Monday Melbourne: CXLI, September 2006
Russell Degnan

Bridges along the Yarra. Taken January 2006

Melbourne Town 25th September, 2006 13:23:10   [#] [1 comment] 

In which Burgher Russ skips the country
Russell Degnan

The 2H pencil tip-tapped against the notepad, marking out the beat to a song that would only be played once. Burgher Russ sat beneath a tree in the gardens of Delightful Jen, pausing occasionally to scribble a note, or to look out pensively with the pencil between his lips.

"Such a delightful place", he thought, "so easy to forget one's cares, ones... oh bugger!"

Scrambling, there was not much sign of anyone when he returned to the garden, but footprints led off down the hill, to a lake, where there was moared several delightful boats, just ripe for the taking, if one had criminal tendencies, such as are often gained in small country towns.

Of course, since noone would expect the esteemed Burgher Russell de Hotham Esq. of stealing a boat, noone would come looking for it, and he contented himself with that thought, as his long strokes brought him ever closer to the rocky outcrop of an approaching island, shaded by mist.

Landing, and pulling the boat up the shore to tie to a nearby cherry tree, Burgher Russ contemplated his next move when he heard three Parps!, each more disconsolate than the last, and the last, particularly put out at that.

Burgher Russ brightened at the sound, it having come from the heraldic tooter of Madame Hooch of the Heath herself. Luck always followed the Burgher; it was one of his foremost qualities, and as it happened, said luck had found him again, leading Burgher Russ right to Lulu.

Lulu sat recuperating, having been terribly sick the week Burgher Russ was too busy chewing on a pencil to pay attention to his leadership duties. A good thing, you might say, or not a coincidence, given how many of their visits coincided with illness. Luckily for the various members of their party, rowboats don't go through customs.

They just need to create their own...

A Burgher in Absentia 22nd September, 2006 01:02:02   [#] [3 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CXL, September 2006
Russell Degnan

A seat for waiting... I'll be inside and blogging lightly for the next couple of months. Taken March 2003

Melbourne Town 19th September, 2006 13:24:38   [#] [0 comments] 

Planning for Food Health?
Russell Degnan

There have been a couple of interesting articles in the Age in the last few days. On first reading, both this comparison of Vancouver and Melbourne transport planning, and this discussion on the role of planning in healthy eating are interesting demonstrations of the broader role of planning in shaping the city.

On a second reading they are tendentious nonsense. A cobbling together of correlations without an underlying causal mechanism. A probable misrepresentation of plausible academic research. And a series of barrows being shouldered forward by the weight of a prejudical shoulder carrying a chip on it.

I will return to the Vancouver article at a later date; it is broadly correct, if politically and culturally naive, and deserves a proper treatment. The article on health deserves no such praise.

In essence, it tries to claim that planning is responsible for the unhealthy eating of residents in outer suburbs. For a number of reasons this is a very large claim to make. Let's break them down one by one:

"experts are concerned many families who don't have cars have difficulty getting to their local supermarket to buy fruit and vegetables because public transport is poor."

A total non sequitur. Getting transport to the supermarket can be very problematic. Getting money to buy fruit and vegetables can be probematic. However, people need to eat something. A claim that they are eating takeaway instead of going to the supermarket because of accessibility needs to show that takeaway food is vastly more accessible than a supermarket. I highly doubt that is the case. Local pizza, fish and chip shops and milk bars can be closer, when they still exist, but are still largely inaccessible without a car.

"on average, there is one fast-food shop in the highest-income areas, compared with three or four in low and middle-income areas."

No doubt true, but again, a non sequitur. As I just noted, the supermarket is no more inaccessible than take-away outlets. People eating takeaway food do it for different reasons: time, culture, or choice (even if the choice is poor, one should not be surprised if people are stupid). There are probably many more than three times as many restaurants in high income areas, many of which would serve rich and fattening food. The difference in type is one of income and again, the culture of an inner urban region.

"up to 50,000 Victorians go without food at least once a month and once a year the dinner plate is empty for about 1 in 20 adult Victorians, simply because they cannot afford it."

And then a complete change of tack. How this relates to obesity in poor areas is beyond me. I can only assume people without food are not obese, and if they are, then the issue is budgeting, not food accessibility. The reasoning however, leads the author to this:

"Calorie for calorie, foods that are high in energy and low in nutrients are much cheaper.

The bottom line is, if you have a minimum amount of money and kids to feed, you are going to buy a packet of biscuits for $1.50, you aren't going to buy a kilo of apples for $4."

Since when has a $1.50 packet of biscuits had a comparable caloric level to a kilogram of apples? Even at their cheapest, $4 of biscuits is only 500g. Furthermore, take-away food -- a few paragraphs earlier the cause of health problems -- is more expensive than fruit and vegetables. As any student can tell you, the cheapest food is rice, dried pasta, potatoes, tomatoes and basic greens. You can even grow some of them [1], thus saving those transport hassles.

The reality is people could buy better food, and they don't. It may be ignorance or it may be for much the same reasons that Orwell cited in The Road to Wigan Pier:

"Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn't. Here the tendency of which I spoke at the end of the last chapter comes into play. When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don't want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit 'tasty'. There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let's have three pennorth of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny ice-cream! Put the kettle on and we'll all have a nice cup of tea! That is how your mind works when you are at the P.A.C. level. White bread-and-marg and sugared tea don't nourish you to any extent, but they are nicer (at least most people think so) than brown bread-and-dripping and cold water. Unemployment is an endless misery that has got to be constantly palliated, and especially with tea, the English-man's opium. A cup of tea or even an aspirin is much better as a temporary stimulant than a crust of brown bread."

Conditions aren't so bad in Melbourne as that, except for the unlucky few. But the attitude remains the same. A fair number of people -- particularly young people -- eat unhealthily because eating unhealthily tastes better.

None of this has anything to do with planning. Outer suburbs can be bad for health: by dint of being practically unwalkable and unrideable, despite the relative proximity [2] of many services, and because basic and regular exercise is the first and best way to avoid health issues. But not because there is some bizarre lack of decent food in the suburban hinterland. To the extent that there is, it is because the residents don't eat it, and won't eat it. There isn't much a planner can do about that.

[1] I had spinach from the garden tonight. I am terrible proud. It cost a dollar for seeds and takes up about 0.5sq.m.
[2] Proximate despite what people claim, most of whom obviously don't realise how short a distance 2km (the average car trip) is, nor how refreshing a walk it can be in the right circumstances

Sterner Matters 12th September, 2006 04:40:52   [#] [4 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CXXXIX, September 2006
Russell Degnan

September. And in the absence of football, a walk in the park. Taken January 2004

Melbourne Town 11th September, 2006 15:27:56   [#] [3 comments] 

In which Burgher Russ`s lack of nobility becomes readily apparent
Russell Degnan

Having barely escaped with their assorted limbs attached to their assorted attachment points, it was a weary, if not slightly bloody and bruised party that made its way out of the forest, and into a poplar grove that was just a tad too manicured.

"We're safe", exclaimed Madame Hooch of the Heath, despite still having their, now subdued, tormentor in their midst.

"Yes, until the six-fingered man turns up", muttered Burgher Russell de Hotham Esq.

"What was that?" quipped Hooch, smiling ungainly.

Burgher Russ decided to ignore that.

Moving further from the forest, the reason for the slightly-more-than-necessary manicuring on the poplar grove became apparent, as it gave way to very well manicured lakes, trees and ponds; then a delightful orangerie, and, finally, behind a small but delightful wall, a delighfully elegant Tudor castle set in a delightful garden made up of roses, carmelias and petunias.

Within the garden sat a lady, of comely grace and immaculately dressed, reading, but slowly, as every few lines she stopped to pause, then sigh, before continuing as before.

Burgher Russ, being, despite his affected name, a simple commoner, stepped through the gate with some hesitation and approached Delightful Jen to offer his greetings...

A Burgher in Absentia 6th September, 2006 21:25:48   [#] [9 comments] 

Ratings - September 2006
Russell Degnan

Sri Lanka v South Africa
Opening Ratings: Sri: 1086.68 SAf: 1101.97
1st Test: Sri Lanka by an innings and 153 runs
2nd Test: Sri Lanka by 1 wicket
Closing Ratings: Sri: 1113 SAf: 1075.57

There must have been a point in first test, when the South Africans, trailing by 450 runs, having acquired just two wickets, and with almost three days to play, were thinking that winning the series may be beyond them. To their credit, a robust second innings effort almost saved the first test, and only the brilliance of Jayawardene stopped them from winning the second. Sangakarra's contribution notwithstanding, Sri Lanka are very reliant on a few players -- particularly Muralitharan -- but deserved the win. The South African's can take some positives from the result, but at least some of their batsman need to press on and make big hundreds. Ten fifties and no hundreds in the two tests is the main reason they lost.

England v Pakistan
Opening Ratings: Eng: 1180.93 Pak: 1183.32
1st Test: Drawn
2nd Test: England by an innings and 120 runs
3rd Test: England by 167 runs
4th Test: England by forfeit
Closing Ratings: Eng: 1223.68 Pak: 1119.07

A strange series, and not just because of the fourth, forfeited test, on which much has been written, little of it good. Perhaps it is a pity that the finale over-shadowed the events that preceded it. Perhaps not.

It is a series centred on poor bowling. A weakened English bowling line-up was sufficiently strong to blow through the dregs of the Pakistani batting, and set up two big wins. Conversely, although Harmison had his day, and Panesar came into his own, the three central pillars of the Pakistani batting pulverised the English attack. Mohammed Yousuf's three centuries in seven knocks demonstrated a serious issue for the English that cannot be entirely hidden by the performance of their batsmen.

And what a performance. The decimated Pakistan bowling only showed any teeth in the final test with the return of Mohammed Asif. Otherwise, despite a lack of very big centuries (the highest after Collingwood's 186 was just 135), the English batting piled on the runs, topping 450 three times, and well on their way to a fourth. Ian Bell, all at sea against Warne last summer, topped the averages, but it was a team effort. Kaneria was turned into a stock bowler, and England won by weight of runs alone.

Like it or not, in the last year, attention has been firmly fixed on the Ashes rematch in the coming summer. However, like Australia's victories over South Africa, this was a series that asked more questions than it answered. The wait for November begins in earnest.

Forthcoming Series:

Nothing but onedayers until the Ashes start. A season review next month.

Australia (1st) 1379.29
India (3rd) 1123.44
New Zealand (7th) 1028.9
West Indies (8th) 832.00
Zimbabwe (9th) 672.64
Bangladesh (10th) 598.51

Idle Summers 4th September, 2006 23:16:53   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CXXXVIII, September 2006
Russell Degnan

September. Finals time. Not that Essendon would know anything about that. Taken August 2002

Melbourne Town 4th September, 2006 11:55:53   [#] [2 comments] 

The Book (and Band) Meme
Russell Degnan

Having had my bluff called by James with respect to the infernal book meme, which he had modified into an infernal musical version, I shall, reluctantly, do both. There is never a bad time to dissuade people from their misplaced notions of your cultured nature.

1. One book you have read than once

I try not to do this anymore, except dipping in to the odd favourite. I return regularly to The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination by Jacob Bronowski, mostly because I imbibe but don't apply its message.

On fiction, excluding Asterix books, the book I have read the most, by some margin, is Guardians of the West by David Eddings. Sad, but true.

2. One book you would want on a desert island

The suitcase from Joe versus the Volcano comes to mind, so perhaps a complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica, or for light reading, the still not entirely published, complete set of Peanuts comics. Alternatively anything by Dan Brown, so if it became necessary to use it to start a fire I could do so without remorse.

Otherwise, Tolstoy's War and Peace since I skipped his historical essays last time and it deserves a repeat.

3. One book that made you laugh

All books need to make me laugh, else I can't be bothered reading them. No Booker nominees for me then. Rain Men by Marcus Berkmann made me laugh the hardest, but you probably need to be a cricket player to know why.

4. One book that made you cry

Um... I've only read something and cried twice. Neither were books.

5. One book I wish I had written

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. A brilliant mix of comedy and geography and history. Exactly what all my travel posts are like before I start typing.

Also, A History of Venice by John Julius Norwich. A book so infused with a love of its topic it reads like a tragedy when the Republic falls.

6. One book I wish had never existed

I'm not opposed to recording any thought, no matter how obnoxious. However I will nominate The Princess Bride by William Goldman. It is merely a leech attaching itself to film's better lines, with nothing worthwhile to add.

7. One book I am currently reading

For the longest time now, The Aesthetics of Music by Roger Scroton. An extremely interesting book expressed in the most excrutiatingly tedious and pretentious manner.

8. One book I have been meaning to read

Too many to count, but perhaps near the top: The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney by Henry Handel Richardson, a book about Melbourne that I've yet to find justification for reading in the context of my other Melbourne history readings.

9. One book that changed my life

No fiction to speak of, that I can recall. But The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs for reasons already mentioned.

1. One band you have seen more than once

Not being a big attendee of concerts, I'm lucky to have seen any band once. I've seen Angie Hart/Splendid several times though; and Erica and co.

2. One band you would want on a desert island

A band, or just an album? If the former, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. The latter, implying repeated, endless listens is more interesting. Despite the potential for wallowing in depression for several months, and notwithstanding recent comments I made that OK Computer is better, I can listen to The Bends by Radiohead forever.

3. One band that made you laugh

Humour is under-rated in bands. TISM are the undisputed kings.

4. One band that made you cry

The last tune I recall crying to is Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, and not just because it seems to finish on an unresolved chord.

5. One song I wish I had written

Since I believe music should reflect the artist, I am not sure I can think of anything that I'd really claim. Once, however, when I was extremely stressed out I dreamt about a bagpipe symphony. I wish I had written it down, it was pretty awesome.

6. One band I wish had never existed

Band Aid. The super-group that launched the idea of largely self-serving charity songs for otherwise worthwhile causes. If the artists involved released some half-decent music under their own name and donated from that, they'd have not ony raised more cash, but we wouldn't have had to put up with either their endless self-congratulatory preening or their half-baked political ideas. Admittedly Do They Know Its Christmas? is an alright song, if mildly insulting to Ethiopia's minority muslim poplation. We Are the World however, was extraordinarily annoying.

7. One band I am currently listening to

People will find this odd, given my predilection for not listening to lyrics, but I have been listening to Leonard Cohen of late.

8. One band I have been meaning to see

All and none. I'd really like to see Modern Giant if they come to Melbourne. They could be entertaining.

I've also been trying to find Regina Spektor's stuff without any particular success.

9. One band that changed my life

Growing up in country areas, radio was limited to some truly appalling stations, from which I derived much of my love for extremely bad music. Brit-pop, and specifically, Blur, Oasis changed that. Against my better judgement, I've been getting progressively less mainstream since.

10. Now tag 5 people

All seems terribly rude, but perhaps I can convince certain people to update their blogs by nominating Erica, Alex, Ben, Freya and for variety, Bridgegirl.

Finer Things 1st September, 2006 21:46:47   [#] [4 comments]