Friday, May 30, 2003

Regular blogging delayed

Sorry, my free time this moring has gone on a 500 word post to the Iraq debate in my comments below.

More after lunch if I get a chance.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Reading Shane Maloney

I’ve been ploughing through Australian detective novels of late. Mostly Shane Maloney’s Murray Wheelan series, of which I’ve finished “Stiff”, “The Brush Off” and “The Big Ask” (just “Nice Try” and “Fishy Business” to go).

(I do feel guilty about how little “high” Australian fiction I’ve read. Of the recent 40 “best loved” Australian novels as voted by Australian writers, I’ve only read seven. But that’s mainly because they seem to have included every Peter Carey novel I haven’t read and only one of those I have.)

Anyaway, as with my Ian Rankin review recently, Maloney’s “detective” is grounded in a sense of place – each novel is set in a specific year of the last two decades in Melbourne. Murray Wheelan is also not a detective, he’s a Labor Party ministerial advisor. The plots tend to turn on the internal mysteries of the Labor party, ethnic political factionalism in North Melbourne or the union movement. Wheelan tries to keep scandals out of the headlines, but invariably stumbles across a murder and gets in over his head. His tendency to run on gut reactions without reflection invariably makes things worse before there’s any hope of them getting better.

It’s interesting to absorb a lot of a popular author in a short period. Maloney’s ability to maintain pace, the complexity of his (often creaking but at least funny) plots, his use of flashback, and the quality of his prose all notably improve over the series.

What I most like about it though is his strong evocation of place and the distinctive voice of the narrator. It’s fun reading a novel set where you are living. When Wheelan talks about walking through the botanic gardens, the arts centre, Fitzroy, or cafes on Brunswick Street, I know what he’s talking about. When he talks about Melbourne weather “always being on the verge of imminence” I nod enthusiastically.

He also has a wonderful larrikin streak and an ability to take the piss out of himself, his situation and his Party. On a Labor politician’s adulterous, leather-clad indiscretions:

“Fooling around might be forgivable. Kinky is a matter of taste. But doing it with a member of the Liberal Party is beyond the pale.”

Well, I thought it was funny.

Wheelan is also endearing because he’s often so hapless. He never seems to learn that when you shove the world, it may shove back in the way you least expect it.

Am now reading one of Kerrie Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher novels, set in 1920s Melbourne. She’s terribly witty.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

“Haven’t seen you in ages …”

So, I’m back in Sydney once more.

What I find bizarre is that the first thing everyone says to me is, “You’re looking really well and relaxed.”

It’s nice to know that how well Melbourne has suited me is visible in my health and demeanour, but I worry about what this implies about how I was looking and acting before I left.

I have been gently scolded up here by a few people about the extraordinarily bitter tone of my first all-friends e-mail from Melbourne, which made some fairly brutal comments about life in Sydney.

It was a little over the top, but clearly something I needed to get out of my system. It’s fun being back and getting to see everyone – but I just wouldn’t work here as a commercial lawyer again.

It’s a good thing to realise about myself, I think.

Naylor Day

Last week's Naylor is now up - it's the end of the chapter and the house-party, and Elliot has another chance to speak to Danielle.

"I bent my head very slightly to kiss at the space between the back of her ear and her hairline. A small, light thank-you kiss."

I'll try and post again on Friday to catch up.

Confused? For those who are new to Courting Disaster, I'm posting a crime novel set in Canberra on a separate blog. If the idea intrigues you, you can check out how it all starts here. There's only 16 instalments so far, so it's not impossible to catch up. New material posted weekly.
Iraq: a way to go yet

Alright, so there’s been some progress in Iraq. I’ve been reluctant to criticise the reconstruction because it was always going to be hard and slow. Major towns now seem to have an electricity supply, but much of the civil infrastructure is still a mess (especially hospitals, and very obviously the police). Still, as recently as a week ago the New York Times could fairly say:

Iraq is a mess because the Bush administration failed to plan adequately for the postwar period. ... Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his aides seemed to think that Iraq would emerge from the war as a functioning country that could then be led toward democracy by American officials. Now, more than a month after the fighting subsided, Iraq remains a lawless land without basic services ... Instead of serving as a model for enlightened American rule, Iraq is turning into a symbol of American maladministration.

Even some Republican Senators are getting agitated about Iraq:

“I am concerned that the administration’s initial stabilization and reconstruction efforts have been inadequate,” said Senator Richard G. Lugar, an Indiana Republican who heads the [Senate Foreign Relations] Committee. “The planning for peace was much less developed than the planning for war.”

Indeed, in terms of critical infrastructure, Shiite clerics seem to be doing the best job of restoring services - but they are not necessarily in favour of either the American presence or a secular state. (They are certainly against unveiled women and alcohol.)

At least the new UN Security Council Resolution will end sanctions, give UN inspectors a limited role and place a high-level UN envoy in Iraq to collaborate with the US-led interim administration. None of this makes the war legal, but it may legitimate outcomes and dilute impressions that Iraq is to be forever a US client state.

However, the Bush administration’s desire to see a democratic domino effect sweep through the Middle East following an Iraqi democracy is a utopian fantasy. Indeed, if it is even going to come to pass in Iraq a power struggle lies ahead between civil administrators and the influential and effective Shiite clerics. It's also looking like democracy, or even an all-Iraqi transitional government is off the cards for the time being - and Iraqis aren't exactly thrilled about a US-British occupation authority (UN mandate or no) running Iraq indefinately.

And what about the war’s justification? It now looks like Saddam never had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Donald Rumsfeld wants a CIA review of US intelligence to see if repots of Iraqi WMD were exaggerated. As Maureen Dowd at the NY Times puts it, this is like “O. J. vowing to find the real killer” as it was Rumsfeld who set up a special taskforce to find WMD evidence to fit the Hawkish case. Frankly, when a dictator who was not afraid to use chemical agents against his own population in the past is backed into a corner by US forces – well, if he’d had WMD, he’d have used them.

The new US inspectors are discovering Hans Blix wasn’t just some Scandinavian whimp. There’s just not anything to find. To quote Maureen Dowd again:

“Stymied U.S. arms inspectors are getting ready to leave Iraq, having uncovered moldy vacuum cleaners, pesticides and playground equipment, but nary a WMD. … One of the weapons hunters compared his work to a Scooby-Doo mystery - stuff seems pretty scary at first, but then turns out to be explainable.”

The law of unintended consequences, I suspect, states that moments of farce and tragedy are far from over.

Monday, May 26, 2003

X2: does everyone have blue skin now, or is it just me?

So Friday, I finally got around to seeing X-Men 2 with Marcus.

I really liked it, I actually found it far more cohesive than the first film and the plot was much less silly – though still terribly comic-book (what else was it ever going to be?). I did like the fact that this the X-Men/Magneto’s Brotherhood factions had an enemy in common, but the way they responded to that threat remained quite different. The set-up of the Phoenix storyline for X3 wasn’t bad, with the combination of Jean Gray’s (Famke Janssen) apparent hike in power-levels and self-sacrificing presumed death. (Has anyone in the action genre ever died by drowning, ever?)

Alan Cumming turned in a credible and engaging Nightcrawler, and the religious overtones to his character were far more sympathetic than the comic-book pre-Chandler-Bing wise guy routine. The selection of biblical quotes and corny dialogue about “faith” could have been better chosen, though. (And the much trumpeted Wolverine/Lady Deathstrike fight scene just didn’t live up to Nightcrawler’s raid on the Whitehouse, but at least no-one on screen mentioned "Lady Deathstrike" by that name).

I must say I found the blossoming Rogue (Anna Paquin)/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) romance rather touching; and the subtexts to the Magneto (Ian McKellen)/ Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) relationship just get more interesting (she has utter confidence in him, he sees her as semi-dispensable).

Among the many things Marcus and I agreed on was that Cyclops (James Marsden) remains a complete embarrassment. I mean, Cyclops always is, has been and will be – but it’s bizarre that his complete lack of charisma translates so well to screen. I think the answer in the end is simple: we just can’t see his eyes or eyebrows – eliminate those and all empathy with a character is gone. The actor is just reduced to pouty over-acting with their lower face. Although maybe that's all Marsden is capable of, hard to tell.

And yes, this is another film that confirms Ian McKellan is simply a god.

PS Is it just me, or was the grimy, slimy industrial-chic gloom of the villain's underground lair just a trifle overdone? (And when will goons learn not to carry grenades when you're up against a guy with magnetic powers? Stoopid, stoopid military goons.)

Friday, May 23, 2003

Ten things to be grateful for:

1. It’s Friday. Yay for a weekend of parties, cocktails and movies ahead!

2. Cambridge. It is only beginning to sink in how damn cool that is. I’m also looking forward to living somewhere that’s terribly handy to Europe. (Side trips!)

3. My grandfather’s pocket watch should be ready to pick up soon, then I just need to pick out a chain. It’s not actually that old, and has cost heaps to repair, but a family heirloom has to start somewhere.

4. Friends. It has been a difficult week and people have been fabulous.

5. My toasty little new nine-fin oil heater. In a week of wet Melbourne weather and a house with no drier, I’ve dried my diminishing supply of underwear, shirts and towels on it while making phone calls. Kiddies, do not attempt this without close supervision, it’s how houses burn down.

6. I get to plan a holiday! I’ve set 29 August as my last day of work, giving me a month to tidy up, see family, take a short holiday and ship my body to England by October.

7. Crime novels and comics. Sometimes you need reading matter from a universe without emotional complications.

8. My silly damn dry-cough virus is almost gone. Still worried about an English winter and my cold-magnet powers. I’ll clearly be sick as a dog for at least a few days.

9. I’ve been offered a place at Edinburgh! I won’t be going, but it’s nice to be wanted. (Their brochures are very attractive.)

10. I finally get to see X-men 2 tonight. Hurrah!

Small life admin and anxiety matters:

1. I’ve been rejected by my first-choice college. This is, apparently, not unusual. But your university place can’t be confirmed until a college also accepts you. My second-choice college has not yet responded to my e-mail. Getting panicky, but it seems I may have useful contacts …

2. There’s a lot of administrative bumph to get through in terms of university admission and visa stuff. Nothing I can’t handle, I just keep getting jittery if I think too far ahead.

3. I’m beginning to resent work travel. It’s stupid to complain, but it’s disruptive and tiring. I’m in Sydney next week, and despite looking forward to catching up with friends, I enjoy the travel more when it’s outside the predictable Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne axis.

4. I have that holiday to plan, it’s just a question of finding time to think it through clearly. But I may need to book my flight soon to get a deal. Need to call the Scholarship’s approved travel agent.

5. I need to resign from the corporate firm I am on extended leave from. They won’t extend my leave again, and frankly, I don’t want to go back to having my life sucked out to increase partner profit-share, regardless of the pay. However, I’m nervous about resigning before I have the Scholarship’s funding letter in my hand. (No it hasn’t arrived. The paperwork has to go Sydney – London, London – Canberra, Canberra – Sydney, Sydney – Melbourne for that to happen. I then have to send it to Cambridge. Don’t ask.)

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Naylor Day

Last week's Naylor is now, belatedly, up. Elliot has further words with the cagey Jenny about his missing ex-girlfriend Marina. Does Jenny even realise she's missing? Or is she holding something back?

“She came back though,” I said, “back to Canberra. Fell in with this nutty crowd rather than finding a nice little flat in Kingston for herself.”

Jenny bent down to grind out her cigarette stub in the lank grass and then tossed it with a stone-skipping twist of her white wrist into the tangled shrubbery.

“Kingston eats money, especially if you live alone and don’t bother cooking. She’s onto a good thing here: affordable, cooking roster, and she seems to like the company.”

Visit Elliot at an increasingly awkward party.

I'll try and post twice next week to catch up. (God knows how, I'll be in the Syndey office ... )

Everyone else is reloading; I can’t even find the damn gun

I am rapidly growing to suspect that by the end of this weekend I will be the last person in the western world not to have seen The Matrix Reloaded. It’s not that I don’t want to see it (I do, I really really do!), it’s just that my last best hope for seeing it in company came and went Tuesday - when I really didn’t feel like going out. I’m also kinda averse to seeing a film and not having someone to chat with about it immediately afterwards.

I’m sure someone will see it with me a second time sooner or later. Meantime, I’m enjoying the reviews. The best I’ve hit so far is the review by Elvis Mitchell for the New York Times (no, I will not be making fun of his name).

His descriptions of the actors are great.

On vocal stylings we have: “… murmured in the mellifluous, currant-scented voice of his mentor, Morpheus (the righteous Laurence Fishburne).” I have no idea how a recorded voice gets to be currant-scented, but it works for me.

I particularly like his description of Hugo Weaving’s character: “Agent Smith, who seemed to have been destroyed in the first film, is now a free-floating renegade who can multiply at will, a copy without an original. He's again played by the capable Hugo Weaving, who brings an exultant beatitude to laminated malignancy.”

Laminate malignancy. Love it. I also like the idea of Agent Smith as a manifestation of Jean Baudrillard’s simulacrum – a copy without an original, or a copy that subverts the legitimacy of the model it supposedly represents. (Think I've got that right. Anyone want to set me straight?) But anyway, this is a Matrix film, scratch it and it’ll ooze philosophy 101.

(Yes, I am also aware of the George Orwell reference I just made which the films use too.)

The review also delivers a bit of expectation management.

Relax,” Elvis informs me, “the staging of the action sequences is as viciously elegant as you've been primed to expect” – it’d damn well better be, is all I can say. But he adds the expected warnings:

This second instalment … is a blend of Hong Kong action, comic books, anime, philosophy and the New Testament and has the feel of a holding pattern

- and is there any reviewer who likes the dance party sequence?

Still, his niftiest use of language probably comes with his explanation of its (American) film classification:

Matrix Reloaded is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) for strong language and languorous, extended bouts of the slow-motion, meticulously staged violence that has fans trembling with excitement.”

Oh yeah.

No, I’m not worried that obsessive following of the reviews will spoil the film for me. I know what to expect. Balletic violence accompanied by a thrumming bass track. The coolest, most implausible daywear ever available in a solid range of black. Sunglasses worn under immensely improbable conditions. Psuedo-philosophising and a pastiche of genre references. Semi-trailer sized plot-holes papered over with semi-plausibilities. All served up with lashings and lashings of cyber-punk-lite cool.

I’m gonna adore it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003


The mornings seem fine, mostly.

But there are moments when I am not entirely sure how it is I am still putting one foot in front of another.

Still, sometimes there aren't many options.

Look at me! I’m normal! Normal!

Invader Zim ranting aside, I have been certified medically normal, pending chest x-ray results.

I have to have a medical report done for the scholarship. Apparently, like most things, this is the fault of lawyers – as I’m going to the UK on their money, they owe me a duty of care. So they have to check I’m right to travel, or certified to have the correct number of organs to withstand an English winter, or something.

And yes, there are still doctors who in the course of a comprehensive external examination will place one hand firmly inside your underpants and ask you to cough.

It’s also a little disconcerting to have your armpits and the small of your back probed while someone is talking about their last Canberra holiday with the kiddies. Still, I suppose it helps to preserve some dignity while they are in a suit and you are in your underwear and socks.

I think I would have felt more dignified without the socks, but not having been instructed to remove them, I didn’t.

Still, my liver and spleen are apparently not enlarged, I have a degree of flexion within the ordinary range, my blood pressure is good and the little sample I had to provide in a screw-top container for “dip-stick testing” was, apparently, A-OK. All my results came in within the range of “normally healthy”.

I am, however, underweight for height. Like that’s news. I was actually excited to get on a scale and see I’d broken the fifty-four kilo barrier, but at 179.5 centimetres this gives me a height-weight ratio of 16.7 when normal is 20 – 25.

I think the scientific term is “really thin”.

So this morning was the chest X-ray. If I have lungs and a heart it looks like I should be right to go. The X-ray centre looked like it was built in the 50s: lino, fluorescent lights, old carpet and I swear some of the fittings were Bakelite. I had a peek at the control panel on the camera while the radiologist was out looking at the first set of snaps: huge, chunky, twiddly dials that looked as though they came from the first nuclear power plant. Two were helpfully labelled with masking tape: “decimal” and “buckies”. Not sure I want to know. Also not reassuring that while operating the machine he stands behind a shield marked “danger radiation” (as opposed to all that “safety radiation”). The radiation symbol was old-fashioned too, it had a little “R” in the centre like it was restricted film.

The skinny thing counted against me again, though. The back-to-camera shot had to be taken twice. Just not enough of me for a clear result first time, it seems.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Yes, Jen and I have broken up.

No, I just don't feel up to blogging much at the moment.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Life’s turning points

I got news yesterday that is simply life-changing.

I’m going to Cambridge.

Come October, I will be studying for a Masters of International Law at the University of Cambridge, England.

I am still feeling rather overwhelmed. I have never lived overseas on my own for an extended period. I haven’t been in the UK since I was five.

For the last fortnight I’ve been pretty stressed, in a way I have had trouble communicating to anyone, about “the future”. You know. The Future. What I want to do with my life if I don’t want to go back to a giant firm in Sydney. A ten-year school reunion will do that to you. As will a one-year contract in Melbourne that runs out around mid-October. I had begun to look for jobs that would keep me in Melbourne, the only other option being to trudge back to the Sydney firm at the end of my eighteen-month “leave of absence”.

I had started applying for scholarships to the UK pretty much from the moment I landed in Melbourne. The academic calendar starts in October, my term down here finished in October, I’m still only 27 – if I was going to do it, now was the time to apply. There are three major scholarships for study in the UK from Australia that I knew about, the everything-paid kind: The Chevening (British Foreign office sponsored), the Menzies Foundation, and the Commonwealth Scholarships. The Menzies and the Commonwealth did not interview me, the Chevening did in Feburary – but declined me.

The nice folks at the Chevening, however, referred my application to the Scots Australia Council, because I had an interest in the University of Edinburgh. Monday was my interview with the SAC, held at the British Consulate in Melbourne.

Yesterday, I had a call from the Canberra British High Commission. I thought it was a follow-up about the SAC. Instead, I discover someone ahead of me has been unable to take up his or her Chevening Scholarship and I was top of the reserve list.

I was stunned.

No ifs, no buts, no questions – they’re sending me to Cambridge for the nine-month Masters program.

While this solves the question of what I’m doing next year, in some ways the timing is, at best, bittersweet. I was just getting to love Melbourne, and will now have to leave it in less than a year. And for just on two months, I’ve been seeing a truly wonderful woman. The fact that what is, basically, the biggest news of my life will inevitably be upsetting to someone I care about deeply certainly affects how I feel about all this. But that is as much as I am going to say about that here.

What does this all mean, practically? In one sense, everything. The law I am most interested in working in is public international law and international human rights law. The professional “field” for this work boils down to academia, UN agencies, non-government organisations like the Red Cross, and some specialised government departments like the Attorney General’s Office of International Law. Getting into the field is next to impossible without a higher degree, preferably obtained during study abroad. All that may be open to me after this.

Everything is too vivid, too intense right now. I still haven’t really assimilated what’s happening and what it means. And there is just so much I have to get done between now and October. But this is the biggest turning point in my life since 1997 and I have to seize it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

A galaxy far, far away – with no tortious liability

I got bored yesterday, and I started thinking, what would a lawyer in the “Star Wars” sequence do? Then I realised, it’s obvious from the films that we’re dealing with a universe containing no lawyers at all. Here are my reasons.

The Empire was very poorly advised

1. Any competent lawyer would have told the Emperor his universe-domination strategy was all wrong. Rather than rule by force he should have franchised The Dark Side™, and shielded himself from personal liability through franchisee agreements, independent contractors and a corporate structure. Let’s see the Rebellion touch his wrinkly butt now!

2. However, the non-existence of lawyers in the Empire was proved by the arbitrary destruction of an entire planet (Alderaan) by the first Death Star. No way that coulda happened in a lawyer-infested universe without the Empire being tied up in wrongful death suits for a millennium.

3. With competent counsel, Darth Vader would never have bother with cybernetic reconstruction and going on to a highly prestigious 2IC position to the Emperor before finalising his workers comp claim and/or his action against Obi Wan for his horrifying lava injuries. His ability to sue for lost earning capacity and physical impairment is now right out the window.

Two general points

4. In a world with lawyers, when Leia was captured, someone woulda read her her rights. And I hope the mind probe that floated in after Vader was recording the interview, coz I dunno how it was meant to be admissible evidence otherwise.

5. In a world with lawyers, the Senate would never have been dissolved. It would be calling for a judicial inquiry into the disappearance of Alderaan, and appointing an independent prosecutor to examine the Emperor’s involvement.

Product liability issues

6. In “The Attack of the Clones” there are flying cars in big cities. What happens when these things run outta gas? I’ll tell you what, they plummet several hundred metres to a fiery impact collecting plaintiffs – sorry, injuring people – on the way. The ensuing class action would shut down the manufacturer and ensure a product recall. In a future with lawyers, there will be no flying cars.

7. Ultra-fast-shutting automatic doors in the first trilogy, the ones people step through all the time. Is there any need for them to shut so fast? How come one never clipped the arm off a storm-trooper? Again, it’s a product liability case waiting to happen. Each door should be labelled in three-foot red letters: “Move quickly or this will rip your arm off.” Speaking of warning signs …

8. In a world with lawyers, there is no way anyone could slide down a random chute into a monster-inhabited lake within a garbage compactor. Some idiot would have done it before and sued, resulting in a big sign on the chute reading: “Warning! This chute leads to a monster-inhabited lake within a garbage compactor! Sliding down may result in DEATH!”

9. Light sabres would not exist. In the new films, they train kids with those things! The first baby-Jedi to get his foot cut off would have resulted in a government ban and buy-back scheme and probably an inquiry into the Jedi Order. Yup, lawyers would’ve shut those Jedi down. So why did Palpatine bother sending them off to die in the Clone Wars? Unrealistically elaborate way to get rid of them, it seems to me.

In conclusion, if you really want to see “Attack of the Clones” just go piss off a company represented by a top tier law firm. They’ll only be armed with prestige-brand fountain pens, but man, they can still be scary.

PS Naylor has been delayed due to persistent ill-health. Late today or tomorrow, I promise.

Giant robots

I’m back at work today, I’m not sure if I should be, but I am.

Yesterday, in my ramblings down childhood nostalgia way, I took a byway into discarded hobby obsessions. Transformers, how cool were they? I use the past tense, coz I stopped in at the K-Mart heaters sale to pick up a new oil heater since the electrics in the one owned by my landlord melted down. I cannot heat my uninsulated box of a room through winter with only a bar-heater.

Anyway, I dropped by the toys aisle, as is my wont. Transformers these days are like the weird result of my childhood memories dropped in a blender, a strong dash of anime and all-plastic components added. Dammit, they still used to have die-cast metal when I was a lad. And they didn’t turn into quite such blatantly ridiculous animals (other than the dinobots … and the predacons … and Scorponok … but anyway.) And they’re recycling names – Grimlock is now a construction vehicle, not a metal tyrannosaurus. The indignity.

What I loved about Transformers, other than the whole cool transformation thing, was their little “Tech Specs” card with name, vital stats and a little paragraph about their background. These included some fabulous sci-fi inanities such as the Decepticon spy Ravage’s “electromagnetic emission shield”. As a nine year-old I asked my Dad, an engineer, what this would mean. Basically, he said things like heat, light and radio were forms of electromagnetic radiation, so such a shield could make the robot invisible to radar, infra-red cameras and even, perhaps, ordinary sight. I often wondered how many kids didn’t get these details.

Also, certain words entered my vocab as Transformer names: dirge, prowl, ravage, frenzy, sea-spray and ratchet. I also thought “Starscream” always had a certain violent poetry too.

The coolest thing about resurgent interest in Transfromers by 20-something geeks is the availability of giant de-cals for the rear window of your car – so your vehicle looks just like a real Autobot or Decepticon – stand back, it’s transforming!

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Nope, SARS it ain't

Sometimes, being sick enough to stay home is like getting back a little slice of childhood.

I went into work yesterday to drop off documents and bits and pieces others might need after Canberra, then went home again and put myself to bed. (If only it were that fast. My train was cancelled and getting home took about an hour, not 30 minutes ... ) In the afternoon, I found a GP in the yellow pages, got slotted in between appointments, and said: "Doc, I need to know - am I sick, or just malingering?"

I have a sensation of an elevated temperature and a dry cough. I clearly have a virus. I was in Canberra last week. So, did I come into contact with anyone who'd been travelling overseas? asked the Doc.

"Hell yeah," says I "at my ten-year school reunion there was a guy at my table who lives in Malaysia. He was sitting right across from me."

I blink.

"He seemed healthy at the time."

I still don't know how my cheerful admission didn't get me confined to quarantine, but it probably had a lot to do with my absence of any real temperature - 37.1 centigrade, merely the high end of normal. A dose of SARS will put you at 39 and over it seems.

But I was told that unless I was absolutely essential at work, I should take a day off, sleep in and rest. So that's what I've been doing, slowly and through a brain-fog of low-energy, poor-quality concentration, but it's been fun.

So far I have:

gotten up late (well, for me 8 am is late);

drank coffee and read the paper;

washed my sheets and done a load of laundry;

rang the girlf at work so she could snaffle up the internet deal on accomodation for our Sydney jaunt (5 stars, Darlinghurst, boutique apartment with spa ... mmmm ...);

tortured girlf with news of my morning of shallow self-indulgence;


lay on bed, read a little of "Fight Club", dozed;

made lunch and came to local library to blog a little.

Later on I plan to read in a canvas chair in the back yard in the sun, trying not to bring a lung up. And to continue my childish daydreaming and unhurried pottering about the house. I may watch some cartoons if I feel the urge. I have a lot of "Invader Zim" on tape. I may re-read some comics. And there will be an afternoon nap, oh yes.

Feel free to hate me now.

Friday, May 9, 2003

Unexpectedly cool moment at court

I saw the niftiest thing in Canberra yesterday afternoon.

Surprisingly, it had to do with filing documents in court. You see, when you run a court case you generally need to serve on the other side “sealed” copies of documents. So you take an original and some copies into the court registry and file it, and the court clerk puts the original on the case file, and stamps the copies you have brought with you. This is why litigators do things in triplicate: one for us, one for them, one for the court. With me so far?

Now, all law firms have people in their own “registry”, or “filing clerks”, and their job is, several times a day, to make a run down to the court and file documents. This works well for routine things that are just ticking over according to schedule. Now, to rely on a document in court, again generally speaking, it has to have been filed with the court and a sealed copy “served” on the other side with three clear days before the next time you’re due in court. It’s a rule designed to stop nasty surprises being sprung. When things are running late (ie most of the time) this can lead to interesting situations.

Most court registries close at 4.30 pm, so when documents are ready only at the last minute it’s often too late to send them through the firm registry to the court. This means the most junior solicitor available is sent to file the document. While working in Sydney my firm was only four blocks or so from the court, and most of the time it was faster to walk (or run) down to court than catch a taxi. However, at several court registries big metal roll-a-door shutter things would start to descend at 4.30, but the rule was, if you made it in before the shutter came down, then they had to accept the document. Many times I’d arrive suit-sweaty, muscles burning, and would be only just early enough to avoid having to do an Indiana Jones commando roll under the descending metal shutter.

Man: “Hello, let me in, please, I -”

Court clerk (yelling): “You can’t come in, it’s after 4.30.”

Man: “No you don’t understand, I – ”

Court clerk (still yelling): “No you really can’t come in, it’s the rule.”

Man: “I’m the solicitor-general for the Commonwealth! This is where I collect my mail!”

And that kiddies, is why you should not forget your security pass.

So, yesterday I happened to be in the Supreme Court in Canberra and saw a girl in casual pants and hooded jumper roller-blading across the forecourt. She then trotted up the first set of steps. I realised she was carrying documents in her arms. She rolled through the doors and onto the foyer carpet, and then began sideways jogging up the two flights of stairs to the registry. Another guy in a suit with a bundle of documents met her on the stairs.

“Are you allowed to wear those in here?” he asked.

“No one’s stopped me yet,” she replied and glided off towards the document filing counter.

It was one of the most practical things I’ve ever seen from a law firm. Barristers should really get into that. They’d look great zooming along, robes fluttering behind them …

Thursday, May 8, 2003


Yesterday's Naylor is now up and properly formatted. Bless the parents' computer, I say.

Death by acute hypochondria

I am not well suited to travel.

Anyone who doubts me on this would only need to have seen me at 7.15 this morning, mewling pitifully to an empty room that I must have had bad sushi last night and was dying, dying, dying. Behaving in such a way is pretty juvenile and, when there’s no-one around, frankly useless. I think I’m just cumulatively under-slept and dehydrated.

Awakened again by 4.30 am garbage collection, lay awake fantasising about writing an angry e-mail to ACT Minister of Tourism. It’s the back of a hotel for god’s sake (alright, and a bunch of restaurants) and they have a glass collection every frikken morning.

Crash! Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle! Crash. Beep-beep-beep. Rumble.

Anyway, lay awake in a fit of insomnia, convinced my brow was feverish while my hands and feet were freezing off. Reconfigured bedding endlessly: too hot with the blanket, too cold with just a sheet. I think I’d just overheated the room when I went out for dinner and should have aired it when I got back. And drunk a lot more water.

I am so staying at my parent’s country retreat tonight, dammit.

So this is why I have not done the globe-trotting backpacker thing yet: I am a fragile sleeper, and a complete hypochondriac when under-slept. Every time I travel for work it just turns into a whinge-fest and/or I get genuinely ill.

Just commit me to the nursing home now …

Anyway, met the lads for dinner last night, and it was good. We went to Shogun for dinner, rather good Japanese. Afterwards we went to the new bar missjenjen and I had wanted to check out – Mortis. (Latin, third declension noun, genitive case, meaning: “of death”. Six years of Latin was good for something.) It has a kind of mortuary theme, other than the window seats: white suede couches and a starlit effect of dangling fibre-optic cable. Everything else, though, has a stainless steel mortician’s slab chic. There are some illuminated ultrasounds and MRIs on light boxes and the toilets continue the functional steel-finish theme.

Not without charm.

Okay, it’s Naylor Day – and my offering sucks. Goddamn computer I’m sharing here won’t transmit more than a few hundred words at a time to blogger, and Explorer often crashes while formatting. It’s awful. So I only got 647 of 1200 words up, and the 12 point spacing between paragraphs is missing at the end of what I could upload. It’s there, but I beg you, look not until later this evening when hopefully I’ll have been able to fix it from my parent’s place.

Even dial-up has to be better than these conditions …

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

A life lived in narrow compass

This is weird. Globe-roaming-Ben dropped me off at my serviced apartment in the heart of Canberra City (yes, that does mean something more specific than general Canberra) on Sunday night. He had to return on Monday morning to drop off my shaving gear, but that is another story entirely.

Since Sunday I have lived in a radius of, I believe, less than a kilometre. I have gone no further North than the tip of Garema Place, no further South than the Court buildings, no further West that the Wig & Pen pub and micro-brewery and no further East than the new Canberra Centre extension (it’s a shopping mall). This is a tiny, tiny area.

I don’t think I’ve ever commuted so little for work, and roamed so little afterwards. I’ve still managed to eat somewhere that is entirely new to me each night, so that’s good. Monday I had dinner with my sister and a lawyer friend at Flavours of India in Civic, which was good – and last night with Marissa I checked out a new Thai place in the Sydney building, also very good. (Marissa’s recent trip photos will be marvellous once blogger choses to display them.) Tonight I dine with Jason of the essay-length comments and Globe-roaming-Ben. Tomorrow the parents return from Queensland (Noosa, half their luck) so family commitments from then through to my Saturday departure I expect.

So once the parents are back, I imagine my sister will drive me out to the property and that’ll break my little one kilometre bubble by quite a bit.

It’s funny, I increasingly feel I’m living in some terribly sophisticated village, well-stocked with dining options and beer. I am getting the travel-allowance-bloated feeling, though. There’s only so long you can continually dine out without your body begging for a meal that’s just a plain salad.

Right, time to work. I’ve no idea how I’m going to get some Naylor posted tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 6, 2003

The quality of Autumn is never strained

Ah, season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. John Keats really knew his stuff when writing his “Ode to Canberra”, a city many since have seen as synonymous with Autumn.

Canberra is, as the Big K well-knew, the perfect Autumn city. Sure, Melbourne may rate, but this place has it sewn up. The cool, dry climate is well adapted to wine making and having a mother-load of decorative, deciduous European trees. Liquid Ambers back-lit against the sky turn the colour of, well, liquid amber. Trees that for all I know may or may not be maples drop their big, brown, flat three-fingered-hand leaves all over the place. You can’t walk anywhere without sounding like a primary school librarian having conniptions:

Shoosh, shoosh, shoosh, shoosh, shoosh.

I’d forgotten how still and dry the air can be here in the colder months. It adds to a certain silent, slow-paced feel to the early morning or evening – like you don’t want to move because you’ll disturb something. It creates a really intense temperature disjunction between light and shadow. Building shadows become deep, cold dark sea-bed depths, and the shock of ultra-rapid depressurisation into strong, cloudless sunlight can just leave you going, Ahhhhh. I’m surprised more people don’t just fall over in Garema Place purring like cats.

(Well, I guess people do fall over in Garema Place, but usually late at night and for reasons that have little to do with being abuzz for Autumn and more to do with having just taken a hit in a public lavatory.)

The quality of Autumn, part II

I’d forgotten the quality of the light here. Sure, you can get a smog haze – not from traffic but from everyone turning on their wood-fired stoves and fireplaces at the same time, which in a valley can result in a nifty “atmospheric inversion”, but generally the air really is clearer than most other big cities. Strict planning laws enforcing a lower man-made skyline also starkly bring that Australian “big sky” right into the heart of the city. The result is that concrete can have a dazzlingly high albedo here, shadows stand out stark on a blazing field of white. Lunch is definitely a time for sunglasses.

And I’ve written about the balloons before.

That said, being back in Canberra (and staying on my own) after living in Melbourne and Sydney feels bizarrely, well, agoraphobic. There’s too much space for too few people. It’s a town where change occurs, but certainly not fast. I get bewildered by little things: the Canberra Centre shopping mall extension, the new crop of eateries and bars, the fact that one of my favourite Vietnamese restaurants, Little Saigon, has moved across the road from where it used to be and its corner-store shopfront is now a Lebanese takeaway. Seeing faces from my own past occasionally only adds to the surrealism of my impressions.

Like standing up too fast and getting head-spins, it feels pleasant in a weird small way.

Monday, May 5, 2003

Having trouble with blogger today

For reasons surpassing human understanding (but I suspect having more to do with the crap computer I have to share in Canberra than Blogger), today's entry has had to be posted in four parts to get it published at all. I apologise for the break in the flow and will attempt to consolidate them later.

In Canberra once again

Here I am, back in the homeland.

Well, the area I went to school at least. So, I attended my school reunion Saturday night, I had fun, but it illustrated one point admirably: I've kept in touch with a select group of people for a reason. It was very interesting to see how people were doing, but there were no surprise recognitions of people I should really have kept up with and haven't. Also interesting to note that almost everyone had a generic corporate job. Ah, the benefits of middle-class, private education.

We all wound up afterwards at Filthy McFadden's, a pub that could almost be a metaphor for how little Canberra seems to change while you are away.

Anyway, it's been fabulous to see earth-roaming-Ben again, and pass Sunday with him. Am now safely ensconsced in the apartment booked by work, where I did not sleep as well as the seemingly comfortable surrounds might indicate.

I loathe 5 am garbage collections. Particularly when it's recycling day and there are giant skips filled with glass bottles from the nearby restaurants. Argh. Still, the apartment is very centrally located, and the parents are back Thursday - at which point my old room may start looking good.

Nonetheless, we're busy, I'm sharing a computer (don't ask) and blogging on stolen time.

More from nostalgia lane later.

Friday, May 2, 2003

Meredith's Friday writing class

I've taken the challenge, writing a paragraph where every word contains the letter 'e'. Not as tricky as it sounded, though my result is pompous, Romanticised and riddlingly obscure.

Life’s course

Every achievement I’ve ever made came unexpectedly. Well, perhaps I’ve misphrased. The issue, the key, I’ve discovered lies outside some settled project. Travel, therein the necessity: objectives seldom are themselves achieved, yet opportunities come when we move purposefully. Other wonders then result, perhaps unintentionally. The place, the time - these are essential, however, mere chance doesn’t present opportunities alone. Active travel between life’s new stages creates new openings, new chances. Teleology? Redundant concept. We are choice-made, usage-shaped. Destiny comes of desire lived, flexibility, chances seized.

Recent viewing: “Buffy”, “Get Carter”

Watched Buffy with missjenjen last night. Some of the old form: backs to the wall, Giles in the fold, protecting the innocent, some of that old White Magic from Willow, a villain with a bad name (“The First”) and a bad-ass hench-vampire. Almost enough to make a regular watcher of me again, even if SMG still couldn’t carry off a St Crispin’s Day rallying the troops moment if her life depended on it.

I stopped watching (boo! heretic!) during the early University years. Four words: Riley, The Initiative, Adam. Some of the dumbest urban fantasy concepts ever. Redeeming features, the Josh written/directed episodes: Hush (so spooky!), the extended dream sequence (“I do not wear the cheese, the cheese wears me” and the Anthony Head rock-opera number), and the sublimely funny “Once More With Feeling”. Otherwise, largely a waste of time. The progressively emasculated Spike pissed me off, as did retro-stripping Xander of his soldier-boy powers to give Riley (farken Riley!) something to do.

The demise of Xander as a character is the unsung tragedy of the series. As a paragon of geeky, witty, bumbling masculinity he rocked in the early series, but then became a progressively whiney, sexually jealous (of Buffy), habitual naysayer. Yawn.

Even the new evil Willow was nowhere near as sexily compelling as the old Evil Vampire Willow. Alison Hannigan has rocked my world from her first bad jumper and fuzzy backpack. No, honestly.

It’s heyday was clearly the Evil Angel/The Mayor period. Hands-down. It’s just never really got back there. And early Spike (“It’s a really big rock. I wish I had a rock this big. I can’t wait to tell all my friends.”) and Dru! Those were the days when villains were villains, swordplay was swordplay and Giles wore tweed. Sigh.

The series is as dead on its feet as the average vamp. Its final demise will be a relief as much as anything. Doesn’t mean I won’t be watching next week.

Also watched “Get Carter” on the weekend with missjenjen: Michael Caine in a British gangster piece shot in 1971. He looks young and damn fine in a classic three piece blue suit and black trenchcoat, just riding that tsunami of bad 70s cinema fashion without being crushed (unlike most of the villains). It was atmospherically bleak, but lacked variation. The sound recording quality just also wasn’t that sharp (damn this digital age) so I’m sure it took me longer to pick up on the plot pieces than it should. Still, impressive to see the usually exuberant Caine turning in such a restrained, cynical, nasty performance. Blonde hair, trenchcoat, cynical manipulator of old friends and a history of trouble in Liverpool, only living relative he cares for a niece – the prototype for John Constantine anyone?

Thursday, May 1, 2003

Water, water … where?

Access to water is a fundamental human rights issue. Iraq has highlighted the importance of water infrastructure to communities, and how much can go wrong when it is damaged – as it was always going to.

Beyond Iraq, drought, civil war, the collapse of central government or just plain poverty endanger the lives of many and prevent access to a basic right.

The OECD estimates one out of every five people (ie 1.2 billion people), lack access to safe drinking water, and that twice that number lack basic sanitation.

So who is to provide this critical infrastructure to developing nations, the public or private sector? Background Briefing had an excellent documentary on this issue recently and my potted summary follows.

Cochabamba, Bolivia, is the worst-case privatisation scenario. In the words of Maude Barlowe, activist:
“Basically the World Bank convinced the government of Cochabamba to replace its corrupt … water company with a private sector company … and Bechtel, the big engineering company from the US, set up a water subsidiary, Aguas del Tunari, and … immediately raised the price of water [around 300%] … , and so there was a revolt and the army was brought in and people were killed.”

Bechtel had been given a 40 year contract.

Through the 90s supplying water to the developing world was promoted to big business by the World Bank, which saw the private sector as the means to bring water to the poor. Now, the water companies want out of the developing world, claiming, in what must come as a shock economists everywhere, that without subsidies selling water to the poor just isn’t profitable.
That said, the private sector has gone into some slums the pubic utilities wouldn’t touch because the local water-selling mafia was too strong, so there have been some innovative approaches and successes with public-private partnerships.

A big problem though, is local currency devaluation. Foreign companies don’t like being paid in internationally worthless local money. Imagine tis: you are a US water company operating in Argentina, the crash comes, the value of your revenue plummets. You try and put up prices, but people can’t pay anyway.

The French-based multinational, Suez, the world’s largest water supplier, lost a lot of money on its Manilla operation this way. The response? Corporations have demanded that governments accept the risk of currency devaluation, insuring their profit at public expense.

Remind me why we do this stuff through the private sector and not aid agencies?

Did the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto come up with an innovative new strategy? Well, it at least highlighted the need for one, and drew attention to the issue.

But the Forum wasn’t all altruism. Michel Camdessus, former head of the IMF, presented a report of the World Panel on Financing Water Infrastructure. That report provided in an annexe for a suggested “refinancing package” for the water corporations that would amount to foreign-currency devaluation insurance paid for with aid dollars.

Yes, the scarcity of water and rising demands for its use in agriculture worldwide mean that there are difficult economic issues involved.

But the best quote on the issue comes from Background Briefing.

Stephen Turner, Thames Water (a big corporate but also a key supporter of Water Aid): “I think when you go back and try to be rational about whether the international private sector was ever going to be the salvation, the panacea for the world’s poorest, we must have been blind to even consider this as an option. The basic premise that the international companies will be providing water for the world’s poorest is just off the wall.”

Naylor Day

"She grinned the kind of broad, even white smile that parents require money, or excellent genes, to bestow."

Pssst ... it's over here.