Friday, 30 November 2007

Mohammed the Teddy Bear

In the Sudan, British schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons has been sentenced to fifteen days in a Sudanese jail for insulting the prophet Mohammed. Her "crime" was letting the seven-year-olds in her class choose the name Mohammed for a teddy bear.

Apparently the good news is that she was cleared of the charge of blasphemy, which would have resulted in forty lashes.

For anyone outside looking in, this is just another example of the pernicious nature of religion.

Yes, this is an extreme example, and could be argued as being solely a case of religious extremism, not religion per se. But really, it is different only in scale, not in type, from the religions we supposedly feel comfortable with.

At its core, religion is about denying the evidence of your senses in favour of a way of thinking that you have been taught.

Further, religion is about denying your own moral compass (which contrary to what many Christians will tell you, has evolved quite independently from any religion) in favour of a prescribed set of arbitrary rules.

So under Islam, the rule is that you're not to insult the prophet Mohammed. Because it's the state religion, to do so is to risk jail and the lash. And to someone-or-other in power, naming a teddy bear Mohammed is an insult.

Under our Western version of Christianity, you're not to be gay. To do so is to risk isolation from your family and community.

These examples really amount to the same thing. The point is that religion makes otherwise good people reject what they themselves think is correct, in favour of edicts coming from the pulpit.

The practical difference here in our Western culture is that a secular decision has been made to keep state and religion separate. Here you don't get thrown in jail for being gay.

This teddy bear nonsense is the best example we've seen recently of why this is so important.

There are many fond of saying that our nation is founded on Christianity and Christian values. Thank goodness it's not.

If it really were, have no illusions that we would have very similar scenes being played out here.

Monday, 26 November 2007


Int'rested in life
Talking to my friends again
Download's been throttled

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Good Result

Got a message from my sister a few hours ago saying "Ding Dong the witch is dead".

Couldn't have put it better myself.

I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

I see a bright vision for the future and feel an optimism unlike anything I've felt in years.

I feel like we're on the brink of great and exciting change.

And I hope I won't be disappointed.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Election Day. Finally.

Here it is, kids. The day we've been leading up to for what seems like forever.

First there was the lead up to the impending last-possible-day for calling an election, and much discussion on when it would be. (I still think it would have been funny to call it for January, making the Kevin07 campaign redundant).

Then once the date had been set, there was all the speculation over an interest rate rise mid-campaign ("it's unprecedented!!" screamed the headlines) and Costello's boast to ABC's Jon Faine that there would be no rate rise in October. Oops.

There was the odd amusing gaffe, like Abbott saying "bullshit" to Nicola Roxon (not an odd thing to say to a politician, but in front of CAMERAS??) and Peter Garrett speaking to that poisonous dwarf Steve Price in the QANTAS Chairman's lounge (in front of RICHARD WILKINS??). But on the whole such amusements were few and far between.

The whole thing has been very tightly controlled.

The whole campaign has in fact, from both sides, been solely about scaring people into not voting for the other lot. Actual policies and promises are out there, but you have to go looking for them. They're certainly not what you see on the TV ads.

Anyway, I'm bored talking about it and I'm bored thinking about it.

And I'm sure you're bored reading about it.

Go vote.

And cross your fingers.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Slightly Pished

Never done a blog under the influence before, so this should be interesting.

One of the few joys of corporate existence is the occasional lunches. Just got home from a big one. Yeah.

Today it was an end-of-the-year-not-Xmas-party-cos-the-budget-won't-allow-for-Xmas-party lunch that wound up at around 9.30 this evening. Which isn't too bad.

It doubled as a farewell for Jennifer, a lovely lady who's been working with us here in Melbourne for all of ten months, and has decided that Paris is more fun and she's going back.

While I can't argue with the reasoning it's . . . no.
I just can't argue with that.

Lunch was in Docklands and there was much beer, wine, merriment and average-to-good food. (Actually, it was just around the corner from where our new building is. We'll be moving offices a few weeks . . . stay tuned for that one).

The point I wanted to make is, it never ceases to amaze me that there can be such a lack of engagement with people in what is essentially a purely social setting.

I know that these are colleagues. I know that this is a quasi-work function. But for Gods' sake people . . . loosen up!

Is it just that I work with a bunch of right-wing fuckers? Possibly. It's white-collar corporate after all.
But does that mean they have no souls?? They're still people aren't they??

I'm not so sure anymore.

Question heard over the course over lunch: "Who are you voting for?"
Response (not me): "Oh. You know. Does it matter? Someone needs to explain to me the difference between Labor and Liberal."

While I have expressed similar sentiments in a jocular/satirical fashion, this gobsmacked me. Because it was seriously put, and represented a genuine misunderstanding.

And not just misunderstanding. But a lack of willingness to attempt to understand.
A lack of care for the difference.

My feelings on this at the moment are quite extreme.

If the Coalition is returned on Saturday, I will seriously consider renouncing my citizenship to this country. I do not think I could handle another four years under the rule of this backward-looking crowd of hyper-conservatives.

Under Howard's Coalition, Australia has become mean, obsessive, selfish and xenophobic.

I used to be proud of my country. I used to honestly believe that we were unique in the world. That we were the one place that would accept with open arms those that came to us for help.

And at one point I think it was true. But it's not anymore.

We have all the riches in the world. With all the mineral wealth under the ground we are easily the richest per-capita country there is.

So why are our indigenous people living in such poverty? Why do we have sick people waiting on trolleys in hospital corridors? And why do we turn away those desperate souls that risk travel in leaky boats in a soul-searing attempt to seek our aid?

And why-oh-why are our average workaday people obsessing about such eldritch concepts as "interest rates"??!

Who is responsible for this ridiculously dysfunctional system?

Answer: we are.
We as a society have demanded bigger TVs and bigger houses and funkier clothes.
And if you draw out the line on the graph, this is where its gets you.

Anyway, I tried to explain this to my colleagues and was met with blank stares.

But maybe it was just the pish talking.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Fun With Anagrams

One of my favourite websites is the Internet Anagram Server.

Here you can put in any word or phrase, and it will work out for you some amusing, and sometimes revealing, anagrams.

They have an anagram hall of fame, including such classics as

"Eleven plus two" =
"Twelve plus one"


"President Clinton of the USA" =
"To copulate he finds interns".

But this is all about me, so putting in the title of the blog I get

"I Like Portello" =
"Lo, Killer Poet I"

which is nice, or

"Musings of a Beta Nerd" =
"Bad Refs In A Smug Tone",

which is probably a little more accurate.

But the best comes when we put it all together, and find that

"I Like Portello Musings of a Beta Nerd" =
"I Am Foreseeing A Troubled Poll Stink".


Thursday, 15 November 2007

Santa's Ho's

There's been some controversy in suburbia. A decision has been taken by some Australian department-store Santa suppliers that the fat man should refrain from saying "ho ho ho".

The reasons given: it could be interpreted as being derogatory to women, and it could scare the kids.

Of course, the first one is the real reason. While this is patently stupid, here in Australia we're actually lagging about 12 months behind the US on this point. The same mandate came down for stores over there last Christmas. And then, as now, it was a simple case of legal arse-covering.

It's interesting that somewhere along the line, someone's decided to make up a second reason. Just in case the first doesn't seem sufficient.

And I would like to take issue with this second reason. I put it to you that a big fat dude in a bright red fur-trimmed coat and enormous white beard is a scary image for kids anyway. The Ho Ho Ho has nothing to do with it. Anything the guy says has a good chance of freaking them out.

Besides, kids sitting on Santa's knee and bawling their eyes out while mum and dad look on proudly is an important Christmas tradition. Isn't it?

If you're going to follow the don't-scare-the-kiddies line of logic then you'd have to get rid of the fat man altogether, and replace him with your favourite Disney character. (I'll let you consider the logistics of sitting on Nemo's knee)

Anyway, the point is that this got me thinking about Santa in the context of our Judaeo-Christian traditions. I do this sort of thing.

It's always been a little incongruous to me that Santa, a pagan figure, is so synonymous with Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Christ.

I know that the aligning the these traditions is the result of various historical political conveniences, but what I'm interested in is why it has been continued. Even the deeply devout appear to have no problem attending mass one day and opening the pressies from Santa the next.

But maybe the ongoing tradition of the Santa figure has a lot more to do with our modern view of Christianity than we might think.

I put it to you that Santa is actually promoted to children, deliberately or otherwise, as a kind of proto-Jesus.

It's all there when you think about it: he's watching all the time. He knows when you've been bad or good. You can ask him for things that you want, and he rewards your good behaviour.

Growing up with an awareness of this mythical creature, who behaves in this very specific way, primes a child's mind for later belief in God/Jesus. And this is why the Santa legend has been allowed to continue comfortably alongside the Christian tradition of Christmas.

Of course, the bits missing from the Santa legend are the terrible punishments for bad behaviour (although past incarnations of Santa would leave a lump of coal in the stocking . . . a threatening reference to the fires of Hell?) and there isn't a corresponding evil Satan figure.

But that's fair enough.

After all, we don't want to scare the kids.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007


After years of waiting, the 1980s series of The Twilight Zone has finally been released on DVD.

I eagerly ran out to buy season one on the weekend, hoping against hope that it wasn't just the nostalgia talking . . . that it would be as good as I remembered it. And I'm pleased to say, it is.

When I was a kid I used to stay up late on Friday nights to watch it on TV. Because it was on so late, I'd often nod off while watching it, but I tried. Goddammit I tried.

It's remained very special to me, being one of the TV shows that got me in to science fiction in a big way, along with Doctor Who, Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the original Battlestar Galactica.

Of course The Twilight Zone wasn't all sci-fi, featuring as it did healthy doses of fantasy, horror, and good old 1980s nuclear paranoia. But it's the sci-fi stories that stayed with me, and rewatching them over the last few days has been like getting reacquainted with an old friend.

And tonight I even nodded off on the couch while I was watching it.

Ah, good times.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Star Trek Rebooted

The cast of the eleventh Star Trek movie has been announced. And as is often the case with these nerdy sorts of things, the announcements have been spread out over a couple of months.

Presumably this is because if they were done all at once, the chaos resulting from millions of simultaneous worldwide geekgasms would cause the universe to implode.

The other possibility is that the extreme level of interest in this project, particularly following director J.J. Abrams' success with Alias and Lost, has meant that every tiny little detail is pored over in great detail. So it just seems like it's taken ages.

This is a prequel to the original series, and reportedly a complete reboot of the canon. The nerds are understandably wary about this, and gathering in jittery packs around the net, eyes darting nervously around them as they discuss precisely what this might mean. Abrams seems determined to do things his own way, so it could mean anything.

As if to make his mark clearly, Abrams has, in a marked deviation from previous Star Trek incarnations, not filled the cast with a bunch of complete unknowns.

We have Zachary Quinto (Sylar from Heroes) as Spock, John Cho (Harold of Harold and Kumar) as Sulu, Karl Urban as Dr McCoy and the brilliant Simon Pegg as Scotty. Supporting players include Eric Bana, the marvellous Bruce Greenwood and Winona Ryder as Spock's mum.

Leonard Nimoy has scored a cameo as Old Spock, but it's yet to be confirmed if Shatner will be joining him. While it would be good to see Shatner in there, it could be awkward. Kirk's heroic death in Generations doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room for a credible cameo.

They better give him something, though. Otherwise he'll parachute onto the set claiming he Fell.


A wormhole.

I'm optimistic that it'll turn out well. Abrams is a good director and it's got a strong cast, so signs are positive.

But it's a long time until the planned release date of 11 January 2009, so anything could happen.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Increasing Rates of Disinterest

All this talk about interest rates is starting to get on my nerves. There's been an awful lot of hot air and spin, and very little in the way of facts.

So here's my contribution. I'll let you decide which category it falls into.

The view on the right way to manage the holy trinity of inflation, interest rates and money supply has changed a lot over the last fifty years, particularly in Australia.

In 1996, it was decided that interest rates would be the lever used to control inflation. Prior to this, inflation was controlled by increasing or decreasing the money supply, or by changing various taxation bases. Interest rates were more or less left to their own devices (unless macroeconomic intervention was desperately needed, like Keating's "recession we had to have").

This fact makes recent comparisons between historical interest rates, and which political party happened to be in power at the time, somewhat spurious. And those using this tactic for political gain know this better than anyone else.

Before the 2004 election, interest rates were at record lows and the Coalition, under Mr Howard, won that election by claiming that they would keep them that way. Now interest rates are going up, and they've had to find another angle.

When Mr Howard says that interest rates are up because inflation is up, he's right. When he says inflation is up because the economy is doing well, he's sort of right, but he's starting to lay some spin.

Inflation goes up when demand is up, which can be good. It shows confidence. What is not good right now is that demand is actually outstripping supply. We have demand all over the economy for goods and services, which cannot be met. This is a simple case of limited resources. Or in econo-speak, a lack of capacity.

There aren't enough tradies to build the houses people want. There aren't enough accountants to count all the money flying around. There isn't enough manufacturing power to make all the shit people want to buy.

And it is this economic capacity that is the Government's responsibility. And it is in this area that they have failed.

Mr Howard likes the image of the Government of the day standing proudly on the stern of the economic ship, its hand firmly on the rudder. He does his level best to project this image via the media.

It's all rubbish of course. The only real way the Government can influence interest rates is indirectly, by influencing inflation. And the only way it can do that is either by reducing wages through its IR policies, investing in economic capacity, or increasing taxes.

And here's the point: the only real difference between the Coalition and the Labor party is that the Coalition is all about the first option (which we've seen through their changes to the IR laws) and the Labour party is (or at least claims to be) all about the second. Neither of them are likely to do the third anytime soon.

When Howard promised lower interest rates during the 2004 election, he was thinking that his planned decimation of the IR laws would be enough to achieve his promise for him.

Mr Howard seems to place no stock at all in the value of economic capacity. He's banked everything on his IR changes, which are so deeply unpopular that they're unlikely to last in their intended, draconian, form. And even if they did, they still wouldn't be enough on their own.

So whichever party wins the election on the 24th, we better start seeing some serious investment in infrastructure and education very soon afterwards.

If we don't, then regardless of who wins, it's all looking a little bleak.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

A Redesign

Thanks to my lovely wife for the amazing redesign of the site.
Isn't she just amazingly talented?

And a brief explanation on the subtitle:

A beta nerd is a person who aspires to be an alpha nerd, but just can't quite get there.

Alpha nerddom is, of course, the realm of such luminaries as Jon Stewart, Dr Karl, Richard Dawkins and They Might Be Giants.

I dare not claim to be in such company.
I am not worthy to load their pocket protectors.

They lead the way.
They light the path.

And we can but follow.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Melbourne Cup Day

Is Melbourne the only city in the world that gives its citizens a day off for a horse race? Probably not, but surely this isn't normal behaviour.

I occasionally feel guilty for taking this day off, given that I have no interest in horse racing whatsoever. But that's only for about a second. Then I roll over and go back to sleep.

It's interesting, though. And I suppose it fits with Australia's image as a nation of punters. But the average sports talk in the office during the average week is not horse racing. It's footy. So why don't we get a day off for the Grand Final?

I guess at some point, an event like the Melbourne Cup reaches a kind of critical mass, where those who aren't really interested talk about it just because everyone else does.

We see the same thing with any amount of other empty-headed media fodder, like when stories about Britney Spears seem to take precedence over everything else.

Recently, it's been the lighter side of the Australian federal election coverage. Sure it's important, but how much is fluff, spin and clearly "non-core" promises, and how much is credible reporting of political intentions?

Our fine media outlets have even managed to put an election spin on the Cup, showing Howard looking sour because he backed a loser, and Rudd raising his beer high in celebration of backing the winner. Is it an omen?? Ho hum.

Oh, and in other news, some people died someplace.