Something trivial in relation to the tsunami crisis, but it’s on my mind anyway. If you live in the US, have an HDTV-capable TV, and are buying a DVD movie, consider buying a multiregion player and foreign discs. Because R2 (Europe) and R4 (Australia) releases are nearly all in PAL, you get about 20% better video resolution. This article about PAL vs NTSC is helpful.

Anyway. One of our travelling friends has reported in, and she’s fine. Waiting for the others, though we suspect they were in less danger. Just one island north for the first bunch would have put them on Panang, now devastated. Funny how the odd decision sometimes turns out to be really, really important.

Xmas was lovely, a time of heat in Eden’s Landing with my delightful parents-in-law, my wife and my mother. Presents, superb food (traditional pudding made with suet, the best mince pies I can remember) and that general peace that comes with a large chunk of time off.

Cue the tsunamis. What can you say about a disaster like that? A friend of Nic’s is nearby, but apparently her island wasn’t hit. Another friend was in Bangkok, about to head to an island. They should be OK but we’ve not heard yet. Our thoughts are with them.

Back on the mountain, we’ve discovered a pair of tawny frogmouths living in a tree less than ten metres from our back deck, and in convenient viewing range. They’re strange creatures, like a cross between an owl and a kookaburra, with disguising plumage and truly odd mouths. Here are some links: KidCyber, EPA and Australia Museum.

Recently I’ve been re-reading Bertrand Russell’s collection of short pieces and speeches about and entitled “Why I Am Not A Christian”. Ah, rediscovering the joys of (ir)religious thought. Succinct points well stated. The first essay in the book shares its title, and is easily found online. Whatever your beliefs, it’s worth a read, and Positive Atheism has a copy.

Me? I’m really hoping to live to see the end of religion, already much weaker than it was when I was a child, or when my parents were. In primary school, I was one of just two kids in grade 7 who disbelieved sufficiently to be able to avoid RE, and I do think that number would be higher now. Let me just state my views briefly.

  1. There is no evidence for any god. Belief is based on faith, which I don’t have, and can’t argue with.
  2. There are an infinite number of potentially true but unprovable propositions. The classic example is of the invisible pink unicorns that are everywhere right now. And what about Santa?
  3. Though I have no proof of the non-existence of (any) god, I choose to actively disbelieve in one, as I choose not to believe in the invisible pink unicorns. I just think it’s very, very unlikely to be.

There are countless other arguments against religion (the cruelty of life and death; which god is the right god; the bible says a whole lot of stuff that isn’t followed today and contradicts itself anyway so why follow any of it) but the one above is at the core for me. That’s leaving aside the terrible acts of churches, Catholic in particular, with regard to contraception and the advancement of human knowledge.

The sooner we’re rid of this whole mess, the better; John Lennon was right. My boss in the UK sums up religious wars like this: “They’re fighting over who’s got the best imaginary friend.”

I can’t do better than that. Happy new year.

Ah, South Park. I really like it most of the time. Have since the beginning, through the inevitable merchandising explosion, fallback and reinvention. These days though, the show’s just a bit off politically.

If it was out-and-out right wing, it’d lose its audience. It’d lose some of it going left too. As it is, they claim to not support anyone and throw their mud wildly. Last week, they had a thick “the immig’ants took our jobs” character become suddenly knowledgeable, claiming that global warming is a myth. Matt and Trey, the creators, claim in interviews that anyone who gets their opinion from a cartoon is an idiot, but they’re clearly trying to push their own opinions. That one they’ve sucked up from the Republican propaganda machine and spat out whole.

This week there was a vote between a giant douche and a turd sandwich for school mascot, a direct reference to the recent US elections. Stan becomes disillusioned with the non-choice offered and is banished for refusing to vote. Kyle is pissed off when he votes for the “wrong” side.

They’ve missed the whole point, and America’s election system helps every citizen to miss the point. A vote shouldn’t be about one President. The person doesn’t matter, or shouldn’t. It’s about the values that person stands for. Personification of the process means that one sweaty brow or one poor wardrobe choice screws up a country or maybe the whole planet for some length of time.

The presidential system means that one person, to some extent, actually wields that power, and that’s wrong. At least in Australia and the UK, the party is seen to have a fair amount of power and cabinet members each have some autonomy and responsibility.

If everyone who voted did so for a party and not for a person, there would be less apathy. Every person who says it doesn’t matter, that they’re each the same as each other, has missed the point. Look at the policies; assess who’s actually supporting people who need that support. The parties (all parties) may appear similar, but that’s because they are trying to appeal to the centre-leaning swingers. All large parties try to appeal to the widest groups; look at their under-publicised policies and decide there.

John Safran summarises well. He said: “Right wingers are basically evil, and left wingers are basically good.” By all means choose within the shades of good and evil, but their figureheads are unimportant.

I guess I write this as much for myself as for anyone else, and I have a sense that I’m preaching to the converted. Nobody else is reading. If I’m wrong, let me know. Email my name @ this site.

Just a few words. If you use these in your novel/play/etc. let me know.

“It’s a victimless crime. Or as close as is possible in today’s litigious age.”

I now have 2.5 jobs. Full time work does not yet agree with me. It will in time, but I’m just a bit shattered from five days of riding up and down the mountain in pissing rain. If I wanted rain like this, I’d have become a farmer, or never left England. Honestly, it’s been like London.

Sunny now, though, and with a fab new sofa. Mmm.

So. If I was to write something substantial, something that people could buy in a shop, what would it be about? Travel is obvious and saturated. I’ve never read the kind of book I’d want to write, but I suspect that’s because I’ve hardly looked. Instructional stuff is also a saturated market, with room for just the best few books on each topic. Plus, there’s a whole lot of work in gathering facts, updates, and pictures that doesn’t make it onto the page and into the word count.

Fiction? Well, I can’t lay claim to any fiction writing skill, but I’ve been reading some great Neal Stephenson and some OK Zadie Smith recently, and that could help. Alternatively, I could be overinfluenced and try to write about oddly miserable London lives in the 1700s. Kids books? There’s an idea I had a while ago which is staying private for now, and I’m not sure I know enough about what kids like. Plus it would need to be illustrated, which is not what I’m best at. Farming that out feels like not writing half the book. I’ll ponder a little longer, maybe hammer something out. Maybe beg in writing to our local papers. Need a part time travel writer?

Sitting here, down in the cellar with a view, I’m pretty comfortable, probably ten or more degrees cooler than the city. It’s a nasty, oppressive heat that’s visiting today, with the promise of a hot summer ahead.

From the deck we’re level with the treetops, but from here down below I see the lower reaches. If we can clear enough of the undergrowth and cut the grass on our uneven terrace, we can sit at the feet of the trees, where they seem gigantic. In a slightly stronger breeze, the loose leaves fall, adding to the building litter on our slope. There’s a calm that nobody can build for you and which shops can’t bottle.

Haze obscures the view, somewhere distant near Kenmore, and soon enough a branch will grow and obscure it further. Do we chop it off, win a battle, inevitably lose the war? I think we’ll have a go, if we can attack it at all. Does the internet have tips for chopping off branches many metres from the ground? Nobody’s commercialised the portable cutting laser yet, and my shimmying skills are poor. Tips?