Monday, October 30, 2006


Because we're like, 386.7 hours ahead of the U.S. after the time change, we've already had Halloween. The U.S. Embassy hosted a party for kids, and Sydney dressed up as a cowgirl. Adam helped out at the Haunted House, as a mad scientist.

This is Sydney with Ambassador McCallum and Mrs. McCallum:

Notice how well the tie goes with the mask. Very good fashion sense.

Here's Adam in the compound:

And here was our favorite costume: a little boy dressed up as a kangaroo. He was even cuter with the ears.

Happy Halloween!

Koalas for Everyone!

Zoologists in the Gold Coast have used IVF techniques to breed test-tube koalas.

From the story: "They were conceived using new breeding techniques, which involve mixing sperm with a special solution that prolongs its shelf life."

Sounds like an interesting job.

Factoid: koalas aren't bears (and it's a dead giveaway that you're not Australian if you call them koala bears. As if the accent wouldn't give you away first). They're marsupials, closely related to the wombat:

Election Weirdness

One of my talks here is about election administration in the U.S. People are stunned at the decentralization and partisanship of election administration: the idea that the officials who run elections are, usually, Democrats or Republicans (and often are closely involved in some state or national campaign -- Katherine Harris) is just bizarre. National elections here involve at most two races (House and Senate), and even though the voting rules are complex, the process of voting is simple. And compuslory, but that's another story.

In the states, the combination of state, federal, and local elections on the same ballot makes for a complex voting process. The California voter guide this year is 192 pages long. That's ridiculous. Not one person in 10,000 is actually going to read more than a few pages of it.

And then we have stories like this: a tied school board election in Alaska was finally settled by a coin toss. That in itself isn't unusual. But one of the candidates died on election day. I don't understand why you'd still need a coin toss to settle the tie if one of the two candidates is dead. If you're thinking it would be very odd to have the dead person win the coin toss, you're probably right. But that's what happened.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Two things.
(1) we switched to daylight savings time here, only we went forward one hour (instead of back, as in the U.S.). That means the time difference between Canberra and Madison is now, um, well, let's see, we were at GMT+10, and Madison at GMT - 5, and now we're at GMT + 11 and GMT-6 so that's 17 hours, but we're on the other side of international date line, so we subtracted 12 and added three, and now we subtract 12 and add 1, so that means that it's always 11:00AM in Madison. My nephew Mayer says he "doesn't get" this time difference stuff. I'm with youthere, buddy.

(2) My bad: there actually was another King Sargon (around 2300BC). Aren't blogs educational? You think you're here for travel, you wind up learning about Assyrian history.

The Einstein Factor

There's a quiz show on Australian television, called "The Einstein Factor." The contestants are complete nerds, and the questions so obsure that it reminded me of the ridiculously arcane questions from the move "Quiz Show" (about the "21" game show scandal of the 1950s). Each contestant announces a topic, from which the questions are drawn. The easiest ones for me are about American politics (duh), but I seriously doubt I would get a single correct answer for topics like Phar Lap (the best-known Australian race horse), the History of the Eurovision Song Contest, or King Sargon of Assyria (721-705 BCE). I love how they put the dates on the Sargon questions, as if people would get confused about which King Sargon they were asking about.

How many of these questions did you get right? Anyone? Dad?
1. Harry S. Truman was born on the 8th of May in what year?
2. In 1909 at Grandview, Truman was initiated into what secret society?
3. Truman commanded a World War I artillery unit in which country?
4. Truman attended artillery school and regimental school in Oklahoma at Camp what?
5. During the Korean War, Truman replaced General Douglas MacArthur as Allied commander with whom?
6. Harry S. Truman held the position of judge for which American county?
7. In what year did Truman join the National Guard?
8. Taking lessons in his youth, what musical instrument did Harry Truman play?
9. In 1948, which newspaper was so confident that Truman had lost the presidential election that it famously went to press with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman”?
10. How many electoral votes did Harry Truman gain when he won the 1948 American presidential election?
11. Born Elizabeth Virginia Wallace, Truman’s wife was better known by what shorter first name?
12. How many children did Harry and Elizabeth Truman have?
13. Serving from 1949 to 1953, who was Truman's vice president?
14. Which five star general served terms as both Secretary of State and Secretary of Defence under Truman?

Friday, October 20, 2006


Some pictures from our Melbourne/Tasmania trip that we didn't get a chance to post:

Susan's favorite kangaroo picture:

Melbourne from an observation deck, looking toward Port Phillip Bay:

The skyline at dusk:


I know, I know. I've been a very poor blogger. I was in Melbourne giving talks yesterday and Wednesday, and have had no time to relax. But nobody wants to hear about my problems.

So, pictures:

Brisbane skyline, at night:

Feeding the critters at the Australia Zoo (Steve Irwin's joint):

The seaside at Cairns:

Snorkeling on the reef:
The butterfly sancutary in Kuranda:

Cruising on the Skyrail, at an altitude of 35,000 feet:

And the Tjapukai Aboriginal Culutral Center:

Saturday, October 14, 2006

What a Week

Just returned to Canberra, after an amazing week. Blogging will, however, be brief, since our luggage did not make the connection -- we were on a flight from Cairns that originated in Tokyo, so we had to go through customs in Brisbane and move from the international to domestic terminal. We barely made the connecting flight. What does this have to do with blogging? Nothing, but the laptop power cord is in my suitcase. Pictures will have to wait.

It was an amazing and exhausting week. Cairns, in far northeast Queensland, is real rainforest country. The rainforest was so real, it looked artificial, almost like a Disney version of what a rainforest should look like.

The reef was everything we though it would be. I didn't know that it is not a single reef, but a collection of thousands of coral reefs over about 1000 miles that are possible because the water is shallow out to about 30 miles off the coast, where it drops off to depths of thousands of feet. The deep water flows into the shallows, bringing nutrients, and the shallow water allows sunlight to penetrate to the bottom.

We took the Quicksilver boat to Agincourt Reef. The ride took about 90 minutes, and it was pretty choppy. We took ginger pills -- which the Mythbuster guys claim is more effective than dramamine -- and nobody had any problems. The boat goes to a large pontoon right over the reef.

Adam and I did the introductory scuba dive. When the instructor tells you to put your head in the water, I initially felt like I couldn't catch my breath (very common, he said). But after a few minutes, we were sitting on a shelf in about 6 feet of water. Unfortunately, when we tried to go deeper, Adam couldn't get his ears cleared, so he coudln't continue. I went down to the bottom, about 10 meters, and saw a clown anenome fish about to lay eggs, got bumped by some large fish, and stuck my hand in a giant clam. I have video.

Adam, Sydney and I snorkeled around the pontoon, but without a wetsuit the water was pretty cold. Susan went to the underwater observation deck, where you watch the reef through windows. The staff would periodically toss some food in the water, so there were always fish around.

Yesterday, we took an historic railway to a rainforest village called Kuranda, and visited a butterfly sancutary where thousands of the critters were flitting about. On the way down, we took a cable gondola, called Skyrail. It is one of the longest cable system in the world, and the cars ride above the treetops. It seemed like a billion feet above the ground, and I found it quite scary. The cars cross several huge gorges and passes, and it was a long way down. It couldn't have been that high, since the mountaintop starting point is only about 1300 feet above sea level. But it felt more like 13,000 feet. It was quite a view, though.

Feels good to be back at our Australian home.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Brisbane - Koala Capital of the World

What day is this? I returned from Perth late last night, and we flew out at 6AM this morning for Brisbane. Had to get the kids out of bed at 4:15AM.

We're staying at the MacArthur Chambers Heritage apartments, which is just lavish; probably nicer than our home in Madison. Our cab driver asked if we knew why it was called the MacArthur Chambers Heritage apartments. Turns out that Douglas MacArthur used the building as his headquarters in WW II; there's a museum on the top floor.

Our major adventure so far was going to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, which claims to be the largest koala preserve in the world. I know I've never seen so many koalas (they have over 130), and I now know several people who have actually held one:

These are males, and they have a scent gland on their chest that allows them to mark their territory. Boys will be boys, I guess.

Oh, and we now know what a baby koala (a joey) looks like. Not surprisingly, they're even more cuddly than the adults:


We've loved everywhere we've gone so far; this is just an unbelievably beautiful and varied country. The capital cities all have a distinct identity, geopgraphy, and feel. Hobart was like a New England fishing village. Sydney a southern hemisphere NYC, Adelade like a big Santa Barbara.

But I have to say that Perth is really primus inter pares. Not quite sure why (and I certainly don't mean to downplay the beauty or hospitality that we've enjoyed wherever we've traveled). I was told that the city has a real buzz -- they're in the midst of an unparalleled boom, fueled by China's insatiable thirst for resources. The money is just pouring in, real estate prices have doubled in the past couple of years, and there is construction everywhere.

One of my hosts, a University of Western Australia professor named David Denemark (who -- another small world story -- spent nine years in Milwaukee as a kid), is a real Navy junkie. The US Navy makes frequent ports of call in Freemantle, and he's well enough plugged in to have made 11 (I think) carrier fly ins, where he lands on a carrier and gets VIP treatment. His pictures were unbelievable. I spent a little over a year working for the Navy as a civilian contract specialist in the 1980s, so we had a lot to talk about.

One of my goals in coming here was to take a picture of the sunset over the Indian Ocean. I thought that would be very cool.

And it was:

The landmas is Rottnest Island, about 13 miles offshore.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Update from Perth

I'm blogging from the Perth airport - Perth is a stunning city, sort of like San Diego. Adelaide was stunning as well. The people were wonderful, the food terrific. I'll have pictures in a bit, but I get back home in Canberra late tonight, and then we fly to Brisbane first thing tomorrow morning.

One interesting highlight: another Fulbrighter, a robotics specialist, has a lab here at the University of Western Australia. One of their teaching tools is a remote-control robot arm, which you can manipulate using a web client. That means that Adam (I mean, um, me) can control it from our laptop. It's really cool. Nothing to do with politics, but, still, really cool.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Adelaide is beautiful -- it's like a larger version of Santa Barbara. Flinders University, where I gave a seminar to undergraduates, is up on a hill on the outskirts of town, and looked very much like UCSD, UCSB, or UC Santa Cruz. It was a cloudless, warm day. In the afternoon, I took the tram from the city center to the beach. When I got off the tram, a group of Chinese tourists saw me with my camera, and asked me to take their picture (using their own cameras so everyone would be included; I guess they figured I knew how to take a photo). They were very appreciative; one guy smiled at me and kept saying "nice man, nice man."

Tomorrow is my public lecture at the University of Adelaide, and then dinner with the Fulbright alumni.

The only downside is that the Packers got crushed, 31-9. Adam is in a sour mood as a result (and he remains very unhappy that the Packers traded Samkan Gado to the Texans; he has yet to realize that it's a business). The kids are sad that they couldn't come with me. I do miss them and Susan when I travel by myself.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Congressional Elections II

The business with Rep.Mark Foley will likely cost the Republicans the House, and maybe the Senate. He's the Florida Republican who resigned after revelations that he had sent sexually suggestive emails and IMs to a 16 year old page. It's unclear whether the House leadership knew about all of the communications, but this is really, really bad for the GOP. The Iowa Electronic Market now puts the chances of the Republicans keeping their House majority at about 50-50, down from 58% even a few days ago.

I've seen some criticism of the scandal as "all about sex" during a time when there are global and national policies that should be at the core of this (or any recent) election. But this is something that voters can get their heads wrapped around, and offers a simple shortcut that aggregates a lot of information into an easy package. It crystallizes discontent, much like the 1990s "check kiting" scandal, which was otherwise a big bunch of nothing, tied together the idea that Congress was out of touch and steeped in perks not available to the average person. Who do you trust on Iraq? Social Security? Iran? Terrorism? The economy? These are complicated questions. "Someone who's not a child molester" is a much easier answer.

As I said, things can change in a hurry. . .