22 December 2006

George W Bush ruined my vacation plans

I want to go to Cuba.
Forget the politics for a moment. Cuba is a beautiful Caribbean island that is untouched by McDonalds, Starbucks and WalMart. It has a rich history and character. Have you had Cuban food? Fantastic. Great music. Bermuda, Jamaica and the Bahamas are nice. But I'll take Cuba.
And now back to the politics. Since February 2, 1962, the US has had an embargo against Cuba, including travel. Technically, it isn't illegal for Americans to go to Cuba. It's just illegal to make financial transactions or receive gifts either on the island or to cover travel to and from the island. The government does issue licenses to academics, journalists or for humanitarian efforts, but I'm not likely to qualify for those exceptions. Does blogging qualify as journalism? I suppose it's worth a shot.
Over the years, the travel ban has not been consistently enforced. Jimmy Carter lifted the travel ban entirely, but it was reinstated under Reagan and has been in place ever since, although travel to Cuba was frequently overlooked. Which brings us to Bush. Under his leadership, the travel ban has been strictly enforced and the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) actively prosecutes Americans who violate the ban, sometimes levying fines up to $65,000. This is the same office that tracks financial support for terrorism. Some numbers to ponder:
Agents tracking Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein money: 4
Agents working full time on the financial embargo of Cuba: 21

Investigations opened from 1990 to 2003 related to terrorism: 93
Investigations opened from 1990 to 2003 related to violations of the economic embargo against Cuba: 10,683

Total fines collected since 1994 for terrorism financing violations: $9,425
Total fines collected since 1994 for violations of the economic embargo against Cuba: more than $8 million

There is a lot of talk about the War on Terror. According to the numbers, however, the US is waging a War on Vacation and Humanitarian Aid.
By the way, the embargo has been condemned by the United Nations every year since 1991, most recently on November 8, 2006 by a vote of 183-4. Only the US, Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands voted against. You know it's questionable policy when even Australia doesn't follow America's lead. The rest of the world opposes the embargo on the grounds of human rights and the Geneva Convention--economic embargoes rarely include an outright ban on the sale of food and life-saving medicines. It has been said in this space before: shouldn't America be a leader in championing human rights, not an instrument in denying them? Religious leaders around the world, including the Pope and leaders in America, also call for an end to the embargo. Interestingly, much of the political activity concerning the embargo happens during election years. Most recently, in 1992, 1996 and 2004, major legislation has been passed in an effort to swing Cuban-American voters in Florida, who are viewed as an important voting bloc in an often vital and tightly contested state.
What is the theoretical purpose of the embargo? I suppose it is intended to weaken Castro's communist regime.
What is the actual effect of the embargo? Certainly Castro is not suffering himself. If anything, it provides him with an excuse for the economic failings in Cuba. He can blame the hardship suffered by the people on the lack of trade with his powerful neighbor and their bullying restrictions on other countries. If the embargo were to be lifted, he would have no one to blame but himself. For years, the economic embargo actually forced Cuba to rely on the Soviet Union for support, strengthening communism on the island rather than weakening it.
The embargo does, however, hurt the Cuban people: the farmers, taxi drivers, store owners, musicians, etc. Americans are hurt as well. Before the embargo, Cuba was an important destination for American exports, from both the factories and the farms. At the very least, Americans have lost a prime travel destination, hence this post. A third group suffering is the rest of the world. America effectively forces foreign countries and corporations to choose between the Cuban market and the lucrative American market through shipping and cargo restrictions concerning the US and Cuba. The Helms-Burton Act (1996) penalises foreign companies that do business in Cuba by preventing them from doing business in the US. It is one thing for the US government to pass questionable legislation governing Americans. It is quite another for it to pass legislation to govern foreign entities. In a comic show of rejection, the European Parliament in 1996 passed a primarily symbolic law making it illegal for EU citizens to obey the Helms-Burton act.
The bottom line is that Cuba is the least of our security worries. In 1998 the US Defense Intelligence Agency stated that 'Cuba does not pose a significant military threat to the U.S. or to other countries in the region.' They aren't the Soviet Union's little buddy anymore. For that matter, Americans always had the freedom to travel to the Soviet Union, but not Cuba. Today, I could go to North Korea, China, Iraq, Iran, or Libya, but not Cuba. The irony of the situation is that in a way, I don't want the embargo lifted. I don't want Cuba to be McDonaldified. But I also can't afford to pay a $65,000 fine on my vacations.
What can we do? As with most things political, you can write your congressman. For several years now, Congress has favoured ending the embargo (yes, even the Republican-dominated Congresses prior to the recent mid-term elections), but has always backed down when Bush said he would veto any such legislation. Let your congressman know that you oppose the embargo on any or all of the grounds itemised here.
What else can we do? Go anyway. They can't catch all of us. But the bigger issue here is not my vacation. Quite simply, we are promoting a policy that does not achieve its purpose, but instead severely restricts humanitarian effort to innocent people.

For further reading on this topic:
Wikipedia: United States embargo against Cuba
What Has the US Government's Embargo on Cuba Accomplished?
Denial of Food and Medicine: The Impact Of The U.S. Embargo On The Health And Nutrition In Cuba
Dorgan says Treasury Department's OFAC is supposed to be fighting terrorism, not chasing retired American bicyclists who travel in Cuba
More Agents Track Castro Than Bin Laden
Cuba OFAC Extortion/Shakedown

18 December 2006

Ashes reclaimed

Australia has won the third test by 206 runs, taking an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the Ashes Series. Heather is actually disappointed--she was hoping they would clinch it when we are at the test in Melbourne next week. You can read more about the test in Perth here. Plus, espn.com has had news from the Series under their Spotlight the past few days. It's a link to cricinfo.com, but still, it's something. This photo (notice the tiny little replica urn in the middle) was taken from the Cricket Australia website--take a look at the complete slideshow. It includes some great shots from the WACA. Five points if you can tell me what that stands for.

14 December 2006

Ashes update

Two of the Ashes Test Series are complete with Australia up 2-0. Australia won the first test by 277 runs in a blowout. They struggled the first four days of the second test as a draw appeared imminent but had an historic fifth day to win by six wickets. You can read about the exciting fifth day in this Sydney Morning Herald article.
The third test began today, but Perth is proving to be a bowler's pitch. Australia batted first and is already all out for 244 runs. England was 2/51 at the close of play today. Test two looked like it wouldn't be completed on time until the stunning ending, but the third test is looking like it might wrap up early. But who will finish on top?

Milestone

This is Post #100. Just thought you should know.

07 December 2006

Why America needs more social programs and a decent minimum wage

Read 'I hate my job' on dallasnews.com.
This is the type of situation I was referring to a few weeks ago in WWJV and Republican 'values'. It is the real-life story of a woman who is struggling to make it. Yes, she has made mistakes in her past, but she has also gotten no favors from America. She has goals, she works hard, but odds are she will continue to struggle to get by for the rest of her life.
This article points out other problems with society, of course. The fast food industry. Drugs. Immigration issues. Simple human decency. These are tough problems--there are no easy answers. But just looking at Gloria's life, as well as that of her husband and two kids--doesn't she deserve better from America?

02 December 2006

Your 2006 NSW state champions

The Sydney Uni Lions played UTS Gridiron in the Waratah Bowl tonight and emerged victorious, 34-26. This is the fourth straight state title for the Lions. It was a hard fought game, but the final score does not reflect how it really played out. With six minutes to go, we were up 34-20 with the ball on the three yard line and a first down, but the offense was unable to punch it in to seal the game. UTS took over but stalled at midfield. We got the ball back and tried to run out the clock, but were forced to punt with 1:20 to go. A UTS player fielded the ball in the endzone and was chased out the back of the endzone, which should have been a safety. Instead, for some reason, UTS was given the ball at the 15 (the field was only 80 yards long). Not sure how that one worked. On their first play, they went over the top for the long TD, pulling within eight. After a missed extra point and a failed onside kick, we ran out the clock.
I've enjoyed playing this season. I've met some great guys, had some fun and collected a medal. Takes some of the sting off my fantasy football season. But next year, I think I'll give cricket a try. More to come on that later.

21 November 2006

The Ashes

A few weeks ago, Heather and I went to the Museum of Sydney (where we won the cruise a year ago). The real deal Ashes urn was on exhibit, along with other historical items from the series. This was only the second time it has left England, so seeing it here was a big deal for the Australians. The only negative was they didn't allow photography--the pictures here are a replica we saw at the Bradman Museum two months ago. The exhibit also included the Waterford Crystal
Ashes trophy that was commissioned in 1998. This trophy is an exact replica of the original, only not four inches tall.
The Ashes urn has had an interesting history. Here's some of the highlights:
  • The Ashes tradition began in 1882, when Australia beat England and a mock obituary was printed for English cricket: 'In Affectionate Remembrance of ENGLISH CRICKET, which died at the Oval on 29th AUGUST, 1882, Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances R.I.P. N.B. — The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.'
  • The urn was a gift from some Australian women to Ivo Bligh, an English player, in 1883 during an English cricket tour of Australia. Eventually, the urn became the property of the Marylebone Cricket Club in England.
  • No one is exactly sure what is in the urn. What are, or rather were, the ashes? Legend says they are from the stumps from the historic 1882 match. Some say it the remains of the stumps from the 1883 match in Australia. Others say the ashes are actually a burned handkerchief of one of the women. Yet another theory says that a housemaid at one time dropped the urn, spilled its contents, and refilled it with ashes from the fireplace.
  • The Ashes urn you see awarded the the victors is actually a replica. The real urn is too fragile for that. In fact, x-rays showed that at some point in the past, a bolt had been inserted to repair the damaged base.
Information about the 2006-2007 Ashes Test Series can be found at Cricket Australia. We will be at Melbourne Day 4.
As we left the museum, we entered the contest for a trip to England. Make it two for two?

12 November 2006

U2 (finally!)

In November last year, I bought a ticket for the U2 concert in Sydney on March 31. However, at the beginning of March, it was announced that the Australian leg of the tour would be delayed. Friday, November 10, I finally got to use my ticket. There were two other Sydney shows as well, each one with about 70 000 in attendance.
Heather didn't buy a ticket a year ago, but when she found out Kanye West was opening, she wished she had. When a friend of hers went back to Germany in July holding an unused ticket, Heather got it. She said she was going to watch Kanye then leave. Turns out, she stayed for part of the U2 show, but left an hour early. Yet another benefit of public transportation--she can go home while I stay for the rest of the show.
Why would she leave? Answer: she's not a U2 superfan. She saw the show five years ago--this was more of the same. I, however, am a U2 superfan. She thought the show was good--I thought it was great. So she will probably think some of the following commentary is silly. That's OK, she doesn't get Star Wars either.

Here's the set list:
City of Blinding Lights-Two minutes before U2 took the stage, it started to rain. When they opened with 'Lights', it seemed right--always felt like a light rain kind of song to me. While the early rain was OK, I was glad it only lasted twenty minutes.
Vertigo
Elevation
Until the End of the World-Video screen featured Aboriginal art. Nice touch.
New Year's Day
Beautiful Day
Yahweh-One of the gems from Dismantle. If you don't know it, it's one of those songs that is way more spiritual than anything you would hear on a Christian CD.
Walk On
Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own-Dedicated to Bono's brother, written for his father. Bono said if his father was there he would have one thing to say: 'Take off your f*ing glasses'--so he did. Might be the first time I've seen him without glasses in fifteen years, including his trip to the Vatican.
Love and Peace or Else-First of the 'peace trilogy'. Bono talked about and the video featured the word 'coexist', where the 'c' was an Islamic crescent moon, the 'x' was a Star of David, and the 't' was a Christian cross. Another interesting question he raised was 'do we have to become a monster to overcome a monster?' A separate post along these lines is forthcoming.
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Bullet the Blue Sky
Miss Sarajevo
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Where the Streets Have No Name-An appeal for Make Poverty History led the song.
One
(encore 1)
Zoo Station
The Fly
With or Without You
(encore 2)
The Saints are Coming-U2's song written with Green Day to benefit musicians in New Orleans.
Angel of Harlem
Kite-Featured a didgeridoo played by a local musician.
As always, a great show, at least for a superfan.

06 November 2006

Republican 'values'

One last thing for you to think about before you head to the polls. Got this as an email today:

A young teenage girl was about to finish her first year of college. She considered herself to be a very liberal Democrat but her father was a rather staunch Republican.
One day she was challenging her father on his beliefs and his opposition to taxes and welfare programs. He stopped her and asked her how she was doing in school.
She answered that she had a 4.0 GPA but it was really tough. She had to study all the time, and she never had time to go out and party. She didn't have time for a boyfriend and didn't really have many college friends because of spending all her time studying.
He asked, "How is your friend Mary?" She replied that Mary was barely getting by. She had a 2.0 GPA and never studied. She was very popular on campus and went to parties all the time. She often didn't show up for classes because she was hung over.
Dad then asked his daughter why she didn't go to the Dean's office and have 1.0 taken off her 4.0 and give it to her friend with the 2.0. That way they would both have a 3.0 GPA.
The daughter angrily fired back, "That wouldn't be fair! I worked really hard for mine and Mary has done nothing." The father slowly smiled and said, "Welcome to the Republican Party."
Received from Andy Chaps The Funnies.

Funny. Misleading, but funny.
You can't seriously equate a GPA to health. Mary has made her own choices and her 2.0 will likely have no bearing on the daughter's life. Millions of people in America are disadvantaged through no fault of their own and despite a lifetime of hard work that you and I could not imagine.
'Yeah, but some...'
I didn't say all of the poor are victims. Some have made poor choices that have resulted in their current circumstances. But so have I. Why should I be favoured over them for a fulfilled, successful life? And even if they have made poor choices, does that mean they don't deserve adequate health care?
The Republican Party and the Religious Right have pushed a platform based on 'values', but I just don't see it anymore. What 'value' is there in not providing health care for everyone? What 'value' is there in giving tax breaks only to the wealthy? What 'value' is there in favouring corporations over individuals? What 'value' is there in the persistent damage of the environment by heavy use of fossil fuels when clean alternatives are readily available? What 'value' is there is providing vouchers to wealthy families while the poor are left to drop out in woefully underfunded public schools? People working for the current minimum wage live well below the poverty line--what 'value' is that?
I'm sick of it. For my entire life, the Republicans have talked about 'family values' like abortion and now gay rights. But in the thirty-four years since Roe v Wade, twenty-two years of Republican presidents have done nothing to reverse it. So what's the point? By the way, did you realise that the two Democratic presidents since then were both Baptists? (The Republican presidents were Quaker, two Episcopalians, Presbyterian and Methodist.)
I'm much more concerned about my government taking care of our social values. I can choose my religious values for myself. That's what our founding fathers had in mind anyway.
Values? The government is currently denying people basic human rights, even going so far as torturing suspected terrorists (The Economist, bmj.com). If they are guilty, they deserve punishment, but torture? What happened to trial by jury? Isn't the United States better than this?
You're still worried about giving 1.0 of your GPA to Mary? They're Democrats, not Communists. You still get your reward for hard work. It's just that everyone gets access to basic needs. Yeah, it's going to raise your taxes a little (although not as much as you think). Take out the ridiculous tax breaks for the wealthy and that would go a long way to cover it. But isn't a little tax worth a better society? I said in my first paragraph that Mary's GPA will likely have no bearing on the daughter's life. The joke is also misleading because that simply isn't the case in the real world. All of our lives are impacted by those around us who are unhealthy and uneducated. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If these people were provided with these basic necessities, it would benefit all of society. I've seen it work.

04 November 2006

Sydney Uni Lions Update

It's been a while since I've updated you on the Sydney Uni Lions season. We are 7-1 after a 53-12 defeat of the Sutherland Seahawks last night. We play them again next week, then finish the regular season against the Outlaws, who we squeaked out a win against in Week 3. The Outlaws are also a potential first round playoff matchup. Our only loss was the the Pirates, and that one was avenged last week.
During our film session Tuesday night, Coach had us make a list of goals for the remainder of the season. Mine were:
1) Give up no catches.
2) Run support: give up no RAC, contain/make all tackles to my side of the field.
3) Create one turnover.
As of Saturday's game, I'm on track for all goals and have amended Goal 3: Create two turnovers. Late in the first half, the Seahawks drove down the field on us, mostly on ticky-tack calls against our D-line for late hits. With my back to the goal line, I picked off an underthrown pass and returned it about 15-20 yards. Offense ran out the clock to close the half. Can't wait for Tuesday's film session this week.
Click the Sydney Uni Gridiron link to check it out. Game summary should be up there soon.

02 November 2006

WWJV

In my last post I said I wasn't going to tell you who to vote for, but I'm going to push that a bit here. Just a little food for thought. My blog, my rules. I know most of you regulars are Christian, and even if you aren't, you likely have a Judeo-Christian background. So I want to look at some of the 'liberal' issues that will play a major role in the upcoming election.
The democrats seem to be leading the way on environmental issues. Isn't this something that Christians should be more concerned about? Weren't we commanded to be stewards and caretakers of the earth? When you consider energy consumption, carbon emissions, deforestation and other environmental concerns, it appears to me that we are not caring for the earth as God intended. As Americans, we should be leading the way to a renewable, environmentally friendly energy source. We need to be reducing our carbon emissions. We should have been the first to sign the Kyoto Agreement. Instead, our dependence on foreign oil increases.
I used to hear a lot of arguments against socialised medicine, but I was always kind of for it. Then I moved here. Now I'm really for it. Australia has a socialised medicine plan and Heather and I both feel it has a very positive effect on the quality of life here. We go to the doctor we choose and we go quickly. I have been twice this past year and got an appointment for the next day, late afternoon after work both times. It's not inconvenient and it's not substandard. The bottom line is that everyone has access to needed health care, leading to a healthier society that gets preventive care before it's too late and they need more serious and expensive treatment. Jesus was always concerned with the poor and the sick. Shouldn't we be doing the same?
Which leads me to my last 'liberal' issue: tolerance. Australia is a multicultural society that not only tolerates others but encourages and embraces them. America seems to be afraid of anything or anyone that is different. These differences are often seen as a threat. It doesn't have to be that way. Again, Jesus spent his time with people who were different, always accepting them for who they were. He never forced himself on anybody--why do we feel people need to change and be like us? America needs to reach out to other nations and be more open to others, both inside and outside its borders.
Please understand I don't say any of this to assign Jesus to a political party. In fact, I'm trying to do the opposite. The Religious Right has claimed the Republican Party, and in my opinion, that's a poor match, not that the Democrats would be a better. I don't need my government to tell me what to believe or define my morals. But I do think they should do as much as they can to improve the quality of life for all Americans and be an example of these qualities for the rest of the world. For more on these issues, check out Our Endangered Values by Jimmy Carter. Also see A Place to Rant, a blog by my friend Rus. I think it is on the decline since he hasn't updated it recently, but there are some interesting posts concerning religion and politics to consider.

27 October 2006

The vote

Heather and I have mailed our absentee ballots. We almost missed the deadline to request them because we've never had to do it this way. As you consider who you will vote for I would like to give you a couple of things to think about. I certainly don't intend to tell you who you should vote for, but I would ask you to vote with an open mind, considering these issues.
  • Budget
  • Economy
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Ethics
  • Foreign relations
  • Health care
  • Homeland security
  • Immigration
  • Iraq
  • Social security
  • Taxes
  • Terrorism
Decide what you think about each issue. Then decide why. If you are for/against school vouchers, why? If you think the US should/should not work more closely with other countries, why? If you are for/against socialised medicine, why? If you are for/against the Patriot Act, why?
Examine the candidates. Look at their websites: they all list their plans for each issue. Don't worry about party affiliation, just find the candidate that most closely matches your own views and vote accordingly. Or consider this: don't vote for what you want the country to be like today, but vote for what you want the country to be like for your kids/grandkids.

14 October 2006

Australian advertisements (ad VUR tis muhnts)

Got a few clips from Australian TV for you today. This fist ad cracks me up and Heather doesn't understand why. It's for Big Pond, Telstra's broadband service.

There is a slightly longer version with the kid slapping his forehead to slick his hair down at the end, but it's not on YouTube. The second and third ads were run by the AFL this year. They both feature Barry Hall Hall, a fictitious AFL university run by Sydney Swans star AFL. They are similar to the Bristol University ads ESPN used to run. At the :38 mark you can hear a few seconds of the fight song, 'borrowed' from Notre Dame.


This commercial is part of a series for Nova, a radio station here in Sydney. They use the same video, but add different audio to create a different circumstance. This particular video is a fine example of what a majority of the people here think of Canberra. Not sure what it has to do with a radio station, however. Their current videos are set at a boxing press conference, but this one is on a commercial airplane.

What are the funniest ads during the Super Bowl? It's no different here. Here are two ads, one for Carlton, the second for Tooheys.


This is a portion of an ad run by Channel Seven in July before the Rugby Union match between the Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks. A few months earlier, Tana Umaga, All Blacks captain, had hit a teammate with a handbag belonging to another patron after their loss in the Super 14s Grand Final.

As it turned out, instead of carrying handbags during the haka performed at the advertised match, the All Blacks added a throat slash to the routine. Go here for a video of a New Zealand news piece about the commercial, including clips and discussion of other commercials in this heated rivalry.
No big surprise: the handbag was auctioned off, generating over a million hits and eventually selling for AU$19 200 (US$14,400).

13 October 2006

Google Maps: Canberra

If you aren't using Google Maps yet, what are you waiting for? And no, I don't mean Google Earth. Google Maps is the greatest mapping program on the internet. Delete all bookmarks for MapQuest or anything else you use. It has three views: map, satellite and hybrid. It is easy to manipulate the map. But the best feature is one search box. No multiple boxes for start/destination/street/city etc. One box. You want to look at the Statue of Liberty? Type it. You want directions from your house to the Statue? Type it. You want to know where all the Domino's Pizzas are in your town? Type it. I bring all this up because Google Maps finally has Australia up, although you can't get directions from it yet. But you can get pictures of locations, so I would like to refer you to an overhead satellite image of Parliament House in Canberra. I mentioned a week ago that it was built under a hill and we walked on top of it on our visit there. Compare the map image to the image on that previous post to get an idea what it's like.

11 October 2006

Two nights at the theatre

Last Friday, Heather and I went to The Crypt Theatre to see Turning Up, a play directed by a fellow teacher at Canterbury Boys and written by a friend of his. It is a very small venue, allowing for at most about twenty-five in the audience. The set was very simple: solid pink walls, solid blue table and folding chairs, solid yellow props, including a mobile phone, laptop, and milk carton. The play was about a woman who is married to an ambitious businessman and gets reacquainted with a high school classmate who rails against social and environmental injustices. The characters were very extreme and stereotypical, but that was the point. Hyperbole makes a statement. There were plenty of lines that were both amusing and cutting. However, the review in the paper gave it 4/10. Director Daryl wasn't too concerned--he said he was going to get a t-shirt made that said 'uninspired', the criticism leveled against him in the review. Daryl said he would have been upset if he was in the Sydney Theatre Company, whose professional performance got 6/10 one column over.
On Monday we made our second trip to the Sydney Opera House for a performance of Bell Shakespeare's The Tempest starring John Bell. The performances were very good but we both left rather unimpressed. We think it had more to do with the play selection. Heather compared it to something Ben Folds said at his concert. He had had a big hit and was under contract to write five more songs that year. Now that he was wealthy and uninspired, he couldn't write anything. As his deadline approached, he ripped out a few bad songs to meet his contractual observations. Heather said The Tempest must have been a similar situation. I'm waiting for them to perform All's Well That Ends Well.

08 October 2006

The second greatest website

Number one is LR of course, but last Friday I found a close second, especially if you are a runner/walker/cyclist. Check out favoriterun.com. Once you sign up for a free username, you can enter and save courses using a Google Maps template. It will tell you the exact distance of the course, and once you start logging runs/walks/rides, it can track times and give you averages. You can search for other local courses as well. And if you are lucky enough to have one of those Garmin GPS things, you can sync it and do other things I don't even know about. Check out my Domain Loop course that I ran while training for the SMH half marathon.
Hardhat zone: blogger.com has upgraded their service and I am in the process of getting LR moved over. There are a few improvements available when I get it completed, but if you check in here in the next few days and things look a little funny, that's why. All post content should be available, but layout or colours might be off, especially in the sidebar.
One last note: Andrew in Colorado found LR this weekend and posted a comment about the AFL Grand Final that was automatically deleted by someone with Blogger. Andrew, it wasn't me and thanks for your comments. For the rest of you, he provided a link to his blog The Gunsmoke Files, specifically to a post about his experience with the AFL Grand Final a few years back. Good reading--check it out.

05 October 2006

Canberra

Monday was Labour Day, so Heather and I took a quick trip down to the nation's capital. We rented a Hyundai Getz (pronounced he-YUN-day here) Sunday morning and took off. We stopped at the Bradman Museum in Bowral, home of the
greatest cricket player of all time, Sir Donald Bradman. Notice the 'pitch' pool with its 'wicket' fountains (reference photo here). At the museum and
on the website you see '99.94' a lot: this was his lifetime batting average. To put that in perspective for you non-cricketers, the next nine fall between 58 and 61 (a group
including Ricky Ponting, current captain of the Australian team). In his last at bat, he needed only 4 runs to have a lifetime average of 100, but got a duck--no runs.
It was then on to Canberra, where the theme of the weekend was 'flowers'. Floriade
is an annual event in the spring that we have heard quite a bit about. The flowers were tightly planted to form patterns when viewed from overhead, each one celebrating a different country. You can get an idea of the plan in this map.
We got up Monday and visited Parliament House. It is a unique
structure in that it is basically underground. There was a hill, they dug it up and built Parliament House, and put the hill back on top. There are several reasons for this. One is the overall design of the city. Walter Burley Griffin was an American architect who designed
the city to fit into the natural environment. Another reason, more symbolic, concerns the idea of government 'of the people, by the people, for the people'. You can actually walk on top of the hill and physically look down on Parliament--a reminder that the people are in control. Another interesting
feature of the House is the clocks--all 2416 of them, at least one visible from anywhere in the building. The small squares, one between 4 and 5, one between 7 and 8, light up green and red respectively. The coloured squares, along with a bell, alert the house (green) and the senate (red) they have four minutes to get to their chamber for a vote or be locked out.
Heather had a little fun in the gift shop at Parliament House--she is pictured here wearing what I think was a koala potholder on her head.
From there it was on to the Botanic Gardens where we saw--what else?--more flowers. These gardens are home to more
indigenous Australian plants in one place than anywhere else in the world--over 10 000 species. Among them we saw waratahs, the large flower the NSW rugby union team was named for. We took part in a guided tour that was very informative concerning the plants and flowers we saw.
Some people say Canberra is
dull, but I found it very nice. It has some of the features of a big city (namely, major sports teams), but also feels small, partly because there really aren't many people and partly because of the Burley Griffin design. And if you ever visit, be sure to eat at Mecca Bah (I recommend the lamb with Lebanese lady fingers for dessert).
Lots of pictures for you here. Be sure to click on some of the photos to enlarge them. Heather and I got a new camera--you're now looking at 7.2 megapixels of brilliance.

03 October 2006

AFL Grand Final

This was the team the Swans supporters wanted to avoid. West Coast won the minor premiership (best record for the regular season). They lost a close one last year in the Grand Final to Sydney. They lost by one point in the first round of the playoffs this year to Sydney. In short, they were a great team with a serious chip on their shoulder--very dangerous.
It was an exciting game, but the Red and the White came up one point short. One point. One. 85-84. It was particularly painful because they played so poorly in the first half, failing to convert easy goals and giving away goals to West Coast. Definitely a game that leaves you wondering 'what if...' But congratulations to the West Coast Eagles on their victory.
The video clip is the highlights from the match as presented by Fox Sports News. Give it a look, but before you do, allow me to try to explain a little of the game.
It looks like total chaos, but it is really quite simple: You try to kick the ball between the posts. A goal (a kick between the tall inner posts) is worth six, while a behind (a kick between the short outer posts) is worth one. You are allowed to run with the ball, but you must bounce it every fifteen metres. You can hand pass to a teammate (think underhand volleyball serve) or kick it. A free kick is awarded for a mark (caught kick that travels more than fifteen metres). If you are tackled with the ball you must release it so play can continue. A player from either team is allowed to pick it up and play on.
Enjoy the highlights.



I have really gotten into AFL and the Swans--Heather and I will likely get a membership (season tickets) next year--but I have one complaint. The AFL Grand Final is always at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It was referred to at the beginning of the game as Australia's Madison Square Garden. Many of the teams are based around Melbourne. The league used to be called the Victorian Football League since the teams then were all in the state of Victoria. But if the AFL is trying to promote their league around all of Australia, shouldn't they play the Grand Final in other parts of the country? I prefer having the team with the better record host it, but if you want to move it around Super Bowl-style, that's fine, too. But having the game in Melbourne every year, even if no Melbourne teams have played in it the past three years, isn't doing much to promote the AFL around the country.

30 September 2006

Free Hugs Guy

This is a video from YouTube about Juan Mann, the 'Free Hugs Guy'. He primarily hangs out at the Pitt Street Mall, just a few minutes from our apartment. I've seen him down there a few times. This video was put together by the Australian band the Sick Puppies and has taken off on YouTube, quickly surpassing one million views.



This second video is a local news report about Juan Mann and briefly details his story, primarily his run-in with city council.



Towards the end of the video a girl calls for a meeting at noon on Monday to 'hug the whole city'. That's this Monday--it's Labour Day here. Heather and I will unfortunately miss this potential meeting, but if there is any local coverage of it, I'll pass it on. For the moment, there is an article here in the Sydney Morning Herald.

23 September 2006

Cheer, Cheer the Red and the White

Attempting to quickly bury that last post. Friday night I went to the Sydney Swans AFL First Preliminary Final against Freemantle. In America you would call it the semifinals. Sydney won the game 19. 13. (127) to 14. 8. (92). That means the Swans had 19 goals (6 points) and 13 behinds (1 point) for a total of 127 points. The Grand Final will be next weekend against the West Coast Eagles. This will be a repeat of last year's Grand Final, won by Sydney.
It will also be a rematch of the first round of the playoffs this year. The AFL uses an interesting format. Eight teams qualify for the finals series, but instead of the typical 1v8, 2v7, 3v6, 4v5 matchups, you have two tiers in the first round: 1 to 4 and 5 to 8. If you are in the top half and you win, you get a pass into the semis. If you lose you move on to round 2. If you are in the bottom half and you win, you move on to round 2, but if you lose, you're done. Winners of round 2 advance to the semis. If you are confused, click the diagram to the right.
It's impossible to watch a Swans game and not think of Notre Dame. That's because the Swannies 'borrowed' their fight song. Instead of Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame you sing

Cheer, cheer the Red and the White
Honour the name by day and by night,
Lift that noble banner high,
Shake down the thunder from the sky
Whether the odds be great or small,
Swans will go in and win over all
While her loyal sons are marching
Onwards to victory.

Lions 20, Pirates 27

The streaks are over. The defence gave up all 27 points. The team took the first loss in over three years. We have a bye next Saturday, so that will be two weeks to let this one sink in. New win streak begins on October 7th.

20 September 2006

Sydney Uni Lions

A few of you have heard that I am playing football. Not soccer, rugby or AFL, but American gridiron football. Here in Australia. I play for Sydney University, but this is nothing like NCAA athletics. It's basically just a club team that is hosted by the university.
We play real, fully-padded, hard-hitting football. I'm a defensive back--mostly corner, but some time at free safety. I wear number 4 because my regular 24 was taken. I don't mind--I kind of like the college style single digit. The team is good--we are playing this year for a fourth consecutive title. Undeafeated over that time. So far this season, we are 2-0. We won our first game against the Hated Bondi Raiders 42-0 but narrowly won this past week 20-13. Their points came off a kickoff return and interception return (missed PAT), so our defence is still maintaining a shutout.
Sydney Uni Gridiron has been added to the links on the right. Check it out. Next game is this Saturday versus the Pirates.

12 September 2006

Ben Folds at the Sydney Opera House

Last Thursday, after thirteen months in Australia, Heather and I finally attended a performance at the Sydney Opera House. Ben Folds performed with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. It was a great show, highlighted by 'Brick,' 'Landed,' 'Jesusland,' 'All U Can Eat,' 'The Luckiest' and 'Smoke.' Not sure six songs qualifies as a 'highlight,' but it was that good. It was our first time to see Ben Folds, but from what I've heard about his concerts, he was his typical, interactive and amiable self. The orchestral arrangements for his songs were a perfect accompaniment. We were sitting on the side, right above the orchestra. It was interesting to see them play--a new appreciation of their talents. We thought we were also going to have a good view of Ben when we sat down since he would be facing our direction at the piano. The conductor ruined this when he stepped directly in our line of sight, but as this didn't stop us from actually hearing anything, all is forgiven. There were questions about what to wear to a performance by an informal Ben Folds at the formal Sydney Opera House. We split the difference--khakis and a sweater. As it turns out, there were jeans and tshirts and suits and ties in attendance and everything in between.

05 September 2006

Crocodile Hunter, Rest In Peace

I'm sure you have all heard the news of the death of Steve Irwin, who was mentioned here just a few days ago. It was suggested to me by a few people that I might alter that post, but I decided against it. What was written then was accurate. His death does not change that. However, I felt I should perhaps explain a little more why Australians felt the way they did.
No one here was wishing death on him. It is always tragic when someone dies much too early. Most people appreciated his conservation efforts, most recently his prevention of the establishment of crocodile hunting safaris in Queensland. He rubbed Australians the wrong way with his exaggerated accent and mannerisms. I have heard him referred to as a caricature of himself. People felt he was a sell out to American media interests--never a good way to make friends back home.
Personally, I liked him. I thought he was crazy, but he was good at what he did. His numerous imitators prove the success of the formula. Most importantly, he was sincere in respect for the environment and wildlife.
For more on Australia's reaction to the loss of Steve Irwin, here are a few links to articles from the Sydney Morning Herald. Bizarre death of 'remarkable' man is their story on the event. A deluge of tributes is a collection of quotes from some of the Australian VIPs. Superstar ignored at home provides further insight in to how Steve Irwin was viewed in his home country.

30 August 2006

Your questions for Australia answered

Thanks for those of you who suggested questions--I'll pass them on. I realise you might have learned some of these answers in the past year, but for now, I will provide my answers, just in case. Here are the answers to the questions you asked, or someone else asked and you were too afraid to:

Is Mick Dundee famous in Australia?
People certainly know who he is, but he isn't exactly a celebrity. Kind of a sellout. Paul Hogan trivia: Before Hollywood, he used to be a painter on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

What's the weather like down there?
Nice as. Here in Sydney, we have a mild winter and warm to hot summers. In the northern part of the country, the summers are pure hot and winters are mild to warm. Further south, winters are cool and summers are warm.

How often do you see a kangaroo?
Every time I ride mine to work. Kidding. I saw one in Queensland near the crocodile farm, and a few weeks ago we saw quite a few on our way to the Blue Mountains. Outside of the cities there are supposed to be places where they are plentiful, but if you are asking if they hang out by the Opera House, the answer is no. Although that is a good trick to play on tourists.

Do people really use the phrase "Shrimp on the barbie?"
No. We don't even have shrimp here--we have "prawns".

Do toilets spin the other way when you flush?
No--too small. You are referring to the Coriolis effect, which does effect the rotation of hurricanes/cyclones in the Northern/Southern hemispheres due to the rotation of the earth. In your bathroom's sink/tub/toilet, however, the direction the water drains is determined by the size/shape of the device, how the plug is pulled and the direction the water was initially added. See for yourself: fill a sink with water with your hand over the drain. Twist your hand clockwise as you remove it from the drain and the water will spin clockwise. Now repeat counter-clockwise to reverse the effect.

Are the Wiggles big over there?
Big with the kiddies I guess. I'm sure Crocodile Dundee doesn't listen to them.

Does everyone there hate Steve Irwin as much as we do here?
Are you kidding? The Crocodile Hunter is tailor-made for the American audience. Australians can't stand him. If you do see him on TV here, his accent is much less pronounced.

Do they really eat those cute, cuddly kangaroos? Who could do that??
Yes, and me. Tasty. Actually, many Australians, especially in the city, are still hesitant to eat roo, but out in the bush, the animal is just another pest. Late last year, the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia held a contest to rename roo meat to avoid the 'cute animal' perceptions--think venison. 'Australus' won the contest, but has yet to be officially adopted by the KIAA. Personally, my favorite entry was "jumpmeat".

26 August 2006

Red Hands Cave

Last weekend Heather and I did some more exploring, this time checking in at Red Hands Cave. It was much easier to get to than Katoomba and Three Sisters since it is only an hour outside of Sydney rather than two hours. The trail itself wasn't as exciting and didn't offer the views of
other parks in the Blue Mountains, but the cave was very interesting. It is believed that the earliest of the red hands were first painted about 1600 years ago, which isn't really all that long ago considering the Aborigines have been here at least 40 000 years.
The hands were created by mixing ochre with saliva or blood, then putting the mixture in their mouths and blowing it over their hands held as stensils on the cave wall. A few hands were solid, created simply by putting the hand in the mixture and applying it straight to the wall. There were red hands, orange hands, yellow hands, left hands, right hands, adult hands, children's hands, narrow hands, fleshy hands. The variety emphasised the diversity and individuality of each one, reminding me that perhaps hundreds of people over a thousand years contributed their part to this site.
There was a barrier over the cave to protect it from vandals. Discovered in 1913, it was covered in charcoaled initials of visitors by 1934. Vandalism was so bad that it was taken off official tourist attraction lists. It has since been cleaned, and in 1987, the barrier was erected to protect it. It is unfortunate that this measure is necessary, but sometimes these things are required to preserve these sites for the future.

21 August 2006

Aboriginal story time

Two parts to today's post, both regarding Aboriginal story time.
First, the Three Sisters. I told you a few posts earlier about our trip to see them, but just now realised I never told you why they are called the three sisters. Aboriginal legend has it that three sisters from one band fell in love with three brothers from another. However, the men in their group would not allow them to leave and marry the brothers. These men attempted to take the sisters by force and were fought off. During the battle, the medicine man turned the three sisters into a rock formation for safety, with the intention of changing them back after the danger had passed. Unfortunately, he was killed during the battle, and the Three Sisters have remained to this day.
The second part of today's post concerns a movie called Ten Canoes that Heather and I saw tonight. I've searched imdb.com and there apparently aren't any plans to release this film in the States, but if you see it anywhere, on the screen or video, check it out. It is an Australian made film telling an Aboriginal story, and the first to be shot in an Aboriginal language, although there is an additional Storyteller "voice over" at times. It is revealing of Aboriginal thought and manner towards other people and their society, the land, storytelling, the past and life in general. It is entertaining and enlightening; thought provoking and funny. If you get a chance to see it, don't pass it up--it's a rare opportunity to learn about original Australian life.

18 August 2006

Wanted: Your questions for Australia

First, I made an addition to my list of what I miss about the USA--the Do Not Call Registry. We get calls all the time here and it drives me crazy.
I was asked by a student at school today what kind of questions he would get if he were to go to the States as an exchange student. I covered what I am asked here back in January, but he wanted to know what it would be like on the other side. So, I need your questions. This will be somewhat artificial since most of you have been reading these updates for a year now, but imagine this was all new to you. What do you want to know? What did you wonder about when we first got here? Maybe someone else you know asked a question when you told them you knew someone in Australia--what was it? Leave a comment asking your questions--the crazier the better.

13 August 2006

Wallabies v Springboks

Last Saturday Heather, friend
and coworker Andrew and I went to the Wallabies game against the Springboks of South Africa. We had excellent seats, sitting low and in the corner, right near the action. The Wallabies had beaten the Springboks a few weeks earlier 49-0 but this was a
completely different game. South Africa dominated play and field position for much of the game, but missed three goal opportunities in the first half, allowing the Wallabies the lead on a nicely played breakaway try. The Springboks efforts finally paid off in the second half when they took the lead on a try of their own and appeared to be in control of the match. After a few key substitutions, the Wallabies rallied for an exciting finish. Mat Rogers, one of the late subs, scored a try to steal the win with a little over three minutes remaining. The try was scored in our corner, so it all happened right in front of us. The best part about it was he had jogged around that corner a few minutes earlier before entering the game and had waved at some kids sitting in front of us. When he jumped up after scoring the try, he pointed triumphantly at the kids again. Must have been very exciting for them.
These kids were members of various rugby teams who provided our half time entertainment. We had noticed many of them were wearing rugby headgear and mouthguards in the stands and wondered why. The kids at our end were about five and none of them had headgear. Heather was outraged, saying, "They are so little! Why don't they have headgear?! They'll get hurt!" Turns out the little ones only play touch.
It was a fun evening and a good game, the rain held off and the Wallabies won. They also claimed the 2006 Mandela Plate, awarded to the series winner between Australia and South Africa. This took a little of the sting off of losing the Bledisloe Cup to New Zealand a few weeks earlier. If you look closely at the first picture, you can see the ball going through the uprights. Only the best for Look Right readers. Official game report can be found here.

07 August 2006

Katoomba

Last weekend, Heather and I went bushwalking, our first since the leech incident. We went to Katoomba, where we saw the Three Sisters (the first picture) and a lot of tourists (second). We were both reminded of the horse drawn carriage tour of Charleston where we saw old
homes, historic buildings, natural vegetation and a sidewalk chalk scrawled message reading "TOURISTS GO HOME". Once we got out on the actual trail, however, the tourist disappeared. Full of energy and excitement, we began our descent on the Giant Stairway, which is correctly named--over
800 steps. It weaves back and forth down the cliff face, hiding around edges and through the forest growth. At the bottom, we stopped for lunch. A couple tourists were right behind us (you could tell by their blue and pink Ugg boots). They spent a couple minutes catching their breath, then headed back up the stairs. Not sure why you would walk down 800 stairs and not enjoy the actual trails. We chose the Dardanelles Pass, named for the location in Turkey where the ANZACS fought during WWI.
You will notice in the next pictures how dense the canopy was by how dark it is--these pictures were taken in the middle of the afternoon an hour or so after the picture of the Three Sisters. The stairs back up traced a series of waterfalls coming down, and all of them were different. In the first falls
picture, you see me and a "standard" waterfall. The walking stick is Heather's. Be careful if you are ever walking up stairs on a trail behind Heather and her stick. She has a tendency to drop her hand to her side, thus bringing the business end of the stick very near your head. In the next picture is a beautiful, wide, trickling falls. The still photo just can't capture how it sparkled as it fell. Other than the falls, the way up was just like the way down: stairs, stairs, stairs. It didn't go up a cliff face, but at every
bend, there was another set. The last picture illustrates Heather's fallen spirits at a particularly long and daunting staircase with no sunlight in sight. When we finally broke through to the sun, she threw up her hands and yelled, "We made it!"

04 August 2006

Year One: What I don't miss about the USA

Here's a followup to my previous post--if there are things I miss, there are a few things I don't miss, too.
  1. Pennies and one dollar bills. It drove me crazy on my trip back having a pocket full of useless pennies and a wallet stuffed with singles. There is a movement to lose the penny in the US--support it. Rounding to the nearest nickel on cash transactions is wonderful. And while you are at it, recommend replacing the dollar bill with one and two dollar coins. If you are going to carry around all that change, at least make it worth something.
  2. $3/gal gas. And consider yourself lucky--it's the equivalent of US$6/gal here.
  3. Traffic. Yes, we have traffic here, too. But with a decent public transportation option, I don't have to drive a car. No matter how bad the streets are, trains keep moving right along.
  4. Large portions. You don't need that much food. Really.

Year One: What I miss about the USA

It was one year ago this fine rainy morning that Heather and I arrived in Sydney (it was fine and rainy that day, too). After a year here and my recent trip back for a visit, I have given great thought to the similarities and differences between the two countries. In recognition of our one year anniversary here, I have compiled this list of the things I miss about America.
  1. Family
  2. Friends
  3. Dr Pepper
  4. Real milkshakes-They make them here, but they are nothing more than flavored milk.
  5. Snow cones
  6. ESPN-Available here if you have Foxtel (cable), which we don't. But even then, it isn't the same. Everything is tape delayed, and you don't get the same variety. And forget ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPNU, etc.
  7. Wal Mart
  8. TexMex-The selection is extremely limited, and we have tried a few of them, but don't get your hopes up. We can't even get the proper ingredients at the store to make it at home.
  9. Do Not Call Registry-We get sales calls here ALL THE TIME.

03 August 2006

Guest blog: Heather evades a $200 fine

Today I had to go to a statistics seminar hosted by a research group in the Mental Health Unit at Liverpool Hospital. I'd never been to Liverpool Hospital before, and my boss gave me a map. The map wasn't the best, as it only showed the hospital campus and didn't show the route from the train station to the hospital. But he clearly identified the location of the Mental Health Unit with large block letters highlighted in hot pink and circled in pencil.
I woke up this morning and realized I left my map on my desk in my office. I needed to take the bus to my office and retrieve my map before catching the train, and, with dinner plans in another part of the city later in the evening, I quickly tallied 2 bus trips and 4 train trips today. Since we live by Central, in the middle of the red zone, I congratulated myself on having the clever idea of buying a discounted red zone (inner city) weekly travel pass.
As it goes I was running late. At 8:30am, map in hand, I was in the train station looking at the schedule board when I realized I don't even know where the suburb of Liverpool is (FYI--southwest on the map). I found the Liverpool train on the board, not thinking it's called Liverpool because Liverpool is the end of the line, thereby meaning Liverpool is a LONG way away. And probably not in the zone of my red inner city travel pass.
Ride the train without a valid ticket and you'll get slapped with a $200 fine.
But at 8:30am it wasn't connecting for me. I was just trying to figure out if I would make it to my seminar by 10 o'clock, and I was very perplexed by watching the estimated time until departure for my train change from 7 minutes to 19 minutes to 23 minutes back to 3 minutes. I had to catch that train!
But the train was 20 minutes late. And it moved so slowly I could have hopped on one foot to Liverpool faster. At no point did I think 'I'm really going a long way. I bet this hospital isn't in the Inner West.' I don't wear a watch, so I had no idea it was after 10am until I saw the clock when I alighted at the station. And then I was really flustered because I was already late and I had no idea how to get from the train station to the hospital.
I rammed my red zone pass into the turnstile while fishing in my bag for the hospital campus map. The turnstile beeped 'INVALID TICKET' at me. The first transit officer came over, glanced at my ticket, saw the date was valid, and let me through. Then he said, "HOLD ON! Did that say red?"
"Yeah, it says red," I huffed with attitude. In the same breath, "How do you get to Liverpool Hospital?"
"Ma'am, you can't come all the way out here on a red zone ticket."
"What? OK. How do you get to the hospital from here?"
"Ma'am, it's a $200 fine."
"OK. I have a meeting at the hospital. How do you get to the hospital?"
A second transit officer comes over. "Ma'am, I need to ask you a few questions."
"OK. How do you get to the hospital?" I found my campus map in my bag at this moment and waved it triumphantly in the air.
"Ma'am, why are you in Liverpool?" Now there are 4 transit officers.
"I have to go to the hospital. I have a meeting."
"Do you ride the train often?"
"Never. How do you get to the hospital? I have this map, but it doesn't tell me how to get to the hospital."
I gave my campus map to the transit officers. They took one look at MENTAL HEALTH UNIT in block letters, highlighted in hot pink, and circled in pencil.
I got a smile and a wave and I was on my way. I walked out of the station and the hospital was across the street.

30 July 2006

How I Spent My Winter Vacation

Number one priority for a winter
vacation: Go where it is summer. My first stop was Texas, where I rode the train pictured here. Bandits pulled a train robbery and were kind enough to pose for pictures and hand out "money" to the kiddies. We rode to Ft Worth, where I enjoyed an original "Dublin Dr
Pepper" made with pure cane sugar, not corn syrup. I really missed this stuff--my in-laws and parents both had plenty in stock for my time with them. While in Ft Worth, I played the tourist and rode the mechanical bull. My sister-in-law took the picture--not sure if she just missed my ride or if she thinks she's funny. Also played 42 one evening, and if you aren't from Texas, you don't know what I'm talking about.
From Dallas I went to Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, for a few days where the "Tour of Golf" began. Got in two rounds before heading off to Nashville to visit my sister and her family and a couple other friends in the area. I spent some time playing with the kids and met my niece Macy for the first time, two weeks removed from successful heart surgery. I convinced Cole that the Tooth Fairy sent me to collect on the tooth he swallowed but still got paid for. And Mollie is still best described as "firecracker". Got in two more rounds of golf--nine holes on The Little Course with Brian and a round at Chris and Karen's country club, The Governor's Club. Follow that link and on the main page is a picture of their signature 18th hole--there's more brown than green. Also caught a Nashville Sounds minor league baseball game with my old friend Rus.
From Nashville, went back to HSV for a few days and got in two more rounds of golf, including a 91, my best round ever. Heather suggested I leave my clubs in the States and take off a year again. Umm, no. We looked at going to a minor league ballgame in Little Rock, but they were on a road trip. Next stop
was Oklahoma City for a family reunion where I taught the kids how to play blackjack properly. Spent the weekend visiting with family, most of whom I hadn't seen since my wedding four years ago. Also paid my respects at the Oklahoma City memorial for the Federal Building bombing. Still not sure why some people do the things they do, and why the rest of us haven't learned any better.
After the reunion and back in Dallas, I had lunch with four friends one day, played my annual raquetball game with a couple of them the next morning and had lunch with a couple friends at Shawn's Dickey's Barbecue Pit up in Roanoke. If you have a hankerin' for some good eats, go here. Also played my
seventh and final round of golf at The Tribute, where Heather and I were married. My father-in-law is pictured here on the 18th tee. Hardest. Course. Ever. I will never complain about trees again--links-style roughs with their tall grasses are a killer. During the round, Paul spotted
one of my errant tee shots in the tall grass. He said, "here it is," but as he turned around and walked back toward the fairway, he added, "...next to a big snakeskin." I laughed, thinking he was making a joke about my shot being off the fairway. No. He was serious. Big snakeskins=big snakes. I hit the
ball (no practice swings this time) and cleared out of there, too. That night my mother-in-law wanted to experience a little Sydney eats, so we made sushi. It was good. I liked it. She liked it. Paul--not so much.
We also went to a Frisco Rough Riders baseball game at beautiful Dr Pepper Ballpark--how could it be anything else with a name like that? Found out the Rangers have a player named Adam Morrissey (now at Triple A Oklahoma) from Australia. The game was great, but the visiting Chicken was the star of the night. He is pictured here giving the ump a vision test.
And that is how I spent my winter vacation.
THE END

21 July 2006

Cupco World Safari

While I was globetrotting, Heather went
to an art exhibit back here in Sydney, where she purchased the art you see pictured here (click on picture to enlarge). The exhibit was called Cupco World Safari and the artist is Luke Temby. The Sydney Morning Herald covered the Sydney exhibit here. If you read the smh.com article and check out the Cupco website, you'll get an idea of what Temby is all about. He has also recently agreed to a deal where some of his dolls will be mass produced, so if you notice them somewhere, you saw it here first, and we have an original. We have been buying local art during our travels the past few years, but this is probably the first one that is not primarily asthetic. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on it--post your comments.

20 July 2006

Globetrotting

It's been a busy month since my last post. I've been back in the US for three weeks, spending time in Dallas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. I've seen nine old friends and twenty-nine family members, played seven rounds of golf and one hour of raquetball, been to two minor league baseball games, ridden a train held up by bandits and have had one complication or another with four out of six flights. I had a good time and am glad I got to spend time with some of you, but it's nice being back in Sydney with my wife. Details and pictures of the trip will be posted in the next few days.

18 June 2006

Socceroos

Normally, soccer is about as popular here as in America. It's all right for kids, but real men play rugby, AFL and cricket. But with Australia qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in thirty two years, it's huge. Of course, it also helps that Sydney has a large number of international residents who are following their home countries. But this past week, everyone has been bleary-eyed from staying up way too late to watch a soccer match. I'm expecting a higher than usual number of absences tomorrow due to the Socceroos 2:00 AM game versus Brazil tonight. While trying to find a pub to watch Game Four of the NBA Finals Friday night, I kept hearing "What time is the game over? Soccer goes on at 10:30." The Socceroos weren't even playing. Movie theatres are charging five bucks to watch games on movie screens with a couple hundred other fans and they're packed.
Yes, the team name is the Socceroos. Most national teams here have a nickname. A full list can be found here, but a list of notables would include the Wallabies (rugby union), Wheelabies (wheelchair rugby), Matildas (women's soccer, from Waltzing Matilda), and the Mighty Roos (ice hockey (?!?)). I can't think of a nickname for any American national teams, largely because we don't get too involved in international competition. I find this unfortunate--I've enjoyed international comps for rugby and cricket in our time here. There has been a push to rename the Socceroos, however, due to the effort to start calling the sport "football" like the majority of the world. There is similar resistance to this here that is found in the US since people informally refer to rugby and AFL as football or footy. If you have any suggestions, leave a comment--I'll pass it on.

12 June 2006

Fun with anagrams

Found a website called Brendan's Online Angram Generator. The hidden truth will now be revealed.
Chris Taylor--A lyric short. (So that's what was wrong with my various musical efforts.)
Mavericks--Mark's vice
Pat Riley--Real pity
Miami Heat--Can't hit a free throw (kidding) --I emit a ham (?)
Follow the link above and see what you come up with, and leave a comment if you discover any hidden truths, too.

11 June 2006

The Queen's Birthday

Monday is The Queen's Birthday. You say, "Oh, Queen Elizabeth was born on June 12?"
Wrong. This is a national holiday in Australia and most of the other Commonwealth countries. However, Queen Elizabeth was not born on June 12. The date is variable to create a long weekend. So you say, "Fine, everybody likes a three day weekend. But Lizzy was at least born in early June, right?"
Wrong. She was born on April 21, 1926. "That's odd. But all the Commonwealths honor her birthday on the same day, right?"
Wrong. Monday won't be celebrated as The Queen's Birthday in all participating countries. It won't even be celebrated then in all of Australia--Western Australia celebrates it in September or October, depending on the mood. In most of Australia, it is on the second Monday of June. In most other countries it is some time from April to June. "So why the June date?"
Wrong. (I know, not a "right/wrong" question, but we've got a pattern here. Ask a better question.) It goes back to King George III, who was born on June 4, 1738. New Zealand has done the best job regarding accuracy with their "first Monday in June" date. Your next question: "I bet you will really get into the spirit of the holiday and honor King George/Queen Elizabeth."
Wrong. I got no problem with Lizzy, but this is the same King George who had a beef with American independence. Remember "taxation without representation"? That's him. Unless I am mistaken, he is also responsible for Transportation--the sentence handed down to English criminals shipping them off to Australia. So I protest. That doesn't mean I'm going to work, though--this is my only chance to watch the NBA Finals live (Go the Mavs!). Besides, what did you do for President's Day this year? "Good point. So when Lizzy shuffles off her mortal coil and the reign of Charles begins, we'll celebrate The King's Birthday, right?"
Of course.

03 June 2006

Mavs win

What an exciting game--and that was just watching the scoreboard on espn.com. I can't imagine what it was actually like to see on a real live TV. One benefit of watching the score on the internet--I was the first person to vote in ESPNation's Finals poll. Mavs-1, Heat-0. I should have taken a screenshot because two minutes later there were 2000 votes--and the Heat led with 51%.
My prediction for the Finals? Mavs in six. Just when everyone figures out the Mavs can play some defense, they are going to show they can still run, too. Shaq and the Heat's lack of depth out are going to get run out of the gym.
Either way, the NBA will have a new champion. This will be the first time since 1986 the champs have NOT been from San Antonio, Detroit, LA, Chicago, or Houston. If you add Boston and Philly to the list, you can go back to 1979. And if it wasn't for the MJ Baseball Experiment, Houston could be dropped from the list. A new era has begun?

02 June 2006

Iron Chef

Heather and I saw a guy making
sushi rolls on an Australian cooking show a few weeks ago, so Friday night I thought I'd give it a try. I got a sushi mat and the proper ingredients and had myself a cultural experience. I went with rice, carrot, cucumber and salmon. I cooked most of the salmon because raw fish isn't my favorite. I did leave a third of it raw. If your going to eat raw fish, salmon is definitely the way to go.
The verdict? I thought I had a nice presentation. The roll actually came out round, the stuffings were contained in the middle, and it sliced cleanly. Probably a little too much rice and not enough salmon. But it was pretty good. I'd do it again. I need to look around and find a place that sells eel--that's good stuff. Most of all, it was fun (and easy) to make. I think I've got a new item to add to the dinner menu.

26 May 2006

Sorry Day

Today is Sorry Day in Australia. It's an unusually named holiday for a very serious issue. Today is a day of recognition of what is called the Stolen Generation. This was the systematic removal of Aboriginal--and mostly mixed descent Aboriginal-European--children from their families to be raised by "superior" white families. This was done up until 1972. In 1995 a formal inquiry began to look into this part of Australia's history, and in 1998, Sorry Day was first observed. It is not a national holiday, and many people, both pro and con, have an issue with it. But the idea behind Sorry Day is that it is a step towards reconciliation of past offenses.

The Great Barrier Reef: The Rest of the Story

Let's wrap up this trip to the Great
Barrier Reef. The first picture was taken at a tourist shop right before we boarded the ship. Heather made me do it. That's all I have to say about that.
The second picture is me as the captain. This isn't on our cruise ship, but on our stroll down the river after the croc farm. Note the captain's hat. I actually steered the boat, too.
The last picture is a longer story. It all began when I almost killed a lizard at the Cairns Rainforest Dome. I tried to
open a gate but it only opened a few inches before it jammed. I yanked on it a few more times, but same result. That's when I noticed the two foot lizard with his head stuck in the gate. Heather stuck around to keep anyone else from trying the gate while I went for help. An employee came back and tried to free the lizard, but he was jammed in too tight. She left again to get reinforcements in the form of another employee and bolt cutters. They clipped the part of the gate holding the
lizard and he appeared to be fine once free. They also mentioned it was the second time it had happened that week. I'm wondering why they haven't covered the gate with mesh or something. Anyway, we had missed the start of the koala pictures while all this was going on, so I asked one of the rescuers if that was still going on. She said the pictures were taken in the gift shop. Then she asked if we had a voucher--$13. We said no, thanks. Both of us said to each other, "didn't we just save their lizard's life? And we can't get a koala picture comped?" So we improvised and took this picture instead--for free.

21 May 2006

The Great Barrier Reef: The Water

Sorry for the delay for these pictures--it's been a while since I had to get a roll of film developed. Without further ado:
Coral-This is one of the more
colorful pictures we took. The water filters out all of the colors, starting with red then moving through the spectrum--remember ROY G BIV? All the great postcard coral pictures you see are taken with a flash and usually at night.
Parrotfish-Named because it is
colorful and has a beak like a parrot. They bite off bits of coral, eating little organisms lliving on it. Parrotfish are responsible for a cup and an half of sand per day from chewed up coral.
Clownfish-Nemo! Nemo! These
little fish are funny because they aren't afraid of anything. You swim down to them and they'll get right in your face, daring you to mess with them or their anemone.
Starfish and clam-The blue
starfish shows up well because blue is the last color filtered out by the water. The clam on the left is rather small. We saw others that were five feet across.
Diver-That's me.
We had a picture of an octopus I was disappointed to see not come out. We only saw its head (the rest was down a hole in a boulder), but it was the size of a soccer ball. He was red, but turned white as you approached him. The marine biologist on the cruise said they do that to appear unappetizing so you don't eat him.
Hope you've enjoyed these underwater photos. The snorkeling was for me the hightlight of the trip. One more entry to go on the cruise, but you shouldn't have to wait as long for the next one.