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Archived Posts for September 2006

Please note: The posts on this page are at least 3 years old. Links may be broken, information may be out of date, and the views expressed in the posts may no longer be held.
Sep 06

Richard I’Anson tour

I know there are a few readers who would be interested in this. Richard I’Anson, author of the Lonely Planet guide to travel photography (which is a pretty good book), is going on a tour throughout Australia showcasing his photos and talking about his travel experiences in places such as Bhutan, Ecuador, India, Burma, Nepal and Zimbabwe. He’ll be in Sydney at the State Art Gallery – Tuesday 31 October at 7pm to 10pm. Sounds good! Tickets are free but seats are limited, you can order tickets here.

  10:33pm (GMT +10.00)  •  Travel  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
Sep 06
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Sep 06

Australian happiness studies

This article in the SMH, “We’re richer but not happier” is an interesting one. From a sample size of 1000 Australians, four out of 10 “think life is getting worse despite having experienced an era of spectacular economic growth, rising incomes and low unemployment”. Only a quarter think that life is improving.

I think those statistics, if representative of Australia at large, are surprising and a little disturbing. From an economic perspective, things are going well. With unemployment is the lowest its been in several decades and underlying inflation within the RBA’s target band, the country’s political and economic environment are stable. I was only in primary school during our last recession (the one “we had to have“) but I do remember the gloomy mood at the time – quite a contrast to what’s happened over the last 10 years or so. We fuss about 0.25% rises in interest rates and soaring petrol prices now, but at least we have jobs that can pay for them. And despite the focus on terrorism, eroded civil liberties and various disagreeable government policies, the social environment has been mostly stable as well.

It’s almost trite to say that, past a certain point, wealth doesn’t necessarily correlate to happiness. Past the point where your money allows you to support yourself and your family, everything suddenly becomes relative. That’s why people living on US$20 day in developing countries can feel as happy as someone earning ten times that amount in a western country. It’s an obvious concept, but I suppose a hard principle to live your life by because of the societal conventions we are brought up to instinctively believe. Happiness as a goal is elusive, whereas wealth can be easily distilled into a number.

The article identifies family as the most important source of happiness, but it neglects to say why people currently think life is getting worse. The question asked was phrased: “Thinking about the overall quality of life of people in Australia, taking into account social, economic and environmental conditions and trends, would you say that life in Australia is getting better, worse, or staying about the same?” Which is different from saying, “Is your life getting better or worse?”

The former question looks at macro factors (eg, socio-economic trends and general conditions) which may be quite detached from the personal factors (family, health, community and friends). For example, deriving happiness from your family is largely independent from how the economy is faring. “Work fulfillment” and a “nice place to live” (not sure whether that means a nice house, or just a nice country to be in) which are personal factors more directly linked to socio-economic factors barely rate a mention as a source of personal happiness.

The question about the happiness pill (“Would you take a legal happiness pill that had no detrimental side-effects?”) is a non-sensical question. Happiness is instinctively addictive, since that’s what all of us want in life (even if we don’t consciously know it). By extension, such a pill would be too. But even putting that aside, if we could all afford to pop these pills all day, we wouldn’t need to do anything to achieve happiness, so we could just sit around all day smiling while the world around collapses. But that’s okay, because as long as we’re on the happiness pill, we don’t have to deal with that calamity. Which means pretty much you’d have to keep taking the pill because once you stopped, you’d be facing a reality that would turn you suicidal. That sounds like a pretty bad, unavoidable side-effect to me.

All in all, I do find it peculiar that 40% of us think that life is getting worse. Does anyone have any ideas about why?

Sep 06
Sep 06
Sep 06

EMP Race Report

The second day of Spring, last Saturday, was a great day for holding the annual EMP Race – an Amazing Race-style one-day competition around Sydney with entry proceeds going to Canteen.

The start this year was in the Domain, with around 30 teams impatiently waiting for the start in the hot sun. There was a bit of a delay, but we got going at 11.00am. The first task was to win five games of rock, paper, scissors against any other team, followed by a short wheelbarrow race to the first checkpoint.

Larger map of the Race Route

The first checkpoint was a detour. We were to proceed to the State Art Gallery and pick whether to do a bunch of Sudoku puzzles, or go look for cows in the Gallery. Alison was pretty quick to veto Sudoku (if only I had a 3G mobile), so we were off in the Gallery looking for a room that “looked like a hat” which had a painting called Canterbury Meadows in it. After wandering around for a few worrying minutes, we didn’t find any room that looked remotely like a hat, but we did find a room with a bunch of Racers furiously pointing at a painting filled with farm animals. In a few minutes, we were off to report our results (how many cows we had counted) to the checkpoint people, passing a bunch of perplexed Racers on the Gallery steps who were still trying to put numbers into boxes.

The next clue took us to Pitt St and a store which “Megan Gale should not be seen promoting”. We darted across Hyde Park, up Market St and into Pitt St Mall outside Myer. There we had to sing a nursery rhyme for three minutes (we got Old Macdonald had a farm) before being directed to go to the Fish Markets. As I was trying to figure out what bus we should take, Alison was already running to the bus stop behind the QVB (and this is despite her being a Pom for most of her life). Our timing was impeccable, and the bus pulled up as we got there. Unfortunately, hordes of Saturday morning tourists were taking their sweet time embarking, so we must have sat there for about 5 stressed minutes before the bus finally chugged off.

At the Fish Markets we had to gather a few prices, read the “conditions of entry” to the markets (maximum $500 fine if you bring a pet there!), and other miscellaneous tasks. The next clue directed us to the field where “Nerds FC” was filmed. As luck would have it, I used to do dragonboating in the area, and we used to buy lunch at the fishmarkets and eat it in the park next to it – Wentworth Park – which was also the Nerds FC stomping grounds.

There, we found another detour – either kick a soccer ball around the pitch, or colour in an outline of your partner on a large roll of butcher’s paper. We made short work of that, thanks to the small size of Alison’s profile. We were then sent to Railway Square. Failing to determine if there was any way via public transport, we basically jogged to George Street and caught a bus up to Railway Square. (It turned out that at least one other team decided to pay for and catch a tram to Central and walk to Railway Square.)

At the Square, we discovered we were currently in the pole position. We were then handed two bits of paper. On one was a bunch of countries’ flags which we had to identify. The other contained a “catch-phrase” type game which produced names of train stations. Once the train stations were determined, we had to find out what platform trains going to those stations left from. A well placed phone call to Kev made short work of the flags (who handily had a wall atlas with world flags on it). However, we made a mistake with one of the train station names (picture of trumpets and a bee – we incorrectly guessed Toongabbie) and had to waste a good 5 minutes tracking back to Central to rectify our mistake (the correct station was Hornsby).

The next clue sent us to Newtown via bus, where we met with frustration. The task involved finding out the names of various shops along King St, but we had to retrace our steps several times trying to find the correct stores. By the time we got to the checkpoint, there were already several teams ahead of us.

After the thirty minute mandatory rest period, the Race organisers decided to give us an unusual two-part task. First we had to count the 600+ tiles on some steps, and second we had to cover a meat tray (the type you get mince on at the supermarket) completely with string (there were rolls and rolls of the stuff). The latter task took considerable time, during which several half-bemused passers-by shot confused looks our way as Racers kept muttering, “You can’t be serious.”

With meat tray successfully wrapped, the next clue sent us off to the Paddington Gate of Centennial Park. The lunch break had cooled my muscles down, and the sudden re-exertion on them threatened to cramp them up. Luckily I had a few bus rides to stretch out. To get to Paddington, we had two options – a 378 from Railway Square, which I had never taken before, and a 380 from Elizabeth Street, which I had taken before, but was further away. One other team was on the same bus out of Newtown as we were. They elected for the 378 but we made for the 380.

At Centennial Park, we arrived at another detour. Option 1 was to make and wear a newspaper skirt, as well as drink a Tabasco, chilli, vinegar and lemon “shot”, eat a spoonful of Vegemite and a Weet-bix (Alison once again was quick to veto this). Option 2 was to shred five carrots and make a picture out of the shreddings representing the theme, “all the money in the world”. Which was quite fitting given the gratuitous wasting of food we were engaged in – something that would be unthinkable in most parts of the world. One abstract art masterpiece later and we were off to the “Icebergs side of Bondi Beach” to look for someone named Jeff.

We got to the bus stop, but our run of serendipity with buses came to an end and we had to wait for some time for a bus. Another team had arrived in that time, but they elected to catch a 378 which only went to Bondi Junction – which is not Bondi Beach. A 380 finally came and we hopped on.

The 380 crawled through Bondi Junction where sizeable crowds of people were enjoying a nice Saturday afternoon of shopping. It was quite hot – just like a summer’s day and the bus ride made us incredibly drowsy. All the running about was taking its toll.

Finally we got to Bondi and we made a beeline for Icebergs. We couldn’t find anyone that looked like they were part of the Race. We asked the bouncer but he replied that there wasn’t a Jeff there. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, we ascertained we were meant to be down on the beach and not up at Icebergs. On the beach, we were to build up a pile of sand to knee height. Exploiting the lack of guidelines surrounding that instruction, we simply took a previous team’s pile and moved it across one metre to make our own.

Next destination: “Take a 30 minute walk to Tamarama.” And walk we did, because there was no way we were going to be running at that stage. On the way, we walked past Icebergs again, past a group of guys in newpaper skirts talking to a bouncer who was yelling: “For the tenth time, there’s no Jeff here! Now go away!”

The coastal walk between the eastern suburbs beaches (Bondi, Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly, Coogee) is normally a nice one, but we weren’t really in a condition to appreciate the view. Along the way we had time to digest the next clue, which detailed a manual labour task involving filling up a bucket with seawater using a milk carton with holes poked into it. That was the description, but the reality was a rude shock.

When we pulled up at Tamarama, the “buckets” were large margarine containers and the “milk cartons” were the small containers your grandmother keeps her pills in. With a hole in the bottom of them. The containers were all placed at least 25 metres from the sea, necessitating a dozen torturous trips over the soft sand to shuttle water to our container.

After that sadistic task, the final leg was a painful walk down to Bronte Beach. (My calf muscles had all but packed it in at that stage and I was literally on the verge of cramping with every step.)

We finished just before 4.30pm, placing 5th, with the winners ariving at 4.13pm. Despite the pain involved, it was actually a very fun day! Till next year then.

Sep 06
Sep 06

The Tampa revisited

There was a recent article by Julian Burnside QC on the 2001 Tampa Incident. It was opened up to comments, and there were a high proportion of them that were quite disturbing. Interestingly, it seems that Burnside has invested a lot of time into replying to the more negative comments, the result of which can be described as no less than complete ownage. It’s not so much an argument, or even a discussion, but a total schooling of those who really haven’t spent any time considering the issues.

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