A whiter shade of grey

So for the last few months the City of Perth (or Main Roads Department, I never really paid attention) has been ripping up the grey concrete pavers along St Georges Terrace from Victoria Avenue to Barrack Street and replacing them with… grey concrete pavers. When I first saw this work starting I got a little excited. In the previous months the other end of St Georges Terrace from Barrack Street on up had some impressive road works which included replacing those same grey, dreary everyday concrete pavers with nice, modern slate paving. It’s still grey, but it looks sweet. They redid the curbing and generally tarted the place up.

Part of my soul-crushing walk to work suddenly became somewhat happier, invoking pleasant feelings encouragement to overcome the perils of my toil which lay ahead. Funny how simple paving can do that.

I work at the start of St Georges Terrace near Victoria Ave, so it was with great delight that one morning I saw workmen (and an associated support crew consisting of a woman with a “Caution” lollipop sign) ripping up the pavement down the Victoria Ave end of the Terrace. We were finally going to see this old, chewing gum and vomit stained sidewalk replaced with stones of happiness. I’d feel like Michael Jackson skipping along to the tune of Billie Jean when making my way to work along the Terrace.

Months later, the reality is quite different to the dream.

What I’m left with is the same uninspiring, bleak, dreary trudge along dull grey concrete pavement. The only difference being that it’s a slightly lighter shade of grey:

Old pavement on the left, new pavement on the right

Compare the quality

Not finished though

I can only guess that this was all done in anticipation of CHOGM. The leaders of all the Commonwealth Governments, including the Queen Her-Royal-self, are coming to Perth to catch up, make promises and generally do whatever Heads of Government do when they get together.

No expense is being spared. Everyone in Perth is even invited to a Barbeque to have a hotdog or a chop and salad with the Queen of England and her husband on the weekend of the 26th. And, because they’re reportedly being put up at the Duxton Hotel and at Government House down the end of St Georges Terrace it seems the City of Perth decided to rip up the concrete and replace it with lighter concrete so the World Leaders can enjoy power walking up to Kings Park or perhaps getting in on the free lunches on offer at Council House.

In reality I think all this could have more easily been achieved with a couple two man teams with high-pressure water cleaners. It would have taken significantly less time and cost nowhere near as much and produced much the same result with far less disruption.

How do you explain Sep 11 to young kids?

Promos for shows from different networks marking the 10 year anniversary of the Sep-11 attacks have started appearing on TV recently. This has led to my kids, who are under ten, asking questions.

What happened on Sep 11? Well, a bunch of bad guys hijacked some planes and crashed them into some buildings in America to try and kill as many people as they could.

This was ten years ago? Where were you? Yep, it was 10 years ago, a bit before you were born. Me and mum were getting ready to go to bed while it was actually happening. See, while it was early morning in the Eastern US, it was close to bedtime here. I remember seeing a news ticker on the bottom of the TV screen about a plane crash, but we shut the TV off to get an early night. This was when me and mum both worked at the same place. We didn’t see any of it until we woke up the next day. The clock radio went off at the appointed time, and they were talking about a plane crash. “Must have been the news from last night”, we thought. “Let’s turn on the news after breakfast before we go to work”. When we turned on the TV, it seemed every channel was carrying the same story. Two planes had crashed into the tallest buildings in New York called the World Trade Centre, and another into the Pentagon. And the World Trade Centre buildings had actually fallen down! Later we learned there was a fourth plane crash too.

Why did they try and kill those people? (OK, here we go…) You’ll soon start hearing a lot of people talking about this, and about related events that have happened in the 10 years following Sep 11. The short truth of the matter is that there are two reasons.

  1. They wanted American soldiers out of their Holy Lands, particularly military bases near Mecca and Medina which are Holy Cities.
  2. They wanted the American government to stop giving military support to Israel.
But why didn’t they just ask? I’m sure they did ask, and a number of times.They decided they only way that the Americans would listen was to do something like this; very spectacular and large.

When you say “they”, you mean Muslims?
 Well, yes. The guys who organised it and the guys who did it were all from a religion called Islam. People who follow Islam are called Muslims.

So, do Muslims try and kill people all the time?
No, not at all. Most of the world’s billion or so Muslims are regular people like you and me trying to live the best life they can. But some decided to do something really evil and kill a bunch of people. They aren’t the Muslim leaders, and they don’t represent the rest of the Muslims.

Why did they choose those buildings?
 The name of the guy who organised the attacks was Osama bin Laden. Osama had tried to destroy the World Trade Centre before, by getting a guy to drive a truck loaded with explosives into the basement underneath one of the buildings. The hope was that the bomb would go off, and push one tower into the other and bring them both down. That didn’t work, but he really wanted to bring those buildings down because they were a symbol of American economic power. Two towers took two planes.  A third plane was crashed into the Pentagon, which is a military base and symbol of American military power. Remember the fourth plane I mentioned? It was likely that this was supposed to crash into the White House which is where the President lives, and is a symbol of American politics and America itself. The fourth plane didn’t make it because the passengers fought back against the bad guys and the plane crashed into an empty field. They saved a lot of lives.

Then what happened?
Well over the last ten years America has started wars with Afghanistan and Iraq as well as a bunch of other countries. Don’t ask me to explain all that right now. Maybe another time. I spent a few months in America the next year, just before you were born and because they used planes to crash into buildings and kill people it meant more security and longer lines waiting to get onto flights. My dad took a flight on Sep 11 2002 and was the only passenger on the plane! In May, they guy who organised the attacks was tracked down and killed in a town in Pakistan.

So it’s all over, right? They can stop the wars?
Oh, I wish you were world leaders.

How have you explained Sep 11 to your young families? Leave a comment!

Richard Dawkins on the American political system

This is a quotation from British Evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins, responding to Texas Governor and GOP candidate Rick Perry’s answer to a boy’s question telling him that “evolution is just a theory“. I’m not a Dawkins fan or anything, but I found this commentary on the American political system and politicians to be deliciously cutting:

The population of the United States is more than 300 million and it includes some of the best and brightest that the human species has to offer, probably more so than any other country in the world. There is surely something wrong with a system for choosing a leader when, given a pool of such talent and a process that occupies more than a year and consumes billions of dollars, what rises to the top of the heap is George W Bush. Or when the likes of Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin can be mentioned as even remote possibilities.

Well said.

Go back where you came from

Nobody in Australia likes refugees.

Or so it seems. Ask many regular punters and these damn filthy refugees are always in the news floating here in their thousands on their leaky boats in a never ending tsunami, bringing with them their stupid cultures and threatening our way of life. We spend millions of dollars housing them in quality air conditioned centres in relative luxury, and the stupid buggers get mad and usually burn them down. We don’t want ‘em, they should go back where they came from. Fuck off, we’re full.

Fact is our Refugee and Humanitarian intake has been about 13 thousand a year, at least for the last couple years. Compared to Europe which is closer to conflict areas of the Middle East and Africa this is a relatively low number and nowhere near a tsunami.

True, there is a system. And the people on boats are making their way here outside the system. But it’s also true that these people are desperate to get out of the situation they’re in and should be treated with more compassion than the majority of Australians seem willing to give.

SBS had a three part show last week addressing how Australians perceive and react to refugees, and showing the real plight of many refugees. They took 6 Australians on a “reverse” journey a refugee might take. These six had a range of attitudes from one woman who said “When I saw that boat smashing on the rocks at Christmas Island, I thought “Serve you bastards right”" through to another woman with more compassionate stance. One girl wasn’t racist, she just didn’t like black people. They were put on what appeared to be a rickety old boat headed north, which is usually the last leg one might take. They moved in with some Burmese refugees in Malaysia, experiencing how it felt to live as an illegal under threat of arrest. Later the participants participated in a 3am raid with Malaysian authorities, arresting illegal workers. In the last show they split into two groups with one group going to live in a UN refugee camp in Africa, and another in Jordan. The group in Jordan then spent some time in Baghdad, but I felt this was of little value as they didn’t see any people outside the Green Zone.

By the end of the third show, and after seeing the desperation of people wanting to be safe from torture, rape and the threat of death in their homelands and that the camps in between their origin and their goal weren’t exactly safe, the group had mostly formed a more compassionate view of these people.

I’m more familiar with the plight of refugees that most Australians I know, and therefore have more compassion for them than most Australians I know. Mum worked with a refugee organisation for many years, and often had people over to our house for dinner. Some of the stories they’d tell were just horrifying, and something I hope I never have to go through.

The world is a scary, horrible place and if nothing else, watching the show has reinforced to me how lucky I am to live in a free, affluent country like Australia.

Same goes for Australia

Obama birth certificate controversy: I’m still not convinced

I still need convincing that this is a controversy worth talking about. I mean really, the birthers have been on this psychotic witch hunt for too long now. And Obama himself hasn’t done much to stop this getting out of hand so it must be working for him somehow.

The claims originated from Hillary Clinton supporters during the 2008 primaries. Look, I get it that Americans don’t want anything other than an American leader. But it’s really not that bad. The first handful of your Presidents weren’t American-born if you want to be technical about it, and our own Prime Minister is Welsh.

Actually, forget I said that. Bad example.

Since the Obama birth questions were asked we’ve seen the “short form” certificate, but this has been rejected by conspiracists as a hoax. The “long form” certificate was released a couple days ago but it’s still not good enough for some.

It seems a little more legitimate than this one: