The wit of The Economist

I'm a big fan of The Economist as a foil to the hopelessly biased, provincial papers in Australia. Their clipped, accurate prose and quality proofreading make it a joy to read.

They're also not above slipping in the odd pointed barb, in their dry style of humour. I particularly like this one:
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a Paris-based think-tank for rich countries

Pointed barbs like that would have bigwigs at a stuffy organisation like the OECD spluttering into their brandies. Subtle and understated. I love it!

Cynicism is the default when talking about transport in NSW

Ben Fowler is right to be cynical about the NSW government's planned metro railway. After all, Action for Transport 2010, launched in 1998, was supposed to see us have a railway line from Chatswood to Parramatta, a North West Rail Link, 7 rapid bus transitways and an extensive bicycle network. Also started by 2010 was to be a new line linking Strathfield to Hurstville, a link to allow trains to run from Fairfield to Hurstville, a railway to Bondi Beach, and a pony for every child in NSW. Instead the only parts that were implemented as publicised were the roads projects. This is precisely what transport activists lobbying for public transport predicted at the time.

The problem we have is that roads can be started and completed within an election cycle. Heavy rail and the like takes much more time. So our gormless politicans have every incentive to talk about public transport while doing nothing.

What's more, our government is still working to the 1945 County of Cumberland Main Road Development Plan, Sydney's answer to Los Angeles, where freeways have been such a success. Just have a look and see how much of it they've managed to build. Notice how the next links in the motorway network are still those from this 1945 planning document?

Now if you were serious about new rail in Sydney, there are two areas that urgently need attention.

The big bottleneck is Central station going into the City Circle. At this point you have seven lines reduced to two, which causes obvious problems. My solution to this would be to install a very fast, very regular metro-style line underneath the platforms at Central and connecting to the city. All the suburban trains then stop at Central (except the through trains to North Shore and Eastern Suburbs) and passengers change to the metro for the final part of the journey. This system, of course, requires that the metro be incredibly regular, every five minutes as a minimum for peak hour, and the interchange be cleverly thought out. It's basically the same system used in Paris (RER and metro) and Tokyo (JR and subway).

The second big thing that's required is a vast new network of suburban lines. There are huge swathes of Sydney that don't have railways, with the city expanding in all directions even further out of the reach of public transport. A massive programme building lines to these areas will improve many social indicators for these areas by improving transport. After all, what do you think 12-17 year olds do when they can't get our of their suburban hell because there's no public transport? That's right, they fuck, commit crimes, take smack. Here's my prediction: Castle Hill will experience a crime wave in the next ten years or so, precisely because of this factor. Rouse Hill will be a bit later.

Howard's right: it is our hurricane Katrina

Howard has been quoted as saying the "emergency" in Australian indigenous communities is "Australia's own hurricane Katrina" and I think he's right. Just as Bush did nothing for years knowing about the danger, Howard's government has had more than ten years to sort this situation out, or at least make some inroads.

Instead they've been pushing their ideology instead of actual solutions, talking about "mutual obligation", encouraging property ownership over traditional shared ownership, fighting tooth and nail to stop the land rights movement and of course refusing to apologise for the mistakes of the past, mistakes often made in the same paternalistic frame of the current intervention.

Now it's all come back to haunt them. Where Bush will be remembered for Lake George, the puddle that was once New Orleans, Howard will be remembered for his refusal to do anything to help indigenous Australia, and acting far too late and with characteristic paternalism.

I must say, I certainly agree with Howard when he says "we should have been more humble". If only he were.

Sydney has a long way to go on transport

I've been out to Telstra Stadium in the Olympic precinct twice in the last few weeks. The first for the Australia vs Uruguay football match and last night for the Swans vs Collingwood AFL match. They've really got a lot of things sorted out in this development, testament to what you can do when you've got an unlimited budget and a hard deadline.

The first time we drove out because we were going with Holly's Dad and he wanted to drive. It was a nightmare and we nearly missed kickoff, traffic jams starting miles away from the car parks. And you have to pay an exorbitant amount to park, then walk miles to get to the stadium.

Last night I caught the train and my 17:05 train from St Peters to Redfern got me, after changing, to the stadium by 17:25. Amazing! And the price of transport is included in the ticket for the match.

The thing that blows me away, though, is the number of cars we saw queued up to leave after the match. So despite the public transport being free and insanely efficient, loads of people still chose to take the expensive, slow and frustrating transport option.

We've got a long way to go to get these people out of their cars. I'm not sure what more you can do though, considering the alternative is so damn good.

Church sticks nose into state

A delusionary man who believes in fairies has stuck his nose into NSW politics threatening our representatives with "consequences" if they support a law expanding stem cell research. Evidently this theist doesn't recognise the need to separate church and state.

What's happening here is quite clear, but they'd never admit it out loud. They lost the argument on abortion. Abortion is widely supported in the community, including by many of the less rabid theists. Now they're trying to achieve the same aim by other means.

This from a man who says abortion is worse than pedophilia. At least with the latter, being in the Catholic church, he's likely to have some first-hand experience.

I'm all for the resumption of whaling

Last night on the news the Japanese delegation to the International Whaling Commission proposed a compromise that would see commercial whaling start up again. They want to allow coastal whaling in Japanese waters.

Now I'm actually all for traditional whaling communities continuing to hunt whales. But there's a catch: they have to use traditional methods. None of these steel-hulled, diesel powered boats. How about a canoe? None of these explosive harpoons. Try a hand-held one. This way we can be sure the people are doing it because of their link with tradition, and the numbers taken will be kept low.

I think this is a compromise we should push, if Japan is in the mood for compromise. My money's on the whales!

Dawkins is right, if a little abrasive

There's been a lot of criticism of Richard Dawkins and his anti-theist, with him being compared to fundamentalists and proselytizers. Yes, he can be a bit abrasive and he can certainly offend people, but all he's doing is analyzing people's beliefs through the best tool we have: science. Probably the best critique was the hilarious South Park episode that featured him.

The thing is, we atheists don't want to convert you. All we want is to not have your religion forced down our throats. Stop assuming that believing in fairies is the default position, or that it doesn't need to be defended like any other idea.

In particular, there's a couple of things that really get up my nose:

  • Religion should be taxed like any other business. Genuine charitable activity, and this doesn't include business expansion ("evangelism") costs, can be tax free just like secular non-profits.
  • Don't go saying your morality is better than my morality just because your morality comes from your imaginary friend.

Hope you all caught The Root of All Evil? on ABC last Sunday. The second part is on this Sunday.

Telstra moaning: the media finally catch up

It seems the media has finally caught up with the real story behind Telstra's rants and raves. If I were a conspiracy-minded person, I'd suspect that the proprietors were waiting until Telstra had booked all those lucrative full-page ads before reporting the story. Much more seriously, it's because the media really doesn't get the telco business.

For the benefit of foreign readers, Telstra is the incumbent telco in Australia. UK people think BT with a much more toothless regulator (LLU is still something of a dream here). Americans think if AT&T hadn't been broken up and was still in control. Telstra are frothing at the mouth in an attempt to get the government, in an election year, to make some kind of grubby deal that entrenches Telstra's monopoly and locks out their competitors. Fortunately, and this is unusual for our current government, they've stared them down so far.

And so today we have Why we all hate Telstra, where Mark Pesce (the guy with the American accent who's introduced, cringe-worthily, as a "futurist" on The New Inventors) bemoans the pathetic Internet access in this country. "Everyone in Australia's internet industries hates Telstra, ranging from quiet passive-aggressive fury to spit-the-dummy, foaming-at-the-mouth passion", he says. Something that certainly mirrors my experience.

I remember back when my brother and I got our first phone line installed, paying $300 (this is 17 years ago, so it was a substantial amount of money back then) to get the line installed, then coughing up $30 a month in "line rental". For this exorbitant fee, we were guaranteed nothing in terms of data speed. If our modem couldn't get top speed, tough luck. Telstra claims it invested to build the network. That's just crap, we the consumers paid through the nose for it!

Next is an anonymous editorial from the Courier Mail, Bully boy amigos which interestingly picks up on the xenophobic aspect of Telstra's advertising. Every time they mention Optus or the G9, they never fail to include the terms "foreign owned" or call it "Singtel-Optus", a formal name never used with consumers. What I always found ironic is that this is coming from foreigners Sol Trujillo, the CEO, or the PR flack Phil Burgess, both of whom are foreigners. It's quite amusing seeing them go for the jingoistic approach when they're both "not from 'round here".

So it seems the tide is turning. People are sick of the hysterical ranting from Telstra. I wonder if they're smart enough and will change the tone of their campaign?

TAFE needs to lift their game

I want to learn how to weld, as I think it's a useful skill to have. So I go to the obvious place for tertiary education, TAFE NSW who provide exactly this kind of thing. Sure enough, they have what looks perfect and in the right location for me, this course. Now do you think I can work out when the hell this course actually runs? All I can tell is that it's part-time, runs in the evenings and is 8 hours per week for 18 weeks.

So how do I work out what evenings it's on? There's nothing that I can find telling this kind of practical information on their. Doesn't give me a whole lot of faith in some of their courses.

Update: Will, you're commenting in exactly the manner I envisage. I don't have comments on my blog. I have too much to worry about without stopping blog comment spam. Send me an email! Your return email, as entered in the form, doesn't work.

Budget speech as tag cloud

Crikey has rendered last night's budget speech as a tag cloud which is a very clever thing to do. Interesting to see that the word "reform" doesn't even make it into the cloud. Nor "environment" or "greenhouse", though "climate" rates six mentions, but he could be talking about the financial climate.

Would be interesting to see the UK's budget speeches done similarly. With Gordon Brown's speeches, I'm sure his good friend Prudence would rate highly.