30 September 2008
29 September 2008
I found a different and much better hostel this time through Adelaide. It doesn't smell like dirty tourists the way the other one did. And as fond as I was of the chatty gambling addict at the last place the quiet here is pleasant. The kitchen is better and pretty. It has a super nice garden area. There was someone actually at the desk when I arrived. It has a free bus drop off service too, so I won't have to relive the last adventure. The new place is also cheaper. And has nice coloured walls.
The pillows might not be quite as fluffy though.
28 September 2008
26 September 2008
I finished reading Catch-22 yesterday. I started it when I was quite young, but it didn't quite appreciate it. But it really is quite brilliant. It might be the funniest book I have ever read, but so compassionate too. I don't think I realised at first how serious it was, but just how important it is slowly dawned on me. It is very very good.
I read The Guns of Navarone the other week, mostly while I was tootling around Adelaide. It was a fun book. Good adventure, with the pleasant taste of literature. Far less transparent and thick-witted than someone like Tom Clancy, but just as entertaining.
I think I am deciding to be a good, old-fashioned sort of vegan again. I have been for a while. I was meaning to blog about it before. I ended up deciding symbolic lines were actually helpful. The artificial constraints are a good discipline. Deciding what you think is ethical on the fly is hard work, tiring and confusing for other people. Labels are frustrating, but not easy to do without. Becoming a vegan the second time was definitely a slower process than the first time. I hope there isn't a third time.
24 September 2008
23 September 2008
19 September 2008
Spending a bit of time in Alice Springs has got me thinking about economics and unemployment. The unemployment rate amongst indigenous people is probably not as high as it feels, but it's still pretty high (19% for NT in 2006). There's an overwhelming sense of needing to shift the culture to make people more employable. Education needs to increase. English skills need to improve. People's work ethic needs to improve. We need to "skill people up" to cope with the challenges of a modern economy. There are some efforts to instead change the labour market, to reduce the burden of change placed on the community, but these efforts appear pretty minor. CDEP was probably the most ambitious (and successful?) example and that's being rolled back in favour of a conventional labour market. There is the idea that CDEP wasn't real employment, because it was subsidised and the wages weren't market wages.
So while no one really wants to label the indigenous communities as "failing" it feels like that's what everyone is thinking. That's sort of what the Intervention is about. The communities are supposedly so screwed up that the government needs to roll in and fix things up.
But it seems to me that the real failure in the Northern Territory is the labour market. We have backed it 100% but it hasn't delivered. The idea is that the labour market allocates work and incomes to the majority, and all those who benefit from it look after the people who get shafted by it. It's most fundamental promise is that it will find people jobs that are a better alternative than poverty. But here that hasn't really happened. For a lot of people in the Northern Territory, poverty is still a more appealing option than any of the available jobs. There are obviously different levels of poverty and if you removed welfare the incentives would change slightly, but not dramatically. I wonder if white onlookers are exaggerating the burden of income poverty and/or the appeal of the jobs there are. After all, for Quite a Long Period, indigenous people lived pretty merrily on consumption far lower than they do today and only worked a few hours each day.
So I don't perceive there is a problem with the work ethic of local communities or with indigenous people at all. I don't think work ethic is even a factor here. I really think it is more about the options available to people. And that is a failure not of the people but of the economy. It's a failure that I suspect is mostly the fault of relying on a market to distribute work. I think that most indigenous people value the resources and services that Europeans have introduced. But I don't think they value them as much as Europeans and I don't think they always value them enough to sign up for one of the jobs on offer.
People are already talking a lot about this sort of stuff, which is great. But I don't feel like they have stopped being exasperated with indigenous people, which is possiblly just as important. We still offer welfare begrudgingly, even though I think it's a necessary component of our preference for market solutions.
I reckon we need better jobs and a more deliberate effort to find jobs that people want. We need jobs that are a better option then welfare and/or income poverty. That definitely isn't easy. If it was then the market would probably have done it already. And it's probably a harder solution than just brainwashing kids through the schools. But I think it's a better solution.
11 September 2008
10 September 2008
At first glance the Adelaide public transport system appears simple and efficient. Hardly like an Australian transport system at all. However, scratch the surface and you'll discover a delightful puzzle with plenty of twists and tricks to keep the newcomer entertained for hours. Even for the shortest trips. The system is deceptively sophisticated and the disengaged adventurer may be sitting smugly on one train while the train to their actual destination departs only metres away.
Seeking fresh adventure this morning and pretty much being a Communist I decided to catch the local train to the interstate station instead of the free-market shuttle bus service. Catching a bus to a train station when you're living right next to another train station struck me as absurd. Neither did I want catch the public bus. It would surely be slow and I knew it dropped you 500m from the station, which is a long way to and old-school port like mine.
No, I wouldn't be a sucker. I would catch the train right to The Ghan, have an adventure, indulge my socialist prejudices and save money, all at once.
I walked to the station early to buy my train ticket early and find out departure times. I was totally organized. And the ticket was a mere $1.70, which only increased my resolve and self-satisfaction. Who needs privately run "direct" shuttle buses for $5 when the government has already provided for us so well.
I got back my hostel to collect my baggage with plenty of time to spare. There's a saying amongst us train veterans that The Ghan waits for no foolish time budgeted, so I was extra cautious. And imbued with the zeal of the lazy but masterful transport warrior I decided to catch the free tram from the doorstep of my hostel to save the 3 minute walk to the train station.
After waiting 15 minutes for the guaranteed 7-minutely tram I started to worry about domino effects on my precise schedule. A few minutes later the tram did arrive and I breezed onto the carriage the weight of my suitcase vindicating my strategy with every lug.
The tram did not leave and the conductor spent quite some time explaining that only people wanting to go in the opposite direction should remain on the tram. Anyone on the tram wanting to go to where the tram was supposed to go should get out and walk. To the conductor's mild surprise the train emptied. Coincedentily, not a single person on that entire tram wanted to go in the other direction. So we all walked.
The young Sudanese girl with crutches and hardly any left leg was unfussed. She obviously didn't have my finely tuned transport schedule. However, another fellow was much more reasonable and we chortled together knowingly.
Thankfully, another state-sponsored mass transit option was still available. So I walked to the station and the sidewalk we all of us paid for collectively.
I missed my the train that had been optimally temporally located, so I mentally reshuffled my morning, recalculated contingency plans and went off to buy some nuts. My destination was only one station away and the next train wasn't so far off.
Nuts in hand I embarked on the train with several strategic buffer minutes to spare. It was a surprisingly long train for a suburban service and I was once again impressed by the civic commitment to public transport.
Five minutes after the train was due to leave I poked my head out to survey the situation. The display board had changed. More troubling, the length of the train felt tangibly shorter. Plucking up the courage and my bags I walked over to the help desk, worried that I was leaving behind my last chance of a dignified arrival at The Ghan.
A little dejectedly, and fairly sure of the answer I walked up to the help fellow and asked "Do some of your platforms have TWO trains on them?"
"Oh yes," he said with an affable chuckle, "often they do."
"So the 11:10 to Brighton has left then?" I asked a little hopelessly.
"Well it's 11:18," he offered. Sensing I was hoping for slightly more he added "So yes, it's gone."
The next train was 20 minutes away and I had to block out the deafening demands for a taxi coming from my less class conscious sub-conscious. But I held firm and limply sauntered over to the platform of so-called departure. I made amply sure that I should ignore the indicator board urging me on to the train waiting there when I arrived. It was apparently going somewhere else. Once satisfied a settled myself down for a good wait against a pillar and read about cognitive fallacies on Wikipedia while eating nuts.
The train left on time and seemed to be heading on the right direction. I had a mild scare when I almost disembarked at a previously uncharted station but I held my nerve and continued on. I arrived at the interchange terminal which had a healthy number of signs to the interstate platforms. So I started walking.
It was a bit of a walk. Where was an efficient local tram when you need one, I thought. I came to a bus stop for buses to the city. And from the city. I kept on walking. I could even make out the terminal now. And what I suspected was The Ghan itself. 500 metres later I was there, and with enough seconds spare to run down and buy a drink before they closed the doors.
And now here I am, railway veteran extraordinaire, on The Ghan, on our way to Alice.
The day was clouded by a US strike on al-Qa'ida figures inside Pakistan, which angered a Government that is sensitive about sovereignty.
This from coverage of the new Pakistani prime minister by The Australian.
Personally I don't reckon states would have to be unduly "sensitive" about sovereignty to be upset by other countries bombing you. We have such bizarre and unflinching double-standards.
8 September 2008
7 September 2008
... to the voice of a raucous train announcer. 6:27 and the breakfast buffet is open. We've trained through all night and we're right on course for Broken Hill. After eight character building hours of Australia's finest seat sleep, it's time for some eggs, bacon and beans on toast without the eggs and bacon.
6 September 2008
Trains really are the most fun. It's just like being in an old mystery movie. All these different people have been thrust together and are stuck on this train. I think there's some mischief going on with the crew. I just walked past two crew in the kitchen and one of them said "Sssshhh. None of them can know." There was also a strange passenger man standing next to them, who I now assume is compromised. I'd like to assume the best of him but I know that these train trips really bring out the spy in people.
I also found a very noice pumpkin soup for dinner. They have a lot of delicious, budget (in price and quality) train food which reminds me very fondly of plane food. Although perhaps that is not so surprising.
It is wonderful though. So much better than driving. And apart from the industrial espionage everyone is so laid back. Totally winner.
I'm off on my sweet train trip to Adelaide. I can blog niftily from my new phone and write about all the interesting stuff one can manage to on a tiny thumb keyboard. I think any economics rants will have to wait until my laptop can find some wireless.
It is funny cruising past Newtown station on a train like this. It doesn't go fast. Like it's in les off a hurry even though it's destined for Perth and not Marrickville. Now we're just sliding quietly through the Western suburbs. I am glad for the slowness.
5 September 2008
Apparently, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) was redrafting the Children's Television Standards recently. They decided not to introduce any additional restrictions on marketing junk food to children even though quite a few people would like to see that. That's a valid decision on a number of grounds, but the reasons the chairman of the ACMA actually gave are slightly bollocks. He said that the authority wasn't a health advisory body. Fair enough, but neither is it a product standards advisory body or a sexual ethics advisory body. The job of that kind of authority isn't to advise, it's to take advice from the relevant advisory bodies and apply that advice to communications and media. When all the advisory bodies suggest to it that explosive chia pets are a bad idea, it doesn't claim that it isn't an expert on the chia pet industry. It just pulls explosive chia pet ads. I very much doubt there are many "health advisory bodies" in Australia that wouldn't support stricter standards for junk food advertising for kids. Folk such as the AMA, who thought the decision was "unconscionable". What a great word that is.
There is more though. And this part is much funnier. The chairman was happy to acknowledge that research suggests there is a relationship between advertising and consumption. Obviously a smart fellow. He might only have been in the media industry 30 years, and he's already worked out that there's some sort of vague correlation between advertising and purchasing. However, he then claims that the link isn't causal. According to this advertising expert, there's no clear evidence that advertising to children actually changes their preferences in any way. I suspect that all those companies spending $1 trillion a year on marketing would be disappointed to hear this. According to the ACMA all their money has been wasted.
I'm usually the sort to get upset about people assigning causality where there isn't any. But in the case of advertising, I do think you can pretty safely say that spending money on advertising influences people's decisions on what they buy. It is rather a pity that the man in charge of regulating advertising doesn't agree.
Although if he's right, and those junk food marketing fellows really are throwing their money away, he would be doing them a huge favour by closing them down. I would love it if he was right, but desperately hoping doesn't necessarily make it so, even in advertising.