Saturday, 04 December 2004
Now here's something you don't see in Australia every day:
I saw one of these on a car last night about a block from my house. Aussies don't really go for the window decal with the name of your alma mater on it, so it's unusual to see one at all — much less one from where I got my bachelor's degree, way back when. I spoke to the driver and he was a graduate of the UIUC class of '99; he sounded Australian, but said he was going back to the USA (I think he said to Washington University in St. Louis) for his doctorate next year.
Small world, I guess.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 6:18 am. comments.
Sunday, 08 August 2004
No pain, no gain.
Today was Sydney's annual "City to Surf" run, a 14-kilometer (8.75-mile) race from Hyde Park to Bondi Beach, and let me just say: Ow. Ow ow ow. I wasn't sure I'd be healthy enough for this, given last week's Adventure of the Throat Infection (below) and my general out-of-shapeness; I did it in 2000, but I was younger and pounds lighter then.
Of course, I didn't run the race — I walked the course in a completely un-respectable time of 3 hours, 15 minutes — but even so it was more exercise than I usually get. My feet and legs are now sending an important message to the brain, along the lines of "thought you could get away with this, eh?" and involving the pain receptors…
…but it was for a good cause. There were about ten of us walking with our Kerry/Edwards T-shirts (you wouldn't believe how difficult it is to get campaign gear over here; until today we had a grand total of two Howard Dean buttons between the 180 of us), intimidating the lone Bush/Cheney supporter who wore his shirt (and turned out to be a Young Republican on a summer internship) and handing out flyers to Americans in the 30,000-strong crowd.
Meanwhile, the other runners included everything from samurai warriors to inflatable dinosaurs. There are three starting times for the participants: One for the serious runners, one for the wannabe serious runners, and one for people who are just in it for fun. Even after four years of living in Sydney, it still amazes me they can confidently schedule an outdoor event for August (which is the middle of winter down here) and get shorts and t-shirt weather.
A good time was had by all, except for my legs and feet.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 1:58 pm. comments.
Friday, 06 August 2004
Today's Aussie trivia question:
The Australians call it glandular fever. For ten points, what's the American name of this disease?
[Jeopardy theme music]
If you said "mono" or "mononucleosis", award yourself ten points. I've spent the past week talking like the Elephant Man and looking like I swallowed a football; the good news is that I don't appear to actually have mono — it's just a nasty throat infection. (The local doctor's advice: Take these antibiotics. If they clear up the problem, you had a throat infection. If not, you have glandular fever.)
The good news is that, since I'm an Australian permanent resident now, I get to use the public health system and receive my drugs for free. ("Free" in the "already paid for by my tax dollars" sense, that is. I pay taxes to the Australian government, just like resident aliens in America pay to Uncle Sam — except that I also have to file returns with Uncle Sam, because America taxes its citizens whether they are. Most countries only tax residents.)
Anyhow, Australia's public health system isn't bad: It isn't the best thing since sliced bread, but it's a good use of tax dollars. It raises health care up to the level of fire prevention, education, or public safety, providing a basic service that anyone can access. If you want better health care you pay for private insurance and get access to private hospitals, which generally have fresher coats of paint, more doctors and nurses on call, newer equipment, and so on… which, if you think about it, isn't too different from what you do when basic police protection doesn't meet your needs. You buy an alarm system or hire your own security guards.
There's an underlying issue here about the fundamental role of government, which if I were Steven Den Beste I'd rattle off a few thousand words about butterfly mating rituals and then segue into The Purpose of Government as my main theme; but since I'm slightly under the weather I'll save that for another day. For now I'll just nominate penicillin as the 20th century's best discovery.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 7:20 am. comments.
Sunday, 04 July 2004
I live about fifteen minutes from downtown Sydney, in a nice little suburb called Petersham. Petersham is the "Little Portugal" of the Sydney area, and we're about two blocks from the center of it: There are lots of good restaurants within walking distance (spicy chicken — mmm), they block off a street and have cultural events just down the road, and so on.
Usually I don't spend a lot of time ruminating about life in Little Portugal, and I certainly don't follow European soccer. I did notice last month a poster or two that I hadn't seen before, and glanced at them long enough to decipher that Portugal was hosting the "Euro 2004" championships this year — and then my chicken sandwich was ready, so I left and went about my business.
Weeks went by, and gradually the number of Portuguese flags and posters increased; I mean, there were a lot of them to begin with already, but all of a sudden they were everywhere. Through osmosis I gathered that Portugal was doing well in the tournament. I was happy for my neighbors.
And then we come to this weekend, when I can barely leave the house without running into a carload of screaming Portuguese-Australians, waving red and green flags out every window and honking their horns like Portugal had just won a major world war. Single-handledly.
The only thing that could make matters worse is if they were playing the championship against Greece, Petersham's second-largest ethnic community… so, naturally, they are. Carloads of screaming Greek-Australians are now driving around outside, hamming it up with the Portuguese, and creating a wall of noise that sounds like a New York traffic jam on steroids.
It's a strange, strange way to spend the Fourth of July. Luckily I made it to the American Society's Independence Day picnic yesterday, and got a healthy dose of Americana — and signed up 30-40 people to request their absentee ballots.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 10:20 am. comments.
Monday, 31 May 2004
In 1625, in the middle of the Thirty Years War, Sweden's King Gustav II Adolf ordered his shipyards to build the Vasa. A warship fiercer than any that had ever sailed the Baltic, the Vasa was to be the pride of the Swedish navy; she was Sweden's first attempt to build a ship with two full decks of cannon, and during construction the King decreed that the cannons would be of a heavier caliber than the original design.
The King's orders were carried out to the letter, of course, and three years later the Vasa was completed to his exact royal requirements. (In other circumstances a bold engineer might have whispered something in the King's ear about the laws of physics, but His Majesty was in Poland prosecuting the war at the time, which made communication difficult.) And so the mighty Vasa sailed into history… as the most ridiculously top-heavy ship ever constructed. She had all the balance of a bicyclist carrying an anvil, and her maiden voyage lasted about an hour before the inevitable happened: The ordinary rocking of ocean waves was enough to capsize the Vasa, and the pride of the Swedish navy promptly sank to a watery grave.
Now, when a wooden ship sinks it usually provides an excellent meal for the shipworm, a saltwater creature that feasts on timber—but the Baltic Sea is not very salty, and so the shipworm doesn't live there. The ship's hull remained intact, sitting peacefully on the ocean floor… but 17th century technology wasn't up to the challenge of raising it. Swedish divers in primitive diving bells did manage to recover the ship's cannons, but that was the most they could achieve; sometime after their exploits in the mid 1660s, the ship's location was lost to history.
The Vasa then sat undisturbed for almost 300 years, until some enterprising Swede with a homemade core sampler went looking for her. In 1956 Anders Franzén found the ship, and five years later the Swedish government carefully floated her to the surface, pumped out all the mud and sea water, and towed her into a museum. Among the wreckage the Swedes found everything from personal effects to the ship's sails, still neatly folded in their storerooms; the ship yielded up a treasure trove of historical artifacts, although it held no actual treasure—save for one gold ring, believed to be the admiral's.
Thus the Vasa became the only actual 17th century sailing ship to survive into the 21st, and a major tourist attraction for Stockholm. The specially constructed museum keeps the ship in constant temperature, high humidity—and low light, which makes photography a challenge. The ship is too big to illuminate with a flash, so I turned it off and took blurry photos; thanks to the digital camera I took 200 blurry photos, some of which (shown here) were less blurry than others.
Posted on November 20th. I'm trying to catch up to the present here, as you can see, but it's also my first week back in the office, my first week to play with the new computer, and lots of other busy stuff.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 1:55 am. comments.
Friday, 14 May 2004
The Princess Bride.
Today's top story in Australia is the royal wedding of Denmark's Crown Prince Frederik to one Mary Donaldson, formerly of Tasmania — who, in a matter of moments, will become the first Australian ever to marry into royalty.
The couple met in a local bar four years ago, during the Sydney Olympics (the bar, delighted by all the publicity, is now serving free drinks to anyone with a Danish passport), and they courted in secret for a year or two before announcing their engagement. People across Australia are staying up past midnight to see the wedding on live television; people from across Denmark are lining the streets of Copenhagen, waving Australian flags and cheering their new princess.
It's probably the biggest day ever for Danish-Australian relations, and certainly the best news we've had here all week. Congratulations to the happy couple.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 2:16 pm. comments.