Wednesday, January 28, 2009

He's Just Not That Into You

There has been some public worrying in the Australian news media during the past week about when Barack Obama would finally make his first phone call as President to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Australians frequently exhibit a low-grade case of "don't forget us way over here," and, despite the almost manic enthusiasm they have had for the new American president, many grew concerned that their feelings weren't reciprocated.  "Is he rejecting us because we won't take prisoners from Guantanamo?"  "Does he think our dresses make us look too pregnant?"  "Crikey, maybe he's just not that into us."

Well, thankfully, the news today is that Obama has made that first call to Rudd. Yes, he did remember the people of this dry island nation and its nerdy looking leader. And it looks like he wants some help with Afghanistan. Given that attention (and his smile), how could Australia refuse?  

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Skinny Democrat

Inspired by Barack Obama's inauguration (for which we got up at 2:30 am to watch on TV), I present a photo of me "coming out" as a Democrat, circa 1982.
I didn't even remember that this picture existed until several old college friends recently discovered Facebook. They have formed a FB group devoted to our dorm, the Westlawn Foreign Language House, at the University of Iowa.  This was a small, co-ed dorm devoted to students studying foreign languages (I was in the German House) that was established in the early '80s. We were quite a distance away from the other dorms on campus, and this remoteness contributed to our becoming a close-knit group of students from a wide variety of ages and backgrounds. I have had minimal contact with members of this group over the last few decades, so it has been fantastic to reconnect with the 20 or so people who have found the Facebook group.

Anyway, when I went off to college in the fall of 1981, I was a die-hard Reagan Republican.  I wasn't old enough to vote for Reagan in 1980, but I was sure a vocal proponent of his policies when I moved to Westlawn. Why I had these strong beliefs I can't really remember. Being fond of debating, I quickly got myself involved with all sorts of lounge-room squabbles with my (mostly) Democratic rivals. Somewhere along the way, however, this photo shows that I must have lost a bet, and I was forced to wear a sign announcing that I had at last seen the light. By 1983, when George McGovern came to Iowa City in anticipation of running for the presidential primary, I was a complete Democrat. I sort of woke up one day and realized that I actually agreed with what the Democrats were saying more than I did with the Republicans. To this day, I have yet to cast a vote for a Republican, but I like to think that I would if I ever found one with whom I agreed.

So, yes, besides the 60 pounds I have added since this photo was taken, I also gained a different political outlook. And that's why I had such an excellent time at 3:00 am Brisbane time this past Wednesday.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Time Travel

I recently came upon a website to which I am absolutely addicted.  It's, and it features 3-4 photographs each day that are usually more than 50 years old but reprinted from an absolutely pristine and large negative (or other photographic plate). The source of these photos is mainly a large archive of photos that have been donated to the U.S. Library of Congress, and cover an enormous variety of subjects. Pictures at the site are posted in high resolution, so much so that you think you are looking at a photo that was taken very recently-- if it weren't for the subject matter. Here's such a photo of a Depression-era family living in a dugout in 1940 in Pie Town, New Mexico.
One of the great things about is that visitors to the site offer all sorts of information they know or are able to research about each photo. In this instance, contributors were able to find the obituary of the woman who was the girl in the left of the photo. I have already spent several hours looking at various photos and trying to find out more about the various items and people in the pictures. It sounds nerdy, but I have always had an interest in time travel, and it looks like this is the closest I'll ever get.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


After weeks of disruption, I am finally settling back into a normal life. We moved on Dec. 18th, which is when I lost my internet connection for more than two weeks.  Since that day I have been sweating it out with moving heavy boxes of books (there were nearly 40!), putting together wardrobes from Ikea (no built-in closets at the new place), hosting a small NYE party with six kids in attendance, going to a Wiggles concert (those guys are geniuses), attending the Brisbane International tennis tournament, driving to the mountains, and washing lots of dishes. The picture below was taken aboard the Wheel of Brisbane, just a few days before Christmas. Although Will and V. enjoyed the views, I wasn't thrilled when the operators gave us an extra turn, due to my lingering fear of heights.
Our new home is a rented Queenslander house built in the 1920s. It features a large fenced-in yard in which Will loves to play.  Before I provide more details about our home, let me just preface this by saying that we really LOVE it.  It's one-storey, with all three bedrooms off the main lounge (living room). There's a separate large kitchen and dining room, full of bright, sunny, windows overlooking the garden. The entire house is built above ground, with plenty of storage in the space below. But, being an old Queenslander that hasn't been updated in decades, it does have a few quirky bits:
  • no air conditioning--very tough to deal with when the temps hit the mid 30s (95 deg F) during the past week.
  • no window screens-- allowing all sorts of strange insects to bite us all night long, as well as several small lizards to roam the walls.
  • no dishwasher-- this is especially hard on V., who hates washing the dishes.  I am trying to do as much as possible, but I think we'll have to figure out how to get one installed soon.
  • laundry done outside and under the house-- it feels a bit strange having to go outside to do the laundry, but I'm getting used to it.
  • across the street from the railroad tracks-- Queensland Rail uses these tracks for both commuter and freight trains. We have pretty much habituated to the noise at this point, and Will still loves to watch them go by every 10-15 minutes.
  • on a busy street-- the traffic going by our master bedroom window is often louder than the trains going by.  I am really starting to hate motorcycles.
  • one powerpoint (electrical outlet) per room-- I have become quite proficient in using power strips and extension cords to keep our many devices running
  • one bathroom--it's been years since I have had to share a bathroom, but we're getting along so far
  • a 35-year-old stove-- the oven temperatures are printed in both Celsius and Fahrenheit, which means it was probably bought around the time that Australia was going metric.  One of the three burners doesn't work, and it takes forever to heat up the oven.
  • maggots in the floorboards--yes, the flies like to lay eggs in the cracks of the kitchen floorboards. This is pretty disgusting, but we're determined to get it under control.
Again, I want to emphasise that we LOVE this place.  Now that I have a big lawn to mow, I went out and bought a classic Australian lawnmower, the Victa.  It turns out that power mowers are still a novelty in Australia, and the same Toro that I owned in the States is considered a luxury mower here.  I find mowing very relaxing, and I'm already looking forward to my next chance to cut the grass tomorrow.

So, that's our new life in a nutshell.  I am back at work this week, madly trying to catch up with everything I have had to neglect in the past month.  Happy New Year to you!