Thursday, November 30, 2006

Modern Warfare

Once upon time, when your neighbouring tribe, village or country was misbehaving and giving you a hard time, you could go over and give them a good butt-kicking. Warfare has come a long way since. In today's world of "moral responsibility" when a country misbehaves, we put trade restrictions on them. North Korea, after cheekily detonating a nuclear weapon, will be soon facing these restrictions:

In a novel effort targeting the lifestyle of North Korea's eccentric president, the Bush administration wants to make it tougher for him to buy iPods, plasma televisions, Segway electric scooters and more.

A ban on Segway electric scooters? The poor iPod-less North Koreans won't be able to scoot around any more? A true tragedy. I have an image of US politicians and military personnel hovering over the list with one general assuring the rest, "We'll ban iPods and those blasted electric scooters. That'll fuck 'em. Those commie bastards will be begging for mercy in no time. Mark my words."

End of AWB

Finally, the Cole Inquiry is finished. Millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent to shed light on the dirty underhanded dealings carried out by the Australian Wheat Board. It truly amazes me that a former government establisment, which was privatised in 1999, had to pay kickbacks to a corrupt dictator to gain more profits even though they have had a sixty year monopoly (or "single desk" if you prefer the sugar-coated version) in Australia.

Why wasn't the AWB discovered sooner? The Oz editorial reads:

It may also be true that public servants were keen to believe assurances from AWB on the basis it was regarded as an honourable company working for the benefit of Australian farmers.

Honourable because they benefit farmers? With that line of reasoning, one could argue that drug companies would never need checking as they work for the benefit of ill people. Clearly all companies need to be kept in line by various government bodies. The idea that a company without checks would behave ethically is simply laughable.

What arises from this fiasco is anyone's guess. The AWB boss has resigned, and there are plans to split AWB. No doubt the shareholder legal actions will come, followed then by those from the North American wheat-farming bodies. Dismal days for the AWB and Australia's wheat exporting. The single desk approach is apparently the most efficient method for Australian farmers. They won't be happy.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Religions in Oz

Young Australians are attracted to "spiritual aerobics", according to a new survey:

A survey shows that new and emerging churches are popular with young Australians and that 'nature religions' and Scientology are growing strongly.

Professor Bouma said Australia's youth was flocking to new and emerging 'mega-churches', such as those of Christian Pentacostals, engaging in energetic forms of worship that he calls 'spiritual aerobics'.

This was despite the fact that Australians were not as religious as Americans and could be sceptical of US-style evangelism.

Among the religions on the rise are Buddhism, up 79 per cent since 1996, Islam, up 40 per cent, Hinduism up 42 per cent, and Penatacostalism, up 11 per cent.

Nature religions, including Wicca and witchcraft had grown by 130 per cent and Scientology had 37 per cent more followers.

Naturally, the youth of today want more flexible religions. I don't want a god who'll send me to a fiery hell for drinking and having sex before marriage.

Glad Australians are still, justifiably I might add, sceptical of American evangelism. But this growing interest in the Cult of Scientology scares me. Haven't they read Operation Clambake?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Governor General

Who is our Governor General and what does he do? He represents Australia's head of state Queen Elizabeth II. But don't worry if you don't know who he is. Apart from resolving the odd double-dissolution and attending funerals, we haven't seen very much of him:

Only one in seven Australians can correctly name the Governor-General, Michael Jeffery, and most people have no idea who he is. The man dubbed "Mr Nobody" for his subterranean profile after he took on the vice-regal post in June 2003 is frustrated that his conscientious, yet cautious, style has failed to punch through the haze of public ignorance.

Fourteen per cent of the 1200 people interviewed by Newspoll last weekend could at least provide his surname, a modest improvement on the 7 per cent recorded three years ago.

Major-General Jeffery - a former Special Air Service commander awarded the Military Cross in Vietnam who became deputy chief of the army general staff - blames the media for hindering his efforts to penetrate the national consciousness.

The ezine Crikey's Chrisitan Kerr accuses our current PM of stealing some of the GG's ceremonial roles such as attending sporting events. Crikey now reveals a republican's spin on the matter:

“Ironic isn’t it?” Greg Barns, former head of the Australian republican movement and author of the recently published An Australian Republic told Crikey. “Howard is the bloke who indicated in 1999 that if we were to change the constitution it would affect the stability of the country. Yet he is now usurping that role.Howard is essentially behaving like an elected president. He’s morphing his role into the office of an elected president, but he was so adamant in 1999 that we maintain those offices.

Regardless, you now know Australia's current Governor General, and our first PM Edmund Barton who as a referee resolved the first international cricket brawl. Edmund Barton was apparently a pretty average PM and perhaps that's why people don't remember him. However, his nickname "Toby Tosspot" will always be in my memory.

Who was Australia's second PM? A hint: there's a regional Victorian university named after him.

Friday, November 24, 2006

US Dollar

Here's an example of how a little thing, like having one dollar coins instead of notes, can save a government big bucks:

The US Mint is planning to reintroduce dollar coins in another attempt to get Americans to give up the dollar note

The changeover to coins could save the Treasury an estimated $500m (£260m) a year because they last up to 40 years, compared with just 18 months for notes.

But officials say there are no plans to completely eliminate paper dollars.

How do they use vending machines in America?

I've heard Americans complain how heavy their wallets get when they visit Canada, who affectionately refer to their one dollar coin as a "loonie" - true story. The canucks with their truly heavier wallets will have the last laugh.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Creationism Sideshow

Instead of spending money on homeless or combating AIDs in developing countries with condoms, and not abstinence, those die-hard religious types are spending their millions elsewhere:

The Creation Museum - motto: "Prepare to Believe!" - will be the first institution in the world whose contents, with the exception of a few turtles swimming in an artificial pond, are entirely fake. It is dedicated to the proposition that the account of the creation of the world in the Book of Genesis is completely correct, and its mission is to convince visitors through a mixture of animatronic models, tableaux and a strangely Disneyfied version of the Bible story.

As you stand in the museum's lobby - the only part of the building approaching completion - you are surrounded by life-size dinosaur models, some moving and occasionally grunting as they chew the cud.Beside the turtle pool, two animatronic, brown-complexioned children, demurely dressed in Hiawatha-like buckskin, gravely flutter with movement. Behind them lurk two small Tyrannosaurus Rexes. This scene is meant to date from before the Fall of Man and, apparently, dinosaurs.

Theological scholars may have noticed that there are, in fact, no dinosaurs mentioned in the Bible - and here lies the Creationists' first problem. Since there are undoubtedly dinosaur bones and since, according to the Creationists, the world is only 6,000 years old - a calculation devised by the 17th-century Bishop Ussher, counting back through the Bible to the Creation, a formula more or less accepted by the museum - dinosaurs must be shoehorned in somewhere, along with the Babylonians, Egyptians and the other ancient civilisations.

The museum is costing $25m (£13m) and all but $3m has already been raised from private donations. It is strategically placed, too - not in the middle of nowhere, but within six hours' drive of two-thirds of the entire population of the US. And, as we know, up to 50 million of them do believe that the Bible's account of Creation is literally true.

I know what you're asking. When do us Aussies get our share of creationism? Well, according to our old mate Ken Ham (a QUT and UQ graduate), we simply won't:

Now, we are taken to meet Ken Ham, the museum's director and its inspiration. Ham is an Australian, a former science teacher - though not, he is at pains to say, a scientist - and he has been working on the project for much of the past 20 years since moving to the US. "You'd never find something like this in Australia," he says. "If you want to get the message out, it has to be here.

Blast. And I had my fingers crossed. Seems we'll burn in hell for all eternity. It's all good. Only boring people go to heaven.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Is Australia anti-intellectualism? Labour member Lindsey Tanner believes so:

In a provocative speech to the Sydney Institute tonight (AEDT), Lindsay Tanner will argue parents are partly to blame for a culture of anti-intellectualism in Australia.

"There's a lot of evidence that we're still disdaining of learning, we're still regarding learning activity as something that `real Aussies' don't get into too much," Mr Tanner said on ABC Radio today.

"It's not an accident that our levels of education and our level of commitment to education and learning is significantly lower than comparable countries."

A British university's presentation of an honorary degree to Australian cricketer Shane Warne, who once famously boasted that he had never read a book, illustrated that many Australians regarded learning as "a bit of a laugh", he said.

Tanner adds:

He said it was "nonsense roughly equivalent to inducting John Howard into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame for his infamous bowling performance in Kashmir".

He confessed to being passionate about cricket but "when sporting celebrities proudly announce they've never read a book, they're telling Australians that learning is for nerds".

I wish Shane Warne would just piss off and die. And who cares about Ian Thorpe and his retirement? But I digress. I recall being sledged at rural public schools for being a know-it-all in late primary and early high school (funny enough, my marks weren't even that good in early highschool). In retrospect, I think the poor country clowns were just bitter. It is a shame that learning is frowned upon in many circles.

Doesn't matter. In the end, hopefully, the kids who chose to study will end up better off both intellectually and financially although these so called "cashed-up bogans" or CUBs are a tad depressing.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

FBI Asia Map

Anti-Americanism annoys me. Not all Americans are ignorant and most of them I have found are very friendly. However, the lads at the FBI need to get their geography right:

Must be cold in New Zealand, and what's happened to the Torres Strait? And they wonder how the 9/11 boys got pass the FBI.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Cheating at Unis

Apparently, students have been cheating at unis:

Universities in NSW are facing an explosion in the number of students caught plagiarising assignments and cheating in exams, with law students the worst offenders at one big institution.

Figures obtained by the Herald under freedom of information laws show some of the state's most highly regarded universities have recorded the most incidents of student misconduct

Shock horror. Law students always struck me as trustworthy characters. How foolish of me.

In other news, I'm buying a laptop this week so it'll be rice, water and goon for the next couple of weeks/months at Casa de Engels. I can buy the laptop without windows (ie save money), and have it pre-installed with Ubuntu Linux. How very tech elite (read: nerdy).

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Melbourne has been hosting the G20 - an international gathering of financial ministers and central bankders from the EU and 19 other large economic players including the emerging economies of Brazil and India. To my limited understanding the countries involved talk, among other things, about trade agreements, climate change, and preventing financial disasters such as the Asian Crisis of 1997. And when there are international gatherings of leaders, there are the poor middle class socialists fighting against the machine:

Protesters have breached barricades outside the G20 summit venue, overturning up to 200 water-filled plastic barriers in the first direct test of police security measures.

Scuffles broke out as police prevented protesters entering a McDonald's restaurant and mounted police have formed a line between marchers and a Nike store at the corner of Bourke and Swanston streets.

Up to 200 masked protesters in white protective suits attacked barricades in Collins St, outside the Grand Hyatt, venue of the global economic summit. While a small group occupied the intersection, the larger group ran west along Collins St and north into Russell, overturning and dismantling barriers.

Mounted police in riot gear, their horses fitted with perspex face masks and shin protectors, formed a line to block Collins St west of Russell St as police battled to reerect the barriers.

And uniformed police have formed a "human wall" in front of the Nike store at the corner of Bourke and Swanston streets.

And now, of course, with these displays of protest and violence, the finacial ministers will look outside their windows and say, "Hey, did you know there are problems in the world? Shit. Let's try to fix them. Oh wait, why are we here again..." Do they really think the representative of, say, India would neglect to mention there are millions of his people starving.

What would destroy more lives? A multi-national corporation running a factory in a third world country or that country's economy collapsing? Is a financial minister going to listen to a bunch of angry anti-establishment protestors?

Finally, note how Peter Costello's brother Tim has distanced his admirable "Make Poverty History" campaign away from the protestors. No doubt head-cracking will ensue.


Paul Holman, operations manager for the Metropolitan Ambulance Service, said today the protests were by far the worst he had seen in 30 years.

"It was abhorrent. Just disgusting. It is not behaviour our society is used to," Mr Holman said.

"I have no problems with people demonstrating. I have problems with people taking over the streets," he said.

Mr Holman, who has worked at numerous major rallies in Melbourne, including the World Economic Forum protests of 2000, said yesterday's protesters were highly organised and the most violent.

I thought these people were all peace and love. Wonder why no one take them seriously .

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Killing Car Companies

For some time now American car companies have been facing possible death by their non-unionised Japanese rivals:

Mr Bush met bosses from DaimlerChrysler Ford and GM, all struggling against Asian rivals, to discuss concerns over growing imports and health costs.

The companies, which spend more on health costs than on steel, want action to combat the weak Japanese yen.

Foreign manufacturers have been quicker to react to growing consumer demand for more energy efficient vehicles.

In contrast, GM and Ford have been over-reliant on gas guzzling sports utility vehicles (SUVs)

US car firms have been hit by the high cost of paying for the health care costs of their retired workforce, under agreements with the trade unions negotiated many years before.

Unions and high fuel costs are a killer. GM just needs Michael Moore now to make another anti-GM film, and that will be the final nail in the coffin. Car companies have had years to know that American fuel prices weren't going remain low for ever. Americans must be amazed at the small engines of European cars.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Cunning Drop Bears

My flatmate and his fellow English mate discovered yesterday, after 4 months of living in Oz, that the elusive and cunning Drop Bear may not be entirely factual. The poms, after hearing much about the celebrated critter, decided to google "drop bears" in hope of filling this particular void of their Australian animal knowledge.

It's a pity they found the truth. They had had plans to tell their English friends about them at home. Silly, silly poms. I suggested that they should tell their friends anyway, and keep the joke running. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Education Rant

In Melbourne, it's all about the private schools. But education shouldn't be about cost. I still reel over the fact that highschool school final exams in Victoria require students to use scientific calculators. If your family can't afford a scientific calculator, or they rather spend their money else where, unlucky for the student. I pointed this out to a couple of students here. The idea had never occurred to them. "My parents would spend anything for my education," one replied. No kidding, Sherlock. So would most if they could. Turns out encouraging more schooling is a good thing:

Despite compelling evidence among OECD countries that for every one-year increase in the average level of education, a nation's GDP will increase by 3 to 6 per cent, Australia sits just 18th out of 30 developed nations when it comes to the proportion of that GDP that is spent on education: 5.8 per cent. A generation ago, Australia ranked 8th.

And without significant private-sector funding, that ranking is considerably worse, warned Barry McGaw, director of the University of Melbourne Education Research Institute.

Professor McGaw told the Making the Boom Pay conference yesterday that one step to improve participation rates could be more collaboration between public and private schools, a model already in use in South Australia, which could make more students employable at the end of their education.

"Australia has lower participation rates in upper secondary and tertiary education than the countries with which it competes," he said.

"For both individuals and the country, education pays. Those with higher levels of education enjoy higher employment rates and higher average earnings

While we're on the topic of education, I'm sick of hearing about these soft trendy highschool subjects, like the ones they have in Britain. A nation of uneducated:

Chatham High School at Taree, on the far NSW north coast, produced the nation's most senior economist in Ken Henry, but it's unlikely the Treasury Secretary's alma mater will produce the next generation of economists.

Despite having a qualified economics teacher on staff, Chatham High has no students sitting the economics examination in the HSC this year.

And it's a similar story at Taree High School, where the economics teacher has had no students for the subject for the past 10 years, and has been teaching computing after being retrained.

Dr Henry lamented on Thursday that economics was no longer taught at his old school, and said students favoured the "soft options" instead of academic studies such as economics, maths and physics.

In Queensland highschools they wisely inform you to do harder subjects as it increases your unverisity chances, and that's how it should be. However, fewer and fewer students study Mathematics C. Amazingly, many students wishing to study science, engineering, radiation therapy, economics, and other quantitative areas don't study Maths C. My first year of university was much easier because of it. Perhaps it's because most school guidance officers (the non-religious kind, that is) have arts degrees over maths degrees.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Melbourne Cup

Today I've decided not to pay the $50 bucks entry fee, and the subsequent bucket full of cash for drinks, in order to enjoy a cloudy day at Australia's premier horse-racing event. I think the ever acerbic Skeletor from The Spin Starts Here sums up my views on the event well enough.

I read recently that horse-racing is Australia's third most popular spectator sport. To tell the truth, I want to go to a race some day. However, it's not to view the races but rather the fillies so to speak (sorry, I couldn't resist the pun. I blame my time in horse-obsessed Ireland).

Australia's has one of the highest gambling rates in the world per capita (pub raffles and lotteries count as gambling). The tax-the-stupid side of me thinks gambling is a great revenue raiser and can go towards funding good causes such as public health and education. The other side of me thinks people should sidestep the tax office and spend their money, which they obviosuly have too much of, on some random charity.

Update: Melbourne Cup is great. The department gave me beers - Crownies!

Move 'em North

Those crafty farmers definitely have their thinking hats on:

The Australian Democrats say a wholesale effort to move farmers to the country's north would undo the country's record on meeting Kyoto targets for carbon emissions.

The Democrats deputy leader Andrew Bartlett says the idea is gaining ground in the Coalition as a response to global warming and the drought in southern states.

Senator Bartlett says the Federal Government is making much of Australia meeting its Kyoto target of 108 per cent of 1990's net carbon emissions.

But he says any large scale farming in the tropics would require massive land clearing and tree felling.

"The only reason Australia has even come close to its Kyoto targets for emissions has been because of the significant drop in land clearing in Queensland," he said.

Right. That won't cost a bloody fortune. And what happens when a cyclone comes along? The banal "poor Aussie battler" image lives on despite our economic prosperity. And speaking of global warming, Rupert Murdoch says we need an emissions treaty which, unlike the Kyoto Protocol, includes vast emitters such as India and China:

Conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch said today he has had a change of heart on climate change and now believes global action is needed - although not in the form of the US-opposed Kyoto Protocol.

"I have to admit that, until recently, I was somewhat wary of the warming debate. I believe it is now our responsibility to take the lead on this issue," Murdoch told a conference in Tokyo.

"Some of the presumptions about extreme weather, whether it be hurricanes or drought, may seem far-fetched. What is certain is that temperatures have been rising and that we are not entirely sure of the consequences," he said.

Murdoch said he now believed a treaty was needed but not necessarily the Kyoto Protocol, negotiated in 1997 in Japan's ancient capital for which it is named.

"The Kyoto Protocol was found to be faulted in many ways and certainly impossible to accept in some countries and unlikely to be followed in some of the largest emerging countries. But we certainly have to have rules," he said.

Murdoch joins the environmentally-minded ranks of Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Richard Branson. Sure the hippies will still hate him for his loyal support of Howard and Bush.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Return of the Quoll

The mighty quoll is returning slowly, apparently:

Quolls are mainland Australia's top marsupial predator. When cane toads spread after being introduced to north Queensland cane farms in the 1930s, the domestic cat-sized tiger quoll and its smaller relative the northern quoll disappeared in their wake, dying within minutes of swallowing the toxic amphibians. Now it seems the quoll is making a remarkable comeback because it has finally learned not to tangle with the toads or with wild dog baits laced with 1080 poison. Viewed as an endangered species, the quoll is turning up around Brisbane and in areas where it was thought to have died out long ago.

The quoll's turn of fate shows how a threatened species can evolve over a relatively short time to beat the odds. From the surviving populations of quolls, the marsupials are now returning to their former haunts after learning to live with the toads, either by shunning them as food or becoming resistant to their venom. Now wildlife researchers say dozens of tiger quoll sightings have been reported around Queensland, while northern quolls are reappearing in places such as the suburbs of Cairns.

Separate research in Queensland and northern NSW has also found that quolls now ignore 1080 baits laid for wild dogs. If they do eat them, it seems the quolls disgorge them soon after. As Roberts reported, a study of quolls in the Boonoo Boonoo area near Tenterfield and across the Queensland border at Cherribah has found the marsupials are just as common in bushland on baited properties as they are in bait-free national parks.

Way to go, the quoll. This is a good example of animals adapting to new environments, but I doubt it allays all the ecological fears that The Oz would sugggest. And does this mean quolls are smarter than wild dogs? And what's this talk of them evolving?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Good Move, ABC

My office mate and I were happy today to read the following:

The ABC has told the stars of it's (sic) high-rating show The Glass House that this will be their last season.

Finally. It's about time (note the correct use of the apostrophe - does anyone proof-read The Age website?).

Oh, but how will I be entertained without the presence of this sterling show and Wil Anderson's woeful puns? I don't know. Surely I'll think of something equally as entertaining like cutting my toe-nails or looking for drop-bears in the inner suburbs of Melbourne.