31 December 2007

hook me up

"Everything is connected to everything else" has been one of my favourite expressions for a long time. It's neither deep nor original, and so sums up the VVB ethos to a T.

Anyway it's not often you get to see it proved, but within
this post you'll find a pretty convincing argument. Anyway it shows biomedical research as being at the centre of the knonw universe, as least as proven by academic citations.

Whether this is a result of substantial government funding of research in the field or whether this is the centre of the universe just because it is, isn't addressed in the article.

The article was found via
here and here, because Fumier thinks that Philip is very funny, not to mention insightful in the nature of government. And who would disagree?

29 December 2007

holiday (the Bee Gees version)

Interim post until I'm home tomorrow with the time and the better gear to insert links and so on...

Well this is a bit of a first for Chateau VVB, as it’s the first post ever constructed offline. As I write, Mrs VVB and I are ensconced just outside the Barrington Tops National Park, which is 20 km outside Dungog, in turn of course the home of Doug Walters. Although, inexcusably, the map of the town doesn’t show his house. Whereas two days ago, in Bowral, all roads led to the Don.

It’s probably also a bit of a come-down for Chateau VVB, a ‘what I did on my holidays’ post rather than the incisive political commentary which we have offered over the last two years. Incisive political commentary cunningly disguised, of course, as two years of obsessive and not particularly original Howard-hating. Anyway, this is a chance to hone and refine, and to rid Chateau VVB of its obsessively chronological writing style. By the time we return to hearth and cat (assuming that the cat has satisfactorily withstood her enforced holiday to the end), we will have been away only a bit over a week but we’ll have been to Foster, Katoomba, Burradoo, Sydney, the Barrington Tops and Armidale.

Rather we will dip, we will linger, and we will observe, all cunningly disguised as witless prejudicial snarking. Bear with us, there may be a morsel amongst the dross.

“Not particularly original Howard hating?” During our stay in Mrs VVB and I took a trip on a Sydney ferry (just around to Balmain and back, the holiday crowds prevented a Manly trip as the queue was about 300 metres long), and as we returned to Circular Quay I asked my long-suffering spouse whether she knew what was the best thing about visiting Sydney? She proferred no response (rolling eyes doesn’t count as a response) and so I pointed across to Kirribilli and said “because that lying little weasel doesn’t live there any more.” Although she hadn’t seen the response coming, she sighed as if she could have guessed. Know what I mean?

Anyway, hearing newsreaders on TV each night introduce a story with “Prime Minister Kevin Rudd” still doesn’t sound quite right and the fact that he went to the cricket, gave us his views on the game and has a suitable jersey to wear on his morning walks (monring walks ffs, I mean I ask you...) all point to the somewhat distressing conclusion that the country has changed rather less than we might have desired.

Back to the holiday, and I’ll warn again that descriptions will be embellished with the usual kind of thoughtless prejudice that has always informed stories from the Chateau.

The first concerns those who drive four wheel drives. These people are all maniacs. Why someone who presumably is reasonably level headed in all other aspects of life would want to endanger his whole family – 3 or 4 of them – by pulling his Landcruiser V8 out in the face of an oncoming semi just so he could arrive at the 80km limit on the edge of the next town about 20 second sooner just defeats me. It may have a big V8, but it’s shaped like a house and weighs three times as much as a whale, it’s not going to accelerate like a Lotus, mate, so just get used to it.

The second concerns the urban spread of Sydney, and particularly the small country-sized suburbs of McMansion land around Baulkham Hills, Kellyville and those other areas in Hillsong territory (ooh, it’s button pressing time folks).

I’d read about it of course, but nothing prepares you for the reality of mile upon mile of identikit two storey boxes, all built within mere centimetres of each other (please forgive mixed imperial and metric measurements, it’s about what resonates you see). But for me the most distressing thing was that, from birth (or house purchase), if you’re in this part of the world you’re in the grip of the oligopilists. The suburbs, the estates, the houses, they're are all the brainchildren of the big developers. The houses, as the ‘McMansion’ pejorative illuminates, are boxes made of ticky-tacky built by the same big builders. But they’re big – enormous – not little, as in the song.

You go to shop, the majors have got you. The names on the billboards are all the same – the Harvey Normans, McDonalds, Video Ezy, Fantastic Furniture, and so on. You’re trapped, no choice, no originality.

No wonder that the brand of religion offered supposedly to compensate for the consumption-based existence is simply more of the same.

I suppose when you build whole regions from scratch, this is what you have to do in these circumstances. The variety you get from organic growth is just a luxury that such rapid increases in population who have to be housed, fed, entertained and furnitured quickly cannot contemplate.

Another observation has to do with ‘luxury’ self-contained holiday accommodation, which is Mrs VVB’s and my preferred type of holiday, with the ‘luxury’ very much in inverted commas – it’s more just good quality and attention to detail that we appreciate. We’ve had really quite luxurious places, very well appointed and with the little touches that make it special such as four different kinds of breakfast cereal. Which is why when we pulled into tonight’s place, we were a little taken aback – it’s rather home-built and rather patchy.

However, the compensations are the wildlife – so far we’ve had a wallaby, some kangaroos including one with a joey in the pouch, a possum, various birdlife and who knows what else, all poking around the balcony. The noises outside are quite amazing, it’ll be an interesting night.

Update after the fact: no, they were just money-grubbing penny-pinchers and it wasn't a good look after people who showed it can be done really well for the same money.

However, the one thing that these two places had in common was some interesting reading. The luxury place had the New Yorker. Somehow – probably passed on to him by relatives – my father used to get the New Yorker when I was in my early teens. I was fascinated to dip into it again some 40 years later to discover that it retains the same ‘look and feel’. The writing is brisk, insightful, and with the same mannered, slightly ironic tone I recall from all those years ago. The cartoons are still very New York although if anything, their quality had dropped a bit I thought, compared to the writing.

When I mentioned my love of the magazine to the proprietor, his eyes lit up and we had a good chat about it.

Whereas here, I find Car magazine. I used to get Car back in the days when the late, the wonderful, the iconoclastic LJK Setright was its main correspondent. Unlike the New Yorker, Car had been updated several times and is now a bit too ‘try-hard’. But it still retains its great section at the back wherein all cars on the UK market are listed, not only by useful statistics but also a great summary under three headings, viz. ‘For’, ‘Against’ and ‘Verdict’. Which leads to some magic commentary.

“Maybach: For – Powertain, equipment. Against: Truly vulgar. Verdict: Shows the difference between taste and money.
Perodua Kenari: For – Plenty of headroom. Against – but people might see you in it. Verdict – upsetting.

And speaking of cars, we came out of Sydney today along the old Parramatta Road (the rule for the trip has been ‘no payments to bloodsucking monopolists who run privatised motorways’). And I was pleased to see that Parramatta Road is still mainly a car alley with lots of new and secondhand purveyors, much as they purveyed when my mates at I would trawl the road in the early 70s looking for our dream cars. Mind you, the massive concentration of ‘big box’ and other retailers around Auburn is new, and also generates a bit of traffic.

Apart from that, our trip out of Sydney was smooth and then we headed north through Windsor and up the old Putty Road. This was, I believe the motoring writers’ test track of choice back in the 60s when car manufacturers used to just give them a car to test and hang the consequences, rather than the more stage-managed efforts that seem to occur nowadays. The road is an appealing mix of very tight, twisty hilly bits with some open touring over the higher country and there was very little traffic, which was utterly different to last year when we got stuck in a 30km traffic jam outside Bulahdelah. As indeed the news reports said was happening again this year.

Although I’m still a car fan, I’ve slowed down a lot and with Mrs VVB observing that unlike me, she has no steering wheel to hang onto, I take it somewhat easier than I used to. So when the local yokels scream up behind in their 4WDs on narrow, bumpy roads, as they do, I’m looking for somewhere to pull over and let them past. No wonder that deaths of young blokes in the country are still disproportionately high as indeed they were when I was growing up in central NSW, and three classmates perished during years 11 and 12.

However I still find sharing the road with the terminally death-wished a little disconcerting. That said, on a suitable piece of back highway today, I still managed to sit on an easy 120 which Mrs VVB noticed but didn't take exception to, as the Saab is quite comfortable on smooth surfaces, but it hates choppy surfaces and suffers from terminal understeer on tighter roads, which mean you carry car speed into corners that then cannot be satisfactorily washed off or compensated (with great dollops of turbo assisted throttle) without undue distress to the passenger(s).

We’ve done a bit of bushwalking but regrettably as neither of us know much botany, we don’t range far as one piece of subtropical rainforest looks much like another I have to admit. But we enjoy the solitude and the restorative properties of nature.

Well that's it, will update (or possibly delete) later.

Update: if anyone really wants me to insert links to explain Doug Walters, Donald Bradman, the Putty Road, LJK Setright or anything else that doesn't immediately strike a chord, let me know. Otherwise, take it as read. I'll post some photos later - most of them are on film, not digital.

We have returned to hearth and cat, the cat is mightily pleased to be home again. And speaking of cat, the best memory of the whole trip was seeing a cat hanging out the window of a car when offpsring no 1 took us for a day trip to the Fitzroy Falls and Kangaroo Valley. It has its tongue hanging out and fur flowing in the breeze, just dogs usually do. It looked wonderful.

23 December 2007

eat to the beat

Well it's travelling VVB at the moment as Mrs VVB and I pursue (??? engage in? enjoy? whatever?) a short driving holiday we had already booked before I got the gig in Rockvegas. Last night in Forster was OK, a pretty ordinary motel but I was so shagged from driving that we woke up an hour later than the schedule dictated.

Dinner at the RSL, standard excellent RSL fare (plus 3 schooies).

I used to be able to do Brisbane to Canberra in one high speed hit, especially in the old Pug 405Mi16, and very especially over the great back from road from Molong to Cowra. But no more, the back and neck tense and stiffen up within hours. And the Saab, while far more powerful, is no match for the Pug's superlative roadholding. Not for nothing did the Peugeot have the accolade - in 1989 - as the best handling front wheel drive car in the world.

Anyway. Here we are in coolish - ie quite cold - Katoomba in a beautiful old house. So we go for dinner and the RSL is between us and another 15 minutes' walk to get to the main street, so in we go.

Words do not describe. The waiter got 50% of the entrees wrong and about 70% of the mains, I got a whole deep fried sole curling up on a serving platter, that looked like it had been a nuclear experiment. The two couples at an nearby table pointed and laughed, either at the fish or at my expression. I ate a few scraps. Mrs VVB's fish tasted like soap.

The staff didn't care, and Mrs VVB and I were reminded of our first marital trip - we had booked the Hydro Majestic for our honeymoon. There were 6 people staying there, when we the "maitre d'" ushered us into the dining room and took us to a table, the two old ladies sitting there refused us because it was "their table".

We ended up at a table with a couple of young gay blokes - whose lives couldn't have been too easy in the mid 70s - and it was a riot, thanks to them. All the portions were measured, you couldn't have even some extra milk for your tea or on your cereal, it was just appalling. The blokes tried everyhting, they chatted up the elderly waitresses, they snuck into the kitchen and stole some milk, they begged for an extra desert. They really made the event for us.

Although we had booked for a week, we couldn't stand it after 2 days of starvation and went north to Port Macquarie, ended up in a wonderful motel with orange shag pile carpet.

Anyway there we were tonight with two inedible dishes in front of us and Mrs VVB said, "we don't have much luck in Katoomba, do we?"

Seems like no, but by crikey we have some fun.

17 December 2007

military madness

I forgot to put in the short report of the CSN concert that Military Madness was introduced by a bit of Bush-bashing and the general sort of small-l (ie US) liberal commentary for which the band has always been known.

While Steven Stills wrestled with his guitar strap, David Crosby mused that the US should introduce a law which prevented it from possessing nuclear weapons while ever it had a President who couldn't pronounce the word properly. This then led into a bit of by-play between the band members about the need to get rid of the Bush administration, summarised by "throw the bums out." Graham Nash noted that this was what Australia had in fact done, Stills said "throw the bums out" again so Nash had to bring him up to date with our momentous political upheaval (well change of government, anyway).

And then, in introducing the song, David Crosby lamented that some 45 years after the song was written, the world still suffers from military madness.

16 December 2007

long time coming

Ironic and all, that title also summed up the feeling of the crowd at last night's Crosby, Stills and Nash concert in Brisbane. Graham Nash joked with the crowd who had kept their tickets from the originally scheduled concert date of February.

The concert itself was an amalgam of powerhouse rock ("For what it's worth" in particular) to the acoustic harmonies that Nash and David Crosby do so well: that said, their voices weren't truly on song until the second half. As a singer, Stills makes a great guitarist and he doesn't look a well man.

But he is a great guitarist and put on a good show, theatrically flipping his hand away from the guitar on the harmonics (and boy were they sweet) and once or twice doing a galumphing hippo walk across the stage - the benefits of wireless guitars and drawbacks of age and size, as he is 62 and a big bloke. And one particularly memorable cross between a gorilla and cormorant - quite bizarre.

But it was a superb night, the sound was great: not too loud and wonderfully clear.

They played all the favourites (as Nash said to the audience at one stage in response to a request, "we'll play all the songs we can fucking remember - all four of them, or two in Crosby's case").

I can't pick out any highlights, it was all highlight.

Hero of the night goes to one of the two blokes next to us. They were fairly pickled by the start time, but each managed an additional four cans of bourbon and coke during the first half. One fellow disappeared, but the other bloke managed a couple more during the second act.

The band got a resounding encore and responded, not surprisingly, first with Teach Your Children and then with Woodstock. Nearly two and half hours - not bad going for a band who've been doing it for 40 years.

14 December 2007

cash money cars clothes*

I've got a very good, long time friend who is intimately acquainted with the car, or motor veeeehicle, industry worldwide. Worldwide? Hell, I'm bad , I'm nationwide.

(No, he's not).

But he does know stuff about the industry and he does his analysis and recently, knowing that he has a current obsession with the price of cars in Australia, I drew his attention to this letter in the Sydney Morning Herald:

So Australia is "the most competitive car market in the world" ("Got a brand new
Cadillac", Drive, December 8-9)? Gee, really? Then why do we pay through the nose for cars, especially imports?The subject of the article, the Cadillac CTS V6, is to be priced from about $70,000 when it goes on sale next year in Australia. In the US its price starts at $US32,990 (before sales tax) - about $38,000. That's right, we'll be paying a whopping $32,000 more.Sure, there are additional costs due to freight, import duty, GST and minor equipment differences, but there is no way they add up to anywhere near an 84 per cent increase. Compare the local price of any imported car with what people are paying in the US or Britain and you will find such huge discrepancies.When the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is done dealing with the airline industry's price fixing, maybe it can take a look at the local car market.

Nathan Sneed


And in response, my friend wrote this to me:

And did you see the pricing for the upcoming Jag XF: Spec: 4.2V8 Price: US - USD49750. Aus - AUD135000. Spec: 4.2 V8, Supercharged Price: US - USD62000. Aus - AUD170000

Do the sums. At AUD1=.USD0.8 and 10%duty, and 10% GST, and even with a little LCT, there is something like $60-80K difference in price, all of which goes straight to margin.

We really have to be the most uneducated car buying public in the 'developed' world. The up-line brands can't pull this sort of stunt any where else, excepting Uganda and Malaysia, maybe. And we keep buying the stuff. And boasting to our respective neighbours that we paid 400% of their Commodore price! We boast about it! We feel good about it. We're better humans!

It's interesting. In the US, the difference between a well-equipped, generally competent GM car and its natural up-line competitor (M-B, BMW etc) is around 100:140-160. In Australia, it is 100:300-400. How is that? Let's stick that on VVB and see what comes from it. I put a not dissimilar entry (regarding BMW 335i pricing) onto the Wheels blog, and while the editor (Chris Kable, a friend of mine), saw and commented favourably on it, as far as the general public goes, not a whisper.

So, any VVB car fans out there care to give a damn? After all, it's your money we're talking about.

(*) No, I'd never heard of it either.

09 December 2007

higher and higher

As a kind of antidote to the whingeing, snarky tone that crept into the last couple of posts, I should just relate that I caught the last couple of minutes of the NSW Education Department's Schools Spectacular. If anything gives you hope in the future, if not necessarily public schooling itself, it's the sight of 3000 enthusiastic kids giving their all to the closing number.

But moreso, a couple of the soloists were just outstanding. There was one girl, inexplicably clad in a large, ornge furry animal suit, who had a voice with the phrasing, intonation, range and projection that would put any Idol contestant to shame. She was doing a Queen song, I can't place the name but it has those multi-octave runs that Freddie Mercury lived on and she just nailed them all.

Now it's the Countdown Spectacular or something but I'll need to be off the bed soon as it's a 4.30 departure for all parts west. It seems to be very much a second XI effort after the successful first show.

08 December 2007

speak to me

Another occasional observation from the wilds of CQ and believe it or not, folks, there is nothing to report that hasn't been reported already about CQ.

Anyway it woulnd't be a VVB post unless I had a quick snark at something obvious, so for tonight it would be the the bloke in the Woolies ad where they sing "I wish you a Merry Christmas" who sings "and a happy noo year." I think he's meant to be a butcher, that's what he's done to our accent.

Yes folks, when all else fails, a little reflexive anti-Americanism always fits the bill.

But seriously, it's an Australian-made ad, couldn't they have re-shot it with someone who hasn't had his brain turned to "awesome sides"? With mayo?

Nope, nothing more serious than that. Must all be OK.

04 December 2007

all you need is love

This is pretty much what David Crosby said on 7.30 report. He's still a believer in the great wave of hope that rolled over the western world in the mid to late 60s. If you read Hunter S Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, you'll read how he relates when the great wave rolled back. Altamont had something to do with it, so did did the rise of Nixon. Thompson says you need the right kind of eyes. When you listen to Crosby, and take him at face value, you realise you also need the right kind of heart and the right kind of brain.

So it's still philosophy for dumboes here in slightly airless, downtown Rockvegas. Maybe it's all the spare time I have, when I don't have to gather up and process the fallen leaves that characterise the leafy western suburbs and Chateau VVB is particular.

Gets to you though - Pied a Terre VVB has a pool and on Saturday it was all I could do to stop going down to scoop up the 5 or 6 leaves that had fallen in it. That and the fact that I had temporarily misplaced the key to the pool.

Anyway I'm looking forward mightily to seeing and hearing Crosby, Stills (well the guitar more than the voice in Steven's case) and Nash in a week or so's time. I will be disappointed if they are anything less than sublime but I am sure I will not be disappointed.

The Rocky management experience continues to yield daily doses of new experiences and situations with which to wrestle. It's all great experience and I need to make sure I don't forget the high and low spots.

On another tack entirely, it's mightily liberating not to rant about the recently deposed (except he hasn't conceded yet - how typical). It's like other things, addictions in fact, that I have given up. Yes, we're talking about coffee. I went out to Yeppoon at the weekend and can confirm that you can't get a proper flat white, at least at one shop. But I'll be going back to test some of the others as I can't imagine that a place where townhouses on the marina sell for over $2m that you can't get a decent espresso. Although such places undoubtedly have a built in coffee maker in the (European) kitchen.

Anyway that's about it. Hanging about the blogosphere and its neighbouring parts is another addiction that no longer has its scrawny fingers around me...half an hour and I'm done.

Is there anything going on? Drop me a line, c/- pied a terre VVB. I'll be counting leaves in the pool.

Actually, I see that the name of the movie The Golden Compass (tm) is trademarked. For no other reason than petty narrowmindedness on my part, I think this is legalised insanity. I was going to make a remark about parents trademarking a newborn's name, but as I recall reading a little while ago an article about 'branding' a child for future success, I actually wouldn't be surprised.

And I can't figure out how to select text on this machine so I can use my usual font. Bum.

About Me