they are rich in the cancer-preventing antioxidant lycopene. Bloody Mary, anyone?

160.jpgChilled Tomato Soup

This is one of my favourite mid-summer soups, adapted from Charlie Palmer’s excellent cookbook, Great American Food. He suggests serving with toasted croutons with warm goat cheese and basil; I think that can get in the way of the clean tomatoey goodness of the soup. But try it – you may like it. In any case, this is a great dinner party starter course for the height of summer.

You’ll need:

About 8 large, ripe vine-ripened or truss
Some good extra-virgin olive oil;
1 finely chopped onion
½ cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Fresh basil leaves
500 ml sparkling mineral water
1 sachet
2 teaspoons Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
Good sea salt, like Maldon
Fresh-ground pepper

1. Peel, seed and chop the tomatoes; set aside. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large, heavy pan and sauté the onion, celery, garlic, and about 8 basil leaves – which should be torn in half as you toss them in. Lower the heat and continue to cook gently for about four minutes (you want the vegetables to soften but not pick up any colour), and add the tomatoes, sparkling water and sachet. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Take off heat and let rest for 30 minutes, then remove and discard the sachet.

2. Puree the mixture in a blender, working in batches if necessary, until the soup is quite smooth. Pour through a fine sieve and strain into a non-reactive bowl – giving the solids a push if need be to extract liquid. Add a couple of teaspoons of Lea & Perrins (just enough to bring out the tomato flavour; not enough to make it obvious) and your salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until icy cold – at least four hours.

3. Serve in chilled, flat soup bowls, with a spring of basil for garnish.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:15 PM | Comments (0)

CAN GRANT HACKETT?: Apr 05, AU Edition

art for hackett.jpg

Fully recovered from the health woes that plagued him during last year’s Olympics, and now breathing down the neck of the world’s fastest man, Grant Hackett speaks to JENI PAYNE about motivation in the pool, the challenges ahead of him and the people this sporting icon most admires

A chronic chest infection would have most of us under the covers, sipping lemony drinks, begging leave of work and looking for sympathy. But Grant Hackett competed with one in the most grueling race of the swimming schedule at the pinnacle of athletic achievement, and won. In fact, last European summer, Hackett defended his Olympic 1500m freestyle title and also won silver medals in the 400m freestyle and the 4x200m freestyle relay.

He has now won the 2000 and 2004 Olympic titles, the 1998, 2001, and 2003 world championships, the 1998 and 2002 Commonwealth Games titles, and the 1997, 1999, and 2002 Pan Pacific Championships.

With the Athens win under his belt, Hackett has joined an elite group of just five Aussies to have defended an Olympic title: Dawn Fraser (1956-60-64), Murray Rose (1956-60), Kieren Perkins (1992-96), and Ian Thorpe (2000-04).

He currently owns the world record, and now sits alongside Perkins and Salnikov as one of the best 1500m swimmers in history.

The two weeks in Athens might have taken a tremendous toll on his health, but the 24-year old doesn’t want to dwell on it.

“I didn’t feel fantastic, but I just pushed myself to the absolute limit. I wanted to win so badly. That’s part of what we do. It’s a test of character. Sometimes you’ve just got to do the job regardless of the situation or how you feel, and I did that.”

Mentally recovered from the hype and heroism of the Games, Hackett says he is “just taking it easy over the next few months”, concentrating on mending his health and spending the time pre-World Championships (Montreal, July 2005) on the promotional circuit, speaking at sponsor events, lunches and charity functions – as well as catching up with friends and family and watching DVDs.

Then there’s the Law degree at Bond University. (Most 20-somethings would find that enough in itself!)

“It has to be flexible, since I miss a lot of weeks with training and travel and I’m probably teaching myself about 50% of the time, but I think it’s important to be educated. The brain has to be as fit as the body. Plus it’s my dose of normality to go to uni.”

When swimming is no longer first on his list of priorities, Hackett says he would be keen to open the other doors afforded him by his high profile and dedication to studies.

“I don’t want to be a lawyer, but I wouldn’t mind getting into business, property development and the media.” But for now, it’s home and family. “My family is everything to me. I tend to travel in small chunks of between one and five weeks, but I miss them a lot. Even if they come with me, I’d be lucky to see them once, since the team is locked off for security. But it helps to know they’re there.”

For a busy man, Hackett is generous with his time. One of the first places this Miami Dolphins Swim Club member visited on his return was the pool. In all likelihood still jet-lagged, and partied-out from the celebrations, he popped in to show the kids his medals.

“It was weird. I swim with these kids every single day of my life, then, suddenly after the Games, I was a different person. It won’t be long though when I’m back in the pool and it’s all back to normal.”
Loving the Gold Coast climate and lifestyle, Hackett says there’s nowhere else he’d rather live and train and surmises that the environment could have something to do with the success of
local athletes.

“We have so much sunshine. It’s sunny and warm for about eight months of the year so mentally and physically it’s a lot easier to train compared to the pool at the AIS in Canberra, where it can be minus-six in the mornings.

“We have great facilities and, logistically, it’s easy to get around.”
To unwind, Hackett likes nothing better than to jet ski with mates, watch movies and just hang out. Does public attention ever get in the way of just hanging out?

“People do come up to me and say ‘congratulations’ or whatever, but that’s part of the package and you accept that.”

What’s harder to accept is the intrusion by the media.

SPORTS-OLY-SWIMMING-26-KRT.jpg“Being in the public eye, your relationships come under scrutiny as does your behaviour. Your private life is under pressure and magazines are constantly speculating . . . but the positives, enjoying what I do and the rewards of swimming, far outweigh the negatives. Sometimes you’re in a bad mood and the attention gets a bit much, but you just have to be courteous.”

Regular folk, and even the majority of athletes, would be envious of the streamlined Hackett. Not only does he have no worries about losing form over his rest period, he actually has to eat more to make sure he doesn’t lose too much weight.

“Yeah, I have to try and put on some pounds. I guess when you’re training hard you eat a lot. When I stop, I don’t feel as hungry.”
A return to the rigours of training looms and, at his peak, Hackett will put in around five to seven hours per day, six days a week.

Most people would marvel at the fortitude required to “chase the black line” day in, day out but, Hackett says, the motivation never ceases. “I’m always looking for new challenges. There are small stepping stones along the way to major events and milestones and, because I’m passionate about it, every day I can take it to a new level.
“When you’ve finished training, there’s a great sense of achievement. It takes discipline and that gives you a certain pride. Then there’s the fitness, which feels good too.”

Heralded as the second-fastest man in history by commentators at the Telstra World Championships, Hackett mounted the blocks at Sydney Olympic Park two weeks ago without the threat of his rival, team-mate and fastest man, Ian Thorpe, who’s on a one year break in the lead up to Beijing. “Whether Ian is here or not, there is certainly interest in the sport, he said to media at the event. “There’s a lot of talented athletes on the team. The team is respected as a whole, not a one-man band.”

In 100% health, and content with his 11 weeks of preparation after the Athens Games, Hackett swam the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m at the titles over the eight days of competition, claiming first-place in Thorpe’s pet event, the 400m, and guaranteeing a berth in the team for the World Championships in Montreal in July. The next three years in the lead up to China’s Olympic Games, Hackett is looking forward to minimal travel: “The Commonwealth Games are in Melbourne in 2006, then the World Championships in 2007 are there too. I’m glad there won’t be so much travel. ”Like most athletes, other than a few precious days off during events, even in the most exotic of locations, Hackett’s time is spent between the hotel and the pool. He describes travel for competition in terms of “being a waiter in a fabulous restaurant”. “One day I’ll be able to eat there and enjoy it, but for now . . .”

Acknowledged as an Australian icon, even at such a young age, Hackett is quick to nominate his own list of those he admires most. “My mum and dad, and coach Dennis Cottrell,” he says without hesitation. “You can look up to other sportspeople and high profile people for their achievements, but I don’t really know them. “We are all products of our environments. My family is where I look to for my strength. Their values and attitudes have contributed most to my success. They’re the people that have influenced me most.”As for Beijing, will he be there? “Definitely!” Will he contest the 400m against Thorpe? “Wait and see. I’m going to take it as it comes. My priority is the 1500m.” It’s likely he’s thinking ahead to 2008 when he has the chance to become the first man in history to win three successive 1500m Olympic titles. No doubt, the entire country will rise before dawn to watch him try.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:08 PM | Comments (0)

HEALTH: Dec 05, AU Edition

Sleep is still barely understood; sleepwalking, even less so.
A look into the bizarre world of people who go bump in the night

So I sleepwalked the other night. I didn’t go far, just down the hall to the boys’ room and lay down on the floor and continued my snooze in the more traditional, horizontal manner. Obviously, I don’t recall this, nor do I recall my confused husband coming in to fetch me. Why should I? After all, I was asleep. Sleepwalking is a common form of parasomnia, which one sufferer described as “things that go bump in the night.” Sleep, as we all know, can be tricky.

More than 15% of children are thought to suffer from parasomnias of some sort, and this is considered normal childhood behavior. Most young children will occasionally talk or call out in their sleep (“no...I won’t share her…she’s mine!” being my favorite overheard phrase, confirming that a sleeping toddler is, indeed, a toddler).

In adults, parasomnias are less common, affecting something around 6% of the population. They are sometimes a sign that there is something more seriously wrong with the sufferer, and therefore should be investigated. In adults, parasomnias are most commonly linked to drinking, taking drugs, stress and sleep deprivation. I may have been under the influence of at least one of the above when I took my sleepwalk – I’ll leave it to you to guess which.

A parasomnia, according to the psychiatric bible, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or as it is known in the business, “DSM – IV”), is a “disorder of arousal, partial arousal, or sleep stage transition. It represents an episodic disorder in sleep (such as sleepwalking) rather than a disorder of sleep or wakefulness per se. May be induced or exacerbated by sleep; not a dyssomnia.” The dysomnias, by way of contrast, are a separate category of sleep ddisorder and are difficulties sleeping or waking up: sleep apnoea, narcolepsy, and that old chestnut, insomnia.

Parasomnias are things like teeth grinding, sleep talking, sleep terrors and REM sleep behaviour disorder (RSBD). This lattermost disorder is particularly scary as it is characterized by twitching and other violent movements in the sufferer’s sleep that can cause injury. And researchers have been discovering that parasomnias are in fact more common than previously thought.

As I said, sleep is tricky; it is complex and poorly understood. It’s tough to define sleep, for which reason most definitions of sleep become ridiculous. It’s some kind of important state that all animals go into where we loose consciousness to varying degrees and undergo characteristic changes to our brain waves. Dreaming is undertaken, although not always remembered, and is widely thought to be the brains system for going through junk it has picked up or is sorting through and making sense of it. A good analogy is a computer hard drive, which needs its old junk and temporary files it accumulates with use cleared out from time to time. The interpretation of dreams (paging Dr Freud) is a fun parlour game, but is like any form of insight; you need to have some in order to have more. If you keep dreaming of suitcases and hats and the cigar chompers keep telling you it’s about sex, this means you are spending too much time with the cigar chompers. The exception, obviously, is if while you are awake you believe that a dream of ripe fruit heralds a pregnancy. If everyone in your culture believes this, such a dream is a likely sign you are thinking about this. Even your own private subconscious is sociologically programmed and subject to peer pressure.

Sleepwalking can of course be incredibly dangerous: The person is not awake but they can take in some information. They can see their coffee table and walk around it, even if the sleeping brain “sees” a lake or a dragon or what have you in the place of the real object. For this reason, if you lock a sleepwalker in the house, their sleeping brain can find still find the keys if their awake brain can. Sadly, sleepwalkers have been killed walking on highways, and even behind the wheels of their cars. The latter has occurred on only a few documented occasions, and tended to lead to sleep studies being carried out, largely for medico-legal reasons.

“Sexomnia” has been studied in recent years, and looks set to be officially listed as a disorder. Last year the first and only mass-market book on the phenomena was published (Sleepsex: Uncovered by Dr. Michael Mangan, available from or as an e-book from Unlike sleepwalking, sufferers are unlikely to wake up in a strange place if they have had sex in their sleep, and it occurs at a different stage of sleep to sleep walking. “Sexsomnia” is not necessarily a problem for all people who have it, although it can cause serious relationship problems, and in some cases the person may be violent. Consent therefore becomes an issue if only one party is awake. The awake person may be assaulted by the sleeper, or conversely, may believe the sleeper to be awake, and take advantage of the situation. It’s a medico-legal minefield, and raises difficult situations: if you were raped by someone who was asleep would you want them to be punished? How does one prove that someone with a sleep disorder that can be scientifically established was, nonetheless, asleep at the time?

Sleepwalking was first raised as a defense to murder in the United States in 1846, and the killer, Albert Tirrell, got off, after nearly decapitating a high-class prostitute he was obsessed with and wanted to marry. (She refused; after killing her, he then set fire to the brothel in which she worked). But he had a known history of sleepwalking, and denied all knowledge of the murder and was acquitted. Today, 150 years later, the science would not have been able to help shed much more light on things: while Tirrell could have been sent to a sleep lab to see if he had a parasomnia, there would still be know way of knowing whether he was asleep at the time of the murder and arson.

Sleep is imbued with meaning in our culture – probably in all cultures. It’s a pretty weird thing that we animals do; the only evolutionary advantage sleep is thought to confer is that perhaps there are times that being out cold is safer than running around hunting. Perhaps. It’s not the best theory, really. Just another pitiful dumb human attempt to understand why we need to sleep. We don’t understand much about sleep, except that we do need it; we get very messed up without it, and rats who are prevented from sleeping get sick and die.

For which reason, of course, we need to sleep. Practical advice: Don’t go to bed until you’re tired; face the alarm clock to the wall; if you can’t sleep get up until you are really tired; and if you read before bed don’t do it in bed. Bed is only for activities you can do with the light off. Yawn. I think I’m done.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:05 PM | Comments (0)

THE DEATH OF TAXES: Apr 05, AU Edition


As pressure builds on the Howard Government to cut taxes, IAN WISHART reports on moves in the United States that go one giant leap further, and which may yet impact on Australians: the possible abolition of income tax

There is nothing as certain, so the old joke goes, as death and taxes. But by the end of this decade, it could be income tax itself lying dead and buried in the graveyard of bright ideas that outlived their use-by dates. If it seems like a bold, even ludicrous, idea, that may be more reflective of the way we’ve been conditioned to think about income tax than the merits of the prediction.

At the heart of it all lies a “rolling thunder”-style tax revolt that’s been quietly sweeping across America since the 1990s. In places as diverse as local community halls, Washington, D.C. thinktanks, and plush resort hotels in offshore tropical tax havens, people have been quietly gathering to discuss ways of removing America’s cumbersome Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from their lives. Many of those meetings were instigated by so-called tax rebels who argued that the US Tax Code was invalid, and that people had a constitutional right, backed up by old Supreme Court judgments, not to pay the federal income tax.

Significantly, these tax rebels also took their arguments to Australians and New Zealanders in the late 1990s with a series of offshore “tax seminars” held in exotic locations like Vanuatu and Fiji. While the legal niceties of the Australasian tax codes were different to those in the US, the principles were the same and a tax revolt briefly flowered here in Australia as a result. But in America it actually took root.

Whether the arguments were right or wrong turns out to be immaterial, because as of 2005 the tax revolt has placed so much pressure on the US tax system that it’s cracking at the seams.

Just a few short weeks ago, President George W. Bush put the abolition of income tax firmly on his domestic agenda this term, with a special advisory panel due to report its recommendations by July 31st. And later in March, US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan added his voice to what is now a cacophony of calls for income tax to go, saying that individuals should be taxed on what they consume rather than what they earn.

You heard it right.

It is an issue that has barely touched the radar of most media in Australia or New Zealand, but the implications for Australasia if the United States abolishes income tax are huge. And the federal government in Canberra knows it.

Investigate understands Treasurer Peter Costello and his officials are keeping a close eye on developments in the US because – just like the old Vietnam War red peril theory – if one domino falls then other Western democracies may have no choice but to follow suit.

Most Australians born here probably cannot remember a time when income tax was not part of their lives, yet income tax is actually a very modern invention. While kings had the power to levy special taxes on ordinary citizens to pay the bills during times of war, income taxes were not permitted – and in fact had been expressly outlawed from the time of the Magna Carta. Contrary to popular belief, taxes on commoners were extremely uncommon throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Britain was the first major nation to impose an income tax, between 1799 and 1816, to fund the Napoleonic Wars with France. The US Government imposed a special income tax in 1864 to fund the Civil War effort, but under the US Constitution the tax had to be repealed in 1872.

Having seen the benefits of a national tax on citizens, however, the governments of both Britain and America realised they could do so much more if they could find a way to permanently collect income taxes. In 1874, just two years after the US tax was repealed after the Civil War, Britain introduced sweeping legislation, including a partial repeal of aspects of the Magna Carta, and gave itself the power to impose a permanent income tax.

New Zealand and Australia followed soon after. News headlines from the time disclose considerable public disquiet about the idea, and warnings it would be “the thin end of the wedge”. But in pioneer lands like Australia and New Zealand where roads and infrastructure needed building, the income tax pill was largely swallowed whole by the public. Still, there were many who felt the tax burden, at one and a half pennies in the pound (a tax rate of about 0.75% in today’s terms), was onerous. Just what those first Australians would make of today’s 50 per cent tax rates is unclear, but history appears to have borne out the warnings that giving a government the power to levy income taxes – even at 0.75% – was indeed the thin end of the wedge.

Not to be outdone by the Mother Country and the Antipodes, US officials reintroduced a federal income tax in 1894, but it was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. So in 1913, amid much lobbying from merchant bankers who saw the chance to make lots of money, the US reintroduced income tax by way of the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It is this document that lies at the heart of the US tax revolt after revelations in the past ten years that the Sixteenth appears never to have been properly ratified by the required number of state governments. Therefore, argue the protestors, income tax remains illegal under the US Constitution.

Either way, the protests over the past five years have seen hundreds of thousands – some commentators say it is into the millions – of American individuals and small businesses refusing to file their tax returns, and tying the IRS up in red tape and court challenges every step of the way. Adding insult to injury for the IRS, it has lost some cases in front of unsympathetic juries – fueling the perception that income tax might indeed be “voluntary” in the US.

In August 2001, Investigate was the first media organization in the southern hemisphere to report that the recently-elected President Bush was taking on board the protests and considering abolishing the federal income tax:

“The growing rebellion against income tax that’s sweeping New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Canada has just taken a major step towards achieving its goal: US President George Bush has confirmed he is considering the complete abolition of income tax in the United States.

“In a front page story in The New York Times on July 16, Bush’s chief economic advisor Lawrence Lindsey confirmed that the White House has adopted a Ground Zero approach to tax reform, and that all issues, including the scrapping of income and company tax altogether, are “in the discussion stage.”

“ ‘The facts are that one needs a broad consensus before moving on fundamental tax reform,’ Lindsey said. ‘The process of building that consensus takes time. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start the process’.

“If the White House does push ahead with ditching the century-old income tax, the newspaper reports a likely replacement is either a flat sales tax of between 20 and 30 percent, or an Australasian-style GST.

“Pressure’s been building in the United States for nearly a decade for the US Government to come clean on the constitutional status of the income tax. Lawyers, congress researchers and even former Internal Revenue Service agents are now saying the income tax is illegal - that its introduction in 1913 was not properly ratified by the states of the Union, and that ordinary Americans cannot be forced to pay it.
“The White House has also been sandwiched in a pincer movement between competing groups of tax rebels. One of them, the FairTax organisation, has congressional, bipartisan support and its cause is being championed by Congressman John Linder (R-Georgia) and Congressman Collin Peterson, (D-Minnesota).

“The two men, with a number of other politicians behind them, have introduced legislation to Congress clearing the way for the abolition of income tax in favour of the so-called FairTax.”

That was August 2001. A month later, the attacks on the World Trade Center took Bush’s attention away from domestic issues and agendas like the FairTax. But the Linder/Peterson proposal to totally reform America’s, and possibly the West’s, taxation system didn’t disappear.

Over the past four years, largely through an email blitz fired out from their website, the Congressmen have marshaled the support of more than half a million Americans and a large number of current and former politicians and business leaders. And, fresh from introducing democracy to the Middle East, George W. Bush now has the chance for a domestic legacy as well: becoming known to future historians as the President who killed income tax.

Bush can’t stand for re-election in 2008, so this term he’s largely unfettered by political considerations. And Bush has shown he’s a man who likes to pursue big visions.

Which is why the FairTax may return to centrestage this year.
In the form now being proposed in the US Congress, the FairTax would see the federal income tax abolished, the IRS disestablished, and the introduction of a 23% flat-rate sales tax imposed at the final point of sale to end users. Nothing particularly new in the idea of a sales tax, you might say. And critics of sales taxes are usually quick to suggest they are unfair to the low paid, because people on low incomes spend most if not all of their income on the necessities of life and have no way of avoiding a sales tax, while the wealthy can save their money or invest it and not be taxed.

It’s a simplistic argument at the best of times – the low paid haven’t generally been able to avoid income tax either – but in the case of the FairTax the argument fails at an even more basic level.

Recognising the need to ease the burden on the poor, the FairTax provides for regular tax rebates to every single household in America, so that a family of four on the poverty line, with a household income of just US$23,000 a year, will effectively pay zero tax. Under that $23,000 threshold, the tax system actually works in reverse, so that families under the poverty line will not only get all their tax back, they’ll get as much as 23% more of their income back on top of that. In real terms, say the FairTax proponents, for a family of four on a household income of US$45,000, the effective tax rate will be only 11.5%, and at $90,000 it is still only 17.2%, rising to 20% by the time you’re earning $180,000.

Compare that to Australia.

According to the ATO, a family of four in Sydney with a household income of $45,000 will be pinged almost 24% income tax on that sum, more than double the amount of tax an American family will be likely to pay under the FairTax. And over here, Australians still pay consumption taxes on top of the income tax.

President Bush has instructed a nine-member panel of
experts to conduct a series of public hearings on the idea of abolishing income tax, and they’re due to report back to the White House this coming July.

At one of the hearings in March, US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan threw his not-inconsiderable influence behind the idea of scrapping income tax and replacing it with a consumption tax. “As you know, many economists believe that a consumption tax would be best from the perspective of promoting economic growth – particularly if one were designing a tax system from scratch,” argues Greenspan, “because a consumption tax is likely to encourage saving and capital formation.”

A recent OECD report noted Australia’s marginal income tax rates are among the highest in the world. If America does indeed get rid of income tax less than a hundred years after it was introduced, it will undermine the philosophical foundations of income tax in other western democracies like Australia and New Zealand, where it has crept from 0.75 cents in the dollar when it was introduced to 48 cents in the dollar today.

Not only are the US, Australian and New Zealand tax codes huge and unwieldy – running to thousands of pages and requiring teams of Queens Counsel to interpret – the wastage in the collection system is also massive.

Most tax money taken from private citizens gets eaten by the large government bureaucracies set up to administer the system. In the US, the people behind the FairTax are quietly confident their proposal will get the green light from the White House, though it will still have to get through a string of congressional and senate committees and public hearings.

“Can you imagine,” writes one advocate, “what Joe Public will think when he wakes up one morning, five years from now, opens his paycheck and finds the government has taken nothing in tax? Suddenly, Joe is in charge of his own financial destiny.”

For Australians who, like Treasurer Peter Costello, will be watching how this plays out in the next few months, it won’t be too hard to do the math: simply punch your gross annual salary into a calculator, divide it by 52, and that’s how much take home cash you’d get every week. How much tax you’d pay would be determined entirely by how much you bought that week.

Is this kind of tax reform possible in Australia? Maybe. Just ask the people who questioned the possibility of democracy in the Middle East.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:59 PM | Comments (0)

Money: Apr 05, AU Edition

money1_shopping mall.jpgTHE CREDIT CARD TRAP
They’ve done it again, says Peter Higgins: banks have figured out a new set of tricks to turn your plastic into their gold

You’ve just finished paying off the overseas holiday and the Christmas presents but the credit card bills don’t quite add up. Why? The answer is simple, but the rationale is complex. The burgeoning credit card debt that we Australians are accumulating is due not just to interest rates but also to fees.

You see, the banks have divided us into two groups of credit card users. If you are the sort that pays off your credit card in stages – possibly even just paying the minimum amount each month – then you have been the bank’s friend for a long time. After all, you’ve been using your credit card as one of the most expensive forms of bank loan allowed by law.

On the other hand, there are those of us who pay off our credit cards in full each month and, until recently, we have evaded the clutches of our “service provider”. Up until recently using a credit card this way has been smart because it effectively used someone else’s money for cash flow while avoiding compound interest rates of 18.5% or more.
It did not take our financial institutions and credit providers long to work all this out, and now there are a number of new fees that are designed to catch we ‘cash flow card’ users. A good way to illustrate this is to recount a real-life story that occurred to someone I know who went on holiday over Christmas.

Mr J had not purchased a ‘good’ camera for around twenty years and decided that he wanted one to suit his needs for the next twenty. He researched many cameras and eventually decided on a state-of-the-art modern digital camera. Mr J spent three months doing his homework – not just on the technology, but also on prices. On an overseas trip in Japan he haggled, negotiated, and did lots of walking. Indeed, he spent almost a full day figuring out where to buy a camera for the best price. Finally, after all this time and effort he purchased his dream camera. Mr J was pleased with all this effort because, at the end of the day, he calculated that he saved about $500.

But he paid for his purchase using a credit card, and his decision on which card to use was based on loyalty: loyalty to his bank, NAB, which he has been with for many years. Feeling pleased with himself he goes off and takes many memorable photographs with his new toy.

Yet a few weeks later when he receives his statement, he sees that the camera cost him almost $500 more than he expected. There is nothing on the statement to explain this – not even an exchange rate listed. Not even the original amount in local currency is stated, just the Australian dollar equivalent. He quickly emails his bank asking, “Why is this so?” The answer comes in a fashion that is becoming increasingly more common these days, a mixture of bureaucracy and arrogance mingled with a tincture of attitude that says,“This would be a great job if it weren’t for the customers”.

The bank’s response is that Mr J should have read his 52-page booklet of terms and conditions. If he had, he would have known that the bank chooses when to exchange currencies, and therefore what
exchange rate is used. And of course there is that fee of 1.5% (soon to rise to 2.5%) on the full Australian dollar equivalent.

Mr J sends more emails asking what all this means in normal language and could he have a breakdown of the figures that relate to his specific case. At time of writing, these exchanges have been continuing for over three months and he still does not have his answer. He does have more quotes from the corporate complaint manual about ‘escalating this to the next level’, but no real answers.

There are three lessons in Mr J’s story for all of us. The first is: Don’t choose a credit card on loyalty: it is misguided and not reciprocated. Choose a card that has the lowest fees, or no fees, and ask them before you go overseas when they will exchange currencies.
Secondly, force yourself to read the voluminous pages of legal gobbledygook that are sent to you. Whilst they may not make
immediate sense, these documents are what your financial institution uses to make all their decisions, and these decisions are not always in your best interests.

Finally, if you do have a legitimate complaint, do not expect a response that places customer service as the motivating drive of your credit provider. In fact, you will need to be persistent and have a hide as thick as a Credit Card Terms and Conditions Manual.

When I look at Mr J’s story, it seems to me that fees for international transactions come awfully close to double or even triple dipping. There is a fee for the privilege of using their credit card and buying something with it. On top of that, the credit provider chooses the most advantageous rate of exchange for them. Then, finally, they charge interest on everything.

So are financial institutions punishing loyalty? Have the financial institutions that we have stuck with and stood by for years traded customer service for profits? It’s an old chestnut I know, but it seems more relevant to ask the question now than ever before. Let’s look at a list of fees that are being charged by some financial institutions:

* Annual card fee from $25 to $99 per year.
* Late payment fee from $10 to $35 per month, and in some case per fortnight as well as interest repayments.
* International transaction fees – 1.5% (most banks will soon raise this to 2.5%) of the purchase amount.
* Cash advance fees by some banks including Westpac and ANZ 1.5% of amount of cash advance.
* Annual reward scheme fee - $15 up to $69 per year.
* Exceeding your credit limit - $4 to $25.
* Issuing a secondary card - $4 to $40.
* Refusal of periodical payment - $4 to $10.
* Replacing a lost card - $4 to $30.
* Duplicate statements – $4 to $10.

All in all, you could be up for hundreds or even thousands of dollars in fees each year if you don’t manage your credit card correctly.

We are all in the hands of credit providers but credit card usage can still be a smart way to buy goods and services. The playing field has changed dramatically over the past twelve months – and it is still changing – but as long as you know the rules you can still benefit financially. When you finish reading this magazine do an audit on your current credit card situation. How many do you have? What types? What financial institutions are providing you with credit cards? What rates are you being charged? What fees? Do you have an interest-free period? When you have completed your audit do some research on the Web. It should take no longer than thirty minutes. What available cards are better than yours? Which ones have the best rates or no fees? After your audit and research cut up your existing cards and send them back to your credit provider. If nothing else, it will empower you and make you feel great. Apply for no more than three credit cards from the providers that you have researched. Within three months, you will be in a better position than you are now. Remember that you are in control of your finances; our financial institutions are not in control of what we do. You will not only be better off financially if you regain or improve your control, but you will also feel empowered and revitalised. Go for it, you have nothing to lose except your Terms and Conditions Manuals. See you around the traps.


1. If you want to avoid paying interest on your credit purchases you must pay the full outstanding balance on your statement by the due date. If you don’t, you will be charged interest right back to the date of purchase on each item – this means you will forfeit the interest-free period on those purchases. What’s worse is that you must pay the balance off in full before you will get another interest-free period on any purchases. And if you don’t pay your balance off in full you will be charged interest on your full balance for that month and not what is left after your payment.

2. Say no to cash advances! Why? I am a bit surprised to hear that people still don’t realise that interest-free periods do not apply to cash advances. In fact, with the majority of credit providers you pay interest from the time you withdraw the money regardless of when you pay it off.

3. See if you are entitled to relationship partner discounts. If you have multiple accounts at your financial institution they may discount your credit card fees because of your other
accounts. If you have a mortgage and your bank secures all its accounts against your house, why are you still paying an interest rate as if your credit card is an unsecured high-risk loan for the bank? It is worth the ask.

4. Don’t be conned by marketing tricks. These are developed to appeal to your emotions. Reduced introductory interest rates and reward programs may not suit your financial situation or your spending pattens. Decide on a card based on logic and understand you purchase behaviours.

5. Know what you want.

6. Do you really want a reward program? These may seem attractive, but most institutions charge a hefty fee to be a member of their reward program. Have you also noticed that you now need more points to claim the same reward compared to a few years ago. In many cases you have to spend more to accumulate the same number of points compared to a few years ago. In most circumstances people are better off using a credit card with a low rate and little or no fees rather than joining a ‘loyalty’ program that sometimes costs more than it rewards.

7. Always pay off more than the minimum. Many credit providers are only asking for payments of 1.5% per month, which can be a trap because it is likely that you will take 2 years or more to pay off your purchase and accumulated interest bill.

8. Consolidate debt. If you owe large amounts on many cards it is in your best interest to consolidate debt and put all outstanding monies onto one loan, preferably a personal loan rather than a credit card, because the rates will be almost half that of most credit cards.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:48 PM | Comments (0)

TECHNOLOGY: Dec 05, AU Edition

What makes a storm a killer? Scientists are searching for the early warning signs, say Jeremy Manier and E.A. Torrier

The two hurricanes that roared into the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year were identical in nearly every way. Born in the same region near Haiti, the storms called Katrina and Rita reached monster status in the warm waters off Florida and swirled toward major cities along the coast.

But before they struck, the two hurricanes underwent subtly different yet fateful changes deep within them that resulted in Katrina reaching land with considerably more destructive power – and a far greater death toll – than Rita would nearly four weeks later.

That divergence is stirring ardent debate among experts eager to build better theories of what separates less intense storms from those that become historic killers. The battle of ideas will help shape how experts study hurricanes and prepare for the next big one.

One explanation in this case may be the movement of deep, warm currents in the Gulf that fed Katrina but slipped to the side of Rita days before that storm reached land. Some researchers believe a Gulf system called the loop current played a major role in the evolution of Katrina and Rita.

During both hurricanes, government scientists deployed a battery of experimental tools to measure deep ocean temperatures and currents where the storms passed through the Gulf. Experts hope the new information will improve forecasters’ ability to predict the intensity of future hurricanes.

“We’re looking at what we did with these storms as a poster child for techniques we might use in the future to get better observations on the interaction between hurricanes and the ocean”, said Peter Black, a meteorologist with the Hurricane Research Division of the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Hurricanes are among the most complex weather systems that bedevil meteorologists, in part because of the peculiar way the storms can change their nearby ocean environment, which in turn can affect the power of the hurricane.

One way to think of a hurricane is as a vast engine that converts ocean heat – its fuel – into high winds. A shortage of fuel or other glitches in the engine can reduce the storm’s strength.

An example of this is when a hurricane’s winds churn up cold water from the ocean depths, robbing the storm of the warm water it needs to sustain high winds. Deep, warm currents such as the loop current in the Gulf can reduce that effect. They provide more fuel for the storm to rage without picking up colder water from below.

Both Katrina and Rita strengthened as they passed over the loop current, experts said. Katrina headed straight from the current to the shore, where it unleashed destruction across a heavily populated region. Rita was just as powerful at its peak, but it took longer to reach shore after it moved off the deep current, losing energy along the way.

“Rita peaked early”, said Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It was on its way out when it hit the coast.”

Researchers have recognized the importance of that interaction between hurricanes and the ocean only in the last 10 years or so, Emanuel said. In fact, some experts at the National Hurricane Center in Miami still doubt that deep temperatures played a decisive role in building up the two storms.

“That stuff about the loop current – it doesn’t hold water, so to speak”, said Stacy Stewart, a hurricane specialist at the Hurricane Center. “You have to have a lot of other conditions right to allow the storm to extract energy from the water.”

She pointed out that other factors also affected Rita’s decline, including a lack of moisture in the hurricane’s middle levels. As it hit land, the storm also was undergoing eye wall replacement, a poorly understood phenomenon that happens in cycles with the most powerful hurricanes and often saps their strength.

Katrina and Rita were unusual from the start, in that they were “Bahama busters” that took shape in the Caribbean rather than off the coast of Africa, which spawns most of the storms that become hurricanes. Hugh Willoughby, a hurricane researcher at Florida International University, said the wind shear – a change in wind speed at different altitudes – was too great for large storms to develop near Africa.

That wasn’t the case in the Caribbean, where Katrina and Rita formed within a few hundred miles of each other.

“They were almost like twins,” Willoughby said.

At 11 a.m. on Aug. 24, the National Hurricane Center announced the formation of Tropical Depression 12, the storm that became Katrina, about 200 miles southeast of Miami.

Actually, it was an energizing small squall that started off the coast of Africa but never formed into a storm because of the wind shear. Some of the formation came from a different tropical depression that ran out of gas.

Tropical Depression 14 was spotted on Sept. 17 at 11 p.m., about 500 miles southeast of Miami. This was the birth of Rita.

The storms were nourished by the exceptionally warm waters of the Atlantic, a pattern since 1995. But in both cases, high pressure across much of the United States blocked the storms from turning northward, a trend for much of the last two years. Instead, they headed west over the open ocean.

“Both would have turned otherwise,” said Keith Blackwell, a hurricane researcher at the University of South Alabama, “and we would have heard from them no more.”

In the Gulf of Mexico, both hurricanes moved over the loop current, which moves around the Gulf and exits south of Florida into the Atlantic, becoming part of the Gulf Stream current.

Black of NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division said the data his team gathered this year should help improve computer models used to predict hurricane intensity. Forecasting intensity remains a glaring weak spot in hurricane models, experts say, even as the ability to anticipate where a hurricane will go has improved greatly.

The workhorses of Black’s research are small, disposable probes called AXBT devices, which are dropped from planes and measure the temperature of the ocean at depths up to 1,000 feet. Black got his probes as Navy surplus, leftover from Cold War efforts to track enemy submarines using sonar.

He said it would help attempts to gauge hurricane intensity if the US government would buy more temperature probes and make their deployment a routine part of hurricane tracking.

“We’re just about out of these hand-me-downs,” Black said.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:41 PM | Comments (0)

SCIENCE: Dec 05, AU Edition

scienceart.jpgTO HELL AND BACK
Was life on early Earth as bad as all that? And what does
that mean for life on other planets? Robert S. Boyd reports

A scientific quest called “Mission to Really Early Earth” has unearthed evidence that our planet had an ocean, a continent and an atmosphere suitable for life half a billion years earlier than previously thought.

Since the requirements for life – land, water and air – were established so soon on Earth, some scientists say the finding makes it more likely that living creatures could also have arisen on other worlds.

“If it happened so early on Earth, why couldn’t it happen elsewhere in the universe as well?” said Stephen Mojzsis, a geoscientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

According to the traditional view of its infancy, Earth formed between 4.5 and 4.6 billion years ago from a disk of dust, rocks and gas circling the sun.

It then took 700 million years for the young planet to settle down and cool off enough for the first microscopic organisms to appear around 3.8 billion years ago, paleontologists believed.

This early period was named the Hadean (“hellish”) Eon, because it was presumed to be totally hostile to life. During much of that time, the planet was bombarded by giant meteorites like those that blasted the craters on the moon. Any early life would have been wiped out.

Now, however, researchers report evidence that conditions were much more benign when the Earth was only 150 million to 200 million years old – three to four per cent of its present age.

“The stage was set 4.3 billion years ago for life to emerge on Earth”, Mojzsis told a conference on astrobiology – the study of life on other worlds – here last month.

“There was probably already in place an atmosphere, an ocean and a stable crust within about 200 million years of the Earth’s formation”, said Mojzsis, chairman of the conference. “Water was gushing out of the Earth.”

This picture of a comfortably warm, wet young world “contrasts with the hot, violent environment envisioned for our young planet by most researchers”, Bruce Watson, a geochemist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., declared in a recent online edition of the journal Science. “It opens up the possibility that life got a very early foothold.”

“If there was surface water, then life presumably could exist”, said Don Brownlee, an astronomer at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“We don’t know when life began on Earth,” cautioned Mark Harrison, an Australian geoscientist who was at the astrobiology conference. “But it could have emerged as early as 4.3 billion years ago. Within 200 million years of the Earth’s formation, all of the conditions for life on Earth appear to have been met.”

Two hundred million years sounds like an awfully long time, but it’s relatively brief on the geologic scale.

For comparison, suppose Earth’s 4.5 billion-year-old lifespan ws shrunk to one year, with 1 January marking the beginning and 31 December representing today. By that yardstick, life could have begun on Earth as early as 12 January. Under the older, traditional view, it would have taken until 26 February to get started.

The evidence for a very young habitable Earth consists of a collection of tiny crystals called zircons dug up in the Jack Hills of Western Australia over the last 20 years. New technology pioneered by Mojzsis and John Valley, a geochemist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has made it possible to determine how and when they formed.

For example, zircons contain uranium, which decays at a known rate. The Jack Hills zircons also enclose bits of shale, a sedimentary rock that must have previously been created by erosion by liquid water. In addition, the zircons contain a rare type of “heavy” oxygen that forms only in the presence of water.

“These zircons tell us that they melted from an earlier rock that had been to the Earth’s surface and interacted with cold water”, Mojzsis said. “There is no other known way to account for that heavy oxygen.”

Sonia Esperanca, an earth scientist at the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C., called the Jack Hills zircons “time capsules of processes happening in the earliest times in Earth’s history.”

“The estimated ages for the oldest evidence of an early crust have been getting progressively older as geologists seek out and analyze new samples”, said Douglas Erwin, a paleontologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., who isn’t involved in the Mission to Really Early Earth. Erwin agreed that primitive microorganisms could have existed that long ago. “But I expect it will be very difficult to get any real evidence on the matter”, he said in an e-mail message.

“It’s certainly possible that life arose before the great bombardment, then was extinguished and arose again afterward, but we have no evidence either way”, said University of Washington geochemist Roger Buick in an e-mail message.

Another note of skepticism comes from Samuel Bowring, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “It’s a bit of a leap from a few grains of zircon to continents and oceans,” Bowring said, but he acknowledged that “it is consistent with most people’s view of early planetary evolution.”

The Mission to Really Early Earth is supported by the National Science Foundation and NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, which studies the origin of life on our planet and its possible existence on other heavenly bodies.

“We’re beginning to get the tools to test the Hadean world”, said Mojzsis. “Hell wasn’t as bad as we thought.”

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:21 PM | Comments (0)

DIARY OF A CABBIE : Nov 05, AU Edition

Women, alcohol, and friends who don’t look outfor each other are a potentially tragic mix

The other night an all-too-rare thing happened in the cab: two young women separated from their group of girlfriends near Darling Harbour and climbed in the back, and by the time we reached the Harbour Bridge one passenger received a text message from another of their group.

Nothing unique about that, except that the passenger then called her friend back, quizzing her: ‘Did you get a cab? Are you in it now? Who with? Why? Well, I’m not hanging up until you get home. Why? You’re drunk in a taxi by yourself, stupid – I don’t care if it’s a short trip…’ And so on.

This was a commendable example of drinking companions looking out for each other; all too often cabbies are shanghaied to act as chaperones by default to vulnerable and intoxicated young women. My passenger continued: ‘Are you paying the fare now? Okay, I’ll hang up when you’re inside...No, only when I hear Jeremy’s voice’.

After she had hung up I quizzed the women over the phone call. ‘Do you guys often receive unwanted advances from cabbies?’, I asked.

‘Yes, all the time’, they responded. I wondered if they were exaggerating. ‘Then why don’t we hear more of it in the press or from police reports?’ Without hesitation they said, ‘Probably because the girls are so drunk they don’t recall it next morning’.

‘Where did you learn to use that phone technique – at school or from your parents?’. ‘Neither’, they said, ‘it’s just common sense’. Unfortunately, their ‘common sense’ is all too often uncommon.

Earlier this year, I carried three young women from King Street Wharf to Surry Hills, via Potts Point. It was early morning as the Potts Point resident decided to grab a kebab in Kings Cross, then walk home. As I pulled over by the famous Coke sign, my headlights illuminated a tough looking bloke standing on the kerb, nonchalantly urinating against a barrier.

Yet seeing this, my passengers allowed their drunken friend to alight the cab alone. She staggered off into the strung-out, drunken throng to make her own way home. That she wore what a Sydney Muslim cleric recently deemed ‘rape attire’ only made my alarm bells ring louder.
Before departing I instinctively hesitated, questioning her friends, ‘Are you sure she’s going to be alright? She’s really pissed.’ ‘Yes’, they replied, ‘it’s only a short walk to her apartment – she does it all the time’.

Last Friday, just before midnight, a drunken school-aged girl dressed as a high-class hooker in fishnets, stiletto heels, and miniskirt was poured into the back seat by two thirty-something female companions.
The two older women gave me the girl’s address, then deserted her. She was now effectively my problem. Sure enough, within two blocks she was barfing into a plastic bag, and after stopping to allow her to finish vomiting into the gutter, she recovered enough to direct me to her suburb. Barely.

On arrival, she had me stop in a street lined on one side by a park. She flicked me a $20 note and before I could thank her for the $5 tip, she had disappeared into the dark and deserted park. At this point I could do nothing for her, and I reluctantly pulled away.

I’m almost certain a day will come when on commencing work, I’ll be responding to a common taxi broadcast: ANY DRIVER CARRY FEMALE – 2AM TODAY, OXFORD STREET TO (SUBURB) – CONTACT SGT. JONES, POLICE H.Q.
Some girls just don’t get it.

Read more of Adrian the Cabbie at

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:18 PM | Comments (0)

FINANCE: Dec 05, AU Edition

New breeds of community banks are getting customers out of queues and into high interest, says Todd Parker

Australians love to hate their banks. It’s a constant staple of talk-back radio; one of the most popular Aussie films of all time was a ludicrous piece of work about a bank that drives small businesses under and (it is implied) kills their children for sport; and who hasn’t seen a battered ute with a kelpie cross in the back and a bumper sticker reading, “Which bank? They’re all bastards!”

Of course, one of the golden rules of capitalism is that when the big guys aren’t able to get it done any more, smaller and more nimble competitors, using new technology, are able to step into the service gap, win over new customers, and make the old establishment institutions take notice. That sort of revolution is quietly taking place in Australia’s banking sector, where a new breed of entrepreneur is taking advantage of the widespread dissatisfaction created when the Australia’s big four banks closed local branches – in some cases leaving whole suburbs and towns without a physical branch office. One new banking network has, in partnership with local communities, set up over a hundred “community banks” across the country, and as part of that has pledged to plow money and profits back into local areas – something that the big banks, with their eyes on maximizing yield for shareholders, pay lip service to in principle but in practice are loathe to do.
But in the Internet age, there is no reason why one even needs to go into a physical branch to do one’s banking. Australia is more advanced than many other countries when it comes to electronic payments, and on-line banks are able to compete on both fees and interest rates by avoiding the expense of brick-and-mortar operations all together. One bank that is making great strides in this area is Community First Credit Union, which is powering a new online financial services operation called Easy Street Financial Services ( Based in Sydney, Easy Street has over $500 million in assets and some 57,000 members – and because it doesn’t need to pay dividends to shareholders, that means that it can offer higher rates of interest and better service.

The company’s EasySavings plan, for example, offers a 5.65% interest rate, 24/7 internet banking, and (unlike the big guys) no fixed terms, minimum deposit, or bank fees. In fact, the EasySavings account has been awarded “Best paying E-account” by Money magazine three years in a row.

Account holders can also take out personal loans up to $35,000 simply by applying online, with no application fee or early repayment penalties and convenient redraw facilities.

And for those looking to invest long term, or just have a little flutter on the share market, their EasyBroking service provides flat-fee $26 trades on the ASX and a full suite of on-line trading tools. So far, Easy Street’s business model seems to be working. Unlike big banks that have to entice customers with “bonus interest” schemes and other incentives to stay with them, Easy Street “feels loyalty is built by providing our customers with consistently good returns on their at call savings.

“What consumers will need to be aware of with a bonus interest offer is that at the conclusion, they could end up with an interest rate that is below what’s on offer in the marketplace”, says spokesperson Kerry McMorrow.

“We have found our funds to be sticky and enjoy a retention rate of approximately 95%”.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:17 PM | Comments (0)

THE ROUGH LIFE: Nov 05, AU Edition

At Pacific Dunes, Eli Jameson plays a round – and pulls out his sand wedge

Port Stephens, NSW – Getting a chance to drive up the coast and play a round of golf is always a special treat. And it’s a double treat if it takes place on a weekday. And if the golf is to be played not on a well-worn public course but a top-flight resort facility, well, that’s just the icing on the cake.

Pacific Dunes Golf Club, just outside Newcastle on the New South Wales coast (a two-and-a-half hour drive from the Sydney CBD), is a brand-new course and residential development managed by Troon Golf, the world’s premier golf management company. The centerpiece of the facility, of course, is its 18 championship holes, but there is plenty more on offer, including clubhouse facilities and, for those who don’t want to go home, an eventual 450 homes – many lining the rich, green fairways.

My playing partner and I arrived from Sydney at around lunchtime, and were immediately greeted by helpful attendants who had us sitting in a buggy with our bags strapped on the back in a matter of moments. From there, it was off to the first tee: a confidence-building 329-metre par 4.

Now here’s something you should know: I am not one of those golfers who confidently whips out his driver and hammers a Titleist 280 metres straight down the fairway from every teebox. My drives are a bit more, shall we say, anemic, and I don’t get to play anywhere near as often as I’d like to keep my handicap in fighting trim. So I was pleased to see that the course opens gently, even if there was water snaking through the middle of this fairway (as it does on many, if not most, holes here). Even better, I cleared this water hazard – my balls normally head for the drink faster than Ted Kennedy at last call – with my shot landing comfortably on the happy side of the river, just a short iron into the green.

‘Great’, I thought. ‘Not playing for the past two months obviously hasn’t hurt my game any’.

Oh, there is one more thing to keep in mind. There are dozens and dozens of bunkers scattered around this course, both along fairways and ‘protecting’ the greens. (I’ve always loved that turn of phrase) And even if I never found water once, I think I found the sand on just about every hole, which led my playing partner to give me the new, rather undignified nickname of ‘Sandy’.

That’s the thing about Pacific Dunes: it’s a challenging course that doesn’t reward sheer brute force, but rather clever and careful shotmaking ability and course management. To really play the course well, one should have a really strong idea of how far every iron in his or her bag will fly, and be able to judge distances with precision. Like a game of chess, players have to think not just about the shot they are playing, but their next move or two down the track, with a close eye on what the course is looking to throw up in response.

(This more cerebral sort of game is also more democratic; since it doesn’t need to be overpowered, but rather out-thought, it can be enjoyed by just about anyone with a good knowledge of their own individual game).

Taking an easy bogey on the first hole, we moved on to the second, and the third, which was a particularly sneaky, 297-metre par 4: again, not daunting in terms of length, but with fairway bunkers and a false-fronted green, a serious challenge.

Moving through the front nine, my playing partner and I began to get the sense of the course, and the architects behind it have definitely given it a real personality, like an intellectual friend who one doesn’t always understand, but who is never short of challenging ideas.

Rounding the clubhouse turn we stopped for lunch, and had a pair of hot gourmet sandwiches washed down with a couple of beers, and headed off to attack the rest of the course. Along the back nine, we saw what will be much of the heart of this new facility, the properties that line the course and will form the basis of the Pacific Dunes community, and mused about what fun it would be to get out of our inner-city Victorian shotgun shacks and adopt a live-to-play, play-to-live lifestyle, though we quickly came back to Earth when we realized that our non-golfing wives might take an exception to this.
Having gotten the rhythm of the course over the front nine, the back end of the course is a real challenge – as if the landscaping itself is saying, ‘you think you know me, but you don’t’. The 10th features a creek that runs all the way along the left side of the hole; the 11th has water that cruelly runs around the front of the green, making what would normally be a simple approach shot a fraught and tense gamble.

If one is short, one is wet; otherwise, you’re in the woods.

Again: risk and reward, and the requirement to be disciplined.
Another striking thing about Pacific Dunes, at least for the city-dweller, is the way in which it is designed in such close sympathy with nature. The sheer number and variety of birds on the course had me wishing I had brought my field guide, and by the time we hit the 14th, we had to be careful not of hitting other golfers, but the kangaroo families that suddenly emerged out of no where for their afternoon tea.

As we pulled in from our round, twilight was approaching and about a dozen locals were sitting around a couple of picnic tables, finishing their wines after a long day out on the course. It wasn’t clear whether they were all old friends, or just comrades thrown together by their love of the crazy game of golf. They were having a great time, though, and one thing was for sure: they’ll be back.
As will I.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:12 PM | Comments (0)

MUSIC: Nov 05, AU Edition

An old dog learns new tricks. Plus: deep in the heart of Texas (and England)

MusicCatalog_P_Paul Anka - Rock Swings_Paul Anka - Rock Swings.jpgPaul Anka
‘Rock Swings’, Verve
3 stars

Paul Anka is another pop cat seeking new life in jazz. Known for such hits as ‘(You’re) Having My Baby’, the 63-year-old creates a curious amalgam, performing rock and pop songs of the 1980s and 1990s with big-band backing.

The effect is kind of cool. Anka shows a decent high range that conjures up Bobby Darin and generates some dramatic heat on Pet Shop Boys’ ‘It’s a Sin.’ He manages to swing through Michael Jackson’s ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ with reasonable sass and elan.

But brassy horns get tiring. Also, it’s odd to hear a tune like Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello’ done as a Vegas revue number. Eric Clapton’s ‘Tears in Heaven’ is interminable, and the dark world of Kurt Cobain’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is better left untouched by the Anka treatment.
Reviewed by Karl Stark

GeorgeStrait-SomewhereDownInTexas.jpgGeorge Strait
‘Somewhere Down in Texas’, MCA
3 stars

When you think of Texas, you think big, bold and freewheeling. Leave it to George Strait to deliver ‘Texas’, a tribute to his home state, and make it restrained and reflective. But that’s Strait: always tasteful and classy.

Mr. Consistency’s new album is typically solid, but not in the top rank of his considerable ouevre. ‘Somewhere Down in Texas’ has excellent moments, including the ‘Good News, Bad News’ duet with Lee Ann Womack and the on-the-verge-of-a-breakup lament ‘Ready for the End of the World.’ But the ballad-heavy set could use some of the energy Strait usually provides with shuffles and western swing – in other words, some of the feel he rhapsodizes about in the opening cut, ‘If the Whole World Was a Honky Tonk.’
Reviewed by Nick Cristiano

10979016_155_155.jpegEliza Carthy & The Ratcatchers
‘Rough Music’, Topic Records
4 stars

Carthy is a revelation for the verve with which she is reinvigorating traditional English folk music. Fiddles, violas, guitars, melodeons and hurdy-gurdies swirl and rise. The lyrics sing of dashing highwaymen and gallant hussars. But there’s nothing somber or fussy about ‘Rough Music.’

Lovers of Celtic music will savor deft instrumentals such as ‘Upside Down.’ But Carthy’s voice, a combination of Judy Collins and Alison Moyet, continues to improve. Her signal accomplishment is that she manages to make a quaintly old-fashioned style sound so fresh.
Reviewed by David Hiltbrand

wrap-greencards.jpgThe Greencards
‘Weather and Water’, Dualtone
3 stars

The Greencards are an Austin, Texas, bluegrass trio of immigrants – not from Mexico, but west and east. Singer and bassist Carol Young (who’s got a bit of Alison Krauss in her cool, clear voice) and mandolin/bouzouki player Kym Warner are Aussies; fiddler Eamon McLoughlin is a Brit.

‘Weather and Water’ shows that the trio (which just finished a trek opening for Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson) is up to speed on dexterous, quick-picking instrumental breakdowns such as ‘Marty’s Kitchen.’ But it the lovely, soul-searching ballads, including ‘Who You Are,’ and the depressive, Warner-sung ‘Long Way Down’ that mark them as real comers.
Reviewed by Dan DeLuca

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:00 PM | Comments (0)

MOVIES: Nov 05, AU Edition

Skip the fairy tales this month – the best flicks on offer this summer are all about nitty-gritty reality

IDT.jpgInside Deep Throat
Released: Nov 10, 2005
Rated: R
5 stars

Deep Throat cost $25,000 to film and grossed over $600 million worldwide, making it the most profitable movie of all time. Inside Deep Throat is an amazing documentary about the impact the original porno film had on society then and now.

I’m not much of a porno girl so I’d never seen Deep Throat, but I must admit I was intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. And I was pleased I could watch it without having to don a trench coat or furtively avoid eye contact with my local video store employee.

The doco shows a small amount of the original skin flick – including the infamous scene from which the film takes its name. Sure I was shocked (Linda Lovelace obviously had no gag reflex), but what shocked me more was how the film became such a social and political football.
Released in America in 1972, it hit a social nerve. Sex, culture, morality and politics all collided – to explosive effect. This doco uses new and old interviews and newsreel footage to show the protests, arrests and general hoo-ha.

So I was keen to meet the main players and see what they made of all the fuss thirty years on. My favourite scene is when you see footage of the director, Gerard Damiano, as his younger self, a former hairdresser and sleazy swinger. Then it cuts to him now, a shuffling “Harry Highpants” retiree in Florida.

There is a sad side of this doco. Its star Linda Lovelace became an anti-porn crusader and died in a car accident in 2002, broke and bitter. Her co-star Harry Reems, who nearly went to jail on a trumped-up obscenity charge for taking part in the film, is now a recovering alcoholic and born-again Christian who sells real estate.

Why weren’t they all rolling in cash? Damiano made the film with mob money, so when it became a hit the mob threatened to break his legs if he didn’t sign over royalty rights. So basically no-one who worked on, or starred in, Deep Throat ever saw the rewards of the most successful movie in box office history.

Now that’s shocking.

C105-26.jpgKiss Kiss Bang Bang
Released: Nov 17, 2005
Rated: MA
5 stars

She opened the door with nothing on but the radio.’ I love that cool gumshoe detective speak. And Kiss Kiss Bang Bang oozes with it. From the opening titles you know this is going to be a sassy, pop-culture romp of a film. And it doesn’t disappoint. It stars Robert Downey Jr (who despite all his drug problems is a very talented actor) as Harry Lockhart, a crook who escapes the cops by pretending he’s an actor auditioning for a role of a detective. Stick with me, it’s worth it.

Needless to say he’s a hit with the film producers, gets the job and is whisked off to Hollywood. There the producers hook him up with private eye ‘Gay’ Perry (played by a fat and hilariously camp Val Kilmer) to tutor Harry in the ways of actual detective work. So Harry becomes a crook-playing-an-actor-impersonating-a-detective. Gay Perry sums it up: ‘This isn’t good cop, bad cop. This is New Yorker and fag.’

Add a sub-plot of an aspiring actress Harmony Faith Lane (played by the vixen-like Michelle Monaghan) who’s obsessed with pulp fiction detective novels and whose sister has been murdered. You know you’re in for a high action, schlocky, fun time.

Downey is suitably jaded as the film’s narrator and often speaks to camera with a snarky aside: ‘Look I’m not going to end this film 17 times… I saw Lord of the Rings.’ And rather than fight for screen time, Downey and Kilmer work perfectly together.

And with lines like this how can you lose? ‘She poured herself into a seamless dress. From the look of it she spilled some.’

bg1.jpgThe Brothers Grimm
Released: Nov 24, 2005
Rated: M
1 star

Once upon a time there was a movie about fairytales. It was really, really bad. The end. I wish that was all I had to write about this dog’s breakfast. You see, The Brothers Grimm is not actually about the Grimm fairytales but elements of the fairytales are in it. Confused? Wait it, gets worse.

In The Brothers Grimm, Will and Jake, (played equally appallingly by Matt Damon and Heath Ledger) are travelling con artists. They journey from village to village in Germany, staging phony magic and claiming it is real. But then they come across a clichéd village where the woods are indeed magic; the cursed trees move and a sinister tower sits in the middle of it. Inside is the Mirror Queen (the breath-takingly beautiful but under-utilized Monica Bellucci). A hideous witch who needs to sacrifice twelve maidens to restore her beauty during an eclipse (a beauty routine I’m thinking of adopting!)
So even though they don’t believe in magic the brothers have to save the maidens and break the spell. Whatever! And to make things more confusing, there are fairytale references and characters, like Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood and even the Gingerbread Man. They all seem shoe-horned into an already dodgy script.

It was a mess. Very Grimm indeed.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 09:48 PM | Comments (0)

DVDs: Nov 05, AU Edition

James Fletcher on all the latest options for the small-screen cinema

JL.jpgDeath of a Beatle – Collector’s Edition DVD
4 stars

On December 8 this year it will have been 25 years since former Beatle John Lennon was maliciously shot and killed outside New York’s Dakota apartment block. While Lennon lay bleeding to death on the pavement at the feet of his wife Yoko Ono, his assassin Mark David Chapman simply stood watching, oddly fascinated by what he had done and with no comprehension of the global shockwave his actions had created.

The special edition DVD, Death of a Beatle, chronicles Lennon’s rise to fame from his early days in Liverpool to his time in New York City – and at the same time contrasts this ascent with Chapman’s eventual surrender to the delusional schizophrenia which drove his hatred and jealousy of celebrities.

Drawing heavily on the work of journalist Jack Jones, best known as the author of the Lennon/Chapman biography Take Me Down, the film utilizes audio from an interview between Jones and Chapman recorded in 2000. Much of Chapman’s dialogue, delivered in a reflective monosyllabic monologue is captivating, revealing the simplistic and tragic individual behind a façade of insanity.

However, any sympathy for Chapman is quickly diffused as the producers begin a chain of interviews, ranging from the police officers who attended the crime scene to Lennon’s friends and colleagues – including early Beatles member Pete Best, Live Aid promoter Harvey Goldsmith, and assorted media personalities who effectively reinforce the shock and void that was felt in the wake of Chapman’s crime.
Released as a two-disc set complete with limited edition packaging, the DVD features additional interview footage with police detectives.

Also included is an extensive conversation with Andy Peebles who recalls his time spent with Lennon in his final days and Jack Jones who, having extensively interviewed Chapman over the space of 20 years, offers his own unique insight into the motivations and mentality of Chapman on the night of the shooting. An image gallery comprised of Chapman’s bizarre hotel possessions, biographies and a trailer gallery complete a DVD release that will appeal to both Beatles fans and true crime connoisseurs alike.

i7dvdart1.jpgGirl in the Mirror: A Portrait of Carol Jerrems
5 stars

Carol Jerrems may not be a common household name, but her extensive portfolio of work on Australian counter-culture throughout the 1970s remains one of this countries most valuable artistic assets. Now, after the recent success of screenings at the Sydney, Melbourne, Wellington and Auckland film festivals, Girl in the Mirror: A Portrait of Carol Jerrems has found its way to DVD in record time.

Directed by Kathy Drayton and produced by Helen Bowden of Soft Fruit and Traveling Light fame, ‘Girl’ chronicles the works of Carol Jerrems, who spent much of her time immersed among the 1970’s avant-garde artist movement with the likes of filmmakers Paul Cox, Esben Storm and author Kate Grenville.

Although a celebration of Jerrems raw and effecting photographs, the film is also a fascinating look at how damaged and self-destructive her personality was, something that is reinforced by the numerous compelling interviews from past lovers, colleagues and subjects that grace the film.

This dark presence is further captured as director Kathy Drayton skillfully intercuts numerous striking prints, many created for the film from archives at the National Gallery of Australia, with entries from Jerrems personal journals, written after she was hospitalized by a rare form of blood cancer that eventually claimed her life at the age of 30.

The DVD offers a quality extras package featuring a rare interview with Jerrems done in 1978, with previously unseen interview footage from Paul Cox, Daddy Cool member Ross Hannaford and the two Melbourne youths who feature in Jerrems’ iconic photograph Vale Street. Also included is the short film Hanging About written and directed by Jerrems which deals with rape, a subject which is hinted at more than once in the film concerning Jerrems’ past.

Additionally a collection of 66 photographs not seen in the film offer a retrospective of Jerrems’ professional career while video clips from the music artist J. Walker, who composed the frenetic soundtrack, the films trailer, bios and a weblink gallery complete a remarkable package for a fascinating film which has deservedly caught strong attention for the upcoming awards season.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 09:29 PM | Comments (0)


mackley_opening spread.jpg

If Geoff Mackley were a cat, he’d almost surely have used up his quota of lives by now. As the world’s ultimate storm-chaser and subject of the Discovery Channel’s Dangerman series, Mackley is little short of a survival miracle…the kind of guy you’d stand next to in an electrical storm. Our CLARE SWINNEY caught up with the man whose images of natural disaster are spawning a new breed of reality media

He carries a video camera, a digital still camera, a satellite phone and a flame-proof suit. He has been pursued by Army helicopters; almost blasted off a mountaintop; and dangled over gaping chasms.
Little wonder, perhaps, that they call Geoff Mackley ‘Rambocam’. It began as a childhood hobby of taking photos of natural phenomena, and developed into an extraordinary career with a worldwide reputation of going where others fear to tread. Photographer, cameraman and reporter all rolled into one, Geoff Mackley carts his cameras and satellite phone virtually anywhere where a tsunami has struck, where a cyclone is perilously hovering, where a volcano is erupting, and he’ll often be the first one there. His priceless pictures, which appear in science books, newspapers, on TV and in magazines, have come to define how people throughout the world perceive natural disasters.

Not surprisingly, the activities of this intrepid photographer have been the focus of a mass of media attention. The Discovery Channel featured a series about him named Dangerman and he’s appeared in seventeen other TV shows. He has also been interviewed hundreds of times in the past for newspapers and questioned at length for his soon-to-be-released autobiography.

While making it clear he could never even conceive of tiring of his work, which is now all-consuming, he confesses to being pig-sick of being interviewed.

When we first contacted him on the 11th of February, he’d arrived home , half-an-hour earlier from Rarotonga, where he’d been taking photographs of damage to waterfront buildings caused by a 14-metre storm surge driven by Cyclone Meena. He suggests I call back that evening to enable him to have time to update his website,, amongst other things. Yet when I contact him at 8pm he sayshe is unavailable as he is monitoring emergency channels and intends to maintain this vigil over most of Saturday and Sunday.
“Try Valentine’s Day, 10am,” he offers.

But the 14th, at 10am, proves similarly fruitless; two menacing-looking cyclones, Olaf and Nancy, are brewing in the South Pacific region and Mackley is furiously poring over weather reports, trying to decide if he should go to Samoa, where one of the fierce storms is predicted to hit. Later in the day, I finally hit paydirt, nailing the elusive Mackley to the end of a landline, albeit that the interview becomes punctuated by the crackle of police scanners and emergency vehicle sirens in the background. You can’t, it seems, keep
Mackley down.

Mackley, 41, was born and raised in Christchurch; his mother a high school librarian and his father employed by a customs broker. It was his dad who first kindled Mackley’s interest in photographing
natural phenomena.

“Dad used to take me and my two younger brothers, Richard and Steven, on trips to take pictures of freak conditions, such as snowstorms and flooding. We were brought up with an interest in
nature. I started doing what I’m doing because I’m interested in nature and it evolved to what’s happening now. I never really expected that to happen. I never thought for a moment I’d be doing this,” he ruminates.

erta03 073.jpgIn the late 1980’s Mackley attended the University of Canterbury to study psychology, because it was “very interesting,” then dropped out after one-and-a-half years because he didn’t think it was going to be a meal ticket. Mackley had other ideas. Armed with predictions of bad weather, he would pack photographic gear into an old Land Rover and go to where a flood was anticipated, shooting it as it happened.

“Nobody was doing that then, as far as the media goes. It still amazes me that to a large extent the media don’t even do that now. You’d think that if a news event is about to happen, go there before it starts!”

In spite of a lack of formal training in photography and broadcasting (or arguably perhaps because of it), Mackley began working for Channel 10’s New Zealand affiliate news team in 1990, just after the new network’s establishment. He took pictures of natural disasters around the country for the six o’clock news and has been in the game ever since.

In September 1995 he got his first big international break. Majestic Mount Ruapehu was predicted to erupt again and he was waiting patiently nearby with his camera equipment. When the grey ash shot into the troposphere, his career as it is today was launched.

isabel3 042.jpg
Mackley’s pictures began appearing on TV news shows, in newspapers and in magazines throughout the world. The words “meal ticket” began flashing in his mind, and pretty soon Mackley was taking pictures of volcanos erupting overseas and selling them to a wide range of media. His humble intention in 1995 was to generate sufficient income in order to recover the cost of the trip and be able to go on another trip and then another…

Mackley is coy about how much he makes. He says he doesn’t want to boast.

“Two hundred thousand?” we press.

“It’s a bit more than that,” he defers – which in translation means it’s notably more. Almost as an apology for this bounty, Mackley seems keen to impress that he works very hard for what he earns. He evidently does. He seems completely focused. There’s no room in his life for marriage or children. He allocates much of his time off work to maintaining a high level of fitness. His 178-centimetre tall, 76-kilogram muscular form is probably in far better shape than bodies half his age. “I feel the same I did when I was twenty. I exercise everyday. If I go for a run, it’ll be for about three hours. I spend a lot of time running in the bush, I work out, do weights and martial arts,” he asserts. As his broadcast camera alone weighs seven kilograms and climbing mountainous terrain at any time is a possibility, being unwaveringly fit is an essential part of his life.
“I’m also careful to eat well. I don’t eat crap. If you put bad fuel in a car it doesn’t work properly. Well the body’s the same. It’s common sense,” says Mackley.

Currently about 90 percent of his time at work is spent monitoring what’s going on locally and around the world. He uses the Internet and radio for this. “That’s the key thing - that it’s 90 percent gathering information and 10 percent going out and after something,” he maintains.

Naturally, he’s amassed an extensive knowledge of the world’s weather patterns and now knows what’s likely to happen where and at any given time of the year. He says there’s no busiest time of year. It is invariably busy, as Mother Nature has different seasons around the world. The cyclone season is from November to April. Tornado season is in May and June. August through to November is
typhoon and hurricane season in the US and volcanoes may erupt at any time.

He says the Internet has been an invaluable source for information about weather and volcanic activity, enabling his career to flourish. He asserts: “The Internet is the beginning and end of everything! Because the Internet is completely free of boundaries. It’s instant. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’m doing now, ten years ago.”
The meteorology services worldwide put data on the Internet for everybody to see instantaneously. In addition, there’s an aviation website that provides updates immediately a volcano begins to erupt which Mackley watches “constantly,” so if a crater blows, he’ll be one of the first people to know about it. One can find links to his sources on his website.

The total cost of his equipment is in the vicinity of $100,000. He says that although it’s expensive, he expects it to last for years. He uses a satellite phone at disaster scenes, which is a necessary requirement in regions lacking a functioning infrastructure. This is used to transmit photos to a few news services, but at $16 a minute, it is uneconomical to send shots around like confetti.

Consequently, he prefers to put high-resolution versions of photographs on his website for newspapers and magazines to download - although this mode of dissemination comes at a cost too. He says that although the majority of media outlets publishing his work remunerate him without having to be prompted, there’s invariably a percentage which don’t. “It’s a pain in the backside really, because when you’re trying to sell still photos, many outfits will avoid paying for them if possible. You’ve always got to track down whether or not they’ve used it or not. Half the time they won’t bother to tell you and it’s not worth chasing up twenty or thirty newspapers just for $100 or whatever,” he complains.

An assortment of his best images can be viewed on his website. He uses a Nikon F90 digital camera for his still photos and says a good photo, as any news editor will tell you, has to tell a story in one shot, ideally with people in it or an object to give it scale.
He believes an image can be a wonderfully powerful tool to help people in need of aid. And one of the best moments of his 20-year career was being able to bring aid to the small island of Tikopia following the strongest cyclone ever in the South Pacific, a cyclone which thrashed villages with 350 kilometre per hour winds, completely destroying everything. His was an extraordinary story.

Cyclone Zoe, as it was named, hit Tikopia in the Solomon Islands in late December 2002, bringing gigantic waves with it.

“I’m not an expert, but I can see from a satellite map when an island is being hammered and it’d be common sense to go and see what’s happened to these people [about 1,200] who no one has heard from for four or five days,” he says. But the airforce and military, in both New Zealand and Australia, did nothing. So he decided to fly to Tikopia in a Cessna and discovered an island completely wrecked. Mackley, who was freelancing, photographed the devastation from the air only because it was impossible to land. This story was on the news that night and broadcast all around the world. He reported that the place looked as if it had been hit by an atomic bomb. He says matter-of-factly: “I suspect if I hadn’t gone there and brought it to everyone’s attention, it’s quite possible nothing would’ve been done. The New Zealand Airforce claimed that it was impossible to get there and then I got there in a Cessna.”

The day after his first report, someone from a French newspaper contacted him and asked him to get on the island anyway he could, at their cost.

Accordingly, he chartered a helicopter from Vanuatu. He filled it with packets of noodles and arrived on Tikopia to be the first outsider there since the cyclone hit and four to five days ahead of any official rescue mission. “I thought it was extraordinary,
because I wasn’t doing anything that I considered to be that out of the ordinary. I just went to the airport and asked ‘Who owns that Cessna? Is it possible to fly to Tikopia?’…‘Yes’…‘So let’s do it.’ And it was the same with the helicopter,” he asserts. Fortunately, there were no casualties, as the Tikopians were accustomed to cyclones and were sheltering in caves in their highlands.

Indeed, the camera is a very powerful tool when used correctly. Bringing images of chaos and destruction to the world is the direct cause of aid arriving – a prime example the aftermath of the tsunami. Mackley believes the amount of aid donated is directly related to the TV coverage – the two being very closely linked. “I don’t feel so bad filming misery and destruction if I know it’s going to bring some good. There are a number of Pacific Islands that are not that well off and they know full well who I am and they welcome me when a cyclone’s coming - because they know that film of the event getting on the news greatly enhances their prospects of getting aid,” he offers, seeming grateful to be of help.

Unfortunately, however, Mackley has found that providing images of destruction can be a two-edged sword. While he regards the camera as a means to elicit donations, sadly, time and time again, he witnesses huge damage being inflicted upon Pacific Island nations by grossly unbalanced news stories. The media, he accuses, ham up the bad part of an event, with little apparent thought of the consequences. He has seen all facets of the media exaggerate the devastation caused by storms; and resultant negative publicity has dissuaded hordes of tourists from journeying there.

“People believe what they see on the news – and they shouldn’t. A cyclone hits a small Pacific Island, [for instance Tonga]. It is highly reliant upon tourism and although the residents clean up the damage in a few days, because a few selective shots of flattened buildings are shown in the news, making it look as if everywhere is decimated and no mention is made that it was all cleaned up in a few days – because that’s a boring story, I’ve seen huge economic damage
being caused for 6 to 8 months,” he says, sounding annoyed. “Sure, there were a few damaged buildings, but that’s not indicative of what the whole country looks like. Often that’s how the media portray it. If there’s widespread destruction, I’m certainly going to say that, but if there isn’t, I don’t,” he says.

In addition, he says that the amount of misreporting about the Tikopian disaster was “incredible.” For the first four to five days, all the information that emanated from the island came only from Mackley. He was guarded about what he said, because he didn’t know if anyone had been killed or not. Thus, he reported that the damage was very bad and it would be amazing if there weren’t many casualties. Then to his shock, he heard stories from outfits such as CNN and the BBC about thousands of people being killed and the island being hit by tornadoes and tsunamis – events that in fact had not occurred. He contends: “It beggars belief where they get those things from in the first place, considering no one else was giving them information except me! So you can see why one would be cynical about the media.”

Although he rarely writes news stories that accompany his images, he’s occasionally a target for caustic reac-tions to them. “I’ve had people from airlines phone me and say: ‘Your story just cost us millions of dollars worth of business because hundreds of people cancelled their airfares minutes after your story went on,’” he offers.
The title ‘Dangerman,’ for the 2004 TV series made for the Discovery Channel about his activities, was a misnomer. His work is perfectly safe, he says. “I’m no closer than anyone else who drives a car to danger. When people drive down any two-lane stretch of rural road, they’re passing within half-a-metre of every other car, going at 80-100 kilometres an hour. I don’t have car-size rocks landing that close to me at volcanoes, ever! Yet people take it for granted that driving is not a risk, when in fact, it is. It’s more of a risk than what I do,” he offers, adding than when he climbs a volcano he’s in complete control of how close he gets “to the action” – unless of course the action gets close to him.

He has had close calls however, one in Mexico during a hurricane. “A building fell. I was underneath the balcony of the building and all the debris – about 50 tonnes of concrete – cascaded down about a metre away from me,” he says. Luckily, he was uninjured.

Another reminder of his mortality occurred in Indonesia. His taxi driver got lost en route to the railway station, so he missed the train he intended to catch, which subsequently collided head on with another train, which was then ploughed into by another train. He’d be dead had it not been for the taxi driver’s incompetence. Indeed, transport he says is his biggest risk, because every time he’s on a train, a bus or in a car, there’s a potential for serious injury, which is out of his control, but so far, injuries have not yet put him hospital: “In this job, you’re either alive or dead!” crows Mackley.

The name Mackley wanted to use for the Dangerman show was his nickname, Rambocam, but as copyright laws protect ‘Rambo’, it was not an option. So how did he acquire the wonderful nickname Rambocam?
This is another interesting story, demonstrating the extraordinary lengths Geoff Mackley will go to “get the shot”. It was in the mid-1990s, down on army land on New Zealand’s central North Island. The Department of Conservation was supposed to round up the region’s wild horses and attempt to sell them before killing the remainder. However, Mackley had become privy to information that a number of horses had already been killed and dumped in a big pit on army land, with no effort having been made to sell them.

“Of course, the army personnel wouldn’t let us in there. Several reporters and newspaper cameramen found out the location of this pit, and we decided we were going to storm in on army land and get pictures of the dead horses, come what may.”

heta1 040.jpgHe had a 4-wheel drive vehicle, while the others had cars. The cars became stuck in the mud, by which time the army was chasing them in a helicopter. Consequently, everyone piled into Mackley’s
all-terrain vehicle and he pressed on the accelerator in hot pursuit of the horse pit. Meanwhile, the army landed a helicopter on the road in front of them in an attempt to stall their progress, but ineffectually so.

“It was like a scene from a Die Hard movie.”

Later, Mackley’s vehicle became stuck in the ground, so all the journalists piled out and began running up the hill to the pit.
Because it was a steep hill, the army couldn’t land the helicopter and so hovered above, yelling for the group to stop – but this was falling on deaf ears, as this media mob knew the army didn’t have authority over them. The army then landed the chopper at the base of the hill and some personnel got out and ran up the hill, only to get back in the helicopter again.

“It was really quite comical. And then, in the end, another helicopter appeared with the police in it, and we did listen to them. We knew that while the army didn’t have any authority over us, the police did. So we left, but nothing happened to us. The police thought it was quite amusing that a group of reporters had managed to evade the army for 3 or 4 hours,” says Mackley, chuckling. From this point on, cameramen and reporters from TV3 and TVNZ called him “Rambocam” and the name stuck.

One of the best facets of being Mackley is that everyday is a new day.

“I don’t have the day-to-day pressures that everyone else has – just sitting in a traffic jam and doing the same boring job for years and they are sitting in the same traffic jam and haven’t really moved forward or achieved anything, and know full well what they’re doing tomorrow or the day after,” he says. In contrast, Geoff Mackley doesn’t know what he’s going to be doing from one day to the next. He could be on the other side of the world the next day, facing a volcano that’s erupting or standing in a region devastated by a tsunami. He doesn’t know, and that’s part of why he regards his life as so exceptional. On his website is the phrase: ‘Life is an incredible adventure or it’s nothing at all.’ He really believes it. “I live for each day. I intend to be doing this for as long as I can. I probably won’t be able to climb volcanoes forever, but I can certainly fly to the other side of the world, get in a rental car and drive to a hurricane, until I’m…who knows…there are people running marathons in their 80’s,” he says.

He has a reputation as one of the top photographers of natural disasters in the world – if not the top. Yet as the sirens on the police scanner in the background grow in their intensity, you can almost see Mackley beginning to twitch down the end of the phone. Always, there’s another story just around the corner, another mountain to climb. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 09:14 PM | Comments (0)

BOOKS: Mar 05, AU Edition

But Q & A answers plenty of questions

How We Are Hungry.jpgHOW WE ARE HUNGRY
By Dave Eggers
San Francisco. McSweeney’s Books 2004 ISBN: 1932416137
Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, has compiled a list of factors that compel people to write: ‘Free time. Technology. Material. Education. And disgust’.

People are working less and living longer; computers are everywhere, spell-check included; anything goes; we are constantly being told where to put our commas; there is so much bad writing out there and there’s the belief that people are making money from it. Disgust provokes an I can do better than that mentality that has created the hordes of story-telling punks now being published all over the place.

Dave Eggers is one of their leaders, and How We Are Hungry is a collection of fifteen of his short stories. But don’t let that put you off: short stories are changing again, and for the better. Traditional surprise endings à la Roald Dahl are on the rise, while academic experimentation is out. The market for these pieces is still slim with the number of stories being written greatly outweighing the number of people who are willing to read them. With everyone rushing off to writing workshops, this situation worsens daily.

In the New York Review of Books (October), Diane Johnson articulated a hope that the genre is making a come-back: ‘Readers and nonreaders alike are affected by the Internet and television, the byte, the sound bite, and the accelerating pace of life, and have only a short story’s worth of time to give to literature.’ Proof is still to follow. Last year, the publication of John Updike’s Early Stories: 1953-1975 received much positive attention but few sales considering his status. Annie Proulx’s new anthology Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 has not had shining reviews but surely it will sell.

Eggers’ first book, a memoir entitled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, came out four years ago and made him very famous. Since then he has enjoyed an escalating cult following. His magazine The Believer, his first novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity, and his publishing house, McSweeney’s, are all very popular. Eggers himself is well-liked, not least of all because he runs free writing labs for children in Brooklyn (Superhero Supply Co.) and San Franscico (Pirate Supply Store) offering one-on-one help
with homework.

So, how are we hungry? Each of the stories in this book answers this question directly. Self-conscious desperation is the key motivation. Mostly, Eggers’ human characters are a miserable lot. They collect cacti and count their lives away. They don’t want to be like they are, but are only momentarily allowed to transcend all that which debases. The urge to find a gigantic pair of tweezers and pluck Dave Eggers from Generation X and put him somewhere more meaningful (and less anxious) overwhelms.

The prognosis is better for dogs and the final story “After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned” is enjoyable:

When I run I can turn like I’m magic or something. I can turn like there wasn’t even a turn. I turn and I’m going so fast it’s like I was still going straight. Through the trees like a missile, through the trees I love to run with my claws reaching and grabbing so quickly like I’m taking everything.

This dog’s a Jack Kerouac but his name is Steven.
One of the most topical stories in How We Are Hungry is called “When They Learned to Yelp”. It is also one of the most annoying ones. Though he never makes this explicit, Eggers is at pains to define ‘yelp’ as what happened to young Americans upon witnessing the destruction of the Twin Towers. The word ‘yelp’ appears over thirty times within three pages and Eggers gets his message across just fine. Call me old fashioned, but I still believe a yelp is what happens when you accidentally tread on your puppy’s foot. He’s hijacked the wrong word and the experiment falls as flat as his character in “Climbing to the Window, Pretending to Dance”, who attempts suicide by jumping from a two-storey building.

It’s all the more annoying when Eggers’ writing falters because we have already looked through the windows of his enormous potential. In “Up The Mountain Coming Down Slowly” the writing is so good you don’t even notice it’s there. First published in McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, it’s about a woman who sets out to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro for reasons that elude her. This story is as full as any novel ever could be. And the ending… it’s no wonder Eggers is winning so many awards. A trophy room is in order if he intends to keep this up.

On the eve of her departure, Rita, from “Up the Mountain Coming Down Slowly”, visits the hotel bar and meets a stranger: ‘They talked about capital punishment, the stenographer comparing the stonings common to some Muslim regions with America’s lethal injections and electric chairs. Somehow the conversation was cheerful and relaxed.’

And yet somehow this book is actually quite funny, a most curious mix. There’s also lot of fooling around here and that’s probably why so many people think he’s pretentious. The posturing in How We Are Hungry is irritating; it distracts from the quality of the writing and the quality of thought. I’d give it an A for achievement and a D for effort and attitude – Eggers might consider this the perfect grade.
It’s unsettling that quite a few of these stories have been revised since their original publication in prestigious places like The Guardian and The New Yorker. One worries that the new ones are going to change too – so wouldn’t it be better to wait and read the final version? Old-fashioned, I would prefer Eggers’ words to stay put.

Q&A.jpgQ & A
By Vikas Swarup
London. Transworld Publishers 2005 ISBN: 0385608144. Distributed by Random House Australia. Paperback. $32.95.
“I have been arrested. For winning a quiz show.”
This is the eye-popping opening line of Vikas Swarup’s debut novel Q & A - a picaresque tale of an orphan who wins “Who Wants to be a Billionaire?” Unable to pay out the prize money, the organisers of the show conspire to have him arrested for cheating. Our hero is Ram Mohammad Thomas – a name part Hindu, part Muslim, part Christian, designed to please everyone.

Ram’s excellent adventures are presented to us in the form of a quiz show, with a chapter dedicated to each question. It’s a clever set-up and the novel takes full advantage of the quiz-show phenomenon, namely that the audience desperately wants the contestant
to win.

Ram is as smart and brave as his tales are tall. This boy is far from lucky but lucky coincidences are everywhere in Q & A. In an extraordinary act of generosity Ram gives away a huge amount of stolen money to save a dying boy he’s never met. The father of the dying boy gives him his business card which he puts in his top pocket. Moments later the police arrive to frisk him but he no longer has the stolen cash so he walks free. Further down the track, a question on Shakespeare pops up in the quiz and Ram doesn’t know the answer. He elects to use a ‘life boat’ but can’t think of anyone to call. While reaching into his pocket to find his lucky coin, his hand brushes against the business card. He reads it for the first time and miraculously it says, “Utpah Chatterjee, English Teacher, St John’s School, Agra” and then gives a phone number.

Though the story is related entirely from Ram’s point of view, Swarup bends the rules so that the limited perspective is never isolating or dull. Though we are encouraged to doubt Ram’s honesty, this is done in a genial sort of story-telling way: there’s no edgy postmodern uncertainty here. It’s a book that began as a good idea and will probably end up a movie.

Like any great ride at the fair this book succeeds in making you feel a bit sick and it would be irresponsible not to give it an MA rating. Q & A is a fictional story about fortune, both good and bad. Swarup is not remotely concerned with presenting a factual account of a street kid’s life. For example, the only time Ram complains of real hunger he reports, “even something as basic as a boiled egg, which I have never liked, makes me salivate”. I am not sure how basic a boiled egg is to a penniless orphan but to nit-pick is to miss the point. If reading is at all like traveling then Q & A is like riding fast across India on a motorcycle. The view is blurry but the journey is lots of fun.(Trivia: Turkey has just chopped another six zeros off its currency, so that country’s show, “Who Wants to Win Five Billion Turkish Lira” might finally get a catchier name.)

bkturn.jpgTHE TURNING
By Tim Winton
MacMillan Australia. ISBN: 0-330-42138-7. $46.
I have a confession to make. When I gave The Turning the dreaded flick test and came across a page (say p.294) of skinny unpunctuated dialogue, I thought “not more Hemingway please”, and closed it. A review that lavished it with praise prompted me to give it a second go. I’m very glad I did. When I actually read the first story, I was instantly hooked. Here was a story whose main characters I could easily identify with – dropouts on the run, adolescent losers in quest of the big city or, as it is entitled, “Big World”. It’s a warm but unsentimental account of friendship and doomed destiny that any man who has ever worked a dead end job and one morning got up before dawn, jumped in his rust bucket and muttered to himself, “I’m gettin’ outta here,” can identify with. Or, as Winton puts it ,”Monday morning everyone thinks we’re off to work as usual, but in ten minutes we’re out past the town limits and going like hell.” And somehow you sense hell is where they’re headed, though at that moment, the exhilaration of escape is all they know about.

Accordingly, Winton’s stories have a place of honour in what Irish short story writer Frank O’Connor identified as the central literary short story tradition – people dreaming of escape but not quite achieving it. The short story becomes a kind of mournful but touching parable that shows the trapped protagonists attempting a wild tangent of hopeful escape but essentially returning to where they first started, returning to where they belong. It’s a pessimism about overly quick change in our lives that seems acceptably lifelike in a short story but perhaps unbearable in a novel. In a way, the short story has permission to be more honest about life’s bitter containments than a novel.

The small town world of coastal West Australia is here fictionally embodied in a place called West Point. Gradually and subtly, it
becomes clear that some of the characters’ lives have intersected. After all, West Point isn’t that big a place. Melanie, for instance, who is a central character in “Abbreviation”, is alluded to in “Damaged Goods” as “a farm girl whose ring finger ended at the first joint”. The effect of this and other such intertextualities is to create a sociological mosaic, a village-sized cosmos that is warm and compelling.

As well as Frank O’Connor, Winton’s stories with their drifting losers, drunken wife beaters, abattoir workers, down at heel train catchers, rusting Kombi owners and small town trailer trash put me in mind of what Granta magazine identified twenty years ago as a then new trend in American writing – dirty realism. The principal star of that “group” was Raymond Carver, a modern master of the post-Hemingway story, complete minimalist unpunctuated dialogue, feelings of entrapment and social doom and, unintellectual characters with low social horizons. Like Hemingway, Carver’s work was spare to the point of boniness, and cool to cold in tone. Winton partakes of that heritage but has a warmer tone, a plusher vocabulary with apt colourful similes that sketch in the backdrops effectively. The easy but rich style, the expert characterisation and feeling of small town enclosure make a heady and exciting brew. As of now, Tim Winton is one of my favourite short story writers.

bkshot.jpgSHOTGUN CITY: Melbourne’s Gangland Killings
By Paul Anderson
Hardie Grant Egmont. ISBN: 1-74066-210-5. $19.95.
What do Nikolai Radev, Jason Moran, Pasquale Barbaro, Willy Thompson, Mark Mallia, Housam Zayat, Michael Marshall, Graham Kinniburgh have in common? They were all criminals and they were all (save one who was incinerated) shot to death in 2003 during Melbourne’s ongoing gangland wars. By mid - 2004, when this book went to print, six more had been killed. This book is a grim progress report on the “Second War”.

None of these gun battles nor gang warfare are anything new. The opening chapter entitled “The First War” gives an overview of the era from the late 1950s to the early 1980s when an estimated 40 individuals were taken out as a result of warring factions of the notorious Painters and Dockers Union. Veteran of the murderous streets, Billy Longley says sardonically of the Second War, “they’ve got a bit of catching up to do”. Maybe so, but if the present spate continues at its current average, twenty years will see at least 62 well-dressed corpses laid to rest in classy coffins.

Why gangsters murder each other might not be a question that keeps a lot of honest citizens awake at night. However, there is some variation in theories of motivation. A study conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology and the South Australia Police Major Investigation Branch surprisingly fingered “dissolution of an intimate relationship” i.e. bumping off straying partners, as a major factor. It also noted money, drugs, silencing a witness, revenge, or profit from crime as motives. Anderson is adamant that in the case of the recent 1998 – 2004 orgy of assassination by bullet, most were drug – related hits.

As a result of reading this clinical to morbid text, the following advice could be given to those contemplating a career in
violent crime:
* Don’t leave your car unattended
* Don’t leave home without a pistol down your pants
* When dismembering a corpse, use a meat cleaver. Chain saws get clogged with skin and blood.
* Arrange for a minimum $100,000 donation to the police as an information incentive to help track your anticipated killers
* Move out of the Melbourne Central Business District Area
* Stop seeing Quentin Tarantino movies

Regarding the latter, it is fascinating to read that gangsters do watch and like crime movies. Billy Longley’s favourites are Unforgiven and On the Waterfront. Other movies favoured by the older generation are Scarface and Little Caesar. In more recent times, The Godfather, Heat, Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs have prominently figured. Plus the cult series, The Sopranos. It must be said that the bad guys have good taste in films as they do in the expensive clobber they buy with drug money.

Cause and effect should not be confused. Crime movies don’t create criminals but if you are walking the street with a Colt .45 in your belt, the mode and code of your crime, not to mention sartorial style, may be film-influenced. It seems the local hoods do follow the general style of their American counterparts as regards dress, code of silence, mode of execution and nicknames - plus a liking for the more authentic crime movie. Overall, the Anderson account is a cool-toned hard-boiled history with traces of American slang - though reading too much at a sitting has a depressive effect.

Edited by David Crystal
Penguin Books 2004. ISBN: 0-140-51543-7. $75.
What can you say about an encyclopaedia that gives twelve lines to Alexander the Great and sixteen lines to the Beach Boys? Clearly, the pop present is being privileged over the classical past. However, this 1698-page tome is often factually inaccurate when dealing with the present (20th century). Under Mexican Art, David Alfaro Siqueiros has his last name omitted so he becomes David Alfaro; Booker Prize winner Keri Hulme is credited with the 1992 publication of Bait, a novel that she has yet to publish; Postmodernism only deals with architecture, ignoring the fact it is de rigeur in literature and art. Spelling mistakes include the Mexican president’s first name printed as Vincente instead of Vicente and painter Jose Clemente Orozco’s second name spelt as Clementi.

The omissions are a wonder indeed. Mick Jagger is in, “Keith Richards” is out; Al Capone is in, Lucky Luciano is absent; Keri Hulme is in, Janet Frame is not; Stalingrad is in, Kursk (world’s greatest tank battle) is missing; Michael Jackson is in, Peter Jackson is not; Everest-conqueror Edmund Hillary is necessarily in but Reinhold Messner, the world’s greatest mountaineer is not; Saddam Hussein is in and Osama bin Laden, as always, is invisible. Structuralism is in but astonishingly poststructuralism is not (though it is sneakily mentioned under Deconstruction with which it is mistakenly identified). I was surprised to find Timothy Leary, Peggy Guggenheim, Bryce Courtenay, Pierre Bourdieu (renowned anthropologist), Takla Makan desert and Google absent (though Desktop Publishing is in).

Another anomaly – perhaps common in other encyclopaedias – is contradictory entries. The Aborigines entry has them arriving in Australia 60,000 years ago while the Australian history section has a figure of 40,000. (Some have advanced the figure to 100,000 BC – shouldn’t all three estimates have been discussed?) The entry on Australian literature make no mention of Judith Wright, yet she merits a separate entry under her own name. This inconsistency of analysis is possibly explicable by two different people doing the two entries. But shouldn’t there be a match up? Similarly, William Burroughs is not mentioned under Beat Generation but under his own entry is declared to be a “spokesman of the Beat movement”. Also, stingily, there is no colour in any of the maps and no portraits (though that does allow more text).

Now for some appreciation. There are compendious lists of phobias, popes, highest mountains, deserts and, best of all, Crusades which includes sub-headings under Background, Leaders and Outcomes – though regretfully no Nobel Prize listings. Listings of musicians, artists and scientists are generally good. The quality of the paper and binding is excellent. Some may be wondering – in this Internet age do we still need encyclopaedias? I, for one, would not like to see them become obsolete because they present the opportunity par excellence for browsing by association and the alphabet. Also an encyclopaedia offers greater authority than the crackpot and often wildly inaccurate entries frequently found on the Internet. It cannot be repeated too often that an encyclopaedia, being a book, can never have power failure, a virus, intrusive advertisements or the irritatingly busy format deployed by many website homepages. However, the Penguin Encyclopedia needs a clean up on accuracy, improved expansion and consistency of inclusion and could do with some colour in its bland white pages. Hey, it’s still an encyclopaedia, my favourite kind of book for browsing new arcana and esoterica.

tolkien's_smal.jpgTOLKIEN’S GOWN & Other Stories of Great Authors and Rare Books
By Rick Gekoski
Constable and Robinson. ISBN: 1-74066-210-5. $29.99.
In general, I have regarded book collectors and first edition freaks as fetishists who are more interested in the wrapping than the present, brassieres instead of breasts. Having enjoyed Mr Gekoski’s lucid prose and accumulation of delightful anecdotes, my previous value judgment has been white-anted somewhat. Despite his eye for the deal, the multi-talented Gekoski also has an ear for the interesting human story, hence this witty and attractively presented book (which I am hoping will one day prove a valuable first edition).

The book kicks off with a chapter on the controversial Lolita, Nabokov’s sordid tale of a middle-aged lecher’s seduction of a barely pubescent girl. Shocking as this relationship might be, Nabokov’s exquisite prose turns it into a tragic love story.

In his cheerfully lucid style, Gekoski relates how after he sold a first edition of Lolita for $4900, he received a letter from Graham Greene asking how much he (Greene) could get for a copy inscribed to him by the Russian author. Apparently, this in an example of what rare book dealers call an “association copy”, one presented by the author to someone of importance. As Greene eminently qualified, Gekoski insisted on paying him $7200 (Greene wanted less!), and sold it for a profit (mysteriously, or tactfully, not revealed). When Gekoski last heard, the on sold book fetched $264,000 which left him “sick with seller’s remorse”. Since reading this revealing anecdote, I have been urging my friends at launches of my books to hurry up and become “persons of importance” so I can buy the book back off them and resell it for a whacking profit. So far, the scheme has yet to take off. And is unlikely to, for almost none of my books have that piece de la resistance, a dustwrapper, which rockets the price for any rare book into the ionosphere.

If over a quarter of million dollars sounds like big money, it has been topped by Gekoski’s estimate for a first edition Lord of the Flies – $450,000. A first edition inscribed Ulysses actually sold for $460,000 – the highest price thus far. Touchingly, Gekoksi admits that Ulysses is a tough read, even though he considers it the greatest book of the twentieth century. This promisingly profitable spiral was recently put in the shade when the original manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road sold for $2,430,000 which makes me wish cryonic preservation really works and poor old Jack could return and feast off the posthumous profit.

Packed with colourful stories of famous writers, this book is surely one of the more notable of the 110,000 books published in England last year, most of which, Gekoski reminds us, will soon be forgotten. I am hoping the first edition of his book will soar in value – when Gekoski soon visits the Antipodes I must ask him to inscribe it.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:57 PM | Comments (0)

BOOKS: Nov 05. AU Edition

Plus: Looking back at Old Blue Eyes and Australia’s really ancient history

books_mao.jpgMAO: The Unknown Story
By Jung Chang and Jon Holliday, Jonathan Cape, $59.95
This is how this large and extraordinarily well-researched book begins: ‘Mao Tse-tung, who for decades held absolute power over the lives of one-quarter of the world’s population, was responsible for well over 70 million deaths in peacetime, more than any other twentieth century leader.’ Apart from the bogglingly high total of deaths, the other shocking word is ‘peacetime’. Surely only a world war like that started by Adolph Hitler is needed to kill so many? Not so, it seems. And how is it possible – and what is the point – of killing or causing so many to perish?

The answer, which unsurprisingly isn’t at all rational, was given by Mao himself in Moscow in 1957: ‘We are prepared to sacrifice 300 million Chinese for the victory of world revolution’. He repeated much the same statement in 1958. Of course the ‘we’ is Mao himself. ‘Deaths have benefits,’ Mao once callously declared. ‘They can fertilise the ground.’ Hence crops were ordered to be planted over burial grounds which caused ‘intense anguish’. Naturally, Mao suffered from no such qualms.

While his cohorts were Communists with similar aims, some of the minions were slightly more ‘reasonable’. As the authors put it, ‘Whereas Mao had been using terror for personal power, Chou En-lai employed it to bolster Communist rule’. Liu Shao-chi, Mao’s No. 2, was like his master, interested in industrialisation and superpower status but wanted these goals ‘at a more gradual tempo’ by ‘building a stronger economic foundation and raising living standards first’. Mao seemed to take sadistic pleasure in making the populace suffer. His early predilection for public torture and executions to create public terror, as well as his own enjoyment of it, is grimly detailed. Even Stalin and Hitler tended to have their terror performed off stage, as it were (Siberia, Auschwitz).

While the folly of Mao’s Great Leap Forward to make more steel at any cost (burning homes for fuel, melting down farm tools and cooking utensils) is well known, less well known is that all the while China was exporting grain and soybean on a huge scale to east European countries and to Russia either in exchange for arms – or even sometimes as a donation. Indeed, the percentage of foreign aid reached a staggering 6.92 per cent of the GNP, proportionately 70 times that of the United States. The result was in the peak year of famine (1960), 22 million died. In all, 38 million died from hunger in 1958-1961. Yet so tight was Mao’s control, he was able to convince both the CIA and Francois Mitterrand, along with many other gullible western observers, that there was no famine. All in the name of Mao trying to convert China into a world superpower in a few years. The supreme irony is that today China is headed for economic superpower status, but not as a result of following Mao’s policies.

What this monumental biography makes stunningly clear is that though China seemed isolationist at the time, Mao was constantly badgering the Soviets to supply him with nuclear technology and missiles and made a surprising number of aggressive overtures towards other countries – three million troops were sent to Vietnam, for example.

Developing the atomic bomb, which he had earlier hypocritically described as a paper tiger, cost a staggering $4.1 billion – at 1957 prices! In the authors’ view, China’s nuclear bomb cost more than 100 times the deaths caused by the two American bombs used on Japan.
In early pre-communist dominant times he was never keen to fully engage with Japan as Stalin wanted. Mao wanted the Japanese to destroy Chiang Kai-shek so Stalin could then carve up China, leaving Mao as ruler of the remainder. Nor, as is commonly supposed, was Mao even fully engaged with the Nationalists until much later on – when his sleeper-spy generals betrayed them. In fact, it suited Chiang Kai-shek’s strategy to allow the Communists rag-tag army to pass through relatively unopposed. (Furthermore, his son was being held to ransom by Moscow.) Even the notion of Mao’s personal courage during the Long March turns out to be a myth – the authors reveal he was carried in a sedan chair.

Alongside the other mental disorders that have been identified there should be one called Dictator Disorder – the most deadly of all. Those who suffer from it torture kill and murder their enemies (including family and friends), waste economies on vainglorious schemes, try to destroy the past (Mao hated Chinese architecture) and while making sure that the populace suffers, enjoy as much food, luxury and sex as they can. While Hitler is often described as having been ‘mad’ and psychiatrists have tried to diagnose Hitler and Stalin as manic-depressives, no one seems to have done the same exercise with Mao. He was horribly sane and unrelentingly evil. At one point, he even considered the ultimate de-humanising strategy of removing people’s names and giving them numbers. Mao’s perverse code: ‘Do to others precisely what I don’t want done to myself’.

Taken as a whole, I found this book with its long catalogue of crimes against humanity a depressing read. However, the authors have done an astonishingly thorough job. They interviewed people who knew Mao in 38 countries. Corpses and all, this will be the definitive biography of Mao.

books_blinding light.jpgBLINDING LIGHT
By Paul Theroux, Hamish Hamilton, $49.95
One - though not the only – disconcerting thing about Theroux is his prolificity. Seemingly after a few short months, he pops out yet another book. Justly renown as a leading travel writer, he’s a captivating novelist as well and I was surprised (well, not really) to note that this is his 27th novel.

Blinding Light’s central character is a highly successful travel writer (like Theroux) who is suffering from that weird American condition called ‘writer’s block’ (very unlike Theroux). I say weird because if there is such a thing as writer’s block why haven’t we heard of painter’s block, architect’s block or composer’s block? On closer examination, writers who are ‘blocked’ are usually suffering from depression, alcoholism or simply find that their talent has run dry.

Slade Steadman is a one-book wonder with good reason – his first and only book was about a guy (himself) who crossed countries without a passport and without luggage – ever since then he has lived off the lucrative spin offs: leather jackets, sunglasses, pens, knives. It’s such a good idea I’m thinking of trying it myself and hope that the customs officials of the world’s 227 or so countries will cooperate.

As the book opens, Steadman is on his way to South America in quest of a chemical cure – a psychoactive plant that will extend his mental horizons and clear his creative blockage. He tries first ayahuasca and then a more deadly concoction, datura. The insights that the plant’s ingestion brings comes at a high price – Steadman first experiences a kind of ‘darkness visible’, along with insights into his oafish fellow travelers, but eventually the controlled blindness becomes permanent. There is much heavy though successful symbolic play and irony by Theroux on the various meanings and types of blindness – and the punning title resonates throughout the text.

Steadman’s desire to write fiction – in particular, a recapitulation of a richly erotic life – is excuse enough for Theroux to saturate the book’s middle section with much ingenious and at times perverse sexuality. It has to be said Theroux has a gift for this kind of writing though it may seem an excuse for self-indulgence to some readers. By contrast, he is even more gifted in writing about relationships that persist in a savage limbo-like aftermath – yet can still mysteriously rekindle – such is the perversity of human attraction. In the end, Steadman is a tragic and doomed figure. Presumably, it is Theroux’s successful deeper intention to show us that salvation by dark means leads to a dark end.

books_sinatra.jpgSINATRA: The Life
By Anthony Summers & Robbyn Swan, Doubleday, $49.95
Sinatra was one of those perennial entertainers who seemed indestructible and ever-present, so it is almost a surprise to be reminded that he is no longer with us in person – though very much so in records and films and from time to time on the radio.

Ambition and achievement are close to alignment in the singer’s life. Sinatra said, ‘I’m going to be the best singer in the world, the best singer that ever was’. The authors more or less concur that Sinatra was indeed ‘... the most celebrated popular singer in history’. Today, the early crooning Sinatra who sounded a bit like Bing Crosby – the singer Sinatra set himself to surpass – has been overtaken by the later Sinatra with that street-wise, nightclubby voice that makes the Sinatra timbre instantly recognizable. For a guy who boozed so heavily, it is astonishing that his singing voice lasted as well as it did – but then Sinatra was often described as a man of astonishing energy and stamina. His lineup of performances would make some younger fry quail – in 1946 he was on stage 45 times a week, singing one hundred songs per day while also doing 36 recording sessions and 160 radio shows.

Sinatra was no angel – he punched out bothersome photographers and in later years was always accompanied by heavies who would beat up people at Sinatra’s signal. On the good side of the ledger, he was a generous man – he gave away 300 gold cigarette lighters and helped pay medical bills for poorer entertainers and hated racial prejudice of any kind. Rumour, apparently supported by fact, has it that Sinatra was buddies with many of the powerful gangsters of the day such as Lucky Luciano and Sam Giancana. The authors inform us that Sinatra’s grandparents came from the same small Sicilian town as Luciano; that Sinatra once acted as courier in taking a satchel with a million dollars from Giancana to Joe Kennedy on behalf of Jack Kennedy’s presidential campaign; that Harry Cohn was threatened with death unless he gave Sinatra lead role in the film version From Here to Eternity. All these statements are encyclo- paedically footnoted and so they may well all be true. My only reservation is that Summers was one of the main protagonists for the widely held belief that Marilyn Monroe and Jack Kennedy had an affair – a connection that been seriously challenged by some biographers.

What is indisputably true is that Sinatra had affairs (and marriages) with some of the most beautiful women in America including Ava Gardner (his most lasting but doomed love), Mia Farrow, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Juliet Prowse plus many others less known though some of them – judging by photos – were even more beautiful than the better known names. The much-publicised adoration of bobbysoxers was according to George Evans, Sinatra’s press agent, 98% synthetic.

Faults and all, Sinatra was a guy who is hard to dislike – at least from a distance. His lasting achievement was to turn pop music into an art form. As for the now much vaunted ‘I Did it My Way’ as a biographical theme statement – hotly denied by Sinatra himself – his own son said it summed up his father exactly.

books_digging up.jpgDIGGING UP DEEP TIME
By Paul Willis and Abbie Thomas, ABC books, $34.95
This book has a resonant title – what could be more romantic than finding the fossilised remains of strange and unknown animals from the distant past? That our earth and the universe is so ancient seems appropriate in the grand scheme of things. Currently, scientists believe the earth is 4.6 billion years old and the universe at least 13 billion years old. A five-decade-plus living fossil such as myself has no business feeling old.

Australia is one of the oldest chunks of terra firma and is particularly fossil-rich. This book visits fifteen of the most well known sites. At Marvel Bar, the hottest place in the country, are the microscopic remains of bacteria known as cyano- bacteria believed to be 3.465 billion years old. Also long in the tooth are stroma- tolites found at Shark Bay, Western Australia, which resemble stone cauliflowers. The Marble Bay fossils are not accepted by all scientists; Martin Brasier of the University of Oxford thinks the ‘fossils’ are just tiny clumps of impurities in the rock.

The theory that life on earth could have originated from Mars - prompted by the finding of an Antarctic meteorite in 1996 – is given an airing but no firm conclusions drawn. Until we find better or indeed some evidence of life on Mars itself, the Martian hypothesis, drawn only from objects found on earth, looks shaky.

In 1979, myoscolex, the world’s oldest fossilised muscle tissue, was discovered on Kangaroo Island. Also located – and boxed in high relief – is the World’s Oldest Poo though tantalisingly, the age of this Methuselah-style dung is not given. At times the prose of the enthusiastic authors waxes poetic – the elegant (!) lungfish (it was news to me that some fish had lungs) is described as ‘graceful and beautiful as an exotic dancer in flowing gowns’. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholders.

Arguably, some of the most colourful finds were found at the Wellington caves which were water-colour sketched by Augustus Earle of the HMS Beagle. This New South Wales site yielded up two of my favourite beasties – Thylacinus Carnifex, better known as the marsupial lion, which could snap off an arm with one bite, and the buffalo-sized Diprotodon, the largest-known marsupial (which was originally mistaken for an elephant.)

Boxed biographies of leading fossil finders and locations indicating where to view the fossils are appended to the end of each chapter in this highly informative book which is a must for school-aged paleontologists or anyone interested in fossils.

books_surviving with wolves.jpgSURVIVING WITH WOLVES
By Misha Defonseca, Portrait, $49.95
At first viewing, it sounds like a fairy tale or extract from a mediaeval bestiary: One snowy morning a Little Girl’s Mother and Father are taken away by Bad Men to a Far-Off Land. The little girl is adopted by a nasty godmother. One day the little girl decides to run away and find her parents. She gets lost in the woods and is adopted by a mother wolf who brings her food ... and the little girl survives to tell her tale, though unlike a fairy story she does not find her missing parents.

Surviving with Wolves is one of those heroic harrowing stories that makes me reflect on what a soft, hardship-free life I’ve been lucky enough to lead. Defonseca survived freezing weather with no shoes, encounters with brutal German soldiers (including one who tried to rape her whom she stabbed to death) wild gypsies, a primitive terrain all but bereft of food. She began her journey with two apples, a loaf of bread, some gingerbread and a compass. She was eight years old.

A prominent role model and undoubtedly one who gave her an example of courage was her grandfather, who said of Hitler, ‘... he’s a madman who wants to repaint the world in his own colour’. It is, of course, Hitler who is behind the disappearance of her parents. From he grandfather she learnt much about nature, how to use a compass, and how to laugh while from Virago, her bullying foster ‘mother’, she learnt how to hate. During her privation when she would eat the pine needles, bark of trees and even dirt, she would lift her morale by talking to her painful feet, telling them that they must go on.

This soul-warming story of heartbreak and perseverance draws the reader in so that when she finds bread and a piece of bacon we too feel as though we are enjoying a banquet. The scenes with wolves are deeply moving and in my view are yet another illustration of how mammals at large often show the unlikely capability to form a bond with other mammals. The key is to be neither aggressive nor afraid.

Her mother had read her stories of wolves which did contain any notion that wolves were dangerous. When she read Little Red Riding Hood she was outraged by its false notions of human cannibalism. In the end, she smelt of wolf which made it easier for other wolves to accept her. Acting submissive around the top wolf and even rolling on her back with her limbs in the air in imitation of a lolling pup also earned her wolverine approbation.

After surviving such a barbaric environment, the sight of a young American soldier handing out chocolates, sweets and tinned beef must have been a surreal experience. Surviving with Wolves is an honest and moving account of how an angelic-looking little girl showed extraordinary physical and moral courage in a quest for love and belonging.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:57 PM | Comments (0)

TRAVEL: Mar 05, AU Edition

RPoutlook(no Palms).jpg

Mauritius is a relatively undiscovered jewel in the Indian Ocean – so get there before everyone else does

Forget the South Pacific or Caribbean: it’s the Indian Ocean that home to some of the world’s best island hotspots. And one of the greatest of them all is the Republic of Mauritius, a uniquely multicultural African island east of Madagascar. It is so beautiful that Mark Twain wrote upon arrival: “You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first and then heaven, and that heaven was copied after Mauritius.”

British, Indian and French influences make this destination a multicultural dream which sets Mauritius apart from other destinations – as does its bargain-basement vacation rates, which are more than fair for a true tropical paradise.

One heads to Mauritius to relax, enjoy the beach and all it has to offer, and direct flights from Perth and Sydney make getting there a relative breeze. Even better, travelers can get by on $10 to $20 a day for food, and $40 to $80 a day for lodging. When you consider what you get (the sun, beach, and aquatic activities) this really is a steal.
There are a wide variety of hotels and resorts to stay at, including those run by Beachcomber Hotels, providing a range of quality resort hotels with locations to match. Featuring superb accommodation, high standards of service, outstanding quality, plus a host of inclusions, spending time in any of these resorts is a pleasure. One can enjoy the thrill of water-skiing or windsurfing, work off some excess energy on the tennis or volleyball court, or marvel at the spectacular underwater world from a glass-bottom boat. And for a nominal fee golfers can enjoy a round on one of the most spectacular resort courses in the world, located at the Paradis resort.

To further tantalize you and provide a taste of all this country has to offer, I’ve prepared a packed three-day itinerary, for which all you need to bring is a bathing suit, suntan lotion and a relaxed attitude.

DAY 1: Grand Baie
At Mauritius’ most popular tourist center, you’ll be visually overloaded by the white sand and blue water. Some quick orientation: Grand Baie is about 18 kilometres north of Port Louis and easily accessible by the regular, albeit slow, Mauritian bus system.

In the late morning, after a breakfast of fresh juice and fruit, cruise the sheltered bay and you’ll feel the relaxed energy that makes a visit here a must. If you’ve done your research or picked up a brochure or two from your hotel’s lobby, you will be itching to do Grand Baie’s most renowned water-related activities.

Everything from yachting and snorkeling to water-skiing and simply swimming is available. The perfect weather (it is so regularly sunny, you can set your watch by it) allows for prime conditions for all these exci-ting opportunities, which come free of charge at
many resorts.

If you want a snapshot of the beautiful reefs without getting wet, take a ride on La Nessee, a semi-submersible boat that gets up close and personal with all forms of aquatic life. Other out-of-the-ordinary activities include an undersea walk, à la a Jules Verne novel. Wearing an astronaut-like helmet and lead boots, you can explore the Mauritian waters without having to swim up to the surface for air. Deep-sea fishing is also highly popular and available in the outlying areas of Grand Baie.

After outdoing yourself for a few hours enjoying one or more of these unique experiences, hit a restaurant to quell your hunger. Just outside of the beach area, you’ll see why Grand Baie is often called the Cote d’Azur of Mauritius – the shops and eateries reflect the trendy areas around them and are not tourist traps in any sense.

Dine at Sakura Restaurant for prime Japanese fare or Lotus of the Garden for original cuisine in an Indonesian setting. For true local Creole food, you’ll have to look at smaller, more intimate places around town.

Walk off the big meal by heading down Sunset Boulevard, a fashion center with unbeatable prices. After picking up new threads, head back to the restaurant area for some crafts and boutique shops which feature native art, Asian handicrafts and cheap jewelry. Drop off the loot back at your hotel (if you’re staying in Grand Baie) and then prepare for a night out on the town.

DAY 2: Ile aux Cerfs
For only 80 Mauritian rupees (just under $4) tourists and locals alike can experience a living, breathing paradise. This is how much the 20-minute ferry ride costs for you to travel from Pointe Maurice to Ile aux Cerfs, an islet on the east coast of Mauritius.

A disclaimer: if you are staying near Port Louis in the west, you’ll have to take a long bus ride to get here. Try and arrive as early in the morning as possible, since you need the whole day to enjoy the island.


Any effort to reach this slice of beauty is worth it. This will become evident once you set foot on the island’s sprawling beaches. From this vantage point, you can see the enticing lagoon waters, prime sunbathing spots and straw-roofed bars, restaurants and shops. Start out the day with what Mauritius is all about: relaxing on the beach. Pick an area (secluded spaces are available if you want to spend time looking) grab a book and just let time slip by.

The sun, sound of the surf and lazy atmosphere will make you forget about all your stress in an instant. Sleep has been known to set in for most of the sunbathers at Ile aux Cerfs.

When you do wake up from your slumber, sit back at Lor Brizan Bar with a traditional afternoon tea, or, if you want something that packs a little more punch, a Pina Colada. There is also a very convenient beach bar service as well.

Follow this up by taking a walk around the accessible section of the island’s coast (the whole walk takes 3 hours if you’re up to it) and the fact that there is heaven on earth will finally sink in – the view of the palm trees, ocean and sand is indescribable.

Grab an exotic sorbet from one of the beachside kiosks – but don’t savor it too long. The island’s last ferry ride out is at 5 p.m. and an overnight stay is prohibited.

DAY 3: Port Louis
Finish off your trip to tropical paradise with something a little different. Mauritius puts its history and many-layered culture out for all to see in the capital of Port Louis. A relatively large city, considering how small Mauritius is, a lot of interesting sight-seeing
opportunities await you here.

A good starting point is Place d’Armes in the oldest region of the city. Check out the interesting buildings here, as well as the St. James and St. Louis Cathedrals. The Port Louis Market is nearby and represents a good place to grab some lunch. It is a prime place to see Mauritians in their comfort zone, haggling for fruits, vegetables, fish, crafts, and spices.

The multiculturalism of the city is most obvious here, where people from all races and walks of life congregate daily. Remember that sellers can spot tourists a mile away and will not hesitate to quadruple prices for the souvenirs you want. To counteract this, make like locals and bargain like mad. You shouldn’t have trouble in English, since it is as widely spoken as Creole and French.


Return to Place d’Armes and find a bench or table to sit and munch at the exotic fruits bought back at the market. When that’s done, get more tastes of the varying cultures by visiting the Muslim quarter, centered around Muammar El Khadafi Square. Funny enough, the main mosque, Jummah, is not situated here. You’ll find it in the city’s bustling Chinatown area, another place worth taking a look at.

As evening comes along, you’ll find that most of the city closes down. The one shining star now is Le Caudan Waterfront, a bustling area with shops, restaurants and bars. If you want to drop more money on souvenirs, try Le Talipot or Macumba. As for dinner, ignore the fact that the area has become somewhat Americanized (there’s a Pizza Hut) and sit down at Grand Ocean City for Chinese or Kela Patta for Indian food. Though it rarely needs to prove itself, Mauritius is so much more than your typical island resort. You can be astounded by its beaches, beautiful people, relaxing opportunities, and diverse cultures all at once. Add to this string of pros the cheap cost of experiencing it all and there leaves little doubt that Mauritius is an ideal vacation spot. Take it all in, you won’t regret it. –

* Petty crime is an issue in Port Louis and the main tourists spots, so watch your wallet and valuables at all times.
* All travelers to Mauritius must already have a return ticket booked – proof of this is needed at the airport. The good news is, Australians don’t need a visa; just showing up with a passport lets you stay for thirty days.
* Don’t be limited only by the beaches mentioned here: Mauritius has many other great ones as well, including Belle Mare and Flic en Flacq.
* Tourism is increasing by 10% each year, so get on board before everyone else does!

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:50 PM | Comments (0)


Australian families are spending more on education than ever – but what are they getting for their money? A crash course in left-wing political indoctrination, heaps of parties, but not much in the way of real learning, says SAMANTHA HO

Once upon a time when children finished school, their families could wish them well and send them on their way. Their offspring might have decided to pursue a career in surveying, nursing, soldiering, chorus dancing, boiler-making, or home-making. But whatever well-trodden path the children chose, the majority of parents from thirty-odd years ago could look forward to having some privacy again as a couple. This was just as true for more well-to-do parents, whose release from their young came when their young intelligentsia moved out to go
to university.

Happy to escape the suburbs, Australia’s new undergraduates would collect a bunch of milk crates for furnishings and set up a share house with other students. Then they would start a band, have pregnancy scares, and read Marx (Karl, not Groucho) at bus stops while smoking French cigarettes. Quite often, the university students of old would also concentrate on confounding the working public via wacky gags like handing out the Pill to nuns while playing double bass clad only in Marx noses (Groucho this time). Then, of course, they graduated to become barristers, diplomats, doctors, politicians, and academics, building wonderful wine cellars, donating a wing or two to their old high schools, and holidaying in the south of France. Their path through university was aided by the scholarships and living allowances that the Commonwealth used to hand out to a majority of students.

Such taxpayer-funded generosity was quite forthcoming thirty years ago when tertiary institutions were no-fee finishing schools for the well-to-do, and enrolled less than a third of the more than 900,000 students who cram today’s campuses. But like all good parties, that one wasn’t meant to last, and when the Hawke Government expanded a university education into a mass market phenomenon in the late 1980s, fees appeared and started rising, as did heavy restrictions on student assistance schemes. The proportion of students receiving Commonwealth scholarships and other benefits fell from about two thirds thirty years ago to less than thirty per cent now.

The results of this shift might please armchair anthropologists given to admiring the social cohesion of countries where nine or ten generations of a single family customarily live under the one roof. Others weep.

Do you have a university student in your household? Whether you are helping with the fees or simply covering other expenses, tertiary study these days eats money. One way or another you’re probably paying through the nose for the privilege of helping your young know-it-all join the ever-expanding ranks of the university educated.

Even a place subsidised by the government under what was known as the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (now it’s called Commonwealth-supported) can cost about $8,000 a year. Full-fee places for students who fall a mark or two short of the entry cut-off can be billed at more than $20,000 per year.

Then there’s all the textbooks, photocopying, stationery, SMS bills, food and fun costs, and compulsory student union fees.
The non-tuition costs of university life quickly drain the wallet with many textbooks small-run, high-price editions and annual compulsory union fees of up to $590. Not to mention another $7,000 or so each year in rent for those lucky or resourceful students who move to a share house in defiance of this age of “adultescence” – the epidemic of children living with their parents into their twenties and even thirties. And for parents whose kids live at home, the situation is even worse.

So is all this worth the thousands you and the students pay, and the billions the government pours in courtesy of your taxes?

thinker1 copy.jpgWhen the government recently admitted a drastic shortage of skilled labour and said that Australia might have to admit another 20,000 foreign tradespeople to keep industry and the economy alive, they certainly weren’t talking about any urgent need for more batches of “social researchers”, “advocates”, or “change agents” – all graduate career paths listed in this year’s NSW universities admissions guide.
No, they were talking about graduates with functional and constructive skills – engineers, health professionals, and people who can actually do stuff like build ships, rather than merely interpreting the changing role of seamen in representations of queer identity.

Of course, the trades are not for the squeamish - wielding welders can be a good deal more hazardous to one’s health than waving about a sociology text.

Physically, at least. For surely it can’t be good for the soul to spend years indulging in intellectual tomfoolery – which is the only way to describe an awful lot of what goes on in Australia’s tertiary classrooms.

Some of the more offensive variety are disguised amongst what would seem to be fairly straightforward but growing vocational areas, like communications. That’s journalism, public relations, or marketing right? Wrong.

Have a look at the communications offerings at one of Australia’s more cutting-edge institutions, the University of Technology, Sydney. Here we find the wonderful Bachelor of Communications (social inquiry), which gives whiners the opportunity to feel right at home in what used to be the realm of tough, critical thinking. But then again, why master the hard-won secrets of engineering or physics when you can indulge in the opinion-page pleasing zone “where social theory, research and communication converge. It offers … [students] the skills to participate effectively in social change.”

One could be forgiven for thinking that social change was what pioneering doctors, lawyers or engineers did in bringing their skills to the outback or to the downtrodden, or what urban planners could do by ditching the Macquarie Fields/Redfern-style ghetto model of public housing.

But no, social change is a discrete topic in today’s universities.
The “professional subjects” for budding social changers include “social change, Australian history and politics, belief systems, cultural studies, globalisation, [and] gender and diversity.” (A prize for the reader who can guess which way this all leans in terms of its ideological underpinnings.)

And while we’re at UTS, let’s take a look at some of the traditional courses. How about nursing, an area where the Federal Government just gave UTS a stack more places to make up for the University of Sydney’s decision to phase out of undergraduate nursing.

In between learning to care for people, budding nurses have the opportunity to study Organisational Relationships, where they learn about “critical issues of health care delivery … with particular emphasis on the effects of power, policy and politics”.

Do you have any young kids, or are you planning some? Well, let’s take a look at what our next generation of teachers are learning.
With Australia crying out for more skilled, literate and numerate workers who aren’t snobs about doing hard yakka, what better subject for our teachers could there be than UTS’s Sociology of Education, where topics include “the direction of social change and the nature of globalisation”. No wonder so few people were surprised when Wayne Sawyer, president of the NSW English Teachers Association, announced that he thought his profession wasn’t doing its job if students kept graduating and voting for the wrong guy, i.e., Howard.

In an era crying out for Realpolitik, is it any wonder the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s latest online graduate recruiting drive features a trainee whose background is not in the humanities, but in the logic-heavy disciplines of mathematics and computer science? Plus the trainee, Axel, has actually learnt foreign languages instead of doing vacuous “cultural studies”.

lawn1 copy.jpg
But then again, if DFAT have any questions about how the world works, they only need to pick up the phone to the student unions, who operate on budgets totalling hundreds of millions of dollars nationally, and who use their funding to develop deeply wise policies and positions on everything. With membership of student unions compulsory in every state except Western Australia, chances are the students in your household have been forced to give money to a small clique of delusional ratbags who would die off the moment that unionism becomes voluntary.

First cab off the rank could be the National Union of Students (NUS), an um- brella organisation that collects millions of dollars each year from its affiliate campuses.

The NUS spends up big on get-togethers where it thrashes out wildly entertaining “platforms”, such as a gem from 2001 when the NUS expressed its outrage that the US and its allies attacked the Taliban and al Qa’ida, in a “racist war of terror”. In a dastardly twist, the evil US’s attack on Islam’s theocratic fascists in Afghanistan “perpetuates women’s and queer oppression”.
Cool, huh?

The Taliban executed homosexuals by collapsing walls on them and barred women from attending school, but somehow it all turns into a Western plot, and the NUS called on “the US government and its ally, Australia, to withdraw troops and military operations”. It would be hilarious if this was some nutter’s blog instead of a multimillion dollar organisation funded by hundreds of thousands of university students.

The totalitarian impulse has bled out of much of Western society since the end of the Cold War, but not in student unionism, where the NUS proclaims that “under capitalism the university does not function as a site of critical learning, but rather as a training ground for industry and big business.”

OK, so how do we explain the skills shortage and the preponderance of “social change” courses?

But wait, it gets better: “A fundamental restructuring of the education sector, and of society, is necessary.”

Says who? A pack of undergraduate nitwits who have grown fat off the proceeds of compulsory student unionism.

Luckily for students who would rather make up their own minds whether they want to spend hundreds of dollars each year joining a union, the Federal Government will later this year introduce Voluntary Student Unionism legislation to the Senate. Expect plenty of noise.

And as pointed out in a recent rare moment of the Sydney Morning Herald reporting first and spinning second, the NUS is struggling to come up with a response to the dire threat of consumer choice.

Their main counter attack so far has been an Orwellian assault on language. From the NUS website: “It is very important that we take control of the language being used … Voluntary Student Unionism [VSU] is a positive term in a linguistic sense, and in an ideological sense, for some.”

Can’t let choice be positive: “Instead of VSU … say Anti-Student Organisation.”

In fact, don’t even use the word ‘union’ in this individualist era: “Instead of student union say student organisation or student council.”

And sidestep the ugly truth: “Never refer to compulsory fees or membership. Always use universal membership or universal fees.”
So this will be an interesting year if you have a student at home.
Either they will be happily under the capitalist thumb, learning something useful or intellectually rigorous, or they will somehow combine a zeal for social change with white-hot fury that the Commonwealth wants to give students like them more freedom of choice.

And if you want to get your money’s worth when helping a child through university, encourage them to learn the core disciplines of their area of interest, subjects like mathematics, history, or a language, rather than content-free spin-offs such as social change or cultural studies.
University costs plenty, so focus on the protein – not the frippery.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:45 PM | Comments (0)

FOOD: Mar 05, AU Edition

Neil Perry.jpg

Australia’s cable cooking programs give Eli Jameson tummy trouble

Is Foxtel holding Neil Perry’s dog hostage somewhere in the bowels of its Pyrmont broadcasting facility? The question would almost be worth asking, given the amount of time the celebrity chef and Rockpool owner spends schilling for the cable provider and submitting to mock interviews about why he’s so in love with his new digital cable setup.

Of course, that’s a bit over the top. Foxtel doesn’t need to use standover tactics to get Perry to lend a hand any more than Range Rover does to get Perry to drive one of their cars. (As a “Land Rover Ambassador”, that company’s website tells us, “Neil Perry drives a Range Rover which perfectly represents his position as one of the countries leading chefs owning and operating the famous Rockpool and XO restaurants in Sydney.”) Instead, the cable provider simply airs series after series of Perry-themed programming, including his deadly-dull restaurant infomercial known as “Neil Perry’s Rockpool Sessions.”

As a result of all this publicity, Perry has catapulted himself into that upper firmament of brand-name celebrity chefs that includes former Perry employee Kylie Kwong and Sydney café owner Bill Granger – who, in keeping with the small-world nature of the Australian food world, once worked with Kwong as well. (This is in contrast to such great Australian chefs as Tim Pak Poy, who for years ran one of the best restaurants in the country but generally stayed out of the limelight).

Close business histories are not all the three have in common. Perry, Kwong and Granger share an admirable belief that consumers should demand the freshest ingredients possible, a philosophy that has led to better quality and diversity on Australian shelves. And, on their shows at least (when there isn’t an army of prep chefs around to do the scut work), the three also preach a gospel of simplicity which holds that cooking should be easy, not intimidating, and most of all, not time-consuming. Endless chopping, basting, and roasting are out; a quick sear in the grill pan and a drizzle with a just-whisked dressing before rejoining one’s guests for another champers in the backyard is in. One almost never sees a “hero” – the pre-prepared dish that went into the oven ages ago to be pulled out at just the right moment in shooting – on these shows, since everything is quickly tossed together a la minute, as they say in the restaurant business.

This is all very well and good, but those of us who actually like to muck about in the kitchen, get excited when zucchini flowers show up in the shops, and never buy pre-made ravioli because it’s so much more fun to make one’s own, I think. Or rather, back in the heat of the kitchen, while everyone else sits in the lounge room watching Bill Granger’s family scramble over each other to eat breakfast in bed.
At least Ian Hewitson (a pioneer Melbourne restaurateur in his own right), with all his sponsored brand loyalties, spends most of his show, Huey’s Cooking Adventures, actually cooking. Which makes the fact that he once told viewers to make garlic mayonnaise by first glopping a few spoonfuls of store-bought mayo into a bowl almost forgivable.

Sure, that may seem lazy, but it’s nothing compared to Granger, who thinks twenty minutes stirring risotto is a chore and once spent an entire segment of his Lifestyle Channel program explaining that Italian delis are great places to buy ready-to-eat picnic supplies. Now really, in 2005 Australia, do we need to be told that Italian delis are great places to pick up good cheese and olives?
Thus those looking to TV to improve their skills in the kitchen in a serious manner – and not just pick up a new way to combine seared salmon, sesame oil, and Asian greens – have to look abroad, especially to the UK, to do so. (If someone had told me, a decade ago, that today most of my cookbooks would be by British chefs, I would have asked them if they also saw a serious taste bud-injuring accident in my future).

Nigella Lawson, for one, is a great believer in celebrating the techniques of cooking, and is absolutely unapologetic about the fact that time and effort spent in the kitchen is in no way mutually exclusive with having a good time. Fellow Briton Gary Rhodes, meanwhile, manages to combine a passion for fresh ingredients with an instinctual feel for the fine line that separates what is challengingly possible in the home kitchen to that which makes ambitious solo chefs pull their hair out, pour another glass of wine, and order pizza instead. And even Jamie Oliver, behind his luverly-jubberly cockney routine, still manages to cram an awful lot of ideas and “hey-I-didn’t-know-that” tips into his show.

It’s a shame, though, that a country that likes to think of itself as sophisticated about food and where a woman can lose the chance to lead her political party because her kitchen isn’t sleek enough is not producing more chefs who want to share their knowledge and do their part to increase viewers’ skills. Certainly there is a market for it, if the demand for books and programs by the likes of Lawson and Oliver is any indication. Maybe Perry and Co. are worried that if too many secrets get out, Australians will stop going to their restaurants for the really challenging stuff and start doing it themselves.

Gin is generally thought of as a historically British spirit – think District Commissioners touching it with bitters on the verandah at the end of a hard day administering their particular corner of the Empire, or the very English Col. Henderson berating the help for putting ice in the G&Ts in The Year of Living Dangerously – but it actually has a very international history.

Invented by the Dutch (hence the phrase “Dutch courage”) in the 1600s, the British took to it in droves during the reign of William and Mary, and later discovered mixing it with tonic water was an agreeable way to ward off malaria.

But today some of the best gin in the world isn’t being produced in Northern Europe, but much closer to home in New Zealand. Sold in a tall, sleek bullet of a bottle, South’s makers advise that their customers “leave the tonic in the fridge” – and they’re right. This is a gin that exists on an entirely different plane. Martini drinkers who would never think of sullying their cocktail shaker with anything but Bombay Sapphire will suddenly wonder how they had spent so many years in the wilderness.

Because the thing about South is that it is as smooth as a newborn’s skin, the result of a double-distilling process that creates a grain-neutral spirit that works as incredibly clean canvas for the brewer. From there, traditional ingredients such as juniper berries (of course), lemon, orange, and coriander seeds are added – as well as some very new world ingredients, including manuka berries and kawakawa leaves. The end result is a gin that, despite the high alcohol content, lets drinkers play with it almost like a wine, picking out various flavors that come and go as it passes through the mouth. Just a touch of vermouth and a quick shake-and-strain with some very cold ice is all that’s needed to bring it to life.

South’s parent company also sells fantastic premium vodka called 42 Below – a reference to their distillery’s line of latitude – in a variety of flavours. Their manuka honey vodka, chilled to the point where it starts to get a little syrupy, is particularly delicious.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:37 PM | Comments (0)


Home care, not day care. A “French” model for pre-schooling. Helping “supermums” do it all. Investigate editor JAMES MORROW recently caught up with controversial federal MP Bronwyn Bishop, who’s just launched a parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s flagging birth rate and the work-life balance, to discuss what Canberra can do to persuade more people to have kids, and help those who’ve already taken the parenthood plunge

INVESTIGATE: You’ve just announced that your Standing Committee on Family & Human Services is launching an inquiry into Australia’s birthrate and work-life balance, and perhaps the best way to
begin is to ask, what ways do you see government being able to effect change in this sort of area of Australians’ lives?

BRONWYN BISHOP, MP: Well the first thing is, it’s not peculiar to us, it is a problem affecting the whole of the Western civilized world, that countries are losing population. So there’s already been a lot of discussion about it, and I think that it is timely that we start to bring it together.

My interest grew in this initially from 1999, when I was Minister for Aged Care, and when I had responsibility for the Year of the Older Person, and of course I really wanted to understand and document the impact of an aging population on Australia’s population. So I commissioned Access Economics to do the research, and that
was the first research that was done – from which we subsequently got the Inter-generational Report.

But the problems that we identified – how do you keep mature-age workers in the work force, issues of productivity, all that – we’ve passed that period, and we know where to go. The corollary is: what do we do about people in their twenties and thirties? We know that people stay in education longer, people have children later, we know that one quarter of women will never have any children, and we want to look at the reasons why people are doing that.

INVESTIGATE: Sure, and the reasons a lot of people have cited are that people want to have a career, get themselves situated, have various life experiences, travel, and all that – how can you effect a cultural shift and have people go back to where they want to start a family earlier?

BISHOP: It’s not a question of going back to where we were; it’s a question of what pressures can be relieved through the use of public policy. What can we do to make people feel that they can in fact create an environment and a home where they can feel comfortable keeping a relationship and a family intact, and what are the policies that can help bring that about?

Now under the terms of reference we’re looking at taxation, because taxation is the driver of so many things and so many behaviours. Obviously the question of childcare will arise, and we will be certainly looking at other countries’ models, and we will be looking at countries like France. In terms of childcare they seem to have a system which gives more children care, and their birthrate is now above ours – they’ve pushed it up again.

INVESTIGATE: Of course if you look at a place like France, you’re also talking about a place where you have large groups of immigrant families who are having many more children than the native-born population, to say nothing of all the economic problems they’ve had from the social benefits that make it more expensive to
hire someone…

BISHOP: Well, France has a problem with a lot of the way it organizes itself, such as the fact that they introduced a 35-hour work week. We’re not the slightest bit interested in that, and I think it has been pejorative for the French nation. And from a family point of view, there is a lot of evidence around that it actually makes it harder for women to work and raise a family because it is a lot tougher to have certainty of hours.

But in other policies, such as where they have an effective pre-school system for children three to six, which covers 99% of French children, certainly immigration is part of the question – we have immigration here too and we would cease to grow if were not
for immigration.

INVESTIGATE: On the question of childcare here, there’s a huge problem with the actual number of childcare places. Parents get a benefit for the money they pay, and get some of that back, and that goes with the whole question of tax policy – but an awful lot of parents can’t get their kids into a place. What can be done about this?

BISHOP: Look, why do we put all our resources into childcare places, which at the end of the day is an institution? Why aren’t we looking, as we have with other service deliveries, why aren’t we looking at the home? We made a good start with the 30% rebate which will come in from 2006 for childcare expenses, but again that’s through childcare places. We’ll certainly be looking at options and alternatives.
Going back to my aged care analogy, people don’t really want to be in institutions, they want to be at home. And asMinister I introduced thousands of [funded] places for people to remain in their own homes. So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t look at service delivery in other ways.

INVESTIGATE: When you say “in the home”, you mean making it easier for parents to stay at home with their children, or to have people come in and look after kids, or what?

BISHOP: Well, we actually need young women to return to the workforce. We made a big investment in their education, the country needs a return on that, and they know they’ve got a one-in-two chance of being divorced. They need to get their skills up because they might be heading up their own families. So all these things are all very real issues.

But looking at help in the home – instead of having to go into an institution to do that – there is some evidence of that happening in France. So we’ll be looking at those things as well.

INVESTIGATE: What about leave policies? I know that’s something that Pru Goward has been talking a lot about – questions of how you get people to take advantage of benefits fully. For men, for example, they may not want to take advantage of parental leave in their office if it leaves them vulnerable to getting overtaken by someone else in their office who doesn’t.

BISHOP: To me, maternity leave is no doubt to be discussed. My personal view is that when you’re looking at issues of decisions to have a child and to be in the workforce, it’s not a thirteen week problem, it’s a thirteen year problem. And it could be a thirty year problem! But in reality, we have to look outside the square and look beyond our regular way of doing things.

INVESTIGATE: Speaking of outside the square, you’ve brought up France a couple of times, and you’ve mentioned their polices of services in the home. Help us get our heads across some of these ideas, how this would work.

BISHOP: One of the ideas would be to have a tax deduction for paying people who come and work in your home to come and care for not only children but also do aged care, look after grown parents, and so on, in people’s homes. I took a look at the ABS figures and found that for those sorts of jobs that are in the black economy, they’re worth about six billion dollars in foregone tax. So it’s not all an expenditure question, it’s also one of creating proper jobs – all those things need to be looked at.

INVESTIGATE: I’m sure you saw the Australian this morning, which reported the latest numbers from the OECD on taxation and marginal tax rates and how much money the government takes. There seems to be a lot of talking about giving people benefits for this and that rather than just cutting people’s tax, letting them keep more on the front end, and making up their own minds what to do with it.

BISHOP: Look, my personal views on this are well known. I’m a strong believer in the philosophy of free enterprise and individualism. Individuals will always spend their money more wisely than governments who take it and say we’re going to spend it on your behalf. That is the basic position I come from philosophically, and the principles of free enterprise are really as immutable as the laws of gravity.

INVESTIGATE: So then just as part of thinking outside the square, your inquiry might wind up recommending a real overhaul in the way we do things in this country, and get to keep more money in the first place?

BISHOP: Well I’m certainly not going to predict what the outcomes will be. But there is more than one way to give money back to people. One way is to collect less money in the first place, through tax cuts, another way is through tax deductions, another is through rebates. And we’re going to have a 30% rebate on child care expenses in approved places. We have given the birth of a new child $3,000 – which is giving people more of their own money back.

INVESTIGATE: Well of course the $3,000 is great for new parents, but it’s a one-off, and they’re not getting that money back every year.

BISHOP: There is also the $600 per child, which is better than nothing…

INVESTIGATE: So with the idea of bringing people into the home, you’d have to obviously develop some sort of new accreditation system I presume? How would that work? I could imagine there would be a real danger of creating a whole new bureaucracy around this.

BISHOP: One thing – and these are all things we have to explore – we have to explore withholding tax, and getting these carers a tax file number, and getting them into the system. You know, when I speak to large groups of people and say hands up anyone who knows someone who pays for these sorts of tax in cash, well, forests of hands go up. It’s in the black economy, and it’s money that could be captured. But it’s just one of the things we’re thinking about.

INVESTIGATE: What are some of these other ideas that we might be seeing down the track out of this inquiry? This is, after all, the number one issue these days it seems.

BISHOP: Absolutely, there are some firms that have crèches, and there’s Family Tax Benefit, and we’ll talk about that. So there are just a lot of things to be discussed. And I think the inquiry gives us the opportunity – because so many areas have been discussed in so many unconnected ways – to bring it all together and connect up the dots.

INVESTIGATE: The thing with all these inquiries is getting from connecting all the dots to getting the government to change the way people do things – and as you say there are ways to change opportunities, to change the economic incentive, but how do you change the social attitudes around things such as having children in your twenties, when it’s safer and easier to do so?

BISHOP: Well of course, everything’s moved up, hasn’t it? I mean, forty is the new thirty; thirty is the new twenty. We’re living longer. We’ve got more time. But the biological clock hasn’t moved, of course…

INVESTIGATE: The whole problem of women who say, “oops, I forgot to have a baby” – is your inquiry going to look at ways to change attitudes and remind people that no matter what life expectancies are at 35 your fertility is declining and you need to be seriously thinking about the order in which you do things?

BISHOP: Really our concern is, what are the barriers that make people think “it’s not for me”, or “maybe I would like to but I’ll only have one”? What are the barriers? We want to hear from women. We want to hear from employers, we want to hear about the impact of the return of women to the workforce and of women with tremendous skills being able to be mothers and wives without being a supermum. Some people talk about the myth of the supermum: it’s reality. So that’s what we’re starting out looking at. Then we will look at recommendations from that for public policy.

We’ve seen tremendous changes in the culture in the last thirty years. In the ‘80s we had a government that was encouraging people to leave the workforce at 55 – they simply had not done the forward projections. Anybody who had done the forward work would’ve known that was nuts: that they couldn’t afford to live the good life when they were only halfway through it. We had the situation where legislation was brought in changing the divorce laws in the ‘70s; that was a tremendous change in the culture. So cultural change has been fermenting for the last thirty years. And in the last twenty years there has been quite a tremendous shift. What we’re looking at is, how can we have good public policy?

That means people can have good fulfilling lives, and that involves having a family and having children. What are the impediments that people feel? What are the constraints? What are the things that make people think, “no, it’s not for me”?

What are those things, and what do we need to do in terms of good public policy – tax, providing services people. That is the question.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:32 PM | Comments (0)

FAMILY SECRET: Apr 05, AU Edition

Untold tens of thousands of women terminate their pregnancies every year in Australia. Thousands of others, desperate for a child of their own, undergo IVF and other painful and expensive fertility treatments. And, just to make things more interesting, somewhere around 20,000 kids are sitting in Australian foster homes right this moment, many of them craving a permanent, loving family to truly call their own.In between these stark realities stands adoption: an issue that, despite recent publicity surrounding it, most Australians leave in the “too hard” basket. Investigate editor JAMES MORROW sorts out the myths from realities and looks at why the adoption option deserves a second look

The first thing many strangers say when they meet Christine* and her five-year-old daughter is, “she looks
just like you”. Indeed, mother and daughter do share the same skin tone and chiseled European features.

The only thing they don’t share is DNA: Christine had ovarian cancer when she was 19, had both ovaries removed, and although grateful to be alive was left unable to have children of her own. And so, like a small number of Australians, Christine and her husband went down the long, sometimes expensive, and often frustrating path of adopting a baby in this country.

As highlighted by the surprise reunion earlier this year between Health Minister Tony Abbott and the son his girlfriend gave up for adoption when he was 19, adoption was once a routine practice in this country. But for a variety of reasons – increased access to abortion, more government assistance for single mothers, political concerns about “stolen generations”, and a loss of stigma around single motherhood among them – adoption has slowly but surely gone out of favour in this country.

In fact, there are now more babies adopted from overseas in Australia than actual Australian-born children placed as adoptive children in local homes. In 2003-04, the latest years for which figures are available, just 73 Australian-born children were adopted, down from 78 in the 2002-03 reporting period – continuing a trend that has been spiraling downwards for nearly three decades.

By way of comparison, in 1980-81, nearly twenty times that many local children (1,388 to be exact) were placed in adoptive homes.

Yet despite the much-discussed Australian fertility crisis – our 1.75 child-per-woman rate is hardly enough to keep the population steady – on the one hand and the vast number of children living in foster or “out-of-home” care on the other (more than 20,000 kids at any given time and growing, according to the latest numbers from the Australian Institute for Family Studies), adoption continues to remain on the sidelines of the family planning agenda.

Part of the reason for this is the time, effort and money involved in adopting a child – though, to be sure, many fertility treatments can also take years and run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Rules, procedures and costs vary from state to state and agency to agency, but $5,000 is a good starting point for any in-country adoption, with overseas adoptions likely to run to $20,000 to $40,000 or more, especially once plane tickets, accommodation, and other travel-related expenses are factored in. And money is no guarantee of getting a child, either: even qualified parents have been known to wait five, six, seven years or more before being allowed to take home a new member of their family, though two to three years seems the norm. “Adoptions are made so very carefully,” says Jane West, a spokesperson for Anglicare Adoption Services in Sydney.

Beyond being able to afford the cost (fees are waived forspecial-needs adoptions, says West), typically couples need to be between the ages of 21 and 45, have been married for three years (though some agencies accept de facto partners and singles) and be Australian citizens. Much of the expense comes from the training, background and reference checks and medical screens which are all performed. Once these steps are completed, the lucky couple is then put in a pool of applicants with no guarantee that they will ever be chosen.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the equation, West points out that when a child is placed for adoption, his or her birth mother is given extensive counseling (as is the father, if he can be located) – a far cry from the bad old days when young mothers had to give up their children literally without so much as a second look. Birth mothers are given a selection of profiles of potential adoptive families to choose from, and have final say over with whom their child is placed.

“We had never really had any plans to adopt when we got married,” says Christine, who says that she had been thinking about the idea for a while when, one night, she turned to her husband in bed and said, “what do you think about adopting a child?” To her surprise, he thought that was a great idea, and before they knew it the couple from Sydney’s northern suburbs were taking the first steps into the maze of NSW’s adoption regime.

When they started the process in 1998, they had planned to go to Romania to find a child because they were under the belief, subtly encouraged by social workers, that there were simply no children available to adopt in Australia. And Christine and her husband were fine with that idea; as she says, “we figured that we’d be doing the right thing by giving a baby who needed one a home, the baby would be happy, we’d be happy and, well, everyone would be happy!”

But the more they researched it and found out that it was actually possible, the more they became convinced that they wanted to adopt a child born in this country – though Christine admits that initially she was scared off by the whole process of “open adoption”, which allows for contact between the birth mother and her offspring. (Indeed, the ongoing rights and feelings of the birth mother are one reason why Christine’s family has asked for anonymity).

“At first, I have to admit, it was really difficult from my perspective. It was like the changing of the guard: one family is accepting this new responsibility, and seeing the woman who gave birth to your child is probably the most difficult part of the whole adoption process,” she says.

In fact, when Christine and her husband initially filed their applications, they said that they were not keen on having contact with
the birth family, though they were encouraged when a DoCS social worker told them that, paradoxically, “the families who say they want the least contact often turn out to be the best candidates for open adoption”.

Even though it was initially difficult (her daughter sees her birth mother twice a year: once around her birthday, and once around Christmastime), Christine says it has actually been a blessing in disguise. “For my daughter, I think she’ll benefit from the contact,” she says. “And I know from my circle of friends who adopted from overseas that we are lucky to have this contact. In the beginning, yeah, it was extra stress, but now five years down the track I think it’s fantastic.” One feature Christine is especially keen on is the fact that her daughter has a real sense of where she comes from: “She knows her story, she knows everything, but it doesn’t really come up much. It’s just how it is. For the most part it’s been really positive.”

While Christine’s story has had a happy ending, she and others who have been intimately involved with adoption in Australia are concerned that, with so many children in need, far too many are being shuttled back and forth from foster homes to unsuitable and abusive family situations and back again – hurting their abilities to form trusting bonds with anyone, and creating thousands upon thousands of adults who will, in all likelihood, have repeated run-ins with the law or simply become wards of the state. A recent study by the CREATE Foundation, an advocacy group for children in state care, confirms that that is just what is happening, with those in foster care reporting that they are missing school, are victims of bullying, have trouble making and keeping friends, and are subject to everything from decreased educational aspirations to emotional instability and violence.

The head of the NSW Adoptive Parents Association, who, like Christine, has concerns for her privacy and that of her adoptive child’s birth mother and thus asks that her last name not be used, is a woman called Sonia. She recalls going to an Adelaide conference on adoption in 2004. Sitting in the audience amongst a thousand other delegates, she heard that there were many children in various state foster care systems who had gone through eleven or more placements in the space of just a few years – numbers confirmed by CREATE. According to Sonia, there is a golden opportunity here to connect at least some of these children up with parents wishing to adopt, and she believes the government ought to set some sort of time limit – even just a loose one – stating that after a certain amount of time in foster care, a child should be eligible to go into the adoption pool.

“Surely adopting would be more appropriate than long-term fostering”, she says. “We have learned from the stolen generation, and we’ve learned from the days when we forced adoption on girls when there wasn’t any other option, but since we don’t have that social structure anymore where women are forced into doing something they don’t want to do, why can’t we do something about it?”, she asks. “If a child has to spend, say, a year in foster care while some issues are sorted out, that’s one thing. But if we see that a child is going back and forth from foster home to birth parent and then back out again to some other foster home, there has to be a point at which we say, enough is enough?”

Having children is one of the most emotional and important issues to face Australians, both as individuals and as a nation. Without enough young people who have been raised up to be solid, productive citizens, fifty years from now the country will find itself in the same position as contemporary Western Europe.

There, an aging population which is incapable of replacing itself has been forced to make what now looks like a devil’s bargain with various increasingly hostile immigrant groups in order to keep their leaky welfare state economies afloat. While this sort of situation is unlikely to occur here – for one thing, Australia is generally a lot better at assimilating new migrants – the fact remains, we’re not raising enough kids to keep our economy growing at the sort of clip that has, until recently, been standard operating procedure.

So where does adoption fit in? Certainly, it takes a very special sort of person to decide to go through filling out the forms, sitting through the interviews, and writing the cheques that go along with becoming an adoptive parent. And, on the other hand, it also takes a very special kind of person to recognize that, under their particular circumstances, their child might be better off being placed with another family. All anecdotal indicators suggest that there are large numbers of parents who would consider adopting children if they thought that the process was easier and that there were more Australian-born kids who not only needed permanent homes, but were eligible for them as well. (Christine recalls that in a moment of candour, a DoCS social worker – who was later happily proved wrong – told her “there are no healthy babies out there for adoption”, an attitude which surely causes plenty of prospective parents to chuck in the towel before they even begin).

There are many things that need to happen before adoption is thought of as more than just a pricey and rare special offering on Australians’ menu of reproductive choices. Although Parliament has just undertaken an inquiry into international adoptions chaired by Bronwyn Bishop, MP (see interview, p. 42), something ought to be done on a federal level to streamline the domestic adoption process and streamline the chaotic maze of regulations that go from state to state. Part of this should include a look at allowing private adoptions, a process that has worked successfully for years in the United States to put couples in touch with women who want to adopt out a child.

Furthermore, too, cultural attitudes must shift, and concerns about repeating the mistakes of the past must eventually subside if they get in the way of doing good in the future. The number of terminations and children in foster care on the one hand and, on the other, the number of couples going through difficult infertility treatments shows that there are lots of parents who want children but can’t have them – and vice versa – in Australia.

* Not her real name; due to privacy concerns and Australia’s open adoption regime which keeps birth parents involved in their children’s lives, all the adoptive parents contacted by Investigate and named in this article have asked to remain anonymous.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:25 PM | Comments (0)

TRAVEL: Nov 05, AU Edition

Once a closed state, Carol Pucci discovers Laos is an unspoiled treat

LUANG PRABANG, Laos – At first it sounds like thunder. Then I recognize the beat of a drum and the hollow ring of a gong. It’s 4 a.m. and the neighbours across the street, the Buddhist monks of Wat Sene, are starting their day.

Two hours later, I step around the desk clerk asleep on the floor in the lobby of the Senesouk Guest House and walk outside. Lined up next to the red and gold pavilions inside the temple gate are dozens of orange-robed monks about to begin their daily ritual of collecting alms.

Barefoot young novices, some just school-age boys, follow the lead of the older monks as they walk in a single-file procession, tipping their lacquered bowls toward women kneeling along the roadside offering dollops of sticky rice.

One young monk yawns; another smiles when a woman substitutes a candy bar instead of rice. No one speaks.

The scene repeats itself every morning on nearly every street, country road and back alley in Luang Prabang, the ancient former royal capital of Laos. Thirty-two Buddhist temples housing more than 500 monks are part of a cache of historical treasures that led UNESCO to declare this the best-preserved traditional town in Southeast Asia.
Set 2,300 feet above sea level on a peninsula at the junction of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers in northern Laos, the town of Luang Prabang, part of a jungle province surrounded by teak forests and limestone mountains, has always been a special place among the spiritual.

The first kingdom of Laos was established here in the 14th century. The last king to rule the country – Sisavang Vatthana – lived in the Royal Palace, now a museum, until shortly after a communist takeover following the Vietnam War.

Laos became the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in 1975 and reopened in the late 1980s to outsiders after years of isolation. With its temples and collection of French-style mansions and shop houses, Luang Prabang was declared a World Heritage site in 1995, and began attracting Western travelers drawn to the absence of cars and crime and easy, slow pace.

Small enough to walk around in a few hours, this is a town that so far seems to have found its way onto the Southeast Asia tourist route without compromising its culture.

Along Thanon Xieng Thong, the sleepy main street lined with temples glittering with mirrored mosaic tiles, women wearing long, slim silk skirts amble by on bicycles or motorbikes, shading themselves with parasols.

Banana and palm trees shade alleyways leading to the misty Mekong. Pots boil over charcoal and wood fires at open-air breakfast restaurants. At the morning market, women crouch on low stools as they split sugar cane with machetes.

It’s possible to buy a cheeseburger, a latte or get a foot massage at a string of businesses catering to Western travelers. But there are no McDonald’s or Starbucks or high-rise hotels, and the World Heritage status is likely to quash any wholesale moves toward gentrification.
Laws ban construction of modern hotels in the historic center.

Instead, local officials encourage developers to renovate stylish old mansions, built when Laos was a French colony and European architecture thrived.

“The question is, how far do we want to go?” says Tara Gujadhur, an American hired by a Dutch organization to help local officials develop ecotourism.

The number of tourists visiting Luang Prabang grew from 67,000 in 1997 to 170,000 in 2002. “Our goal is not to become another Chiang Mai (a town in Northern Thailand that’s lost much of its charm to an influx of Western tourists) or to follow Thailand’s lead.”

Best advice: Get here soon. Rise early. Chat with a monk. Cruise the Mekong in a longtail boat. Wave at the sweet-potato and peanut farmers working the terraced hillsides.

Sit back. Sip an ice coffee at a riverside cafe at sunset.

For now at least, Luang Prabang is much like what most of Southeast Asia used to be – a slice of the world made for slowing down.

It didn’t take long for me to become a regular at the Sack Restaurant next door to my guesthouse where the bill for a banana pancake with a thin coat of honey, and a coconut shake, came to about $2.

One morning, the young owner split open a coconut for my shake, then while the pancake was cooking, took off on his motorcycle, and returned a few minutes later with his own breakfast.

“This is what Lao people eat,” he laughed, opening a packet of liver steamed in a banana leaf.

Most people speak French as well as Lao and almost everyone is anxious to practice their English.

I wandered into the temple grounds at Wat Sene one afternoon with hopes of putting a name and a face to the sea of orange robes filing by in the morning procession.

MonkGossip.jpgA young man standing outside near a giant standing Buddha figure wrapped in a silk sash introduced himself as Monk Chantha, age 20.
He dreams of one day teaching or working in computers. In the meantime, as a novice, he studies, prays and observes the many rules of Theravada Buddhism.

“No driving, no killing animals, no drinking, no eating after noon. And no swimming,” he smiles as we stand talking in the midday heat. “Only showers.”

Lao boys become monks for a day, a week, months or years, often as a way of gaining merit for their parents or a relative. Chantha, like many short-term monks, entered the temple in exchange for an education his family could not otherwise afford.

We exchanged e-mail addresses, but he warned that I might not hear from him often. “For us, it’s very expensive,” he says. I checked later at an Internet cafe. The price was about $1.50 per hour.
Westerners can travel like kings all over Southeast Asia, but Laos offers exceptional value. The currency is the kip, and with a 1,000-kip note worth about 20 cents, change for a $20 adds up to a thick wad of colorful bills.

An air-conditioned room in the eight-room Senesouk Guesthouse, with polished teak floors and modern bathrooms, costs $40; It’s possible to eat well at any of the riverside restaurants for $5-$6 a person including a large bottle of Beer Lao. There’s also a handful of upscale European-style guesthouses and bistros that cater to Western wallets, and a few are worth a splurge.

A bargain at $100 a night is a deluxe room in the Villa Santi, an elegant and graceful hotel in a mansion owned by the family of a former royal princess. Around the corner, at the French-owned L’Elephant bistro, friends and I sampled a menu of Laotian specialties for $15 each that included betel leaf soup, marinated pork and banana flower salad, marinated buffalo, and tropical fruits seasoned with pepper and lemon grass syrup.

Tourism has brightened the economic prospects for many in a country where the per capita income is $500 a year.

Longtail boats once carried only fishermen. Now they ferry tourists along the twisting Mekong. Twenty-five dollars buys a trip to the Pak Ou caves two hours upstream where grottoes carved into limestone cliffs house hundreds of Buddha statues. On the way back, the boats stop at a village where the locals make whiskey from rice and another that specializes in paper making and silk weaving.

Lim Somsy, a villager who sells paper lamps he makes from the bark of mulberry trees, explains that until five years ago, most of the 200 families living in the Mekong village of Xang Khone only farmed rice. Then tourism took off and the “whole village benefited.”

Perhaps it has to do with living under a Soviet-style government, but locals have adopted an entrepreneurial spirit that’s endearing in contrast with high-energy cities like Bangkok or Saigon, where travelers are sometimes hassled by annoying touts and scam artists.
“Lucky, lucky,” a young woman squatting on a straw mat piled with rows of silk scarves calls out as I walked by her stall at the night market. “You buy from me please.”

HmongGirl.jpgShe was among dozens of women who come in from the villages each night carrying bags filled with hand-sewn and woven textiles. “How much do you want to pay?” she asks, unfolding two or three scarves in colors that caught my eye.

In the village of Ban Aen, about a half-hour’s drive from Luang Prabang, brick and tile have replaced dried palm and thatched bamboo on some of the houses, signs of the new prosperity.

Bouncing around in the back of a tuk-tuk, an open-air truck with bench seats and a canopy, I came here to catch a boat for a 10-minute trip along the Nam Khan to the jungle waterfalls of Taat Sae.

As the driver turned into the village, I noticed two women standing on either side of the road holding a piece of string with plastic bags attached to it. As we approached, they grinned shyly and raised the string.

“The village entrance,” the driver laughs when I ask what was going on. He leaned out the window and handed one of the women two 1000 kip notes, worth 25 cents. Then they lowered the string and thanked us with big smiles and waves as we drove inside.

The Great Indochina Loop
29 days, ex Bangkok
Trip Style: Intrepid Original
Highlights: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Mekong River, Luang Prabang, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City, Temples of Angkor
Brief: Journey through the heart, the soul and the many diverse delights of Indochina. The treasures of Thailand, the locals of Laos, the vibrancy of Vietnam and charisma of Cambodia - discover it all on this awesome adventure Asia.
Departure: Departs every Wednesday
Price: AU$2030 plus a Local Payment of US$400 per person.

A Taste of Laos
5 days, Vientiane to Luang Prabang
Trip Style: Intrepid Independent
Highlights: Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Mekong River, Pak Ou Caves
Brief: Experience the essence of Laos on this short but enlightening trip. Colonial mansions, tree-lined boulevards and Buddhist temples impart a unique timelessness to the charming town of Vientiane, situated on the banks of the mighty Mekong River. The former royal capital of Luang Prabang never fails to enchant visitors with its abundance of temples, faded French provincial architecture and friendly people. Visit these sites and get a memorable introduction to a fascinating country, seemingly lost in time.
Departure: Departs daily
Price: AU$625, twin share per person or AU$960, single per person

When is the best time of year to travel?
Just about anytime is a great time to visit Laos as most of the year is hot and humid. There are three main seasons – hot, wet and cool. The hot season is from February to May, during which temperatures can get up to 40°C and the land is dry and dusty. The wet season is from June to October and tends to have consistent rain, cloudy days with temperatures averaging around 30°C. The cool season runs between November and January with temperatures dropping as low as 15°C in the evening.
Religion: 60% Buddhist, 40% Animist & other
Language: Lao
Currency: Lao Kip (LAK)
Visas: All nationalities require a visa to enter Laos. We ask all our travellers to obtain their Laos visas in Asia, and NOT in their home country. Generally best to get it in the starting point location or on occasions at the border, depending on the current state of affairs (it varies!). Please ensure that you have 3 passport photos and US$50 cash (this may vary too) to fulfill the requirements.
Electricity: 220V AC

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:17 PM | Comments (0)

HEALTH: Mar 05, Au Edition


Are party drugs really the best way to make a cancer patient’s last days more livable?

Aside from those who die suddenly in accidents, quietly in their sleep, or simply sitting at the dinner table, a good proportion of the population gets not only a fair bit of advance warning that their time is almost up, but also a rough estimate of when that will be. That diva of death, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, counseled coming to terms with and embracing death as a part of life, seeing it as a “transition” to a better place. She was quite a morbid little lady though – and perhaps a little impatient for death to come as well, having spent so much time preparing for it.

On the other side of the coin, there are those of us who would prefer to achieve immortality through not dying. Being firmly in this camp, I plan a last-minute panic, followed by months of denial – but having spent several years working in aged care, my experience is that very few people actually spit the dummy completely when given notice. Still, there is psychological work to do to wrap up a life, and it is painful to watch a patient who is trying to achieve some measure of acceptance and reconciliation but is exhausted by the effort.

Which brings up the question: how much intervention is appropriate to help this process along? Some people these days are answering, “a lot”. Pending a license from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Harvard will this year commence an FDA-approved trial of MDMA, better known as the party drug ecstasy, in end-stage cancer patients suffering from severe anxiety. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, the Harbor-UCLA Medical Centre is trialing the use of psilocybin (the active in ingredient magic mushrooms) in terminally ill cancer patients. But these are all very small studies, and are of the “qualitative”, or anecdotal, kind: see what happens, and then know what to look at if it progresses to the level of a drug trial. Essentially, they are pre-trial trials.

(This is not the first time since the heady days of Timothy Leary that U.S. researchers have toyed with illegal drugs to treat various mental conditions: the University of Arizona has lately reported success using psilocybin to treat obsessive compulsive disorder, while in Charleston, South Carolina, MDMA is being studied in victims of violence who are suffering post traumatic stress disorder.)

What some medical researchers have discovered is that ecstasy can make people happy. And expansive. And positive about themselves and at one with the world and like, man, there’s like love, just like, everything is love, you know? Feeling like this, they reckon, is better than being fearful and anxious, as most cancer patients are to some degree. What if we could make them happy? Give them tools to make the work of wrapping up a life and preparing for death a little easier? Or just generally unbridle the unconscious, facilitate communication with family, and defy the poet to go gently into that good night?

In the Harvard and UCLA studies, the patients will be evaluated, given low-to-moderate doses of drugs in the company of a psychiatrist, and then spend a fair few number of consecutive hours talking it all out. And then do it again a few weeks later. The studies aim to see if this helps people to deal with end of life issues. Certainly, most of the unpleasant side effects could be controlled in this very controlled setting. The idea seems to be that these are patients who may not have the time and energy for an in-depth rigorous sorting through of the subconscious issues in guided psychotherapy: if they are uninhibited and happy, it can all get done a lot quicker.

Myself, I’d like anything in my subconscious to stay put, and thus avoid both psychotherapy and hallucinogenic drugs for this reason. But putting aside the issue of how the process could be patented to make money, and determined to be safe, and then approved ten years hence, would anyone really want to find a psychiatrist to sit and talk with them for six hours at a stretch? Furthermore, how much damage might a “bad trip” do to someone in their last days? And if dad has always been a cranky old bugger, will it really help the family to hear him waxing lyrical under the influence? My own feeling is that there wouldn’t be a lot of takers for this kind of treatment, and that they would be a fairly self-selecting group. But what if it took off?

Personally, I don’t like the idea. It rings wrong to me, and I have been trying to find a way to come at it reasonably. Debating the idea of using hallucinogens like this often leads to overwrought fears about a dystopian, mood-managed future á la Huxley’s Brave New World, and brings up a lot of the same issues that came up when it was discovered that Prozac could not just cure depression, but smooth out challenging personality traits. There are, if you tilt your head and squint, some interesting ethical dilemmas here, but the reality is — as for the overwhelming majority of drugs that are tested for any medical use — that cost, profitability, patentability and practicality, as well as safety and the broader concerns of the community may well be immovable obstacles standing in the way of Nana ever getting high.

This small wave of tests involving medical mushrooms and prescription party drugs will probably die out with the patients in the studies, and people will continue to wrap up their lives in much the same ways they always have.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:04 PM | Comments (0)

HEALTH: Nov 05, AU Edition

The brain is a marvelous thing – but it can also play tricks on us (for our own good, of course)

Have you ever felt badly blue, critically assessed your life and thought, Of course I’m depressed! Anyone would be under these circumstances!, and then gone to bed, or for a walk, or for coffee, or whatever it is that you do, and felt better?

‘Oh’, you thought, ‘it was the night/the weather/the deadline/the head lice that made me temporarily insane. I love my life. Could use a little bit of tweaking at the edges, maybe, but nothing major.’
Most of us have felt exactly this way at one time or another. And if you don’t feel worse than this, than guess what? You are not depressed. Instead, you’ve just suffered from a mild delusion – but that’s normal.

In fact, your life is always going to be slightly worse than you think. That’s right. You are less moral, less reasonable, less kind, less lucky and less smart than you think. Aren’t we all. If you were depressed you would feel lousy most days, and if this went on for more than two weeks you would be well advised to go and see a doctor.
But if you’re not depressed then you’re not a good judge of how things are going. The depressed – aside from being tedious negative – Nellies – are better judges in some areas of critical thinking than the rest of us. The rest of us are optimists because it gets us through the day.

How smart do you think you are? A bit above average? Isn’t everyone. I have done less-than-perfectly in exams because I was tired, anxious, pregnant, overqualified, didn’t study at all, missed the lecture, or the questions were stupid. I have never done worse than I expected in an exam because more than half the people who took it were smarter than me. Like everyone else, I am smarter than average. I don’t know where the half of people on the wrong side of the intelligence bell curve are hiding, but clearly no one has told them yet.

We – excluding the floridly delusional and the depressed – who are neurologically normal are poor critical thinkers. Some try to think well, and some don’t bother, but the results have been in for years. We are lousy at critical thinking. Our brain wants us to feel good. It tells us lies so that we do. We can’t all be ‘above average’.

People believe weird things. Few of us understand statistics (a subject which should be taught in detail in primary school), and I have seen grown adults confronted with the phrase, ‘show me a double blind study’ look up with big puppy dog eyes and say, ‘I don’t know what that means, but I’ve heard amazing stories so I know it’s true’.
And actually, even if we try not to believe weird things, they still slip through. Imagine you’re a doctor. In all probability you or your work subscribes to a couple of journals about interesting medical stuff. You probably get digests of popular journals sent to your email address. Drug reps bring pens and reports. All together, we are talking about hundreds of studies a week here. To keep up to date, you will only read the interesting ones in detail, and if they ‘seem right’ and confirm what you know to be true, you won’t dig around to be sure the study was done well. This is a self-serving bias. You see what you expect to see. And if a study comes out tomorrow showing irrefutably that smoking is good for you, everyone will look at it, squint at it, and say, ‘well, I just don’t believe that’.

Here’s an example of how this works. Studies have shown, repeatedly, that Echinacea really does nothing for the common cold. Nothing. One study showed it actually made colds worse, but that was an errant finding. I’ve been watching the Echinacea phenomenon for ten years now, and every time it is proven not to work, someone says ‘the dose they used in the study was too low, too high, preserved in alcohol, or brewed under a waning moon so of course it didn’t work…but for just $50 I can hand-bottle the perfect dose for you’.

It still doesn’t work.

Vitamin C also doesn’t work, at least not in the 2,000 mg-an-hour school of cold-fighting. The anti-viral flu injection doesn’t have as much promise as was hoped ten years ago. We all make mistakes, and we like to see things that aren’t there so long as they make us feel good. Conventional medicine is fallible, but it does get the message eventually. Conventional medicine makes errors, isn’t always skeptical enough (of drug companies), is perhaps overly-critical of herbal wisdom, but it tends eventually to get with the program. Show it enough studies and it says, ‘well…OK’.

Unfortunately people with a vested interest in something that can be proved to be false (homeopathy, for example) have, by definition, a vested interest in maintaining their point of view. True believers will never be convinced, or at least the majority won’t. Bad No good Western Medicine comes off a little better, because it is based in science which is true (I mean, specifically that it has a plausible congruent hypothesis which could be – but hasn’t been – disproven. That being a damn fine definition of a scientific fact). That this is, so the beliefs of your local GP are only nominally threatened when they read that they have been prescribing and believing in an antiarthritis drug that provides as much pain relief as panadol, and kills then odd person. They feel foolish at first; then their brain tells them they couldn’t possibly have known , then they feel better about themselves and their profession, and make a note to be cautious with arthritis management in future. If a homeopath sees a study that shows the whole thing is junk science (and doesn’t work, to boot) they have a lot to loose by accepting this. So they don’t. They become a little paranoid and delusional, which is bad, but they get to keep their jobs and their belief in themselves. Which is good. I suppose.

Anecdotes aren’t evidence. They’re stories. We all suffer the placebo effect, and what a blessing that is. The human brain abhors a vacuum. We like to feel useful. ‘Magical thinking’ is the phrase that describes believing in magical things because we don’t like to know how little we know. Magical thinking describes at times a schizophrenic’s reasoning, but it also explains our tendency to attribute cause and effect where there isn’t any. ‘I feel better because I took vitamin C’ really means, ‘the less I know about vitamin C or the cold virus, the more I see the connection’. I don’t know much about computers, but I like to feel smart, so I can gather erroneous information to form a belief about why it won’t do what I want it to. We all do this. But it doesn’t make it right.

The human brain selectively remembers information to support beliefs that support you. This is why there is no point trying to argue someone into or out of religious beliefs. They will accept your arguments only if they are receptive to them, in which case, they are susceptible to believing you and it is in their interest to do so. And yet, the letters page…

You recall the two times in your life that you intuitively thought of a person not thought of for years, only to run into them, or hear they’ve died. Because you like the idea of having spiritual powers and being intuitive. You fail to recall the four million times that you have thought of a person out of the blue, and never saw them, heard from them, or thought of them again. Great dinner party stopper: ‘I had this desire to look up this guy from school – and then a week later I heard he had died!’ Would you believe that the statistical probability that that would occur by chance is really high?

Just another trick of our wonderful, if sometimes deluded, brains.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 07:58 PM | Comments (0)


drug 006.jpg

Why is the Bracks government sticking with a world-first roadside drug test that’s controversial, expensive, and will make Victorian motorists only marginally safer? JAMES MORROW crunches the numbers and finds that there are plenty of good reasons why no other government on Earth has gone near this scheme

When Ballarat truckie John De Jong was publicly humiliated for driving while under the influence of drugs – and then let off the hook (without so much as an apology, incidentally) when it turned out he was innocent – by the Victoria Police last year, it was widely assumed that the much-hyped roadside drug testing program that nabbed him would be allowed to die a quiet death. But instead of learning the potentially expensive lesson of De Jong’s case, Steve Bracks’ state government has pressed ahead with the program. And even though the police say they’ve changed their ways so that fewer innocent people will get caught in their net, a closer look at the program reveals that Victorian taxpayers are still being asked to sacrifice a lot of their own time and money for a program with highly speculative results.

“One in 100 drivers found taking drugs” screamed the headlines when Victoria’s police finally lifted the lid on their controversial roadside drug testing program a few weeks ago. The state’s roads, went the implication, were choc-a-block with stoned ravers and speed-addled truckies: according to the police, around one in every hundred drivers tested by the program were found to have either THC, the active ingredient in marijuana or methamphetamines (or some combination of the two) in their system. Amazingly, this number was proportionally far greater than the number of motorists caught driving while under the influence of alcohol, a legal and readily-available product: As Melbourne’s Age noted in its report on the revived program, “the yearly average strike rate for motorists caught drink-driving is about one in every 250 tested”.

Yet no one asked the question, could these new numbers for drugged drivers really be correct?

The famous American bank robber Willie Sutton was once asked by a reporter why he robbed banks. “Because that’s where the money is,” came the succinct reply, and it’s hard to fault that logic. To arrive at these incredible 1-in-100 numbers, the sort of headline-grabbing figures that would not only consign John De Jong’s case to ancient history but win an extension of the program from the state parliament when it comes up for review later this year, it’s clear that the cops went the Willie Sutton route.

In fact, despite initial claims that these numbers were arrived at largely by “random” methods, Victoria’s scare-story numbers were almost entirely the product of some very selective targeting. At one operation, targeting the New Year’s Day Summerdayze dance festival, almost one out of every ten drivers tested positive. It’s not clear how many drivers were pulled over on their way out of Summerdayze (the police won’t reveal such operational details about that or any other sting), but it’s easy to see how, in choosing this sort of venue, Victorian cops had an easy opportunity to up the numbers supporting this program.

Do the math: Imagine that, say, fifty drivers were stopped in one night’s operation, and five of them tested positive – an extraordinary result, ten times that of the general population, but not at all unthinkable. If we take these statistical outliers out of the rest of the numbers, things become clearer: Stopping those other 1,450 other drivers would have led to just ten hits, cutting the overall success rate to just .68 of one percent.

Now on one level it makes sense that if you want to catch people who are taking drugs, go to the sort of places where they hang out and party. (Though whether or not the time and effort spent sitting outside a dance festival could not have been more profitably spent patrolling the roads for dangerous driving is another question). But it is also ridiculous on its face for Victoria’s police to suggest that because cops managed to get a one percent strike rate through highly selective targeting, then one out of every hundred cars one sees on Victoria’s roads is being driven by someone under the influence of drugs.

This would be the equivalent of saying that, say, the number of drunks on the road on New Year’s Eve is the same as those out there on any other evening. Furthermore, while it may be tempting to compare testing for stoners and drunks, the procedure for administering these saliva tests are a good deal more invasive than simply asking a driver to blow into a tube. A driver who gets stopped in by one of these sweeps is asked to put a saliva collector in his or her mouth, and then wait five minutes for the results to come back. (And refusal is not an option, but rather carries with it the presumption of on-the-spot guilt). If the sample comes back negative, the driver is free to go; otherwise, they have to produce a second sample, which, if it turns up positive, is then sent to a lab for further analysis by more accurate tests. In the meantime, then, they have to wait for up to three weeks to find out if they will be prosecuted for an offence.

And not only is the test more involved and time-consuming for the (at least) 99 out of 100 drivers who are guilty of nothing but who are still compelled to sit by the side of the road for five minutes waiting to see if they will become the next John De Jong, unlike breathalyzers, with these drug tests there’s far less link between a positive result and actual driving impairment. That’s because these tests can pick up drugs taken long before the driver got behind the wheel – thus a joint smoked on a Friday, while illegal, would likely not impair a driver Saturday. And isn’t the point of this whole program road safety?

So why did the Victorian cops decide to go down this route and become, as they proudly proclaim in all their literature, the first po
lice department in the entire world to set up this sort of roadside drug-testing regime? Beyond the basic motive force that causes any bureaucracy to seek as many good headlines as possible while expending as little effort as possible, much of the justification seems to come from work done by Dr. Olaf H. Drummer of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, and especially a presentation he gave to the Australasian Association of Clinical Biochemists in 2004.

The presentation was sponsored by BioMediq Pty. Ltd., the Doncaster, Vic.-based agent for the UK company that makes the Cozart Rapiscan – the same test that snared truckie De Jong. In his talk, Drummer talked about the various ways drugged drivers can be a danger on the road (no argument here), but then drew the rather long bow that by spending $1 million to Rapiscan 10,000 Victorian drivers, the state could save a $15 million. As Drummer’s PowerPoint noted, this represents a “Cost benefit ration 15:1 ! [sic]”.

But there are a couple of problems with Drummer’s study. For one thing, the arithmetic behind the purported $15 million savings feels like it was concocted in a trendy outcomes-based grade school maths classroom: it’s not whether the answer is right or wrong that is important, but rather that everyone feels good about the result. Drummer’s presentation states that “If drug testing and wider police enforcement reduces use of drugs and driving by … 5%” (italics added), the “reduction in drug use saves potentially $15 million” (again, italics added). Yet if 10,000 people were tested, and fully 1 percent of them were on drugs as police statistics imply (i.e., the entire program took 100 drivers), it is hard to figure how that handful of drug-takers could wreak $15 million worth of damage.

Who needs a roadside drug test when for some motorists their faces are a dead giveaway? Californian woman Penny Wood traded her privacy for reduced prison time on traffic and petty crime misdemeanours, by agreeing to let police publicise her mugshot as a warning about the ravages of five years’ methamphetamine abuse.

In other words, roadside drug testing could save lives and money; on the other hand, it might not. Since the only sub-stances the current test looks for are pot and speed, then it stands to reason that the smart – well, if not smart, than at least cagey – drug abuser who was looking to get behind the wheel would simply switch to a different poison. Already this seems to be happening, as a quick scan of posts on forums hosted by, an Australian dance party website, suggests.

(“We need to send out decoys,” one participant jokingly suggested amidst the debate. “The first car (which has a straight driver of course) that leaves in each convoy from the party puts drops in their eyes to cause their eyes to dilate, then drives in an erratic manner to attract attention, the cops then pull them over, see their huge eyes then perform the test on them. During this time, the remainder of the crew slip past. Once the test is complete and passed, everyone goes on their merry way.”)

Victoria’s drivers are used to getting ripped off when they get behind the wheel. Recall that last year, that the state government had to refund $14 million dollars to some 90,000 motorists incorrectly fined by speed cameras on Melbourne’s Western Ring Road, and spend a further $6 million compensating drivers for hardship when their licenses were incorrectly taken from them by dodgy technology – again, of course, all in the name of safety.

Amazingly (especially considering the embarrassment of John De Jong’s case) Victoria’s police seem more than happy to once again let technology do their work for them, rather than get out on the roads and into the public transport system and look to stop unsafe or criminal behaviour in progress. In the process, Victorians will be forced to give up another little bit of their time and freedom, all in the inarguable name of safety.

And that represents one of the biggest, yet most under-reported, problems with the whole program: while roadside drug testing may pull a few stoners off the road, it also represents yet another small erosion in the personal liberty of all Australians (New South Wales is considering a similar program at the moment, and it is unlikely to stay confined within Victoria’s borders). Part of the tradeoff of living in a free society is that people are willing to take on a bit more risk in return for having a government that, as much as possible leaves people alone to make their own decisions and go about their business.

Australia is not, and should not become, one of those societies where cops and other agents of the state have the power to question and detain people without reasonable cause; that’s the sort of thing many Aussies (or their parents or grandparents) came here to get away from.
While the pain of losing a friend or relative to an auto accident is, of course, incalculable, there is very little indication that an expensive drug-testing regime for motorists will do much more than cause a hassle, heartache, and ultimately further embarrassment for the Victorian government.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 07:45 PM | Comments (0)

TECHNOLOGY: Nov 05, AU Edition

A new internet numbering system could computerize everything, reports Brian Kladko

The Internet is running out of real estate. Just like a city, the Internet’s virtual space is divvied up into addresses – not e-mail addresses, but Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. Each numerical address represents a piece of the Internet, and you can’t connect to the Internet without one.

The current version of the Internet has more than four billion IP addresses. But soon, that might not be enough.

Fortunately, there is a solution: a new system that will not only provide an address for every person on earth, but every animal, every electronic device, every mechanical part. Everything, not just everyone, could be connected.

“Because you have the ability to link everything to everything else, you could conceivably have your cell phone control up to 250 different electronic appliances in your home”, explains Alex Lightman, an inventor, writer, entrepreneur and one of the most ardent boosters of the new system, called Internet Protocol version 6.

IPv6, as it’s known, is a set of international standards, or protocols, that allow computers to understand each other. It will replace IPv4, the standard that has enabled the Internet to function since its creation 35 years ago.

IPv4 worked fine when the Internet was used by a bunch of computer scientists. Now that everyone wants a piece of it, IPv4 is seen as increasingly obsolete.

Most people aren’t even aware of their IP addresses, because most people don’t own one: the addresses belong to government agencies, universities and companies. When someone logs on from home, they borrow an address from a pool of addresses owned by their Internet provider. Although there are still 1.3 billion addresses yet to be assigned, that’s not enough to accommodate two of the most exciting trends of the Internet – high-speed mobile computing and Internet telephony. Both technologies depend on the ability of two computers to communicate directly with each other. Every mobile device, for example, will need its own IP address to tap into the Internet with a broadband connection.

The U.S. Department of Defense has realized the possibilities. It’s converting all of its computerized systems to IPv6 by 2008, so that it can create a “Global Information Grid” – a military network that would provide commanders in the Pentagon and front-line soldiers a wealth of information about battle conditions.

But drumming up interest among private companies, and their customers, is more difficult. So proponents are dangling the prospect of an automated, remote-controlled future: one that will be made possible by giving an address to every device, not just computers.

IPv6, for example, could make it easier to get a taxi when you’re getting drenched. In Japan, sensors with their own IP addresses have been attached to taxis’ windshield wipers.

When the wipers start moving in response to rain, that information is collected through the Internet. Taxi companies use the information to redirect their fleets to rain-soaked locations.

If ordinary household devices can go online, manufacturers could monitor them to make sure they’re working right, or diagnose a problem when they’re not.

If a digital video recorder has its own address, the owner could tap into it from another city and download a show it had previously recorded.

In other words, the Internet won’t just be about sitting in front of a computer, reading Web sites or tapping out messages. It will be about controlling the minutiae of our lives, down to the most mundane details.

“Your refrigerator could call the store when it needed to and order more milk because it would know you were out of it”, explains Doug Barton, general manager of the international organization that distributes addresses. “There are some pretty grandiose ideas behind some of these things.”

When addresses were first doled out, the United States – which invented the Internet – got most of them, even though many are going unused to this day. But when Asian countries finally got on board, they couldn’t get nearly as many, which is another factor that is pushing many to advocate for IPv6. At one point, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had more addresses than China.

“There is a real sense of injustice about how the addresses have been provided over the years”, said Jim Bound, a Hewlett Packard computer engineer who heads a group promoting IPv6 in North America.

Thanks to a reform of the way addresses are assigned, as well as a technological workaround that allows many network users to share one address, the depletion of addresses that some people had predicted just a few years ago has still not come to pass.

But Chinese officials continue to complain about a disparity.
Countries throughout East Asia see IPv6 as a remedy to past wrongs, as well as their best hope of catching up to, or surpassing, the United States.

IPv6 conferences in Japan and China attract thousands, and Japanese prime ministers even mention it in speeches.

Some IPv6 missionaries, such as Lightman, say the United States will pay for its complacency. As the rest of the world moves to a different standard and starts slapping addresses on everything with a circuit, the United States will lose its technological edge.

“We’re a bunch of rubes with respect to the new Internet”, Lightman says.

But even some IPv6 boosters, such as Bound, say it’s only a matter of time before companies realize its potential.

“We are not the overweight, sloppy ex-heavyweight champion”, says Bound, who helped select the IPv6 standard. “What we are is someone who’s ahead. And therefore, for new technology, we have the luxury of operating at a slower pace. We’ll get there when we need to get there.”

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 07:34 PM | Comments (0)

Nov 05, AU Edition



Nicholas Cage is one of Hollywood’s most complex actors and fascinating personalities. The son of a literature professor (and nephew of Francis Ford Coppola), Cage was once expelled from primary school – yet went on to star not only in blockbuster action flicks like Face/Off and Con Air, but in richly complex character-driven films including Leaving Las Vegas, Being John Malkovich, and Adaptation. Today, Cage is on the brink of new milestones: not only does he have a slew of new movies on the horizon, but a soon-to-arrive baby as well. The 41-year-old Cage recently sat down with JORDAN RIEFE at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons to discuss his latest ventures, fatherhood (and how his powerful relationship with his own dad affects his work today), and what might be his most controversial project to date: his involvement with Oliver Stone’s film about 9/11.

Q: Is it fair to say you’re not a method actor?

A: The idea that I’m not a method actor implies that I don’t subscribe to any particular method of performance, and I do have my own method. At the time I agreed to do The Weather Man I was going through a divorce and I was trying to figure out how I could take a negative and turn it into a positive. And when I received the script for The Weather Man, I thought, ‘Oh well, here’s a parallel.’ Sometimes I choose movies that help me, like a therapy, help me do something positive with a negative emotion. And The Weather Man was an opportunity to take this well of feeling that I had and just funnel it into Dave Spritz. It was my producing partner who brought it to me and I said, ‘This is really right for me at this time because I have a lot of stuff I want to get out.’ Dave and I were going through similar experiences and so it became an overlay, if you will, of my life and David Spritz’s.

Q: How many times have things been thrown at you?

A: I wish I could be more colourful and say all the time but I’ve never had anything thrown at me; at least not food. There have been times in the past when girls have thrown glasses at me.

Q: How much cash do you normally carry in your wallet?

A: Do you want to come and look? You know, I don’t even have my wallet or any cash on me. But I do go to the supermarket. I just went to the market and bought about 20 packages of Gillette shavers. I buy in bulk. And I used one this morning.

Q: How difficult was it to play someone fumbling through fatherhood?

A: I think no matter what walk of life we’re in or who we are, we all have that connection with our father because we are small in the beginning and they’re big so there’s this awesome regard for dad. And on top of that, my dad is a professor of literature so he’s very, very smart. So I was always thinking how I can aspire to be him? There was this intimidating aura growing up with a university professor, but yes, I did use my own feelings about my own father.

Q: There’s a scene where you’re recognized standing in a queue at the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] and you’re not very pleasant to the person who recognizes you. Can you relate to that?

A: I don’t relate to it because I have bad relations with people on the street or at the DMV. I try to make an effort to behave well and I know if it weren’t for my fans I wouldn’t be here. So they’re very important to me. I know what it’s like to meet someone you admire and have them be a complete jerk. But before I was famous someone impounded my car and they weren’t very nice about it. It was an old car once owned by Dean Martin, which is ironic because I now live in Dean Martin’s old house. They were so rough about it. There was no reason to impound it and there were dents all over it. I remember just wanting to go and get my car by any means possible. I think if we’ve all been frustrated by bureaucracy, whether you’re the weather man, you or me.

Q: You’re about to become a father again. Are you excited?

A: Without going into detail, I’ve got 15 years of experience now so I’m very ready.

Q: You talked about your very smart father. Can you talk about what it was like working with Michael Caine and bringing your own experiences to your screen relationship with him?

A: It’s always fascinating to work with the best and Michael Caine is obviously one of the best, so I wanted the opportunity to study him and look into his face. I was ecstatic to work with him, and he’s so friendly. And as for my father, yes, it does relate. He had that aura bout him, but what I will say about my dad is...I’m going to go on the record and I’m not a high school drop-out, but I wasn’t a great match for school. I went to my dad and said, ‘This isn’t for me, I want to act. This is affecting my self-esteem; I’ve got to get out.’ So he said, ‘That’s fine, but just get your High School Equivalency’.
So I did and left and went right to work.

Q: Why does your character have such trouble communicating with women?

A: It’s the battle of the sexes. Do you have trouble communicating with men? We have difficulty from both sides comprehending what exactly is it we’re thinking. Dave is on the receiving end of that because he’s not thinking all the time, he’s forgetting things like the tartar sauce. For her, something as mundane as tartar sauce is enough to tip the apple cart, but we know it’s more than that. I’m very sensitive. I’m even sensitive to the weather.

Q: I’m intrigued by the Dean Martin connection. Have you ever felt his presence?

A: They’re both coincidences. I didn’t know it was his car when I bought it and it wasn’t because it was his house that I bought the house. It was about 3 a.m. one night and I was sleeping and I heard this faint voice singing, ‘That’s Amoré’. And I was like, ‘Please, I’m trying to sleep.’ I’m kidding. And what’s really weird is that was the theme song at the end of Moonstruck.

Q: It looks like you’re going to have six or seven films out next year and it does appear that you work incessantly. Do you feel the need to work constantly and will there be any slow-down with the impending birth of your child?

A: That’s just the way it works out sometimes. I haven’t worked since National Treasure, which was a year ago. I try and make two movies a year. To me, that’s not too much. On top of that, I like to work. It’s part of my spiritual belief. I want to do something with my time that’s productive. I want to serve and I feel I’m serving myself and serving you by working. I don’t want to sit around by the pool luxuriating with a margarita. That’s just not what I want to do. So yeah, work is just part of my principles.

cageart1.jpgQ: But will you slow down once your child arrives?

A: Probably yes.

Q: Gore Verbinski was the one throwing the fast food at you and he reportedly enjoyed it. What was that like?

A: Yes. There are some good photos of him throwing chicken nuggets at my head. And I think he did enjoy it. He made sure it was him every time.

Q: Dave is often uncomfortable in his own skin. When are you uncomfortable in your own skin?

A: When I have to spend five hours in a room doing one TV interview after another knowing that everything I say will be a matter of public record for the rest of your life, that makes me pretty uncomfortable in my own skin.

Q: What do you do when you’re angry?

A: George Washington once said, ‘When you’re angry count to 10. When you’re really angry count to 100.
So I do that and also I use film, again, to try and steer that anger and turn it into a positive emotion.

Q: Do you still do archery?

A: I don’t but there aren’t too many things I’ll say I’m a natural at. But when I started doing archery it was the first time I’d found something besides acting that I felt I could really do. I did all that archery in the film and I’m happy to say that. I really enjoyed it.

Q: You were talking about the experience of being a father again. What will you do differently this time round?

A: That is a brilliant question and I’m sure anything I say to that will reveal a lot about me, my character and every invention of my mind, but I want to be very careful about respecting his privacy.

Q: What small part of Dave will you carry with you?

A: I’ll carry him with me for the rest of my life and he’ll be around after I’ve gone. He’ll be around because he’s on film. So we’re connected. I don’t know how else to answer that. I’m really happy with the movie.

cagert3.jpgQ: Can you talk about your character in Ghost Rider?

A: Again he’s a man trying to turn a negative into a positive and, as I said before, I’ve been trying to take movies and do something positive with the negative feelings I’ve had. The character in Ghost Rider had something horrible happen to him and he’s making something positive out of it.

Q: You have a great relationship with your screen daughter. You don’t have a daughter yourself, so did you just particularly like her?

A: I did like her very much but I also like children. I’ve been around children a lot. They’re very close to their hearts. There’s not a lot of filtering that goes on and I like that integrity.

Q: You’ve talked a lot about turning your negativity into positively. Are you over all that now?

A: Yes. I think things go in cycles, they wax and wane. I’m just trying to get better at negotiating the waves. Right now, I’m trying to be more neutral rather than ecstatic or depressed. I’m trying to be right in the middle and to be better in all ways - as an actor, as a father and as a husband. I’m not saying I have any control over my destiny but I’d like to be better at surfing the waves of life.

Q: You’re starting the Oliver Stone 9/11 film next month. What can you tell us about that?

A: I’m still finishing my film The Wicker Man, and then I’m going to go to New York. I know Oliver is going for a cinema verite feel. Oliver and I have been trying to work together for years. And it’s not so much about the buildings falling down as what happened amongst this family of men - which of them survived and how they coped. It’s really about the human condition.

Q: You’ve made a few films about families. Is that a subject that appeals to you?

A: I’ve really wanted to make a family drama. I think it’s a genre that’s just really good for people. I think people can usually learn something. But it’s also the hardest kind of film to make. It can collapse into saccharin or become episodic like a TV show. So my goal was to do something a bit edgy and I think I found a really happy marriage in this film.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 07:04 PM | Comments (0)

Nov 05, AU Edition



It comes like a thief in the night and empties wallets of purchasing power. And it means debtors make off like bandits. What is it? Inflation – and with oil prices high, it’s making a comeback. Can Australians cope? What can you do? And what happens if interest rates and unemployment rise in concert with prices, as they did in 1970s America? SHAUN DAVIES and MATT JOHNSON report.

One hundred thousand dollars a year may sound like a lot, but for Melodie Darmody and her husband, Mick, it’s a struggle to make ends meet on that sort of combined income. They don’t lead a flash lifestyle, carry huge credit card balances for luxury purchases, drive expensive cars, or live in a ‘McMansion’ or what newspapers refer to euphemistically as a ‘leafy suburb’. Instead, they live near Campbelltown in Sydney’s sprawling western suburbs in a house they bought before the property market took off like a rocket, and their driveway is home to a 1983 Ford Fairlane and a 1997 Falcon Futura. Family holidays are spent with relatives in country New South Wales, and they haven’t been to the dentist ‘in years’. She’s a reporter at a community newspaper, he’s a teacher, and with bills to pay and two kids in childcare, they have precious little in their pockets at the end of a fortnight.

‘We do our budget fortnightly’, Melodie says, explaining their situation. ‘We pay $1000 on the home loan, $155 on the car loan and $600 on childcare. Groceries are only about $100 and the fuel bill at the moment is around $100. That’s really it. There’s not much to spare - when insurance and things like that pop up it’s a big stretch. We’ve got to save up for those costs for a few pays. We’ve got a payment now one now for the car insurance and we had one for house insurance a while back, and they’re about $600 each.’

Like millions of other Australians, the Darmodys lives are very price-sensitive. Which is why the prospect of inflation, spurred on by rising petrol prices – which make the costs of transporting raw materials to factories and finished goods to market that much more expensive – is so daunting. Already, the prices of some key staple items such as milk have gone up, with two of Australia’s biggest dairy concerns, Dairy Farmers Group and National Goods, hiking prices in September. And Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens recently indicated that the biggest threat to Australia’s economy, which has over the past decade weathered American recessions and Asian meltdowns with aplomb, is inflation.

‘The issue before us in the next year or two is whether the world and Australian economies can adapt to higher energy and resource prices without a significant bout of inflation’, he said. Commonwealth Treasurer Peter Costello has echoed Stevens’ concern, and – even more worryingly for mortgage-holders like the Darmodys – indicated that increasing inflation could lead to higher interest rates as the government attempts to put on the brakes.

In short, it seems like a sure bet that prices are heading north, and every Australian will, quite literally, be forced to pay the price. As John Edwards, Chief Economist at HSBC says, ‘there’s no doubt that we’ve had a big hit [from fuel prices] recently’, and that there’s also ‘no doubt it’s going to turn up in higher prices for a wide range of goods’.

How bad? Bad.
In terms of how far the average families budget could be forced to stretch, it is crucial to note that oil prices are not yet at all-time highs. Worse price spikes have been seen – especially in the 1970s, when inflation was such a world-wide problem that it arguably brought down two U.S. presidents (Gerald ‘Whip Inflation Now’ Ford and later Jimmy Carter, whose opponent, Ronald Reagan, popularized the idea of the ‘misery index’, or the sum of the then-double digit unemployment, inflation, and interest rates). On 17 October 1973, in the wake of the Yom Kippur War, OPEC cut off supplies to Israel, the United States, and its allies. As a result, the price of oil surged by about 135% in the Christmas of 1973. After adjusting for inflation, the price of oil increased by almost 220% between 1973 and 1974.

As a result of this, Australian inflation rate began to accelerate. Higher prices at the pump led to higher prices for just about everything else, and inflation reached a peak of 17.6% per annum in March 1975.

In the 1970s, the Government of the day controlled the interest rate, and as increases were unpopular – as they are today – the Government was slow to act when oil started pushing prices skyward. The wrong decisions were made, and inflation got out of control. Today, the RBA would increase the interest rate as inflation pushed up prices, and thereby limit how far the inflation infection could spread.
Since 1990, the RBA has kept the rate of interest about 3.6% higher than the rate of inflation – so 17.6% inflation might have meant interest rates at 21.2% per annum. At that rate, repayments on the average Australian mortgage of $230,000 would rise to a little over $4125 each and every month for 20 years.

If such astronomical interest rates seem unlikely, they have precedent. After the second oil shock in 1979 – this time the result of the Iranian Revolution – US monetary policy was handed over the modern breed of central banker. As Chairman of America’s Federal Reserve Bank, Paul Volker (Alan Greenspan’s predecessor) oversaw an increase of 6.5% from the time of his appointment to April 1980. The US saw rates peak at around 17.6%, and brought the economy to the brink of recession. Rates were cut to prevent recession, however when it became clear that inflation had not been beaten rates were push up still farther, to a peak of 19.1% in June.

Speaking on oil prices and the consequences of Hurricane Katrina, research director at economic analysis firm 4Cast, Alan Ruskin, commented that ‘it would not be surprising if oil prices had now spiked by so much that they would not be absorbed by the profit margins of firms, but rather would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices’. He added that ‘it is fear of such an inflationary spiral that encourages central banks to increase rates, in the knowledge that the more they respond now, the lower the risk from inflation in the future’.

Future shock
So what is the risk to inflation rates, the Australian economy, and families like the Darmodys? The increase in milk and dairy prices appear to be the thin end of the wedge, with the increase in oil prices and associated costs flushing out the usual suspects.

On September 21 the ACTU called for a four per cent increase to worker’s minimum wages because ‘petrol prices and other rising costs (were) putting working families under pressure’. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) immediately countered this suggestion, calling it ‘Whitlamesque economic mismanagement’.
‘The ACTU somehow seem to have forgotten that one of the most significant economic mistakes of the 1970s was to index wages to changes in prices in the context of the then-oil price shock’, ACCI chief executive Peter Hendy said at a conference in Sydney.
‘This is the type of thinking can kill an economy stone dead, end economic expansion and doom a society to inflation, recession and major job losses.’

Hendy has a point. It’s widely accepted by economists that the problems associated with the oil shocks of 1974 and 1979 were exacerbated when governments around the world gave into public pressure and accommodated unions’ (understandable) attempts to restore the value of the average pay packet. The majority of businesses were doing it just as tough as workers, and were forced to increase prices so they had something with which to fill those (now fatter) pay packages. This led to an inflationary spiral, where workers asked for more money to make up for the increased cost of living, and firms increased prices and laid off workers to make up for the increased cost of labour.

infart1.jpgIt is widely accepted that the Government erred in leaving rates too low for too long; and by failing to take steps to counter inflationary wage claims. Artificially propping up the wages of average workers ensured that demand for oil and other goods remained reasonably strong, despite skyrocketing prices – the tonic of higher prices was resisted and the market was prevented from correcting itself.
Another bout of such mismanagement would meet with resistance from the RBA. Interest rates would be increased until folks with loans were so broke that firms would not be able to sell much if they kept putting prices up. The threat of bankruptcy would force firms to refuse claims for an increase in wages that could only be funded by increasing prices.

Central banks have already been forced to re-assess their inflation outlooks in the light of Hurricane Katrina. Oil prices were rising before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita severely damaged oil production and refining capacity in the Gulf of Mexico. China’s (and to a lesser extent, India’s) voracious appetite for all kinds of commodities, and particularly energy, has driven the sustained increase in the price of a barrel of oil.

But while the demand the demand for oil is higher than it has ever been, the true bottleneck is in refining capacity. Oil needs to be turned into petrol or gasoline before it becomes useful to your average family in the western suburbs of Sydney. And right now, it’s easier to take extra oil out of the ground than it is to build the extra refining capacity required to transform that oil into something usable. As a result, refiners are able to charge a little more for their services, and the price of fuel has risen by still more than the price of oil. The consequence is that the threat to inflation from more expensive oil is greater than is suggested by the increase in oil prices alone.

Heading for a spiral?
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand was among the first central banks to sound the inflation alarm. It warned, in September’s Statement on Monetary Policy, that rates may have to rise as a result of increased fuel prices; it upgraded its inflation forecast to 4% by the end of June 2006 as a result (its upper limit is 3%, like the Reserve Bank of Australia). In anticipation of the RBNZ increasing the rate of interest, financial markets have responded by increasing the rate of interest of Kiwi debt by about 50 basis points (0.5%), suggesting that they expect the RBNZ to increase rate to 7.25% by Christmas.

Other central bankers have lately joined the chorus. The US Federal Reserve’s Richard Fisher said that the Fed is watching for inflation pass-through to prices, and the European Central Bank’s Bini Smaghi signalled that the ECB also has concerns about Oil, commenting that the Bank is ‘closely evaluating how the European economy is reacting to oil prices’.

The latest inflation data suggest that Australian interest rates may also be about to rise. TD Securities supplies the main monthly estimate of Australian inflation; their estimate of inflation for September suggests that inflation has broken above the RBA’s 3% upper target. Stephen Koukoulas, Chief Strategist at TD Securities, highlighted the advance of another inflationary spiral, telling Investigate, ‘it is important to note that the inflation acceleration is spreading beyond the direct and clear effects of higher petrol prices.’

‘Inflation is accelerating to worrisome levels and is above the top end of the RBA target range. With the economy also picking up and wages growth rising, the RBA will be increasingly keen to increase interest rates to guard against an even more dramatic inflation problem in 2006. An interest rate rise before year end is now on the cards.’As a result of this, TD Securities expect that the RBA will increase interest rates to 5.75% before Christmas.

The risk of inflation from higher oil prices has shifted sentiment back toward an increase in Australian interest rates. Over the past few months, the bias of professional opinion has shifted from a cut over the next six months, to expectations of an increase in interest rates.

loan6.jpgIn the Australian Financial Review’s most recent regular survey, only one economist said they expected rates to fall over the next six months, while eight expected rates to increase, while the remaining 18 expect rates to remain at 5.5%. If the horizon is extended to the end of June 2006, 10 favour an increase, and 16 see no change. More might be expected to tip an increase once data covering the period with the biggest increases in fuel costs are released.

Ray Attrill, research director in 4cast’s Sydney office, agrees that the pressure is on the RBA. He says that ‘the RBA will be under pressure to increase rates, as higher energy prices boost both inflation and growth’, adding that ‘the RBA should be comparatively free from concerns about choking growth, as Australia benefits from higher prices via exports and investment, as it is a net energy exporter’. As a result, 4cast predicts that ‘the RBA will increase rates to 5.75%, by March 2006’, and that there is a 40 per cent chance rates will increase further, to 6% by the end of June of next year.
UBS Senior Economist Scott Haslem is more pessimistic, and tells Investigate that ‘the re-emergence of inflation risks in the September and December quarters [will] lead to rate hikes [at the] end of 2005/early 2006’. He nominates 5.75% by Christmas, and 6% before the end of March – an increase that will see average mortgage rates hop from 6.8% to 7.3%.

A quarter-point increase in the rate of interest adds about $35 per week to the average $230,000, 20-year mortgage. An increase from 6.8% to 7.3% would therefore add about $70 per month to average mortgage repayments. But this is not where the pain of higher oil prices stops. Between June 2004 and June 2005, the average price of petrol was about $1.02. The average household spends about $35 per week, or about $153 per month on fuel, so unless people drive their cars less this year, petrol prices of $1.25 per litre will add about $35 per month to the average fuel bill – the equivalent of another quarter-point increase in the interest rate.

Though many see this worst-case scenario as unlikely, US investment banking behemoth Goldman Sachs recently released a research report that predicted that oil prices may rise as high as US$105 per barrel. They believe that ‘oil markets may have entered the early stages of … a “super spike” period’.

Oil at $105 per barrel would result in pump prices of about $2.02 per litre. Assuming that they don’t make major cutbacks to their driving, this will add about $150 per month to an average household’s fuel bill – the equivalent of more than a 1 percent mortgage rise. Central banks would increase interest rates, making mortgages more expensive. And companies would have to pass on increased costs to customers and workforces, which would surely be forced to absorb budget-cutting layoffs. In sum, it’s a recipe for the ‘misery index’, and something that would be devastating to families like the Darmodys.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 06:40 PM | Comments (0)

Money, Dec 05, AU Edition

Who’s getting rich off high gas prices? Hint: think ballot boxes, not bowsers

Let me take you back in time, to a land that existed long, long, ago. A time when life was vastly different, an era when we were more mobile, a time when petrol was around 85 cents a litre. I am, of course, talking about January 2005. They say that a year is an eternity in politics. Well, the same can be said for petrol prices. I recently heard an explanation from an “industry expert” about how the price of petrol is determined each day, indeed, each hour. It makes subjects like the structure of DNA and thermonuclear physics seem like kindergarten stuff.

Not surprisingly, the only person to lose out in all of this is the motorist. In my honestly held opinion, there are snouts in proverbial troughs everywhere when it comes to making a quid out of petrol. It is also a fact of life that we all depend on our cars for almost everything. Maybe, just maybe, cutting back on petrol, and not using the ol’ chariot as much as we used to, is not such a bad thing. Do we really need to drive to the local shops when they are only a 5 minute walk anyway? Dropping children off at school can be a bit like a demolition derby, but with more emotion… so walking to school is maybe not such a bad thing.

In July 1969, when man landed on the moon, the number one hit was a cheerful little number called, “In the Year 2525”, by Zager and Evans. Some of the lyrics of this song include, “Your arms are hanging limp at your sides. Your legs got nothing to do. Some machine, doing that for you”. Perhaps they were predicting the way we would be going if we didn’t stop using our cars for the most mundane tasks. Call me an eternal optimist but there has to be an upside in this whole price of petrol predicament. Conversely, maybe the more haunting lyrics from Messieurs Zager and Evans are, “I’m kinda wondering if man’s gonna be alive. He’s taken everything this old earth can give. And he ain’t put back nothing...” So let’s have a look how we can drive through to the other side of this petrol pricing tunnel: there is a light but we just need to look for it. And, no, it is not a train heading toward us.

Who gets what?
Let’s look at a litre of standard unleaded petrol – say it costs $1.20 per litre. Where does your hard-earned go? Well, the refiner gets about 60 cents (this is called the “Terminal Gate Price”), and the government gets their bit (in fact its a large bite; around 41 cents goes to consolidated revenue, but only the government could get away with having a tax on top of a tax, because we have to pay GST on top of all these figures, so that makes another 11cents). Are you starting to see a bit of a trend here? We are paying $1.20 and approximately 52 cents of it is going to…drum roll…the government! The wholesaler gets about 5 cents out of all of this and by the time the poor ol’ servo gets a cut they only wind up with about 3 cents a litre.

You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to see that there is a 100% mark up on the refinery price, so the next time you are muttering under your breath about the petrol station owner, remember that the actual outlet itself is not getting that much from the petrol. (This is why they’re always flogging Mars Bars and chewing gum and groceries and magazines). They make more money on a few chocolate bars than they do on your petrol.

Let’s make these numbers dance a bit so that they are more meaningful: if we assume that the average car has about a 60 litre tank then a full tank would cost $72. The government gets $31, the refinery $36 and the servo gets $2. If you fill up once a week, that means that over the course of a year you are paying around $3,800 in total for petrol – including $1,650 extra in tax. Can you take that off your next income tax return? I don’t think so… and once again the total that the petrol station retailer gets for your patronage is about $100.

Hopefully it is now a bit clearer about where the money goes but we still haven’t looked at how the Terminal Gate Price is determined. Why have we seen such a big increase in the last 12 months and especially the last 3-4 months? This is where it is a real minefield and requires some unravelling of the facts.

How do they decide on a price?
The key point is that Australian refineries compete with Asia for petroleum products. Both oil and finished products (such as petrol and diesel) can be purchased at competitive prices from a number of locations in the region. Prices of fuel types such as diesel or petrol in this regional market are driven by supply and demand of each individual fuel type, resulting in fluctuations of the prices relative to each other. Australian refineries not only compete with imports of finished product in Australia but also export product to the regional market.

The Terminal Gate Price includes the import parity price plus tax (again), and a very small margin which covers some administration and marketing costs. It appears we are getting closer to the crux of all of this. We know what the terminal gate price is but what is the import parity price?

The import parity price is essentially the cost of importing, including freight and wharfage, finished product (as opposed to crude oil) to Australia. The import parity price is not regulated but instead determined by market forces. It now appears that the base price of the petrol we buy is directly linked to the importation of product. But in what way?

An international pricing benchmark is required for efficient operation of the petroleum products market in Australia and Asia. Singapore is a major refining centre and prices there are the best available reflection of prices in our region. For this reason, the Australian market uses Singapore prices as a benchmark, with actual prices negotiated relative to this benchmark. Changes in Singapore petrol prices or exchange rates typically take one to two weeks to flow through into either increases or decreases in pump prices. These changes are often masked by weekly cycles in pump prices in major capital cities.

What a revelation! It appears that the refineries pay for their imported product based on a calculation using the Singapore petrol price. This in turn is directly linked to the fluctuating cost of a barrel of crude. This changes daily and is determined by international supply and demand forces in the Middle East and the USA. This is globalisation in action. The next time you are in a country town like Wheelyabarraback or somewhere near the Black Stump, then realise that the petrol you are putting into your car is costing you what it costs because of what is happening in Singapore and Arabia… and don’t forget the government taxes!

But why do they all go up at once?
A common question is that all petrol stations seem to put up their prices at the same time. This, in fact, is not collusion but rather the result of marketing forces. You see what happens is, as we have just discovered the price that refiners pay for their product is determined by international supply and demand, and what the Singapore price is…but there is still a lot of room to move for thee refineries. There is a time lag between when prices are agreed and when they are paid. There are also corporate marketing strategies that result in temporarily decreasing the margin for the oil company. In other words, instead of a refinery making a 20% margin on their terminal gate price they make a 10% margin but they sell a larger volume.

Now this is why we see petrol cheaper on certain days, usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It is marketing ploy to make us buy then rather than wait. And if one company moves in price the rest will follow to remain competitive. After a couple of days of not maximising profits (remember, they are still making a profit but it is just lower) then there is financial pressure on the oil companies to increase their prices again, hence higher prices toward the weekends. I suppose it is basic commerce really: there are two groups of factors which lead to higher petrol prices – higher costs, and different competitive environments. (And of course, taxes.)

So what do we do?
The aim, of course, is to minimise your petrol bill, and you can do this with push and pull strategies.

1. Firstly, think carefully each time you use the car. Do you really need to fire up the beast to go two blocks to pickup some milk?

2. Do you really need that milk in the first place or can it wait?

3. Can you use public transport? At least on a bus or a train you can relax, maybe read or do some work, and save money.

4. Cadge a ride with someone else. Car pooling works well overseas.

5. Think … and act about your driving style. Drag-track starts might get you away from the lights quicker but you just get to next set of lights before everyone else, and it costs a bundle in petrol. Also there is no need to rev a car’s engine when you first turn on the ignition, unless you have a car built before 1960.

6. Plan when you buy your petrol. If you hear on the news that crude oil prices are going up then that means every part of Australia will be affected. Try and beat the oil companies to a price rise.

7. Watch for pricing cycles. If petrol is usually cheaper on Tuesday, well, buy on Tuesday.

8. Use coupons from supermarkets and other retailers to get a reduction in the pump price. Remember the old truism; look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.

In case all of this fails…buy a horse. This used to work before, they are cheap to buy, and upkeep is more efficient than a car. Unfortunately, the price of cereal and hay is going up. Why? Because of petrol costs. Oh well, maybe it is better to just stay at home: at least we can’t be taxed there…unless we do something.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 06:16 PM | Comments (0)

Dec 05, AU Edition


James Morrow speaks to Zimbabwean actor and filmmaker Chloe Traicos about life in exile, her documentary about the brutality of the Mugabe regime, and the growing community of escapees from that African thugocracy who now call Australia home

In retrospect, perhaps the world should have known Robert Mugabe was going to be trouble. In the 1970s, when he was fighting the war for Rhodesian independence, he was thought of as the most radical, and most Marxist, of all the guerrilla leaders at the time, and did his best to drag out the war and its suffering – especially that of the white population – for his own aims. And his return from exile to lead what would become Zimbabwe was, according to historian Martin Meredith in his book The State of Africa was marked by throngs of supporters displaying “rocket grenades, land mines and guns … and many youths wore T-shirts displaying the Kalashnikov rifle, the election symbol that [Mugabe’s party] wanted but the British had disallowed.” But Mugabe, being a crafty warrior, moderated his tone on the advice of Mozambique’s president, who told him not to scare the white population back into exile.

Now, with Mugabe in the twilight of his life, his true colours have emerged once again as a brutal thug and an anti-white racist. And like another ZImbabwean author and the characters in his book, individuals like Chloe Traicos and her family have paid the price as well.

Tall, blonde and 26 – and with just a touch of the young Audrey Hepburn about her – Chloe Traicos is a Zimbabwean-born actress and filmmaker who has devoted the past five years of her life to documenting and exposing the brutality of Robert Mugabe. The daughter of former Zimbabwean test cricketer John Traicos, Chloe Traicos was born around the time of independence, and had what she describes as an idyllic childhood. The black-versus-white tensions that have been so enflamed didn’t exist at the time, and she recalls going to South Africa when she was a girl and being utterly baffled by apartheid – a system totally alien to the Zimbabwe of the 1980s.

“My father was a cricketer and also the managing director of a big hotel, and everyone there was like my family. That was my home, and I stay in touch with a lot of the people there, but the only way I can go back is if the government changes.” Traicos was forced leave with her family for Perth when it became clear that Mugabe was beginning to show his true colours.

“By the time we left, there were already violent food riots in the country”, recalls Traicos over coffee in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, where she moved two years ago. “I remember doing a three-day computer course in downtown Harare with my sister, and in the middle of one morning the college got a call telling them not to let anyone outside”, she recalls, making her an eye-witness to a situation it would take the rest of the world several more years to wake up to.
“The next thing I knew, our mum was there – she had coming racing in
to get us – there were riots going on around town, and we sped home and everything was shut down in the middle of a weekday and I just thought, ‘well, it can’t get any worse than this’.”

Of course, things were to get a lot worse, with the farm invasions that began in 2000 and the brutality that continues unchecked to this day. “When the farm invasions started happening, a lot of Australians just thought, ‘oh well, they’re finally kicking out the rich whites’, but they didn’t understand that all this was making life even worse for Zimbabwe’s blacks.”

To shed light on the situation in her homeland, Traicos – who studied acting in South Africa – has written and produced A Stranger in my Homeland. What started out as a stage play that ran in 2000 at Perth’s Blue Room has turned into a one-hour documentary of the same name that has screened all over the world, including at the Perth International Arts Festival, the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival, and the Las Vegas International Film Festival – and has recently been picked up by Amnesty International as well. Essentially telling the story of both black and white Zimbabweans who have been forced to flee by Mugabe’s reign of terror, the documentary tells the story of “just how bad things are” – including the horrific Matabele massacres of the early 1980s, a “bath of blood” in the words of one witness carried out with the help of North Korean mercenaries.

It’s a constant battle to keep awareness of Mugabe’s crimes on the agenda in the West, says Traicos, who says she finds many who have escaped Zimbabwe just want to keep quiet, “keep their heads down”, and quietly start a new life. “The memories of what has happened is just too raw for many of them”.

But while the silence of Mugabe’s victims is understandable, Traicos is less sanguine about the attitude of Australians and other Westerners, many of whom still choose to turn a blind eye to the situation in Zimbabwe. “No one it seems really wants to know about what’s going on – he even has a following in the US!”, says Traicos, outraged. “Did you see that horrible speech he gave to the UN where people stood up and cheered?”, she says, referring to the address (boycotted by Australia) Mugabe gave recently – ironically enough for a man who has driven his country to starvation – to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

“It’s like what happened in Rwanda”, says Traicos, speaking of Western countries’ failure to act in Africa before disaster strikes. “People will say, ‘oh, that’s terrible that that is going on’, but no one is willing to step in and really stop it. Sadly, the only country that’s really in a position to do anything is South Africa, but they won’t.”
Given some of the Mugabe-like rhetoric to come out of South African president Thabo Mbeki, perhaps that’s not surprising. For the people of southern Africa, though, it is very, very worrying.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 06:05 PM | Comments (0)

SCIENCE: Mar 05, AU Edition


The moon’s still out there, but what is it good for? Maybe the next century of Asian economic growth, says Pat Sheil

Since Eugene Cernon closed the hatch on the Apollo 17 lunar module and hit the grunt button, the moon has been a very quiet place. We’re used to the idea now, but in the early 70s the notion of a deserted moon in 2005 would hardly have seemed credible. We were meant to have Holiday Inns on Mars by now, right?

The are good reasons why none of this has happened, not the least of which is that once we knew it could actually be done, going to the moon quickly lost the lustre of heroic achievement and became just another budget line item. If there isn’t a quid in it, and all the prestige value has been milked, then it’s time to mothball the idea until there’s a good reason to do it again. A profit angle sure wouldn’t hurt.

But governments are lousy at making money – remember the hype about drug companies whipping up miracle cures in zero G aboard the shuttle and the space station? With no whiz-bang, frontier busting purpose, the shuttle has proved to be the greatest lemon in the history of transportation, largely because it had nowhere to go and nothing to do when it got there.

Since the Columbia disaster the lemon has mutated into a grapefruit. NASA is so terrified of losing another one that they have restricted its use to delivering odds and ends to the space station, a destination in name only. One more prang and the remaining two will go straight into museums.

The shuttle has become, in the minds of NASA, an accident waiting to happen, and if you or I lived by the new NASA definition of “acceptable risk” we’d all wrap ourselves in cotton wool and crawl under a rock for the rest of our lives. (There is a beautiful story on this subject dating back to the early days of the Apollo program. Werner von Braun had assured NASA that he could achieve an impossible “four nine” reliability, by which he meant that 99.99% percent of his launches would succeed. Word around Houston was that he achieved this by asking his sycophantic fellow German scientists “Is there anything wrong with this design?” only to hear “Nein”, “Nein”, “Nein”, “Nein”.)

But things may be about to change. For space to be worthy of investment, it has to generate a return, and at the moment the only money is in communications and imaging satellites, because they actually deliver a saleable product. The moon, on the face of it, is a desert. But then so was Western Australia in the 1880s. The moon may be about to have its first gold rush.

The gold, in this case, is helium 3. Helium 3 is a very rare isotope of helium which accumulates on the moon from the solar wind, but exists in tiny quantities on Earth. The reason it glitters, from an economic viewpoint, is that it looks like the best fuel for the nuclear fusion power plants that we’ve been promised for the last fifty years. If fusion can be made to work, it will change the energy market in ways that haven’t been seen since the discovery of electricity. And the people who control the He3 supply will get very, very rich.

Sure, there are a lot of “ifs” here, but that’s never stopped speculative investors from sniffing around scenarios that promise mountains of money. These things have a habit of snowballing, and recent events have put the moon back on the table, as it were.

For one thing, George W. Bush has made wacky pronouncements about “going back to the moon and on to Mars”. These can largely be ignored, because it ain’t going to happen, not the way he envisages it, anyway. Most of us will be long dead before there’s a Mars base. But he will be throwing money at the idea, if only by gutting other NASA programs. The space caper, from a purely business perspective, is a lot more sophisticated than it was the last time big government moon money was flying around, and there are companies now that will want a bigger slice of the action than sub-contracting work on engines and paint jobs.

Secondly, there are new players. Take the Soviets out of the game, and throw in Europe, Japan, India and China. These last three especially have very serious long-term energy problems. They have serious short term energy problems for that matter, but by 2050 these nations will have found new sources of energy or they will have imploded.

All of these countries are launching moon probes in the next few years. Europe’s Smart-1 arrived in lunar orbit in November. Japan launches one next year. India and China have both announced moon shots by 2007. All of them will be doing mineralogical surveys.

They are not doing this for fun. Sure, there’s an element of flag-waving in it all, especially in China’s case, but there’s also the small matter of possession being nine-tenths of, well, everything.

D.J. Lawrence, planetary scientist at the US Los Alamos National Laboratory was in India in November addressing the International Conference on Exploration and Utilization of the Moon being held in the northern city of Udaipur. “Potentially there are large reservoirs of helium 3 on the moon,” he said. “Just doing reconnaissance where the minerals are and to find out where helium 3 likes to hang out is the first step, so when the reactor technology gets to work we are ready and have precise information.

“It really could be used as a future fuel and is safe. It is not all science fiction.”

But what of the 1984 UN Moon Treaty, which forbids nations from making territorial claims on the moon, or anywhere else in the solar system? Australia is a signatory. Significantly, the USA and China are not, and with stakes this high, they’re not likely to ratify any time soon. But even if they did, there’s nothing in the treaty, or the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which forbids corporations claiming territory. And this may be a clue as to how this will eventually pan out. Space agencies like NASA are already looking at the sub-orbital flights of Spaceship One last year that took out the US$10 million X Prize, and coming up with their own prize schemes. NASA has announced the Centennial Challenge prizes, which may soon top US$200 million, for private projects including robotic lunar landings and sample return missions.

It’s not that hard to conceive of a multinational mining corporation teaming up with an aerospace company and taking a punt on something like this, especially when success could reap not only tens of millions of dollars to recoup the initial investment, but also put them in pole position when the gun goes off in the claim-staking race. You can almost hear ‘em now. “Treaty? Don’t apply to us – we’re the Lunar Energy Corporation, not the US Government!”

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:51 PM | Comments (0)

DIARY OF A CABBIE : Dec 05, AU Edition

One 21st birthday bash plus two divorced parents minus cigarettes equals a very tense ride

Just after dark recently I was dropping off a passenger in an Eastern Suburbs Housing Commission neighbourhood. As I slowed, a party of three hailed me. It was obvious they were waiting for a booked cab: A young guy around 18 years old in suit pants, white shirt and tie, plus two women likewise dressed up.

The fella ran after the cab then stood on the roadway at my window waiting for the passenger to alight, then asked, ‘Mate, are you free?’ ‘Um, did you book a cab?’, I replied. ‘Yeah but we’ve been waiting half an hour – it’s my sister’s 21st and we’re really late. Please, I know you don’t have to take us but it’s really important’. The kid’s plaintive appeal struck a chord. ‘Yeah righto, jump in’.

My passengers were in good spirits as we headed for a five star restaurant at Circular Quay. The kid earnestly engaged me in banter about cab driving whilst the two women quietly chatted in the back. When one of them requested we stop at a convenience store for cigarettes, the kid tapped me on the leg and said, ‘Mate, this cab doesn’t stop, does it?’. ‘Depends who’s paying’, I replied. ‘I am’, insisted the woman. ‘No, Mum’, the kid replied, ‘we haven’t got time – we’ll be late for the guests’.

Hearing the word ‘Mum’ surprised me. From snippets of their easy chat I’d been under the impression both women were the same age. Now I realised I was carrying a single parent and two children. ‘Mum, you can buy cigarettes when we get there’, the kid told her. ‘No, I don’t think there’s anywhere near the restaurant’, she said, ‘We’ll stop at the nearest hotel’.

At Circular Quay I pulled up at the Paragon Hotel for the mother to buy smokes in the bottle shop. However, as she only had plastic the kids told her she would need cash for the machine. ‘I don’t care, we’ve got to find another shop’, she said tersely, ‘You know not to get between me and cigarettes’. The birthday girl chided her, ‘Mum, you’re being childish’. But the mother’s frustration was obvious – she needed smokes.

‘I’ll take you around to Harrington Street’, I said, ‘there’s a 7-11 there’. ‘No mate...’, said the kid, but his mother interrupted, ‘Yes Steven, we get the cigarettes first!’. Whatever, I thought; it would only take a few minutes. Unbelievably though, the store was lit up but closed! The mother stood outside its doors willing it to open, before storming back to the cab and slamming the door. ‘I told you I needed cigarettes!’, she exploded. The kid leaned over and whispered to me, ‘Mate, please take us to the restaurant now’. ‘Okay’, I said, ‘but there’s a shop back on Pitt Street’. ‘We’ll go back then!’, the mother barked. ‘Mum, let’s just get to the restaurant’, the kid pleaded, ‘then I’ll run up to the store for you’. ‘Yes, you will’, she scowled.

We completed the trip in tense silence, the jovial atmosphere now gone. ‘Thanks Mum’, the daughter quietly said, ‘you’ve managed to spoil the start of my night’. Ignoring her, Mum handed over a debit card then hopped out, slamming the door. ‘I’m really sorry about my Mum’, the kid said as he punched in the PIN. ‘Mate, it’s cool’, I told him. ‘I’m a smoker too.” I handed him a cigarette for her along with the receipt.

What I understood was the situation of divorced parents coming together to celebrate a child’s 21st birthday. There was a good chance relations between the parents were not ideal and the pressure of such a momentous evening could be overwhelming. A child’s formal graduation to adulthood is a tough gig for parents at the best of times, full of powerful mixed emotions. And if a parent insists on cigarettes for such a night, then they must be believed. Believe me.

Read more of Adrian the Cabbie at

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:34 PM | Comments (0)

TECHNOLOGY: Mar 05, AU Edition


Paul Wright takes a caffeinated tour of Sydney’s suburbs to test go-anywhere broadband

The setup procedure for my new Unwired broadband modem was extremely fast and friendly. Four clicks and I was off to the car to test whether mobile internet access really means mobile as in “while driving from place to place”, or mobile as in dangling in one spot while slowly turning around and around while singing “It’s a Small World After All” as the parents weep quietly in the corner of the baby’s room because all they want is just one night of sleep, is that too much to ask?

First stop: Birdies’ Cafe, Alexandria. Fast call to the Good Lady Wife because I forgot to bring the demo password, and I was off into the wild blue internet. Popular myth has the first telephone call being from Alexander Graham Bell to his assistant Watson to help him with an acid burn. In a remarkable coincidence, the first Unwired email I received was an eerie reflection of Bell’s plea; it begins “Mr Watson, I need help get $93 million out of the Bank of Lagos.”

The tests were performed using a Toshiba Pentium 3 600 notebook, test websites chosen for load speed were the Sydney Morning Herald, as a popular local website with medium graphics content, and, a very popular US website with low graphic content. Most tests were performed in business hours.I recommend turning on the “Reception Assistant” whenever going online from a new location. Without this, there is no way to tell why the system is not connecting.

Cafe Bianchi, Summer Hill. Reception: four bars. Download speed: good. Watching: movie trailers from Coffee: excellent. People: ugly.

The modem has no battery indicator, so user won’t notice when it tanks. Like the reception, this is irritating in extremis, and means one more thing to check when a page won’t refresh. Also, the modem needs to be physically switched off after use. This is an entirely new habit to form, and for the first few days, expect the modem battery to be as flat as a pancake every morning.

Starbucks, Park Street, City. Reception: off the chart. Load speed: excellent. Service: where’s my triple espresso?! These people are moving at the speed of mud.

Make sure the computer you are using has an ethernet port. That’s the one that looks like an overweight telephone socket. Without it, you’ll have to deal with the mutants at Tandy as they gibber incomprehensibly about what sort of cable you need while making insulting comments about your manhood because you actually require assistance with your computer.

Big roundabout, Sydney Park, Alexandria. Reception: poor; connection dropped out. Repeated laps of roundabout failed to regain signal. Other motorists increasingly rude. Decided not to explain reason for driving behavior. Left before police arrived.Since this is a free demo account, I decided to test e-mail load speed by signing up for every possible spam site, porn offer and scam letter I could get my hands on. I want every part of my body enhanced and enlarged with cheap generic medicines supplied to me by the wife of the former Chief of the Army of Nigeria. And Hot College Chicks will then Want To Meet Me Now.

Blackwattle Bay park, walking the dog. Or rather, sitting down while the dog chases the trams on the overhead railway. Computer says it has many, many spyware programs. Decide to download and install Ad-aware software. Reception: hovering between 2-3 bars. Download speed for a 2Mb program file: 8 minutes. I mean, sitting in the middle of a sunny park, no visible means of communication, and it takes 8 minutes to reach out across the other side of the world to get a free program that will prevent marketers from tracking my internet movements? Eight minutes! May as well be living in Russia!

As an aside, it’s worth noting that the software used by Unwired cannot be exported to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya or North Korea. So if you were planning on making a killing re-exporting wireless broadband to countries that still communicate by writing notes on their enemy’s livers, think again.

Note to Unwired: when I’m driving over the Harbour Bridge and need to email ahead to have someone open the wine, I do not want to have to wait to get a connection. A man is not a camel, you know.

A glance through the User Guide produces some interesting examples of Tech-Speak. My favourite came at the top of the document, where they urged me to put in the Quick-Start CD to assist in installing the User Guide. Perhaps this is included to throw those annoying North Koreans off the scent.
When using the Unwired modem in a public space, the signal strength can be enhanced by holding the modem up higher, placing it next to a window, or moving g it about the room. While this may have an effect on connection speed, it will definitely make sure everyone in the restaurant knows you’re an Unwired user and therefore at the bleeding edge of technology. As with every other broadband service provider, reading Unwired’s pricing plans rapidly causes glazed-eye induced bouts of keyboard face. If your boredom threshold is so high you are willing to pay extra for the grass-growing cable channel, I commend you to the pricing plan page. For the rest of us, I recommend choosing blindly, and hope there isn’t a kidney forfeit clause in the fine print.
Interesting thought: will mobile broadband spell an end to fights over bar bets? Who will resort to fisticuffs over the level of influence Seneca had over Pliny the Elder (well it comes up where I drink), when the dashing Unwired user can swiftly settle the matter to the satisfaction of all parties?
One significant problem with the Unwired system is that you can’t tell if it will work in your house or place of business, until you actually purchase the whole deal, get it delivered, install it, and spend a few hours shouting at the screen to get it running. There is a 30-day money-back guarantee, but in the meantime, you’ve parted with some hundreds of the readies, and signed up for a year-long contract, which you now have to inveigle your way out of. There probably isn’t a way around this, but it’s still annoying. For instance, the on-line mapping of coverage in Sydney tells me I have access from my house. I relayed this slowly and loudly to the Connection Assistant, to little avail. No connection.
All in all, Unwired is a nifty system that portends serious changes to the way we will do business in the future. For home use, it is more cumbersome, and less reliable, than a wireless LAN, but Unwired still offers speed and big-time convenience for road warriors. To say nothing of that increasingly rare commodity, major pose value.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:34 PM | Comments (0)

THE ROUGH LIFE: Dec 05, AU Edition

Eli Jameson hopes his kids don’t wind up inheriting his handicap

Frank Sinatra famously sang that he’d had regrets, but that they were “too few to mention”. (One has to wonder what those regrets would have been: Letting Peter Lawford into the Rat Pack? Cozying up to the Kennedys? The famous “two-dollar whore” remark on his 1974 tour of Australia – if only because it inspired the dreadful The Night We Called it a Day?)

Personally, I try to live much of my life by Sinatra’s credo. Sure, I don’t punch out blackjack dealers (much), can’t stomach Jack Daniel’s, and my wife isn’t named Nancy. But I do believe that it’s good to keep the regrets of one’s life to a minimum. Looking back on my life, however, there is one thing I would have done differently.

I would have learned to play golf when I was much, much younger.
In fact, I grew up overseas, in a city where golf courses were pretty inaccessible except to those who had the money for a pricey membership, the time and fanaticism required to camp out for a tee time at a public course, or both. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties and was living in a golf-mad town that I finally picked up a club, when some mates announced they were going to the driving range after Sunday brunch. Having nothing better to do on a hot summer afternoon, I asked if I could tag along.

To make a long story short, I was hooked two minutes after first picking up a club. (I sliced thirty seconds after picking up a club, but that’s another story). My friends put a 9-iron in my hands, gave me a bucket of balls, some basic tips on set-up, stance, and swing, and I was off. The memory is hazy, but I know that only about half of my first dozen swings even came close to connecting with the ball, and those that did saw shots skitter wildly across a 120-degree field of fire that managed to include the course’s first fairway.

Then it happened: the one magic shot that took off high and straight, describing a parabola, before settling down to earth with a satisfying thup and little puff of dust, a la Wile E. Coyote when he has one of his unfortunate run-ins with gravity. Like the caveman at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey who discovers the power of an old bone as a club, I had discovered the power of the 9-iron as, well, a club. The following day I went into the office, ordered up a set of clubs off the Internet, and pestered my friends to take me out on the course the following week. (In a tremendous dose of beginner’s luck, my very first shot on my very first hole – a par-3 – was a 5-iron that landed nicely on the green. Everything about both me and my game has gone downhill since.)

And that’s the problem: I will never get to be really, really good at golf. Breaking 90 is a pipe-dream. Perhaps if I were a natural-born athlete who’d done sporty stuff his entire life, I could have adapted my other skill sets to fit the game, but there’s really no chance of that happening at this point.

That’s why I’m determined that I won’t make the same mistake with my kids. I’m going to do whatever it takes to be the Earl Woods of the Southern Hemisphere. I’m going to turn my offspring into stone-cold golf nuts with negative handicaps by the time they turn 18 and have the world wondering when they will take the US PGA by storm. And as their manager, I’ll never have to worry about how my super is doing again.

OK, maybe that’s a bit much. Still, though, I hope they decide to gather their rosebuds – or work on their mid-irons – while they may. I guess it’s a case of another aphorism that I first came across in a Tiger Woods book about golf strategy: Never make the same mistake twice.

Or something like that.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:32 PM | Comments (0)

Money: Mar 05, AU Edition


Owner or renter, boss or wage slave, the coming interest rate hike

Australians are famous for their love their credit and, according to the latest government fig-ures, currently hold a record $28.2 billion debt on their charge and credit cards alone. So it’s no wonder that the mere mention of a rise in interest ratesis about as welcome in many quarters as, say, discoursing on the potential for shark attacks is on Bondi Beach.

Yet all signs point to the Reserve Bank of Australia lifting interest rates sometime this year, and possibly within the next six months, with the economy continuing to grow and the consumer price index edging ever closer to the government’s outer-tolerance limit of three per cent per year. And when the rise comes, it’s not likely to be that temporary a situation, either: economic forecaster BIS Shrapnel’s senior economist, Matthew Hassan, has warned that an increasingly tight job market will push wages up over the next two years, leading to higher prices and, ultimately, interest rates that are “expected to peak at around 8 per cent in late 2006”.

But there’s no need to cue the Jaws theme just yet. Even if the cost of money – which is, in essence, what interest rates represent – is poised to poke skywards like the dorsal fin of a circling great white, there is no need to panic. For when it comes to both hungry sharks and rising rates, experts agree that a lot of panicky shrieking and splashing about will only make things worse.

Homeowners (who represent about seven out of every ten Australians) are obviously going to be the first to feel the pinch, and should make sure their home financing is structured properly: “We suggest that people have one-third of their mortgage on a honeymoon rate, with another third being fixed for five years and the last third being fixed for ten,” advises Christine Davie, a certified financial planner with Melbourne-based Donohue Financial Planning. According to her, this is the best way to hedge one’s bets as interest rates rise and fall over the period of the loan. “The banks have been giving away money as fast as they can for the last several years, and people who are highly-geared should think about this.”

Davie adds that when it comes to interest rates, it’s not smart to go crazy trying to find the lowest rate – “it’s actually very hard to find the bottom of the market,” she says – but that does not mean mortgage holders shouldn’t try and at least do a deal with their individual bank. After all, notes Davie, everything’s negotiable: “It’s often worth asking your bank if that’s the best they can do. But just because the sign in the front window says ‘6 per cent’ doesn’t mean they won’t come down if you ask, or even threaten to take your business elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, for those Australians who don’t own their homes yet, but are looking to join the ranks of first-time homeowners, this is a critical time – one in which careful planning can pay off big.

The first thing to remember is, bide your time. In fact, with interest rates heading north, there is “no rush to get into the housing market right away,” says Damian Cullen, Managing Director of Cullen Financial Planning in Sydney. Instead, put your money someplace smart: “When you’re looking to buy within a twelve to twenty-four month timeframe, really the only place to be is in cash or fixed-interest investments,” cautions Cullen, who adds that when it comes to that crucial down-payment nest egg, “don’t even think of going near the share market”. The second thing to keep in mind (especially for young buyers) is that circumstances change. For example, says Christine Davie, just because a couple consists of two high-earning professionals today does not mean both parties will still be bringing home fat pay packets of five years ago. And the number one reason for this is kids.

“People get married and buy a house and never think about what might happen if they only had one salary coming in, or if one of them decided to take time off to care for a child” she says. Thus couples often wind up either putting off having children, or find themselves in tough circumstances when kids do arrive with a lot of hard choices to make. Davie adds that even if both mum and dad keep working, children are expensive, and childcare can eat up an awful lot of that second income. The old days of buying more home than one could afford may still make economic sense (though it’s an old financial planning chestnut born in the days when one-income families were the norm, not the exception), but it can seriously interfere with one’s work-life balance.

For both owners and renters then, rising interest rates can ultimately mean – either for direct or indirect reasons – less money in the kitty at the end of the week. Smart planning now, says Davie, can avoid a lot of pain later: “If you have personal debt and loans and credit cards, this is the time to consolidate things,” she says. “And maybe, if you find that you keep getting into trouble, you should even think about cutting up the credit cards”.

Meanwhile, companies as well as individuals are poised to feel the effect of an interest rate rise, according to George Etrelezis, Managing Director of Western Australia’s Small Business Development Corporation, and business owners will feel it in a variety of ways.

“First of all, there is the straight bottom-line effect that interest rates have on the cost of borrowing, whether for purchasing equipment or obtaining working capital, and interest rates also factor in to leasing costs and replacement costs,” says Etrelezis, who adds that “there’s certainly an effect that rates have on the dollar coming in the door of a business. And as consumer sentiment dips as they have less money to spend, this means that various industries like the building trades will suffer as people decide to, say, put off building an extension to their home”.But there are other and more pernicious ways in which businesses may feel the pinch as well, and this is where Australian entrepreneurs need to keep a close eye out in coming months. Unless their business is a bank, they need to make sure their customers don’t treat them like one.

“Debtors will quickly start to become an issue for businesses,” says Etrelezis, “and there will be more and more of them who will try and extend their terms of credit. And it makes sense: with the cost of money going up from the banks, they will try and get cash somewhere else,” even if it means stepping on your goodwill.

As a result, the mantra that (especially for small businesses) “cash flow is king” becomes ever more important. Etrelezis says all business owners must start to think like the big boys, who are very strict about their payment terms and are not afraid to enforce them. “Be disciplined, and if someone goes too far beyond their 30 days, don’t be afraid to turn away their business. Remember: you can’t afford to let a regular customer slide for 60 or 90 or 120 days, and if they go down they will take that cash flow down with them”.

Finally, as tempting as it is to focus solely on interest rates at home, smart planning means keeping an eye on what’s happening beyond Australia’s shores as well. According to Geoff O’Neill, Managing Director and CEO of Advantage One, a financial planning and investment counseling firm which caters to high net worth clients in Adelaide, interest rates in the United States are about to make a move as well – something to bear in mind when making investment decisions.
“If you look at the U.S., their rates are at a historic low, while their economy is moving into a period with improved economic fundamentals. And as their economy expands, we’ll start to see American interest rates edge up to keep a lid on growth”, says O’Neill, who adds that this will probably knock some value off the Australian dollar. “Our dollar looks strong right now, but that’s really a reflection of the weakness of the U.S. Dollar,” he points out. “As we see an improving economy in the States leading to an increase in rates, then we can also see the Australian Dollar falling back closer to the .70 mark,” something that will affect our balance of trade and the performance of exporting versus importing companies.

While those two sectors will likely balance themselves out on the equity markets, O’Neill cautions that when it comes to the share market in general, it’s time for investors to get realistic and says that “this current rate of growth is not sustainable, and we must get more focused on achieving the real rate of return out of equity markets, which should be something like 10 percent or less – and certainly not 18 to 25 per cent.”

It can be easy in Australia to get used to living in a place where low interest rates and virtually full employment rule the day, and where the economy regularly weathers storms that lay low the finances of other countries. But while a rise in interest rates might be unpleasant – especially for the unprepared – it’s also the sort of medicine that can keep other more unpleasant numbers (like inflation and unemployment) down as well.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:23 PM | Comments (0)

MUSIC: Dec 05, AU Edition

Elliott’s latest fails to impress. Plus: soul survivors, and a moving tribute to Sublime

ME.jpgMissy Elliott
“The Cookbook”, Goldmind/Atlantic
2 stars

Missy Elliott has a remarkably consistent track record of combining stylistic innovation and commercial success, with a series of freakishly catchy hits that match her outre sensibility with her producer pal Timbaland’s off-kilter beats. All of that came to a creative peak on the brilliantly strange 2002 hit “Work It.”

On “The Cookbook”, though, Timbaland is in the kitchen on only two cuts. As a result, Elliott delivers the first merely mediocre album of her career.

It has its soulful, compelling moments, such as the confessional “My Struggles,” with Grand Puba and Mary J. Blige, and even better, “Irresistible Delicious”, which makes excellent use of the insouciant flow of rap legend Slick Rick. But “The Cookbook” is ultimately not much more than a serviceable party record. From Elliott, we’ve come to expect a more nourishing repast.
Reviewed by Dan DeLuca

MusicCatalog_P_Patti LaBelle - Classic Moments_Patti LaBelle - Classic Moments.jpgPatti Labelle
“Classic Moments”, Def Soul
3 stars
Vivian Green
“Vivian”, Sony Urban
3 stars

To hear these Philadelphians tell it, soul never really got too hijacked by hip-hop. For veteran Patti LaBelle and youngster Vivian Green, soul is all about desperation and joy within supple arrangements and vocal twists beneath the rhythms.

Lacking a memorable song, Green’s voice inhabits the colors of each careful arrangement, such as the flying strings of “Under My Skin” and the flickering guitars of “Mad”. From her lyrics to the ache in her high register, Green conveys how some emotions surprise her, from the sadness of “Frustrated” to the carnality of “Damn”.

What Green is just gathering, LaBelle has cultivated during her decades-long career. Without too much sass or gloss, she takes to these slow classics with the sort of simmering and seasoning any great cook would.

Her hefty voice bounces off the Fender Rhodes bump of “I Keep Forgetting” and winnows through the gospelish “Ain’t No Way.” Amen to that.
Reviewed by A.D. Amorosi

SubTrib_Cover.jpgVarious Artists
“Look at All the Love We Found: A Tribute to Sublime”, Cornerstone
3 stars

Nothing overshadows the tragedy at the heart of Sublime’s legacy: Singer Brad Nowell’s succumbed to a heroin overdose, leaving behind a wife and baby just before the band’s self-titled breakthrough LP appeared in 1996.

Sad too, in an altogether different way, is the unrealized potential of the trio, which loved punk, reggae, pop and hip-hop. This solid and varied tribute – with contributions as far gone as the Greyboy Allstars’ jazz vamp on “Doin’ Time” and as faithful as Fishbone’s bug-eyed “Date Rape” – underscores that point in a way the perpetual radio play of “What I Got” does not.

Yes, Sublime inspired hokey beach bums such as Jack Johnson, who strums on till the break of yawn here on “Badfish.” But it also dared fellow So-Cal punk-reggae kids No Doubt (who deliver a live version of “D.J.s”) to dream big.

That’s a legacy worthy of a tribute.
Reviewed by Patrick Berkery

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:15 PM | Comments (0)

Skin Deep: Mar 05, AU Edition


How is Karen Matthews turning Ella Baché into a great name in Australian skincare? JAMES MORROW learns the secrets of one of the country’s youngest CEOs

Youth is the name of the game in the cosmetics and beauty business, but very few players in the industry put their money where their mouth is by hiring one of the youngest CEOs in Australian history – she was just 35 when she ascended to the boss’ chair – to turn it around. Not Ella Baché Australia, however, which in 1998 hired Karen Matthews to join the company with an eye towards making her Chief Executive Officer.

It was a big risk for both Matthews and Ella Baché – at the time, the company was losing money – but it paid off big for both of them. Today the firm is flying high and expanding across Australia, and Karen Matthews was recently named Telstra’s NSW Businesswoman of the Year.

Making it big in business was always in the cards for Matthews, who grew up outside Sylvania Waters, NSW, with a corporate executive father and a schoolteacher mother – a combination which goes a long way towards explaining not just her corporate savvy but her desire to teach others the lessons she’s learned along the way.

As a freshly-minted commerce graduate with a major in marketing from the University of New South Wales, it would have been natural for Matthews, like so many with her degree before her, to hop right onto the product and brand management track. Instead, she entered the retail world, joining the Myer chain’s graduate trainee program, where she got to have a go at every section of the business.

“I loved retail – it’s such a buzz. It’s constantly changing, there’s such a great variety of people, and it requires great gut instinct and real creativity”, recalls Matthews, reflecting on her early days at Myer. Plus, she adds mischievously, “it’s great fun when you get to spend other people’s money!”

Her tenure at Myer would eventually see Matthews move to Melbourne when the company consolidated operations there in 1990. Although she missed Sydney, while at Myer she learned valuable lessons that, she says, apply to anyone in their career. First among them: don’t be afraid to speak up.

“One of the most important things I learned at Myer is, if you have a point of view, share it. Even if people don’t agree with you, letting people know what’s on your mind is the only way to develop a profile within an organization,” says Matthews, who further cautions that those who keep quiet “risk fading into the shadows, especially in a big corporation.”

Her time in Melbourne taught her a lot, too, about how to get ahead in a large corporate structure, and also about some of the biggest pitfalls – especially to be careful of people with hidden agendas as well as what she calls “the art of the dysfunctional meeting”.

Eventually, though, it was time to move back to Sydney with her husband Ian, an accountant. “It was great grounding to spend eight years at a corporation like Myer,” she says, but found her role in such a large organization, between meetings, office politics, and only
being responsible for a relatively small part of the business, limiting. When an opportunity came in 1994 to join F.J. Benjamin, the Singapore-based fashion distributorship, she leapt at it. The differences between her new job, where she was responsible for setting up licensees for such major international and American labels as Guess, Ann Taylor, and Brooks Brothers, and her old one, were head-spinning. If Myer was all corporate politics and highly structured decision making, F.J. Benjamin was all about family,
instinct, and what Matthews likes to call “gut”.

“It couldn’t have been more extreme, coming from Myer,” Matthews recalls fondly. “F.J. Benjamin was a family business where the entire family was involved, and everything was done completely on instinct and emotion.” It was a great time in her career, she says, but also one that led to “major burnout.”

“I learned an incredible amount about being flexible, rolling with the punches, and how to change fast,” she says, “but I was on the road all the time. By 1998 I had been at the company for four years, and I realized that over that time, I hadn’t spent more than six weeks in Australia at any one time.”

Suddenly, she realized, it was time to go.

Having told the F.J. Benjamin family she was leaving, Matthews looked forward to spending six months off and doing all the things she hadn’t had a chance to do when she was bopping from Europe to Australia to Asia and back in less time than you can say, “priority boarding.” Matthews had barely cleaned out her desk when the phone rang with what would turn into her chance to make corporate history. It was a headhunter on the line, saying that there was an opportunity for her to join a cosmetics and skincare company as a marketing manager. At first, says Matthews, her reaction was no, no and no: “I didn’t want to go back to work, I certainly didn’t want to go back to work as somebody’s yes-person, and I didn’t want to go work for a polished brand like Estee Lauder.”

Then she heard that the opportunity was with Ella Baché, and that they were not so much looking for a marketing manager as someone to be groomed to take over as chief executive officer. Matthews took the job as much for the opportunity to be CEO as the strength of the name itself: “There was something about the brand: it had a certain attitude to it, a real Australian larrikinism,” she says, noting that the company has sponsored an 18-foot racing skiff and the Sydney Swans.

“I liked that there was a real element of living on the edge and that they embraced the rawer, unpredictable side of things – and one thing I’ve really encouraged here is for people to use their gut and intuition within a structured framework.”

Of course, in taking on the role of CEO – she was elevated a scant six months after joining the firm – Matthews was also taking on a company that she says “lacked focus” and was losing around $1.5 million a year. (Thanks to Matthews’ stewardship, Ella Baché is now quite comfortably in the black). To turn things around, she had to act fast, and that meant that there was not a lot of time for on-the-job training. “It was a major learning period for me,” she says, but despite never having been responsible for so many people or processes before, Matthews was able to quickly find the keys to success.

“One of the biggest challenges when you become CEO is that suddenly, you’re the boss, and everyone watches you and knows what you are doing,” notes Matthews, reflecting on the sudden feelings of isolation she felt when she stepped into the lead role. But in this, she says, there are lessons for others who someday wish to sit in the boss’s chair: “As leader of the company, you have to lead by example and practice what you preach,” she says. “People really do care about when you come and go, and they are very watchful of whether you are in a good mood or not.” Matthews notes that, a few years ago, when she was feeling particularly run down for an extended period of time, people under her constantly monitored her movements in and out of the office, and even paid attention to whether she was looking particularly pale from one day to the next.

This attention, combined with isolation, can make it difficult for any CEO to do their job, says Matthews, who was startled to find that even though her new job put her in charge of the company’s strategic vision, she was less and less able to call on colleagues for long-term thinking. One way she ameliorated this is to join a group called The Executive Connection, or TEC, which gives her a “safe space” to meet with other chief executives – almost all male, a benefit because “sometimes it’s great to get that male, cut-and-dried perspective on things” – and have a forum to bounce ideas off of and share experiences with.

On a day-to-day level, of course, things are different: “As CEO, one is responsible for a whole range of functions, but for me, I had never really had any exposure to areas of the business like finance and operations,” she says. As a firm believer in the principle that strong leaders surround themselves with strong people, Matthews says that a good CEO “learns very quickly where they are weak, and finds good people to help manage them.” In that same vein, she says, one of the best lessons she has learned is that there is no shame in admitting a mistake: in fact, it can often times be an asset. Says Matthews, “to be the first person to put your hand up and admit an error is a very strong thing to do, and people will respect you for it.”

One thing that Karen Matthews has never done is let her being a woman stand in the way of her goals – if anything, she says it’s been a plus in her career. “Sure, I’m not in the building or engineering industries, but I haven’t had any problems with a glass ceiling,” she reports, adding that she believes that being female has in many ways made her a better leader.

“Being a woman and a chief executive, I really see the benefits as a leader,” she says. “Women are more intuitive, and I think that contemporary businesswomen are very comfortable in letting their emotions show and be part of the workplace, so long as that is structured within a framework.”

Ultimately, says Matthews, the key to being a successful person or growing a successful business is not whether someone is male or female, but rather the blend of people that one is surrounded with: “The best companies are those that have a mix of sexes, ages, backgrounds and cultures working together. The more depth you have as a company, the more solid and effective you will be not just in the marketplace but as an employer with a great corporate culture.”

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:10 PM | Comments (0)

July 05, AU Edition

Are we heading for a world with less petrol, or is there enough black gold in the ground to keep us driving 4WDs for five hundred years? CLARE SWINNEY looks at ‘peak oil’, the latest cry of ecological doomsayers and wonders if this time, the sky really is falling

Sydney, 2019. Centrepoint Tower basks in the glow of the sun’s last rays of the day before it slips below the distant and hazy ranges of the Blue Mountains. The motorways though, are almost empty, as they have been for most of the previous 18 months – ever since petrol hit the latest in an ongoing series of highs – $8 per litre. These days, the traffic is mostly buses and trucks, commuters having long ago given up on runs into the CBD each day in preference for telecommuting from their home computers. The ambitious and expensive network of tunnels built under the city are now largely falling into disuse by everyone except for squatters; it’s too expensive to keep it all roadworthy for the few remaining paying coustomers. And in the CBD, luxury high-rise ghettoes are crammed with people trying to escape now-isolated suburbs.

Such a scenario may sound outlandish, and perhaps it is, but according to a growing number of energy analysts Australians are in danger of living the dream-turned-nightmare. Oil, they say, is running out. The ubiquitous black gold that lubricates our daily lives and makes the economy hum is getting harder and costlier to extract from the ground. On this much virtually everyone, even the skeptics, agrees.
What they don’t agree on is when it’ll happen.

‘In the next three years’, argues author and researcher James Howard Kunstler in a recent interview with Grist magazine in the US, ‘we are going to be feeling the pain. Our lives are going to be noticeably beginning to be disrupted. In the next ten years, you will see the beginning of a major collapse of suburbia’.

Australia is a country heavily reliant on oil. Our strength as one of the world’s leading agricultural producers hinges on not just fuel oil for transport, but oil by-products as fertilizers.

According to Kunstler, rising fuel costs will force city-dwellers to grow their own food literally in household backyards and farms on the back doorstep. Many people, he says, will find their lifestyles change to accommodate a necessary grow-your-own component. Prices for lifestyle blocks and large city sections will soar, while prices of apartments will plummet.

Although Kunstler was speaking to an American audience, there are those in Australia, like the Green Party, who are convinced by his message, and throw the threat of falling oil supplies into an already-confused local debate over environmental policy and where the country – and world is hidden. For while on the one hand, environmentalists worry that the world is running out of oil (though they never mention that such a scenario would also go a long way towards cut greenhouse gas emissions), on the other, scientists such as Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, disagree. According to Lomborg, there are vast reserves of oil in tar sands and shale, and while it is more expensive to extract, these sources could also keep the well from running dry for many, many years – 5,000, to be exact.

It’s not hard to understand why the skeptics would be, well, skeptical. After all, back in the 1970s environmentalists were predicting that today civilization would be beating back glaciers and that nations would be going to war over food. And there’s currently huge debate over whether rising temperatures are the result of man’s planet-destroying hubris which needs urgently to be put in check, or simply caused by natural long-term fluctuations in the climate. After all, if meteorologists can’t predict whether Saturday’s trip to the beach will be a wash-out, what makes them think they can project the temperature, five, ten, or fifty years down the track?

So is this matter of peak oil really much ado about nothing and another tactic by the Greens to garner inner-city votes and reduce vehicle emissions? Or is it the skeptics who are misinformed?
New Zealand-based geologist Alan Hart, who has worked on the frontline of the oil industry for 30 years, believes the ramifications of this ‘final’ oil crisis will be very serious indeed and our media has fundamentally failed to alert people to the realities of what lies ahead. Born in Texas in 1951, he graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with advanced degrees in petroleum geology in 1974 and 1979, and has worked for several oil companies, including the 7th largest US petroleum company, ARCO. Since 2002, he has been on the board of directors of Canadian company, TAG Oil, which is concentrating on exploration efforts in New Zealand.

‘These journalists and radio hosts are entitled to their opinions and can denigrate spokespersons like myself all they want, but I personally know that peak oil will arrive in two or five or ten years. From that point on, the world as we know it will be changed unless the global community meets it head on and begins its preparations now.’
The act of taking oil from the ground is called producing it. Since the start of oil production in the nineteenth century, the world has produced about half of its ultimately recoverable oil resource. At the halfway point, the world will achieve what is referred to as its production peak – more oil will be produced in a year near the halfway point than ever before – or thereafter. This is what is referred to as peak oil.

There are varied opinions regarding when peak oil will occur. Dr Colin Campbell, a petro-geologist who is perhaps the world’s foremost expert on predicting oil trends, calculates that it will occur in 2006. Dr Campbell, who was conferred with a PhD from Oxford University and has worked as a geologist, manager, and consultant for a variety of oil companies, is currently the convener and editor of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) and a Trustee of the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre in London. He told the Guardian in late-April 2005 that about 944 billion barrels of oil have thus far been extracted, some 764 billion remains extractable in known fields or reserves, and that a further 142 billion of reserves are classed as ‘yet-to-find’ – that’s the oil geologists expect to be discovered. He said if this is so, then the overall oil peak arrives next year – with unpredictable and perhaps drastic consequences for the world.

Optimists focus on the figures and assume that just because the production peak has arrived doesn’t mean that oil is under imminent threat. But Campbell and James Howard Kunstler argue the petro-optimists are missing the point.

‘We don’t have to run out of oil or natural gas to have severe problems’, says Kunstler. ‘All you have to do is head down the arc of depletion on the downside of world peak production.’
In other words, as production decreases yet demand continues to increase, oil prices become problematic for the world long before the wells actually dry up.

The peak oil debate has recently heated up especially across the Tasman, where Energy Minister Trevor Mallard told Investigate the Government stands by its view that peak oil will occur sometime between 2021 and 2067, with ‘probability highest around 2037’, statistics that come from the United States Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration.

‘I stress that other estimates abound’, concedes Mallard, ‘and that I’m not claiming that this is the right one, but it’s in our view the best estimate we have to work to for now’.

oil-rig.jpgBut critics say politicians like Mallard have no choice but to play it cool, lest the healthy economic outlook be exposed as a fraud. The man who just purchased a new 4WD on hire purchase would think the bottom had dropped out of his world and the young couple who’d just built their dream home an hour’s drive from their work places, where there was no alternative but to drive, would be gutted. It’s far simpler, say petro-pessimists, for the Minister to use smoke and mirrors to provide an illusion of a rosy future, which allow for the continuance of current trends over the coming years, rather than to tell it like it is. It’s like booking us to go First Class on the Titanic and moving all the furniture towards the end that will sink first.

It is significant that peak oil is getting much more coverage in the international media than it is in Australia’s daily press. But this will change. Ordinary people are learning about the theory, thanks largely to word of mouth and the internet. One who ascribes to this view is Kiwi builder Robert Atack. For six years now, this 47-year-old has been a modern Jeremiah informing people about the impending oil crisis. He, like some experts in world energy studies, believes it will have a catastrophic impact on humanity, an impact which could be lessened if we start our preparations now.

Atack has plunged $9,000 of his own cash into the issue, printing and distributing leaflets, CDs, DVDs, videos and books, which carry information from experts of Dr Colin Campbell’s ilk, to members of the public and parliament.

‘During the last term of government I had 10,000 copies of The Oil Crash And You printed and sent about 5 copies each to every MP. And I’ve sent a lot of e-mails – and I think probably most of the current government have had something sent to them’, offers Atack.

‘Trevor Mallard’s been in denial. Any official reply I’ve seen from his office since he became Minister of Energy is just the regurgitated rubbish Pete Hodgson’s secretary sent out, who became Mallard’s when he took over the job of Minister of Energy.’

Beyond the rhetoric, there is evidence that the oil industry really is in dire straits. According to oil geologist Hart it is an industry virtually working at full capacity now. It’s being pushed to its limits. He can tell by the number of oil tankers traveling around the world, the number of seismic vessels gathering seismic data for oil companies, as well as from the number of oilrigs in use.

At present, the world can produce about 84 million barrels of oil a day at the most.

Over 82 million barrels per day are being used at present and there’s an increasing demand for more. The world economy grew by 5.1% in 2004 – the fastest in nearly three decades. Among the leaders were China, (with around 1.3 billion inhabitants), expanding at 9.5%, Argentina at 9% and India at 7.3%, (around 1.1 billion people). Projections for the fourth quarter of 2005 indicate that 86 to 87 million barrels of oil a day will be required and this won’t be met. Although the biggest oil companies, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Texaco, and BP talk about there being ‘plenty of oil’ and being able to produce more, their production figures are actually going down every year, a problem compounded by a lack of refineries that create supply bottlenecks and push the price of petrol north.

While the oil industry can function well at the moment, it won’t in the imminent future. Compounding the oil availability problems is that for the past 20 years the industry has failed to attract enough new personnel. Faced with the choice of studying oil geology or the glamour of IT during the dotcom boom of the nineties, many students chose IT. The grim period of mergers and downsizing in the oil business added to the perception that the oil business was a beast in its death throes. As perhaps it is.

Managing editor of the Oil & Gas International Journal, Dev George, puts it, ‘It seems as though every major petroleum industry conference these days has at least one session devoted to bemoaning the critical shortage of new blood, the lack of young professionals – engineers and geologists and geoscientists as well as business and industry generalists – entering the industry.’

Hart says this spells doom for the oil business, because the ability to successfully locate and drill for oil is highly dependent upon having an employee base with extensive work experience.

‘In 1985, the average age for a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists was 38. The average age last year was 53. This shows that at this critical time when the industry really needs experienced employees, they won’t be there. It is really a dreadful situation we face’, offers Hart despondently.

The American Association of Petroleum Geologists has been providing videos and encouraging its 31,000 members to speak in public forums about the possibility of future oil shortages for the past 15 years. Hart began making presentations to various civic and business groups down under several years ago in an attempt to alert the public to the coming end to cheap oil, but finds it difficult to disseminate the message because the public is chiefly ‘unbelieving.’

‘Some people think that “peak oil” is nothing but evidence of a greedy oil industry trying to talk up the oil price’, but this is not so, says Hart: ‘Why would the industry manipulate prices so high that they drive away the very customers that are required to keep them in business? The last thing the oil companies want to see is a chaotic global event [peak oil] that destroys their carefully cultivated consumer base. If there was anything the producers – especially OPEC and petroleum companies could do to slow the price juggernaut,
believe me they’d be doing it now, not tomorrow.’

Hart says it’s the plight of his own four children that motivates him to inform the public about peak oil, because while he can educate them on the impending oil crisis, without the cooperative efforts of the rest of the community and nation, their entire livelihood is threatened by the coming dilemma.

Dr Peter Ballance, formerly Associate Professor of Geology at Auckland University, specialised in sedimentary and oil geology and holds a Doctorate of Science from the University of London. He contends that the threat of peak oil should be taken seriously. ‘It’s a physical fact. One which we may reach this year or in 10 year’s time’, he warns.

In regard to whether skeptical cientists such as Bjorn Lomborg are correct in claiming that there is plenty of oil, Dr Ballance admits that ‘people who say there’s plenty of oil are right in one sense, but in the sense of plenty of the ideal oil, they’re wrong. Much of that remaining oil will be in tar sands, oil shales, deep-sea locations and Arctic locations. All of that’s very expensive and environmentally damaging to extract.’

The cost of oil is not the real issue. The availability of oil is. It is currently cheap because we’re extracting fuel from easy fields whose technical infrastructure was put in place and paid for decades ago. When those fields empty, sooner rather than later, prices will rise.

It is commonly suggested that technological advances will play a role in finding meaningful quantities of more oil. Unfortunately, according to Hart, while technology has and will continue to enhance the oil industry’s ability to locate significant new accumulations of petroleum, it cannot compensate for the huge amounts of cheap oil we are chewing our way through.

‘Anyone who believes that technology will “save the day” like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster is not facing up to reality. Technology alone cannot replace the amounts of cheap oil [less than US$10/barrel to produce] we are currently consuming on a global scale. It’s going to take a conservation effort too’, he asserts. Wishful thinking, whilst correct to a point, still ignores the reality that markets rely on plenty of advance warning and new discoveries, not magic wands, and that if another chemical existed that could replace oil as a fuel, or in plastics or any of the other myriad uses for oil, we ought to know about it by now. And we don’t. And on a worst case scenario those ‘markets’ may only have another five years to find the mystery new elixir, test it and produce it.

Yes, solar power can help reduce some of the dependence on oil, but currently we use oil to create solar generation capacity. The power and telephone lines into our homes are manufactured from oil. Computers are dependent on oil. Many pharmaceutical and health products require oil. For the markets to truly ‘take care of it’, planning has to begin immediately, argue petro-pessimists.

50026687._S8E0830_oil_rig_Long_Beach.jpgSome still refuse to face the possibility of a world with less oil, however, like those who believe Thomas Gold’s theory that oil is abiotic, or non-organic in origin. This theory, which holds a growing number of followers, suggests that oil is being produced within the mantle of the earth, from where it continually moves upward, to provide an unlimited supply. Dr Ballance says that there is no substance to Gold’s theory. ‘It’s one of the many myths on which people build hopes’, he says.

Although the oil industry has repeatedly proven that oil is biotic, meaning that it is derived from the degeneration of organic plant and animal remains from which the carbon molecules have been converted to complex hydrocarbon molecules through pressure and time, the Gold theory has retained many believers for a number of reasons.

There are genuine accounts of oil wells refilling, and drilling at levels deeper than 10,000 metres, which some say is evidence that has supported Gold’s theory. Ballance counters that the reason the wells have been refilling is not because oil is being magically produced deep within the earth, but simply because oil moves through permeable rocks in response to a pressure gradient. It can continue to move after a well has ceased to provide economic quantities of oil. Thus, it’s to be expected that old wells will in some cases refill with oil, but in no where near the quantities that will make any difference to a world that uses over 82 million barrels a day.

Likewise, the drilling beyond 10,000 metres does not lend support for the abiotic theory, either because when hydrocarbons are subjected to the temperatures and pressure that exist below 9,000 metres, they are generally destroyed says Hart.

Former industrial chemist Kevin Moore, who has an Honours degree in chemistry from Auckland University, has studied the abiotic theory and says its proponents are asking us to accept a process that defies the laws of chemistry. ‘Until the proponents of abiotic oil present a plausible theory, and they’ve presented none to my knowledge, it’s just junk science’.

The deepest bore to date was drilled by Russians in the Kola Peninsula to 12,262-metres from 1970 to 1994 and cost more than US$250 million. However, it was not drilled in order to search for oil or natural gas, but to study the nature of the earth’s crust. ‘While there’s no ultra-deep oil except in a couple of unusual fields, there is ultra-deep gas in many places. No matter where people get their information from, they can be assured that petroleum is not generated in the mantle. And if Russia, which passed peak production in the late-1980’s, has all of this deep oil, why isn’t it selling it on the world market?’, questions Hart.

According to peak oil advocates, Australia should be doing a thorough analysis of each sector of the economy to understand how vulnerable it is to oil prices and shortages and what can be done. For example, can our food be grown closer to where it is eaten? How do we maintain soil fertility without nitrogen-based fertilizers – which are made from fossil fuels? Can we invest now in expensive infrastructure that will be hard to afford when oil is expensive – like rail, wind turbines and solar technologies, to say nothing of nuclear power, which is once again on the agenda.

Australia is competing against the world for a limited amount of liquid energy. As long as oil demand outstrips the industry’s ability to supply oil, the prices will continue to rise. When global oil production does peak, and it soon will, the disparity between demand and supply will continue to grow and the situation will so worsen. It’s not a case of if, but when. While one can hope and pray that gigantic new sources of petroleum will be found tomorrow, if the majority of people working in the petroleum industry are correct, this won’t happen and continuing our gas-guzzling ways is only going to add to an already critical situation.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:08 PM | Comments (0)

MOVIES: Dec 05, AU Edition

Reece Witherspoon’s latest fails to thrill, while Russian Dolls is more than just kid stuff

Xavier and Wendy in St Petersburg on boat_cmyk.jpgRussian Dolls
Release: December, 2005
Rated: M
French with English sub-titles
3 stars

Russian Dolls is a sequel to the very popular 2002 French flick, The Spanish Apartment. In The Spanish Apartment a group of 25-year-old students come to discover life isn’t all about meaningless sex and realize that they have to grow up. Set five years later, Russian Dolls has the group on the cusp of thirty discovering they really, really have to grow up.

The storyline is predominantly explained through voiceover from the lead character Xavier (played by a cute but slightly dull Romain Duris). He’s no longer working in finance and is now doing crappy freelance writing for romantic TV movies. So as he writes he fills in plot gaps: “I wrote a book called L’auberge Espanole five years ago, but haven’t been able to find a publisher.” It’s a clever way to bring you up to speed with the lives of his friends over the past five years.

Basically the gang all get back together for the wedding in St Petersburg of English stagehand William (played charmingly by Kevin Bishop) and Russian ballerina Natasha (Evguenya Obraztsova).
Two stand out roles are Xavier’s ex-girlfriend, Martine (played by the captivating Audrey Tautou), who has a young son by a never-seen father, still carries a semi-torch for Xavier and, like all the characters on display, is searching for true love. And current girlfriend Wendy (played by the magnetic Kelly Reilly) a gifted writer getting over an abusive relationship.

Enter Celia (played appropriately woodenly by Lucy Gordon), a top fashion model whose life story is being ghost-written by Xavier. She’s beautiful and dumb – making her the perfect woman in Xavier’s eyes.
My question is why do all these beautiful and smart women fall for a neurotic no-hoper wreck? Sure Xavier is handsome and French – but come on girls, we all know he’s a commitment-phobic disaster.
If you liked The Spanish Apartment you’ll like Russian Dolls. It’s nice to have films that grow up with you.

JL05_cmyk.jpgJust Like Heaven
Release: December, 2005
Rated: PG
3 stars

Look, I love Reece Witherspoon. And I think Mark Ruffalo is a big spunk. But the new movie they are starring in, Just Like Heaven, leans a bit too heavily on their sweetness to make up for its failings.
Basically Elizabeth is a type-A, work-obsessed woman who has no time for love – not much of a stretch for a Reece Witherspoon character. David is a depressed yet gentle man trying to get over the death of his wife – again, Mark Ruffalo could play this with his eyes shut.

The catch is Elizabeth is a spirit that no-one but David can see. Yup, it’s a pretty dumb plot alright. The scriptwriters obviously hope viewers will make the leap of faith before you run from the room screaming Ghost. Myself, I struggled with it.

Anyway, our two leads have to figure out why Elizabeth is a spirit and only David can see her so they can hopefully fix the problem. There are some funny bits. While Elizabeth is trying to convince David to help her, she seals the deal by arguing, “Look, you have two realities to choose from. The first is a woman has come into your life in a very unconventional way and she needs your assistance. The second is you are a crazy person talking to himself on a park bench.” Fair point.
Of course this is a romantic comedy so they fall in love – even though she’s not real so he can’t touch her and she can walk through walls and furniture. Hmmm.

If you’re looking for a dumb chick flick to distract you this summer Just Like Heaven is for you. But I prefer my spirits mixed with with orange juice.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:04 PM | Comments (0)

Dec 05, AU Edition

chadwick 3-25.jpg

A mystery from inside the Pacific’s Bermuda Triangle

In February 1962, an ageing bi-plane on a scenic flight became the first victim of an area they’re calling the Pacific’s Bermuda Triangle. Six planes have vanished never to be seen again, taking with them 23 men, women and children. Now in this extract from aviation writer RICHARD WAUGH’s new book, Lost Without Trace?, comes the story of the missing Dragonfly, and details of a $4,000 reward for its discovery.

From a gentle idle Brian Chadwick closes down the Dragonfly engines. The ground running warms them up before the flight and is a last check for any obvious faults. Everything is fine and there is plenty of fuel aboard. Stepping away from the Dragonfly, Chadwick looks toward the distant Alps. It’s a habit. There is total cloud cover and he can feel the southerly wind.

With the Flight Plan filed he walks into the imposing terminal building and greets two men already waiting at the Inquiry Desk. “Hello, I’m Brian Chadwick, your pilot for today’s flight,” “Gidday mate, I’m Louis Rowan,” “And I’m Darrell Shiels.”

Elwyn Saville soon joins them and his new wife Valerie emerges from the powder room. ‘A happy young lot; they’ll love the flight,’ thinks Chadwick as they head off chatting, toward the parked Dragonfly. Louis quickly works out his older brother Bill had worked with Darrell at a Sydney brewery.

“Yes, she’s not the newest plane,” says Chadwick, “But you’ll have fantastic views and we’ll be slow enough for you to use all the film in your cameras – I guarantee it!” He soon finds out where they’re from, and puts Elwyn and Valerie together on the rear bench seat, Louis in the front seat next to him, and Darrell in the middle seat. They listen attentively as he gives the safety instructions and points out the First Aid box, barley sugars and four small blankets.

Chadwick eases into the pilot’s seat. He has just over 6,000 flying hours experience. There is friendly banter in the cabin and they all laugh when he says, “On board we have a Pom, three Aussies and a Kiwi – not a joke – but it’s going to be a memorable flight!”

The Dragonfly had been refuelled the evening before by Ken Froggatt who worked as an assistant to Chadwick. Following instructions Froggatt had filled the wing tanks to capacity (30 gallons each) and put 15 gallons in the rear fuselage tank, and the aircraft was all ready for the morning’s flight. After ground running the engines, Chadwick went to meet his passengers. The four tourists were all from New South Wales: Elwyn & Valerie Saville from Wahroonga, Louis Rowan from Granville and Darrell Shiels from Balmain. Valerie was a New Zealander who had married Elwyn in her home town of Gisborne just two months earlier.

chadwick 4-F2-1.jpgThe Savilles came to the South Island as part of their extended honeymoon holiday in New Zealand, wanting to see some of the renowned scenery. They were intending to return to Australia in late February. Sidney Elwyn Saville, known as ‘Elwyn’, was born on 8 October 1941 at Casino on the north coast of New South Wales where his father Roy owned and ran a dairy farm. He was the third of five children. The family were Seventh Day Adventist and Elwyn attended Casino High School and then went to work at the Wahroonga Sanitarium and Hospital in Sydney. This is now the Sydney Adventist Hospital.

Valerie Gay Bignell was born on 27 June 1939, the second youngest of twelve children of Fred and Jessie Bignell at Tokomaru Bay, north of Gisborne. Fred was a foreman and slaughterman at the local Freezing Works. Valerie attended Tokomaru Bay School and from the age of 14, the New Zealand Missionary College (later Longburn College) near Palmerston North. She returned to Gisborne and worked in the office at Cook Hospital as a typist. Valerie’s family remember her as “a loving kind person, quiet, who loved children.”

She decided to go to Australia in 1959 as several relatives were there including a sister, Patricia. Valerie soon got a job as a secretary-clerk at the Adventist Sanatorium and this is where she met Elwyn. Engaged in the winter of 1961, they set a wedding date in New Zealand, took extended leave from their jobs and the couple left Sydney by air for New Zealand on 21 November, along with several other friends and were booked to return to Sydney by sea on the Canberra, leaving on 28 February 1962. It was a return trip they would never make.

chadwick 4-F3-2.jpgBorn at Junee in New South Wales in 1928, Darrell Stanley Shiels was the youngest of Warrie and Doris Shiels’ three children. His father worked on the railway. He attended Drummoyne Boys High School. Darrell’s older brother, Allan Warren Shiels, aged 19, was killed in wartime England on 19 June 1944 in a plane crash whilst serving with the RAAF.

Darrell was 5’11” tall of medium build and played tennis, but his favourite occupation was playing the piano. He took after his grandmother who was a very good pianist. Darrell worked in a railways office and later as a clerk in the office of Tooth & Co Brewery in Sydney. Darrell was single but had been engaged for a short time a few years earlier. While at Tooths Brewery he lived at home with his mother at Balmain, Sydney.

Louis Rowan had been working in New Guinea before returning home to Australia for Christmas 1961 and then took a trip to New Zealand with the prospect of working for a while.

“Louis was a very outgoing and popular man who had close mates and a wide circle of friends,” remembers his brother John. “He was generous by nature and a willing helper to anyone who needed it. He was popular with the girls and flirting was a trademark. He played tennis regularly and kept himself very fit. Louis was 6’1” tall, lean and about 170lb. He was a member of the Granville RSL and really enjoyed a beer and a smoke. He owned three cars, the first a Vanguard, the second an FJ Holden and the third, his pride and joy, a Dodge Kingsway. He was never short of family and friends to fill these cars for any occasion.”

chadwick 4-F1-1.jpgRowan’s date with destiny happened by chance: the possibility of a scenic flight to Milford Sound came up while he lingered in Christchurch awaiting a flight back to the North Island and thence home to Australia. When the opportunity came to board the Dragonfly, he seized it, leaving his luggage behind in a bed and breakfast establishment he never returned to.

As the group of five boarded the Dragonfly, Don Eadie, a 24-year-old licensed aircraft engineer with Airwork, was ready to help. In 2004 he remembered: “I was on tarmac duty when Brian Chadwick loaded up AFB with the tourists for the trip to Milford. At that time, the engineering staff at Airwork wore grey overalls, and I always kept a clean pair of white ones for ‘tarmac duty’. My job was to assist the pilot ‘load up’ and having shut the door, stand by with a fire extinguisher while the engines were started. I often wondered what I would do if one caught fire! However, I was never put to the test. The Dominie and Dragonfly engines always started and ran smoothly after a short warm up. A testimony to the care with which they were maintained.

“I seem to recall that it was a warm day at Harewood. I can still see the young couple in the Dragonfly, lightly dressed and quite excited at the prospect of flying to Milford. After a wave from Brian, I pulled away the wooden chocks and he then taxied out to the runway. That was the last I was to see of him.”

Dragonfly ZK-AFB was airborne just over 10 minutes late. George Blackett reported, “Upon Captain Chadwick’s departure from Christchurch the Control Tower sent the Flight Plan to Communications for onward transmission and sent the Control Centre a plaque to inform the Centre of the actual time of departure. The aircraft left at 9.52am and was to set down at Milford at 12.37pm.”

Christchurch Airport received no further radio reports from Chadwick as the Dragonfly began the long climb toward the Southern Alps.
As expected, many other pilots were flying in the lower South Island that day. From Hokitika, Brian Waugh took off mid-morning on the scheduled West Coast Airways service to Haast. He later wrote: “Dominie ZK-AKT lifted off into a light cloudy sky. It was early morning, and Hokitika looked quite sleepy beneath me. Another typical day I thought. Little did I realise that 12 February 1962 would be a day not easily forgotten. Just over an hour later I landed at Haast in sunshine, picked up six passengers and headed home on the return trip. Jim Harper was right: while the coast weather was good, it was pitch black in the ranges. I smiled smugly: ‘Chaddy will not be carrying any scenic passengers to Milford today,’ I thought.”

chadwick 1-1.jpgNo radio reports were received from Chadwick after the Dragonfly took off but this was quite normal as his next designated radio reporting point was the Mt. Eliede Beaumont area, assuming his “Usual Route”. While there were no radio messages there were a number of reported hearings and sightings of the blue and white Dragonfly as it droned its way over the Canterbury Plains and headed south-west. In this sense the aircraft did not disappear ‘without trace’ as these observations were made by a range of people at many different places. These reports indicate that the progress of ZK-AFB for part of its intended journey can be confirmed with reasonable certainty.

In 1987 Eric Gillum contacted the author recording his memories of 12 February 1962: “I was digging a drain with a dragline working on Mr Walter Elliot’s Omahau sheep station that day, which is about 6 miles south from Lake Pukaki Village and about half a mile from where Twizel village was later established. I had just stopped work a few minutes before midday when I heard a plane going over, it was far too low and one engine was spluttering and blowing out smoke. I thought then that if it got as far as Lake Ohau it would be as far as it would get.
“Mr Elliot came out that afternoon about 3 o’clock and told me a plane had been reported missing. I asked him if he knew what sort of plane it was and when he said it was a Dragonfly I told him it had gone over with one engine spluttering. I had met Captain Chadwick and found him a very levelheaded person. If the plane had kept on course after it flew over where I was it would have had to gain a lot of height to get over the Ben Ohau Range, but I couldn’t see that being possible with one sick motor, he could have flown around the Ben Ohau Range at the bottom of Lake Ohau and got back on course from there.

“About 11 o’clock that same day my sister, Eileen Harrington, was at Jim O’Neil’s farm on Clayton Road, Fairlie, when that plane passed overhead, therefore he was right on course and the timing would be right too.”

One of the earliest reports received by Search and Rescue on the Monday night was relayed from deercullers at the head of Lake Ohau. This was further investigated on the Tuesday. Evan Blanch in 2004 wrote this detailed account:

As a 20-year-old, I was employed by the New Zealand Forest Service doing deerculling in the Hopkins River watershed. There were eight shooters covering the Hunter, Ahuriri, Hopkins and Dobson Valleys – two to each, plus a Field Officer and under the control of the Otago-Southland office in Queenstown. On the day Chad- wick’s aircraft went missing we were all at the NZFS Waitaki Base Camp on Huxley Gorge Station. This camp is at the base of Ram Hill at the south end of the Hopkins Valley. We would meet up once a month to collect and send out mail, fill in our monthly report cards and have our tallies counted.

“The weather was, to say the least, terrible, with a very strong southerly coming up over Lake Ohau with low cloud and rain showers. I don’t remember now the exact time but it was in the middle of the day. I was at the time repairing the driveshaft on my Chevrolet pick-up truck and was surprised to suddenly hear an aircraft overhead in the cloud. It was clearly twin-engined and working very hard against the wind but at no time did it become visible. I stood and listened until it could no longer be heard. It flew directly up the Hopkins Valley and my impression was that some mountain tops must have been visible to make it possible to fly up the valley. The plane sounded as if it came out of the Dobson Valley and around Mt Glenmary, when the sound of the engines ceased – they stopped very abruptly.

“Everyone at the camp heard the plane but as they were indoors they did not take a lot of notice. It was not until the 6 o’clock news came over the radio saying that a plane was missing that we realised that what we heard was probably it.

Chadwick 2-1.jpg“The Hopkins River is almost North to South and has a gentle curve over most of its length. The Huxley River is quite a large valley on the west of the Hopkins with the Elcho Valley a bit smaller. These would be an absolute trap in bad weather for any plane but they do give access to the Landsborough River, via the Brodrick Pass, which in turn gives a route to the West Coast and Haast. So we heard the plane going north away from its intended destination and into an area of high mountains and dense forest. In two years working in the area there was a lot of the area I never visited. A blue fabric covered aircraft could easily still be there!

“The Police were interested in what I heard but I didn’t see any – but officers in charge tend to take over in these situations. I have never been asked for my story and this is the first time I have put it to paper.”

A total of 17 civilian and 17 military aircraft – including both RNZAF and USAF aircraft from Operation Deep Freeze at Christchurch – combed Fiordland for any trace of the aircraft. All up, they logged more than 630 flying hours across more than 250 individual sorties. To this day, it remains the largest air search ever conducted in New Zealand history.

The whereabouts of Dragonfly ZK-AFB, its pilot and passengers, quickly became a persisting mystery spawning wide interest, and this has continued to the present day. Based on what many people reported seeing or hearing, the Dragonfly’s progress south west is reasonably certain but its final resting place is still elusive, despite a number of search initiatives over the years. Adding to this Dragonfly mystery is the subsequent disappearance in the same lower South Island region of five further aircraft which have never been found (see sidebar story).

With the official Dragonfly search being suspended, the families of those on board the missing aircraft were compelled to face the reality that their loved ones had died. It was a traumatic week.

Telegrams had been sent from the New Zealand Police in the late afternoon and early evening of 12 February notifying relatives in Australia that the aircraft was overdue and missing. Darrell Shiels’ mother told newspapers the following day that her husband had been put on sedatives to help cope with the shock.

For the Rowan family it was just as devastating with the family making desperate attempts to obtain more news. Every news bulletin on Sydney radio was listened to and reception of late evening radio broadcasts from New Zealand were sometimes successful. But the distance and lack of news was heartbreaking for all involved. Support for the families from relatives and friends was encouraging with care and prayers being offered all across Australia.

Elwyn Saville’s parents stayed with Valerie’s sister, Patricia King, at Cooranbong, and it was from there that Mrs Saville wrote a letter to the other bereaved families. Her heartfelt letter of 20 February to the Rowan family said:

“We are writing a short note to you in hope that by being parents of the young couple in the same plane as your boy has disappeared, we may be able to offer some comfort in knowing that the one sadness covers both our homes. We do not know each other but may God bless you with his love in our sad time, it is very hard for us to understand but I do feel that God must have a purpose for it all, may we put our trust in him.

“We contacted the New Zealand Commissioner of Police asking if they considered it would be of any gain for us to go over to New Zealand or if my husband and son could be of any assistance in the search, the reply wasn’t just what we’d have liked but they have really made a wonderful effort in the search for them.

“The reply stated that they have searched 17,000 square miles six or seven times. The search has been suspended in the meantime and will be taken up immediately if information comes to hand. No point in coming to New Zealand at present. We cannot expect more of them even though we’d like them to go on searching. We can only have faith in knowing that if we should not see them again in this world we will meet our loved ones when Jesus comes on the Great Resurrection Day. May your faith, courage and health, as well as our own be built so as to face the future whatever God has in store for us.”

In Christchurch the news had filtered out more quickly. The Isles family, where Valerie and Elwyn Saville had been staying, heard about the aircraft being overdue by late afternoon but Valerie’s parents, Mr and Mrs Fred Bignell and their family in Gisborne, weren’t contacted by police until later that evening.

Two weeks later Mrs Bignell and her daughter Joyce went to Christchurch, stayed with the Isles, and collected the luggage, including wedding presents, that the couple had left behind.
For Sylvia Chadwick and her two sons, the news was also unbelievable. At the naval training establishment in Auckland, Tony was convinced that his father would turn up unscathed after a couple of days, and had to be virtually ordered to go home on compassionate leave. Then there was a sense of helplessness, as there was nothing that could be done to assist the search.

chadwick 5-11.jpgCertainly the performance of the Dragonfly in alpine flying conditions, especially at the required altitudes in the lower Southern Alps, was very poor. Not only was there an appreciable difference in the actual single engine performance of ZK-AFB when compared to manufacturer’s claims, but by 1962, in comparison with other newer aircraft available, the veteran Dragonfly was clearly unsuitable for such trips. When the aircraft’s known poor single-engine performance and susceptibility to icing, is combined with the mountainous terrain and deteriorating weather, a whole new meaning is given to the term “margin of error”.

The reality was that the Dragonfly had little or no margin of error to cope with any major weather deterioration or mechanical failure en route to Milford Sound. Chadwick may not have originally envisaged using the Dragonfly for his Milford Sound flights, as his larger Dominie aircraft was more suitable, but in practice the aircraft regularly flew the Glacier and Milford Sound charters. With hindsight it can now be said that flying a Dragonfly aircraft on regular commercial charters over the rugged Southern Alps to Milford Sound, sometimes in deteriorating weather, was risky, if not a tragedy waiting to happen.

In spite of the passage of time, local pilots continued to keep watch for the Dragonfly, looking for anything unusual in the dense bush and trees, especially in more isolated areas. Brian Waugh was prominent, but there were many others.

Nancy Stokes, widow of Mt Cook skiplane pilot John Stokes, who was based at Fox Glacier 1961-1964, recently commented: “John always kept an eye out for Chadwick”. Ray Sweney from Hokitika also deliberately flew over many likely areas. The same was true for Canterbury-based pilot Jim Pavitt, who continued to fly Milford Sound charters, “After Brian Chadwick went missing, every time I flew to Milford I scrutinised the terrain for any signs. I even varied the route to cover as much as possible, but there is such an extensive wilderness it was fruitless. One day I hope a tramper or someone finds something; then we might learn what happened.”

In January 1975 a deerstalker, N.L. Duncan reported seeing what looked like aircraft debris in the headwaters of the Rangitata River. A fully equipped six-man team, led by two police constables, completed a search accompanied by Mr Duncan but nothing was found.

On 8 August 1980 Paul Beauchamp Legg and his wife Frances were flying with Dr Paul and Jean Monro in the Middle District’s Aero Club’s Piper Cherokee 180 ZK-ECR. Paul Monro recounts: “We were on a flight from Franz Josef to Milford Sound with Paul Legg flying. I remember us flying well round Mt. Aspiring to the south of the West Branch of the Matukituki River. We then headed for a point a few miles out to sea from the entrance to Milford Sound and flew over tall bush-covered undulating country which I assume may have been the Dart River. As we descended towards Lake Alabaster, before crossing its southern end, Jean, who was sitting in the left rear seat, saw what looked like the white tail plane of an aircraft semi-hidden in the bush.” Beauchamp Legg was quickly alerted and he recalls: “We were in a severe down-draught at the time and I was more interested in staying with the living than joining the dead and was working hard to get into an updraught. I only had time to make a quick glance in the direction Mrs Monro indicated. I marked it on the map and passed the information to Air Department but as far as I know nothing was done about it. I was told much later, at Queenstown, that one of the helicopters had dropped a fridge in the bush somewhere about there but Mrs Monro was still adamant that it was an aeroplane she saw.”

A further on-going search initiative has been quietly undertaken by Lex Perriam, a ranger with the New Zealand Forest Service based at Omarama since 1975. Perriam remembers the Dragonfly going missing while attending high school at Mosgiel. In 1977 he discussed the mystery with Stafford Weatherall, owner of the Lake Ohau Station.

Weatherall told him that on the day the Dragonfly went missing he had been mustering east of Lake Ohau on Ben Rose Station and heard, above the fog, an aircraft to the west with engines revving loudly. This account, together with a dream Perriam had of the Dragonfly being in the South Huxley area, and Richard Waugh’s article for the 25th anniversary of the disappearance in 1987, renewed his interest and prompted him to be deliberate about ongoing searching for wreckage in the areas for which he has Forest Service responsibility. In 2005 he reported: “I was encouraged to continue looking for the location of the plane by foot and by air.”

Mason Whaitiri of Bluff reported to the author recently: “In early 1962 I was the Skipper of the Miss Geraldine fishing boat and was working directly off the entrance to Milford Sound at the time the aircraft went missing. It was a bright sunny day and the boat was straight out from St Anne Point about a mile from the Sound mouth. The time was about midday or 1pm and the boat was picking up pots.

“I was in the wheelhouse and two crew members were at the winch – Russell Trow, my brother-in-law, and Allan Strange. In spite of the noise from the freezer and engine in the wheelhouse I heard a very loud aircraft noise which all of a sudden cut out.

“I went out on deck and asked the others who were using the winch whether they had heard the close-by aircraft but they hadn’t heard a thing over the noise of the winch and didn’t see anything. While the weather was sunny and clear it was blowing a 25-30 knot wind from south west coming up the coast. A hard wind!

“Later that day we heard that an aircraft was missing. We also saw smoke in the bush behind Big Bay and steamed for about three hours to get closer but we determined it was Davy Gunn mustering cattle. Some weeks later it dawned on me the possible explanation for the very loud aircraft noise and its sudden end.

chadwick front cov.jpg“I felt the aircraft would have been very near for the noise to have penetrated the wheelhouse so clearly – maybe within 200 yards. I think the missing aircraft may have been running out of fuel and the pilot had nowhere else to land and so decided to get close to the only human civilisation – the Miss Geraldine – and to ditch in the sea alongside. This was the loud noise I heard as the aircraft came up very close. But unfortunately the pilot ditched on the wrong side and was not noticed. The crew and I were not looking that way as we were concentrating on collecting the pots and were watching certain land features to help determine where the pots were. I am a friend of veteran helicopter pilot Bill Black. On occasions Bill came up close to my boat but if I was in the wheelhouse I only heard his helicopter when he was directly overhead. This whole incident has haunted me for all these years.”

Although many years have passed it is quite likely there will be still more reports made about the Dragonfly. All deserve to be considered carefully. The reality is that the Dragonfly did not just vanish without trace. This book documents many key and credible reports, many dating back to 12 February 1962, which provide strong evidence that the Dragonfly was flying on a southwest route down the eastern side of the Main Divide. The sighting/hearing reports of an aircraft in the Lake Ohau/Hopkins area and the Mt. Aspiring area provide important clues as to its possible final resting place.

Investigate magazine is supporting Richard Waugh’s quest to solve New Zealand’s most perplexing aviation mystery by offering a $4,000 cash reward to anyone who discovers the wreckage and reports it exclusively to Investigate in the first instance. No reward will be payable if news of any discovery is first publicized intentionally or unintentionally in any other media than Investigate. For full details of the likely route of the Dragonfly, purchase a copy of Waugh’s new book, Lost Without Trace? Available at all good booksellers.

Since the disappearance of Dragonfly ZK-AFB on 12 February 1962, there have been five other aircraft lost without trace in the same southern region of the South Island; four fixed wing aircraft and one helicopter. In total, including those aboard ZK-AFB, 23 persons – 6 pilots and 17 passengers – have vanished!

The large area in which these aircraft and people have been lost is among the most rugged in New Zealand, with much of it having World Heritage status. Since the Dragonfly, other aircraft to disappear have been:

chadwick sbar1.jpg• 16 August 1978: Cessna 180 ZK-BMP owned by Central Western Air. The pilot was Rev Cyril Francis Crosbie (aged 37) of Riversdale and the passengers were: Trevor George Collins (aged 50) of Waimea, Gordon Grant (aged 28) of Waipounamu and Peter Alexander Robertson (aged about 40) of Wendonside. The aircraft was on a flight from Big Bay, South Westland, to Riversdale, Southland. It was probably last heard at Jamestown at the northern end of Lake McKerrow and appeared to be heading towards the Jamestown Saddle.

chadwick sbar2.jpg• 29 December 1978: Piper Cherokee Six ZK-EBU owned by the Otago Aero Club. The pilot was Edward James Sinclair Morrison (aged 28) and the passengers were: Earl Blomfield Stewart (aged 40), his wife Elizabeth McGregor Stewart (aged 37), their son David John Stewart (aged 18), Alec Davidson Stewart (aged 38), his wife Rosie Stewart (aged 37) and David Hogg (aged 20). The elder Stewart men were brothers and all the Stewarts were from Dunedin. The aircraft was on a scenic flight from Taieri, Dunedin, to Queenstown, Milford Sound, Preservation Inlet and then back to Dunedin. It was last seen flying down Milford Sound toward the coast.

chadwick sbar3.jpg• 30 July 1983: Cessna 172K ZK-CSS owned by Arthur Roy Turner. The pilot was Arthur Roy Turner (aged 55) of Mt Ruapehu, National Park, and the passengers were: his wife Anne Zelda (aged 33) and children Kim Dorothy (aged 6) and Guy (aged 4). Anne was also a pilot. The aircraft was on a flight from Tekapo to Fox Glacier.

chadwick sbar4.jpg• 8 November 1997: Cessna 180 ZK-FMQ owned by Cascade Whitebait Ltd. The pilot was Ryan Michael Moynihan (aged 23) and he was the sole occupant. The aircraft was on a flight from West Melton Aerodrome, Canterbury to Waiatoto, South Westland.

chadwick sbar5.jpg• 3 January 2004: Hughes 369HS ZK-HNW owned by Featherstone Contracting Ltd, Hamilton. The pilot was Campbell Montgomerie (aged 27) from Hamilton and his passenger, girlfriend Hannah Rose Timings (aged 28) from Cheltenham, England. The helicopter was on a flight from the Howden Hut, on the Routeburn Track, to Milford Sound. A total of 204 flying hours and 2300 man hours were reported as being spent searching the mountainous area for the missing helicopter, without success.

Following the Dragonfly’s disappearance, Civil Aviation officials investigated some overseas developments regarding aircraft radio beacons. A 1962 memo entitled ‘Recommendations Arising from the Dragonfly Accident’ says in part: “Radio in the past has been out of the question, but recently appears to be becoming a distinct possibility. We are currently obtaining data on several emergency transmitters which have recently become available.”

In New Zealand, the Emergency Locator Transmitter device (ELT), to assist in locating missing aircraft, was not finally made mandatory for the general aviation fleet until 1986. The beacon commences transmitting if a certain ‘G’ threshold is exceeded, as in a crash. It radiates on 121.5 MHz for civil or 243 MHz for military, but in the near future the standard will be 406.5 MHz. The signal can be detected aurally if a receiver is set to the appropriate frequency, so overflying aircraft are often the first to report a beacon.
Orbiting SARSAT/COSPAS satellites operated by the United States and Russia are designed to receive the signals and within 90 minutes they can typically determine the location with amazing accuracy and so greatly assist Search and Rescue personnel.

In the case of Hughes helicopter ZK-HNW, the ELT did not function correctly with no signal being transmitted; a rare failure. Phil Timings, father of Hannah Timings, was reported in the New Zealand media in March 2004 calling on the British Government to pay for high tech “Synthetic Aperture Radar” (SAR) equipment that could possibly locate the missing helicopter. He said: “It is like a giant metal detector and the Americans use them for search and rescue. If they can find downed pilots, they can find Hannah.”

Over coming years it will be interesting to see whether the six missing aircraft, Dragonfly ZK-AFB included, can be located by advancing technology.

Note: The author acknowledges published information regarding four of these missing aircraft from the book ‘Missing! Aircraft Missing in New Zealand 1928-2000’ by Chris Rudge (Christchurch, Adventure Air, 2001)

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:04 PM | Comments (0)

Nov 05, AU Edition


David J. Ford has spent a lifetime working in the region’s hotspots – including over a half-dozen years active service with the British Army’s Royal Military Police during the Malayan Emergency and the Borneo Rebellion in counterterrorism and anti-insurgency roles. He’s worked with corporations such as Hilton and Woolworth’s when their operations have been bombed or threatened, and upgraded Fiji’s aircraft safety program when the world’s airlines considered avoiding fly-overs due to perceived security risk. Now, in the wake of the latest Bali bombings, this international counterterrorism expert sees a chilling trend in Islamic fundamentalist suicide bombings


The terrible loss of 22 innocent lives in Bali on 1 October is a sharp reminder that Indonesia’s terror groups, be they Jemaah Islaamiyah, various splinter groups or other, independent radicals, have not lost their explosive bite – regardless of the arrest of 200 or so JI activists since the first Bali bombing in October 2002. The cruel, despicable use of suicide bombers has again confirmed it as the preferred weapon of Islamic extremists.

But as if the idea of a fanatic wandering into a crowded restaurant full of civilian tourists and workers, the latest bombings point to a potentially more sinister trend – one which adds a dangerous new wrinkle to our efforts to identify suicide attackers and keep them from bringing innocent people to grief. While very little information is known (or at least is being released) about the identities of the bombers themselves, police are known to be investigating the tantalizing possibility that the explosives were detonated by remote control via mobile phone, due to records of calls made at the time of the blasts. The question then becomes: Were these calls made to the individual bomber or – just as likely – were they used to actually trigger the explosive device?

This is a vital piece of information: if the explosives were detonated remotely, each of the bombers may well have been duped into carrying the bomb into the target location, on some pretext or other, without knowing the contents of their respective backpack. That could mean that they had no intention of dying, that they too were murdered. This would be a very worrying revelation indeed. If true, it could mean that in future, otherwise innocent, duped couriers could be of any race, colour or religious persuasion and from all walks of life.

Indeed, there is already precedent, albeit unsuccessful, for this sort of attack. In 1986, shortly before Anne Marie Murphy, a young pregnant Irishwoman, boarded an El Al flight in London bound for Tel Aviv to meet the parents of her Palestinian fiancé, the airline’s world-famous pre-flight interrogators got suspicious. They searched her baggage thoroughly and discovered that her so-called lover had duped her into carrying a load of plastic explosives and a detonator in one of her suitcases. Had she been allowed to board the flight, she may very well have unwittingly sent herself, her unborn child, and hundreds of others to an early grave.

Today, true followers of the teachings of the prophet Muhammad and of the Koran would testify that suicide by whatever means, and for whatever purpose, is strictly forbidden. Muhammad himself said, ‘Whoever purposely throws himself from a mountain and kills himself will be in the [hell] fire falling down into it and abiding therein forever; and whoever drinks poison and kills himself with it, he will be carrying his poison in his hand and drinking it in the [hell] fire wherein he will abide eternally forever; and whoever kills himself with an iron weapon will be carrying that weapon in his hand and stabbing his abdomen with it in the [hell] fire wherein he shall abide eternally forever.’

Let there be no doubt then that for a Muslim, suicide is strictly forbidden as a major sin. So why do they do it?

Desiring to be martyrs, these killers produce their own purely selfish justification for their intended actions. They argue that they are fighting a jihad, or struggle, which they interpret as against all non-believers of Islam, infidels, and that to die in such a war makes the warrior an instant martyr with all that entails – eternity in paradise, 72 virgins, the lot. And while suicide is forbidden within Islam, martyrdom is sought after as the ultimate achievement in this life and performed as a duty.

(Theologically, of course, this promise of paradise cannot stand on a number of points. Among other things, in Islam, the only wars that are permitted are between armies, which ‘should be engaged on battlefields and engaged nobly’. And as for indiscriminate killings, this too is prohibited. Muhammad said, ‘Do not kill women or children or non-combatants and do not kill old people or religious people’. By their very actions many of these religious zealots illustrate a propensity for mass murder without any plausible, religious justification but for some obscure political purpose. They are but pawns in a global game of politics and religious mayhem, and have chosen to ignore their own scriptures and the teachings of more moderate religious leaders to make their own interpretation of the Koranic scriptures.)

The incidence of suicide bombings has increased alarmingly over the past five years globally and will continue to do so at an ever-increasing rate as more young candidates graduate from Muslim religious schools, many financed by Saudi Arabia which promotes a strict so-called Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, that promote this unholy doctrine.

Others will be recruited as disenchanted fringe-dwellers who get roped in and indoctrinated by local radical religious leaders, as was the case with some of the recent London bombers.

And one cannot ignore the role played by the world media as al Qa’ida and other Islamic extremists continue to take heart from perceived successes (even if they are strategic or tactical failures) in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

That said, we must also be mindful that for some clerics and extremists there is also another apocalyptic agenda. The central tenet of Islam is that there is only one true religion, and that is Islam. It goes even further, instructing followers to work towards world domination by converting, or eliminating, all non-believers: to a strict Muslim, the world is divided into the dar al-Harb, or House of War (representing non-Muslim lands) and the dar al-Islam (the Muslim world). A quick glance at a map shows that all along the border of these two areas, conflict is the norm rather than the exception, and the existence of a Hindu outpost such as Bali in the midst of the world’s largest Islamic country is, to a fundamentalist Muslim, like a red flag to a bull.

A religious war, with Islam pitted against the West, suits the goals and aspirations of the likes of al Qa’ida and JI and keeps with the most important commandment of the Koran: to spread Islam throughout the entire world, by force where necessary.

Terror-Attacks-in-Egypt-Kil.jpgIt is possible that this aspect of the Koran and its scriptures could help explain why many Islamic scholars and clerics worldwide have shown reticence to openly condemn or to identify and expose Islamic terrorists in their midst. Though in Australia, Islamic clerics and leaders now appear to be trying to resolve these issues, even attempting to find consensus amongst their disparate groups with a view to accepting the broad application of Australia’s new anti-terrorism laws.

An explosive device, whether carried upon the person or in a vehicle by a suicidal extremist is seen as a very successful and effective weapon. And there appears to be plenty of misguided, well-indoctrinated volunteers seeking martyrdom. Thwarting a person bent on committing suicide using a bomb is nigh on impossible. The device can be detonated at will.

So how can we prevent or reduce the incidence of suicide bombings? There are several possibilities.

Firstly, Muslim scholars, together with all Islamic religious and community leaders must be more vocal and decidedly pro-active. They must, at every opportunity, distance themselves and all true believers from terrorist activity and from the minority religious leaders who continue to preach violence and murder. They must be prepared also to ferociously denounce these extremists to the security authorities lest the extremists and their followers grow in strength and develop momentum such as to bring all of Islam into disrepute, with the added risk of incurring the wrath of all free thinking people. And finally, they must promulgate widely at every opportunity that the act of suicide is abhorrent to the dictates of Islamic law and which immediately negates all chance of martyrdom for the offender.

The second and more immediate question is to find a way of further convincing potential candidates for suicide bombing that, from their religious standpoint, suicide would be pointless and self-defeating, as well as to bring shame on himself and his family.

How could this be done and how would we convince them of this?
Well, profoundly distasteful as the answer is it lies in making the suicide bomber’s body, or mortal remains, unclean in the eyes of Islam. Here we must keep in mind that this is a person who has rejected the norms of the civilized world, one who has corrupted the teachings of the Koran and who is prepared to kill and maim innocent, women and children and the elderly, and even his brothers in Islam, in order to achieve martyrdom. And one who by virtue of his actions can no longer consider himself a Muslim.

Surely, such people do not deserve the respect and social norms usually accorded to the dead.

Muslims are strongly forbidden from eating pig meat, and they consider the animal itself unclean. (Indeed, this porcine prohibition took a darkly comic turn in the West Midlands, UK, council of Dudley recently, when council workers were ordered to take any pig-themed novelty items off their desk lest Muslim staffers be offended). The Koran states: ‘He hath only forbidden you dead meat, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that on which any other name hath been invoked besides that of God’.

Muslims therefore consider that to eat pork is a very, very unholy act, andan abomination before God. Similarly, to touch a pig is to make one unclean and an unclean person cannot enter paradise. Hence, this person cannot be a martyr.

Is it not axiomatic therefore that in order to take away the prime incentive of the suicide bomber and other mass killers – that of entering paradise with all its promised sensual pleasures – we offer a counter promise? Authorities would guarantee the contamination of his remains with the blood of swine. And importantly, that the remains would not be returned to his family to enable ritual cleansing and purification.

This would have a very salutary affect and might even put an end to this madness. Remove access to martyrdom and you remove the very purpose, or excuse, for dying, and in its place, make people aware of the threat of carrying bags or packages for suspect people – lest they become unwitting bombers themselves. There is precedent for this: American General John Pershing, fighting Muslim militants in the southern Philippines after the Spanish-American War, wrapped the bodies of captured and executed terrorists in pig fat. As one officer reportedly told a militant at the time, ‘You’ll never see Paradise’. More recently, according to some reports, the Russian afforded the same treatment to the bodies of terrorists involved in the Moscow theatre siege of 2002.

Now is not the time for equivocation. The tightening of Federal and States’ counter terrorism legislation is a very good first step, in a pro-active sense, but it will do little to prevent the die-hard martyr working secretly and in concert with just a few cohorts. We must remove the suicide bombers very reason for dying.

It is time for straight talking and timely action however unpleasant and uncivilized that might appear. Unless the West and true followers of Islam face Islamic fundamentalism and revivalism head-on today, the world will experience a future to horrid even to contemplate.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:03 PM | Comments (0)

DVDs: Dec 05, AU Edition

James Fletcher has two good reasons to stay home on a hot summer night

DVD_SUBMARINERScover.jpgSubmariners: The Complete Series
4 stars

During the 1980s the Australian government took the dramatic step of constructing a new Collins Class submarine fleet, to be built in Adelaide and homed in Western Australia. But from the outset things did not go well with massive budget blow-outs and numerous flaws surfacing in the design and mechanics of each boat.

After the initial public relations disaster, which played out in both parliament and the media, the negative attention eventually subsided and for the past few years has remained relatively quiet. But now, a new six part made-for-television series takes a look at the Collins Class fleet from a very different perspective.

Submariners, released as a two DVD set, is a unique independent series filmed aboard the Collins Class flag ship HMAS Rankin during its crew shakedown and subsequent voyage around the globe in preparation for RIMPAC, the world’s largest military war games, off the coast of Hawaii. With the cameraman and producer granted unparalleled access over three month at sea, the Rankin is revealed warts and all in an intimate profile of her strategic capabilities and crew dynamics. In fact, director Hugh Piper reveals a military culture which suffers from an 80% divorce rate, continually demonstrates its resistance to change, and sincerely embraces the Australian spirit of camaraderie – to the point of hazing rituals which, shall we say, don’t always benefit the Navy’s reputation.

However, the series does manages to capture the claustrophobic habitat and isolation of life aboard a submarine, and to its credit efficiently strips away the Hollywood glamour to instead reveal a raw and unnerving sense of distress, a feeling which is effectively demonstrated when the Rankin’s air supply becomes toxic after an engine malfunction while submerged as well as during a tense and unrelenting cat-and-mouse game played against a US Naval destroyer.
Set against some breathtaking cinematography, the series is both an intriguing insight into modern high-tech warfare paralleled with the reality of life aboard a military submarine, a theme which is mirrored in the DVD’s two galleries featuring images from renowned photographer Jon Davison. And surprisingly, the series also manages to blow the Collins Class reputation as a dud right out the water.

lord of the fans copy.jpgRingers: Lord of the Fans
4 stars

After the recent spate of pop-culture fan-boy documentary DVDs such as Trekkers and Comic Book Confidential comes Ringers: Lord of the Fans – and with it a breath of new life to revitalize a tired and neglected genre.

Without question, Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy has carved its way into film history, drawing audiences as diverse as university academics, heavy metal rockers and the palest of Star Wars geeks, but love or hate Jackson’s interpretation, Tolkien’s novels remain a seminal part of modern pop-culture. And it’s from this perspective that Ringers explore the evolution of its global fan base.

Utilising a unique blend of animation, interview techniques, reenactments and a superb soundtrack, Ringers explores the history and inspiration behind Tolkien’s Middle Earth from its initial conception to the critically disastrous release of The Fellowship of the Ring before it found a home within the counter-culture of 1960’s America.
Resonating with comedic moments and fascinating trivia, Ringers also delves into the various incarnations of LOTR’s influence in western culture over the past 50 years, from an hilarious pre-Star Trek Leonard Nimoy gaily singing “Happy Hobbits” to the cryptic, drug-infused lyrics of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album and John Lennon’s failed big-screen adaptation.

But it’s the impressive celebrity talent that director Carlene Cordova intercuts with interviews from Tolkien’s enthusiastic fan base that drives home just how wide-spread the series’ influence has become. Featuring many of the film’s cast, including Dominic Monaghan (who also supplies the film its charismatic narration), Ringers also includes interviews with fantasy writers Clive Barker and Terry Pratchet, Motor Head front man Lemmy Kilmister, filmmaker Cameron Crow and actor David Carradine who, along with many others, sing the praises of Tolkien’s visions and themes.

Released as a Special Edition, the DVD includes a number of behind-the-scenes featurettes, along with deleted scenes, an amusing audio commentary from the production team, and some hidden material. Overall the DVD manages to deliver a fun, entertaining and fascinating look at the culture and influence that LOTR’s still maintains in today’s society.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 04:56 PM | Comments (0)

July 05, AU Edition

10_med.jpgHow do you take a radical idea and turn it into a market leader? JAMES MORROW talks to Ross Cameron, Managing Director of Dyson Appliances’ South-East Asian operations about how he took a vacuum cleaner developed in a Bath, U.K., coachhouse and turned it into one of the fastest-growing brands in Australia – and in the process


For almost eighty years, the first three words most people came up with when asked what they thought of when they thought about vacuum cleaners were ‘big’, ‘loud’, and ‘ugly’. But in the past decade that has changed radically, thanks to the work of British inventor James Dyson and his Australian counterpart Ross Cameron – two men who have not only turned the prosaic market floor cleaners upside down, but in the process introduced a new word to the language – ‘Dyson’ (as in ‘I have to Dyson the carpet’, or, just as common, ‘sucks like a Dyson’).
Today Dyson is the number one vacuum cleaner brand in Australia in terms of both volume and value, the result of a remarkable story that brings together radical thinking, a will to win, and a lot of dirty floors.

The story of how Dyson came to be a brand-leader not just in Australia but in Britain and the United States is a classic tale of an inventor working through prototype after prototype in a lab; of highs and lows with business backers; and lots of old-fashioned door-to-door (or rather, store-to-store) salesmanship. In 1979, British designer James Dyson – who had already invented a series of marine and gardening products – realized the common flaw of all vacuum cleaners, namely, the bag, and like all true revolutionaries, decided to do something about it. He sold his shares in one of his previous inventions for GBP10,000, and spent the next five years making 5,000 prototypes before coming up with his unique Dual Cyclone Technology in 1984.
But despite the genius of the technology, not everyone was interested. For one thing, big multinationals were reluctant to back a product that could, if it succeeded, do to the vacuum cleaner bag market (worth GBP100 million a year in Britain alone at the time) what digital cameras have done to makers of 35mm film.

Fast forward to 1989, and enter James Cameron.

Cameron, who at the time was working for S.C. Johnson Wax as part of their global team trying to develop equipment that would go along with the firm’s already-existing chemicals lines, recalls the first time he heard about Dyson’s product as a real eureka moment in his life. ‘I said to myself, wow, there’s the answer! I have an engineering background myself, and knew we had to do this’. So Cameron set about convincing his company to buy the commercial rights to Dual Cyclone Technology, and sat down with Dyson to make a viable vacuum cleaner for the marketplace.

‘So we had the backing of S.C. Johnson and James had a little coach house in Bath, in the U.K., and we had a couple of engineers. He would be designing, and we would be getting prototypes made, and finally we had the design sorted out’, says Cameron. ‘We were also meeting up regularly with the global marketing people from S.C. Johnson to make sure there were going to be buyers for this thing, and got them to spend $3 million on tooling. We got the machine produced in Italy, launched it in 1990, and did very well with it across Europe.’

dyson2.jpgSoon, though, the other shoe would drop – in the form of a corporate edict from on high that said vacuums were not part of the company’s core business, and therefore, the Dyson operation was shut down. Of course, it’s pretty hard to keep a good idea from eventually forcing its way to market, and that’s just what happened as Dyson and Cameron teamed up to take on the world. James Dyson started selling vacuums in the U.K. in 1993, and as soon as a barrel vacuum was developed in 1995 – about eighty percent of the floor cleaner market down under is for barrel vacs, as opposed to upright models – Cameron flew down to start breaking in to the local market. Of course, that’s the sort of thing that’s easier said than done – and as Cameron quickly discovered, his first problem was getting into a retail market he didn’t know about with a product no one had ever seen before.

His solution? Hit the streets.

‘I took it out to the stores, and was pretty persistent. A lot of people told me what I could do with my vacuum cleaner!’, laughs Cameron as he remembers some of the less-than-diplomatic receptions he was accorded by store managers. ‘But I wanted to win. I believed in the technology, and I made a decision that this was going to go, and I know it was just a matter of getting in the door and showing retailers the technology’.

This faith in the product – and the fact that the product was so unique (as opposed to other manufacturers who had for years been essentially repackaging old technology in new housings) – is what sustained Cameron, who notes that that sort of passion is necessary for anyone trying to get a business off the ground.

‘I suppose I was a bit naïve, but I’m bloody-minded, and I just wanted it to work.’

Eventually, though, Dyson’s break came, and David Jones placed an order for 120 vacuum cleaners in May of 1996. They sold just 24 through the following month, a number which Cameron still remembers vividly to this day. But better luck came in the form of a deal with Myer’s: ‘They said they’d put it on sale and placed an order for 170, and we’ve never looked back’.

But while this was the break Cameron was looking for, he realised that managing growth was going to be tricky, and that continued success – predicated as it was, at the time, on so much word-of-mouth advertising – depended on more than just being able to get more product to market. So Cameron and his team spent virtually every night of the week going out into the stores and training staff in how the Dyson worked. ‘We would take the thing out, pour fine powder on the ground and let them see how it separated it out, and even let them take them home to try them out’, says Cameron, who never moved the product out to market without also giving this sort of support to retailers. ‘They realized it was different, but it was damn hard doing all that training’.

From there, Dyson’s Australian operation grew at ‘a ridiculous rate’, with giant retailers like Harvey Norman and Retravision quick to sign on. All of which led to another problem that Cameron never imagined: many of his employees at the time did not want to work for such a high-growth company, having joined up thinking that they were going to spend their days at a staid little operation without too many demands being made of them.

‘In one year I lost 70 per cent of my staff – they couldn’t handle the pace. That was the year our sales doubled. They said they wanted to work for a little company and have a little job – and I knew they couldn’t meet our expectations’, says Cameron, adding that he went through a great deal of soul-searching about his hiring processes. And, as Cameron discovered, getting the right team on board was key as the company was tipped for major growth.

‘One of the things I said was that I didn’t need a lot of little Ross Camerons around’, he says, describing his hiring philosophy. ‘The important thing is to find people who have a vision, and who’ve got passion – the most important thing is that they have that.’

Cameron adds that this quest for strong, diverse people leads to a much stronger team, especially when there’s conflict over an issue.
‘I’m a hard taskmaster, but my people push back. If they defend an issue, I’m very likely to accept what they’re trying to say – I want strong people around me’.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 04:35 PM | Comments (0)

BOOKS: Dec 05. AU Edition

Plus: Guinness’s records are not so stout anymore, and falling in love (again) with Venice

books_guinness.jpgGUINNESS WORLD RECORDS 2006
Edited by Craig Glenday, Guinness World Records, $45.00
Up until recently the Guinness Book of Records was a quiet black and white document with every record imaginable recorded in small sombre print. Not any more. The cover looks like the inside of a pulsing nightclub, complete with hologram-like reflectors that image anything close by with a series of green and silver highlights. The contents page is adorned with the world’s Most Pierced Women and an actual-size cane toad. The razzle-dazzle continues with the Most Hula Hooped Woman, a Dog with Five Tennis Balls in his Mouth and the proud possessor of 137 Traffic Cones. Impressed? But wait – there’s more! – 31,424 Students Cleaned their Teeth for 60 seconds! 937 students and staff wearing Groucho Marx Masks! 1254 Students Danced the Scottish Reel! Leonardo D’Andrea Crushed 22 Watermelons with his Head! And here’s my favourite – Most Valentine Cards Sent to a Guinea Pig – Over 206 cards from as far away as New Zealand!

Old time Guinness Book of Records readers – fact crunchers who took their records and achievements seriously – must be wondering what the hell is going on. No question – Guinness has gone upmarket with flashy collages, in-your-face images and silly records that anyone could help set. The new format declares that you don’t have to be a fact-geek or a horn-rimmed nerd to read this book – a skateboarder or a guy with 258 straws stuck in his gob will be fine. I guess all this new mass participation is nicer than a group of Islamic terrorists squashed into a bus but it seems to eliminate the point of setting records for true human endurance which are mostly an individual matter requiring either guts, ingenuity or perseverance. Brushing your teeth for one minute with 30,000 others hardly qualifies.

OK, I’ve had my beef. The compendium still has plenty to endear the true record lover. Paul Hunn can burp at 104.9 decibels. Rene Alvarenga has eaten 35,000 live scorpions. Michel Lolito, whose teeth can grind at eight tonnes per cm, has eaten 18 bicycles, 15 supermarket trolleys, 3 TV sets, 6 chandeliers, a set of skis, a computer and a Cessna light aircraft. Whether or how long he brushes his teeth is not recorded. I was impressed to learn the largest private library contains 1.5 million books and the record for one finger pushups is 126 (pushups not fingers). I was surprised, though perhaps I shouldn’t have been, that the world’s fastest solo circumnavigation record is held by a woman (Ellen MacArthur) and astonished to learn that the world’s most dangerous stinging nettle is in New Zealand – Urtica ferox can kill dogs, horses and even once killed a man.

Bacteria are tough cookies – samples have survived over two years in outer space (they were attached to satellites). I learnt that there is such a critter as a Wolphin, the result of a whale-dolphin cross, and that the fastest humanoid robot can only stomp along at a snail-like 1.8 mph. On the human side, the oldest surviving couple have been married for 78 years and the world’s largest wedding banquet had 150,000 guests – a missed opportunity to set a dishwashing record. It is satisfying, though slightly absurd, to learn the longest prison sentence handed out (fraud, Thailand) was for 141,078 years. Though I’m sure the fraudsters will be out after only 140,000 years for good behaviour.

More criticism – many records that could reasonably be expected are absent - examples (from a list of many) could include world’s largest aircraft, most poisonous snake, world’s loudest band, largest extinct bird. In its present format, the Guinness Book of Records is no longer the exhaustive compendium of yesteryear. Perhaps they should consider a smaller formatted pocket edition which is mainly print?

books_the city of falling angels.jpgTHE CITY OF FALLING ANGELS
By John Berendt, Sceptre, $49.95
What is all this fuss about Venice? This question is usually asked only by those who have not visited the famous watery city – the only city in the world without traffic noise. When I spent a weekend there some years back, I knew little about the place but on arrival, I became, as many have done, an instant convert to her decaying charms. There’s something about magnificence in decay that stirs me deeply, just why I don’t know. Perhaps because magnificence at its peak is often accompanied by the expression of tyranny that expects obeisance whereas when the civilisation has passed away and only the buildings remain, we can enjoy them as architecture minus the tedious and oppressive trapping of visible power.

In the long litany of adoration that Venice has enjoyed from art critics, poets and composers (there are of course notable exceptions among the eulogists), most of the travel writers and essayists have looked at the city as a kind of architectural poem – which it very much is – and somehow overlooked the Venetians. As Mary McCarthy, renown American author once pre- sumptiously said, “Nothing that can be said about Venice has not been said before” – and she was echoing another famous American literary visitor to Venice, Henry James. As Berendt triumphantly demonstrates, these statements have about as much objective correlative as the fatuous statements made around the end of the nineteenth century that science had discovered nearly everything about the universe. Berendt, a skilful social observer, has managed to find out and report back on various scandals and upheavals in contemporary Venice - events that would make a wonderfully dramatic film. Events that give the reader a fresh view of an embattled city.
The City of Falling Angels begins - a perfect film prologue – with a destructive fire in 1996 that incinerated the Fenice Theatre, a stately opera house that was a symbol of Venetian cultural grandeur.

Three days later, with the smell of charcoal still in the air, Berendt arrived. His mission – to see Venice sans tourists – was to be fulfilled in a way he could not have anticipated. For the obvious ensuing question was, was the fire an accident or deliberately set? Either way guilty parties had to be fingered. The book has the feeling of a triptych, with the first event and eventual culprits identified enfolding many additional and wild characters, who, of course, are flesh and blood not novelists’ invention – a forwarding note says: “This is a work of non fiction. All the people in it are real and are identified by their real names.”

Presumably, Berendt (or his publisher), insisted on such a note, otherwise non-Venetians night be inclined to imagine that such fellows as Ludovico De Luigi – a latter day Dali – a surreal painter, who arranged for a porn star politician to arrive in a gondola, topless, climb one of the famous horses at St Marks and proclaim herself a living work of art – might not exist. (And in fact, I’m still wondering, if, after all, as Berendt tells us, the Venetian embellish everything and consider truth tellers a bore, whether he hasn’t added a bit of colour.) The intricate drama of intrigue and plotting that Berendt details is a modern soap opera from real life. Naturally, the Mafia come under suspicion and in my innocence, I didn’t know that they had used arson against art institutions as an extreme form of cultural terrorism.

In the middle chapters, Berendt, who seems to have a knack for engaging friend and foe alike, explores other dramas of great poignancy such as a rift in an ancient family of glass blowers from Murano. First, we side with the father, then sneakily, we see the rebel son’s point of view. Either way, the glass creations emerge, whether fire-inspired or technically innovative – some photos would have been nice. Another long chapter is devoted to Olga Rudge’s struggle with other Poundites determined to secure the old poet’s papers for a song and the bitter battles that ensue. If all of the above sounds unrelentingly highbrow in scope, Berendt slips in a rat exterminator who attributes his huge success at his chosen profession by feeding rats the same (but slyly doctored) food that local humans eat. Is Berendt trying on a symbol for the wiliness of Venetians?
Owing to the fortuitous events of history, what was intended to be perhaps just another travel book, an architectural swan song, became an enthralling and immediate social history. This is only Berendt’s second book, so it will be interesting to see which part of the globe he brings his acute gaze to next.

PS: Against difficult odds, the restored opera house re-opened in 2003.

books_lunar park.jpgLUNAR PARK
By Bret Easton Ellis, Picador, $27.00
Lunar Park which is not to be confused with Luna Park, the Sydney amusement park, and indeed there is little chance of that. Luna Park possibly brings a smile to the face of its users but Lunar Park, Ellis’s latest novel, is neither amusing, uplifting nor entertaining. In fact, it is a tiresomely bad book. The reader may well wind up asking “is this a horror or a horrible novel?”, and the answer is yes on both counts.

Initially, Ellis pulls out that tired metafictional trick of an author turning himself into a character in a novel. Witty when Philip Roth does it, alas not here. The opening chapters with their confessions of druggy parties read like a straight autobiography so the casual browser could be tricked. The blurb tell us “that every word is true”, an assertion which even the dimmest reader will slowly realise is fictional puffery. Ellis, the character, keeps complaining that he is not cut out for suburban married life. And it might appear, Ellis, the real author, is forewarning us not to expect this brat pack novelist to turn respectable and suburbanly settled, anytime soon.

Enter Terby, a nasty doll that seems to have stepped out of the B-grade pages of Stephen King. What’s worse or better, depending on how you look at it, is the presence of a young man dressed up as Patrick Bateman, sadistic-psychotic villain of Ellis’s previous notorious novel, American Psycho, who appears to be leaving a trail of corpses. In other words, art is copying life, even though that “life” is also fiction. Stated thus, something shallow sounds metafictionally deep. I can assure you this is not the case.

The gratuitous slaughters in the pages of American Psycho leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth and here the narrator (Ellis) seems to want explain and excuse the author (also Ellis) by maintaining that brutal murderer Patrick Bateman was a notoriously unreliable narrator and that the crimes may well have been fantasies, “fuelled by his rage and fury about life in America was structured and how this had ...trapped him ...”. The book “was about society and manners and mores, and not about cutting up women”. Or is Ellis, the real and actual author, seeking to let himself off the hook of accusations of unrelenting sadism towards women as grimly reported in American Psycho? It certainly looks that way.

Another unconvincing theme in Lunar Park is that Ellis is trying to make peace with his father and the nastinesses of Patrick Bateman were based on anger against his dad. This notion at least leads to the only good piece of writing in the book – the last two magnificently lyrical pages which describe the ashes of the dead father being cast into the sea. Which is possibly what Ellis should have done when this book was still a manuscript. Except, of course, for those last two pages.

books_country life.jpgGRANTA 90: Country Life
Edited by Ian Jack, Granta, $27.95
Established some 20 years, the very non-literary (no criticism or poetry) literary book-formatted magazine, Granta continues to publish first class short stories, travel and sociological memoirs. There is a Granta package – meticulous detail, lucid elegant English, sympathy for the underdog, particularly the working class underdog – the old style factory or field worker – which is sometimes presented as the worker speaking or narrating non-stop for several pages. This approach is used for the lead feature – an evocation of a fading rural way of life in England entitled “Return to Akenfield” by Craig Taylor.

Akenfield – first published in 1969 – was “a rich and perceptive portrait of life in an English village, told in the voices of the farmers and villagers themselves”. Akenfield has had a boom – population 298 in 1950, by 2001 it had rocketed to 358. We learn that picking black currants is bloody (actually sticky) hard work and buying a reasonably-sized dairy farm nowadays will set you back a cool five million bucks.

In former days, Granta tended to mainly feature big name writers but the only one featured here – unless you count Studs Terkel interviewing Bob Dylan back in 1963 – is Doris Lessing’s “The Death of A Chair”. I found Lessing’s piece uninspiring. She is surpassed by less known authors like Barry Lopez (noted for his book on wolves) who writes a poignant piece on salmon fishing with his son; “Fantastic Mr Fox” by Tim Adams, a satisfying look at the crazed dedication and frantic antics of the anti-fox hunters, and “Nightwalking” by Robert Macfarlane, a celebration of noctambulism (walking at night especially in search of melancholy) as opposed to somna- mbulism (sleepwalking, possible at high noon).

The intriguing thing about Granta is if you open it at random you will find it difficult to tell fact from fiction. Actually, the fiction is in the minority but when I read “Constitutional” by Helen Simpson (fiction) I took it to be the kind of typical personal memoir piece that Granta writers do so well. Does this mean my reading filter had fallen asleep? Or that fact and fiction have become indistinguishable? Neither, I believe; it’s just the hard bitten exactitude of the Granta style.

The collection is rounded off by the postcard-tinted style photographs of tree blight by Robert Gumpert and the solemn dignity of English folk parading their showtime farm animals by Liz Jobey. The piece de la resistance (almost) is a bunch of gloriously cheerful Englishwomen holding up their prize chooks on a Hertfordshire farm in 1933, exceeded only by four behatted gentlemen clutching their piglets. The inscription on the building behind reads, “Adolph’s Kindergarten, Bombing Verboten.” Great stuff.

books_space race.jpgSPACE RACE
By Deborah Cadbury, Fourth Estate, $67.95
As a small boy I informed my parents that one day a man would fly to the moon. My parents, aunties and grandparent (I had only one) laughed with amiable derision. Man fly to the moon! Consistent aerial Luddites, none of my elders so much as set foot in an aeroplane though they lived into the 70s, the era of cheap flight.

Today – setting aside the conspiratorial sceptics – we know men have flown to the moon not once but six times. The notion that flight to the moon was possible was most prominently mooted by Werner Von Braun, a refugee from Nazi Germany, a former member of the SS whose scientific prophecies included space stations, artificial sunlight, rocket planes crossing the Atlantic in 40 minutes – all in 1945! A series of articles published in Colliers in 1952 continued the hype and were read by millions. Certainly, I knew the name von Braun when I was in short pants. As adolescence hit, I became a science fiction fan. The moon trip was a certainty – it was just a matter of time. My parents were alive when the moon was reached, though kindly, I never crowed ‘I told you so’.

Space Race is a very apt title and just how fiercely it was contested is the thrilling tale related in this gripping book. Major Staver was responsible for the Americans gaining an early lead over the Russians by acquiring – just hours before the Brits arrived – 100 V2 rockets, 15 tons of documents, 1000 technicians, plus the inimitable and charismatic Von Braun, ever after to lead the American half of the space race. Later, the Americans secured some 7000 “German experts” from all branches of industry. By any standards, they had a head start. In fact since they had the V2s, they had a flying start.

What of the Russians? Stalin was furious that they had no V2s, no documents and no senior experts. But SMERSH agents managed to get hold of a gyrostabiliser platform used in a V2 rocket, a talented young engineer called Helmut Grottrup and some blueprints for parts of the V2. Later the Russian’s trump card was an outstanding rocket engineer, Sergei Korolev, brought back into favour after a period of incarceration in a gulag on the usual trumped-up charges.

It was the genius of Korolev in pioneering the R-7 rocket that led to the dramatic overtaking of the American space program by the Russians. I am of the generation who reeled under the impact of Russian success – A satellite! A dog! A man! A rocket impacting on the moon! – while the Americans languished in miserable technical failure. In relatively uncensored America, the press had a field day calling the failed American attempt to catch up Flopkin ... Dudnik ... Puffnik ... Oopsnik ...Goofkik ... Kaputnik. Of course, the Russians had their disasters too, though Soviet propaganda meant that a massive explosion in 1960 which killed 150 was hushed up. The Americans had their small successes and further humiliations, but their moment of triumph finally came with the awesome moon rocket Saturn V whose 5 F-1 engines delivered 7.5 million pounds of thrust and were so powerful they could be heard 100 miles away. Meanwhile, in an ironic reversal, the Russian equivalents began blowing up. This is drama on a grand scale and no has told it better than Deborah Cadbury. It’s a blast!

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 04:17 PM | Comments (0)

July 05, AU Edition


Iraq, the United Nations, and the threat of terrorism in our region: What is Howard doing wrong? How would Labor do things differently? Investigate editor JAMES MORROW recently sat down with Shadow Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd to find out

INVESTIGATE: Do you think Iraq is better off now that Saddam Hussein is gone?
KEVIN RUDD: Well, the fact of the matter is Saddam’s gone, but to state the bleeding obvious we didn’t support the war. The fact of the matter is that that advice was not accepted by the Australian government, the Australian government fought in the coalition to remove Saddam Hussein, and in fact succeeded in removing him. Therefore we are, as people interested in and committed to universal human rights, happy that he’s gone.

But what one is concerned about is the stability of the country, and the regime which replaces him. What we’re uncertain about is how all this will shake down in the years ahead, particularly once there is an eventual withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
INVESTIGATE: On the subject of the US’s eventual withdrawal, where do you stand on the question of keeping Australian troops in Iraq? After all, Mark Latham promised to have the troops home by Christmas, but Howard has committed another 450 troops.
RUDD: We think that [increasing the deployment] was an inappropriate decision for a number of reasons, one of which is the prime minister’s election commitment, to the Australian people in black and white, which was that there would be no substantial increases. Prior to the election from memory we had in country something in the vicinity of 300 troops if you add another 500, it’s basically a breach of undertaking.
INVESTIGATE: So what’s Labor’s plan?
RUDD: When I visited Iraq and spoke with Ambassador Bremmer, one of the things he impressed upon me was the problem of the porousness of Iraq’s borders, and of insurgents and jihadists coming across from Syria and Saudi Arabia and Iran and [the need] to do what was necessary to enhance the systems, procedures and personnel tasked with providing Iraq’s border security. We can provide a very effective training package for that as well as effective packages to assist Iraqis on the humanitarian front.
INVESTIGATE: In that vein, did you see Syria recently nabbed 113 people trying to make it into Iraq from Syria?
RUDD: I have not seen that particular report, but those figures would not surprise me. I stood in Bremer’s office in Saddam’s palace and examined a very large map of Iraq and its contiguous land borders with Iran, Syria and Saudi. These are borders that probably in the best of times were never properly policed. Now that we’re in the worst of times, in terms of Iraq, to paraphrase [CIA Director] Porter Goss, it has become something of a magnet for training jihadists from around the world.

It strikes us that the best thing to do is help the Iraqis build better border control and better border security systems. That’s something we’re not bad at.
INVESTIGATE: To bring the United Nations into the conversation for a moment, you opposed going into Iraq; does Australia always need the UN’s mandate to use force, or is there a danger that that limits our options?
RUDD: We take the UN charter seriously, and the reason we take the UN charter seriously is that, prima facie, it is better to have an international rules-based order than to have no international rules-based order. And to state the bleeding obvious, of course it’s inefficient. The bottom line is it was put together by a committee of nations in 1945. But critics of the UN don’t argue what sort of rules-based order, if any, should replace it. Are they arguing for the pre-‘45 world order, the pre-1919 world order, what sort of world order are they arguing for creating? Back to Westphalia, back to pre-Westphalia?

If you’re going to take the classic neo-conservative critique of the UN multilateral order, then think in the great tradition of Burkean conservatism, you should argue for something to replace that which you would tear apart. I don’t hear a coherent program along those lines other than occasional bursts of unilateralism when you judge it absolutely necessary. A lot of capabilities are divided within the strength of the UN charter: Article 42, which provides for collective action through the Security Council (that’s how we managed to achieve our outcomes in East Timor). You’ve also got Article 51, which provides for an opportunity to defend yourself against attacks, and Kofi Annan has argued for a further examination of that given the advances in weaponry in recent times. Then you’ve got doctrines of humanitarian intervention, which are much more controversial provisions.

INVESTIGATE: How does that all fit in, then, with the crisis in Darfur?
RUDD: The challenge at stake with Darfur is the question of whether it is a failure of the UN or the member states of the UN.
INVESTIGATE: Then isn’t the problem with the UN that it is only as good as it’s member states?
RUDD: Most cooperative endeavours are.
INVESTIGATE: Sure, if you’ve got an organisation with lots of different states that are not democracies and a few that are, don’t you wind up getting pulled down to the lowest common denominator, because those dictatorships keep one from being able to act?
RUDD: If you look back to the Commission on Human Rights, which is the subject of such comprehensive reform proposals by Kofi Annan’s reform panel, that is the inherent problem of having a democracy of states, states which irrespective of their internal political composition all having equal say in the general assembly.
But again, the critics of the UN system fail to argue the alternative. I don’t hear that. I don’t even hear that from the neo-conservative critics. Would it be the death of Westphalia? Would the sovereignty of individual states go out the door? If so, what replaces it? I just think that reforming the current system is the most practical way to go. I put in these stark terms and your readers will be familiar with Churchill’s great critique of democracy, and I think the same is true with the United Nations.

So it’s not about some belief in chanting the UN mantra for the sake of chanting the UN mantra. No, it’s not ideological, it’s practical. And contrast that with the various international systems of the pre-1945 period. And in this country which tends to be pro-American, and I have a career record of being pro-American myself, support for the UN tends to poll over 60 percent.
INVESTIGATE: On the issue of pro- and anti-Americanism, what did you make of that report from the Lowy institute which said that more Australians were more afraid of the United States than Osama bin Laden?
RUDD: I was actually in China when that poll came out so, so I haven’t gotten into it, but in terms of the responses in the poll that supported the US alliance, I think the figure was 38 per cent, and for America itself it was 58 per cent. That I think is an interesting insight into the way Australians think. Australians, since 1941 when [Labor] ran the country, we had an alliance with the United States for the first time, which was under an Australian Labor government, and we took a lot of criticism from those who accused us of departing from the mother country. We have been consistent supporters of a military alliance with America, and that has not changed and that will not change.

However, support of the US military alliance does not mean that you have to subsume every tenet of Australian foreign policy to American foreign policy. There are going to be areas of difference. There have been in the past, and you know what? There will be in the future. This is not the sort of thing where you just go and tick every box.
INVESTIGATE: Back to the whole concept of multilateral alliances and structures, what do you say to the criticism that if we were in the ASEAN treaty a few years back, we wouldn’t have ben able to liberate East Timor because we would have had to respect the sovereignty of Indonesia?
RUDD: I think it’s an intellectually incoherent argument, the reason being that in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation refers to Article 42 of the UN charter, which in turn provides for collective action by states. It was only when the UN mandated action in East Timor that the Indonesians withdrew and we entered uncontested under the terms of the relevant UN resolultions. To use the ancient Latin phrase, that argument is complete bullshit.
INVESTIGATE: Where do you see China fitting in to geopolitics these days, especially with the Taiwan issue?
RUDD: I think the central foreign policy challenge for Australia in the next quarter-century is China. I don’t think the Howard government necessarily grasps that. If you look at the Prime Minister’s speech to the Lowy Institute recently, he described us Asia as constituting the stadium of international affairs for the century ahead. Well, that’s terrific that the Prime Minister has discovered a pre-existing reality which is staring the nation in the face for the previous quarter-century. Anyway, leaving that to one side, the core component of that is China. Why? China is the dynamic, and it is an unfolding story of rapid economic growth. Back in 1984 it has an economy slightly smaller than Canada and slightly larger than that of Australia. Now, depending on the measure, you’re talking about an economy that’s the fourth-largest in the world and getting larger.
INVESTIGATE: There’s a lot of economic growth there, but not much political freedom…
RUDD: The open question is, is China going in the direction of a democracy? Anyone making bold predictions on that I think has an excess of courage and a possible deficit of wisdom. It is a very difficult question to predict. To answer to the question how China will evolve politically, well, frankly it is impossible to predict.
On the question of China’s foreign policy behaviour, China now in terms of diplomatic and foreign policy activity in the region is much more activist than it has been in the past. China in the 1980s did not have much of a view of what was going on in the region. Now it has an acute view.

On the question of Taiwan, it is one of continuing core sensitivities, not just in terms of peace and prosperity across the Taiwan straits, but peace between China and the United States, peace between China and Japan, peace within the wider region. This is the core question within the core question.
INVESTIGATE: So if China makes a play for Taiwan, and the US ends up on the side of China, where does that leave Australia?
RUDD: The answer I will give is that it is not productive for the government or the alternative government of this country to speculate on how our alliance relationship with the United States will apply given future strategic circumstances.
INVESTIGATE: But how do you feel about Taiwanese independence in the meantime?
RUDD: We’re long term supporters since 1972. Remember, Labor Party history isn’t bad on China is not a bad one. The conservatives pretended China didn’t exist for 23 years, and you know, we thought that was kind of stupid. Our treaty with China remains unchanged, and we don’t budge from that. Now what is involved domestically within Taiwan, in terms of a liberal democratic principle of management, that we of course support, and I have long been on the record supporting that. I studied in Taiwan as a student, and I’ve seen Taiwan change over the years, but that doesn’t alter our view of the One China policy.
INVESTIGATE: Moving elsewhere in the region, regarding the insurgency in the Philippines, we’ve got a story on the al Qaida-linked Islamic problem. Should Australia be doing more?
RUDD: The connections with the wider al Qaida networks in the southern Philippines has been the subject of some study, and I’m of the view that there are connections. Based on advice I’ve seen it’s quite clear to me that there are connections. That leads to Labor’s fundamental premise in its policy on counterterrorism in the region, that is, beyond rhetorical flourish by a government with an eye on opinion polls in this country, as opposed to doing the hard yards of actually tackling terrorism on the ground, we argue that to be effective in the war against terrorism, what you need is a comprehensive, regional counterterrorism strategy which covers each dimension of the problem. That means, for example, effective intelligence coordination across all south-east Asian states, police cooperation across all south-east Asian states, and on top of that it means dealing with some of the underlying social and economic factors which make it easier for terrorist organisations to recruit. That is the sort of strategy we need. At present what we’ve got is a bit of money here, a bit of money there; fund that capability-building unit in Jakarta; who knows what the one in Kuala Lumpur is doing; what about the one in Bangkok?

As a starting premise, what we argue for is a comprehensive region-wide audit of our counterterrorism capabilities if you’re serious the enterprise, that’s where you start. Then the second thing you do is identify capability gaps, and you agree on a strategy across the region in order to clear the gaps. This is not happening. You have a bit here and bit there, usually in response to an event, and that is a classical conservative party misunderstanding of a fundamental national security challenge.
INVESTIGATE: It sounds like you’re talking civilian operations – but what about on the military side. If we had knowledge of someone with a suitcase nuclear weapon somewhere bound for Australia, does Australia have the right to go stop it?
RUDD: That’s a fantastic hypothetical…
INVESTIGATE: Perhaps, but so was 9/11 before it happened.
RUDD: Look: the only way Australia, a country with twenty million people and limited national security resources of our own, both military and non-military, could do so is collaboratively, with the states of the region.

I mean, John Howard by talking about unilateral action is alienating regional states and the diplomatic support necessary to actually engender the cooperative relationships which are necessary to stop terrorists on the ground. This is a mindless piece of politics and hairy-chestedness.

Ask yourself this question: if you’ve got a problem with terrorists in south-east Asia, can you concede that Australia could in any way act other than collaboratively with the local state involved?

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 04:16 PM | Comments (0)

Simply Devine: Mar 05, AU Edition


Kids are alright,but are they a requirement for leading the ALP?

In her brief flirtation with the top Labor job last month, the party’s most ambitious woman, Julia Gillard, discovered that some people think her status as a single, childless 43-year-old woman renders her “unelectable”. She also found that some people think her neat, sunlit kitchen in Melbourne’s western suburbs looks “lonely” and “lifeless”, code for spinsterish.

“Single? Female? Childless? Was this really what Australians wanted in their alternative prime minister?” asked one newspaper.
It’s not something she had considered before, she said in a phone call from Melbourne on Australia Day after announcing she would not run for the leadership. “That’s just my life.”

But far from being an odd fish, Gillard spearheads a new and honourable tradition of powerful, unmarried childless women who are quietly heading for the top in their careers, unencumbered by the very real needs of children and the sometimes unreasonable demands of a spouse.

The 2005 Bureau of Statistics yearbook shows the fastest-growing household type in Australia is a single person living alone. In the next 20 years, single people will comprise a third of all households, and not entirely because of an ageing population.

Like a growing number of women, Gillard never set out to not get married or not have children, but says that is just the way her life turned out. “It’s an accumulation of the little decisions that brings you here.” And, like many single women, she just never met the right man, “if the definition of the right man is a relationship that endures forever ... Obviously I’ve had a series of relationships that mattered”.

Not that she’s intent on remaining single: “I wouldn’t preclude the thought of being in a strongrelationship”.

When she was a little girl people would ask her if she wanted to be a mother one day, and she would reply: “Oh no. I don’t think so”.
“I never had a strong desire to have children”, she says. “But it was not a decision [based on any notion] children would prejudice my career.”

Gillard is single again after splitting last year with her companion of two years, fellow Labor MP Craig Emerson. The new focus on her single status has led to “all sorts of peculiar offers”, she says, laughing about the men who yelled, at an Australia Day function in her western Melbourne electorate, “you look all right to me, love!”
But she was stung by the criticism of her single status, which seems to have emanated from the ALP itself, as part of a campaign to undermine Kim Beazley’s rivals for the party leadership.

“We can’t even blame the media for this; it’s her own colleagues that did it,” former Labor minister Susan Ryan told the ABC. “Now we’re back in the dark ages, where a woman’s marital status and whether she has children or not is being used against her by her own colleagues.”
Gillard denied her colleagues were behind the whispers but she did feel compelled to compare herself with her ideological opposite, US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.

“Dr Rice is a single, childless black woman and she is the most powerful woman in the world,” Gillard told reporters, as the pressure against her mounted. Flipping sausages on a BBQ, she went further to justify her single status: “No one person can encapsulate everyone’s life experience. A man doesn’t know what it’s like to be a woman, a person with children doesn’t know what it’s like to be a person without children, a person from a wealthy background doesn’t know what it’s like to grow up on a housing estate.” Touché.

She also points out she is part of a family, anyway: her “original family”, parents John and Moira, and older sister Alison, who live in Adelaide.

Likeable and engaging, Gillard also has a tribe of close friends in Melbourne including Terry Bracks, wife of the Victorian Premier. When Mark Latham abruptly quit the Labor Leadership, she was on holiday in Cambodia and Vietnam with another friend.

In any case, she says voters in her electorate don’t care about her marital status, as long as she does the job.

On the other side of politics, 36-year-old Liberal Sophie Panopoulos, also ambitious, childless and unmarried(so far), weighed into the Gillard debate with her own tale of marital-status prejudice.

“All of the Labor sisterhood in Canberra remained absolutely silent when the Labor candidate for Indi (in north-east Victoria) in the last election made the same allegations about me,” she told the ABC’s 7.30 Report. “[He said] I really wasn’t fit to be the member because I wasn’t married and didn’t have children.”

But the allegations didn’t damage Panopoulos’s standing with the electorate. In fact, she won the seat by a margin of 21 percent and attracted almost six percent of Labor voters from her ostentatiously married-with-children rival.

Few Australian politicians have made as big a deal of their family as Latham. There was the famous shot of him striding down a hallway with his mother and wife and two sons when he was first elected Labor leader. He invited cameras to his home during the election campaign to snap him on Father’s Day playing backyard cricket with his boys.
Latham read storybooks to schoolchildren and did everything possible to portray himself as the quintessential family man. But did that make the electorate warm to him? Far from it. In the end, when Latham resigned, he cited a desire to devote himself to his family. From Latham’s experience, you might even infer that the demands of being Labor leader with young children are too hard.
Of course, Gillard could have married her handbag, just to conform. But why should she?

Instead she has to contend with snide comments about her “unnaturally spotless” kitchen, in which she was photographed for the Sun-Herald recently.

Sure, it might not be the schmick Calcutta marble kitchen of a yuppie Sydney couple with a subscription to Belle. But it is a practical kitchen, about what you might expect from a busy single professional person who had returned to work a week early from a holiday and hadn’t had time to buy apples for the fruit bowl.

Successful single men rarely face such prejudice; and most don’t stay single for long, there being no shortage of women eager for rich-wife status.

But it is trickier for a successful career woman to find a partner who doesn’t demand babies at an inconvenient time of her career, as movie star Brad Pitt supposedly did with Jennifer Aniston, for instance, or who doesn’t feel neglected by her success.

Instead, increasing numbers of self-respecting women in their 30s and 40s are content to accept they may never marry or have children. They focus instead on their careers, and relationships with friends and “original family”. It’s not a lifestyle they chose, or one they imagined for themselves. But they are not lonely. They don’t feel they are settling for second best. They are just realistic.

The bonus for a society which embraces such women is the extra guilt-free attention they can lavish on their jobs. Julia Gillard’s single, childless status is an electoral asset because it means she can work harder.

Or, as a woman emailed me after a shorter version of this article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald: “Julia and other single gals such as myself are an asset to any organisation because we are not going to p... off early from our responsibilities to collect little Charlotte or Joshua from daycare after another outbreak of conjunctivitis.”


Posted by InvestigateDesign at 04:04 PM | Comments (0)

July 05, AU Edition


He’s won a fourth term, faced down a revolt from backbenchers, and has historic control of the Senate. So what next for the Prime Minister? ALAN ANDERSON provides an inside account of the power struggles within the Liberal party, the outlook for succession, and Labor’s last best hope.

With the Opposition languishing in the polls, the new Senate under Coalition control and the issue of the Liberal leadership at least tem-porarily quiescent, one would imagine John Howard to be at the peak of his power. Yet the past few weeks have seen him locked in tense negotiations with four of his own backbenchers, culminating in a partial repudiation of the policy with which he is most closely associated in the public mind. As we eagerly anticipate the Government’s legislative agenda, how far will Howard really be able to push things in a fourth term?

The revolt led by backbencher Petro Georgiou against mandatory detention has been an unsettling experience for the Government. With big ticket items like industrial relations and Telstra on the agenda, together with smaller but equally controversial reforms like voluntary student unionism, Howard will not want policies that should form his legacy to be watered down by nervous backbenchers.

Howard’s response has been to portray the revolt as a strength rather than a weakness. His welcoming of fresh ideas from the backbench carried a disturbing touch of Chairman Mao’s exhortation to ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’, although one hopes his motivation is less sinister.

Certainly, Liberal MPs identify the party’s capacity to generate ideas as a key advantage over Labor. ‘We are winning because we are about ideas’, one South Australian Liberal MP told Investigate. ‘They are more interested in factional politics.’

This is more than rhetoric. Two new policy journals, The Party Room, edited by former federal director Andrew Robb MP and tax crusader Senator Mitch Fifield, and Looking Forward, edited by South Australian Liberal MP Dr Andrew Southcott, have sprung up in the last few months. Freed of the discipline of staring down the barrel of electoral oblivion, Coalition MPs have greeted Labor’s decline with an eagerness to conduct their own policy debates in public.

The Coalition is providing its own opposition, while an impotent Labor Party is relegated to the role of spectator. There is every reason to believe that this is not a passing phase. Labor was sidelined before Coalition control of the Senate; deprived of its upper house veto it can only become less relevant. Policy is in fashion this season, and there is no doubt that it is making the Liberal Party look like the natural party of government.

Yet while Howard’s portrayal of the Liberals as the ‘party of ideas’ may encompass calls for tax reform or school vouchers, it was a contrived explanation of his surrender to the mandatory detention rebels. Howard’s line has only passed media muster because the press gallery were so keen to see immigration policy watered down.
The days of a meek and compliant backbench are gone. ‘There are two ends of the spectrum’, another Minister explained. ‘On one hand you have people like Georgiou, who know that they’re never going to get a position on the front bench. What has he got to lose? He figures he might as well do what he believes.

‘At the other end of the spectrum you have young, ambitious backbenchers. If you’re in your thirties and on the backbench, you want to make a name for yourself. You see there’s a logjam on the front bench at the moment, and you don’t expect promotion any time soon. So you’re thinking long-term, beyond this Government’.

In other words, the Coalition’s policy debates are partly a symptom of its success. Howard has an abundance of talent in the Parliament, much of it quite experienced, but there are only so many ministries to go around.

The two major themes championed by the party’s backbench this year have been tax reform and softening of mandatory detention. They represent two different models of backbench activism, at least one of which poses a direct challenge to Howard’s authority.

The so-called tax ‘ginger group’, led by Fifield and Victorian Liberal MP Sophie Panopoulos, was careful to give credit to the Government for past tax cuts while lobbying for more. They portrayed their cause as consistent with the direction of government policy, and their form of contribution is doubtless what Howard has in mind when calling for debate. But to be fairto Petro Georgiou and his mandatory
detention rebels, consistency with government policy would not have been a credible claim for their group to make. Asked to comment on where the line is drawn between healthy debate and white-anting, one Liberal Senator saw the policy itself as the main distinction. ‘The difference is about whether you are agitating to advance Liberal values, or to overturn them; whether you’re trying to get us to go forward or to reverse’.

Yet there is a distinction of process as well as substance. Sophie Panopolous invited controversy when labelling Georgiou’s group ‘political terrorists’, yet there is no question that their campaign was conducted using the threat of private member’s Bills and an embarrassing split in Government ranks. If not terrorism, it was at least blackmail, and it worked.

Media commentators, seeking to excuse Howard’s capitulation on a policy they detest, suggest that it sprang from his belief that ‘disunity is death’. But if disunity is death, has Howard not encouraged it?

The Coalition party room was solidly behind Howard on this issue. Had he wanted to stand firm, there is no question that Georgiou and his three colleagues would have been isolated and defeated.
Instead, Howard spent nine hours negotiating with the group, delivering substantial concessions that undermine the mandatory detention regime for any asylum-seeker accompanied by his family. To extend the Panopoulos analogy, Howard broke the rules and negotiated with terrorists.

howard.jpgOne Victorian Liberal backbencher sees the rationale for Howard’s move as being specific to the issue. ‘The Palmer Inquiry was going to criticise the [Immigration] Department and recommend reforms. Howard was just moving first, so that when the report came out he would already have fixed the problems’.

Another explanation is that Howard was driven by memories of the dissipation of Malcolm Fraser’s authority in the face of regular defections. Yet the broader precedent has been set. ‘It will certainly encourage others to think they can get away with breaking ranks’, according to the Victorian. The incident has cast doubt over whether Howard be able to rein in the excesses of this phenomenon.

Of course, the one force that could reverse this trend is the federal Labor Party. Were it not for the absence of effective opposition from the benches opposite, Coalition parliamentarians might be more circumspect in airing internal policy debates than they have been in recent months.

What are the chances of a Labor revival bolstering discipline in the Coalition ranks? The prospect of a Labor leadership change, unthinkable before the Budget, is starting to look like a real possibility.

Returning to Beazley seemed a safe option at the time, but the Labor caucus must be wondering whether they have made their third mistake in a row.

Yet Coalition MPs see Beazley more as a symptom than a cause of the Labor disease. For one thing, a change in leadership will not alter the high ‘hack factor’ that is so apparent from a perusal of Labor CVs, or the resultant intellectual vacuum.

‘It’s about personnel’, was the Minister’s explanation of Labor’s woes, but it was not just a reference to the leadership. ‘Labor’s benches are full of trade union reps and former staffers. None of them have had any real world experience, and they’re not representative of the community. Our party room looks more like Australia’.

‘They just don’t have any ideas’, adds the South Australian MP. ‘They seem to be getting all their policy from one or two sources: tax policy from one think-tank conference; health policy from Catholic health groups. It’s because their MPs are basically just union and party hacks. They aren’t coming up with anything themselves’.
Equally damaging is the fact that Labor continues to break the primary rule of politics: look after your base.

This is perhaps Howard’s most important political legacy. Since 1996, ‘Howard’s battlers’ have continued to upset the traditional political balance. Won over by Howard’s rejection of the culturally elitist Keating agenda, a few battlers went home to Labor over the GST in 1998, before being cemented back into the Coalition’s corner by the border protection debate in 2001.

In 2004, the focus returned to domestic issues, with a traditional class warfare campaign under Labor’s pie-eating Aussie bloke, Mark Latham. Yet in spite of scare campaigns on health, a polarising debate over private schooling and a barrage of self-serving stories about Latham’s Green Valley upbringing, the battlers voted Liberal in greater numbers than ever. This, together with the abject failure of Labor’s anti-Costello campaign, suggests that Howard’s battlers have become the Coalition’s battlers, increasingly wedded to its aspirational economic message as well as its culturally conservative one.

Is this reversible? Beazley’s ham-fisted efforts to block Costello’s tax cuts suggest that Labor still believes it can regain its traditional support base. Yet it is questionable whether Labor can ever win back its socially conservative core demographic until it finds the courage to confront its latte set of academics, teachers and lawyers and reconcile the conflict between what Beazley’s father memorably called ‘the cream of the working class’ and ‘the dregs of the middle class’. Increasingly, Labor looks like it is just sitting back and praying for a recession.

This may well be Labor’s only chance. Asked to explain the Coalition’s electoral dominance, three Liberal parliamentarians independently came up with the same phrase: ‘strong economic management’.

howardart2.jpgIt is interesting that Costello’s mantra is now echoed even by MPs more traditionally associated with Howard, given that it relegates Howard’s personal appeal to being a subsidiary cause of success. Yet it is a tribute to the Howard-Costello partnership that the Government has acquired a confident identity beyond the personality of its leader, in stark contrast to the personality cults of state Labor administrations.

This ongoing dominance leaves Howard with great responsibilities, and with the challenge of managing a restless backbench. He is the trustee of years of intellectual and political effort by liberals and conservatives, which have finally delivered the opportunity for serious reform. There are two tasks by which Howard will be judged.
The first task is to maintain the reform momentum. Kevin Andrews’ ambitious industrial relations reforms exceed the meagre expectations created by his ambiguous post-election pronouncements. If implemented in their current form, they will be a fitting capstone to Howard’s career-long struggle to liberate Australia from its antiquated IR system.

Peter Costello’s last budget also exceeded expectations, although purists will continue to call for a more radical flattening of the income tax system. Liberals have good reason to be satisfied with their Government’s fourth term performance thus far.

But Howard has yet to negotiate passage of his industrial relations laws, which have offended federalists and face a possible defection by Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce. The sale of Telstra also faces hurdles, with some Nationals likely to complain so long as one farmer has mobile reception problems when trying to call the sheep in his back paddock.

On a smaller scale, there are also rumblings of dissent over voluntary student unionism, raising the fear that the policy will be watered down into insignificance as it was under Jeff Kennett in Victoria.
Securing passage of these reforms will be a test of Howard’s authority, not to mention his negotiating skills. This once-in-a-generation opportunity must not be squandered. Howard has acquired a large reserve of political capital over the past ten years. This is the time to spend it.

Howard-at-Press.jpgYet there will be a temptation to do the opposite. Fear of a possible leadership battle in the coming year could cause Howard to question whether he should keep his powder dry; whether a ‘steady as she goes’ approach and the appeasement of dissenters is a more prudent course to maintain poll numbers and party room support in the short term. It can only be hoped that the surrender on mandatory detention was not a sign of such an approach.

This brings us to Howard’s second great task. Even he must appreciate that the end of his career is approaching. If Howard fights the 2007 election, it will be as a 69-year-old. And even if he fights and wins, what about 2010 and 2013? No one believes Howard will be around for those elections.

One senior Liberal told Investigate, ‘Our newer MPs are looking at the long term. They know the best chance they have of a long career is if the leadership transition is timed right and goes smoothly’.

The Liberal Party’s future does not end with Howard’s career; nor does Australia’s. Howard owes it to his supporters to devise a credible succession plan that bequeaths to his successor a legacy that does not die with Howard’s leadership. His aim should not be one more victory, but many, through a long period of conservative dominance of which he is merely the founder. At the recent Liberal Federal Council meeting, blatant promotion of Alexander Downer, a strong contender for the Deputy’s position under Costello, suggested that succession planning is very much on Howard’s mind.

Thus we have arrived at a crossroads in Howard’s career, which will determine whether he is a politician or a statesman. Howard the survivor can spend his final years in office ducking and weaving to dodge the inevitable final blow. But he is enough of a student of history to know that Australian Prime Ministers are remembered more by their leaving of office than by their holding of it.

Accordingly, Howard should use the authority that four election successes have conferred upon him to advance the Liberals’ ideological cause, applying the bold template of his industrial relations reforms to other areas and creating a policy agenda that will extend beyond his reign. If Howard departs office voluntarily, with his Prime Ministership not a finished book but the opening chapters of a work in progress, he will have earned an exalted place beside Menzies in the Liberal pantheon.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 03:50 PM | Comments (0)

FIRST DRAFT: July 05, AU Edition

We sneak a peek at the Senate’s new workplace agreements...

Standard Contract (“Senator”)
Terms and Conditions of Employment
Howard Holdings Pty Ltd


You are employed as a full-time Management-Staff Liaison Officer (“Senator”). As described in the Company Charter (“Constitution”) of Howard Holdings Pty Ltd, your continued employment is subject to ongoing review by employee-shareholders (“citizens”). These reviews (“elections”) occur at regular three year intervals in all branches (“cities and towns”) of the corporation (“Australia”).

The exact date of the next review will be chosen by the Chief Executive Officer (“Prime Minister”) after consultation between the Management (“House of Representatives”) and Board of Directors (Messrs Murdoch, Packer, Stokes, et al.).

It is your duty to faithfully and diligently facilitate the implementation of Management decisions (“policies”) made in the collective pecuniary interest of all 20,342,715 Howard Holdings employee-shareholders.

Pursuant to this, on occasion, you may:

• Make minor adjustments to these decisions in response to employee-shareholder input (“public opinion”).
• Politely express reservations about the nature of these decisions in response to your own personal code of business ethics (“conscience”). Under exceptional circumstances these may take the form of signed petitions (“private member’s bills”) against certain aspects of company practice*.


• Excessively zealous collective expressions of discontent regarding any aspect of the company’s performance in the global marketplace (“rebellions”), and/or surreptitious dissemination of company records (“leaks”) – particularly those aiding and abetting known anti-corporatist forces (“ABC”, “Fairfax”,”Greens”) – may, at Management’s sole discretion, be seen as breaches of these Terms and Conditions. As such they attract severe penalties, up to and including dismissal (“disendorsement”).


• Extra prudence must be applied while performing any of your duties related to the recruitment of overseas personnel (“immigration”) and the nature of the processing thereof (“border control issues”).

And finally:

• Any and all of the above Terms and Conditions may be subject to change by Management at any time without notice.

* N.B.: While some junior Management staff (Georgiou, Moylan, et al.) have recently invoked this particular clause – and have not been penalised as of this writing – Management-Staff Liaison Officers are still strongly advised not to follow suit.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 03:44 PM | Comments (0)

TOUGH QUESTIONS: July 05, AU Edition

The death of a child

I suspect many people remember this song: ‘Would you know my name, if I saw you in Heaven? Would you be the same, if I saw you in Heaven? I must be strong, and carry on, because I know I don’t belong, here in
Heaven…’ When rocker Eric Clapton wrote those words, he was thinking not of the potential success of a hit record, he was writing from the heart. On March 20, 1991, just a week after my own son was born, Eric Clapton lost his four year old son Conor in a tragic, heart-rending accident. It happened on the 53rd storey of a New York apartment building. Conor, like all boys his age, was full of energy.

Unfortunately a cleaner had just finished wiping a large floor to ceiling window and left it open to dry. Conor was running and, before his mother could grab him, simply fell out the window, plunging 49 stories to the rooftop of an adjacent four storey building.

There are so many ‘if- only’ elements to this sad event, and Clapton took nine months off to grieve. As commentators noted, when he returned to performing his music was much more powerful and more reflective.

The other week, someone I know lost a child in an equally tragic accident in Auckland. Again, the ‘what-ifs’ and pain swirl in an endless cyclone of recriminations wishes by the parents that they could turn back time and do something – anything – differently.

Death comes to all of us, yet it is incredibly hard to deal with. The pain, the trauma and the emotional loss from an event like these is like a jagged blade in the heart, and the wounds take a long time to heal. So if religion is supposed to answer these “meaning of life” questions, if religion is supposed to help us deal with the ultimate question, how do the various religions stack up when it comes to death?

If you don’t believe in any kind of afterlife, I suspect coping with death is hardest for you. And indeed, medical and psychiatric studies have repeatedly found that a spiritual belief makes people cope with life better than those who don’t have one. For a non-believer who loses a child, there is no hope, just an aching hole in the heart where their baby used to be.

For Buddhists, Hindus or follower of New Age doctrines, life is a cycle of reincarnation, and the grieving parent at least is comforted by the idea that their child will return as someone else’s child. The downside to this is the loss of personal identity. In the Eastern faiths, you become one with the universe, recycled and then spat back down to Earth again where past identities and memories of those you loved are lost to you - a meaningless, cosmic Groundhog Day.
It is Christianity, I suggest, that offers the only tangible hope for non-Christians and Christians alike.

The central theme of Christianity is triumph over death. Death entered the world through the fall from Eden. Now imagine that sequence in reverse, where a kind of supernatural Earth (Eden) is poisoned,, in a massive universe-wide dimension shift that kicks humanity and the world it occupies out of the heavenly dimension into a dimension where death and decay exist. This was the first separation of humanity from God.

Jesus Christ came back to Earth to offer an invitation back for those who believed. In regard to children, it is widely believed from Christ’s comments that children who die are accepted into Heaven by God’s grace. For a grieving parent, Christian or not, God’s grace is equally available by invitation. Only Christianity and the example of Jesus’ resurrection, offers the hope of seeing a dead child alive again.

And yes, Eric, little Conor will know your name, if choose to join him, there in Heaven.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 03:35 PM | Comments (0)

LEFT HOOK: July 05, AU Edition

Now’s your chance, Mr. Howard: Go, Johnny, go!

Australian politics is entering unfamiliar territory in that, for the first time in a quarter of a century, the government of the day now controls both Houses of Parliament. Having spent the duration of the Howard Government arguing against their agenda, I guess their Senate majority is a cue for me to redouble my efforts and do what I can to critique and resist what already seems to be a bad bunch of policy options.

But I realise that this moment actually offers me a chance to give John Howard a piece of gratuitous, though sincere, advice. Believe me, my inclination is not to do him any favours, but maybe I’m just homesick enough – I’m about to head back to Oz after three years in the United States – to see what maybe we should all see more clearly, namely, that sometimes politics offers us opportunities.

People argue that history is bearing down on Mr. Howard and that he shouldn’t waste the opportunity of his Senate majority in the way he himself believes Malcolm Fraser did after 1975. I’d like to suggest
another historical possibility.

The fact is, like no prime minister in recent history, Mr. Howard is on the verge of greatness.

Indeed, he is in the rare position of being able to implement change that would not only honour the liberalism that underpins his party philosophy but that would end some of the most divisive and intractable debates since the Dismissal. Plus, it would undermine his opponents such that there would be virtually no challenge his government couldn’t undertake.

In short, the prime minister would so reek with political credibility that all would wilt before him.

The first step would be to offer an apology to Aboriginal people for past injustices. Think about it. He would in one stroke provide the basis for the sort of symbolic recognition that he himself admits is needed, without for one second undermining his insistence on ‘practical reconciliation’. His opponents would be blind-sided and could offer nothing but praise.

Second, he could embrace the Georgiou reforms on immigration and asylum seekers and end the utterly illiberal policy of indefinite detention, freeing children and their families, without at all undermining his government’s basically sound stance on border protection. Once again, his opponents would be floored.

Finally – and admittedly, most difficultly – he could ignore the special interest calls for a ‘more flexible’ workforce and publicly recognize that a worker is not just another factor of production, but that work itself is the basis from which people find a sense of personal identity and through which our society builds a stable and prosperous nation. He could level the playing field without at all damaging the economy.

Having thus transformed the political landscape, he could even do what so few political leaders get to do: retire gracefully at the top of his game.

It should be obvious that any one of these options would be personally difficult for the prime minister – though far from politically impossible – and that any attempt to do all of them would require an almost transcendent sense of duty and will power.

But that’s what greatness demands. A willingness to defy expectations. If he chose to grasp the moment, Mr Howard could seal his place in history as the most audacious leader of the modern period. Probably of any period. Johnny B. Great.

Tim Dunlop is a homeward-bound writer and author of Australia’s most widely-read left-leaning blog,

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 03:29 PM | Comments (0)

RIGHT HOOK: July 05, AU Edition

Gagging on ‘Deep Throat’

My only regret is that Mark Felt did not rat out Nixon because he was ticked off about rapprochement with China or détente with the Soviets. Rather, Felt leaked details of the Watergate investigation to the Washington Post only because he had lost a job promotion. This will come as small consolation to the Cambodians and Vietnamese slaughtered as a direct result of Nixon’s fall. Oh, well. At least we got a good movie and Jimmy Carter out of it.

Still, it must pain liberals to be praising an FBI man who ordered illegal searches of their old pals in the Weather Underground in the early ’70s. For those searches, Felt was later prosecuted by the Carter administration.

Ironically, only because of Watergate, which Felt helped instigate, could a nitwit like Jimmy Carter ever become president – a perch from which Carter pardoned draft dodgers and prosecuted Mark Felt. No wonder Felt kept denying he was ‘Deep Throat.’

Also ironic is that Felt’s free-love, flower-girl daughter was estranged from her father for decades on account of her rejection of conventional bourgeois institutions like marriage. A single mum, she is now broke – because of her rejection of conventional bourgeois institutions like marriage.

Of course Felt wasn’t Deep Throat. There was no Deep Throat. Now we know.

As most people had generally assumed, the shadowy figure who made his first appearance in a late draft of All the President’s Men was a composite of several sources – among them, apparently, Mark Felt. And now the jig is up.

The fictional Deep Throat knew things Felt could not possibly have known, such as the 18 1/2-minute gap on one of the White House tapes. Only six people knew about the gap when Woodward reported it. All of them worked at the White House. Felt not only didn’t work at the White House, but when the story broke, he also didn’t even work at the FBI anymore.

Woodward claimed he signaled Deep Throat by moving a red flag in a flowerpot to the back of his balcony and that Deep Throat signaled him by drawing the hands of a clock in Woodward’s New York Times.

But in his 1993 book, Deep Truth: The Lives of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Adrian Havill did something it had occurred to no one else to do: He looked at Woodward’s old apartment, and found that Woodward had a sixth-floor interior apartment that could not be seen from the street.

In another scene in All the President’s Men, Woodward’s sidekick, Carl Bernstein, goes to a porno theater to avoid a subpoena – and the movie Deep Throat happens to be the featured film! Havill points out that Washington, D.C., had recently cracked down on porno theaters and Deep Throat was not playing in any theater in Washington at the time.

Woodward and Bernstein’s former literary agent, David Obst, has always said Deep Throat was a fictional device added to later drafts of All the President’s Men to spice it up (kind of like everything in a Michael Moore film).

Obst scoffs at the notion that the No. 2 man at the FBI would have time to be skulking around parking lots spying for red flags on a reporter’s balcony. ‘There’s not a chance one person was Deep Throat’, he told The New York Times.

So it’s not really that amazing that the identity of Deep Throat managed to stay secret for so long.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 03:14 PM | Comments (0)

LAURA’S WORLD: July 05, AU Edition

Big boys should stop crying

Many of my male friends, colleagues and contemporaries are of the opinion that the women’s movement has gone too far. An opinion shared, it seems, by a majority of males.

The gist of it is, men are not free to be men any more. The male spirit has been gradually eroded away by the disapproval of women and replaced with a neutered, domesticated, femme-friendly New Age model of manliness. Real men feel ripped off, as if they have to apologize for simply being blokes.

These frustrating emotions are behind men’s revival movements such as Australia’s Promise Keepers who claim much of society’s problems relate to the displacement of men. Restore the male to his position of leadership and authority and you will reassert his sense of pride and responsibility. Crime will fall as a result, says this theory.
If men’s roles are not restored, crime, violence, war, and a host of other horrors will continue to rise. The responsibility for this horrible scenario rests squarely on the shoulders of those feminists who upset the order of things by breaking out of their traditional role and stealing men’s thunder.

An astonishing piece of blackmail really. Essentially, if women don’t give men what they want, men will wreck the planet and blame women. So what do men want? I have asked this question of my disgruntled friends and I can only describe the response as elusive. Men only know that they feel vaguely threatened and undermined in subtle ways, but they don’t know how to fix it. Some comments I’ve heard cited by challenged men are: women’s wants never end, you give them some ground and they want more. Women have gone way beyond 50/50; they are at about 70/30 now and won’t stop until they have it all. Men are sexual beings; sex is a physical requirement and if women continue to deny men then rapes will logically increase. Divorce courts favour women by giving them automatic rights to children and to half the husband’s assets regardless of whether she helped earn them.

Some of these examples of discrimination, such as the parental-rights issue, do appear real. But there are glaring omissions in this summary of women’s power and territory. I have my own way of assessing gender equality and it is quite a simple formula. Power is associated with voice. Who gets heard, who gets published, written about, who stars in movies, who gets radio airplay, who runs businesses, who leads countries.

Applying this formula shows women at best account for 20% of who gets heard, seen, reported on, and who holds power. All it takes is one day of observing to come to this conclusion. Listen to the radio, read the paper, watch TV news and check out what’s on at the box office. Roughly 80% of all that is newsworthy, all radio singers, all movie top-billers, all movers and shakers are male.

How this equates with women having gone too far in the minds of men is a little scary. Women have a long way to go before they are anywhere near equal to the actual wealth, earning power and overall status of men, and yet men feel robbed.

The hue and cry over boy’s second-rate performance in schools is a fine example. No complaints were heard when girls came second, as it was expected of them. Now that girls have caught up, there is a feverish scramble to overhaul education. Why don’t boys simply do what girls did: try harder?

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 03:10 PM | Comments (0)

THE WATCHER: July 05, AU Edition

Media Watch pays homage to Phillip Adams

Australian perceptions of the media are incredibly poor. According to a Roy Morgan poll conducted last September for The Reader, only 18 percent of Australians believe the media is doing an unbiased job reporting on controversial issues; nearly 70 percent believe newspapers do not accurately and fairly report the news. No Australian media organisation escaped a mention.

With such consumer discontent evident one might expect a program like ABC Television’s Media Watch to make the most of what appears to be a target-rich environment. Yet the vista – or at least one side of it – from Media Watch’s studio appears sparse. Such is the state of the state-owned broadcaster’s optics.

While Fairfax (with the exception of conservative columnist Miranda Devine) and the ABC itself never get hit with anything firmer than Paul Keating’s famous piece of wet lettuce, the so-called ‘Murdoch press’ and its conservative columnists remain the show’s perennial target. True, The Australian’s most conspicuous lefty, Phillip Adams, has felt the romaine and radicchio lash, but only just. And the attention he once received was only a convenient artifice to launch another attack on Media Watch’s favourite right wing target, columnist and now ABC board member Janet Albrechtsen.

Weblogger ‘Professor Bunyip’ (http://bunyip., as he is known, imagined former Media Watch Host David Marr stitching the program up with Adams: ‘We’ll pretend that the item is about you, but what we’ll really present is another attack on Janet Jackboots.’ And, on that occasion, when Media Watch bothered to take any notice of the sins committed by a fellow traveler, the case was weakly presented and was indeed used to attack Albrechtsen (who now has a Media Watch hat-trick to her credit).

In a 1997 speech to the International Documentary Conference in Brisbane, Adams said paying homage was merely a posh term for plagiarism.

What animates Adams’ critics so much is not that he has borrowed a phrase or two now and then; it is that he is seen to be habitually ‘paying homage’. And even when Adams is caught out, he re-offends.
If you like to read the fortnightly New York Review of Books (NYROB), at A$6.00 a copy on the street in New York (far more in Oz), in addition to plenty of time, you have an expensive reading habit. So here’s a tip: affluent Adams reads the NYROB, too – though I expect his copy is paid for by the ABC Radio where he hosts Late Night. Fortunately, you can get theReader’s Digest version in his Australian column.

Evidently, the ABC gets just one copy of the NYROB and Adams permanently absconds with it as he leaves his Radio National studio to write his column, and the ABC, with its beggar budget of $750 million, apparently can’t afford a second copy for Media Watch. Just as well for Adams, lest it fall into Media Watch executive producer Peter McEvoy’s deft hands.

But something tells me it’s not lack of resources that keeps Media Watch from focusing on filching Phil; rather, it is the ABC’s institutional bias and lack of regard for journalistic standards and the ABC’s code of practice which is to blame. How else to explain the rubber glove and cavity search treatment reserved for conservative columnists like Albrechsen or Miranda Devine?

When shown the goods on Adams, McEvoy finds reasons to look the other way. On one occasion he defended Adams by lamely claiming he had ‘sufficiently re-written’ the work (a 2003 NYROB piece) he was alleged to have lifted and that he had cited the work with the words ‘history tells us’.

When Adams is not technically committing plagiarism, even those who share his worldview should feel cheated. Adams is not overworked (he puts in four hours a week on air at the ABC in addition to his newspaper column). Yet his work product is either fundamentally dishonest (i.e., pilfered), or it looks as though it has been.
Here’s one example, provided by the aforementioned Bunyip, involving a piece by Michael Massing in the 29 May 2003 edition of the NYROB, followed by Adams, six weeks later in the Australian. In this case, Adams lets on that he has read Massing’s piece, but he then either paraphrases or copies Massing verbatim:

Massing: The Coalition Media Center is managed by Jim Wilkinson, a fresh-faced, thirty-two-year-old Texan and a protégé of Bush’s adviser Karen Hughes. Wilkinson made his mark during the 2000 presidential election when he spoke on behalf of GOP activists protesting the Florida ballot recount. To run the media center in Doha, Wilkinson, a member of the naval reserve, appeared in the same beige fatigues as the career officers working under him.

Adams: The centre was managed by Jim Wilkinson, a 32-year-old Texan and protégé of the brothers Bush. When last seen, Wilkinson had been speaking on behalf of Republican activists protesting against the Florida ballot recount...In Doha, the Bush activist was repackaged as a member of the Naval Reserve, appearing in beige fatigues identical to the career officers working beneath him.

Adams goes on like this for paragraphs, until near then end when he finally puts quotes around a few of Massing’s words – leading readers to believe everything else Adams has written is his own:

Massing: CNN International bore more resemblance to the BBC than to its domestic edition -– a difference that showed just how market-driven were the tone and content of the broadcasts. For the most part, US news organizations gave Americans the war they thought Americans wanted to see.

Adams: CNN’s international service was repackaged, bearing more resemblance to the BBC than to its domestic – and domesticated – edition. Massing emphasises how market driven was the tone and content of the broadcast. ‘For the most part US news organisations gave Americans the war they thought Americans wanted to see,’ he says.
Adams’ column is, at the very least, an abject embarrassment to The Australian. That is, unless you subscribe to the Adams school of conspiracy. In which case, Rupert Murdoch has taken a page out of Karl Rove’s play book and instructed The Australian’s editors to keep Adams right where he is in order to discredit the left.

And what of Media Watch? Professional review is one thing, but there is something odious about a state-owned broadcaster sitting in judgment of private news broadcasters and newspapers. Sure, the ABC is not the same thing as the government swinging the billy club. But the ABC is a state habitat, populated overwhelmingly by leftists and funded by taxpayers, and Media Watch uses its resources to advance elite left-wing biases in a shrill, predictable and boring way which no commercial broadcaster would dare do.

Media Watch’s supporters would say that’s precisely why state-owned broadcasting is necessary. Well, no, actually. The ABC enjoys its budget, free of commercial constraints, not so it can fill the airwaves with ‘soft lefty’ attitudes masquerading as upholding professional standards. It is required to be fair. Entertaining would be okay, too.

At the time of this writing, The Australian published another Adams piece, which looks … well, over to you Media Watch. On 4 May, retired U.S. Army Colonel David Hackworth died. Hackworth, who became a trenchant Pentagon critic, lived for a time in Australia, where he apparently befriended Adams. Six weeks after Last Post was played for his buddy ‘Hack’, Adams finally got around to eulogizing him. That was a cinch, because Hackworth’s obit writers at the Toledo (Ohio) Blade had done Adams’ homework for him...

Toledo Blade, 7 May 2005
As a 15-year-old orphan in Southern California, Mr. Hackworth joined the Army at the end of World War II, surviving four battle wounds in Korea. His heroics earned him a Silver Star, a battlefield commission to second lieutenant, and his own commando unit.

Colonel Hackworth, then a major, was promoted out of Vietnam in June, 1966 – 11 months before the unit’s first documented war crime. From May to November, 1967, some soldiers turned their rifles on hundreds of unarmed men, women, and children in what became the longest-known string of war crimes by a battle unit in Vietnam.During his fourth tour of duty in Vietnam, he spoke out against the war in June, 1971, prompting an Army investigation of his background.

He and his supporters portrayed the probe as retaliation against a whistleblower, but investigators uncovered widespread rule-breaking, including operating a gambling house and a brothel for his troops.
He defended both, arguing that it kept his soldiers disease-free, and the profits helped buy supplies for his men and local schoolchildren.
However, investigators concluded that the colonel enlisted his men in a black-market currency scheme that netted him tens of thousands of dollars. He would admit only that the men smuggled $100,000 of his poker winnings out of the country.

The Secretary of the Army allowed the colonel to retire to Australia, where he made millions in a restaurant business and duck farm.

Phillip Adams, The Australian, 18 June 2005
Born and orphaned in 1930, Hack was raised by a grandmother whose bedtime stories were about the family’s military history, going back to the American Revolutionary War. Faking ID papers, Hackworth joined the army in 1946, aged 15. He served in Korea and by Vietnam was regarded as one of the United States’ most brilliant commanding officers.

During his fourth tour of duty he went public with criticisms of the Pentagon. The army tried to discredit him, threatening him with a court martial for operating a gambling house and brothel for his men. Hack’s defence? The brothel had saved his men from disease, while profits from the little casino were used to buy supplies for the troops and local schoolkids.

Nonetheless, there was evidence of smuggling $200,000 out of the country.

To avoid scandal, the Secretary of the Army allowed Hack to retire to Australia where he continued his winning ways, making millions out of a restaurant and, of all things, a duck farm…

With Desert Storm, Hack once more became a Pentagon critic. Describing the war as ‘a raging atrocity’, David fought for ‘the young soldiers that our country sends to bleed and die on our behalf’…

It seemed that a unit called Tiger Force, established in 1965, had committed escalating atrocities – including turning their guns on more than 100 unarmed civilians…

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 03:00 PM | Comments (0)

THE ARENA: July 05, AU Edition

july05arenaart.jpgJAMES MORROW
Sixty million Frenchmen – and even several Age readers – can’t be wrong

A good friend of mine recently acquired an antique Atomic brand coffee maker. You know the ones I’m talking about: they’re curvy, stylish and Italian, and have more class in their steam control nozzle than any modern $1,999 job that grinds the beans automatically and can be picked up at any big homewares store has in its entire plastic housing. He was telling me about the great history of the things (during World War II, for example, workers at the Atomic factory in Italy stamped the filter’s drip-holes in a Star of David pattern, in quiet protest against the Nazis), and we mused on how amazing it was that, back when the machine was invented, the word ‘atomic’ was the advertising copywriter’s ace in the hole. The boundless promise of the future, the power of science to solve problems, the latest and greatest in technology and design – all were summed up by that one word: ‘atomic’.

Indeed, we were all supposed to be commuting back and forth to the moon in our atomic flying space-cars by now.

But in 2005, Holden’s not making any nuclear-powered Commodores, car makers still tout road-holding – rather than gravity-defying – ability as a selling point, and the word ‘atomic’ has long-since been hijacked to represent everything bad that the men (and they’re always men) in the white lab coats can come up with.

It is time for this to end. Australia, and the world, are on the brink of serious energy shortfalls, yet one of the safest, cleanest, and even greenest electricity supplies in the country is still only being talked about by most politicians in sideways whispers. Fortunately, since I broached this topic in this column two months ago, things have started to change. The Chicken Little propaganda that has, with the help of compliant journalists, teachers unions, and politicians, scared normally-unflappable Australians into thinking that nuclear power will see mushroom clouds rising over Sydney Harbour, is beginning to come undone.

Without mixing fairy tale metaphors too much, it is becoming ever more clear that the anti-nuclear emperor has no clothes.

It all started when NSW Premier Bob Carr released a trial balloon suggesting that, just maybe, it was time to build a nuclear power plant to help meet the electricity needs of Australia’s most populous state. Of course, the move was exactly the sort of cynical ploy that has made Bob the Builder the longest-serving premier in New South Wales history: what he really wanted, of course, was more coal-burning power plants, and the nuclear option, he figured, would scare voters into sticking with the lung-blackening devil they know.

And just in case people missed the nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say-no-more nature of Carr’s nuclear option, he underlined it by pointing out that while a swell idea in theory, state law forbade the opening of any nuclear waste dumps in NSW (while at the same time conveniently ignoring his legislative power to change such a rule).

Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the furphy: an awful lot of Australians took a look at the idea and said, hey, maybe nuclear power isn’t such a bad idea after all.

The first sign that opinion had changed came from the letters pages of Melbourne’s Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, both left-wing echo chambers where correspondents routinely compete to out-radical each other, and conservative voices are so rare that they deserve endangered species protection. (By way of illustration, the day after Peter Costello delivered his widely-praised budget speech earlier this year, the Herald was unable to find one single correspondent who thought that it was a good idea).

Yet on 15 June, for example, the Herald’s lead letter came from one Richard Paulin of North Ryde, who wrote, ‘Some questions for Professor Stuart White, resident anti-nuclear advocate. If nuclear power is so inefficient, why does France, which is 80 per cent nuclear, export $5 billion of electricity annually? If nuclear power waste is an insurmountable problem, why is that country not a nuclear wasteland? If nuclear power is so expensive, why does [sic] France’s steel manufacturers use electric arc furnaces, powered by electricity, rather than Australia’s coke-fired blast furnaces?

‘We need to be far more energy efficient’, Paulin continued. ‘But [Professor White] has done nothing to disprove the fact that nuclear power remains the single most efficient and sustainable energy source for the future.’

A few days earlier in the Age, columnist Terry Lane wrote that ‘Chernobyl frightens us away from nuclear power, but the Canadian province of Ontario, not unlike the state of Victoria, gets 40 per cent of its power from nuclear plants and, as far as I know, has not had a single nuclear accident…

If the likes of the letters editors at the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald are any guide, there is a real shift in sentiment in the community, towards a position that accepts that electricity is needed to run our modern, technological society and that there are trade-offs with any form of electricity generation. Australians recognize that green holy grails of endlessly-renewable power simply don’t exist, that wind farms are ugly and shred kookaburras, solar is impractical, and coal and oil are both dirty and ever-dwindling resources. Under this line of thinking, people recognize that nuclear power might not be perfect either, but that it is well worth discussing.

Indeed, the question of renewability and dependency is one which reverberates through this entire debate. While Australia’s coal resources are abundant, it is hardly a great way to generate power: even clean coal is still pretty dirty, and for all the talk about the potential danger of nuclear power, precious little is said about all those lives lost or shortened due to cancer, in mining accidents, and otherwise as a result of this form of power generation.

Petroleum, meanwhile, is a more complicated question, but there is a growing concern (see Clare Swinney’s feature story, ‘The Good Oil’, on p. 52 of this issue) that mankind may be a few decades away from having seriously depleted the planet’s easily-accessible crude supplies. And while that may seem like a long way away, building infrastructure to cope with a changing energy use profile takes.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 02:55 PM | Comments (0)

Nov 05, AU Edition


We’re coming to get you

Earlier this month the terror group Jemaah Islamiyah hit Bali again. Now, in this exclusive interview for Investigate magazine in Australia and New Zealand, given shortly before the latest bombings, alleged terror leader Abu Bakar Ba’asyir tells TAUFIQ ANDRIE and SCOTT ATRAN there’s no place to hide from militant Islam in the Pacific, and no hope of peace. Ever.

This interview was conducted on August 13 and 15, 2005 from Cipinang Prison in Jakarta. Questions were formulated by Dr. Scott Atran and posed for him in Behasa Indonesian by Taufiq Andrie. The
interview took place in a special visitor’s room, where Ba’asyir had seven acolytes acting as his bodyguards, including Taufiq Halim, the perpetrator of the Atrium mall bombing in Jakarta, and Abdul Jabbar, who blew up the Philippines ambassador’s house. The transcript follows the short introduction below.

In this interview, the alleged terrorist leader Abu Bakar Ba’asyir provides his justification for waging jihad against the West. He also explains the calculus of suicide bombers and discusses his interpretation of Islam concerning war and infidels. Despite accusations that he is head of the al-Qa’ida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist organization and has planned the most lethal terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia, Ba’asyir has only been convicted on conspiracy charges in the 2002 attack on a Bali nightclub that killed 202 people. His 30-month sentence for his role in that bombing, which included scores of Australian tourists among the casualties, was recently reduced by four months and 15 days.

Just outside the visitor’s cell is Hasyim, who runs Ba’asyir’s daily errands. Hasyim is a member of Majlis Mujahidin Indonesian (MMI), the country’s umbrella organization for militant Islamist groups headed by Ba’asyir. Like many Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) members, including Ba’asyir and JI founder Abdullah Sungkar, Hasyim originally came from Darul Islam, a post-independence group banned by the Suharto regime that has operated semi-clandestinely in Indonesian society much as the Muslim Brotherhood has in the Middle East.

In 1993, Sungkar split from DI, bringing with him most of the Indonesian Afghan Alumni that he and Ba’asyir had sent to fight the Soviets. Until Suharto’s downfall in 1998, Sungkar and Ba’asyir
expanded their network of Islamist schools from exile in Malaysia, funnelling students to training camps in Afghanistan and the Philippines, and expanding JI’s influence across Southeast Asia. After Sungkar’s death in 1999, Ba’asyir became “Emir” of JI – a position and organization whose existence he publicly denies but for which there is overwhelming evidence, including from current and former JI members Dr. Atran has interviewed. Although Sungkar himself established direct ties with bin Laden, it is under Ba’asyir’s stewardship that JI has adopted key aspects of al-Qa’ida ideology and methods, targeting the interests of the ‘far enemy’ (the U.S. and its allies) with suicide bombings (Bali, Marriot Jakarta, Australian Embassy, Bali again) in support of global jihad.

Referred to as Ustadz (“teacher”), Ba’asyir is surrounded by visiting family and students who offer him a daily assortment of news magazines and foods, especially dates, his favorites. His disciples tend to be well-educated, often university graduates, and they wash his clothes. Ba’asyir’s wife visits him once a month, and Ustadz offers to share the food she prepared with his prison mates, including Christians. He is a lanky, bespectacled Hadrami (a descendent from the Hadramawt region of Yemen, like bin Laden and Sungkar) who fasts twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. He is 66 and seemingly in good health. Dressed in a white robe, red sarong and white cap, he is sitting on a wooden chair, one foot up perched on the edge. He exudes politeness and is all smiles, with a strong voice and easy laugh he answers questions as if teaching.

London-Keeps-Tight-Security.jpgQ: You say that it is fardh ‘ain [an individual obligation] for Muslims to wage jihad against Infidels.

A: There are two types of infidels. The infidel who is against Islam and declares war on Islam is called kafir harbi [enemy infidel]. The second type is kafir dhimmi [protected infidel]. These are people who don’t fight against Islam, but don’t embrace it either and basically remain neutral.

Q: When in Cipinang, did Ustadz meet Father Damanik? [1] Is he kafir dhimmi?

A: Yes, I was visited and was respected by him. I have a plan, if Allah allows me, to pay a visit to his house. That’s what I call “muamalah dunia,” daily relations in the secular life. Because al-Qur’an sura 60 verse 8 says that “Allah encourages us to be kind and just to the people who don’t fight us in religion and don’t help people who fight us” so we are encouraged by Allah to be good and just to them. It means that we can help those who aren’t against us. On these matters we can cooperate, but we also have to follow the norms of Shari’ah. If Shari’ah says not to doing something, then we shouldn’t do it. Shari’ah never prohibited business in the secular world except in very minor things. So it is generally allowed to have business with non-Muslims. We can help each other. For example, if we are sick and they help us, then if they become sick, we should help them. When they die we should accompany their dead bodies to the grave though we can’t pray for them.

Q: What is the principle of Hudaybiyah [the covenant between prophet Muhammad and the People of the Book]?

A: Hudaybiyah means different things according to the legal situation. When Islam is strong, we come to the infidel’s country, not to colonize but to watch over it so that the infidel cannot plan to ruin Islam. Everywhere, infidels conspire to ruin Islam. There is no infidel who wouldn’t destroy Islam if they were given even a small chance. Therefore, we have to be vigilant.

Q: What are the conditions for Islam to be strong?

A: If there is a state, the infidel country must be visited and spied upon. My argument is that if we don’t come to them, they will persecute Islam. They will prevent non-Muslims converting to Islam.

Q: Does being a martyr mean being a suicide bomber?

A: As I explained [the day before] yesterday, there are two types of infidel terms for suicide: first, those who commit suicide out of hopelessness, second, those who commit suicide in order to be remembered as a hero. Both are types of suicide and there is no value in it.

In Islam there are also people who commit suicide out of hopelessness and we call this killing oneself. But if a person defends Islam, and according to his calculations must die in doing so, although he works hard in life, he will still go and die for Islam.The consideration is: “if I do this, will Islam benefit or lose? If I must die and without my dying Islam will not win, then my dying is allowed.” Because to die in jihad is noble. According to Islam, to die is a necessity because everyone dies. But to seek the best death is what we call “Husn ul-Khatimah,” and the best way to die is to die as a shaheed [martyr].

Q: Is it acceptable to postpone a martyrdom action in order to make the hajj [pilgrimage to Mecca]?

A: A martyrdom action cannot be postponed in this case because jihad is more important than making the hajj. For example one of most revered ulema, Ibn Taymiyya, was asked by a rich person:

“O Sheikh, I have so much money but I’m confused about donating my money because there are two needy causes. There are poor people who, if I don’t help, will die of starvation. But if I use the money for this purpose, then the Jihad will lack funding. Therefore, I need your fatwah [religious decision] O Sheikh”

Ibn Taymiyya replied: “Give all your money for jihad. If the poor people die, it is because Allah fated it, because if we lose the Jihad, many more people will die.”

There is no better deed than jihad. None. The highest deed in Islam is jihad. If we commit to jihad, we can neglect other deeds. America wants to wipe out the teaching of jihad through Ahmadiyah [an Islamic school of thought that believes that Pakistan’s Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is the Prophet Muhammad’s successor]. Through this organization, America works. Why? Because Ahmadiyah prohibits its followers to undertake jihad because [they argue] jihad is the teaching of Christians. This organization originates from India. Its headquarters are in London, funded by America. Ahmadiyah is America’s tool to destroy Islam, including JIL [Jaringan Islam Liberal, Islamic Liberal Network], an NGO in Jakarta that advocates a liberal form of Islam. It is funded by USAID.

Q: So is the idea to postpone is not allowed in any circumstances, even in order to visit sick parents?

A: No, no. If we are in jihad, the jihad must come first. Unless jihad is in [the state of] fardh kifayah [a collective duty, for the nation]. If jihad is in [the state of] fardh ’ain [an individual duty], jihad must be number one. There is no obligation to ask permission from one’s parents. But even if jihad is still in the fardh kifayah state, such as jihad to spy on infidel countries, Muslims don’t require their parent’s permission.

Q: Can a martyrdom action be permanently abandoned if there is a good chance that the martyr’s family would be killed in a retaliation action? similarly if the community where the martyr is from will also experience retaliation and casualties?

A: That is the risk and the consequence of jihad. If the martyr’s family understands Islam deeply, they will obtain many rewards. Their reward will come, if they understand. A martyr must have ikhlas [sincerity]. The parent who understands this concept must be thankful to Allah. This is the spirit of jihad that most scares the infidels. This is a moral force. According to General De Gaulle, moral force is 80% and actual action only 20% [of successful combat]. For infidels the motivation is to be a hero or [to die for] the nation. Some are even encouraged to drink [alcohol] so that they can become brave.

Russia was badly defeated in Afghanistan. [Afghanistan] is different than Eastern Europe which could be conquered in only a month or two. Russians thought [that they could conquer] Afghanistan in two weeks maximum because its people were backward, isn’t that right? That was Russia’s calculation based on their experience in Eastern Europe. But Afghanistan fought Russia back with their aqidah [by following Islamic doctrine] in the way of jihad. I’ll tell you a story so that you’ll understand. There was an Afghan mother who made cakes. She asked her children to distribute the cakes to the mujahideen. One by one her children were hit by shells on their way to deliver the cakes. When the mujahideen informed her they said : “Dear mother, please be strong because your children are martyred.” [The mother replied]: “I’m not crying for my children but I’m crying because I don’t know who’ll bring my cakes to the mujahideen.” Then one of the mujahideen agreed to replace her children. So, this is the spirit of jihad. You find ikhlas and willingness. Prophet Muhammad said: “I want to make jihad then die, then live again, then do jihad again, then live again, then jihad – for ten times.” This is because of the noble status for Muslims who became shaheed.

Q: Do you think the community which believes in martyrdom
actions cares if the martyr only manages to blow up himself/herself and fails to kill any of the enemy?

A: No, [provided that] the ni’at [intention] to be a shaheed must be for Allah. During battle it is different. Istimata is also different. Still, the whole notion revolves around martyrdom. But in places like London and in America there must be other calculations. In battle it is best to cause as many casualties as possible.

Q: Do you think God favors or cares more for the martyr who manages to kill 100 enemies or one enemy?

A: The value [nilai] and reward [pahala] is the same.

Q: In regard to the global condition, what kind of things can the West, especially America, do to make this world more peaceful. What kind of attitudes must be changed?

Bali-Bomb-Attacks-Kill-25a.jpgA: They have to stop fighting Islam, but that’s impossible
because it is “sunnatullah” [destiny, a law of nature], as Allah has said in the Qur’an. They will constantly be enemies. But they’ll lose. I say this not because I am able to predict the future but they will lose and Islam will win. That was what the Prophet Muhammad has said. Islam must win and Westerners will be destroyed. But we don’t have to make them enemies if they allow Islam to continue to grow so that in the end they will probably agree to be under Islam. If they refuse to be under Islam, it will be chaos. Full stop. If they want to have peace, they have to accept to be governed by Islam.

Q: What if they persist?

A: We’ll keep fighting them and they’ll lose. The batil [falsehood] will lose sooner or later. I sent a letter to Bush. I said that you’ll lose and there is no point for you [to fight us]. This [concept] is found in the Qur’an. The other day, I asked my lawyer to send that letter to the [U.S.] embassy. I don’t know whether the embassy passed on my letter to Bush [telling him], “You are useless, you’ll lose.” There are verses in the Qur’an that say, “You spend so much money yet you’ll be disappointed.” The verse is clear so I’m not some one who can predict the future but I get the information from Allah, so I’ll never be sad because I believe the time will come. Still, I feel that the Ummah [Muslim community] has a problem now. If the Ummah loses the [current] battle it isn’t because of Islam. A Muslim, as long as he is not “broken” [and remains committed to Allah’s rule] will get help from Allah.

Q: How about using nuclear weapons by Muslims, is it justified?

A: Yes, if necessary. But the Islamic Ummah should seek to minimalize [the intensity of the fighting]. Allah has said in verse 8 chapter 60 that we should equip ourself with weapon power – that is an order – but preferably to scare and not to kill our enemy. The main goal is to scare them. If they are scared they won’t bother us, and then we won’t bother them as well. But if they persist, we have to kill them. In this way, Prophet Muhammad sought to minimalize the fighting.

Q: In your personal view, what do you think of bombings in our homeland, namely the Bali, Marriott and Kuningan bombings?

A: I call those who carried out these actions all mujahid. They all had a good intention, that is, Jihad in Allah’s way, the aim of the jihad is to look for blessing from Allah. They are right that America is the proper target because America fights Islam. So in terms of their objectives, they are right, and the target of their attacks was right also. But their calculations are debatable. My view is that we should do bombings in conflict areas not in peaceful areas. We have to target the place of the enemy, not countries where many Muslims live.

Q: What do you mean by “wrong calculation,” that the victims
included Muslims?

A: That was one them. In my calculation, if there are bombings
in peaceful areas, this will cause fitnah [discord] and other parties will be involved. This is my opinion and I could be wrong. Yet I still consider them mujahid. If they made mistakes, they are only human beings who can be wrong. Moreover, their attacks could be considered as self-defense.

Q: Does that mean you think they didn’t attack?

A: No, they didn’t attack because they defended themselves. They shouldn’t be punished. In Bali where 200 people died, it was America’s bomb. That was a major attack and Amrozi [the Bali plotter who bought the explosives] doesn’t have the capability to do that. [2]

Q: Did Amrozi tell you this himself?

A: He himself was surprised to see the explosion. When he said that it was Allah’s help he was right but he didn’t make that bomb. America did. There is much evidence to this effect and so the police dare not continue their investigations. According to England’s expert, that bomb was not Amrozi’s bomb. You should ask Fauzan. He knows this subject. That bomb was a CIA Jewish bomb. The Mossad cooperates with the CIA. [3] I had an exchange of views with the police and they didn’t say anything. I said to them, “You are stupid to punish Amrozi if he really knows how to make such a bomb. You should hire him to be a military consultant, because there is no military or police person [in Indonesia] who can make such a bomb.” However, when I asked Ali Imron [4] in the court he said: “Yes, I did it” I believe him [that he made one of the smaller bombs that went off]. A bomb expert from Australia said that anyone who believes that Amrozi and friends made that [bigger] bomb is an idiot; [this is also the opinion of] a bomb expert from England whose comments I read in a magazine. If Amrozi really did make that bomb, he deserves the Nobel Prize. So, the death penalty is not fair.

Q: I want to ask your opinion of Nasir Abas’s book where he said that you are the Emir of JI? [5]

A: This is a traitor, a betrayer. I was in Malaysia and I had a jama’ah [congregation] the name of which was Jama’ah Sunnah. We just studied Islam.

Q: Were you aware that Nasir Abas was your student?

A: Yes, I was. But he was not the only one there; he also studied with Ustadz Hasyim Gani. I joined his group. He died. I think Nassir Abas’s book is [written] on orders from the police and for money.

Q: According to you, the book is incorrect, especially on Jemaah Islamiyah and you being its Emir?

A: This is not a court and the real court has failed to prove it. [6]

Q: What was Nasir Abas’s motivation in writing that book?

A: I don’t know. But basically he got orders from the police and received some money. I think that was his motivation. He doesn’t have the courage to meet me. If I meet him, I’ll send him to do jihad in Chechnya or to the Southern Philippines so that Allah will accept his remorse [taubah]. He invented his own story.

Q: I heard that Nasir Abas came here. Did he meet you?

A: No, he came here to meet others.

Q: If I may know, when was the first time you heard the name

A: After the police questioned me; during the time I was filing a law suit against TIME magazine. Do you remember when I did that? They wanted me to take 100 million rupiah to stop the case but I didn’t. But I don’t know anymore about the case. During that time, I was under suspicion but I wasn’t arrested. That was the first time I heard the name al-Qa’ida. [7] A policeman from the intelligence section whose name I forget interrogated me from morning until afternoon. He asked about that name [al-Qa’ida]. That was the first time I heard of it. Before, I never heard of it. I went to Pakistan but I didn’t hear that name. I went there to accompany my son [8] and meet some Arabs but I never heard that name.

Q: How about Shaykh Osama bin Laden?

Over-180-Dead-After-Bombing.jpgA: I heard his name a long time ago. I read his writings, saw his tapes and met Arabs in Pakistan who talked about him when I accompanied my son, Abdur Rahim. Who didn’t know Osama? He was a mujahid against the Soviets and he had his own military that he funded by himself. He was a hero who America also praised. He was then also supported by America. America was piggybacking on him because America didn’t have the courage to fight against the Soviets. They were afraid of the Soviets and they relied on the Afghans.

Q: Have you ever met him?

A: No, no. I want to though. After my release, I hope I can meet him. [9]

Q: Where will you find him?

A: If he still exists – but how could I? On Osama, my stand in court was clear. I have sympathy for his struggle. Osama is Allah’s soldier. When I heard his story, I came to the conclusion that he’s mujahid, a soldier of Allah.

Q: So you will always be on his side?

A: Many say this and Osama is right. His tactics and calculations may sometimes be wrong, he’s an ordinary human being after all. I don’t agree with all of his actions. He encouraged people to do bombings. I don’t agree with that. He said that JI followed his fatwah. His fatwah said that all Americans must be killed wherever they can be found, because America deserves it. Therefore [according to bin Laden] if Muslims come across Americans, they have to attack them. Osama believes in total war. This concept I don’t agree with. If this occurs in an Islamic country, the fitnah [discord] will be felt by Muslims. But to attack them in their country [America] is fine.

Q: So it means that the fight against America will never end?

A: Never, and this fight is compulsory. Muslims who don’t hate America sin. What I mean by America is George Bush’s regime. There is no iman [belief] if one doesn’t hate America. There are three ways of attacking: with your hand, your mouth and your heart.

Q: Does this mean America’s government? Its policies?

A: If its citizens are good that’s fine, especially the Muslim citizens. They are our brothers. Non-Muslims are also fine as long as they don’t bother us. A witness at my trial, Frederick Burks, wrote that he’s against Bush. [10]

Q: How can the American regime and its policies change?

A: We’ll see. As long as there is no intention to fight us and Islam continues to grow there can be peace. This is the doctrine of Islam. Islam can’t be ruled by others. Allah’s law can’t be under human law. Allah’s law must stand above human law. All laws must be under Islamic law. This is what the infidels fail to recognize, that’s what America doesn’t like to see. You should read a book, “The Face of Western Civilization” by Adian Husaini. It’s a good book, a thick one. The conclusion of the book is that Western scholars hold an anti-Islamic doctrine. It is true there will be a clash of civilizations. The argumentation is correct that there will be a clash between Islam and the infidels. There is no [example] of Islam and infidels, the right and the wrong, living together in peace.


1. Father Rinaldy Damanik is the leader of the Christian community in Poso District, Sulawesi where violence between Muslims and Christians led to hundreds of deaths on both sides between late 1998 and 2002 (and where intermittent violence continues to this day). I interviewed Father Damanik in his home in Tentena on August 10, 2005. It turns out that Father Damanik shared the same jail cell block successively for some months (September 2002 – January 2003) with Reda Seyam (legendary Al-Qa’ida film-maker), Imam Samudra (the JI computer expert condemned to death for planning the meetings and choosing the targets for the Bali bombings) and Ba’asyir. Damanik befriended all three. There are smiling photos of Reda and Damanik together, and Samudra and Ba’asyir have both confirmed their warm feelings toward Father Damanik. Damanik used to call Ba’asyir “Opa” (grandfather) and Ba’asyir’s wife would bring gifts of food to Damanik. They discussed
injustice, Shari’ah, faith in God, suicide attacks and opposing America. According to Dam- anik, they found much agreement on the sources of injustice but disagreed strongly over the means to overcome it.
2. Amrozi bin Nurahasyim was sentenced to death by an Indonesian court for having plotted the bombing of the Sari Club in Kuta, Bali along with Imam Samudra and Amrozi’s older brother, Mukhlas.
3. The story about the CIA-Mossad conspiracy is widespread among JI leaders and foot soldiers and (usually with a laugh) used to illustrate that that JI is itself a concoction of “Jewish Intelligence.”
4. Ali Imron, the younger brother of Mukhlas and Amrozi, was sentenced to life in prison for the Bali bombings after having
expressed remorse for his role in the attacks.
5. Muhammad Nasir bin Abas, who trained Bali bombers Imam Samudra and Ali Imron, received his religious instruction from Sungkar and Ba’asyir in Malaysia before they sent him in 1991 for three years to Towrkhan military camp in Afghanistan. He became a top JI military trainer but also gave religious instruction. In April 2001 Ba’asyir appointed Abas head of Mantiqi 3, one of JI’s strategic area divisions, which covered the geographical region of the Philippines and Sulawesi and was responsible for military training and arms supply. Abas turned state’s evidence in Ba’asyir’s trial, outlining the structure of JI and Ba’asyir’s position as Emir. But Abas refused to openly condemn Ba’asyir or accuse him of ordering any terrorist operations, always respectfully referring to Ba’asyir as Ustadz. In July 2005 Abas published Membongkar Jamaah Islamiyah (Unveiling Jamaah Islamiyah). The first part of the book details JI’s organization, ideology and strategy. The second part is a rebuttal to Samudra’s own book, Aku Melawan Terroris, and what Abas believes to be a tendentious use of the Quran and Hadith to justify suicide bombing and violence against fellow Muslims and civilians.
In between my interviews with Ba’asyir I interviewed Abas, who says that he quit JI over Ba’asyir’s refusal to condemn or contain the operations and influence of Riduan Isamuddin (aka Hambali). In January 2000, Hambali hosted a meeting in an apartment owned by JI member Yazid Sufaat in Kuala Lumpur that included 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 9/11 highjackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf
al-Hamzi. As Abas tells it, Hambali, who was JI’s main liaison with Al-Qa’ida and a close friend and disciple of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, was given control of Mantiqi 1, which covered the geographical region of Malaysia and environs and was strategically responsible for JI finances and economic development. But Hambali was dissatisfied being saddled with the “economic wing” (iqtisod) and wanted to play a more active role in the conflict zones. The then-leader of Mantiqi 3, Mustafa (now in custody) blocked Hambali from muscling in on his area but Hambali was able to send fighters to fight Christians in Ambon (Maluku) in 1999, which was under Mantiqi 2 (covering most of Indonesia and strategically responsible for JI recruitment and organizational development). Encouraged by success in heating up the Maluku crisis, Hambali decided first to extend his (and al-Qa’ida’s) conception of jihad to all of Indonesia
(including the 1999 bombing of the Atrium Mall in Jakarta, the August 2000 bombing of the Philippines Ambassador’s house, and 17 coordinated Church bombings on Christmas eve 2000) and then to “globalize” the jihad by enlisting suicide bombers to hit Western targets and interests (including a failed plot to blow up Singapore’s American, Australian and Israeli embassies in
December 2001, and the successful 2002 Bali bombings and 2003 suicide attack on Jakarta’s Marriott hotel). Although Abas argues that JI shouldn’t be outlawed because many in JI reject Al-Qa’ida’s vision of global jihad, in fact JI’s infrastructure and leadership continue to protect (with safe houses) and condone (as “self-defense”) efforts by the likes of master-bomber Dr. Azhari bin Hussain and his constant sidekick, JI’s top recruiter Nurdin Nur Thop, who some tell me recently established a suicide squad, called Thoifah Muqatilah, for large actions against Western interests.
6. According to Abas, JI’s essential organization and ideology is outlined in a set of general guidelines for the Jemaah Islamiyah Struggle (Pedoman Umum Perjuangan
al-Jamaah al-Islamiyah, PUPJI), a 44-page manual that contains a constitution, outlines the roles of office bearers and gives details of how meetings must be organized (e.g., about what to do if a quorum cannot be obtained in the leadership council). The guidelines declare that anyone who adheres to fundamental Islamic principles that are devoid of corruption, deviation (e.g. Sufism) or innovation, can take the bayat (oath of allegiance) to the Emir of JI and become a JI member. Although JI would be, in principle, open to anyone who meets these conditions, in fact only carefully selected individuals, including the Mantiqi leaders, were allowed to take the bayat and obtain copies of the PUPJI. Such individuals generally (but not always) would have undergone previous training in Afghanistan or graduated at the top of their class in courses that Sungkar and Ba’asyir designed for JI recruitment (though designation of courses as JI was unknown to potential recruitees). Abas fulfilled both conditions. Although many people (including some Afghan Alumni I have interviewed) think of themselves as JI, or are not certain of whether or not they
belong to JI, Abas insists that if they did not formally take the bayat they are considered sympathizers or supporters of JI but not members (just as some prisoners at Guantánamo are sincerely uncertain as to whether or not they belong to al-Qa’ida if they did not formally take the bayat to Bin Laden).
Abas says the PUPJI was drafted by a committee, including Ba’asyir, and then formally approved by Sungkar as the basis for JI. When asked about the PUPJI in an earlier (untaped part of the) interview, Ba’asyir claimed, on the one hand, that the PUPJI manual was planted by police and intelligence services but, on the other hand, that it contains sound principles modeled on the doctrine of the Egyptian Islamic Group (Gama’at Islamiyah). Abas says that the manual also contains elements of Indonesia’s military organization, particularly in regard to the ranking of personnel (binpur) and responsibility for territory (bintur). He adds that although the PUPJI allows the JI to conduct itself as a “secret organization” (tanzim sir) – and conceal its doctrine, membership and operations from public view – it does not allow the practice of taqiyyah (dissimulation) to extend to lying to the (Muslim) public (another reason Abas gives for his leaving JI).
7. Other members of JI who openly
acknowledge sympathy with bin Laden and Qa’ida say much the same thing. For example, I interviewed the JI member who founded the first mujahidin training camp in 2000 for the conflict in Poso, Sulawesi. He had earlier been sent by JI founder Abdullah Sungkar during the Soviet-Afghan War to train in Abu Sayyafs’s Ihtihad camp in Sada, Pakistan and to study with Abdullah Azzam, Bin Laden’s mentor and the person who first formulated the notion of “Al-Qa’ida sulbah” (“the strong base”) as a vanguard for jihad. This JI member also acknowledges hosting Khalid Sheikh Muhammad at his home in Jakarta for a month in 1996. Yet, he claims never to have heard of “al-Qa’ida” applied to a specific organization or group headed by Bin Laden until 9/11.
8. Ba’asyir sent his younger son, Abdul Rahim, to the Afghanistan border during the Soviet-Afghan war to spend time under the wing of Aris Sumarsono (aka Zulkarnaen, who became JI’s operations chief) later enrolling Rahim in an Islamic high school in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Seeking a stricter salafist education for his son, Ba’asyir directed Rahim in the mid-nineties to Sana’a, Yemen, to study under Abdul Madjid al-Zindani (like Abdullah Azzam, Zindani was a legend among self-proclaimed “Afghan Alumni” who fought the Soviets). By 1999, Rahim was in Malaysia and soon under Hambali’s stewardship. Abdul Rahim now operates freely in Indonesia (reports in August 2005, place him in Aceh, heading a new charity, Camp Taochi Foundation) but he is suspected of having taken over JI’s contacts with Al-Qa’ida remnants after Hambali’s capture.
9. Ba’asyir’s statement that he never met bin Laden is contradicted by testimony from other JI members, both free and in custody. In the following letter (authenticated by Indonesian intelligence) dated August 3, 1998 and addressed to regional jihadi leaders, Ba’asyir and Sungkar state they are acting on bin Laden’s behalf to advance “the Muslim world’s global jihad” (jabhah Jihadiyah Alam Islamy) against“ the Jews and Christians:” Malaysia, 10 Rabiul Akhir 1419 [August 3, 1998] From: Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Ba’asyir To: Al Mukarrom, respected clerics, teachers (ustadz), sheikhs All praises upon God who has said: “The Jews and Christians will never be satisfied until you follow their way of worship” Al Baqarah: 120 Praise and peace upon Prophet Muhammad who has said: “If I’m still alive, I’ll surely expel the Jews and Christians out of the Arabian peninsula” And may God bless us and any of his followers who want to follow his orders.Respected clerics, teachers and sheikhs. This letter is to convey a message from Sheikh Osama Bin Laden to all of you. We send you this letter because we can’t visit and see you directly. However, we send our envoy, Mr. Ghaus Taufiq [a Darul Islam commander in Sumatra], to bring this letter personally to all of you. We also attach Bin Laden’s written message in this letter and Bin Laden also sends these messages to all of you:
1. Bin Laden conveys his regards (Assalamu’ alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh)
2. Bin Laden says that right now, after “Iman” (to believe in God), the most important obligation for all Moslems in the world is to work hard to free the Arabian Peninsula from the occupation of Allah’s enemy America (Jews and Christians).
This obligation is mathalabusy syar’i (a consequence of the shari’ah) that every Moslem must not consider this obligation to be a simple matter. Prophet Muhammad, although he was sick, ordered the Muslim Ummah to prioritize their obligation to expel the infidels from the Arabian Peninsula. Therefore, as the Prophet has said, the Muslim Ummah must take this obligation seriously. It is very important for the Muslim world to work very hard to free the Arabian Peninsula from colonization by the infidel Americans.
If we can free the Arabian peninsula as masdarul diinul Islam (the source of Islam) and makorrul haromain (Holy Mecca) from occupation by the infidel Americans, Inshallah (God willing) our struggle to uphold Islam everywhere on God’s land will be successful. Stagnation and the difficulty in upholding Islam at present stems from the occupation of the Arabian Peninsula by the infidel America. This great struggle must be put into action by the Ummah (Muslim community) all over the world under the leadership and guidance of clerics in their respective countries. Under such leadership, we will prevail.
The first step of this struggle is issuing fatwah (Islamic edict) from clerics all over the world addressed to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The edict must remind the King what Prophet Muhammad said about the obligation for the Muslim Ummah to expel the infidels from the Arabian Peninsula. Otherwise, this world will suffer a catastrophe. These edicts will give strong encouragement and influence to the King of Arabia. This is the message from Osama bin Laden conveyed to all of you.
Sheikh Osama bin Laden really wants to visit all clerics and Islamic preachers everywhere in the world to share his views so that there will be a common understanding about this momentous struggle. In the end, we will have similar movements simultaneously across the world. However, Bin Laden realizes that the situation outside his sanctuary is not presently safe. He also awaits your visit with his deep respect so that this great struggle may proceed. These are Bin Laden’s messages that we convey to all of you.
We take this opportunity to explain certain facts about Bin Laden:
• At present, Sheikh Osama stays in Afghanistan, in the Kandahar area, under the protection of Taliban
• He doesn’t oppose either the Taliban or Mujahideen. He’s trying to unify both groups.
From his camp in Kandahar, Bin Laden organizes plans to expel infidel America from the Arabian Peninsula by inviting ulemas and preachers from all over the world. In this camp, Bin Laden is accompanied by a number of Arab mujahideen, especially those who previously fought in Afghanistan. Bin Laden and these mujahideen prepare to form “jabhah Jihadiyah Alam Islamy” (The global jihadi coalition in the Moslem world) to fight against America. The above information is about Sheikh Osama Bin Laden that you should know.
If you have the time and commitment to visit Sheikh Osama, Inshallah, we can help you meet him safely.
We praise God to all of you for your attention and cooperation.
Jazakumullah khoirul jaza (Thanks to God the best thanks) Wassalamu’alaukim, Your brother in Allah
Abdullah Sungkar Abu Bakar Ba’asyir
10. Frederick Burks appeared at Ba’asyir’s trial testifying that he had interpreted at a 2002 meeting about Ba’asyir between an envoy of President George W. Bush and Indonesia’s then-president Megawati Sukarnoputri. Burks said the unidentified envoy accused Ba’asyir of involvement in a series of church bombings in Indonesia in 2000 and asked for the cleric to be secretly arrested and handed over to US authorities. Megawati declined, he said.

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We’re all fundamentalists now

They’re just another raving bunch of fundamentalists! Now there’s a phrase you’ll hear on talk radio if you listen hard enough. Fundamentalist. The very word, in its modern context, sounds kind of hick, kind of backwoods Kentucky. Kind of downtown Mecca. It is used, primarily, as a pejorative – an insult against those deserving of the label ‘fundamentalist’. Heck, I’ve even taken a liking to it myself as a means of describing diehard secular humanists: atheist fundamentalist fruitbats.

But what does ‘fundamentalist’ really mean? It means somebody with a strong worldview. Somebody who is confident that they understand the world and their place in it, and therefore somebody not likely to be swayed from that worldview easily. A fundamentalist is someone who believes in the reality of objective truth.

At a shallow level, every single one of us is actually a religious fundamentalist. That’s because whatever you believe about the universe and your own place in it, your belief is a faith-based one even if you are an atheist scientist. You may fervently believe that life is a product of random evolution and natural selection. But in a billion lifetimes you will never be able to absolutely prove it. You may believe that God created the earth in six days, but this too is ultimately a matter of faith. You may believe in reincarnation, karmic destiny and the alleged wisdom of Shirley Maclaine and whatever she’s channeling this month. This too is a matter of belief.

You may believe that ‘fundamentalism’ should be discouraged by the government, perhaps even banned, because it threatens your own ideals of tolerance and good vibes. But you too would be guilty of fundamentalism, of imposing your own desire not to be exposed to someone else’s beliefs above another person’s right to listen to free speech.

You see, there is no one in your home or office who, deep down, is not a religious fundamentalist of some kind. Once you scrape away the layers and the distractions, you are left with a person’s core beliefs about how the world is or how it should be. You might be a gay fundamentalist, or a green fundamentalist, or a New Age fundamentalist. Every time you stand up and venture an opinion on how things should be, you are vocalizing your fundamentalism.

So is that wrong? No. To deny our inherent rights to our fundamental beliefs is to deny that which makes us human, rather than slaves.
How then, do we tackle fundamentalism that manifests itself in a bad way, like Islamic fundamentalism? Only by recognizing that while everyone is fundamentalist, not all fundamental beliefs are right. Once upon a time, it was an established religious belief to conduct human sacrifice, even cannibalism. Should we shy away from confronting such evils just because we might offend a cannibal? Clearly not. Is the evil of cannibalism any less evil if we’re dealing with an army of 100,000 cannibals instead of 10? Does the fact that something evil is popular make it inherently right all of a sudden?

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing, the saying goes. The truth is, though, that if they did nothing then they were not truly good.
We are all fundamentalists. Nothing wrong with that. But not all fundamental beliefs are created equal.

Here’s a cold hard truth: the only hope for disarming Islamic fundamentalism lies in the advance of Christian fundamentalism. The Passion of the Christ was a huge hit in the Arab world, because it was the first time they’d seen forgiveness, instead of eye-for-an-eye. Mel Gibson struck a bigger blow for world peace in one movie, than all the Middle Eastern summits put together.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:56 PM | Comments (0)

HEALTH: May 05, AU Edition

may05healthart.jpgTYPE-A FOR EFFORT
A little hard work never killed anyone, but coping poorly with it can do some real damage

Keep working like this and you’ll give yourself an ulcer!’ The year is 1982, and all they do is work, work, work. Late into the night and early into the morning on this damn fool scheme of theirs. These are driven men, mavericks, pursuing their research until finally one of them gets an ulcer.

And what was the grail these blokes were chasing? Proof that stress and personality are not the major factor in the development of peptic ulcers. The men were Australian doctors J. Robin Warren and Barry Marshall, and they intentionally gave Marshall an ulcer to prove their hypothesis, namely, that the bacterium Helicobacter Pylori (and not worry or stress) is what causes ulcers. It took a long while to persuade the medical world of this, so it is little wonder that many amongst us still believe stress causes ulcers, amongst other things.
Science has been hard at work on the stress-and-health connection for some time now, and it’s now very clear that – for rats – being confined in a small cage with lots of other rats, an unpredictable food supply, and the odd electric shock is definitely not a healthy way to live.

Human studies are not nearly so conclusive. For every study that sees a link, another one doesn’t. Time for some hair-splitting.

So-called ‘type-A’ personalities are hostile, impatient and competitive. Picture a red-faced fellow running across the road (can’t wait for the traffic lights), yakking into the mobile phone that is wedged between his shoulder and ear while at the same time shoveling a burger and coffee into his mouth. This type of individual is often described as a workaholic. He (or she) is also probably very good at his or her job, very likely feared and reviled by employees and underlings and, in all probability, proudly describes himself (or herself) as a ‘Type-A personality’. Everyone he or she knows warns them of their health risk. (Then again, when did you last meet someone who described themselves as calm and worry free? I just took an on-line stress test, and apparently my low score indicated that I am in severe denial about my stress. I think they were trying to sell me something.)

But if this hard-charging type-A isn’t destined for a stomach ulcer, then what kind of problems does he or she face? Although it runs contrary to conventional wisdom, having a ‘Type-A’ personality in itself has also repeatedly been shown not to cause heart disease. (In hospitals the joke is that this must be true, because cardiologists do not, as a rule, have particularly sanguine personalities). More often than not, it is how people choose to cope with the stress that brings them to grief.

Aggressive and high-energy workaholics do many of things to deal with their stress, and smoking and drinking (often a lot) is at the top of many a type-A’s list of hobbies. Thus high stress often appears to cause illness, when in fact it doesn’t. The stress causes bad behaviours, and the bad behaviours cause health problems.

Did I mention that there would be hair-splitting?

But this is a useful distinction, because behaviours like smoking can be changed. Of course, if society stopped rewarding angry men who work hard with nice jobs and lots of money that kind of behaviour might also diminish, but that’s another story.

The counter-argument that turns this on its head is one I hear a lot, and basically goes like this: ‘If I don’t deal with my aggressive feelings by yelling at people and slamming my phone down, all those repressed feelings will make me even more sick, even give me cancer’. Nice try, but no. Instead, it’s the same old story: genetics, diet, environment, smoking, booze, plus some other factors for some specific types, all cause cancer. Personality doesn’t.

But, despite the lack of a connection to heart and stomach problems, too much stress is definitely not healthy. Remember learning about the body’s fight or flight response in high school biology? Sense danger; flood body with stress hormones like adrenaline; in crease heart rate; make breathing rapid and shallow; constrict arteries near the skin (to curtail blood loss); increase blood pressure; release energy stores. All very, very good things to do if you happen to be cornered in a dark alley or need to flee a lion on the African veldt. But these physical responses to stress are of very little help in most offices – unless it is a particularly bad day.

One stress hormone that does have an impact on health is cortisol. This stuff raises blood pressure, increasing the work the heart has to do (fine in the short term, bad in the long) and suppresses the immune system, which means that it can lead to more infections and the like. Lots of cortisol, lots of the time, leads to lots of irritating colds and flus. So chill out. Take a deep breath and breathe out slowly. Now try to keep your blood pressure low and brace yourself for one last little nag.

And don’t even bother with ‘I don’t have time to…’ speech. If you’re a busy person, you don’t have time to be sick either, so take the time to look after yourself now.

Here’s the deal: Stress isn’t good or bad. But lots and lots of stress is bad. Go fix it so that disasters don’t happen constantly in your life, or failing that, teach yourself to cope better when they do. Practice saying the words, ‘thank you for telling me,’ instead of ‘what!!!!! How the !@#$...’ This works equally well for ‘Mummy, the dog did a poo on the sofa’ as, ‘Sweetheart, I love you, but I’m moving to Rio with the tennis pro’.

Also, stop doing all the things that really will shorten your life, and maybe even make it unpleasant while it lasts. Sorry. Let’s do that again. The cardiologist is going to say that. I’m going to say this: do one thing to be healthier. Maybe it’ll be enough. Maybe it will lead to other lifestyle changes. If you know you eat terribly, and you don’t want to change, at least take the odd vitamin. Run to the shops for your smokes, instead of driving. Drink with dinner, instead of for breakfast, that kind of thing. For my money, I’d start with exercise.

Even if it feels terrible the first twenty times, it will actually start to make you feel good. You will enjoy it, your mood will brighten, and you’ll sleep better. Maybe you’ll smoke less and eat healthier as well. It’s also easier to start doing something and make a new habit than it is to break an old one. If you think you might be getting a bit overwhelmed with stress or have some niggling physical problem, see the doctor. She’ll probably say what I said, only in a bossier tone, but better safe than sorry.

Look, you know what you’ve gotta do, so do I. I’m just going out for a run. To the shops…

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:55 PM | Comments (0)

RIGHT HOOK: Nov 05, AU Edition

George W. Bush’s court pick alienated even his friends

Supreme Court nomination may not have been the ideal time for Laura Bush to start acting like ‘Buy One, Get One Free’ Hillary Clinton. Between cooking segments on the American ‘Today’ show recently, Laura rolled out the straw-man – sorry, ‘straw-person’ – argument that the criticism of her husband’s pick for the high court, Harriet Miers, was rooted in ‘sexism’ (which is such a chick thing to say). I’m a gyno-American, and I strenuously object.

The only sexism involved in the Miers nomination is the administration’s claim that once they decided they wanted a woman, Miers was the best they could do. If the the top female lawyer in the US is Harriet Miers, we may as well stop allowing girls to go to law school.

Ah, but perhaps you were unaware of Miers’ many other accomplishments. Apparently she was the first woman in Dallas to have a swimming pool in her back yard! And she was the first woman with a safety deposit box at the Dallas National Bank! And she was the first woman to wear pants at her law firm! It’s simply amazing! And did you know she did all this while being a woman?

I don’t know when Republicans became the party that condescends to women, but I am not at all happy about this development. This isn’t the year 1880. And by the way, even in 1880, Miers would not have been the ‘most qualified’ of all women lawyers in the U.S., of which there were 75.

Women have been graduating at the top of their classes at America’s best law schools for 50 years.

Today, women make up about 45 percent of the students at the nation’s top law schools (and more than 50 percent at all law schools).

Which brings us to the other enraging argument being made by the Bush administration and its few remaining defenders – the claim of ‘elitism.’ I also don’t know when the Republican Party stopped being the party of merit and excellence and became the party of quotas and lying about test scores, but I don’t like that development either.
Contrary to the Bush administration’s disingenuous arguments, it’s not simply that Miers did not attend a top law school that makes her unqualified for the Supreme Court. (But that’s a good start!) It’s that she did not go on to rack up any major accomplishments since then, either. Despite the astonishing fact that Miers was the first woman to head the Texas Bar Association, Miers has not had the sort of legal career that shouts out ‘Supreme Court material’! That is, unless you think any female who passes the bar exam has achieved a feat of unparalleled brilliance for her sex.

There are more important things in life than being Supreme Court material, but – oddly enough – not when we’re talking about an appointment to the Supreme Court. Sen. Arlen Specter defended Miers on the grounds that ‘Miers’ professional qualifications are excellent, but she lacks experience in constitutional law’ – and Specter ought to know. This is like recommending a plumber by saying, ‘He’s a very professional guy, but he lacks experience in plumbing.’

The other straw-man argument being hawked by the Bush administration is that Miers’ critics object that she’s never been a judge. To quote another Bush – read my lips: No one has said that.

I genuinely feel sorry for Miers. I’m sure she’s a lovely woman, and well-qualified for many important jobs. Just not the job Bush has nominated her for. The terrible thing Bush has done to Miers is to force people who care about the court to say that.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:53 PM | Comments (0)

SCIENCE: May 05, AU Edition

may05scienceart.jpgSMART OF DARKNESS
You’d have to be pretty dim to buy the latest scare story being pushed by the greenies

Nobody knew it at the time, but thirty years ago the environmental movement suffered the greatest blow to its credibility since a grumpy 19th Century Scottish churchman named Malthus made his now-infamous prediction that, due to a lack of ‘moral restraint’, the world’s population would soon outstrip food supplies. For it was on 28 April 1975 that the American magazine Newsweek ran a story on the new ecological scare that was sure to doom the human race: not overpopulation, but global cooling.

That’s right, cooling.

Here’s how their package, ‘The Cooling World’, began: ‘There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production–with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now. The regions destined to feel its impact are the great wheat-producing lands of Canada and the U.S.S.R. in the North, along with a number of marginally self-sufficient tropical areas – parts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indochina and Indonesia – where the growing season is dependent upon the rains brought by the monsoon.’

What a difference a few decades make. Not only is the U.S.S.R. a thing of the past, but global cooling is an all-but-forgotten article of the greenie faith, consigned to the dustbin of embarrassing eco-history – along with predictions that the world would run out of fossil fuels by the year 2000 and that mass famines would trigger global conflagrations and economic catastrophe throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Instead, doom-mongers have spent the last decade focused on global warming, using language surprisingly similar to that of Malthus (‘an angry Gaia will smite us for not having the moral restraint to resist buying 4WDs’). And in a day and age when the Bureau of Meteorology can’t reliably predict on Thursday whether Saturday’s barbeque will be a washout, the Kyoto treaty holds a gun to the heads of Western economies – all based on what are essentially some very long-range weather forecasts.

Which is why the latest nightmare scenario to make headlines around the world is particularly – one might even say darkly – amusing. According to a handful of scientists, life on Earth is actually getting dimmer. Here’s how a BBC report recently aired in Australia put it: ‘Noticed less sunshine lately? Scientists have discovered that the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface has been falling over recent decades.

‘If the climatologists are right, their discovery holds the potential for powerful disruption to life on our planet. Already it may have contributed to many thousands of deaths through drought and famine, and that even the direst predictions about the rate of global warming have been seriously underestimated.’

It gets better. According to this handful of experts (cut from the same cloth as the boffins who, thirty years ago, predicted we would all be taking ski holidays in Fiji when not clouting each other over the head for the last handful of maize), global dimming is a double-edged sword. This sudden bout of planetary mood lighting is bad, they say, but without it things would be a whole lot worse: ‘By allowing less sunlight to reach the Earth, global dimming is cushioning us from the full impact of global warming, climatologists say. They fear that as we burn coal and oil more cleanly, and dimming is reduced, the full effects of global warming will be unleashed.’ In other words, when we’re not making the world hotter, we’re making the world … cooler. We’re damned in both the doing and the don’t-ing, but either way, as the narrator of the BBC’s program on dimming put it in the conclusion, ‘we have to take urgent action to tackle the root cause of both global warming and global dimming - the burning of coal, oil and gas.’

We may have to make very difficult choices about how we live and how we generate our electricity. We have been talking about such things for 20 years. But so far very little has been done in practical terms. The discovery of global dimming makes it clear that we are rapidly running out of time.’

This is the same sort of end-is-nigh apocalyptic language that environmentalists (and their philosophical ancestors) have been preaching for centuries. Malthus told us all to practice some “moral restraint” and stop procreating, lest we all die from mass starvation. Today’s greenies frame the debate in the same moral terms even as journalists and scientists vying for headlines and grant monies out-do each other in trying to freak the public out.

Global dimming is the latest attempt to give some scientific ballast to global warming, which has never borne a lot of close scrutiny.
Indeed, many environmentalists now like to call it ‘climate change’ instead – a deft semantic shift that means just about any freak storm can now be blamed on John Howard and George W. Bush. And it is pretty clear that the science behind dimming is overhyped bunk as well; as Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeler at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies put it recently after seeing the BBC documentary, ‘The suggested “doubling” of the rate of warming in the future compared to even the most extreme scenario [is] highly exaggerated. Supposed consequences such as the drying up of the Amazon Basin, melting of Greenland, and a North African climate regime coming to the UK, are simply extrapolations built upon these exaggerations … while these extreme notions might make good television, they do a disservice to the science.’

So what is it that is so attractive about global dimming to its supporters? As with Malthus, the answer is not so much scientific as moral, and an underlying discomfort with modern life and all its trappings. Just look at some of the other rhetoric of radical greens these days: people consume too much, waste too much, products come in too much packaging, our food comes from too far away and all this divorces us from one another and the Earth. But this ignores the fact that all this economic activity is actually good for people and, ultimately, the environment: when I got married four years ago in New York City, for example, New Zealand lamb was the main course. This may horrify some as wasteful, but their outrage ignores the fact that those few dozen plates of lamb, multiplied countless times every day, help pay the wages of hundreds of farmers, abbatoir workers, drivers, pilots, fuelers, mechanics, loading dock workers, chefs, and so on – in other words, the sort of ordinary people whom we are supposed to be more in touch with.

The problem with environmentalists is that, after thirty-plus years, it gets awfully hard to take anything they say seriously. Yes, the outdoors is lovely and nature spectacular, and no one wants their kids to grow up breathing thick and smoggy air – which is why economic development is the key to cleaning up pollution, not relying on a bunch of spurious climate models and a distrust of capitalism. When people are allowed to get rich, they can not only desire a cleaner environment, but do something about it as well.

In the meantime, the environment is too important to be left to environmentalists.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:51 PM | Comments (0)

DIARY OF A CABBIE: Apr 05, AU Edition

Two different fares prove the point that Sydney’s streets can always be dangerous – especially at night

Around 9pm two young blokes in shorts, singlets and barefeet flagged me down on a residential street in Coogee. One had an old fella propped up against a fence. The other opened the cab door and said, ‘Mate, this gentleman has fallen over and hit his head - would you mind taking him home?’ ‘Yeah, righto’, I replied, thinking he was drunk.

In fact he could barely move due to a deformed leg. He also carried a shortened left arm tucked tightly into the body, with a contorted claw fist. The young fellas helped him to the cab, carefully lifting each foot.

‘He’s got money in his wallet’, the Samaritans said, ‘and his address is __ _____ Street. You got that?’. ‘Yeah’, I told them, ‘I’ll get him home’. From then on it felt like a mercy trip. The man was well over 70 years old, in shock and disorientated.

Slowly he came around, checking his pockets and patting the back of his head. ‘You sure you don’t want to go for a check-up at Saint Vincent’s?’, I asked. ‘I’ll be alright’, he said. ‘Just take me home’.

Within fifteen minutes, he freshened up enough to demand we pull over. ‘But you don’t live here’, I said, but he insisted. What could I do? As he was conscious enough to pay the fare, I hopped out and went around to help him. ‘Mate, this ain’t home! What are you getting out here for?’

Eventually he agreed he was in the wrong street.

Climbing back in the cab I drove to his address a few blocks away. We stopped outside a shabby unlit boarding house opposite the Hard Rock Café. As I helped him out onto his feet, my spotlight bathed the back of his head. It was covered in wispy strands of snowy hair, half covered in dried blood. ‘Jeez, mate’, I said, ‘you’ve given your noggin a real crack. There’s a cut and some blood there’.

Despite his proud assurances, I grabbed him under his good arm and we made our way up the dozen steps of his boarding house, gingerly dragging his gammy leg. After fishing around for his key, he opened the door to a gritty darkened corridor. There was no one there for him. But he point-blank refused any further help beyond the door, and thanked me in a strong dignified voice. Five minutes later I returned and drove past to see a light on in the unit directly opposite the front door.

A good result, I thought, and with luck a community nurse will come around and clean up the wound.

Speaking of wounds, in an amazing coincidence a few hours later, I was hailed in the very same block by a tall, barrel-chested bloke, around 30, wearing a sleeveless muscle shirt. I pinned him for a gym jockey. His left arm was heavily wrapped in bandages from the hand to above the elbow. Climbing in he said, ‘It’s just a short trip up to
Oxford Street. My arm’s throbbing too much to walk’.

‘What happened to you?’, I asked. ‘Mate’, he replied, ‘did you read about an attack early last Saturday morning? Back there on William and Bourke Street?’ This was the Ferrari dealer corner, a notorious night-time haunt of hookers and pimps.

According to my passenger, he and his girlfriend were approached by two Persian males and asked for a cigarette. The request was declined, unambiguously. One of the males then allegedly produced a machete and proceeded to attack my passenger about the head.

In defending himself my passenger raised his left forearm and sustained numerous gashes from contact with the blade. These required some 150 stitches to close. Plus he lost 1½ litres of blood.

After resisting the initial attack, he was able to disarm and ‘subdue’ the assailant, whose mate ran off. Five days later, the assailant remains in hospital, facing a possible 20-year jail term.
And he didn’t even get the cigarette. Dope.

Read more of Adrian the Cabbie at

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:46 PM | Comments (0)

DIARY OF A CABBY: Mar 05, AU Edition

The truth may set you free, but when your passengers are on drugs, sob stories get the fare paid

I was working a big hotel in the Eastern Suburbs a few Saturdays ago when three young men and a girl, all skippies in their twenties, approached the cab and asked if I wanted to go up to the Northern Beaches.

Although the fellas were firing on all cylinders, I quickly noted the absence of alcohol odor. That meant only one thing: drugs. I wondered if they had enough for the $70 fare, or if they would run. With half the night’s earnings at stake, one can’t be careless, and I braced myself for the psychological warfare to come. It began quickly when I noticed the lead male muttering something to the girl in the back before calling out, ‘Hey cabbie! Do you ever get women offering you favors for the fare?’ In other words, they were debating whether or not to pay.

‘Nah, never’, I lied, thinking he must be pretty gone.
Then the alpha male got on the phone, ‘Steve-o! Whaddya doin’? I’ve got a gram for ya! Meet us in half an hour’. Then he turned his attention my way: ‘Hey cabbie’, he called. ‘Feel like joining us for a few lines?’

‘Nah, not for me thanks mate,’ I laughed, waving away the offer as we whizzed across the Harbour Bridge, but he wasn’t convinced.

‘Ah, he says “no” but you can see he’s itching for a line. Come on mate, spark up!’

‘Mate’, I called over the thumping music, ‘I’m already sparking on caffeine and nicotine!’

‘Yeah’, he shot back, ‘but wait ‘til ya see this - it’s the best coke in Sydney! Put a real edge on your night’. I just laughed and watched my speed as we shot past a tunnel camera.

‘Even if I wanted to,’ I said, pointing at the discreet interior camera, no bigger than a cigarette pack.

My passengers were chastened for all of five seconds, concluding that if not for the camera, I’d be interested. ‘No worries mate’, they assured me, ‘we’ll talk about it later’. My move had backfired – if I didn’t quickly recover the initiative, I’d lose.

‘Listen’, I told them, killing the music, ‘I’ve been there and done all that. I was once like you guys, partying every weekend. Until my girlfriend got cancer and died. That’s when I said enough...’ It was a total line, but they fell for it.

‘Mate, that’s terrible. We’re sorry for pushing you...’.
Having gained the advantage I moved to consolidate: ‘Nah, that’s okay. But let me tell you, cocaine is just as addictive as heroin. Except you don’t know it until you’re using it everyday...’.

‘Yeah, that’s just like Snowy..’, said one of the boys, quietly.
I continued, seeing I’d hit a nerve: ‘...Next thing you know, you’re 40 years old, looking like 50, with no money and driving cabs...if you’re lucky!’.

We pulled up outside a house in Dee Why with the meter showing $62. From the subdued mood in the cab, I was confident my tale had worked. ‘Anyway, you guys are still young, but don’t waste it. That’ll be $62 plus seven more for the tolls’. They all chipped in and handed me $70 – the full fare, plus a dollar tip.

They made one last attempt to entice me: ‘You sure you won’t come in?’
‘No thanks mate’, I answered, ‘you guys party on, but do it safely, OK?’

‘Yeah, it’s under control mate, it’s all good. Nice meeting you’. Breathing a sigh of relief I drove away wondering if they’d intended to run. One can never be certain in this game.

Read more of Adrian the Cabby at

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:44 PM | Comments (0)

DIARY OF A CABBIE : June 05, AU Edition

Lousy hours, bad tips, the threat of not making a penny – what is it that keeps a cabbie going?

Cab driving is a funny game (to paraphrase a well-worn cliché). Regardless of what mood one starts a shift with, it can instantly change to suit a particular passenger.

On Saturday night I went to work late, tired and dispirited, due to a small personal brush fire. To start some four hours late on a 12-hour shift is largely a pointless exercise. Barely worthwhile. I was resigned to just making my pay-in, gas and dinner money, and little else. Plus the forecast of a quieter-than-average night only served to compound my dejection. I figured I would simply go through the motions.

In keeping with my mood I opted for a dead rank at Ashfield station, rather than head for the City. A young couple approached and immediately I was wary. Why? The girl had given me a friendly wave from some ten metres away. As no one ever does this, my cynicism sprang to the fore. Was I being set up, I wondered, lulled into a false sense of security?

These things ran through my mind as they climbed in the back and started questioning me on my night, my hours, my localities, and so on. ‘No’, I replied, ‘I’ve only just started but I should’ve started at 3 pm. I’m being just lazy tonight’. Jaded as I was, I played the proverbial dead bat to their questions.

It turned out there was no need to worry: she was a local girl and he an Irish/Canadian, and both very much in love. They were happy and drunk on the intoxicating power of new love. It wasn’t long before their friendliness had rubbed off on me and I warmed to their conversation.

So much so, by the time I delivered them to a City hotel, introductions were made and we exchanged handshakes. They were complete strangers when they boarded the cab yet in the space of 20 minutes, we parted company promising to make further contact. This is a big reason I drive cabs. It reminds me that despite my lousy mood, an overwhelming majority of people are innately kind and decent souls. Hence in this game, passenger encounters are frequently positive and sometimes therapeutic.

I explained as much to a woman last night, off to work the graveyard shift at the taxi base. She had inquired why I still drove cabs, when like so many drivers I’d only ever intended it to be a fill-in job. ‘I was seduced’, I replied, ‘as much by the freedom and flexibility of the job as by the positive interaction with passengers’. It certainly wasn’t for the money.

Earlier I had elaborated on the subject with a passenger traveling from the Airport to Kings Cross. He was an Irish comedian on tour of Australia with an international comedy troupe. After traveling all day from rural Victoria he boarded the cab tired and flat. Yet he sparked up when I mentioned my cab stories. ‘Though it’s ironic…’, I laughed. ‘Now I’m making a name for myself, I’m often asked will writing allow me to quit driving. Yet all my content comes from driving!’

Given that both of us worked creatively from social and personal interactions, we swapped stories. Once again, the conversation had commenced in a perfunctory manner only to terminate on a high. He gave me a tip he couldn’t afford and I slipped him a copy of Investigate. After which we both parted with a warm farewell.

There are plenty more stories along these lines from a weekend which threatened to be boring, depressing and a real chore. Sure I’m tired after a long night’s work, but it’s a contented tiredness. Made all the better knowing I have regular readers logging on and keen to read my stories. Without these readers I would simply be talking to a void, working just another job. So it’s g’day to you and goodnight from me.

I thank you all.

Read more of Adrian the Cabbie at

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:43 PM | Comments (0)

TECHNOLOGY: May 05, AU Edition

Television-showroom.jpgMUST-SEE TV
Josephine Cooper reports that Pioneer’s latest plasma TVs are finally living up to the technology’s promise

Plasma screens are the trophy wives of the television world. Seductive in their shiny slimness, deep-pocketed men (often in league with their partners) have been damning the cost and throwing over their old, boxy boob tubes for these new, younger, skinnier models from almost the first day they came on the market.

But that doesn’t mean these new relationships have always been happy: along with the initial entry price, flat-panel plasma units generally require expensive accessories such as tuners to get them out of bed in the morning. What’s more, while they start out as bright young things, the dirty little secret of this wall candy is that they are also subject to burnout: leave it on too long, or with the contrast set too high, and the bright, vibrant colours of the unit’s first heady days start to go drab and fade. Furthermore, from their first day out of the box, plasmas have a problem handling dark colours, especially black, properly: because every gas cell in a plasma unit is on all the time, and because there is no black backdrop as in a standard TV, it takes a lot of power to come close to displaying the dark range of the spectrum properly. Even at the best of times, plasma owners have for years had to live with blotchy being the new black.

Plasmas have what might be called a long memory as well; many users report that just a couple of weeks of watching, say, CNN is enough to burn the network’s logo into the screen for good. (Think of how a bank’s logo and welcome message is always faintly visible in an ATM screen, no matter what is being displayed. Now imagine having spent several thousand dollars for the privilege of that burn-in.) Part of this has been avoidable by keeping contrast set low and the channels flipping during the first few weeks of a unit’s life, when such burn-in is most likely to occur, but until recently, it’s also just been a problem that plasma users have had to either learn to live with or figure out tricks to avoid.

And in what may be the ultimate insult, many plasma buyers are discovering that despite all the money they spent on them, their new loves aren’t really up for a long Sunday afternoon watching sports.

Although manufacturers have been struggling with the problem for years, until recently, most plasma units suffered from all sorts of unpleasant (and unpleasant-sounding) syndromes when they tried to handle fast-motion action of sport, such as jitters and smearing.

Unlike a standard TV, the plasma screen simply can’t keep up with the action, which means that on many units, a flying football or cricket ball will appear like a comet, complete with tail. It can also mean problems with lip-syncing: depending on the quality of image
being fed it, sound doesn’t always keep up with motion, and everyone starts to look like they’re in a poorly-dubbed old Japanese movie.

On the flip side, the good news is that this young technology is great with the kids: plasmas are absolutely tailor-made for digital productions such as Pixar movies, which explains why flicks like Finding Nemo and Toy Story get so much play at the electronics retailers.

It’s all almost enough to make a plasma buyer want to go back, tail between his legs, to his old conventional unit: ‘I want you back. I’m sorry I dallied with that new technology. Remember all the great times we had watching the Ashes together?’

Or, as one online commentator put it recently, ‘Plasma TVs cost a hilarious amount of money, and are ridiculously non-durable. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go back to my still-good-looking, several-years-old rear projection big screen TV.’

Plasma screen manufacturers have started to realize that they have a real problem, both in terms of the real limitations of their product and, just as if not more important in the tough world of the marketplace, reputation. Makers of plasma units at all price and size levels are all waking up to the fact that they need to either lift their game, or get out of it. Sony, for one, has reportedly decided to withdraw its plasma screens from the market, and Fujitsu has sold half its own plasma business – there were just too many problems.

On the other hand, electronics maker Pioneer has decided to take things in the other direction and break through some of the barriers that have become all too apparent in the flat-panel market and create what might be called next-generation plasma TV. And it seems to be working: their latest models, (the PDP505HD and PDP435HD, coming in at 50 and 43 diagonal inches respectively) received top honours from EISA, the largest editorial multimedia organisation in Europe.

Pioneer has so far succeeded by tackling head-on the biggest problems of plasma TVs thus far. For one thing, the whole issue of colours and skin tones and natural-looking reproduction has been solved through what they call their ‘Advanced Super CLEAR Drive System’: basically, this means that their panels can recreate a ridiculously huge number of colours, 2.79 billion to be exact. This is a huge advantage when it comes to faithfully reproducing colours at the dark end of the spectrum, ensuring that blacks are truly black. Unlike previous plasma units, which were great only for certain limited types of programming (especially those demonstrated at the shop), these are screens that really are good for everyday TV watching.

A second advantage of Pioneer’s new product is that they have ditched the traditional glass panel filter that traditionally sits on the front of plasma units. Because the glass filter often had the annoying side effect of creating multiple reflections between the filter itself and the display unit, Pioneer developed ‘direct colour filter’ technology that not only is crisper (and lighter) than old-fashioned glass panels, but also improves contrast, making images clearer in bright locations.

One more thing that Pioneer has done right: They’ve recognized that there are more places for a flat-panel unit to go then just on a wall, and as such have come up with a pretty schmick-looking stand to hold the thing. Free speakers are a nice extra touch, too, even though the recommended retail price of the two units have just dropped by a thousand dollars a piece – the 43-inch model clocks in at $6,999, while the top-end 50-incher will set you back $8,999.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:42 PM | Comments (0)

LEFT HOOK: Nov 05, AU Edition

Schools can play a bigger role promoting democratic values

The last 30 days or so have seen Australians come to grips with a diverse range of challenging images. We have been traumatised by scenes of bomb victims in Bali and intrigued by reports of asylum seekers recanting core claims. University students demand change and industrial relations debates create new coalitions of interest amongst old enemies. Claims that non-compulsory voting is bad for our civil society contrast with champions of choice seeking freedom in social behaviour or consumer purchase.

It is no wonder that most primary school children I talk to, and I have visited an awful lot of schools for my work, are bemused by the idea of democracy. They seem to think it is a ‘good’ but are unsure what it entails.

The Constitution Education Fund – Australia, CEFA for short, has gone to the trouble of researching the ‘five pillars of Australian democracy’ for the purpose of getting primary school aged kids excited about this thing called Australian democracy. The research has come back and the results are clear: neither fashionable words like ‘multiculturalism’ or conflict-orientated ideas like ‘class struggle’ mean anything to today’s youth.

What young Australians aged 10 or 11, from the 350 student sample involved in our pilot programs this year, seem to identify with democratic values are both obvious and simplistically sensational. They talk about ‘rules’ and ‘laws’ in the same breath as they discuss what their parents talk about regarding the evening television news.
Rights and responsibilities are ‘cool’, whereas dopey adults with ideas about changing the world are suspect unless or until they gain young Australians trust. Traditions are a fluid concept: a girl with a Greek surname is just as likely to be into Scottish Highland dancing as the boy with the Chinese surname is to be into surfing.

In 2004 a study commissioned by the government found some interesting things: only about 45 percent of 17-year-olds intend to register to vote, whereas about 85% of 18-year-olds would vote if enrolled. Less than 60 percent of young adults believe that they have the knowledge to understand political issues and only about 41% of female first-time voters say they have the knowledge to make decisions when voting.

The top sources of information that young people declare they trust about voting or elections are parents, the media, and school teachers. Religious groups and the internet fall at the lower end of the scale.
When asked if people in government can be trusted to do the right thing about half of 18 year olds agreed. When asked if the people running government are smart or clever, ‘yes’ answers fell to around 35%.

What these and other sources say to me is that the five pillars of democracy are: the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, federal power sharing, rights and responsibilities, traditions and opportunities. They are not foreign to what older Australians understood from their schooling.

If teachers and the school experience are so critical to students, what are we doing as a society to make their transition to adult political life worthwhile, effective and smart? These questions are being examined around the country today. The answers to these challenges may shape the effectiveness of our responses to terror, trauma and tedious global economics.

Noel Hadjimichael is Director of the Governor-General’s Prize Program. More information about CEFA can be found at

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:38 PM | Comments (0)

MUSIC: Apr 05, AU Edition

Chemical Brothers’ new dance album starts out slow,
plus, it’s a spice world – we’re still living in it

EB_FM.jpgEmma Bunton
“Free Me”, 19
2 stars

Does the world really need a new Spice Girls? Of course! Then thank the “reality” TV gods for Girls Aloud, five saucy femmes brought together in 2002 by the British show Popstars: The Rivals. Their second album, What Will the Neighbours Say? is everything prefab pop should be: fun, cheesy and, of course, maddeningly infectious. Songs such as “The Show” and “Thank Me Daddy” channel the giddiness of teen-age lust and rebellion through sleek, jittery dance beats. The cover of the Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand by You” is pure slow-dance-at-the-prom schlock.

As they yearn for the same bad boys they insult for playing too rough, Girls Aloud exude PG-rated sexiness and grade-school feminism – an irresistible combination, as anyone who ever sang along to “Wannabe” knows.

What the world doesn’t need is the old Spice Girls, if Free Me, the second solo album by ex - “Baby Spice” Emma Bunton, is any indication.
Seemingly aiming for a more “mature” audience, Bunton coos wispy pledges of love over breezy soft pop that’s as pleasant as an afternoon spent sunbathing on the beach, and just as boring. The gently pulsating “Maybe” and “Breathing,” as well as her cover of Marcos Valle’s “Crickets Sing for Anamaria,” indicate that Bunton and her collaborators have been listening to a lot of bossa nova, but her expressionless voice makes you yearn for Astrud Gilberto. It all sounds flat, lifeless, and in desperate need of – dare I say it? – spice.
Reviewed by Amy Phillips

chemical_bros_pushbutton.jpgThe Chemical Brothers
“Push the Button”, Astralwerks
3 stars

It’s hard work to stay at the top of a field as mercilessly mutating as dance music. And “Galvanize,” the first track on the Chemical Brothers’ fifth full-length, suggests that, eight years after their mainstream breakthrough, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons might finally be ready for the cut-out bin.

“A Tribe Called Quest’s Q Tip” delivers a dull, witless rap over a relentlessly repetitive 6-minute big-beat groove that fails to get the party started.

So skip it. And don’t worry: They may not be innovating anymore, but the Brothers still know how to work it out. Because starting with “The Boxer,” a stuttering groove with vocals by Tim Burgess of Charlatans U.K., and the thumping “Believe,” with Kele Okereke of Bloc Party, Rowlands and Simons get back on track.

Stepping into the role usually reserved for Beth Orton, Anna-Lynne Williams does the ethereal female vocal turn on “Hold Tight London,” which starts in the chill-out room, then makes its move to the dance floor.

The Brothers would do well to note that Button’s finest creation, the elegantly paced closer, “Surface to Air,” takes care of its trippy, ecstatic business without the distraction of a guest vocalist.
Reviewed by Dan DeLuca

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:36 PM | Comments (0)

DVDs: Sep 05, AU Edition

James Fletcher reports on the latest home-viewing offerings

DVD_ALFslickthumb.jpgA Loving Father
Rated: M
4 stars

Director Jacob Berger, son of well known English writer John Berger, isn’t a man afraid of presenting himself as a target within the subtext of his own films. A Loving Father, or Aime Ton Pere for the traditionalists, is a prime example centering on the emotional turmoil of a son trying to connect with a father isolated by fame. But what makes this film remarkable are the confronting performances he draws from his two lead actors, Gerard Depardieu and his own real-life son Guillaume Depardieu, who have their own dark history inspiring their on-screen conflict.

Gerard plays Leo, a cruel self-absorbed writer who receives news that he is to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Against the wishes of his daughter Virginia, played with nervous intensity by waif like actress Sylvie Testud, Leo sets out on a motorcycle journey across Europe to claim his prize. However his son Paul (Guillaume), fresh out of rehab and having heard the news, attempts to reconnect with the man he hasn’t spoken to in years. Of course things don’t go as planned and Paul finds himself kidnapping his renowned father after a fatal accident leaves the literary world, including his sister Virginia, believing Leo to be dead.

Part thriller, part black comedy and part biopic, Berger infuses the script with all his insecurities, angst and obsession while manipulating Gerard and Guillaume’s flawed relationship (which culminated with Gerard publicly disowning his son a year after the films release) to achieve a captivating honesty that saves the film from becoming over indulgent or satirical.

Now on DVD with English subtitles, A Loving Father has little in the way of extra material with biographies on the main cast offering some interesting background facts on the Depardieus’ murky past. However, the stunning performances and obvious emotional investment allows Berger to deliver a brave and entertaining film which explores the darker side of family dysfunction.

DVD_JWTRSslickthumb.jpgJonny Wilkinson: The Real Story
Rated: Exempt
3 stars

With the Tri Nations and the Bledisloe Cup fueling the 2005 Rugby season at the moment, it’s not surprising that Jonny Wilkinson: The Real Story makes its way to DVD this month. What is surprising is just how well made and enjoyable this profile of the Lions’ & Newcastle Falcon’s fly half actually is.

Since scoring the winning goal in the 2003 World Cup against Australia, Jonny Wilkinson has become synonymous with international Rugby, gaining fame well beyond the usual fraternity of sports fans. But for the most part, Wil- kinson has avoided the public eye, doing only the occasional media interview or product endorsement.

Having followed Wilkin- son around over a twelve week period in the lead up to the 2003 World cup, The Real Story delivers an entertaining, humourous and surprisingly intimate profile of the sporting icon which thankfully transcends the run-of-the-mill films typical of sports documentaries. Complementing archival footage of Jonny playing in the under-8s league with hard hitting action from international competition, director Simon Niblett also uses to great effect interviews with Wilkinson’s parents, girlfriend and peers including former Lions captain Will Carling and rugby fan Ian Botham filmed exclusively for the documentary.

However it’s the interviews with Wilkinson himself that establish the core of the show, filmed in candid and unpredictable locations around the UK and on tour, and all designed to capture honest, unrehearsed responses. The result reveals a surprisingly likable and sincere man deftly balancing a professional, sporting and private life with a determined ease befitting a much more seasoned player.

Running just short of an hour with no bonus material, Jonny Wilkison: The Real Story easily stands on its own merits as a simple and entertaining profile filmed for the love of the game and without any tabloid motives. A rare find and well worth adding to
the collection.

DVD_TLIslickthumb.jpgTruth, Lies & Intelligence
Rated: M
4 stars

Truth, Lies & Intelligence is unique in being the only Australian film to effectively explore Australia’s involvement in the lead up to the Iraq War. Filmed in 2003 by award winning filmmaker Carmel Travers the film recounts the origins of the intelligence fraud surrounding Iraq’s WMDs and its use in achieving the eventual invasion of that country by the US, Britain and Australia.
Featuring insightful interviews from high profile whistle-blowers such as Greg Thielman, the former advisor to the US Secretary of State, Australian ex-intelligence officer Andrew Wilkie and Ambassador Joseph Wilson, to key figures in the Middle East including Hamze Mansour, the head of the Islamic National Front and common truck drivers along Iraq’s dangerous highways, highways they point out, which remained safe under Saddam’s rule, Travers delivers a decisive political documentary rich in journalistic integrity and dramatic revelations.
Now on DVD, Truth, Lies & Intelligence boasts an impressive extras package that opens with an introduction by Travers explaining her motivation in making the film. The usual suspects also appear with the film’s trailer, an image gallery and biographies on the key figures included, however it is the two extended interviews that make this package stand out, the first with Greg Thielman, personal advisor to Colin Powell, and the second with Australian Andrew Wilkie who speaks candidly about his role within ONA and the double-edged relationship Australian intelligence agencies have with their American counterparts. He also elaborates on his motivations in exposing the truth, along with details of his resignation and subsequent treatment by the Howard government.
Although threatened by the Attorney General’s Office and forced to surrender her computer hard drives and personal emails during the films production, Travers has managed to produce an undeniably compelling film and a stunning document of Australia’s current political climate.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:34 PM | Comments (0)

langercovershot.jpgHe’s been called the greatest batsman in the world. Now, going on 35, he’s about to head off to England to defend the Ashes trophy. He’s Justin Langer, and he sat down with Investigate’s Sport Editor, JAKE RYAN, to share the secrets behind his training, life on tour, and why we’ll shut out England


INVESTIGATE: How do you rate the new breed of Poms?
LANGER: To be honest, they are a very similar side to the last time we played them. They do however have a few new players that add strength to their squad. Strauss is a good player. I played with him at Middlesex, and he possesses great character and a strong will to succeed. He is also an excellent person, and I think that when you put people with strong character into your side, it only makes it stronger.

Flintoff is also a good player. I don’t know him personally, but he is aggressive and has a go so we will have to watch him.
I think we need to put them under a great deal of pressure early. There are definitely some old scars there, and if we can get on top early and apply the blowtorch, then hopefully we can open them up again.

INVESTIGATE: How’s it feel to get a bit of a break between New Zealand and the Ashes, and what do you get up to?
LANGER: It’s extremely important to get some time off from playing and traveling and get home to refresh. During the season you just work on trying to maintain fitness, but with the break you can really build on it and set yourself up for another big year. It’s a good chance to help the back out by doing some Pilates and yoga, and really test the back out as during the season you can’t do that – you have to tip-toe around it – and make sure you’re not pushing it to hard in case you miss matches. It’s also a good time for development. Doing some strong work in the nets, and trying a few things you don’t get a chance to do during the year.

It’s a great time just to spend with family. I’m away anywhere between six and eight months a year, so I cherish the time to spend with my wife and kids. I like to do the normal things I miss out on, like making the kids brekkie, putting them to bed at night, taking them for a holiday. A lot of people take these things for granted but they are very important to me.

INVESTIGATE: How serious was the back injury that you suffered going into the Boxing Day test?
LANGER: I did it at training three days before the start. I bent down to pick up a footy in the warm up, and I couldn’t get back up. I couldn’t walk, and I thought, jeez, this could be it. I’m very lucky we had a great physio, and from the outset I was absolutely committed to play. It taught me a valuable lesson, that if you have an absolute ruthless attitude and totally commit to something, you can overcome anything. I got worked on for sixteen hours a day for three days, and probably had a five per cent chance of playing. [Pakistan’s] skipper, Inzaman Ul Haq, pulled out with a back injury, and I was determined to
show him up.

I still look at Steve Waugh four years ago when he played his last test in England with a seven-centimetre tear in his calf. It was one of the most phenomenal efforts I have seen, and just shows that if you have the right attitude, you’re desperate, and you have great support, you can overcome the pain and get out there and play.
INVESTIGATE: You have captained a few of the sides you have played in, including the Australia A Side. How big an honour is it?
LANGER: Yeah, it’s a massive honor to captain an Australian side, and I was very privileged to do so, however I hold the West Australian captaincy right there beside it, and am very proud to have been bestowed such an honor. I also captained Middlesex in England and that was fantastic as there is a lot of prestige and tradition surrounding the county clubs.

Another honor that I hold up beside the captaincies is that I now do the team song in the Aussie team. It’s a tradition that has been handed down from Geoff Marsh, to Ian Healy, to Merv Hughes, to Ricky Ponting and when Rick got the captaincy he handed it down to me. A lot of people might think it’s a bit of a wank, but it’s a very special thing amongst the boys involved, and I’m very proud of being able to do it.
INVESTIGATE: You’re turning 35 this year and still playing amazing cricket. Have you had any thoughts about when you’re going to give it away?
LANGER: Of course I’ve thought about it, yeah. I mean, I am 34, but I can honestly say that I’m enjoying my cricket more now than at any other time in my career. I have been around for a long time now and virtually seen it all, so I no longer have any fears or doubts about my batting. I have no fear about different situations, different bowlers, and that’s a great feeling to head out to the middle with a clear mind, and without fear of failure.

I don’t have those insecurities that dog younger and less experienced players and it’s great to be able to play without fear, or the fear of failing, and as long as that remains and I’m still enjoying what I do, than I will be playing for a while yet.
INVESTIGATE: You grew up alongside fellow West Australian Damian Martyn. How close are you guys?
LANGER: Me and Damian have known each other since we were 13 years old, and I probably see more of Marto than I see of my brothers. I’m very proud of Marto and what he has achieved. He virtually had to draw a line in the sand and turn his career around six or seven years ago or he was gone, and he did just that. He made the decision to put his cricket first. He got fitter and works as hard as anyone in the squad. He was the most talented youngster I’ve seen. At 18, 19, 20 he was the best going. I rated him better than Lara, but I’m just wrapped that he got it together, worked his bum off got it right, and now he will end up being one of Australia’s great batsmen.
INVESTIGATE: And what about your relationship with opening partner and that amazing maroon, Queenslander Matty Hayden.
LANGER: Let me guess Jake, you’re a bloody Queenslander.
INVESTIGATE: Was I that obvious?
LANGER: No, couldn’t really tell mate. No, it’s amazing. I describe it to people as it’s like going to work with your best mate everyday. We first opened together against the Poms four years ago and we haven’t looked back since. Our careers are very similar. We both had to work hard for our opportunities, and had our fair share of setbacks early on. We help each other out both on the field and off, and he’d do anything for you. He’s a great fella, and like I said, I’m lucky to go to work with my best mate everyday.
INVESTIGATE: You have hit 21 centuries and a great 250, what would you say however was your favorite or most important innings?
cricket3.jpgLANGER: There was the 100 I scored against Pakistan in Hobart. I was under the pump and a few people were calling for my head, so I dug a nice one out when I really needed it. It was a big relief and gave me some much-needed confidence and released a whole heap of pressure that id been under.

The 250 against the Poms. Boxing Day Test at the MCG in an Ashes series it doesn’t get much better. You dream of that stuff as a kid, so that was pretty amazing, and then the 190, and 97 I scored against the Pakis just recently. Facing the world’s fastest bowler Shoaib Akhtar on the world’s fastest and bounciest wicket and playing on my home deck at the WACA in front of all my family and friends was pretty special too.

However I think the best stat is that I am one of only four players that played in every test when we set the record of 16 straight test match victories. To know I had contributed to every one of those victories, and that I was lucky enough to play in every one, is very special to me.
INVESTIGATE: Do you think that even though you haven’t played in the Australian One Day side since 1997, you could still be an addition to the side as they head towards the world cup?
LANGER: Look, I’m pretty realistic about that. You know with Gilly opening it takes away that specialist batsmen position, so probably not. It’s very frustrating, and it’s been a disappointment through my career, but I love being a test player, and I’ve really enjoyed my test career, so I just concentrate on the things that I have control over and leave the rest to the selectors.
INVESTIGATE: How hard is it to have to hit the road and leave your family behind?
LANGER: It’s the hardest part of the job, no question. You know I’ve faced Muralitharan, Wasim Akram, been able to see the world and enjoy some amazing experiences, but it’s very tough to leave them behind. I suppose the novelty has worn off a little. I have three girls and my wife is pregnant with another, and they mean everything to me, so it’s getting harder to leave every tour now.
INVESTIGATE: Your still heavily involved in the WA community and are involved in a lot of charities and guest speaking. Is that a career path that you will pursue when you leave cricket?
LANGER: I think so. My public speaking has developed a long way since I did my first speech in 1993. I filled in for Terry Alderman in Esperance in WA and really enjoyed it. Since then I have improved and gone from strength to strength, and now when I’m home I can do up to five talks a week. There’s a lot of financial reward in it as well, and it’s great to be able to pass on some experiences and give some tips about how to be successful and stay on top of your game.
INVESTIGATE: Tell me about Zen Do Kai, and what has it taught you?
LANGER: Zen Do Kai is a form of martial arts that has been a huge influence on me. As a youngster, I was a bit of a loud-mouth, a smart arse, so it was good in putting me in my place so to speak and teaching me a lot of discipline. I used to go to the sunrise dojo at 6am, and that took a lot of discipline, especially as a young bloke. I also learnt a lot about respect. I once headed onto the mat before my master and bowed, and next moment I was face up on the mat. I turned around and asked what that was for, and he replied, ‘You disrespected me, this is my dojo and im the teacher, and you walked in front of me. You show respect and allow me to go in front’. Fair to say I never did that again, and to this day still let people older than me to pass in front of me first!

I also love boxing and enjoy the discipline and the hard work that involves. There is no-one fitter than a boxer and it’s the ultimate sport of power and endurance. The other great thing is that it’s just like batting. It’s very technical and you need to keep a level head when the pressure is on. There’s no where to hide when your boxing, so you need courage as well. It’s like all combat sports.
INVESTIGATE: You’re renowned for your grit and ability to dig in and just keep scoring when the pressure is on. What gives you that mindset and determination?
cricket2.jpgLANGER: I’ve always lived by the motto, ‘the harder you work, the harder it is to surrender’. Like I said earlier: I now play without fear, and that comes from the fact that I know I have put the work in, and I don’t want to waste it. Concentration is another part. The ability to block out all distractions and just concentrate on what I need to do. You know, watching the way the ball comes out of the bowler’s hand, seeing it off the pitch, my footwork. It’s the ability to be able to do the same things, the right things, over and over again. I find that the fascinating thing about cricket, just trying to master the mind and be in a place of total concentration, because that is a battle in itself. I think you can learn to be resilient and hard-working. I believe that the pain of discipline is nothing like the pain of disappointment. That just makes you want to keep working, as you never want to leave yourself short, and you never want to lie to yourself. At least if you know that you did everything in your power to get your preparation right and didn’t leave a stoned unturned than you can always be happy with your result.

I think constant improvement is another reason. I’m always looking for ways to improve my game, and when I see young guys hit a plateau, I say to them to try something else. What can I change and do differently to improve my results. If you keep doing the same things, you will keep getting the same outcomes. I was born into a family of extremely hardworking people so I suppose you can so it’s in the genes, and I knew that if I wanted to achieve anything, there was only one way to go about it. I think the other thing is that you need to smile into the face of pressure. People get tense and tighten up when they’re under the pump, and that can lead to their downfall. You need to relax and enjoy the competiton if you want to perform. Like Bruce Lee said, ‘Tight mind, loose body’.
INVESTIGATE: Justin, where do you get your inspiration?
LANGER: I get it from a lot of different people. I admire successful people and always surround myself with successful people. It can only make you more positive and want to keep achieving and constantly improving yourself and your performance. These people are leaders and inspire you to keep working. I admire the guys in the Australian cricket team. Not only are they hard workers and talented players, but also they are also all great people.

The kids I meet with cancer and their families. These people are having to deal with some terrible issues, but the way they smile and attack it head on, and the strength and love that their families provide is unbelievable, and I take so much away after seeing those people. And of course my family. They drive me to successes, and are always there for me when I come home.
INVESTIGATE: Who were your idols growing up?
LANGER: Number one was fellow West Australian Kym Hughes. He captained his country and was a fantastic batsman. Dennis Lillie was intense, and Alan Border was a genius. I also loved Graham Wood and Rod Marsh. Rod has been a mentor of mine growing up in WA, and has been a great help to my career. I also love Viv Richards. I remember stories of Viv being this massively strong gladiator, and he was an amazing batsmen.
INVESTIGATE: How do you prepare for a game, and do you have any weird superstitions?
LANGER: I like to pad up in the nude and walk around the hotel practicing my shots! No, I have no weird superstitions. I’m pretty relaxed and try to stick to the same routine all the time. I use a journal and try to stick to the same things in my lead-up that allow me to play well. The day before I watch a DVD of one of my 100’s I’ve hit for reinforcement. It just allows me to relax and be positive, knowing that I’ve done it before. I have cues that I run off, and I make sure that I’m doing them all right. Like hitting the balls in the nets, just making sure everything’s in the right order and being confident and relaxed. I always listen to music and try to stay relaxed the day of a game. I don’t eat much breakfast, just enough to get me through, and just concentrate on staying loose and relaxed and not worrying to much about batting. When I do worry too much, I tense up and get a little agitated and go back into my shell, and then I don’t play well. If I’m happy, relaxed, laughing, and enjoying myself than I will play good cricket.
INVESTIGATE: Who are the funniest teammates?
LANGER: When I first started Merv Hughes was the man. He was an absolute larrikin, and a bloody great bloke. Always great for a laugh. Glen McGrath would have to be the biggest idiot as well, and the most annoying. But he is the best bloke, a great fella. Now I’ve read a bit of the Bible, and it’s full of stories about miracles, but if you want a miracle you don’t have to go far past Glen’s 50 against NZ. I tell you, that’s the next story in the Bible.
INVESTIGATE: Who do you hang out with on tour?
LANGER: I hang out a lot with Matty Hayden and Damian Martyn. We like to get down to a Starbucks and grab a coffee and just talk shit really. Haydo’s a great fisherman too, so if we get a chance we sneak down and throw a line in.

I enjoy golf, but we don’t get a lot of chances to play. If we do I usually have a hit with Punter [Ricky Ponting]. It’s changed a lot though in recent years as a lot of the guys bring their wives on tour and don’t have as much time to spend with the boys.
INVESTIGATE: Any good stories?
LANGER: After we won the first test against the Sri Lankans we sang our song on the Gali lighthouse, which is no longer there after it was destroyed in the tsunami. After the second test in Candy we had to take a bus back to Colombo, which is an eight-hour bus ride. We organized with local police to stop on the bridge at the border and sing the team song. We were given exactly two minutes and there was traffic backed up as we pulled out the eskys and sung the song on the border. That was pretty special.
INVESTIGATE: Who do you see as the next big thing in Australian cricket?
LANGER: I think Shaun Tate from South Australia is very good. He’s very much like Jeff Thompson as he bowls with that slinging action and is very nippy. Dan Cullen, also from S.A., is an off spinner who looks pretty good. West Australian Shaun Marsh is very promising, and Shane Watson, who we have already seen a bit of, has plenty of ability and has the ability to be the next Jacques Callas.
INVESTIGATE: Who do you see as the next
nation to stand up and challenge the Aussies?
LANGER: Tough question. I suppose we will see how the Poms shape up very soon. India is the next- best team at the moment and we just beat them over there, so I don’t really know. I think you will see that the Aussies will probably drop back a little in the next few years as players retire. You know when you haven’t got McGrath and Warne teaming up, and once-in-a-lifetime players like that bowing out of the side, the pressure will be on the players coming in to maintain and build on that standard.
INVESTIGATE: Have you accomplished the goals you set yourself as a youngster, and what are the goals that you still want to achieve?
LANGER: I suppose eight years ago I had played eight tests and got dropped and it looked like I would struggle to get back in. Even my wife thought that was it, so to get back in was great. I played another 40 and got the chop again, before I worked my way back in and now I’m on 88. One of my goals is to get to one hundred test matches, so I need to maintain my workload and my form and get the twelve needed for my hundred and then keep going from there.

I’ve achieved a lot more than what people have expected, but not what I have expected, and I knew that if I did the work and kept believing in myself than I could play great cricket. I’ve learnt, however, not to look to far ahead. Just concentrate on what’s in front of you, do the right things, and the results will take care of themselves. My next goal is to play in the first test of the ashes at Lords. I’ve never played there and it’s 81 days till the first day of play, so I’m very excited about playing there as its always been a dream to play at the Lords. It’s steeped in tradition and prestige and it will be great to make my debut there in the first day of an Ashes series.
INVESTIGATE: What about Brett Lee. How stiff is he, and will he get his chance?
LANGER: Look, he probably is a bit stiff, but it’s all about timing. He is doing everything right, and will be the next to go in if Dizzy (Jason Gillispie) or Kaspa (Michael Kasprowicz) go down. Dizzy and Kaspa have been brilliant and you can’t drop them. I mean, that’s why we are so good. We suffocate the opposition with our attack, and if you were to drop one of those boys they would be even stiffer.
Undying credit has to go to Brett. He has trained that hard, his fitness would be equivalent of an Olympic athlete, he’s done everything right. He is a great role model for persistence and if he gets his chance his going to come in and play some great cricket.
INVESTIGATE: What about the famous ‘Wall of Quotes’ you have at your house?
LANGER: I always read, and have always written things down. My wife was horrified when we moved into the new house and I started writing on the walls. I have my own room out the back were I have a gym and a few bags hanging up. I hang my memorabilia on the walls as well as quotes, and it’s just a great place to go to. Whether it’s to chill out and relax, or do a workout, you can’t help but feel something when you’re in that room.
INVESTIGATE: What about hoolios and nerds? What are you?
LANGER: I think I’m a nerd. I’m married, I have a family, I like to read, but the boys keep roping me into the hoolios. So at the moment I’m a hoolio but I think I should be in the nerds.
INVESTIGATE: Finally, your prediction for the Ashes?
LANGER: Four-zip.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:31 PM | Comments (0)

Money, May 05, AU Edition


Most financial advisors are here to help. Here’s how to pick the right one

Can you remember the days when financial advice came from a trusted accountant or bank manager? Things were simpler then: cars had bench seats in the front; we went to drive-ins; we ate meat pies and not Macca’s; we played sport for fun and not money; sex was safe and rugby was dangerous; and we had a father figure for a Prime Minister.

Well, perhaps not everything has changed.

But it’s a different world today, and there’s a whole new breed of people out there who want to tell us what to do with our money. Along with accountants and bankers, Australians now have to contend with guidance from such people as financial advisors.

I understand where the cynics are coming from when they say that the burgeoning financial advice industry is a self-made one. But in point of fact, I have spoken to many accountants, and their general consensus is that they are pleased that financial advisors exist.

Accountants say advisors take the heat off and allow them to focus on what to do with customers’ profits, rather than trying to make them in the first place. So let’s agree on one thing: love them or hate them, financial advisors are here to stay, and we have to learn how to manage them and assimilate them into our financial strategies. We need to better understand who they are, what they can do for us, what they can’t do, and what we can do if we are not happy with their service.

The first question has to be, just what exactly is a financial advisor? Greg Tanzer from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) explains that ‘financial advisors are qualified, and allowed under the law to give advice on shares, managed investments, superannuation, even insurance: really [any] financial type investments’. ASIC is the federal government authority responsible for the licensing, registration and monitoring of financial advisors. Importantly, ASIC is also responsible for the complaint process and legal ramifications if you, as a customer, believe that you have been inappropriately advised.

What do financial advisors need to do to become licensed? A prospective applicant has to fill in a 58-page licence application form which not only questions his or her qualifications but also delves into their personal financial situation, risk management skills, and knowledge of compliance policies and dispute resolution mechanisms.

ASIC has a register that lists training courses and individual assessment services that have been approved by ASIC authorised assessors as meeting ASIC’s training requirements in relation to their Policy Statement No. 146, which governs this sort of thing.

Once a financial advisor is registered, he or she is listed on the ASIC website ( and it is a simple matter of doing a search to ensure that they are correctly qualified.

A requirement of their licence is that every financial advisor must have a ‘Financial Service Guide’. This is a document which outlines the range of services that they offer, who they work for, and any associations they might have with financial institutions. You should be aware that almost all financial advisors have some sort of association with a large bank or other financial institution such as a managed fund provider. Is that a conflict? Is it a problem? According to Tanzer, ‘It is not providing that you know about it. The issue is that they can still give you advice from these institutions. Many customers actually want advice on the products available from these institutions because they do bank with them.’

Adds Tanzer, ‘They also have to tell you about commission arrangement and how they are being paid. They have to tell you up front’.
Financial advisors also have to be a part of some sort of external dispute resolution scheme. These schemes are put in place to save you time and money so that you don’t have to go to court. They are neutral, objective, non-associated schemes that go through certain procedures to ensure that disputes are managed fairly, openly, and equitably. One of the most common is the Finance Industry Complaint Service (FICS). All financial advisors have to be part of one of these schemes and you should ask them about this before you sign up with them.

Financial advisors also have their own industry group, the Financial Planning Association. This organisation sets ethical industry standards and has its own complaint resolution procedures.

If after all of this preparation you find yourself in a position where you have some major issues with your financial advisor, then your first step is to contact ASIC. ASIC has powers to take disciplinary action against financial advisors, which could include banning them or initiating criminal proceedings.

ASIC’s current acting chairman, Jeremy Cooper, succinctly explains that ‘clients seeking advice about how to invest their money to secure their financial futures, like all people, have a right to feel that the guidance and information they are receiving is genuine’.

senior2.jpgThis organisation is not a paper tiger, either. Just a couple of months ago, a NSW financial advisor was sentenced to an eight-year jail term with a non-parole period of five years after pleading guilty to fifteen counts of misappropriating client funds and three more counts of dishonest conduct. ASIC also took civil action in this matter in 2002 when they obtained an immediate injunction against the financial advisor in question, and later obtained orders from the Supreme Court of NSW to permanently restrain the person in question from providing financial products and financial advice, or dealing with client funds. In 2003, ASIC also permanently banned this particular financial advisor from acting as a representative of a securities dealer or of an investment advisor, and from providing any financial services.

This particular financial advisor had got himself in this position because he defrauded nine clients over a two-and-a-half year period of over $1.7 million. He advised each of his clients to invest their funds into certain investment products or term deposits. They all assumed their money was being placed into legitimate investments. But contrary to his clients’ directions, the money was used to meet various business and personal expenses. ASIC has made it clear that stealing clients’ money will not be tolerated. Cooper sums it up, stating: ‘The prison term imposed … is a reminder to all financial advisors that ASIC will pursue those who defraud the community and abuse their clients’ trust, and that they will get caught and punished’.

I should make it very clear that these sorts of proceedings are very rare because disputes are settled before court action is required, and of course, the vast majority of financial advisors are doing the right thing. Like any industry, it is the small handful of individuals that give a bad name to the hard-working ethical majority. You should also be aware that in many cases it is actually the client that is at fault for not fully understanding or investigating what is being offered. As in real estate, the financial planning is very much one of caveat emptor.

We are charging through the 21st century with a sort of millennium madness that is producing many changes. Like any change, some is good and some is not necessary. Regardless of your own personal opinion about financial advisors, they are here to stay. In the most part financial industry professionals see this as a good thing, but what about we that require their advice. For mine, as a prospective client, I see their role as a value added service that should help me manage and maximise my financial situation, but like most things in this life I am responsible for what I do and the decisions I make.

I do not want to be a part of a society full of whingers that is always looking for someone else to blame, or something else to fix self created problems. It is up to me to fully understand and investigate what an individual financial advisor is offering and what regulatory requirements they have met. If I research correctly and ask the right questions, I will be in a better financial position. It may sound a paradox, but if I were to be in the middle of a dispute I would prefer it was the result of something that my advisor had done rather than my inability to be proactive.

Tips for you to use before you hand over your hard-earned to a financial advisor:
* Search the ASIC website to ensure that they are licensed.
* Ask to see their Financial Service Guide.
* Ask what areas in which they are qualified to advise you.
* Question their commission and payment arrangements.
* Understand fully their associations with any financial institution.
* Be fully aware of what services they can offer.
* Ask them to explain, and sight, the external dispute resolution scheme that they are a part of, i.e. FICS. This is important in case you do have a dispute with them.
* Ask if they are a member of the Financial Planning Association.
* If in doubt contact ASIC at or call their hotline number: 1300 300 630.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:30 PM | Comments (0)

MUSIC: Mar 05, AU Edition

Also: Seven CDs of suave swing, and what happens when career changes go bad

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
"Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus", Anti
3 stars

With his deep, portentous voice and grave manner, Nick Cave demands to be taken seriously. His literate lyrics often rely on biblical and mythological allusions: even the titles of the two-disc set Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus could use footnotes.
But Cave’ s pretensions are a large part of his appeal, and after 20 years with his ever-evolving band, the Bad Seeds, he still pulls off audacious rhymes like “Orpheus”/ “orifice” without sounding ridiculous.

The mainly acoustic, piano-driven Lyre is the more accessible album. The rolling ballad Breathless is the most beautiful song in Cave’s vast catalog, and Babe, You Turn Me On isn’t far behind.

The more visceral “Abattoir raises a holy clatter of apocalyptic noise in songs such as There She Goes, My Beautiful World, an invocation to the Muses to cure writer’s block that links St. John of the Cross to Johnny Thunders and features a gospel choir. Based on the inspired songs in these albums, the Muses must have listened.
Review by Steve Klinge

Robert-Downey-Jr-The-Futurist-322786.jpgRobert Downey Jr.
“The Futurist”, Sony Classical 1
1 star

Robert Downey Jr. found fame as a talented yet troubled actor. He’ll need to leave it at that with this partly laudable, partly laughable transition into music. The downtrodden, introspective vibe of The Futurist – one mid-tempo piano-driven ballad after another – is tiresome, despite the earnestness of the whole affair. To his credit, singer-songwriter-pianist Downey (who sang on Ally McBeal as well as in his Oscar-nominated turn in Chaplin) brings a solid sense of melody to his own compositions, smartly enhanced by subtle flourishes of jazz and folk. But his voice is hardly endearing, even on his understated rendition of Chaplin’s “Smile”. And he’s painfully off the mark on a cringe-worthy version of Yes’ “Your Move” that even Jon Anderson’s backing vocals can’t save. There’s raw talent here, but Downey had best stick with his day job.
Review by Nicole Pensiero

farmergolson2005.jpgArt Farmer/Benny Golson
“The Complete Argo/Mercury Art Farmer/Benny Golson Jazztet Sessions”, Mosaic
4 stars

The jazztet created in 1959 by the trumpeter Art Farmer and saxophonist/composer Benny Golson more than merits this seven-CD extravaganza from Mosaic Records.

The two created a group with a suave sound that showcased great melodies from a swinging core. Farmer, who died in 1999 and helped popularize the flugelhorn in jazz, was among the most sensitive of brass players, while Golson, a heavyweight reed man, remains one of jazz’s top composers.

Included here is his classic tribute to trumpeter Clifford Brown, I Remember Clifford, which encapsulates the greatness of the partnership: Farmer’s trumpet finding poignant nuances in Golson’s elegiac composition.

The jazztet, which ran through 1962, was a great vehicle for Golson’s tunes, which range from Killer Joe, with its spoken and theatrical introduction, to the goose-stepping Blues March, and from the earthy Blues After Dark to the noir ballad Park Avenue Petite.
Review by Karl Stark

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:28 PM | Comments (0)

ADVENTURES: June 05, AU Edition

Looking for a good time? Check out the new breed of pit bikes, advises Jamie Kaye and Ben Wyatt

When I was a teenager the thought of doing anything remotely dangerous filled me with excitement. Every night I would sit in the park with my mates talking about all the insane things we would do if we were old enough and had enough money, free fall, bungy jump, snowboard, scuba dive, you name it and we wanted to do it. As things were back then, the nearest to danger and excitement we could ever get was to ride my friend Paul’s grandfather’s 50cc moped around a field.

As with most people when I was old enough and had enough money to do the things I spent so many evenings talking about, life just kind of got in the way. Time and money never seemed to stretch far enough to accommodate my childhood dreams of extreme adventures while also leaving enough cash in the kitty to buy beer and take perspective wives out for dinner.

Or maybe I just forgot all of my thrill-seeking plans.
That was until just recently while walking my dog one evening I spotted a Thumpstar in the window of a local motorbike store. The minute I got home I jumped online to find out as much as I could about these mean looking little machines. It wasn’t long before I discovered that I wasn’t the only thirty-something bloke to have had his eye caught by these pocket-sized monsters.

In every state in Australia there is now a Thumpstar club of some description, with regular race meets where anyone who owns one can rock up and race. It really amazed me just how big this little sub culture of seemingly normal every day office types had become, it was at this point that the decision was made, I simply had to try one.

My Thumpstar arrived last Wednesday. I immediately threw it on the back of my mates ute and headed for the hills. At this point it is important to note that I had not ridden a motor bike since my teenage years. Once started the noise that came out of this deceptive little toy was so exciting, it was like turning over a Harley, and suddenly this little bike didn’t seem so little!

We hurtled through the forest and fields for the entire afternoon. I hadn’t had that much fun for years. It was very easy to ride, anyone whose ridden a motorbike before can jump straight on it and go and for anyone whose not ridden before it really is a piece of cake to learn, the real beauty of it is, its so small that if you do manage to fall off you dont have far to fall.

The Thumpstar mini bike will sure help you abandon any lingering frustrations you might have. This is a neat little off road mo-torbike; one that you just look at and know it will be a lot of fun!

Tim Hunter, director of the company developed the first model and now deals with one of the largest production lines in Taiwan, which produces 2.2 million motorbikes per year. This 215,000-square metre factory operates six production lines with one solely for the Thumpstar model.

Stoney Creek is the main dealership in Australia distributing to 115 outlets throughout the country. Cameron Newman reports that the first interest came from motorbike events and competitions where organisers and the professionals would need to get around the often large arenas, so small customised bikes were used. The term ‘pit bike’ is Thumpstars true description, and still sales in this particular area hold a strong percentage of the market.

For anyone wanting to relive the careless wildness of their teenage years, this could be the answer: ‘These bikes are kids’ bikes beefed up for adults to race around back yards all over our country, and with mini race tracks popping up all over the place, our sport that was basically unknown now gets the same attention as a national motocross event’, says Andrew Reid, president of the mini bike association.

These bikes are for people who know how to have fun, and for those who don’t want to break their bank balance. With the bike priced at $3,000, this is an affordable piece of equipment. Being small almost gives them a jovial slant on motorbike riding. ‘When you watch an event you come away with aching cheeks’, Cameron tells me, ‘with a lot of close racing, barging and hilarious wipe-outs.’ Being low to the ground and small bikes limits the damage caused by otherwise heavy crashing metal.

Greg ‘The Godfather’ Timmons is one of Thumpstars most experienced team riders. He won the 110cc 10hp Import Class of the Mini Bike Motocross Titles, Gold Coast 2004. He explains that the pressure in competing in this class is far less, ‘because there’s no training involved, whereas if your riding big bikes, rigorous commitment is necessary.’ It’s an open class event and anyone can enter, making the events ever-increasing spectacles. ‘We would put races on, 20 to 30 riders would turn up and we were excited at the turn out. In 2003 we had a race and 80 riders came, it blew a lot of the people away to see that many minis in one place and little did we know it would turn out like this!’, explains Reid.

Now in 2005 a five-round event takes place from Sydney to Brisbane. There are to date 300 entries for the Australian title. The sport has also gained exposure and recognition through the ‘Gold Coast Bike Week’, which is held in September with 250 entries last year racing round a man made mini motocross track. ‘There was an over under bridge, two wooden ski jumps, a 6-metre finish line table top jump, and technical layout to challenge the best of rider and machine. Twenty riders race at a time battling over four to five laps. The racing is promoted in a fun way so we don’t take things too seriously’, Reid says. ‘We try to cater for most people and 90% of riders are there just to do battle with their mates or the get the feel of racing dirt bikes.’

The Gold Coast Bike Week will be held on the 3rd and 4th of September, so any potential enthusiasts should turn up to see what this sport has to offer. Mini biking seems to be set to become a great new hobby that allows everyone to enjoy the exhilaration, excitement even competition of an adrenaline fuelled sport. Watch this space.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:25 PM | Comments (0)

MUSIC: June 05, AU Edition

$20 million still can’t buy Will Smith respect, but Tracey Thorn’s remixes more than satisfy

ws.jpgWill Smith
‘Lost and Found’, Interscope
2 stars

On his ninth CD, Will Smith takes on the intersection of Hollywood and Philadelphia as if jovially taking on another amiable movie role. Mostly, it’s business as usual.

The stutter-tronic ‘Switch’ is the party track.In accordance with hip-hop law, Snoop Dogg appears. ‘Here He Comes’ features a patented Smith sample gleaned from our childhood, the SpiderMan TV cartoon theme, with chunky beats by ex-partner Jazzy Jeff.

Big Willie makes merry about getting dissed by Eminem, blabbing happily about getting reamed by rap radio. So what, right? With more than one reference to making ‘20 mil’, you can’t help but think that Smith is giggling all the way to his broker.

But listen harder. Smith ain’t feeling quite so jiggy.

‘Sometimes y’all mistake nice for soft, so before I go off...’ spits Smith on ‘Mr. Niceguy’, taking on haters through bucking rhythms with the sort of veiled threats his Shark Tale co-star Bob De Niro usually proffers. When not busy taking the offensive on being defensive, Smith wails on religious hypocrisy, star-stalkers, and the rap game’s relentless copycatting (from Smith, yet, goes the boast of the title track) with a sneer to match his cheer.
Reviewed by A.D. Amorosi

ebtg_aod.jpgEverything But the Girl
‘Adapt or Die (Ten Years of Remixes)’, Atlantic/Blanco y Negro
2 stars

Someday, perhaps, there’ll be a new Everything But the Girl album. Until then, aficionados of Tracey Thorn’s smoky, sensual purr of a voice will have to settle for this delicious set of remixes.

To recap: Vocalist Thorn and guitarist (and now DJ) Ben Watt emerged from Britain as a haircut band in the 1980s, then suavely evolved into masters of chilled-out electronica after Todd Terry’s remix of ‘Missing’ became an international hit in 1995. ‘Adaptor Die’ gathers a decade’s worth of reinterpretations of the duo’s fetching pop songs, with DJ Jazzy Jeff and King Britt among the knob-twiddlers, along with Terry, Adam F, Brad Wood and others.

It works perfectly, with Watt and Thorn’s compositions – plus a seductive version of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Corcovado” – reinvented but not unrecognizable, and Thorn’s soulful, contemplative vocals leaving you yearning for more.
Reviewed by Dan DeLuca

sean_costello.jpgSean Costello
“Sean Costello”, Artemis
2 stars

Though he started out as a precocious blues-guitar hotshot – releasing his first album at 16 and backing fellow up-and-comer Susan Tedeschi before he was 20 – Sean Costello seems more interested in emulating Eddie Hinton than Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Hinton was the great Muscle Shoals session guitarist who was also a superb singer and songwriter. Like the late Hinton, the 25-year-old Costello has a soulfully rough-hewn voice and is mostly content to make his guitar one element of a taut, earthy R&B sound.

Here he covers Al Green and Bob Dylan, among others, but for the first time he focuses on originals. From the punchy soul of ‘No Half Steppin’’ and ‘Hold on This Time’ to the roadhouse urgency of ‘I’ve Got to Ride’ and the anguished balladry of ‘Don’t Pass Me By’, Costello shows that his lyrical are catching up to his formidable musical talents.
Reviewed by Nick Cristiano

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:18 PM | Comments (0)

June 05, AU Edition

dad and me.jpg

What is driving the quest for millions of dollars in compensation for the woman Australia wrongly deported?

When it was revealed that the federal government had mistakenly deported 42-year-old Vivian Alvarez, an Australian citizen, back to her native country of the Philippines four years ago, the media had a field day: commentators wasted no time in suggesting that the deportation was based solely on racial grounds, and that non-white Australians had better carry their identity papers with them at all times lest they suffer a similar fate.

Never mind that Vivian was mentally ill and had been using at least three other different last names (including Solon, Young, and Wilson) at the time of her deportation, making her identity tough to establish. Or that, according to diplomatic cables, she had married a man in the Philippines in early 2001 and re-entered Australia on a Filipino passport with a tourist visa six months before being kicked out of the country.

But as the saga of Vivian Alvarez has played itself out in the media, all these facts have become irrelevant. Add to the mix a gang of Australia-based family members that suddenly appeared for tearful reunions in the Philippines, and lawyers talking of millions of dollars in compensation claims, and the waters become even more muddied.

Enter Rina Quistadio. Rina, a 21-year-old divorced single mother, is in a unique position to shed light on the saga of Vivian Alvarez and her family, and the legal struggle that could cost the taxpayer millions of dollars in legal and compensation costs. Rina, you see, is Vivian Alvarez’s half-niece, and it is her parents – whose house she left when she was just sixteen years old, never to look back – who have been at the forefront of the quest for compensation for Vivian.

‘All of us are waiting for an answer, an explanation’, Henry Solon, Rina’s father and Vivian’s half-brother told ABC Radio recently; Solon has also filed a complaint with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, saying that the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs discriminated against Vivian on the basis of her race, and led the charge for legal representation and compensation. (Vivian has not sought compensation herself, and has forgiven the government for what she has termed a mistake).

But Rina is skeptical of the motives behind her father’s and other members of her estranged family’s quest for compensation for Vivian, and alleges that it is more dollars than a desire for justice for a family member that is pushing them.

‘When I first saw my dad on the news, and then hopped on-line to find out more about the story, I thought it was a bit of a joke’, Rina says, recalling when she first found out it was her aunt who was at the centre of a media and political firestorm. (‘First I recognized the set of encylopaedias, and then I recognized the sofa, and then I thought, “Hey, that guy looks a lot like my father!”’, she laughs, remembering the moment a few weeks ago when the story broke).

‘As far as I know my parents had seen Vivian exactly once in my entire life,’ she adds. ‘About nine years ago, I remember she contacted us at our house, and she brought her two kids and a boyfriend, I don’t remember his name. But she seemed a bit mentally sketchy at the time. It was all pretty emotionless, but that’s the kind of family we were. I was excited about having two new cousins whom I’d never met before, and I remember that Vivian asked my mum and dad if they’d look after her kids while she sorted herself out, but my parents said no.’

‘My mother was working as a daycare mum at the time and was already looking after kids. I was just young and didn’t know what the family budget was, but I assumed at the time mum and dad wouldn’t take the kids because Vivian couldn’t pay them’, she adds.

rina2.jpgAfter that brief meeting, which Rina recalls lasting a couple of hours, there was no contact whatsoever between Vivian and her parents. Rina left home two days after Christmas in 2000 – she chafed under the family’s strict traditional structure, which forbade her from doing any of the normal things Australian kids did. Barely six months later, Vivian was detained and deported by the Department of Immigration.

‘I think it is ridiculous that they are all fighting for the rights of a woman they barely knew’, says Rina, who alleges that her family is more concerned about sharing a compensation payout than caring for their relative.

‘She was only there once for a couple of hours nine years ago, and now they are pushing for all this money for her. I don’t think this incident was one bit troubling for my family – it has been for Vivian – but not for them.’

(For the record, Henry Solon has denied that he is trying to ‘cash in’, and when questioned on ABC Radio about why he moved so quickly to retain lawyers when he heard of Vivian’s plight, responded, ‘I had to move quick, you know what I mean? Otherwise, I would…Vivian, not me, Vivian would miss out.’)

Rina also has harsh words for those, including her father, who has tried to turn the deportation into a racial issue. ‘I just don’t know why they care so much now, and why it took four years for them to speak out about it. It doesn’t look like they’d made a massive effort to look for her before this.’

‘I found it a bit rich that it is being insinuated that this is a racially motivated bungle, because we’re living here and Australia has given us everything we needed and wanted’, Rina continues. ‘I hate to see Australia get a bad name and get called a racist country, because it’s not, because it’s one of the most welcoming countries in the world. I think that’s one of the best things about this country. The really ironic thing is that growing up, my family always said that if you marry a white man you’ll look like a mail-order bride!’

‘Every institution is bound to cock up. My thing is that Vivian didn’t make it easy for herself to be found and verified as an Australian citizen, and she seemed pretty scattered when they found her’, says Rina.

‘From what I’ve read, the government did what they were supposed to do as per procedure. They thought she was here illegally and they sent her back – she must have said something to make them think that. Whether she was in the right frame of mind or not, they thought they had good cause.’

One of the biggest problems Rina has with her family’s story is that they seem to have made no effort to find Vivian before she was discovered by the media, though it fits with a pattern of estrangement from the family that has played out in her own life. Says Rina, ‘the whole story was preposterous the first time I read it. Then it hit me that this was really a big thing. Then I asked myself, “why do they care so much?” There’s just no caring in that family, and if they do care so much, how come they don’t get in touch with me? If they cared so much for Vivian when they first met her nine years ago, she would have become part of our lives.’

Although Rina doesn’t care to see her family, or Vivian, she is concerned that she get back to Australia, get the treatment she needs, and be reunited with her children. She says it would be a shame for Vivian’s sons not to get to know their mother, something she can identify with, having been cut off from her own parents for the past five years.

‘When I first left home, I sent them letters until Christmas of 2001, but never got a response’, Rina says. ‘After I had my daughter I went up to Brisbane and put a photo album of pictures of my daughter in their letterbox and I still never heard a thing from them.’

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:14 PM | Comments (0)

BOOKS: Sep 05. AU Edition

This month: sickos, school shooters, and English-language abusers – plus a great sea tale

books_Mr  Muo's travelling couch.jpgMR MUO’S TRAVELLING COUCH
By Dai Sijie
Chatto & Windus, $39.95, ISBN: 0 7011 7739 X
Dai Sijie’s first novel, Balzac and the Little Chinese Mistress, was a delightfully written fable which showed how appealing forbidden Western literature (Balzac, Tolstoy, Dickens) could be to people living in an oppressive regime. Sijie’s second novel, also exquisitely written, similarly deploys the encounter of a strand of Western thought with Chinese culture, but this time Western psychology – i.e. psychoanalysis – is depicted to satiric and ironic effect. Mr Muo is a French-educated travelling Freudian psychoanalyst but his dream interpretations are considered by his listeners to be either fortune telling or greeted with howls of laughter. Freud and psychoanalysis are easy targets to mock (Nabokov never spared the ‘Viennese witchdoctor’) and at times I found myself chuckling along with the mockers and knockers.

The plot also oozes satiric mockery towards Chinese society and government. For Mr Muo’s real quest in China is not to spread the ideas of Freud but to find a virgin with which to bribe a corrupt judge to free his first love who has been imprisoned for selling articles to the West that describe scenes of Chinese torture. Believe it or not, Muo has trouble finding a virgin – the villages are filled with old women and young girls – the eligible young women having moved into the cities. In other words, the plot is fanciful and Mr Muo is something of a Chinese Quixote tilting at windmills.

Dai Sijie, let me note, writes safely in Paris and in French. I am reasonably confident this book will not be on sale in China, a land of widespread corruption and censorship, anytime soon. The richly elegant style and the multiple layers of irony (Mr Muo is himself a virgin) make this very much a writer’s book. But it also clearly has a political message – albeit one couched in an ironic fable of folly.

Despite its excellence of style, some of the monologues seem inordinately long and discursive though I suspect Chinese readers (hopefully it will find some) may locate more resonance in them than an Occidental one. Also the basic plot engine is left unsatisfiedly unresolved (a Kafkaesque touch, perhaps) or yet another irony? Readers must decide.

books_I choose to live.jpgI CHOOSE TO LIVE
By Sabine Dardenne
Virago Press, $29.95, ISBN: 1 84408 2105
In recent times few crimes have been more shocking than those perpetuated by Mark Dutroux, the Belgian paedophile who kidnapped, raped and murdered several girls, two as young as eight.

Sabine Dardenne, a slightly built pre-pubescent twelve-year-old, who by her own description looked about ten, was cycling home from school one day in May 1996 when a van pulled alongside her. She was quickly abducted then chained up naked in a small dirty dungeon-like room where she became prey to Dutroux’s psychopathic lust.

As well as being her physical tormentor, Dutroux played havoc with her fears. He kept referring to a mysterious boss, who, if he was let loose on the hapless Sabine, would torture and murder her. By contrast, Dutroux’s treatment was self portrayed as ‘kind’ – he even tried to portray himself as her saviour and brainwash her that her parents had not paid the ransom asked for her life.

Being young and in fear of her life, Dardenne believed him. His physical power over her was absolute yet he never broke her spirit.
Eventually, desperate with loneliness and thinking she might spend the rest of her life chained up in that dismal room, she asked if she could have a friend. When another girl barely two years older than herself turned up, drugged and chained, she was beside herself with guilt. But this is one contemporary horror that has something of a happy ending for Dutroux was caught and told the police about the two trapped girls. The two eight year olds were not so lucky – they starved to death behind that massive concrete door that secured the makeshift prison.

Dardenne tells her own story in simple direct prose – and it is all the more moving for that simplicity. If there is any reader seeking titillation from these pages they will get absolutely none: there are no descriptions whatsoever of the sexual humiliations Dutroux inflicted on the two girls.

At the time the story broke, speculation was rife about a vast underground network of paedophiles in Belgium. Dardenne always believed that Dutroux was the main protagonist (though he had a couple of accomplices including, incredibly, his wife). Subsequent information indicates that Dutroux did not have a secret boss and his attempt to make out he was a humble cog in a large network, who procured for others, was an attempt to lessen his own guilt.

That the two girls survived was a small miracle; that Dardenne’s resolute strength of character carried her through to a normal adult life and a normal relationship without any help from psychiatrists is perhaps the biggest miracle of all. Her body may been violated, her mind temporarily downtrodden, but her soul stayed pure and strong.

books_rampage.jpgRAMPAGE: The Social Roots of School Shootings
By Katherine S. Newman, Cybelle Fox, David J. Harding, Jal Mehta, and Wendy Roth
Basic Books, $32, ISBN: 0 465 05104 9
I recently read a book called We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver, a fictional work which made it plain that Kevin, a fifteen-year-old murderer, was basically an evil kid and his mother’s failings as a parent could not be blamed for his horrible deeds – even though she tortured herself psychologically with the possibility. In Kevin, the psychological, let alone the social, causes of youthful carnage were not presented as the explanation for psychopathic behaviour. Rampage examines psychological factors but seeks to place more emphasis on overlooked sociological factors.

School killers, as the name suggests, perform their mass murders at school. They are disturbingly young and getting younger – Andrew Golden was just eleven when he teamed up with 13-year Mitchell Johnson to shoot dead five people and injure a further ten at his school in Arkansas. Although like most mature men I tell myself I am not easily shocked, an eleven-year-old shooting dead or wounding several people does appal. At that tender age, I was doing projects on tea or sugar, and had never been exposed to a gun more powerful than an air pistol.

Quite often, there aren’t many clues to forewarn. Johnson had been rejected by a girlfriend and Golden was cruel to cats. Hardly sufficient reason or motivation to shoot fifteen people. They, like several such killers, came from a small town. The multiple contributors have tried to find a commonality among school killers by a series of graphs that list factors such as age, ethnicity, urbanity and aspects of social marginalisation such as being a loner, being teased or bullied, or indeed even just feeling marginalised. They also looked at mental illness or family problems, disciplinary history, violent writings, trouble with the law, issued threats, mental illness, suicidality, and depression. Finally, they considered access to guns. Summing up their findings, the authors says that there is not enough commonality to compose a reliable or predictable profile. Depressing news, isn’t it?

My gut instinct is that the sociological explanations offered (structural secrecy, institutional memory loss, loosely-coupled systems, counsellors having too many roles to fill) are weaker and more abstract than the psychological ones. Small towns and being loners seem to figure prominently but also, alas, there are plenty of school killers who had friends and even mentioned their intentions to create havoc – which were of course often not taken seriously.

The authors seem to contradict themselves on pages 268-269 when they write ‘... and they weren’t all bullies or teased either’ which is followed three lines later by the statement, ‘And nearly all of them were bullied or teased.’ So which is it? Were they bullied or not? The table on pages 312-313 shows each of the shooters were either bullied or that there was ‘no evidence’. I know it’s not strictly kosher to say so, but if every known case shows bullying, isn’t it reasonable to suppose that a healthy percentage of the remaining teenagers were also bullied? Not that being bullied is sufficient cause for wholesale murder.

The chapter on prevention offers some cautious measures: keeping better records, more school resource officers, challenging notions of masculinity, zero tolerance policy of disciplinary breaches (how is this ever possible?), encouraging kids to report threats. All very well and good. But I am left with the lingering feeling that this is a study from the inside of American society and to an outsider three factors which, though they are in part included in the book, have a peculiarly American flavour – (a) the wide ownership, obsession and ready access to guns; (b) the status anxiety which makes Americans (especially socially marginalised ones) willing to do anything to achieve fame; (c) a society which accepts adolescence as a zone of complete freedom and independence. America, one could say, is paying a high price for its freedoms.

books_passage.jpgPASSAGE TO TORRES STRAIT: Four Centuries in the Wake of Great Navigators, Mutineers, Castaways and Beachcombers
By Miles Hordern
John Murray, $39.95, ISBN: 0 7195 6496 4
This is a book to stir the salt in the blood of even the most landbound reader. Isn’t that what shipping clerks and ‘customer sales representatives’ (receptionists, bank clerks, office workers) secretly yearn for – to sail off on a blue ocean and anchor in remote and gorgeous lagoons there to parley with beautiful bronze-skinned inhabitants? In days gone by, your best security measure to obtain a benign reception by the locals was to be alone – a lone survivor is no threat – and not be part of group (certain to be bumped off).

So off we sail with the Waiheke Island-based author and his 28-foot sloop for high adventure and re-exploration of history on the high blue seas. By the way, this is how it starts: ‘At lunchtime I finished a bottle of rum’. That I assume was the dessert – and not the aperitif – following a lengthy journey. Horden’s adventurous sojourn was to take him north of Auckland to the Melanesian islands, west across the Coral Sea to the Great Barrier Reef and into the dangerous maze of Torres Strait, wrecker of ships, killer of men.

In Dillon’s Bay, Eerromango – south of Vanuatu – Hordern outlines the protocol of the Melanesian approach to a lone vessel. ‘They would circle the boat in perfect silence...when ready they made a deliberate noise, slapping the paddle against the surface or clearing their throats. Then they waited for an invitation to come alongside’. After boarding they would make requests, in this case for tobacco.

This happened three times and just as Horden was tiring of the one-way traffic after an exhausting journey, the Erromagans returned with sixty pieces of fruit. Erromango may seem an out of the way place now, but in the nineteenth century these waters saw a brisk trade in sandalwood, used for soap and cosmetics. At first, sandalwood was traded for beads, fish-hooks then saws, tomahawks, carving knives and butchers’ cleavers and still later muskets, powder and tobacco.

Some of the castaways or survivors of shipwreck were treated like kings. For in times of early contact, white sailors were assumed to be spirits or supernatural beings. One character known as Big-Legged Jimmy was plied with feasts, kava and young women and left hundreds of grandchildren. By contrast, others like Leonard Shaw, who survived a massacre in the Kilinailau Islands, New Guinea, was kept as a pet and tortured by children who pulled out his facial hair. Hordern describes the enthralling survival tales of the like of William Lockerby on Fiji, John Young on Hawaii, and Peter Dillon on remote Tikopia, even today without airstrip, wharf, white residents, electricity or telephones. Both Conrad and New Zealand castaways get a look in.

All around the vastness of the South Pacific, Horden narrates, the castaway, mutineer or beachcomber was often the envoy of European culture. First encounters were not as we so often fondly imagine – a high ranking officer (Captain Cook, say) with a formidable well- equipped ship meeting a noble chief on white beach and exchanging gifts, but rather a lone and miserable survivor often seeking advantage and sometimes getting it, sometime not. The somewhat throwaway term beachcomber has been immeasurably enriched for me by reading this book. So we are on double journey with Horden, the still adventurous present – the difficult and complex passage through Torres Strait is thrilling reading – and the even more adventurous past.

I have left the best wine (or swig of rum) to last. Horden, a proven sailor, can also write like the roaring forties. Graham Billing is probably our best naturalist writer but Hordern (English now settled in New Zealand) is running him close. ‘Tepid strings of spray spun into the cockpit as if coughed up from the belly of a waking beast.’ On virtually every page there are descriptions as fine as this. This is an ideal book for either sailor or landlubber.

By Francis Wheen,
Harper Perennial, $24.95, ISBN: 0 00 714097 5
I’ve always liked books that take a wide overview (it saves me work) and authors that debunk – for there’s lot in this world that needs debunking. Francis Wheen does rather nicely in both categories. Wheen is firm but fair: he’s tough on everyone. Madame Thatcher, Reagan and the George Bushes cop heavy flak. So do Anthony Robbins and Deepak Chopra. As do Ayatollah Khomeini and Milton Friedman. And readers will be pleased to hear that Holocaust denier David Irving gets a roasting.
On the evidence of quotation, Chopra sounds the daffiest: ‘People who have achieved an enormous amount of success are inherently very spiritual’; this must make Bill Gates the holiest man one earth apart from the Pope and the Dalai Lama. How about, ‘Ageing is simply learned behaviour’? Demi Moore agrees, and she hopes to live to 130. Wheen can be unfairly cruel, as when he quips, ‘Why the longevity formula failed to work for Princess Diana, with whom [Chopra] lunched shortly before her death remains a mystery’. Whether it’s Wess Roberts’ The Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun or Mars and Venus’ John Gray or ‘Six Hats’ de Bono, Wheen wraps them all up in a chapter entitled ‘Old Snake Oil, New Bottles’. Wheen summarises them all as writers of ‘lucrative twaddle’ and blames Dale Carnegie for starting the vogue back in 1948. Whereas Carnegie contented himself with phrases like, ‘If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive’, today’s gurus use ‘neologistic jargon’ like ‘re-engineering’, ‘demassing’, ‘downsizing’, and ‘benchmarking’ in an attempt ‘to give their twee clichés an appearance of scientific method and intellectual rigour’. Right on, Francis.

But if the gurus are mouthing clichés and twaddle, how come top management pays them so much to talk to their staff? Good question – and apparently there is an answer. One executive manager explained, ‘What he’s saying is a lot of common sense and not new really. But if I pay him $15,000 to say it, my general mangers and my people listen’. So there you are – it’s not really the message but the messenger – and the high fee.

Moving on from self-improvement, he sideswipes the‘boa-deconstructors’ (Derrida and his ilk) and includes the twitty Luce Irigray who referred to E=mc2 as a ‘sexed equation’ that privileged the speed of light over less masculine speeds. When Allen Sokal, author of the most famous intellectual hoax of our time (and someone of whom Wheen wholeheartedly approves) accused Julia Kristeva of using mathematical terms she did not understand, she conceded she was ‘not a real mathematician’. Derrida cops it for asserting that Paul de Man’s wartime blatant Jew-baiting was somehow an implicit repudiation of anti-Semitism. I’m surprised Wheen didn’t quote American philosopher John Searle whose demolition of Derrida was published in the New York Review of Books, but the field of debunkers – like the producers of bunkum – is richly crowded.

Wheen’s learning is formidable. He cites, usually for purposes of intellectual demolition, dozens of books and authors of which and of whom I am ignorant.

To catch up with his list of targets would mean reading for a couple of years at least. It’s easy at times to have a moment of confusion between George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, Thomas Friedman and Milton Friedman and the two John Grays, one American and one English.
As debunkers go, I rate Francis Wheen up with the best – with Martin Gardener, or H.L. Mencken. I look forward to further books from this acid-penned guru who hates gurus.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:10 PM | Comments (0)

MOVIES: Apr 05, AU Edition

But two other offerings this month prove that heroin and histrionic overacting aren’t

photo_18.jpgBe Cool
Release: March 10, 2005
Rated: PG
4 stars

I hate sequels.” That’s John Travolta’s first line in this sequel to Get Shorty. So immediately Be Cool lets audiences know it’s not taking itself too seriously. I felt like I was in on the joke, and the joke is so good the sequel is better than the original.Ten years ago in Get Shorty, John Travolta’s character, Chili Palmer, was a hip gangster trying to make it in the movie industry. Now, in Be Cool, he’s trying to muscle his way into the music business. There’s a young starlet trying to get her big break, nasty music moguls and the Russian mob. You know – the usual. But in Be Cool the plot isn’t as important as the all-star ensemble cast.

Now I need to come clean about something: when I was a younger I wanted to marry John Travolta. He’s just so, well, cool. Granted, I had to forgive him for Michael and Battlefield Earth, but when he was in Grease and Pulp Fiction he made my knees weak. And he’s back to his coolest as Chili Palmer in Be Cool. He’s suave, he’s sexy, and he’s unflappable. Matter of fact, I still want to marry him.

Then there’s Vince Vaughn’s stand-out role as Raji, a white-bread music rep who wants to be a “playa”. It’s hysterical to see such a honky white character like Raji spouting hip-hop lines like, “that sh*t was tight, gangsta!” It’s so wrong it’s right.

Uma Thurman is the weak link in the movie. She plays Edie, the sexy CEO of a failing indie record label and Chili’s love interest. Uma is beautiful but, alas, she can’t act. She really should be used as a supporting actress rather than a lead.

On the other hand, one of the best castings is WWF’s The Rock as Raji’s gay bodyguard. He’s constantly taking the piss out of himself – even slagging off his signature wrestling glower (one raised
eyebrow). His comedic timing is spot on and my favourite scene involves him reciting a monologue from teen cheerleading movie Bring It On. The Rock rocks.

But wait: there’s more. Cedric the Entertainer plays Sin LaSalle, an upper-middle-class music producer who’s not afraid to use muscle to get his songs played. Andre Benjamin (who most people would know as Andre 3000 of Outkast) makes a fabulous acting debut as Dabu, a dim but trigger-happy gangster. Harvey Keitel is a music company executive with no rhythm. Danny DeVito has a cameo with Anna Nicole Smith that is cringe-worthy but funny. Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler plays himself and is a natural.
Think Pulp Fiction with less violence, more gags and an equally funky soundtrack. Cool.

photo_09.jpgBeing Julia
Released: March 17, 2005
Rated: M
2 stars

In Being Julia, all the world’s a stage and Annette Benning’s over-acting on it. Now don’t get me wrong: I loved Annette in American Beauty and The Grifters. I know she’s won a swag of awards for this film. But really… she’s trying so hard in Being Julia that she makes Jim Carey look subtle.

The problem is Annette’s character is so damn repellent. Julia Lambert is an ageing diva of the London stage in the 1930s. She’s at the peak of her career yet she’s bored. So she’s prone to histrionics. It’s hard to care for a woman who decides the spark she needs is to have an affair with a younger man but then is devastated when she finds out not only is her husband cheating on her but her lover is too. She’s either melodramatic, egocentric, overbearing or overwrought with nothing in between. Her manic laughter grates even more when hideous wailing follows it as the spotlight travels past her.

The support roles in the film are more refined. Jeremy Irons is restrained as her long-suffering husband and manager Michael Gosselyn. Miriam Margolyes is fabulous and funny as theatre owner Dolly, a frustrated lesbian desperate to bed her lead actress. And I had to side with Juliet Stevenson who plays Julia’s straight talking yet likeable dresser, Evie.

Basically everyone is more likeable than Julia.

I can understand comparisons between Being Julia and All About Eve. Both lead characters are egotistical actresses who blur their public and private lives. But the comparisons should only remind you why All About Eve is a classic and Being Julia will be a $2 weekly DVD in a flash of an eye.

MFOG.jpgMaria Full of Grace
Released: March 26, 2005
Rated: M
4 stars

Maria Full of Grace is a spinach film. That is, you know it’s good for you but you don’t really like it. The story revolves around a seventeen-year-old Colombian girl who thinks the only way to escape her miserable life is to become a drug mule. The film is a drama that feels more like a documentary. It’s shot with a sometimes-nauseating handheld camera style making the entire film feel grainy, dirty and real.

The lead role is played by astonishing newcomer Catalina Sandino Moreno and, basically, she is Maria. I believed she’s desperate to escape her demeaning job of de-thorning roses at a flower farm where she earns about $2000 a year. I believed she’s feisty and intelligent. I believed her downtrodden family and friends stifle her. And I believed she’d swallow heroin for a round trip to New York and an easy five grand.

But it’s not easy. That’s the point. This film does nothing to glamorize drug smuggling. The drug dealers aren’t sexy, powerful ‘bling bling’ characters; they are slack-jawed mouth-breathers who are as bored with their jobs as Maria was with the roses.

The scene where Maria swallows the heroin pellets will test the strongest gag reflex. They are about the size of a thumb, coated in Vaseline and washed down with some clear soup. When Maria got down her first pellet, I gagged. By the time she had swallowed 62, I nearly passed out.

The film is shot in Spanish with English sub-titles but there is so little dialogue you could watch it with the sound down. The emotions and fears that cross Maria’s face speak volumes. It’s a basic story of survival.

First time director and writer Joshua Marston has captured the ugliness of drug smuggling with grace.

You’ll feel uncomfortable watching Maria Full of Heroin.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:09 PM | Comments (0)

May 05, AU Edition

bennett1.jpgWAYNE’S WAY
Butcher. Cop. And one of the most storied coaches in Rugby League. JENI PAYNE sits down with legendary Brisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett – and finds a seemingly quiet man who still has a maxim for every moment and a winning management style all his own

Wayne Bennett is a man of few words. He says he’s been ‘at war’ with the media since his days as a player. He admits he has come a long way from the Blackhall Bacon Factory of his youth. But his achievements and accolades as a coach, footballer and father keep him from ever being described as an ‘unsung hero’.

Recognised as one of the country’s most influential and innovative coaches, Bennett is the longest serving coach of a single club, has one of the best winning percentages in the game, and ranks second in the number of premierships won as a coach at an elite level.

While Bennett is wary of the media and is notorious for the sparsity of his comment, his colleagues, former Broncos players and high-profile commentators are effusive in their praise. He is not just respected, he’s revered.

Allan Langer, former Broncos Captain, told ABC’s Australian Story in May 1999 that Bennett is ‘like a father to all the players and if anyone’s got problems on or off the field, he’ll fix them if he can’.
Steve Waugh, former Test Cricket Captain, writes in the foreword of Bennett’s book, Don’t Die with the Music in You (ABC Books, 2002): ‘Bennett’s greatest strength is the simplicity of his message’. Waugh says he admires the man because ‘he gets the most from his players and what he says actually works’.

Journalists and fans alike respect Bennett for eschewing the fanfare and limelight, in preference for getting the job done with minimal fuss but plenty of gusto.

Bennett began his working career at a bacon plant, biding his time until he gained entrance to the police force. He started as a police cadet in March of 1966 and over the next two decades honed his talent
for recognising strengths and weaknesses in his fellow man.

In 1971, 1972, and 1973 he played Rugby League for Queensland, and in 1971 he was one of only two Queenslanders picked in the Australia side to tour New Zealand.

He began coaching in 1976 at club level, and in 1986 became Queensland Director of Coaching. In 1987 he became a full-time coach with the Canberra Raiders. In his first season with the Raiders, Bennett coached the team to their first-ever Grand Final and was named Coach of the Year.

In 1988 he joined the Brisbane Broncos as their inaugural coach and soon guided the club to five premierships; two World Club Challenge titles; and three pre-season titles: the Panasonic Cup (’89), Lotto Challenge (’91) and Tooheys Challenge (’95).

Bennett was also coach of the successful Queensland State of Origin sides in 1987 and 1988 and was appointed the inaugural Queensland Super League coach for the 1997 Tri-Series against NSW and New Zealand. He made a successful return to State of Origin in 1998, where he guided Queensland to an historic 2-1 series victory over NSW. The Broncos’ success in 1997, winning both the Telstra Cup and the Visa World Club Championship resulted in Bennett winning the title of Super League Coach of the Year.

Then in 1998 he attained the highest accolade, chosen as the Australian coach for the final two Tests of the ANZAC series against New Zealand. Down one-nil, Australia eventually came home victorious thanks to his inspired coaching.

Also in 1998, Bennett made history by becoming the first coach to steer his club, his state and his country to victory in each of their respective series. He was also named Queensland Coach of the Year, Australian Domestic Team Coach of the Year and, on a personal level, Queensland Father of the Year.

Again in 2000 he was named Coach of the Year when the Broncos won both the minor and major premierships.

Success followed in 2001, when Queensland won the State of Origin series thanks in part to Bennett’s remarkable coup of recalling veteran Allan Langer from England. The same year, the Queensland Government added Rugby League to the Queensland Academy of Sport program, with Bennett appointed Director.

His CV might read like that of a champion, but Bennett the man is a complex blend of humility and fortitude. Despite the shy, reclusive image he projects, he is actually an extraordinary communicator who leans on tried and true tenets that hit their mark with his players every time.

‘I collect quotes and clichés,’ the coach tells Investigate. ‘Things like “there’s always room for improvement, it’s the biggest room in the house”. They’re memorable, they motivate you and they’re true.’
Bennett believes the fundamental key to the Broncos record, and his history of coaching success with the club, is its family ethos – even though he doesn’t like the term. ‘It’s overused in this modern society for all kinds of things. I’d say we care about the players and we expect the best out of them. There’s a huge support network at the Broncos. We’ve ridden through a lot of crises, but the difference is the players themselves. We have high standards, and at the end of the day, if a player steps over that line, we let them know.’

As an organisation, the Broncos is strong from the top. Stability of management has been a huge help in getting through rough periods, says Bennett, who makes no secret of his fondness for the game.

‘I love the things that it teaches you. It teaches you to be disciplined. It teaches you not to give in. It teaches you to be taken off, it teaches you to handle disappointment.’
Married with three children, Wayne is first and foremost a family man, but he admits that the choice between family and football can be a tough decision.

‘That’s what happens to players too. Nothing replaces the mates you make. A lot of players go into the game thinking their careers will never end. But they have short career spans – you can’t be in it for 30 years like other professions – and it’s hard to adjust when it all comes to an end.

‘It’s a false world of media, adulation, money, people doing all kinds of things for them. Then when they leave, it takes two or three years to adjust. Family and friends are there for support, but nothing replaces the mates you make in footy.’

bennett2.jpgThe Broncos boasts a form of exit strategy for players, but Bennett acknowledges, ‘it’s not foolproof. No sport has really done it well’.
As for his own exit plans, Bennett is reluctant to think about retirement. ‘As long as I’m enjoying it and getting the results, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. I don’t look forward to the day that I’m not part of the Broncos.’

His own motivation after 18 years in the job comes from what he calls ‘a fear of failure’. He confesses: ‘I just don’t want to let people down. I try and keep myself fresh and keep an even keel, not up and down with the highs and lows. You need to have balance in your
life too.’

As respite from the game he loves, Bennett escapes Brisbane with his family and heads to the farm in Warwick to ‘chase cattle’ at least one day a week. ‘It’s a good change from city life’,
he says.

Above all, he says his formula for maintaining balance is to ‘not take yourself too seriously’.

Known for his innovative approach to coaching, Bennett says he is not into change for its own sake. ‘I’m not faddish, but if there’s a better way of doing things, let’s investigate it. The one thing I learned from my time as a police officer is that experts employ experts.’

Ten years ago he introduced full-time weight training to the Broncos and now clubs all over the country accept that as part of routine training. Rehabilitation and recovery are currently in the spotlight, particularly with the emphasis on remaining a drug-free sport. But perhaps Bennett is best known for getting the best out of people. ‘I only demand what they’re capable of,’ he explains.

He may be fond of persuasion rather than punishment, but Bennett doesn’t pussy-foot around: ‘Young men want challenges. We are doing them a great disservice if we don’t drive them to be their best. But you can’t go over the top.’

Bennett likens his role to a general manager of a company or an army officer, and admits to being a strong-willed coach, a trait that periodically frustrates diehard fans.

‘We love them and appreciate them, but you can’t try and impress them or change your plan to suit them – or the players. If you start listening to fans, it’s not long before you’re over there sitting with them.’

Likewise, shareholders are not his focus either. ‘I don’t give a sh*t about them. They get rewarded.

The team comes first, then the fans. But I have to make myself happy too and that comes from standing by my decisions and being confident I can make the right ones.’

The Broncos have been scandal-free for a number of seasons, compared with their southern counterparts. Bennett bristles at questions about the causes and the culture that breed the headline-making acts and points out that sexism and delinquent behaviour are not unique to League.

‘Sad to say, but it’s society’s problem, not the NRL’s. It’s a heap of rubbish to say players need counselling or a welfare officer. Alcohol is the biggest problem. Drunkeness. Fights, sexist behaviour, brawls – you never see it happen when they’re sober. It’s become such an issue in the community that the Premier is talking about bringing in curfews to address it.’

One suggestion to the problem of lewd behaviour: more women in administrative and management roles in rugby league.

Another is regular courses on treating women with respect. The theory goes that men who are not adequately socialised in a female environment do not acquire the skills for ‘sexual negotiation’.

They’re pumped up, pissed, and partying – and not au fait with the subtleties of dealing with the opposite sex. They use brute force to satisfy their needs, then they revert to the silence of the code, ‘what goes on on tour, stays on tour’.

But Bennett says: ‘That’s nonsense. These men all have mothers, sisters and friends that are women. They’ve all been educated to senior levels in a system that is full of females.’

His actions speak loudly too. On tours with the Kangaroos, journalists have reported that Bennett is frequently seen in the hotel bar calling ‘last drinks’ for team members, insisting on respectable hours and equally respectable behaviour.

‘You have a choice in life,’ he says. ‘You can sit back and criticise or you can try to make a difference.’

The title of Bennett’s book, Don’t Die With the Music in You, refers to a quote from the American intellectual Oliver Wendell Holmes, who observed that many people spend their lives getting ready to live and then time runs out for them and they die without reaching their potential. In it, Bennett imparts many of the professional and personal guidelines he lives by. The difference between talented players who consistently achieve their peak and those who fail to perform, according to Bennett is attitude. One of the greatest discoveries of our age, he says, is that a man can change his destiny by changing his attitude. He asks readers to ponder these questions to help put work, life and success into perspective:

• Am I allowing my life to be governed by daily activities, or do I choose to live in accordance with good principles? • Am I allowing my life to be governed by outside forces? • Am I so busy putting out fires that I don’t have time to start any? • Do I have important goals and dreams

I am committed to, or am I creatively avoiding commitments by filling by life with daily activities?

Reading his book, it’s impossible not to embrace his cache of clichés, as sage and as practical as any Dr Phil espouses.

‘People try to make our game complex. But however great, it remains a simple game,’ he says. He then attributes to Maxwell Maitz a pearler that could just as easily have been penned solely for Bennett: ‘Nothing is more simple than greatness. Indeed, to be simple is to be great.’

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:05 PM | Comments (0)

TRAVEL: June 05, AU Edition

june05travelart1.jpgJEWEL ON THE NILE
Ellen Creager discovers an Egypt that is both incredibly fascinating and ridiculously well-policed

GIZA PLATEAU, Egypt – Inside the Great Pyramid, Egyptologist Samid Abdalin climbed swiftly toward the king’s tomb. Right behind him, I excitedly followed the low, narrow tunnel up the steep incline, toward the pink granite room where delicious ancient secrets hid.

And right behind me? A panting bodyguard from the tourist police.
Since 1997, when extremists killed 58 Swiss and Japanese tourists in Luxor, Egypt has gone overboard to keep travelers safe. No tourist has been harmed in seven years. Egypt is the most tourist-safety-conscious country in the world.

Although it’s rare for them to follow tourists inside a pyramid, the tourist police do come in handy. They can help you cross the street in Cairo, an exuberant city of nearly 10 million without a single crosswalk or traffic light. They will push to the front of the line at the Egyptian Museum, where their friends wave them – and you – through. My first day in Cairo, one officer in suit and tie hurried after me in front of the Helnan Shepheard Hotel as I strolled toward the sunny Nile.

‘Do you need to come with me?’ I asked. He nodded. So we walked – me with my digital camera, him with his automatic weapon. When I ate, he smoked. When I went to a museum, he waited outside.

The moral of the story: If you desire to see Egypt’s treasures, don’t let fear stop you.

On the other hand, unless you speak Arabic or plan to stay for weeks, Egypt is best seen for the first time on a package tour or with a knowledgeable guide and driver.

Why? In Egypt, it’s all about whom you know. A guide with connections can smooth the way through the melee of traffic, chaotic lines, ticket windows and airport bureaucracy. A good guide who is also an Egyptologist can tell you what the hieroglyphics mean and point out what’s new or amazing among the 235,000 objects in the Egyptian Museum (The Niagara Falls Mummy! Tutankhamen’s underwear!). A guide can point you to restaurants that won’t upset your stomach, find scrupulous drivers, and give tips on haggling in the market.

Most of all, they can help you see highlights in the short time you have.

But the best things are those your guide might show you by accident. A sudden shower in Cairo sent us scurrying into a shop near the famous Khan Al-Khalili bazaar and up the stairs, where guide Wahid Moustafa Gad asked for a dessert called umm ‘ali, ‘Mother of Ali’. It arrived, steaming bread pudding with cream, raisins, coconut, pistachios and butter – hot, delicious. “Shukran – thank you,” I said, then tasted it. Eyes wide, I smiled. “Ah, shukran.”

In Egypt, visitors are jolted by how much the present and past are jumbled together. Cell phones and camels. Satellite television and rug makers.

Just outside metropolitan Cairo are villages of mud huts, rich fields plowed by oxen, and donkeys carting loads of sugar cane and fruit. In Saqqara, carpet schools teach boys such as 13-year-old Samir Ead a trade. In a big, airy room he sat hunched over a silk rug, his fingers flying and tying a pattern of threads. It takes him seven months to make a 5-by-7-foot rug that sells for thousands of dollars at the shop upstairs. How long has he been at the school? ‘Five years’, he said.
Amid the grandeur of the Medinet Habu temples in Luxor, 450 miles south of Cairo, Egyptologist Ahmed Ali Temerik pointed out one thing that wasn’t so ancient: Egyptian TV actor Hamdi, out for a holiday and surrounded by fans. At the Ramsis Coffee Shop nearby, he introduced Rede Jaher, a watercolor painter who is a fixture there.

Back in the modern part of Luxor, the tourist police had curiously disappeared and I walked the street on my own. Women hurried past carrying packages on their heads. Foreign couples from cruise ships strolled arm in arm. On street corners, groups of regular police in green wool uniforms and carrying assault rifles laughed and talked. Along the river, vendors begged tourists to buy their wares, take their carriage rides or sail the Nile in their boats. (When I
ignored one pushy vendor and strode away, he actually shouted, ‘You look like European, but you walk like Egyptian!’)

Here are some more things to know: Upper Egypt, where Luxor is, is south of Lower Egypt, where Cairo is. Nobody queues except tourists. Tipping is expected everywhere for everything, but prices are incredibly low; five Egyptian pounds are worth $1. At the Mercure Hotel in Luxor, I gave a $10 tip to an excellent waiter one night and he ran after me protesting that it was too much.

In addition to having a guide and driver, I had another connection in Egypt. I saw Zahi Hawass, director of Egypt’s department of antiquities speak recently, and invited he me to visit the recently closed Nefertari’s Tomb in Luxor’s Valley of the Queens.

I thought I was special until I got to the fragile tomb and found 25 other tourists inside, all exhaling artwork-damaging breath like me.
Who were all these people?

‘Zahi has a lot of friends’, the guide explained.

Egypt has big plans to improve the tourist experience. A new museum is planned near the Giza pyramids to contain the breathtaking Tutankhamen treasures. Also on the drawing board is a new museum in Cairo that will showcase the history of Egypt. The Coptic Museum, detailing the history of Christians in this largely Muslim nation, is scheduled to reopen soon.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian resort town Sharm al-Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula’s Red Sea has become a hot destination for European vacationers and divers. It’s only a one-hour flight from Luxor.
On my trip, I flew from Cairo to Luxor, Luxor to Sharm
al-Sheikh, then was driven – with the tourist police as escort – up the Sinai Peninsula, past the stark Mt. Sinai, where the Bible says Moses received the Ten Commandments.

At Nuweiba, a small port on the Gulf of Aqaba, men sat watching an American TV movie on a tiny set in an outdoor cafe. They drank strong mint tea while goats wandered the streets. They stared at me; who could blame them, with so few foreign tourists around? I tied a scarf over my head. At a tiny restaurant, a boy grilled shish kebab on open coals and I ate it gladly, sharing morsels with a stray calico cat under the table.

In Egypt, everyone uses the Arabic word ‘inshallah’. It means ‘God willing’, as in ‘Inshallah, I will cross the street safely’, or ‘Inshallah, the sun will shine’. Before I came to the Middle East, my travel agent, Ihab Zaki, said the best way to navigate the region was ‘gracefully and gratefully’.

As I left Nuweiba on the speedy ferry headed for Aqaba, Jordan, I kept thinking that perhaps more tourists, inshallah, would
pluck up their courage and follow their dreams to see Egypt in just that way.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:03 PM | Comments (0)

MOVIES: June 05, AU Edition

Woody Allen’s routine is growing old, but Samuel L. Jackson’s still got it

melinda.jpgMelinda and Melinda
Released: May 26, 2005
Rated: M
2 stars

I just don’t get the fuss over Woody Allen. I think the man’s films all suffer from dialogue diarrhea.

The characters just talk and talk and go on and on (and on). And they are always horribly highbrow Manhattanites discoursing over incredibly important topics and appreciating fine music. I can guarantee none of his characters has ever watched Desperate Housewives! If I was invited to a dinner party with people like that I’d probably end up plucking my eye out with a fork.

So keeping that in mind, here’s what I thought of Melinda and Melinda. The story starts across a restaurant table, as two writers debate whether life is essentially comic or tragic. To prove their respective sides they each take a tale about an uninvited guest and put their own spin on it. So for the rest of the film the audience is flipping between the comic version and the tragic version of Melinda’s life. The trouble is the comedy isn’t funny and the tragedy isn’t tragic so it’s easy to get lost. My hint is to follow Melinda’s hairstyle: straight=funny, curly=sad.

Although the script is weak a couple of the performances are strong. Rhada Mitchell is mesmerising as Melinda. She’s in nearly every scene and carries the film with ease. But no matter hard she works at her character it’s distracting when she’s sprouting lines like, ‘The subject of infidelity is completely out of the question. You were correct in your assumption.’ This sounds like Jane Austen, not present-day New York.

Woody Allen didn’t cast himself in this film (be thankful for small mercies) but he did make a strange decision for who would play his usual neurotic lovelorn character: Will Ferrell. And weirdly, the comic actor pulls the role off fabulously. I have always thought Will is amusing but not romantic lead material, but in this film the romantic lead is wracked with insecurities, guilt and jealousy, so it works.

Others were more disappointing: Chloe Sevigny and Amanda Peet simply play themselves again and again.

If you’re a Woody Allen fan ignore me and check it out. If not, I’ll pass you a fork.

CCarter.jpgCoach Carter
Released: May 26, 2005
Rated: M
4 stars

Coach Carter is a clichéd sports flick. But it’s a great clichéd sports flick that is based on a true story. Coach Carter (Samuel L Jackson) inherits a bunch of trash-talking, selfish high school basketballers who end every sentence with ‘dawg’. He makes them sign contracts to maintain their grades and respect each other, then whips them into shape with a kabillion pushups and enforced teamwork. Soon no-one can beat them and the state championships are well within their grasp.

That is, until the teachers reveal half the team is actually failing. So Coach Carter puts a lock on the gym and benches the entire team. The players, school and parents are furious. But Coach won’t budge; he points out young black men are 80 per cent more likely to go to prison than go to college.

Cue inspirational speech and swell motivational music. I know it’s formulaic but I couldn’t help it, I was sitting there grinning and urging them to study so they could make something of themselves…oh and win basketball scholarships…and sort out their off-court relationships…and still win the championship.

Samuel L. Jackson smolders with intensity. He carries the film on his capable shoulders. He’s commanding, powerful and likeable. A strong cast of young actors portrays the players in sad but believable situations.

It’s a true story that rings true. Hooray for clichés.

woodsman.jpgThe Woodsman
Released: May 05, 2005
Rated: M
2 stars

Sometimes I love seeing a movie I’ve heard nothing about. I walk in with no expectations and no idea of plot and let it wash over me. This was not one of those times. The Woodsman is a story of a pedophile. I think with a subject like this I would have liked some warning.

Kevin Bacon plays the lead role of Walter. Even before it’s revealed he’s a child molester Bacon shows his character is uncomfortable in his own skin. He’s withdrawn and living with the stigma of being just released from jail. Imagine how much worse it is when people find out what he did to get twelve years in the slammer. The editing of the movie splices unrelated scenes together making you feel disjointed and uncomfortable. It makes you see things from Walter’s point of view.
The Woodsman follows Walter and watches what happens when he tries to re-enter society. He honestly says he wants to be a “normal” person but at the same time is driven with a deep compulsion.

He gets a job at a timber yard with a bunch of rednecks and as an ex-con the only apartment he can rent is a rundown shoebox that happens to be across the road from a school. Demons follow his every thought.

Although there are other actors in the movie you almost don’t need them. It’s all about Walter and the battle of his will. Bacon is superbly restrained and subtle and acts with all his might in the many silences.

Will he lapse?

Not recommended as a first date movie.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:03 PM | Comments (0)

FIRST DRAFT: June 05, AU Edition

Our exclusive first look at the Mark Latham diaries...

November 22, 1999:
Bloody hacks. Just read another story about my ties with Gough and how I’m the ‘anointed one’. Bugger that. Sure, Dad is a total legend. But I’m my own man too, you know...

July 13, 2001:
Maaate. I am so piSSeD. YO wouldn’t believe wha jus HAPpennd!!! Cabbie nicked my moolahh.Butt I shOWED himmdintI!!!
OOhsh. Feeelin queesy....thinkI’m gonna CH ...

July 14, 2001:
Ugh. My bonce is as heavy as a bloody bowling ball. And my left knee feels like a croc took a piece out of it.
That cabbie’s probably feeling a good deal worse, though. I did tackle the bastard pretty hard. Hope he’s that: what if the hacks pick up on it?

Still, they never found out about that flower pot man I decked yonks back in Liverpool, eh! Old bastard was about ninety not out then. He’s probably carked it by now.
So, it should be sweet. Not worth worrying about.

June 30, 2002:
‘Arse-licker.’ It’s just a word. OK, maybe two. Why all the outrage?
Now the Tories are pushing this line I’ve got some kind of bum obsession. How wrong is that?
Anal fixation my arse!

Talk about the potty calling the dunny brown. I mean they can talk; they are totally, scrotally obsessed with the contents of my pants.
That Mad Monk and his “missing manhood” jibes. If he brings that up again I’ll deck ‘im!

And anyway, he’s the one who’s always wussing out and walking away.
Actually, he’s such a wuss I’m amazed he even fathered the sprog. About the only thing he could sire is a fart. (We’ll probably find out the ponce had nothing to do with it. That’ll be a cack, eh!)

Bloody Tories. They’re such a pack of girls. I might be shy a cod, but I’ve still got more balls than the lot of them.

February 5, 2003:
Mate, what is it with this joint? It’s full of bloody blushing violets. Now they’re going spacko over that ‘conga line’ line!
Gawd. You’d think I lobbed it out right in the middle of Question Time and performed genital origami or something.

They’re still spewing over ‘arse-licker’ – not to mention that (very accurate) description of Tony Staley.

Then there’s the ongoing saga over ‘skanky ho’. Hell, I only said it to get the yoof vote. That’s a pick-up line in some quarters, you know.

What’s wrong with a bit of colourful language? I mean, for f..k’s sake!

Anyway, in all those cases I was being quite bloody restrained. Imagine how they’d have reacted if I’d really cut loose...

September 16, 2004:
Mate, sometimes I read what I’ve written here and wonder why I keep doing it.

Then I remember: Yonks from now, long after my epoch-making, ball-tearing stint as PM has transformed the nation forever, these scrawlings will be worth their weight in gold. I’ll be the new Great Man then; kicking major freckle on the speech circuit; holding court like Dad does now. People will give their eye teeth to know what was really going down all those years ago.

It’s timing, see.

Before then? Not a snowflake’s chance in hell.

Why would they be interested?

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:01 PM | Comments (0)

FOOD: June 05, AU Edition

Eli Jameson writes that cooking is just like defending a besieged castle: sometimes, it’s done best with boiling oil

Pity the carnivore in love with the vegetarian. All of a sudden one of his most cherished loves – all things meaty and on a plate – is called into question by the new love in his (or occasionally her) life. Can a relationship last when two parties disagree on something as fundamental as whether or not the children’s song ‘Baa, Baa, Black Sheep’ is cause for hunger pangs? Or if tempeh is actually yummy, or something sent up to torture us from the depths of hell?

Samuel Jackson’s hit man in Pulp Fiction summed up the dilemma perfectly when he chowed down on one of his more hapless victims’ fast food order: ‘That is a tasty burger! Me, I can’t usually eat ‘em ‘cause my girlfriend’s a vegetarian. Which pretty much makes me a vegetarian.’

Now my wife is a vegetarian, but nowhere near as doctrinaire as Jackson’s movie girlfriend – the most flack I ever cop for frying up a load of bacon and slapping it on some toasted bread with good mayonnaise is caused by health concerns, rather than moral ones (‘are you sure one packet is meant to be eaten by just one person?’). Still, though, I know men whose vegetarian partners would leave them if they found out they regularly went to steakhouses for lunch. One friend’s vegetarian girlfriend even uses meat as a weapon: if things are going well, and she’s happy with the way she’s being treated, beef is on the menu. If not, the poor man is sent packing to the salad bar.

Since we set up housekeeping together a few years ago, I’ve had to figure out ways to cook dishes that satisfy both my wife’s moral code (apparently pancetta is not allowed, even if it’s pretty much dissolved in the final product) and my love of rich food. And in truth, cutting out meat has made me a better cook in a lot of ways: I’m much more conscious of the quality of ingredients, and have learned that vegetables have more of a role than as a creative garnish to a really good piece of meat. No longer do I believe a meal is balanced if it has been sprinkled with parsley.

In terms of technique, this newfound emphasis on cooking with things that grow on the ground rather than run around on it has taught me a renewed love for deep-frying. Perhaps it’s an atavistic masculine thing: if I can’t cook manly things like ribeye steaks, at least I can cook in a manly (i.e., dangerous) way that involves high temperatures and the potential for serious injury. Sort of like the way some guys cloak their creativity by expressing it through the medium of power tools. And unlike those wimps, I don’t even wear safety goggles.

Back in the days before I left my butcher for my wife, I still enjoyed the whole frying process – but never to the point where I would put a bench-top Fry-o-lator at the top of my Christmas list. But with a vegetarian to keep happy, deep frying preserves domestic harmony while also horrifying the health police. It’s also a great way to handle leftovers: golf balls of the previous night’s mushroom risotto can be coated in an egg and parmasean mix and fried in olive oil for a particularly decadent take on the Sicilian classic arancini.

But two of my favourite deep-fried treats involve that late-summer treat, the zucchini flower, and that winter delight, the artichoke heart. The former is my go-to, make-ahead starter course whenever the things come up in the local farmers market (good food retailers like the David Jones Food Hall also stock them - keep an eye out when the time is right); the latter, a fun way to bang and clatter around the kitchen and wind up with something that is, almost literally, heart-stoppingly good.


Three flowers makes for a good first-course serving; my supplier sells in packets of ten, so we generally tend to have five per person at my house. Waste not, want not, right? The goal here is to make the lightly-battered, delicate zucchini flower the perfect vehicle for an incredibly rich packet of warm, melted cheese and herbs.

You’ll need:
• 12 zucchini flowers, preferably with zucchini stems attached
• 150 grams mozzarella cheese
• 150 grams fresh parmagiano reggiano or grana padano
• 1 bunch chives, finely chopped
• 150 grams flour
• 200 ml beer
• Cayenne pepper
• Good sea salt
• Black pepper
• Olive oil
• Butter
• Lemon (optional)

1. First, make the batter: a good flour-based batter needs at least half an hour to rest and come together. In a wide bowl (you’ll be dipping in here later) mix the beer and the flour together, adding a dash of cayenne pepper, salt, and fresh-ground black pepper. What you’re looking for is a lightish consistency, not a heavy, gloppy batter.
2. Then, make the stuffing. Mix up the two cheeses, most of the chives, and some salt and pepper in a bowl (taste to make sure the balance is to your liking). Take the zucchini flowers and, being careful not to tear the leaves, open from the top and with your little finger or a small spoon pop out the stamen from inside the flower. Fill with stuffing, and twist shut, laying aside on a plate. These can sit in the fridge until you are ready to cook.
3. Get a good, heavy-bottomed pan out and fill with a centimetre’s worth of olive oil, and a good whack of butter to boot. Allow this to get quite hot – test it by dripping some batter into it; if it doesn’t immediately set to sizzling, the oil is too cold. Working in batches, dip the flowers into the batter using a turning motion that works with the direction in which you closed them, to help keep them sealed during frying. Place in the oil, and, turning occasionally, fry until golden brown. Set aside on paper towel, sprinkling with salt, until all the flowers are cooked. Place three on each plate, sprinkle with some of the leftover chives, and a squeeze of lemon juice (optional). Serve immediately.
Serves four.


Adapted from Julie Rosso and Sheila Lukins’ New Basics Cookbook, this recipe hails from Chicago’s celebrated Gordon Restaurant. Apparently this was a classic from the day the eatery opened in 1976, and the whole thing does have a bit of a wonderfully haut-1970s feel to it.

You’ll need:
For the béarnaise sauce:
• 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
• 2 tablespoons dry white wine
• 1 tablespoon chopped eschallots
• 1 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves
• 125g room-temperature unsalted butter (for this sort of sauce, it pays to buy some good-quality butter, like Lurpak)
• 3 egg yolks
• Salt and pepper

For the fritters:
• 1 cup flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 cup milk
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon olive oil
• 3 cups corn or peanut oil
• 10 artichoke hearts, halved, rinsed, and dried

1. Make a batter by mixing the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper together in a bowl, and then combining with the milk, egg, and olive oil. Let this rest for at least a half-hour.
2. Knock up a quick béarnaise by boiling down the vinegar, wine, eschallots, and tarragon until reduced by half, and then allow to cool. Then, get some water to near-boiling in a double-boiler (or just use a steel bowl over a pot like I do), and in the top part, combine the vinegar mixture with the egg yolks, giving it a good whisk. Bit by bit, add the butter until the sauce thickens, season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
3. Working in batches, dip the artichokes in the batter and then fry in hot oil. Drain on paper towels, and serve on plates with a daub of béarnaise on each fritter.
Serves four.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)

TOUGH QUESTIONS: June 05, AU Edition

daily mirror4_cropped.jpgIAN WISHART
Why God needs a rottweiler

The newspaper front pages said it all when Pope Benedict XVI ascended the throne in the Vatican late last month: “God’s Rottweiler”, “Panzerkardinal”. Here in New Zealand, Newstalk ZB’s Larry Williams tried to suggest to Bishop Pat Dunn that the Catholic Church had “missed its chance to enter the 21st century”. As if, somehow, the church has to reflect modern secular attitudes to stay relevant.

There’s news for many of the media commentators and fringe lobby groups who resent another conservative at the helm of the papacy, and that news is all bad: Christianity doesn’t have to stay relevant to survive in the modern age – instead, citizens of the modern age need to return to Christianity to survive.

That modern liberals seek a religion that reflects their own views and behaviour, rather than core values, is no surprise. That desire explains the massive rise in Eastern and New Age beliefs in the West, where people are soothingly reassured by spiritual snake-oil salesmen that “there are many paths to God, find what works for you”. For a generation that has trouble getting out of their armchairs to change a TV channel, such anything-goes religion is non-threatening, easy to comply with and really cool if you love mung beans.

Pope Benedict himself wasted no time declaring that Western secularism is the biggest threat to Christianity.

“We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognise anything as definitive and has as its highest value one’s own ego and one’s own desires,” the new Pope warned.

The idea that religion should change itself to reflect human trends, rather than God, is almost a given in some sectors of society these days – usually the sectors who would never darken a church doorway even at Easter. No longer having faith, they would prefer the Church join them by abandoning its faith as well, “lightening up a little”, and what’s wrong with abortion as a form of contraception anyway?

But the times they are a changing. Few could have failed to note that many of the mourners for Pope John Paul 2, and many of those who cheered at the news of Joseph Ratzinger’s election as the new pope, were young. Many of the cynics and critics are baby-boomers. There is not just a culture clash underway on religion, there is an intergenerational clash as well. The children of the baby boomers think their parents are immoral, inept and bereft of basic values. While mainstream liberal protestant churches in the West are dying a horrible death, Pentecostal protestant churches are booming, as Gen-Xers return to the faith their parents abandoned.

Pope Benedict knows this too. His choice of the name Benedict is significant for a number of reasons. The Benedictine order of monks were primarily responsible for the Christianisation of Europe during the dark ages. The original evangelists bringing light to the world. Many observers say this Benedictine papacy will be a battle for the hearts and minds of Europe again.

Yet it will be a battle without compromise. Pope Benedict staunchly resists the notion that Christianity should somehow be watered down to appeal to Western liberals. Better, says the Pope, to remain true to your core beliefs than set yourself adrift in the sea of relativism where truth is meaningless.

If that means the Catholic Church continues to shrink in Western Europe (it is exploding in Latin America and Africa), then so be it, as Britain’s Independent noted.

And there is another fascinating twist to Ratzinger’s choice of “Benedict”. Back in the year 1140, a monk known to history as St Malachi is said to have received visions from God of 112 future popes.
According to those visions, the man just elected will be the second to last pope:

“111. The Glory of the Olive. The Order of St. Benedict has said this Pope will come from their order. The Olive branch is a sign of peace and he may be a peacemaker or dark skinned. It is interesting that Jesus gave his apocalyptic prophecy about the end of time from the Mount of Olives. This Pope will reign during the beginning of the tribulation Jesus spoke of. The 111th prophesy is “Gloria Olivae” (The Glory of the Olive). The Order of Saint Benedict has claimed that this pope will come from their ranks. Saint Benedict himself prophesied that before the end of the world his Order, known also as the Olivetans, will triumphantly lead the Catholic Church in its fight against evil.”

According to Malachi’s prophecy, this pope will have a short reign, marking the start of the tribulation leading to Armageddon. At 78 years old, Pope Benedict XVI will not remain in power for long.
The liberal wing of the Catholic Church, which tried to mobilize against Ratzinger in the conclave of cardinals but failed, now has a few years to regroup and be better placed at the next conclave, perhaps within a decade, to give us a Pope of enlightenment and liberation from the shackles of the past.

Which brings us to the last of St Malachi’s prophetic visions.
“112. Peter the Roman – This final Pope will, it is argued now by theologians, likely be Satan, taking the form of a man named Peter who will gain a worldwide allegiance and adoration. He will be the final antiChrist which prophecy students have long foretold. If it were possible, even the very elect would be deceived. The 112th prophesy states: ‘In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Petrus Romanus, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations; after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people. The End’.”

Regardless of what one thinks of Malachi’s visions and end-time theology, there’s no doubt the man now at the helm of the Catholic Church will be a defender of the faith from the erosion of postmodernism, in a Europe fast losing its Christianity and returning to paganism.

God needs a “rottweiler” for times such as these.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:55 AM | Comments (0)

LEFT HOOK: June 05, AU Edition

Australian energy policy is far too crude

President George Bush has asked Saudi Arabia to increase oil production to reduce the pressure on oil prices. It is a short-term, politically expedient solution to the problem and demonstrates a lack of understanding of one of the most serious economic and development issues of our time. Managing the decline of oil must begin now and our leaders need to pull their head out of the sand and start talking about it. The short-term political issue may be the price at the pump, but the medium to long-term issue is the lack of oil into the future.

Keeping prices low is not going to help anyone. Even motorists who demand lower prices will only face more dramatic increases in the future. The oil markets are doing us all a favour.

Australia has very low energy prices, yet we have the audacity to complain about them. A government legacy that future generations would look back on and appreciate would protect the future economy from more dramatic falls would be to encourage less consumption of petrol and conserve it for future generations.

As much as President Bush would like to think increased global production would bring the price of oil down, it may not. Even the current $50-plus dollars for a barrel of crude is based on speculation, not availability. Currently, there is enough oil to go around, but buyers and analysts are not sure for how much longer. Some suggest the price is over-inflated by over $20 dollars. This is a naïve view.

The market is actually protecting us because like it or not, we are running out of oil. We have been running out since we started extracting it from the ground. Oil is a fossil fuel and by its nature there is only a certain amount.

How much?

The British Oil Depletion Analysis Centre predicts the Earth’s original oil holdings were around 2000 to 2400 billion barrels. About only half of this is left. And, it is only in the last 30 years we have really become serious oil users. This is what peak oil is all about and what the markets are waiting for.

Peak oil refers to the point in time when extraction of oil from the earth reaches its highest point and begins to decline. We won’t be able to say when we have reached peak oil until after the fact.
Kenneth Deffeyes is a geologist at Princeton University and an expert in the work of Shell Oil geologist M. King Hubbert. Hubbert successfully predicted peak oil production in the US almost 15 years before it occurred in 1970. Deffeyes has used Hubbert’s work to analyse global oil supplies and estimates that global peak will occur sometime this year.

This is what is keeping the markets on edge. With more experts coming forward and predicting we are close to peak oil, prices are starting to reflect nervousness about scarcity.

When peak oil kicks in it, the decline will become obvious. We are on an exponential curve where oil consumption is concerned because the oil supply is decreasing and demand shows no sign of slowing.
At a federal level politicians need to start discussing the impact of oil decline on our nation. They need to begin debating what alternatives are required and where investment should go to support those alternatives.

Prices can’t be kept low, but our consumption can be changed and alternatives can be sought. But we need to start acting now.

Daniel Donahoo is a fellow at OzProspect, a non-partisan, public policy think tank

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:50 AM | Comments (0)

BOOKS: Apr 05. AU Edition

Business guru Malcolm Gladwell’s latest offering says, yes, you can choose a book by its cover

books_blink.jpgBLINK: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
By Malcolm Gladwell
Penguin Australia 2005. Paperback, $32.95. ISBN: 071399844X
Malcolm Gladwell has a gift for taking obscure scientific experiments and tying them in to much broader ideas. Take, for example, Ap Dijksterhuis and Ad van Knippenberg’s study which took two groups of equallymatched students playing Trivial Pursuit. Members of the first group were told to take five minutes before the game started and think about what it meant to be a professor. The second group were to think about football hooligans. The first group faired a lot better. They were in a “smart” frame of mind. This is just one of the many investigations Gladwell covers. He analyses the Pepsi challenge, the Amadou Diallo shooting in New York, speed-dating, the “love lab” and the DNA of marriage, height-salary ratios, Morse code, involuntary facial expressions and Pentagon war games. It’s fascinating reading. But do all these disparate parts meld to form a cohesive theory? I’m not so sure.

The problem is that the publishers are pitching Blink as a self-help title. The best-seller list is littered with diet books and money-making manifestos – French Women Don’t Get Fat; He’s Just Not That Into You; Rich Dad, Poor Dad – which explains what the publishers are up to. But business guru Gladwell’s intentions are a bit more fuzzy.

On the surface Blink is about trusting your gut – hardly a new concept, but the author is such a science-based individual that the book reads as if it’s all news to him. Anyone who’s read his internationally acclaimed first book The Tipping Point will have pretty high expectations for this new release – expectations which, as it turns out, have the power to colour our judgement in either good or evil ways.

The sub-title, “The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”, is misleading if you read the word power as solely a positive thing. It’s true that much of Blink is taken up with impressive examples of snap decisions that make people heaps of money or save lots of lives. An equal portion is devoted to those subconscious decisions produced without the rational mind even realising a decision has already been made. First impressions are powerful, but not necessarily in a good way. Blink proves how we justify our instinctive judgements with a logic entirely unrelated to them – thereby validating prejudices we didn’t even know we had.

“Thin-slicing” is a key term in Blink and it refers to “the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behaviour based on very narrow slices of experience”. For example, when we have to make sense of something very quickly – in a crisis, say, or when interviewing candidates for a job.

Gladwell introduces us to psychologist Samuel Gosling, who has shown how effective thin-slicing can be when judging people’s personalities. His experiment involved getting eighty college students to complete a personality questionnaire about themselves. He then had close friends of the eighty students fill out the same questionnaire. Next Golsing repeated the process with complete strangers who had never even met the people they were judging – all they saw were their dorm rooms, and were given 15 minutes to look around with a clipboard. The results of the experiment are quite surprising: While the close friends were better at measuring how agreeable and extroverted the subject was, on the whole, the complete strangers came out on top. Their conclusions were far more accurate in all other regards, like predicting emotional stability, conscientiousness, and openness to new experiences.

Concludes Gladwell, “Forget the endless ‘getting to know you’ meetings and lunches, then. If you want to get a good idea of whether I’d make a good employee, drop by my house one day and take a look around”.
For me, there’s an absurd side to scientists proving the existence of instinct. Gathering reams of data to pinpoint and explain intuitive responses – it borders on the ridiculous. Granted, the human mind is naturally driven to explain the inexplicable, but to take this further and promote the supremacy of snap decisions over logical thinking is like saying that water is more important than food. We live in a technological age obsessed with data, but have we forgotten so much that we need to rediscover it all again?

Over-thinking has always been frowned upon. While the research in Blink is highly original, the concept isn’t:

In the words of the ancients one should make decisions in the space of seven breaths. Lord Takanobu said, “If discrimination is long, it will spoil.” Lord Naoshige said, “When matters are done leisurely, seven out of ten will turn out badly.” – Hagakure, The Book of the Samurai, written in the 1700s.

Conceding that Blink is preaching to the converted in my case, the focus shifts away from the book’s actual subject toward the biographies of the remarkable Americans collected for the project. We meet the owl-like professor and the smart cop; there’s the fireman who thinks he has ESP and the virtuoso car salesman. Gladwell paints beautiful portraits of these people and many more; he really is the Rembrandt of journalism in this regard. Together they form a brave and intelligent representation of American thought and endeavour.

So, is Blink lamb dressed as mutton or mutton dressed as lamb? Enlisting the Blink philosophy of utilising positive reinforcement to override subconscious prejudice, (perversely) I choose to read Blink as an antidote to the anti-American sentiment that currently plagues us. Medicine like this I’d happily take every day.

books_patron saint of eels.jpgTHE PATRON SAINT OF EELS
By Gregory Day
Sydney. Picador 2005. $22.00 ISBN: 0330421581
Do not be afraid of the saints of the new millenium. Fra Ionio, Patron Saint of Eels, seeks only to protect the eels and remind us of the magic of nature. The Patron Saint of Eels is set in the southern Victorian town of Mangowak, where the bush meets the sea. Noel Lee, an artist, is as concerned about tourism as the rest of the locals. When heavy rain floods the neighbouring swamp, hundreds of eels overflow into the ditches that surround Noel’s loft. The immortal Fra Ionio materializes – deus ex machina – to set them free.

The Patron Saint of Eels is a contemporary fable. Traditionally, fables carry wisdom through the ages. They are cautionary tales that tell us what we ought to do. Unlike fairy tales that give us hope and promise happy endings, fables are not concerned with wish-fulfilment. They are overtly moralistic and use scare tactics to prevent us from doing the wrong thing. Contemporary fables are losing their dark side, it seems.

The master of this genre, Italo Calvino, himself wrote a fable about eels. “The Cloven Youth” tells the story of a boy who is cut in half by a witch. This half-boy grows up, with half a head, half a body and just one leg. Out fishing one day he catches an eel and the eel says, “Let me go, and whatever you wish will be granted, for the sake of the little eel.” The boy lets the eel go. Then one day, as he is passing the palace, a princess on her balcony laughs at him. To punish her for laughing at his misfortunate appearance, he wishes that she were pregnant with his child. A baby is born and the princess is abused by her parents for the disgrace. When it is discovered that the cloven youth is the baby’s father, all three are trapped in barrel sent to the bottom of the ocean. The youth wishes again and for the sake of the little eel, they are safe on dry land with a banquet
before them and a palace all of their own.

The cloven youth, who is no longer cloven but handsome and whole, uses the little eel’s magic once more to punish the king but the princess pleads mercy for her father and he relents. “The king took them back to his palace where they all lived in harmony from then on. Unless they have died in the meantime, they may well be there to this day.”
Calvino’s fables are deadly – by which I mean phenomenally good. Gregory Day’s new work is more reminiscent of Tim Winton’s fable, Blueback. They are both set in small towns threatened by gentrification where nature is the maiden in need of protection. The characters are the keepers of the land and salvation lies in understanding and enjoying that responsibility. Day’s Nannette is wiry and freckled to Winton’s Dora, tough and sun-streaked. Both women like to keep to themselves. Despite their similarlities, these are very different books. The Patron Saint of Eels is in your face. Blueback is far more subtle.

books_Never Let Me Go.jpgNEVER LET ME GO
By Kazuo Ishiguro
London. Faber and Faber 2005. $29.95. ISBN: 0571224121.
The other day I saw a toddler wearing a t-shirt saying “Ruining It For Everybody”. Not wanting to wear a shirt like that myself, I’m in a difficult position reviewing Kazou Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. It’s been five years since his last book came out, so the new one is eagerly awaited and now I’m afraid I’m going to hold out on you too. It’s lucky that it’s not just about ‘that’ anyway; as with all of Ishiguro’s books (think Stevens, the troubled butler in The Remains of the Day), there is always more going on than meets the eye.

So here I am, talkin’ loud and saying nothing, while Ishiguro does the exact opposite. When discussing his work I feel the same obligation to stay silent that one might feel in a library. His writing is quiet. His themes, on the other hand, are radical and universal – loud, that is. Never Let Me Go deals with love and friendship; it scopes out death. This uncanny mix of softly spoken clout has impressed the critics to the point where every one of his books has either won or been nominated for a major award. Look at how Ishiguro makes an insightful indictment of international defence and security policies, without going anywhere near the subject of current affairs. These are primary school children who think someone is plotting to abduct their beloved teacher.

“When it came down to it, though, I don’t recall our taking many practical steps towards defending Miss Geraldine; our activities always revolved around gathering more and more evidence concerning the plot itself. For some reason, we were satisfied this would keep any immediate danger at bay.”
How elegant and understated is that! Talk about a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

There are surprisingly few big-game writers that take it all on. Ishiguro’s style is both contemporary and classic. And he’s not afraid of fiction. Lately there’s been an obsession with keeping it “real”, which often results in books that fail to strike any chord at all. This book strikes so many chords you’ll end up feeling like a banjo in West Virginia.

To be honest, Never Let Me Go is really creepy. I didn’t actually enjoy reading it – though I’d recommend it highly. Ishiguro always opts for the first person narrative and he’s done so again this time. In interviews he will often discuss his somewhat unique method of auditioning characters for the lead role, spending a long time viewing the situation from one perspective then switching to another. Of course this means that by the time the book is published, we are only given access to the inside of one head. This is why I read the first page of Never Let Me Go with a sinking heart. I didn’t want to know this person who was talking to me and I didn’t want to hear her story either. The sense of something being very wrong here is immediately pervasive.

I’ve made this all sound like some big mystery and it’s not. It’s just that some things are better approached fresh, with as little prior knowledge as possible. It’s a shame I don’t want to say what it is about because that’s probably the reason a lot of people will buy it. Never Let Me Go is very topical, very now; let’s just hope it’s not very soon.


books_going native.jpgGOING NATIVE: Living in the Australian Environment
By Michael Archer and Bob Beale
Hodder Headline Australia 2004. $35.
ISBN 0733615228.
Awakening of ecological consciousness - and conscience - can occur at any time. A book, documentary, even a photograph can do the trick. However, I know of few books of this type that are as eloquent, well-documented and, in very sense of the word, down to earth, as this one. Its range is wide-sweeping, immense - from geology to palaeontology, from firestorms to educating children about the unique animals of their own country.

When the authors asked forty children to name ten animals that first came to mind - “no prompts, no preludes, no explanations” - all named cats and dogs and 85 per cent mentioned cows, horses, rats, elephants, giraffes, zebras, tigers, rhinoceroses and lions. Only 15 per cent named any Australian animal. Unsurprisingly, kangaroos were among the most mentioned. Koalas got a look in. With children’s animal perceptions firmly focused on African exotics and imported farm animals, what hope is there for full local ecological consciousness, for heart-felt caring for Australia’s numerous unique species?
In a reversal of cat and dog domination - and moggies come under heavy attack for various nasty diseases they can carry - Archer suggests buddying up with a quoll which, by his account, has all the best aspects of canine and feline qualities combined. It is clean like a cat, affectionate like a dog (even when not hungry!). Alas, Archer’s human-loving quoll bit a cane toad and died - legitimate reason for Archer to bring some heavy artillery to bear on this poisonous and ugly import. Mysteriously, the quoll appears to have two penises (penii?), or what Archer calls “a second erectile structure” - function as yet unknown. If their pro-pet theories seem a trifle cute, how about this (alas, too late) practical notion - if thylacines had been kept as pets, they might still be with us. Quolls and thylacines aside, the authors are no animal rights sentimentalists and strongly urge for the culling of kangaroos - “tasty, free-range, low-fat, low-cholesterol, disease-free, high-protein and environmentally superior” - for human consumption. The departure from the nineteenth century love of local animal tucker was of course a product of urbanisation.

This is a serious and sobering (though humour-seasoned) book which pleads for a radical change in the Australian agricultural sphere. Basically, a shift from sheep to trees. One of the main reasons for this suggestion - more than a suggestion - is the emergence of vast amounts of salty groundwater. A strategy to compensate for the resulting desertification is the hardy saltbush which thrives on salinity that will reduce less tough vegetation to bare ground. In the Bultarra region where merino farmer Robin Meares spearheaded the change, some 7.5 million plants have been earthed.

The authors deftly reel off summaries of all major extinctions by asteroid and meteor impact. The text in general is fact-studded with both actual and estimated figures. In contrast to their factual bombardment, the authors also include some vivid imaginary description of homo ergaster meeting kangaroos long before even the most recently extended date of man’s first arrival in Australia - say 100,000 years ago - and a similarly vivid evocation of Miocene forests at Riversleigh where numerous fossilised remains of unknown species of mammals have been found. They also challenge Tim Flannery’s “Blitzkreig Hypothesis” of megafauna extinction and assert that the impact of mining is actually very minimal and controlled whereas agriculture - the major factor in erosion - is not.

While Archer and Beale spare us no gloomy facts they also offer many practical solutions. Unlike the kind of ecological disaster books that only proffer litanies of doom - possibly to scare us into reacting - Going Native offers down to earth hope in the form of kangaroo culling, native grasses, planting saltbush and trees, and so on. This is an inspired and inspiring book that should be “planted” in all schools and libraries.

books_who's who_layers copy.jpgWHO’S WHO
Hoaxes, Imposture, and Identity Crises in Australian Literature

Edited by Maggie Nolan and Carrie Dawson
University of Queensland Press, $22.50.
ISBN 0702235237.
Caution: that latest Aborigine-authored novel may have been written by a whitefella; that heart-wrenching tale of racial prejudice, sexist control, arranged marriage, and murder in the name of honour may have been written by a housewife living in the suburbs of a reasonably safe city. Nor is academia safe from hoaxes, trickery, posing, chicanery.
None of this is new. History abounds with literary quackery. Sir John Mandeville’s 14th century Travels are widely considered to have been written by Jean de Bourgogne, a knavish Frenchman with a penchant for a tall tale of lands he had not visited. In Who’s Who, thirteen academics write thirteen essays examining the strategies of literary imposture, of wilful authorial schizophrenia. David Carter writing about Nino Culotta (aka John O’Grady) suggests there are two kinds of hoaxes - the first, which only works as long as it remains undiscovered, and the second which depends on being discovered. Carter observes that most scientific hoaxes belong in the first category. However, “examples of the second kind are `core business’ for the arts and humanities, from the Ern Malley affair to Sokal and Social text”.

The interesting thing about the good-natured (shall we say) mask of O’Grady is that when it was removed a month or so after publication, the truth seemed to boost rather than mar sales.

When the mask cannot be easily lifted, when it sticks too close to the skin, the wearer gets uncomfortable. O’Grady wrote to his son: “I have had Mr Culotta. I am heartily sick of Mr Culotta. There will be no sequel. There will be no `Cop this Lot’” – but of course there was. The moral might be – if the laughing guests like your clown face better than your own plain mug why not enjoy the ride? It can’t have been all bad because They’re a Weird Mob sold more copies than any other Australian novel until Bryce Courtenay came along.

If the case of Nino Culotta/John O’Grady was only an amusing soft shoe ethnic shuffle, the Demidenko-Darville duplicity has justly called forth righteous wrath. Susanna Egan indignantly notes that Darville talked of travelling to the Ukraine when she was 12, where she found her relatives in grinding poverty living in cottages with earth floors. She had been forced to give up her seat on the train to Jewish Communists, her grandfather and other relatives had been murdered by Jewish Communists, et cetera. Clearly, we are in the dark realms of what the intellectuals term imposture – though we could also call it hate-mongering fraud. Whatever one thinks of Darville and her misrepresentations, the scrutiny was prolific – three book studies within a year and countless more articles. In another such case, Binjamin Wilkomirski aka Bruno Dosseker (a Swiss gentile), who claimed to have been a child survivor of Nazi concentration camps, fell under suspicion because he kept shedding tears, whereas genuine survivors like author Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel remained dry-eyed. I keep thinking there is something we should all be learning from these cases but I’m not entirely sure what it is. Perhaps all authors should be subject to a pre-publication gender and ethnicity check (just kidding). From one deception to another, the motives are different. Some want a new and more successful literary career, some (I suspect) want to make their own ordinary life stories more interesting, more exotic than they are. This is an all too human wish to which many of us succumb every time we embellish a story about ourselves.

Being an academic set of texts, this psychological explanation is less fully examined than might have been the case otherwise. We are all wise, though no wiser after all is revealed. When truth wills out, the gaps in the lies seem glaringly obvious.

In the notorious case of Marlo Morgan’s Mutant Messages Down Under it was unearthed there was no “Real People Tribe”, no kidnapping, no voyage in the desert. And of course no one in the relevant area had heard of Morgan. The American term “Down Under” - never used by Antipodeans - should have been a leading clue to its falsity.

Despite this, Cath Ellis notes that the book is required reading in several American universities and an extract appears in a guidebook to Australia. Ms Morgan’s New Age trash fulfils an eternal desire that we all desperately want to be true - the civilised being can be made uncivilised and return to some more idealised primitive state. Lord Greystoke always wants to be Tarzan. It appears, then, that Morgan, by appealing to a mythic-cultural desire, has “succeeded”, while Darville, who told unsavoury ethnic lies, has failed. This collection of essays offers a thoughtful dissection of this intriguing ongoing phenomena, though its scope and analysis could conceivably have gone further: is this imposture peculiar to “developed” countries? Is Australia a world leader in literary deception? Watch this space.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:48 AM | Comments (0)

RIGHT HOOK: June 05, AU Edition

Ever have one of those millennia?

It’s always important to get liberals to stop complaining long enough to make a hard prediction. This month we will review liberal predictions on the Iraqi elections. When they weren’t claiming the Iraq elections would not take place at all, liberals were telling us that if we let those crazy Arabs vote, the Iraqi people would elect extremist mullahs hostile to the United States.

Well, the Iraq National Assembly has completed filling out the cabinet, and it can now be said that this was liberals’ laughably wrong prediction No. 9,856. (Or No. 9,857 if you count their predictions of ruinous global cooling back in the 1970s, which I don’t because that could still happen.)

Iraq’s first democratically elected government in half a century has a Shi’a prime minister and a Kurdish president and several Sunni cabinet ministers.

Fat Muqtada al-Sadr saw his radical Shi’ite movement humiliated in the January elections. According to a recent poll by the International Republican Institute, two-thirds of Iraqis say Iraq is on the right track.

The minority Sunnis, who once held sway under Saddam Hussein and were told by American liberals to expect major payback from the Shi’ites under a democracy, were chosen by the majority Shi’a government for four cabinet positions – including the not insignificant position of defense minister.

What we’ve learned from this is: Talking to liberals is much more fun now that we have Google.

In a Nov. 9, 2003, news article, The New York Times raised the prospect that ‘democracy in the Middle East might empower the very forces that the United States opposes, like Islamic fundamentalists in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.’

Democracy in the U.S. might have put John Kerry in the White House, too, but you’ll notice they didn’t abandon the idea.
One difference is that the Islamists in Saudi Arabia and Egypt were not democratically elected. Still, the Times said that ‘something similar’ happened in Iran when ‘domestic pressures’ installed the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. By ‘domestic pressures’ in Iran, I gather they meant ‘the Carter presidency’.

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Trudy Rubin claimed to be talking about ‘grim Iraq realities’, explaining to her readers that if elections were held, the new Iraqi government ‘will likely be dominated by religious parties. If the economy stays bad, radical Islamic parties could do well’. So you can see how leaving the tyrannical Hussein dynasty (slogan: ‘We’re the rape room people!’) in place was preferable to that.

Winning the category of Most Wrong Predictions, Lifetime Achievement Award, Katrina vanden Heuvel (Queen of the May at America’s fun-loving Nation magazine) said invading Iraq would lead to ‘more terrorist retaliation, undermine the fight against al-Qaida and make America less secure and possibly unleash those very weapons of mass destruction into the hands of rogue terrorists in Iraq’.

What weapons, Katrina? (Katrina lied, kids died!) Hey! Wait a minute! How can rogue terrorists in Iraq detonate bombs? They’re all too busy flying kites with their children! Hasn’t she seen Fahrenheit 9/11?
After we invaded Iraq, Katrina predicted the U.S. would stay in Iraq as a colonial power – as the only non-imperialist superpower in the history of the world is wont to do. As we paved the way for elections, she said, ‘You know, if there are elections in Iraq, it’s very likely it will not be secular democracy’.

But it’s not fair to quote Katrina. She still thinks the Soviet Union’s planned economy failed because the farmers had 70 years of bad weather.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

May 05, AU Edition


Helen Clark has been New Zealand’s PM since 1999, and her Labour Party has had about as firm a lock on power as is possible in a democratic country. But all that could be changing – and fast, especially with a election in the offing. In an interview with IAN WISHART that continues to make headlines on both sides of the Tasman, former NZ cabinet minister John Tamihere spills the beans on the inner workings of the Kiwi government, and what he thinks it is doing to the country. For New Zealand’s left, Tamihere is ...


INVESTIGATE: John Tamihere, you’ve been cleared by the Serious Fraud Office of any wrongdoing, you’ve got a fight on your hands for your electorate seat this year, and I see Labour Party President Mike Williams suggesting a mid-to-late September election…
TAMIHERE: I reckon it is going to be earlier. Just in case a number of economic issues start to deteriorate.
INVESTIGATE: Labour has managed, in the past 20-odd years, to capture Liberal economic theory while retaining a socially liberal outlook. How did they do it?
TAMIHERE: We’re lucky in a number of regards. One is that there’s no huge economic debate anymore over socialism, or communism versus capitalism. That’s gone. Capitalism has won, and the argument now is about best practice, best structure, best systems, and it’s nowhere near as exciting for the masses.
There are two other things that must follow. Labour is now business-savvy. We never had that before because you had unionists who begat our party who believed all bosses were bad bosses. That chasm has now gone, because SME’s [small-to-medium enterprises] produced 86% of all new jobs in the past five years, nearly a quarter of a million, and that will increase. Because more people are becoming business-savvy. Not all businessmen are bad. The biggest sweatshops we’ve got are hospitals, run by the government and funded by the government. And so the caterers and the cleaners are actually government funded, and they’re jumping up and down at their own government.
Award rates are a joke because they bear no resemblance to the capacity of the business sector to achieve it, and that’s why those general wage rounds are anathema to reasonable economics. I mean, you get a number of people jumping up and down seeking a five percent general wage order – get a life!
INVESTIGATE: What sort of power do the unions still have with the Labour party?
TAMIHERE: You know, they come in all ‘ra ra ra’, and the next minute, you know, it’s welcome to the real world, when they’re exposed to a whole bunch of competing advice and information that they’ve never had before because it’s always been the union line before. Unions. I can’t stand them. I had a big pow-wow with some of them. You go into town, have a meeting with them. Won’t name any names but they were all sitting there, and I said to them, ‘All of you sitting over there were all on good jobs, and you all sold us out under Rogernomics in the eighties’. Now I actually think a lot of things happened under Rogernomics in retrospect which were extraordinarily good, but when you’re suffering you take a more vested interest. These guys were all running around in their bloody Falcons and they were on $55,000 those years, which was bloody good money. And what did they do? Nothing! Now some of them are politicians.

INVESTIGATE: Looking ahead three to six years, what do you think the unions are aiming for in the Labour Party.
TAMIHERE: Well, obviously greater influence. I think we f...ed up with our 2004 amendments to the Employment Relations Act. I think it’s very silly, a number of things that we did then, merely to give unions greater organizational capabilities. I don’t think it’ll translate to greater union membership, but having said that it’s another impost and imposition on business. It’s really ugly. Because as business downsizes and subcontracts, if it was me I wouldn’t have anyone in the union. The ‘union’ was our company, our whanau. Guys that actually make small businesses work, as you’ve correctly indicated, they’re not bad employers otherwise they screw their own business. The other thing is a lot of small businesses in NZ are familial, either direct family or references from mates.
INVESTIGATE: The union movement is angling for more of its old heyday, but in your opinion that’ll backfire if the activists achieve that?
TAMIHERE: Yes. Mark Gosche never delivered for them, so they’re bringing in Maryann Street, and she’s a very capable person. I’ll tell you this: Burton was actually meant to be the Speaker but as soon as Street came in and got a high place on the northern regional list, that was it.
You see, these people think in timeframes of ten to fifteen years, it’s only bastards like me that struggle through the current term. So when you’re positioning for high places, they’re thinking that far ahead...yeah, they purposely planned to lose. ‘That era’s gone, we’re new, and we’re coming. He’s gone, Helen’s it’.
INVESTIGATE: This goes back to the great conspiracy theory. Most people like you and I can’t get our heads around the idea that someone can sit in a darkened room and figure out where they want to be in fifteen years. Where do they get the time to do that?
TAMIHERE: They don’t have families. They’ve got nothing but the ability to plot. I’ve gotta take my kid to soccer on Saturday, they don’t. So they just go and have a parlez vous francais somewhere and a latte, whereas we don’t get to plot, we’re just trying to get our kids to synchronise their left and right feet. They don’t even think about that.
I’ve got a fifteen year old whose testosterone’s jumping and he’s scrapping around at school. Now they don’t have that, and because they don’t have that they’re just totally focused. You’ve also got a fully paid organization called the union movement, who can co-opt fully paid coordinators. These people just never sleep.
INVESTIGATE: How dangerous is it to be in the Labour Party?
TAMIHERE: If you’re a free and independent spirit, very dangerous. Like, if there was a popularity poll for me, I can assure you that there’s more ministerial klingons voting on the old PC against you, and yet I’m on the same team! They sit there, typing away, muttering, ‘come on SFO, let’s nail this bastard!’
In this outfit it’s all ‘rosy’ on the outside, not the inside. When I used to make a contribution in cabinet, on the cabinet papers, I’d go, ‘Hang on’, and she’d go, ‘you want to be difficult again, do you?’
I’d say ‘it’s not about being difficult, it’s just that a number of these amendments are pointless. You’re just scoring brownie points off the other side when you’ve already beaten them. I don’t think you need to do that. I think you can lighten up on some of these points and still achieve what this mob over here want, the Blues Brothers over here, Maharey and his mates.’ Thankfully, my advice was accepted on a number of occasions.
INVESTIGATE: What do you make of the ‘machine’ that
exists on the ninth floor at the moment?
TAMIHERE: Oh yeah, there’s definitely a ‘machine’ all right. It’s formidable. It’s got apparatus and activists in everything from the PPTA [Post Primary Teachers’ Association] all the way through. It’s actually even built a counterweight to the Roundtable – Businesses for Social Responsibility.
Its intelligence-gathering capabilities are second to none.
INVESTIGATE: How good is the media, or are they totally useless and sycophantic?
TAMIHERE: They’re utterly and totally useless. And sycophantic. You know and I know there’s no investigative journalism done in that bloody gallery. In an information age, we’ve got more ignorant people out there than there’s ever been.
INVESTIGATE: Labour’s enjoying the benefit of that, but surely there’s got to be a day of reckoning..
TAMIHERE: Not when the journalists know they’ve got to deal with this government for another three years, and the same goes for business. Right now there are people writing cheques out in the corporate sector who wouldn’t bloody cross the road to pee on us if we were on fire, for the same reason: at the end of the day it’s business. They’ve got to deal with this party.
And the other mob aren’t helping themselves much. Even if they wanted to, they’ve got no one who can articulate it.
INVESTIGATE: How much longer can the current machine dominate?
TAMIHERE: The current machine wants to become, in all ways, the natural party of government, and just have us vote different coalition partners on the fringes. Has kiwi culture changed that much? I don’t know.
INVESTIGATE: What is the most powerful network in the
Labour executive?
TAMIHERE: The Labour Party Wimmins Division. Whether it’s bagging cops that strangle protestors they should be beating the proverbial out of, or – it’s about an anti-men agenda, that’s what I reckon. It’s about men’s values, men’s communication standards, men’s conduct.
I spoke to the boards and principals association in Wellington, and I showed them a picture of two girls with their fists clenched, standing on top of two young male students. The object of the exercise was to prove that once again the female students had romped home academically against all the boys. If the positions in the photo were reversed, all hell would break loose.
Where else in the world do Amazons rule?
I don’t mind front-bums being promoted, but just because they are women shouldn’t be the issue. They’ve won that war. It’s just like the Maori – the Maori have won, why don’t they just get on with the bloody job. I think it becomes more grasping.
INVESTIGATE: Will Labour win this election?
TAMIHERE: It’ll win it. Who it does business with to maintain it…she’s too savvy, mate. It’s too clever. You’ve got Cullen – we wouldn’t survive without Cullen – he can cut a deal on a piece of legislation, he can change a single word in a piece of legislation without those other bastards [coalition partners] knowing about it, and it melts down everything they wanted but they still think they got their clause in. The pressure, they bring pressure to bear on individuals.
INVESTIGATE: How intense does the pressure get?
TAMIHERE: Close to fisticuffs!
TAMIHERE: I always kick the officials out when I know it’s going to get a bit tetchy, because you know they’ll blab all over the place. So I say ‘hang on mate, I want to talk political now, get them out’. And Cullen goes, ‘oh no, no, he’s ok’ or ‘she’s ok’. And I say ‘It might be for you, but not for me. I’m uncomfortable’.
What you do is you always use the wimmins’ language: ‘I’m feeling unsafe!’ And the women, as soon as they hear that, they’re instantly with me. ‘I’m feeling unsafe in here’. [chuckles]
INVESTIGATE: Where do you see yourself being, three years from now?
TAMIHERE: Well, as long as I’m doing the business and championing the right debate. The issue you’ve raised about where we’ve arrived, and whoever identifies that and encapsulates that, but more importantly is able to bring the masses with them, will set a new benchmark for New Zealand nationhood.
Because it is there. The sense of belonging is for everyone and the Maori don’t have a mortgage on that.
INVESTIGATE: You can get trapped, as you’ve made the point, looking back instead of forward, and letting bitterness over the past poison your future. They don’t grow as people or move on.
TAMIHERE: The Weisenthal Institute is the same. I’m sick and tired of hearing how many Jews got gassed, not because I’m not revolted by it – I am – or I’m not violated by it – I am – but because I already know that. How many times do I have to be told and made to feel guilty?
Same with the Maori, I hear them talking about how they were burnt out of the Orakei marae in 1951 and so on. Big deal. What are we doing about it? Well, we’ve fixed it, actually. So what are you going to tell your children? It’s part of their history. It’s not baggage and it’s not an anchor. It’s part of their folklore.
INVESTIGATE: What’s Helen like?
TAMIHERE: A very complex person, a very, very complex person. And she’s been made complex by the range of sector groups she’s been made to engage with and occasionally confront. But she’s no good with emotions. She goes to pieces. She’ll fold on the emotional side and walk away or not turn up. She knows it’s going to get emotional and it upsets her.
We’ve never had a great relationship. I said to her, ‘look, I don’t give a f..k about the unions. You’ve got enough of those. My job is to bloody talk to kiwi males who are feeling out in the cold over the whole thing and also to stand up against some of the PC bulls..t.
And that’s why I said to Chris Carter, ‘I’m standing against that bloody civil union bill mate, because you’ve already had enough! I voted for one piece of social engineering and now you’re f..king coming back for another! Those two queers never got it right. I said you can have one, Civil Unions or Prostitution, make up your mind. And so I gave in on Prostitution. And then he comes up to me
and harangues me, because he wants to be the first get married on April 1, the tosser, and he says to me ‘but you’re a minority John, you understand’.
I’ve got a right to think that sex with another male is unhealthy and violating. I’ve got a right to think that.
INVESTIGATE: Why are these policies so popular on the ninth floor?
TAMIHERE: Because Helen has been brutalized by people who have called her lesbian, no children and all the rest of it. Her key advisor Heather Simpson is a butch, and a lot of her support systems are, Maryann Street and so on, and she’s very comfortable in that world and comfortable with it. I’m not.
And so that’s why it’s got strong legs. And when you go down through that building [the Beehive] it is infiltrated with it, in key policy and decision making processes and the upper echelons of the ministries, and it skews things, it is an unhealthy weighting, because even if you give a policy directive they’ll skew the policy underneath you. You wake up and think, ‘am I wrong thinking this way?’
But that’s when they’ve got you. They’re trying to make men think and act like them, but I’m not one of them. In my view this is a circuit breaker because you can actually rally numbers. That group of women has only one worldview, and men have to organize themselves to deal with that, and start winning the debates. Men can actually reassert a position. It’s about social conduct and performance. It’s about good father role models. It is about societal mores that will achieve that, not the police.
INVESTIGATE: And some of the chickens coming home to roost would be?
TAMIHERE: The number of do-gooders who are paid extremely well in government. We’ve got 180,000 fewer unemployed, but a bigger bureaucracy than when we did! What the hell is going on here?
We’ve got a range of poor incentives. We say to people ‘you stay in a state house at 25% gross’, and we’re teaching them to be crooks. There might be four income earners in there – we’ll never know it.
And instead of trading up and moving on, we’re encouraging them to stay in there. One third of kiwi families don’t have a male in them. That’s not good. But we got a document printed that tells us all the young males need and are desperately craving for is a male role model who’ll acknowledge them, acknowledge where they’re at and be supportive of them, which is what a normal father does. And if the father’s not there we’ve got to find a male role model somewhere else. And we can’t get them in primary schools, because we’re all ‘molestors’, all ‘rapists’, or ‘potentially’ we’re going to do it. So we’ve got to shift that attitude and provide scholarships to encourage men back into the education system.
Men’s problems are traditionally dealt with by the criminal justice system. Women, on the other hand, get a bloody Cartwright Inquiry and get millions of dollars thrown at their breasts and cervixes. Men get nothing. You need a debate that we can tackle unfair and stupid policy with.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:44 AM | Comments (0)

SPIN CITY: June 05, AU Edition


The Liberals’ states (and territories) of confusion

Swept up in the excitement of federal issues, one can be forgiven for stifling a yawn at the mention of state politics. Liberals, in particular, might prefer not to reflect on this unprecedented spell of Labor domination. Yet just as the long federal drought is undermining the political viability of Labor, the Liberals face a bleak future if they do not soon regain the initiative at a state level.

The status quo puts the Liberals one defeat away from electoral oblivion. If it suffers a federal defeat in 2007 without first making gains at state level, the party will lose almost all the resources, influence and staffers that are critical to maintaining political and intellectual capital.

While the federal government is important to business generically, as it has prime influence over the nation’s economic climate, state governments are in a better position to assist particular businesses, especially property developers. This makes control of state governments a lucrative proposition for political parties, one which Labor has not been shy to exploit. It is an under-appreciated fact that the Liberals, not Labor, are the party that is playing catch-up in political funding.

What are the prospects of a Liberal resurgence? In New South Wales, Bob Carr’s tough-on-crime rhetoric has been exposed as just that by the repeated humiliations of his police force at the hands of riotous thugs. Sydney’s transport system is reminiscent of pre-Mussolini Italy. Yet for all that, the Brogden Opposition has failed to achieve the sort of ascendancy in the polls that might presage a change of government.

In Victoria, the shine has worn off Steve ‘Good Bloke’ Bracks. His constant refrain of ‘we’ll look into it’ has become a standing joke, while his unscrupulous revenue grabs have alienated many Victorians. But while there have been some promising polls for the Liberals, the sentiment in the party – and on the street – is more consistent with a respectable recovery next election from the total rout of 2002, not a miracle turn-around.

I tried to elicit comment from the party’s Queensland division, but they were both out. Nor are Liberals knocking on the doors of power in South Australia, Tasmania or the Territories.

In Western Australia, Colin Barnett went to the people with the most exciting election promise since Russian fascist Vladimir Zhirinovsky pledged to build giant fans to blow radioactive waste across the Baltic states. I preferred Zhirinovsky’s plan; at least it might have worked. Voters consigned the mighty Barnett canal to the ash heap of history, to the relief of all thinking people.

To lose one state may be regarded as misfortune; to lose six plus two Territories looks like carelessness. A trend this strong must have an explanation.

The most thoughtful one was proffered by Laurie Oakes. He suggested that Australians look to Canberra for policies to sustain economic prosperity and defend national security. The states, by contrast, are seen as service providers, responsible for schools and hospitals. Thus the hard-edged issues which favour conservatives are concentrated at a federal level, while the touch-feely issues at the state level are Labor’s strong suit.

Centralism, which has seen Canberra steadily strip the states of responsibility since Federation, is partly to blame. State governments today are little more than service administrators and contract managers. It was not always so. This trend has also exacerbated the problem of finding decent candidates to run at state level.

The GST has also propped up incumbent state governments. Peter Costello is right to be frustrated by the ease with which the states have squandered their GST windfall, despite increasing their dependency on gambling revenue, outrageous traffic fines and obscene levels of property tax.

But politics is about results, not excuses, and the state Liberals produce far too many of the latter and not enough of the former. Why, in an age of growing hospital waiting lists, functionally illiterate school-leavers and widespread dissatisfaction with transport infrastructure in our major cities, have the Liberals failed so conspicuously to capture the public imagination in these areas?

A quick look at the average state campaign yields the answer: the Liberals aren’t trying. While the rampant vote-buying of federal campaigns is tempered with some issues of principle – asylum seekers, war, mutual obligation – state campaigns are wholly non-ideological.

In an age of few fiscal constraints, all that leaves is bribes to the electorate. State campaigns consist of a bidding war between politicians using taxpayer money. Even at its most feckless and patronising, the Liberal Party is never going to win that fight.
If spending like a drunken sailor isn’t the answer, what is?

Continuing the alcoholic analogy, the first step to solving your problem is realising that you have one. The logical corollary is that Liberals need to convince the voters that taxpayer money is being wasted, and that Liberals could do more with less.

I’m not talking about attacking the Premier’s twenty-grand ‘fact-finding’ mission to Hawaii, or the ministerial office furniture bill. The Liberals have already mastered those stunts. In a time of plenty, most voters ignore the politicians’ snouts in the trough, so long as they themselves are kept in gravy.

Liberals must undertake a more fundamental reappraisal of the big ticket items of state spending. They must convince voters that the problems with our health and education systems do not flow from absolute funding levels, but from structural failures.

Education is the most fertile ground for this argument. It is received wisdom in most “Howard battler” households that schools are failing to teach ‘the three R’s’. Educationalists and their unions have provided a treasure trove of quotes and documents displaying an obsession with politicising our children and a contempt for the importance of basic literacy and numeracy.

Attacks on curriculum would be political dynamite. Increasing access to private schools with a voucher system would empower parents and provide a tangible benefit. Similarly, Liberals should explore avenues to introduce greater consumer-focus into the health system.

Right-wing think-tanks, here and abroad, have produced a library of ideas on how to decentralise service provision and increase stakeholder control. While federal Liberals borrow heavily from the Centre for Independent Studies and the Institute of Public Affairs, their non-ideological state cousins have demonstrated little interest in radical reform.

After years in the wilderness, it is shameful that state Liberal oppositions have done so little to build the intellectual capital needed not just to return them to power, but to make their future governments a success. The Liberal Party cannot afford more insipid, pork-barrelling campaigns, nor a repeat of Barnett’s giant boondoggle in the West. To those cynical state Liberals who claim that a reform agenda cannot win elections, I say simply: GST.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:41 AM | Comments (0)

SCIENCE: Nov 05, AU Edition

New research says that earthquakes may be contagious, reports Sandi Doughton

Geologists used to answer with an emphatic “No” when asked if mega-earthquakes like the one that hit Southeast Asia last December can trigger temblors on the other side of the globe. Today, some experts are not so sure.

Evidence is mounting that large earthquakes can rattle geologic formations thousands of kilometres away – and perhaps even set off volcanic eruptions days, months or years later.

There’s also an intriguing hint that major earthquakes might occur in clusters: Nearly a third of the biggest quakes of the past century struck during a 20-year span between 1950 and 1970.

After three decades of relative quiet, two massive quakes came in quick succession late last year: the magnitude 9 in Sumatra and a little-noticed magnitude 8.1 off the coast of New Zealand three days earlier.

Do monster earthquakes beget more monster earthquakes? Could the two recent events signal the start of a new destructive cycle? And is it possible the Sumatran quake jolted other geologic plates enough to hasten the day when they let loose, unleashing what geologists predict will be comparable catastrophes? No one knows the answers to the first two questions, which are hot topics of research and scholarly debate.
But scientists are fairly certain people don’t have any more to worry about now than they did six months ago.

“I would venture to say there’s a minimal effect, if any at all, on our region from the Sumatra earthquake”, comments Herb Dragert, a research scientist for the Geological Survey of Canada, surveying the seismic risks on his side of the Pacific.

Dragert and his American counterparts operate a network of GPS sensors throughout the region. The instruments can detect even slight movements of land masses, reflecting changes in the amount of stress at the Cascadia subduction zone – a 900-kilometre-long offshore region where the ocean floor is diving under the continental plate.

The measurements show no troublesome blips as a result of the Sumatran quake, Dragert says.

“If we suddenly had a very large earthquake in Alaska, which is much closer, and I saw displacement in my GPS instruments, then I would begin to worry.”

However, there could be ample cause for concern around Indonesia. When the undersea plates there snapped apart, triggering the earthquake, the dislocation almost certainly increased stress and strain on adjacent geologic faults and plate boundaries. Geologists call the pheno- menon “contagion” because it raises the odds of subsequent earthquakes like an influx of germs raises the risk of infection.
“It’s very expected and quite dangerous”, explains Brian Atwater, a U.S. Geological Survey researcher stationed at the University of Washington. “It gives a certain sense of urgency to efforts to get a warning system going around the Indian Ocean.”

Scientists have long known about the contagion effect, which can extend for 100 miles or so from the epicenter of a major quake. It’s the phenomenon that’s responsible for the aftershocks that follow many major quakes.

But most experts were stunned in 1992 when a magnitude-7.2 quake struck the Mojave Desert in Southern California and was almost immediately followed by more than a dozen quakes as far away as Wyoming. A similar thing happened in 2002, when a magnitude-7.9 earthquake in Denali, Alaska, triggered earthquakes and rearranged the plumbing of geyser fields in Yellowstone National Park – 3,000 kilometres away. The same event spawned a couple of small earthquakes under Mount Rainier and set up sloshing waves that swamped houseboats on Lake Union in Seattle and Lake Pontcha- rtrain in Louisiana.

“As people around the world look more carefully, they’re seeing more examples of this kind of (long-distance) effect”, says David Hill, a USGS geophysicist stationed at Menlo Park, California. “At this point there’s really no doubt that it happens.”

Generally, the triggered earthquakes are smaller than the original, though there’s no reason to believe that larger earthquakes couldn’t be kicked off this way as well, says Hiroo Kanamori, a geophysicist at the California Institute of Technology.

The effect seems to be caused by seismic waves that radiate out from the epicenter of an earthquake, along the surface of the ground. Imperceptible to people, these waves cover a lot of distance.
“The Earth ends up ringing like a bell”, Dragert explains. “You have a surface wave that travels around the globe for hours after the event, and if it passes through an area that is already critically stressed, it can, indeed, trigger an earthquake.”

That is, a fault or plate boundary must already be on the verge of slipping or breaking for the surface waves to push it over the edge.
There’s still no detailed explanation for the way that happens, though, Hill says.

“In a way, it’s frustrating to be doing research on this,” he adds, “because we can’t do it in the lab and repeat the experiment. We’ve got to wait for the Earth to do it, and then have good recording networks in the field.”

There’s even less concrete data to show that distant earthquakes can trigger volcanic eruptions, though the circumstantial evidence is growing, Hill says. One analysis found a high number of volcanic eruptions within a day or two of large earthquakes. Several volcanoes around the world, including Pinatubo in the Philippines, have erupted within weeks or months of major earthquakes.

Indonesia has many volcanoes, none of which has yet erupted in the aftermath of the earthquake – but scientists will be watching closely.
After the Boxing Day tsunami, the Washington Post reported lava was spewing from a volcano on an island in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an Indian archipelago off the coasts of Myanmar (formerly called Burma) and Indonesia. Previously, the crater had emitted only gas.

Theories linking distant earthquakes to eruptions and other earthquakes remain controversial. It’s almost impossible to prove what triggered an earthquake or eruption, Kanamori points out.

Researchers look mainly at the timing of events, then do statistical analyses to show that they’re probably linked, not just random coincidences.

Hill does collect some hard data from strain meters buried in 600-foot boreholes in California’s Long Valley Caldera near Mono Lake. The sensitive devices detect changes in the pressures pushing and pulling on the rock, and have clearly shown effects from distant earthquakes, he says.

The statistical jury remains out on the question of whether the apparent cluster of major earthquakes in the middle of the century is significant or simply a phantom.

It certainly looks compelling, Atwater says. Most of the events are clustered around the Pacific Rim, from Alaska to Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula to Chile.

However, the Cascadia subduction zone off the Northwest coast of the United States was not triggered during that period, he pointed out. The last earthquake there was a magnitude 9 in 1700.

Garry Rogers, a seismologist at the Geological Survey of Canada in British Columbia, says major earthquakes are far too rare and the historical record far too short to be able to draw any conclusion about clusters or large-scale connections.

“In any random process, you will get clusters”, he says.
Hill believes that more data will eventually solve the mystery – and will probably reveal patterns and links no one understands today.

“My own hunch is that there are lots of instances of clusters that are, in fact, related physically. We just don’t know yet what the details might be.”

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)

BOOKS: June 05. AU Edition

From September 11 to Alexander the Great to hapless would-be crims, a range of books that looks at murder and its consequences

By Jonathan Safran Foer
New York. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. ISBN: 0618329706. Available on import and currently stocked by unusually good book shops. To be released by Penguin Australia in July 2005.

To write a second novel after the first has been a bestseller is famously difficult. Many never manage it at all. After To Kill a Mockingbird, nothing. The author was said to have begun writing a new book the very next year but nothing else ever materialised from the pen of Harper Lee.

With a seven-figure advance on his conscience, Jonathan Safran Foer must have been under enormous pressure when he set to work on his second novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It probably didn’t help that Foer’s debut, Everything is Illuminated, (winner of the Guardian First Book Award in 2002) was hailed as work of genius. It can’t be easy to follow that.

Foer decided to up the stakes and raise them dramatically. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is based on a child’s experience of September 11, possibly the most provocative subject a contemporary author could address. Has Foer stolen the emotional pull of September 11 in a desperate effort to produce another powerful work of fiction?
Salman Rushdie says the book ‘completely earns the right to take on the Trade Center atrocity. The powerful emotions generated feel deserved, not borrowed.’ A good book, or an honest book, creates its own power whereas a bad book tries to claim its power from external sources. And so it goes that a good writer can elicit more feeling from a sneeze than a bad writer could ever hope to glean from a sunset.

Employing big themes to cover up small writing doesn’t work. Readers already have intense feelings about the attack on the World Trade Center so while many books have previously approached the subject, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the first to become a best seller.

Oskar Schell in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is about the same age as Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird and Foer chooses a similar method of approaching a grave issue through the eyes of a child. Foer maintains that he writes out of a need to read something rather than a need to write something and has contrived Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as a non-political response to the tragedy.

A crazy coffee-drinking kid whose father died in the World Trade Center tragedy, Oskar’s grief sets him off on a journey to find the lock that fits a mysterious key he has found in his father’s room. Obviously traumatised, he invents many things that might help avert catastrophe. There’s a birdseed shirt in case you need to make a quick escape and a big sign for the top of ambulances flashing messages like ‘IT’S NOTHING MAJOR!’ or ‘GOODBYE! I LOVE YOU! GOODBYE!’

Oskar speaks a bit like Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye (another one-hit wonder) over-using the phrase ‘heavy boots’ to talk about being depressed:

On Tuesday afternoon I had to go to Dr Fein. I didn’t understand why I needed help, because it seemed to me that you should wear heavy boots when your dad dies, and if you aren’t wearing heavy boots then you need help. But I went anyway, because the raise in my allowance depended on it.

The word association test that Dr Fein conducts during this meeting is very funny. Critics in New York have been quick to accuse Foer of ‘getting cute’ about the atrocity, reminding me of one of the characters Oskar meets on his journey. Ruth Black, a tour guide, hasn’t left the Empire State Building for years, not since the death of her husband. In conversation with Oskar, ‘she let out a laugh, and then she put her hand over her mouth, like she was angry at herself for forgetting her sadness’. Reactions to Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud become more positive the further one gets from Manhattan.

Foer’s writing falls into the category of magical realism, a mode of literature that commonly surfaces when a government overrules its people. In our culture, magical realism it is often mistaken as an attempt to be amusing, whimsical or surreal. As a form, it seems well-equipped to accommodate the pluralism required to describe a complex and mythic city like New York, now also a site of intolerable pain.

Flipbook style, the novel concludes with a series of images of a man falling from the World Trade Center, but the order is reversed so it appears as if he is bouncing back up again. My feeling is that Foer’s decision to pepper the book with photographs doesn’t quite work. The German writer W.G. Sebald uses photographs in his texts to majestic effect, so by no means is it a technique destined to fail, but these photos seem to dilute the book rather than enhance it.

Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud doesn’t need to bank on the gravitas of September 11. Oskar could have lost his father under any circumstances and given his perculiar leanings need not have lost his father at all before embarking on this strange journey. If you take away the references to September 11, you are still left with a whole book.

Nothing stems ability half so well as weighty praise and the burden of high expectations. Remember Ian Thorpe flopping into the pool at the trials for the Athens Olympics? He went on to take out the gold again, but not before embarrassing himself in front of the nation. Like Thorpe, Foer finds the gold, but not where you might expect.

optimists.jpgTHE OPTIMISTS
By Andrew Miller
London. Sceptre, 2005. ISBN: 0340836555.
Structured like a brilliant photograph, The Optimists is Andrew Miller’s best novel to date. Clem Glass, a successful photo-
journalist, is struggling to overcome the trauma of a massacre in Rwanda. Though accustomed to harrowing assignments, Clem returns home to London unable to resume his life. Miller writes as a perceptive photographer might record, knowing that the edges of a scene are often far more interesting than the scene itself.

Genocide is not the theme here for The Optimists is about salvation. His inability to detach from the wickedness he has witnessed obstructs Clem’s quest for redemption. Throughout the novel, he carries three images around with him in his wallet: an early portrait of Sylvestre Ruzindana, the man responsible for the massacre; a picture of a ravaged classroom showing the legs of upturned desks and a whitewashed wall sprayed and smeared with blood; and a girl called Odette Semugeshi, 10 years old, standing in front of her bed at the Red Cross hospital and staring into the camera ‘with a gaze of the quietest imaginable outrage.’

The experience in Rwanda has awakened Clem’s innermost fears – that the soul of mankind is ruthless, heartless, evil. ‘Drawn increasingly to every manner of portent’ Clem searches for proof to the contrary. He visits his father who, after the death of his wife, has withdrawn to a monastery where the monks keep a vigil in the chapel, each taking a two-hour shift:

‘Can I ask what you pray for?’

‘Me? Oh, for understanding.’

‘Always that?’

‘Yes,’ he said, smiling to himself and slipping his hand again under his son’s arm as they came onto the road. ‘Always.’

Although his previous novels demonstrate an ability for sumptuous prose, Miller’s writing draws little attention to itself in The Optimists. Clem chases down Frank Silverman, the journalist with him in Rwanda, but Silverman’s losing it too and instead of offering consolation, he hands Clem a brown envelope full of heavily corrected notes. Both disturbing and beautiful, Silverman’s fractured account provides a vivid contrast to Clem’s paired down, straightforward narrative.

‘Fear is a darkroom where negatives develop’ said Usman Asif, and almost everyone in this book is afraid of the dark. The notes Clem is handed describe Silverman’s terror of the unlit city where all that is unseen threatens.

Still unable to return to work, and thinking about giving up on photography completely, Clem retreats to the country with his sister, Dr Clare Glass. Clare, an esteemed art historian, has sunk deep into depression after suffering from a bout of malign hallucinations. One night during their stay in Somerset, a fuse blows and the cottage is plunged into darkness. Similarly haunted, Clem is almost as frightened by the experience as his demented sister.

Before she grew old, Clem’s mother went blind and Clem becomes increasingly concerned about his vision. As keenly aware the eye’s sensitivity as a photographer would be, Clem is tormented by the fear that witnessing such atrocities could have irredeemably damaged his retinas.

Like the rest of us, Miller’s ‘optimists’ are trying to make sense of a world where so many bad things happen. They are not optimistic fools but characters who strive towards a positive perspective, battling against the painful and the discouraging, never content to blank it out.

Reviewed by Michael Morrissey

Penguin Australian Summer Stories
Penguin Books, $22.95, ISBN 0143002724
I believe all books should have identified authors/editors, so why then an anonymous compiler? Or did the authors select themselves? If so, who invited them? With no editor, there is no introduction which is, or should be, a necessary part of any compilation; it offers guidelines to the anthology’s intention.

The collection as a whole disappoints – the editor hiding his/her shame, perhaps? The problem is, too many stories here have the same even kind of tone, which is warm but somehow bland. Possibly this is a conscious/unconscious strategy: summer is a time of relaxed warmth (let us say), so let’s have stories with a relaxed warm tone, stories that give a suntan without skin cancer. However, there are some gems.
With the exception of veteran story teller David Malouf’s novella-length contribution, the best stories are in the earlier part of the book. First up is Gabriel Lord’s ‘Surprise Lunch’, a chilling little tale of an intended murder that backfires. This has the kind of sting-in-the-tail punch we might associate with Roald Dahl, modern master of the horror-terror tale derived from the inventor of it, Edgar Allan Poe. This is the kind of story that - apart from the great Luis Jorge Borges – has been unfashionable in literary circles for some time, but damn it, I enjoyed it.

Peter Goldsworthy’s ‘Run Silent, Run Deep’ brings a sharper and more contemporary note with its forbidden tape in a possibly stolen camcorder. Marion Halligan’s ‘Irregular Verbs’ defiantly breaches the almost uniform tone with a luxuriantly descriptive stream of consciousness technique.

By and large, these are coastal or suburban rather than outback stories. No billabongs, kangaroos or snakes – though an echidna makes a guest appearance. There tend not to be professionals in crisis, more ordinary folk in a jam, such as the lady in Andrea Mayes’s ‘The Bag’. With possibly an outsider’s perspective, I wondered about the absence of well-known Australian denizens like sharks, snakes, and blue-ringed octopuses. Casting on eye back to (say) Coast to Coast, a collection edited by Frank Moorhouse when summer-oriented hippiedom was at its height, I felt a tinge of nostalgia for some of the authors current at the time – Peter Carey, Murray Bail, Michael Wilding – and wondered about their absence. Frank, I would guess, has thrown away his swimming trunks and became an unabashed winter-loving Europhile. After many a summer, can autumn be far behind?

books_inside hitler's bunker.jpgINSIDE HITLER’S BUNKER
By Joachim Fest
Pan Books, $25, ISBN 0374135770
It’s interesting to read a biographical study, albeit a short one, focused on the last days of Hitler by a German historian, rather than what is more typical for most English readers, one by a British historian. Fest’s cool, cogent overview of what is most probably the greatest drama of the twentieth century offers a fascinating view of the necessities of military crisis – permission was given to Goebbels to set up a battalion of women soldiers – an unthinkable idea in the earlier triumphal days of the Third Reich. This book contains some of the familiar photos of Hitler’s last days but some touching new ones – including a fifteen-year-old youth alongside a much older man: the last futile strategy – to defend doomed Berlin.

What Fest’s study shows clearly is the extraordinary contradictions in Hitler’s personality. On the one hand, clutching at chances of last-minute victory (hoping that Roosevelt’s death would split the alliance), while on the other, seeming to exult in a dramatic and final destruction – a gotterdammerung of his own making. While he had become a pathetic shambling physical wreck with a ‘pathological craving for cake’, Hitler could still convince generals who knew the situation to be hopeless that it was nevertheless possible to save it at the last hour – Gauleiter Albert Forster in Danzig had but four tanks to face 1100 Russian tanks, yet after a brief time in Hitler’s study he emerged ‘completely transformed’.

Fest argues forcibly that German soldiers felt swept up in a great cause – ‘called on be the participants in the final act of a great tragedy’. Further on, he maintains, ‘An infatuation with hopeless situations has long been one of the characteristics of at least one strand of German thought.’ Hitler is portrayed as a fanatical exemplar of this kind of infatuation. This psychological-Zeitgeist theory makes a lot of sense and would explain what British historian A. J. P. Taylor found inexplicable, namely, why German soldiers and Hitler went on fighting when the cause was hopelessly lost. Fest’s analysis also helps rebut the tiresomely glib explanation of the phenomenon of Hitler – that he was simply mad.

Hitler’s epic rages are vividly described yet Fest doesn’t try to explain them as amphetamine-fuelled - though certainly the drugs he was taking wouldn’t have helped. Ultimately, Hitler’s personality contradictions remain an enigma, but Fest’s acute analysis, more than most, helps us decode it.

books_alexander the great.jpgALEXANDER THE GREAT
By Robin Lane Fox
Penguin Books, $22.95,ISBN 0141030768
The recent justly-panned film about Alexander the Great, history’s greatest general and conqueror of the then-known world, has prompted a re-issue of this magnificent one volume history of the enigmatic Macedonian. According to some critics, it is the finest history so far written and, though I am not a professional historian, I am inclined to agree. A scholarly work, it has 50 pages of microfiche-sized footnotes. In the main text, it’s all here in dazzling detail: the fantastic siege machines that stormed the island fortress of Tyre, the wheeling feints and massive concentration of attack that defeated every military adversary, the brutal methods used to defeat King Porus’ elephants (javelins in the eyes, hamstrings cut with axes, hacking off trunks with razor-sharp scimitars) plus the founding of cities, the grand Hellenic vision, the spontaneous acts of kindness and generosity, the ruthless treatment of enemies, not to forget alcoholic and sexual indulgence.

Historians like Schachermeyer, Tarn and Hammond praise Alexander while others like Badian, O’Brien and Green condemn him. Depending on one’s cultural and historical perspective, Alexander’s life and deeds lend themselves to either favourable or denunciatory interpretation. Among ancient historians Callisthenes, Aristobulus, Arrian, and Plutarch praised Alexander while Curtius Rufus and Cleitarchus were harsher in their assessment. Plutarch saw Alexander as a civilizer of barbarians – an attitude with which we no longer feel comfortable. When Fox writes warmly of the spread of Hellenic or Greek culture, I am tempted to ask, isn’t this Plutarchian praise in a more sophisticated form? On balance, Fox admires Alexander and there are numerous incidents of his nobility of character as well as the darker side. At times, so overwhelming is the mass of Alexander’s achievements, both cultural and military, in such a short life, one feels a kind of admiring historical vertigo. Did the man never sleep? Apparently, very little.
Fox writes with angelic erudition throughout his closely detailed book. He excels in outlining military technicality but is even more outstanding when he offers intensive psychological analysis – the exact motives and circumstance of Cleitus’s murder by Alexander; the acute examination of the controversial proskynesis or homage with prostration paid to social superiors; the intelligent consideration of Alexander’s “godhood” – are all masterly, superb.

Now for some brickbats: the maps are ridiculously poky affairs and printed in such a way that it is hard to read place names. Also the maps show only Alexander’s journeys, not his battles. Why such an important omission? The new issue – save for a changed cover – is exactly the same as it was 30 years ago, surely a missed chance to
improve and extend the maps as well as an opportunity for Fox to update his views.

Fascinatingly, Fox was historical consultant to Oliver Stone’s recent film and made a non-negotiable’ demand that he be included in the front ten of every major cavalry charge on location. Fair enough. By now, of course, Fox is as old as the hardy veterans of Alexander’s concluding campaigns – nearing 60, yet still a champion horseman. But why oh why did he apparently sanction a major rewrite of history in the film? King Porus is shown as wounding Alexander with a spear, whereas in actuality Porus was captured by an unwounded Alexander.
Prior to Jesus Christ, Alexander was probably the most famous and written-about of men. Curiously, no one has ever doubted that Alexander existed even though nearly all the original documents written about him were lost and recast some three to four hundred years after his death. The consequence is that many of his famous (and infamous) deeds exist in variant accounts. Thus he has become partially mythical though indisputably a real figure. In the case of the Gospels, they are all written close together, soon after Christ’s lifetime and are consistent with each other. Yet some nineteenth historians suggested that Christ never existed. The same theory applied to Alexander would never have gained an inch of traction. Such are the paradoxes of history.

books_the full catastrophe.jpgTHE FULL CATASTROPHE
By Edna Mazya
Picador, $22, ISBN 033044215549
Thrillers are like fast food – they fulfil a need with suspicious ease but leave you undernourished. On the other hand, there is the deeper psychological thriller more or less invented by Dostoyevsky in Crime and Punishment, one of the world’s greatest novels. This wonderful first novel by Israeli playwright Edna Mazya aspires more to the Dostoyevsky ‘genre’ than the usual airport trash. As in the great Russian novel, we know who the murderer is – it’s the main character, Professor Ilan Nathan, who kills his wife’s lover, not with a knife, gun or heavy object but with – you’ll never guess – his pipe. If the unlikely death of Oden Safra is black humour, it’s difficult to mourn the demise of such a callous smug bastard.

What is gripping about this book is the way Nathan keeps drawing attention to himself, his guilt is an inner motor that drives him to perpetrate the most infelicitous of actions. He leaves a trail of self-incriminating evidence that a blind man could follow. The superbly detailed sequence where Nathan keeps trying to dispose of the body is both nail-bitingly suspenseful and blackly funny. This book, along with countless movies – including Unfaithful, which it strangely parallels – makes one thing perfectly clear: never take a stiff to the rubbish tip.

Apart from the expert plotting, black humour and acute psychology, the novel’s outstanding feature is its unusual style. The sentences are disconcertingly long rolling affairs, yet once you get used to their rhythm they carry you along like giant surf. This eminently readable yet in depth novel is a good antidote to the trashy Hannibal Lecter books. I’ve never quite believed in Hannibal but Ilan Nathan is more credibly human – complete with an unemotional mother who loves him and saves him in the end. Just how, you will have to find out by treating yourself to the book.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)

DIARY OF A CABBIE : July 05, AU Edition

When a night out goes horribly wrong, it can leave scars that might never heal

On a recent Friday night I carried a fifty-something fella from the North Shore down to Sutherland. After a day on the grog at a convention junket he was wasted. Yet not so wasted he couldn’t relate a chilling tale involving his son. It was a tale I readily identified with, as his ‘boy’ was around the same age as mine.

My passenger recounted how several years ago his then 18-year-old son was in the City on a night out with some mates. Late in the evening, one of his friends became involved in a scuffle outside a Hungry Jack’s. On moving to help his mate, my passenger’s son was stabbed some ten times around the body. In an instant he was bleeding profusely, his life literally draining down the gutter. News of what happened came at 4:30 am, when the local police knocked on the door after fruitless attempts by the hospital to contact him and his wife.

Despite losing litres of blood, the boy recovered. What a guy. The assailant was apprehended, char- ged, convicted, jailed for a few years, then released – only to knife someone else and return to jail. What a waste.

In relating this tale, my passenger had obliquely voiced his concern over his son’s ongoing fight for justice. The boy was still in court, seven years later, pursuing a matter of principle relating to the attack. After advising the boy to finally put the saga behind him and get on with life, the kid emphatically responded, ‘Dad, the physical scars may have healed, but in my head it feels so raw I’ll never get over it’. My passenger looked across at me and shaking his head said quietly, ‘It’s killing me to imagine what he feels’.

My passenger had been a knockabout bloke most of his life, growing up in the tough inner-west of Sydney. By his own admission he’d made many mistakes over the years. And despite his age he insisted how, much to his embarrassment, he often felt the same hopes and vitality as that of his son. So much so he couldn’t wait for the arrival of the first grandchild. A sentiment we both shared, and had a good laugh at our encroaching dotage. It was a warm exchange on which we parted.

One week later, I came across an item in the Daily Telegraph entitled, ‘Leave people to their peril’:

Citizens are under no obligation to rescue strangers in peril, a court had ruled in dismissing an appeal by a man stabbed after he sought sanctuary in a fast-food restaurant.

Eron Broughton was out in Sydney’s CBD early in 1998 when he and three friends were threatened by a knife-wielding gang...they sought refuge in a Hungry Jack’s restaurant, asking a security guard to call police.
But the guard pushed them back into the street where Mr Broughton was stabbed 10 times. He sought damages in the District Court in 2003, claiming the guard’s negligent or reckless actions led to his injuries...The then 24-year-old lost his claim after Judge James Black found the chain did not owe Mr Broughton a duty of care.

Mr Broughton appealed the verdict but it was dismissed yesterday by the Court of Appeal.

This boy’s personal struggle brought to mind something I heard recently. A terminally ill patient had commented to his mentor, ‘Sometimes it’s best to simply give up’. I interpreted this to mean that in life, you must pick your battles.

This advice seemed especially pertinent to my distraught passenger and his son’s long road to recovery. For them, those grandkids can’t come soon enough.

Read more of Adrian the Cabbie at

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:36 AM | Comments (0)

THE WATCHER: June 05, AU Edition


In paranormal news…

On the north Welsh coast there is the little village of Abergele, where locals claim a ghost ship, the Gwennon Gorn, appears from time to time. According to legend, the Welsh Prince Madoc sailed her to America in the 6th Century – nine centuries before Columbus – and ventured inland as far as present day Kentucky. Show me a bottle of Welsh bourbon and I’ll believe it.

Another mythical ship was sighted recently in the UK during the election there – the MV Tampa. British voters probably hadn’t been thinking much about Norwegian container ships, at least not until a raft of Australian Labor Party has-beens and wannabes washed up in the pages of the UK press. Beware, they cautioned, of sinister antipodean political assassins – namely former Liberal campaign director Lynton Crosby and pollster Mark Textor.

In opinion pieces, which coincidentally appeared on the same day, Shadow Treasurer Wayne Swan (in the Independent), and Cheryl Kernot (in the Guardian) – remember her? – lashed out at their nemeses. Swan, feeling ‘an overwhelming sense of déjà vu’, claimed the British Conservatives were mimicking the themes of ‘Crosby’s 2001 Australian election campaign [which] was perhaps the most despicable waged in Australian political history’. The Australians, Swan said, were ‘deadly to progressive parties’ by ‘exploiting fear and race’.

If Kernot was to be believed, the presence of the Aussie duo in the UK election posed more of a threat to Her Majesty’s Realm than Guy Fawkes: ‘Crosby’s tactics represent a truly serious threat to… British democracy’, she forewarned. And even worse, the subversive Aussie would go after the media: ‘BBC, take note!’ Crosby would, she warned darkly, ‘conduct a war of attrition’ against the British broadcaster and accuse it of ‘bias and unbalanced coverage’.

Oddly enough, only three days before Kernot’s dire ‘predictions’ the London Telegraph reported that the Beeb had been ‘plunged into a damaging… row after it admitted equipping three hecklers with microphones’ and sending them into a Conservative campaign meeting being addressed by party leader Michael Howard.

In her familiar understated way, Kernot even went so far as to imply that she was herself a refugee, due to the insidious tactics of Messrs Crosby and Textor. ‘[B]ut thanks to [her] Scottish grandparents, [she’s] been fortunate to have lived and worked in the UK for two years now.’ Well, at least we now know where Kernot lives, because it sure looked as though she wasn’t living in her own home-away-from-home Dickson electorate when she lost it in 2001.

After digesting Kernot’s theories, I suspect most Brits agreed with the Crosby-Textor Conservative slogan, ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’ And I also suspect most – even Guardian reading, tofu-chomping Volvo drivers – were more concerned about another potential British debacle – the forthcoming Ashes series – than the 1000-year edifice of Westminster democracy being swept away by a couple of sinister Aussie political operatives.

Sounding like Looney Tunes’ hapless duck, former prime minister Paul Keating waddled ashore in the last week of the campaign, also warning Guardian readers that, ‘Prime Minister John Howard had run a despicable election campaign against asylum seekers’ and to expect the same. Australia’s ‘moral compass now lacks the equilibrium it had and the underlying compassion has been compromised,’ the failed piggery owner lamented.

This from the former head of a government that in 1992 stated that ‘rejected asylum-seekers have no claim to remain in Australia…’; won a unanimous High Court backing for Labor’s mandatory detention policy (the Migration Reform Act 1992); and, from the Coalition Opposition, enjoyed support for “the right of the Government… to determine who shall and who shall not enter Australia”. (Sound familiar?)

In its last year, the Keating Government cut off immigration intake at 82,500 places. This year the Howard Government will allow into Australia between 110,00 and 120,000 new immigrants, including a doubling of refugees – a 45 per cent increase from when Keating stood on the welcome mat. In 2004, the top countries of origin for resettled refugees our morally diminished country accepted included Sudan, Ethiopia, Iran, Congo and Somalia. And, on a per capita basis Australia now has one of the most generous refugee programs on the planet. Not exactly a record you’d expect from a government that was accused in 2001 by its detractors in the New York Times of playing the ‘race card’.

If Keating wanted to measure compassion in dollar terms, he need look no further than the $1 billion donated by the Howard government in the days after the Boxing Day Tsunami. And, at one point after the disaster, Australians were donating privately at a rate of $750,000 an hour. Total private giving topped $200 million. Speaking of the generosity of the Australian people, Howard said: ‘Our home is this region and we are saying to the people of our nearest neighbour that we are here to help you in your hour of need.’

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley had every opportunity to insulate himself from the Tampa factor in 2001. But he failed to appreciate that most Australians were offended by the negative fainéant and continuous media reprimands of self-appointed custodians of national morality. Changing chameleon-like as he did on refugees and border security, Beazley’s voice was indiscernible from the white noise of the sniggering intelligentsia – whom have shown about as much responsibility and constructive alternative thinking on these issues as a bunch of garden gnomes.

So why would ALP figures want to dig up all these old ghosts now? It was hardly to lend a hand to their Labour brethren, whom they happily jettisoned over Iraq; rather, perpetuating the Tampa myth serves to reassure the Labor party’s base that they were robbed in 2001. That is, were it not for Howard’s base appeal, the Coalition would have been beaten senseless by Beazley’s ‘noodle nation’. The Tampa is the ALP’s Potempkin legend, which must be repeated, mantra-like, at every opportunity. And foreign media and their less Aussie-savvy readers are an easy mark for a reprint run, which will – and did – get a nice little run back in the Australian media.

This legerdemain, kept alive by ALP, the left’s leadership caste and some segments in the domestic media, may keep the home fires burning for the Labor rusted-on. And it certainly sustains the indulgences of the far left, upon which Labor has prostrated itself over terrorism, border security, the environment and industrial relations, to name but a few. But it has little currency where it counts: among the electorate at large, particularly among swing-voters, who aren’t buying.

It’s a hard sell that insults large swathes of the Australian electorate, with whom the ALP must make its peace if it is ever to regain power. Keating, who referred to Australians as ‘yobs with cans in their hands’ in urgent need of cultural re-education and thinks that Australia, with its current form of government, is the ‘arse end of the earth’, probably doesn’t advance that goal very far, whatever he’s shilling.

Sustaining the myth, with the help of an indulgent media, also prevents the party from tackling internal party reform. Remember the post-2001 ALP reform fight? Does the party look, act or sound any different today than it did in the 2001 election? Spotting the difference is like playing ‘Where’s Wally?’ without Wally. The ghost ship in the piece is the Labor party itself; adrift, without any sense of what it’s about or where it’s going. Until the ALP stops believing its own media stories, every election will, in the immortal words of American baseball legend Yogi Berra, be ‘déjà vu all over again’.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:31 AM | Comments (0)

Dec 05, AU Edition

A former appliance serviceman claims a bad fridge design could burn someone’s house down, another finds a string of safety faults in other brands of appliance. Is there a big problem or just a series of smaller ones? IAN WISHART investigates

John Rogers grimaces in the glow of a 60 watt tungsten bulb doing its best to illuminate a small suburban dining room, and is failing miserably at the task. He pauses at the question, as if tumbling it over in his mind, glancing across at his wife Kerry. In their eyes you can see the thought writ large, as if in the neon light that decorates the home of this former appliance repairman turned neon artist: oh God, here we go again. Moments later, that unspoken thought takes wing.

“I must admit, when I got your call, Kerry and I thought, ‘do we really want to do this again?’ After all the publicity on TV four years ago when we blew the whistle on Fisher and Paykel’s dishdrawers…”

He stops for a moment, then lifts his gaze from a spot on the table to lock with mine.

“It wasn’t dealt with back then, maybe somebody will deal with it now. We don’t want to be responsible for someone losing a life because we kept quiet.”

It’s been four years this month since Rogers folded the tent on his long time company, JK Appliances, and walked away from a lucrative business as an authorized Fisher & Paykel service agent.

“I was an appliance serviceman for about 30 years, and we’ve been in business together for about 15 or 16 in West Auckland and we fixed roughly 42,000 appliances in that time. I put through seven apprentices and we did mainly F&P service work. So we did refrigeration and all types of domestic appliances.”

Rogers vividly remembers the day that changed it all, the one that tipped him off his perch.

“It was early in the morning, a job in Glen Eden. I walked into the kitchen, the family were all there in their pyjamas, the husband was there and there were two buckets of water beside the fridge. The front of the fridge was absolutely black from smoke and flame damage. They’d woken up in the middle of the night and smelt the smoke, turned it off and started throwing buckets of water in there to put the flames out.”

The immediate danger having passed, Rogers regrets not dialing the Fire Service. “I wish I had, now.” In hindsight, it would have been his smoking gun, in a manner of speaking. But instead, he rang F&P who promptly sent a truck with a brand new fridge, and took the near-new burnt one away.

Rogers was mystified, but thought little more about that incident until he was called to another fridge a week or so later, and again, some evidence of fire damage.

“I saw another one which wasn’t so bad, and again they changed it over. Then I saw three in one week and two at another service company, and I thought ‘this is getting out of hand’, because there’s no way of repairing them because the whole cabinet is burnt.”

Stripping the panels away, Rogers found the evaporator and defrost elements were set too close to the internal plastic casing of the freezers and, in the right conditions, they were overheating and melting the appliances. None of which was visible to the homeowner, who’d usually called him in for something else.

“It was usually another fault – cracking noises, or noises from the fan or something like that, but it wasn’t because of the burning. They hadn’t seen it, and not until I took the whole thing apart and they saw the big holes burnt in the base of the freezers. That’s when I explained to the customers very politely that it had a fault and we’d organize a new refrigerator for them.”

Rogers decided to make a habit of checking every freezer he was working on, and reckons 20% to 30% of them showed varying signs of meltdown. In all, some 15 to 20 units in his West Auckland patch alone, over the space of three months.

It wasn’t all fridge/freezers.

“Only the electronic ones. Anything with an electronic panel on the back wall. The majority of the problems come in the ones with a bottom freezer. I have seen one top freezer one with burning but it wasn’t as bad. It was just a one-off. Whether it was going to escalate I don’t know.”

Why was the problem not appearing in fridges over the previous 20 years?

“The freezers and fridges prior to that were made of steel. This model, the interior of the freezer is made of plastic, and they’ve still got an element in there that glows red hot when it goes into defrost and it’s so close to the plastic lining that the heat transfer causes the problem.”

Rogers felt he was on to a major public safety issue, but he also knew as an authorized Fisher & Paykel repair agent that his business depended on F&P’s continued goodwill. And if John Rogers had been a cat, he probably felt he’d already used his quota of lives after months earlier spilling the beans on a major fault with F&P’s flagship range of dishdrawers. The drawers were rusting out after only a few months use.

“They were offering customers who had rusty dishdrawers a normal dish drawer plus they had to pay an extra $500. So once we blew the whistle on it, things changed and they had to replace the dishdrawers.”

But ‘blowing the whistle’ involved calling in TVNZ’s top rating consumer programme Fair Go and bringing considerable public opprobrium to bear on the corporate that employed him. So to say that John Rogers was chuffed that he was the mug to find a problem with the new fridges would also be a serious overstatement of his mood.

He says he tried to deal with it internally, alerting F&P’s technical team about the growing number of burnt or partially burnt fridges he’d discovered.

F&P tried to brush him aside, he claims, telling him to “leave it alone”. But the company’s reaction got more strident when Rogers began contacting other F&P agents to inquire about their experiences with the problem.

“I talked to another service company over the North Shore about it. And he was concerned as well and he contacted F&P, and so at that stage F&P came storming in – there were about three of them – and they got really stuck into me.”

In Rogers’ mind, he was reporting a major safety hazard to one of country’s leading technology companies, and nothing was being done. Wondering whether he was overreacting, he sought a second opinion from registered electrical inspector Bruce Gosling, an independent analyst who’s main investigations are on behalf of large companies and the Electrical Workers Registration Board.

Gosling drafted a one page report to the Energy Safety Service (ESS) in Wellington, the Government agency tasked with regulating electrical appliance safety for the public. His report was headed, “Potential Fire Hazard issue” with the Fisher & Paykel E402B fridge/freezer.

“JK Appliance Services (John Rogers) have located this immediate fire damage in two of the above freezers and four others have had potential fire hazards existing,” he wrote on November 11, 2001. After personally inspecting one of the units, he told EnergySafe:

“This freezer unit has a potential fire hazard due to the incorrect fixing/installation of the evaporator/defrost heating assembly. This fire hazard, created by the manufacturer, breaches NZ Electricity Regulations 1997….the element touches and heats up the plastic lining until eventually catching fire.”

Under “Conclusion” he wrote: “This model of fridge/freezer needs to be modified.”

According to both Rogers and Gosling, EnergySafe never formally replied to their complaint, and no product recall of Fisher & Paykel fridges was ever made.

As part of their contract, authorized F&P agents were required to guarantee their work for 12 months, says Rogers.

“We had to guarantee these appliances once we’d repaired them and I couldn’t. I couldn’t guarantee that this wouldn’t happen two months down the road.”

“What was the newest fridge you found it on?”

“Three months old.”

After a long discussion with his business partner and wife, Kerry, Rogers decided to toss it in.

“It got pretty ugly from then on. They appointed another service company to take over from us, and we said we’d had enough and closed down. We didn’t want to work like that, we couldn’t work like that. It was at this time we got the phone call from Energy Safe in Wellington to say they couldn’t do anything. They needed proof from the Fire Service or the Insurance Council on loss of life or property before they could force F&P to make any modifications.”

As part of the process of investigating this issue, we approached EnergySafe’s senior technical advisor, operations: Bill Lowe.

Lowe admits that to some extent his hands are tied on the issue of public safety.

“We wouldn’t become involved unless there is injury or damage.”

“Isn’t that closing the door after the horse has bolted?”

“That’s the way our powers are, if they’re handling things internally.”

Fisher & Paykel, says Lowe, controls its own repair team and can control the information that gets released to government agencies like his. If the company chooses to keep a problem close to its chest, he says, it takes the commercial risk associated with that – the risk that one day a house might burn down and all hell will break loose.
But having said that, he adds, no house fire has ever been attributed to a Fisher & Paykel ActiveSmart fridge.

“Electrical fires, if they cause damage to the structure of a house, would be reported to this office. The few that we’ve had have been Westinghouse product, a bug problem literally. The defrost relay had some ventilation slots and a cockroach infestation, and the little beasties get up there and eventually get cooked. And in another one the guy poured brake fluid around to kill the roaches and it caught fire.”

Lowe concedes his agency did receive Gosling’s report on the fire hazards in November 2001, and felt it was serious enough to raise with F&P. Unfortunately, however, because the person handling the investigation left ESS soon afterwards, there’s no evidence that Fisher & Paykel ever responded to EnergySafe’s request for more information, or that ESS chased it up.

“We’ve [now] asked F&P to check their records as to what changes if any were made at the time to the design to address that potential fire risk,” Lowe told Investigate.

“So you’ve got no record in your office of anything being advised to you by F&P?”

“Not that I’m aware of, a quick check hasn’t revealed that.”
For their part, Fisher & Paykel have been critical of John Rogers.

“Mate, we’re open to suggestions, but we want it supported with facts,” says general manager of Customer Services Brian Nowell down the phone. “We asked the guy for information and he just did not deliver it. It’s been high on rhetoric, short on fact, all the way through.”

And Fisher & Paykel global CEO John Bongard is equally skeptical:

“We have never had a fire with the model refrigerator that he has supposedly ‘tested’ so we are at a loss as to what we can say about his ‘issue’. Perhaps you can supply some factual information that we can refer to?

“Surely if these claims are true the ESS would have been able to confirm them. Have they done this? Could you tell me what the ‘specific’ problem is?”

Over at the ESS, we threw the curly questions back at Bill Lowe: is it true that there was no incident, no information supplied?

“Well we know of the two initial problems, so the allegation is a littler higher than that. Actually in the case of the F&P fridge we did consult with their engineers, possibly two of them. There will be a record somewhere but we’ve asked F&P for that information.”

Lowe believes his office may even have sent a formal notification to their counterparts in Australia via an electrical product safety incident report while they waited for F&P to report back, a report that apparently never came and which EnergySafe apparently failed to chase.

For their part, F&P insist that a fax from Investigate is the first time they’ve seen Gosling’s technical report to EnergySafe, despite requests in an exchange of lawyers letters in 2001 and 2002 asking Rogers for more data.

For his part, serviceman John Rogers accuses Fisher & Paykel of trying to avoid an embarrassing product recall on its ActiveSmart fridge line by “hushing up” the smouldering fridges and ensuring authorized repair agents towed the company line.

“I think the authorized service agents have been told to keep everything under wraps. I know they have.”

“Who’s told you?”

“Other service companies. They were told to keep quiet about it, and just put all the information back to F&P.”

Fisher & Paykel’s Brian Nowell says suggestions that New Zealand’s leading home appliance brand, with a strong presence in Australia, the US and UK, is anything less than responsible are ridiculous.

“We take a hell of a responsible attitude to these sorts of things. We view all of these sorts of things seriously, but people’s views on potential hazards vary from individual to individual, and we try and work through them as responsibly as we can given that we have authorities involved from time to time.

“And hell, we wouldn’t have been around for 70 years if we’d been as flippant as some people would have us believe.

“It doesn’t matter what the nature is of a problem that we come across, we sit down and we work through what we should be doing about it, whether it necessitates things like recalls, whether it needs modification and if we deem it needs modification how we confront that sort of thing. So if we deemed it to be of a high risk nature, we’ve done things like product recalls in the past.”

He also points out that no house fire has been attributed to this problem in a Fisher & Paykel fridge.

“Yeah, that’s a very valuable point. We from time to time come across appliances that cause smouldering, which might generate a bit of heat. If the Fire Service is called out to an incident of any nature where they think an appliance is involved, whether it’s ours or someone else’s, they get hold of us. We treat things like that pretty seriously. We’ve had clothes dryers for example, and people who use towels with hairspray all over them and they don’t clean lint filters and things like that.”

EnergySafe’s Bill Lowe nonetheless feels the fridge issue needs a closer look.

“I would say they’ve certainly got a design problem there because it’s not failsafe, however modern product is also manufactured to fire safety requirements in terms of materials and self quenching plastic and so forth. They will burn until such time as their source of energy is removed.”

And, says Lowe, the close working relationship between EnergySafe and F&P is a bonus, not a problem.

“I won’t say we treat them any better than other suppliers because we do work with Westinghouse and some of these other suppliers whose product is not made in NZ, but the fact that they’ve been quite open with us providing information – possibly selectively – but we work closely with F&P on the standards committee and we would expect them to be a responsible company.”

Meanwhile, the electrical inspector who kicked off the bunfight claims Fisher & Paykel can’t be left to take the rap for what is increasingly an industry-wide problem as regards appliance safety. Bruce Gosling says he’s made up to twenty reports to EnergySafe about unsafe appliances, and heard diddly-squat back about any of them.

“The Energy Safety Service, as far as I’m concerned, are a law unto themselves. Rarely can I get an answer from them, and one time I recall trying to get an answer, either yes/no or just a simple written reply from the ESS over a very serious safety issue – the only way I finally got an answer from them was threatening to go and see my local MP at the time, and my local MP is Helen Clark!”

An example of safety issues, he says, is an upmarket brand
of rangehood.

“We still have an ongoing problem with Tuscany rangehoods that are brought into the country by Mitre 10, and again we could only go so far and we had to hand the complaint and the hazard over to the ESS. Again, we would have thought the ESS would have taken them off the market until they’ve been improved,” Gosling told Investigate.

“What’s the problem?”

“People getting electric shocks from these new rangehoods that have been installed, due to the design faults within them. They’re Italian manufactured, a very nice looking stainless steel rangehood, but the one we investigated, I was there on behalf of the Electrical Workers Registration Board as an investigating inspector. And we totally disconnected and removed that particular rangehood from service and we wrote a report, again, to Wellington to both the EWRB and we sent a copy to the ESS.

“That saga went on for well over a year for the customer, who was left without a working rangehood – he was contacting the ESS monthly because he wanted to get a new rangehood, obviously, and he was hoping Mitre 10 might supply him with one. I was totally blown away at the length of time they left that customer in limbo, but at the end of the whole thing we finally got – I’m pretty sure I’ve still got the written reply from the ESS – and they were saying again that there’s been 250,000 sold in Australia and they hadn’t had a problem over there, so why should they worry about one problem here in Ellerslie, Auckland.”

“How live were they when you measured the voltage and
the current?”

“It was a hundred volts from the leakage current back to earth potential, because the stove was directly below and the person was touching it. These sort of things are a bit of a freak scenario, but in saying that it could well happen again in NZ.

“Anything above 50 volts AC becomes dangerous to humans. Yes, that was the measurement we took at the time, and the person getting the shocks had been doing cooking on the stove at the time and had wet hands, so it’s a very serious electric shock situation.

“But whether the ESS have contacted the Tuscany manufacturers back in Italy and told them to improve their design, I’ve got no way of knowing. But that’s what I stated in my report: the design needs to be improved, the electrical safety leaves room for improvement. But I bet nothing’s happened.”

According to EnergySafe there has been some movement, but not much. The Tuscany rangehoods were initially approved for sale in Australia and therefore became automatically approved for sale in New Zealand. Despite the 100 volt electric shocks, EnergySafe’s Bill Lowe says he hasn’t ordered the product to be withdrawn from sale here because Mitre 10 is refusing to agree to a recall.

“No, the product recall process is not simple, it’s a complex legal and technical process and we’re working through one at the moment with another product but we have to be very careful with regard to litigation, and that only becomes a problem if it’s not done voluntarily by the supplier. 99% of them are voluntary recalls.”

“Did Mitre 10 voluntarily take it off sale?”


So in other words, this Investigate article is the first that most people will have heard about a possible safety fault with an Italian rangehood that’s now been on sale for more than a year in both New Zealand and Australia.

Ironically, the fact that a homeowner has been given 100 volt belts by the rangehood is not enough to force a compulsory product recall. That can’t happen in the main unless someone is first seriously injured or killed.

Bruce Gosling says he’s found serious safety faults in other appliances as well – portable residual current devices that are supposed to protect DIYers and workmen from being electrocuted while using tools outside.

“From memory, about 10 of these brand new devices failed out of 20 that were purchased.”

“How did this come to your attention?”
“From a company in Penrose, and Alstom out at the Otahuhu power station – they purchased 10 and they do ‘test and tag’, the same as this company in Penrose, a Fletcher Challenge company.

“What happens is that as soon as they buy an RCD personal protective portable device we test and tag them before they go into service, so as electrical people we take them out of their brand new packets and put them through the appropriate tests, and 10 of these devices out of 20 failed.

“And I can tell you for a fact that the guys out at Alstom were only buying one at a time, because they only wanted one, and it failed so they sent it back and swapped it with another one. Five times they did that before they got one that could be tagged as safe.

“It was just ironic that about two weeks prior to that we’d had a major problem at this factory in Penrose. They’d purchased at least 10, and five of them failed the performance test that we do. Some of them didn’t even trip at all, brand new out of the packet and wouldn’t even physically trip on the pushbutton – you know, they all have a little pushbutton that every user must test before they use them – and even that pushbutton didn’t work.

“So that was totally unsafe, and yet when we complained to HPM in Sydney they just said ‘nah, it must have happened in freight, in cargo, because we test every one before they leave the factory’. And we know for a fact that that’s B/S, absolute. But they still turn around and make those statements, and no one can prove them wrong, so in the end we dropped that issue. That’s the tactics these manufacturers are using,” says Gosling.

It is, to use a bad pun, absolutely shocking. And Investigate’s discovery of faulty RCD devices has made EnergySafe sit up and take notice.

“RCDS are on the declared article list and they require approval from this office before they go on sale in NZ,” says Bill Lowe of the ESS. “And why we get very nervous with RCDS is we specify them as a safety device and I look at them like a parachute when you jump out of a plane. Where you’ve got a device to protect a person and it doesn’t work because it’s defective we’ve really got some concerns, yeah.”
On the strength of Investigate’s information, he’s contacting HPM in Sydney to ask some hard questions. It’s not the first time the Australian company has supplied faulty RCDS. But the real question is why Australian and NZ authorities are not picking these things up before the products go on sale?

Fisher & Paykel’s Brian Nowell would like an answer to that one too. He says there’s a big problem with imported appliances where regulators make assumptions that the product complies with safety standards, rather than force suppliers to prove it before the product goes on sale.

“Rather than showing that you do comply, the system appears to be that if somebody comes across an incident you have to show that you are capable of complying. It’s more or less left to people to grizzle here. Let’s put the ambulance at the top of the fence, not the bottom.”

As to the safety or otherwise of Fisher & Paykel’s fridges, the arguing continues. Investigate spoke to another appliance serviceman about his experiences.

“I can mainly only comment on the earlier ones I saw, they would catch on fire, basically. The heating systems in the back of the defrost system would not cut out on the defrost timer and so then they’d just melt out the whole inside, they’d literally have a fire in the back of them.”

“How many of those did you see?”

“Mainly when I was with John, probably upwards of eight or ten I suppose. Then when I went back out on my own again I probably saw another three or four. The last one I saw was quite recently, no more than about 12 months ago. It was well melted out inside in the freezer compartment. Just an ActiveSmart, I can’t remember which model exactly.”

“I believe John perhaps ran foul of F&P for being someone who was prepared to stand up and say something, and I really honestly admire him for doing that because all these other guys just pushed it under the rug and didn’t want to jeopardize their authorizations etc. And he got bitten on the backside for that, big time.”

“So you were aware of other people who were aware of it?”

“Absolutely! No question, we all used to go to Service School for latest product ranges and that and we’d be talking about all kinds of stuff.”

“They talked about the fridges?”

“More the servicemen would be talking about while they’re all together at Service School. The F&P people would say ‘yeah, we’ve got a little issue and we’re sorting it out’, but in my opinion they never did.”
To which Brian Nowell’s response is, “rubbish”:

“We’re obligated to provide EnergySafe with information and we certainly do. We’re pretty self conscious about those sorts of things because we’ve got authority guys working in this country that influence the thinking and safety standards not only in NZ but also Australia and around the world. We’re actively involved with those guys all the time. We certainly wouldn’t send guys off to meetings with instructions to be ‘mum’ about an event that jeopardized our reputation. We work very openly with these people.”

Fisher & Paykel’s technical team were unavailable to Investigate, and the appliance company hasn’t got any data immediately to hand on whether it has swapped any burnt out fridges for customers under warranty.

We did approach one customer whose fridge was the subject of a report to EnergySafe, and she told Investigate that after John Rogers had highlighted the problem, F&P sent a new service team out to her who reassured her Rogers and Gosling were “panicking” unnecessarily and that her fridge would be alright. That was four years ago, she still has that fridge, but its freezer she says “doesn’t defrost properly” and is leaking water. “Do you think I got fobbed off?” she half mutters to herself.

Fisher & Paykel, meanwhile, are standing on their record. Yes, they say, there are occasionally defective units – which is why they have service agents. But the company rigorously denies that it would put public safety at risk.

In the meantime, EnergySafe and F&P are now liaising on the fridge issue again, and EnergySafe is preparing to further investigate the faulty RCD devices. And John Rogers? Well, he’s given up appliance repairs and now exhibits and sells neon art at home shows. “It’s much less stressful,” he says.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:31 AM | Comments (0)

May 05, AU Edition

Would you want a job where getting vomited on or dodging a falling telephone pole was considered part of the normal 9-to-5 routine? Probably not. But luckily for the rest of us, some men and women do: they fix our homes, rescue us when we’re in trouble, and take care of society’s forgotten. They’re the Australians who really are


roofer1.jpgDAVE EDWARDS,
Sydney, NSW
Roofer, plumber & carpenter

Dave Edwards has been a Sydney-based roofer, plumber and carpenter for the last seven years, specializing in inner-city renovations. ‘My work involves variety of tasks – I’ve been roofing, laying floorboards, pouring concrete, doing formwork, framing, bricklaying, digging foundations, all aspects of building pretty much. A lot of manual labour is involved in the job.’

While Mother Nature does not make any special allowances for those who toil outdoors all day, your typical roof carpenter isn’t going to let discomfort stop him from earning a buck.

‘Oh yeah, you work all year round! You could be digging trenches, digging footings in 42-degree heat eight hours or more a day – and you’ve got a lot of heavy lugging around to do’, he says.

‘Because you have these tasks to do – pouring concrete, putting up the frame-work, and so on, you need to string it all together at the right time. You can’t just postpone everything because of inconvenience.’
Dave’s work over the last few years has demanded a combination of brain and brawn.

‘Say, in the inner city where I work, access to the sites can be pretty bad. You’ve got to take all the material through the front door – all the heavy materials. Throughout all of this, you have to be perfectly organized, and have your mind on the job constantly. It’s extremely labour-intensive, yet you also have to be thinking a couple of weeks ahead all the time and have everything set up in the right order. You can’t store much on site, so when you need things, they have to turn up and get installed right away.’

Combining hard labour with strategic foresight in often uncompromising weather is not everyone’s cup of tea: ‘It can be a logistical nightmare. There are a lot of situations where you might have outdoor work but if it is going to rain, you can’t just stop. The project has to continue somehow - if that means working in the rain, then you have to do it.’

Is he complaining? Of course not - he loves his job. But for Edwards, enjoying work time is balanced by the daily trials and tribulations that come with servicing the Sydney housing boom.
By Steve Edwards

Melbourne, Victoria
Disability Support Worker

I have been knocked unconscious on several occasions, thrown down a cliff, had my thumb bitten off, been saturated in deliberate projectile vomit, punched and kicked,’ says Melissa Young.

Melissa’s not a member of the SAS, part of a new extreme fitness craze, or a contestant on a Japanese game show. For much of her working life Melissa has been a disability support worker.

While it sounds dangerous, Melissa talks about her job with humour and perspective. It is obvious she has a passion for people and for bringing quality to their lives. These incidents were all cases of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, she says, though she admits that supporting people with a disability is challenging.

Despite the dangers and humiliations, Melissa says the job was a fabulous experience. ‘The variety in the work is incredible. Some people may have mild learning disabilities, but they can be the best friends you’ve ever had. Other people may have much higher suppo