March 10, 2008


A burning question

A millennium dawns, and a power and environmental crisis beckons. Or does it? The globe is warming, oil is running out, and it’s all our fault, apparently. Mankind’s fondness for fossil fuels spells doom for us all, or so we are told. The earth will warm, the seas will rise, crops will fail, coastal lowlands will be inundated, polar bears will die out, and yada yada yada. This is partly true. The climate is changing. Temperatures worldwide are increasing. It is happening; it just isn’t happening for the reasons that that Greenies tell us it is.

I was raised as an environmentalist. I love the earth. Like most farmers, and most hunters, I’m a true Green, and proud of it. But unlike the ultra-far-red-leftists of the party which bears the same name, Greenies like me prefer to base our opinions on fact, rather than on dogma, ideology, and bad science.

We are in good company. British botanist, Professor David Bellamy, has published a paper outlining how it is that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are increasing because of global warming, and not, as the flat-earth zealots of the Kyoto Cult claim, the other way round. His findings are based on thirteen thousand years’ worth of archaeological data since the last ice age.

Bellamy refers to the Milankovitch cycles, which measure changes in the earth’s climate brought about by variations in the tilt of our planet’s axis and her orbit around the sun. These changes occur gradually over long periods – up to 100,000 years – and their effects, along with those of the known 300-year and 22-year weather cycles generated by sunspot activity, have been inscribed not only in the fossil record, but also in human history. 1000 years ago, the Vikings grazed cattle on the lush green pastures of what are now the frozen icy wastes of Greenland, and Britain had a wine industry. 750 years later, the climate had cooled to such a degree that people could ice-skate on the River Thames in London.

Bellamy also quotes from the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, whose petition against the Kyoto Protocol has been signed by some 18,000 scientists worldwide. Its central claim is simple; “Predictions of harmful climatic effects due to future increases in minor greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide are in error, and do not conform to experimental knowledge.”

Kyoto proponents would do well to acquaint themselves with a little of that experimental knowledge. We are told that melting ice caps will cause sea levels to rise. This is patently untrue, and easily demonstrated. Fill a glass to about three-quarters with water. Drop in a few ice cubes. Mark the water level with a felt-tipped pen.

In an hour or so, when the ice has melted, come back and check the level. You will discover that it hasn’t changed.The science behind this is very, very, third-form simple. Ice is less dense than water, which is why it floats. Because it floats, it displaces water, pushing the water level up. As the ice melts, the displacing ice is replaced by water, of increasing density, at lower volume, meaning that the overall level remains the same. Melting ice caps will have no effect at all on sea levels.

For the record, the Northern ice cap has no land mass under it. It is all floating sea ice. Most of the icebergs released by the Antarctic, are also sea ice, from such reservoirs as the Ross Ice Shelf. Such land-based ice as is released, by retreating glaciers and continental ice masses, is utterly insignificant relative to the volume of the oceans. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to sit down with a map of the world and a pocket calculator to work that one out.

Sea levels will, however, rise with increasing global temperatures. This is because a warming of the oceans causes their waters to expand. Low-lying countries are at risk, unfortunately, and this is a great tragedy of our time; but a greater tragedy still, is the unfettered willingness with which so many otherwise ostensibly intelligent people leap blindly onto a popular bandwagon founded on theory and science which is, plainly and simply, wrong. The burning of fossil fuels by Western nations is not causing the rise in global temperatures, and their cessation in so doing will not halt it, nor will it save those nations which are at risk.

We are also led to believe that methane emissions from New Zealand’s three-odd million cows are irrevocably harming the atmosphere, and that we must purchase “carbon credits” from some other country in order to overcome this.

The authors of this particular chapter of the Kyoto fantasy have obviously not thought far enough outside the box to give consideration to the effects which must, by their logic, have been caused by the up-to-75 million bison which roamed North America until the 1830s, or the huge African wildlife herds that existed up until modern human predation. One would presume, in keeping with their argument, that the globe should now be in credit from that period.

The fantasists also appear to ignore the fact that the atmospheres of the northern and southern hemispheres mix only at the equator, and even then, by only a minute percentage every year. Even if the “carbon credit” theory were anything other than simplistic misinformation, several centuries would have to pass before the effects of carbon emissions “saved” in one hemisphere, had any measurable effect on those “spent” in the other.

And as an aside, forests are not the “carbon sinks” which the Protocolers claim them to be; living plants emit almost as much CO2 as they take in. The only effective way to turn a forest into a carbon sink, is to cut it down for timber, or mill it into paper.

As I write this, on the evening of Wednesday 16th February 2005, the Government of New Zealand is committing the latest in its long litany of ill-informed, incompetent, or deliberate and ideologically-driven blunders. It is ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.

Even as it does, professional activists, from the internationally-franchised business Greenpeace, are occupying the site of this New Zealand Government’s single most intelligent and sensible action – the commissioning of the mothballed Marsden-B power station, as a coal-fired electricity generating plant.

They are doing so because they, and the Greens, and any number of other highly-opinionated yet poorly informed protesters, are opposed to the use of coal as a fuel for electricity generation. It is their claim that the burning of coal, or any other fossil fuel for that matter, in spite of a wealth of informed scientific opinion to the contrary, is a contributing factor to the current cycle of natural climate change. I do beg to differ. Mankind, for all his faults, is just not that significant. We are not affecting our planet’s climate. It is changing all by itself, without our help, as it has done since time immemorial, not just in the couple of hundred years since modern record-keeping began.

A single volcanic eruption on the scale of Taupo, or Krakatoa, or Mount St Helens, or Pinatubo, releases more particulate and oxidative matter into the atmosphere, than has been created by the whole of mankind since the discovery of fire, modern wars included. Sorry, Kyotoers, but once again, this is verifiable fact.

Ice ages come and go. After them, indeed between them, the climate warms again. Greenhouse fanatics choose to ignore this natural phenomenon, because they have no pseudo-scientific way of explaining it.

Though generally short on alternative solutions, in this case, as an alternative to coal, the protestors make some timid noises in favour of natural gas. This is a curious position. The exhaust products from the burning of natural gas (primarily a mix of propane and butane, with some methane, a little ethane, a smattering of pentane, and a dash of carbon monoxide), are mostly water vapour (the single most effective greenhouse gas, which also sustains life on our planet, and staves off ice-ages), and carbon dioxide.

Strangely enough, the exhaust products from a modern coal-fired thermal power station are also, primarily, water vapour and carbon dioxide.

The reality of black gold today, is a long way from the grim memory of its industrial past. Fly ash is caught by filters. Sulphur dioxide is neutralised with lime, and the resultant calcium sulphate is extracted to be used as a fertiliser. After these processes, there is very little left.

Their other preferred alternatives appear to be the continued destruction and flooding of South Island rivers and wilderlands, and the proliferation of ugly, noise-polluting wind farms – which Europe, incidentally, having had much experience of, is now in the process of dismantling.

Nobody wants pollution. There are very good reasons for mankind to pursue an alternative to oil as a source for transport fuels. But just for the record, oil is never going to run out. Contrary to popular myth, it isn’t fermented dinosaur juice. Oil is one of the products which the earth produces all the time, albeit slowly. When we tap into an oil strike, some of the oil comes out under its own pressure, and the next fraction is displaced with water, either sea water or fresh water, depending on whether the find is on land or offshore.

But oil isn’t so much pumped, as collected. Oil companies prefer not to spend unnecessary money on extracting this free and plentiful product; when the easy stuff runs out, the well is capped, declared “dry”, and the company moves on to the next find. At that stage, the reservoir usually still contains around 80% of its original oil.
Oil is handy and versatile stuff, providing us with plastics, artificial fibres, and a host of other products, from cosmetics, to agrichemicals, to road-building materials.

That said, it isn’t the cleanest thing we can put into our fuel tanks; but neither is it, nor coal, the cause of global warming.

Worldwide, a commercially-driven and media supported campaign of mass hysteria over climate change is using fraudulent science and bogus evidence to convince foolish Greenies and ignorant politicians to spend vast amounts of money on solving a problem which doesn’t exist. It is reminiscent of those other great bogeyman stories, about Y2K, SARS, Nuclear War, werewolves, vampires, and Asian Bird Flu.

I end as I began, by quoting Professor Bellamy: “The link between the burning of fossil fuels and global warming is a myth. It is time the world’s leaders, their scientific advisers and many environmental pressure groups woke up to the fact.”

(With acknowledgement to David Bellamy, and special thanks to Allen Cookson for some additional information.)

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:33 PM | Comments (0)


zaouiphone.jpgLAURA WILSON
Identifying and eradicating unwanted pests

New Zealand Customs officers are among the world’s most rigorously protective. We love to keep things out of our remote little country. I quite frequently fly around the world carting some odd items that barely raise an eyebrow until I land here, whereupon I am funnelled toward MAF and Customs scrutineers who treat me as if I am very odd indeed.

“Why would I want to bring such things into the country? Does the country need such things? They have never heard of items like these, so surely I am hiding some ulterior motive?” I have an interest in different healing techniques and pick up the odd foreign implement and herbal remedy. At first the insinuation that this made me a suspicious oddity upset me. How dare they make such judgements? I found it very small-minded indeed.

Often my goods are taken for further testing and I receive them weeks or even months later, purged of every possible evil. This simply does not happen elsewhere, unless you have a firearm. But ask most New Zealanders about Customs and they will back up this mentality of exclusion. We want the right to shape our country the way we want, not have it shaped by outside influences flooding in at the will of foreigners whose alliance lies not with the heart of this nation.

We are quite clear when it comes to excluding undesirable substances, but not so undesirable attitudes. This becomes an issue of human rights, as if we do not have the right as a country to judge an attitude or a behaviour undesirable and keep it out. We will protect our flora and fauna from contamination with the greatest of measures, but not our culture.

A few countries have the shoe on the other foot. Bhutan, for example, allows only tourism, no immigration. Tourists pay US$250 a day to visit, allowed only two weeks in a guided tour of designated areas. While Bhutan is an extreme example, it is by no means unique. Many countries have almost no immigration allowance – it is simply something they do not want. Nepal, for example has a few foreign residents, but all are there on shonky student visas that require constant renewal. Try to even find an Immigration Department, and then try to ask for a residency application form, and you will be laughed back to your country.

I estimate that in approximately two-thirds of the world’s countries, immigration is nigh impossible. The countries that do allow it are predominantly Western. In Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand the attitude to giving foreigners entitlement to dwell and even become nationals, is entirely different. Even countries that are over-full to bursting still take in thousands of immigrants. Why the differences?

Obviously, more people want to get out of a poor country and into a comparatively rich one, than the reverse. But there is another reason, one which Western nations scorned long ago. Protectivism. Even the poorest of countries like Nepal and Bhutan are passionate about their identity and protect it at great cost. They want tourism and they want money, but they do not want outside customs taking root and potentially taking over their sovereign ways.

Try similarly to immigrate to a Muslim nation. Even marrying a national does not afford you residency or citizenship. They are absolutely protective, and unashamedly proud of it. But observe the outcry if any Western country attempts in even the meekest way to protect itself by suggesting for example that it is overcrowded and needs a break from the tide of immigrants. This country will be in the headlines, whichever politician dared to voice this opinion labelled a racist, conservative bigot, or as in the case of Pym Fortuyn, Dutch Opposition Leader, simply shot to death.

I have never been a part of any organisation, be it religious, political or philosophical. I have no criminal history, no world-changing goals, and no particular axe to grind yet immigration to a non-Western country would be no easy task as most simply do not want me. They most certainly feel no kind of moral obligation to take me in simply because I ask nicely! Even if I had fled New Zealand, pursued by the IRD or the Mongrel Mob I would find they have no such thing as ‘claiming refugee status’ because I fear for my livelihood or life.

The very fact that New Zealand is taking its time to consider whether to grant residency to a foreign man with a strongly political-religious-activist past who entered the country illegally under false pretences, is causing moral outrage. Not moral outrage that New Zealand is being taken advantage of, but outrage that it dares to harbour doubts about this man and even greater outrage that it dares to suggest it has the right as a nation to protect itself from individuals, ideas or situations that could harm the way of life here.

What on earth is all this about? How dare Amnesty International lambast the government in full page Herald ads for crimes against humanity? Have we not a right to even consider protecting ourselves?
If New Zealanders don’t want Nukes, they are kept out. We don’t like snakes, even if they are at risk of becoming extinct in their own land we would not consider harbouring them. Customs have every right to treat me, a New Zealander with suspicion, to detain me, test me, question me for as long as they like because their business is protecting the country. Why is it not equally important to protect this country’s culture, as its nature?

When Bhutan wants to protect itself from unwanted influence it is seen as a charming, endearing quality and a bold move by a proud people who have something worth protecting. Bhutanese do not lack compassion, but had some of New Zealand’s high-profile refugee claimants gone to them for refuge, they would have politely declined. The world media would not have berated the Bhutanese government for this. In fact no one would have seen it as other than their personal right to choose. Why on the one hand would people uphold Bhutan’s right to self-determination through protection and exclusion, and not New Zealand’s? Why are we bigots for excluding an Algerian whilst Bhutanese are heroes for excluding an American? Clearly our attitude towards protection and preservation is two-faced, confused and heavily coloured by the unconscious prejudice that Westerners owe something to the rest of the world.

I have spent much of my life travelling, often involved in voluntary schemes to alleviate suffering, to bring health and education to people whose governments either can’t or don’t care to provide for. I do not lack compassion but one thing I have learned about the world is that poverty, disease, and most forms of suffering I have witnessed stem from attitude, culture, belief and behaviour, not by an accident of nature, and not by Western greed.

New Zealand is a safe, healthy and caring place to live because of a culture we have carefully cultivated, argued over and altered over generations. Now we take this culture for granted, as if it is not a creation, a possession of ours. Rather, we see only a land that we possess by dubious rights, that we have little right to restrict others from.

In Bhutan culture is seen as their greatest asset, coming before land, before wealth. Part of treasuring this is in saying the word no.

If it is New Zealand’s choice to become multi-cultural then I support that. This also is our right. But let us not think it is our obligation. Unwise immigration schemes are crippling countries and diminishing cultures that seem to have no right to protect themselves. We must be able to do both; celebrate and protect our way of life as well as invite other cultures and expand our boundaries. To do this we inevitably have to say no along the way, in between the yes’s.

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

Simply Devine: Mar 05

Wolfe howls at loose moon units of the Left

After thoroughly enjoying Tom Wolfe’s latest novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, it came as some surprise to read review after review that panned the book. Wolfe has had negative critiques of his earlier work, the smash hit Bonfire Of The Vanities and the more recent A Man In Full; during a celebrated literary bitchfight with a jealous Norman Mailer, John Updike and John Irving, Wolfe wrote an essay titled “My Three Stooges”.

But there was nothing like this near-universal condemnation by the literary establishment, so spiteful and so personal.

Wolfe “has become an old fart, and the worst kind of old fart, too: a right-wing scold, a moralising antique”, wrote Henry Kisor of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Wolfe “has grown into an unremitting scold, excoriating perceived depravity”, wrote The Washington Post’s Michael Dirda. The book is, “a (slightly disguised) hellfire tirade, a vision of students who belong in the hands of an angry God”.

Wolfe is “irredeemably, programmatically super-ficial” wrote Theo Tait in the once-great magazine The Spectator.

Many reviewers sneered about Wolfe’s age, 73, as if it somehow disqualified him from writing about young people.

“What can be expected when a novelist in his 70s takes on the subject of undergraduate life? Mainly voyeurism,” wrote Princeton professor Elaine Showalter in the Chronicle Of Higher Education. Wolfe was “titillated by the sexual revolution that has arrived on campus since his own student days”. There must be a reason for such spite which goes beyond the pages of Wolfe’s new book. And, of course, it is politics. The day before the US presidential election last November, Wolfe was quoted in The Guardian as saying he might vote for George Bush. Social death!

What’s more, he poked fun at the Bush-hating New York liberal dinner party set, to which he belonged.

“Tina Brown wrote in her column that she was at a dinner where a group of media heavyweights were discussing ...what they could do to stop Bush. Then a waiter announces he is from the suburbs, and will vote for Bush. And ... Tina’s reaction is: ‘How can we persuade these people not to vote for Bush?’ I draw the opposite lesson: that Tina and her circle in the media do not have a clue about the rest of the United States. You are considered twisted and retarded if you support Bush in this election. I have never come across a candidate who is so reviled.”

Wolfe’s book is about a high-minded 18-year-old virgin, Charlotte Simmons, from a conservative hillbilly family, the first to go away to a prestigious college. But instead of an intellectual Shangri-la she found a shallow, status-obsessed world of rampant sex, crudity and drunkenness, where her virginity was a joke and being “cool” was everything.

It explores social status and the primal human need to belong to a group. How ironic, then, that the book was the trigger for Wolfe to become a pariah within his own group, the New York liberal elite.
“I cannot stand the lockstep among everyone in my particular world,” he told The Guardian. “They all do the same thing, without variation. It gets so boring. There is something in me that particularly wants it registered that I am not one of them.”

Wolfe also accepted an invitation from Laura Bush to the White House last year to speak at a literary function.

But the final affront to his peers was when The New York Times discovered President Bush loved I Am Charlotte Simmons.

“It is unclear exactly what Mr Bush liked so much about the book,” wrote the newspaper’s Elizabeth Bumiller. Shock horror, the President was even, “enthusiastically recommending it to friends”.

“Does Mr Bush like the book because it is a journey back to his keg nights at Deke (his jock fraternity at Yale), or because it offers a glimpse into the world of his daughters’ generation?” Miaow.

Then, to make matters worse, another British paper, The Sunday Times, revealed Wolfe’s daughter, Alexandra, 24, had confessed that she, too, was intending to vote for Bush. “If I say it out loud, it’s death,” she whispered to writer Sarah Baxter at a Manhattan black tie arts party. “In a place like this, people look at you like you are a freak.
I believe in abortion and I totally believe Kerry is right on some social issues, but I just don’t trust him on terrorism.”

Maybe this determination to escape intellectual lockstep and think for oneself is hereditary. Or, scary thought, for Wolfe’s detractors, maybe it is contagious.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:22 PM | Comments (0)

The Arena: Mar 05, AU edition

blue fingers.jpg

Australians should be proud of the role they played bringing democracy to Iraq

From the moment John Howard committed troops to help the United States enforce the slew of U.N. resolutions violated by Saddam Hussein, Australians were told that they should feel badly about it. By focusing narrowly on the question of Saddam’s WMD programs (and by also conveniently forgetting his history of gassing Iranians and Kurds), anti-war groups were able to conveniently ignore the greater promise of ousting Saddam Hussein: not only would the overthrow of his sick and genocidal cult of personality give a measurably better life to Iraq’s citizens, but it would also have the knock-on effect of bringing political freedom to a region sorely in need of it.

This willful ignorance came to an end on the 30th of January, a day which will be remembered as a defining moment of the first decade of the 21st Century. That was the day when ordinary Iraqis went to the polls to elect their own government — and in the process defied armies of Islamists, insurgents, Ba’ath party holdouts, and much of the Western media, all of whom predicted that the exercise of democracy would cause bloodshed from one end of Mesopotamia to the other.
In fact, the turnout was better than anyone could have expected, with early estimates pegging at somewhere around 72 per cent (much better than, say, an American or British national election). Sure, there was some grumbling, but so what if the Sunnis didn’t vote in huge numbers? The fact that a segment of the population which had for decades happily exercised tyranny of the minority got pouty and decided to pick up their ball and go home should be of no consequence to the legitimacy of the overall election. As the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto pointed out, Afrikaners refusing to vote when blacks were given the franchise in South Africa didn’t cause reporters to heave heavy sighs and complain about the sudden illegitimacy of that country’s democracy.

As Iraqis streamed out of polling places across the country, proudly waving their blue ink-stained index fingers indicating they had voted, it was fascinating to watch the story of their country change in the eyes of the Western media. For months on end, Australians had been subjected to a relentless barrage of stories about how, since the invasion, Iraq had spun wildly out of control and that (for reporters, at least) Baghdad was suddenly a place where leaving one’s hotel room to buy a pack of smokes was about as risky as poking your head above ground level in 1916 Verdun.

Thus the media’s reaction to the election’s overwhelming success was every bit as amusing as the courage of the free Iraqis was touching. Remember that for months every bombing, every setback, and every act of brutality (especially if it was committed by a wayward American soldier) was front-page news, not just in Australia but around the world. And the message was subtle but clear: Iraq and the Iraqis were better off under Saddam, because at least then the state had a monopoly on killing and mayhem. Once the Americans came in, the chaos was privatized – a far worse state of affairs.

But almost as soon as polls opened the story changed. If they didn’t exactly become cheerleaders for Iraqi democracy, the media managed to, if just for a day, agree that the voting was a good thing.
International wire service Reuters, which since 9/11 has been notorious for throwing “scare quotes” around the word “terrorist” – lest anyone think the agency was taking sides – suddenly reported that “millions of Iraqis flocked to vote in a historic election Sunday, defying insurgents who killed 25 people in bloody attacks aimed at wrecking the poll. Iraqis, some ululating with joy, others hiding their faces in fear, voted in much higher-than-expected numbers in their first multi-party election in half a century”.

The New York Times got caught up in the excitement as well, declaring that “if the insurgents wanted to stop people in Baghdad from voting, they failed. If they wanted to cause chaos, they failed. The voters were completely defiant, and there was a feeling that the people of Baghdad, showing a new, positive attitude, had turned
a corner”.

And closer to home, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul McGeough admitted in his first dispatch after the election that “the ballot had prevailed over the bullets and the bombs”, and even conceded that “the provisional figures will be seen as a stunning victory for Washington’s policy of democratising the Middle East and will cause great anxiety among the region’s unelected leaders, who fear such an Iraqi outcome will spur demands for radical reform across the region”.
This was an incredible (if temporary) about-face for McGeough, who has spent the last two years tipping an Iraqi civil war and once went so far as to run a story accusing interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi of shooting six terrorist suspects at close range — a bit of unsubstantiated urban myth that allowed the correspondent to think aloud about “a return to the cold-blooded tactics of his predecessor”, i.e., Saddam.

In standing up to the naysayers, and the terrorists, and those who suffer from that peculiar neocolonial racism of the Left which says that some people just aren’t cut out for democracy, ordinary Iraqis took a brave stand for their future. Not only did they send a message to their foes at home and abroad that they were not going to let freedom’s enemies win, but they also told Australians, Americans, and everyone else involved in making 30 January possible that the life and treasure spent in Iraq were not in vain. As Iraqi weblogger Hammorabi put it the night before the election,

Our voting is:
No to the terrorists!
No to the dictatorships!
No to hate and racism!
No to the fascists!
No to the Nazis!
No to the mentally retarded tyrants!
No to the ossified, narrow-minded and intolerant!
The Iraqis are voting in few hours time for the new Iraq.
We are going to create our future by ourselves not by dictators.

We are going to say:
Yes for the freedom and democracy!
Yes for the civilized Iraq!
Yes for peace and prosperity!
Yes for coexistence!
Yes for the New Iraq!
Let them bomb and kill us. It will not deter us!
Let them send their dogs to suck our bones. We care not!
Let them bark. It will not frighten us.
Let them see how civilised to be free and democratic!
Let them die by our vote tomorrow! It is the magic bullet which will
kill them!
Welcome New Iraq.
Welcome freedom and democracy.
Welcome peace and prosperity for all nations with out exception but terrorists!
Amen to that.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 09:13 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)

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)

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)

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)


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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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

First Draft: Mar 05, AU Edition


Somehow this draft e-mail from Kim Beazley made it into our in-box…

Subject: Proposed new tactical directions - and thanks!

Dear men and women of Labor,

Thank you for re-electing me as Leader. I am both proud and excited - not to mention extremely flushed. Flushed with confidence. Flushed with enthusiasm. Flushed with anticipation! It’s a great feeling; a feeling that I hope to share. Come the next election I hope and pray that we are all flushed together! And I am confident we will be. Certainly, victory is possible, but not until after some significant changes have taken place. The first thing we need to do is re-unite as a party. How can we unify the country if we can’t unify ourselves? You will no doubt recall that I recently told you all to just “put a sock in it”. I reiterate that sentiment in this memo - but this time with a qualification; a qualification that I’d like to delineate:

As distinct from the Liberal Party, which has a very top-down culture, we are the party of debate and consensus. This is a tradition we simply must not discard. So, the figurative sock I am thinking of is not, say, a thick, wooly, footy sock, which, when placed in the oral cavity would completely stifle any attempted vocalizations. It could be more of a lightweight tennis sock - or even one of those elastic shin-huggers - a sock that, although achieving the required effect most of the time, would still allow certain vital phrases to be expressed - and consequently heard - if need be. Speaking of verbal matters: I am well aware that my peripatetic thought processes and meandering syntax have been a problem in the past. But no longer!

From this point on I make this commitment, both to you and the people of Australia: No more prolixity. As we all know, prolixity - or even a general loquaciousness - is a curse for a politician (or any public figure, for that matter) in this age of sound-bites and fleeting images. In the final analysis, what’s the point of taking a hundred words to say something when only five will do?
Just as I must reinvent myself, so must we all. Apropos of this, we must constantly push into new areas. We need to cease going over old ground. We must quit with the endless post-mortems. We simply have to stop repeating ourselves.
(And we must also do away with the negativity. Negativity never, ever works. It ultimately leads to low morale. And the last thing we need is low morale. Particularly not now. Really, just the thought of it fills me with dread...)

But enough of that! We must stop being obsessed with the past. We must become obsessed with the future, and how we can get there. We must act. And the first step in the process of acting is to agree - and agree unanimously - that I am the party Leader; that I make the decisions; that I articulate our direction. (Of course, I’ll contribute to this process by listening to all constructive criticism, and going with any good suggestions you might have.) Needless to say the most important sub-step of this step is to put the bickering behind us. (And on the subject of behinds: We must avoid any such obsession with that part of the anatomy in our rhetoric. These will no doubt remind the electorate of my predecessor’s unfortunate fixation thereupon, and his ultimately disastrous reign. So, no more references to posteriors, or the osculation thereof. It will be the kiss of death.) So, in summary: We must be combative, but not thuggish. We must be unified, but not undemocratic. And we must stop trying to have it both ways.

Thank you. And go get ‘em, fighters!

Yours sincerely,

Kim Beazley

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 01:30 AM | Comments (0)

Tough Questions, Mar 05, AU Edition


Been sucked in by The Da Vinci Code yet?

Along time ago, in a lifetime far, far away, I bought a book called The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail. Hundreds of people queued at my city’s biggest bookshop to obtain the first copies of what was billed as the biggest blow to Christianity in 2000 years.

That book made its authors millions. It took off around the world, all because of its highly controversial allegations – that Jesus Christ did not die on the Cross, but slipped away and secretly married Mary Magdalene before escaping to France and having babies. The essence of the story was that the “Holy Grail” of ancient repute was not, in fact, the chalice from which Christ gave the disciples Communion, but that the real “Grail” was in fact “Sang Real”, or Sang Royale – the royal bloodline of Christ as the authors perceived the story.

According to their “exposé”, a vast network of co-conspirators had worked through the ages to protect the descendants of Jesus – still living in France – and that protection included the Knights Templar and a mysterious monastic organisation named the Priory of Zion which allegedly continues to this day.

Except, as all good adventure story readers know, ripping good yarns like this one are generally a crock, and this one in particular was the Mother of all Crocks. Seems poor old Dan Brown, the author of the bestselling Da Vinci Code, fell for it though.

Brown’s book has spent more than a year sucking people’s money from
their own pockets and into his like a Hoovermatic vacuum cleaner. Brown himself has earned somewhere in the region of $30 million from it to date. So what are his central claims?

Well, he draws heavily on The Holy Blood for inspiration, and has one of his central characters, fictional historian Leigh Teabing, fire a supposed bullseye shot at Christianity in this exchange:

Teabing says to an eager young acolyte, “The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book…

“More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them.”

“Who chose which gospels to include?” Sophie asked.

“Aha!” Teabing burst in with enthusiasm. “The fundamental irony of Christianity! The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the Pagan Roman emperor, Constantine the Great!”

First rule of pulp fiction: never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Let’s examine the illustrious Teabing’s assertion.

What he’s really saying is that by way of some grand Roman political conspiracy, the New Testament Gospels we have today are the ones that suited the Roman Empire’s purposes, and that the vast bulk of “gospels” about Jesus were deliberately left out. Ergo, every poor deluded creature who’s ever entered a church and sung a hymn through the ages has been the victim of a Roman hoax, kept alive through the centuries by church and governmental authorities desirous of retaining power over the peasantry by giving them some spiritual opium. Karl Marx had pretty much the same view. If true, then Christians everywhere have good reason to be concerned about the rationality of their faith. But it’s not true.

Firstly, many of the references to so-called ancient records in The Da Vinci Code are false. Author Dan Brown’s direct claim, via the mouth of his character Teabing, about there being “eighty” suppressed gospels is simply a blatant untruth.

You’d be hard pressed to find eighty bits of paper from 2,000 years ago, let alone eighty gospels. Quite simply, as any recognised university professor can confirm, there were never “eighty” alternative gospels in existence. At most, there were perhaps a dozen or two, ranked in a sliding scale of 1 to 10 in terms of authenticity and credibility.

The top four are the Gospels we have today, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The reason they are at the top of the list is that they were written as early as ten years after the death of Christ. Liberal scholar Dr John A. T. Robinson – no friend of fundamentalists – believes the old view that the Gospels were written up to a hundred years after Jesus died is utterly false, and that the earliest of the Gospels was written and circulating as early as 40 AD.

Those four gospels, and Paul’s letters, had already been meticulously copied dozens of times by hand and sent to Christian communities around the Mediterranean by the end of the first century, and by the end of the second century AD there were hundreds of copies of our New Testament in existence and daily use.

Archaeologists and historians have found numerous letters and sermons, dating from as early as 90 AD, quoting the Gospels and other New Testament books. Those same documents also show the rival alternative “gospels”, such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Philip, didn’t appear on the scene until around 140 AD and were not accepted by Christians at the time as genuine. Early Christians regarded those “gospels” as frauds, and so should we.

For The Da Vinci Code to claim that the Catholic Church and a Roman Emperor had any power, by the time they met in 325 AD, to suddenly reinvent the Bible without anyone knowing is so ludicrous it makes the Moon Landing Conspiracy Theory look
utterly sensible.

The 325 AD meeting with Constantine was no more than a rubber-stamping exercise that formally recognised what hundreds of thousands of Christians already knew – the four Gospels, Acts and the Epistles were the true and inspired New Testament given to Christians by God. The first Christians – those people who had seen Jesus alive, watched his crucifixion and witnessed the Resurrection – welcomed the four Gospels as authentic and truthful. The reason the four Gospels were revered by the first Christians is because they were written either directly by Jesus’ apostles (Matthew and John), or by assistants to the apostles (Mark and Luke).

Unlike the much later alternative “gospels”, the top four read like historical narratives with acute attention to detail. Contrast Luke’s writing with later fictitious gospels featuring such additions as a “talking cross” that walked out of the tomb behind Jesus on the morning of his resurrection before, presumably, both he and the talking cross dashed off for coffee somewhere.

As a point of fact, nearly every one of the alternative “gospels” was created by followers of the religion “Gnosticism” which maintains that real spiritual truth can only be obtained by secret knowledge passed from Master to Initiate. Gnosticism was working frantically to counter the rapidly growing Christian faith, and it tried to do so by hijacking orthodox Christian gospels and re-writing them in accordance with its own beliefs.

Gnosticism is at the heart of the New Age movement today, and both The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail, and The Da Vinci Code are nothing more than extended advertisements for Gnosticism.

Which brings me to Big Claim No. 2 in The Da Vinci Code:

The character Teabing refers to the Council of Nicea, which was that aforementioned gathering of bishops in the year 325, and he claims: “At this gathering…many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon – the date of Easter, the role of the bishops, the administration of the sacraments, and of course, the divinity of Jesus”
“I don’t follow. His divinity?”
“My dear,” Teabing declared, “until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal.”
“Not the Son of God?”
“Right,” Teabing said, “Jesus’ establishment as the Son of God was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicea.”
“Hold on. You’re saying that Jesus’ divinity was the result of a vote?”
“A relatively close vote at that,” Teabing added.

While the above passage would certainly find some supporters out there in I-read-Dan-Brown land, you truly would have to be extremely gullible to believe it. It is, again, a blatant fiction.

Did Jesus Christ claim to be God in the Gospels? Repeatedly. Take John 10:25-33:

“Jesus answered... ‘I and my Father are one’,” at which point a Jewish crowd tried to stone him to death for blasphemy.

At John 8:58, “Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM’.”

Think about that statement for a moment. Worded very strangely, isn’t it? Unless of course you are indeed the immortal God who created Time and exists outside Time in an eternal Now. Under those circumstances, it makes perfect sense for Jesus to refer to himself existing before Abraham two thousand years earlier, and to refer to himself in the eternal present tense as “I AM”.

Makes even more sense when you go back to Exodus 3:14 and discover that God introduced himself to Moses as “I AM”.

And while Exodus records the first commandment as “Thou shalt have no other Gods but me” on pain of death, the New Testament shows Jesus clearly saying he is God, using God’s divine name for himself and, at Matthew 8:2, John 9:35-39 and elsewhere, accepting worship from people – something only God was permitted to do. Now of course anyone can claim to be God. Our psych units are full of delusional people who claim to be God. And Jesus was confronted with skeptics as the Bible records in Mark 2:9-12 when Jesus met a man paralysed from birth. He tells the man his sins are forgiven, prompting a gasp from the crowd who remind him only God has the power to forgive sins. So Jesus then asks the crowd which is the easier – to say “your sins are forgiven” or to say “rise and walk”? According to one biblical scholar commenting on this little dilemma, it is “an unanswerable question. The statements are equally simple to pronounce; but to say either, with accompanying performance, requires divine power.

“An imposter, of course, in seeking to avoid detection, would find the former easier. Jesus proceeded to heal the illness that men might know he had authority to deal with its cause.”

So it is abundantly clear all through the New Testament that Jesus both claimed to be God, and performed miracles to prove his claim. He accepted worship as if he were God. And writings from Roman imperial records around 100 AD show people “singing hymns to Christ, as if to a God”.

For Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code to claim that Jesus was never regarded as God before 325 AD is just an outright crock.

Yes, it’ll sell books. But then again a fool and their money are soon parted.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 01:20 AM | Comments (0)

Left Hook, Mar 05, AU Edition


Freedom of speech? Sure – just don’t mention the war

I am not a racist. In fact, I’m something of a sensitive multi-culturalist: the more complex the cultural stew, the better. But a vile bigot I may turn out to be if, in the eyes of the Hu-man Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, I’m found guilty of “repeated racial vilification” for dissing, of all people, Germans.

The accusations have been levelled by a German-Australian in a document that as hysterical as it is histrionic. Yet the commission regards it as grave enough to have written me demanding a response and threatening sanctions.

And so I find myself in a free-speech trial. The complainant asserts that I’ve maligned the German people by uttering “extremely disturbing and racially offensive remarks” in several articles written for the Weekend Australian magazine.

Now, I’m enough of a sensitive centre-leftie to believe in the notion of racial vilification as embodied in the Racial Discrimination Act. On the other hand, I’m enough of a realist to want the law’s purview restricted to races (not nations) that may be tangibly harmed by acts of repeated vilification and manifest “hatred”.

As I write these words, a copy of the HREOC complaint lies open on my desk. It includes three photocopies of the offending articles, incendiary passages underlined. The first contains the line: “The Germans have always had the gift of killing to music.” I wrote this on May 29, 2004. Or, rather, I cited it. The line is a quotation by the Austrian writer-journalist Joseph Roth in a 1938 essay in which he warned of “the political terror that Hitler contrives to exert over his European colleagues”. The beauty of Roth’s “killing to music” phrase is that it goes to the paradox of National Socialism: how does the Nazi killing machine sit with the culture of Bach and Mozart, heir to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment? I’d defend his use of it in this historical context, and my re-use of it in the same context, a thousand times. How have we come to the point where a writer risks drawing down upon himself the weight of the Racial Discrimination Act by quoting a 1938 article about the rise of the Hitler machine? The questions raised by Roth in this taut and elegant phrase will plague mankind for eternity. And yet the Canberra bureaucracy appears sympathetic to the view that they should not be uttered in public.

The other claims in the dispatch from HREOC are based on overheated and neurotic misreadings of my articles, including one in which I refer to “German shame” in the context of a war cemetery.

This is the problem with any discussion of Germany’s behaviour during the war. Hitler was voted into office by 37 per cent of the population and his plans were carried out with alacrity by many ordinary Germans, as illustrated by Daniel Goldhagen in his book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners. A nation, a race, a people were involved both explicitly and tacitly in the Nazi machine. The historical facts lead one to consider a degree of collective German shame: to do otherwise is to not have the discussion.

Recently I had reason to write again about Joseph Roth as I was reviewing a collection of his journalism (1925-39). Roth was a fierce opponent of Hitler and his writing foreshadowed the disaster. I found myself drawn to his reflections on Germany and the Germans of his time (reflections that draw on the memories of World War One and of Prussian militarism). I stalked them warily, and moved on. I had been bullied, finally, into self-censorship.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 01:15 AM | Comments (0)

Right Hook: Mar 05, AU Edition


Abortion is too important an issue to be left to judges

Maybe he really is an idiot. On the 32nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade recently – I was going to say “birthday of Roe v. Wade,” but that
would be too grimly ironic even for me – President Bush told a pro-life rally in Washington that a “culture of life cannot be sustained solely by changing laws. We need, most of all, to change hearts.”

Actually, the “changing hearts” portion of the abortion debate is over. We’re now entering the “minds” portion of the “hearts and minds” journey on abortion. We’ve been talking about abortion for 32 years. All the hearts that can be changed have been changed. By some estimates, 35 million human hearts (and counting) have been “changed” by abortion in America alone.

Judging by her comments calling abortion a “sad, even tragic choice,” we’ve even changed Hillary Clinton’s heart.
Hillary went so far as to say she had “respect” for those who believe that “there are no circumstances under which any abortion should ever
be available.”

I’ve never heard of anyone who thinks abortion should not be “available” to save the life of the mother. If Hillary “respects” even this (nonexistent) lunatic fringe of the pro-life movement, she must adore me!

If, right now, pro-lifers had already succeeded in changing the hearts of every last person in America – including Hillary Clinton! – abortion would still be legal in every state of the union. It’s a “constitutional right” – taking its place alongside all those other “sad,” “tragic” rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, such as religious expression, free speech, freedom of assembly and so on. Who was it who said, “Free speech should be safe, legal and rare”?

Abortion was not terribly popular when Roe v. Wade was first concocted in 1973 – by seven male justices and their mostly male law clerks. We know it wasn’t popular with actual Americans back then because 46 states had outlawed it in a once-common procedure known as “representative democracy.” Reflect on the fact that among the things more popular than abortion back thenf were white-guy afros, lime-green leisure suits and earth shoes.

In a Los Angeles Times poll a few years ago, 57 percent of respondents said they believed abortion was “murder.” Seventy-two percent of women and 58 percent of men said they thought abortion should be illegal after the first trimester. (Among men currently listed on NBA rosters, the figure was even lower.)

Note that men in the poll were more supportive of abortion than women, which is perfectly in keeping with the pro-abortion orthodoxy that men should have no say in this matter, unless they’re saying “yes, dear.” Once again, NARAL and I are in agreement! It’s a “woman’s issue”; could you men please just butt out? Feminists try to make people feel guilty about opposing a “woman’s right” to abortion,but in fact men always support abortion more than women – no matter who takes the poll or how the questions are asked.

Until Roe is overturned, telling pro-lifers they need to be “changing hearts” is like telling the New England Patriots they need to practice more – while never, ever letting them play in the Super Bowl. We’ve been changing hearts for 32 years – I think we’re ready for the big match now. I think Americans would support massive restrictions on abortion. And NARAL agrees with me! How about it, liberals? Prove me wrong! Let Americans vote. Universal Press Syndicate

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 01:11 AM | Comments (0)

Spin City: Mar 05, AU Edition


John Howard has a long way to go to truly remake Australian society

Fresh from his fourth successive elec-tion victory, John Howard is politically ascendant. Learned commentators who only months ago were waxing lyri-cal about the visionary qualities of Mark Latham are now consigning Labor to the dustbin of history. The Coalition eagerly awaits its Senate majority in July. And Howard’s mate George W. Bush has handily won another four years in the White House.
Australian conservatives might be forgiven a little triumphalism as they reflect on the past year.

Yet there is still plenty to give the Right pause. For while Howard has won many battles, it is far from certain that he is winning the war to really transform Australian culture – or even that he will fight it.

Howard has been a champion of two great political causes: a broad-based consumption tax and industrial relations reform. The former is a battle won. The latter has been partially implemented and will advance significantly once the Coalition’s Senate majority takes effect. What next?

The answer is obvious to some. Led by Senator Mitch Fifield and Sophie Panopoulos MP, a vocal group of Liberal parliamentarians is challenging Howard to implement desperately needed reforms to the nation’s confiscatory income tax regime and its counterproductive welfare system.

But Howard’s response has been to hose down expectations of change, cautioning that it’s “a question of striking the right balance”. Unless the PM’s idea of balance is that we go halfsies with government, it is difficult to defend the status quo. After profligate campaign spending, it is frightening to imagine that projected surpluses of $24 billion over the next four years might fund further expansion of Australia’s bloated public sector.

Of course, it’s possible that Howard’s moderate rhetoric conceals radical intentions. After all, Peter Costello’s last budget included a politically risky change to tax thresholds at the top end of the spectrum. But it is not just in economic policy that reform is in jeopardy.

Australian conservatives have been beguiled by vast tracts of left-wing commentary bemoaning the Right’s victory in the “Culture Wars”. In the memorable words of the PM, “Hello? Hello?”

But let’s check the other side of the ledger.

Taxpayers continue to fund the arts and film industries which churn out politicised material like the disingenuous Rabbit Proof Fence and display a tedious conformity of views. The need for subsidy springs from the fact that only a handful of insiders want to view the art or watch the films. And surely the very idea of a panel of government-appointed commissars doling out cash to whomever satisfies their definition of “art” is anathema to alleged Liberal values. So what have nine years of conservative govern-ment achieved?

Barring a handful of outcasts, dissent amongst the so-called intellectuals in our universities is akin to a power struggle between the Maoists and the Marxist-Leninists, with a few post-modern onanists thrown in for good measure. Vindictive personal attacks on the likes of Keith Windschuttle are matched by the less-publicised persecution of students who dare to challenge the established orthodoxy, making a mockery of the Enlightenment values of free inquiry that universities are meant to celebrate.

Judging by voting patterns, the socialist dinosaurs of academia are well to the left of the students they teach. A full-blown voucher system would introduce market forces to the sector and end their oligopoly. Yet the Government merely tinkers at the edges of the HECS system. So what have nine years of conservative government achieved?

Our public broadcasters rival Cuba’s Granma in their anti-Americanism, while proudly declaring their domestic impartiality because they attack both major parties equally – from the left. John Howard’s appointments to the ABC include the entire current board, save for the staff rep.

With the exception of former member Michael Kroger, every one of his appointees were captured by the institution, leading to the coup d’état against reformist managing director Jonathan Shier and his replacement with a lacklustre insider. So what have nine years of conservative government achieved?

The half-hearted debate about values in schools has merely emphasised the continued domination of the teaching profession and education bureaucracy by moral and cultural relativists who see their job as indoctrinating the young with fashionable multi-culti pietie, from which quaint pursuits such as grammar and arithmetic are an unwelcome distraction. Here the government has made a tiny step in the right direction, with the introduction of an experimental voucher system to enable failing students to seek help from the private sector.

But it’s a case of one step forward, two steps back. The Government is introducing a national curriculum which will doubtless be corrupted by the education bureaucrats. Even if, by some miracle, it is not, the centralised system will eliminate competition between states and pave the way for the next Labor government to implement Carmen Lawrence’s dream of an education system that indoctrinates children into communism – sorry, social justice. Again, what have nine years of conservative government achieved?

Conservative electoral success masks an underlying failure to win key battles over the size of government and the politicised nature of key public institutions. If he is to reverse this failure in his fourth term, John Howard will need to embrace measures more radical than he has shown the stomach for thus far. If he does not, his much-vaunted reshaping of Australian society will prove as ephemeral as a sand

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:48 AM | Comments (0)