When I first visited Australia in 1975 (I turned 12 during our stay), the biggest record in Oz when we left was "January" by Pilot. Lucky for me, I bought the 45 before we headed home, as this song never made it very big back in the States (although "Magic" was a big hit there). I have only heard it once or twice in the past 30 years. And then along came YouTube, and my discovery today of the very video I remember watching on Aussie TV all those years ago:
I'm working in my office on Good Friday. This means that I'm ignoring the public holiday--the first day of a four-day holiday weekend in Australia. As I said last year, I'm just not used to observing this most religious Christian holiday by going to the beach, eating hot cross buns, and gorging on chocolate. Thus, to avoid the awkwardness of it all I ran to what is familiar--my desk at UQ! Besides, I'm hopelessly behind in my work anyway.
For a fairly non-religious country, Australia does wholeheartedly observe Easter. All the shops are closed today, just like on Christmas Day. They'll be open again on Saturday, when we'll fight the crowds to buy some groceries, but then everything goes dark again on Sunday. Easter Monday (what's that all about anyway--the day that Jesus recovered from his resurrection?) is unpredictable in terms of what services are available. The major newspapers didn't publish an issue today, and I'm not sure whether they will do so on Sunday or Monday. We have no mail for four days, as the Australian Post isn't open on Saturdays anyway. A $1100 charge appeared in our checking account yesterday, but I must wait five days for my bank to re-open to find out where the charge came from. I keep muttering to myself, "Have patience, Eric. You don't live in the United States anymore!"
I was dying for a flat white this morning, so I was relieved to find an open coffee shop in Toowong--a Coffee Club full of Good Friday refugees. However, signs were prominently posted on the door announcing a 15% surcharge on everything because it was a public holiday. As I understand it, this strongly union-dominated nation mandates something like double holiday pay for anyone who works on public holidays. It's the law! That may explain why even the newspapers are shut down too. Still, the extra 50 cents for my coffee was well worth it.
Don't worry. I won't stay here much longer today. I can feel the spirit of the public holiday eroding my motivation with each passing hour that I sit here. And, despite the federal law, I'm not receiving any extra pay. You will, however, need to pay a 15% surcharge for reading this post.
I mentioned in a post last October that one of the political parties running for the UQ student government was promising a Subway outlet on campus. Well, that party won the election and has delivered on its campaign promise. Subway opened at the Student Union about a month ago, and the sudden appearance of long queues into the cafeteria (the Refec) signifies its success. In that earlier post I expressed amazement at the popularity of Subway in Australia. I have, in fact, been to Subway twice in the past few months. It is basically the same as the chain in the United States. The subs are "six inches" and "a foot long," even though this country is entirely metric. When I went to the one today, my sandwich was made to order, with four different choices of bread, several choices of meat, just two choices of cheese (the ubiquitous 'tasty cheese' and something else unidentified), and the usual assortment of veggies. A couple of noticeable differences from its American equivalent: there are no chips for sale at Australian Subways, but there is an extraordinary range of 'sauces' to pour on your sandwich. The former reflects a minor cultural difference from my homeland--potato chips are usually served with any sandwich there. But here, potato chips are seen more as a snack food that is frequently eaten without any accompanying dish. The range of sauces, on the other hand, is something that I am slowly starting to appreciate. Aussies love to pour sauces on practically anything--even beautiful, expensive steaks. Subway appeared to have about a dozen different sauces (e.g., red chilli, honey mustard, BBQ) available. I opted for the honey mustard today. And it was good.
I've been playing around with the GPS capability of my iPhone, and found this somewhat scary app called GPS Tracker. It updates the location of my Phone every 5 seconds, as long as I have the programming currently running in the foreground. Kind of cool, but I'm not sure of the practical benefit yet. I saw that some parents are requiring their kids to run it when they go out, but it will be a while before we have to worry about Will's location. For now, check out where I am (or last was):
GPS tracking powered by InstaMapper.com
GPS tracking powered by InstaMapper.com
I'm working in my office, utterly paralys(z)ed with the prospect of all sorts of tasks that are long overdue. Brisbane is enjoying a long, hard rain today, and I love it. I'm listening to Jean-Yves Thibaudet's soundtrack for "Pride and Prejudice" while I work on my office computer. It's all a bit melancholy here, really. I am going through another bout of missing my friends and family. I am not even sure which friends I miss exactly, as I have left quite a few behind after each of the many moves that I have made. I should really stay put for once.
Maybe I'll just go home early and watch Keira wander through those beautiful English fields...
Although we are currently fighting off rats, mice, and gecko poo at home, it's nice to see that there are still creatures here in Australia that we have yet to encounter:
Your erratic blogger is in San Francisco attending the annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society. As has become the custom during my visits to the U.S., I have been shopping like a maniac and eating Mexican food every day. This is also the shortest trip that I've made to the States, as I fly back tonight after just five days. I have enjoyed walking among my countrymen, and it's very nice having conversations without having accents get in the way. On my first day here I did risk death when I started to cross a street looking in the wrong direction because of the whole drive-on-the-left thing back in Oz, but I quickly corrected that habit.
Last night I went to dinner with some colleagues from Brisbane. We had an 8:15 reservation for a party of 7 at a loud, busy, upscale restaurant. I was on time, but the Aussies (as usual!) were late. The first three arrived at 8:25. As we stood waiting, someone said, "should we go sit at our table now?" When I replied that I didn't think the restaurant would seat us until our entire party arrived, they looked at me quizzically. Just then, the rest of the group arrived, so someone went to tell the hostess that we were ready. We then waited at least another 10 minutes for our table. This was all a bit irritating to my group. You see, in Australia (at least in Brisbane), restaurants will hold tables for people who make reservations for nearly an hour. I often turn up at Brisbane eateries (for lunch, for example) where half the tables are empty, but they have little "Reserved" cards placed on them. I am usually forced to find another place to eat. Yes, an Aussie restaurant will turn you away even though they have plenty of empty tables at the moment. In contrast, busy restaurants in American cities will never let a table sit empty for very long. The Australians who were with me last night said that if we had been in Brisbane they would just have walked out if their table wasn't ready as soon as the first person arrived.
I'm sorry that I have been such a lame blogger lately. I've been trying to focus harder on my work, which means that I suddenly see my life as not very blog-worthy. I will try to jig the balance a bit. In the meantime, enjoy this video from a Brisbane band called Blame Ringo. It was shot at the famous "zebra crossing" near Abbey Road Studios, where the Beatles posed for their album cover. I made a similar tourist stop (with a silly photo) years ago.
Australia has made it into the international news with the stories of the horrific bushfires in the state of Victoria, which have left 128 people dead (as of this morning), the highest number of deaths in a single disaster in this country since WWII. For those of you unfamiliar with the geography of Australia, this is about 1300 kms (815 miles) from our home in Brisbane, Queensland. Having lived in Southern California for 10 years, I am pretty familiar with the dangers of living in an arid climate. A noteworthy cultural observation, however, is that Victoria and some of the other Aussie states have a bushfire policy that is quite different from their counterparts in the United States. People here, especially in the rural parts, are actually encouraged to stay behind to protect their homes. They are trained what to do when a fire occurs, and supposedly take precautions to reduce the likelihood of their home catching fire. As this article in the Los Angeles Times noted, "Americans expect firefighters to protect their lives and property. Australians in rural communities view that as their own responsibility." As the graph below apparently shows, the Australian policy has been effective...until this past weekend.
Unfortunately, this time the weather conditions were 'ideal' for the fires to race through whole towns so quickly that residents couldn't really do anything to protect their homes, but were suddenly trapped when they realised the enormity of what was happening. One of the startling discoveries in the past few days is the number of people who died in cars as they were trying to flee the scene. The Premier of Victoria has already stated that it is time to review the 'stay or go' bushfire policy.
There has been some public worrying in the Australian news media during the past week about when Barack Obama would finally make his first phone call as President to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Australians frequently exhibit a low-grade case of "don't forget us way over here," and, despite the almost manic enthusiasm they have had for the new American president, many grew concerned that their feelings weren't reciprocated. "Is he rejecting us because we won't take prisoners from Guantanamo?" "Does he think our dresses make us look too pregnant?" "Crikey, maybe he's just not that into us."
Well, thankfully, the news today is that Obama has made that first call to Rudd. Yes, he did remember the people of this dry island nation and its nerdy looking leader. And it looks like he wants some help with Afghanistan. Given that attention (and his smile), how could Australia refuse?
Inspired by Barack Obama's inauguration (for which we got up at 2:30 am to watch on TV), I present a photo of me "coming out" as a Democrat, circa 1982.
I didn't even remember that this picture existed until several old college friends recently discovered Facebook. They have formed a FB group devoted to our dorm, the Westlawn Foreign Language House, at the University of Iowa. This was a small, co-ed dorm devoted to students studying foreign languages (I was in the German House) that was established in the early '80s. We were quite a distance away from the other dorms on campus, and this remoteness contributed to our becoming a close-knit group of students from a wide variety of ages and backgrounds. I have had minimal contact with members of this group over the last few decades, so it has been fantastic to reconnect with the 20 or so people who have found the Facebook group.
Anyway, when I went off to college in the fall of 1981, I was a die-hard Reagan Republican. I wasn't old enough to vote for Reagan in 1980, but I was sure a vocal proponent of his policies when I moved to Westlawn. Why I had these strong beliefs I can't really remember. Being fond of debating, I quickly got myself involved with all sorts of lounge-room squabbles with my (mostly) Democratic rivals. Somewhere along the way, however, this photo shows that I must have lost a bet, and I was forced to wear a sign announcing that I had at last seen the light. By 1983, when George McGovern came to Iowa City in anticipation of running for the presidential primary, I was a complete Democrat. I sort of woke up one day and realized that I actually agreed with what the Democrats were saying more than I did with the Republicans. To this day, I have yet to cast a vote for a Republican, but I like to think that I would if I ever found one with whom I agreed.
So, yes, besides the 60 pounds I have added since this photo was taken, I also gained a different political outlook. And that's why I had such an excellent time at 3:00 am Brisbane time this past Wednesday.
I recently came upon a website to which I am absolutely addicted. It's shorpy.com, and it features 3-4 photographs each day that are usually more than 50 years old but reprinted from an absolutely pristine and large negative (or other photographic plate). The source of these photos is mainly a large archive of photos that have been donated to the U.S. Library of Congress, and cover an enormous variety of subjects. Pictures at the site are posted in high resolution, so much so that you think you are looking at a photo that was taken very recently-- if it weren't for the subject matter. Here's such a photo of a Depression-era family living in a dugout in 1940 in Pie Town, New Mexico.
One of the great things about shorpy.com is that visitors to the site offer all sorts of information they know or are able to research about each photo. In this instance, contributors were able to find the obituary of the woman who was the girl in the left of the photo. I have already spent several hours looking at various photos and trying to find out more about the various items and people in the pictures. It sounds nerdy, but I have always had an interest in time travel, and it looks like this is the closest I'll ever get.
After weeks of disruption, I am finally settling back into a normal life. We moved on Dec. 18th, which is when I lost my internet connection for more than two weeks. Since that day I have been sweating it out with moving heavy boxes of books (there were nearly 40!), putting together wardrobes from Ikea (no built-in closets at the new place), hosting a small NYE party with six kids in attendance, going to a Wiggles concert (those guys are geniuses), attending the Brisbane International tennis tournament, driving to the mountains, and washing lots of dishes. The picture below was taken aboard the Wheel of Brisbane, just a few days before Christmas. Although Will and V. enjoyed the views, I wasn't thrilled when the operators gave us an extra turn, due to my lingering fear of heights.
Our new home is a rented Queenslander house built in the 1920s. It features a large fenced-in yard in which Will loves to play. Before I provide more details about our home, let me just preface this by saying that we really LOVE it. It's one-storey, with all three bedrooms off the main lounge (living room). There's a separate large kitchen and dining room, full of bright, sunny, windows overlooking the garden. The entire house is built above ground, with plenty of storage in the space below. But, being an old Queenslander that hasn't been updated in decades, it does have a few quirky bits:
- no air conditioning--very tough to deal with when the temps hit the mid 30s (95 deg F) during the past week.
- no window screens-- allowing all sorts of strange insects to bite us all night long, as well as several small lizards to roam the walls.
- no dishwasher-- this is especially hard on V., who hates washing the dishes. I am trying to do as much as possible, but I think we'll have to figure out how to get one installed soon.
- laundry done outside and under the house-- it feels a bit strange having to go outside to do the laundry, but I'm getting used to it.
- across the street from the railroad tracks-- Queensland Rail uses these tracks for both commuter and freight trains. We have pretty much habituated to the noise at this point, and Will still loves to watch them go by every 10-15 minutes.
- on a busy street-- the traffic going by our master bedroom window is often louder than the trains going by. I am really starting to hate motorcycles.
- one powerpoint (electrical outlet) per room-- I have become quite proficient in using power strips and extension cords to keep our many devices running
- one bathroom--it's been years since I have had to share a bathroom, but we're getting along so far
- a 35-year-old stove-- the oven temperatures are printed in both Celsius and Fahrenheit, which means it was probably bought around the time that Australia was going metric. One of the three burners doesn't work, and it takes forever to heat up the oven.
- maggots in the floorboards--yes, the flies like to lay eggs in the cracks of the kitchen floorboards. This is pretty disgusting, but we're determined to get it under control.
Again, I want to emphasise that we LOVE this place. Now that I have a big lawn to mow, I went out and bought a classic Australian lawnmower, the Victa. It turns out that power mowers are still a novelty in Australia, and the same Toro that I owned in the States is considered a luxury mower here. I find mowing very relaxing, and I'm already looking forward to my next chance to cut the grass tomorrow.
So, that's our new life in a nutshell. I am back at work this week, madly trying to catch up with everything I have had to neglect in the past month. Happy New Year to you!
I have been following the news about the riots in Greece, which have gone on for about four days now. The Greek government has been largely ineffectual in stopping the mayhem, and the reporters have noted how it seems that no one is in control. The riots seem to have been brought on by the effects of the collapsing world economy, so we might witness more of this in other countries in the months ahead.
What is happening in Greece reminded me of a horrible event that I experienced firsthand--the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. I was then working at the University of Southern California, which is situated next to the neighborhood where the riots first broke out on Wednesday, April 29th. When the verdicts of the "Rodney King" trial were announced that afternoon (four White officers were found not guilty of using excessive force to arrest a Black suspect), many of my co-workers and I went home early in anticipation that there might be some trouble as the news of the verdict spread. By rush hour, the first major incident started when a group of young men began ruthlessly attacking White and Latino motorists at the corner of Florence and Normandie. I had made it home by then, but I watched live television as Reginald Denny was pulled from his big-rig truck and beaten to unconsciousness by a gang of thugs as a news helicopter flew overhead. The L.A. police were ordered to keep away from the intersection, so they waited around a few blocks away. One of the thugs, Damian Williams, danced around as he kicked Denny and held his fists in the air, taunting the news helicopter. Denny was finally rescued when an African American truck driver, Bobby Green, Jr., who had watched the beating on his television, decided to go to the intersection, pull Denny to safety, and drive him to an emergency room in Denny's truck. That live news coverage of the events at the intersection certainly contributed to the mayhem that occurred for the next six days. It was clear that no one was in charge. Looting began in earnest. That first night I even saw a group of USC students loot a shoe store on live TV. Over 1000 buildings were set on fire. Fifty-three people were killed, most of them murdered. The Los Angeles area was shut down. I stayed locked up in my apartment for three days, smelling the smoke of fires burning 10 miles away. It felt like the end of civilization.
Finally, after days of little action, the state and federal governments sent National Guard units, marines, and soldiers to Los Angeles. One of the command posts was at the Coliseum, a large sports arena (and site of the '84 Olympics) next door to USC. On Day 4, a Saturday, we started to drive around again, and I remember feeling somewhat safer when I saw troops patroling the perimeter of the USC campus. When we later returned to work we discovered that a group of shops about a block away from the psychology building had been burned to the ground. These included some Korean businesses, which were favored targets during the first 24 hours of the riots. As the days and weeks passed, life finally returned to normal. A year later, there was little mention in our everyday conversations about how the world had seemed to fall apart so quickly. To this day, however, I am still aware of the fragility of our social institutions. I sometimes grow nervous that I'll once again have to experience the kinds of riots that are now going on in Greece. It might seem highly unlikely here in Oz, but don't forget about those riots in the Sydney suburb of Cronulla just three year ago.
I am writing this entry on Saturday morning. I am still in Atlanta, but soon I'll begin my journey back to Brisbane, where I'll arrive in about 32 hours. My first twelve days here involved visiting family members in the Midwest. I drove over 1400 miles (2200 km) on that part of the trip, which included a tense three hours dodging the cars in front of me that were sliding off the road during a snowstorm. I then spent four days in Atlanta because I needed to work on some research projects here. I also wanted to see quite a few of our old friends, so I ended up scheduling little two-hour visits with as many people as possible. I met five babies who were born since we left the country. I had dinner twice one night. I stayed up late each night talking with different friends, but then woke up early the next day to have breakfast with someone else. I am now exhausted and hope that I can enjoy my two long plane trips without having to engage in conversation with anyone but the flight attendant about my drink choices.
Besides seeing all these friends and family members, I did get to experience things that are hard to come by in Australia. These included Jiff peanut butter, Taco Bell and Chilli's (but also some real Mexican food too), very hot chicken wings (labelled 'Death' at one restaurant), Walmart, hours of listening to CNN and NPR (mainly on my rental car's radio), American television commercials, chicken fried steak, USA Today, Hampton Inn, cheap shopping, and much more. Yes, I enjoyed all of this, but I have had my fill of "America" for at least another year. I now look forward to the heat and humidity of a Brisbane summer, the inane Mel and Kochie on "Sunrise," flat whites, buying fresh fruits and veggies (and the rest of our groceries) at our local shopping mall, Aussie accents, high toilets and bathroom counters, driving (and walking) on the left side, expensive books, my friends, and, most of all, V. and Will.
December 1 is the first day of summer in Australia. It seems appropriate then that today I am getting to experience the first snowstorm of the season here in northern Illinois. Right now my nieces are frolicking around in the first couple of inches that have fallen, but I am worrying about how this will affect my travel plans of driving 11 hours to Arkansas tomorrow. Tonight the wind is supposed to pick up and cause drifting on the roads. Lucky me.
I'm in the midst of a six-hour layover in Denver. My journey from Australia to Arkansas began 24 hours ago, and I still have five hours left. I'm beginning to feel a bit punchy as a result. Perhaps that explains why I've seen so many angry people in America today. Or, perhaps that's because the number of travellers has picked up in advance of next week's Thanksgiving holiday. Or, perhaps a lot of people aren't as happy about Obama winning as I thought. Or, perhaps Aussies are even more mellow than I realized.
I did manage to see my old friends, Tiffany and Dave, and their beautiful son, Ryan, for 30 minutes at a gate here, just before they boarded their flight. And I managed a garbled conversation with V. and Will back in Brisbane via Skype and free Wi-Fi, courtesy of the Denver airport. I also got to eat a bagel (Einstein Bros.) and a cinnamon roll from Cinnabon, and I'll be eating Mexican tonight for dinner (sorry, Mooselet!). Travelling isn't so bad.
I was looking through the news feed on my Facebook account this morning. It updates me about any changes to my Facebook friends' profiles in the past 24 hours. Among my FB friends are PhD students back in Atlanta and here in Brisbane. Over the weekend the temperatures dropped below freezing in Atlanta, whereas here the max was over 30 C (86 F). According to the Facebook news feed, graduate students in both places hosted an outdoor social event.
In the picture below, you can see the UQ "post-grads" playing barefoot lawn bowls. Note that everyone is barefoot and several students are holding a drink while they bowl. I think this looks like a lot fun, especially as I'm an old ten-pin bowler from way back, but I haven't had a chance to try this yet.
In the next picture, you can see some GSU grad students celebrating "Fakesgiving," complete with a turkey and all the side dishes. I don't know the origin of this little feast, but I guess it's a way for them to have a Thanksgiving dinner together before they all leave town for the holiday. Such cold temperatures in Atlanta are pretty unusual this early in the season, but that didn't seem to deter anyone from eating their meal outside.
That reminds me...in just a few days I'll be donning my own coat, hat, and scarf to face the chill of North America. Brrrrrrrr!
Yesterday there was a big announcement from Professor Ian Frazer at the University of Queensland regarding his plans to begin clinical trials for a new vaccine that may help prevent some kinds of skin cancer. This is exciting news, especially in the country where the incidence of skin cancer is the highest in the world, and in a state (Queensland) that has highest number of reported melanomas. Scottish-born Professor Frazer is already a hero in Australia, having received numerous awards, including Australian of the Year in 2006 ("Ian embodies Australian know-how, determination and innovation"), for his work on the development of a vaccine to prevent papilloma virus infection, a vaccine more commonly known around the world as Gardasil. Human papilloma virus (HPV) infections cause nearly all cases of cervical cancer, which is the fifth leading cause of death of women worldwide.
In the past 24 hours I have seen several news stories about Professor Frazer's announcement about the skin cancer vaccine. In these stories he has been referred to as the man "who developed the vaccine for cervical cancer," "the scientist who discovered the cure for cervical cancer", the "creator" of the HPV vaccine, and "the Australian scientist who pioneered the vaccine for cervical cancer." Here, on the UQ campus, it's hard not to see a photo of Professor Frazer somewhere, whether at a bus stop or in the latest glossy brochure heralding the university's achievements. Obviously, Australia is quite proud of Ian Frazer's accomplishments--as they should be. Gardasil is now available worldwide, with already over 16 million doses distributed just in the United States, as of June 30th of this year.
Just before we moved to Australia last year, I saw a story about the HPV vaccine in an American newspaper. It contained a brief history that featured the work of researchers at Georgetown University and the University of Rochester, but there was no mention of any research in Australia, except for the fact that it was one of 13 countries involved in the clinical trials of Gardasil. I ran a Google news archive search to see how often Frazer's name was mentioned in conjunction with Gardasil in the past three years. After excluding Australian news sources, I could find only one or two entries.
So, why then is there nary a mention of the discoverer of the HPV vaccine outside of Australia? A 2006 article that appeared in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, titled "Who Invented the VLP Cervical Cancer Vaccines?" may provide some answers. It turns out that four institutions hold the patents for the Gardasil vaccine--the National Cancer Institute (in the U.S.), Georgetown, the University of Queensland, and the University of Rochester. And, according to the peer-reviewed literature, "the development of the VLP/L1 vaccine was an incremental process with multiple contributors." There were five key discoveries that led to the various institutions and researchers each claiming credit for the vaccine:
1991: Expression of the human papillomavirus L1 and L2 proteins together, but not L1 alone, resulted in the formation of small VLPs described as "incorrectly assembled arrays" of subunits (reported by Jian Zhou, Ian Frazer, and colleagues at Queensland; Virology).
1992: HPV L1 expression in mammalian cells led to an L1 in cells that was recognized by monoclonal antibodies that bind conformational epitopes; no VLPs were produced in this study but it was considered important because the ability of L1 to self-assemble into VLPs and produce neutralizing antibodies depends on the native conformation of L1, which involves conformational epitopes (reported by Shin-Je Ghim, A. Bennet Jenson, and Richard Schlegel of Georgetown; Virology).
1992: L1 from bovine papillomavirus type 1 self-assembled into morphologically correct VLPs that induced high levels of neutralizing antibodies in immunized animals (reported by Reinhard Kirnbauer, Doug Lowy, and John Schiller at NCI and colleagues; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
1993: L1 from HPV 11 self-assembled into VLPs, later shown to induce neutralizing antibodies (reported by Robert Rose at Rochester and colleagues; Journal of Virology).
1993: L1 from HPV 16, taken from lesions that had not progressed to cancer, self-assembled more efficiently than the HPV 16 L1 that researchers everywhere had been using; the old strain was shown to be a mutant, possibly because it had been isolated from a cancer (reported by Kirnbaueer, Lowy, and Schiller at NCI and colleagues; Journal of Virology).
Thus, the way the Australian media wants to paint the picture of Ian Frazer as being some sort of Aussie Jonas Salk is misleading. Big discoveries in medicine, and science in general, can rarely be attributed to one person any more. Many people work on different pieces of the puzzle. Apparently, such (international) teamwork makes it difficult, however, for journalists to tell the whole story.