In which Burgher Russ's companions go seeking some adventure
Russell Degnan

Having now cast themselves far from home, the burdens of leadership began to tell on Burgher Russell de Hotham Esq., hair turning a slightly greyer shade of grey-brown, his eyes a slightly greyer shade of grey-green. In order to ease his worries, the morning of their departure from Adam's Abode in the wilds of Nowhere he took a few of his more exuberantly martial companions aside to talk.

"Gentleman", he began, "I think we must tread more carefully. Our welcomes to date have been kind, but the internet is made up of more than tea-drinking alcoholics. Some of us", he added, looking at the Merkel the Tautologically Angry Barbarian, "may want to display our weapons and our anger a little more subtly, while others..."

He stopped, looking puzzled.

"Where is Enny?"

"She and the girls walked off", offered Merkel. "Something about not having to suffer through tedious speeches from some up himself leader with tickets on himself. Or maybe they were going to freshen up. I forget which".

Burgher Russ glowered and scowled.

"I guess", he then said, "that we should follow".

The remaining company were readying themselves to do just that when Madame Hooch of the Heath arrived, breathless and panting.

"We are already there", said she. "But although we are welcome, they are not very welcoming", she added, before tarrying off again.

"Oh Bother" thought Burgher Russ, and hurried after her, running into a deep, dark forest, strangely carved trees seemingly jumping out at every turn along the long and cluttered path; wet leaves hitting their faces, and sticks, or maybe bones protuding, and threatening to trip them up. Luckily, the way was marked by such a profusion of objectionable content flags that there was no fear of being lost. And so, it was at an unsafe, near gallop, that the nerdish knightly errants, blundered upon their next destination, and their fellow companions.

There was no fighting to be had, but you could cut the confusion with a knife. It was in this atmosphere that Burgher Russ introduced himself...

A Burgher in Absentia 31st August, 2006 20:59:32   [#] [3 comments] 

Culling that which refuses to shrink
Russell Degnan

I have come to the conclusion that my blog-roll being somewhat outdated, and not at all reciprocal needed, at the least, some sort of cleaning, if not a complete re-organisation. I achieved none of the above, but I did remove a few blogs that have either become completely terminal, or that I have stopped reading, while leaving a few that I still have hopes for. The assorted links below are worth a read (if they exist), for their archives if nothing else, and I like to record them in case I need to retrieve them.

Banyule Bloggers
It's So Obvious / It's Here It's There
Major Anya
Tug Boat Potemkin
A Fifth of Therapy
The Wildman of Wivenhoe
Vital Stats
Intersecting Lines
Michael Jennings
The Becker-Posner Blog
Chocolate and Gold Coins
Unoriginal Prankster
William Burroughs' Baboon

Also, I have added a few others. There are a few more to add later. Feel free to comment with righteous indignation if you think one of them is you.

Passing Fancy 29th August, 2006 21:35:01   [#] [0 comments] 

Casino Twilight Dogs - Youth Group
Russell Degnan

What do we make of Youth Group. A band with the pseudo-independent popularity only exposure on a popular television program can bring. A band that plays support for various bands of significant popularity. Should we hate them for being popular in a demographic whose musical taste inspires hatred? Or praise them, for gaining recognition for Australian music in areas hitherto unknown?

The answer is probably neither. Slowly, the depressing hold of teenage sheep on the cultural reins of popular musical taste is being eroded, in favour of artists with some claim to decent music. Youth Group, without challenging any musical boundaries on this release, provide an accessible and decent album with a few worthy highlights.

However, nor are they a band running at the forefront of some new Australian sound. The production is clean and professional (very un-Australian), but from the opening chords of Catching and Killing or Let it Go that bring to mind late-90s Brit-Pop, to the Shins like sounds on Sorry or The Destruction of Laurel Canyon this album remains no more or less than an international pop sound. Sadly, I suspect it is a genre whose time is past -- albeit one that might yet be dined on for another two decades -- hence, while it is a worthy album for a collection, it is just as likely to be in the bargain bin within a year.

Track Highlights
On a String - An unevenly paced song, that doesn't really fit with the catchy opening song, but finishes with some lovely pop "ah-ah-ing".
Daisychains - A song with some emotional angst, beginning with a simple guitar riff that slowly dominates the tune.
TJ - Again, emotion that seems lacking elsewhere. Somewhat reminiscent of Paul Kelly.
The Destruction of Laurel Canyon - The best song by some margin. drifting, almost acoustic work, with a great descending chorus line.

Finer Things 29th August, 2006 15:58:25   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CXXXVII, August 2006
Russell Degnan

The beginning of winter, from its dying days. Taken May 2006

Melbourne Town 28th August, 2006 10:08:30   [#] [0 comments] 

And with a click of his fingers...
Russell Degnan

... all public transport had fantastic pedestrian access.

2.4 Relationship between Transport Routes and the Surrounding Area

Public transport networks and services should be considered in the context of their surrounding areas, including how pedestrians will access the services. This means that pedestrian design features such as safety, amenity and urban design will be important considerations when planning public transport services.

That, in full, is the Department of Infrastructure's draft guidelines for integrating public transport into the urban landscape. On the one hand, I should be pleased. I am writing my thesis on a related topic, and have already written a (still unreleased *sigh*) report on precisely this problem.

On the other hand, are we so unadvanced in our thinking, that a vague aim can be passed off as a guideline for future development?

I know we are not, but as usual the dog's breakfast that makes up Victorian planning means the people in the know aren't in this department. A developer, or a local council doesn't just need to read these set of guidelines, but [1] also the DSE's Melbourne strategic plan (Melbourne 2030), the DOI's Melbourne transport plan, VicRoads' engineering practise notes, the local council's strategic plan, transport plan, urban design guidelines, and planning scheme, the Department of Health's guidelines for safer and the DoH's guidelines for healthier streets. And others too, some of which may have more than just aims.

While it's ironic that a profession that justifies itself on the basis that many small, albeit well intentioned, decisions can produce negative outcomes embodies the problem so acutely, that is not the fault of the writers of this report.

Two other issues with this report are. The first is a typically inadequate discussion of the implementation of an inherently political problem. Setting forward best-practice guidelines for handling trams and buses in congested road-space would be fine if the other road users (cars/ pedestrians/ bikes/ businesses) didn't have equally valid claims on its use. At the moment, the only guideline on what to do is this:

"the appropriate level of priority will be considered by PTD DOI and VicRoads on a case by case basis"

Which brings me to the second issue. That the guidelines focus on engineering solutions to problems that are commonly design issues. In computer programming terms, designing in and around public transport is a user interface problem, not a structural one. The structure, in the sense of where and when transport runs, is largely complete, the user interface is decidedly poor.

Good user interfaces are notoriously hard to achieve, mostly because they tend to depend on small details that defy generic practice. Good interfaces are a state of mind, taking into account what the user -- the pedestrian -- sees, and is trying to achieve. If decent pedestrian and cycling access is to be achieved, then the guidelines should require the urban designer to enter that state of mind, and produce a plan that shows it. VicRoads asks for considerably more on a traffic plan than a signed statement that they have considered "features such as safety, amenity and urban design".

The guidelines could, and perhaps should, ask a plan that shows primary and secondary pedestrian and cycling routes. Where:

Primary routes are dedicated routes that separate the user from other types of traffic. At intersections they should prioritise the user using appropriate urban design and timed access. Where possible, they should protect the user from unnecessary noise, and the elements. A pleasant natural and urban environment should be provided consisting of trees, seating, toilets, rubbish bins, and regular sign-posting of nearby transport, shops and other public places.

Secondary routes are mixed routes that separate the user from other types of traffic where possible. At intersections appropriate traffic calming should be used to allow safe interaction. A pleasant natural and urban environment should be provided as space permits.

And then require that all public transport, shops and facilities are connected by a direct primary pedestrian and cycling route. And that all residential properties be connected to surrounding primary routes by a direct secondary route.

Despite being basically minimalist, that would be a huge improvement on the current urban environment. Sadly, drawing it for almost any local area would demonstrate just how far from providing decent pedestrian access to services we are.

On the other hand, one paragraph is better than none, right?

[1] I won't provide links to these, but they and their many variants are easily found.

Sterner Matters 27th August, 2006 16:10:31   [#] [6 comments] 

In which Burgher Russ goes north for his better health
Russell Degnan

Maladies, melodies and melancholy.

Plagued by all three, Burgher Russell de Hotham Esq. cut a sorry figures as they left the green roofed home of nailpolishblues.

An ache of the head and a nose that should have been running, indeed, would even have felt better had it been, but which seemed to only want to, left him feeling sorry for himself. Being the sort of intrepid traveller who faced all problems with the fortitude of a condottiere, the Burgher combined his illness with a listless melancholy, and the tuneless whistling of dirges.

The contiuing absence of the minstrel was not helping.

Nor, the sudden, even unexpected, absence of the sun.

The party trudged through the softly falling rain a good few hours, perhaps more, perhaps less, before one of their number sought to broach the delicate subject of their destination.

Burgher Russ looked up from his reverie, wiping the collected rain, and other, perhaps not so foreign liquids from his face.

"Oh... a destination..."

Leadership is much harder in the rain.

"Perhaps over this hill?" he offered.

Hardly satisfactory, but faced with no other choice, they walked, or rather trudged, up the hill, before, as one by one, they each crested the summit, they each, stopped.

Before them the sun shone done from a cloudless sky, creating fabulous rainbows in the still falling rain. A german shepherd stopped an animated conversation mid sentence to watch the party descend the hill, before turning his attention back to a lady from Strasbourg. A man in in a tuxedo appeared, dancing around each of them in turn, his brandy-soaked breath making them gag, even as his feet spashed water up and over his dinner jacket.

Bewildered, Burgher Russ and his tired company continued walking, leaving him dancing in the puddles in their wake. However, a precise moment before he left their collective vision, the drunken tuxedo wearer yelled after them.

"Where are you not going?", he bellowed.

"Nowhere", yelled back Burgher Russ.

"To your left then", he replied, waving his arm, before turning and beginning his merry dance anew.

And lo, he was right, to their left was their destination.

"I've always been lucky", said Burgher Russ to noone in particular, as he made his way inside...

... who, as has been the way of late, received the party in a confused, but friendly manner...

A Burgher in Absentia 24th August, 2006 23:09:16   [#] [1 comment] 

In Defence of Darrell Hair
Russell Degnan

I'll confess at the start, that I have always been an admirer of Darrell Hair. He has consistently been one of the better umpires in general decision making for some time, and is rightly perceived as such by the ICC. In spite of the controversy that often surrounds him, he has carved out a long career on the international circuit.

As a decision maker, he is confident and unflustered. But most importantly, he is a literalist when it comes to interpreting the laws.

To read the comments on Will's site many commentators think Hair is either biased, arrogant, narcissistic or merely undiplomatic. I disagree. As an umpire Hair is employed to interpret and apply the law, as written. Many, nay all, of the controversies revolve lie in the difference between Hair's strict interpetation and the looser interpetation, steeped in politics, negotiation and outright threats that certain nations want to engage in.

You may disagree with the role the umpire should play, and no doubt, a calm and approachable unpire is better, but when it comes to the laws of the game, I believe, strongly, that first and foremost they should be applied. To do otherwise it to invite chaos. If someone has an issue with the rules, then they can apply to have them changed, but that is a different thing.

Hair has been consitently correct in his actions, and deserves credit for doing so. For reference, here are the four most significant decisions he has made:

1. Calling Muralithatan

Law 24.2
[...] the ball must be bowled not thrown [...] If either umpire is not entirely satisfied with the absolute fairness of a delivery in this respect he shall call and signal 'no ball' [...] [emphasis mine]

This law has been changed since 1996, but that was what was in operation when Muralitharan was called. Note the emphasis. There is no "close enough is good enough" in that statement, no "he seems like a nice chap, let's not ruin his career", no "this is a big occasion". If an umpire is not "entirely" satisfied that a ball is bowled then it is a 'no-ball'. The onus is on the bowler to be fair. Hair was right to call him. He was wrong to call him less often than he did. As were all the other umpires who "expressed doubts" and didn't make the call.

2. Giving Jimmy Adams LBW

Law 36
The striker is out LBW [...] is either between wicket and wicket or outside the line of the off stump, if the striker has made no genuine attempt to play the ball with his bat. [emphasis mine]

This was controversial at the time, as Adams was slowly building a career out of playing spinners with his bat behind his pad. Once again Hair, albeit with a mindset against such a negative approach, applied the law literally. The word "genuine" implies something more than a general waft in the direction of the ball. Despite the impression the commentators like to give, there is nothing in the rules anywhere about giving the batsman the benefit of the doubt. Adams approach to kicking the ball away with his bat safely tucked was given out, and rightfully so.

3. Penalising Pakistan for Ball Tampering

Law 42
[...] The umpires shall be the sole judges of fair and unfair play. If either umpire considers an action, not covered by the Laws, to be unfair, he shall intervene without appeal [...] (c) The umpires shall make frequent and irregular inspections of the ball. [...] In the event of any fielder changing the condition of the ball unfairly, as set out in (b) above, the umpires after consultation shall
(i) change the ball forthwith. [...]
(iii) award 5 penalty runs to the batting side.
(iv) inform the captain of the fielding side that the reason for the action was the unfair interference with the ball.
(v) inform the captain of the batting side as soon as practicable of what has occurred.
(vi) report the occurrence as soon as possible to the Executive of the fielding side and any Governing Body responsible for the match, who shall take such action as is considered appropriate against the captain and team concerned. [emphasis mine]

I quoted this at length for the simple expedient of pointing out to people who obviously haven't read the relevant rule, that the actions taken by the umpires in the current controversy have to follow a set routine.

They don't have to tell the opposing captain they think they cheated, nor do they need to get involved in an on-field altercation over it. Nor do they need to show any evidence, video or otherwise of the player actually tampering with the ball. The regular and infrequent inspection of the ball is there precisely because the law expects the umpire to take action when they notice the ball has been tampered with. If Umpire Hair, after consulting with his partner believed the seam had been lifted then he can change the ball, and apply a penalty.

Neither the match referees, managers or captains need to be involved in the decision, and nor does it need to take all day, or be done later while the fielding team bowls with a suspect ball. Change it, apply the penalty, inform the captain and the authorities. once again, Darrell Hair did exactly as was expected of him.

4. Allowing Pakistan to Forfeit

Law 21
A match shall be lost by a side which [...] in the opinion of the umpires refuses to play. If an umpire considers that an action by any player or players might constitute a refusal by either side to play then the umpires together shall ascertain the cause of the action. If they then decide together that this action does constitute a refusal to play by one side, they shall so inform the captain of that side. If the captain persists in the action the umpires shall award the match in accordance with (a)(ii) above. [emphasis mine]

This is really quite straight forward. As the CricInfo report notes, Pakistan did not resume play, the umpires went back inside to ascertain why, and when Pakistan did not resume playing the game was forfeited. You don't have to like the law, you might even consider it ridiculous and harsh, but don't complain to the umpires for applying it. There has been nothing in any of the reports to suggest that the umpires did anything wrong, including, most importantly, the ICC Press Release:

In accordance with the laws of cricket it was noted that the umpires had correctly deemed that Pakistan had forfeited the match and awarded the Test to England.

In short. If you don't like the laws of cricket then petition the ICC to change the laws of cricket. But don't complain about an umpire, who, throughout his career has applied the law as the wording implies it should. Umpires are not politicians or diplomats, they are unbiased officials. No matter that the outcome of this game was unsatisfactory, we should applaud their efforts to uphold the Laws of the Game as they are employed to do.

Idle Summers 21st August, 2006 14:56:42   [#] [5 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CXXXVI, August 2006
Russell Degnan

In the shadows of South Bank.

Melbourne Town 21st August, 2006 13:05:43   [#] [0 comments] 

Melbourne Train Game
Russell Degnan

A misnomer if every there was one, as the game-board is too large to play on any train in Melbourne, and it takes longer to play than any trip in same. It is a heavily strategic game, popular amongst the especially "avant garde" in Melbourne's laneway bars.


Number of Players

Two, one using black Queens, the other red.


A Whole deck is used. The Queens are special cards and should be removed before play. Aces are high, above the King. Twos are wild.

The Table

Clear some space on a table

Place the Queens at either end, shuffle the pack, and deal cards, face up, in the pattern shown. If any twos are dealt, place them back into the pack.

For a faster game the board (and the number of Queens), can be reduced, by removing rows while retaining the diamond shape. It's not the same though.

The Deal

From the remaining cards, deal five cards to each player.
Place the rest in a Pick-up Pile.

The Play

Players take it in turns to move, each move consisting of three parts.

1. The Swap

A swap is optional.

A player may swap a single card pile as many times as they like within the one turn, provided the swapping rules are followed.

Rule 1: Card Piles must be swapped along the diagonal lines in the diagram above.

Rule 2: The pile being swapped must contain within it a card that is within one number (up or down) of a card within the pile being exchanged.

Rule 3: You may not swap your opponent's Queen unless it is to swap into the final position.

An example is shown. The JS-6S pile is swapped twice: 6S for 5H; JS for 10C.

2. The Discard

A player must discard from their hand if they are able to.

There are three types of discards:

1. Same Suit: A card may be played onto any Card Pile of the same suit as the card being played. That card is added to the pile and will generally increases the number of swapping options available to it.

2. Same Number: If a card of the same number, but different suit, is played then the existing pile is placed on the Discard Pile. That played card forms the basis for a new Card Pile.

3. Any Two: Twos are wild. If a two is played the entire Card Pile is placed in the players hand. The two is placed on the Discard Pile. A new card from the players hand must be played.

A player may not discard onto a Queen.

3. The Pick-Up

If the player has less than five cards in their hand, they must pick up from the Pick-Up pile. If the Pick-Up Pile is empty, the Discard Pile (after shuffling) becomes the Pick-Up Pile.

The Game

The object of the game is to move your Queens to the spaces opposite. This is done by swapping cards according to the swap rules detailed above.

Frivolous Pastimes 20th August, 2006 19:20:22   [#] [3 comments] 

Trivia and Historical Memory
Russell Degnan

If anyone was ever looking for a reason for why people in this country have a somewhat lamentable knowledge of history [1], then the inept efforts by its practitioners to defend it may give some clue.

Perhaps it is a persecution complex. That might explain Les Terry's bizarre assertion that "Prime Minister and his Government are waging unilaterally against an imagined enemy of "cosmopolitans", "multiculturalists" and "postmodernists"." If it is so unilateral, and the enemy so imaginary, then what, pray tell is his article, if not a response? Do post-modernists, multi-culturalists and cosmopolitans not exist? Or do they in fact like the Howard Government, and are therefore not its enemy?

Perhaps such a complex is behind the assertions by both Terry and Robert Manne that the Howard Government wants to create a simple, nationalistic and patriotic history. The Prime Minister was quite clear what he intended when he spoke on the matter in January:

"Part of preparing young Australians to be informed and active citizens is to teach them the central currents of our nation's development. The subject matter should include indigenous history as part of the whole national inheritance. It should also cover the great and enduring heritage of Western civilisation, those nations that became the major tributaries of European settlement and in turn a sense of the original ways in which Australians from diverse backgrounds have created our own distinct history."

That is an open invitation to anything, and no doubt, as Melleuish notes, the Prime Minister has his own ideas on what they might be, as would we all. But what he listed is hardly controversial, nor even particularly different to what anyone designing a general course in Australia history would choose.

I find it very hard to believe that there is anyone who genuinely believes there are no central and defining aspects of Australian history. Australia has a distinct climate, biology, and landscape, with an equally distinct pattern of settlement, immigration, political and economic development. It shouldn't be controversial to expect a high school student to become somewhat conversant with those aspects of Australian culture. Given both Howard and Manne mention the importance of learning about indigenous traditions, British legal and political institutions, and Western culture, there is hardly a disagreement here worthy of the name.

Coupled with a non-issue is a farce, made worse by journalists with neither any historical knowledge nor any particular interest in guiding it. The teaching of chronological facts as against competing narratives is not a new debate. But it is an odd one. To listen to it you would almost believe the proponents of one think the other is unnecessary. Clare Wright goes dangerously close to claiming Google is a suitable substitute for remembering historical fact and chronology, before admitting that a student needs to know the Gold Rush occurred in the 1850s. Whereas Les Terry seems to favour the sort of dodgy historical recreation documentary makers use when they don't have sufficient source material, over any actual evidence. Meanwhile, in a piss-poor attempt to make a point, while simultanesouly missing the one at hand, journalists are trying to turn history into a trivia night (hat tip, an excellent discussion at Larvatus Prodeo).

There are two debates here really, one of which is entirely pedagogical, and regarding which I want to quote from Fernand Braudel, speaking of the same in France in 1982.

For some, traditional history, faithful to narrative, and indeed a slave to it, overloads the memory, weighing it down needlessly with dates, with the name of heroes and with the lives and deeds of notabilities. For others, 'the new history', seeking to be 'scientific', dealing with long term and neglecting events, is supposedly responsible for catastrophic didactic failures, involving at the very least unpardonable ignorance of chronology. This dispute between Ancients and Moderns has done a great deal of harm. In a discussion which is about teaching, not scientific theory, it conceals problems and failings instead of shedding light on them.

For Braudel, and I agree, a broad chronological narrative that gave history shape, and allowed them to place figures, events and places in the right context, was the best way to teach children; and an approach that draws on the broader social sciences the best way to teach adults. The reason is quite simple, and it is the same one that compels you to read Dr. Seuss before Samuel Beckett, and learn your times tables before algebra. Abstract thought is hard, and needs a learned mind.

The second debate is over trivia. Trivia is not history of course. You can know a lot of trivia and not know any history. But the question arises over when trivia becomes fact. The crossing of the Blue Mountains by Blaxland, Wentworh and Lawson in 1813 is mere trivia. The importance of it as an event is, regardless of the narrative, significant. It lies neatly near the beginning of the period where, under Macquarie, Australia changed from a convict settlement into a giant sheep farm, with the subsequent shift in political power to rural squatters, along with a substantial increase in the conflict between the white settlers and the indigenous inhabitants. Placed in context it is not trivia, but a relevant part of Australia's political history.

The elevation to trivia from mere fact to something relevant depends, like the fact itself, on context and use. We need to ask, as several commentators have said, what use we put on history. If it is to be compulsory, is it a civics lesson -- and a no doubt valuable one -- and should it therefore be placed in that context? If it is not compulsory, then we should focus on the neglected side of history in our curricula: the history of the disciplines we are learn. For myself, Melbourne's history is relevant to what I do, and its regular misuse and tendency to drift into well-worn myth a regular problem. But no field is without some sort of history, and practically all fields -- even new ones, of which there are many -- have undergone regular changes within the context of a changing socio-political environment. Instead of bemoaning the fate of the historical discipline in the context of more vocational studies, teachers of history should be demonstrating its value to that endeavour.

That the history taught needs to be relevant should be obvious. That anything taught needs to be relevant in some way -- and I have a very broad definition of relevance -- should be obvious. I find it sad that so few disciplines seem willing to justify themselves to a broader audience, but that is a debate for another post.

Instead, on a final, perhaps ironic note, in the process of writing this, I also went back to the preface to Giles MacDonogh's Frederick the Great. [2] Frederick was a complex figure, but a useful figure-head, whether you were Prussian, German, Protestant, enlightened, militaristic, or artistic. This is not unusual, for a similar phenomenon, try this fascinating article on the many historical faces of Rembrandt. For Frederick though, his rehabilitation from a caricature of Prussian militarism to a complex enlightenment monarch was achieved, according to MacDonogh, "with the return to a punctilious factual approach".

Those historians who believe in the power of google should also consider its remarkable ability to deceive and hide otherwise relevant counter-facts, as myths take hold. Trivia is not always just trivia, it is often the first clue in your mind that the history you are reading is not all it should be, or could be. Competing narratives are a good idea, but no matter how many you have, there will never be a shortage of underdone narratives in Australian history [3].

A mountain of factual knowledge is no bad thing for anyone to have. And history is too important for it to be derailed by haphazard arguments. Braudel, who is always good for a quote, offers more salutary advice.

"Of course, historians have no business fabricating dubious national myths -- or even pursuing humanism, which I myself prefer. But history is a vital element in national self-awareness. And without self-awareness there can be no original culture, no genuine civilisation, in France or anywhere else"

[1] I happen to think that, while historical knowledge is pretty woeful in high school leavers, both of Australia and more generally, that it is not so much worse than their knowledge of mathematics, science, literature, english and the proper use of logic.

[2] I love the preface's of history books. Like the footnotes they are often more interesting than the other pages.

[3] Consider, for instance, the ongoing bias towards an overall Australian, yet particularly Sydney-centric narrative at the expense of other colonial narratives.

Sterner Matters 20th August, 2006 04:21:32   [#] [5 comments] 

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