Bring back National Service

Now before you wonder what reactionary has taken over my blog, some background.

On Saturday I spent the morning handing out Greens How To Votes at Wilkins Public School.  One of the disturbing things about watching an election is the amount of misunderstanding of the process from the general public.  People really don't understand preferential voting, or how preferences flow.

I had lots of questions about whether a Greens vote will go to the Liberals -- questions I answered by explaining that the How To Vote flyers are only our party's recommendation of how you vote, and you are perfectly able to allocate your preferences any way you want.  Of course in the Senate ticket this is somewhat onerous, with 84 boxes needing to be filled in NSW, so above-the-line is more likely and people really need to know how their chosen party will allocate preferences.

So my suggestion is this: 18-25 year olds should be required (or perhaps just strongly encouraged) to work as scrutineers or counters in one election while they are in this age range.  Working as a scrutineer means you get to watch the entire process of ballot counting, including the distribution of preferences.  It's actually a reasonably difficult thing to explain in words, but very simple to explain in practice.

I suppose an alternative would be to ensure school civics classes teach this, and teach it through a little election in the classroom complete with preferences.

The photo shows the queue at our polling place.  It didn't get below about 30 minutes wait the whole morning, mainly because two of the three people handing out ballot papers were totally useless.  The video is some random kids who picked up some of our corflutes and were going around spruiking for votes while they waited for their parents.  The kids are alright!

At last, everyone might get a say

Instead of everyone - even ministers - finding out about major reforms after the arguments have been had and the brochures printed, non-kitchen cabinet members might actually get some say.

Instead of the executive imposing an idea upon the government and Parliament, it might have to make a case, think about alternative views - accept some of them even.

Gillard Abbott

Illustration: John Shakespeare

Saying a policy had tested well in focus groups, or had been promised to a special interest group, or was sure to win over a particular demographic at the next election, might not pass muster as a convincing reason to implement it any more.

That's right, governing through negotiation and debate. What a concept! Smells like... democracy.

Shed in the pipeline

We had the council's tree officer around yesterday to look at the tree we want to remove from our garden. It's a camphor laurel, an invasive non-native species. In much of NSW it's listed as a noxious weed and the land owner is required to remove it. In Marrickville, we had to ask for permission.  Go figure.

Anyway, the purpose of removing the tree is to get a shed up. We want to build a small shed, under the DA-requiring size limits, for storage and, most importantly, so I can have an office.  I'm really finding I need some time working away from my work desk these days.  Too many people know who I am and that I'm useful, so getting clear time to knock over anything requiring a couple of hours' solid thought is difficult.

Today I've commandeered a desk up on the sixth floor (my desk is on the third floor) but I've told everyone I'm working from home. Hopefully get some decent slog done on a couple of big tasks I need to do.  With approval to remove the tree, I'm one step closer to building my shed and genuinely being able to work from home.

Rip off Australia

In Britain before the crash, "Rip off Britain" was a common trope for newspapers, comparing prices for identical products with the prices charged on the continent or across the Atlantic. There must be something about booming economies because Australia sure suffers from being ripped off.

We're in the market for a baby bike seat for Louis so we can transport him to and from childcare when Holly goes back to work.  The WeeRide comes well recommended, as it allows the baby to go on the front and can be switched between bikes easily -- handy for drop offs by one of us and pick ups by the other.

From the Australian vendor, this seat costs AU$169. From a US vendor it's US$59.99. At today's exchange rate that's AUD$66.90. Now sure, we have GST so add 10% and it's AUD$73.59 but we're still looking at nearly $100 difference, more than double the price.

What really gets my goat, though, is the book industry in Australia crying poor while I can buy Australian-published books cheaper from overseas than I can buy them here, including delivery and exchange rate conversions!


Here's Luke Nguyen's Australian-published cookbook. According to Booko, Book Depository UK can deliver it to me for AUD$37.57. The cheapest Australian supplier, $59.97. So it's cheaper to ship it to the UK, then ship it back than it is to ship it from Australia.  Insane.

Meanwhile, Australian wholesalers and retailers complain about parallel importing destroying their businesses...

Fat Man in a White Hat

I discovered Bill Buford having watching Fat Man in a White Hat, a seemingly-truncated BBC4 series broadcast earlier this year. It featured a passionate and highly-articulate American guy who'd thrown in his job and moved his family to France to learn all about being a French chef.  I enjoyed the two episodes and looked the guy up to find more.  Turns out he's an amazingly good writer in the headlong experiential gonzo style.


My first stop was Heat, following his journey to learn Italian cooking. He starts out at Mario Batali's restaurants working his way up from dish pig to ever more important stations. It's a fascinating account of the life, the culture and the flavour of high-end kitchens, from the perspective of an enthusiastic outsider. The man clearly has a saint for a wife, obvious when he talks about how he brought a whole pig carcass home to his small New York apartment to process.  The book is excellent, and the man is an amazing journalistic talent.

Next I read his account of English football hooliganism, Among the Thugs, which is slightly less accomplished but still an excellent experience. Buford has a great way of describing the scene and everything he experiences in it that places you right in the action. His conclusion about football hooligans is depressing, but likely very true. His descriptions of life in English terraces pre-Hillsborough are enlightening.

Strongly recommended.

Musical OCD

This came from my mate Mike, as a profound quote from his mate Dave.

Women do not understand mans need to accumulate music, they seem to think it has something to do with a desire to listen to it. 

This got me thinking about one element of my musical OCDness.

There's a really really annoying song on the otherwise excellent Vampire Weekend album Contra.  The annoying song has that autotune vocal mangling so popular with the kiddies' shitty pop music these days, and is really out of place from such an intelligent band and so long after the studio technique has been used, abused and discarded by serious musicians.

Anyway, all my music sits on a server at home and so it's just files in a directory.  I could delete this track in a millisecond and never have to endure the annoying track again.  But then I wouldn't have the whole album.  There's just some part of me that, regardless of the fact I never want to hear the song again, can't delete the track.  So instead I scramble for the remote whenever the track comes on to fast forward it.  Holly laughs every time.