Friday September 25th, 2009. Posted by Alex:

Clean clear sky

So here is a very similar shot to the one from Wednesday morning taken at a very similar time on a normal day. Different, huh?

Sky2

Wednesday September 23rd, 2009. Posted by Alex:

Red desert dust sky

6.05 am – I ask myself why the light that filters in is red. I get up and see that the sky is red. I have the presence of mind to take a picture:

6:05 am

6:05 am

By 7.40 there is more light, but very yellow:

7:40

7:40

At 8.00 am the back lane still looks like this:

8:00

8:00

For comparison, here is the yard in more normal light:

A while ago

A while ago

According to the paper, “If it were possible to scrape the film of dust coating outdoor surfaces across Sydney together into a heap, it would probably weigh something like 1000 tonnes”. The SMH has some fascinating pictures

No other comment – it’s just strange.

Saturday May 23rd, 2009. Posted by Alex:

There aren't enough Germans here

Particularly not in the Government of New South Wales. They would know better than to let this happen.

Yesterday Richard Ackland wrote a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald on Bikie laws sideline the rule of law. In order to appear to be “doing something” the Rees government has rushed in new laws. This is because there is criminal activity here – hardly a surprise, with 4 million people in Sydney alone. Some of those criminals are in “bikie gangs”. Yes, I know, some are also in bowls clubs, but be reasonable, they are not so noticeable. Now we do have laws against beating people to death here, and there are laws against criminal organizations. But the existing laws against crime are not always well enforced. (Anyone for a debate on resources? OK, maybe not.) But bringing in some new laws that give the police yet more power to act, with greater freedom, with less supervision, with greater secrecy and with fewer of those irritating stumbling blocks like the annoying “right of appeal” in the way – now that’s a vote catcher!

Now the precise way in which this new legislation sidesteps the basic protections of civilized and humane society is just a tad subtle, and I urge you to read the article itself (link above). It would also be good to read the paper referenced by Ackland, said to be on Nicholas Cowdery’s website – Nicholas Cowdery is the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions. So far I have not found it – can anyone supply the link?

Germans, whether from the east with more recent memories of the “Ministry for State Security (Stasi)”, or from the west with memories of the earlier 20th century, would be more likely to realize how precious the rule of law is, and how insidiously citizens’ rights can be chipped away as the powers of the police and other security forces are reinforced to deal with difficult situations. The road to hell is proverbially paved with good intentions. There are people in power too short-sighted to see that this proverb is serious.

Saturday May 9th, 2009. Posted by Alex:

The Australian Club

The one in Sydney. Hard to find on Google, though it has a short Wikipedia page. It does have a website though, named not after itself but after its address at 165 Macquarie Street. The front page says no more than the address, offering no public options – you can log in if you are a member, but otherwise you can go away.

One might be forgiven for thinking that one had stumbled on a very, very exclusive brothel. Not, apparently, so. Behind the 60’s exterior* we find what is modelled on the gentlemen’s clubs of London and New York. Our meeting of old members was to take place in a library on the third floor. Women were allowed to attend, though they cannot join this club.

I must explain that I am an old member of the House. Marpa House? No. Well, I am a life member there, but I refer in this post to my academic alma mater, Christ Church, Oxford. I was, clearly, very lucky to be given the education I was. One of the best of those of England’s schools (or see Wikipedia) that are open to the real public led on to one of the best colleges of one of the world’s best universities.

So where did it all go wrong?

First of all, of course, I must ask – did it really go wrong? I did get my first degree – just. The experience was hugely enjoyable. The perspective it gave on life, the stimulus of other undergraduates, even just spending that formative time immersed in the immense history and tradition of the place – wonderful. One of the best experiences I could have had. Altogether it was resoundingly half-successful.

Two factors, however, combined to pull my academic performance so low: me and them. The “me” part is that I didn’t work, and the “them” part is that my tutors didn’t give a toss. After I first left the university I spent some years blaming myself. It was, after all, me, myself, I, that did not work. Later, after I myself had trained and worked in education, as a schoolteacher and FE lecturer at Sandwell College, I came to see another factor, namely that the standard of tutoring I had received was appalling. Yes, I don’t doubt the academic abilities of those concerned, but in terms of education, their performance was, by the standards to which I had been trained, the standards expected, for instance, of a BTEC lecturer, nothing short of laughable. In more recent years I have rather got over blaming the College. It was a partnership, and both sides failed. We can therefore be friends. Which brings us back to the Australian Club.

Marek Kwiatkowski, picture from Christ Church website

Marek Kwiatkowski from the Development and Alumni Office at Christ Church was here in Sydney to meet old members. The ultimate motivation for the exercise is probably raising money, but that was not the focus of the meeting, most of which was given over to socializing over wine and nibbles, during which Marek praised the tutorial system. He described it as the “Oxford brand”, one of the keys to the university’s greatness, and asked us what we thought. I answered. I do in fact accept that, when it works well, the tutorial system can be extraordinarily helpful. It’s expensive, but it provides an opportunity for an engagement in the intellectual endeavour far, far beyond that achieved through lectures and term papers. But it is very private. There were, for instance, I am sure, no weekly staff meetings to discuss students’ progress, no inspections as far as I know of the tutors’ records of their tutorials. Were such records even made, let alone perused by anyone higher up the responisbility tree? I doubt it. So when the system is allowed to drift rudderless, as it did in my case, it can go a very long way off its intended route without anyone being at all aware. In essence, my three year technique was as follows.

  1. Don’t really work
  2. Spend half an hour shortly before any given tutorial spotting some question to do with the topic.
  3. Take this fig-leaf to the tutorial and ask it within the first few minutes.
    (So far I am to blame. But…)
  4. Watch the tutor sieze this question with relief – now he can ramble on about this for most of the next hour without engaging with questions such as whether the student has worked, whether he has learnt anything, whether he has understood anything, whether he is coming to terms with his studies in general or with university life, or even whether he has worked through the week’s assigned problems properly. Heaven forfend that matters such as whether the student is motivated or happy should be the subject of whispers!

There is an argument that I may have been fairly clever when on the hunt for a fig-leaf. Possibly. But was I the first clever undergraduate to have a wobbly motivation? Hardly. Did the tutor not have at least some responsibility for monitoring our progress? Assuredly. But that task was left entirely neglected.

These criticisms have little importance now, of course, as the water long ago passed under the bridge and down to the briny pool. It was nice, nevertheless, to be able to express these criticisms in an open way and to feel that they were understood by someone representing “the House”.

(PS Masculine gender pronouns above are true to the period.)

* The scale from 0 to 10 of 60’s architecture extends, of course, from the merely boring (10) down to the hideous (0). I’d give this place a score of 8 or so.

Tuesday May 5th, 2009. Posted by Alex:

Black mark for Raine and Horne?

Sadly, a house near us was repossessed earlier this year. Quite what went wrong, we don’t know. The family had bought it years ago, there has been a price boom since, and even though prices may have edged back more recently, their purchase price must have been well below today’s figures. But one never knows.

Raine and Horne was the agency appointed to handle the sale; repainting and other repairs were done, and everyone in the street was looking forward to the auction, whose date was set for last Saturday, 2 May. Publicity was prepared.

(Picture from the Raine and Horne website)

Auctions are great events – the neigbours turn out to find out how property values are going, there is hope, fear, triumph, desolation, and sometimes illumination.

But just a day or two before the auction, a “SOLD” sign was put up. To our surprise, I must say. The common understanding is that sales of repossessed houses are required by law to go to auction – perhaps we misunderstand. So my plan was to have a look over the road anyway at the due time, 10:00am, to see if I could find out what happened, and of course most of all to see if I could learn the price it had fetched.

But what did I find? Nobody from the agent, not even an office junior, had been sent to field the disappointment of anyone who turned up mistakenly. True, there were not many of those. I spoke to just one couple. They told me that they, at an early stage, had asked if they could make an offer, but were told that this was not legally allowed – the property was required to go to auction. Somewhat later they received a phone call from the agent, telling them that it would be ok after all to make an offer if they wanted. They chose, however, to attend the auction. As I spoke to them in front of Number 52 they tried to ring the agent’s office – no luck. They tried to ring the responsible contact, Elizabeth Casamento – no luck there either, just an answering service telling them to ring again some other time. We agreed to call it very bad form.

As a further twist, it should be noted that even after the date for the auction-that-wasn’t, the agent’s website had not been changed to show the house as sold, but continued to display the auction time and date. On the following Sunday, the day after the auction did not happen, the new owners were seen, proudly looking at the outside, saying that they had exchanged contracts just a day or so before the auction. And now, on Tuesday 5 May, their website states that the house was sold yesterday, 4 May, which is to say after the auction date that is displayed further down the page. This, perhaps accidentally, creates the false impression that the auction might have taken place but failed to achieve a sale, yet that a sale had later been negotiated with one of the bidders. That is not an uncommon story at auctions, but it is not what happenend here.

So not only is the form bad, but there are questions that could do with answers. I have invited Raine and Horne to comment on this post, and will make any explanations they offer available here.

PS: I have received a reply from the agent. The full text is as follows:

   Property has been sold for $640,000
   Regards
   Elizabeth

I leave everyone to draw their own conclusions about the main issues I tried to raise.

Saturday April 11th, 2009. Posted by Alex:

Last week's tango lesson

The Patio de tango website has been down for more than a week, which is bad news for them. But here is the summary from last week’s lesson at Bondi, concentrating on forward and backward ochos:

Sunday March 22nd, 2009. Posted by Alex:

Thank you to the SMH

The Sydney Morning Herald is probably the best paper around here, although the word “radical” would be a tad excessive. But this morning they not only put a story (1m 45s) about a video entitled ‘China’s brutality in Tibet exposed’ into their video section (at http://media.smh.com.au/ – though I’m not sure how long they keep their video reports there), but they even featured it on the front page! (By the way, that link just goes to the general video area at the SMH – you would have to look for this particular report yourself.)

Their front page says:

Tibet: China’s brutality on film
The Central Tibetan Administration releases ‘China’s brutality in Tibet exposed’, a documentary film of what they say are Chinese atrocities on the Tibetans.

Even this bit is not perhaps quite advised for the faint-hearted, although the paper has not shown the strongest parts of the video. The CTA clip itself can be seen at http://media.phayul.com/, and this is definitely not for the faint-hearted!

Saturday March 14th, 2009. Posted by Alex:

Tango lessons

Tango lessons are usually Thursday night at the Spanish Club, but we couldn’t make it this week, so went for our Level 1 Lesson 6 to a different venue, Bondi Pavilion, this afternoon. The clip shows Pedro and Maria doing the steps from “Level 1″, although with more decoration – not to mention more elegance and panache – than we beginners can.

You can read about them at the Patio de Tango website.

Sunday March 8th, 2009. Posted by Alex:

Portugese street festival in Petersham

Folkloric food (barbequed sardines of course – mmm), folkloric music, and folkloric beer. Interestingly, it was clear that what is often thought to have been Australia’s contribution to white-peoples’ folk-music – I speak of the lagerphone, of course – is in fact only a devolved version of this Portugese folkloric instrument, which I can only assume is called the lusophone:

Otherwise we have more obviously Portugese musicians (don’t worry about the guy in the middle, this is Sydney, after all:

The dancing mistress and leader of the pack:

And dancers in full swing:

Oh yes, and folkloric wine was there too. Oh, and folkloric sausage.
(Click pictures for a closer look, as usual)

Monday February 23rd, 2009. Posted by Alex:

Shock fake incense warning!!!

After lunch at Sri Lankan restaurant Janani in Homebush (mmmm… and not a whiff of coriander, aka poison parsley, as far as I tasted) yesterday, we bought some Nag Champa in the Sri Lankan grocery store next door (treasure trove for all that ground this and parboiled that and yellow and red coloured this that and the other). Here is the box I got not long ago from our local Leung Wai Kee Buddhist Craft and Joss Stick Shop, shown with the new one underneath.

Top: Bottom:

Which is the fake that’s pretending to be the other one? If you look closely (you might have to click the pictures to get a large enough version to read properly) you’ll see even the warning messages have the same wrong grammar – and even wrong spellings!

All I can say for definite is that the upper one, with the hologram, has the familiar, heady, heavy perfume I expect from that kind of incense. The other one has similarities, but with overtones of the savage tobacco my old Uncle Len – may he rest in peace – used to put into his aluminium-stemmed pipe and smoke on a Sunday afternoon in the living room of that house not far from the Hagley Road.