27 January 2007

I foughtignored the law

Today's Weekend Australian magazine features, in its regular foreword, 10 things you didn't know about Philip Ruddock, Attorney-General. Now, all you out there, stop that hysterical cackling - it doesn't include the often-whispered but never proven fact that he is fact not human but some breed of alien.

The real kicker is this, no 7: "The event in history he would most like to have attended is the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. 'It probably has far more to do with democracy and the rule of law than any other event. Whatever else they say about me, I am committed to democracy and the rule of law'".

Good grief. How the f**k do they get away with it?

25 January 2007

war....what is it good for?

Via Gerry at Diogenisan Discourse, we join our voice to a global march against the continuing war in Iraq.

Just like we marched in 2003, but things are changing. Those who would lie and mislead their citizens are being exposed. Help us by joining your voice against the hunger for war that Bush and his henchmen have unleashed and that our current government has slavishly followed.

Mrs VVB and Phil

21 January 2007

may the circle be...

Here's a couple of stories from the Times of London, seemingly unrelated except for the fact they both touch on what bastards some people can be.

This first one (there seems to be some editing probs at the end but the main gist is evident by then) really cuts to the bone of what it means to be a family. In the wake of the people who died in the 9/11 attacks,
some grandparents have lost contact with their grandchildren when the remaining partner has prevented access. Of course every story is individual and there may be another side to the ones cited, but that aside it must be utterly heartbreaking to lose not only your child but their children. You only need to look at grandparents out in the park with their grandkids, or talk to someone who has become a grandparent to realise that another strand, another depth of humanity suddenly kicks in. Grandparenting is an experience that is still in front of Chateau VVB so that's why I can only comment from observation.

These people are surely hidden victims of what happened on that day.

The second story is about something closer to Chateau VVB's heart, namely corporate governance. Now, even the normally placid Mrs VVB gets a bit riled when the next story about enormous corporate salaries comes on the news. So this sotry about the
effect that greater corporate regulation is having on CEOs, in particular the substantial criminal penalties that can be imposed, raises another twist. Suppose the enormous salaries are in fact not about performance, but about the risks associated with getting it wrong. The story compares the penalties for some corporate crimes as being worse than for murder.

It would be easy and quite naughty to make a direct link by characterising high level corporate crime (eg fraud that affects lots of people) as a deliberate risk akin to, say, breaking into a bank and killing the guard while robbing the place. On the other hand, the laxer or more opaque the regulatory environment, the more people get tempted to do exactly the wrong thing. Is AWB such an example? And what would be an appropriate penalty (note to smartarses: not the bonuses they actually got).

Taking the link back to the intro, is it necessarily bastardry to commit fraud, or is it something else?

20 January 2007

That's a mini. I have owned three of them over the years and these are their stories.

I bought the first one, a 1964 Morris Cooper (998 cc long stroke) in the middle of doing my Higher School Certificate. This made my parents extremely happy, they appeared to have the impression I wasn't fully concentrating on this most important activity I would ever be involved in. Probably correct.

Anyway I'd decided I wanted something newer and nippier than the 1956 Isis I had bought from my father. I couldn't afford a Cooper S but a few early Coopers were the right price. I found one that sounded OK, I was working at the weekend so father - who had been a mechanic for 30 years - went to check it out. Apparently the owner had done something to the brakes which rendered it unsuitable. I suspect this was more about trying to get me thinking about exams rather than cars, but no such luck. I found another one, cheaper, and we got it. It was similar to the model in the picture, in that it was green with a white roof, but it was very nasty - a previous owner had covered a good proportion of the interior with that sticky paper that you used to line drawers with, in an extremely tacky woodgrain design. I eventually got it looking halfway decent but the motor needed work, so we pulled it out and fitted rings and bearings.

After we reassembled it we couldn't get it to fire on all four. So the old man just stayed up, fiddling and farting about and I still remember as if it was yesterday the sound, at about 2 am, when he got it going right. The neighbours must have loved it (although one, with whom my parents were friendly, used to run a car repair business from his garage. Illegal? You bet. Did he get picked up for it? No - he was an ex-copper).

The early Coopers had the rubber cone suspension and driving this thing up to Sydney was a real experience - the road alongside Lake George used to be a real goat track and even with seat belts, you spent more time banging your head on the roof than sitting in the seat. And sleeping in a mini is a bit of an art, too.

A few years later I was sharing a house with some blokes, one of whom owned a Triumph TR5. This was a lovely piece of work and they were very rare - I bet he wishes he still owned it. But he wanted to ditch it so we trawled the used car yards together. At one yard we found two Datsun 240Z's and it was tempting to trade both our cars, as I owned a Triumph 2500 Pi at that time. However he did the trade and I didn't.

That said, the itch to change cars again was running strong so I went to Sydney. I very nearly traded the Pi on a Jaguar E-type: would have meant a truckload of debt (and woe, probably) so I shied away but it was very tempting at the time. I hadn't seen much else that caught my attention until I ran across a Mini K (1100cc) in that pride of place spot at the front of a car yard that is designed to catch your attention. It had been lightly warmed up and seemed OK, the real benefit was it would be a back trade and so I drove home to Canberra with the non-standard exhaust a happy burble in my ears - and vibration in my seat - and a few dollars in my pocket.

I owned that one for a year or so until I met the young lady who would eventually become Mrs VVB and we needed extra cash, so the K went for something - actually, several somethings - older and cheaper again.

The last Mini we had was when we were in Pakistan. I bought it from friends at the British Embassy - it was a standard 1000cc model, but I put a little steering wheel on it (the same friends got that out from England as there was nothing like that available in Pakistan) and it was a good little runabout. Mrs VVB was taught to drive in it by my boss's wife, after my attempts looked like ending our marriage prematurely - Pakistan is not the best place to learn to drive as any 'rules' are observed in the breach, including traffic lights. Anyway the boss's wife pronounced Mrs VVB as having been successfully taught, so I wrote a letter to the authorities that she should be issued with a licence, and she was. (Subsequently we went to Singapore where, on production of her Pakistani licence and after an eyesight test, she got a Singapore licence. Then we came home and she produced her Singapore licence - a much better one than from Pakistan, you will agree - and after an eyesight test, she got an ACT licence. Never having sat a test in any of the three countries).

The only downside to the Mini in Pakistan - apart from no airconditioning which was a bit of a bugger in summer - was its size. We used to go for long weekends up in Peshawar or further, in the Swat valley. In Pakistan the long distance buses -with bald tyres, people on the roof and lots of gaily flashing lights - operate on a 'first in, best served' basis, where they compete for the next fare. So we would be happily tootling up the Grand Trunk road to Peshawar and suddenly be confronted by three buses line abreast - on a two lane road - racing for the next passengers standing alongside the road. Very scary.
If I was to look for a 'fun' car to have at some stage in the future, a Mini would be high on the list. You never really lose the feeling they give you.

a tissue a tissue we all fall down

We have been falling for ten years, and we haven't hit the bottom yet...
...it's a very deep barrel and we need to scrape it...
Update - I suspect it's meant to be 'tissu', but wtf...

19 January 2007

stuck in the middle with you

Previous statements of non-activity are hereby rescinded and rendered void, however temporarily. This is too good...

Today's AFR carries an article by Verona Burgess, a long time Canberra journo specialising in public service stuff. She notes the reappointment of four key departmental secretaries, including Peter Boxall, Secretary of the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations.

Burgess notes that the department has grown from 2871 staff in June 2005 to 3593 staff a year later, "with 105 senior executives, exactly half of whom are women" (my emphasis).

And also, presumably, that 105 includes one who can't currently be married under Australian law.

15 January 2007

and now, a word from our sponsors

Despite only being relatively new, extremely unprofessional, deliberately unresearched and occasionally bitterly objectionable little blog, VVB has attempted to give me a chance to talk about various things that interest or disturb me. Of late, the disturbing bit has been winning. That's why there will be a return to the motor car stories, at least for a while.

It was all brought home this eveningon Monday when I was watching the news, and the story about the fracas at the tennis came on. I started to rant about how we have the Muslims and various Africans as the current enemies of freedom and liberty (anyone see the piece on Tamworth?) and yet here we have the Serbs and Croats who have been at each other's throats in Australia for longer than I can remember. We must be well into second and third generation Australian born people (blokes, mainly it would seem) and it's like they've stepped straight off the boat. All the old emnities large as day and at the tennis, for crying out loud: probably the last sport where most people behave relatively sanely (Leyton not included).

So I was all, like, WTF? And started ranting.

Mrs VVB came in, remonstrated firmly about my behaviour, language, attitude and so on and said "Top Gear" is on. What a good choice. Funniest thing I've seen in ages. "The car should be over there! Where my eardrums are!" "What happens with an Aston Martin at this point?" "It breaks down" (all laugh).

Which is another way of saying that the world is getting far too intense that I should be reporting it.

Update, several days later.

Too much to do, too preoccupied when I come home, the sameness, the staleness of the debate or whatever it is has got to me. Mrs VVB and I were having yarn over dinner about water, why the council wants to - or has to - turn down the pressure: to minimise leakages from the pipes. Why do they leak? Because they're old. If they're old, why haven't they been replaced? Because we can't invest to replace them. Why not? Because we have to run a budget surplus or the ratings agencies will mark us down. Why is that? Because of Milton bloody Friedman and Friedrich bloody Hayek and Maggie bloody Thatcher and Ronald bloody Reagan and now every government this side of Panama is in thrall to the Washington Consensus, and that's why we have bloody PPPs which are just a way to get around Budget deficits and still get things built, except they don't do what they're supposed to, they're not cheaper because government can always borrow cheaper than a private company and in any case the bloody risk doesn't get bloody transferred to the bloody project proponent like it's bloody supposed to in the first bloody place. But it's the next generation of taxpayers who'll pick up the tab and we don't have to worry about them because they're 8 elections away.

It's bloody insane and it's wrong wrong wrong but even supposedly social democratic (hah!) parties have been bludgeoned into line. And everyone else has been deregistered, when did we get to vote on that?

And this, gentle reader, was the beloved and I just having a friendly tete-a-tete about current issues over a spot of home-made Thai green curry and I'm carrying on like a pork chop. How it it get to this, we ask ourselves?

Mrs VVB works in health care where the clients are in situations so dire you'd rip your ears off before you have to hear any more, and the funding she gets has been frozen for two years and has just been maintained at that level for another one or two or maybe a generation.

So....draws breath.....I am going to be otherwise preoccupied for a while, I have work stuff to do when I come home so we're are going into a little hiatus. I may pop up in comments on your own blogs - and there's only a very few special ones I go to now where the inhabitants are friendly - or I may just go for a bloody long walk.

My neck hurts. Goodnight.

14 January 2007


Yep, VVB is guilty. We see conspiracy theories all around us and you know what that means. Yeah, we're typical lefties, always too eager to draw a conclusion between unrelated facts. Not a rational bone between us.

What are the facts? (1) US President ignores most adviuce he has been given (well, as far as we know) and
commits US to more troops in an unpopular war. (2) Australian PM fast out of the blocks offering the country's full support. (3) All of a sudden, after years of barely hearing anything about what our limited number of troops in Iraq actually do, they do something.

Colour me guilty, this is just too coincidental.

Now, let's hear about the unfortunate "international contractor".

13 January 2007

to market to market

One of the little things that has been rattling around my thoughts for a while is the proposition, "what does it mean to live in a market economy"? Not in the meaning of privatisation of previously publicly provided services, but the little things that suddenly hit you.

For me, one of those has been White Pages online, and how the default setting is for the business directory, not residential. The implication is that we would mostly be looking for a business number, we'd already know any private ones. Or, on balance, we would know more residential numbers that we need, than business numbers.

I guess someone's done the analysis and that's why it's set to business. But I have to say it signalled to me another little chip away at whatever it is we mean by 'society'. It's much more important to be calling a business, so we can do business. Don't take your eyes off that GDP.

Anyway that's a little thing and if I want to get all bothered by it, problem bilong me. I'd be interested in anyone else's little examples, though. They add up, you know.

But this is a
whole other thing: US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for detainees (actually, more against them than for them) threatens companies not to give business to legal firms representing detainees at Guantanamo (via Surfdom and prawfsblawg) (and elsewhere, for that matter). It'd be easy to dismiss it because it is the Bush administration which has taken bastardisation of the system of government to a new low and I guess we have no expectations of sense, decency or an understanding of the limits to government in a supposed democracy. But Stimson's comments betray either such a fundamental lack of understanding of the limits of the law, or just unbridled arrogance, that they can't be ignored.

If the government of a country is so focused on protecting economic activity that it will threaten companies about who they should do business with, there is a plot that has been lost (if you follow me), all legal niceties aside.

In this case, of course we also have to think about what Stimson's comments mean for David Hicks. We always knew he would never a get a fair trial, but did we expect this? Well, Mr Ruddock? Anything to say?

time in a bottle

There's enough bastardry and mayhem and surrealism around to keep an "I'm so sad" theme going for ages. But that would be very soul destroying for me and pretty flamin' unenlightening for youse, so instead let's resuscitate the stories that go with the various cars I've owned over the years. Not really political so maybe that'll be enough to get VVB dropped from the blogfeed.

Rather than start with an individual story, I'll lay out a timeline of ownership so all the stories will eventually hang together.

As you'll recall...ha ha...I have been collecting 1/43 scale models of all the types of cars I've owned, and here - time in a bottle indeed - is the assembled collection of models gathered to date. Only a few to go, but they'll take a few years as none of them are available commercially at the moment.

Well, the reason VVB isn't as rich as he might have been is because of the untold amounts of dosh outlayed on buying and maintaining all these cars over the years. Roughly, the list goes thusly, by year of purchase as near as I can remember (and the model year as near as I can remember):

1968 1956 Austin A30
1968 1956 Morris Isis
1969 1964 Morris Cooper
1970 1964 Austin Freeway station waggon
1970 1966 Datsun 1600 sports
1971 1968 Triumph 2000 Mk1
1971 1966 Austin 1800
1972 1970 Triumph 2500 Pi
1972 1964 Wolseley 24/80
1975 1969 Morris Mini K
1975 1964 Austin Freeway
1976 1966 Morris 1100
1977 197? Morris Mini
1979 1976 Holden Torana SL/R
1980 197? Datsun 1200
1981 1970 Mercedes 200
1982 197? Triumph Dolomite
1982 197? Datsun 200B
1983 1980 Mazda 323
1984 197? Toyota Crown
1985 197? VW Passat
1988 1974 Triumph 2500TC
1989 1974 Triumph 2500 Pi
1991 1972 Leyland P76
1992 1974 Triumph 2500TC
1996 1988 Toyota Corolla
1998 1989 Peugeot 405 Mi16
2003 1999 Saab 9-3 Monte Carlo
The apparently quick turnover of cars in many cases was due to having one off the road and buying another to keep mobile: both the first two Triumphs suffered major catastrophes and the Austin 1800 and Wolseley24/80 were both interim transport.
Next up: the three Minis.

12 January 2007

i'm so sad

The title is inspired by having seen Cream on TV a few nights ago and then ending up having a bit of a discussion about the reunion concert with Gary at Junk for Code. But mainly it sums up some of how I feel at a few things going on and to explain why VVB hasn't been as regular as it useter, and why that will continue.

So what are the reasons? Let me count the ways:
Bush commits more sons and daughters of other
families to war in Iraq and our highly educated pollies seem to think this is a
good thing that will win the war on terror, yet again conveniently overlooking
that we have a quagmire in Iraq because we invaded and the inevitable happened.
Yes, it's a good thing that Hussein's gone but what about Mugabe? What about
Than Shwe?

The PM's refusal to misuse his power in the Senate
results in deregistration of a heap of small
, more staff for parliamentarians to
endlessly campaign, and the press just doesn't give a shit.

corporate governance is still too weak and the powerfully rich in this country
get to play by different rules (
this seems to one who got cold feet). I was having a yarn over a beer with a mate tonight - he has a son in financial services in the UK. This young feller isn't on mega money but he's still saving Lstg1000 a week. And he's able to set up an offshore account so he pays minimal tax. So who pays for his public services of hospitals, police and so on in London? I'm sure any
parent would be proud that an offspring had done so well. This is not sustainable.

What else isn't sustainable? This - selling uranium ore to China. Yep, selling more of our finite resources off untransformed: so we can't replace it, and we get minimal return. And will the Chinese want us to take the leavings back to bury in the desert? Are we absolutely fucking insane? How long can that particular business model persist?

The other unsustainable thing is typing.
I'm doing too much at work, my neck hurts like crazy and I'm going to let this


07 January 2007

knockin' on heaven's door

From this story in the Times of London, it seems that a substantial proportion of Zimbabwe's population is doing just that. The data on life expectancy - 37 for men, dropping from 62 in 1990 and for women from 62 to 34, are just horrific.

The world, the UN, the chattering classes, whoever...continue to shout for intervention in Darfur and Rwanda, while Zimbabwe slips under most of the radar. In other words it gets mentioned, but there's no substantial movement for intervention, however little. The article notes President Mbeke of South Africa's role in keeping Zimbabwe off the agenda in the UN. There's an indication of how difficult it would be to expand the Security Council of the UN - and we sure know it needs it - to get more diversity and representation into its voice, while still assuring that, in the main, you'd get decency and common sense. Sorry, yeah I know, we don't get it now with China as a permanent member.

The story about how the government-controlled press apparently reported President Mugabe's move to make himself President-for-life is a real insight into how dictatorship really works. Having lived in a military dictatorship (Burma and Pakistan) as well as countries with substantial government control of the press and other institutions, this rang true for me. Availability of an open, free and uncensored press is probably the most fundamental right that a people should expect.

Apart from Zimbabwe's former role as a major producer of agricultural products, there doesn't seem to be any other reason to intervene apart from the moral responsibility to its people. Which doesn't seem to count - maybe until the death count becomes too obvious?

I'm not sure about the author, this seems to be him.

06 January 2007

what aboutis it just me

A short post about technological innovation and what it takes to keep with technology, what technology costs and just how much of it do we need. Is it just a matter of hitting the market correctly, or is there some limit to how much money people will throw at technology?

Chateau VVB has been thinking about technology a bit lately. We're probably the only household in the leafy western suburbs not to have a big screen TV. We've been talking about it for about a year, during which time of course the prices have fallen quite a bit. LCD screens seem to have been displacing plasma, at least in smaller big screens, if you follow me.

The reception on most channels has been variable, but in particular Channel 10 has been close to unwatchable (that's not a comment on program content, although ti probably should be. Anyway last weekend we splurged on a basic set top box - standard definition and no hard disc -and the results were just bloody amazing. The pictures are sharp and stable, there's no ghosting and the picture quality is the same for ABC, 7, 9, 10 and SBS. Of course this cuts out Briz31 which I watch a bit, so it gets relegated to a small TV in the kitchen.

So this was all quite revelatory and got us wondering about why anyone would want high definition TV. No doubt there is another leap of quality involved, but how much? And, what about the quality at the other end of the system, namely the eyes? For ageing baby boomers such as Mrs VVB and me, who are both reliant on glasses (and I've only got sight in one eye anyway), what would be the real improvement from HDTV? I also recall reading somewhere recently about the effect of HDTV on people such as newsreaders: apparently even small skin blemishes are reproduced in great detail, requiring new ways of applying makeup. Obviously a killer issue for female newsreaders, an occupation very reliant on looking hawt.

I'd also been reading about the emerging HD DVD war between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, which threatened to be a rerun of the VHS/Betamax debacle of the early 1980s. So
this article about a possible techno fix was intriguing. The article does point out though that the inventors, LG, would need to pay double licensing fees which may make its player uneconomic.

The proponents of the newer technologies like Apple, with its iPod, and YouTube were forecasting that hard copy technologies such as DVD were doomed anyway. It seems to me that there are quite a few factors at work which make forescasting the eventual outcome a bit problematic:

  • HD DVD in either format is still expensive, as new technologies usually are, and so take is limited to early adopters. You'd need to have prices fall before mainstream purchasers committed to the medium.
  • Is the difference between standard and high definition all that worthwhile? Will consumers value the difference enough to take it up?
  • What about the cost of content on YouTube, for example? Once a lot of the content is not free - as it has been but I believe there are copyright cases now in play - will there still be exponential growth?
  • And finally, just to get a bit silly, suppose we have a swing back to a more community-oriented way of life rather than today's apparent triumph of individualism? Will it still be OK to walk around in an iPod cocoon, oblivious of one's surroundings, and to retreat to the home theatre?
That last point probably tells you more about Chateau VVB and its discomfort with the costs associated with these technologies (disclaimer - this does not apply to offspring number 2!). But even if VVB stays aloof from these new-fangled thingamajigs, it'll be fascinating to watch it play out. In standard definition, of course.

Yes, I have heard of
Ned Ludd. So has this bloke, it would seem.

We need to take account of the product cycle and economies generated through better distribution, provided those channels get their pricing right. My understanding is that popular culture distribution is tightly controlled by a small number of global players: hardly conductive to open competition with widespread consumer choice.

05 January 2007

while my guitar gently weepsdisrobes

Jahteh apologises because she can't find a naked guitar to post for me. Instead she has a series of photos that obviously give her much pleasure but don't do much for me, regardless of the hairstyles on display.

So, especially for the edumacation of JahTeh,
this is what a naked guitar looks like.

Cool, eh? And I don't have one......yet.

04 January 2007

say my name

The name of the Australian Government is the Australian Government (or, if you're a little bit nostalgic for the good old days, you can call it the Commonwealth, which has a nice ring to it, doncha think?).

Not the Howard Government. He doesn't own it. And, by extension, he doesn't own us.

So Julia Gillard...whom I can hear nicely handling some fairly soft questioning (ooh no, update, it's just got a wee bit tougher, question about Labor relations with trade unions) on 7.30 Report behind me, but she is at least answering the questions...don't fall into the same trap.

Call it by its proper name and maybe others will do so too - make sure all your colleagues call it the Australain Government, and we can start to reclaim what is ours, not his.

03 January 2007

they're coming to take me away

Offspring no 2 has just given me the most obscure and hence delicious present I could have hoped for...a t-shirt with the last frame from this video excerpt. Evidently it took a while to arrive from the US, I imagine held up while Customs attempted to divine some meaning from the graphic. That'll learn 'em...

If you are sort of person who finds this sort of stuff so bizarre it's hilarious, then before they come to take you away, or perhaps to give them all the more reason to do so, you should watch the whole Don Hertzfeldt cartoon
here. As you will see, it reaches a stage of...something, but perhaps obscenity is the best word, that would not translate easily to a t-shirt that could be worn in public. And after that bit, it just gets weird.

Drawing a very long bow, a good replacement for the Leunig t-shirt I owned back in tha day.

So if you see a bloke walking around in Brissie wearing a T-shirt with the spoon person and the banana on the front, that's me. You may wish to cross the road to avoid anything. Yep, just anything.

Don't say you weren't warned.

02 January 2007

things can only get better

It's true! When you have a determinedly obtained - or perhaps serendipitously innate - optimistic mindset, the world suddenly gets simpler. Unless you aren't all that keen on the grind and detail to make the good things happen. That's someone else's job. So it was described to me this morning and by crikey, I'm converted. Well, it's lasted nearly half a day so far...

And then tonight I run across
...a kind of thesaurus of optimistic...stuff.

What a feast of reading lies in wait. All kinds of...stuff.

But really, I found it quite restorative to the soul to be unpreached at - more just sort of talked to - by an optimist, particularly with another apprentice optimist-in-waiting to watch on.

Well you bloody need it, don't you. If Catholics can provide unbiassed pregnancy advice; only nuclear power can secure Australia's energy future; and
if you've been locked up in the world's most notorious prison for five years and you're about to get a 'fair trial'.....you'd have to be pretty optimistic to swallow all of that and say, "yeah, it's all good."


Almost hit the 'publish' button and then this story comes on the 7.30 Report on the TV behind me, about using a Tasmanian tree, the
King Billy pine, to make guitars. Interviews with the luthier, who has a determined vision for what can be done with this Australian timber in particular, and also with the renowned guitarist Slava Grigoryan...and just listening to him play. If you want restorative to the soul, this had it all. Even the name, King Billy, came from the third and last husband of Truganini. And if you need that soupcon of outrage, there was a bit where a pipeline had been built of this timber some 90 odd years ago when the timber was cheaper than metal. But the pipeline is obsolete and Gunns Ltd was going to ship it to Japan for woodchipping. Except for a local community outcry. Good for them.


01 January 2007

reelin' in the year (s)

VVB turns one tomorrow and so, with the semi-lassitude of the festive season about to evaporate as we return to work in a blizzard of briefing notes, and a few random acts of bastardry floating about on which to comment, and the lure of various stories of what I did on my holidays, allow me to indulge in some reflection and rumination. As a basis for the first deep and meaningful coffee of the year, with DH - so you better be reading, sport.

First, the holidays. No wonder the domestic violence and suicide rates go up at this time of year. Also, no wonder many of us choose to live remote from the rest of our families. No need to go into detail, of course, any conclusions to be reached will have been jumped to already. Suffice to say we got back home without any ultra-violence being done, but that was as much a fluke as a determined outcome.

Our pollies' chronic infatuation with budget surpluses, thus leading to underinvestment in infrastructure, was brought home forcibly to famille VVB as it sat in a 30 km car park of traffic between Karuah and Bulahdelah on the day after Boxing Day. We survived, of course, but I really felt for those with small kids in the car, as you have to eventually turn the aircon off which just exacerbates the situation on a hot day. They've been slowly duplicating the highway but the stretch into Bulahdelah is yet to be completed - and what are the plans for Buladelah itself? Of course people could stagger their travel - leave at 1 am perhaps - to miss the worst of the traffic, and so on pure cost-benefit it doesn't stack up, I imagine. On safety grounds, a dual carriageway all the way would seem worthwhile, though. The bottleneck added three hours to the trip between Canberra and Coffs Harbour. Two points: on being told the sorry tale, the bloke in the motel asked if we were from Canberra because "we should take the story back there", and three cheers for motels that have mini-bars. This also applies to the place in Dubbo - there's nothing like coming in from a long drive and being able to rip straight into a coldie.

In fact our collision with all things infrastructural had started earlier in the day when we took the M7 to get across Sydney in (we were assured) half the time. Hah! That's until you get the same amount of holiday traffic trying to leave the M7 for the so-called M2 (I say so-called because it's just Pennant Hills Road) and there's only one slip lane. Now, I'm still waiting to see whether the online payments system for the M7 toll works as it should. On the basis of negotiating with the call centre and website, I am not optimistic.

I should have kept a note of the various funny/alarming things we saw en route. One that sticks in the memory was in Coffs Harbour, trailing behind an extremely elderly woman driver in a very new Honda Civic. She sat resolutely on 20 km/hour and there was no way we could get past safely or legally, until she went to turn left into a carpark and was so intent on managing this manoeuvre that she completely ignored two people trying to cross on a zebra crossing - she drove straight in front of them. Perhaps in an insight into how laid-back Coffs Harbour is, they didn't seem to mind, or indeed notice.

Coffs Harbour also yielded a last-minute extra Christmas present. I always have a squizz through the guitar shop there and this time he had a second hand Ovation Applause, the cheaper version in the Ovation range. It has a few knocks but the action is good and the octaves sound true so we did some haggling and I walked away with it - so lucky me got two guitars for Christmas. You can never have too many guitars, is my new motto.

All random acts of bastardry are far from random, they are all premeditated, and all can be sheeted home to the conniving little (insert disgusting but accurate epithet here) of a PM. When I told Mrs VVB that the PM has decreed that feminism is dead, she hit me with a frying pan (of course this may also be related to 30 years of accumulated shortcomings on my part, but you get my drift). Anyway, as is now becoming painfully obviously to everyone, something cannot be said to be until the PM declares it to be.

The level of hypocrisy demonstrated in his comments about Saddam being hanged was, however, even beyond his usual pale. No one - not even leftist scum - denies that Saddam was a monster. But he was a monster created - or facilitated - by the United States in
yet another example of the unintended consequences of its occasional imperial meddlings. Howard's shifty equivocations about the use of the death penalty reflect very badly on him, from my perspective. A very little man.

For any readers who are cat people this holiday, brief as it was, became the first time we'd left the remaining family cat in a pet motel. She came out absolutely reeking of cat perfume and whatever it was meant to mask, but a bath the next day fixed all that. The family quickly became personae gratae again very quickly and there has been much meowing and carrying on since she's been home again.

So, that's been the hols and now for some ruminations on one year of VVB. I said early that it wasn't going to be a deeply researched blog and I've certainly kept that end of the bargain. On too many occasions I have lapsed into deeply offensive ranting about the (insert etc etc etc) PM which might have made me feel better for a little while, but that's all. I've started another site where I can do that when the pressure just gets too much. And as an election draws closer and should Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard look even remotely electable, you can be sure that a government that you thought couldn't scrape the bottom of the barrel any more enthusiastically will finds new ways of doing just that.

VVB hasn't really inquired into, or even just reflected upon, the human condition - as we promised - apart from in some tangential ways so there is plenty of room for growth in that area. I never even finished the series of stories on cars using pictures of my models as the link, so I'd better do that. Which will mean some photography first to get the rest of the collection, in focus this time.

I've commented reasonably frequently at those blogs where I have come to feel most at home, and I've struck off from those where either intellectual arrogance or inability to converse without being offensive have frightened me off. Which got me thinking, if the pen is mightier than the sword, why will names never hurt me when sticks and stones break my bones?

Coming back from a few days away (from the computer) I resolved not to get back into the blogworld but it wasn't long before I was back into the routine. I have to say I got depressed pretty quickly as the usual suspects trotted out the usual justifications for their take on whatever the issue was. Worse, I know that I'm far from immune from that here at VVB. However, I have on the whole enjoyed this year of blog apprenticeship so my resolution should be to do it better next year.

On that note, may it rain on all our parades, and our gardens, and most emphatically in our catchments, this year.

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