I used to panic about being seen naked. Now I don’t even shut the hotel curtains. I’m no more inclined to display myself, but I’m invisible. I’ve gone from a scrawniness I’d grown accustomed to, to a broader, deeper, run-of-the-mill middle-aged unattractiveness that the world simply doesn’t see. All those billions being spent by the military-industrial complex to develop a suit of invisibility, and all they really need to do is dress every soldier up as a flabby white guy pushing fifty. - Nick Earls, Analogue Men

I recently came across this passage when reading the 2014 novel by Earls, a writer from Brisbane (where I live). I’m actually a little older than the protagonist, but I could definitely commiserate with his feeling of being “invisible” at this age. I rarely catch a stranger making eye contact with me (and rarer still, smiling back). People who don’t know me usually look through me. Picking up my son from school is the clearest example of this. Dozens of parents will be waiting with me for our kids to pour out of the classrooms at the 3:00 bell, but usually it is only my son who sees me in the crowd. Of course, my co-workers, a few students, family, and my friends acknowledge my existence, but in the last decade it does seem like I have achieved some sort of special power. No one even seems to notice when I get a haircut these days!

I thought that I was uniquely invisible until I read Earls, but then I thought he might be right that this is an affliction of unattractive middle aged men. I have since heard, however, a middle aged female friend spontaneously lament that she and other women her age are invisible as well. This leads me to conclude that just being older than 40 makes you invisible, regardless of gender.

Perhaps what’s going on is that “invisibility” is widespread among all sorts of social categories. As a long time researcher in the field of prejudice, I’m used to researching negative feelings about groups to which we don’t belong. I realise now that completely ignoring or not seeing people in other groups is another form of prejudice. When you have no regard for people in a certain group, you can hate them, sure, but it seems more powerful that you can just cease to acknowledge their existence all together. I think I’m capable of this myself. In the past few days I’ve tried to be more conscious of the people I see out in the world, and I quickly realised that I frequently ignore certain groups of people—I don’t look in their faces, I don’t people watch them, I don’t try to smile or make chitchat. They just cease to exist in my social perception. Acting as if someone doesn’t exist is painful to that person, especially if large numbers of people (i.e., the majority) do this. I should know.

If I don’t like being invisible, then I certainly shouldn’t treat other people like they are. I need to break the spell.


Martian Psychology

Some recent updates about the Mars One mission have made me excited again about space travel. I grew up watching the Apollo missions live at school and at home. I was thrilled about the first Space Shuttle launch and the building of the International Space Station. In my graduate school years I also became interested in how psychology could contribute to the space program. As a fan of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, I was always fascinated (and disappointed) that psychology in the future seemed to have not advanced at all, according to the writers of the show. Clinical psychology in the future appeared to depend on the Empath skills of Counselor Troi. Her ability to sense the feelings of others (both alien and human) was quite handy! But, that was it. There still was no advanced understanding of prejudice, memory, emotions, etc.

Returning to the present, however, I have to wonder whether Psychology still has anything major to offer to space exploration. Of course, Mars One has a long list of engineers and companies that will contribute the different spacecraft components to get the astronauts to Mars, as well as the technology that will allow them to live there permanently. But what about psychology? Has our field advanced sufficiently to make important contributions that could benefit the Mars One mission? I looked over the Wikipedia entry about the mission, and saw that at least one psychologist (I think) is on the advisory board—Dr. Raye Kass of Concordia University in Montreal. Dr. Kass has published research on group dynamics and spaceflight before. She has edited a book on small group research. I’m sure she’s one of the leaders in this area, and I envy her role in the mission. But, what expertise is she actually offering that couldn’t be found in an undergraduate textbook on organisational psychology or small groups? Is this all psychology is offering—some advice about how to make sure the groups stay cohesive, work efficiently, have an effective structure, etc.?

Other ways I could see psychology contributing to such a mission would include human factors engineering (i.e., designing the technology to best suit the capacities of human perception and cognition), personnel selection, intelligence/personality testing, protocols to promote good psychological health (and prevent mental illness), interpersonal skills and problem solving, consultation about the architecture of the living spaces, how to reduce boredom, sadness, loneliness, etc., and how to best communicate with one another. There might be more to add to this list, but how different would the expertise be from what psychology could have offered to such a mission if it had been planned in 2000? Or 1990? Or 1970? Or 1950?  How much is our field really advancing? Why isn't psychology as vital to the planning of the mission as engineering or robotics? Or, is it?


Undeserved Authorship

I recently discovered that I’m a co-author on a paper that will soon appear in print. The lead investigator once invited me to become an author, but at that time he said he would send the manuscript to me so that I could give him feedback. He never did send it. I only saw the final version once it was accepted for publication. I had no real role in the paper, but it was important to this investigator for strategic reasons (I guess) to put me on as an author.

I feel incredibly uncomfortable about the position this puts me in. I believe that I have made substantial contributions to nearly every published article in which I’m identified as an author--the usual requirement for most scientific journals. The problem, of course, is defining “substantial”. Different scientific organisations have tried to come up with definitions (Wikipedia has a good review of this topic). Back in the ‘90s I remember seeing a list of roles one could have in a publication. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to locate the source or the original list, but here’s what I remember:

  • conceptualising the study
  • designing the research
  • collecting the data
  • analysing the data
  • writing/co-writing the manuscript
  • funding the research/providing necessary material support

To be qualified as an “author", one has to do at least three of the things in this list. Based on these criteria, I can think of at least five papers where I should have been an author, but was “left off” when it came to time submit the manuscript. In all my published papers to date, however, I can say I did meet at least three of those criteria. But now, with this paper that’s in press (and out of my hands), I can no longer say that.

Many people in my field would find my handwringing ridiculous. They’d say, “hey, as long as you do ONE of those things, you’re making a substantial contribution.” Perhaps this is why some students and colleagues have been reluctant to discuss their work with me, as simply giving my input might mean that I would demand authorship. In fact, many of my colleagues here and elsewhere have many papers in their CVs in which they made the most minimal contribution possible. So, why do I have to get on my high horse and worry about it? Well, to be honest, I don’t have to worry about it one way or the other, as I now have job security. I am, however, mindful of my reputation and legacy. I don’t want to be associated with work that I barely understand or may even be somewhat shoddy. I only want my name on papers that I can vouch for—-that reflect my work (and those of the other authors, of course). This “freebie” pub that I just received doesn’t reflect my work. I had no input.  

I’m resolved not to let this happen again. And if it means telling a few more of my colleagues that I don’t want to be an author on their paper because I wasn’t involved in at least three of those criteria, so be it.


Your Virtual Romance

I saw this story the other day about a new service where you can pay $25/month to have a virtual boyfriend/girlfriend created to your specifications. Your interactions are all online. It’s such a brilliant idea. I wish I had thought of it; I might be sleeping on a bed of money now.


Privacy Violations

A little known fact that I hadn’t even shared with my wife until today: as I finished my undergraduate degree, I was faced with a tough decision--should I go to graduate school in psychology or in library science? Obviously, psychology won out. But why was I seriously considering library science in 1986? Well, I worked happily in libraries for six years. I love books. Many of my friends were librarians. But I also really liked doing searches—helping the occasional student find a book or a reference using the massive tomes on the reference shelf or by looking through the subject drawer of the card catalogue. To this day I still like performing information searches. It’s sort of a hobby for me to spend hours hunting down some reference or finding out what I can about an old photograph.

This love of searches sometimes includes learning more about people I meet in my everyday life. From time to time, I’ll meet someone at a conference or discover a new Twitter feed, and I’ll spend an hour or two learning all I can about that person using Google or other search methods. It occurs to me, however, that this could be considered a violation of that person’s privacy. That is, if I find old blog posts or that person’s instagram feed—-information that is publicly available without the use of stealing passwords, etc.—-perhaps it is still a privacy violation because the person didn’t invite me to read through their online life. Is something they blogged about, say their favorite episode of “The O.C.”, eight years ago ok for me to read today? What if I find an abandoned Tumblr feed or their thoughts about an ex-boyfriend from 2002? Some sites even easily provide information about a current residential address right from the Google search.

Ever since the internet became a “thing”, I have just assumed that anything that appears there that doesn’t require a password is public information and therefore not private. But is it? 


Internet Friends

One of the stranger aspects of my life, when I reflect on it, is the fact that I have long had a propensity to form friendships on the internet with complete strangers. I blame this partly on the fact that I was introduced to the phenomenon of international pen pals when I was in grade school in the 1970s. Yes, we would actually write letters with pen and paper and send them in envelopes with stamps! One of my favourite pen pals was a girl from Liechtenstein who shared my love of ABBA, when no one seemed to like the group where I lived. This was followed by a brief foray into CB radio. Later, I got into amateur ("ham") radio in high school, where I quickly learned how to chat to people all over North America in morse code.

But things really took off in the mid '80s when I got my first Macintosh--with a modem. I signed up for CompuServe, and quickly accrued monthly bills in the hundreds of dollars chatting to complete strangers. I did this (more cheaply) for the next ten years on various forums and even AOL when it was originally available to Mac users only. In early 1995 I started using CuSeeMe, a video chat service that allowed you to watch slow moving black and white videos of other people while chatting in a text window. Normally we would congregate in groups of 8-10 people in a "room" or a "reflector". Having fast, reliable bandwidth was expensive at the time, so nearly all CuSeeMe interactions were done on my university computer with other people who were also at universities or in special laboratories (e.g., JPL). After getting to know many regulars over the next few months, I ended up going to a few CuSeeMe parties/get togethers, and even hosted a big party of my own in Los Angeles (Seal, the singer, used to chat with us and was supposed to come, but bailed at the last minute). I still have two friendships ongoing from that era, both who were department staff in Earth Sciences at Monash University. In fact, just this past New Year's Eve, one of those friends invited us up to her weekend home in Noosa for a beachtime celebration with her family. I will have known her 20 years in 2015--all from just chatting with her on CuSeeMe years ago.

These internet conversations and friendships have continued to this day. I have a couple of Facebook "friends" I met through blogging or playing online games a few years ago. I still occasionally meet new friends on various interest sites. Some experiences turn out weird, but others can end up inspiring me to try new things, like a good book or travelling to a new place. Most of these conversations usually end after a couple of weeks. A few have never finished. 

Strange, hey?


Home again

I am back in the Lucky Country. Back to humidity and sweat and mosquitos. I can't believe my teeth were chattering just a month ago as I walked across the Jacobs University campus in North Bremen.

I still have another six months of study leave (i.e., "sabbatical") ahead of me, although I'll be staying here in Brisbane the rest of the time. My goal is, as always, to catch up with all the manuscripts that need to be written and submitted. I'm also in the midst of coming up with a grand, two-year plan for my lab group.  I've been brainstorming with Mind Mapping software.  We'll see what happens...

More exciting entries to follow (I hope).


The Easy B

I posted a link to this on my Facebook account yesterday. It's about a report from a consumer watchdog group in the U.K. which found that a large proportion of university students there aren't really doing much to earn their degrees. This news comes after a nationwide deregulation of university fees, which saw many British universities massively increase the price tag for their services. Students, it should be noted, appear more than pleased with this state of affairs. Why not? They don't have to do all that much to earn a valuable degree, notwithstanding accumulating a large debt.

I also found that some of the numbers in that report jibe well with my own informal surveys of psychology students over the past 20 years. When I teach a course, I often ask students how much time they spend studying for all their courses in an average week--the total hours, that is. I was told back in the 1980s that a full-time student should expect to spend at least 40 hours a week to do well at university. In the 1990s, my students would report they were spending about 30 hours a week. In the 2000s, this dropped to 20 hours a week. In the past few years, it's now down to 10 hours a week.  Granted, in each decade I was at a different university, so that might influence some of these differences.  But, as I read the Telegraph article, I realised that this is very likely a real trend--students don't spend as much time outside of class on their studies as they used to.  Why might this be?  Well, partly I think it's because more students than ever are working at the same time they attend uni, although I had 2-3 jobs at any given time when I was at university, and still managed to reach the 40 hrs/week studying that was required of me back then.  But, what's more likely is that universities are demanding less from their students in a response to be more attractive to them. At my university, for example, many lecturers don't even require textbooks because students complain about having to buy them. If they don't have a book to read, what else is there left to do when you're not at lecture or a tutorial? Write a brief essay. Work on a powerpoint presentation. Maybe read an article. Revise lecture notes (which probably weren't written very well to begin with because the lecture was recorded for convenient viewing later).

I usually begin my own courses with a statement about how much I expect the typical student will need to study outside of my class to do well in the course.  I used to say 10 hours minimum. I've recently lowered that to 5-8 hours a week.  Some students drop the course right after hearing that. The ones who stay do often complain about the workload in the course evaluations. But I really don't plan to budge on this point. Call me Old School.


Five Years Later

It's been nearly five years since my last entry on this blog. I recently moved it from Blogger to my own squarespace-managed site, but I was able to import all the entries from the old site. I'm not sure I can stand to read what I wrote from the first two years when we moved to Australia, but maybe someday...

Right now I'm in Germany on a sabbatical for four months. I'll head back to Australia mid-December. In the meantime, let's see whether I can actually keep up my blog again.


Deck the Sheds

We've been making the rounds at preschool Christmas pageants and community carol sing-a-longs (which are highly prevalent in Oz). I have been pleasantly surprised by the Australian versions of some classic carols:

Deck the sheds with bits of wattle*, fa la la la, la la la la,
Whack some gum leaves in a bottle, fa la la la, la la la la la,
All the shops are open Sundies, fa la la la, la la la la,
Buy you Dad some socks and undies, fa la la la, la la la la la.

Deck the sheds with bits of gumtree, fa la la la, la la la la,
Hang the deco's off the plum tree, fa la la la, la la la la la,
Plant some kisses on the missus, fa la la la, la la la la,
Have a ripper Aussie Christmas, fa la la la, la la la la la.

Say g'day to friends and rellies, fa la la la, la la la la,
Wave them off with bulging bellies, fa la la la, la la la la la,
Kids and babies, youngies, oldies, fa la la la, la la la la,
May your fridge be full of coldies, fa la la la, la la la la la.

Chop the wood and stoke the barbie, fa la la la, la la la la,
Ring the folks in Abudabe**, fa la la la, la la la la la,
Pop the stuffing in the turkey, fa la la la, la la la la,
Little Mary's feeling ercky***, fa la la la, la la la la la.

Rally rally round the table, fa la la la, la la la la,
Fill your belly while you're able, fa la la la, la la la la la,
Joyce and Joaney, Dave and Darryl, fa la la la, la la la la,
Sing an Aussie Christmas carol, fa la la la, la la la la la.

*Wattle = Mimosa Tree also known as Acacia
**Abudabe = A Faraway Land
***Ercky = Not too well

And then there's:

Dashing through the bush,
in a rusty Holden Ute,
Kicking up the dust,
esky in the boot,
Kelpie by my side,
singing Christmas songs,
It's Summer time and I am in
my singlet, shorts and thongs.

Oh! Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way,
Christmas in Australia
on a scorching summers day, Hey!
Jingle bells, jingle bells, Christmas time is beaut!,
Oh what fun it is to ride in a rusty Holden Ute.



transition |tranˈzi sh ən; -ˈsi sh ən|nounthe process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another
Although it's been nearly 2 1/2 years since we left Atlanta, our move to Australia is still going on. Sure, I am now used to so many things that originally were foreign. I have learned a great deal about Australian pop culture, the government, the economy, traditions, and the geography. And I now know enough about my university's policies that I feel comfortable when I complain about them. We have several friends (some are even Aussies!) who have also become a sort of second family to us. V. and I are both happy in our jobs. And when Will's friend apologised to him the other day for taking away his train, Will cheerily replied, "that's OK, mate!"

Despite this successful transition, I often think about whether we should return to the U.S. Some aspects of my job are terribly frustrating, but they are endemic to the Australian higher education system so they are unlikely to change. V. still has to take a huge medical exam next July (so that she can finally do exactly what she was doing in America), and this involves a continuation of the months of intense studying and practice workshops she's already put into preparing for it. We are still at least two years away from having enough money saved up for a down payment on a house, as homes here cost nearly 2-3 times more than they were in Atlanta, and we're still paying off the debt associated with selling our home in Atlanta for less than the mortgage. I also miss the North American flora and fauna. Seeing green lawns on an American television show, for example, seems downright exotic to me. And, I really miss being able to see my family more often than once a year.

This is going to be a long transition.


Dreaming of a New Blog

I always seem to be coming up with ideas that I feel that I just have to act on. I know they are good and original ideas, but it usually turns out they would actually require more time and effort than I am willing to sacrifice. As an example, for several years I have planned to write a major theoretical paper on a model of prejudice that I have talked about at several seminars conferences. If I were to do a good job on this, it would probably be a well-cited paper, but I have yet to start it. I have also thought long and hard for at least 2 years about writing a book on social neuroscience. Again, I have never started it and, honestly, I probably never will.

My latest 'brilliant' idea is start a blog to monitor the awful stranglehold that News Corp. has over Australian news. Nearly all the major newspapers in Australia (e.g., The Australian, Sydney's Daily Telegraph, Melbourne's The Herald Sun, Brisbane's Courier-Mail) are owned by Rupert Murdoch's company, and in some cities, such as Brisbane, there is no real competitor. News Corp. also owns, of course, the UK's The Times and The Sun, as well as The New York Post (and now The Wall Street Journal). And then there are the biggest beasts of all, Fox News and Sky News. Of course, as we watch newspapers die all over the place, all this consolidation of various news outlets makes sense from a business point of view. It's clear that News Corp. makes good use of its various assets by circulating the same story in each of its papers. The stories on the international pages of the Courier-Mail, for example, are typically attributed to The Sun, The Times, and The Post. The problem, however, particularly in this country, is that one reporter can have an immense effect with one little story because it can be immediately picked up and passed along to all the News Corp. outlets worldwide.

Such was the case when Britney Spears came to Australia. In the week prior to her visit, one of the News Corp. papers ran a story about how some fans were willing to pay hundreds of dollars to watch Britney lip-sync. That story appeared in every city's paper, and the morning television stations even chatted about it. The pump was now primed, and all it took next was Britney's first concert in Perth to ignite a bigger story. A News Corp. reporter in Perth showed up to that concert (ostensibly to write a "review"), and published a story the following day about the "hundreds" of concertgoers who walked out of the concert because of all the lip-syncing. That story appeared with a big headline in all the News Corp. papers in Australia, which, in turn, was picked up by the British papers. Before Britney woke up the next morning, a worldwide controversy had erupted, dubbed by some (at News Corp.) as "Britney-gate." It didn't matter that Britney's lip-syncing had been going on for months during the tour and that everyone was well aware of it already (as evidenced by the story that appeared prior to her arrival in Oz). It also didn't matter to News Corp. that some of the people leaving early did so because they were upset about other things like their bad seats, or that it was nearly impossible to find evidence of these walkouts at other concerts. But the story got bigger and bigger, and soon the non-News Corp. outlets were reporting the story of Britney-gate (all based on the Perth reporter's article). On the basis of these stories, singers John Mayer and Michael Buble rushed to defend Britney, providing even more fodder for the News Corp. machine.

I have watched several similar news cycles come and go since I have arrived here, and I am still amazed how successful they seem to be for News Corp. For example, sixteen-year-old Jessica Watson's solo trip around the world on a yacht was initially praised by the News Corp. reporters, but then it went through a stage where they focused on how unprepared she was, and now they've gone back to a cheering role by providing regular updates of her progress (mainly by paraphrasing from her blog). I guess this is what happens when the readership is relatively tiny, the pool of "big" news stories is small, and the competition is weak. And don't even get me started on the lingerie and bikini photo galleries that feature prominently on Australian news websites.

Well, when I figure out how to clone a more energetic and youthful version of myself, perhaps I can convince him to start that new blog.

The All-Australian Playlist

It was nearly two years ago when I first mentioned my affection for Australian musicians. (By the way, "musician" is often shortened here to "muso"-- another wonderful example of the Aussie tendency to abbreviate words and stick on an "o" as the suffix). Since that first post, I've continued to broaden my education, and I realise that I am now playing Australian music on my iPod at least half the time. I even have an overplayed Aussie highlights playlist, made up of both old and new acts. Here's a sample of that list:
  1. Missy Higgins, "Peachy"
  2. The Waifs, "Lighthouse"
  3. Faker, "This Heart Attack"
  4. Silverchair, "Straight Lines"
  5. Empire of the Sun, "Walking on a Dream"
  6. Katie Noonan, "Blackbird"
  7. The Veronicas, "Untouched"
  8. Jessica Mauboy, "Been Waiting"
  9. Dash and Will, "Out of Control"
  10. Josh Pyke, "Make You Happy"
  11. Hoodoo Gurus, "Come Anytime"
  12. Kate Miller-Heidke, "Caught in the Crowd"
  13. Sarah Blasko, "All I Want"
  14. Angus and Julius Stone, "The Beast"
On Friday night we got to see Kate Miller-Heidke in concert at the Lyric Theatre in QPAC. I only very recently discovered this incredibly talented muso, who hails from Brisbane and went to school just a short distance from where we are living. Kate's music is best described as eclectic, but it's also thoroughly musical and full of comedy. Her voice is beautiful. Opening for her was Skinny Jean, another band from Brisbane (which has also produced Powderfinger, the Veronicas, Katie Noonan, and Savage Garden, among others), which V. and I quickly became enamoured with. As soon as the monthly cap on our bandwidth is lifted, I plan to buy Skinny Jean's album, as well as one from Hunz, who--you guessed it--are also from Brisbane.

Assuming that my American readers will not have heard most of this music, please check out the video for Miller-Heidke's, "Caught in the Crowd," which won the 2008 International Songwriting Competion, by the way:


Still Here

It's been more than two months since my last post.

All is well. We have renewed our lease on this old Queenslander near the railroad tracks, complete with rats. We continue to pay off of the debt incurred when we sold our house in the U.S. for less than what we owed the bank. Classes are over and I have just one final exam to mark next week. The honours students are done. I'm nearly finished with a chapter for an edited volume that has been terribly difficult to write. And Will has been teaching us about the six white boomers that pull Santa's sleigh. It's nearly summer, and I can hardly wait.

Travels to the Osage

I just returned from a 9-day trip to the United States. My stepfather, Bob Daniels, passed away on August 22, so I went to Ponca City, Oklahoma to be with my mom for a week. Bob and my mom got together well after I had left home for college, so I never experienced him as a member of the family in the same way my younger siblings did. Still, I'm going to miss this talented and stubborn man who really had a heart of gold.

My mom faced a rough week while I was there, both as a result of the things that you would normally expect in the wake of the death of a spouse, as well as things that you would not. She's a remarkably strong person who reminds me of the 'Pioneer Woman' represented in a famous statue in Ponca City. After one particularly long day, I headed back to my room at 10:30, completely exhausted, but left my mom still carrying on with her household chores (caring for the many dogs and cats she has rescued over the years) well after midnight. She has a resilience that I'm afraid that I have not yet developed. I hope that her resilience continues to serve her, however, as she is now facing several enormous challenges as she adjusts to a life without her husband.

In Ponca City I ran into other people facing plenty of hardship as well. A jar sat on a counter of a pizza place in an attempt to raise money for an employee's medical attention. I watched two young women trying to come up with just $4 between them to pay for a prescription co-payment at the Walmart pharmacy--they ended up walking away because they didn't have the cash. I saw several young teenagers with babies, including a 15-year-old daughter of one of my mom's former employees. How they survive in an economy as bleak as Ponca's is a mystery to me. I also spent a lot of time listening to and watching CNN and the other cable news stations while I was there. Though I was already aware of the growing animosity to Obama and his plans for healthcare reform, I was shocked by how truly vicious some Americans have become in their opposition. There has never been this much division in American society during my adult life, and I worry about where it's all going to lead.

On my flight back to Australia I felt a little like I was escaping both my family's problems and the nation's. Life here in Brisbane is very good on many levels. And, I guess the price I'm going to pay for this good life is living with the guilt.

The Camel Cull

Wow! I have been so terribly busy with work during the last two weeks, I haven't been able to write a single post here. But, when I saw this story a few minutes ago, I nearly blew a gasket! Sometimes Americans can look so stupid!!

Some background: Australia is home to nearly a million feral camels that roam across much of central Australia unchecked. In fact, V. and I saw quite a few on our train and bus trips across the Northern Territory and South Australia in 2003. Camels are NOT native to Australia. Like many other introduced species, they came over with 19th century settlers who thought they would be ideally suited for Australia's environment. They were right! In fact, their population is doubling nearly every 10 years.

As stated in an excellent piece in The Australian a few weeks ago (and quoted in the article at Punch), camels
maraud Aboriginal communities, trample fence lines, attack standpipes, destroy water tanks. They roam unchecked across the plateaus of the Western Desert, fanning out from creeks and riverbeds, creating a wasteland inside the wilderness, eradicating native plants, leaving nothing for the remnant wildlife. They are hardy and perfectly adapted to their new environment.
So, the Australian Federal Government is going to spend $18 million on a program to control the camel population, at the same time recognising that it is practically impossible to completely eradicate them from the continent.

This is all seems quite reasonable...except to a few 'journalists' back in the USA. On a recent segment on his CNBC show, Jim Cramer (the buffoon whom Jon Stewart so masterfully handled earlier this year) and Erin Burnett went on a lengthy rant about this supposed 'genocide' of camels. In the process, they called Prime Minister Kevin Rudd a 'serial killer,' and claimed (incorrectly) that Rudd is launching air strikes against the camels (to which Cramer chuckled something like, "does Australia even have an air force?").

To put it mildly, Australians are outraged by this story, particularly because it comes from a couple of American 'journalists' ranting about something that they clearly don't understand. I have to say that I join them in this outrage. I do wish more of my fellow countrymen would get it together and begin to gain a better understanding of other nations and cultures.

What an Entrance


Petrol Skirmishes

From today's Courier-Mail:

The battle for the consumer dollar reached new heights yesterday when Woolworths and Coles announced unprecedented discounts, offering 40¢ a litre off at the bowser for shoppers who spend $300 on their groceries in one hit.

For you non-Australians, what this means is that the two largest supermarket chains in Australia (which control nearly the entire market in a duopoly) are offering a deal (which ends on Thursday) that amounts to the equivalent of a A$1.50/gallon discount when you purchase fuel at one of their affiliated stations, if you buy a lot of groceries at once. It's a pretty amazing offer, given that prices average over A$5.00/gallon right now, but it also puts enormous pressure on the remaining petrol chains (two of the four are controlled by Woolies and Coles), which means we'll probably end up with another duopoly in that market in a few years.

Petrol here is generally more expensive than it is in the United States. But I am not exactly sure why. It could be due to a lack of competition, but I suspect that it is more due to Australia being a small, isolated market. I used to think that the federal government was collecting huge taxes on it, the way European governments do to help subsidize public transport, for example. Given that Queensland only recently removed a multi-year 9.2¢/litre subsidy, this suggests that governments here don't tax fuel consumption as much as they encourage its purchase. I'm afraid that Aussies are nearly as enamoured with their cars as Americans are, although they tend to drive smaller ones for more years. (When we were in the States last month it was remarkable how many enormous pick-ups and SUVs (4WDs) we still saw everywhere, despite the fact the U.S. has faced some huge fuel price increases in the last five years). Perhaps this love of cars reflects the fact that Australia, like the U.S., is a wide-open country with vast distances between its cities. Building a more extensive national train network, for example, would be enormously expensive. I am very happy with Brisbane's bus and rail network, by the way. For a city that has half the population of Atlanta, Brisbane's public transport is many times better. V. and I are able to use the trains, buses, and ferries so much that we only need to fill the tank of our little Yaris once or twice a month. And, in the meantime, it looks like we can save a few bucks at the bowser when we put a few more avocados and jars of Dick Smith peanut butter in our grocery trolley.

Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. I am now eating Australian peanut butter and I like it.

Another Young Adventurer

As I sit in front of my computer and ponder the benefits of a corporate membership in the Qantas Club (those layovers at Terminal 4 in LAX are growing old), my admiration goes out to a 16-year-old Aussie girl who plans to sail around the world on her own. Jessica Watson will finish high school by 'long distance education' so that she can embark on her 230-day adventure in September. I must admit that the parent in me wonders how Jessica's mum and dad can let their little girl do this. I have a hard time just imagining Will going off to school in 18 months! On the other hand, as I read Jessica's website and blog, she does strike me as being very much different from your typical teenager. She's been sailing and 'racing dinghies' since she was 8, doesn't watch any television, and seems far more mature than most adults I know. Apparently, this trip will be expensive--A$250,000--so, in addition to the aid of several corporate sponsors, there's a fancy dinner ($100 per person) scheduled next week to help her raise the funds.
I know that I'll be closely following Jessica's journey in the coming months. I have long had a love for the tales of adventurers, which was born in my early adolescence during those travelogues I used to watch at a theater in Dixon, Illinois, was then nurtured through many books by authors like Jon Krakauer and Barbara Savage, and then renewed by all those Michael Palin television series and books. All those people, including teen Jessica, are far more intrepid than this soon-to-be-Qantas-club-member.