Thursday, November 30, 2006

Grub Street goes bush

Clancy didn’t go droving, he hasn’t even seen any cows. The closest I’ve come is some very dry ‘cow-pats’ in a droving feed paddock. But I know they’ve been here… However, I did think some might be interested in this strange place I have landed in.

Miles is located 339 km west of Brisbane and 307 m above sea-level. It is situated on Dogwood Creek which was named by the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt when he passed through the area in 1844. Leichhardt was one of Australia’s intrepid explorers.

The town developed in 1878 when the railway from Brisbane ran into troubles crossing Dogwood Creek. The delay meant that railway workers settled in the area. Shops, stores and pubs were established, and, for a short time, it became the railhead for supplies to the west.

There is a massive population of around 2,725 in the whole municipal area, and 1100 or so in the town itself. Like the rest of the country, we are in the middle of a very serious drought here. While the country once supported dairy herds it’s getting difficult to run anything on the depleted grazing ranges, certainly not dairy herds. Goats would probably do well.

But the town is in for a growth spurt. It’s not the agriculture of the past, but coal mining and natural gas. Apparently the coal bed starts just meters under our feet here and is very deep. They are talking 1.3 million tonnes per annum when the open cut mines are operational.

The gas production has a promising by-product for the region – water. Apparently it is good quality and will be diverted to the town supply.

Being on the edge of the outback here internet connectivity is a problem. I’m working on dial-up, which is very slow and patchy. There is talk of a decent broadband service in the future, at the moment the closest thing is an expensive ADSL service which isn’t much faster than dial-up.

So progress is on the way to this town that is miles from anywhere. I’m not sure I’m all that excited to see more coal being added to the energy production mix, but I won’t be here when that happens.

The new water source from the gas drilling will provide the base for ex-urban development. Water is always going to be the limiting factor for growth in these regions.

The temperatures are really hard to take, having so recently arrived from western Canada. Some nights get down around the mid 70s, but every day seems to climb close to or over 100. On a recent typical day it was 100 in the shade and up to 120 in the garden shed.

Winters, I am told, can get down to around 20f, but they don’t last very long. Global warming contributes to these colder temps because of clear night skies with no wind.

Today I started celebrating clouds – but then saw a blood red sun and realized it was smoke. When I googled bushfires I found that the fires where in NSW, on the central coast, 1000 miles or more south of here. Apparently something called an inversion layer was sucking the smoke north. It is truly an amazing country.

Slease not a vote factor

Forget about the fact that the Howard government in Australia are up to their armpits in sleaze and corruption, predictions are that inflation and interest rates will hit the electoral danger zones and recover well before next years federal poll.

As one economist puts it: The Howard Government could be "swept back into office on the basis of an interest rate cut".

I’ve bored my loyal readers rigid before on this issue of elections and basic economic indicators - the unemployment rate, inflation and interest rates.

According to the formula, if two or more of these rise over a full, three-year electoral cycle, the government will lose. Conversely, if two or more fall the government will be returned.

This, with some key variables, led to my prediction of a Democrat sweep in the mid-terms. One of those same variables comes into play in Australia, where the method of reporting employment figures is now skewed, but can be modified in relation to low wage issues.

That basically means employment might be high but actual take home earnings low, equating with high unemployment.

But the predictor here, for Howard is another of those tree indexes, inflation. That, of course, hits the lower and middle income range on mortgage and consumer borrowing issues.

I can understand why the concept of an economic electoral predictor is not sexy. There are always so many other pressing issues which should effect outcomes. Corruption, scandal and Iraq should be enough. Then there are those we prefer not to canvass, but which should be high on the agenda, like poverty in our supposedly prosperous countries.

I still intend to poke around these apparent side issue, and certainly don’t dissuade others from doing the same. The fact is most politicians live in hopes of persuading with issues and ignoring the real indicators.

The worst part about the prediction model is that it virtually means wishing hardship on voters to effect change on government, thus creating a potential to address other issues. Or perhaps the average voter deserves the hardship for not really thinking through the broader issues.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bungles and voters downunder

I’m still slightly stunned by the actual voter turnout for the US mid-terms. Voter unrest is one things but voter motivation is an anomaly. No doubt it also surprised the White House, who given the polls still expected apathy to rule the day.

Back in Australia I’m witnessing similar political undercurrents to those in the US; an arrogant federal government and general electoral unease.

Even after the collapse of the Bush agenda our John Howard is out with all guns blazing support of this bankrupt offensive. His aim is to sell the rightness of a continuation of the conflict and to tell Australia’s 20 something million that the US’s 300 million got it wrong.

An allied issue, the corruption inquiry into the UN ‘Oil for Food’ scandal has fond no evidence of government wrongdoing in the affair. Howard is again out telling the country that the Cole Inquiry has vindicated his government.

On the main Iraq issue Howard and Co are now arguing against former officers of the country’s elite SAS regiment. Bear in mind, this regiment has been the dominant Australian presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. More importantly, they have recorded not one casualty in these combat actions, despite often being the leading edge in the military assaults in the region.

So these highly trained, extremely dangerous soldiers are now telling the Australian government that - Australia had been blindly led by the US and poor planning had helped Iraq become a terrorist "training ground"; former major Peter Tinley who was deputy commander of a special forces taskforce in Iraq in 2003.

“But Prime Minister John Howard said Mr Tinley's comments merely illustrated that there were divided opinions on Iraq within the Australian Defence Force, as there were in the general community. "I respect his view, I don't denigrate it, I disagree with it."

On the Oil for Food scandal, even Blind Freddie can see that the government was either implicated or negligent. In the corporate world directors would pay the price either way, not strut like roosters claiming vindication.

Howard’s American style HR laws should also present a major problem for the government as workers rights and incomes are increasingly eroded.

Howard faces voters next year, and as yet there are no clear signs that his government is in danger. In this country it is not an issue of turnout, that is compulsory, it is a matter of how much voters will take before they pull the plug.

The opposition do have the numbers in most polls, except for preferred Prime Minister, where Howard still stands out. Generally the preferred PM numbers are a good indicator of election outcomes here.

I guess in the end, despite the glaring inadequacies of the Howard government, the people still generally respond electorally to one issue alone; basic economics. If they are fairly comfortable it’s business as usual, if the hip pocket nerve is playing up the government will be punished. So I guess I’d better start looking at those economic indicators.

But it is toy town in the end. To be stranded here while the main game proceeds in the US is one of life’s little frustrations.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

With extreme prejudice

The past few weeks have really been a series of extreme experiences, culminating in a hot, dry landing in outback Queensland [Australia]. From the cold and wet rural region behind Vancouver to the dusty dry ‘Western Downs’ on the edge of the great outback.

Rural types a fairly typical, anywhere; with insular being a standard attitude. But having just returned from North America I have been struck by an almost mindless prejudice towards Americans.

As one person put it, fairly bluntly; “I don’t trust yanks! You can understand why!” No question, just the assumption of agreement. “No,” I said. “I don’t understand why!”

Not that I was willing to debate ignorance, just curious to know why. I know, particularly here in Queensland, there is a residual animosity over General Douglas Macarthur and his plans to usurp this northern part of Australia. But that was well over sixty years ago, and hardly seems relevant now.

Then I observed some of the TV these people are watching. Forget that there are 300 million people we are talking about here, from this town of around 1100. Forget that there are many different cultures within that population, many who would bristle at being called yanks. I’ve heard Texans singled out, for example, presumably because of their ‘braggadocio’ but can’t imagine them being happily described as yanks!

TV shows, much of the footage American, even when overlaid with local presenters, invariably show the dills and losers, the extremes which apparently make good entertainment.

To be sure, the Australian shows and characters receive to same groaning animosity, but then in this area if you are not local you are called a Kiwi! Prejudice they might be, but it seems to be against everyone. The ‘Yanks’ are singled out, in the light of these nonsense TV presentations, with words like; “And they think they are powerful!”

It was Prague Twin and the "Angry Rant Aborted" that threw up the perspective, in that case the unthinking wingnuts and rightist apologists. I suspect the mechanisms are the same; insular thought and fear of even trying to understand the world beyond their limited vision.

As ugly as prejudice is, it does seem to be universal, transcending race, colour or any other artificial barriers. Simply not being “one of us” is enough.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

It's bulldust, cur!

The world takes on a different view through the dry swirling red bull-dust of outback Queensland. Leisurely is the only way to describe internet connectivity based on an aging network of copper wire.

Well, if the average local cared about the internet they might have a few more choice descriptions. They do have a way with words.

Having finally loaded London’s Telegraph I was delighted to see a British government minister commenting on the honours system; the Sirs and Lords etc.

"The sale of honours by political parties is a public nuisance but it is one which the voters have put up with for 200 years. It does not make it right but it needs to be seen in context," says a senior Labour MP.

That is something they’ve understood for 200 years or more here is the outback; the land best known around the world for that itinerant sheep shearer who hung himself by a billabong, of Waltzing Matilda’ fame.

Now the typical squatter in that song was might well have carried a title, even a minor honour, but he was a thieving murderous bastard, and everyone knew there was no honour in him.

Out here Sir is synonymous with Cur, a bit of envy perhaps, but no ready fawning over these dubious titles purchased of the sweat of the labourers. Out here you earn you respect and honour, and that can take a lifetime. It really is about how you treat your neighbours.

As to the “Queensland’ and her (the queen) notional ownership of the land, one aborigine once summed it up beautifully: ‘If Mrs Queen can find the bloody waterholes she can have the bloody land!” It is all about survival in a harsh environment.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Gone to Queensland droving...

Grub Street and GP Backround Stories (GP BS) are pulling down the shutters for a few weeks, having just enjoyed an election campaign of a lifetime.

I am moving on, flying out on Sunday for a few days in the US then off to Australia. Another adventure awaits, I am heading to outback Queensland which will be a new experience.

The move comes with a few unknowns, like patchy dial-up connectivity which is bad enough in Australian cities and a worry in the bush. But somehow I will be back, with a new mission: The Howard government in Australia is next!

So after Saturday posting will be erratic for a while, if at all.

Since Queensland became my destination I've had a great Australian poem rolling around my head, though the office bound city bloke is heading bush this time:

Clancy of the Overflow

Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson

I HAD written him a letter which I had, for want of better
Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
Just on spec, addressed as follows, "Clancy, of The Overflow".

And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
(And I think the same was written with a thumb-nail dipped in tar)
'Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
"Clancy's gone to Queensland droving, and we don't know where he are."

. . . . .

In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
Gone a-droving "down the Cooper" where the Western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover's life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.
. . . . .

And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wond'rous glory of the everlasting stars.

. . . . .

I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city
Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all.

. . . . .

And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
Of the tramways and the buses making hurry down the street,
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,
Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.

. . . . .

And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.

And I somehow rather fancy that I'd like to change with Clancy,
Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal-
But I doubt he'd suit the office, Clancy, of The Overflow.

I've enjoyed mixing it with fellow bloggers. I will be back, thanks for a great time.

UPDATE: The task ahead

OCTOBER has firmed as the favourite month for next year's federal election after the Prime Minister, John Howard, promised the campaign would not interfere with the cricket calendar. Australia does not have fixed lower house elections. However any date earlier than October would neccesitate a seperate Senate election to fall in line with that house's time frames.
So the cricketing PM doesn't have many options.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Now keep the bastards honest

Though my reasoning will no doubt continued to be questioned, I have as many regulars are ware, been predicting this outcome for many months. Now it is down to work on the methodology, the dynamics as they unfolded.

I will still maintain that fundamental economics underlies the outlook on other issues, and this time for the GOP it was for the worse.

I also acknowledge the wider concerns about the loss of many democratic fundamentals over the past six years. That is where the great public come into play. The voice was loud and clear in the vote, it must continue to be loud and clear, holding elected officials to account.

The dislocation bought about by a compliant or easily gulled electorate is enormous. My focus, the corruption, is most probably the least of the evils perpetrated by arrogant, power hungry governments.

For very political reasons corruption and ethical behaviour is going to be very much on the agenda for the next two years. It is up to the greater public to ensure the ensuing circus is not diverted into simple 'pay back' but rather servers to rebuild and strengthen democracy.

Be outraged, but be outraged for the sake of positive change.Above all, be loud in your efforts to 'keep the bastards honest'.

In the next day or so Grub Street is pulling down the shutters for a while. Details will follow, but I could not think of a more fitting time, having gone through the incredible experience of this election campaign, to go into hibernation and give some thought to the dynamics of it all.

Monday, November 06, 2006

'Fin de régime' - the new sensation

If you can't sniff this overpowering odour of 'Fin de régime', you are at the wrong dance party. Oh, to be sure; the votes aren't cast, never mind counted, but the Bush regime is finished. The power base is destroyed.

However, our friends around the blogs are quick to point out the anomalies and dirty tricks which can be expected in the lead up and and at the polls. Even the notoriously unpolitics frog, Blognonymous (Kvatch), offers a stern warning to be vigilant at the polling stations - get evidence, take your camera along: Reprogramming? No. Crashing Voting Machines? Yes!

Over at GP BS we are awash with the scent of change, and winding up the countdown with a few pieces on the right deserting the ship and the warnings of poll tampering to secure a GOP majority into the foreseeable future. Politics at its very best, or worst, but not democracy.


I guess I have some reasons to be jubilant over the projected election result, reasons which go beyond concerns over the wrecking of US democracy. My couple of regular visitors will know that I have been trying to justify my predictions of the Republican collapse for months. Beyond that GP Background Stories is essentially a corruption tracking project, and with any result the new congress will tackle some outstanding issues on that front. See BP - AWB looking down the barrel of new congress?.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Aussie identify salvation vote target for Bush

Stories that didn't make GP BS:

Just to disabuse any idea the world is not watching, there is a new strategy being advance in Australia to aid the beleaguered Bush administration.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, a Murdoch rag, one in five Americans believes in Alien abductions; while 3.7 million Americans have been abducted by aliens.

"These people have been sidelined so far in this campaign, no one is speaking up for them. advice Advice to to George W. Bush includes: woo the alien abductee vote before the mid-terms, offer free counselling to any person of voting age who has been probed by an alien in the middle of the night and there's a good chance that both the Senate and House of Reps will remain in your parties culpable, I mean, capable hands."

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Stretching to the wire

We are down to the nuts and bolts of the end game over at GP BS - GOTV & voter turnout.

The President's 'safe districts' tour is showing all the finesse of his war planning. Does Bush have an election exit strategy? The scramble is on across the country to drive up voter turnout. more...

Elsewhere the vote seems to be already in - My Australian media are having a good chuckle, but weren't counted in a foreign roundup on Bush support.

In Britain, 69 per cent of those questioned said they believed US policy has made the world less safe since 2001. Only 7 per cent thought action in Iraq and Afghanistan had improved global security.

In Canada and Mexico - 62 per cent of Canadians and 57 per cent of Mexicans saying the world had become more dangerous because of US policy.

In Israel, only one in four said that Mr Bush had made the world safer. Voters in three of the four countries overwhelmingly rejected the decision to invade Iraq, with only Israeli voters in favour, 59 per cent to 34 per cent against. Like I say, Australian media are just quietly chortling

Our local radio news here in BC Canada ran a story about a Seattle bus driver, fired for giving Bush the finger. The presenters were quick to invite her North for a job - "Our kind of woman!" they said. The story comes of Bush's safe districts tour, I'm not sure what they expected to get, but I don't think it was this:

President Bush is visiting carefully chosen districts and states he won handily in 2004 where his aides believe he can provide pivotal help.

But is anywhere safe? In Seattle a school bus driver was fired after giving Bush the finger.

The 43-year-old driver, whose name was not released, was driving middle school children back to school after a zoo visit when the president and Republican Rep. Dave Reichert drove slowly by in a motorcade.

The district said the driver was not fired for giving him the finger, she was fired for making the gesture in front of students.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Still counting down

As we are into the real local aspect of campaigning, the GOTV, your scribe is having the same problem of most media; finding a good story. So we are looking at some side issues on GP Background Stories (or GP-BS), like the old guard of the Bush era in their death throes and a new guard rising.

Tuesday's Election Countdown focused on a couple of fascinating Californian campaigns involving once unbeatable Republicans, Dick Pombo and John Doolittle. They will probably still win their districts, but not with the familiar ease of the past.

While Doolittle's name conjures some interesting thoughts, his Dem challenger has met the name challenge at least; Charlie Brown. A local news report:

Peanuts Cartoon Becomes Legal Issue in Doolittle Race

Democratic congressional candidate Charlie Brown is used to being teased about his well known name. Growing up in the shadow of a beloved cartoon character, Brown learned to laugh off the friendly ribbing. But the people who control the Peanuts' trademark are not laughing about a new Republican campaign mailer that links images of the cartoon character to the Democratic candidate. For them, the issue is serious business.

Lawyers for the Peanuts' cartoon trademark are looking into possible copyright infringement violations, after the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee sent out mailers using iconic images of the cartoon strip to lampoon candidate Brown.

"We take all potential infringement very seriously," said Melissa Menta, Vice President of Corporate Communications for United Media, the company that owns the copyright and trademark of the Peanuts characters.

The words "Good Grief, Charlie Brown" headlined one of the mailers that claimed Brown supported "amnesty for illegal aliens."

Another had "Argh" in large bold letters, warning voters they "can't afford Charlie Brown's tax increase."