26 February 2007

bits and pieces part (n+1)

Killing off the princesses

Well you keep reading about girls who think they are, or want to be, princesses. There may not be many about in future if some behaviour I saw today is commonplace: namely, two separate incidents where young women just stepped off the kerb in defiance of the red light - well, I am a princess and people must understand that I come first - and both almost got run over. They'll need to figure out that wandering through the mall while texting, and expecting that everyone will clear a path, doesn't work in all circumstances.

Promoting the princesses

Maxine vs the lying piece of shit, eh? Ms McKew comes over as very intelligent, able to marshall the facts and responses, and not averse to a stoush. The Libs will need to do better than trot out the Mad Monk with his
silly put-downs. Or the lying piece of shit with his "the candidate" turn of phrase.

Wannabe princesses

Brendan Nelson puts his foot in it, then turns up in Parliament to declare that black is, in fact, white and the rest of us were wrong, or deaf. Or stupid. As well as getting valuable column inches in the Letters to the Ed. Get over it, you stuffed up.

24 February 2007

let the good times roll

One of the benefits of getting out of your normal surroundings is the opportunity to reflect on a few things from a different perspective. Whether you come to different conclusions, or simply the number you first thought of, is another matter. Anyway, here a few reflections prompted by a quick trip to Melbourne this week.

A colleague and I stayed at a brand new serviced apartment building in the Dockside area ("development"? "precinct"?). It was very new, with a kind of sleek but somehow not very substantial design. In fact its appearance - its surfaces - were a prelude and introduction to what I saw later when I ventured out to dinner.

Having obtained instructions to walk to the Dockside restaurant precinct ("strip"?), I was quite struck by the comparative absence of life. There was this enormously wide road (in fact only 2 lanes each way but with a broad median strip and tram tracks on one side made it seem far wider), but hardly a car. And no one walking along it as I was. The immediate comparison was with those pictures you see of Pyongyang. With Telstra Dome a massive edifice on the right, and it being just on dusk, it genuinely felt a bit odd, verging on surreal. Having read for some years about the 'buzz' of Docklands, you couldn't help wondering where it all was.

Of course, it was soon revealed - lots of expensive boats, the three (?) apartment towers and the the row of restaurants. And all of a sudden, people everywhere, mostly young and mostly dressed up. I was on the mobile to Mrs VVB, assuring her of my safe arrival, as I walked up and down looking for a suitable eatery.

I had sort of expected to be dining with my colleague and his wife, who had accompanied him to stay for the weekend, but it turned out they had family in Melbourne and gone off elsewhere. So I was dining alone, which I loathe. Trying to pick a restaurant out of many - about 20 odd I think - is hard. I had enquired at the hotel desk, but for their recommended place you definitely needed to book. The menus out front showed that most of these places were more expensive than I am used to. Anyway I found one, which managed to turn out a pretty much indigestible fish and chips and it still cost $30. THe salad was great.

While waiting and eating, I had a bit of a think about the whole design of this area. The mian builings were all very arty from my perspective, lots of brushed aluminium and sleekness, strange angles (ie not 90 deg) and appalling public art. There was a lot of variation in the fit-out of the restaurants, fortunately.

I'd read about the boom which had accompanied the building of the area and then the decline in demand which I believe saw owners soon sitting on a capital loss. Then I thought about the row of restaurants. Was there any covenant that decreed that only restaurants could operate? I looked at the full tables of people, obviously more accustomed to forking out this sort of money for dinner than I am, and wondered what happens if it all goes a bit sour.

For example, we had assertions in the late 90s that the business cycle was now dead and it's all good from now on. This country is certainly riding a wave of prosperity, driven mainly by raw materials exports. There's lots of disposable income and, either by personal predilcition, (they prefer flexibility, or they prefer to rent and invest elsewhere), or because housing affordability has fallen, more people are renting and spending the difference on consumption.

I wondered about any linkages between a specifically designed restaurant strip, apartments that look like they are going to date very quickly, apparent lack of any other retail or services (and I didn't venture further so that stuff may be about but if so there's not much of it). Is such a precinct sustainable in the longer term? Is it designed to mutate and change or is it some mega version of so-called consumer durables that in fact aren't?

It pretty hard not to think about this stuff in a value-free way so I tried to eschew the usual VVB doomsday scenario stuff. It just all seemed to me to be rather incompletely thought-through design. Not so much that the developers had just come in, ripped everything up and plonked this stuff down, because obviously a lot of reclamation work had gone on and it is certainly a massive undertaking. More that it felt as if it wouldn't age all that well. The scale and proportion of the apartment towers is massive. Lower rise and more integrated design, including shops and other services would seem to be a better way of ensuring some longevity.

I wonder how much the design reflected recent socio-economic trends such as smaller families, but more apparently lots of unmarried people living alone, longer working hours, and restaurant patronage so common a pastime as to be almost stereotypical behaviour.

It's also very easy to be nostalgic for more familiar streetscapes and it's even easier to think about picture-postcard European streetscapes with low rise apartments, lots of cafes sprinkled with other shops with people about everywhere and conclude that all design should be like that because it has persisted and adapted for so long. Nor of course do we want some romanticised 1950s streetscape with no services available.

If we do get some fairly dramatic economic downturn at some stage, how resilient will such an apparently monocultural urban design be compared to an area with more diverse settlement and activity patterns? Can human ingenuity overcome any apparent design flaws - yeah, I know, this is starting starting to get awfully value-laden despite the protestations, so it's really all about that I just didn't like it - and enable the area to change usefully and gracefully?

It'll be fascinating to watch.

21 February 2007

how green was my valley

Of late I've had a very little bit to do with some people who have a number of ideas, and real world projects, about things that can be done to, in the broadest interpretation of the term, make the world a better place.

Pretty subjective and to be consistent with views I should hold on tolerance, I shouldn't take too much exception to those of serious alternate disposition.

When it comes to environmental issues (hereafter referred to as 'stuff'), it gets interesting. There's a line of argument that environmental advocacy (for want of another term) is in fact environmental religion. In other words, that the seemingly more widespread adoption of environmental stuff has gone beyond 'true believers', but in reaching the mainstream the proselytisers have gone beyond science into unvalidated assertion. And because environmental values/sustainability seem to be axiomatically a Good Thing, it's easier to dupe the masses.

As someone never too immersed in matters environmental (and I can hear the cackles of certain readers from here), I don;t have either a track record of activism/advocacy (or even practice) or a sufficient understanding of the science to back up what I've started to think about recently.

My cop-out position is 'common sense': ie we have growing population and dwindling non-renewable resources. Does not compute, as they used to say. Can technology again ride to the rescue. History says yes, the true believers indeed say yes. Is it likely to be a total solution? Unlikely at current rates of population growth and resource depletion, I'd reckon.

Another cop-out, my usual answer is always "somewhere in the middle".

Anyway I think all of this might get tested in the next few months as I come up somewhat more closely against the true believers than has been the case heretofore. I think it's a
Good Thing.

In other news - or entertainment, if you're of such a mind...

Highlights from The Hon Alexander Downer MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs, on 7.30 Report with Kerry O'Brien:

"Significantly partial British withdrawal." (Red Kez)
Downer argues the numbers.
Kez talks about Syria.
Downer reiterates the numbers - again - and talks about Basra.
NB Mr Foreign Minister - it's at the
other end of the country.
"Everybody has an exit strategy" (Downer)
"Oh not everybody has an exit strategy." (Downer, several seconds later).

20 February 2007

caught in the act

What is it called when you're in the middle of a meeting and something happens and the chair says "you should put that on your website."

Well kind of embarrassing is one, especially when it's only a semi, kind of, partially anonymous blog - well it's anonymous to those outside the poisnal circle. Still, no one picked up on the comment which was just as well. Could have diverted us for hours, it could have. Which was the last thing we needed, agreed?

It's moreso when you can't remember the incident that sparked the comment. So I hope you read this before we catch up tomorrow, Mr Chair.

I should copyright that 'smart' stuff....oh wait, that's already been done.

In other news, a strong groundswell of support for the trampled-on citizen's rights of David Hicks seems to have provoked a change of mind, if not change of heart, by the federal government. A realisation, if you will, that justice must also be seen to be done. Or perhaps a realisation that the 'processes' put in place by the US fall far short of accepted norms of justice. Oh no wait, that was because of the polls.

When you wish upon a star....

OK, back to work. Smart stuff :-)

15 February 2007

here there and everywhere

During the increasingly longer periods between posts at VVB, I have been trying to figure out why the periods have in fact become longer. As is often the case there are several likely factors and last night I decided to try to capture them in print - well, electronically anyway - as a bulwark (?) against the likelihood that the periods will continue to get even longer. As confused as I am? Good, then let us begin.

It's partly a reflection on blogging, brought on by a few posts I have seen recently which have spoken about stuff which I have been feeling. As it matures - and bear in mind that VVB is only a bit more than 12 months old and I've only been following blogs for about 2-3 years - the blogosphere seems to have become much more of an echo chamber. Of both right and left wing types, and of course 'vast' in both cases. And I feel it's become quite draining to read, over and over again, the same arguments from the same posters along with the same rebuttals.

I guess this kind of discussion/argument used to take place mainly in the front bars of pubs. If so, presumably there wasn't the vast quantity of 'stuff' (argument, assertion, and so on) that ubiquitous computer ownership or availability facilitates. I imagine that a stoush down the pub on a Friday night would be something to look forward to, while wading through it every day is somewhat tiring. So more power to those who manage to do it and, to be fair, probably in fact do make a lot of effort to keep it fresh.

On the obviously other hand has been the Rudd 'honeymoon' and the possibility of a change of government. Now there's plenty of analysis elsewhere on this issue elsewhere and I certainly couldn't add anything new, apart from the probably obvious comment that any change of government is exciting in a way - the thrill of the new, I suppose. VVB of course is no fan at all of the current federal government, full ownership of which was ceded to Mr Howard some time ago. It may sound like fantasy but I actually wouldn't be as opposed as the casual reader might think to a Liberal government of a different hue - ie one without Howard and few of his main men. Mainly this apparently heretical view derives from the fact that as long as the Washington Consensus rules the 'western' (actually Anglo-Saxon I guess) democracies, there's bugger all difference between the nominally left and the nominally right and as long as a government shows some appreciation of those aspects of life on earth that can't be priced, I'd be supportive. A Labor government would not necessarily change policy settings as extensively as we might suppose - or hope.

So a government that was less socially divisive would be wonderful. One that was less egregiously market-driven government than the current one would be also good, if unlikely for some time, and it would matter less what was on the letterhead.

But back to the track. The possibility of a federal Labor government is exciting. You get that feeling of something in the air. And, entirely coincidentally, I've had best of Bob Dylan on the car stereo this last week. Listening again to Blowin' in the Wind, Times are a'changing and so on suddenly started to get the juices flowing a bit. I was too young at the time those songs 'hit' to appreciate what they meant (we did sing Blowin' in the wind in primary school but we also did 'marching' every week, along with pledging our allegiance to God, Queen and saluting the flag, which was flying from the flagpole outside, course). However the insights subsequently accumulated and internalised makes it feel - a bit - like I 'was there'.

Lack of attachment aside, what those songs do in fact is foster feelings of change but, most particularly, of hope. That things can be better. That we'll take account of the things that matter to us, not just those that have a price tag attached.

In fact even in conversation today I was lamenting the marketisation of everyday life. A friend was telling me about his house that, because of some local peculiarities in the real estate market, is now in fact worthless. The land has appreciated but in pure financial terms his sensible course is to demolish the house and build a new one to extract maximum return from the land. But he and his wife like the house, even though it needs some renovations. So they'll renovate rather than rebuild - in effect valuing the social (or sentimental) aspect rather than the financial.

Not as good an example in the recounting as it seemed at the time of telling, but I hope you get my drift. All the emphasis is on getting rich, at whatever cost. Economic liberalisation has brought us greater wealth so, therefore, more liberalisation will bring us even more wealth. But no one counts what we lose as we go. One day, enough people will. And what about that other economic law, the law of diminishing returns?

The last factor impinging on the lack of postiness is that I am extremely f'n busy at work and don't feel as much like putting together even the usual desultory VVB rant. I'd rather pick up the guitar and in fact I should do so as there will be another 'do' coming up at work and I'm pretty damn rusty.

So enough from VVB for now. This weekend (after I've bottled batch number 14), the story of another of the motor cars that have blighted my life. Not.

Afterthought: for those amazed/intrigued/bitterly disappointed at the admission about an alternative Liberal government, let me just say:

  • (1) Malcolm Fraser - redemption is possible (can't imagine that ever happening with the lying little piece of shit currently ensconced at Kirribilli, rather than the Lodge, though); and
  • (2) all Labor governments are not necessarily good just by definition. All governments get tired and most get enraptured by their own publicity.

The thought that comes after the afterthought: having been mentioned approvingly in dispatches earlier this week at Club Troppo, apparently because I am possibly for turning, let me clarify. Which is, of course, code for digging a deeper hole for oneself: I think the current federal government is the worst in living memory. But some previous governments under nominally the same label have been bearable. And no doubt some future ones will be also bearable.


10 February 2007

takin' care of business

Here's a ripper yarn out of the UK about the delicate interplay between business and government. There's a lot of it about of course - just ask any citizen who lives near a planned tunnel. Anyway, in this case the potential incoming Conservative government in the UK says it will repudiate any contracts relating to the proposed UK ID card. Lots of crossover with us here in Oz on such a subject, of course.

It seems that the main industry body for the IT industry weighed in with some ill-judges threats about the inadvisability of breaking any contracts. And that if the risk of said potential breakage seemed to go up, then the monetary compensation might need to compensate. Pretty standard business response. Except in this case, the potential future gummint has said
"just try it, Jimmy" or something to that effect.

While there's obviously more at play here, it's instructive that the Conservatives would so blatantly, for want of a better term, take on a major industry, particularly one which is always touted as essential to contemporary economic growth (IT often being labelled a 'driver' of other sectors as well as an industry in its own right). Of course it's always that little bit easier to be hairy chested in opposition but, from our perspective in Australia, you don't often see a government of any persuasion muscle up so openly.

The other aspect of interest is that the Conservatives are opposed to the ID card, which to my understanding is more a true conservative (ie old style Liberal in Oz terms) position. In other words, even the threat of global terrorism is insufficient to warrant such a prospective intrusion into individual rights, especially the right to privacy. Seems you wouldn't get that robustness (dare I say 'faith'?) from a government of any stripe here, because everyone's bought into the clash of civilisations/here come the endtimes scenario (I very nearly wrote 'narrative' just then, dangerous).

And with the obvious exception of Bob Brown, everyone here seems to have accepted a world in which the interests of business reign supreme. In fact the current storm in a short black cup about coal really shows it up: if the Libs here were fair dink, they'd accept the need for investment into alternative energy sources instead of leaving it until the very last minute when the current major energy companies realise that they need a new revenue stream to meet the next three-monthly growth projections. Isn't that why we don't have gas light lighters any more?

FInally - isn't the Times of London a great read?

08 February 2007

head injuries

If Peter Garrett is going to continue using the extremely irritating pseudo-business phrase 'going forward' as frequently as he did on 7.30 report tonight, I might have to go forward to reconsidering my vote. Where's the Maintenance of Less Irritating Forms of English Language Usage Party when you need them?

Apart from that phrase intruding into my consciousness as I was scoffing dinner, I didn't really pay a lot of attention, but whenever I glanced at the screen Malcolm appeared the more polished performer. Garrett seemed to hesitate a bit more - you could almost hear the media training cogs clicking over. Watch out for the crocodiles. There was a bit of that from Turnbull as well. Interesting, really: after a few years they will become very practised at not answering the question at all, but at the moment the natural inclination to do the right thing and address the substance of the question still seems dominant. Wouldn't it be nice if we could have a bit more of that from those who dominate the ether?

Also, dark suit, Peter. We are on TV, not stomping about the environment.

07 February 2007

the Torana's tale

When you look at the list and pictures of the various cars we've owned, it's strongly British for the first 30 years and then goes a bit European. This is the only Holden amongst them. I never really owned it, but this is its story.
We came home from Pakistan in late 1979. Mrs VVB was pregnant with offspring no 1 and we were due to go to Singapore after the birth, a period of only a couple of months. We were essentially broke in cash terms - living in Pakistan had eaten up our little savings as the allowances were out of date for most of our two years and when they were adjusted, it was only from when the process (an inspection) was done, about a year late. So buying a car for a couple of months was out of the question as was renting even moreso.
Uncle was still alive and running the former family car business, now just a workshop and small second hand yard. Following the two oil shocks and, of course, the Whitlam government, the economy was in a hole. Thirsty V8s were not popular and he had this Torana SLR (4.2, not the SLR5000 as per the model) on the lot. The deal was I would use it and then flog in the larger and (hopefully) more receptive market of Canberra rather than Dubbo.
So we came home, Mrs VVB moved in with my folks (as I recall) and I got on a commuter flight to Dubbo. The flight was via Orange and we landed just on dusk. A few folk got off - it was about an 8 seater - and the pilot helpfully unloaded their baggage. He then turned the lights off in the terminal, as there were no staff on duty, and locked it up. Now, to the best of my memory the lights on the runway also went off, but I can't swear to this. We took off heading due west and had barely gained much altitude before we could see the lights of Dubbo in the distance.
This was amazing. Having grown up there and travelled by road to Sydney many times as a child, Orange was "are we there yet?" away. But here it was, rushing towards us on the horizon. Perspective, it's a strange animal.
Barely a few minutes later we touched down and uncle was there with this green beast. It being a Friday night, he was overdue at the bowling club, where he was on the committee, for the regulation several sherbets so he gave me the keys and I adjusted the seat and mirrors. He warned me about the power it had and I assured him that I had been driving the office Caprice v8 in Pakistan and I realised it wasn't like my old British bangers. No, he said, it's very different.
I fired it up, manhandled it into first (the gearshift was like pushing a rock through a concrete abutment), eased forward and wound on a little lock and then applied a very little throttle. I reckon I nearly did 3 doughnuts in the airport carpark before I wrestled it straight and through the gate. I agreed with his assessment that it in fact did drive differently to a Caprice and we continued to agree over a number of cleansing ales with his bowling mates.
The next day I set off back to Canberra. I must have used about 3 tankfuls of petrol, it drank juice like it was going out of fashion. Induced, I have to admit, by a very enthusiastic use of the throttle. I had never driven any thing like this before, even my old Triumph 2.5Pi, when it was going well and had instant throttle response, didn't have the kick in the back that this thing delivered. I very nearly threw it off one corner, after which I moderated the enthusiasm a tad.
Suffice to say we got home safely, if somewhat poorer. It was a kind of fun thing around town because of the non standard twin exhaust - of course you were forever poking it in the guts, especially in the tunnels on Capital Hill, just to listen to that sound. It snorted and rattled and the idle was all over the place, there was no suspension to speak of and the seats were crap, but it made you feel very alive.
So young offspring no 1 made his first car trip in it, home from the hospital, which probably explains why he now owns a Calais V8 (pictured above because I can't, for the life of me, get it to appear here).
But I couldn't sell the damn thing, even to a couple of mates I knew who bought and sold cars to supplement their wages. So uncle was obliged to take it back and we choofed off to Singapore. The lung cancer crept up on him, he had been a lifelong smoker. He had to liquidate the business which was pretty much in debt by then and he died alone in 1982.
Would I own one now? Dunno, I'd have to drive one again, they were really crude. The SLR5000 was always the model to have and a couple of mates at work in fact did own them. Perspective, it's a strange animal.

06 February 2007

here we are now, entertain us

I got far too much stuff on to even commit the usual VVB skim across the top and apart from that, the world is rubbish except where the ever reliable Gerry gives you something to restore hope. All our various politicans and pundits and paid informants and disinterested observers and professional agitators and men on the Clapham omnibus can take a long walk off a short pier.

In the meantime, all you fans can avail yerselves of a lifelike Kurt from
Modellautos von Raceland. Enjoy and we'll see you this time next year.

02 February 2007

we built this city...

And also its infrastructure. So we've had several years of increasing ambient noise about the state of the nation's infrastructure - roads, rail, dams, skills and so on. The blame game is rampant - federal, state, whatever. About 20 years' worth roughly speaking, we used to more or less have what was needed, now we don't. As the drought in particular bites deeper, water becomes the headline issue and the debate mutates to whether we should curtail use or build more capacity, and then mutates even finer to whether we build dams or desalination plants.

Not surprisingly, to VVB's point of view, is the seemingly corresponding period of time that an obsession with budget surpluses has ruled economic policy in the country. A reliance on market forces - ie the in this case the willingness of private capital to invest in long-lived assets without an immediate and commensurate return on investment - has not, as continually promised, resulted in provision of said infrastructure. Bugger me, I wonder why not?

So to get around this we invented the private public partnership, or PPP, which compounds the problems because it relies on highly sophisticated (for which read dodgy) contractual arrangements between government and a private provider. Merchant bankers and the like have much experience in these types of contract, government typically didn't. And even if suitable expertise was recruited, the desperation of governments (and we're talking all persuasions here) to do the deal ended up with stupid arrangements like Cross-city tunnels where the poor bloody taxpayer gets it coming and going.

Now this is a very simplistic analysis - in fact it's not even analysis, it's jumping to a conclusion based on a simple correlation without proving causation - except it just makes sense, doesn't it? So how long can this insanity go on? Maybe this post on Club Troppo - although focused on application of currently orthodox economic theory to developing nations rather than our own highly evolved island - points to a ray of hope?

About Me