Tuesday, March 31, 2009

From The Age, post hearing

(extracted from here)

  • Clay Lucas
  • March 31, 2009

"USING a train, tram or a bus should attract the same tax concessions as driving a car, both Connex and the State Government have told a Senate inquiry into federal funding of the nation's public transport.

"Public transport fares attract no tax concession," Connex's head of corporate affairs, Mark Paterson, yesterday told the inquiry, which is conducting hearings throughout Australia.

"Tax concessions to private motorists should either be removed or similar concessions be afforded to public transport users," Mr Paterson said.

The more kilometres Australian motorists clock up in their company car, the more they are rewarded by the fringe benefits tax system. Less generous tax concessions apply to public transport use. The Brumby Government's Department of Transport also made a presentation to the inquiry, and the department's head of policy, Michael Hopkins, agreed public transport should attract tax concessions, although he said tax incentives for drivers should stay.

"Fringe benefit tax currently treats motor vehicle use and public transport differently," Mr Hopkins said. "We would be seeking more equitable treatment of public transport."

It was also vital the Rudd Government began funding big public transport projects to deal with the huge influx of passengers on to trains, trams and buses, he said.

"We are in uncharted territory in terms of patronage (growth)," Mr Hopkins said, pointing to an 11 per cent rise in use of Melbourne's public transport system last year alone.

Last year, 480 million trips were made on the city's public transport network — 48 million more than in 2007. This has left the train and tram system, in particular, struggling to cope.

Arguments that more services could be run, using the existing train system in particular — as espoused by RMIT transport academic Paul Mees for years — were wrong, Mr Hopkins said.

Small efficiencies were possible, he said, but a huge efficiency increase — one that the existing public transport system could not deliver — was needed.

"As much as we would love there to be huge amounts of untapped capacity just waiting for us to flick the switch, it is just not true, unfortunately."

Australia is one of the few developed countries in which the federal government does not fund public transport but funds roads. The Hawke government was the last to directly fund public transport. Prime Minster Kevin Rudd last year announced his intention to fund urban public transport.

Greens senator Scott Ludlam, who initiated the inquiry, said a common theme had emerged at hearings throughout the country: a lack of co-ordination of public transport.

"We have train, tram and bus services around the country cannibalising and competing with each other," he said."

Man, this is getting weird. Two consecutive Tuesdays; two positive articles. I'm beginning to wonder if I woke up in the wrong universe again (which is sometimes embarrassing). "Which way is clockwise here?" is my usual test. Of course, some universes don't have clocks (which is always frustrating). Relax; I'll work it out.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Senate Committee

At a week's notice I was asked to present to a Senate Committee Inquiry into public transport on the state of PT in Victoria, which was nice.

The presentation was duly given this afternoon. I was then subjected to a modest and gentle toasting from Senators (with the emphasis on the "modest"), rather than a grilling. The Chairman started the questions by saying he thought "Melbourne had the best public transport in the country", which was a fantastic way to make me feel this was not, as I had geed myself up to believe, the Spanish Inquisition.

I thought it all went well, but who has any idea what the tissues will say? We'll find out in the morning...

As Senate Committees post transcripts of proceedings, I'll link to my bits when they appear on the interwebs.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hitler's Car Pool

Accessed here. Special thanks to Justin for reminding me of it's existence, at a time when I have found myself responsible for increasing vehicle occupancy...

Sustainable Madness

This week at work we were the inadvertent hosts to an event in the Theatrette. It purported to be about sustainability and transport, which, at least for me, are two great tastes that go together, and plenty of people from my group signed up. They were all disappointed.

For a whole series of reasons the event had the potential to be a huge reputation risk, but ultimately it happened and no-one was any the wiser, or indeed seemed to care.

Highlights, according to the guys who manage the corporate centre, were:
  • An attendee was disappointed that the theatrette did not have any space allocated for her fold-out bed. Space was duly found and she watched the proceedings from bed.
  • There was a complaint regarding the amount of lighting in the building and in particular the Theatrette: 'especially concerning during a sustainability lecture'.
  • Request to "turn the heating down" in the Theatrette. Person told there was no heating, but we could turn the AC up. Pursed lips, "no thank you".
  • Attendee said to CC staff it would be good to work for our organisation, quote, "but they wouldn't hire wogs". Our EEO policy was explained. He returned later to ask one of the women at the front desk out.
Never, ever again....

A walk around Thornbury

This is Thornbury, the suburb where I live. Most of Thornbury dates from about the end of WW1 - our house was built in 1917, hence it's need for a coat of paint. Plenty of other houses need a coat of paint as well...

Because of the changes to retail habits since the 1950's, we have plenty of former corner shops now converted into houses.

A few still remain as shops. This is what corner shops looked like when I was growing up.

Plenty of redevelopment happening. I'm not particularly fussed about that - there's enough history to go around (and we'll be hanging on to our bit), although I was miffed about the house next door being demolished in the way that it was.

In fact, I'm fairly happy about the changes in Thornbury, recognising that we're probably only passing through "cool and creative" (or what passes for it) on our way to "hip and commercial". Then it will be shit and I'll probably complain about it. Of course, by that stage I might have become one of those men who wears their pastel jumpers knotted around their neck and insists on drinking coffee only where there is stainless steel and racket. In the real world, it's more likely he'll wonder why I'm so badly dressed.

The next major redevelopment site is likely to be the old Northcote Pottery site.

I'm still really happy with what the Holga's doing. I might need a spare in case I wear this one out...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cycling Strategy

Yesterday was a great day at work - a happy Minister and a happy Premier launched the Cycling Strategy we've been working on for about six months.

The Cycling Strategy was one of the first things this particular Minister asked of me when I started in this job, and to be honest it was not as easy as I thought it would be. But to be fair, when I say "we", I mean the few; the wonderful few who nailed this fucker down and turned it into a Strategy. And they are heroes. Evelyn, Chloe, Melissa, Mel and the guys were %$#@ing fantastic - I am so lucky...

While the team's talent is of no surprise at all, most surprisingly our favourite conspiratorial journalist (whom, I fraudulently suspect, believes in the Jewish/Masonic/Catholic/Scientologist/Rosicrucian conspiracy to take over the Earth using the mystical powers of cheese, bullshit and the Orgone Energy Accumulator) declared our Strategy a huge success.

The Age thought thus and thus. Good on them, I say. Lackeys.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Punjabai Wadi

Guru Nanak Groceries is one of two local Indian/Pakistani spice shops within walking distance from home. Last week I was wandering the aisles looking for cumin and came across Punjabi Wadi, mysterious lumps of lentils and spices dried into unappealing pats.

I'll give most things a go, and anything with that many spices must be pretty good. A hop, step and a Google later I had a recipe. Lots of garlic, lots of ginger, broccoli and cauliflower and these strange pats.

They're not easy to describe. The dish turned out spicier than I expected, and the wadis give it this mysterious smell that's a bit like walking into a spice shop. There's a smell in the deli section at Vic Market that must be the sum total of all of the pungent and enticing aromas - cheeses, cured meats, sausages and so on. The Punjabi Wadis are a bit like that - either they are the strongest smell in the shop (unlikely) or they have a mix of spices not unlike the balance of what's on the shelves.

They were chewier than I expected and with an appetite for liquid that dried out the curry pretty well. Almost all of the base was absorbed into the wadis, and yet they stayed fairly intact - I thought they'd fall apart once wet but they kept a distinct shape and a resistance to assault. In retrospect, the wadi-to-vegetable ratio was probably too high, meaning it should probably have been wetter than it turned out.

They probably won't appeal to the kinder, but I'll be making this again.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I am a process

This isn't a Douglas Hofstadter-esque post about a recursive, self-similar, strange loop definition of consciousness.

I was copied into an email today that was circulating some words I would ultimately have to approve. It said "...this is our proposed response, subject to internal processes."

That's when I realised I was that internal process.

At first I felt like some kind of intestinal parasite, but luckily I quickly settled on a general dehumanised feeling. Sigh. This has not been an easy week at work. I am a process. I am a gear in a great wheel. Cogito ergo sum: I think therefore I am a cog.

It's been a week dominated by the last minute entweakments to a strategy document that is constantly 'almost' finished; a week of sleepless nights and unexplained inner tension; a five day week after a two day week - an unsettling week, in short. Maybe Friday will be better. I need a weekend of gardening and lazing; of exercise and fruit.

Ecce homo, ergo elk.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Forgotten texts...

My phone's been crazed with animal spirits this week, or at least is refusing to charge without heating to just below the boiling point of lead. While it's over the pits having a grease and oil change, I've been given a loan phone by the IT guys at work. Today I discovered some pre-existing texts from previous owners/users. Without any context they are perfect:
  • "As previously requested we have noticed that you haven't completed the online bullying and harassment training, therefore we require you to attend a face to face training session on (date redacted)..."
  • "Hey mart came second :-) get our money back"
  • "What? I cant send it now"
  • "Not Rostered - Date (redacted)"
  • "HA Role - CC - please respond with 'Yes' or 'No' "
  • "Will get kaye to send again from work tomorrow keep eyes peeled"
  • "Lanas there tonight :-) look out for her"
  • "Tina is on her way! Thanks amanda"

Sound Relief

Yesterday was Sound Relief, a benefit concert at the MCG for the Victorian Bushfire Appeal. It rained heavily throughout the day (proving conclusively how ironic irony can be), and we'd assumed that the start would be delayed. We dropped Emily and William at Viewbank, raced to get there and discovered we'd just missing Paul Kelly... Damn. We were just in time to see Augie March (Urbane Scrumping rating: pleasant), which is a bit like discovering you've missed the cheese course but you're in time "for some lovely boiled rice."

Actually, that's a bit unfair. More in the "wouldn't buy the album, but would be happy if someone else played it in the car" category.

A rap contrivance emerged. A short walk to the bar.

Liam Finn is a bearded ball of energy, and I instinctively feel for the man with a boyish face trying to look older by growing a beard... At least mine's got some grey in it. Oh, and I'm beginning to look old as well. But he had a mad, unbridled passion and an infectious energy. The leaps from guitar to drums were wonderfully chaotic, but ultimately it was All About Liam. Which is ok, as long as you can carry it off, and he could. Urbane Srumping rating: I need to sit down - I'm feeling old now.

Crowded House the crowd pleaser. Four songs, and once they'd appeared on stage, no real need to play them. 80,000 people singing "Weather With You" and "Better Be Home Soon" means the band are not much more than conductors and eye candy, but 80,000 folks weren't going to sing without them... Urbane Srumping rating: these songs didn't write themselves.

I've wanted to see Jack Johnson since "Brushfire Fairytales", and he was as good as I'd hoped. I wasn't expecting to be blown off my feet, but I was expecting to check my pockets for a stray joint that I might have tucked away for just such an occasion. I did check. I didn't find one. Bud or muso; the Hawain option is a mellow one. Urbane Srumping rating: "Your turn to roll. I'm too stoned."

Wolfmother were exactly (I mean *exactly*) as anticipated... One part Zep; three parts Black Sabbath; one part pastiche; two part worship and just a dash of Hawkwind and Tull with a T-Rex chaser. Thanks, mine's a pint. And a Jameson's. Urbane Srumping rating: The Chicken Kiev of rock. Lots of flavour and instant appeal, but I was ten years old when this was the height of fashion and it'll always look like faded and jaded to me.

Before we got the business end of the day, Our Kylie popped off her perch to sing "I still call Australia home". Questions should be asked in Parliament, but won't. So it'll have to be me. Urbane Srumping rating: Why? Why the fuck did you sing that song, of all the possible songs in the universe?

It did crystallise the jingoistic theme that made me feel uncomfortable all day. I'm happy to celebrate heroes, but a lot of speeches offered the simple "we're great because we're Australians, therefore being Australian is great" view. Please folks, let's just try and do Good Things and shut the fuck up about it. That's the kind of Australian I aspire to being.

And then we got to the business end of the day. Hunters and Collectors. Urbane Scumping rating: All grunt; all heart. I've seen Mark Seymour twice, both times in a more acoustic mood, but never the Hunners. If they'd ever played at the Seaview Ballroom in St Kilda in the 1980's, I bet it didn't sound this gutsy...

The last time I saw Split Enz was at the Venue in St Kilda in 1984. It was with a girl I went out with, maybe twice, whose name and face I can't remember. I think we were at school together. I do remember (a) I got a voucher entitling me to discount entry, which I remembered too late to use for Motorhead, some months later, and (b) Split Enz wore white suits that had day-glo patterns that only revealed themselves when the UV lights were turned on late in the night.

At the MCG they were just brilliant, and it's easy to see the genesis of Crowded House in Split Enz. Better at chipper pop than Crowded House, perhaps, but fewer arm-waving ballads. Urban Scrumping rating: History never repeats, but just sometimes, it should.

Not to mention, "I see red"...

And then the Oils. Somethings haven't changed. The Prime Minister's favourite Oils song might be "Wedding Cake Island" (Peter Garrett is silent), but they weren't playing for him. I saw them for the first time in 1984 at the South Melbourne Cricket Ground (supported by the Divinyls), and a few years later at the old Olympic swimming pool and both times it was like being flattened by a fast-moving flattening thing. Urban Scrumping rating: More Head Injuries would have been better, but I know I'm in the minority there.

Fantastic, but exhausting. I'm pretty happy about the photos too, considering we were sitting about as far back as we could. All with a 300mm lens and no tripod, too.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Kent's book launch

"From a Montana dimestore in his native North America to Phnom Penh into Victoria Street, Melbourne, MacCarter navigates the world, seeking not just the sounds, textures and tastes that characterise its parts, but the emotional sustenance that we all crave."

So sayeth the blurb on the back cover. Maybe so, but the book launch still smelt strongly of cheese. Littoral cheese, by the way; not metaphorical cheese. Kent's book, In the Hungry Middle of Here, was launched last night at Collected Works, with Kent giving a gentle reading of some of his poems.

I don't know whether people still want to buy dimes, or the shortest distance between Phnom Penh and Victoria Street (south at Port Moresby would be my guess), but Kent's poems have a warmth that I really admire.

Despite ten years conditioning for a small world in Canberra, I still wasn't expecting to see a few familiar faces. Jan was there, as was Helen R. Later, walking into Nudel Bar, we passed Vanessa, Janelle, Emily S and Rebecca... By the end of the night I might have bumped into Andre the Giant and been cool enough to say "what ho!", but everybody I met got the "Wha? Oh, hello!"

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pictures from Canberra

Yes, it's true. From certain angles, Parliament House looks like it belongs in Tellytubby Land.

When I first started working in Canberra in 1991, my new team took me to the (then only) nearby coffee place so we could introduce ourselves. Almost 20 years later, it looks much the same.

It's not room service unless it's a club sandwich. This was ok, but not one of the greats. Salad was good (lots of soft herbs) but the dressing was sweet. Wine good, sound-proofing less so.

Guess what's behind the door? Go on, you'll never guess...

Men and goats; women and shoes

At Canberra Airport last night I gave into temptation and bought Jon Ronson's book, "The Men Who Stare at Goats", a story:
"about what happened when a small group of men - highly placed within the United States military, the government, and the intelligence services - began believing in very strange things".
Strange things like the power of the human mind to telepathically kill goats and bend spoons; pyschic healing; "remote viewing"; and what the military could learn from the new age movement (only slightly more than the rest of us). Ronson's deadpan style and respectful recording of people who have an orthogonal relationship to reality is funny, but importantly allows his subjects to air the most outlandish ideas and tell the most outrageous stories and have them all-too faithfully captured. It also covers some of the less risible forms of military sillyness, such as MK-ULTRA and the use of drugs in interrogation in The War Against Terror (aka TWAT) as well other surreal torture techniques. Mostly hilarious but all head-shakingly disturbing.

Last Thursday night I went to the International Women's Day Dinner with a few people from work (I hadn't posted earlier, I'm sorry). Had fun, looked like this...

... waiting for the tram to take me home. It was also a celebrity roast/"this is your life"/celebration of the career of the former Police Commissioner, who later joined the police band to sing "I am woman".

Next day at work it was reported that one of my colleagues (not a large man) was seen drinking wine from the shoe of a female co-worker. Ever since hearing that I've had Tom Lehrer's "Wiener Schnitzel Waltz" going through my head...
"I drank champagne from your shoe, lala-la,
I was drunk by the time I was through, lala-la,
For I didn't know when I raised that cup,
It had taken two bottles to fill the thing up..."
I realise these two stories have no common thread, but they do make for a great title....

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Question Time

Sitting in my hotel at a coin-operated net connection. Mobile connection and a small netbook is looking good...

Spent an hour or so at Parliament House this afternoon listening to Question Time in the House of Reps. Sigh... Having sat through a number of state and territory parliament question tomes, my hopes were a little higher for the Big House but no, they were not met. Just as pointless... If you want to see democracy in action, go watch a Bill during its second reading speech. Don't bother with question time. If you can imagine kindergarten behaviour but with the added horror of Bronwyn Bishop, you get a sense of what I'm talking about.

Live from Canberra

So today I'm in Canberra, testing mobile blogging from my phone. Speaking at a conference tomorrow about data, communications and politics in policy development. Wacko, eh?

On the way to the airport yesterday, U2's "Where the streets have no name" played on Gold104, ("An embarrassment of riches, or at the very least, just an embarrassment"). F pointed out how difficult it must be to publish a street directory without street names. Perhaps the streets have numbers, I suggested, or maybe gestures. Gets into cab, *shrugs, touches nose*. "OK mate", says the driver, and off you go...

Last night i had a taxi driver who knew Mike Strakowski, former workmate, fellow smoker, concert violinist, one time Chief of Staff to a Minister of Education and taxi driver: truly a man who knows his way around an XD Falcon. One night we had both been guests of a cigarette company at an Australian Chamber Orchestra performance, and, standing outside smoking, I mentioned my love of a John Zorn string quartet. He asked "Cat-o-nine tails?" (it was) and went on to say he'd been rehearsing it that afternoon... Lovely man.

Arrived in my hotel to discover my alleged "Poolside Suite" was on the first floor.

Perfect evening, balcony door open. Today is apparently Canberra's eighty-something birthday, and on the news a woman at a birthday concert (who is at least as old as the city) said of the event, "well, it's better than staying at home"... Welcome to Canberra...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Language and Crap

So the tabloids (which now includes the Age) and talkback are all aflutter this morning with the Prime Minister's use of the word "shitstorm" on the teev last night, which appears to have caused a small shitstorm ("shitdrizzle?") itself. As the meek and elderly complained to Jon Faine that end times were approaching and the beast had revealed himself, Malcolm Turbull claimed it was an elaborate, carefully scripted ploy to appeal to the sort of people who wash Malcolm's car.

Given RoboPM 5000 was talking about the smoking remains of what was once the world economy, "shitstorm" sounds like an understatement. I'd have more respect for his powers of perception and description if he'd used "absolute total, global clusterfuck". I may be overstating things a bit, but some openness, honesty and clear-headed language is just what we need now. Or doesn't that help confidence?

I'm not sure about whether confidence alone is the issue. We've been trying to make ourselves happy with stuff. And of course, stuff means jobs, and money in people's pockets. Government has been pumping money into the economy to get us to buy more stuff and keep people in work making stuff. (In the words of Gary Larson, "Stimulus, response; stimulus, response: don't you ever think?") David Mitchell, talking mostly about teenagers in a Guardian article described it beautifully:
"One of the fastest growing areas in our economy in the years leading up to the crunch was the selling of crap to twats....

I'm sure this spending ... feels necessary to teenagers themselves but it isn't, and it's only peer pressure that makes it seem so. I realise the phrase "only peer pressure" will sound to teenage ears like "only an atom bomb" and I'm sorry."
But the problem here is that peer pressure is not just something that happens to teenagers. We all seem to want stuff, maybe not always to consciously be like everyone else, but because we don't know what the alternative is. What happens if people, en mass, decide that enough is enough and they have enough stuff? I can't think of any easy transition to that sort of world, although slowly reducing working hours is probably a part of the answer. And devoting more time to non-material stuff. I'm off to weave imaginary baskets, myself.

And the PM's language? Personally, I blame his long career as a public servant. Those bastards can swear their fucking heads off. I don't know how I've avoided it for so long.

Speaking of language, by the way, today is Moomba in Melbourne. "Moomba" is apparently an Aboriginal word that means, "oh dear, is that the time?"

Oh dear, is that the time?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Lubitel looks like...

Remember what it does?

Twittering, but not with enthusiasm

I signed up for Twitter today but I'm not sure why, or whether I'll keep it up. Thanks to the act of signing up, I think I've discovered the outer limits of my attention span and it's certainly longer than 16o characters. Yup, it was interesting,at least for a bit, to know what Stephen Fry was doing during this particular collection of moments, but it's all a bit twitchy for me.

It's almost as though Twitter depends on a strange kind of material skepticism. The ontology suggested by Twitter is that my friends cease to exist when I don't see them, or at least read their tweets. Twitter may fill in the gaps between our meetings, but do I really want that? I'm comfortable with the notion that other folks have an existence beyond my own entertainment - I don't need to constantly check up on them. And if they need to check on me, then I'm happy for them to assume my non-existence between phone calls, texts, emails, lunches, drinks, the occasional breakfast, parties, meetings and glances across a room.

I'm not here. If I'm not blogging, flickring or twittering, you can assume I have been reduced to a Euclidean point.

Meanwhile, at the next computer, Alex is listening to interleaved songs by Smashing Pumpkins and Skyhooks. Alphabetical order may be in play, but I'm impressed that to Al, it's just all good music from the past. What to me is a long twenty years is collapsed into "the past" for him.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A distinct lack of chaos

Dateline: Tuesday evening. Monday was a great day at work. The leadership group (see pg21) had a wonderful discussion about integrated transport and land-use planning (forgive me if that doesn't excite you); and we got the gang back together to discuss future structure. We're gearing up for delivery and medium-to-long operations - for a group that's been aiming for project delivery for the last few years, that's a big change in mindset.

Today, more vigorous discussion about our future. I feel vim, vigour and sparkle - this is the sort of work that makes my blood warm, puts the fizz in my veins and makes me VOOOOM..... And I look to one of my folks in my team (Helen) and say "well done, you are today's moral compass.".

Monday, March 2, 2009

Goodbye GLaDOS; the cake is a lie

Because I finished Portal.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Clacking, but not as expected

I raced a film through the new Clack on Saturday morning hoping to get it processed within the week. Lo, and it was done by the afternoon.

The photos are not at all what I was expecting. I'd assumed they would be more Holga or Diana like - focus falling away from the centre perhaps, or not really in focus at all, maybe with a dream-like quality. Some vignetting wouldn't have surprised me either. But there was none. The photos look distressingly normal, as though they were shot with a digi point-and-shoot...

This was taken from my office window.

The negs are as enormous as advertised - 8 shots only on a 120 roll. These were shot on a Fuji Pro400h, which worked out pretty well because it was an overcast day. Next time I'll try a slower speed - 50ASA would have been the norm at the time they were made. I'm also keen to have a go with a B&W roll.

I also discovered a bit more about the Clack from here and here. They were made between 1954 and 1965, and mine has a metal body which puts it at the earlier end of that period. The shutter speed is pretty slow (probably about 1/30th), but I'd read this somewhere so I was pretty careful to brace the camera. It all worked out wonderfully. It so often does.