Thursday, 29 November 2007

Movember 29th

Movember 29th, originally uploaded by jsteel.

Remember, remember the Last of Movember,
The Moustache Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why Moustache Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Strong words, and many of them.

Tomorrow is the last day of Movember, and a perfect chance to use that as a pretence, or even a reason, to give money to help address men's health issues, specifically prostate cancer and depression.

To give, grab a credit card and head over to the Movember donation page. The money goes to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, and to depression initiative Beyond Blue.

If you find my moustache insufficiently impressive to garner your hard-earn, go and donate via Michael Lawley, at whom such a claim could never be levelled.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Quiche-eating so-and-so.

tarte, originally uploaded by jsteel.

In France I learned that making quiches was really very easy, and I've been doing so ever since. Its not quite so simple here - shortcrust pastry is less easily available in the large sizes, diced bacon is not as common and not of as good a quality, and the crème fraiche is not as good either. Still, they come out OK.

This one, just out ov the oven, has fried bacon, onion and zuccini, some fresh asparagus (which I've not tried before), cheese, egg-creme mix, and some sliced tomato on top.

I might have a glass of white with it, too. I have something worth celebrating today (more details as they become prudently distributable).

Monday, 26 November 2007

... and life goes on

The flipside to all my pretentious analysis of the meaning of the election according to Lewis Carroll, is what I actually did through it all.

I had high hopes of going out to vote early in the morning, but in the end the sun moved past vertical before I wandered up the hill. There was quite a queue, and it took me 20 minutes or so to actually get in to vote.

I was surprised that I didn't have to supply ID (not sure if I have in the past). The woman asked if I had voted before today, and I said "yes", which surprised her until she realised that she really wanted to know if I had voted already today. While I was waiting for her to look up my name, the person next to me was having the voting procedure explained: a number next to every house candidate, and just a 1 above the line for the senate. When my turn came around, there was again no mention of voting below the line, which I found really very strange. I had to ask, and she seemed shocked that I might want to vote below the line. Very odd.

In the evening, I had some people around for a barbecue and to watch the count: Mick, Paul, Julie, Jesse and Ali. The boys had kangaroo - sausages, skewers, and fillet - while the girls baulked at eating Skippy and opted for lamb skewers. A shame, because Jesse did a masterful job with the BBQ, and the kangaroo skewers were really good, and the fillets were perfectly cooked and really delicious.

Anyway, we drank home brew, ate barbecue, laughed at politicians still repeating sound-byte phrases, and watched Antony Green decide the election for us, and everyone went home pretty happy.

And hast thou slain the jabberwock?

So much to say. I'm afraid this is a long post. I'll wind in slowly, with a poem most have probably already read before.

(Apologies to John Quiggin, who seems to have also used a quote from this. It's just so appropriate, though)

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

The beamish boy (was there a more happy match for that label?) has indeed slain the Jabberwock (again, JW just fits far too well). The vorpal sword was Workchoices, and the promise of investment in infrastructure without sacrificing fiscal responsibility. To be fair, the Jabberwock was not his former self, and I really suspect that he won't personally mind losing so much, as he had mainly done what he wanted to do.

Nonetheless, I could have quoted just the second-last verse, but I have included the whole thing. There are two perils contained within.

The first is that the beamish boy has gone galumphing back to his putative father, and now must deal with his familial legacy. Will he be the son to the unions, or will he strike out as a leader and leave his own imprint? Early signs suggest the latter, in particular his indication that he will select his own ministry rather than leaving it to the caucus. As the prodigal son who has led Labor out of 11 years in the wilderness, he will have some leeway.

The second is that the last verse is the same as the first. Our two major political parties are, in many ways, more closely aligned than they have ever been. Will foreign policy continue to gyre and gimble in the wabe? Will the degradation of civil rights remain mimsy, and the refugees outgrabe?

If the answer to all these questions is "yes", when will a beamish boy arise from the Liberals? At the moment, it seems like the answer will be "a long time". It appears that Costello will go quietly into the night, and one can hardly blame him. The Liberals hold government in no jurisdiction bigger than the Brisbane City Council. The dominance of Howard over the party, and Costello's retreat, leaves with them with a vacuum at the top, and no governments in which to stockpile talent. Howard's long-time political expediency, of blowing with the wind of popular politics, has left them lacking direction. They are a party in need of a moral compass, and its hard to see where they will find one. Certainly the answer will not come from an opportunistic social conservative; such a move would only lead them further down the rabbit hole. Although highly unlikely, it is not inconceivable that the coalition will fracture, or even that the Liberal party will fold, and the Australian political landscape will be reshaped.

The one element where Mr Dodgson's poem has no contribution is the senate. Labor's sweeping gains in the house were not reflected in the upper house. The coalition have a hostile majority there until the transition next June, and even then it seems likely that the government will need the votes of all the Greens, plus Nick Xenophon, and either Steve Fielding or a rogue coalition senator like Barnaby Joyce, to pass legislation. Its hard to see how that will happen, and a double dissolution, either late next year or in 2009, is not out of the question.

We live in interesting times.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

strike one

I try every now and then to keep an eye on French news, partly to keep up my french comprehension, and partly because I'm just interested. Its pretty easy to do on the internet; my current preference is checking out France 3's 19|20 news online.

Of course, the big news in the last week or so is the strikes to do with the transport unions, in particular the trains (SNCF). The Parisian metro, TGVs, and regional TERs have all been dramatically effected, and the scenes of packed platforms in Paris are impressive.

The reason for this is that French government workers (SNCF was until recently government owned, and is still basically government backed) had very generous rights at work. (The same pretty much applies for EDF/GDF and a whole bunch of other sectors). France then went and elected Sarko, an economic reformer, as President. Blind Freddy could have seen that he was going to butt heads with the unions over things like retirement entitlements, and that's exactly what's happening now. The French got the government they deserved, and now, for better or for worse (IMHO a little of both) they are seeing the beginning consequences. I would be surprised if there isn't more of the same ahead, and from any number of sectors; the fonctionnaires (particularly teachers) are rumoured to be talking about strikes this week.

I'm declaring war... on stress.

From the annals of great moustaches, this time from the realm of television: Denholm, glorious team leader.

Team. Team. Team. Team. Team. Team. I even love saying the word team. You probably thing that's a picture of my family. Uh uh. It's the A Team. Body; Doyle; Tiger; The Jewellery Man.

Monday, 19 November 2007

note to self: senate

I vote below the line in the senate. There are lots of reasons for this, the biggest being that parties often set down their preferences in order to get elected, rather than based on policy alignment. John is particularly culpable, doing unthinkable things with LDP preferences. Another reason is that I'm a sucker for numbers and things like voting systems.

So, mostly for my benefit, here is my first cut at a voting order for the senate:
  1. Dems (grp I), John H (Grp B), Waters (Grp M), ALP (O), Greens (M)
  2. LDP (B), CCC (C), Carers (D), WWW (A), Secular (W)
  3. Coalition (J)
  4. Unaligned independents
  5. RR (K), NCP (U), SOL (E), Baker (X), Couper/Brown (N), FF (H)
  6. Fishing (G), Fishing & Lifestyle (P), Shooters (L), Socialists (F), CDP (T), One Nation (Q), DLP (V), CEC (S), Pauline (R)
I guess the list items correspond roughly to:
  1. people I'd quite like to see get elected
  2. people I wouldn't really object to seeing elected in that they're mostly harmless
  3. the incumbents who have abused the senate and thus don't deserve election
  4. independents I know little about
  5. people whose election I would consider somewhat dangerous
  6. people whose election I would consider distinctly dangerous
Pauline gets to go last, not because she's the worst candidate (she isn't), but because she was a significant part of the shift of the Australian electorate a few years ago towards narrow-mindedness, xenophobia, parochialism and other such silly things. I'm not above being petty.

Update: I've been thinking about why senate preference deals matter, in light of the "just vote below the line" argument. If at some point in the STV count, my preferred candidate is elected, I get a bonus part vote. This is because that candidate's surplus votes are redistributed to other candidates, proportionally to the preferences of all those who voted for that candidate. Now, because 95% of votes are above the line, basically my bonus part vote is redistributed according to the party's preferences, not mine. So, if I vote for John, and he gets in (unlikely though that is), then my bonus part vote is going to go to Pauline Hanson and the DLP before Andrew Bartlett, which I couldn't stomach.

change of tempo - golf

Time for a post to break up the politics stuff (which I do enjoy, and which attracts more comments, which I also enjoy).

On Saturday, some NICTA Qld folk organised a day at the golf. It was rainy in the morning, but 6 of us showed up: Felix, Ricky, Conrad, Sylvia, Charles and myself. We hit a few balls on the range before heading out for 9 holes. Of the others, I think only Ricky had hit a ball before, which showed, and so I had a little bit of a role as a coach on the range. I don't think I was very good at it; too much advice, and probably not the right advice a lot of the time.

I played around with Charles and Sylvia, who struggled and tired as the day went on, but stepped up when it counted and both hit over the lake on the 4th, which was 10 times as difficult as any shot they had hit up to that point.

I played really well, which was surprising considering I hadn't gone around since playing with Dad in June. On the second I hit a 4 iron to within a foot of the pin for a birdie, which is probably one of the best (most effective) shots I've ever hit. I only had one hole worse than bogey (the 8th, toughest on the course), and wound up with a 40 for the 9 holes. Its only a par 34, and pretty short. Also, many of the par 4s are quite short; a couple of times I was chipping to the green for two. Still, I putted well (no 3-putts) and I was consistent, so I was very happy.

Labor vs Liberal

I suggested in a previous post that there wasn't a lot of difference between Labor and Liberal* policies in this election, and Keith and Lee both pointed out that there are nonetheless significant differences. They're right, and over the last week I've been thinking about why.

* I hate using that term for the Liberal party - non-Australians should realise that our Liberal party is not a liberal party, and a capital or small 'L' should be observed to distinguish between the party (big 'L') and the ideas (small 'l').

Accountability/process: I really struggle to explain this, but I've had real problems with the way the Liberals have governed. They played fast and loose with truth on some things like children overboard, which is something that can be said of many governments, but in hindsight its shocking that no-one really was held to account for that. Of more concrete concern are things like their guillotining of debate in the senate and their failure to listen to reasonable non-government amendments. I also have a real problem with spending a half million dollars a day during their time in office, and $350 million last fiscal year. Lee mentioned that ALP figures like Lindsay Tanner and Penny Wong are making good noises about avoiding that kind of spending if they take office. We also went to Iraq for all the wrong reasons, which weren't those given us when Howard decided to send troops. Howard's apparent reluctance towards multilateralism in foreign policy is disturbing, and the "free" trade agreement with the US was a real sellout, particularly on issues like copyright term extension.

Education: I just feel like Rudd and Stephen Smith (who speaks very well, incidentally) are saying more appealing things about education. In particular, they seem to have a more real commitment to universities, which makes me think they have a greater appreciation that education is not the same thing as training (although both are important). Their mid-career research fellowships announcement (in many ways an expansion of the existing federation fellowships scheme) appeals to me as someone who has come back to Australia to make a career in research and found it frustrating that the best jobs for me are still overseas.

Spending and pork: How can a party claiming (by name) to be liberal be so convincingly winning the drunken sailor spend-a-thon? John posted a rundown of their election spending the other day, which included an astonishing $12 billion on roads, a domain that is normally the remit of state governments. This is at the same time as university and research funding have essentially been frozen at 1996 levels (as I understand it).

Federalism: If John Howard wants to dissolve the states and federalise the things they historically take care of (health, schools, transport, etc), then he should come out and say it. Personally, I can't help but feel that he's just playing games out of frustration with the present weakness of the Liberals in state politics (nowhere moreso than Queensland, perhaps). I support the idea of the GST, but I don't like the idea of using it to control state issues to the extent that Howard seems to be doing.

Civil liberties: The sneak and peek powers (including non-judicial warrants), sedition laws, and other anti-terrorism laws seem to me (not versed in legal stuff) as gross infringements on basic civil liberties established going back hundreds of years. Whether they're applied to Australian citizens (Izhar ul-Haque) or others (Mohamed Haneef), its just not on. Its an easy electoral sell to blurt "we need more powers to catch bad guys", but its cheap and unworthy. It remains to be seen whether Labor will be any better, or repeal any of these laws.

Environment: I would be quite happy if, as Keith suggests, Garrett is playing possum and will be much more aggressive if/when he becomes environment minister. I don't really understand Kyoto, but I've heard that we're on track to meet the targets anyway, in which case a symbolic non-signing is just being a dog in a manger. I also don't feel like the Libs actually believe in acting on climate change; it feels too much like they're just trying to keep up with public opinion, not leading it.

Industrial relations: I think the Liberals have a vendetta against unions, which at the end of the day are just employee advocacy groups, even if they have had problems at times with the manner in which they represent workers. Labor was the party that moved against centralised wage-fixing, and I can't see them being regressive in this, but I do believe they will move to limit employers (who have an intrinsic advantage in contract negotiation) convincing workers to trade away their rights to things like penalty rates and overtime.

I've probably missed some issues.

In the end, I have some problems with the Labor party, in particular in terms of the way they're set up in terms of unions' role in party voting. However, I feel like Howard and the Libs have been bad for Australia on a number of issues, and don't ascribe them as much economic credit as they have taken. Perhaps they can find some more small-'l' liberal roots if they lose an election, Howard retires, and they have some time in opposition to have a good hard look at themselves.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

senate blogger

My first senate vote will probably wind up going to Andrew Bartlett. I'm philosophically close to the Dems' policies, even if they are a bit fuzzy on some things, but most importantly, I feel that Bartlett has shown real and admirable openness about his job at representing Queensland. The only parliamentarian (to my knowledge) with an active blog, he posts regularly about what he's doing, from consultation with interest groups to senate proceedings, and responds to feedback. His press is sparse, partly because he lacks the charisma to draw cameras (or at least to draw them for the right reasons), but in the media I have seen, and in the webcasts of senate proceedings I've watched (I know, I'm an unmitigated geek), he has struck me as constructive and well-spoken.

I would encourage other voters to give him consideration for the senate, and I would encourage other senators to consider the transparency he has shown during his term.

The likelihood of him actually being re-elected is small but non-negligible, partly due to the unfortunate state of his party.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

'tache two

'tache two, originally uploaded by jsteel.

11 days, and not an awful lot better, but starting to look more like a moustache, at least.


Jesse has been bugging me to put up a rundown of the candidates for the HoR seat we're voting in, Brisbane. So, here we go, in the order they appear on the ballot:
  • Ewan Saunders (Socialist Alliance): The Socialist Alliance are left-wing crazies. They don't have much info on their house candidates, and I don't much care to read what they do have, because a brief foray into their policies just made me giggle.
  • Ted O'Brien (Liberal): The liberals' policies, seem centred around throwing lots of cash at the buzzword of the election so far, "working families". There's also a good whack of pork barrelling for roads and sporting facilities in marginal seats (or so it seems to me). Their very mild tax break/reform has been largely offset by all this, as far as I'm concerned. The candidate, Ted O'Brien, seems to be some sort of itinerant businessman, which I find less than inspiring. He had a spot on ABC local radio about first-time candidates, with a Labor candidate from some other Brisbane seat, but Ted pulled out, apparently because the merits of appearing in the media were outweighed by the cost of having the ALP guy appearing in the media. I wasn't impressed.
  • Arch Bevis (Australia Labor Party): There really isn't an awful lot of difference between the ALP and the Libs on policy. Lots of cash being thrown at "working families" and a good slab at roads, offsetting a mild tax break/reform. IR is an exception, and it will be interesting to see how much they strip away from "Workchoices". The candidate and sitting member, Arch Bevis, is a teacher by training, although he spent only a few years teaching, and the time since split between being a union rep and a politician proper. I don't hold being a union representative to be a demerit, and I do like that he has an identifiable "trade" (in a loose sense of the word), unlike O'Brien.
  • Nick Contarino (Citizens Electoral Council): The CEC are protectionist crazies, and will go last on my ballot, as they should on just about every ballot (although the socialists are also pretty wacky).
  • Elizabeth Guthrie (The Greens): The Greens are growing into a more credible party with a broader base of policies, but I still have real concerns that they are more activists than constructive policy- and lawmakers. This is particularly true for Bob Brown. Their candidate for Brisbane is an interior decorator, and seems a reasonable enough candidate.
  • Mark White (Family First): Family First are a conservative "values" party, who do a reasonable job of keeping their religious base out of things, but basically push christian conservative policies on social liberty. They're also a party with a very narrow policy base. The candidate is alright, as far as christian conservatives go, I guess.
  • Don Sinnamon (Democrats): The Dems are a sad affair, a party quite close to my political sympathies, but devastated by personal disruptions. Its hard to identify what their key policies are, but they include rolling back parts of workchoices, and much well-motivated gesturing on climate change without really worked-through policy. The same might be said for indigenous and asylum-seeker/immigration issues. They do seem to be strong on civil rights and parliamentary process, which are two things whose degradation has really annoyed me in the current government. The candidate, Don Sinnamon, seems a good soul, and certainly a much better candidate than they put forward in Ryan last time around.
This is all very cursory. Last time around, my reason for doing a run-down of candidates was to point out that some parties I would consider voting for had candidates that were basically unelectable. This time around it seems better. Arch Bevis strikes me as a good candidate. O'Brien is OK, although I'd be more comfortable if I knew what he did - he seems a bit like a faceless MBA-type. Sinnamon is similar, but a faceless advocate-type. Guthrie seems OK, and the others I can't consider because of their parties (7,6,5 will respectively go to CEC, SA and FF on my ballot, probably).

Thursday, 8 November 2007

mo 1

mo 1, originally uploaded by jsteel.

A very pathetic looking first trim of the 'mo. Age 6 days, I'm afraid to confess. (I had couple of days' delay starting due to a job interview).

Meanwhile, Michael is powering ahead, and Jesse isn't doing too badly either.


During Movember (the month formerly known as November) I'll be growin a Mo. I'm not genetically the first guy you'd choose for such a task, and I'll probably end up with a Pedro rather than a Merv, but I believe in changing men's health and the fight against male depression and prostate cancer. Why...

  • Depression affects 1 in 6 men...Most don't seek help. Untreated depression is a leading risk factor for suicide.

  • Last year in Australia 18,700 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer and more than 2,900 died of prostate cancer - equivalent to the number of women who die from breast cancer annually.

  • Men are far less healthy than women. The average life expectancy of males is 5 years less than females.

To sponsor my Mo please go to, enter my registration number which is 168359 and your credit card details. Or you can sponsor me by cheque made payable to the "Movember Foundation" clearly marking the donation as being for my Registration Number: 168359. Please mail cheques to: PO Box 292, Prahran VIC 3181. All donations over $2 are tax deductible.

The money raised by Movember is donated to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and beyondblue - the national depression initiative, which will use the funds to create awareness, fund research and increase support networks for those men who suffer from prostate cancer and male depression.

For those that have supported Movember in previous years you can be very proud of the impact it has had and can check out the detail at: Fundraising Outcomes.

Movember culminates at the end of the month at the Gala Partés. These glamorous and groomed events will see Tom Selleck and Borat look-a-likes battle it out for their chance to take home the prestigious Man of Movember title. If you would like to be part of this great night you'll need to purchase a Gala Parté ticket .

More info is available at

Movember is proudly grown by Commonwealth Bank, Holden, Schick and VB.

Movember is proud partners with the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and beyondblue - the national depression initiative.