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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

On Me Pat Malone

So me Charlie Wheeler's off and I'm on my Pat Malone. I'll miss me cheese and kisses, but she'll gimme a bell on the dog and bone. She hit the frog and toad here in steak and kidney, the septic tank, but her Oxford scholar'll keep her elephant's trunk. Apples.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Traveling the Top End

This is my first retro-post: it's about a trip Dana and I took over a year and a half ago, but it was fantastic and the photos are well worth posting again.

We've just returned from a holiday in the Northern Territory and we sure could use a vacation!
The trip was full of fantastic views, exhausting hikes, and relaxing swims.
Here are a few interesting facts about the region:
  • The Northern Territory contains about 1% of Australia's population: 210,000
  • It makes up about 1/6 the land mass of the entire continent
  • It is larger than France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined
  • The Northern Territory is not a state - the last attempt at statehood was rejected by vote in 1998
  • Australian Aboriginal people make up over 25% of the population and have claimed back almost half of the land
  • Darwin is the capital city, with a population of 110,000
  • Darwin was attacked by 242 Japanese warplanes in February, 1942. At least 243 people were killed and much of the town was destroyed
  • In 1974, Cyclone Tracy killed 50 people and destroyed 70% of the city's buildings
  • On average, people in the NT consume 1120 drinks per year
  • Kakadu is the largest nation park in Australia, about half the size of Switzerland
  • Arnhem Land is a restricted area in which many Aboriginal people live. It's about the size of Michigan
  • Crocodiles inhabit many rivers, billabongs, and ocean beaches of NT. They had been hunted almost to extinction until 1971 when they became a protected animal. There are now PLENTY of crocodiles in NT
Dana and I landed in Darwin Friday night and got a few hours of sleep before waking up at 5:30 to begin our 5 Day Top End Explorer Tour. Our guide was Nerida - it means "water lilly" in the
language of the Aboriginal tribe Wiradjuri - and we were joined by Sabrina, a history teacher from France, Martin, a recent college graduate from German, Ali, who flew in from Scotland for six months of travel, and Jan & Maxine, from The Netherlands and England, respectively, but now living in Belgium. Together the eight of us toured the Top End of the Northern Territory, swimming, bushwalking, camping, and kayaking the time away.

The trip started with a visit to Aboriginal land on the beach, where we were taught how to
play the didgeridoo, throw traditional hunting spears, and make string from tree bark. An appropriate Aussie-Western mix was the snacking on billy tea and Anzac bisquits. The didge really has an amazing sound to it. Those who master it play continuously through circular breathing. Didgeridoos are built from tree braches hollowed out by termites.

Spear hunting proved to be quite difficult. While we didn't have any live wallabies to aim at, none of us hit the wooden cut-out either! We now know that if we're ever stranded on an island, Dana will not be handling the music, hunting, weaving, or eating-of-ants required of wilderness life.

After snacking on some green tree ants (they taste like lime!), we piled into our 4 wheel drive and continued on our journey. Termite mounds are all over the place, but I think they're all pretty amazing. Many and hundreds of years old, making them the oldest buildings in Australia. I guess they're really the first sky-scraper, too... given the size of an ant.

These are magnetic termite mounds we went to check out. I don't think the termites themselves would be sucked up by a magnet. Though the thought is pretty funny. Their homes are built like tombstones, and all face East-West. This is so that one side is heated in the morning while the other is heated in the afternoon, but the mound is not so hard hit during the hottest time of the day. Termites need to maintain a specific temperature to survive, so if these fellas get it wrong the whole group dies. Pretty intense. The termites work all day collecting their spit and poop to build up and maintain the hive. As long as they can fend off the ants trying to eat them, they just keep stacking. After many years, they get homes likes these.

We drove on through Litchfield Park to do some safe swimming. Know your crocs! We took a dip in Wangi Falls and there were no crocs of the fresh or salt water kind. Lots of bats in the trees, though. A good hike took us up to

Tolmer Falls, where we could not swim at the base because of rare and fragile wildlife... so we hiked up the falls to the source. This was a great swimming spot. Here is where Martin, our new German friend, started pushing the limits of dangerous dives. So next we hiked to
Florence Falls which was gorgeous. Some folks were climbing up the side of the falls and jumping off of them, so... maybe Denis is getting old, but he tore a shoulder muscle when he hit the water. Nothing big, but it was a bit annoying.

At night we set up camp, which didn't take much. It meant parking the truck, cooking, and throwing down our swags. Then we relaxed, talked about the day, stared at the incredible Southern sky, and slept...

The next day brought us lots of wildlife at Katherine Gorge. The road was peppered with not so live wallabies, but the waterfront was full of friendly fellas. There were so many beautiful birds, but the blue-winged Kookaburra was particularly intriguing. Maybe the bower bird was the coolest, though. This bachelor bird decorates his pad with heaps of scraps of the same colour. This dude picked white. He'll try to attract female bower birds to his abode with this trinkets and take as many female partners as he can. Looks like he doesn't like us being so close. The eight of us paired off into... uh, pairs... and set to kayayoeing (or canoeyaking) upstream through the gorge. The boats were somewhat of a cross between a kayak and a Canadian canoe. Can anyone tell me why they call them "Canadian canoes" outside of the US? Their are thirteen gorges, each one separated from the next by rocks, over which we had to pick up and carry the floating human capsules. The Second Gorge was the most impressive of the three we did. We were on the water for 6 hours. To get to the far gorges you have to do an overnight trip. If you try it, you better get a light kayak! There were some "freshies" in the gorge, but they don't mind human swimmers, just don't go up on the beaches where they nest.

This snake neck bird was putting on a show for us. Katherine Gorge was a great day - and they have motor boat tours for you lazy folks

The Third day we entered Kakadu National Park after stopping at a convenience store on the border. This land is so sparse that the convenience store is on most maps. Look on the bottom left for the Wirnwirnmila Mary River Roadhouse. Many people say that Litchfield Park and Katherine Gorge are "better" than Kakadu. I think a big reason for this is that much of Kakadu is very hard to get to. Unless you have the proper vehicle you can't drive down most roads. While Litchfield and Katherine were beautiful, Kakadu seemed like a land from another time. Even though more people go to Kakadu as tourists, we still found a great place for a private dip.

During the trip we had to collect firewood for the fires to make dinner and breakfast. We stopped along the road and poked through the wood, dragging the pieces back to the truck. We usually stopped at spots that had recently been burned as part of routine, scheduled burning to prevent non-routine, unscheduled burning. During the wet season, the area turns into a jungle. All this flora dries up during the dry season and, obviously, is at risk of catching fire. The longer the bush goes without fire, the worse the fire would be. This is why the fires are set early on in the dry season. The history and reason for planned burning is long and still debated. Since I don't have a degree in horticulture or sociology, this is just a summary of what I understand has happened, based on limited reading:
  • Australia was all jungle
  • Man arrives
  • Man sets fire to jungle so animals would flee and be easier to hunt
  • Jungle burnt completely
  • Jungle becomes desert
  • Jungle semi-regenerated yearly during the wet season
  • Half-assed jungle dries up during dry season
  • Man learns to burn dried bush to prevent uncontrolled fire
  • New man arrives and stops controlled burning
  • Serious bushfires prove to be... serious
  • New man starts controlled fire
And there you have it. I think.

Here we are collecting firewood

The bush shortly after a fire. As you can see, the plants regenerate quickly. By burning yearly, they prevent the fires from being so large they destroy the trees. Amazing as it is, the animals all get out of the way in time. Well, we like to think so. I'm sure some bunnies get toasted... but they're not supposed to be here anyway!

We took a healthy hike along a river and then up above Barramumdi Gorge. I guess it was Barramundi Falls. Either way, we were right at the top of the falls and looking down you could see the massive barramundi (fish) in the water. This place had loads of great places in which to swim and explore. I think this was the most fun swimming spot. Just being at the top of the falls like that was invigorating.

Back on the road... we stopped to take some shot of cathredral termite mounds which are all over the countryside. The termites just run underground while the bush burns. They return to their mounds and keep working. Some of them are hundreds of years old. We learned at an Aboriginal art site that paintings have been placed on top of existing paintings, which is cool, you just can't retrace the lines of an existing painting, else your interfere with the spirit of the original painter.

And we continued on. After a night in Kakadu, we decided to drive though a river. Hey, why not? Well, we did so to get to Twin Falls. This is one of the most spectacular sites in Kakadu. During the wet season you can't get anywhere near it, but in summer it's dry enough to kill a cane toad. We hiked up the mountain and stood in the riverbed. You can imagine what the falls are like at their peak. During our visit we took advantage of the calm river and pools at the top. After hiking back down to the bottom we got on a boat to the foot of the falls.
This is a trap. They put a dead pig in it, wait for the croc to enter, close it, then a) release it in a river where fewer people go, b) put it in a crocodile farm, or c) kill it and give the meat to locals for food. Seems fair. Twin Falls is more of a trickle during the wet season. The water falling comes from underneath the riverbed. Our Group had a nice lunch and crocodile-free trip to Twin Falls and a safe drive home.

Jim-Jim was incredible. This place is (of course) unapproachable during the wet season, but the falls stop entirely during the dry season... becoming Jim-Jim Gorge, which is an excellect swimming spot. It's hard to imagine what this place looks like during the rains, but I don't think I would be swimming in it then.

Our last night we stayed at a campsite by Sandy Billabong, which was beautiful but creepy. In 2002 a German woman was killed at this same campsite. With the consent of her tour guide she went for a dip in this water and was eaten. If you want to know a bit more about this terrible story, here is an article. Sad story.

On our final day we went to Ubirr. This is a gorgeous spot and where much of Crocodile Dundee was filmed! Here is where he fought the croc. But, even more significant than that, it is the home to some of the oldest art in the world. Aboriginal rock art is all over the area. Some paintings are estimated to be thousands of years old. It was a bit tough to get a photo of it, but one depicted a Tasmanian Tiger, which went extinct on the mainland about 6000 years ago. Some paintings told stories while others were meant to log great hunts or fishing expeditions, I guess for bragging rights. This area was outstanding. If you take a look at the photos, you'll see that the floodplains are green with a grass-type plant. This is not indigenous to Australia but was brought in to feed the water buffalo - also not indigenous to Australia. The government has been trying to get rid of both the plant and the water buffalo. Efforts have been semi-effective as their numbers have been severely reduced thanks to shooting the buffalo, but there are still plenty of both. I'm not an elected official, but maybe it would make sense to let the water buffalo eat some more grass before shooting them. The remaining water bufallo are often a favourite snack of Estuarine (Saltwater) Crocodiles. Believe it or not, a croc can pull down one of these massive animals and put it to a death roll. In other parts of the country, the crocs like camels... also not native to Australia. Seeing as how crocodiles seem to like water buffalo, camels, and white man, all not indigenous creatures, it seems that the Estuarine fellas should go on the Aussie payroll. Just a thought.

Speaking of crocs, we had a quite a view of them on the last day. On a billabong off the Mary River, we toured the area most populous with wild crocodiles in the world. There were crocs galore! Both the vicious Estuarine Crocodiles (salties) and the tame Johnston's Crocdiles (freshies). You can swim with freshies, which grow to be about 10 feet long, and not have any issues. They eat small fish and birds. Salties, however, are scary things. In this billabong is thought to be the largest wild saltie in the world: over 20 feet long. These guys will kill you even if they are not hungry. They'll take you down and put you aside until they've finished digesting that wallaby. As frightening as these animals are, remember that they are probably the only dinosaur that has survived until now. They seem to fit in rather well with their environment and a trip up North would not be completed if you didn't get to see fascinating animals in their natural habitat.

That about sums up our trip. Here we are in front of the truck we drove around in and back in Darwin and ready to... SHOWER. We then hit the town for a full night of karaoke, bad beer, and lots of laughs with the friends we made on the trip. Thankfully, none of these photos survive.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Tonight we braved the rain and returned to our old neighborhood. Let me put this another way... Tonight I stood under a feminine umbrella, braving the taunts of Aussie blokes, as I hailed a cab to take us to a neighborhood we used to know but has since changed dramatically.

The restaurant we went to has not changed much since we lived down the street from it. Except I think they've changed the oil in their fryer since then. The quality has not changed, that's for sure. That's for damn sure. We enjoyed beef tataki, sushi, sashimi, beetroot salad, etc.

The music was great too. The Freefall Jazz Duo played - and played very well - while we ate. Is it a rite of induction for jazz players to be shaved bald? Is Ms Spears looking into jazz?

The food at Jazushi had me thinking of nothing but the food at Jazushi, but the music brought back other memories... some really great memories of free music in New York.
I'll have to leave out music for music's sake, like Broadway shows and concerts. This is more spontaneous music experiences:

1. The Duplex in Greenwich Village. I popped down here in 1999 with my brother Pat and his fiance Jen (now wife) after a meal. They didn't know it was a gay piano bar. The rainbow flag draped over the piano should have been a clear sign. The guys singing show tunes should have been another. Pat got it after his second gin & tonic while I was up doing my best Nancy Sinatra. (Yes I'm confident.)

2. Arthur's Tavern in Greenwich Village - Frankie Paris & Cold Sweat. I have countless memories from this repeat event, but there are some real gems... Bringing Paul Spoonhower over, jamming with Jason Sauser, and Frankie Paris passing the mic to sing for a bit since he recognized me.

3. Scary Canary in Sydney CBD - some DJ. For me this was impromptu. Fantastic music just a block away, but I had to go home to bed before it finished. Dana forgot her keys and was trying to wake me with the buzzer when my other Scary Canary friends were walking by. They gave her protection and shelter until Sunday.

3. The Duplex in Greenwich Village. Yep, again. In 2003 we swung by, this time with Chris and Jan as well as Pat & Jen. I sung another diddy, but in my memory the greatest moment was Chris and Pat trying to get the bartender to put the Mets games on TV.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Case of the Actually's

Summer colds have their way of digging into an office and spreading quickly from one person to the next. There was a recent outbreak of Actually in my office and I'm still fighting it. I think I know who brought it in, with "actually" breaking out several times in single sentences spoken by a coworker for the past few weeks. I'm sure my coworker thought that the virus could be beat and carried on, but it has spread: today I heard "actually" spoken over a hundred times, and almost never meant to express wonder, surprise, or incredulity.

Actually I heard the actual word spoken quite often actually.


None of us are safe.

Yes, I just got over a case of the Basically's and am not looking forward to dealing with the Actually's. If you work in an office and catch a language bug, please stay home until you are well.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

More on the Below (EFR)

I have to say that the Emergency First Response course was very rewarding, and I would feel much more comfortable attending to a dead or nearly dead human being now. Peter kept the course from being dry without actually getting us wet. More than half of the time was spend reacting to scenarios or at least physically doing things. Please take a course like this. Why? Because if I'm with you and you need it, I can help you. If I need it, what are you going to do, huh? Plus you get to learn how to use a defibrillator! I've had one used on me, now I know how to get someone back.

Hello, My Name Is Denis, I'm An Emergency First Responder, May I Help You? Hello? [tap tap tap] Hello? Can You Hear Me?

Last night and Monday night I attended an Emergency First Response training course at Abyss Diving with my mate Brett (pictured right). Peter Letts (pictured left) was seriously bruised up by an angry mob of scuba divers. Luckily we were there and able to help.

EFR is great training, and it's required - or an equivalent - for the PADI Rescue Course Brett and I are taking next week. While the Scuba side of things will focus on water-related first aid like CPR on a human while in the ocean, the EFR course focussed on land-based first aid like CPR on a human while in a classroom. Both cover how to treat a human whose arm has been bitten off (either by a shark or Mike Tyson).

You may have guessed by the title that the intro we are to give to non-breathing unconscious person is, "Hello, my name is ___, I'm an emergency first responder." Then we poke them really hard with a finger, whether or not they show sign of being conscious.

If they are conscious, we say, "Why the hell were you on the floor pretending to be a non-breathing unconscious person?"

If they are not conscious... I think I forget that part. Hold on, I have a book here.

Got it. We say, "The City is once again a major partner of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival." No that's the Sydney City News newsletter.

Ah, got it, "Llook out Llarry, here comes the llandlord, " and there are two llamas in a house peering out the front window. Sorry, that's my Far Side page-a-day calendar.

Well I'm certified now, so if you're a non-breathing unconscious person and you agree to let me help you, rest assured (and unconscious) that I will figure out what to do then. I promise.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sydney Under Attack!

Sydney descended into chaos today as the fine capitol of New South Wales, Australia, was invaded by a fleet of ships, apparently a coalition of American, British and New Zealand forces.

It began at the break of dawn, when one of the largest ships in the world, the Queen Mary 2, built by the British, commanded by the Kiwis and containing mostly American forces, sneaked into Sydney Harbour. A tremendous response fleet of volunteer craft, mostly constituted of brave Australian fishermen, aged 16 to 67, swarmed the ship, and the New South Wales fire brigade released their fleet to propel the monstrous vessel. The QM2, nearly the size of the Empire State Building, recklessly, audaciously and easily plowed though our first line of defense.

Arriving as such a surprise, the ship was able to quickly sink anchor near the homes of Nicole Kidman, Mel Gibson and Russel Crowe. Wire services say the celebrities were safely brought off of Australian territory, thanks largely to their ties with the invading nations. Baz Luhrmann, on the other hand, was left to fend for himself. Paris Hilton was reportedly unable to find transport back to her native land.

Over 2,600 "passengers" stormed through the anxious crowd of Sydney-siders, making their way swiftly into the city centre. CBD was overwhelmed and there have been reports of mass hysteria in the streets. Intersections were gridlocked, entire streets came to a standstill and people took to foot to flee the city. Nary a Sydney-sider exists who has not been affected by today's horrific events.

With much of Australia's own army overseas, and it's navy consisting of nothing but what can be found at the Australian Maritime Museum, air support was called in. The Red Baron, and it's accompanying aircraft, the Red Bull, joined forces with the F-111 fleet and several Black Hawks to remind the invaders that we have weapons too.

For much of the rest of 20 February, 2007, the city put forth a steady resurgence, but the stakes were raised at dusk when the Queen Mary 2 was joined by another large invasion ship: The Queen Elizabeth 2. The ships acknowledged each other with a series of coded honks before the new ship dropped anchor directly in front of the Sydney Overseas Passenger Terminal and let its inhabitants loose upon the city. Cruise Bar and Doyle's were the first to be overcome by the wrath unleashed upon them.

Australia quickly responded, firing cannons from Fort Denison and displaying an impressive show of our works of fire unto the Harbour. The result was largely successful, with the departure of the initial aggressor, the Queen Mary 2, though it is rumoured that some 1,600 of its number did not board before it left.

As citizens of this fine country we must continue to fight, and we must continue to seek out any of their number who have infiltrated our city, prepared to perform acts of sabotage or release propaganda to our peoples. As of the moment of my filing this report, the streets are ablaze with the activities of the invaders. The alarming number of shouts and screams indicate that they have taken over. Be on alert.

Good night, and good luck.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Aussies vs Kiwis in Federation Valley

Once a bunch of Kiwis
Camped beside a music fest
Under the shade of a Coolabah tree
And they bowled and they batted while the Aussies sent their wickets down
They lost the Anzac Bisquit Trophy!

That'll make as much sense to my American friends and family as the original lyrics do. Yes, yes, Saturday was all about Centennial Park and a solid one-dayer. After a most interesting cab ride to the grounds, Glenn, Dana and I hiked 30 minutes into the vast parklands with about 80 kilos of ice, beer and snags. We found refuge under a large tree in which an old tennis ball lived. The Good Vibrations outdoor concert was just next door, and we fueled up for a grueling five-hour match as hundreds of concert-goers streamed before us.

The stream continued as the game went on, so we made it a point to draft our guests into a field position. I forget the exact name of the position but it's the one that places the fielder directly under a falling cricket ball.

The match: Nine on nine. Kiwis versus the Aussies, with each side picking up one Seppo. I played for the Aussies, Dana the Kiwis. The Australians also had a Canuck in Kelly. Simon covered a couple of continents. It was a close match but the Aussies came up in front. Dana fielded well for our 7th State friends*, despite being given a position created just for her! I'm only kidding. Dana did field very well, even putting her beverage down once! I too turned a few heads. It appears I share some of the skills of my brother, Ricky Ponting. A second after I took this shot, I caught Glenn's pop-up. It was luck, but some of our friends really can play. I won't name names because if I left someone off the list because he got a duck (0) then Glenn he might get upset.

All these Glenns could get confusing. Sorry this is Glenn, and this is Glenn. Hope that helps.

The Aussies did win, and unfortunately there was some Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi, but thankfully not too much. Sam suffered from an injury after his face had a mid-field collision with my shoulder. He toughed it out and stayed on the field. Good onya Sam! And sorry.

After the cricket it was barbie time. And time for B-Rad to give me sexy. And time for Simon and I to go on a long road trip to replenish supplies so that we could continue on until we heard the Beastie Boys wrapping up. Kudos to Cory for planning.

Cricket in Centennial Park. Sport, food, old friends and new. It was a great day. It was such a great day that Dana, Glenn, Glenn, Simon and I gathered that night, immediately after leaving the park, to reminisce. And to marvel at Simon's sock tan line.

All photos here.

*We were playing in Federation Valley, where Australian Federation was founded just over 100 years ago. New Zealand was very close to signing up as a state but pulled out in the minute. Maybe they should have had a cricket match to determine sovereignty.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Go Johnny

Saturday we enjoyed Cory's well-organised cricket match. Sure I wound up with a bruised shoulder and Sam wound up with a bruised face, but we all had fun. Especially these two puppies:

Yeah, they're looking around like they have no idea what's going down.

"What's all the fuss about?"
"Just getting humped."

I do wish I could get into the heads of those animals. On the other hand I do have this interesting clip. This is what you get when you have a still camera but you take motion picture video:

Summary and 73 photos to come tomorrow.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Backyard Cricket Council presents...

Backyard cricket, surprisingly enough - although technically we're not playing in anyone's backyard, well, unless it's Bill Gates'.

Hi, I'm Cory, one of an endangered breed of flightless bird native to New Zealand. Dwarbi has kindly invited me to write a guest post for his blog (I reached his roof thanks to Kone Elevators). It's all about a game we call cricket, which Australians play extremely well, and... well... we Kiwis just play while we wait for the rugby to start.

It would be immensely unAustralian of us not to participate in a loosely organised game of backyard cricket this Summer - for those of us not of criminal descent, we're thankfully unAustralian but we'll play anyway.

We will be playing for the pride of our nations, so teams will be divided into Australian and Kiwi heritage - residency in the case of seppos ; ) anyone wishing to jump ship will be allowed to do so in order to even out the numbers. You are encouraged to wear any items of clothing - shirt/skirt/adult diapers/budgie smugglers/JANDALS - representative of your country.

As the Good Vibrations music festival is also happening on Saturday, here is a map of Centennial Parklands to avoid confusion. We will be marking off an area in Federation Valley for the festivities. If participants could start arriving at 11am on Saturday, we will look at getting underway at midday(ish) (unless those of us that are there early are in a drunken stupor under a tree).

There will be a BBQ available to cook your snags, roo, prawns, yabbies, echidnas and wotnot. As we're responsible for our own tucker, don't forget your chully buns (eskies) and pucnuc hampers. Salads optional, but guys, you will be ridiculed if there's even a sniff of greenery on your plate. There may or may not be pavlova, and Crowded House, Russell Crowe, Karmichael Hunt and the ghost of Pharlap may or may not put in an appearance.

Some rules and regulations:
- Any underarm bowling will be dealt with severely - probably by flicking the ball up with a foot and smashing it out of the park.
- Bat throws and tantys frowned upon - unless your name is Lleyton, then it's ok because it's just your fighting spirit.
- Friendly sledging expected.
- All players fielding must be in possession of a beverage of some description to reduce the need for drinks breaks.
- The batsmen may also have a beverage if they wish (stored behind the wickets - watch out for the sneaky wicket-keeper though).
- Toilet breaks allowed whenever necessary.
- A limited number of overs will be bowled (to be determined by how many people turn up) but everyone is to have a turn.
- An umpire will be provided by the batting team and must remain impartial (or inebriated).
- We will be scoring (well try to at least), with the winner to receive the ANZAC Biscuit Trophy.

Australian flags welcome - any flags are welcome in fact - as are cricket whites, sombreros and random bikes found lying on the street.

If you're unsure of any of the terminology contained in this post, have a search here.

Thanks to the Sunday Telegraph for providing hats for the day, and for repeatedly providing quality non-sensationalist newsworthy articles.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

More on Howard

John Howard has been Australia's Prime Minister for over ten years, the second longest in Australia's long history. He has been a very popular PM, but this popularity has been waning a bit in recent years. I'm not exactly sure how it works, but Howard has retained his seat by waiving the election whenever it comes up or something like that.

Born in Sydney in 1939, Howard knew he was meant for politics after his successful bid for Class President in 1946 thanks to his "Bring the Troops Home" campaign. After a few years in office, his politics became more conservative. Upon re-election for Class President in 1949, his "Send the Troops Back" campaign was met with lukewarm reception. He lost his seat and was grounded.

After a brief stint with The Muppets in the 70's, Howard returned to politics. Around this time his vision started fading and he had his eyebrows surgically moved from his forehead to the top of his glasses.

"John" comes from the Hebrew for "God is merciful".

"Howard" has an English origin, meaning "guardian of the home". It was also the name of a duck who travelled to this planet in the 80s and became very famous.

So "John Howard" means he's going to guard your home and, as a last resort, pray for God's mercy.

More on Obama

After my last post I've been prompted to write more...

Barack Hussein Obama is a shooting star in American politics. Even his harshest critics admit that he's willing to negotiate and compromise. Just a few weeks ago a fellow Democratic candidate who announced his candidacy wound up spending more time stumping for Obama than for himself. Yeah, sure, it had something to do with covering up for a statement that could have been perceived as a racial slur, but even Rev. Jesse Jackson said that Joe Biden meant nothing by it. The point is, it's hard to not like this guy... but then you have his name: Barack Hussein Obama.

"Barack" means nothing to most people, unless you live in Australia, in which case you should cheer for the guy.

"Hussein", of course, reminds us of the dictator that tried to kill Bush Sr, was toppled and dragged out late at night to be hung before an angry crowd. And before a mobile phone.

"Obama"... just one letter of from the big guy, the West's villain, the Great Satan's Great Satan.

For those of us who see hope in Obama, like me, let's take solace in the fact that Senator Obama changed his name not long ago from Adolf Hussein Osama to it's current state of less-offenciveness.

Will the American people refuse to elect a guy because his name calls to mind a current war that has cost over 3000 American lives and a terrorist attack that claimed nearly 3000 American lives? I don't think so. Americans who think that way would not vote for him in the first place. It's too early to tell who will win an election that's over a year and a half away, but Barack Hussein Obama has just as much a shot as Kim Jong Mološević Stalen.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Howard vs Obama

It's great to be in the middle of this one. Finally I get to be an American living in Australia who is asked about an American politician, and not in a sarcastic tone.

I am asked, "Johnny Howard really ----ed up, huh? What do you think of Obama?"
I respond,
"If you watch Comedy Central, you know as much as I do."
- or -
"$20 if you can tell me if Obama is his first name or last name."
- or -
"$20 if you can tell me what Obama's Christian name is. (trick question?!)"
- or -
"If Obama's middle name had an alliance to a recent-living or recently-made-not-so-living dictator, which would it be?"
- or -
"What was Obama's stance on off-duty police officers carrying a gun?"

That last one gets them all the time. On a serious note, I think most Australians regret that their PM aligned himself with one party. Tony Blair would have shot himself in the foot if he had positioned himself so closely to Clinton back in the 90s... or if he had aimed a gun aimed at his foot.

The positive thing about this whole episode is now Americans know who John Howard is. Don't worry, they'll forget.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Personal Message From MacGyver's Arch-Enemy, Murdoch

Looks like MacGyver's nemesis, Murdoch (played by Michael des Barres) didn't appreciate my MacGyver post. Today I found this autographed photo pinned to my front door with a machete. There's a lovely, maniacal note on the back wishing me well and calling for vengeance on MacGyver.

Keep the fan mail coming!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Personal Message From MacGyver

Wow. I'm beside myself. I look over at myself, sitting right next to me and say, "How 'bout that!" The self to my side replies, "Yeah, it's something!"

Moments after posting my 100th blog post, a Dwarbi's Roof fan, MacGyver's own Richard Dean Anderson sent me a note of congratulatory congratulations.

Thanks Richie!

Sydney Summer Rain

Today was a typical Sydney summer day. Dana and I got up and went for a run, which was interrupted by a pleasant but intense sun shower. As I brewed all day, the sun came and went from behind the clouds, each time changing the perceived temperature by about 20 degrees to anyone exposed to it. Below is a short clip from our balcony. It's hard to make out how heavy the rain is, but the gutters became rivers. And as a man rode his bike the wrong way down a one-way street street without a helmet and in this downpour, I waited to see if he would be taken out of the gene pool before my eyes. Thankfully he was not.

As an aside, this is my 100th post!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Manly Beach

Last weekend Dana and I ferried ourselves over to Manly Beach, walked through town to the ocean side, around Cabbage Tree Bay to Shelly Beach. If you're planning a trip to Australia, this stop is a must. The 30 minute ferry ride from Circular Quay gives you fantastic views of Sydney Harbour and back towards the city. The boat delivers you to Manly Cove where you can rent a kayak or small boat. There's also a beautiful walk through the national park if you head north. Around here is where Governor Arthur Phillip was speared through the shoulder after a misunderstanding with the Willemering people. Phillip, who had named the place after the "manly people" who lived there, ordered his men not to retaliate. This probably prevented him from getting another spear.

Manly itself is a nice town with some tasty restaurants and interesting shops. Walking down the main strip lands you on the massive beach on the Tasman. To the right is Fairy Bower and Cabbage Tree Bay. I didn't see any cabbage trees, but snorkeling from Shelly Beach I did see numerous gropers, heaps of other fish and a snail bigger than my head. A most relaxing day.

Manly pictures.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Cask Ale At Nag's Head

On the first Friday of every month, The Nag's Head in Glebe offers three casks of real ale, brewed by Matt Donelan. of St Peter's Brewery. I make it there nearly every month. Real ale comes from a hand pump or gravity pour, is not carbonated and is ideally served at cellar temperature. It's hard to find real ale in Sydney, but this is one place you can't miss. The beer is craft brewed by a local and tasty, though the serving temperature is a bit low... presumably to compensate for Sydney heat. But when all three casks are emptied in one night, temperature shouldn't be a huge problem. Whatever, you should go if you can. It helps if you live in the Southern Hemisphere. A group of us headed over after work - that's Tim, Glenn and David in the tunnel photo - and met up with other good mates, some of whom are from, like Paul, Lindsay and Melanie. That's me in the BeerAdvocate shirt, proving that supporters of two different beer websites can coexist in the same space at the same time.

All photos here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Fellow Roof Dweller

Surfing around tonight I found the blog of a fellow resident of my building who was also on the roof waiting for The Australia Day Google plane flyover. Gordon was up there with an Irish flag and his girlfriend, hoping the three of them would be picked up by the Great Google Eye. We both missed out. Booooo!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Victoria the Beast Cannibal Goldfish

Our friends Jen and Ben (Bennifer) asked us to look after their fish while they were away for the holidays this past December. We would oversee the fish for a few days before heading off on our own holiday before our house-sitting friends Todd & Candice would take over. A few months ago Dana and I picked up Pete & Jim the same day that Bennifer picked up Albert & Victoria. When Ben was scooping Albert and Victoria out (forgive the names, Bennifer is a pom) they accidentally picked out four much smaller fish. They bought the bundle, and we headed out.

Somewhere on the way home, one of the small fish "disappeared". Once home Albert & Victoria's alien freaking heads were poured into a bowl with the remaining three small fish. Shortly after Albert was swimming a bit funny. Bennifer noted that Victoria seemed to be "picking on" Albert. I take this literally given later events. Albert died. Bennifer picked up another bug-eyed fish who was also killed died. I'm not sure what the name of the other unfortunate fish was. George or William or Harry or something. When the fish landed on our table next to the peaceful Pete and Jim, there was billowing Victoria and three small unnamed fellas.

The first night they were here I was typing into my blog and periodically glancing over at them. Victoria seemed to be chasing around the smaller fish. Then I looked over and saw a small guy floating belly-up. When cold water didn't wake him up I flushed him. I didn't think he's wake up since his belly was open.

"Shit," I thought. "First night watching these fish and one dies."

After coming back from the dunny I leaned over the bowl to watch Victoria and the other two. On cue Victoria sucked one of the little guys into her mouth head first. Of course the first thing I did was grab my camera.

If you watch the clip you can see her chewing on the fish that is way to big for her to swallow. At first she seems to hide it, but she's a fish, so she quickly realises she has no consciousness and there is nothing to gain in hiding it, so she flaunts it. She flaunts it so much. The next morning the little fish was at the bottom of the bowl, headless.

I can hear her. "Look at me. I am a goldfish sucking on the head of a fish I perceive to be lower on the food chain. Yes I know I'm supposed to eat those flakes, but this head is so goddamn tasty. Guilt? I'm a goldfish. I already forget what this thing in my mouth is." [suck] "But it's tasty. Who are you?"

I saved the last little guy and put him in our bowl. He is named Survivor. Pete and Jim were ambivalent towards him, and he's still doing well. Sadly, Jim died last week. I know he's just a fish but it still upsets me. I can't figure out what could have caused it except that he had been tipping to one side for a few days. I assumed he had gas like Pete used to. Victoria returned to her apartment at Bennifer's on the 46th floor of Century Tower where she lives out a lonely existence, cut off from all other fish. Pete and Survivor are doing well.

House Sitting in Cammeray

A few weeks ago Dana and I had the privilege of house sitting Dana's boss's house in Cammeray. Anna (Dana's boss) and Andrew, her husband, are really great people. We enjoy their company and enjoyed their home without them nearly as much as we enjoy their company. Wink-wink. I'm sure one of their two sharp teenager daughters, Iona and Laura, will find this post, so Anna/Andrew, please tell me who found it first. Their house is build at the edge of a reserve and has a pool and a trampoline. Jump and swim. The house is only a short bus ride from the city center but it feels like the middle of the bush. Water dragon and dragonflies frequent the grounds. Cockatoos wake you up the morning, and kookaburras laugh at you when you're getting ready for bed. Much more pleasant than hearing drunks screaming at midnight and recycling trucks crushing glass at 6AM. Anna and Andrew have graciously agreed to swap abodes with us. Thanks!

Yes we even have photos from here.

Jazz in the Domain

A couple of weeks ago we settled into the Domain, a public park here in Sydney, for a day of hanging with friends, eating, drinking and listening to some fantastic jazz. "Jazz" is a loose term here. The music was great but I'm not sure if the didgeridoo backing up a Brazilian whistle and drum band is jazz to many people. It sure was exciting music though. Glenn, Chris, Fiona and I got there at about 1PM to claim a good spot. A large good spot. Dana and lots of friends filtered in through the afternoon and into the evening, filling our space appropriately. Some buggers did show up at the park at 7 and later expecting to sit right up front. I was very territorial and told them to get lost before they got too settled. Seriously though we put in a good effort holding down the fort for many hours. These peabrains can't show up just before the music starts and expect to sit anywhere besides the back. We had laid out our space well and peed out a perimeter, so I was confused how any other human could think it was unclaimed land. Once the undesirables were scattered we continued to have a grand ole time. If you live in Sydney and have not been, go. And go early or sit in the back.Check out the amusing photos here, and hear Stiffy describe the legends here:

Some other vids from the event...

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Weekend At Benny's

A couple of weeks ago, our good friend Ben Waud had some of us over his (parents') place for a BBQ. It was a solid night of grilling, eating, drinking and wrestling. We started off at the beach and moved back to the Gosford house from there. Ben had an excellent spread for us, and we all enjoyed a fantastic night... especially after the crazy eights and Jaggard that went along with it. Midnight bocce became midnight wrestling, with me, Glenn and Brett beating each other on an absurdly small sheet that Ben laid out for his officiation. My shoulder still hurts. Bowie the dog made a good showing. And thanks to Sam and Lana for lift up and Heat Miser (pictured right) for the lift down.

View all photos here.