Saturday, September 27, 2008

Purple Haze

Tonight we saw Bill Bailey tonight - fantastic.


Quote of the day, at least until before we go to see Bill Bailey. W said , "old people sometimes have to walk with a handle."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Collingwood Children's Farm

Lunch at the Abbortsford Convent would have been much more fun if I wasn't so worried. We'd been to the Children's Farm, and while visiting the goats Emily said "Ow!", and showed me four symmetrical puncture wounds/insect bites on her wrist, laid out in snakebite pattern. She couldn't say what had caused it; insect, reptile or sharp plant? Because we were just around the riverbend from where Mark was bitten by a tiger snake a few years ago, resulting in weeks in hospital and more than a year of recovery, I couldn't let it rest.

A quick phone call to Mark and he assured me we'd know if it was a snakebite. Of course, Emily was completely relaxed about the whole thing and couldn't understand the fuss.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A short (yet long) week

It's Thursday night and I'm exhausted. Was at work from 8.00am to 7.00pm, which is not my normal day by any means, and I'm not someone who is impressed by long hours. But we are working on a once in a decade (I hope) strategy with the promise of significant funding at the end, so I'm keen to keep moving with the promise of rest soon. It's school holidays so I'm not working tomorrow, or at least not working in the office.

I gave a presentation today to 150 or so people from the organisation I work for; a presentation that I think I've now given almost a dozen times to various audiences. A handful of regional and metropolitan round table events with Ministers; some local forums led by backbench government MPs; and now twice to my colleagues. Why do we need a transport plan? What's the context? What will it do? How do we as a society allocate funds to transport needs against other competing needs? I've been really pleased at not only the willingness for people to engage, but the breadth of vision, tempered with realism, that most have shown.

I got home late, ate a scratch dinner and in the background there's a documentary about Kim Peek on the teev. What I found most interesting about it is the suggestion of trade-offs in mental abilities that we (as a species) have had made for us. While Kim has an almost photographic memory as a result of his condition, he does not have a well developed theory of the mind, and the implicit suggestion is that there is only so much brain we have available to devote to the tasks we perform to survive and prosper - an economic argument of scarcity applied to our mental resources. But, unlike economic decisions about the allocation of scarce resources, we have no choice. We get given an ability to understand other people and what they might be thinking, or we get a photographic memory. No opportunity for trade in; no choice. You get what you are given and you deal with it.

During the transport plan consultation exercises, occasionally the suggestion of an "independent commission" to determine our land use and transport planning decisions is raised. The idea is that these decisions are somehow too important to be left to politicians and must be made by independent wise heads. But although I'm a public/civil servant/potential wise head (ok, stretch there...), the notion that people like me should be making these decisions is staggering. I can think of nothing more political than decisions about whether we invest in trains or beds in a cancer ward. There is no formula to answers these questions - this is a judgment call pure and simple.

Sure, benefit-cost ratios are an attempt to answer these kind of questions, but the assumptions that support them are ultimately political in that they put a financial value on things that either cannot be valued or are valued wildly differently by different people, or differently by the same people at different times. Cancer ward beds are incredibly valuable to those whose loved ones are dying, but less so to the young and invulnerable. Trains are really important to those of us who work in the city, but not much value to plumbers with a 20-a-day habit.

So this, to my mind, is the value of a politician. Someone has to make the impossible trade-offs; someone has to make the most appalling decisions and live with them. How much prosperity now? How much later? How much healthcare? How much education? Who is going to divide the cake when everybody wants a big slice with extra icing right this instant? Only an idiot would stand up and say "I want to make that decision."

And that's why we have democracy. So we can get rid of those idiots. And replace them with other idiots.

But don't worry - we'll get around to getting rid of those new idiots the next time.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday afternoon at Thornbury

Lily on the windowsill

This time last week

...we'd walked up to Retro on Brunswick Street for a late breakfast.



...and Eggs Benedict. For the record, I had the vegetarian breakfast.

Optical Illusion

Two weeks ago I was at a forum/consultation exercise at Docklands and saw one of the best decorated modern buildings in the city(the one in the photo below).

It was a few months ago when I standing in the foyer of a nearby building with Graham, admiring the sight of this wonderful optical illusion. I pointed it out, and made some remark about how well the optical illusion has been incorporated. He looked at me blankly for a few seconds, looked back at the building and finally looked back at me with a quizzical look. "What optical illusion?"

After a few minutes of explaining I gave up... He was sure I was kidding.

Thursday, September 18, 2008



Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008

Monday morning

Excuse the twitter-esque beginning to the day, but it's early, I have the doors open (listening to the birds, then the traffic) and I'm about to walk to work. So far, living is here is what I'd hoped it would be.

Unlike this, at the Large Hadron Collider...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Things not to do when anyone's watching...

This is from the old blog - dragging a few things over that were important enough not to leave behind. Yes, I do think this was worth bringing - draw your own conclusions....

This one doesn't come anywhere near the top ten of things not to do in front of children (unlike say, genocide which is probably at number one) but as Jeeves might say "I couldn't advise it Sir." Accordingly, the following instructions should come with some sort of warning or qualification. They don't.
  1. Prepare to cook fish.
  2. Use aerosol olive oil to grease pan.
  3. Accidentally make brilliant flame.
  4. Deliberately make brilliant flame.
  5. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.*
  6. Cook fish, wondering how the stove got so oily.
*Yes, it IS still fun after the fourth go.

Meet a black person!

Love the gentle (but still pointed) humour of this...

Meet a Black Person from ImprovEverywhere on Vimeo.

"Goose writ large"

...was her mother's description.

Public Affairs

Up until a few months ago, I ran the Public Affairs area of a state government department - communications, media management, web, speeches etc. Media conferences, Q&A's, doorsteps (a "press conference lite") and the occasional tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy-theorist journalist often make me wish we'd had one of these...

Pentagon's Unmanned Spokesdrone Completes First Press Conference Mission

Years ago I had to do my first live radio interview - the organization I worked for was relocating patients from a hospice at very short notice (for their own safety). The announcer asked:

"the patients in the hospice - are any of them suffering from serious medical conditions?"

I stuttered a bit and said "well, yes" (politeness turned up), rather than "yes, the people here have serious medical conditions: it's a hospice. People come here to die". Some sort of intelligent mechanical device might have been useful at this point, preferably one with weapons and a low stupidity threshold.

But fuckwittage is not the sole preserve of journalists. A year or two after the hospice conversation I accompanied a former boss to a function involving all the Lord Mayors of Australia's capital cities. Melbourne's then Lord Mayor wanted to focus attention on the number of heroin ODs in Australia at that time, and the meeting was dominated by discussion of harm minimization. At the press conference after the meeting, Lord Mayor Peter Costigan of Melbourne stood up before the city media and offered an inadvertant bonnest of all possible mots:

"...if we want to do something about the problem of heroin and drugs in the inner cities, we need to roll up our sleeves and expand our minds."

No apparent irony; no second thoughts. Fantastic.

A new beginning

Why "Urban Scrumping"? In his show, Part Troll, Bill Bailey talks about growing up in the West Country of England and "scrumping" - stealing apples from trees, which he described as "basically fruit larceny." "I mean, you can't steal a stereo and call it urban scrumping."

I moved to Collingwood this week, within walking distance of the Melbourne CBD (and work), having spent the last twelve months in the northern shires, about 35km from the city (more than an hour in the morning). Lots of emus, kangaroos and cockatoos, and rolling hills as far as the eye can see, although that's not very far because we were in a valley...

I started a blog a few months ago and it tailed off into nothing pretty quickly. This time I have enough headspace to devote to this, or at least at this particular time I do - let's not make promises too far in advance. This blog will be a by-product of my life rather than a machine that I will be slave to. Some personal reflections will definitely appear, although probably very little of the most pressing things on my mind. Perhaps that will change; no guarantees.

A few of the early posts will be dragged over, kicking and screaming, from the old blog. This is so I can let that one fade away without the need for links.